Precision in Canning and Bottling Craft Beer

By: Cheryl Gray

The can or bottle of craft beer consumers select from store shelves is more than attractive packaging. The elements that go into fabricating, filling and sealing those containers can make the difference between a flat beer, leaking containers, or worse yet, a contaminated product.   

  To avoid these pitfalls, craft brewers turn to companies whose specialties are to help the brewing industry protect its most important asset—the beer it makes. There is expertise to address virtually every need that brewers, large and small, can rely upon to meet their production needs.

  American Canning is one of those experts. The company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, launched in 2013 making equipment, supplies and mobile canning services accessible to craft brewers regardless of their budgets. Clients navigate the company’s user-friendly e-commerce site to order as many or as few supplies as needed. Most items are shipped on the same day. Melody Meyer is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for American Canning.  

  “As a mobile canning company, supply distributor, and machine manufacturer, American Canning is uniquely positioned to help brewers understand and evaluate all facets of a value-driven canning operation. It specializes in the craft beverage space and is equipped to address customer needs from planning, to supply procurement and production execution.”   

  Meyer cautions that assessing a brewery’s packaging requirements involves more than just machinery. As canning needs and goals are addressed along with space, labor and financial considerations, Meyer says that there are two more essential questions for a brewery to keep in mind.   

  “What is the total volume and type of can-packaged product that needs to be canned? And how will it be packaged?”

  Meyer adds that once these questions are addressed, American Canning readies its clients for next steps in the ever-changing packaging environment of the craft brewing industry. 

  “Considerations must be made from all available options, including manual vs automatic, atmospheric vs counterpressure, in-line vs rotary, and intermittent vs continuous motion with regard to each’s capacity, quality, consistency, repeatability, ease-of-use. Small batch packaging of one beverage type for on-premise service may best be accomplished with a compact and cost-effective, countertop filler/seamer whereas larger-scale distribution of numerous products in multiple can styles would require a more robust, flexible, and higher speed counterpressure, rotary line.

    While I can’t speak for every manufacturer, American Canning is focused on engineering products with the highest quality process controls, at an approachable price point, for compact craft spaces, all while being incredibly easy-to-use with minimum operators and little to no product waste. It’s a tall task, but our two filler/seamer machines have already achieved these goals. We simply believe we can expand upon our foundation into a variety of machines with different speeds and filling capabilities, not to mention the ancillary machines that are needed to surround a filler seamer, such as infeed tables and can handle applicators.” 

  SKA Fabricating in Durango, Colorado is another manufacturer with its eye on the future packaging needs of craft breweries, providing its customers with a wide range of depalletizers, conveyors, and packaging line equipment. The company was founded in 2012 by craft brewer Matt Vincent, whose award-winning Ska Brewing is touted as the

largest in Durango. While Ska Fabricating was born out of necessity to address the brewing, packaging and distribution of Ska Brewing, its innovations help breweries around the globe. With more than 1,000 clients across the United States and abroad, Marketing Director Elise Mackay says that the company is well-positioned to handle virtually any packaging need. 

  “Ska Fabricating provides total packaging lines from beverage to non-beverage industries across the globe. They range from canned or bottled beer, cannabis, kombucha and coffee to aerosol or paint cans and spice jars. We are well-rounded and diverse enough to handle just about anything. Our systems can range from a 20’ x 20’ square at 20 containers a minute to a 60’ x 60’ square running 250CPM and above! We do everything we can to accommodate the space and speeds of a prospect’s needs.” 

  Mackay explains how the company has adapted to the changing demands of the craft brewing industry and how it works with clients to create the most cost-effective solutions. One major decision is whether to opt for automated or manual systems. 

  “Automation is key when it comes to running an economic line and has a number of upsides compared to manual systems. Our manual systems are available for half-height use which is ideal for a low-budget startup but requires more personnel. When the time is right, we have several solutions to help in the next steps of automation. 

  We are constantly striving to make our products better and have adapted over the years through various market changes and requests for specific additions. Anything from safety, line controls, and using our date coding system to hit the bottom of the can instead of the flange are being implemented.” 

  California-based XpressFill Systems LLC manufactures a wide range of can and bottle filling systems designed with ease of use and longevity as top priorities. The company, headquartered in San Luis Obispo, was founded in 2007 and serves multiple industries, including craft brewing. Technology is a primary focus. The company offers several models that capture volumetric, level fill and carbonated beverage technology.  Rod Silver, who spearheads Marketing and Sales for XpressFill Systems, describes features of some of the firm’s products, which he says are affordable, compact and easy to use. 

  “The volumetric filler controls the amount of fill with the use of a very precise timer. The filler is calibrated to your specifications and is capable of very accurate fills, regardless of inconsistencies that might exist in the bottle glass. …The level filler controls the amount of fill with the use of a level sensor. When the liquid reaches the sensor, the filler automatically stops the fill. The liquid level is set by adjusting the height of the shelf, which can be adjusted to approximately 1/16 increments. Both the volumetric (XF260/XF460) and the level filler (XF2100/XF4100) have a self-contained, self-priming pump that draws the liquid from any barrel or carboy. There is no reservoir, the liquid flows directly from the bulk container, through the filler into the bottle.” 

  Silver adds that XpressFill Systems offers a pair of fillers for bottling and/or canning carbonated beverages.  

  “The XF4500C is a counter pressure system capable of filling 200 12 oz cans per hour. The XF4500/XF2500 is a counter pressure filler for bottles. We also offer an open fill system, the XF2200 (2 spout) and XF4400 (4 spout) capable of filling 300 / 600 cans per hour. All systems have a pre-fill CO2 purge cycle. The counter pressure system requires a minimal air compressor to operate the pneumatic actuators. Open can fillers have a moveable shelf that is easily adjustable for various can sizes. The maximum can diameter is 4 inches. The counter pressure filler has a stopper that must fit snugly into the can or bottle opening to seal and pressurize the container. Our standard opening for cans is a 202-lid size but custom stoppers can be made.” 

  For craft breweries that opt for cans, seam protection is an important consideration. OneVision® Corporation, founded in 1994, shares its innovations with the craft brewing industry throughout North America and Europe. The Ohio-based company, located in suburban Columbus, offers can seam inspection equipment that helps breweries monitor double seam quality for their beer products. Regularly inspecting and tracking internal double seam dimensions helps to prevent leaking seams and beer from going flat. Marketing Manager Amy McKee describes the features of the company’s signature product. 

   “OneVision® has developed the SeamMate® Craft Beverage System that includes all the necessary equipment and software craft brewers need to properly inspect and track the quality of can double seams. We conveniently offer system bundles ranging in price and equipment dependent on a brewery’s canning operation. All system bundles can be upgraded as a brewery’s canning operation grows.   

  SeamMate® System software now includes a proprietary measurement that estimates double seam tightness by analyzing the double seam cross-section. This new measurement is especially effective at detecting too-tight seams on beverage cans. This measurement provides inspectors and quality managers with assurance that the visual cover hook inspection was accurate, or it can serve as an alternative to manual cover hook removal.” 

  Innovation is perpetual at OneVision®, says McKee, pointing to the latest feature available with the SeamMate® System. 

  “SeamMate® System includes the optional AutoAlertTM that automatically analyzes measured data and alerts users to potential double seam quality issues. This unique function helps predict and prevent seam leaks.”   

  Whether bottling or canning beer products, experts say craft breweries should plan for growth, which includes the decision on whether to go either automated or manual–or somewhere in between.  It comes down to when to invest for expansion.  XpressFill Systems’ Rod Silver explains it this way.    

  “The primary factors in evaluating the benefits of each are (the) cost of equipment, rate of production, cost of maintenance, cost of labor and equipment lifetime.”

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