There have been few successful attempts to commercialise a truly resealable beverage end. Paul Hill reports on an Austrian project that believes it has the engineering expertise
The idea of designing a resealable beverage can end that could be commercially successful has fascinated inventors for decades. Brands want a design that will retain carbonation pressure after resealing, will not interrupt canning lines and be cost-effective. And that is a real challenge.
It was only when plastics were incorporated that designs were thought fit to present to consumers, the first being the Ball Resealable End launched about 10 years ago in a project supported by Coca-Cola. These ends are still being produced at Ball’s canmaking plant in Serbia.
Soon after, German firm Xolution offered another design with plastics components called the XO which has been produced in millions of units for various customers around the world, although that is a drop in a global market of 350 billion cans a year.
The latest offering is from Austria-based TopCap with its Click Cap beverage end. Managing director Karlheinz Jungbeck explained during a visit to London why he thinks TopCap could break into the high-volume markets: “The need for a re-sealable can is clear, but the solution has remained elusive. With the Click Cap, we’ve created a solution with the potential to become a commodity. The benefits for consumers, fillers and canmakers could shake up the packaging industry.”
Jungbeck said that the product is 100 percent recyclable, has a familiar opening mechanism, complies with industry standards, and has an airtight resealable closure for carbonated and non-carbonated drinks. It is also claimed to be compatible with all current can seamers, allowing for immediate implementation without additional equipment.
“Having successfully tested the Click Cap at standard can seamer speeds with an industrial filling plant, the transition to a superior can end can be seamless,” said Jungbeck. “Using only one plastic polymer, the Click Cap is the most economical and sustainable solution.”
The concept of the Click Cap was dreamed up by Klaus Thielen, then the owner of a company producing parts for the automotive industry where Gregor Piech, the son of Ferdinand Piech, the former Porsche chairman, was doing his work experience.
“Gregor Piech saw the can end and immediately realised the potential,” said Jungbeck. “He bought the patent from Klaus Thielen and later on established a company to develop it in order to be ready for market. And here we are now a few years later.”
The patent covers the mechanism and geometry of the polypropelene (PP) component, which Jungbeck considers the company’s biggest asset: “Due to the material being so fine on the inside, you cannot use an optical instrument to measure it as all the cameras currently existing are too big to fit. This then proved an issue in how to prove the dimensions and so we used MRT [magnetic resonance tomography] to measure it like they do in the medical industry. The patent process took around one year to go through, but the actual development that came before it took eight years.”
In January last year TopCap opened its own R&D facility at Kufstein in Austria. This was followed nine months later by a testing and production plant in the same location, by which time the Click Cap had been tested in a seamer at 36,000 per hour.
The next step is to commercialise it, said Jungbeck: “In Latin America a fruit juice producer has already said it wants the product. We achieved this by first approaching fillers and convincing them of the product. Once the filler was convinced, they then guided us to the producer and told them they wanted this can end. Currently, we are in discussions with the producer. However, we do not want to produce the can ends, we just want to grant a licence to use our techniques and potentially deliver our tools.”
Jungbeck explained that while TopCap has a small production unit and has the capability to produce a few million Click Caps, it doesn’t plan to enter the mass market: “We do not want to go into competition with any canmakers or end producers. We regard ourselves as an engineering and licensing company. We are currently developing a technique for a machine to marry the three parts: the PP closure, the foil and the aluminium shell.”
TopCap has a definitive plan of how to tackle the market and achieve a proof of it being commercially viable: “In three or four test markets we will produce a pre-agreed number over two or three-months and if the customers are satisfied, then the filler will report the positive responses to his producer.”
Using the automotive experience of its engineers, TopCap has created its own production machinery: “The machine we have is not a real commercial size, but we can deliver as many can ends as necessary. There is no limit on it because the PP parts are pre-produced by injection moulders.” However, in long-term projects such as this a regular income is just as important as the technology itself. Jungbeck is confident that TopCap will have a sufficient income to keep it going through production and eventual commercialisation: “Gregor Piech has engineering in his blood and is an absolute long-term investor. And he is backed by his family.” Furthermore, the project is now funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) and its R&D programme.
Today’s legislative landscape also means that businesses have to adhere to high sustainability standards or risk being rejected by the consumer. This is why the Austrian business has developed a product that is fully recyclable.
“We have spoken with Hydro, the aluminium maker, as well as recycling plants in Germany and they have confirmed that the lid consisting of both aluminium and PP doesn’t affect the recycling process at all. At the temperature at which aluminium is recycled, the PP burns off.”
The simplicity of the Click Cap design, in which the PP component is bonded with its tab over the score aperture of the aluminium end, also means that it is suitable for other applications outside of drinks, such as food products.
“We will firstly be targeting markets such as fruit juices, craft beer and non-alcoholic soft drinks,” said Jungbeck. “But we can also go further; we see a future in food products such as tuna and pasta sauces. They quite often contain too much food in the can for a serving and once the can is open, the food can go stale.
“Canned pet food could also be a massive opportunity for us, as once it is open, the can smells. Then, when you can’t form an airtight seal, you just put foil on top but it doesn’t stop the smell. As the opening is adaptable to the packaging, the Click Cap can be made as large as necessary to suit the product.”
Eight years after the initial concept was conceived, the Click Cap is primed for commercialisation: “For projects such as this, it’s a question of manpower, time and money. We have all of these, as well as some of Austria’s and Germany’s best engineers to make it work.” More information from TopCap, Andreas Hofer Straße 2, 6330 Kufstein, Austria. Tel: 43 5372 22175-0. Website: topcap-holding.at