Changing consumer preferences and stricter regulations bring about a range of new business opportunities for suppliers of tobacco testing equipment.
By Stefanie Rossel
“Transition” is probably the word that best describes the state the tobacco industry has been in for some years now. In 2013, global cigarette sales volumes shrank for the first time, even when including China. At the same time, a new product category, electronic nicotine-delivery systems (ENDS), experienced unprecedented growth and sparked further innovation, such as heated tobacco products.
Regulation continues to increase around the world, the implementation of the revised Tobacco Products Directive (TPD2) in the EU and the launch of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) deeming regulations in the U.S. being the latest examples. Following these developments, the leading tobacco manufacturers have closed down many of their cigarette factories in developed markets and concentrated production at other sites, mainly in Asia.
Whether the changing business environment presents more challenges or more opportunities to suppliers of laboratory testing equipment depends on various factors, including their specific focus, their ability to adapt to customers’ evolving needs and, of course—the great unknown—the future development of the ever more fragmented tobacco products market.
“The big majority of the testing equipment for the tobacco market so far was designed to meet the requirements of uniform products, such as conventional cigarettes,” says Marc Naruga, managing director of Borgwaldt KC, a German supplier of smoking machines and equipment for physical testing. “While these requirements still have to be satisfied, a complete new field of next-generation products [NGPs] have arisen on the market. [These products] vary in shape, size, function and testing requirements from the conventional tobacco product. Enhanced engineering and customization is necessary to meet these new requirements.”
In terms of testing instruments, he adds, the market is moving away from a “one size fits all” approach toward a customized-solutions philosophy. “Working in such a transition time requires adjusted skill sets for the entire company, adding to a manufacturer of testing equipment the agility and know-how of an engineering company,” says Naruga.
Meanwhile, regulation is affecting testing equipment suppliers in different ways. More manufacturers are seeking the services from suppliers of testing and testing equipment, according to Mike Taylor, director of scientific development at Essentra Scientific Services. “Many manufacturers prefer independent testing of their products for regulatory purposes from reputed and accredited laboratories, allowing them to highlight that their products have been tested externally and giving credibility to the validity of the results.”
In contrast, Juergen Kroeger, key account manager of tobacco at Tews Elektronik, has noted considerably reduced investment in new equipment following the introduction of TPD2: “The industry was occupied with internal projects to fulfill TPD2 requirements. We expect that the industry’s investments into measurement equipment will get back to normal from next year on when all regulations have been fulfilled.”
A similar effect came from cigarette manufacturers’ efforts to optimize their production footprints. “Clearly we are seeing a reduced demand for instrumentation, as there are a lot of plant consolidations and closures; though, having said that, China after a period of delayed business is now opening up again,” says Ian Benson, global marketing director of NDC Technologies.
“For companies like NDC, with a large installed base of instrumentation, there will continue to be a replacement market which in itself will be quite significant,” he adds. “This is offset with the industry change where plants that are closing redistribute their instrumentation; in the past this would not have happened.”
Benson says NGPs could represent an opportunity for his company. Heated tobacco products in particular require many measurements. However, if NGPs end up being dominated by vapor products, the future may be less rosy for traditional tobacco instrumentation suppliers. “We are keeping a careful eye on the changes,” says Benson.
More complex requirements
As the market gets more complex, so do customers’ requirements for analysis. Manufacturers are asking for more precision, greater flexibility, further automation, more consistent results and the ability to measure more parameters, among other things.
In vitro testing, too, is becoming more important. Paul Glenn, sales and marketing director of Cerulean, says there is increased emphasis on compliance with current good manufacturing practices and good laboratory practices. “Layered on this are the demands of regulatory testing, which have driven so many thoughts in the last 12 months,” he says.
“The world is changing at a faster pace,” observes Hannjoerg Steiner, sales and business development manager at Carl Zeiss Spectroscopy. “Yesterday it was enough to measure moisture with a lot of drawbacks of an outdated technology; now the customer wants to understand his whole process, for example in the primary, by measuring all parameters. The future will be the ‘industry 4.0,’ which means that web-based communication between PCs, machines and humans is the name of the game; our equipment has already been designed for these challenges,” says Steiner.
“Customers want to get more connected instruments with quicker response and less labor cost,” says Eric Favre, managing director of Sodim. “Besides, they are in a hurry to develop new smoking products, and testing equipment suppliers have to adapt and respond more quickly than in the past. These new smoking products need, for example, automatic aspect/visual controls requiring new types of sensors like cameras or, for vaping products, a new range of devices.”
According to Naruga, many of the new tobacco products also have testing requirements that cannot be fulfilled by today’s equipment, so new, different testing methods are needed, as well.
A host of novelties
Recent developments in testing equipment and services reflect instrumentation suppliers’ efforts to serve the evolving market. Essentra Scientific Services, for example, has greatly increased its capacity for e-cigarette testing ahead of TPD2. “We have a seen a large increase in testing of these products over the last three to four years,” Taylor explains. “In addition, the TPD has driven a significant number of enquiries this year as customers aim to meet the requirements.”
Glenn has also noted considerable TPD2-related activity as e-cigarettes manufacturers, particularly those outside the Big Tobacco fold, must decide whether to develop in-house testing and quality- assurance facilities or contract those activities to a third party. “Consequently, there has been a notable expansion of testing capability in the industry, and this has demanded more equipment to perform tests,” he says.
Cerulean is constantly developing and evolving products and aims to bring two or three new products to market each year. “Over the past 12 months our focus has been very much on laboratory testing. Inevitably, with the adoption of the deeming regulations in the U.S. and TPD2 in Europe, this has meant testing of products other than the traditional burn-down cigarettes we are familiar with,” says Glenn.
“We have released a high-volume smoking machine specifically designed for testing emissions from shisha tobacco, a 20-port e-cigarette vaping machine to up the throughput in ENDS testing over our utilitarian CETI8 machine, and we are just about to release the Orbit 20, which is a rotary smoking machine optimized for intensive burn-down regimes and quick changeover for ENDS testing. This last product has taken the research that shows the inconstancies associated with large capture dead volume and eliminated these in a reliable mechanical package,” he says.
According to Glenn, new product categories are always challenging, as the certainties of testing traditional products are no longer there.
“There is a desire to service customer needs, and we have had to take a view on these products and try to anticipate what will be required for testing—often when the people making these new devices are equally unsure what they require!” he says. “We identified a need for e-cigarette testing and produced a modestly priced vaping machine before the needs of this new category were known. The rapid development of emission testing standards led the way to obvious test equipment improvements.”
In June 2015, Coresta published a recommended method for aerosol generation with a puffing regime that is used by many laboratories. “Consequently, in nine months we went from the MK1 to MK3 as these needs emerged,” says Glenn. “The next development in heat-not-burn or e-cigarettes may bring with it the need for equally radical products and an equally rapid development cycle.”
Focus on NGPs
For Vitrocell, the changes in the tobacco landscape have generated additional business, too. In the past 12 months the company has introduced more than 10 new products in the areas of exposure systems, smoking machines and dosimetry, according to managing director Tobias Krebs.
“For the requirements of smoking e-cigarettes as well as conventional cigarettes we introduced the smoking machine VC 10 S-Type,” he says. “The machine has a new platform concept, which allows for easy handling, fast cleaning and quick product change times. In this product segment we also just introduced our new multichannel VC 1 smoking machine with up to eight independently working syringe units, which perfectly complement our exposure systems for higher throughput, such as the well-characterized Vitrocell 24/48 system. The new Ames 48 and 6/48 systems for mammalian cells are also based upon this technology.”
Following the customized-solutions philosophy, Borgwaldt KC has launched a family of smoking machines covering several applications. “This family consists of a syringe module hosting also the control unit, as well as several smoking or even vaporing racks for applications such as smoking conventional cigarettes or cigars but also e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products,” says Naruga.
“Either mainstream smoke or sidestream smoke can be captured, and even an add-on module for in vitro smoking is available,” he adds. “In addition, Borgwaldt KC debuted a new rotary smoking machine designed for efficient and fast rotary smoking under Health Canada’s “intense” standard. Concerning physical testing we have added to our portfolio a module to determine pressure drop of vaping products to satisfy the increased demand for such a device.”
Meanwhile, Borgwaldt KC’s sister company, Analytical Service Laboratory (ASL), has extended its range of analytical services. “Together with Hauni Maschinenbau, Borgwaldt Flavor, ASL and Borgwaldt KC, a competence center has been established to look at new vaping and heat-not-burn products or conventional products with new features in their entirety. It is unique to offer customers consulting and guidance as well as product solutions completely out of one hand covering manufacturing, flavoring, liquids, analytical testing service, as well as testing instrumentation.”
Assuring quality products
Sodim offers a range of modular “plug and play” solutions for rod analysis, including a rod channel-detection system designed to recognize off-line the family of cigarettes and, in the case of a double rod maker, the channel that produces the cigarettes. It is compatible with different makers and filter colors.
There are also a section inspection system, designed to analyze any type of rod with a high- performance camera, and a cutter module. The latter has been developed to reduce the labor required for preparing samples for the Sodiline series test station, with which all systems are fully compatible.
Sodiscan-MWS, a fast automatic measuring device, detects capsules inside a rod. “Because of TPD2, the pack design will no longer be a differentiation factor of the brand,” says Favre. “The differentiation is now made inside the cigarette packs, mainly through the filters section. This new approach has been taken into account by Sodim in its strategy of product development for analyzing/controlling this particular visual aspect.”
Tews, meanwhile, is constantly developing its software and hardware. Recently the company implemented a hardware upgrade that doubled the accuracy of its MW 4420 test station. The industry, says Kroeger, requires quick and precise determination of the moisture content at all relevant measuring spots in a primary department. “Tews lab instruments deliver results within a second while drying ovens or other methods require up to half an hour or even more,” he says.
Two measurement options
In the primary, as well as in green-leaf threshing, the main parameters remain moisture and oven volatiles, nicotine, and sugar. As regulation increases, however, customers are interested in additional parameters, such as menthol, nitrates, chloride, ammonia and glycerin. How these can be best analyzed has become a matter of debate in recent years.
Perten Instruments believes that diode array (DA) near-infrared technology (NIR) is the way to go since it accurately measures moisture and total volatiles without the need for constant recalibrations. At the end of 2015, the company introduced the DA 7440T on-line NIR diode array sensor. “Seamlessly integrating into existing control systems, the unique capability of the DA 7440T separates it from previous generations of moisture meters with its ability to provide full spectral analysis of more components of tobacco and additives than is possible with older filter technology,” says Malcolm Littlewood, business development manager at Perten.
The company also launched the DA 7250, an at-line/laboratory spectrometer that provides rapid analysis of product samples. “The performance of the instrument is equivalent to the reference method but providing results in less than 10 seconds,” says Littlewood. “Using the same spectrometer design as the DA 7440T, it provides a valuable reliable link to validate on-line instrument performance whilst maintaining the standard analysis reference method.”
According to Perten, both the DA 7250 and the DA 7440T require only one calibration model for all of a customer’s tobacco blends, thus reducing laboratory work. As both instruments utilize a “full spectrum” design, effects of ambient conditions are accounted for, providing a robust and reliable prediction for control systems, according to Perten.
Carl Zeiss Spectroscopy’s instrumentation is also based on DA technology. “The main problem is that, by the reference method, loss on drying (LOD), all volatile components—not only water—are being determined, whereas conventional filter NIR instruments only measure water,” Steiner explains. “Therefore there is always a difference in values measured by LOD and filter NIR.”
The company has developed two instruments, Corona Turnstep for laboratory use and Corona Process for on-line use. “Both can measure the following parameters in raw tobacco, cut leaf, cut-rolled stem, cut rag and reconstituted tobacco: moisture, nicotine, sugar, propylene glycol, glycerin, ammonia, nitrate, chloride, menthol,” says Steiner. “What sets Corona Process apart from its competitors is that it can also measure the color of tobacco.”
NDC Technologies follows a different path. The company has launched several products this year, among them the on-line/in-process TM710e V, which measures more closely what the laboratory oven test measures—that is, weight loss on drying, which is expressed as total volatiles or oven volatiles by the industry, Benson points out.
“The same unique measurement has also been added to the new InfraLab at-line analyzer. We have achieved some very good results in the field, and in competitive tests have shown outstanding performance positioning us as the only supplier to offer a truly robust measurement of this key parameter,” says Benson.
Because NDC now offers a total volatiles measurement instead of just moisture, the measurement correlates better with the oven reference test and so reduces hugely calibration requirements.
“An on-line or at-line instrument must not be affected by ambient lighting, atmospheric humidity, tobacco pass height, ambient and product temperature,” says Benson. According to him, NDC’s instruments offer robust measurements unaffected by these attributes and so can be confidently used in closed-loop control to optimize a tobacco process. NDC also has laser, X-ray, microwave, nucleonic and ultrasonic measurement capability.