Where in the past only one category of product was typically run on aseptic lines, bottlers of sensitive beverages now face an ever-growing demand for flexibility. Beverage producers that process both aseptically filled beverages and juice and carbonated soft drinks need to use 38-millimetre bottlenecks for the former and containers with 28-millimetre openings for the latter.
If the bottleneck is to be changed on a PET line, however, to date, a comparatively large amount of effort was required to convert the stretch blow molder in particular. Machines were often stopped for up to four hours, tying up the often very few operators of the same for a disproportionately long period of time. With its new, simplified neck changeovers, KHS has now shortened the time needed to convert the InnoPET Blomax stretch blow molder – including the preform infeed.
It is common to try to only manufacture and fill bottles with an identical neck on one line. If a water bottler wants to produce a still and a carbonated product alternately, until now, it had to decide whether to use the higher and heavier neck, really only necessary for carbonated water for both products or not. The bottler would then save time but waste material and money in the filling of the still water. The alternative would be to live with the long intermittent downtimes caused by a neck changeover.
Complex processes made simple
In order to gain an idea of just how complex the exchange of parts for the above process is on the stretch blow molder alone, it is worth taking a closer look at the individual steps involved.
First, the preform infeed needs to be adjusted, and what is known as the mandrel heads replaced that are wedged into the preform necks to guide these safely through the heating module. The grippers that transport the preforms by their necks to the blow wheel are then exchanged on the star wheel. Finally, the molds in the blow stations, the blow nozzles and often the stretch rods and further grippers downstream that feed the finished containers to the subsequent filler need to be changed over.
Here, the number of parts that need replacing depends on the size of the machine. The mandrels and shields especially are of particular importance: the higher the machine output, the longer the heater, as the containers may move faster but always need the same amount of time to heat up. On an InnoPET Blomax 16 stretch blow molder with a capacity of up to 48,000 bottles per hour, around 170 mandrel heads and shields have to be changed by hand, for instance. This means that this part of the neck change is particularly relevant when it comes to the amount of time needed – unlike the exchange of the just 20 grippers, which is quick in comparison.
Thought through to the end
In order to considerably speed up the conversion process as a whole, KHS has not just simplified the individual work steps involved but also the concept governing the entire procedure. Magazines were thus installed that stop the operator from having to repeatedly abandon the machine to fetch and carry change parts, for example. KHS also replaced the grippers to reduce the number of screws that need to be loosened. At the same time, newly developed mandrel heads are now used that can be simply removed by pressing a release spring. This process used to be much more complex.
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