ORLANDO, FLA. — Five months after it bought the injection-stretch-blow molding (ISBM) equipment business of Automa SpA, Sipa SpA is showing how the acquisition has strengthened its position in the market for equipment that produces specialty containers.
While Sipa was already making ISBM machines, the technology it obtained from Automa expanded the Vittorio Veneto, Italy-based company's capabilities of producing containers in smaller lots with an added feature that allows quick changeovers between product configurations.
Sipa officials say the system, called the ECS SP80, filled the last gap in its product line with a single-stage, four-station ISBM machine that also is compact and energy efficient.
“There was one range of machine that was missing — a small single-stage for specialty containers, which means non-beverage containers,” said Pietro Marcati, global sales manager of stretch blow molding. “Today Sipa is the only producer in the world that can offer single-stage and two-stage systems for all applications in the beverage and specialty markets.”
Each type of system has its pros and cons. Generally, single-stage ISBMs tend to make blemish-free bottles but the cycle and changeover times are longer. Two-stage machines are faster but preforms can be damaged when they tumble onto conveyor belts and into hoppers.
At NPE 2015 in Orlando, Sipa had the hybrid ECS SP80 running with a six-cavity mold to produce 500-mililiter, asymmetrical PET bottles for household cleaning products at a rate of 1,565 bottles per hour. However, it is also suited for production of containers for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, personal care products and spirits.
“This machine is dedicated to the customer who wants to make a different container with different shapes — oval, cylindrical, wide mouth, very small miniature bottles, bigger bottles, whatever,” Marcati said.
Demand for such technology is on the rise as brand owners, especially those in North America, try to differentiate themselves on store shelves.
“They are looking for many different shapes in order to be unique,” Marcati said. “The quantity won't be like the standard production of beverage containers, which can be into the hundreds of millions or billions of containers per year. Here, we are talking about some million at the maximum or even some hundreds of thousands.”
Currently, Asian companies dominate this segment of the machine market, according to Marcati, but he said Sipa is bringing something new to the field.
“Our changeover time is lower than our competitors,” he said. “We are talking about a changeover of 4-5 hours for one shape to a completely different shape and volume. We invested a lot in energy reduction and high versatility. Now we can go into competition with the Japanese and Asian companies.”
The ECS SP80 — and a smaller model called the ECS SP50 — can use molds from other manufacturers, which Sipa expects will clear another hurdle to converting customers.
“This is a crucial feature if you want to enter into a market where there's a dominant supplier,” Marcati said. “The value of the mold in a machine like that is probably around 25-30 percent of the value of the machine. It's an important investment and if you can use the existing mold that's a huge advantage.”
For production of small bottles from 20-50 milliliters, the machine can handle molds with up to 16 cavities for an output of up to 6,000 bottles an hour. And, it can mold larger bottles up to 6 liters with two-cavity molds.
Specializing in PET preform and bottle production technology, Sipa also is showing one of its latest preform injection molding systems called XFORM 300, which it developed with Athena Automation along with the smaller XFORM 150.
With a physical footprint that Sipa says is among the smallest in the industry, the XFORM 300 is flexible in its ability to make a wide range of preform shapes and sizes, even for thick-walled containers.
Another model, the XFORM 500, can handle preform molds with as many 144 cavities.
“The mold is very huge,” Marcati said. It's already used by an American customer. It's not very common. There are only two to three producers in the world of this kind of mold.”
Last December, Sipa unveiled its Xtreme Sincro, which unites preform compression molding with a high-speed stretch-blow molding unit into a single machine. The company called this an industry first and said it not only offers the flexibility of a two-stage system with the convenience of a single-stage system but it is compact and gentle on PET to produce light weight and high-performing bottles.