Japan’s Developments in Metal Packaging

This month I want to highlight some recent packaging developments from Japan. The fascinating aspect of Japan is, that they incorporate the most modern techniques, technologies and environmental insight and still are able to preserve the typical historical and natural image of their society, creating modern packages with a nostalgic look and feel. Very impressive indeed.

I choose to have a closer look at metal packaging as they are significantly different in design and structure from the ones generally common in the USA and Europe. Is in Europe and the USA the aluminium can dominating the beverage market, in Japan it is the 2- and 3-piece steel can.

Toyo Seikan Kaisha’s TULC can

I start with Japan’s leading canmaker Toyo Seikan Kaisha, which won the Can of the Year Award 2011 with a container manufactured with canmaking techniques that both significantly reduce the environmental impact and resource use.
The Birdy ready-to-drink coffee brand was launched in the growing Thai drinks market using Toyo Seikan’s 200ml sTULC can, a development of the TULC cans that have been used in the Japanese beer and beverage market for almost 20 years.

It is made from polyester-laminated steel with a ‘dry-DWI’ system that requires less lubricant, less washer chemicals, no extra internal coatings and no waste process water, compared with conventional drawn-and-wall-iron canmaking processes.

Compared with the canned coffees sold in huge volumes on the Japanese market, the Birdy can for Ajinomoto (Thailand) Ltd is also 30 percent lighter and its steel substrate enables the use of ‘tapping’ quality control systems.

Let’s look at the technical terms used. TULC stands for Toyo Ultimate Can, while sTULC is the steel version and aTULC the aluminium version. Dry-DWI signifies a dry process of the conventional drawn and wall-ironed two-piece cans.
A few words to illustrate the mentioned canmaking processes.

Manufacturing Process of TULC
TULC (Toyo Ultimate Can) is a 2 piece can which constitutes drastic improvements in environmental friendliness which were achieved by reviewing the fundamentals of materials properties and manufacturing processes. TFS, tin free steel, laminated with PET film on the interior and exterior surfaces, is processed into cups, similar how DWI cans are processed. Then, it is drawn, stretched and ironed to reduce the thickness of the can-body side walls (stretch-draw-ironing process). However, unlike DWI cans, no coolant (lubricant) is used during the can-body forming process, thus eliminating the need for coolant rinsing, and waste water treatment. Due to the internal layer of PET, inside lacquer coating is not required, hence significantly reducing CO2 emissions, a byproduct of the internal lacquer curing process.

Manufacturing Process of 2 Piece Cans (TULC)

1. Uncoiler — Uncoil coil for feeding to the Cupping Press.
2. Cupping Press — Forms cup from coil.
3. Redraw Press — Stretch, draws and irons cup to form can-body and can-bottom.
4. Heat Setting Oven — Removes the distortion of PET film by heating.
5. Trimmer — Trims upper portion to obtain the required height and check for pin holes.
6. Printer — Prints a design on the exterior surface and applies varnish.
7. Curing Oven — Aligns cans and cures ink.
8. Necker Flanger — Narrows opening to form neck, and creates flange.
9. Inspection Machine — Inspects for defects on the interior and exterior surfaces.
10. Palletizer — Loads cans on pallets and wraps with shrink film.

Ironing of conventional DWI Cans
Material (in the form of a cup) is punched, using a punch sleeve, through a set of ironing rings. Pushing the cup through the narrow gap between the punch sleeve and the ironing dies forms the cup, by ironing the cup walls into thinner and further extruded walls, into the can-body. Coolant is sprayed in order to lubricate and cool the tools and materials during this process, thus rinsing is required after moulding.

Ironing of DWI Cans

Stretching and Ironing of TULC
“Stretch-draw-ironing”, a moulding method developed from the “tension and bending” process, is used to iron materials while applying a back tension. PET film laminate acts as lubricant to allow moulding without the use of coolant, allowing for a decrease in material usage, and thus reducing environmental burdens.

Stretching and Ironing of TULC

Daiwa Can Company’s Wine Bottle-Can

The second example is from another leading Japanese canmaker, Daiwa Can Company. A metal bottle designed to accurately resemble a traditional wine bottle caught the imagination of the participants at The Canmaker Summit in Istanbul, who voted for it to win the Delegates’ Choice prize in the Cans of the Year Awards 2011.

The Daiwa wine bottle-can for winemaker Monde Shuzo’s Petit Monteria brand, is a polyester-coated two-piece bottle-can incorporating a slimmer body and a bespoke shoulder shape to mimic wine bottles traditionally used for wines from the Bordeaux region of France.

Daiwa Can Company was the first company to introduce metal bottle-cans with resealable caps in 2000. Daiwa’s bottle-cans have been a major commercial success in Japan in a wide variety of end-markets. The Daiwa range currently includes several product types.

The 170ml WORC (wide open re-sealable can) is a laminated, necked, and threaded 3-piece steel bottle with a large diameter aluminium closure. The metal bottle can be hot filled, pasteurised or heat-sterilised. The filled bottles are then double seamed with a 52mm diameter food end. Established food can lines can be adapted to run this type of package.

The alternative is the, what is called, New Bottle, a three piece laminated 290 to 500ml aluminium bottle. The bottle-cans are lightweight, have a complete barrier against oxygen, bacteria and light, offer long shelf life and are infinitely 100% recyclable. A high degree of differentiation and added value is created through printing both the bottle-can body as well as the closure.
Bottle-cans are suitable for ready-to-drink markets such as coffee, tea, soup, wine, beer, functional and soft drinks.

The interesting thing is that Daiwa also improved the design of the metal caps.
By reducing the number of knurls from standard 23 to 17, the upper part of the metal caps have larger concavity and convexity, which reduces slipperiness on the fingertips when opening the can and enforces the overall grip.

Furthermore the caps have 34 bead lines for enforced grip of the fingertips.

So far the recent developments in metal cans manufacturing. But there is more.

One of the attractive aspects of the Japanese beverage market is the obvious willingness of the consumer goods companies to engage in sophisticated printing techniques, resulting in the most beautiful beverage cans I have ever seen. Just some examples in the next article.

One more diagram, for the ones who like to know.

Note: All illustrations courtesy Toyo Seikan and Daiwa Can.

7 responses to “Japan’s Developments in Metal Packaging

  1. Pingback: Japan’s Developments in Metal Packaging « Innovasians' Blog·

  2. Thanks Anton,

    Great information and education. I have seen Dry Offset printing of cans; what’s new?

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