This year’s Canmaker Technical Conference at Cannex in May heard some of the biggest canmaking equipment and services suppliers discuss concepts that could shape the future of the industry.

With tinplate prices rising and the threat of more trade tariffs on the steel market, any reduction in the amount of material canmakers use should offer a cost benefit, said Soudronic’s general manager Kurt Sami. For that reason, it’s in manufacturers’ best interests to downgauge the metal they use in cans, Sami said.

Although the concept has been on the cards for some time, recent innovations in design and manufacturing meant the industry was close to producing cans made from the thinnest tinplate gauges, using 0.10mm for bodies – well below the European standard of 0.13mm – and ends of 0.14mm, he said. Some of the problems associated with using ultra-thin gauge canstock – such as building machinery capable of handling such lightweight material at high speeds and loss of can rigidity – had been largely overcome. For instance, Soudronic has equipment capable of making such cans at up to 900 a minute, Sami said. And experiments had shown that different arrangements of beading and seaming in the can’s design could substantially increase its strength.

The biggest obstacle to the wide adoption of the thinner-gauge material is a lack of available plate, especially in the US, Sami said. “If we can make the step towards 0.10mm and 0.14mm, we’ll be able to reduce the weight drastically,” he said. “Material costs account for 75 per cent of a can’s cost.” 

Embracing the data revolution
Canmakers could achieve substantial savings by adopting digital technology as well as by cutting raw materials use, claimed Roeslein systems engineering director J C Harrison.

The data revolution that had disrupted the automotive and other industries was looming on canmakers’ horizons, Harrison said, and they would soon all feel the benefits of what’s been termed Industry 4.0.

Data-driven processes and analytics would give manufacturers the tools to respond to changing demands in the market and to optimise their plants and operations.

Digitally-interconnected equipment would be able to communicate to ensure that shared processes are working at the highest efficiency. The technology would also enable operators to become more interactive with their machines able to react immediately to malfunctions and faults.

This holistic approach to a canmaker’s operations would extend beyond the factory gates to its interactions with suppliers and customers to streamline every part of the supply chain.

“This is a true revolution because the people coming into our industry are going to expect this from now on; the operators will start pushing us to make their lives easier and more intuitive,” said Harrison.

Some canmakers have already adopted elements of Industry 4.0, he said, citing the integration of tooling systems with production systems to ensure speedy replacement of parts. When Industry 4.0 is fully implemented, however, manufacturers will be able to keep their lines running more efficiently and for longer, he added.

Digital decoration
Richard Moore, a director at SLAC Precision Equipment, also looked forward to an era of more efficient and sustainable canmaking, especially for brands with small production runs, by means of scaled-down production lines that featured digital printing.

Traditional offset decoration processes require many costly inputs, including water and energy, and produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Moore said. A ‘dry’ process using digital printing would eliminate those costs without compromising on quality, he added.

Digital decoration can achieve nowhere near the speeds and volumes of offset. While that might be suitable for aerosol producers it’s inadequate for the huge production runs of traditional beverage canmaking lines, Moore conceded.

They could, however, sit economically within the mini-lines SLAC has developed with other equipment suppliers to meet growing demand for smaller output schedules from the booming craft beer and health-drink brands. The lines, which feature scaled-down versions of regular canmaking equipment, are engineered for runs of less than 30,000 cans, the point at which traditional lines become uneconomical to operate, Moore said.

With the incorporation of digital decoration, SLAC’s mini-lines can also personalise each and every can in a single run. “What is a horrifically complex process can be simplified,” he said, inviting visitors to see SLAC’s proprietary mini-line at its Suzhou plant in China.

Digital printing has many other benefits, not least the ability to ensure accurate colour reproduction in a brand’s design, explained Applied Vision chief executive Amir Novini.

For 25 years Applied Vision had been striving to make inspection systems that can assure the quality of printing on all kinds of cans, Novini said. It is essential that the quality of the printing process is carefully calibrated and maintained, he added.

“Printing is an art and a science but metal is difficult to print on,” he said. It is, therefore, essential that any inspection system has a sensor that is “repeatable, stable and accurate”.

Regulatory hurdles for chemists
New regulations have left suppliers of coatings and sealants to the canmaking industry in a “very complex landscape”, said Teresa Ramos, managing director of Actega Artistica in Spain. Following the ban on the use of BPA-based systems, her company had strived to create new compounds that complied with the rules.

One of the key problems, aside from the difficulties of developing formulations that offered the same levels of adhesion, is creating products that meet regulatory demands globally. “It’s difficult to introduce raw materials that comply with the EU and US,” Ramos said, adding that firms now also had to take account of regulators in China and elsewhere.

Despite those hurdles, Actega Artística had created ARTiSURE water-based sealing compounds, which Ramos said had the necessary chemical and adhesive profiles to meet both legal and commercial expectations.

Regulators are making life hard also for manufacturers of UV-cured inks and coatings, reported Sun Chemical’s Eduardo Alegría. 

Describing the legal and commercial problems facing firms like his, Alegría said they had been forced into making poorer products because reclassification of some chemicals meant that access to raw materials was diminishing.

“It means we’ve changed from high-performance, low-cost raw materials to low-performance, high-cost raw materials,” he said.

Laura Barvinek, director of sales and marketing at Sencon, demonstrating its inspection systems for Cannex visitors from Crown

Despite this, demand for UV inks and coatings is high and growing because of the drive by canmakers for savings in energy and emissions. This, Alegría said, meant that finding compliant inks and coatings was a challenge for the industry which would only be overcome if stakeholders worked together. 

“All inks have been reformulated,” Alegría said, and he was confident that the chemistry would continue to evolve in order to comply with customers’ needs, “however we need to work together to see more printed cans in the market and fight against competitors, such as stand-up pouches.”

Future-proof canstock
The question of material safety was central to Tata Steel’s Simone Vooijs, who discussed the engineering and innovation that has gone into the company’s laminated tin-free steel Protact.

Vooijs, the Netherlands-based director of operations in Europe, said the product could “future proof” canmakers by giving them a substrate that had no chemically active material and was therefore already compliant with imminent food contact and other safety regulations.

“If you use polymer-coated coil you can get rid of the large chemical-based part of your line to produce a mini-line concept – you take out the parts that use water, that use lots of energy and that are chemically active and produce VOCs,” she said.

Long life for seamer tooling
A glimpse into innovations in seaming machine tooling was provided by Jason McCullough, sales manager for UK-based CarnaudMetalbox Engineering’s (CMB) seamer tooling division for the Americas. McCullough listed the latest designs in tooling coatings, seamer chucks, ceramic bearings and seals that were among the 10,000 items the division produces each year.

Always a ready audience at Cannex

A growing focus of activity is on niche and small-run can fillers such as craft brewers, he added.

Among CMB’s latest innovations is the Eco-Seal, which had been shown to reduce the need for machine greasing to such an extent that customers could produce another 12 million cans in the saved down time.

Reformation in decoration
Centre stage on the Cannex show floor for CMB Engineering was its Reformat Decorator, whose functions were demonstrated in a seven-and-a-half minute film looped on a tower of four massive TV screens.

Aimed at D&I beverage can manufacturers, the Reformat Decorator – currently being tested at a Crown plant in France – offers benefits such as: improved access to all eight inkers, an integrated wash-up system and rear-mounted servo motors. The decorator, first launched two years ago, comprises the principles of the Reformat brand, which include the use of fewer tools for changeovers, easy access, common fittings, lightweight parts, sustainable and efficient operations, smart tablet control, remote monitoring, energy efficiency and quick-release points.

The servo registration reduces operator input and increases accuracy, allowing plate cylinders to be registered by a single worker from the human-machine interface (HMI) panel instead of manually.

The stars of the show at Cannex wait their turn for inspection

New concepts in canmaking
In addition to launching its new D&I bodymaker, the Canceptor, at Cannex, Stolle Machinery highlighted other recently-launched products and previewed upcoming technology that will be released later in the year. Stolle promoted its rotary die necker for two-piece beverage cans, which was launched at last year’s Cannex show in China. The horizontal-axis machine features a number of necking modules, depending on customer requirements.

The spotlight was also on Stolle’s Flexor robotic sheet-feed end-making system, aimed at lower-volume producers of full-aperture or sanitary food ends, including fillers that produce their own lids. It processes up to 200 sheets per minute, depending on the shell size and material.

The sheet-feeding system features a robotic arm to pick scrolled sheets from one of two bins. The Flexor system is available in either a single-axis, straight-line feed with servo-driven feed rolls, or an x-y (zig-zag) robotic feed that is said to reduce tooling costs.

Stolle’s proprietary reverse-form tooling blanks and forms the shells in a single stroke before they are fed to external TEC-240 rotary curlers. While still in development, Stolle promoted the capabilities of its Inkjector system on an inker fountain. According to Stolle’s chief technical officer Ian Scholey, more announcements on the capabilities of the Inkjector are planned for later this year, but now the system can view ink key positions and move them at the touch of a button.

New direction for Directus
Straightline Drive (SLD), which last year launched a retrofit D&I bodymaker ram drive that improved precision, reduced vibration and offered the potential for higher speeds, has been re-organised and is now part of the Directus Group. Don Haulsee and Cam Morrison have been appointed as chief executive and chief financial officer, respectively.

Haulsee, who in 1991 developed and patented the Reynolds Mark 4 bodymaker, told The Canmaker that the restructured company is undertaking a complete redesign of the S-Drive.

Based on observed performance, SLD said the retooling has increased bearing size and eliminated gear locking by manufacturing integral gear/shaft parts. Gear materials and gear teeth profiles have now been improved. Additionally, SLD has engineered new setup fixtures and gauges that are understood to greatly simplify installation.

The first of the Series II drives are scheduled to begin testing later this year, with further installations in prospect. 

Prime Controls demonstrated its TriSense SD230, which combines double shell detection, missing tab detection and leak detection of ends