Skip to main content

All you need to know about the can, from information on its history and origins, to the latest developments in can design.

  • 1795
  • 1810
  • 1846
  • 1847
  • 1850-1870
  • 1877
  • 1880-1890
  • 1885
  • 1900
  • 1914
  • 1920'S
  • 1922
  • 1935
  • 1950'S
  • 1963
  • 1965
  • 1966-1967
  • 1968
  • 1970
  • 1981
  • 1983
  • 1986
  • 2006
  • 2010
  • 2013
  • 2014
  • 2015

1795

Napoleon offers a 12,000 franc prize for a method of preserving food for his armies which had such long, vulnerable supply lines that hunger began to tax their fighting strength.

1810

Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner, wins the prize. He experimented in preserving food by sterilisation.

An Englishman, Peter Durand, received a patent from King George III for a tin-plated iron can as a food container. At that time, cans were made of iron and coated with a thin layer of tin. But even the best craftsmen could only produce up to 60 cans a day, whereas today's modern beverage can making lines are producing over one million cans a day.

1846

Henry Evans invents a die device for making a can in a single operation. His invention enables the production of cans to be increased from 6 to 60 per hour.

1847

An American, Allen Taylor, patents a machine-stamped tin can.

1850-1870

Techniques are perfected for sealing tin cans with various types of soldering processes.

1877

Simplified "side seamer" for cans is introduced.

1880-1890

Sees the first automatic can-making machinery introduced in Britain. Its development made cans a serious contender for preserving foods and liquids.

1885

"Condensed" milk is first canned in the United States.

1900

The "sanitary" open-top can is developed in Europe for food. The process greatly increases manufacturing speeds. Can lids, however, are still soldered by hand after the food has been put into the can.

1914

Continuous ovens for drying print on tinplate cans are introduced.

1920'S

Developments in the improvement of the can linings are introduced to lengthen the life of the contents, using zinc compounds.

1922

American invention for "crimping" lids onto cans is introduced in Europe. This results in faster can manufacturing speeds.

By the 1930s the technology had advanced to a stage when drinks could be packaged in cans. Continental European producers introduced beverage cans shaped like bottles. These cans are constructed from three pieces of metal and have a cone-shaped top closed by a "crown" cork.

1935

The first flat-top can of beer appeared for sale in Richmond, Virginia. Canned beer is introduced to the UK by Felinfoel Brewery in Wales, using steel cans with cone-shaped tops.

1950'S

Flat topped beer cans are introduced in Britain.

1963

Ernie Fraze, an American, of the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, working with Alcoa, invents the aluminium easy-open end. This development had a dramatic effect on the growth of sales of cans as containers for beer and carbonated soft drinks, since it brought a new level of convenience to the consumer. Until that time, beverage cans relied upon a triangular steel opener to puncture holes in one end.

1965

Tin-free steel cans using coatings of chromium metal and chromium oxides are developed in the United States.

1966-1967

The two-piece "drawn and wall ironed" (DWI) can is developed in aluminium in the United States.

1968

The first tin-free steel cans are made in Britain using materials supplied by the British Steel Corporation.

1970

Tinplate two-piece DWI cans are launched in Britain followed later in the 1970s by aluminium two-piece DWI cans.

1981

Two-piece cans dominate the drinks can market, accounting for virtually 100% of UK beverage can production.

1983

Three European steel producers form tri-partite technical agreements for steel easy open end development.

1986

Introduction of equipment for on-line nitrogen injection allows use of beverage cans for still drinks.

2006

Continual improvements in the manufacture of drinks cans have enabled cans to be used for a wide variety of products, including still and sparkling wine, iced coffee and food such as nuts, fruits, and seeds.

2010

  • The industry sees the introduction of new ink technology, which means different colours and different temperatures can be specified to order.
  • Used initially for food cans, full aperture ends are now starting to be used for drinks, allowing consumers to take the lid right off the can and treat it like a cup. The world’s first full aperture end on a beer can was launched in South Africa by SABMiller in time for the 2010 World Cup.

2013

Can Creator, the world’s first free online drinks can design app, is unveiled by the Can Makers, the trade body representing drinks can manufacturers in the UK. The app makes it easy for designers to visualise and share creations in 3D.

2014

Pioneering new variable printing technology enables up to 24 variable designs for product personalisation at normal production speed.

The launch of the Metal Recycles Forever logo on cans highlights the ‘forever loop’ of metal.

2015

The beverage can celebrates its 80th anniversary.

The close co-operation of the raw material suppliers with the can manufacturers has been fundamental in all these developments. They have invested millions of pounds in research, development and new plants to cope with the requirements of can manufacturers, fillers and retailers. These developments have resulted in consumer satisfaction with, and loyalty to, drinks cans.

  • The material
  • The design
  • The size
  • The quality of taste

It’s sustainable

The beverage can is the most recycled drinks pack in the world. Every single one can be recycled; recycling takes just 60 days and results in no loss of quality. In other words, the metal used to create cans is a permanently available material; with every new cycle a new product application can be formed and this cycle can occur an infinite number of times.

It’s convenient

Cans are lightweight, chill quickly, and are easy to carry. They are also simple to distribute; they are space-efficient meaning more can be shipped during any one journey, and the vehicles transporting them require less fuel (as they are lighter).

It's eye-catching
Cans help brands stand out – their 360 degree printable surface offers great brand exposure with fuss-free, label-free packaging that’s quick to produce and easily tailored to each brand’s requirements.

Newer design techniques are pushing creative boundaries even further, offering an instant point of differentiation in a busy marketplace. They include photorealistic custom designs which brand owners can use to achieve 600dpi photo-like graphics.

It comes in different shapes and sizes 
Choice matters. The industry has a wide range of can sizes to choose from. These range from 15cl for a quick burst of refreshment right up to 56.8cl (1 pint) most commonly used for beers and ciders. Some brand owners are utilising cans developed by can makers using blow forming technologies which create different can shapes and provide retailers and consumers with an exciting proposition.

From beer cans the shape of kegs to low calorie drinks in slimmer cans, a steady stream of innovation results in the potential to suit every product.

It can offer aseptic packaging
Aseptic packaging has offered opportunities for getting new products and ingredients, such as milk and coffee, into packaging formats and cans are no exception. Products, cans, ends and additives can be sterilized on line without subjecting the ingredients to excessively high temperatures.

It’s the best way to keep beverages tasting good
When a drink is exposed to air, chemical reactions take place that make the taste change rapidly. Cans are air-tight; seamed ends mean there is no way that air is going to get in until someone pops the ring-pull.

When it comes to beer, light also has an impact (specifically light with a blue wavelength). When beer has been exposed to ultraviolet light for a period of time, hop-derived molecules, called isohumulones, break down. Some of these bind with sulphur atoms and create an unpleasant taste and aroma, commonly referred to as ‘skunked’ beer. That’s why it’s so brilliant that cans are solid; allowing no light to pass their walls, they prevent this reaction.

Circa 9.7 billion drinks cans are shipped in the UK each year, with over 64 billion filled in total throughout Europe. They are made from either aluminium or steel using advanced engineering and sophisticated technology.

The aluminium is alloyed with manganese and magnesium to give greater strength and ductility. Aluminium alloys of different strengths and thickness are used for making the can body and the end.

For steel drink cans, a special grade of low-carbon steel is used, which is coated on each side with a very thin layer of tin. The tin protects the surface against corrosion and acts as a lubricant while the can is being formed.

Manufacturing cans is a high precision process and this is illustrated in the video below.

  • Can Makers manufacturing plants in the UK
  • End manufacturing plants in the UK and Eire
Company Plant location Material
Ardagh Rugby Aluminium
Ardagh Wrexham Aluminium
Ball Beverage Packaging Europe Milton Keynes Aluminium
Ball Beverage Packaging Europe Wakefield Aluminium
Crown Bevcan UK Leicester Aluminium
Crown Bevcan UK Carlisle Aluminium

 

Company Plant location
Ardagh Deeside
Ball Packaging Europe Waterford
Crown Bevcan UK Carlisle

EMBOSSING AND SHAPING

The use of embossing and shaping are innovative engineering techniques that have been adopted by leading brands such as Stella Artois and Heineken. The processes provide a combination of visual and tactile effects, creating structure on specific areas of the can surface and are effective ways of adding extra shelf appeal to consumers. The advantage of embossing is to make use of the reflective nature of the metal by subtle changes in the shape of the can wall. Embossing is also useful for differentiation of product ranges.

CANS WITH COLOURED ENDS AND MATCHING TABS

Leaving its mark at POS, drink brands can now add a wide array of coloured ends and tabs to their cans. Perfect for differentiating a drink from its competitors in a crowded market, the end gives the can the extra ‘wow factor’ it needs to pop on the shelf.

Developed to further brand visibility, the new rainbow of hues gives the customer the exciting product it’s looking for and could prove vital for those looking to make a memorable statement at POS; as part of the can’s 360-degree design options, the coloured ends successfully help lift the brand message.

THERMOCHROMIC INK

Thermochromic ink tells your customers whether the can’s contents are at the optimal temperature for drinking, or need to stay in the fridge a while longer. This technology was introduced into the UK market with Coors Light. Advances in thermochromic inks mean brands can now choose from a range of colours and temperatures.

COLOURED UV INKS

Special printing technology can be used to add inks that glow under UV lights to cans. This development is perfect for brands looking to attract young, style-conscious consumers and build a distinctive niche position in the marketplace.

TACTILE FINISHES

Tactile finishes are developed using an overvarnish to create a ‘wet look’. This finish changes both the look and feel of the can when it is handled.

 

MATT & SOFT TOUCH OVERVARNISH

These two varnishing techniques provide a simple and effective way to achieve differentiation and enhance brand image. The impressive finishes also help to build affinity with the consumer by adding texture and feel to the surface of the can.

EMBOSSED ENDS

To help communicate with the consumer it is also possible to emboss text or a symbol onto a can end which can complement a similar decoration used elsewhere on the can.

INCISED ENDS

Incising is similar to embossing, but the text or symbol is etched into the surface of the end. This technology is very popular amongst customers looking for an effective way to run promotions that enhance the brand image.

TABS

Under tab printing and even more precise incised tabs and laser engraved tabs offer very reliable and easily identifiable numbers, letters and designs on tabs promoting prizes and products. The tabs can be used as a secure proof of purchase as well as an effective collectable or instant win mechanism.

LASER ETCHING

Laser etching of a can ends allows customers to etch away the colour to create images or symbols underneath the tab.

FULL APERTURE ENDS

This is where the can’s end can be peeled off completely, useful at sporting events and music festivals where consumers are keen to drink their beverages on the go. It also accentuates the aroma of the beverage for the consumer – perfect for aromatic drinks like beer.