O'Hara figures there's a universe of about 40 equipment makers out there that could be interested in using the LiquiForm approach, including firms making filling, blow molding, extrusion blow molding and extrusion equipment.
Even equipment assemblers, who use products from other companies to make their machines, could adopt LiquiForm technology, O'Hara said. LiquiForm will ask licensees to pay an upfront initiation fee to gain access to the technology and then pay for each machine they build using the technology.
The company had considered using a per-bottle fee approach, but O'Hara said that would become an accounting challenge.
She expects the first LiquiForm bottles to hit the market within the next year, most likely from one of the company's founding partners. LiquiForm is backed by Amcor Ltd., a packaging maker, and Sidel Inc., a machinery maker. Yoshino Kogyosho, Japan's largest plastic bottle maker, also is involved. And Nestle Waters has contributed intellectual property to the venture.
The past year included detailed work gathering information from the four different companies to create documents and information in a common style to provide to potential licensees. This, O'Hara said, created a consistent front, “but also a consistent way to quickly teach people what we know.”
“I predict within a year you will see a first commercial application,” O'Hara said. “There are so many applications across liquid products in a plastic container.”
Because of regulations revolving around products that are consumed, O'Hara said she first expects to see the LiquiForm technology to be used on industrial products or even personal care products instead.
That will then lead to more applications, she said.
“We're talking to many, many people,” she said. “It's likely that the first one will be from one of the first partners. But a licensee can catch up very quickly because we're literally teaching them as much as we can as quickly as we can to get them on a level playing field,” O'Hara said.
“This is like any new technology. When you do something really new, you need to have a collaboration of the end user, the equipment supplier, the converter. These three companies need to work together to get them on a level playing field,” she said.
While the LiquiForm technology is often presented as a way to fill and form bottles at the same time in a mold, O'Hara and Krishnan said the mold is not a necessity.
A lower cost approach, Krishnan said, could use a “free blow” approach that would create a tear drop container shape that could then simply use a flat surface below to create a package's bottom.
This approach would allow for “super low cost distribution” or could find a space in emerging markets, Krishnan said.
“LiquiForm is essentially combining the forming and filling process into one step. So traditionally forming is done with high pressure air, and separately the bottle is filled,” O'Hara said. “The advantage is that it's one step instead of two. It's one machine instead of three.”
“We're combining the forming and filling, the blow molder and the filling machine. But also we're getting rid of the high pressure air machine,” she explained.
Kirshnan said application development has included a wide range of preform sizes, ranging from 8.5 to 91 grams, to create bottles ranging from 200 milliliters to 2,000 milliliters. LiquiForm has used both PET and HDPE, including versions containing both 30 percent and 100 percent post-consumer resin.