Green Bottle, Red Tower

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At retail outlets, consumers are faced with a huge choice of different products in the HPC (Household and Personal Care) category – and nevertheless they decide within a fraction of a second to buy a particular product. But how is this done?
Besides the decision made on the basis of the product and the brandname, the bottle design and the label always play a vital role, too. The container’s look serves simply as an eye-catcher. fit GmbH, headquartered in Zittau, Saxony, realised this decades ago. One of the company’s best-known products is the green original variant of the fit washing-up liquid in a striking, angular bottle. The shape of this bottle is modelled on a historical landmark: the Red Tower in Chemnitz.

The corporate history of fit is an eventful one, and begins 65 years ago in what is now called Chemnitz with the fit-liquid brandname. Just one year later, the fit washing-up liquid was launched. Following German reunification, falling sales figures and the concomitantly critical financial situation almost bankrupted the company. The reason: fit had not been listed by most of West Germany’s new retail chains. But instead of giving up, trucks were loaded with fit’s products and sold from the loading bed in front of the supermarkets. In
1993, the graduate chemist Dr. Wolfgang Gross purchased the plant in Zittau, and founded the present-day fit GmbH.

The take-over came as a breath of fresh air for the company. With substantial investments, in a first step the production lines were expanded and modernised. And certification under DIN ISO 9001 had back in 1995 already enhanced the transparency of the firm’s operational procedures, reducing the defect rate and thus saving costs as well.

Even more important, however, was the return of an R&D-driven mindset and a resolve to innovate. In addition to the main product, the East German classic fit washing-up liquid, the product portfolio was steadily expanded in subsequent years. There followed cleaning tabs, washing powder and laundry perfumes, plus body care products.

Continuous expansion of the product portfolio

1997: fit launches the first 3-phase tabs on the market.
1999: the traditional fit washing-up liquid 500 ml is given a fresh design and a new PET bottle.
2000: fit purchases from the US company Procter & Gamble the well-known brands Rei, Rei in theTube and Sanso.
2015: the product portfolio is expanded with the acquisition of the Gard brand.
2016: acquisition of the fenjal body care brand.

It didn’t take long for the measures to produce success: today, the mid-tier company’s sales figures, at € 165 m gross turnover, are 27 times as high as in 1993. And the biggest setback in the firm’s history has also been overcome: in August 2010, the River Neisse burst its banks, overflowing into the company’s entire premises. The disastrous flooding
destroyed stocks, and paralysed the entire production operation. The loss and damage ran into millions, and complete normality was only restored many months later – even though production was resumed quite quickly. Besides fit, the company’s brands meanwhile include Kuschelweich, Sunil, Rei (in the tube), Sanso and the hair care brand GARD, plus the body care brand fenjal.

Traditionally sustainable by conviction

For more than 25 years now, fit GmbH has prioritised responsible dealings with the natural environment, coupled with high product quality. Many products are manufactured on the basis of sustainable raw materials, are phosphate-free and completely biodegradable, and bear the European Eco-Label. But it’s not only in the portfolio and the constituents that fit displays its corporate commitment to the natural environment, it’s in the entire production process as well. An in-house solar installation supplies power amounting to almost 135,000 kWh a year. Preforms, and sometimes closures as well, are produced in-house, thus avoiding unnecessary journeys and reducing CO 2 emissions.

So for a sustainable, efficient production operation, too, a partner like Krones was an obvious choice. Two 16- part Contiform S machines produce a large bandwidth of bottles for products like washing-up liquid, household cleaning agents and detergents in sizes ranging from 100 ml to 2 litres. They are labelled on Krones Contiroll and Kosme Flexa labellers, and filled on Kosme weighing-cell fillers. The dry end additionally features Krones
palletisers, the Robobox and the Pressant Uni. The most recent machine being used for container production, however, commissioned in 2017, features Krones’ ProShape technology: a Contiform 3 Pro with twelve cavities and a rating of up to 2,300 bottles per
cavity and hour.

Creating design eye-catchers with ProShape

“With eye-catching bottle shapes, you can ensure consumers notice your product – since it’s the first impression that counts. In order to achieve this, we opted for an oval design of our containers,” explains Dr. Wolfgang Gross, Managing Director of fit GmbH. But it’s precisely this visual aspect that constitutes a challenge for standard machines, since the evenly heated preforms are not evenly shaped during the blow-moulding process:
the long sides of the bottles, which are the first to come into contact with the compressed air, have a relatively high wall thickness. In parallel, this is reduced at the short sides of the bottle, since less material is available.

To ensure that on these short sides the material thickness still suffices, a heavier preform can be used. But since this runs counter to the thrust for sustainability, and in addition a large proportion of the packaging costs depends directly on the preform’s weight, a different solution was needed. “With the ProShape module for selective preform temperature control, Krones has come up with a really persuasive proposition. The material is selectively distributed, either to create a uniform wall thickness, or to strengthen certain areas of the bottle. This enables eye-catching designs to be created, as well as facilitating the lightweighting of oval containers as part of the thrust for sustainability,” to quote Managing Director Dr. Wolfgang Gross.

The ProShape module is integrated into the Contiform between a standard linear oven and a standard blowing wheel. Using aluminium moulds specially temperature-controlled to suit the requirements of the subsequent bottle, the requisite temperature profile is applied to the preform. This ensures that the preform is appropriately conditioned, after which it is passed to the mould following precise orientation. Selectively optimised material
distribution is achieved during subsequent stretch blow-moulding of the bottle. For preform orientation, optical sensor technology is used that can detect orientation marks at the neck finish of highly disparate preforms. Once the orientation mark has been detected, the requisite angle is computed and the preform individually oriented accordingly in the treatment starwheel by means of servo-technology. This means, for example, that the preform can before conditioning be turned so as to ensure that later on the screw-cap always sits in the same position on the bottle.

ProShape enables bottles featuring a prominent round-oval contour and a sophisticated wall thickness distribution to be flexibly produced with maximised efficiency, economical energy consumption levels and at low costs. In addition, the defined wall thicknesses in all container segments ensure optimal haptics and functionality, e.g. for the right rebound resilience when the bottle is squeezed.

Hand in hand to create the perfect bottle

In terms of bottle design, too, Krones has provided the company with meaningful support. Bottle, neck finish and closure were optimised, and customised to suit the application and the client’s stipulations. “Collaboration in the field of bottle development is excellent. Krones is able to offer comprehensive expertise for packaging development from a single
source. This includes the well-versed design team, the technical competence and the experience gained in installing production lines. Combined with our innovative vigour and the equally great technical skills of my staff, solutions were created hand in hand that are truly impressive,” says an enthusiastic Dr. Wolfgang Gross.

Accolades

fit’s recent corporate history has been accompanied by numerous prizes and awards for products, packages and the company itself, including:
2011: no fewer than four products walk away with the title Product of the Year 2011 – fit Power Tabs 10in1, Kuschelweich, Sunil and fit Balsam washing-up liquid..
2011: Dr. Wolfgang Gross, Managing Director of fit GmbH, is voted Entrepreneur of the Year by the Sächsische Zeitung newspaper.
June 2011: fit GmbH is awarded the Saxon Environment Prize for the “fit Green Power” washing-up liquid and cleaner, and the “Rei Green Power” detergent .
2014: the fit washing-up liquid bottle is a “design classic of the brand world”, and is voted “Package of the Year” by the Packaging Museum in Heidelberg.
2014: Business Prize of the East German Savings Bank Association.