Maui Brewing gets a handle on growth pains

The Hawaiian maker of craft beers expects to double production volume in 2011, and a new can carrier applicator is helping to dramatically increase line speed and cut costs.

Maui Brewing Co. is increasing production line speed a whopping 12-fold and reducing labor-per-unit costs more than 75% while also expanding its distribution reach as consumers with discerning palates continue to discover its selection of craft beers.

The Lahaina, Maui, HI-based brewery is making these quantum leaps with a faster automated filling line and switching to a mostly automated line where distinctive handled ring carriers with dust-cover tops are inserted on its beverage cans. The savings are coming in reduced need for operators, which allows for more unattended run time, and also in streamlined changeover processes that minimize downtime.

With these upgrades, Maui Brewing Founder Garrett Marrero projects that production volume for his craft beers, which includes varieties like Bikini Blonde Lager, CoCoNut PorTeR, and Mana Wheat, will double from 11,000 barrels (2.5 million cans) in 2010 to more than 22,000 barrels (5 million to 6 million cans) in 2011. This will occur as the brewery’s distribution expands from Hawaii, Japan, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Colorado to include Texas and Arizona in 2011.

Upgrading to 7-stack

The brewer recently upgraded its filling lines to significantly increase volume. But overall production can only go as fast as ring carriers can be applied to the cans, and this is the latest area at Maui Brewing where the operation is making a quantum leap. The company is upgrading from PakTech’s single-stack CCA600 carrier applicator to a 7-stack version. In a little more than a year, the operation has gone from manual to one that is able to keep pace with the markedly faster filling-line speeds.

“We’re the guinea pig for PakTech’s 7-stack,” Marrero says. “We were the first craft beer maker to use their rings, and now we’re the first to use the 7-stack.”

Guinea pig or not, the operation seems to be running very smoothly, Marrero says. The cans, from Ball Corp., arrive at Maui Brewing, where they are filled on another new piece of equipment at the brewery, a Crown 40-Valve Can Filler from Bevcorp LLC, outfitted with an Angelus 61H Can Seamer from PRO 120L. The new setup, installed during 2010, enables the brewery to fill and seal cans at up to 300/min, compared with 27/min on the company’s previous canning line. California Food Machinery provided all can conveyors and the line integration into the carrier applicator.

Filled cans then proceed through rinsing and drying stations, and then pass through an inspection area where fill heights are checked. After passing inspection, the cans are conveyed to an accumulation table that feeds into the CCA600. QuadPaks and 6Paks are completed on the same line, as the brewer’s CoCoNut PorTeR is the only product produced in QuadPaks. “The applicator applies whichever rings we put in,” Marrero says.

Lightweight, injection-molded, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) ring carriers are top-loaded into the CCA600, and the machine positions the handles onto the beer cans, completing bundling of the multipacks.

One advantage of the machine, as it is set up for Maui Brewing’s operation, is that it can be quickly adjusted back and forth between the QuadPak and 6Pak lanes with minimal downtime, says Amie Thomas, PakTech marketing manager.
“There are no changeparts, so the operator makes a simple adjustment to be able to run the different pack sizes,” Thomas says. “We trained their staff to do this correctly. It is quite simple and intuitive to do.”

Dust covers

The ring carriers, also supplied by PakTech, feature a dust cover designed to keep the can tops clean—a marketing plus for craft beer consumers. These distinctive carriers have been appearing on Maui Brewing beers for several years. Garrett says they are a natural fit for smaller-run craft beers and help give them an edge on shelf from mass-produced brews.

“They look better, the cans don’t fall out of them, and the can tops stay clean,” Marrero says of the ring carriers. “We want to increase the value to our consumers. Craft beer quality caters to a totally different consumer from mass-produced beer, and we believe the packaging needs to be just as high-quality as the beer going inside.”

PakTech has been selling the carriers to beverage processors for several years. The company realized that by providing machines to apply them to cans, customers would continue to purchase the carriers.

“Being able to automatically apply the QuadPaks and 6Paks that we make is a way to upgrade their line,” Thomas says of Maui Brewing’s operation. “On the scale that they are doing, the 7-stack is exactly what they need for their operation. The operator can load the individual queues anytime and doesn’t have to wait until all seven queues are empty, so it keeps the machine moving.”

By converting to a 7-stack operation, Marrero’s crew gains operational flexibility. “With the single-stack, I have a guy running the applicator and doing work elsewhere,” he explains. “If he doesn’t have to worry about stacking handles constantly, he can focus on other areas.”

On to palletizing

Upon exiting from the handle applicator, the cans head to a bi-directional conveyor, which channels the QuadPaks and 6Paks into separate staging areas, where the multipacks are manually loaded onto pallets. Here, the carrier handles serve Maui Brewing well in another way. The company is a staunch supporter of earth-friendly packaging materials, and the durable carrier handles, besides being recyclable, resist scratches and cuts. That enables the multipacks to be stacked without the need for paperboard inserts, Thomas says. All that’s needed are the handles and paperboard corner brackets. The pallets are wrapped three times around in .001-mil stretch-wrap.

The CCA600 gives Maui Brewing a turnkey solution for keeping pace with its rapid growth, in addition to a line that can adjust speeds to meet day-to-day needs.

“The new line is capable of 650 cans/min, but we choose to run between 200 and 300,” Marrero notes. “If we run the machine at a higher speed, there is more wear and tear on the machine. For us, the sweet spot is ‘jogging’ at 200 to 300 cans per minute. A nice, comfortable jog is still 121⁄2 times faster than before.”

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