A drink can (or beverage can) is a metal container designed to hold a fixed portion of liquid such as carbonated soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, fruit juices, teas, herbal teas, energy drinks, etc. Drink cans are made of aluminium (75% of worldwide production) or tin-plated steel (25% worldwide production). Worldwide production for all drink cans is approximately 370 billion cans per year worldwide.
The first commercial beer available in cans began in 1935 in Richmond, Virginia. Not long after that, sodas, with their higher acidity and somewhat higher pressures, were available in cans. The key development for storing drinks in cans was the interior liner, typically plastic or sometimes a waxy substance, that helped to keep the product's flavor from being ruined by a chemical reaction with the metal. Another major factor for the timing was the repeal of Prohibition in the United States at the end of 1933.
In 1935, the Felinfoel Brewery at Felinfoel in Wales was the first brewery outside the US to commercially can beer. Prior to this time, beer was only available in barrels or in glass bottles. From this time, lightweight tin cans could be used. Felinfoel was a major supplier to British armed forces abroad in the Second World War - cans saved a great deal of space and weight for wartime exports compared to glass bottles, and did not have to be returned for refilling. These early cans did not have a pull tab, instead they had a crown cork (beer bottle top). All modern UK canned beer is descended from these small, early cans which helped change the drinking and beer-buying habits of the British public. From the 18th century until the early 20th century Wales dominated world tinplate production, peaking in the early 1890s when 80% of the world's tinplate was produced in south Wales.
Canned drinks were factory-sealed and required a special opener tool in order to consume the contents. Cans were typically formed as cylinders, having a flat top and bottom. They required a can piercer, colloquially known as a "church key", that latched onto the top rim for leverage; lifting the handle would force the sharp tip through the top of the can, cutting a triangular hole. A smaller second hole was usually punched at the opposite side of the top to admit air while pouring, allowing the liquid to flow freely.
In the mid-1930s, some cans were developed with caps so that they could be opened and poured more like a bottle. These were called "cone tops", as their tops had a conical taper up to the smaller diameter of the cap. Cone top cans were sealed by the same crimped caps that were put on bottles, and could be opened with the same bottle-opener tool. There were three types of conetops: high profile, low profile, and j-spout. The low profile and j-spout were the earliest, dating from about 1935. The "crowntainer" was a different type of can that was drawn steel with a bottom cap. These were developed by Crown Cork & Seal (now known as Crown Holdings, Inc.), a leading drink packaging and drink can producer. Various breweries used crowntainers and conetops until the late 1950s, but many breweries kept using the simple cylindrical cans.
The popularity of canned drinks was slow to catch on, as the metallic taste was difficult to overcome with the interior liner not perfected, especially with more acidic sodas. Cans had two advantages over glass bottles. First for the distributors, flat-top cans were more compact for transportation and storage and weighed less than bottles. Second for consumers, they did not require the deposit typically paid for bottles, as they were discarded after use. Glass-bottle deposits were reimbursed when consumers took the empties back to the store.
By the time the United States entered World War II, cans had gained only about ten percent of the drink container market; this was drastically reduced during the war to accommodate strategic needs for metal.
In 1959, the recyclable aluminum can was introduced to the market in a 7 oz. size by the Adolph Coors Company. Also in 1959, Ermal Fraze devised a can-opening method that would come to dominate the canned drink market. His invention was the "pull-tab". This eliminated the need for a separate opener tool by attaching an aluminium pull-ring lever with a rivet to a pre-scored wedge-shaped tab section of the can top. The ring was riveted to the center of the top, which created an elongated opening large enough that one hole simultaneously served to let the drink flow out while air flowed in. In 1959, while on a family picnic, Mr. Fraze had forgotten to bring a can opener and was forced to use a car bumper to open a can of beer. Thinking there must be an easier way, he later stayed up all night until he came up with the pull tab. Pull-tab cans, or the discarded tabs from them, were also called "pop-tops" colloquially. In Australia these were colloquially known as "ring-pull". Into the 1970s, the pull-tab was widely popular, but its popularity came with a significant problem, as people would frequently discard the pull-tabs on the ground as litter, or drop them into the can and risk choking on them. These problems were both addressed by the invention of the "push-tab". Used primarily on Coors Beer cans in the mid-1970s, the push-tab was a raised circular scored area used in place of the pull-tab. It needed no ring to pull up. Instead, the raised aluminium blister was pushed down into the can, with a small unscored piece that kept the tab connected after being pushed inside. Push-tabs never gained wide popularity because while they had solved the litter problem of the pull-tab, they created a safety hazard where the person's finger upon pushing the tab into the can was immediately exposed to the sharp edges of the opening. An unusual feature of the push-tab Coors Beer cans was that they had a second, smaller, push-tab at the top as an airflow vent—a convenience that was lost with the switch from can opener to pull-tab. The "push-tab" was introduced into Australia in the early 1980s and was locally known as "pop-tops".
The safety and litter problems were both eventually solved later in the 1970s with Daniel F. Cudzik's invention of the non-removing "Stay-Tab". The pull-ring was replaced with a stiff aluminium lever, and the removable tab was replaced with a pre-scored round tab that functioned similarly to the push-tab, but the raised blister was no longer needed, as the riveted lever would now do the job of pushing the tab open and into the interior of the can.
In 2008, an aluminium version of the crowntainer design was adopted for packaging Coca-Cola's Caribou Coffee drink. In 2004, Anheuser-Busch adopted an all-aluminium bottle for use with Budweiser and Bud Light beers.
Capacity in countries
Various standard capacities are used throughout the world.
In Australia the standard can size for alcoholic and soft drinks is 375 ml. Energy drinks are commonly served in 250 ml and 500 ml sizes.
In Brazil the standard can size is 355 ml.
In China the most common size is 330 ml.
In the UK, 440 ml is commonly used for lager and cider.
In Austria, energy drinks are usually sold in sizes of 200 to 330 ml.
- Hong Kong
In Hong Kong most cans are 330 ml.
In India standard cans are 500 ml.
In Japan the most common sizes are 350 ml and 500 ml, while larger and smaller cans are also sold.
- Malaysia and Singapore
In both Malaysia and Singapore, the most commonly found cans are 300 ml for non-carbonated drinks and 325 ml for carbonated drinks. Larger 330 ml/350 ml cans are limited to imported drinks where it would usually cost a lot more than local ones.
- Middle East
In the Middle East standard cans are 330 ml.
- New Zealand
In New Zealand the standard can size is 355 ml, although Coca-Cola Amatil changed some of its canned drinks to 330 ml in 2017.
- North America
In North America, the standard can size is 12 US fl oz or 355 ml. The US standard can is 4.83 inches high, 2.13 inches in diameter at the lid, and 2.60 inches in diameter at the widest point of the body. Also available are 16oz cans (known as tallboys), and 24oz cans
In Canada, the standard size was previously 10 Imperial fluid ounces (284 ml), later redefined and labeled as 280 ml in 1980. This size was commonly used with steel drink cans in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, the US standard 355 ml can size was standardized in the 1980s and 1990s upon the conversion from steel to aluminium. Some drinks, such as Nestea, are sold in 341 ml cans.
In Quebec, a new standard for carbonated drinks has been added, as some grocery stores now only sell cans of all major carbonated drinks in six-packs of 222 ml cans. Many convenience stores also began selling "slim cans" with a 310ml capacity in 2015.
In Pakistan the most common sizes are 250 ml and 330 ml, and 200 ml cans are also sold.
- South Africa
South African standard cans are 330 ml (reduced in the early 2000s from the up-until-then ubiquitous 340 ml) and the promotional size is 440 ml. There is also the 500 ml can. A smaller 200 ml can is used for "mixers" such as tonic or soda water. It has a smaller diameter than the other cans. In September 2018, a 300 ml can was introduced as an alternative to the 330 ml can in a continued effort to reduce the amount of sugar consumed in soft drinks.
- South Korea
250 ml cans are the most common for soft drinks, but when accompanying take out food (such as pizza or chicken), a short 245 ml can is standard. Recently, some 355 ml cans which are similar to North American cans are increasingly available, but are limited mostly to Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper, and beer cans are available in 500 ml.
Most metal drink cans manufactured in the United States are made of aluminium, whereas in some parts of Europe and Asia approximately 55 percent are made of steel and 45 percent are aluminium alloy. Steel cans often have a top made of aluminium. The aluminium used in United States and Canada are alloys containing 92.5% to 97% aluminium, <5.5% magnesium, <1.6% manganese, <0.15% chromium and some trace amounts of iron, silicon and copper according to MSDS from aluminium producer Alcoa. Alloys used include 3004, 3105, or other 3xxx/5xxx series aluminium.
In many parts of the world a deposit can be recovered by turning in empty plastic, glass, and aluminium containers. Scrap metal dealers often purchase aluminium cans in bulk, even when deposits are not offered. Aluminium is one of the most cost-effective materials to recycle. When recycled without other metals being mixed in, the can–lid combination is perfect for producing new stock for the main part of the can—the loss of magnesium during melting is made up for by the high magnesium content of the lid. Also, reducing ores such as bauxite into aluminium requires large amounts of electricity, making recycling cheaper than producing new metal.
Aluminium cans are coated internally to protect the aluminium from oxidizing. Despite this coating, trace amounts of aluminium can be degraded into the liquid, the amount depending on factors such as storage temperature and liquid composition. Chemical compounds used in the internal coating of the can include types of epoxy resin.
Cans are filled before the top is crimped on. The filling and sealing operations need to be extremely fast and precise. The filling head centers the can using gas pressure, purges the air, and lets the drink flow down the sides of the can. The lid is placed on the can, and then crimped in two operations. A seaming head engages the lid from above while a seaming roller to the side curls the edge of the lid around the edge of the can body. The head and roller spin the can in a complete circle to seal all the way around. Then a pressure roller with a different profile drives the two edges together under pressure to make a gas-tight seal. Filled cans usually have pressurized gas inside, which makes them stiff enough for easy handling.
Modern cans are generally produced through a mechanical cold forming process that starts with punching a flat blank from very stiff cold-rolled sheet. This sheet is typically alloy 3104-H19 or 3004-H19, which is aluminium with about 1% manganese and 1% magnesium to give it strength and formability. The flat blank is first formed into a cup about three inches in diameter. This cup is then pushed through a different forming process called "ironing" which forms the can. The bottom of the can is also shaped at this time. The malleable metal deforms into the shape of an open-top can. With the sophisticated technology of the dies and the forming machines, the side of the can is significantly thinner than either the top and bottom areas, where stiffness is required.
Plain lids (known as shells) are stamped from a coil of aluminium, typically alloy 5182-H48, and transferred to another press that converts them to easy-open ends. This press is known as a conversion press which forms an integral rivet button in the lid and scores the opening, while concurrently forming the tabs in another die from a separate strip of aluminium.
Early metal drink cans had no tabs; they were opened by a can-piercer or churchkey, a device resembling a bottle opener with a sharp point. The can was opened by punching two triangular holes in the lid—a large one for drinking, and a second smaller one to admit air.
As early as 1922, inventors were applying for patents on cans with tab tops, but the technology of the time made these inventions impractical. Later advancements saw the ends of the can made out of aluminium instead of steel.
Mikolaj Kondakow and James Wong of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada invented the pull tab version for bottles in or before 1951 (Canadian patent 476789). In 1962, Ermal Cleon Fraze (1913–1989) of Dayton, Ohio, United States, invented the similar integral rivet and pull-tab version (also known as ring pull in British English), which had a ring attached at the rivet for pulling, and which would come off completely to be discarded. He received US Patent No. 3,349,949 for his pull-top can design in 1963 and licensed his invention to Alcoa and Pittsburgh Brewing Company, the latter of which first introduced the design on Iron City Beer cans. The first soft drinks to be sold in all-aluminium cans were R.C. Cola and Diet-Rite Cola, both made by the Royal Crown Cola company, in 1964.
In 1975, Daniel F. Cudzik, an engineer with Reynolds Metals, filed a design patent application for a "End closure for a container." This later became known as a "Sta-Tab." When the Sta-Tab launched in 1975, on Falls City beer and, quickly, other drinks, there was an initial period of consumer testing and education. Cudzik later received patents for this "Easy Open Wall" (US 3967752, issued 1976-07-06 US 3967753, issued 1976-07-06). The validity of these patents was upheld in subsequent litigation.
The similarly designed "Easy-open ecology end" was invented by Ermal Fraze and Omar Brown. Its patent application was also filed in 1975. This design, like Cudzik's, uses a separate tab attached to the upper surface as a lever to depress a scored part of the lid, which folds underneath the top of the can and out of the way of the resulting opening, thus reducing injuries and roadside litter caused by removable tabs.
One of the more recent modifications to can design was the introduction of the "wide mouth" can in the late 1990s. The American Can Company, now a part of Rexam, and Coors Brewing Company have owned wide mouth design patent (number D385,192) since 1997. Other companies have similar designs for the wide mouth. Ball Corporation's from 2008 has a vent tube to allow direct airflow into the can reducing the amount of gulps during the pour.
Press button can
One variation was the press button can, which featured two pre-cut buttons—one small and one large—in the top of the can sealed with a plastic membrane. These buttons were held closed by the outward pressure of the carbonated drink. The consumer would open the can by depressing both buttons, which would result in two holes. The small hole would act as a vent to relieve internal pressure so the larger button could then be pressed down to create the hole used for consuming the drink. Consumers could also easily cut themselves on the edges of the holes or get their fingers stuck.
Press button cans were used by Pepsi in Canada from the 1970s to 1980s and Coors in the 1970s. They have since been replaced with pull tabs. Used in Australia, locally known as "pop-tops", for soft drinks during the early 1980s. However, Heineken Brewery did bring back press- or push button cans on the market in Europe as a short lived marketing strategy in the 1990s.
Full aperture end
Another variation on the drink can is the "full aperture end", where the entire lid can be removed – turning an aluminium can into a cup. Crown Holdings first designed the "360 End" for use by SABMiller at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. It has been used by Anheuser-Busch InBev in China and Brazil and by the Sly Fox Brewing Company in the United States.
Another variation on the drink can is to have a resealable lid. A version patented by Cogito Can in France has been used by Groupe Casino, the French grocery chain for its private label energy drink.
Most large companies serve their beverages in printed cans, where designs are printed on the aluminum and then crafted into a can. Alternatively, cans can be wrapped with a plastic design, mimicking the printed can but allowing for more flexibility than printed cans. A modern-day trend in craft alcohol is to design stickers to put on cans, allowing for smaller batches and quick changes for new flavors.
Beer can collecting was a minor fad in the late 1970s and 1990s. However, the hobby waned rapidly in popularity. The Beer Can Collectors of America (BCCA), founded in 1970, was an organization supporting the hobby, but has now renamed itself Brewery Collectibles Club of America to be more modern.
As of late 2009, membership in the Brewery Collectibles Club of America was 3,570, down from a peak of 11,954 in 1978. Just 19 of the members were under the age of 30, and the members' average age had increased to 59.
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