Tackling the industrial Tsunami

Karen McKenzie reports on whether the industry should be afraid of the changing market conditions facing the can making industry.

Since Sir David Attenborough opened the world’s eyes to the devastation that we the human race have caused to the planet, not least the pollution to our ecosystems, the world has mobilised and is striving towards resolving these issues by increasing the focus on a circular economy.

The shift is now well and truly being felt in the metal packaging industry. Industry 4.0 hailed as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, is making a considerable impact on our manufacturing industries and businesses failing to embrace change are undoubtedly going to be left behind.

With organisations such as the World Economic Forum and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation driving a global movement for change, many within the industry are gaining recognition for the changes they have already achieved. Tata Steel Europe’s steelmaking plant at IJmuiden in the Netherlands was recently listed as a Lighthouse organisation by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a distinction awarded to manufacturing facilities that are seen as leaders in technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.

Last year, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation welcomed Anheuser-Busch InBev into its expanding CE100 network, an organisation featuring international companies with a drive for innovation, operating and excelling in the global market.

It was apparent at both The Canmaking Summit in October 2018 and then Can Tech the Grand Tour in March 2019 that within the metal packaging industry, it’s widely recognised that the way forward is to embrace an approach to the circular economy. The consumer movement against single use plastics is gaining momentum and whilst timing is right for the metal packaging industry to encourage and capitalise, industry leaders must consider whether they are equipped to meet the demands that must surely be about to impact on the industry.

According to Tim Clarke, director of strategic development at metal and glass packaging manufacturer Ardagh Group, the sustainability of packaging and processes is a major focus for Ardagh. He comments: “The plastics issue is now in the consciousness of all stakeholders. Consumers are changing their consumption habits, and this is having a positive effect on the demand for both metal and glass packaging.”

When asked about preparations for an increased demand for beverage cans, he says: “We have run longer term simulations on various demand scenarios, each depending on the rate of change. Our global network of suppliers, many of whom we have worked with for many years, are regularly briefed on various market updates.”

With alternatives to plastic packaging being a high priority item heading many corporate agendas, the metal packaging industry should surely wholeheartedly join the war on plastic waste. A winning strategy, however, is not yet assured. Should demand suddenly increase, and the demonisation of PET continues to snowball, the metal packaging market must be prepared with an emergency response; it will be too late once the tsunami hits.

Such an increase will result in suppliers fighting for materials and parts leading to longer lead times for supply of new equipment essential to meet the increased demand.
Film star Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame recently teamed up with Ball Corporation to promote it’s ‘infinitely recyclable’ campaign, shaving off his trademark beard for the first time in seven years to, as he put it: “bring awareness that plastics are killing our planet”. The video he made was shared by millions on social media, shining the spotlight firmly on aluminium as a solution to the plastic epidemic that is threatening the future.

“About 75 per cent of all aluminium that’s ever been used is still in use today,” Momoa states. “And it’s 100 per cent recyclable. You drink the can and in about 60 days it’ll be back. They are 100 per cent infinitely recyclable.”

Ball Corporation recently tweeted that they manufacture more than 100 billion recyclable aluminium cans each year. This recent collaboration with Momoa highlights the investment they are prepared to make, not only to build on production, but also to be forerunners in this new era of the fourth industrial revolution.

According to the MPMA UK, 74.7 per cent of metal packaging is recycled in Europe. This makes it the most recycled packaging material, but even so, when hit by the looming increase in demand, will there be enough resources available from current suppliers, or is it time to look further afield to markets previously deemed to be not consistent in quality? Markets that may have also changed and grown in the current economic climate, markets that are primed ready to be shaped to the standards required, if they haven’t, surely it’s better to address this together than to leave it to a time when the tsunami is upon us?

Regardless of whether or not the industry is prepared, one thing is certain, change is coming and with big players beginning to put strategies into action, it’s likely to be sooner rather than later. The wave is building, we need to prepare or be wiped out in the surge.

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