You read right my friends, today we are heading over to the can line. And what a beautiful place to be. If you are like me (which may or may not be the case), you love to drink beer from a can. You love to drink beer from a can for a multitude of reasons; 1: It is totally awesome, 2: Aluminum is a closed loop recycler with many easily accessible rubbish bins for collection, 3: Way more packable (on those out of doors type trips) than glass. And the list goes on and on. So here today we are going to take a look at where we here (at New Belgium HQ) fill those lovely and crush-able cans. So please, make sure you are wearing your socks, because I am about to blow them clean off.
Background: A few years ago we decided that putting our beer in a can would be a wonderful option. But after long discussions the decision was made not to jump head long into the operation. We first wanted to gauge the can of Fat Tires success before installing a gigantic, and very fast filling, canning line. So we put in a very useful, but not so big and fancy line. Beyond looking to the potential success of the canned beer, we also were faced with some pretty large space constraints (was that a pun?). Anywho, we installed the little can line that could. It fills 60 can a minute (a far cry from the 700 bottles a minute of the Thunderdome), and all of those cans have to be hand packed into their carriers. This is very time intensive for not a ton of sell-able product. Which became a problem when the people of the world loved New Belgium Beers in a can. But here we are, plugging along with what we have and trying to make due, because while its clear that all of us would drink more canned beer (if we put more beer into a can), but the space issue is still.... well... an issue. So as of now we offer Fat Tire (in a can), Sunshine Wheat (in a can), and coming soon in very limited release (apply above reasons to this topic) Ranger IPA (in a can).
So let's go to the can line!
Here it all starts at the de-pallitizer:
A fork truck loads this beasty-looking stack of cans right onto the conveyor, where it is rolled in and then elevatored up as each row of cans is swept off onto the top deck leading onto the conveyor. As seen here:
There is a little light and motion sensor on the outside rails of this top deck to insure that nothing comes flying over and lodges itself into the bottom of one of those cans. This is the light and motion sensor that I, in fact, tripped while snapping this photo, but the operator was quick to reset, as to not interrupt the flow of cans, no harm, no foul I guess. But moving on...The cans then bunch on the conveyor, to build a back log, then they are fed single file into what can only be described as a rollarcoaster for empty beer cans. It is here that the cans start moving down hill towards rinsing and filling (if the cans had little hands to raise in the air they would, I assure you).
The chute, and rollarcoaster drop-off (imagine the little hands):
On the chute the can is flipped upside-down in order to be rinsed and drained. The can then runs through the filler, where it is (undoubtedly) filled with delicious beer. The filler fills the can, then seals a poppable top right on it. Its like a labyrinth seal, but super, duper tight, like water/air tight, and all that freshness is locked in. Here is a nice shot of all that:
It's a little blurry because it's all running, but just move your head past the frame (right to left) really fast and maybe it will be a bit more clear. After filling and sealing the can then ventures into the first of two white boxes that I have dubbed "the magic box". It is magic, because the box flips the can over in a span of 8 (or so) inches. (I'm pretty sure it's not actually magic, there is probably just a track that flips (analog-style) the can on the end, but in truth, I like to keep a little mystery around, so I'm calling it magic ). Upon leaving the first magic box the "best by" date and batch number is etched on the the can and then it feeds into magic box number two for re-flipping. Here is a shot of magic box numero uno:
After passing through both magic boxes the can's pressure is checked to ensure a proper fill height and seal. Then it is sent over to some folks standing (in waiting) to hand load cans (12 at a time) into thier cardboard.
Then those folks glue the box shut, stamp the batch code on the outside of the box, load two boxes per carrier and send the pair of 12 packs into the re-pallitizer. Here is a pair of twelvers headed into the machine:
And after leaving the re-palitizer we have a big ol' stack of canned beer, as seen here:
And then it ships out to hopefully land in your happy little hands:
So in summation. We put beer into cans, it's great, we wish we could put more great beer into cans, but as of right now we are putting as much beer into a can as we are able. So please, drink a can of Fat Tire if you can, and bear with us, someday we hope to put a can of Fat Tire (or Sunshine (or Ranger (or whatever))) into everybody's hand.
Thank you for coming with me to the can line.