Pop the cap on innovation

3 July 2018

When it comes to making a decision on what to buy, the sheer amount of choice can be daunting. The volume of marketing and advertising we are subjected to each day beg the question of how we are able to process and decide on anything at all. Below, two industry experts working within soft and hard drinks explain their processes of considering and implementing redesigns.

The predominant method of creating a distinctive brand identity usually relies on shape, graphic and colours. However, corporations have taken to employing ulterior methods to provide an immersive brand experience. A prime example is the iconic glass Snapple bottle, which has built strong brand recognition through an embossed logo and metal cap that makes an audible pop when opened.

We wanted to go in and say: ‘This is what we want to do, now how do we get there?’
- Patrick George, Dr Pepper Snapple Group

Top of the pops

Snapple, a brand of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, launched in Brooklyn, New York, in 1972. It now offers upwards of 30 different varieties of premium tea and juice. For its 20, 32, and 64oz sizes, Snapple uses a PET bottle. The company has long considered fully switching to shatterproof PET bottles to allow their consumers an improved product for drinking ‘on the move’. The central issue with realising this goal has been in attempting to transfer the popular brand’s most distinctive features – with specific attention to the the iconic pop of the metal cap.

“The Snapple consumer is very protective of the bottle shape, they’re protective of the pop and they’re protective of the ‘Real Facts’,” says Patrick George, senior director of engineering for Dr Pepper Snapple Group. “If you don’t supply them with those three things, they’re not happy.” To solve the technical challenges of creating a PET bottle that replicated the look and feel of the glass bottle, and could be topped with a metal cap, Snapple worked with long-time partner R&D/Leverage, a product design manufacturer. After persevering for three years, the two companies have produced a new-look PET bottle that is nearly indistinguishable from the iconic glass Snapple bottle.

Gaining Leverage

One of the pleasures of the package redesign project, George shares, was the freedom the Dr Pepper Snapple Group and R&D/Leverage team members were given to solve the problem. “Frankly, we had tried a number of times to get the same bottle, and with most of our efforts we ended up with design limitations brought on by timing or the design team applying their predetermined ideas.”

Task force

“For this project, we needed to be able to design a bottle that worked exactly the way we wanted it to and without external influences. We wanted to go in and say: ‘This is what we want to do, now how do we get there?’ and allow them to take us where we needed to go.” He says Dr Pepper Snapple Group chose R&D/ Leverage because, “From a technical standpoint, R&D/Leverage is tops, and had no preconceived notions about whatcould not be done.” Those on board for this project included George, Dr Pepper Snapple director of packaging engineering Stephen Doerr, R&D/Leverage project engineer/ research and development Brian Lefebure, and Galen German, metal closure manager for Crown Holdings.

Vacuum for improvement

To move from glass to PET for Snapple involved many technical hurdles. Among them, because the PET bottle needed to replicate the look of the glass package, it could not use panels on its body to absorb the vacuum created during the hot fill process. Originally, a vacuum was required to pull the metal closure down to seal the container and create the popping noise when opened.

If the bottle wall varied, it would collapse and not hold enough vacuum to pull down the metal cap. Heavy walls are a challenge due to lower stretch ratios.
– Brian Lefebure, R&D/Leverage

“If we had put any panels in the bottle, we would have lost vacuum because they’re made to deform to allow the bottle to move in an organised manner, whereas we didn’t want that,” says George. “We wanted to make sure we pulled as much vacuum as we could so the top of the button on the closure would be pulled down.”

Liquid solution

The solution was the way in which the plastic was distributed in the bottle as well as an abnormally heavy wall thickness of 0.038in, according to R&D/Leverage’s Lefebure. The heft of the bottle brought its own set of challenges. As Lefebure explains, being able to mould and reheat a preform that produces a heavy-walled bottle in a reasonable amount of time was difficult. Keeping the wall thickness uniform was another issue. He says, “If the bottle wall varied, it would collapse and not hold enough vacuum to pull down the metal cap. Heavy walls are a challenge due to lower stretch ratios.”

The same, but different

Trying to establish a more precise and consistent fill level in the bottle also proved a considerable challenge. “If the bottle was filled too high, the finish would begin to distort, which would then reduce the removal torque level required by Dr Pepper Snapple Group and would fail.” The bottle was just part of the challenge; the cap also needed to be redesigned to work with the new plastic finish. When capping a PET bottle with a metal closure, you have to distribute the capping force via the lugs without distorting the finish beyond comprehension.

Closing the gap

“When you make the closure smaller, you have a lot more force and pressure,” says George. “If you have a larger opening, around 63mm or so, you can put a lot more connections on the finish, so you’re not pressing as much in one location. That is why plastic closures work really well, because you can consistently press all the way around the circumference of the finish. The smaller you get, the harder it gets, which is one of the issues we had to resolve to end up with the the most efficient package design.”

Previous experience

When switching to PET, Dr Pepper Snapple Group already had experience with using the material with its largersize bottles. As with the larger bottle, the smaller one does not include a barrier. “We decided very early on not to include a barrier,” says George. “We knew through our close monitoring of shelf life and of our product through warehousing that we wouldn’t need it.” Snapple beverages have a relatively long shelf life, depending on the variety of beverage.

The end result

The 16oz PET Snapple bottle was unveiled in February 2018. Given its weight, it feels like a glass bottle, although George notes that it weighs 80% less. The distinct pop ensures consumers have the same experience with the product. “The whole key of what we were trying to do was change the bottle in a way the consumer didn’t notice. For them to see this as the glass bottle. There are people who are still surprised it’s a plastic bottle.”

Carton network

Another beverage company making the most of updated processing power is Founders Brewing Company, launched by home-brewing enthusiasts Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers in 1996. The latest addition to their packaging operations is a canning line designed for running 750 cans per minute, which adds to the first line that was capable of 400 cans and a bottle line capable of producing 500 cans every minute.

The newest canning line is most often used to produce something that no one has been more successful with than Founders: 15-count paperboard multipack cartons of 12oz cans. Priced more attractively compared with sixpacks or 12-packs, production typically ranges 25,000 15-packs, says packaging manager Matt Sutton. These 15-packs are conveyed directly into the palletiser. “We took the machine from our other can line,” says Sutton. “We had it moved, installed, rigged, and running over the course of a threeday weekend.”

While plenty of 15-packs come off the new canning line, it’s also used for six, nine, and 12-count cartons. For these formats, distributors and retailers prefer that cartons be unitised in a corrugated tray. The new system picks corrugated tray blanks from a magazine, erects them with help from an adhesive applicator, and puts four six-packs, two nine-packs, or two 12-packs into a corrugated tray. At the discharge of this system, the conveyors carrying corrugated trays merge with those carrying 15-packs so that either format can proceed to the downstream palletiser with little changeover effort required.

Sutton continues, “The first machine in the line is a depalletiser, which takes the pallet of cans, strips the strapping and then sweeps them one layer at a time into the filler. Cans destined for domestic markets get a ‘packaged-on’ date, while those headed for the 20 or so countries outside of the US get a ‘best-by’ date. The time frame in which a beer is good depends on which beer it is, but with most of what we produce, we’d like to have the beer consumed in the 150 to 180 day time-frame.”

“At 750 cans per minute, we need a new sleeve of can ends about every minute,” says Sutton. “With this automated can end delivery system, the operator only needs to load sleeves into the magazine about every 22 minutes. That’s one reason the line only requires two operators. ”Once inspected, the cans are inverted and pass through a drier so that they can later be inkjet coded. They are then rotated again by going through a twist rail, dried again, and moved into mass accumulation. Once inside the accumulator station, the cans are collated into groups of 15 and pushed into cartons.

Assistant packaging manager Mike Downey adds that consistent growth is in the forecast. “In 2017, we produced 466,000 barrels, while this year we expect to be at 600,000 or just north of that.” Sutton concluded by saying he was production employee 30, Downey was 40 and there are now 120 people in the department. “This has made engineering a real pleasure, as we can move from brute-force to a team with considerably more technical expertise.”

The PET bottle replicates the iconic glass original.
US markets get ‘packaged-on’ dates; those leaving the US get ‘best-by’ dates.
Founders’ famous 15-pack.

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