Tetra Pak joins $11.5m LINX project for X-ray tomography of cartons

By Jenny Eagle contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: DTU. Tetra Pak's fastest machines can produce 40,000 cartons per hour.
Picture: DTU. Tetra Pak's fastest machines can produce 40,000 cartons per hour.
Tetra Pak has partnered with DTU (Technical University of Denmark) and several Danish research institutions to study X-ray tomography for cartons as part of a €10.5m ($11.5m) project called LINX (Linking Industry to Neutrons and X-rays).

In total, 15 companies, two regions, the Confederation of Danish Industry, and three Danish universities will partner with two of the largest research facilities in Sweden - the MAX IV Laboratory and the European Spallation Source (ESS) as part of the project.

Packaging design, pretreatment, processing

MAX-lab in Lund, Sweden, is a national electron accelerator laboratory for synchrotron radiation research, nuclear physics and accelerator physics.

More than 1,000 scientists from around the world come to the facility each year to use the x-rays produced by the electron accelerators to research physics, chemistry, geology, engineering, medicine, materials science, structural biology and nanotechnology.

ESS will be a multidisciplinary scientific research centre to study materials such as plastics and proteins to medicines and molecules to understand how they are built up and how they work.

The facility can be likened to a giant microscope, where neutrons are fired at different types of material so they can be analyzed in detail. Lund was given the honor of building the facility, co-financed by several EU countries, and it is expected to fully operational in 2020.

Eskil Andreasson
Eskil Andreasson

Eskil Andreasson, technology specialist, Tetra Pak Packaging Solutions, told DairyReporter X-ray tomography is relevant to all its development work from packaging design, pretreatment, processing, to its closing mechanisms.

It currently uses scanning electron microscopy (SEM) for these studies.

While we will continue to use SEM, one of the drawbacks is we need to cut samples of the material. This means there is always a small margin of doubt as to whether the cutting sample has changed structure​,” he said.

Advantages of X-ray radiation

The advantage of X-ray radiation is you can see the characteristics of the material from the outside. You don’t change the sample, which means you can perform measurements on the same sample​.

Andreasson added Tetra Pak is satisfied with its own X-ray measurements, but they are limited to taking snapshots.

He said to film changes in material structure in high resolution it needs greater X-ray sources and DTU can help them to make this transition.

In addition to DTU, the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University are participating in LINX.

The participating regions are the Capital Region of Denmark and the Central Denmark Region. The companies are: Biomodics, CO-RO, CPH Inventures, Exruptive, Frichs Ecotech, Grundfos, LM Wind Power, Novo Nordisk, Novozymes, Rockwool, TEGnology, Tetra Pak (Sweden), Velux, Xnovo Technology, and Aalborg Portland.

Even though a company such as Velux operates with significantly larger dimensions when manufacturing its windows, some of the basic issues regarding composite material processing remain the same​,” said Andreasson.

You wouldn’t think Tetra Pak and Novo Nordisk share common challenges, but Novo Nordisk uses much of the same simulation technology as we do​.

In this way, the LINX project acts as a ‘hub’ for experience exchange. There’s a lot of new X-ray tomography hardware and software currently available. We aren’t competitors, which makes it safe to share knowledge​.”

40,000 carton packs per hour

Globally, Tetra Pak has more than 8,700 machines in operation. The fastest machines can produce 40,000 packages per hour. As well as cardboard, the packaging consists of thin layers of polymers and aluminum foil, with watertight and odor-sealing properties. A typical pack can contain five to seven layers of material.

Christel Andersson, senior development engineer, Tetra Pak, claims the key to achieving the best possible result with the least material resources is found in the right combination of materials, design, processing, and pretreatment.

Polymer layers have the same thickness as human hair, so we need extremely high resolution to get the results we want​,” she said.

She added, in the future it wants to use ‘visualizations’ on the basis of X-ray tomography to design materials at the molecular level. This is an area undergoing rapid development called molecular dynamics.

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