Canmakers have long been aware of the need for embracing new manufacturing technology and we have reported on developments in process control and higher productivity as a means to better respond to market changes.

But such is the speed with which consumers move on to new ideas in our socially-connected world that I’ve often wondered if canmakers are keeping up.

I needn’t have worried. During this summer’s World Cup soccer tournament (well done France, by the way) canmakers in Europe responded brilliantly to calls from drinks firms for special promotional cans, as reported in the news pages. And as this issue went to press we heard that in a perverse twist, consumers are turning to canned foods in the UK in the uncertain atmosphere during the Brexit negotiations.

If change is speeding up, then canmakers like all manufacturers are meeting the challenge by equipping themselves with the tools to create ‘smart’ factories that will combine high levels of automation with access to real-time data and ordering systems.

As detailed in this month’s feature on the impact of Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution – this will reduce time-consuming human involvement for product changeovers, while predicting when tooling is about to fail or produce cans that fall out of specification.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will enable connectivity across and between machines and whole production lines, from the processes to top level enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. We might still be a long way from so-called ‘lights out’ canmaking factories, where human intervention is all but absent. But neither is it a creation from the fevered brain of some science fiction writer in the mould of an Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury.

This and other developments are bound to be discussed during The Canmaker Summit being held in Venice from 10-11 October.

John Nutting