The variety of new drinks filling store shelves seems like an endless stream.
There are low-calorie near-water products and mixed-milk beverages and fusion flavors of ice teas, juices and smoothies to quench thirsts, restore electrolytes and boost protein intakes.
Many of the new drinks are "sensitive" beverages that put high demands on hygienic filling systems to maintain freshness, according to Manfred Härtel, filling product manager at Dortmund, Germany-based KHS GmbH.
The beverages can change in color or taste or be altered by microorganisms, light, oxygen and temperature if the right conditions aren't maintained.
KHS provides the machinery and services for filling sensitive products into PET and high density polyethylene bottles — from material selection and bottle design to the components for filling and packaging the product.
For its modular linear aseptic filler, KHS has made seven improvements to boost efficiency and flexibility, Härtel said in a news release.
One upgrade allows the linear aseptic fillers to be blocked with a rotary stretch blow molder to form an extremely compact unit. KHS says it developed a transfer module that harmonizes the PET bottle flow with the filling process.
The module is a carousel that separates the containers into units of 10. During a brief stop, they are removed by grippers and placed in the filler's carrier plates. There are three module variants, including one with an extra bottle infeed so the filler can process either PET or high density polyethylene.
In another development, KHS says it can reduce the time for format changeovers by up to 40 percent, which improves flexibility for new bottle formats and designs. The method uses handwheels marked with scales to configure the height and diameter of a container and repeat the settings.
KHS also started offering an optional flexible servo capper. Instead of one drive for all 10 capping heads, each capping head is equipped with two servo drives. While the first drive lifts and lowers the capper cone, the second controls the capping rotation.
KHS says automated conversion allows different caps to be used, which increases flexibility without manual adjustments. The parameters needed for correct capping of PET bottles are stored in so-called cap recipes.
In another change, KHS said it improved the bottle grippers that hold containers in place just above its base while the screw capper screws the bottle cap closed. KHS replaced the circular rubber bumpers held by one arm to much larger half-shells that are attached to two arms. The effect is similar to holding a bottle with two hands instead of with four fingers, KHS says.
As the beverage industry diversifies, some products are more challenging to fill because of their foaming properties, KHS says. The company has a new switching valve to control the volume of the inflow. If the infeed is slowed or the volume lowered, foaming is reduced. KHS says the infeed speed is stored in the product recipes for filling accuracy so volumes can be easily reproduced.
For beverages with pulp or fiber, KHS has a new ring gap filling valve. The company says products with fibers 15–20 millimeters long and a high pulp content can be filled without the machine becoming blocked or clogged.
As for maintenance, KHS says the five-hour sessions needed regularly to address microbiological issues are over. The systems only need to be serviced once or twice a year. Processors save up to 20 percent on maintenance within five years.