Researchers at Queen’s have developed unique stretch blow moulding technology which has been implemented by leading brands and manufacturers, resulting in multi-million-pound savings in materials and process costs, and in annual savings of greenhouse gas emissions measured in the thousands of tonnes.
The research has led to the formation of a successful spin out-company, Blow Moulding Technologies (BMT), which supplies software, services, and hardware globally across the packaging sector. This technology has been a key enabler in the introduction of new bio-based materials into the global plastics packaging market.
Developing technologies for lighter and more efficient bottle manufacturing
481.6 billion plastic bottles are used worldwide in a single year.
Stretch Blow Moulding is a process primarily used to manufacture Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles for the carbonated soft drink and water industries.
Research conducted at Queen’s is advancing the development of mathematical tools to try to optimise the design of packaging, to make bottles made from PET bottles lighter and more efficient.
The vision is to provide a scientific approach to stretch blow moulding. Through advanced software and hardware solutions, the aim is to reduce energy consumption, optimise setup, and increase productivity.
Collaborating with Industry to drive innovation
Research in Injection Stretch Blow Moulding has been ongoing for almost 20 years with a focus on development of instrumentation and simulation software aimed at light-weighting PET bottles and optimising the process.
In the early 2000’s, work conducted by Queen’s researchers on computer aided design of preforms in stretch blow moulding in collaboration with Coca Cola and Beverage Plastics Ltd resulted in the development of a unique biaxial testing machine capable of duplicating the deformation behaviour of the stretch blow mould process.
The research work was sustained through increased industrial interest and further funding from Invest NI and Boxmore Plastics to enhance simulation capability through extensive programme of industrial tests.
Subsequent funding transformed the measurement tool into a commercial product named THERMOscan. This is a standalone, portable device which has revolutionised preform temperature measurement.
“The stretch blow moulding model as an integral component of our virtual package system has the potential for saving over $200M a year through faster development and start up times as well as optimized material weights. The digital workflows are also a key element to designing for the future sustainable packaging requirements.”
What impact did it make?
A global impact in bottle manufacturing
Following the commercial success of the pioneering research, spinout company Blow Moulding Technologies (BMT), was formed in 2011. The company has established an international presence and supplies software, services and hardware to the packaging sector enabling global brands to minimise material and energy usage.
Since 2014, BMT has collaborated with large multi-national companies to develop innovative, lightweight bottle designs, and successfully introduce new bio-based materials into bottle packaging.
BMT’s patented flagship product THERMOscan has become a de-facto standard tool used in the stretch blow mould industry for product and process development.
The technology enables manufacturers to optimise their process setup, saving them time, energy and money and provides them with information that results in more efficient production of bespoke products.
The impact of BMT’s simulation services was highlighted in the joint presentation with PepsiCo at the Society of Plastic Engineers Annual Blow Moulding Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA in Oct 2019.
“Through the use of our expertise which is has been developed based on knowledge developed from the stretch blow mould research group at Queen’s, we were able to design a new bottle that was 2g lighter and reduce the design lead time by 50%. Given that the bottle production is the order of billions and the cost of PET is ~ $2000/tonne we have saved PepsiCo millions of dollars on material cost alone for this one product. This is only one example of multiple projects that we conduct with PepsiCo and which we have replicated with companies from all over the world.” Managing Director of BMT
Impact related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Learn more about Queen’s University’s commitment to nurturing a culture of sustainability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education.