Crowning glory

With demand for cans at an all time high, Crown Bevcan Middle East is determined to take its share of the market.

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By  Roger Field Published  March 7, 2006

|~||~||~|When Napoleon Bonaparte offered a 12,000-franc prize to find a means of preserving food back in 1795, his intention was more to bolster the resources of the French army than to sow the seeds of the world’s first canning industry. But more than 200 years on, with some 250 billion food and drinks cans produced a year, the legacy of Nicolas Appert - the French chef who won Napoleon’s 12,000 francs and went on to establish the world’s first canning plant - is firmly intact. And with demand for cans increasing by some 20 million units a year globally, it is left to Appert’s modern day counterparts to find new ways of making cans more efficiently, faster, and to ever higher specifications. Francois Querrioux, general manager of can and plastic bottle manufacturer, Crown Emirates, is just one engineer who understands the challenges of the industry. Indeed, Dubai-based Crown Emirates, which is part of packaging specialist Crown Bevcan Middle East, produces some 15 million cans, 12.5 million bottle tops and 700,000 plastic drinks bottles a week. The cans, which are for drinks including Pepsi and Coca Cola, are sold in the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. The plant’s plastic bottles are exported to a bigger area, encompassing East Africa, all of the Middle East, Iran, Pakistan and India. “In terms of capacity so far, we produce 700 million cans over the year. It is just one single complex line,” Querrioux said. “We put big cards of aluminium in at the beginning of the production line and at the end of the line printed cans are stacked on pallets. It’s fully automatic. There are technicians to set up machinery and set controls, but it is not labour intensive.” Despite the scale and speed of the operation, each can has to be perfect. “Cans are manufactured at a rate of 2000 a minute,” Querrioux said. “Every single can has to be completely safe from the consumer point. There is no margin for error in terms of quality, food safety, and integrity. The barcode has to be readable. Every single can has to be perfect.” But to keep up with increasing demand for cans in the region, Crown Emirates’ plant is set for expansion this year, with the addition of a new department to produce can tops in April, and a second can-making line in July. The plant has already gained a new warehouse capable of storing some 50 million cans, increasing the plant’s total storage capacity to 100 million cans. “There are some huge development programmes going on here,” Querrioux said. “We are investing US $45 million dollars. A lot of money has already been committed and the rest is being invested at the moment.” He added that the new line will be capable of manufacturing 900 million cans a year and will increase the total capacity of the plant to 1.6 billion cans annually. To operate these new lines, Crown Emirates, which currently has 145 members of staff, will take on another 60 people. It is not just the Crown Emirates plant that is benefiting from investment. All of the plants in the Crown Bevcan Europe & Middle East group have either expanded or are set for investment in the near future. For example, Crown’s plant in Jordan recently added a third production line to its operations, increasing its total capacity to 1.5 billion cans a year. There are also plans to open a manufacturing plant in Kazakhstan in 2007. “We’re looking at opening operations in other areas,” Querrioux said. Carrying the can One of the main challenges of the packaging industry is how to keep transport costs low when transporting low-value, high volume loads such as empty cans and bottles. This is one reason that Crown Bevcan Europe & Middle East, which is an affiliate of Crown Holdings Inc, has five manufacturing plants in the region; two in Saudi Arabia, and single plants in the UAE, Tunisia and Jordan. “In a company like ours, there is never one single mega plant distributing to all the customers worldwide,” Querrioux said. “There is an economic and geographic scale where it makes sense to have plants close to the filler because cans and bottles are very expensive to transport.” Manufacturers such as Crown Emirates also take transport costs into account when manufacturing products including plastic bottles. Indeed, many of the bottles Crown produces leave the factory as pre-forms, which are essentially bottles that have not been expanded and moulded into their final shape. Pre-forms, which resemble test tubes and are far smaller than completed bottles, are blasted with hot air and moulded into their final shape at the filling plant. This process allows Crown Emirates to distribute far more units to customers in one shipment, saving time and money. Production line Despite having been in the can manufacturing industry for almost 15 years, Francois never tires of watching the process whereby rolls of aluminium, each weighing eight tons, are converted into drinks cans ready for transit. The process starts with an eight-ton aluminium coil being loaded onto a madrel, allowing the metal to begin its metamorphosis into the form of cans. From the mandrel, the metal is fed into a cupping press machine, which cuts small discs from the aluminium sheet and punches them to form cups. The cups are then moved along a conveyer belt to one of 10 body-making machines, which force the cups through a series of dies. This device stretches and irons out the cups, which emerge from the machine resembling drinks cans. The cans are put through a trimming machine, which cuts them to the right height. The cans then move along a series of conveyers to a complex, seven-step washing machine, where they are cleaned and prepared for their pre-print coating. From here, cans are dried in a special oven which evaporates any water remaining on them. This process is vital: if any water remains on a can, it can cause corrosion, which in turn could damage the drink. Following this, cans are conveyed to a base-coating machine, which is important for the printing stage during which cans gain their distinctive brand, whether it will be Pepsi, or that of an Indian brewery. Another oven awaits cans after they have received their base coat, after which they move on to the rotary printing machine, which is capable of printing six colours at a rate of 2,400 cans a minute. Another oven cures the ink from the printing stage, before the cans move to a necker machine, which gives them their neck and flange, and ensures the top of each can is the correct diameter. This is particularly important for allowing the cans’ tops to be sealed after filling. An internal coating is also applied to the cans, protecting them from corrosion. The final stages of the manufacturing process are to test the cans, ensuring they are free from faults. A light-testing machine detects any holes in the cans, and rejects faulty units. Another machine uses a series of cameras to test the cans for defects. The finished cans, minus their tops, are then stacked on to pallets for storage or distribution. ||**||

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