By: Alyssa L. Ochs
Canning has become an increasingly popular way to package craft beer, and more breweries than ever before are either exclusively moving to cans or incorporating cans alongside their traditional bottle offerings. Many brewers prefer canning over bottling because of the increased protection from light and oxygen, cost, portability, recyclability and freshness. However, a brewery needs the right type of canning system in its space to make this form of production profitable and efficient.
With the input of top industry experts at SKA Fabricating, XpressFill Systems and OneVision Corporation, here’s what breweries should know before investing in a new canning system for the first time or upgrading a current machine.
Canning Products Available to Breweries
Smaller and newer craft breweries may start off with manual canning systems that have a two-head filler and that can fill about 10 cans per minute because of these systems’ affordability. An upgrade from this is a micro-automated canning system with a three-head filler and capacity for 25 cans per minute with multiple can size options. Meanwhile, automated canning systems may have up to 10 head fillers and be able to fill more than 70 cans per minute. To operate a canning line, a brewery may also need to purchase blank or printed cans, can ends and lids, PakTech can carriers, shrink sleeves and corrugated case trays.
One canning machine company based in San Luis Obispo, California, XpressFill, manufacturers affordable table-top machines that are used by craft breweries to fill both cans and bottles. Rod Silver, the marketing coordinator at XpressFill, told Beverage Master Magazine that his company has experienced a significant increase in can fillers from its brewery customers this year.
“Our counter pressure fillers fill the cans in a pressurized environment to maximize the CO2 in solution,” Silver said. “Our open fill units have become increasingly more popular due to the lower cost and faster fill rate. Controlling filling conditions are critical in achieving optimum fills using either system. Both units purge the can with CO2 prior to the fill cycle.”
Another relevant company that breweries will want to learn about is Ska Fabricating, which is based in Durango, Colorado and has over 700 customers worldwide. Matt Vincent, a partner in Durango’s largest and most award-winning craft beer brewery, told Beverage Master about Ska’s primary and most popular product called the Can-i-Bus Can Depalletizer. It is paired with either a water twist rinser or ionized air rinse and is an industry-leading depalletizer and rinser combo that covers the speed range of 30 CPM up to 400+ CPM.
“It allows for the opportunity to grow as your production grows, due to the wide range of speeds that it can handle,” Vincent said. “It also is a necessary part of a canning line because it eliminates the need for hand-loading cans onto a filling line, allowing operators to focus on quality by eliminating menial tasks.”
Vincent also said that Ska Fabricating offers an extensive line of conveyance solutions, date coders, handle applicators, can and bottle drying equipment and machinery integration to assist in the post-fill needs of the brewery.
Meanwhile, Neil Morris of OneVision Corporation in Westerville, Ohio told Beverage Master Magazine how OneVision “manufactures and markets inspection systems that empower beverage canners and food canners produce quality double seams.” This company’s expertise includes double seam evaluations, inspection systems and training and support at system installation, as well as electronic and phone support after installation to prevent seam leaks and keep products fresh.
Ben Anacker, who manages sales and services for OneVision in the western U.S. and Canada and who is an expert in can manufacturing, said that OneVision arguably provides the most cost-effective craft brew system and support to empower brewers to have confidence in their canned products.
“Evaluating double seam overlap and tightness is imperative to comprehensive analysis of seam integrity,” Anacker said. “The OneVision SeamMate® Inspection System, in combination with the Mini Drive Seam Stripper System, is unparalleled in performing the destructive seam dissection to allow close examination of these attributes.”
Important Features of Canning Machines
Overall, canning systems feature a complex set of machines that share some similarities but are also very different in many ways. These differences lie in their speed, efficiency, size and other capabilities, such as low DO pickup, 15-20 ppb, dual cam driven seamers, nitro with a widget or no widget and monitors. Considerations to keep in mind are oxygen and light penetration, seamers, reliability, the ability to upgrade later and integration with your current system.
Silver of XpressFill said that the most important features to consider are “cost, fill consistency, oxygen uptake, user-friendly, reliability, ease of cleaning and sanitizing and support by the manufacturer (both pre-sale and after).”
Vincent of Ska Fabricating said that first and foremost, the most important factors for making a canning machine decision are identifying the proper speed line that works well with your budget, batch size, labor pool and desired level of automation. He said that the second priority is to make sure you understand the differences in the fillers and what level of quality you can expect from them.
“In the end, you get what you pay for,” Vincent said. “Rotary fillers tend to provide a higher level of fill quality than inline fillers, but they are typically four to five times the cost.
“All businesses evaluate the cost-competitive options when procuring capital assets to support their business,” said Anacker of OneVision Corporation. “For the craft brewery industry, there are many options for these canning investments. Sustainability versus initial investment cost is widely overlooked and should be evaluated more closely.”
Questions to Ask Before Buying a New Canning System
There are many questions to ask before buying a new canning machine, either for the first time as a new brewery or to upgrade existing equipment. Here are some initial questions to start with:
• Is the machine the right size for your needs?
• Will you use printed cans or labels?
• Are pneumatic seamers your best option?
• How easy is it to clean the machine?
• What other accessories are needed to operate the machine?
• What are the financing options?
Silver of XpressFill said that while many craft breweries are shifting to cans instead of bottles because of customer demand, switching production from bottles to cans is a significant undertaking that should not be taken lightly.
“Canning lines and mobile canning could be prohibitively expensive depending on the initial scope of your production,” Silver said. “Table top units, like the XpressFill fillers, can be a cost-effective initial effort to meet the initial demand. Questions should be asked regarding the production capacity of the equipment, ability to upgrade, sell-back policies and warranty information to ensure a prudent investment.”
Vincent of Ska Fabricating said that the most important questions to ask are about the machine’s cost, level of support offered, how many people it takes to operate the line efficiently and what level of dissolved oxygen the filler can maintain while filling.
Anacker of OneVision Corporation recommends looking into the track record of the supplier company as well as the actual system being considered. He said to ask about if the system can be upgraded to match future growth and to check references of actual users with at least three years of experience using the system. How a “micro-canning” system compares to larger commercial canning systems and whether the system has the same fundamental function and repeatability to have confidence in long-term production capability and integrity are other considerations that Anacker recommends.
Expert Advice About Canning Machines & Lines
With all of this information in mind, you may decide that now is the right time to start looking at new canning machine options, or it may be best to hold off for a while until you have fully assessed your needs. However, it seems that canned craft beer is here to stay and will only continue to increase in popularity in the future.
Vincent of Ska Fabricating recommends that breweries do their homework in researching canning line equipment and identify reputable vendors that will provide the levels of customer service and project management that your brewery needs.
“Budget for the suppliers to do the installations and training for their machinery,” Vincent said. “Many mistakes are made and inefficiencies are created without proper installation and training on the machinery. We have seen many customers that try to do the installations on their own and it ends up creating more problems in the long run, resulting in down time and/or machinery that doesn’t operate as well as intended.”
In terms of advice for craft breweries, Anacker of OneVision Corporation said,” Contract or employ resources with canning experience to help make procurement choices, develop production layout, oversee the production to get this business phase started well and develop other resources for sustainability.”
Silver of XpressFill recommends finding other breweries that have worked with the particular machine and manufacturer that you are considering and asking them about the machine’s reliability and overall satisfaction with the canning equipment.
“Also, search online for reviews of the equipment,” Silver said. “Real world experience is the best insight into what can be expected with purchasing and operating a new canning system.”