Aseptic filling roars ahead at Lyons

Anne Marie Mohan

January 29, 2014

15 Min Read
Aseptic filling roars ahead at Lyons

Since its founding in 1852, Lyons Magnus, Fresno, CA, has earned a reputation for leading-edge innovation in the foodservice and ingredient markets. According to company history, Lyons was the first to pack fruits in the #10 tin and later pioneered the development of aseptic processing with fruit particulates in flexible packaging—a solution it still offers today to its ingredient customers.

In 1990, Lyons was also the first U.S. company to embrace aseptic filling of beverage cartons larger than 33.8 oz for foodservice use on large-format fillers from SIG Combibloc (

It's no wonder then that Lyons has taken the lead once more, installing the first SIG Combibloc CFA 406-32 aseptic filling system, a third-generation system that increases Lyons' productivity and allows for the greatest flexibility yet in carton size.

At the front of the aseptic filler, a magazine with a 2,000-sleeve capacity, above, holds the preprinted carton sleeves, which are individually pulled into the machine with suction units. In the machine’s ‘aseptic zone,’ below, sterile air is heated electrically and is blown into the empty cartons several times to dry out the H2O2 previously emitted into the cartons to kill any microorganisms.

A pioneer in aseptic

Tracing its roots back 150 years to French immigrant Ernest G. Lyons, Lyon Magnus' first packaged product was Grenadine Syrup. Today, after several mergers and acquisitions, and great expansion, the company operates three divisions. The Lyons Foodservice Division supplies foodservice operators with a wide variety of products, including fountain syrups and toppings, aseptic juices, beverage bases, fruit fillings and breakfast condiments. The Ingredients Division provides fruit and flavor preparations for use in a customer's frozen dessert, cultured or beverage product. Lyons' international foodservice and ingredient business makes up the third division. This arm of the company specializes in the modification of flavor profiles, functionality and packaging for its customers outside the U.S.

Lyons processes and packages its foodservice and ingredient products both under its own name, as well as under private-label for major foodservice companies, in a 380,000-sq-ft plant in Fresno. The facility, says Lyons, was designed by the company's own team of engineers for maximum efficiency and quality. Lyons also operates a second, smaller manufacturing and distribution facility in Walton, KY, to provide service to customers east of the Mississippi.

When Lyons first entered the aseptic market more than a decade ago, most American consumers, notes Robert Smittcamp, president of Lyons Magnus, relegated this type of packaging to children's juice boxes, which were introduced in the early ‘80s. Because the U.S.'s system of refrigeration was so much more advanced than that of Europe's, Americans were not interested in aseptically packaged milk for retail, which was a common product in European countries.

But Lyons perceived the benefits of aseptic processing and packaging of larger volumes for foodservice use. Among them, greater sterility, the preservation of product flavor, appearance and texture, a longer shelf life and reclosability (for some product categories). In addition, aseptic products are shelf-stable, which eliminates the need for valuable and expensive freezer space and time-consuming thawing. The carton's square design also makes it space-efficient, and its semi-rigid structure allows it to crush flat, "reducing waste volume by up to ninety percent," according to SIG.

Filled and sealed cartons, left, exit the aseptic filling machine. The new-generation filler, above, the first production unit of this model made, proved an easy installation, as its footprint was less than that of the decade-plus-old filler it replaced. During fitment application, right, the top of the carton is heated for adhesion, while the fitments are positioned in-line by a feed rail, lifted by a gripper, coated with glue by an adhesive roller and applied above a prelasered cut in the carton.

Since 1990, when Lyons installed its first combibloc CF 405-11 liquid-filling system in Fresno, its production requirements have continued to grow, leading to the need for an additional aseptic filling system, the CF 405-AF food particulate machine, which it acquired in late 1997. Last December, Lyons replaced its original combibloc filling machine with the CFA 406-32, which was up and ready for production in late January.

The filler is a cb4-format machine, which, according to SIG Combibloc, means that it accepts cartons with a standard base of 114374 mm in several package heights to produce carton volumes of 1, 1.5 and 2 L. Says Steven Taylor, vp sales and service, SIG Combibloc, "In the USA, we have additional special sizes in forty-six and sixty-four ounces that were developed to serve the foodservice market."

Lyons uses the CFA 406-32 to fill approximately 300 stockkeeping units in a range of viscosities, from water to chocolate, in 46-oz, 64-oz and 1-L cartons. Rivaling in speed the machine it replaced, the new filler is capable of running at 6,000 cartons per hour—1,000-cph faster than its predecessor.

Sleeve production is airtight

Unlike another aseptic packaging process that uses rollstock in a vertical form/fill/seal operation, SIG Combibloc's solution involves premade sleeves that run on a horizontal unit. According to SIG, the use of premade sleeves contributes to the high quality of the end product, as a special longitudinal-seam sealing process ensures that the product does not come in contact with any uncoated edges during filling.

Preformed carton sleeves are converted at SIG's packaging plants in Europe, which produce more than 10 billion sleeves per year. The combibloc carton consists of raw board, polyethylene and aluminum. The board, made up of 75 percent cellulose, is first coated inside and out with PE to keep it impermeable. To prevent light and oxygen penetration, an extremely light-gauge layer of aluminum is applied, which is then covered with a layer of PE that bonds it to the board. The carton stock is then gravure-printed in up to five colors and cut-to-size, according to the different combibloc formats. For its newest machine, Lyons Magnus uses the combiblocMaxi, which is specifically designed for high-volume filling applications on the CFA 406-32.

Next, the carton blanks are stamped with creases, to prepare them for subsequent folding. The last stage is the sealing of the longitudinal seam.

Filling ensures sterility

During operation of the new aseptic filling machine at Lyons, a magazine with a 2,000-sleeve capacity is manually filled with the preprinted carton sleeves, which are vibrated and laterally aligned to facilitate separation. During PD's visit, Lyons Magnus was filling 48-oz cartons of thickened orange juice for healthcare distribution under a private label. The cartons were printed a solid blue, with areas of white to accommodate coding, and product-specific labels were added later.

From the magazine, each individual sleeve is extracted with suction units, and is shaped into a rectangle and slid onto a mandrel to ensure that it is properly positioned for formation of the package bottom. Hot air is then used at two stations to activate the bottom of the sleeve for sealing. While the mandrel wheel transports the sleeve to a bottom pressing station, rotating lateral folders and a longitudinal folder prefold the bottom section into a patented double fold that eliminates any exposed paper in the package bottom. Bottom press dies and the face side of the mandrel then press and seal the bottom of the carton.

From there, the carton is stripped from the mandrel and is pushed into a pocket that transports it through the rest of the machine and prefolds the creases at the top of the carton. Entering the "aseptic zone," the empty carton is sterilized when a mixture of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and air is heated in an evaporator and blown into the carton to kill any microorganisms inside. Next, sterile air is heated electrically and is blown into the carton several times to dry out the H2O2, which breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen.

The filling station then fills the product into the carton in a two-step process that ensures volume accuracy. Before entering a carton, the product undergoes Ultra-High Temperature (UHT) sterilization, where it is rapidly heated to approximately 266 deg F, then immediately cooled down again. After the carton is filled, steam is injected into the carton to reduce the headspace, while the carton top is folded and ultrasonically sealed. The top of the carton is then formed, as hot air heats the PE of the carton flaps and sides. The flaps are pressed down and sealed to the carton. An off-conveyor then carries the filled carton from the machine.

All filling-machine functions are monitored and controlled by the system's Siemens ( S7 PLC, equipped with a proprietary operator interface developed by SIG Combibloc. Operators access machine functions through a swingout control console with a color touchscreen. The most important machine functions can also be controlled from a switch panel at the magazine.

Cartons are capped, labeled and packed

A loaded, 6-carton tray awaits sealing in the tray-packer.

After filling, cartons are coded using a Videojet ( Excel® 170i ink-jet printer. They then are conveyed to a Hartness ( model 1500 vertical accumulator before being sent to a combibloc CTL 8000 cap applicator from SIG allCap (

To facilitate cap application, when the preformed sleeves are converted, a laser is used to precut what later becomes the carton's opening. During fitment application, the top of the carton is heated for adhesion, while the fitments are positioned in-line by a feed rail, lifted by a gripper, coated with glue by an adhesive roller, which is supplied by a Nordson ( Series 3400 glue system, and applied above the prelasered cut in the carton. Machine functions are controlled by a PLC from Moeller Electric Corp. (, formerly Klöckner-Moeller.
Before a carton leaves the machine, it is examined by a SICK ( video-inspection camera that checks the position of the fitment, as well as for the presence of the cap. A problem with the cap triggers a reject function, and the defective carton is kicked off the line.

For its ready-to-serve and thickened juices, and fruit smoothies, Lyons applies the combiTwist resealable polypropylene cap in a 28-mm size. Manufactured by SIG allCap in Switzerland (see sidebar on p.28), the screw-cap closure employs a wedge that pierces the preperforated carton when twisted. A seal on the cap provides tamper-evidence.

Once cartons pass cap inspection, they are conveyed to an Accraply ( Model 350P stepper-driven, high-speed label applicator, which can accommodate labels up to 9 in. wide. The labeler applies front-panel pressure-sensitive labels with product information and a bar code.

Lastly, labeled cartons are tray-packed using a Barry Wehmiller/Zepf ( Model 4000 tray packer. The equipment uses a laner for three-lane operation and is controlled via an Allen-Bradley ( SLC 5/04 PLC. The tray packer includes an integral divider/inserter to provide additional support to the package tray during distribution. Lyons uses two sizes of trays for its aseptic products: 6- and 12-count. Dividers are used only for the 12-count trays.

Low maintenance, high uptime

In addition to its increased productivity benefits, the combibloc CFA 406-32 provides other advantages to Lyons Magnus not possible with other aseptic filling systems. Carton size is a primary example: Compared to other systems that can only accommodate one carton size, the combibloc machine allows Lyons to fill three sizes with a single machine. Changeover from one size to another is quick and easy, too. According to Robert Smith, field engineering supervisor for SIG Combibloc, a change from one carton size to another takes just eight to nine minutes, while changeover from one product to another depends upon the products. "If you're going from juice to chocolate, you have to put the machine down and clean it," he says. "The system runs hot water and a mild caustic soda through the circulation system. It also does an acid rinse to make sure there is no residue in the piping."

In terms of machine maintenance, SIG's Taylor says that "the machine is designed to minimize periodic maintenance and maximize production time through a variety of automatic lubrication features and robust components."
Taylor adds, "I would say that the 406 performance has been good, especially since it was the very first third-generation machine produced for the cb4 format. Since the successful introduction at Lyons, the CF 406 has been well received in other parts of the world."

More information is available:
Aseptic filler, operator interface:SIG Combibloc, Inc., 614/876-0661. Circle No. 219.
Foodservice co-packer:Lyons Magnus,
800/344-7130. Circle No. 220.
Filler PLC:Siemens AG, +49 89 636-00. Circle No. 221.
Ink-jet coder:Videojet Technologies, Inc.,
630/860-7300. Circle No. 222.
Accumulator:Hartness Intl., 800/845-8791. Circle No. 223.
Cap applicator, caps:SIG allCap, +41 52 674 76 11. Circle No. 224.
Glue system:Nordson Corp., 800/683-2314. Circle No. 225.
Capper PLC:Moeller Electric Corp., 508/520-7080. Circle No. 226.
Vision inspection:SICK, Inc. 800/325-7245. Circle No. 227.
Labeler:Accraply, Inc., 800/328-3997. Circle No. 228.
Tray packer:Barry Wehmiller/Zepf, 727/535-4100. Circle No. 229.
Tray-packer PLC:Allen-Bradley, 414/382-2000. Circle No. 230.

SIG allCap: All caps, all the time

In a campus that sprawls near the foot of Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhine Falls in Neuhausen, Switzerland, SIG allCap AG’s ( manufacturing arm, Rhyplast, churns out more than half of the company’s annual production of 4.1 billion plastic parts. One of the fifth-largest closure manufacturers in Europe, SIG allCap was created in 2001 by SIG Combibloc ( to direct the design and development of fitments both for aseptic cartons, as well as for PET bottles produced on equipment from sister-company SIG Corpoplast ( The division is also responsible for the production of complementary fitment application equipment.

When SIG allCap was first established, it sourced its caps from contract injection molders in England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In 2002, SIG allCap acquired Rhyplast AG in Neuhausen, which, at that time, was a supplier of combiTop and combiLift closures. The purchase allowed SIG allCap’s designers to become more familiar with the production process, and it provided a testing ground for new fitment innovations. During a recent tour of Rhyplast’s manufacturing facility, PD was advised by Fritz Seelhofer, vp marketing & sales for SIG allCap, that it takes approximately one year for a cap to move from the drawing board to market distribution. “If a new fitment is brought on, we establish the control procedure for mass production,” he says. “Many processes must be put into place.”

Among Rhyplast’s production capabilities for one- and two-piece combibloc caps are two injection-molding lines for the combiTop closure, two lines for the combiLift and three lines for the newest closure, the combiTwist. The manufacturer uses a variety of molding machines, ranging from 180- to 500-ton units, including Krauss-Maffei ( KM 200-14002 and KM180-1800C3 machines, and several SynErgy 4200 machines from Netstal ( Custom-designed robotics from Waldorf Technik ( and Hekuma GmbH ( remove components from the molding machines, and a number of vision inspection cameras check finished fitments for quality.

The facility produces roughly 2.5 million pieces per day and uses 4,000 tons of polypropylene per year. Notes Seelhofer, “Caps and closures are needed by the billions!”

More information is available:
Caps:SIG allCap, +41 52 674 76 11. Circle No. 224.
Aseptic cartons:SIG Combibloc, Inc., 614/876-0661. Circle No. 219.
PET blow molders:SIG Corpoplast GmbH & Co. KG, +49 40 67 907-0.. Circle No. 231.
Injection-molding presses:Krauss-Maffei UK, +44 (0) 1925 644100. Circle No. 232.
Injection-molding presses:Netstal-Maschinen AG, +41 55 618 61 11. Circle No. 233.
Robotic automation:Waldorf Technik GmbH & Co. KG, +49 (0) 7733 94640. Circle No. 234.
Robotic automation:Hekuma GmbH, +49 8165 633 0. Circle No. 235.

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