By: Alyssa Ochs
Craft beverage consumers are often quick to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a beer by its packaging. The quality of beer comes first and foremost, but how a beer looks on retail shelves can also drive or sink a brewery’s profits. Packaging machines are useful to breweries for many reasons, including efficiently and attractively packaging beer and cans in cartons. Depending on the size of a brewery’s operations and its goals, these machines range from small hand machines to huge mass production models.
Uses of Brewery Packaging Equipment
These days, very few breweries are packaging their products by hand. Manual processing isn’t fast enough to keep up with demand, but unlike mechanization in the wine industry, there isn’t a strong stigma regarding breweries using machines.
For breweries, packaging equipment comes in the form of case packers and uncasers, can cartoners, case erectors and partition inserters. Innovative companies have developed robotic case packers to pack products into cases and trays, as well as multi-lane diverters to configure cans in the desired format for multi-packs. It may save time and labor if breweries use cartoners that convey, collate, and package cans into multi-pack cartons that are built and glue-sealed.
Meanwhile, other packaging machines work as case and carton sealers, stretch and shrink wrappers, and label applicators. Wrap-around tray packers are commonly used for beer bottles and cans, tray-formers are used for rollover locking, and open-top glue trays are used for 24-count trays of bottles or cans. Large brewery operations typically rely on fully integrated systems that include many of these features including product conveyors, uncasing, single-filling conveyors, lane dividers, dividing wheels, star wheels and sealing equipment.
Benefits of Packing Machines for Breweries
In the early stages of operations or for small and niche breweries, manual packaging may be the preferred operational method, or at least a good starting point. Packaging bottles and cans manually can serve as a preliminary method before growing and saving up for a more automated system. Temporary and transitional packaging services are available for breweries looking to outsource this type of work. However, having your own packaging line typically saves money in the long run and gives brewers greater control over their products.
Packaging machines provide breweries with speed, consistency and efficiency on their packing line, saving employees time and the brewery money. Packaging machines also help a brewery reduce packaging costs, ensure a more consistent appearance, and promote good hygiene to prevent beer contamination. Consistent, well-placed packaging can reinforce and strengthen a brewery’s particular brand and help establish brand recognition and loyalty among consumers.
Top Packaging Machines in the Industry
Packaging machines are used in a wide variety of industries, including food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, industrial products, and non-food consumer goods. In a market with so many choices, some companies now cater to the highly specific needs of breweries.
Based in Brewerton, New York, Schneider Packaging provides case and tray packaging, case sealing, palletizing, and complete end-of-line solution services for its customers. For the beverage industry, Schneider’s gable top packing solution is the stand-out solution designed to run at speeds matching the fastest filling systems. Meanwhile, Schneider incorporates FANUC robotics to create flexible palletizing solutions to meet facility and production requirements. The latest innovations used include ProAdjust technology to increase uptime, patent-pending Intelligent Illumination to maintain case packers, and the proprietary OptiStak software to optimize and simplify pallet generation. Other industries Schneider serves are dairy, food, industrial/chemical/household, paper, personal care/cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and plastics.
Douglas Machine Inc., a packaging solutions company based in Alexandria, Minnesota, specializes in high-quality automated packaging solutions for paperboard, corrugated and shrink-film. Douglas is a 100 percent employee-owned company that has installed more than 9,000 machines in at least 30 countries.
“Douglas provides paperboard horizontal cartoning, RSC, and wrap-around case-packing and tray, shrink, pad/film and film only packaging machinery for the brewery industry at a variety of line speeds and configurations,” said Brenda Larson, Marketing Communications Manager at Douglas Machine.
Meanwhile, in Eugene, Oregon, PakTech is a full-service manufacturing company that delivers environmentally sustainable packaging solutions to the craft beer industry.
“Our handles are simple to grab, carry, and remove your product using a 100 percent recycled handle,” PakTech Sales Manager, Keenan Hoar, told Beverage Master Magazine. “PakTech’s minimalistic design and extensive color options highlight your brand and eliminate the need for obscuring artwork with other types of packaging.”
Hoar also said PakTech offers automated application versatility for flexible production requirements.
“You can apply the handles by hand if you’re a startup or have a limited volume requirement,” he said, “or you can utilize their automated applicators ranging in speed from 120 cans per minute to over 1,500 cans per minute if you have a higher speed operation.”
Accutek Packaging Equipment Companies, Inc. is headquartered in Vista, California but has locations in Irving, Texas and Fort Myers, Florida as well. One of the largest privately-held packaging machinery manufacturers in the U.S., Accutek is a leading manufacturer and developer of complete turnkey packaging solutions. It offers consumers everything from filling to capping machines, conveyors, labeling and sleeving machines, and complete packaging systems.
Vice President Drake Chocholek told Beverage Master Magazine that Accutek often helps start-up companies make the best decisions for their operations. By partnering with a company experienced in this field, brewery owners can better assess whether potential packaging machines are easy to maintain, clean, adjust and upgrade.
“For example, a lot of new producers don’t know there are different grades of quality for glass bottles, or they may not know about bottle washers or rinsers used for cleaning containers before filling,” Chocholek said.
To take this a step further, Chocholek told us about the essential checklist his company uses to help new customers understand their full scope of operations and to make packaging simpler and more affordable.
“After we find out the product and container sizes, we ask them what their budget is, how fast they want the machinery to go, and if they’re in the market for more than one piece of machinery,” he said.
What Breweries are Using and Why
Aaron Williams of Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia told Beverage Master Magazine his brewery specializes in brewing balanced beers for weeknights that pair well with food. Monday Night Brewing opened up its second facility, The Garage, in September 2017 to feature its barrel-aged, sour, and experimental beers. This addition came with an upgrade in equipment.
“We recently upgraded to a 24/4 CFT canning line that we are running at about 250 cans per minute,” Williams said. “We use hi-cone rings packed into trays because it uses the least amount of packaging.”
Meanwhile in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Marble Brewery’s president and brewmaster, Ted Rice, told us about the packaging system that his team currently uses.
“We use a 12-head CFT for canning,” Rice said. “From the CFT, the 12-ounce cans run to a Switchback cartoner for six or 12 packs. The cans can also run to an American Canning Machine PakTech applicator.”
However, finding the best options for machines that carton beer bottles and cans seem to be more of a challenge for breweries.
“Right now, we don’t do any bulk beers in cartons but are actively looking at machines to handle this in a more automated system,” Williams of Monday Night Brewing said. “There are many machines, but it doesn’t seem there is a clear winner based on conversations with other breweries. We currently hand-package our limited sampler packs.”
Douglas Machine may have the solution, however, since they offer a variety of cartoning machinery models that fit a wide range of canning and bottling line speeds and pack configurations.
“For lower speed lines, the intermittent motion Vantra offers an unparalleled speed of 40 plus cartons per minute with range capabilities offering of four to 24 count flexibility,” Larson said. “For higher speed lines, Douglas offers the Spectrum in many models for mid-high-speed lines with speeds up to 250 cartons per minute. The Vantra and Spectrum Center Select offer flexibility to run different diameter and height cans, while the cost-effective Spectrum Center Select offers mid-high-speed capability on a single can diameter capability at a very cost-effective price.”
How to Choose the Right Packaging System
As with every decision made in a brewery, owners must make considerations before investing in a packaging system. Short-term and long-term costs, ease of ongoing maintenance, opportunities for customizable design, integration with existing bottle and can filling systems, as well as choosing the correct machine size are only a handful of things to analyze before purchasing.
Breweries can also reduce their carbon footprint and sustain more eco-friendly operations if they choose packaging products made from 100 percent recycled materials.
“Our products provide an end market for recycled HDPE, helping the economy and environment by providing jobs and keeping plastics out of the landfills and oceans while providing a second life for recycled HDPE plastic,” said Gary Panknin, PakTech’s Sustainability Officer. “Our handle recycling program also provides the opportunity for breweries to participate in keeping our products in the recycling stream and out of the waste stream.”
According to Panknin, 102,592,428 milk jugs were kept out of landfills and repurposed into PakTech handles in 2018, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “In total, we have diverted 338,267,223 milk jugs from entering the waste stream, kept 20,973 tons of plastic out of the landfills and oceans, and saved 17.90-acre feet of land from being used as landfills for waste,” he said.
PakTech’s system isn’t merely a sustainability badge of honor, however. “The PakTech applicator makes our line far more efficient, and our operators do not experience wrist fatigue from manually applying the PakTech,” said Rice of Marble Brewery. “Having the Switchback cartoner allows our brands to have a clean billboard on the shelves. Using the PakTech allows us to run smaller volumes of seasonals in shrink sleeve cans without designing a carton with its associated costs and minimums.”
Williams of Monday Night Brewing suggests brewers ensure that any company they partner with for packing is credible and trustworthy.”I think the key is to really do your homework and ask around,” he said. “Find out who uses the equipment you’re interested in, what the manufacturer support is like, and if the manufacturer really will stand behind it for the long term. I’ve talked to many breweries that got a great up-front price on their equipment only to find the supplier didn’t really stand behind it.”
With this in mind, Mike Brewster of Schneider Packaging Equipment advises breweries “to do their due diligence on what they foresee their operation looking like in the future. Today, more than ever, consumer trends in the marketplace are changing at a rapid pace. With that, it is critical to align with a manufacturer who offers flexible and scalable solutions to assist you as your operation encounters changes.”
Concerning functionality, Hoar of PakTech said that his team looks at the fill rate when helping a brewery choose the right application for its operations. “It is extremely easy to manually apply PakTech carriers, yet the feasibility of doing so is all dependent on volume,” he said. “It is necessary to look at the cost of utilizing employees to apply the handle against the return on investment of our automated solutions.”
Hoar emphasizes the importance of packaging presentation as well because “by focusing on originality and creative expression, breweries have turned artwork into brand identity.” He also points out the need to know your brewery’s customers and consider portability and sustainability when choosing packaging products because many customers care about these things.
“We understand that many customers have a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ mentality, and we need to support the idea of a circular economy in any capacity,” Hoar said.
Finally, Larson of Douglas Machine recommends that breweries consider future packing patterns and configurations when specifying packaging systems for canning and bottling lines.
“Too often, brewers will select machinery based upon their immediate pack patterns or speeds, therefore buying a machine that cannot handle future pack patterns and speeds due to a lack of flexibility in some machinery offerings,” Larson said. “Additionally, the robustness of machinery is critical as brewers grow their operation and volumes increase to the point they need to add production shifts. It is imperative to consider the design and build design to ensure that a packaging system they purchase is robust enough to run multiple shifts, seven days per week. Initial low costs are long forgotten when experiencing poor or inconsistent performance.”