September 11-15, 2017
Category: Plant / Production

Having a ‘Can’ Do Attitude

Canning systems are complicated machines and those craft breweries just coming on the scene can find installing one overwhelming.

Beverage World caught up with two of the leading craft brewers in the United States who know a thing or two about canning—Oskar Blues Brewery and New Belgium Brewing. The people behind the breweries’ canning projects share their tips to maximize productivity, minimize downtime and avoid common pitfalls.

Oskar Blues Brewery, known as the pioneer in craft beer canning, has two locations (Longmont, Colo. and Brevard, N.C.) that operate canning systems, but have specific configurations for each location. Both lines are composed of a KHS filler (30 valve) and an Angelus Seamer (4 station) with the capacity of running 280 cans a minute in sizes including 12-, 16-, and 19.2-ounce cans. The systems are also each equipped with a Sentry Automated Depalletizer and Conveyor, a Hi-Cone 6-packer and a Sen-Pack Cartoner that can handle 12-pack and tray packaging. Jeremy Rudolph, referred to as the company’s Beer Traffic Control Freak, worked with Jim Weatherwax, a 20-year beer industry veteran and plant manager for both locations, on getting things up and running.


1.  Assign a project manager: Many people in the brewery will have “great ideas,” but in order for those ideas to come to life they must be organized, assigned timelines and on budget.

2. Get advice and ask questions: Talk to others in the industry who have worked with the same vendors recently. Knowing what was done wrong on similar machines can save money and time. Bring previous experience and vendors to the table and don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions.

3. Hold vendors accountable: Craftsmanship is one thing, but companies you can trust get you to the finish line and stay for the after-party.  Hold vendors accountable for every detail. Set firm performance standards and time guidelines and be sure and stage project lead times to meet your goals based on production needs.

4. Look at the big picture: Have an open mind when discussing and deciding on layout options, and get as many people’s ideas as possible.

1. Think big: Oversize all utility services. This will be cheaper in the long run.



1. Sacrifice Quality: Buy the best you can afford and aim for Made in the USA.

2. Think in a box: Build a system that can be expanded upon. Future needs can be hard to understand so look to design modularity into systems.

3. Put your eggs in one basket: Many large vendors offer turnkey solutions, but it’s better to go with companies that specialize in each area. It’s best to work as directly as possible with manufactures for specific parts of lines.

4. Get too complicated: Don’t build a system that is beyond the knowledge base of the team that will be maintaining it without offering the training to get them to that level.

5. Pretend to know it all: “I’ve never learned as much in a one and a half year period as I did installing these two lines,” says Weatherwax.


New Belgium Brewing is in the process of installing of a new canning system in its East Coast facility, but it recently installed a new system at its headquarters in Fort Collins, Colo. The system, which was up and running last year, has a production capacity of 360-cans a minute. Marc Finer, packaging engineer and Don Rich, packaging technical manager at the brewery, share their tips on canning installation.  

Bottom line: better planning leads to better results.



1. Create a Request for Proposal: A request for proposal is drafted and includes as much detail as possible about what wants and needs with regard to your canning system, think terms and conditions. This is used to solicit potential vendors, Finer suggests around three, to see who best fits your requirements.

2. Think integration: When coming up with your design for the canning system, think about how this system will interact with the building, operator needs, lighting, draining, etc. “The more specific you get in design the more successful you will be later,” says Finer.

3. Create strict guidelines: Just like building a house, putting together a canning system can encounter hiccups. But clearly stating your terms and conditions and setting strict deadlines with penalties or incentives can ensure a smoother process.

4. Have Patience: The process could take about a year, depending on the size of the system and it’s important to make sure that things are operating correctly.

1. Set staff expectations: Get the staff involved early on so that they are aware of what will be required of them once the equipment arrives. “You want to start getting your operators involved as well as your maintenance staff so there is a very clear understanding of what is going to be required once the equipment is installed,” notes Rich.


1. Pay up front: Just like with any sort of construction, don’t pay the full amount up front. Finer suggests paying 10 to 30 percent of the agreed upon amount to seal the partnership.

2. Let vendors off the hook: Before the job is completed, make sure that things are operating as promised. Set an efficiency number and state in your contract that the vendor has to remain on site or present until that production level is achieved.

3. Skimp on safety: “You need to do extensive training on the operational pieces of the system,” says Rich. “That usually happens just before or just after the equipment is arriving at your facility. Sometimes we will do training offsite at the equipment vendor’s facility and train them on a system, or wait until the equipment is in-house and do a class room and practical training on the equipment.”

4. Overlook raw materials: Think about how to get raw materials (glass, cans, cardboard) in and out of the facility and how that will interact with the canning system.

5. Get discouraged: With production rates in place, often times there will be a slight fall in numbers once the system is up and running. But once operators are more proficient with the system and design flaws are worked out, efficiency will start to climb again, notes Rich.  


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