While American food companies have progressed from flirtation to serious courtship of plastic containers, manufacturers in Europe, South America and Asia are tapping an expanding lineup of can shaping technology to revive flagging sales in some categories and kick-start consumer interest in others, according to Carolyn Takata, marketing director for Woodland Hills, CA-based Silgan Containers Corp.

Technological developments are expanding the possible shapes for metal and aluminum containers while keeping costs in line. Source: Silgan Containers Corp

“Marketing communication has moved from advertising to the shelf,” says Takata, citing research suggesting two-thirds of buying decisions are made at the point of purchase. With three seconds or less to make an impression, an eye-catching shape can draw as much attention as a colorful label.

Embossing, draw redraw shaping and body shaping are some of the technologies used to provide clutter-busting can shapes at costs that don’t represent a prohibitive premium. Impact extrusion containers made from aluminum can be produced at speed up to 200 containers per minute on a single line, for example.

Leading edge processes that yield exotic shapes don’t approach those speeds, of course. Hydro forming, in which fluid and axial compression applies pressure to a cylinder inside a shaped mold, only yields a container every 12 seconds. Pressure ram forming (PRF) is considerably faster, with up to 26 units a minute. PRF more closely resembles blow-molding than any traditional can-forming technique: temperature, pressure and ramming force are used to expand a preform up to 70 percent into symmetrical or asymmetrical shapes. PRF only can be used with aluminum.

Coca-Cola Japan realized more than a eight-fold sales increase over four years after introducing a bottle-shaped aluminum can. Two Japanese breweries followed suit. 

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Carolyn Takata,
Silgan Containers Corp.,