6.- End of a century
Throughout the “seventies” there was a series of events that substantially modified the metal industry. New technologies developed abroad were implemented in our country.
1º.-The traditional welding of the seam of the body of the container – which was made from the beginning of its manufacture with a more or less rich tin alloy – is replaced by an electrically welded joint. This allows eliminating lead contamination and improving its presentation. This modification requires to progressively change the front part of all three-piece packaging manufacturing lines; This substitution carries with it a heavy investment since, being a new technology, second-hand machines are not easily found in the market, at least during the first years. The company that develops this technique is the Swiss Soudronic that sells equipment to the majority of Spanish manufacturers through Echazarra (Madrid) its delegate in Spain (13). His sales in this period soar because in addition to welders sells the full range of machinery necessary for this industry. Subsequently appear other competitors such as Fael (also Switzerland) but at no time pose a serious competition for the first, even ended up as in the case of Fael to be adsorbed by Soudronic.
Manual welding machine Soudronic NRZd12.
First generation of welding machines with new technology
2º.-The easy-open covers reach the Spanish market in its two versions: with a tab for liquids and full opening. His invention and technology come from the USA. In Spain they begin to be manufactured by Envases Carnaud (a company that has been the continuation of the International Packaging Company) at its plant in Vigo. Later other companies like Vivancos follow him. Slowly this type of tapas are gaining ground until its use becomes widespread at the end of the century. The investments necessary for its implementation are even greater than those of the previous point.
3º.- The consumption of canned drinks (cola, soft drinks and beer) is triggered following the same steps as in the past in the USA. This favors the implementation of a new technology for the manufacture of two-part containers – DWI “embutido-stretched-ironed” – which quickly displaces the three-piece containers on the market. The construction of three-piece containers for beverages was started by Envases Carnaud in its factory in Valencia in 1967 but the market did not take off until a few years later (14). The first manufactured were to contain beer, specifically for the brand “El Águila”. In the year 1981, the two-piece containers began to be manufactured in a new plant of the same company in Agoncillo (La Rioja). Soon another strong North American international – Nacional Can Co- joins this sector, setting up a new plant in Valdemorillo (Madrid). The complex technology and the high production speeds make investments even higher than those mentioned above.
4º.-The containers of three pieces of little height progressively are replaced by containers two pieces embedded for reasons analogous to those previously commented. The means for its construction if they are relatively easy to obtain and several companies, especially of the fish sector, put them into practice.
5º.- There are more changes, although not of the importance of the previous ones but which also force to renew equipment, such as stackable containers – with a bottom of smaller diameter than the lid -, the sprays fitted – with dome and bottom of minor diameter-, the generalization of the sealed containers – to reduce the thickness of the walls-, etc.
As may be supposed, these profound changes accompanied by high investments limit the number of companies that can do so. Even so, companies such as Envasur, Metaldensa or Enmusa (Envases Murcianos) – 1980, a family company with technicians trained in Tinplate Derivatives – all located in Molina de Segura, are developing, making this city a large packaging producer. Grafometal – dedicated to lacquering and tinplate printing – in Agoncillo, (La Rioja) – formed by a human team split from Litalsa (15). This last company was the first that implanted in Spain – and of the first in the world – the widespread use of UV inks for lithography. Metalner with plants in Miravalles (Vizcaya) and Montmeló (Barcelona) dedicated to industrial packaging and crown cap. Pechiney in Villagarcia de Arosa, first company of French origin that is exclusively dedicated to packaging for fish made in aluminum by the technique of drawing. All of them take advantage of the new technological impulse to set up factories with cutting-edge technology without having to face an industrial reconversion (human and economic) that the older ones are forced to develop.
The sector is going through a difficult time, as a result of the evolution described above and some small and family businesses disappear or are bought by other larger companies. Thus the aforementioned Envases Murcianos SA – Enmusa- of canning containers, Manlleu Metal Containers (Hospitals) that manufactures aerosols, Metalgrafica del Nervión (Miravalles – Bilbao) that is dedicated to industrial packaging and crown cap, Tejera and Olivares (Camas – Sevilla ) specialized in olive oil and olives are bought by Carnaud Containers which has been renamed CMB (Carnaud-Metal Box) as a result of the merger of its two parent companies in France and England. Others take the opportunity to grow, by not having to do an internal reconversion, such as Vivancos (Mivisa) that builds new factories in Extremadura and La Rioja or Auxiliary Conservera that does it in Seville as previously indicated. The sector is gradually being concentrated in a smaller number of more powerful companies.
The auxiliary industry continues to grow and update. So Somme after living a period in which it was practically closed, reappears with new ideas and new people under the name of Sommetrade, his dedication – like the previous stage – focused on the field of seamers especially for canners, sector in which he had a solid prestige. Also Capella – at the head of which there has been a generational change – is modernized, incorporating new machines designed for industrial containers of a certain size and transport equipment (16). In Reus as an appendix of the old Comec, Boavida is maintained with transport equipment and automation. In the area of Murcia begins Auto-Rema (Lorqui) activity that little by little is specialized in transporters and magnetic elevators that at that time are all the rage. In Molina de Segura there are Peñalver workshops, founded by a former technician of Sánchez Rex (17); after an initial period in which it is mainly dedicated to small material (magnetic conveyors, packaging …) develops a new machine in 1989, to repair easy opening caps – based on an unprecedented concept – that after several years of successive improvements reaches a great success in the market, becoming an authentic world leader in this type of equipment towards the end of the 20th century.
Battery of feeders from bottoms to seamers
(13) Fernando Echazarra, owner of this firm, had a business with several divisions dedicated to different subjects – welding, machine tools, metalworking -. The division that commercialized machinery for containers worked with different represented almost all of import. Among them, the most outstanding was the Swiss Soudronic, which revolutionized the technology of three-piece packaging with its electric welding machines. This company had a series of engineers – De Cepeda, Damborenea, Murcia, Villalta, Caballero – who successively carried out the work of spreading this technique throughout Spain. Almost all of them ended up having their own business always linked with this industry.
(14) The start of the manufacture of three pieces of packaging for beverages was due to the firm commitment that Tomas Somohano – Technical Director of Envase Carnaud – made for his introduction in Spain. This engineer was of Asturian origin but as a child he emigrated to Mexico with his family. He trained in the United States and occupied an important position in one of the plants that Continental Can owned in Mexico. When the aforementioned company signed an economic and technical agreement with Olmesa – now E. Carnaud -, he came to Spain in 1961 to take charge of the technical direction of the new company. With it he brought a great knowledge and experience of a market much more developed than Spanish. He was undoubtedly the most qualified technician that existed in this period in our metal industry. From his arrival, he decided to introduce in Spain, one after another, the products in vogue in North America and the most modern techniques for their manufacture. So from his hand came the “twist-off” caps, the palletizing of containers, the easy opening caps, the three-piece beverage containers, the DR tin plate, the two-piece containers (also for beverages and which later moved to the previous ones), water-based varnishes and a very long etcetera that would make this comment very long at the end of the page. He counted among his friends the greatest experts worldwide and he of course was one of them. He was known and respected in the best international forums. In a word, if we had to choose the person who did the most to raise the technological level of the metal industry in the second half of the 20th century in Spain, it would undoubtedly be Tomas Somohano.
(15) José Luis Marín, the main promoter of this new company had dedicated his life to printing on metal, initially he was technician at Metalcolor and later director of Litarsa.
(16) Juan La Torre, grandson of the founder of the company, takes command of it and modernizes the human team and the manufactured catalog thus giving a strong boost to the business.
(17) José Peñalver had been head of the mechanical workshop of Sánchez Rex where he acquired a good knowledge of equipment. When this company went bankrupt, he set up a workshop with another partner but soon became the sole owner. Initially limited to small team following the Italian line, but later made its own developments some of them with great success.
6.- END OF A CENTURY
We are nearing the end of these notes. In the last years of this century we entered into a situation where the struggle for the market is very strong since in the previous years the installed capacity has been increasing at a great pace, well above the needs of the canning industry. The century is ending and with it the investment joy. The market does not continue to grow at the pace it has done in previous decades, competition is accentuated and a period of difficulties threatens the sector. The causes are several: new types of containers – plastic, “break”, glass … – that take a part of the traditional market of cans; new consumption habits – imposed by the incorporation of women to work – change the way of preserving food; desire of the conserveros to change the “old” image that the can has, etc., etc.
There are companies that have recently made heavy investments and their situation becomes delicate. It is time to divest – the companies that can – before the situation becomes critical, starting this cashier operation especially the largest ones, for example Carnaud-Metal Box (CMB) – which has changed for the umpteenth time of ownership – Now called Crown Cork, when it is bought by the multinational company specialized in beverage packaging and crown caps. Crown Cork already had two factories in Spain (Getafe and Bilbao) under the name of Metalinas dedicated to crown cap and aerosols, which determines, by reorganizing the production, closing or selling some plants of the former CMB: The aerosols in Reus to US Can. – multinational specialized in this market segment, of North American origin, which was born from the fragmentation of Continental Can; those dedicated to cans for oil – Linares and Camas – closes the first one selling its buildings and sells the second one to its immediate competitor Auximara – Epila (Zaragoza). (This last company had been created a few years before by a former director of the first). As the only market that follows a firm line of ascent is the one of drinks boats, it mounts a second factory in Seville. Previously its competitor – Nacional Can – has done it in turn in Catalonia. At the beginning of the 21st century, it also closes the factory in Valencia and, predictably, will even make further readjustments in the line of looking for an implantation adjusted to the future possibilities of the market.
Line for DWI containers – drinks
Some other companies follow his example. The family that owns Mivisa sells the partnership with all its plants to two French investment fund companies. The multinational Colep – Portuguese – Commercial purchase of Containers (with two factories in Calahorra and San Adrián) of paint cans. For others unfortunately the time has come to close.
It is also the time to reduce costs at all costs in different fronts: In raw materials decreasing metal thickness, in labor dwindling templates relying on automation and robots, in management hiring experts in the field … In a word the market is in a phase of “mature product” where the “know-how” can be achieved by anyone who has money to pay for it and therefore there are no technological barriers but only economic ones. In these conditions, only the strong multinationals that can access large volumes of business have the possibility of remaining. Proof of this is the arrival in Galicia of Impress, a strong European multinational.
Despite everything we believe that the can has a long life in Spain. The traditional canned fish and vegetable industries are still closely linked to it and new markets such as drinks have taken it as their ideal vehicle. Our best wishes to her!