East Coast Canning invests in Australian-first direct-to-can digital printing

Australian mobile beverage canning company East Coast Canning has invested in an “Australian-first” $5.8 million direct-to-can digital printing capability to meet the needs of its customers.

East Coast Canning founder and general manager Chris Kelly said the investment enables the business with ‘direct-to-shape’ digital printing equipment, which allows for the ability to print directly onto aluminium cans.

Ancillary printing management, as well as e-commerce and customer ordering platforms will support it.

Kelly also mentioned that the investment follows a $1 million funding from the government as East Coast Canning was a recipient of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund 2.0 grant.

East Coast Canning was started in mid-2016 as Australia’s first mobile canning service, primarily supporting craft brewers. Since that time, the company has gone from growth to growth to have five mobile canning lines servicing areas around Australia.

“During that time, we’ve come across lots of people that face issues screen printing or flexo printing their can labels. We always took the approach not to run in-line labels with our machines as there are a lot of challenges with labelling cans,” Kelly said.

“That’s when we set up a pre-labelling service, which we have been running for about three years and has formed part of our core offering. Digital printing of short-run beverage cans is certainly the future and we wanted to build on our capabilities, which is why we have now invested in this new technology.” 

Kelly took inspiration from digital can printing’s growth in the US, when he made a trip over before the COVID pandemic hit.

“That gave us confidence in executing our strategy and we have been working towards it ever since. Direct-to-can printing is a developing technology, but it has become mature enough now to invest in,” he said.

“There’s also a trend towards more varied designs on cans resulting in the need for short-runs so we want to deliver on our customers’ needs.”

Sustainability is also a key factor in this strategy as Kelly mentioned that there is a global shift away from the use of plastic labelling.

“We’re marching quickly towards a big sustainability push within our business. The technology allows us to immediately remove 20 tonnes of plastic that get applied in our current volume per annum as we will avoid the energy and resource needed in creating raw plastic,” he said.

The company has selected a vendor for its new equipment, having considered manufacturers in the US and Germany. Kelly said East Coast Canning hopes to have the technology up and running by March 2022.

He also identified that there’s no chemical washing or waste stream needed for the can prep process and that the cans go through hyper-accurate system and servomotors that spin them around to print on them. Varnish is then applied over the print and that is cured on using heat or UV light.

“There is a general challenge into printing into the neck of a can, so this technology will allow us to print into that seam. Most of these machines run at speeds of about 90 pieces per minute for simple, lower resolution designs so it’s a decent output for us,” Kelly said.

It also features a seven-colour process with a print resolution of 1600 dpi, and is able to metalise, spot-gloss or spot-matt elements of the can. Variable data capability is one of the key features Kelly is looking forward to.  

“It’s something that some of our customers are excited about. The machine will also be able to work on a number of different can formats – so it can print on slim, sleek or classic cans. That opens us up to a broad range of customers,” Kelly added.

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