‘The decision to move to aluminium-bodied cans was a natural progression, with inherent advantages for the economy, the beverage industry, the environment and consumers,’ states Nampak Bevcan MD, Erik Smuts.
One significant benefit is increased production capacity. ‘Two aluminium lines are already running, but once all three lines are operational we’ll be producing eight can sizes at maximum speeds of 3 000 cans/min, compared to 1 600 cans/min on the old tinplate lines,’ he explains. ‘The full-scale plant will also have a storage capacity of 240-million cans and will be the biggest single aluminium can manufacturing facility in the world.’
Another benefit is the ability to hedge aluminium prices, resulting in a more stable commodity compared to steel with its price volatility. Further helping to minimise material and transportation costs is the weight factor. Aluminium weighs 60% less than steel and can be rolled into extremely thin foil without strength.
There are other environmental advantages, too, Erik continues: ‘Approximately 10% less energy is used in the manufacturing process as no external coating is required, only one bank of spray machines and one oven is used, and conveying in the production line is reduced by two thirds. Thanks to system advances, we’re also achieving significantly enhanced print quality on aluminium cans at high speeds, compared to tinplate.’
Erik enumerates other environmental advantages: ‘Approximately a melting point of 660°C compared to 1 540°C for steel, minimal energy is required to melt aluminium for processing and recycling, resulting in a significantly improved carbon footprint.
‘Additionally, aluminium beverage cans are infinitely recyclable without loss of strength or quality,’ he continues. ‘Combined with the increased monetary value of aluminium, recycling volumes will ultimately increase. This will take us beyond the 72% current recovery rate for used beverage cans and will continue leading the beverage packaging industry in sustaining our environment.’
As Erik also points out, aluminium recovery and recycling is an economically-viable option for can collectors in the informal sector. It’s estimated that between R100-million and R200-million a year will flow into the scrap metals and recycling industry, allowing an additional 2 000 to 3 000 people to earn a living or to supplement low incomes.
And at the end of the day, the consumer also wins. When it comes to direct consumer benefits, the protective polymer coating applied to the inside of aluminium beverage cans ensures that contents do not come into contact with the metal, resulting in superior protection and freshness retention.
Once all three aluminium lines are operational, Nampak Bevcan will be producing eight can sizes at a maximum speed of 3 000 cans/min.