R&D bottling cuts costs, boosts recycling
Beer companies seeking to create new, trendy bottles for their brands should estimate how much it costs to sort the new bottles from the old ones in the recycling process. A collaboration between the German R&D company Syscona and Dutch brewery Grolsch has resulted in the launching of a newly designed bottle that not only burns fewer holes in their pockets but also improves the recycling process. The project was supported by the Eureka network, which helps intensify European competitiveness through its support to businesses, research centres and academia targeting the development of innovative products and services.
Grolsch officials have said bottled beer advertising focuses on how to convince consumers to select one company's beer over others, and how to relaunch the beer in a new bottle. 'Branding is very, very important in the market,' explained Susan Ladrak-Keppels, planning manager at Grolsch.
Grolsch said it sought to introduce a newly designed bottle but wanted to have full understanding about the subsequent costs that would emerge from having to separate the new bottles from the standard bottles during the local recycling process. Dutch consumers regularly return empty bottles to the stores, which in turn return them to the breweries for recycling.
The Dutch company decided to cooperate with Syscona, a small firm located in Freudenberg-Niederndorf, which would develop a technical solution that would measure how many Grolsch bottles were in each pallet. This would help keep the sorting costs to a minimum.
Grolsch's selection of Syscona was made by using data from consumer behaviour studies that focused on returning crates filled with bottles to stores, and on the assumption that the percentage of Grolsch bottles in the crates on the top layer of the pallet represents the percentage of Grolsch bottles in the entire pallet.
Following the group's calculations, only pallets containing more than a predetermined amount of 'foreign' bottles had to be sorted. According to the research, other pallets could be sent to the filling lines directly from the empty goods warehouse.
The two companies finalised stage one of the project: the results showed that the Dutch generally didn't mix up their various brands of empty bottles. Therefore, the development of a new sorting line at the brewery, which would cost up to EUR 8 million, would be money wasted, the researchers said. The pallets that had a small number of 'rogue' bottles could be sent to Grolsch's regular production line that wouldn't fill them up with Grolsch beer, they added.
'After a certain level of non-Grolsch bottles, too much disruption to the line would be caused and that would be inefficient,' Ms Ladrak-Keppels said.
The German group also created a machine capable of identifying bottles in crates on the top layer of a pallet. The team said that even if the brewery's new and old bottles could be identified, along with unwanted bottles from other brands, the machine could be programmed to send pallets with few or even none of the rogue bottles straight onto the production line, and to send the bottles that needed sorting to another area for manual removal.
'We had to develop a complete new generation of inspection systems,' said Kurt Spiegelmacher, technical manager at Syscona. 'We are the first company to be able to detect the content of a whole pallet.'