“We offer packaging alternatives that render sustainability affordable”

In the first part of our visions interview, Wolfgang Huber, Head of Order Processing for Packaging Technology, illuminated the world of secondary-packaging alternatives. Now he relates what system solutions for this Krones already has in its portfolio.

In the shape of the LitePac packs, Krones has developed a sustainable packaging concept. What about the associated machine technology?

We are currently seeing the transformation in secondary packaging primarily with cans. Large corporations have launched appropriate programmes here for replacing shrink-film with cardboard. With our Varioline, we already have a machine platform here that can handle more than twenty different combinations of secondary and tertiary packaging, including LitePac Top. So we can offer our clients an innovative, alternative form of packaging, but one that runs on field-proven machine technology – a classic win-win situation.

The Varioline’s modularised options are being steadily expanded. So what are the most recent additions?

Firstly, of course, LitePac Top. The machine’s major plus for this pack form is the option for precise orientation of the containers. Which means clients need not accept any compromises in terms of marketing either. Because by dispensing with a shrink-film they lose potential advertising area, which thanks to Varioline they can very simply relocate to the can.

In the field of glass, we showcased the Varioline as an unpacker and packer pure and simple at the BrauBeviale in 2018. The difference from traditional technology: the packs move in a continuous flow through the machine. We thus achieve significantly higher machine outputs, and this on a significantly smaller footprint: because the Varioline can handle 72,000 bottles per hour when packing and even more than 86,000 when unpacking – and this in a single-lane version.

But the machine can also be used as a repacker. Breweries, especially, are employing this function for removing their bottles from returnable crates and placing them in cartons for export.

You mentioned the footprint. By how much can this be reduced when using Varioline?

One of our main configurations is a two-module machine, which replaces five conventional machines plus the corresponding conveyors. Here, a carton and basket erector, a basket inserter, a bottle packer, and a carton sealer are grouped together in a single machine – and this has a footprint of just around 30 square meters. With stand-alone machines, this figure would certainly be 15 times as high. In this sense, the Varioline’s strength compared to conventional machines is the ratio of packaging variance per square meter.

Since we just spoke about the footprint: what role do block solutions play in the dry end?

The ErgoBloc D, for example, links together a non-returnables packer, a buffering section, a grouping system, and a palletizer – but admittedly it isn’t recognisable at first glance as a space-saving block. This is primarily due to the shrink tunnel, which in the event of a malfunction has to be emptied, and accordingly necessitates an appropriate buffering section.

But if for secondary packaging we move away from shrink-film, to alternatives like LitePac Top or cartons, then significant potentials emerge for line layouting. Because then buffering sections can be eliminated entirely by direct block-synchronisation of the packer and the palletizer, which opens up attractive opportunities in the future for designing an even more compact line. For the clients, this also means: less equipment, a smaller footprint, lower investment costs, reduced wear and tear – so only advantages all round.

At the 2013 drinktec, we had already shown what a block solution of this kind might look like. Back then, we linked a LitePac machine for pack strapping directly to a Robobox pack grouping station and a non-returnables palletizer – and reduced the footprint of a dry end for non-returnable PET packs by 50 percent.

Lower energy consumption, more sustainable packages, reduced footprint – can it be said that Krones has been addressing these issues for a long time now, and has ready-to-use solutions for the market?

It is in fact the case that we already have convincing concepts for packaging alternatives in our portfolio covering all types of container: for cans, there’s not only the suitable LitePac Top concept, but in the shape of the Varioline also a fit-for-purpose field-proven machine technology. This, by the way, also handles glass containers in different packaging combinations.

In the case of PET containers, we can adopt a twin-track approach: on the one hand, we have two LitePac variants, with strapping band and cardboard clip, which minimise or entirely eliminate the use of plastic. And secondly, we are also able to optimise the existing shrink-packs, by minimising the weight and overlaps of the film, for example, and by dimensioning everything right down to the limit values.

Has this twin-track approach for PET packs been chosen deliberately?

Yes, because I believe that here the pressure from the market is not yet so great: even if plastic is eliminated from the secondary packaging for a PET pack, there’s still always plastic in the container, of course. What’s more, many beverage producers are still being relatively cautious when it comes to investments in their PET operations, for as long as it’s unclear how resource management is going to develop globally, but also in the individual nations and regions.

This is why many of our clients welcome it when we offer them solutions for reducing material consumption – without having to intervene too severely in the existing machinery. We now have clients, for instance, who are using a 26-µm film instead of a 35-µm version. This reduced film thickness firstly means lower packaging costs, and secondly enables beverage producers to adduce the savings as a marketing argument in the sense of “less material is also a contribution towards protecting the natural environment”. This is, so to speak, a first step towards sustainability, but one for which a complete new investment package is not required.

So what do all these new approaches and demands specifically mean for Krones?

Our clients expect us to come up with alternatives based on field-proven technology. After all, what’s basically involved here is not developing something new and revolutionary, but design-enhancing our existing kit, taking due account of factors like packaging-material costs, machine ratings, pack stability and footprint. This is a task we have long been pursuing, and meanwhile we have for every type of container a suitable packaging alternative that renders sustainability affordable.