A review of preform developments – Voices from the industry

First of all, a look back over the past 20 years: What developments have been particularly influential to your activities in the area of design/system manufacturing for preforms?

Moraldo Masi, PET Business Director Closures, Containers & PET BU Sacmi: “For many years the main driver was product light-weighting, one of the pillars of environmental protection and sustainability. Then, the focus broadened and achieving a circular economy became another tool for reaching real sustainability and protecting the environment. Everybody is working on new development based on re-use/re-cycle of products; we changed our designing drivers towards this new perspective. I believe that this is extremely positive and a big opportunity for companies strongly involved in PET products manufacturing systems, due to the fact that PET is the only fully multiple recyclable polymer and has perfect physical and mechanical features to make packaging.”

Pablo Fiorentini, Global Sales Director, Preform Systems & Tooling Sipa: “As producers of preform systems, our main focus has always been trying to increase production capacity per installed unit with consequent benefits in terms of energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Flexibility is our key word, we give customers complete freedom of choice thanks to the very high level of compatibility of our Xform Preform machines with moulds of different generations and different manufacturers. Always focused and attentive to the environmental impact of the industry to which we belong, we work tirelessly to propose ever lighter container solutions that meet the expectations and specifications required by our customers. Developing lighter preforms and thinner walls leads to multiple benefits, including a reduction in the total volume of processed PET, a reduction in cycle time, a reduction in the energy required to cool down the preform itself and a drop in the thermal power required during the heating process inside the blowing machine ovens.”

In which areas do you see opportunities to further improve PET preforms and how do they influence your R&D work today?

Moraldo Masi, Sacmi: “I think that many plastic packaging that until today have been produced with different material, could very soon be produced in PET. I’m referring to the dairy, food, pharma etc. sectors.”

Pablo Fiorentini, Sipa: “Since we have been pushing towards unimaginable limits, the engineering of the preforms must be directly linked to the required characteristics of the final container. The study and application of the correct quality of PET material are increasingly the key to the success of projects.”

To what extent do you expect chemical recycling to change the preform landscape? Will we see more multi-layer in the future?

Dave Morton, Vice President Multi-Layer Technology Solutions, Husky Injection Molding Systems: “Husky’s reinvention of multi-layer co-injection technology has opened up many new opportunities. With our ability to precisely dose the inner layer and our industry-leading systems, we’ve been able to help make packages more economical, reliable and sustainable. As new alternative materials are being developed (biodegradable, compostable, bio-based), we see a lot of interest in using multi-layer technology to help achieve sustainability goals and incorporate more recycled content in packages. This technology can help to unlock materials that are currently challenging to process, making this an exciting opportunity to help further drive the circular economy. Additive suppliers are able to utilise the accuracy of Husky’s multi-layer technology to ensure traditional materials are able to be separated in the recycling stream. Both chemical and monomer recycling can help our customers use materials that are currently challenging for mechanical recyclers to process, or have little to no end-market value. We see chemical and monomer recycling as a complementary technology to today’s thermo-mechanical recycling.”

Moraldo Masi, Sacmi: “Chemical recycling can potentially turn around the preform landscape. This is so because if some of the many companies that are busy working on this process, searching for a feasible and economically-sustainable industrial process, will succeed, it will be possible to obtain again the chemical molecules that compose PET. This would be the real and complete circular economy, without limitations or compromises.”

Pablo Fiorentini, Sipa: “Based on the latest directives and market projections, we expect a world that is increasingly respectful of rules and the environment; we expect that gradually the colour additives will be abandoned to get a similar scenario to that already existing in Japan where high levels of post-consumer flakes purity and clarity are available. In this regard, our Xtreme Renew system is the right solution at the right time because, thanks to mechanical recycling (much more advantageous than the chemical one) it is able to produce preforms for food contact in a single thermal cycle directly from simply washed flakes. Of course, the preform produced can be suitable also for non- food packaging. Considering the technologies developed and known so far, we cannot fail to note that there are strong constraints for the application of large-scale chemical recycling with justifiably acceptable costs. For the aforementioned reasons we expect multi-layer technology to be less and less required and tolerated.”

Each preform manufacturing process has its advantages and disadvantages. How can a converter find the right process for his requirements?

Moraldo Masi, Sacmi: “First of all, everybody should be aware of the various different technology existing in the market to produce bottles/containers. You may use single or double stage, injection, compression or a mix of different technologies. Although the main driver for the correct choice remains the TCO and operating costs, it is becoming more important every day to reach high quality standards, and this feature may change a lot from one technology to another and from one market to another. In our portfolio we have several technologies and we are quite accustomed to support our customer in their choice with this way of thinking.”