Graham Packaging makes plastic more flexible

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Graham Packaging has developed a new technology that could herald a
significant move away from glass packaging and towards plastic.

The company claims that its proprietary Active Transverse Panel (ATP) bottle gives manufacturers design freedom and flexibility in creating a packaging identity never before available in plastic.

The new concept is the first panel-free hot-fill polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle, and has been described by the company as the answer to current hot-fill bottling needs. The ATP technology enables 100 per cent of the vacuum to be removed from the package without the use of traditional panels.

"The Holy Grail of hot-fill is to eliminate vacuum panels and achieve design freedom without being encumbered by the geometry of panels - and this is exactly what we have done,"​ said Paul Bailie, director of business development for Graham Packaging. "This is what everyone has been striving for, and it's aimed directly at conversion from glass to plastic."

Paul Kelley, manager of Graham Packaging's breakthrough development technology group and one of the bottle's designers, said ATP represents a "paradigm shift." "This is different from what everyone's been doing for 20 years,"​ he said. "The traditional way to design a hot-fill bottle was to build in areas or panels that would absorb product contraction. Designing this technology to negate the need for panels is a whole new mindset."

The ATP bottle is blow-moulded on standard equipment but enhanced through proprietary mould designs. The ATP bottle is conveyed and palletised through a standard downstream configuration. At the filling location, the bottle is depalletised and managed through the filling process by a proprietary bottle- handling system. The bottle is then filled at 185 degrees, capped, and sent through a cooling tunnel.

Bailie said the ATP bottle is perfect for teas and juices currently in glass or panelled plastic. The initial version of the bottle has already been adopted by two companies; an organic tea manufacturer and the Malibu Beach Beverage Group. Production and distribution of products in the ATP bottle began in June.

A major advantage of ATP technology, Bailie said, is that the container does not need to be symmetrical the way traditional hot-fill packaging needs to be. With ATP, containers can be any shape - rectangular, square, or oval, for example. "If it can be blown into a bottle, it can now be hot-filled,"​ he said.

The elimination of panels also eliminates "label crinkle." ATP allows brand owners to use film labelling. If the label is clear, the product will show through, since the label is flat against the bottle. When Graham releases the rib-less version later this year, any commercially available label could be applied.

The ATP system was developed on an existing filling line. Modifying it to accept ATP bottles was a challenge, according to Ted Lyon, Graham Packaging's senior manager of operational improvement and one of the leaders of the company's ATP commercialisation team.

Teaming this bottle-handling system with a hot-fill bottle was an "unusual request," said Steve Rowland, sales manager of Haumiller Engineering in Elgin, Illinois, which designed the bottle-handling system. "This is a revolutionary process, and it is phenomenally innovative,"​ he said.

There is a discernible trend away from glass packaging within the food and beverage industry. US-based food manufacturer Hormel Foods for example is about to launch two chilli brands in new easy-to-open carton packaging from Tetra Pak, which marks a significant change in packaging preference.

"Our consumer research showed a clear preference for this new packaging concept,"​ said Larry Vorpahl, vice president and general manager of grocery products, Hormel Foods. "The Tetra Recart carton offers consumers a variety of advantages, including portability, easy opening and pouring, and convenient, space-saving stackability in kitchen cupboards."

The move markets a significant change in the company's packaging strategy. In markets across the United States, the packaging for the two brands, Hormel Chilli and Stagg Chilli, is being converted from cans to Tetra Recart cartons. The transition begins this month.

Tetra Recart, developed by Tetra Pak, is a square carton package made out of a new paperboard laminate material designed for food products traditionally packed in cans, glass jars or pouches. Hormel Foods claims it is the first and only company to offer chilli in Tetra Recart packaging.

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