In recent decades, people have been striving to lead a more conscious and environmentally friendly lifestyle. Instead of accepting conventional packaging concepts, consumers and lawmakers alike are pushing for sustainable materials with better recyclability and less plastic content, such as paper or mono-materials. Thanks to innovative solutions like the Ampack FCL inline filling machine for pre-made cups from Syntegon, manufacturers are able to cater to that trend. The FCL ensures that packaging for sensitive foods like yogurt, dips, sauces, or soups is safe and hygienic – as well as sustainable.

In the past, conventional plastic was the most commonly used packaging material. This was quite simply because it was established in the market with regard to processing and manufacturing as it is robust and easy to handle. The material’s effect on the environment, on the other hand, is detrimental. Since it is becoming a less attractive option for consumers, food manufacturers are at an advantage if they opt for sustainable alternative cup solutions whenever possible. Using plastic-paper mixtures as well as mono-material solutions has a positive impact on the environment as it allows for a reduction of fossil-based materials and better recycling.

Machine and material go hand in hand

When transitioning from conventional plastic to sustainable alternatives, processing and packaging equipment plays a key role. As manufacturers may choose to launch more sustainably packaged versions of existing popular products to the market only gradually, their machines need to be flexible and process a variety of materials – conventional composites, paper-based materials as well as recyclable mono-material solutions. Each material comes with specific properties. Lids made out of PP, for example, are less heat-resistant on the surface compared to lids made of aluminum. The PP lids therefore require a different sealing technology and handling to ensure proper transfer of the temperature from the heater head to the lid. Alternatively, food manufacturers can opt for reclosable lids made of PET or PP to decrease the amount of plastic used in larger containers. These give the final product a high-quality look without compromising the usability and product protection after opening. Paper-based cups, for example, are another sustainable solution: They have an overlap of paper interfaces in the sealing rim, where the material is rolled and glued together. The challenge when using those is that the material tears or creases more easily and is more difficult to seal. Poor sealing quality, in turn, can cause leakage and lead to an untidy appearance of the cup once the lid is pulled off.

Another major challenge in the transition to sustainable materials is to keep equipment efficiency high and to minimize the rejection of faulty packaging. If manufacturers want to stay flexible and handle conventional as well as mono-materials without major downtimes, their equipment must be able to process a number of packaging sizes and products. To do so, the machines must offer gentle de-stacking of cups and sufficient disinfection, handle varying cup holder tolerances and perform sealing and leakage tests as well as lid application reliably.

Easy retrofitting for more sustainability
This is why state-of-the-art solutions like the Ampack FCL are – above all¬ flexible. With a maximum output of 60,000 cups an hour, the machine is designed to process a variety of liquid, viscous and pump-required foods into premade cups of various shapes, materials and sizes. Gentle cup destacking and sealing units ensure that the containers are not damaged and properly sealed while being processed. To minimize the plastic content and achieve a more sustainable look and feel at the point-of-sale, manufacturers can opt for processing paper-based cups with paper lids while maintaining the ability to handle plastic cups on the same machine.

Higher protection and longer shelf life
Available in ultra-clean and aseptic executions, the FCL has been designed according to 3-A requirements and equipped with an aseptic chamber to minimize the risk of food contamination. Manufacturers can choose to sterilize cups with either H₂O₂-steam, UVC radiation or a pulsed-light system. By applying one of the three methods, plastic cups can be used for foods requiring aseptic disinfection, while A-PET and paper-based cups reach ultra-clean levels or higher depending on the material’s composition. Before implementing either method, manufacturers should partner with experts like Syntegon to perform an individual analyzation of material and product requirements. To further optimize the hygienic design of the FCL, the filling unit features a fully automatic integrated rinsing plate for CIP (Clean-in-place) and SIP (Steam-in-place).

Continuing to minimizetheenvironmental impact
With at least one FCL up and running on each continent, Syntegon has delivered a solution that meets the needs of food manufacturers all around the world. However, the packaging and processing experts are far from slowing down. Parameters such as new materials, technological progress, digitalization, regulations, but also regional conditions perpetuate further development potential for eco-friendly packaging. Syntegon is therefore continuing to research new technologies for sterilization, sealing and machine handling. In fact, Syntegon is about to relaunch an optimized ultra-clean version for the FCL in 2022 to further improve its performance. The goal is to keep developing innovative technologies that ensure safe products while minimizing their impact on our planet.

Ampack GmbH – a Syntegon company
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