I have seen a lot of aseptic fillers in my life and have come to recognize elements that are essential to the long-term success of machine:
- Simplicity of design
- Ease of operation
- Robustness of sterilization processes for the packaging material, filling environment and product contact surfaces
- Maintenance of the sterile environment
- Cleanability in day-to-day operations
- Field service support from the manufacturer
SIMPLICITY OF DESIGN
Scholle appears to have done a good job of incorporating these elements in their new Scholle SureFill® 30 Low-Acid aseptic bag-in-box filler. This filler uses proven technology in combination with a new vapor-phase hydrogen peroxide sterilization system that can sterilize bags at high speed. This enables the filler to transition to an automatic web-feeding system that can fill up to 15 bags per minute, provided there is a 60-gallon-per-minute product supply.
The major innovation on this filler is the incorporation of a web-fed, bag indexing conveyance system which moves the container through the sterilization zone and into the filling chamber. Since operator handling of the bags is reduced, the microbiological re-contamination of the pre-sterilized bags is minimized. Once the bags are gripped by the indexing plates, contamination from external sources is prevented.
The fitment sterilization is accomplished using a proven technology developed for the pharmaceuticals industry. Peroxide residuals are not an issue since condensation does not occur on food contact surfaces of the pre-irradiated bags. The robustness of this sterilization is impressive.
The sterile bag exits the tunnel into the over-pressured filling chamber where a time-proven filling system removes the cap, fills the bag and re-closes the bag. The fill accuracy is maintained at high-speed by throttling the fill valve when the mag-flow meter senses that the bag is almost full. The bag is discharged from the fill zone using gravity (which has been shown to be very reliable) and the bag is separated from the web using a cutter along the pre-perforated cut line.
Bag-in-box fillers have traditionally been very intensive from an operational standpoint. With the SureFill® 30 Low-Acid, life is good for the operator since most of the mechanical functions are performed by the machine. The operator now has time to step-back and pay attention to the performance of the entire line.
The fit and finish of the product contact surfaces appears to be excellent. The fill system is based on prior designs that have many years of service. Anyone who has burst a bag understands that there may be areas that were not anticipated to be product contact surfaces and thus may pose some unanticipated cleaning challenges from time to time. Cleanability should be good but only time will tell.
FIELD SERVICE SUPPORT
With the proper field service support, the Scholle SureFill® 30 Low-Acid has the potential to become a benchmark bag-in-box filler. Starting with a well thought out design, it is possible for Scholle to make incremental improvements over time that will add sophistication to a fundamentally sound platform. The transfer of field experience to practical design improvements is the hallmark of engineering excellence.
As with a robust, young red wine, it will be fun to see this filler mature.
Charles E. Sizer, Ph.D.
Pilot Aseptic, LLC