Talking tech: Tetra Pak uses IT to drive innovation
Tetra Pak A6 iLine was developed to produce the Tetra Pak Evero Aseptic carton milk bottle
Tetra Pak revealed plans to acclerate its rate of innovation when launched a new milk carton on Monday (16 May). The packaging manufacturer has promised to "double the quality" of its products while halving the time to market. Petah Marian visited the company to find out about the drivers and the results behind this pace of development.
Tetra Pak's vice president of development and engineering, Michael Grosse, claims the packaging giant is "doubling the quality" of its products while "halving the time to market" as it shifts to what the company calls a "virtually-driven" development cycle.
Speaking alongside the launch of the Tetra Evero Aseptic milk carton on Monday (16 May), Grosse said "speed today is key" in innovation. The company will bring out "more products over time" that are designed to address functionality needs, sustainability issues and help dairy groups increase differentiation within the market. "The ability to bring forward innovation in a better way with a lower cycle time is a different approach to innovation," he says.
That new approach to innovation is being accelerated through virtual engineering and running competitive development systems, emphasises Grosse.
"The more you're able to put the reality into a computer, the more you're able to virtually engineer your product, the more you'll be able to find issues early and fix them on a low-cost basis," he explains. "This is not about real parts that are breaking, they are about models that will give you an answer to a question that you can usually only find out by making things."
The development VP says Tetra Pak was able to simulate around 60% of the questions, requirements and attributes it had virtually, "in one way or another", which allowed the company to reduce lead times and cost.
The other driver behind the company's faster innovation has been running competitive concepts at the same time. Grosse admits that testing multiple solutions in parallel costs a lot of money but insists these investments pay back "many times" because you "find out which concept in the end you can bet on".
"If you do it in sequence, you try, you fail, you do another one. You lose a lot more time, effort and the passion and morale of the people [working on the project]," says Grosse.
This new development strategy played a role in the development of the Tetra Evero Aseptic, including the creation of a curved top which uses injection moulding and gas-phase sterilisation, and had its first protype up and running in 12 weeks instead of six months.
The company introduced advances in injection moulding in its Tetra Pak A6 iLine, the machine used to produce the Evero cartons, with Tetra Pak saying it is the first time that injection moulding has been used in an aseptic packaging system.
Tetra Pak reduced the injection moulding process time to less than 1.5 seconds, down from up to six seconds. It simplified the process by creating a mould with only two parts and through integrating the injection moulding module into the filling machine. The carton sleeve is also present in the mould when the hot plastic is injected, meaning that the three separate components - plastic cap, plastic top and carton body - are fused and sealed as part of the process.
Tetra Pak also developed a new sterilising process as part of the development of the Evero carton. It had to develop the new system, as its prior designs, were not flat packed. Previous designs were sterlised by passing rolls of carton material through a hot liquid hydrogen peroxide bath which killed off the bacteria.
The new bottles, which are pre-formed, required a different approach, which led to Tetra Pak developing a new gas-phase sterilisation technique. According to the company, the gas-phase sterilisation approach, where the packages are pre-heated to avoid condensation, had never been applied to a carton bottle before.
While the company says Tetra Evero Aseptic bottle's development was highly innovative, Grosse emphasised that the company is working on ten other major projects.
The Tetra Evero Aseptic packaging will be initially be focused on more premium lines sold in developed markets like Spain and Germany. However, with much of the Tetra Pak's growth predicted to come from emerging markets, the company has a series of projects to help develop its business in these countries.
While Grosse could not go into much detail, he said that Tetra Pak is lower-cost machinery that will lower barriers to entry, as well as developing innovation in single-portion packages.
Tetra Pak was quick to point out the modular elements, such as different neck shapes, in its design but time will tell how dairy groups will respond to this increased rate of innovation, particularly in an industry where its machinery is expected to have a long life-span.
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