There is something elemental about the superheating of sand into molten flows of glass, that belies the advanced technology and science underpinning modern bottle manufacturing.
In the western Melbourne suburb of Spotswood, the local bottle-making plant dates back to 1890 and is now one of 80 sites operated by leading international bottle manufacturer Owens-Illinois Inc.
The company’s focus on continual improvement has led to tightly focused industry research projects with the University of Melbourne’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, to help refine the Spotswood factory’s performance.
Fluid dynamics specialist Associate Professor Dalton Harvie has led three projects at Spotswood. The first project focused on whether it would be possible to cool bottles more quickly from the inside, rather than from cooling plates at the bottom of the bottles.
Assoc Prof Harvie developed new computation software to model the heat and fluid dynamics involved.
This effectively allowed the company to test the new cooling technique without actually having to build the entire system. And, in this case, we found that there was no benefit in cooling the bottles from the inside, he says.
The other two projects focused on the causes of ‘crazing’ that sometimes marks the appearance of clear-glass drink bottles.
Assoc Prof Harvie says the design of bottles and moulds play a part, as does the speed of shaping and cooling the glass.
Essentially, if you’re trying to cool the glass quickly while still trying to stretch it, this can lead to crazing.
While any failed bottles are easily recycled back into new glass, the research findings will allow the company to monitor and refine the relevant processes to maintain production quality.
Assoc Prof Harvie says industry projects such as these help businesses to investigate a specific problem before deciding to make further investment or pursue a new course of action.
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