By: Gerald Dlubala
There are distinct advantages to packaging your craft beverages, with perhaps the most important aspect being that of reaching new customers and increasing your brand recognition. Packaging is a form of marketing, and by using your own filling and packaging machinery, a craft producer obtains autonomy over their brand and gets their product into the hands of consumers. But is owning your own equipment right for you?
Gaining Advantage: Pneumatic Scale Angelus
“Purchasing canning machinery is a huge step,” said Mike Davis, product line and technology leader for Pneumatic Scale Angelus (PSA), part of BW Packaging Systems. PSA is a global industry leader with over 130 years of experience in craft packaging technology. “Because of the investment, you must partner with a machinery supplier that offers a system that complements your product mix, the formats you’re using and things like the necessary carbonation and temperature levels.”
“It is an investment, but comparing the cost of purchasing versus working on a mobile canner or copackers schedule is just the start,” said Kyle Kelleher, seamer account executive. “Owning provides the canning operation when needed but adds additional advantages and opportunities, like expanded e-commerce and customer reach with more frequent and unique offerings. In addition, craft producers can themselves become copackers to help offset costs and keep the lines in use, or even partner with community organizations or local sports teams for fundraising or charitable collaborations.”
“Most importantly, the brewer has total control over their beer, including variables like DO and carbonation levels, and package it at the optimal time rather than on someone else’s schedule,” said Connor McCaulley, account executive. “They can package smaller batches, test the market to find what sells and build networks and relationships with suppliers and distributors.”
The Right System for Your Needs
“It really is important to start with the packaging function first when starting a brewery,” said Davis. “It provides the first impression consumers see on the shelves, and proper packaging will have your product consistently taste as good as it does in your taproom. In addition, craft beer is typically not pasteurized, so it’s critical to have a quality Cleaning-In-Place (CIP) system to keep all things clean that come in contact with your product.”
PSA account executive Mark Saylor adds that adding any packaging equipment depends on the specific location’s variables. Producers should know the limitations of the available utility supply, the space required for the packaging machinery (mobile units or full stack) and the space allotments for additional supplies, finished goods and shipping needs.
“At its most basic level, packaging is about your goals,” said McCaulley. “Is it to stay small and build upon small batch offerings? Is it distribution? Can the equipment and utility supply keep up or be upgraded to do so when needed? Can you expand raw material storage and finished goods areas? Do you have the personnel to devote to packaging without making yourself work 16-hour days? Does the machinery offer remote access capability? Compare overall designs. Applying the closure ASAP is important to ensure accuracy and consistency.”
“And you need consistency,” said Saylor. “Product consistency can either build or lose customer base. Packaging systems must be versatile enough to adapt to the different tolerances in cans from different suppliers. Product mixes like beer, cider, kombucha and RTD (ready-to-drink) products present changeover needs, so look for systems like ours that offer minimal changeover times.”
For smaller craft brewers, PSA offers their CB50 and CB100 inline canners with proprietary technology to perfectly fill up to 100 CPM (cans per minute) with little waste. Additional units like the CB50C trade open-air filling for counter-pressure filling to meet the demands for higher carbonation drinks. Heavier producers can use rotary beer canning systems to increase throughput without requiring an expanded footprint. Inline and rotary volumetric options offer packaging solutions at speeds from 15 to 100 CPM, meeting the need for small-batch or frequent-changeover production schedules.
For additional information about Pneumatic Scale Angelus products and how they can jumpstart and improve your packaging function reach out to Gigi Lorence, global marketing director, at Gigi.Lorence@bwpackagingsystems.com.
Fillmore Packaging Solutions: Small-Scale Production Solutions
After spending more than 20 years as a winemaker and craft brewer, Tony Saballa, owner of Fillmore Packaging in St Louis, started focusing on the mechanical side of craft beverage production. During that time, he found a continuing, unmet, small-scale packaging need for those beginning craft brewers trying to expand from the serious hobbyist ranks to craft beverage production.
“There just wasn’t anything feasible and available at the time,” said Saballa. “A small craft brewer had to either import something costly from Germany or settle for used soda bottling equipment that was usually large and bulky.”
That’s when Saballa started to build his own machinery, versatile and built for the micro and craft brewer to alleviate the more tedious manual filling work. He began making fillers for his needs and posting the process and results to his YouTube channel. With the corresponding boom in craft brewing, he became inundated with requests to build and sell his fillers. Fillmore Packaging was born, eventually branching out and now exporting all over the world.
“Canning is still the most popular, but many craft brewery offerings are well-suited for glass containers,” said Saballa. “Small-scale producers need and want a versatile machine with quick changeovers, which is an advantage our fillers can provide. We supply two changes with the filler, with additional sizes available for purchase, so a brewer can customize the machine to their liking and offerings.”
“Fillmore Packaging sells directly to the users, immediately cutting out the middleman and allowing the user to speak directly with us for support if needed,” said Saballa. “We provide quality, consistent filling systems and provide excellent support. We always pick up our phones.”
XpressFill Systems: Experience, Quality and Service
Rod Silver handles marketing and sales for XpressFill Systems LLC, providing expert filling and packaging options for small to medium-sized craft beverage producers. XpressFill offers several filling machines for quality packaging of beer, wine, spirits, ready-to-drink options, vinegar, kombucha and more.
“As with most production machinery, the right unit depends on your situation and needs,” said Silver. “Owners must weigh the costs, benefits and overall advantages and disadvantages of manual labor versus the automated machines counterparts. We encourage craft producers to perform a basic evaluation of labor costs to help them get a filler and determine what manual and semi-automatic options will work the best for them. The result of that evaluation is usually the sweet spot for filling and production because they’re reducing manual labor but not jumping into full automation, which can get very expensive and cost-prohibitive for craft producers, especially in the early stages of their growth.”
Many breweries and distilleries are now crossing over, with breweries distilling their house spirits and distilleries coming out with signature brews. However, Silver warns that there is no one best type of machine that will consistently handle the packaging of both on a high-quality level.
“You need the counter pressure filler to have the adequate shelf life for your beer, but it’s not the best choice for packaging spirits,” said Silver. “We help breweries when they need guidance on the best choice of equipment for their operations. We offer affordable and efficient filling machines in two or four spout models specifically designed for the craft beverage markets and to be easy to use. Their customer service and support are unmatched and have long been a hallmark of the company.
XpressFill’s counter-pressure machines, XF2500/ XF4500/XF4500C, are perfect for beer, kombucha, soda or any other carbonated beverage filling in bottles, cans and even the popular crowlers for the to-go market. Open filler options like the XF4400/XF2200 use level filler technology and can increase efficiency using a gas purge cycle and automatic level sensor. Volumetric fillers are useable with many different bottle sizes and are ideal for bottling spirits, vinegar, oils and more. Level fillers for wine packaging use a sensor probe that shuts off the filling function at a specified height, giving the product that perfect visual for shelf presence.
Silver tells Beverage Master Magazine that XpressFill is rolling out a brand-new filler that is already generating market interest and buzz. Their latest offering, the XFW200C, is a weight-based filler that ensures accurate and reproducible fill volumes while canning your beer. It’s a significant advantage since you can’t see the level and volume of the product inside the can.
“Canning is still the most popular method of packaging beer,” said Silver. “With our new Weight-Based filler, you know that your 12- and 16-ounce beer cans are holding the proper amount. It eliminates the guesswork and ensures accuracy in your packaging, utilizing weight sensing technology to ensure accurate and consistent fills.”
This weight-based filler is ideal when filling 12- to 16-oz cans, and the logic-based board makes it easy to learn and operate. It features an industrial-grade touchscreen display that lets the user enter the desired weight and then keeps track of how much dispenses into the can. The larger flow path allows for a smoother fill with product flexibility to include your craft products that contain a small degree of particulates, accommodating products like beer, kombucha, juices, RTDs, mixers and more. As a semi-automatic machine, it can be a producer’s first step into a more automated system if and when needed.
Silver says the XFW200C Weight-Based Filler is slightly more expensive than other, more traditional fillers, but that additional expense negates the guesswork and worries over improper filling amounts.
SKA FABRICATING: Effortlessly Getting Your Product into Optimal Packaging
“For canning operations under 50 CPM, the level of automation needed is fairly low,” said Jake Kolakowski, chief customer officer for SKA Fabricating, an automated packaging line fabricator in Durango, Colorado. “But, for smaller applications, I would recommend our Microbus depalletizer. It appeals to the most basic setup needs but performs a tremendous amount of labor-saving, manual work. It’s compact and folds down to about the floor size of a standard pallet. Mobility is key for smaller production areas and can be moved from area to area or folded away for storage. And it’s built for the budget conscious, working as a manual lift or easily adjusted with a cordless drill.”
SKA FAB’s Nimbus depalletizer is built on the same technology as the Microbus. The half-height depalletizer system adds auto lift technology and can easily handle speeds of 50-80 CPM.
“Our popular, full-height machine is our Can-i-bus,” said Kolakowski. “It’s customized for speeds up to 300cpm and has much more accumulator space before the rinsing operation so that it can run continuously through pallet changes. Then the user can add gravity-based ionizer air rinsers before filling on systems requiring speeds at or above 110 CPM. The Can-i-bus integrates seamlessly with our Dual Twist Rinse Cage, making size changes effortless with no tools needed. Post-fill operations are customized to what the producer wants, but automated can inspection is a must at these speeds since human visual inspection can’t keep up.”
“SKA Fabricating’s core competency is building customized systems built to a manufacturer’s needs,” said Kolakowski. “We always strive to fit operator-friendly equipment into small spaces with optimal flow patterns. Coming up with the right working layout to limit any awkward or unnecessary movements of the operator is a built-in, value-added part of our service with no extra cost.”
Kolakowski said that although bottling isn’t a significant component of most beer packaging, it is an essential segment of other sectors, including distilling, winemaking, heritage products, RTDs and many smaller craft producers. SKA FAB’s equipment for those operations is made with the same care and customization detail to automate the high labor parts of those processes.
Better Employee Retention Through Automation
“Any manufacturer should take a return-on-investment approach to automation,” said Kowalowski. “Look for your highest labor input and where your employees spend most of their time. Then, look at the employee’s quality of life within those jobs. Any high-labor, repetitive task that machines can do will free your employees to perform higher value, more fun and more meaningful production tasks that ultimately lead to higher employee satisfaction and retention. We continuously see examples that investing in automation has led to better employee retention rates. And that’s important in today’s workforce availability.”
SKA FAB works with many manufacturers on integration to make your packaging line the best it can be. They feature in-house tech support and dedicated installation/training teams to close most open tickets within the same reporting day. SKA FAB also sells components individually so a manufacturer’s capital outlay can be budgeted and controlled, resulting in a fully integrated, matching and functional packaging line.
Nelson-Jameson Inc: Reduce Costs with Proper Stretch Wrap
“Craft beverage producers put a lot of effort into crafting and packaging their product, so it’s vital to keep that detailed effort up by utilizing the recommended stretch wrap to secure craft beverages and distilled spirits,” said Melissa Pasciak, director of marketing for Nelson-Jameson, a leading food and beverage industry distributor. “The proper stretch wrap keeps your products secure during shipment and storage, avoiding damage that results in loss of product and profit.”
“It’s worthwhile to note the different types of stretch wrap that are used for different applications,” said Pasciak. “One size does not fit all, which is why we offer on-site stretch wrap audits to ensure that craft beverage producers get the most out of their budget. We perform a complete analysis on multiple areas of your stretch wrapping operation, including wrapping patterns, load dimensions, stretch percentage, actual applications and film weight. In addition, our expert auditors continue to optimize stretch film through recommendations, education and training on the proper film for your applications and best practices on use.”
Pasciak says that if the same stretch wrap gets used for all applications, a beverage producer will likely spend more money and cause more damage because different situations benefit from particular gauges, strengths and load capacities.
“The wrong choice of stretch wrap can significantly increase downtimes, needlessly raise unit load costs and negatively impact the environment and its energy resources,” said Pasciak.
Nelson-Jameson has been a trusted source of food processing supplies to the food and beverage industries for 75 years. They represent over 850 vendors and distribute over 55,000 products in the categories of processing and flow control, safety, sanitation and janitorial, production and material handling, building and facility maintenance, laboratory and QA/QC and packaging and ingredients. Through comprehensive product offerings, industry expertise and expertly curated food safety programs, Nelson-Jameson is ready to lower your transaction costs while providing the products and services you need to produce safe, quality beverages.
For more information or to schedule a stretch wrap audit for your business, contact Nelson-Jameson today.
Toll Free: (800) 826-8302 Website: nelsonjameson.com