Its overall economy might have faltered but Germany is still way ahead of the rest of the European pack in extending machinery technology capabilities... and it's fully confident of continuing to call the shots says Des King

Packaging is estimated to account for around 2% of the total value of goods produced in Germany, with the domestic market likely to be worth EUR27.3bn this year and predicted to increase by 11% to pass the EUR30bn mark over the next four years.

It’s the largest single market for packaging throughout Europe – which spends more than EUR122bn per annum – with an average annual per capita consumption of EUR319, compared with the UK at EUR234 and, say, Russia at a lowly EUR19 and yet whose population exceeds that of Germany by 77%.

Around 75% of all production is in paper, board and plastics. Both sectors are predicted to maintain steady growth and should achieve values of EUR11.2M and EUR10.7M, respectively, by 2007 [source: European Packaging: strategic five-year forecasts, published by Pira International for £1750/EUR2800].

Since the break-up of the Schmalbach-Lubeca packaging operation – with the US-owned Ball Corporation acquiring the group’s canning interest, while PET and closures went to Amcor for EUR1.6bn – domestic packaging production has become largely a subsidiary activity for a number of major multi-nationals.

An example of this can be found in Smurfit Stone which maintains 11 of its 21 different European manufacturing sites within the country.

Principal among the remaining German owned packaging manufacturers are Klöckner Pentaplast [rigid films for the pharmaceuticals and food sectors]; Gerresheimer Glas [60% of whose EUR600+ sales turnover is generated within the pharmaceuticals sector]; flexibles specialist Südpack; and the privately managed corrugated packaging producers THIMM and Seyfert.

While economic growth within Germany might have fallen behind that of other European nations in recent times as a result of its re-unification policy, there is a growing confidence that it will be back on track in 2003. An improvement of 2.5% is currently being forecast, 0.7% being carried forward from last year.

Machinery exports are a key factor determining Germany’s economic health and, in packaging equipment at least, the country’s performance continues to hold up well. The country is the second-ranked largest manufacturer after the US, and maintains a 30% share of the global market.

According to the VDMA, machinery manufacture has increased by 25% since 1995 and was valued at EUR4bn during 2002, of which 80% went to export. Principal markets for the 300-strong German packaging machinery manufacturing industry last year were the US [EUR457M]; France [EUR190M]; the UK [EUR181M]; Russia [EUR181M]; and China [EUR149M].

Increased automation

As European leader in packaging machinery, Germany technology is at the forefront in effecting the transition from mechanical to digital engineering solutions: the introduction of the so-called Generation 3 systems.

Principal developers in the field are Elau AG and Siemens, both of which have found a ready market among packaging machinery manufacturers for open systems – initially adopted by the machine tools sector – that are geared towards applying greater flexibility and improving upon production speeds.

According to Elau marketing manager Klaus Weyer, the evolution taking place in the packaging machinery sector originates from changes in consumerism. “Packaging life cycles are becoming shorter so packers or end-users need machines which enable them to react easily and quickly. The main requirements for modern packaging machines are flexibility and productivity.”

Both Elau and Siemens have capitalised on the unsuitability of most existing automation concepts for CNC development, citing lack of transparency, some over-complicated hardware architecture and the likelihood of having to work across at least two different software programmes, as the key drawbacks.

It’s an assessment that’s gaining recognition throughout the market, with Elau claiming sales of around 2000 new systems ever since introducing Gen3 technology five years ago. Elau’s customer base includes high profile machinery manufacturers such as Bosch, SIG, Tetra Pak and Uhlmann.

Adoption has been further accelerated with the gathering trend towards a more fully integrated production line comprising modular units as required, and dependent upon an open management information system.

Elau has recently extended its PacDrive range through the introduction of the SCL-055 integral servo motor/drive (Servomotor Capping and Labelling) designed specifically for use in pharmaceutical, food, beverages and other liquid packaging applications. The purpose built unit combines motor and drive in the same trapezoidal enclosure, ideally suited for direct integration into rotary tables used in capping and labelling operations.

Previously, the difficulty running motor cables from rotating machine components to amplifiers located in control cabinets had precluded the servo automation of these machine categories. The SCL-055’s reduced space requirements and simplified, single cable installation will initiate a fundamental change in the way that bottling lines can be designed, allowing significant improvements in flexibility and throughput.

The PacDrive SCL motor’s IP67 rated sealing and Hart Coat surface treatment are resistant to liquid intrusion as well as corrosive chemicals necessary for aseptic filling.

A reinforced bearing handles greater than normal radial loads so that the motor can be directly coupled with a belt drive.

Neuwieder Winkler and Dünnebier AG has worked with the Siemens packaging team in developing its new ASX machine – capable of producing 1500 products/min, a 33.3% productivity improvement upon previous equipment performance.

A separate servomotor drives each motion, with all axis-linking mechanical parts removed from the machine. Axis inter-relationships are co-ordinated electronically in real time in the Simovert Masterdrives MC frequency converters, without a central closed-loop control module.

The converters are so compact that 12 drives fit into a single cabinet half the size of its predecessor. Power is received from the built-in link busbar, and all data fed between the drives to the valve islands is managed by the Profibus system.

“The system allows for implementation of changes at the software level without having to replace cam discs,” says Winkler and Dünnebier. “Likewise, integration makes it possible for drive tasks not normally in the repertoire to be taken over by a host computer.

“We’ve achieved more flexibility at a lower cost: a concept that really convinced us.”

Siemens will present two basic packages for continuous or intermittent tubular bag machines at Fachpack 2003 [October 8-10], with both systems incorporating essential components such as power supply, controller, drives [feed and power circuits], I/O, bus connector and HMI unit.

The Simotion D motion control system facilitates the programming of PLC and motion control on one device. Machine equipment such as cross-sealing units can be automated in full accordance with the new open modular architecture controls guidelines.

Plenty of bottle

Mid-year figures confirm that Krones AG – the world’s market leader for beverage bottling, canning and packaging machinery – is more than confident in its ability to cope with the current economic environment.

Order bookings at Krones during the first six months of the current business year rose by 9.5 % to reach EUR663.9M, with profits also up by 6.8 % to reach EUR34.4M. The company is attributing its continuing healthy performance to a combination of lean management and judicious capital investment, and anticipates year-end sales turnover to top EUR1.4bn, with final profits of around EUR60M.

Krones has recently introduced the SK series of small-cavity stretch blow-moulding machines, utilising its proven Contiform technology, and available with up to 40 moulding stations. The mould carrier can be used for PET bottles up to a volume of 750ml.

Prestigious overseas orders already completed include market-leading PET bottle producers: Visypak in Australia and South Eastern Container in the USA.

The USA’s largest manufacturer of PET bottles for Coca-Cola, South Eastern Container, has installed the 40-station Contiform SK 40 in two of its facilities, and is now achieving a production rate of 60 000 0.5-litre bottles/hr, which the company is claiming as a world first.

Krones has traditionally manufactured the bottle pockets for its bottle washers at its main plant in Neutraubling, and achieved another notable record recently in passing the 10M mark within a production schedule that has extended back over the past 11 years.

The combination of a steel carrier with steel-sheet pockets featuring a bottle-friendly plastics nose has proved to be the best material variant, providing several advantages, not least of which being to make a significant contribution to overall energy savings.

The importance of accurate machining for the pockets is evidenced by the amount of bottle pockets incorporated in a single washer, with one of the largest machines built to date installed last year by the Polar Brewery in Venezuela, and incorporating over 73 000 bottle pockets.

Also active in the non-returnable PET bottle-filling sector is KHS, who has recently supplied a second-generation aseptic cold filling line to Eckes AG. The company is not only one of Germany’s leading fruit juice and nectar drink producers but also a major distributor throughout Europe.

KHS’s innovative ACF technology solution combines microbiological safety and maximum flexibility. Added to this are the cost benefits accrued through the comparatively lower cost of bottle materials and savings on preservatives in direct comparison with conventional filling methods.

Cleanroom principles define second-generation ACF plant technology.

Features include a glass insulator containing the aseptic block designed according to Class 100 clean room conditions; an unobstructed view of all machinery parts; and a constant supply of sterile air.

The cleanroom concept guarantees high line availability, particularly when operator intervention becomes necessary, and additional sterilisation measures are unnecessary when opening the glass insulator.

Advances in adhesives

Germany boasts one of the world’s leading chemicals manufacturers in BASF, which has recently introduced a new environmentally compatible barrier coating for packaging applications through paper and board producer Stora Enso.

“Coating with BASF’s barrier dispersions avoids the need for additional process stages in the manufacturing of packaging paper, and can be carried out at higher speeds than composite packaging, resulting in fully recyclable packaging products,” Stora Enso business development manager Keith Damarell notes.

The solution is the result of a 15-year search to find a viable alternative to the costly and complex composite packaging.

Prior to this, materials such as wax coatings, aluminium and plastics foils have had to be applied to achieve environmental conformity.

BASF has also worked in conjunction with leading German converting equipment manufacturer Pagendarm BTT GmbH to develop what is claimed to be the world’s fastest coating plant. It is capable of achieving speeds of 1500m/min for aqueous pressure sensitive adhesives at its Ludwigshafen site.

The determining factor that sparked off the dynamic growth in the market for self-adhesive products was, of course, the availability of aqueous pressure sensitive adhesives that were first developed by BASF more than 50 years ago. Now they represent annual sales of around EUR280M for the company world-wide.

The centre also houses a UV hot melt adhesive pilot plant operating at a speed of up to 700m/min. The overall development incurred costs of EUR5M.

In a joint venture on an altogether lighter note, alongside German plastics packaging manufacturer Basell GmbH, BASF chose to mark Germany’s ‘year of chemistry’ in 2003 by applying its chemicals expertise to the production of multi-coloured drinking straws produced from PP.

Altering environmental mindset

Outside of its hold over the packaging machinery sector, Germany has been among the principal front-runners throughout Europe in promoting greater environmental awareness, notably among consumers.

Stories of shoppers discarding non-essential shrinkwrap at the checkout point are by no means apocryphal.

According to Hans-Peter Repnik, CEO of Der Grüne Punkt [the Green Dot] originators of the Duales System Deutschland, 6.32M tonnes of packaging waste was collected for recycling last year.

This is a remarkable per capita average of 77kg, with non-reusable PET bottles achieving a 9% increase to total 0.642M tonnes.

The German Green Dot system has attracted its share of critics outside of Germany. With recent European legislation perhaps sidelining sustainability in the face of economic uncertainty, it might well have its work cut out to maintain credibility on the home front.

The introduction in January of a mandatory deposit on beer, mineral water and carbonated soft drinks is predicted to reduce annual revenue accruing to Duales by as much as EUR310M.

More to the point, the legislation is more likely to lead to removal of drinks packaging from the packaging loop rather than re-usage.

Despite the practicalities, and despite the economic arguments involved, the more serious knock-on effect might be to re-define the German environmental conscience itself.