Fresh impetus

| January 1, 2018

The spirit of innovation and renewal associated with heat-not-burn products has also gripped the supplying industries.

By Stefanie Rossel

Potential future hurdles for the heat-not-burn (HnB) category left aside, the advent of next-generation products (NGPs) has already changed the tobacco industry significantly. What used to be a rather static, conservative sector focused on a single product—the cigarette—now suddenly exudes some startup spirit. In a world of continuously declining cigarette sales volumes, the rise of NGPs has lifted the mood.

Considering the increasing regulatory pressure on the traditional business, pursuing daring ideas and venturing into the unknown has become not an option but a necessity. Using leaf tobacco, HnB products offer the potential of risk reduction to smokers who, for one reason or another, have been unimpressed by e-cigarettes.

The fresh impetus the HnB segment has brought to the tobacco industry can be felt in the ranks of suppliers, too. Unlike e-cigarette production, which bears little resemblance to conventional cigarette manufacturing, the construction of HnB products requires cigarette-like components. As a result, it engages traditional tobacco industry suppliers, such as papermakers, machinery manufacturers and instrumentation companies.

Patrick Meredith is innovations director at Essentra.

Because HnB technology differs considerably from that used in traditional cigarettes, however, suppliers have had to redesign their components. Take filters, for example. “Although at first glance the appearance of filters used in tobacco heating products appears to be substantially similar to those in conventional cigarettes, this is almost where the similarities end,” says Patrick Meredith, innovations director at Essentra, an independent solutions provider for special cigarette filters and scientific services. “The function of the HnB cigarette is considerably more complex than [that of] a conventional cigarette—there are mechanical pressures, cooling [and] heat resistance, [among] other concerns, to factor into the design.”

The filter, Meredith points out, can help overcome some of these challenges, and its role is also modified according to this complexity. “Heating tobacco also creates completely different—and considerably fewer—constituents [than] burning it, so the functional requirements of the filter are wholly different whilst still being required to maintain acceptable draw resistance and firmness as part of the user experience.”

An HnB filter is generally longer in proportion to the consumable than that in a conventional cigarette. Among other things, this increases the time the “smoke” spends in the filter, allowing it to cool to an acceptable temperature for the consumer. Different materials may also be used to achieve this same objective. “As a result of these requirements, the materials used in an HnB consumable tend to push to the boundaries of existing processing capabilities,” says Meredith. “So, although [tobacco-heating products] do not require special filters as we would define them for cigarettes, they do require filters that have completely different filtration requirements, can use different materials and have a different construction, so they can be defined as pretty special by themselves.”

R&D restructuring

Raoul Herve

In all areas relating to the manufacture of HnB consumables, the novel products require new approaches and, often, new workflows. Because establishing a new product category in the market brings about uncertainty for manufacturers, many suppliers have seized the opportunity to support their clients with extended services and innovations.

Schweitzer-Mauduit International (SWM) provides an interesting case study. The company, which includes two business units—Engineered Papers (EP) and Advanced Materials & Structures (AMS)—accelerated its diversification activities in 2013. It is a global leader in reconditioned tobacco leaf (RTL) and paper for conventional cigarettes and now also provides components for HnB products. “Heat-not-burn is part of the future,” says Raoul Herve, SWM’s R&D director for EP. “As a leader in the industry, SWM had to go in this direction. It’s a unique chance to explore many new disciplines. We have to adapt to the challenges of NGPs.”

The company got involved in the new segment in 2012. To stay ahead, SWM in 2015 reorganized its EP research and development department. Many of its research and development employees work at SWM’s new OneFiber laboratory in Quimperle, France (see “One vision,” page xx). Inaugurated in 2016, the facility is SWM’s central prototyping lab for paper and, more recently, for all the company’s tobacco-related substrates, such as RTL for HnB products and new fiber types.

The laboratory is dedicated to innovation and to taking innovative product concepts through the prototyping and qualification steps. Furthermore, SWM runs two labs in Spay, France—the LeafLab, which focuses on transforming fibers from botanicals such as cocoa, tea and mint into new products for diverse applications, and the OneLeaf lab, which is committed to RTL prototyping and HnB tobacco.

A challenging product

The technical requirements for both paper and RTL used in HnB consumables are complex. The paper needs to be designed in such a way that it can be exposed to high temperatures without starting pyrolysis—and without turning brown. In addition, it needs to have dimensional stability. “Heat transfer is also an important factor,” says Herve. “We need to look at how the paper interacts with the device and transfers the appropriate level of heat to the fuel or RTL inside the consumable. We currently spend some of our researching efforts on the connection between the heating device and various components, such as RTL and papers. You need to make sure of the right temperature transfer.”

SWM develops HnB paper at its OneFiber lab. The company has established scientific programs to solve technical challenges, such as how to preserve optical properties and add nonburning properties to the paper.

Manufacturing the rod content of HnB products with cigarette-like consumables is a science in its own right. Instead of pure and shredded tobacco leaf, the consumables contain a highly specialized type of homogenized tobacco. Custom-engineered RTL blends can help create a taste experience closer to that of a combustible cigarette, potentially better even than genetically modified leaf could.

It also helps meet other requirements for HnB products, such as satisfaction, a concept that involves tobacco taste, aerosol density, consistency and the avoidance of “hot puff.” Reaching acceptable levels of nicotine while keeping irritation at an acceptable level is another challenge. With RTL, HnB manufacturers get a ready-to-use single blend component with easy aerosol formation, a high humectant level and flavoring.

The RTL used in HnB products differs significantly from the byproduct employed as a filler in conventional cigarettes. It is tailor-made with a selected tobacco leaves blend that SWM casts into a sheet using its established papermaking process. With the help of water, the tobacco is separated into a fibrous portion and a soluble portion. The fibrous part is formed to a sheet, whereas the soluble part that contains flavor is concentrated and applied onto the sheet to create reconstituted tobacco.

“The reconstituted leaf is important for the aerosol formation of the HnB,” explains Herve. “RTL has an exceptional ability to carry and deploy components used in the creation of aerosols.”

Unlike RTL for combustible cigarettes, which SWM supplies in ready various ready-made grades, RTL for HnB products tends to be custom-manufactured. “The development of new, stand-alone and successful HnB products is too critical for the tobacco industry to not use customized RTL blends. In general, HnB requires a much closer cooperation with our clients,” says Herve, adding that it is crucial for the RTL recipe to work with the heating device.

Comprehensive approach

Rather than just lab services, the OneFiber lab offers its customers a comprehensive concept, including brainstorming sessions where both sides can explore new ideas or test new recipes and an academy to train customers on product lines and find out what their next specifications will be. Additionally, clients can hire lab team members to work in confidentiality on specific projects. They can also make use of HnB sensory assessment services.

To offer this portfolio, Herve put together a team of R&D experts from the company’s various business sectors. “To be successful in the field of HnB, it was important to merge many talents,” he says. “In the beginning, paper and tobacco people were not used to working together, but now we are one cohesive team.”

An increasing share of SWM resources is directed toward NGPs. “HnB has opened the minds in the tobacco industry and presents opportunities for us to innovate new solutions,” says Herve.

Next-generation instrumentation

Christine Camilleri

His sentiment is shared by Christine Camilleri, sales director of Sodim, a metrology specialist based in Orleans, France. The NGP segment “has generated a lot of positive thinking, enthusiasm and new abilities,” she says. “When we entered the segment in 2012, we had to increase the capacity of our development team. The new technology required different skills, so we hired new employees that did not come from tobacco but from the technology and software side. They have shared their knowledge with the rest of the team so that we have seen a lot of new synergies within the company.”

Today, HnB instrumentation generates an additional 20–30 percent of Sodim’s business—a share Camilleri expects to increase over the next few years. “At Coresta or ISO meetings, you will only hear talk about HnB products because they are growing so fast. All cigarette companies that bought to e-cigarette manufacturers have moved to HnB because the change is so drastic.”

Sodim’s main business is physical testing. Part of the German Hauni group, the company is a leading supplier of test stations. Its developments for the HnB segment are linked mostly to the consumables, which differ with each manufacturer. “The new stick design required a redesign of measuring equipment, not only because of their shorter length compared to conventional cigarettes,” Camilleri explains. “The filters sometimes have a different shape or different segments. Here, visual inspection and testing become particularly important to determine the length of tipping, wrapping or the gaps between the segments.”

For certain basic measurements such as pressure drop, instrumentation used for combustible cigarettes can be adapted.

Because the category is still new and lacks standardization, uncertainty among manufacturers regarding measurements is not unusual. “They frequently have an idea of a measurement, but they don’t know which precision [level] they want to reach in that measurement. This is particularly true for complex metrological targets. We assist them by providing terms of reference and tolerances. The main difficulty is to find a calibration standard for some measurements,” says Camilleri.

Camilleri believes that the percentage of instrumentation that Sodim builds for HnB products will further increase. “We have many new modules in mind,” he says. “As HnB products will be controlled more closely, demand for all-in-one measurements will grow. HnB companies will ask for all data in one measurement because the production of HnB is fast and manufacturers have no time.”

Within the next 18 months, the company plans to integrate new measurements into its plug-and-play test stations. “We will use one test station design and adapt it to the different properties of the tested products so that it can carry out measurements on both conventional cigarettes and HnB consumables. Our aim is to offer more and more flexibility to our customers,” says Camilleri.

Other Hauni member companies are also increasingly involved in supplying the HnB market. For example, Borgwaldt KC, a manufacturer of quality-control devices, recently presented a dedicated smoking machine for heat-not-burn products.

Thomas Schmidt

“The measurement of smoke behavior and analysis of smoke condensate, gas phase or trapped aerosol is just as relevant for large and small producers of e-cigarettes, liquids and HnB products as it is for traditional cigarette manufacturers,” explains Thomas Schmidt, director of scientific and technical affairs at Borgwaldt KC. “The problem is that these new user devices do not fit easily into traditional analytical instruments, and the formats are less standardized than those of conventional cigarettes. This is why our measurement and test units in this segment are, almost without exception, made-to-measure products designed for individual customers.”

They are based on a range of Borgwaldt KC aerosol-collecting vaping machines. The company reports growing demand for its instruments, which incorporate various numbers of vaping channels including bottom activation as well as further applications, e.g., a cell contamination unit for in vitro toxicological assessments, an inert gas box for oxygen exclusion studies, a pressure drop tester for e-cigarettes and HnB products, and an aerosol detection system.

Schmidt is convinced that the demand for measurement instruments for alternative tobacco products is still in its infancy. “Regulation is inevitable in this diversified and rapidly growing market for NGPs. In fact, we expect it to come sooner rather than later,” he says. “Tomorrow’s vapor industry will be faced with regulations on vaporizers, e-liquids and, increasingly, HnB product emissions. Then, at the latest, it will be essential for manufacturers and testing laboratories to have access to precise measurements. The diversity of these products and the technologies they use has increased dramatically.”

For Hauni Maschinenbau, the arrival of HnB products had a positive effect, too. Demand for its high-speed cigarette makers has increased because tobacco companies have begun to make room for HnB combustible production in their factories. Often, this involves replacing several older, inefficient machines with one new, fast maker. To meet demand, Hauni says it had to recruit additional staff.

“HnB products are cigarettes without the guilt,” notes Camilleri. “They have given the tobacco industry enthusiasm and breathed new life into the sector.”

Category: Also in TR, Editorial Archives

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