Engineering a Beer Can

The anatomy of a can might seem pretty basic, but every single Pale Ale can was once part of a 25,000-pound roll of aluminum—a true behemoth.

When we first considered putting Pale Ale in cans, our founder, Ken Grossman, visited Ball Corporation with a healthy dose of skepticism and an obsession with quality to see the process for himself. He knew they were leaders in canning technology, but needed to ensure they were a good fit for us. Now, our 12- and 16-ounce Pale Ale cans come to life at a Ball Corporation facility in nearby Fairfield, Calif.. Their creation is simply remarkable.

It begins as the 12.5 tons of aluminum unroll and a 150-ton press machine, acting like a cookie cutter, chops circles of metal that are formed into “cups” at an approximate rate of 250 strokes per minute. Each stroke yields anywhere between 13–18 cups depending on the product.

That cup will become your can. Let us explain.

The cups of aluminum are turned on their sides—like you are about to roll a coin on a table—and a cylindrical battering ram slams the cups through several circular dies whose diameters are ever-so-slightly different—only several thousandths of an inch. What’s a battering ram? It’s a machine, called a bodymaker, which stretches or extrudes the aluminum until it takes the general shape of a can. These extrusions can happen at a rate of 5–6 cans per second, or around 2,000 cans per minute.

From there, the can goes through a dizzying line of machinery to be washed and dried, have its design applied and its curved “neck” formed before being inspected for defects (e.g. pinholes), sprayed with an epoxy liner, cured at high temperatures and stacked on pallets for warehouse storage. (And even this is the condensed version, mind you.) The Ball Corporation warehouse is colorful and endless, and seeing multi-story stacks of bright Pale Ale cans brings smiles to our faces.

Engineering a can is artistry and requires manufacturing quality and excellence. With 134 years under their belts, Ball Corporation has built an exhaustive portfolio of more than 650 brands from drinks to food, and has truly perfected the process. Not only does Ball Corporation have beer geeks in their labs, they’ve already partnered with craft beer leaders like Oskar Blues, the true pioneer of craft in cans (and one of our Beer Camp Across America partners!). What’s more, Ball Corporation’s research includes an extensive exploration of how hops impact can liners and, conversely, how aromatics—treasured in craft beer—emerge from cans.

From a basic aluminum disc to a perfect Pale Ale in your hand, Ball Corporation has helped us uphold our steadfast commitment to using only the purest ingredients and adhering to the finest quality. Cans go where bottles can’t—on hikes, down rivers, and all places in between. Wherever you’re toting them, be grateful they’re far separated from their 25,000-pound beginnings.

January 14, 2014 - 8:25am