Two-piece can tooling

Hyperion M&T can tooling finished punches

As can tooling manufacturers ramp up production to meet continuing surge in aluminium can demand, Lluís Miñarro, manager of the Can Tooling product segment at Hyperion Materials & Technologies, shares insights into the two-piece can tooling market of the past year.

The can making industry is always changing and making advancements, providing plentiful opportunities for innovation and improvement to those who support it. At Hyperion Materials & Technologies, we make the tungsten carbide, ceramic and steel tools that can makers use to manufacture cans by the drawn and wall-ironed (DWI) process, and our mission is to position them to succeed by developing better tooling materials, designs and services to help them optimise their processes.

However, overshadowing any advancements during the past year has been the continued rapid explosion in the use of aluminium beverage cans made by DWI, which is our primary focus for can tooling at Hyperion.

In 2018 and 2019, we started to see aluminium cans take significant share from plastic containers. We also started seeing new can formats for new products, meaning can makers needed more tooling for these different-sized cans. These trends have continued, and the market is now growing faster than most of us have ever experienced. As a result, now is both an exciting and challenging time to serve the can making industry.

The US market, which had been flat for the past decade, is now growing the fastest, followed by emerging markets around the globe. The orders we receive fall into two general categories: organic needs such as the replacement of worn parts, and project-based needs, which include tooling needed for new sizes of cans, new lines in existing factories, new factories and downgauging initiatives aimed at making cans lighter.

This rapid growth has resulted in intense global demand that is taxing supply chain and production operations everywhere. In November and December, as global economic activity started to pick up (although the essential nature of cans kept demand from ever plummeting during the pandemic), we received large blanket orders from our customers as they were restocking tools. Then, in February and March, we had another large influx of orders as many can makers prepared for expansion plans. The demand has not let up since.

This has led to exciting opportunities for tooling providers to expand as well. At Hyperion, we are increasing our global can tooling workforce by 25 per cent this year to allow us to run more shifts and increase production. We also have some notable capital investment projects in the works and are considering further steps to meet growing demand.

At our carbide production facility near Barcelona, which makes most of our can tooling and is home to our state-of-the-art Carbide Research & Development Center and our Global Can Tooling Competence Center, we are investing in grinding machines and measuring equipment to increase capacity and capability.

And because North America is such a hot market, we are enhancing our footprint there. We are currently setting up a can tooling service centre in our carbide production facility near Mexico City that will focus on punch and ring regrinding for the US and Mexican markets.

It also will provide some additional capacity for new punches and rings. Currently, we have an operations team from our Mexico facility finishing up a three-month training programme with our experienced can tooling experts in Barcelona, and we are optimistic we will be able to offer this additional support before the end of the year.

This expansion is a strategic move that will greatly benefit our customers in North America. Because our plant in Mexico has been a global supplier of carbide rods for drilling and end milling applications, as well as other carbide products used in metal cutting applications for more than 60 years, we can tap directly into our already reliable logistics channels to reach customers in the US. The new service centre in Mexico also will complement our main can tooling operation in Barcelona and our can tooling service centre in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Our organisational focus on lean manufacturing and continuous improvement principles also has helped us optimize our existing capacity and increase flexibility to meet spiking demands. For example, the team in Barcelona has demonstrated an impressive capacity to support competitive lead times by having cross-functional team members work together to break down and analyse production processes to identify ways to eliminate waste and improve efficiency.

But it is not just about delivering tools. We understand the challenges can makers face when building new plants to increase capacity, including the need to establish or improve on-site operational competence. As part of our global can tooling support, we train local staff on a wide range of important tooling-related topics, including how to properly handle and maintain the tooling, something that is especially critical for start-up plants.

So, what can can makers do while can tooling manufacturers are ramping up capacity?

My advice is to be as proactive as possible and contact your can tooling business partners early in the ordering process. In times like these, you want to work with a trusted partner who understands your needs. Strong partnerships are always the best way to optimise lead time and delivery.

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