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Throughout the ages, clever businessmen have known how important it is to ensure product differentiation between competing products in the marketplace. They did not need complicated market research; it was just a matter of gut feel. They discovered that a striking difference in packaging was also important to differentiate their brand from others, and the more the packaging industry marketed the technical abilities of its products, the more desirable they seemed. We now see this regularly with plenty of examples in supermarkets.

However, inventive brand managers sometimes devise far-reaching promotional actions to promote their brand. For example, 15 years ago Heineken offered its beer in an amazing aluminium bottle in chic discos and nightclubs in Paris at the fancy price of €15 per bottle.

JUPILER BEER AT THE BELGIAN TOMORROWLAND FESTIVAL

In the last few years, more producers of luxury drinks such as special beers, wines and high-end energy drinks in various parts of the world have chosen to use prestigious aluminium bottles. Such a special non-commodity packaging lends itself very well to the introduction of a new taste or variety; it really stands out in any environment.

However, in June 2015, Belgian beer brewer Jupiler (part of AB InBev) did something rather special. Jupiler and the world’s largest music festival Tomorrowland, held every year in Belgium, entered into a unique deal. To reward the faithful fans, it presented six new and exclusive aluminium bottles with Jupiler beer to each festival goer. Each differently printed bottle stood for a specific music style as they were presented on stage. The music styles they represented were house, hardstyle, deep house, minimal, techno and trance. Throughout the whole festival, the six different bottles played a prominent role. It was the can maker Rexam that supplied the aluminium bottles, under the trade name Fusion, just before it officially became part of the Ball Group.

The leading German beer brand Warsteiner did something similar recently when they launched six special beer types in bottles which were printed with beautiful modern art. This time it was can maker Ardagh who supplied the bottles and they won World Star with the launch.

TWO DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGIES

As two different technologies were needed to make aluminium bottles, for many years they have only been made in small numbers. In 1989, the US-based company CCL Containers started developing aluminium bottles, particularly for industrial products that need to be very resistant to external environmental elements or human tampering, like certain chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Apart from CCL Containers, companies like Boxal, Exal and Daiwa Can later made these cans using impact extrusion technology, which they knew very well from their two-piece aluminium monobloc aerosol cans. In 2001, the US launch by Coca-Cola of its energy drink Powerade in aluminium bottles opened the door for more launches of beverage brands in aluminium bottles and gave a boost to considerable R&D efforts in order to explore further the technical and commercial potential. In particular, machine suppliers like Stolle, Universal Can Company and Mall + Herlan have developed the impact extrusion technology further.

However, can maker Rexam developed an intensive cooperation with Mall + Herlan to create its own proprietary DWI technology as an attractive alternative to the impact extrusion method for the production of aluminium bottles. Of course, the obvious advantages of the mature DWI technology are the very high production speeds and the ultra-thin can wall, enabled by the wall-ironing process. The interest for Fusion bottles produced in this way became so big in various parts of the world that not long ago, Rexam installed a second high-speed DWI line adapted for bottle production in its Ejpovice plant in the Czech Republic. Remarkably enough, the Ball Group produces its Ball Impact Bottles, made by impact extrusion in the same Czech Republic.

Is there a strong competition between the two technologies to make aluminium bottles and which one will win? As is often the case, the answer is ambiguous. Ezio Foresti, director of business development at Mall + Herlan, says: “Impact Extrusion is good to start up a new product line, but when the quantities become big you have to choose the DWI technology, looking at the cost price with the considerable material savings and the production speeds. The overall sustainability from the lower material gauge resulting from the DWI process is a big plus.”

In addition, other experts from the can making scene agree that in the long run, DWI technology will win, though impact extrusion lines are more flexible in the case of frequent bottle format changes and lower investments.

INX INTERNATIONAL CONTRIBUTES TO ALUMINIUM BOTTLE TECHNOLOGIES

INX International, part of Sakata INX, is a producer of inks for two-piece can metal decoration, with a broad range of high-performance inks. No wonder the company takes an active role in technology development for the aluminium bottle can.

Alex Folloso is manager of metal decoration R&D for INX and well-informed about the position of the company in this new market. “INX International supplies ink technologies for most metal decorating applications including extruded aluminium for bottle cans and aerosol cans,” he says. “We also supply ink for DWI beer and beverage bottle cans. There is occasional work done between INX and press manufacturers. However, the majority of our interaction is directly with the can makers and brand owners to discuss decoration of the bottles.”

It does appear that INX is researching some new solutions to serve this new developing market. “Press trials of NoVar (no exterior coating) matte and gloss inks have been conducted but require further testing,” Folloso says. “INX also trialled a new ink technology called AP Touch that provides a texture and, if required, a matte effect. This effect is currently under development and requires further testing.”

For several years, can makers have been able to offer, with the help of ink suppliers, many special effects on two-piece beverage cans such as freshness indicators, thermo inks, soft touch and tactile inks. So what kind of effects will be possible on aluminium bottles? For Folloso, it’s all about the process that occur.

“New ink innovations depend on which can making process is being used. For example, AP tactile inks and coatings, which provide a textured effect, can only be used in the DWI can making and printing process. The extruded aluminium process offers fewer ink effects due to the different ink curing process. Innovations available for this process are UV fluorescent, phosphorescent, thermos and photochromic.

“Certain effects, such as tactile are not possible due to the different interaction between ink and coating. Tactile and AP touch effect is not available in this process due to this difference. Non-ink related effects are pearlescent basecoats and gloss, semi-gloss, soft touch and matte exterior coatings. Different can shapes, sizes and finishes are also available from can makers using the extruded aluminium process.”

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