So how does it work? Follow the simple steps
below from bulk product to a finished long-life package.
Bottles are delivered to the Xenos Filler. Supply can be direct from a blow moulder or indirect via storage and un-scramblers. Bottles should be handled and stored carefully to minimise microbial loadings. Pre-filler sterile air flushing is sometimes performed on bottles to ensure that dust and unsterile foreign matter is removed.
As bottles enter the filler, they are separated into a cleated belt system which delivers them to the matrix and sterilisation zone. After sterilisation, another cleated belt transports the bottles to the capping station before being transferred to the bottle outfeed and packing line.
This innovative bottle feeding process is the integration of an indexing scroll, cleated belt conveyors and bottle pushers. Each is servo controlled to ensure the ultimate in speed and timing control. Adjustments for different bottle sizes are performed automatically upon recipe selection on the HMI touch screen.
The matrix is a series of lanes that bottles are indexed through during the sterilisation, decontamination and filling processes. The matrix is split into two alternating sides and while one side is being indexed through the system, the other side is being processed and filled . This allows for continuous filling at a constant speed without any stops or flow rate changes, thus eliminating the need for aseptic buffer tanks in the processing line. All servo motors, instruments and mechanical parts are located outside the aseptic zone, allowing user adjustment without breaking sterility.
Cap sorter and cap track
Cap storage is provided with the cap sorter hopper. As caps lift out of the hopper, they are orientated correctly and elevated to the top of the filler where they feed into the cap delivery track. Sensors double check for cap orientation and damaged and faulty caps are automatically ejected. Along the cap delivery track, the caps are sterilised using vapourised H2O2 and UVC light, and decontaminated in the exactly the same way as the bottles. Sterile caps are automatically indexed into the capper ready for capping onto bottles.
Product supply and heat treatment
Your product, after processing, must be sterilised using the appropriate heat treatment process. Xenos sterilisers will receive your product, treat to the appropriate heat, hold for the appropriate time, and cool as quickly as possible to filling temperature. Full automation ensures that heat profiles are constantly monitored and if any critical parameter is not met, diversion will take place ensuring complete food safety. Processing aids such as de-aeration, separation and homogenisation can be incorporated into the process, as can intermediate aseptic balance tanks.
Sterilisation with vaporised hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)
In all Xenos Fillers, bottles and caps are sterilised using vapourised H2O2 (Hydrogen Peroxide), a sterilant that has been proven for over 20 years to be extremely fast and effective in the destruction of all microbial life forms, including bacterial spores and moulds.
Liquid H2O2 is injected into a vapourisation chamber, and the resulting H2O2 vapour is carried using a sterile air medium to the bottle and cap surfaces. The vapour forms a thin layer of condensate on the surfaces which remains for a period of time to complete the sterilisation process.
Additional sterilisation with UVC light
UVC radiation is applied to the internal bottle surface by way of inserting a UVC lamp inside the bottle. An effective sterilant on its own, UVC works synergistically with the Hydrogen Peroxide to further increase the sterilisation effect while minimising chemical usage. Rigorous testing, including Xenos-sponsored research at Massey University, demonstrated that this highly effective sterilisation process achieves in excess of a 5-log kill rate.
Our system allows complete flexibility of peroxide concentration and UVC fluence to optimise the sterilisation to suit the packaging type and micro-organism loading, while minimising chemical consumption and residual peroxide in the bottle.
Although this technology has been around for nearly 30 years, Xenos was the first company in the world to see the value in applying it to the aseptic bottling process. Our optimisation of aseptic conditions has made this technique very robust and applicable to a wide range of bottle types.
Decontamination and dry
Food safety regulations require residual H2O2 to be removed from the packaging surfaces, residuals of less than 0.5ppm to meet FDA requirements are possible. Xenos achieves this by flushing the bottles and caps with warm sterile air which breaks down the H2O2 into water and oxygen. The sterile air is created using high-quality HEPA filters and is heated in line. Temperature and air speed are monitored constantly to ensure safe, optimal drying without distorting the packaging.
Fill with sterile product
Xenos’ proprietary filling nozzles deliver high flows with no foaming or dripping. With an instant non-drip shut off, and reliable measuring system, filling is highly accurate and repeatable.
For the ultimate in aseptic performance, nozzle heads never come into contact with the bottle surfaces and all controls are located outside of the aseptic zone. The nozzles are cleaned and sterilised during the CIP and SIP processes and can be easily disassembled for inspection and maintenance.
Cap (or closure) sterilising
Capping completes the Xenos Aseptic Process: a sterilised bottle, filled with sterilised product and sealed with a sterile cap, all within the confines of a perfectly sterile environment. Caps are treated to exactly the same sterilisation and decontamination process as the bottles and are delivered to the capping station under a constant, sterile, uni-directional downwards airflow.
The capping station receives caps from the cap sorter and screws them onto the bottles immediately after filling. Capping chucks are loaded using an accurate pick-and-place method and each has its own torque-limiting servo to accurately apply the correct torque. Height adjustments to the capping station are automatically set for changes in bottles sizes and controlled via recipes set using the HMI touchscreen.
Maintaining an aseptic environment
Each step of the aseptic process (sterilisation, filling and capping) is carried out within a sterile environment to ensure there is no chance of recontamination. During the process, bottles are transported in an “Aseptic Zone” created by a constant, sterile, unidirectional downwards airflow maintained over the bottle openings, which prevents any chance of recontamination from micro-organisms that maybe present on the non-sterile outer surfaces of the bottle.
The sterile environment is achieved in a pre-startup sterilisation phase, which sterilises all of the filler surfaces. This is maintained throughout using a continuous flow of HEPA-filtered sterile air in a positive pressurised environment.
After the bottles leave the aseptic filler, standard (non-sterile) handling steps can be used. Typical functions for post-fill handling include:
- Camera inspection of bottle fill levels and caps
- Bottle accumulation so post filling stoppages don’t stop the filler
- Sleeve or label application
- Shrinkage tunnels for sleeves
- Bottle washing and drying
- Printing and coding
- Carton packing or plastic shrink bundle wrap
Research and Development
Aseptic bottling technology is one of the most active research areas in food technology today. Xenos is at the forefront of technology transfer to the industry through its innovative products and on-going investment in research and development.
We constantly push our technology to the limits and test all the boundaries with the constant goal of making our technology simpler, more efficient and more robust. Our commercially sensitive R&D is performed in-house with state of the art engineering and manufacturing technology, a testing laboratory and a collaborative team of thinkers and doers with a diverse range of skills and experience.
Our on-going commitment to R&D sees us participating in a range of projects, many of which have yielded some of the exciting new developments in our latest aseptic filler design. Some developments include:
- Our matrix bottle transportation system that is the key to the high capacity compact footprint of our filler
- New Hydrogen Peroxide (H202) delivery system that improves sterilisation efficiency and optimises dosing accuracy while minimising H202 consumption
- New decontamination system reduces H202 down to residual level below the FDA standard of 0.5ppm
- New filling nozzle design with increased filling accuracy and no foaming or dripping
- A unique airflow management system that ensures there is no recontamination from un-sterile bottles entering the filler
To ensure our research and development programs remain focused on areas that add the most value, Xenos draws on a number of external resources. We collaborate with local universities on areas related to food technology and engineering, and sponsor post-graduate research focused on technologies that have potential in aseptic processing and packaging. We also engage with industry experts on areas that complement our own technology. New and existing customers have also played a significant role in our development providing many of the useful insights that have led to our systems becoming more efficient, more robust and easier to operate.
It’s important that our research extends beyond the sterilising technology, so we look closely at the storage characteristics of key products that benefit from being aseptically filled.
An example of our research in this area is a study we conducted on full cream milk packed into PET bottles. It showed that milk needed to be protected from the light in order to prevent oxidation and degradation of vitamins. However, we found that no oxygen barriers were needed so long as light was not present. In a Xenos system, these light barriers can readily be achieved through the use of full-length shrink sleeves applied to the bottles after filling.