Expert Topic Considering Small Solutions for In-House Canning Lines

Photo by John Holl

Mobile canning has been a boon for the craft beer industry. A good number of breweries have been able to grow and thrive by having outside companies come in with equipment to help move hazy IPA and more out the door. Even as those companies add more features to their equipment – including lines that can handle wild beers – some brewers are looking to add their own canning equipment.

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The canning line manufacturers have been working to create products that maximize output while not taking up much floor space. American Canning is one such company and Melody Gregson, the vice president for sales and marketing offered some insight to brewers looking to add their own lines.

John Holl: What are some of the signs a brewery (currently using a mobile canner) should be looking for, to help them decide it’s time to get their own small canning line?

Melody Gregson: There are several factors a brewery should examine when considering whether to continue with mobile canning or invest in their own packaging equipment: How much volume is the brewery trying to packaging within a given time period? Is it once per month and fairly limited runs or a season release for a special event? Or is it weekly, bi-weekly production of a flagship that will be recurring?

This relates to frequency and the cost of mobile canning: How many runs are they booking per year? What is the total cost of the run? Where would the ROI be on purchasing a machine?

Cost doesn’t stop at the run alone though – what is the total cost of their packaging using a mobile canner? Often times, mobile canners supply product as well. Breweries should look at not only the cost of the run itself, but the cost of the product they are paying for. Combined, what is the ROI on the machine? As well as what cost savings could they have by ordering supplies direct or via distributor?

Another considering is scheduling/flexibility, etc Is the brewery able to book mobile canning when they want or do they have to wait on the schedule? Hence, requiring them to delay their release or plan around the mobile canner rather than their ideal schedule.

Cash flow is also important. Is the brewery funded or do they have capital/credit to pursue an equipment purchase?

Staffing needs to be considered. Does the brewery have knowledgeable staff available to take over a packaging operation? What are the impacts of staff taking over packaging – costs, time away from other tasks they previously did, expertise/ability to run quality, maintain machines, etc.

If a brewery is booking a mobile canner several times per month, or weekly, and running fairly substantial runs – odds are that purchasing an entry level or mid-size machine could make a lot of sense. It’s a multi-faceted decision, as outlined above so I don’t think there is any one factor that signals a brewery is “ready” to take on their own packaging. It boils down to costs involved in packaging, what a brewery is interested in taking on themselves, how equipped they are to begin a packaging endeavor and what their outlook is for packaging in the long-term.

John Holl: What kind of space or other equipment considerations should those brewers take into account?

Melody Gregson: Again, considerations surrounding space are multi-faceted. Is the packaging area going to be permanent? If the packaging area is permanent, they want to consider overall layout and flow of their brewery. Also how they will be packaging – pulling from tanks, kegs, etc.
What access do they need where to make their operations smooth? Or will they be purchasing moveable equipment (on casters) that they can position where they need, when they need?

Odds are, if they are using a mobile canner, they have an idea of what could work that isn’t permanent. they purchasing something similar to their mobile operation and repeat? Regardless, they will need access to power, air, water, and more to properly run the equipment. One of the biggest considerations is not just room for equipment, but the infeed and outfeed of cans

Having easy access and room to move around both loading the cans in and off-packing. Does that require forklift access, access to roll doors, and more.

John Holl: What kind of education, certification, or staff training should brewers have or undergo when getting a small canning line?

Melody Gregson: Packaging is more about skill, the decision/complexity of the machine itself and a willingness to reach out to support when stuck than it is about education.

In general, you want to have at least one team member who is mechanically adept as well as understands the basics of packaging quality. You also want to ensure that you evaluate use experience / HMI design when purchasing your equipment as well. Is the machine itself approachable? How much does it require for quality?

There are machines in the market, our AT-1 being one of the fastest selling, that are completely approachable by a new packaging user. Ask the equipment supplier what type of training, documentation and ongoing support they offer for new users.

Do you have to pay for install training? Is it provided with the purchase? How about support? What are their hours? How easy are they to reach? Do they speak in layman’s terms or are they going to expect you to be an expert? Is the interface of the machine easy to understand?

How easy is the machine to control? Little things matter. How much control do you have over the operation? If you turn a dial a 1/10 of a turn does the machine react in extremes? Or is it more of a continuous dial you can continue to adjust without swinging back and forth?

John Holl: What are some of the options, from American Canning, available for brewers these days?

Melody Gregson: We have three filler/seamer options:

AT-1: Our best-selling machine. A single-head, atmospheric filler seamer capable of 12 cans per minute that literally sits (in its entirety) on a mobile cart. This allows for maximum flexibility in packaging operations; roll it out when you need, store when not in use. It runs any size of standard body-diameter can (12oz, 16oz, 19.2oz); for carbonated beverages. It features a one-page user interface and can easily be run with one operator. Really, no experience needed. Pricing starts all in at $35,000. If surveys, the piece of feedback on this machinery is that it’s empowering – allowing user to take control of their production at a pace they dictate, operators can easily run it solo with a sense of accomplishment and resulting quality packaging.

AT-6: This is our newest machine release. A six-head atmospheric filler/seamer which easily runs 60 cans per minute. Able to run standard, sleek and slim cans. 60 CPM would normally be considered mid-market however our AT-6 is unique in that it can run half-lane, allowing breweries to start at 30CPM and scale up as needed. Offering flexibility for scaling operations. In surveys the AT-6 is commented on as our powerhouse/workhorse. It is easily the fastest canning line in its footprint while still being very approachable in terms of operator expectations and labor requirements. The size to output ration is unrivaled in the industry.

CP-4: Our 4-head counterpressure filler/seamer. This machine offers the most flexibility of all machines, a perfect consideration for breweries brewing beer + or for breweries who may be packaging in a space/environment that doesn’t allow for as tight of control as an atmospheric filler requires. The CP-4 can run any style of can, both carbonated and still product. In survey, it is describe as versatile. It allows for a plethora of adjustability and control for any type of product directly at the machines rather than relying on external issues to be precise such as carbonation, temperature, and product viscosities to name a few.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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