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Guide to purchasing a beer can labeling machine

Many craft breweries and microbreweries like yours start production without having a huge capital investment. This typically means they have to hand-label each beer can — taking a stack of pre-printed sticker labels, peeling off each label’s liner, and then applying the label onto a beer can. While relatively easy, this manual labeling process can be time-consuming once your order volume increases. You may also need to hire more labelers to cope with demand, resulting in higher labor costs.

Alternatively, you can use a beer can labeling machine. Such labeling machines can easily be connected to your existing beer filling machines and require only minimal space and power. While purchasing a labeling machine can set you back a few thousand dollars, the cost can be offset by the increased throughput and labor cost savings in the long run. Labeling machines also allow for consistent label placement and minimized labeling errors, thereby shrinking costs further. All of these savings translate to either better price competitiveness or higher margins on your products. 

Pressure-sensitive vs. shrink sleeve labeling machines

When it comes to labeling options for canned beer, you can choose between:

  • Pressure-sensitive (PS) labels – self-adhesive labels that require pressure to get them to stick to containers
  • Shrink sleeve labels – flexible, pre-printed film that is slipped over a container and applied with heat so that it would conform to the shape of the container

Your choice of label type dictates the type of machine you must use. If you’re just starting out, we recommend that you go for a PS labeling machine. This is because using shrink sleeve labels on beer cans is not as straightforward as using PS labels.

When you create a design for a shrink sleeve label, you need to add distortions to the artwork so that it will shrink proportionally onto the container. This step would not be an issue if you are working with a professional labeling services provider, since they can provide you with a template to help you with your design. However, if you have no plans of hiring a labeling specialist and do not have the skills of one, then this step is quite tricky. 

Types of beer can PS labeling machines

Here are the three categories of PS labeling machine types you need to consider: 

Location of labels

PS label applicators can be categorized according to where they place labels: front and back, top, top and bottom, and wrap-around labeling machines. However, only wrap-around labelers, such as the Herma 500 and the Pack Leader ELF-50, are used for beer cans.

Functionality

There are two types of PS labeling machines in terms of functionality:

  • Label applicator – A label applicator automatically applies PS labels onto containers once you have loaded it with pre-printed rolls of labels. 
  • Print and apply label applicator – A print and apply label applicator pulls blank or partially printed labels through its print engine. It prints the design directly onto labels, which are then automatically applied onto containers.

Application speed

In terms of application speed, there are semi-automatic and automatic labeling machines. 

With a semi-automatic labeling machine like Auto Labe Model 550 Semi-Automatic, you need to load one beer can first into the machine. Then, you must use a hand crank or a foot pedal to apply the label one at a time. Using a semi-automatic labeling machine is faster and more consistent than manual labeling and is also less expensive than an automatic label applicator.

In contrast, with an automatic labeling machine, you can load and line up multiple containers on the attached conveyor belt, tremendously speeding up the loading process. After the initial setup, automatic labelers can properly position the beer can before applying the label. 

While more expensive and typically physically larger than semi-automatic labeling machines, automatic labeling lines have a much faster throughput. This superior efficiency allows you to fill more beer cans without getting backlogged at the labeling stage.

Factors that make a good beer can labeling machine

After you have decided what type of PS labeling machine you need, you should take into account the following considerations: 

Label placement accuracy

Your chosen labeling machine must be able to apply labels onto beer cans in the same location vertically and horizontally, every time. To achieve this level of label placement accuracy, the best PS labelers have either stabilizers or built-in high-precision sensors. 

Ease of use

Look for a PS labeling machine that is easy to operate, allowing for quick and simple machine adjustments and changeovers. The best machines require only a setup time of around 5 to 10 minutes. They also have an interface that has built-in operating instructions, memory presets, and a troubleshooting guide. 

Durability

The durability of a labeling machine will greatly determine the machine’s longevity. That is why you should pick a machine made of strong materials (e.g., strong powder-coated aluminum, stainless steel) that can withstand the effects of rigorous use. 

After-sales service support

All equipment will eventually have issues or become outdated. Therefore, you should look into the machine manufacturer’s after-sales support by asking the following questions: 

  • Are they able to offer thorough and helpful answers to all of your questions? 
  • Is it easy to get in touch with their customer support team? 
  • Do they have quick customer support turnaround times? 
  • Do they perform machine repairs?  
  • Are their machines’ spare parts — especially ones that easily wear out — readily available? If not, how long is the average wait time for replacements? 
  • Do they offer ongoing upgrades and continuous support?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you estimate how well your labeling machine will perform beyond those first few thousand cans and as your brewing operation expands. 

Flexibility

The craft beer market is dominated by three can sizes:

  • 12-oz standard drink can
  • 16-oz “pounder” can
  • 32-oz. growler can (also known as the “crowler”)

Many craft brewers initially sell their products in only one can size. However, as your operation grows, you may want to offer other sizes. Therefore, it is best to purchase a labeling machine that allows you to easily switch between can sizes, such as the CTM 360a Series Wrap System. This particular machine even has an onboard computer that can save many label configurations. Once you have a beer can calibrated, you can easily retrieve its settings when labeling that beer can size. 

By having such a flexible labeling machine, you are spared from having to invest in a separate labeling machine just to accommodate other can sizes. 

Still confused about which beer can labeling machine to purchase?

Turn to Pro-Motion Industries. Our team of labeling specialists can help you pick the label applicator that best fits your budget and requirements. Alternatively, you can simply outsource your labeling needs to us. By doing so, you can leverage our labeling expertise and state-of-the-art equipment. 

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