It’s good to be back at The Canmaker Summit

Ahoj, Prague! After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Canmaker Summit returned to the Czech Republic for a much anticipated two-day celebration of the global canmaking industry.

Some 220 delegates gathered at the Marriott Hotel for the event, which kicked off with an informal reception and networking session on the evening of 4 October. A conference, that took place throughout the next two days, and The Canmaker Cans of the Year Awards presentation and gala dinner were also part of the programme.

In attendance were senior officials at leading companies from across the supply chain, including canmakers such as Ball, Crown, Trivium Packaging, Toyo Seikan and Ardagh Metal Packaging; canstock producers thyssenkrupp Rasselstein, Novelis and Constellium; and equipment manufacturers involved in all areas of the industry as well as filling businesses.

The annual event gave delegates an opportunity to reunite with old friends, exchange ideas and discuss current trends. Equally, they were able to connect with new colleagues and prospective clients to explore potential developments.

The conference programme brought together a diverse and international line-up of speakers who provided much food for thought on topical issues surrounding the industry, such as innovative technology, industry growth, sustainability and recycling.

The future of the beverage can sector is looking very bright, based on three presentations that predicted further growth and detailed some of the next-generation technologies currently being developed or used.

Illustrating the recent boom in demand for beverage cans, canmaker Crown invested around $1bn in 2022, and a similar amount in 2021, said Dan Abramowicz, chief technology officer at Crown. The company is due to have increased capacity by almost 50% to 112bn units by 2025, compared to the 76bn beverage cans the company produced in 2019.

Demand is coming in part from new customers, said Abramowicz, with 75% of new beverages now packaged in cans in North America – reflected in similar levels around the world – compared to 36% in 2015.

The popularity of cans is, of course, partly linked to sustainability, with Abramowicz highlighting the fact that cans are not only recyclable, they are also, unlike some other packaging types, actually recycled in practice. There are quality benefits too, with blind taste tests proving that consumers prefer the taste of beer packed in cans, as metal provides a total barrier to light which can affect the product; while the superior protection against carbon dioxide penetration results in a shelf life for cans that is measured in years rather than months.

Those cans will be produced using state-of-the-art technology, thanks to a number of developments made by Crown in recent months and years. Abramowicz talked through the performance modelling that has allowed the company to optimise can geometry, to produce benefits such as improved buckle strength, better coating application that reduces metal exposure, and neck profiles that better resist denting. It has also enabled lightweighting, of the body wall gauge but also the end gauge and tab design; further material has been saved in the form of trim, thanks to material property studies identifying that non-round blanks reduce earring on drawn cups. And to ensure continued optimal performance on the shelf, the canmaker developed its Integra real-time seam integrity check.

Looking to the near future, Abramowicz revealed that the company has been working with Velox to develop high-speed digital printing. While noting that the can already offers numerous options for shelf differentiation, functionality and decoration – including coloured ends, tabs, foil lids, and so forth – digital printing provides new options for canmakers, as well as better economy for smaller runs. Two versions of the Velox IDS 500 have been developed – the IDS-BS for straight wall cans, and the IDS-NC for necked cans – and there are now plans to switch to LED curing from UV, said Abramowicz, offering significant energy savings.

Satoshi Nishino, executive officer at Toyo Seikan Group Holdings, focused on the company’s aTULC canmaking technology. Contextualising the benefits of the technology, Nishino highlighted that other packaging types such as fibre-based cartons and PET bottles are formed by the filler from the packaging materials, without the need for an external manufacturer such as a canmaker.

To more effectively compete with these packaging types, the aTULC technology enables local production of cans for local consumption, by reducing the footprint and cost of the canmaking plant: a conventional D&I can plant will require around 3,200sqm of space, whereas a ‘compact’ aTULC plant needs only 900sqm, and whilst production speeds are reduced by around half, so is requisite capital expenditure. The first aTULC line in North America has recently been installed at American Canning’s plant at Austin, Texas.

These savings are brought about by the aTULC cans being manufactured using aluminium coated inside and out with polyester film, which eliminates the need for an inside spray system, a curing oven, and a washer. Environmental impact is also reduced as the aTULC manufacturing process produces no waste water or solid waste.

Further benefits relate to decoration – with the use of a smart printer that offers automatic inker cleaning, plate misalignment adjustment, and management of both ink supply and colour – and downgauging, with compression bottom reform increasing the resistance of bottom pressure thereby enabling the use of lighter- gauge coil. As a result, the lightest aTULC cans now weigh 8.8 grams.

Gus Reall, chief executive at canmaking equipment producer Stolle Machinery, also discussed potential technological advances that canmakers could adopt. Whereas there has been a focus on lightweighting and maximising production efficiency in the past – necessarily, to ensure cans competed with other packaging types – Reall called for more uptake of predictive maintenance, and beyond that, prescriptive maintenance and the use of AI, and a ‘lights out’ line operation. Aims for canmakers should include a OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) of more than 99%, and near-zero tool wear/usage, and the complete elimination of print defects.

To achieve these targets, Reall proposed that the canmaking industry worked more closely, identifying that canmakers’ competitors are not just other canmakers, but manufacturers of alternative types of packaging. More engineering discussions and partnerships within the industry would help everyone in the canmaking sector, he added.

The primary focus of Reall’s presentation, however, was Stolle’s projections for growth in the beverage can sector, which made for some very positive reading.

Back in 2007, the company used predictive modelling – which takes into consideration factors such as per capita GDP – to estimate how many new can lines would have been added to the global industry by 2017. The model suggested there would be 137; in fact there were 131, emphasising the accuracy of the model.

Using the same system, the prediction for 2026 is that a further 109 can lines, based on each line producing 750m cans a year, will be installed.

Even if that prediction proves to be a little high, the majority of it has already been announced: 95 new lines are already planned for 2022-2026, said Reall, with 72 of those due to start up in 2023-4, and half in North America and Western Europe. A further ten lines are due for 2025-6.

By 2026, a total of 339 beverage can manufacturing plants are expected to be
in operation or setting up across the world, running a total of 794 lines, with capacity to produce almost 677bn cans.

Looking beyond the numbers, Reall explained that there are further reasons to expect growth. Since he joined the industry in 1983, he said, there are growth drivers in all regions for the first time. And, looking at any metric – the order book, quotation logs, modelling tools, and straightforward business logic – the indication is that the next ten years and beyond will be as successful as the last ten years.

Sustainable growth
One of the most topical subjects in all industry sectors, sustainability was a key point in two of the first day’s presentations.

Dr Peter Biele, chairman at thyssenkrupp Rasselstein, introduced the company’s low-carbon Bluemint technology for the production of steel canstock.

As part of its “mission climate neutrality by 2045”, the German steel giant has decided to replace its four blast furnaces for the production of steel canstock by a new technology which combines a ‘direct reduce’ plant with an electric powered furnace. From 2025 onwards the blast furnaces will be progressively turned into direct reduce plants heated by hydrogen produced with renewable energy. “By 2045 we will be at 100%,” said Biele.

He admitted that hydrogen requires a significant amount of energy to produce and there is no guarantee that by 2045 it will come entirely from renewable sources, “but we have only two options: either we wait until renewable hydrogen is available and then start, or we accept to go down a risky path and start now”.

“By 2045, there will either be green steel producers in Europe or no steel producers so wehavenootheroption[buttotry],”hesaid. “It’s a tough journey and an ambitious target but we are willing to do that”.

The company has opted to start using hydrogen made from natural gas. “My point is let us start with small volumes to grow and create a market,” said Biele, pointing out that it is a political decision at EU level to make ‘grey’ [conventional] steel more and more expensive. “We do not see an alternative to shifting our technology to hydrogen.”

Thanks to its Bluemint technology, the company is already saving a “significant amount” of CO2 emissions. The technology, without making any changes to the quality of the steel produced, enables savings of 1.7 tonnes of CO2 in the production of hot strips. “That is 100% of our scope 1 and scope 2 emissions”.

The carbon intensity of Bluemint steel is now at 0.76 tonnes of CO2 and no requalification is necessary in the process. The technology will have a significant impact (up to 69%) on scope 3 emissions of thyssenkrupp Rasselstein’s customers such as canmakers, said Biele.

He ended his presentation showing the first cans made using the low-carbon canstock, which were produced in partnership with Swiss canmaker Hoffmann Neopac and manufacturer of cough drops and breath mints Ricola. The three-piece welded tinplate can with easy-peel end and plastics lid made from Bluemint steel won two The Canmaker Cans of the Year awards later that evening: Delegate’s Choice and Sustainability.

Meanwhile, chief operating officer of Eviosys Packaging, François Querrioux, approached sustainability from a different angle: the consumer. He shared with delegates revealing data collected by the canmaker with regards to consumers’ drivers.

“Our responsibility is first to reduce the carbon footprint of our products, and to increase its adoption by future generations,” he said, adding that the biggest challenge faced by the industry relates to the rising inflation and cost of energy, as well as the looming global economic crisis. “What if consumers choose to preserve their wallets before the planet?” he asked.

However, the survey, which covered the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany, showed that while cost of living is a top concern for 42% of consumers, 81% of those said that they are worried about the environment. The study pointed out that 61% of consumers would consider paying more for sustainably packaged products, with 85% of interviewees saying that they would be more likely to choose metal knowing it is fully recyclable.

Querrioux moved on to talk about Eviosys’ sustainability goals, which include a reduction of 20% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2027 compared to 2020 levels, on its way to net zero by 2050. He also showcased some of the canmaker’s diversity initiatives, such as the twist-off Orbit closures for glass jars, launched in 2011, which are easier for people with reduced mobility to open.

Finally, he called on the industry to be relentless in sustainability, pointing out that there are many options available to reduce CO2 emissions. “We need to communicate more and hammer in the message that the industry ticks all the boxes of sustainability,” he concluded.

The use of D&I technology to manufacture aerosol cans was another topic discussed on the first day of the conference. Martin Boaler, managing director of Czech aerosol can manufacturer Moravia Cans, opened the programme on the morning of 5 October with an enthusiastic presentation.

Based in Bojkovice, in the Moravia region of the country, Boaler brought to the stage dancers and musicians who introduced delegates to Czech culture with the help of instruments made out of its aerosol cans.

Delegates learned more about Moravia’s 30-year-history and its achievements which include winning the Can of the Year award in 2017, when the Summit was held at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, with an aluminium aerosol can made for Unilever’s Dove antiperspirant.

That can was said to be the first aluminium D&I aerosol can produced worldwide. In his presentation, Boaler shared details of Moravia’s use of this technology as he reminded the audience that lightweighting has always been “the holy grail” of the packaging industry.

“Moravia Cans is pleased to now be leading the transfer of impact extrusion to D&I technology, which is a paradigm shift in our segment and which enables the fastest production speeds, the lightest weight product, the maximum recycled content and the highest closed-loop recycled content,” he said.

According to Boaler, other benefits of using D&I include better strength after oven curing, improved surface adhesion for lacquers and coatings as well as lower energy consumption per unit. The managing director explained
that even though Moravia’s footprint will soon be predominantly D&I, impact extrusion technology will continue to be used for niche products and shorter runs.

In the Q&A session that followed his presentation, there was an interesting query from the audience regarding capacity for further lightweighting aerosol cans. “A product we are about to release will be 15% lighter than usual aerosol cans, but there’s no limit,” responded Boaler.

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