Blow Moulding Technologies

  • Blow Moulding Technologies

There Will Come a Point Where You Can't go any Further...

Gary Menary studied mechanical engineering at Queen's where he did a Masters and a PhD. He holds an academic post at the university and is a leading figure in research into the complex field of stretch blow moulding which is used to make plastic bottles for the soft drink and water industries.

He is never away from work, even when he's in the supermarket. 'I'm always picking up bottles and looking at them. While other people look at the content, I'm studying the design and wondering how the manufacturers went about it.'

Gary's research at Queen's focuses on the development of mathematical tools to try to optimise the design of packaging, to make bottles made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) lighter and more efficient. The work has brought funding from the soft drinks industry and from EPSRC.

'The process used to make these bottles is very complex and there's very little real understanding of it. I've been researching in this area for 11 years. It's still very much trial and error within the industry. When engineers come up with a new bottle, it's a case of bringing it down to the shop floor where they then make loads of different bottles, to guess the proper design and process conditions.

'We're developing a more scientific approach, building mathematical models, simulations of the process, which will allow an engineer to design in a virtual environment without wasting material or energy.'
Lecturer Gary Menary

 

Gary and his colleagues collaborate with a number of big corporate players who are providing financial backing, including Danone, Evian and Proctor and Gamble. 'We talk to Proctor and Gamble in the US every two weeks. It's a
teleconference and we make webcast presentations about our latest research.

'This is a very competitive field. The National Research Council in Canada is doing similar work. It'sI'm always picking up bottles and looking at them. While other people look at the content, I'm studying the design and wondering how the manufacturers went about it. also being explored at
research institutes in France and Germany. There's a huge drive in the industry to try to make things lighter. That's why my
research is so valuable. Evian make six million bottles a day. If they can save even one gram of material it will mean
a financial saving of £2m a year, plus the saving in energy. There are huge volumes involved and that's what's driving this.'

The work has led to the creation of a new company, Blow Moulding Technologies, with Gary as Technical Director, which will sell new technology to the industry. And an international conference has been held at Queen's to facilitate communication between specialists in various fields of material-forming sciences. With world experts attending, the conference presented a unique opportunity to see the latest technology.

And the next step? 'Process control is the next challenge, making things run more efficiently. We want to develop instruments which will control the process automatically so that it regulates itself and doesn't need any human intervention.

'There'll come a point where you can't go any further, where there's an optimum amount of material for a specific bottle, but there'll always be a demand for new material and new designs.'