Next-generation Toyo Seikan production line will get smart

Japan’s leading canmaker Toyo Seikan is to install a ‘smart’ production line that will be a prototype for making the world’s lightest aluminium beverage cans.

The 12 billion Yen (US$112 million) canmaking line will be set up at the Ishioka plant, one of seven that Toyo Seikan operates in Japan, and will use what the canmaker describes as new environmentally-friendly moulding technology and automation that involves the ‘internet of things (IoT)’ and labour-saving techniques.

Demand for alcoholic drinks has been increasing in Japan, and the increase in canmaking capacity is part of Toyo Seikan’s three-year management plan to focus on its core business of making cans and PET bottles for beverages. The plan involves the relocation and building of plants as the company creates a management system using next-generation smart technologies.

Its goal is to reduce environmental impact by promoting resource and energy savings in the canmaking process, along with new processes that will enable the manufacture of the lightest-possible aluminium cans.

Until recently Toyo Seikan has pursued the use of its well-established proprietary Toyo Ultimate Can (TULC) technology in which polyester-coated aluminium sheet is formed into can bodies without the need for the energy- and resource-hungry washing and coating systems commonly used in D&I beverage can plants (of which Toyo Seikan has three), offering what it regards as a can with low environmental impact.

The TULC technology has however found limited commercial appeal outside of Japan.

Toyo Seikan’s statement published last week suggests that the company is taking a new approach by refining the D&I process with more automation, and process control that enables lighter cans to be produced. Typically the currently lightest aluminium cans holding 350ml weigh about 10 grams.

Once the new canmaking line has been established at the Ishioka plant in Ibaraki prefecture, a facility that is understood to have four D&I production lines making cans in sizes from 190ml to 1,000ml, the technology will be introduced at Toyo Seikan’s six other plants, four of which make TULC cans exclusively.

The new line at the Ishioka plant is expected to start operating from April 2021.