Krones Craftmate and JetAir Can Drying System Help Lewis & Clark Increase Production by 600%

The Brewers Association reports that craft dollar value grew 10% last year, reaching $23.5 billion. That figure is especially impressive when compared to the overall beer market’s retail volume of $107.6 billion. With nearly $1 in every $4 spent going to craft, it’s no surprise that craft brewers are upgrading their lines to keep up with demand. With new equipment comes new concerns – like saving line space and bottle and can drying.

What’s more, while craft breweries are giving large brewing a run for its money, they still need to distinguish themselves from other craft brewers. The Brewers Association tallied 5,234 craft brewers in 2016, and that number has been climbing for the last two decades. Montana-based Lewis & Clark Brewing Co. knows the struggle of standing out. With sixteen years in the industry, they set themselves apart using local Montana hops and Rocky Mountain water.

Customers won’t know that unless they pick them up off the shelf, though.

Lewis & Clark found that changing packaging made a difference. "In today's competitive environment, cans are a great way for us to set ourselves apart,” President Max Pigman says. Cans can be taken places bottles can’t, which is especially appealing to Montana’s outdoor demographic. “We quadrupled our sales the first year we switched from bottles to cans," Pigman reports. Clearly, the option to bring a can of Lewis & Clark on the trail was a selling point. The huge increase in sales led Lewis & Clark to look for a way to increase production.

Rather than retrofit their existing line, they expanded to a completely new facility connected to their other brewery. In order to choose the best production equipment for their specific needs, the Lewis & Clark team hit the road. They traveled to Oregon, Colorado, and California to research equipment. Visiting other facilities gave them the chance to find out what was working for other brewmasters.

While on the road, they came across the Craftmate from Krones. The 24-valve filling machine can process 250 cans a minute, ideal for craft production. At the discharge of the machine, a spray nozzle rinses the cans of residual foaming resulting from headspace purging. Perfect for maintaining quality packaging, but problematic for next steps of the process. Chad Richards, Project Sales Coordinator at Krones, points out, “You're now tracking water downstream, on the conveyor and into the packaging area. And of course, water and cardboard don't mix.”

Can drying has to become a priority. Many craft brewers simply hook up an air knife and a compressor to get the job done. While that can work, an air compressor is one of the most inefficient air sources for drying. The balance of pressure and flow isn’t well controlled, and huge amounts of air (and money) get blown to atmosphere.

Rather than go that route, Lewis & Clark and Krones reached out to JetAir Technologies. JetAir specializes in can drying and custom-engineered equipment. That was exactly what Lewis & Clark needed. After talking to other brewmasters who were using JetAir systems and happy with the equipment, Lewis & Clark decided to pursue a JetAir can drying system. Krones supported that decision based on past experience with JetAir.

“We work with JetAir because of their ability to customize machines,” Richards says. “No project is too difficult for them.”

Lewis & Clark was looking for a system that was compact, scalable, and would fit their budget. To check all those boxes, JetAir developed a can drying solution specifically for craft breweries.

The system consists of air knives mounted inside of Spray Shields, driven by a centrifugal blower. The blower uses 70% less energy than compressed air, helping Lewis & Clark keep their ongoing utility costs at a minimum. The Spray Shields capture water as it comes off the cans, keeping floors dry and employees safe. Installation is simple, too. Since no compressor is needed, all Lewis & Clark had to do was drop the equipment on their line and prepare an electrical drop.

The can drying system can handle 12- and 16-ounce cans without any changeover, meaning the line never has to slow for can drying. “It’s been flawless. We’ve had zero issues with it,” Pigman says of the equipment. Between the Craftmate and JetAir’s can drying system, Lewis & Clark was able to significantly ramp up production.

Pigman reports that they’re currently canning between 1,300 and 1,400 cases per run. On their old line, that quantity took around 36 production hours. On the new canning line, it takes just 5.5 hours. The 600% increase in production will enable Lewis & Clark’s expansion to Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, and Las Vegas. “Time is really everything,” Pigman says.

Lewis & Clark works continually to live up to their namesake, being adventurous with their brews while being persistent and consistent. “Making quality beer is very much a concern for us,” Pigman says. Krones’ Craftmate and JetAir’s can drying system help them deliver pristine cans of quality beer so they stand out on the shelf.

“JetAir has always been one of our top OEMs,” Richards says. “You guys provide all the necessary information – electrical schematics and drawings when we need them.” Together, JetAir, Krones, and Lewis & Clark developed a state-of-the-art canning line to help a legacy craft brewery maintain their market share and grow into new states.