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Aluminium can production – Nampak Bevcan Springs plant

The beverage industry in South Africa saw a new lease of life for cans following the decision by Nampak Bevcan to convert its beverage can production lines from steel to aluminium-bodied cans. These long-laid plans came to fruition when the first locally-produced all-aluminium cans went to market in May 2013.

This move is in line with the global trend of replacing tin-plated steel beverage cans with full aluminium cans. The all-aluminium can is popular worldwide and has become increasingly more attractive than steel, owing to its lightweight, corrosion-resistant features, its low cost of recycling as well as its ability to be cooled rapidly. In addition, aluminium has lower raw material and transport costs and better printing qualities. Aluminium cans are also one of the most successfully recycled packaging products internationally.

The conversion of Bevcan’s beverage can production lines is progressing well, with one new line installed and a second line converted during 2013. The installation of this second line would increase potential demand for Can Body Stock (CBS) in South Africa by more than 10 000 tons per annum. Bevcan’s initial plans included the conversion of a further two of its can production lines from tin-plated steel to aluminium. Subsequently Nampak announced plans to establish a fifth aluminium can production line due to increasing regional demand for the beverage can.

In 2012 Hulamin entered into a groundbreaking agreement with Bevcan to supply aluminium coil for the manufacture of these aluminium-bodied beverage cans. Hulamin’s volume of local can body stock sales is forecast to increase to around 15 000 tons by 2015, in addition to the local can-end and tab stock, which Hulamin currently supplies. Hulamin will switch a portion of its rolled products, which have typically been exported, to the new product range destined for the local and regional market. The conversion of the can body to aluminium in Southern Africa is a significant step in growing Hulamin’s local sales and the initial sales contract represents a 30% growth in its local sales of rolled products.

Bevcan will initially supplement its required supply with rolled aluminium can body coil imports, while Hulamin ramps up aluminium can body coil manufacturing and deliveries.

2013 saw the first full-scale commercial trials of Hulamin’s CBS in beverage can manufacturing plants in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. The product and process development programme at Hulamin exceeded expectations and our customers were able to produce beverage cans for retail on our first trials in all the can plants. Following this comprehensive development and qualification programme, commercial supply is set to start during the first quarter of 2014.

Hulamin has invested in international expertise to ensure that our capability is world class, that our production process is robust and that our product matches the exacting standards of our customer. An international expert on CBS production has been commissioned by Hulamin to perform an independent audit of the developed manufacturing process and to provide further training and expertise.

Bevcan will commission their third aluminium line in 2014 and add new beverage can sizes which will increase the footprint of aluminium in the market. Hulamin will work closely with Bevcan to develop the supply of CBS required to meet the different specifications for beverage cans in the 440 mℓ and 500 mℓ formats.

The relationship between Nampak and Hulamin remains on strong footing and we were singled out for praise by their leadership team in market presentations. Both organisations continue to explore opportunities to extend the supply relationship and the investment by Nampak Bevcan in can manufacturing plants in Angola and Nigeria could see the realisation of this ambition. Bevcan’s requirement for aluminium CBS to the African West Coast could be as high as 25 000 tons annually in the next few years based on these investments, with further potential for growth.

The change to aluminium cans will bring recycling spin-offs and create new job opportunities at Hulamin’s Pietermaritzburg operations. Hulamin is making an investment in recycling infrastructure to enable it to procure used beverage cans and other secondary (post-market) metal units available in South Africa and the regional market. Hulamin’s investment in a processing line will mean that used beverage cans will be cleaned and decoated before melting and casting into aluminium rolling slabs, thereby creating a “closed loop” in the manufacturing and recycling processes.

The value of used aluminium cans is considerable – aluminium scrap is many times more valuable than steel and is able to be recycled at low cost. The impact on the local recycling market is likely to be significant. Hulamin aims to buy back the used, empty aluminium cans from scrap dealers to process and recycle them for reuse. Growth in demand for aluminium cans in the next few years could bring hundreds of millions of Rands into the economy, enabling people who survive on refuse picking to benefit from a higher price for the cans they sell to scrap metal dealers.