In the Can & Out the Door: Canning Systems Adapt to Current Market Needs

By: Gerald Dlubala

“The situation that we’re all in just adds to the advantage of selling beverages and cocktails in cans,” said Dennis Grumm, CEO of Oktober Design, manufacturer of can and crowler seamers for the craft beverage industry. “With the COVID-19 situation, the lifeblood of many bars and restaurants is the sale of their beer, wine or mixed drinks to-go, for pick up or for their patrons to buy and enjoy at a nearby outside area. Having one machine that can deliver all of these in a quality canned form at any given time is a huge advantage.” 

Can Seamers

  Oktober Design’s can seamers, such as the Model-7 series, are designed for easy plug-and-play installation and operation. Right out of the box, the can seamers are calibrated and ready to go using standard 110v power. There is minimal maintenance, involving only user related adjustments. Additional customer support is available if needed, but Grumm said that’s usually not the case. 

  “It’s as easy as putting the can in, clamping it down, closing the door and rotating the handles,” he said. “Our seamers handle any U.S. can and some non-U.S. sizes. You set it up depending on the size of the can end you’re using, with different tooling sets available for different ends. Switching end sizes takes about 15 minutes using standard tools. Maintenance generally involves keeping the unit clean, so wiping it down and performing a weekly cleaning on a quick release shaft is recommended. Honestly, most customers are doing these things daily or at the end of each shift as their normal cleaning process anyway.

  “Can seamers are common-sense purchases right now. Whether canning for individual purchases or small batch runs, with the quick changeover ability, you can see what is working with your customers and what isn’t. Then you know where to spend your time and effort.”

  Grumm told Beverage Master Magazine that Oktober Design’s Series-7 units are incredibly reliable, easy to care for and available at an entry-level price point friendly to the brewer’s budget. The units can handle 100,000 cans or, in some cases, upwards of 200,000 cans without any issues. Oktober Design also sells can ends in smaller lots to match the needs of craft brewers, and soon it will offer brewers the ability to order fully labeled and designed cans right from its website.

  “We want brewers to remember that when looking for a machine like this, that even though we call it a plug-and-play can seamer, it is still a precisely engineered and fine-tuned machine,” Grumm said. “You’ve got to look for quality, and all of our moving parts are stainless steel or aluminum, with a minimum of normal wear parts involved. We’ve sold thousands with great success because we started as engineers and designed a quality machine with that mindset.”

Filling Systems

  XpressFill Systems LLC offers fillers designed and manufactured for the modern-day artisanal beverage producers. Weighing in at under 35 pounds, these compact, easy-to-use machines are built for tabletop portability and easy use by a single employee.

  “XpressFill offers two types of fillers for carbonated beverages,” said Rod Silver, Marketing Coordinator for XpressFill Systems. “A counter-pressure, air-operated system capable of filling up to 200 12-ounce cans per hour, and an open fill, 110v or 220v, two or four spout system capable of filling between 300 to 600 cans per hour. They’re pretty simple to calibrate. A scale is used to verify the fill levels in the cans. Our counter pressure fillers come with a clear can so pressure and fill rate is optimized for each beer and the needed corresponding carbonation level. Once calibrated, you’re ready to fill.

  “Our open can fillers feature a moveable shelf that is easily adjusted for various can sizes, with a maximum diameter of four inches. The counter pressure filler features stoppers that fit snuggly into the can opening to seal and pressurize. The standard setup is for the 202-lid size, but custom stoppers and other components may be required for different sizes of lids. Our fillers provide a cost-effective means to distribute a product in cans or bottles without the prohibitive expense of an automated production line. But, even larger breweries use our fillers for canning small batch or specialized runs. It saves them the expense of starting up their automated lines or calling in mobile canners for a less than normal size run.”

  Codi Manufacturing has made a name for themselves with their professional counter-pressure filling and canning systems, offering whole systems from depalletizer units through filled container conveyance. They design systems for individual spaces and provide specific upgrades for components that have reached their maximum limits. They offer that same knowledge and technical expertise in their smaller machines.

  “There has been a massive uptick in the demand for counter-pressure filling because of the need and desire to package items other than just beer,” said Andrew Ferguson, Sales Manager for Codi Manufacturing. “We’re talking the ready-to-drink canning market, and the rapid spike of popularity in seltzers, which have a more rapid foam cap dissolve rate than beer. Counter-pressure fillers can reinvigorate that foam cap right before seaming, which has shown to increase seltzer shelf life from the standard three months to up to a year.”

  Ferguson said that to meet the demands of today’s world, brewers have different priorities in canning systems. Those include smaller, more economical builds that offer a path for future growth and expansion when allowed. It also usually means more modest in-feed options with a plan for automation down the road.

  “But just as critical right now is the option and availability for complete sanitation and sterilization of the filling and canning lines,” said Ferguson. “We always recommend using stainless steel systems and components that can handle this type of cleaning. Aluminum components prohibit the use of any sanitization or sterilization process involving caustic methods.”

  Ferguson said that craft beverage producers should always, but especially under current conditions, make sure there is a reliable aluminum can supplier with adequate inventory for the system they’re using, especially if it requires a specific size. Will you always have the cans and ends that you need? What happens if the supply dwindles? Yes, you can switch seamers and get new tooling, but that will cost you. Brewers must have a supplier that fills their needs both now and for future upgrades.

  “Hopefully, restrictions eventually ease up, and you find a need for faster production,” he said. “Sometimes this is as simple as a faster filler, but sometimes that means a better in-feed system to keep up with that filler. Always research future possibilities.”

  Codi Manufacturing researches future possibilities as well, and Ferguson told Beverage Master Magazine that soon they will roll out a single canning machine that will run every can on the market worldwide. 

  “As far as we know, we are the only ones to do this,” said Ferguson. “That’s quite an advantage when you think about it because we don’t believe that the canned beverage and ready-to-drink market is going to stop or slow down anytime soon. In other countries, especially in places with high alcohol taxes like Australia, the canned beverage and ready-to-drink market is very heavy. It’s likely going to remain a way of life, and a good one at that.”

Moving on Up: Automation in Times of Increased Demand for Canned Beverages

  Like other manufacturers, Jim Mackay, CEO of SKA Fabricating, has seen a mad dash by craft brewers to install smaller canning lines to fit in with the new economy and get their products packaged and out the door. SKA offers automated lines and accessories designed specifically to utilize available floor space and footprint. They offer everything needed before the filler and then from the filler to packaging operations.

  “We help craft breweries with automating their can depalletization before the filler and then the repalletization for packaging,” said Mackay. “A lot of the time, the main issue with small craft breweries is the limited amount of available space, so smaller footprint machines like our Half Pint OD (orbital discharge) mobile depalletizer are designed to solve this problem specifically. Any astute brewer can set it up and have it running in minimal time, but we also will consult by phone if needed.”

  SKA’s first of its kind rotary design is a 30-inch wheel featuring a better drop angle for the rinse cage, allowing for more accumulation and higher line speeds in a smaller footprint. The rotary wheel can run both clockwise and counter-clockwise, making it possible to install two discharges for different can sizes with minimal changeover. The Half Pint OD requires no specialized installation, increasing its value and popularity with craft breweries and mobile canning operations. The unit is on wheels for ultimate portability and the ability to safely store it out of the way when not in use. 

  “Before purchasing any system, the brewer has to ask critical questions and know their limitations, goals and future projections,” said Mackay. “Honestly, packaging is, a lot of times, the last consideration, but in most areas of production, we believe that any automation is better than the manual option. Your automation needs are determined by how quickly you need a new pallet of cans when canning your product. If you’re canning at 200 to 250 cans per minute, you should probably start looking into some sort of automated in-feed and out-feed to keep up.

  “When considering Ska equipment, we’ll need to know what type of filler you have or are planning on having. Different fillers have different characteristics and needs. It’s critical to maintain both mechanical compatibility and upgrade capability regarding can sizes used now and in the future. What capacity can your filler accommodate? You may need to address your filler capability before your lines. You don’t want a filler that can’t keep up with your lines, and you don’t want your lines running dry waiting on cans. Brewers should always consider future growth in their machinery choices, and we, along with our trusted partners, can design your whole system from start to finish if needed.”

Sealing in the Craft Brewery Difference

  OneVision Corporation leads the industry in providing advanced measurements and information systems that help users predict and prevent double seam quality issues. They have been providing seam inspection solutions to the food and beverage industry since 1994, installing more than 300 SeamMate Systems for food and beverage canners. Their proprietary, ready-to-use system includes a video module controlled by SeamMate software for use in a standard or networked Windows environment. It quickly takes the user through a process of cutting, measuring, viewing and recording double seam dimensions for ongoing comparison against the original can manufacturer’s specifications.

  “Craft brewing is all about taste, so it’s critical to retain that taste and freshness in the can to guarantee a quality consumer experience. That’s when a system like our SeamMate Craft Beverage System becomes essential,” said Neil Morris, CEO of OneVision. “Simply put, our system helps brewers ensure leaky can seams don’t sabotage the taste or integrity of their beer. It includes all the necessary equipment and software that craft brewers need to properly inspect and track the quality of can double seams in a low maintenance, dependable and affordable system, including on-site installation, training and unmatched support from our OneVision team. The OneVision team member installs the system and provides a full day of training. After startup, telephone and email support are available free of charge. Except for the occasional saw blade and seam stripper cutter wheel change, the system requires little maintenance.”

  SeamMate software runs on a Windows 64-bit PC, which is included in the SeamMate Craft Beverage System package. It functions as a standalone system or is connected to the customer’s network with optional SeamMate reporting software. 

  “Brewers should be regularly inspecting and tracking internal double seam dimensions to prevent leaking seams and flat beer issues,” said Morris. “Being proactive and inspecting and tracking the double seam saves brewers money and headaches down the road and is an integral part of delivering quality canned beverages to customers. We provide everything the customer needs to get started using the SeamMate System. Breweries only need to be canning and commit to quality.”

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