Aseptic filling at drinktec 2013: From wet-aseptic to dry sterilization and irradiation

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Gentle filling, good taste, long shelf life

Hotfill or aseptic – that is the question facing companies when it comes to investing in filling technology for sensitive beverages. More and more, the decision falls in favor of cold aseptic filling. The market for products filled in this way is growing; consumers like fresh, natural beverages. And retailers are also happy because these beverages have a long shelf life and thereґs no need to keep them chilled. The key trends in aseptic filling will be on show at drinktec 2013, the worldґs leading trade fair for beverage technology, which takes place in Munich, at the Messe Mьnchen exhibition center, from September 16 to 20, 2013.

Aseptic filling is making it possible to bring innovations onto the market – even in highly sensitive products – in a short space of time. The various aseptic filling techniques are proving to be very gentle on the product and its ingredients and no preservatives are needed. The vitamins are also retained. And that fits in very well with the major market trends towards more natural products, health benefits and a pleasant aroma. drinktec 2013 is a great opportunity to gather information on technological progress in the latest generation of machines. Because at drinktec the suppliers traditionally put on a very practically-oriented display of their developments.

Trend towards reducing cleaning and sterilizing media
For Holger Kahlert , Vice President Filling Technology at Krones AG, Neutraubling, the general trend in aseptic filling is towards a significant reduction in cleaning and sterilization media: “The plant operators want to move away from the classic wet-aseptic with peracetic acid or dry sterilization with hydrogen peroxide towards chemical-free systems, for example using irradiation. ‘No water, no life’: if the isolator always remains dry and no chemicals are used, then micro-organisms have no nutrient to feed on, and no contamination can arise.” The background to this trend is on the one hand the positive effect it has on overall operating costs (Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO), and on the other the dry isolator improves hygiene levels on the machine as a whole. Visitors to drinktec 2013 can also look forward to finding out the latest exciting developments in new irradiation technologies.

Block concept preferred
More and more fillers are opting for a mechanical/electronic block concept with the blow molder integrated into the aseptic system. Potential cost and space savings are the biggest attraction here, because there is no need for an air conveyor. In addition, by doing away with this ‘contamination stretch’, itґs possible to achieve greater microbiological safety. Integrating the blow molder with the filling system into a single block is achieved through intelligent control systems which in the event of a machine fault can compensate for the missing buffer stretch between the two machines.

Aseptic filling for products with ‘added extras’
Also ever more interesting for the sector is aseptic filling for products that have added ‘bits’ in them. Until now juices that contain pieces of fruit were generally hot-filled, either as a whole product, or separately as the juice and the fruit pieces. The fruit juice fillers, however, are now demanding even more gentle treatment of the product through aseptic techniques. Just how far the machinery manufacturers have got with market-ready filling valves and filling systems that can cope with these products will no doubt be on show at the exhibitorsґ booths at drinktec 2013. Interest is high in the fruit juice industry. The separate processing of fruit pieces in fruit juices is currently gaining ground mainly in the Asian region.

Cheaper alternative: ‘Enhanced hygienic filling’
A (cheaper) alternative to aseptic filling is ‘enhanced hygienic filling’ or EHF, which is being recommended by various manufacturers for both mildly and strongly acidic beverages. Holger Kahlert: “Combined with an integrated block of blow molder and aseptic system this method disinfects the PET preform and not the container.” That saves both on components as well as sterilization media, and caters to the wish to move the sterilization process as far downstream of bottle disinfection as possible. Preform sterilization gives beverage filling under ultra-clean conditions further opportunities for reducing costs and increasing eco-compatibility. Here, too, a chemical-free treatment option is sure to be on show at drinktec 2013.

Aseptic systems for smaller outputs
Another trend in aseptic is being seen in the production of smaller batches. There is a demand here for aseptic systems for smaller outputs which can give much greater flexibility of use for different products, and which enable SMEs in the filling business to play a part in this market. As a rule with aseptic systems, too, the emphasis is on availability. This implies short change-over times and shorter cleaning times. The industry is also aiming to reduce the area taken up by the clean zone by limiting it to core areas in which the containers are sterilized and where the filling takes place.

The full spectrum of ‘state of the art’ at drinktec
Holger Kahlert regards drinktec as the most important and largest trade fair for the sector: “The nice thing about drinktec is that all the suppliers converge here. It is not only the most important trade show for Krones, itґs also the top one for our competitors, too. That means that at drinktec you really do see the full spectrum of all that is ‘state of the art’, and get a glimpse of whatґs coming in the future. So anyone who wants to know whatґs going to happen in the beverages sector over the coming years, just has to be at drinktec.”