A Teabag Sustainability Partnership
An FMCG company, famed for their range of well-loved tea brands, have a strong 10-year relationship with Sewtec working on sustainability projects & more.
After working on a number of minor projects with this company, Sewtec were asked to take on a larger project where we were required to design and build new equipment to aid sustainability efforts.
Sewtec’s customer were using machines on site that were installed around the 1950s/60s and had since become obsolete and therefore unable to support future production and factory growth. With the original equipment manufacturer unable to improve these machines, they were in a position where they had to either invest millions of pounds, scrap the existing machines and start again, or identify an automation provider who had the ability to conduct a substantial modernisation and upgrade programme which would not only prolong the life expectancy of the current machines but would also safeguard jobs at their UK site for future generations to come.
As a result, Sewtec are currently working closely with the customer to breathe new life into their existing tea bag machines, which will not only reduce scrap materials but will also result in the refurbished machines being much more efficient. These latest technology, software and safety upgrades have meant the factory’s production time per machine has increased by approximately 30%, resulting in them being able to keep their existing machines in use for many more years whilst playing into a circular economy.
Alongside this, Sewtec’s customer also had a desire to remove unrecyclable single-use plastics from their products as part of their work to become more sustainable and as part of their commitment to WRAP, a climate organisation working globally to change the way things are produced, consumed and disposed of.
Their previous teabag tissue was incapable of composting, so our customer came up with a new compostable formula for the teabag tissue material using PLA (polylactic acid). The challenge they then encountered was that the PLA paper was proving difficult to seal to create the teabag.
Sewtec were able to design a solution that sealed this compostable material so that it can be used within the tea bags.
Sewtec invented a new sealing drum assembly using new heater technology that enabled a finer control of sealing temperatures, meaning the PLA tissue could be processed. The technology proved so successful that the customer decided to patent the design to protect their business interests and gain market advantage.
The new heater technology meant the sealing drums could be heated to operating temperatures more quickly than the traditional equipment which gave an added benefit of reduced start up waste. Furthermore, the sealing drum temperatures could be finely controlled meaning the accuracy of sealing temperature could be controlled within a few degrees of nominal, which was a requirement to seal the new PLA tissue.
In addition to this invention, Sewtec designed a completely new control system based on Servo control, with each axis on the machine having a dedicated servo motor. This removed the older cam and chain-based technology, removed the vibration that was previously witnessed and allowed the equipment to operate at circa 40% increase in throughput.
Sewtec’s customer have been able to work towards their sustainability goals and now uses completely recyclable and compostable materials within their products. They’ve now claimed the IP on this sealing solution and copyrighted it.
The modernisation and upgrade programme that we have been working on has allowed them to keep work in the UK and safeguard jobs as desired. This, together with the success of the sealing project has only made the long-standing partnership between Sewtec and the customer stronger. We look forward to continuing this work and embarking on future projects together.