Three generations of the Contiform: a retrospective
1997 in Neutraubling: a handful of staff are tasked with a job that’s so visionary for Krones that at first people make fun of it.
That’s how the story of the Contiform began. Right from the start, the team included Gerhard Schuster, joined very soon by Heiner Deyerl as an experienced service employee – and over the course of time, plenty more of their colleagues naturally came to be involved in the success story. Gerhard Schuster and Heiner Deyerl are still working for Krones today, and enjoy reminiscing about the old days: “At first people made fun of us, because the idea was so new. Looking back, it’s incredible nowadays to see how this rather venturesome decision affected the sector all over the world!”
Right into the 1990s, you see, the PET market was of little interest to either Krones or its competitors – which is why Krones didn’t have a solution of its own for blow-moulding PET bottles. Then Volker Kronseder realised the potential of this high-growth market, and commissioned the construction of the first stretch blow-moulding machine – which was at first viewed rather sceptically. Within nine and a half weeks, a prototype had been completed, which was premiered at the drinktec in 1997. In order to save space, the machine operated on two levels: at the top, the preforms were pre-heated, and then blow-moulded in the bottom half of the machine. “You could still watch them,” relates Gerhard Schuster with a grin, “that’s how slowly the machine was running.” In terms of quality, too, this first prototype was far from being unimprovable – but that was set to change very quickly. It didn’t take long before the favourable feedback from the major soft-drink bottlers confirmed the validity of Volker Kronseder’s deicision: the new technology was indeed the beginning of an era – and Krones was now able to offer truly complete PET lines.
Gradually, fierce competition developed in the sector in terms of production speed, delivery time and footprint. It was time for a second generation: with a significantly increased output, the first Contiform 2 was unveiled at the 2001 drinktec. Even without any technical knowledge, it’s immediately noticeable that the new machine type is differently constructed: instead of the previous two levels, the Contiform 2 now has only one, comprising the blowing wheel and oven modules. “This altered construction was necessary for achieving higher speeds,” explains Gerhard Schuster. “Firstly, it meant the performs and bottles were easier to handle – they didn’t have to be turned and redirected so often, but were passed through the machine on a single level. And secondly, we were able to increase the system’s output with just one larger blowing wheel – the preforms run faster, but nevertheless need to be heated only for the same time as previously. This would not have been possible on two levels, the machine would have looked like a mushroom.” In this version, the Contiform has been sold well over 1,000 times, and has proved to be a best-seller. Despite all its popularity and dependability, though, there was still room for improvement – not least when it came to hot-filling, where the aluminium mould carriers came up against their limits.
So for the Contiform 3, the development people changed over to steel mould carriers, which are more durable and more resistant to heat. What’s more, the machine is even faster than its predecessor: “The Contiform 3 is our racehorse – the biggest machine produces no fewer than 81,000 bottles an hour!” relates Gerhard Schuster.
In 2015, this third generation of the Contiform, praised by clients and technicians alike, received an upgrade: it became the Contiform 3 Pro. Gerhard Schuster and Heiner Deyerl no longer had much to do with this design enhancement, however, because meanwhile they are working in other fields of plastics technology. Gerhard Schuster is now drawing upon his experience in development work in his remit as a quality officer for moulds, to ensure that the blow-moulded bottles conform to the clients’ ideas. He’s assisted in this task primarily by his experience acquired directly at various clients’ facilities in recent years: “You simply get the client’s unfiltered wishes and opinions face to face – that’s worth a lot when it comes optimising lines for the client.” And at this opportunity he emphasises that the Contiform as a production machine differs from the rest of Krones’ portfolio: “In its stretch blow-moulding technology, you see, Krones is after all really manufacturing one of the client’s own products, meaning what he is ultimately going to be selling!” And Heiner Deyerl has joined Quality Assurance: since 2014, he’s been tasked with processing complaints.
While the two of them relate the story of the Contiform, they often recall this: “In the initial phase of development, particularly, the solidarity within the team and throughout the company was incredible! We got enormous support from our colleagues in the production hall – otherwise the whole thing would never have worked!“ It’s not least due to these memories of such good collaboration that the two of them retain such a lasting affection for the Contiform.