8500 W. Tower Ave., Milwaukee
Industry: Aluminum cans for breweries, steel cans for canned food, baby formula, pharmaceuticals and other products
Most people that live in the Milwaukee area are probably very familiar with the products made at Ball Corp.’s Milwaukee facility. However, most people probably have no idea what is being produced at the company’s factory on the far northwest side.
Broomfield, Colo.-based Ball Corp. makes two lines of products at its Milwaukee facility, using very similar production techniques – aluminum cans used by breweries for canned beer, and steel cans used for canned foods, baby formula and some pharmaceutical products.
The Milwaukee plant produces about 1.3 billion cans per year – or roughly eight million cans per day. Production is evenly split between aluminum and steel cans. Each line makes about 4-million cans per day.
Roughly 90 percent of the demand for the Milwaukee plant’s aluminum cans is from the Milwaukee MillerCoors brewery. The rest is from smaller regional breweries that use cans, such as City Brewing Co. in La Crosse and Coldspring Brewery in Cold Spring, Minn.
Aluminum and steel cans are made using similar techniques, said Christopher Staldt, plant manager. Both types of can start with large metal coils – aluminum comes in 24,000 pound coils – which are split and punched into discs. A series of progressive dies draws up the side walls of the cans, and a special tool puts the dome in the bottom of aluminum cans. Steel cans stay flat on the bottom.
“The main difference (between the steel and aluminum cans) is that the steel cans get an abuse bead, those are the rings around the cans, which gives them the strength to withstand abuse,” Staldt said.
Steel cans are usually sent to customers without paint or labels. Aluminum cans, however, are always painted using the company’s six-color printing process, said Therese Bishop, human resource manager of the Milwaukee plant.
“We probably have 200 different labels here,” she said. “We can print up to six colors. We hire decorators from the print industry that have experience, understand graphics and have an eye for detail.”
The Milwaukee plant is one of the company’s two facilities that make both aluminum and steel cans.
“It’s unique to have both (aluminum and steel) in one facility,” he said.
Steel cans manufactured with progressive dies are stronger and are made in a more efficient manner, Staldt said.
Ball’s 450,000-square-foot facility employs about 200. Four crews work four-day, 12-hour shifts with three days off, Bishop said.
The Milwaukee plant was originally operated by Miller Brewing, where it made cans for the Milwaukee brewery until 1974. Ball Corp. has owned and operated the facility since 1998.
Ball also operates aluminum can manufacturing plants in Fort Atkinson, as well as Indiana, Ohio, California, Florida, Texas and more. In total it has 21 different can plants. It also has nine different metal can plants around the country.
Ball Corp. also makes aerosol spray cans, and a wide range of plastic food and beverage containers. It also has a separate aerospace division that makes instruments and sensors for satellites and other space-based vehicles.
Earlier this year, when Leinenkugel’s introduced new graphics on its cans, it turned to the Milwaukee Ball plant to help it develop the right mix of colors and graphics, Bishop said.
“Ball is always looking for opportunities with our customers to partner on a new style of product,” she said. “And a lot of that is through graphics now. We take a lot of pride in our graphics.”