What is behind the development of a new type of packaging? This story reveals the complexity of the development of new and innovative packaging types and packaging materials, right from the beginning up to the finished product.
At first, the goal seemed to be impossible – to create a package that could be both a bottle and a carton. But that was what consumers wanted: an aseptic carton package with a large, re-sealable opening – for both easy pouring and for drinking right from the container – and transparency to let them see the contents. What was to be designed, engineered and created was to be a milestone in terms of aseptic filling and packaging.
Combining benefits of different packaging
When Tetra-Pak engineers were given the challenge of combining the nutritional and convenience benefits of an aseptic package with the appeal of a plastic bottle, they naturally started from the approach that had provided the core technology for the company since its creation. Ever since the invention of the tetrahedron package that inspired the company’s name in 1951, Tetra Pak had been forming tubular carton packages that were pinched shut at the ends once the tube was filled.
But Tetra Pak engineers found the solution by thinking differently – a whole new package required a whole new approach. Thus the Tetra Aptiva Aseptic carton bottle project was launched at the end of 2000, one of the most ambitious new product development programs in the history of Tetra Pak.
Tetra APTIVA: the first aseptic carton bottle
The result, the world’s first aseptic carton bottle, was unveiled at the Anuga FoodTec fair in Cologne, Germany on April 4-7, 2006. After initially trying to use carton-based packaging material to reproduce the shape and appeal of a plastic bottle, the development team decided to take a new approach. They began to think of the package in a different way, as something entirely new – a carton bottle.
The distinction may seem minor, but team members explained that it enabled them to unleash their creative forces. Instead of the round shape of plastic bottles, they began to experiment with more innovative forms, including square, octagonal and six-sided containers.
After considerable experimentation and further tests with consumers, the team members came up with the unique Tetra Aptiva Aseptic semi-cylindrical shape. Consumer research showed that people liked the feel of the carton container and found it easy to handle with its flat surfaces. The shape also proved to be an attractive solution technically because the two flat surfaces add stiffness to the package.
Difficult challenges and different materials
Combining the semi-cylindrical carton shape with the container’s plastic top proved to be one of the most difficult challenges. The problem was finding a way to join the two elements. Thanks to the development of the Tetra Top ® package for chilled beverages during the 1990s, Tetra Pak engineers had mastered the techniques required to fuse plastic and carton materials. Rather, the difficulty was to ensure that the new package would appear as an integrated, coherent container rather than an assembly of two parts glued together.
Again, after developing numerous prototypes, the development team found that the best solution was to extend the unique semi-cylindrical shape of the carton portion into the plastic neck. To ensure the same coherent design between the neck and the screw cap, the design team added a round collar at the top of the neck.
Got it right this time? The next consumer testing phase…
Another round of consumer testing was undertaken to ensure the best proportionality between the semi-cylindrical carton and the plastic neck. At the same time as the package design was being refined, other team members were at work designing the new filling line that would be needed to accompany Tetra Aptiva Aseptic.
Here too the challenges were considerable, as the team could not simply adapt existing forming and filling techniques to the new product. In contrast to the tube-based filling and forming method pioneered and perfected by Tetra Pak, the developers needed to create a new aseptic filling process and the filling line that would implement it. The result is a two-track filling and forming process.
The challenges of carton-based packaging materials
The first track concerns the carton-based packaging material, delivered in rolls to the filling machine. A plastic sealing strip is applied along one edge of the roll, which is then cut into flat blanks.
One blank corresponds to the carton portion of one package. After they are loaded into a magazine, the blanks are shaped into cylinders and their seams are sealed. At the same time, along the filling machine’s second track, the plastic necks, complete with caps, are bulk loaded into a bin.
Handling of necks and caps
The necks and caps are manufactured and delivered joined in pairs to ensure that the plastic necks remain uncontaminated and that they are not crushed during shipment. Along the filling machine’s second track, a vibrating table sorts and positions the pairs of necks before sending them down a chute.
Then a mechanical hand grabs each one so that the pair of necks can be cut in half, with each neck then positioned on a spindle called a mandrel wheel. At this point, the two tracks meet; the plastic top is positioned at the top of the cylinder and induction heating is applied to seal the two parts together.
Sterilisation of packaging material with H2O2
Sterilisation is carried out through a unique Tetra Pak process based on hydrogen peroxide gas (H2O2). After filling, a burst of nitrogen is puffed into the package, to eliminate any oxygen traces before final sealing. The final fold, to create the distinctive Tetra Aptiva Aseptic shape and base, takes place just as the package is sealed.
As the development of the new package and filling machine advanced, the marketing team focused on finding an appropriate name for the innovative new package. They named the world’s first carton bottle Aptiva, a combination of active and adaptable.
Active refers to the suitability of the package for on-the-go beverages. Adaptable underlines the fact that Tetra Aptiva Aseptic will be available in different sizes and that package size changes will be made with just the push of button, in comparison to the massive retooling required for plastic bottles.