The PET machinery sector has a new player, as Krones AG, a German company that supplies production lines for beverage makers, has started making its own injection stretch blow molding machines.
Krones officials say the company plans to challenge France's Groupe Sidel in the global race to commercialize PET beer bottles. Sidel, a leading manufacturer of PET blow molding machines, took a giant step into the beer market last year when it merged with another French company, Gebo Industries SA. Gebo makes conveying systems and production lines for bottlers.
Krones decided to try another route, by designing its own PET blow molder, called Contiform. The machine can turn out 12,000-28,000 bottles an hour, depending on the model, and uses devices called star wheels to move preforms and finished bottles between key points.
``[Sidel machines] are formidable, and we respect them a great deal, but we also feel that given what we can do with complete bottling lines, this is a natural fit,'' said Gisela Hartl, Krones spokeswoman.
In January, Krones hired Otto Appel from Krupp Corpoplast, where he held a research and development post, and made him general manager of its new Plastics Division.
Krones, based in Neutraubling, Germany, first showed the Contiform blow molder in November at the DrinkTec-Interbrau show in Munich. North Americans will get their first look at the machine in a static display at InterBev 98, set for Oct. 26-28 in Dallas. Krones will show an operating machine Nov. 8-12 at Pack Expo 98 in Chicago.
North American sales and service is handled through Krones Inc. in Franklin, Wis., which will import the machines from Germany.
Konie Brenneman, Krones marketing manager for North America, said Krones not only is targeting beer, it plans to market Contiform presses to soft drink and water bottlers as well.
But Krones' roots are steeped in suds. Hermann Kronseder founded Krones in 1951, to make beer-bottle labeling machines.
``We just progressed and expanded our line to make entire bottling operations,'' Hartl said.
To date, the company has sold 21,000 labeling machines worldwide. Krones also makes everything from bottle fillers to devices that screw on caps, plus conveyors and palletizers, for all types of beverages, not just beer.
Krones, publicly traded on the Frankfurt and Munich stock exchanges, has sales of about $1 million.
Krones' Plastics Division sold its first Contiform machine to carbonated fruit-drink bottler VMH Mineral- und Heilquellen GmbH & Co. KG in Rosbach, Germany.
Sidel of Le Havre, France, has an informal link with Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. of Bolton, Ontario, the dominant supplier in the market for preform presses and molds. The relationship evolved because the two market leaders shared many of the same customers, according to Jean-Guy Delage, president of Sidel Inc. in Norcross, Ga., Sidel's U.S. headquarters.
He declined to discuss how the Krones blow molding machine might affect Sidel.
Will newcomer Krones also join forces with an injection molding machine maker? Plastics Division chief Appel said Krones has talked to Husky and Swiss injection press supplier Netstal-Maschinen AG, but there are no formal agreements.
A Husky spokesman confirmed the two companies have talked about supplying a turnkey system. Netstal's top PET preform official in Switzerland was not available for comment.
Peter Neumann, president of Austria's Engel Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH, which also makes PET preform injection presses, thinks Krones probably will start by selling blow molders to small customers that now buy preforms. But when Krones starts selling to bigger customers that want to mold their own preforms, the company will need links to an injection press maker, he said.
``It would be logical that Krones will cooperate with one of the injection molding machine manufacturers, but first they have to go into the market with their blow molding machines,'' Neumann said.
For its part, Engel works with another German PET blow molding machine supplier, Krupp Corpoplast, which sells Engel preform machines as part of its complete bottle-making systems.
Neumann thinks Krones ``will be hard competition for Sidel.''