Graham Packaging Unveils Revolutionary Technology in New PET Bottles

Graham Packaging Company, L.P., a worldwide leader in the design, manufacture, and sale of customized blow-moulded plastic containers, has unveiled a revolutionary new technology that gives customers design freedom and flexibility in creating a packaging identity never before available in plastic.

Graham Packaging’s proprietary Active Transverse Panel (ATP) bottle is the first panel-free hot-fill polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle.

“The Holy Grail of hot-fill is to eliminate vacuum panels and achieve design freedom without being encumbered by the geometry of panels-and this is exactly what we have done,” said Paul J. Bailie, director of business development for Graham Packaging. “This is what everyone has been striving for, and it’s aimed directly at conversion from glass to plastic.”

Graham Packaging’s first offering using the ATP technology is a 15.2-ounce bottle that looks like glass, and “because it has subtle, simple lines unimpeded by vacuum panels, we have named it ‘Simple Eloquence,’ ” Bailie said. “Other more radical designs are on the drawing board for future release.”

The initial version of the bottle has been adopted by Honest Tea of Bethesda, Maryland, which produces a line of organic teas, and Malibu Beach Beverage Group, L.L.C., of Roswell, Georgia, which produces Malibu Beach drinks. Production and distribution of products in the ATP bottle began in June at a Power Packaging facility in Reading, Pennsylvania.

This bottle is suitable for any hot-fill beverage still in glass or plastic. “It is an alternative for customers who are looking to change their products’ identity by upgrading the look of their plastic packaging,” Bailie said.

“We look at this ATP bottle as Graham Packaging’s way of propelling the single-serve business,” he added. “This bottle is in keeping with Graham Packaging’s tradition of providing consumer-preferred packaging, and this new ATP technology will provide the design freedom to offer a whole range of innovative shapes for our customers’ brands.”

The ATP technology enables 100 percent of the vacuum to be removed from the package without the use of traditional panels.

The ATP bottle is blow-moulded on standard equipment but enhanced through proprietary mould designs. The ATP bottle is conveyed and palletised through a standard downstream configuration. At the filling location, the bottle is depalletised and managed through the filling process by a proprietary bottle-handling system. The bottle is then filled at 185 degrees, capped, and sent through a cooling tunnel.

Bailie said the ATP bottle is perfect for teas and juices currently in glass or panelled plastic. The bottle currently is manufactured with the type of ribs commonly used in water bottles, but Graham Packaging expects to release a rib-less design later this year.

The elimination of panels also eliminates “label crinkle.” ATP allows brand owners to use film labelling. If the label is clear, the product will show through, since the label is flat against the bottle. When Graham releases the rib-less version later this year, any commercially available label could be applied.

The smooth bottle also is “ice-chest friendly.” Ice or water won’t accumulate behind the label and drip out when removed from the cooler. The bottle is dent resistant due to 100 percent of the vacuum being removed and is, therefore, ideally suited for vending. The top-load strength is 50 to 100 percent better than traditional hot-fill, opening up new possibilities for distribution.

Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, said the ATP bottle “has a sleek, eye-catching look—an elegant look that captures the high quality appearance of glass.”

He said converting to plastic in the ATP bottle is helping Honest Tea widen the appeal of its organic products beyond natural foods devotees and helping to gain access to new market segments, such as schools and universities, the health and fitness market, and on-the-go consumers in general. One example: Honest Tea in the ATP bottle is now being served aboard Independence Air flights. Paul Kelley, manager of Graham Packaging’s breakthrough development technology group and one of the bottle’s designers, said ATP represents a “paradigm shift.” He said, “This is different from what everyone’s been doing for 20 years. The traditional way to design a hot-fill bottle was to build in areas or panels that would absorb product contraction. Designing this technology to negate the need for panels is a whole new mindset.”

The ATP system was developed on an existing filling line. Modifying it to accept ATP bottles was a challenge, according to Ted Lyon, Graham Packaging’s senior manager of operational improvement and one of the leaders of the company’s ATP commercialisation team.

One of the production challenges was achieving proper fit in the bottle-handling system while not marring the bottles, according to Kurt Sieber, president of Advantage Puck Technologies in South Bend, Indiana, which created and designed parts for the handling system. “Keeping in mind the character of the bottle and the functions of the bottle as it contracts when cooling were things we had to take into consideration,” Sieber said. “It was important to make sure the system stabilized and centred the bottle, but yet did not damage the bottle.”

Teaming this bottle-handling system with a hot-fill bottle was an “unusual request,” said Steve Rowland, sales manager of Haumiller Engineering in Elgin, Illinois, which designed the bottle-handling system. “This is a revolutionary process, and it is phenomenally innovative,” he said.

Geoff Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing for Power Packaging, headquartered in St. Charles, Illinois, called the ATP bottle a “marketer’s dream.”

Campbell said, “One of the top consumer complaints about the traditional PET bottle is the vacuum panels, which make the bottle difficult to handle. It is also hard to label a panelled bottle, because the label crinkles. The new ATP bottle will not interfere with the natural, smooth feel of the bottle in the consumer’s hand or with marketing’s desire to design a proprietary shape that will be identified with only that brand. That has been a competitive advantage glass and cold-fill plastic packaging has had—until now.”

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