Think drinks

Lightweighting, automation, stunted demand, and sustainability were the topics in the spotlight for the canmaking industry at the recent Brau Beviale trade fair in Nuremburg. Michelle Russell reports

The lightweighting of cans has always been a challenge and an opportunity for the canmaking and canning industries, as manufacturers of seamers, end-makers, and designers all scramble to develop technology that handles thinner cans. But with the sustainability benefits of lighter aluminium cans obvious, it is clear that this progress will continue.

Ferrum has reduced the number of stations required in seaming

“The first one to the race wins, right?” Gigi Lorence, director of global marketing for Pneumatic Scale Angelus, asks with a smile. The US-based can seaming equipment manufacturer has been working on new patent-pending technology that will be better able to handle the new lighter- weight cans coming down the supply chain.

“For the seamer, one of the challenges is, we bring the lid down on the can and there is pressure there. So now there are changes in how we do that. It’s exciting times for us,” Lorence tells The Canmaker.

KHS says incoming orders are at 24% for cans

Pneumatic Scale Angelus is still in the early stages of talking about its new technology, as Lorence acknowledges “it’s a difficult challenge to solve”.

She explains: “The canmakers are making the cans so thin, and it really changes not only how the can gets seamed, but how it’s handled all the way from the supplier to the shelf. It’s a big challenge because the cans get damaged very easily, so we’ve been doing a lot of work on that. But the biggest challenge is going to be upstream and downstream. How do you keep the cans from getting dented on the truck?”

Another seamer specialist, Switzerland- based Ferrum, was showing its latest technology at Brau. The company’s FS14 SmartCan seamer offers the gentle processing of lightweight cans, and enables high flexibility for grade and format changes.

Marc Zubler, head of sales and product management at Ferrum, also acknowledges the challenges lightweighting has brought to the industry, but admits it works in their favour. “This for us is a good thing because the more competitive cans are, we can sell our products.”

Zubler says the lighter cans are inevitably less stable, and therefore pressure in a seaming machine needs to be considered in order to avoid denting the product. Ferrum has reduced the number of stations required, in addition to the dynamic forces within each. “Therefore, we will be able, in the future when the can goes down in weight, to have the same speeds that we have today.”

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Totally automatic

Automation, Zubler says, has helped with this, in addition to improving accuracy.

“In our previous machine, everything was done by gear boxes. Now everything is servo-driven, which means when there is a changeover from one can size to another, we can do this without manual adjustment. Positioning is also improved.”

Not all of the FS14 SmartCan seamer is automatic, but Zubler says Ferrum is working to replace the remaining manual parts.

With many customers forced to produce so many different styles and sizes of cans, automation in changeover has become a real opportunity for equipment specialists.

“For our customers, the process has to be easy because it is difficult to find good technicians,” Zubler explains. “The more you go automatic, the less you have to do and it’s very accurate, and with the weight and the quick-change system, we make it much easier for the operators. With all the changes we have made, we can reduce changeover times by more than 50% compared to the previous machine. That is a big step.”

In time, artificial intelligence could play a big part in improving technology such as this. Zubler says Ferrum is still learning by utilising all of the data its machines produce.

Improvements may include ‘vibration centres’ built into the machine to track vibrations. “The goal is to learn. We want time to make predictive mandates. This is the goal — solutions for that.”

Digital printer Nomoq has a strong focus on the craft beer market

Seamless interaction

Ferrum’s FS14 SmartCan seamer was developed in conjunction with shareholder and German filling equipment manufacturer KHS.

Like Ferrum, the company has been utilising data through its latest digital KHS Connect portal, which allows KHS to considerably speed up the exchange of data between its Dortmund systems supplier and its customers.

“We can no longer imagine data exchange with our customers without the digital portal that hugely facilitates networked communication on both sides,” said Kathrin Gareis, service product manager at KHS. “It enables beverage fillers to obtain relevant information on their lines whatever the time of day or night or wherever they happen to be.”

In developing a secure interface for data exchange between customers and the KHS cloud, the systems supplier is taking the next step towards new forms of cloud-based cooperation. In the future, KHS experts will be able to evaluate detailed real-time data from machines remotely in order to recognise where these can be optimised or identify problems during production and react to these.

Pilot projects are currently under way at a number of beverage production facilities.

Speaking at a press conference at the Brau Beviale trade show, chief executive Kai Acker touched on KHS’s technology improvements and the company’s use of AI.

“It is part of our activities and we will continue to extend this for sure. The market is growing and we are growing.”

Patrick Schweizer, co-founder of Nomoq

Even distribution

“When we look at the present position of KHS, in the last ten years we saw stable growth of around 4% per annum, on average,” said Martin Resch, head of controlling, finance and accounting for KHS. “During Covid we had a dip but we managed to get over this well, and we see a continuous upward trend.”

The company, which operates ten production sites and 45 service locations globally, said the Americas and Europe account for the bulk of KHS sales, at 29% and 20%, respectively. Asia and China currently represent 19% and 8%, respectively.

“All in all, we have a good balance of distribution,” Resch said. “We see our current strategy as preparation of our assembly and international services, and we need the processes to do this. We are a German company and continue to be so, but we will also ensure our international presence. Our customers are multinational brands and they want to see the same product quality across the globe.”

Resch explained that incoming orders are at 24% for cans, 24% for glass, and 50% for PET. Current data for market demand puts these categories at 26% for cans and 24% for glass. And cans are experiencing “healthy growth”, at 4% annually, Resch added.

“We have a growing can market and we continue to grow but not at the growth rates we had before Covid. We can see the market is almost identical to our order intake.”

A year ago, KHS extended its lead times from six to 14 months. The company says one of its main tasks is to reduce this again and bring it back down to six months.

Green expectations

While growth, albeit steady, in the can segment is promising, customers are increasingly citing sustainability as a key large part, Feldmeier says the trials are going well.

For canmaker Ardagh Metal Packaging (AMP), the opportunity in sustainability is
in lightweighting, recycled content, working closely with its customers to ensure a more energy-efficient product, but also final design.

“It’s about standing out on the shelf, especially matte coatings or embossing. High-end is what customers want,” Johanna Gasson, communications manager for AMP tells The Canmaker.

“There are also different coatings for cans, like for wine. We have one that is very successful on the market. There are a lot of wines in cans now and it’s very convenient to have a single portion.”

Turning heads

Switzerland-based can distributor and digital decorator Nomoq is one company answering the demand for high-end finishes.

The company, which has a strong focus on the craft beer market, has been working to build a digital print service that allows a customer to have just a single can printed as cost-effectively as thousands at a time. This, Nomoq says, minimises the risk associated with buying huge batches.

“Many of our customers are beverage makers and they just like the sustainability of digital labels so they switch technology to printed cans,” Patrick Schweizer, co- founder, tells The Canmaker.

The company acknowledges they offer a premium service with a premium price, and
with current inflation this is a challenge, but Schweizer says they are trying to be “as flexible as possible to help”.

“If you are a really big brewery then you buy cans and labels in a bigger volume, maybe even 10% higher than our prices, but for smaller [companies] it’s comparable. But our quality and sustainability are there. Compared to labels, ours is making a difference. But often brands have to experience it.”

Nomoq started up with a focus on craft beer all over Europe, but now Schweizer says there is an opportunity to branch into new categories, including RTDs, water, and soft drinks.

The need for speed

Speed is increasingly important in digital printing, and is a key focus of Israel- based digital decorating equipment manufacturer Velox.

The company’s DTS-Inkjet technology offers an entirely new approach to digital printing that Velox hopes will disrupt the packaging decoration market. Its technology takes digital printing into the domain of mass production, delivering a higher speed of 500 cans per minute, while improving the overall sustainability of the packaging decoration.

Merav Sheffer, head of marketing for Velox, reveals the company’s secret: “We print five times faster than our competition. But we print cans in parallel. That’s how we reach this speed. We get the quality and the speed. That’s why it’s such a unique machine.”

Sheffer says the DTS-Inkjet offers metallic colours, feathered print embellishments, and 360-degree decoration without overlap.

“Speed and high quality are what customers are asking for,” Sheffer explains. “The inks are special for this application. Since this is Inkjet, just imagine the can is rotating and the ink has to fall at an exact location. There are a lot of algorithms to it. Also, the ink has to be not too fluid and not too solid; there is a lot of chemistry here to get it right.”

The technology has been on the market for around a year, thanks to a collaboration with canmaker Crown to develop digital printing technology for cans.

Velox already has some customers in Europe and it has sold a couple of the DTS- Inkjet systems in North America — a strong market for Velox. But Sheffer says its biggest market now is companies buying cans to sell to smaller brands — brands that don’t have the capacity.

The DTS-Inkjet is capable of printing directly onto almost any substrate in any shape, and Velox is now looking to other markets, not just beer, including RTDs, soft drinks, wine, light alcohol and flavoured water.

“It’s been an incredible year and customers want our systems,” Sheffer enthuses.

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