A spring of innovations in Leeds, UK

A spring of innovations in Leeds, UK

The Royal Armouries’ exhibition hall in Leeds, felt enormous after two years of meeting on a small screen, but it turned out to be just the size needed when more visitors than expected turned up for BAMA’s Innovation Day on the 20th April. 

It was good to see that most people in the industry are still keen to catch up on the latest technical developments, ask questions and explore the potential for applications. The environment was collaborative and open, and the presence of attendees from Belgium, France, Portugal, Poland and several other countries, was evidence of the pent-up need for personal interaction. 

Twenty-two tables lined the perimeter of the exhibition hall, with sufficient distance between each other to allow for product demonstrations and undisturbed exchanges. Each of the 12 organisations giving presentations in the auditorium had a table, so both the audience and the other speakers had the opportunity to discuss things in more detail with each other.  

The feedback BAMA received was very positive, with several people requesting to book attendance at the 2023 event already. 

Topics and presentations

This edition, sponsored by the Lindal Group, saw a special focus on options to tackle the climate emergency and help the aerosol sector reduce its emissions. It also displayed a few solutions to enhance the product design and development process, from identifying the hidden consumers’ drives, to simulating  design outcomes and measuring performance. Of course, samples and case studies were included, to give a tangible version of the concepts discussed and make the entire day more fun. 

Starting with  waste reduction, Maddy Gardner, from LOOP, gave an overview of how their project of reusable and refillable packaging has progressed in the past few years. More brands have launched refillable packaging for a range of products that goes well beyond dry food and detergents, including now ice cream tubs, chocolate spreads and takeaways containers.  Also, with the large retailers joining the scheme and the option of dropping the empties at a variety of locations (i.e. a product bought in Tesco can be dropped at a McDonald’s refillable bank), the scheme is achieving the‘convenience for consumers’ so critical for success.

However, as long as aerosol dispensers contain flammable propellants, having them included within a deposit-return scheme will be a challenge, let alone introducing a LOOP-style refillable version. Michael Friel, from Aer Beatha, comes to the rescue with a patented device that would allow the refilling of aerosol products using a propellant cartridge. The device allows for the pressure release to be adjusted to produce the spray performance required for each typology of product. The cartridge, in the same way as it currently happens for printers or whipped cream canisters, could be easily removed – eliminating the ‘hazardous’ flammability aspect. 

Solving the flammability issue isn’t the only hurdle we need to overcome. Reducing the VOC emissions that aerosol products currently contribute to the atmosphere, and more critically to indoor air in our homes, is paramount to meet the Clean Air Strategy targets that the UK Government set for the near future. 

Dr Amber Yeoman, from the University of York Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, co-author of authoritative papers on VOC emissions from aerosol products, gave a comprehensive overview of the result of indoor air measurements in British homes.  Through a detailed breakdown (in parts per million) of the harmful substances found indoors through long-term exposure, the study revealed a concerning amount of propane and butane. It is difficult to imagine where else those could be coming from, if not from aerosol dispensers. It is therefore essential that the alternatives our industry has been assessing for the last few years translate into publicly available consumer products in the shortest time frame possible. Failing that, it will be down to the regulators to impose restrictive measures. 

Good news come from Russel Hester from DLH Bowles.  His background in fluid dynamics was put to good use in developing a nozzle for use in aerosol sprays. The unique shape of the DLH nozzle hole makes it possible to reduce emissions of VOCs without compromising the spray performance. An even distribution of the product on the surface, is also more easily achieved by moving away from the traditional circular hole. This unusual nozzle therefore works perfectly  for products such as sun protection lotion, for instance, but also for paints, where the rectangular-shaped opening leads to reduced running on vertical surfaces. A range of applications then, for a tiny device that could help us minimise our emissions. 

What happens though when the team in charge of packaging design doesn’t possess the technical insight to be able to pick the right components in between the myriad of alternatives available on the market? 

Well, they can use a contract filler who provides support with product design as well as formulation. Or, they can make the best of online platforms such as Lindal’s 3D configurator. Joe Tyrrell, Product Manager at Lindal, gave us a tour of their software demonstrating how it helps users select components that are compatible with each other. The process can be started from a can, selecting the desired material and neck shape, or from an actuator.Whatever the initial choice , the non-compatible elements get greyed out, preventing costly delays, or even failures, at the production stage. To use the simulator, a person just needs to register , without the need for the installation of any software on their own machine. Any design is protected from unauthorised viewers and full customisation of colours and design is possible. The results can be then saved and shared with colleagues elsewhere, for a full, realistic 3D experience of what the finished products would look like on a shelf. 

To help the R&D teams with the more challenging task of designing a small yet complex system such as an aerosol product, which relies on the balance of many different variables, we had on stage Monolith AI, OR3D, Tin Horse and Dantec Dynamics.

Heavily relying on data and its processing and analysis through cutting edge software, Monolith AI can simulate in real-time the effect of the modification in each variable on the end product, without resorting to prototypes and eliminating the need for expensive and time-consuming testing.

Isabel Ashworth, from Monolith AI, and William Ganley, from Nanopharm, illustrated how the software has been applied to the product development for pharmaceutical sprays. I must admit that, without an analytical background, I struggled to make sense of the knowledge imparted to me: luckily many in the audience found the topic perfectly understandable and gave very positive feedback.

More at the reach of my A-levels Physics, but no less impressive, were the presentations from Ivan Zadrazil, Dantec Dynamics, and Robert Wells, of OR3D. The spray diagnostic tools provided by Dantec give an amazing insight into the dynamics of multiphase flows, such as those produced by aerosols, where you can have co-presence of gas, liquid and solid particles. They can accurately measure: particles and droplets’ size distribution, temperature and pressure fields, velocity fields by phase, spray geometry and chemical composition. Their tools include, amongst others, Laser-Induced Fluorescence, Particle Image Velocimetry and Laser Doppler Anemometry. 

To complement the measurements of multi-phase flows, OR3D provides 3D measurements of solids, through Computed Tomography scanning. This technique reveals the presence of porosity and variation in material density, without the need for invasive intervention. It can be applied to a vast range of materials from plastic to metals, and even organic matter. The level of detail produced is invaluable when the integrity of a component is critical and it makes reverse engineering a much simpler process, as the data from the CT scan can be translated into a CAD file. 

Martin Bunce then took us through the tricks and tips of a professional design agency that starts from real life to gain insight on how to revolutionise a packaging product. Often a well-established and recognised brand struggles to innovate for the fear of losing a loyal consumer base. Tin Horse looks at how the product is used, they help the users think outside the box of their routine, and they finally deliver solutions to previous design limitations that the user hadn’t consciously acknowledged. Each case study in their portfolio is a success story, providing an alternative that, once seen, appears obvious, yet had escaped everyone’s imagination. And by improving the user’s experience, the new packaging delivers much more than a visual revamp. 

A review of the innovations on the market wouldn’t be complete without an actual aerosol dispenser on show, even less without the scent that identifies it and the label that makes it possible for the end-user to recognise it.

The winner of the latest FEA Global Aerosol Awards for product design was Jago-Pro with their Crush-the-Sweat-Out. A seriously different container which controls the amount of product dispensed and is operated by pressing a button on the side, rather than the top. It gives consumers a completely different feeling by using antiperspirant in mousse, cream or gel. The applicator is ergonomic, designed to slide on the skin of the underarm, while the formulation reduced accidental inhalation often associated with a cloud spray. And if that wasn’t enough, the elements can be easily separated to be individually recycled. The plastic has 15% PCR, which will increase following the availability of the material in the future, and the formulation contains 97% natural ingredients, with fragrances chosen to lift the mood.

At this point, the natural connection is with Firmenich, one of the largest flavour and fragrance companies in the world. Marie Hugentobler, the company’s Creative Director, explained how the firm brought together the world of fine fragrance and that of high tech, to produce Scentmate, the first AI-enabled platform to simplify the tricky mission of creating the winning combination for a specific market and consumer. Scentmate requires the client to enter a list of data, this list is designed to cover all aspects of a brief to select the best-suited fragrances, reducing to a few minutes a process that took weeks. In the words of its General Manager “Behind the platform are the world's most reputable perfumers, one of the largest fragrance databases used by global consumers, and a young and dynamic team fully dedicated to this project”. 

And last but not least, a regular presence at BAMA’s Innovation events, this year also sponsoring the gifts handed out to all attendees at the entrance: Springfield Solutions. Best known in the aerosol sector for its SASO (Self-Adhesive Shrink-On) label, specifically designed to suit aerosol cans due to its ability to mould perfectly around the taper at the top and bottom of the can, the company has a huge portfolio of solutions. It designs personalised labels, luxury ones for spirits, and now embossed and embellished ones with metallic details. BLOOM is Springfield’s latest innovation in digitally printed, self-adhesive labels: a sample of it was on the mini aerosol can included in the delegates’ bag. The product name was encased in an embossed silver metallic frame, with additional metallic details on the flowers’ design. A cost-effective, eye-catching innovation that will make any can stand out on the shelf. Metallic detail can be in a range of shades and colours, to match the season and occasion, or simply to give the product a premium appearance. 

BAMA's Innovation Day 2023 will again take place at the Royal Armouries, Leeds on Wednesday 19th April 2023. To book your place or find out more, click here where you will also be able to read more on past Innovation Days.

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