Tonejet’s Cyclone C4+, a direct digital can printing system that replaces labels and shrink sleeves, has been shortlisted in the ‘Machinery’ category of the Sustainability Awards 2022. We caught up with Tonejet to find out more about the solution, which helps to ensure that aluminium beverage cans remain recyclable after printing and labelling. 

You’re a finalist in the Sustainability Awards 2022. Congratulations! To start off, could you summarise your entry, Cyclone C4+, in less than 50 words?

Cyclone C4+ is a direct digital can printing system which replaces pressure sensitive labels and shrink sleeves for short run beverage can decoration. The system prints directly onto the can which stays 100% recyclable. Brewers will cut costs, save time and no longer need to wrap cans in plastic!

Why do you think the judges were impressed with your entry? Tell us about what is innovative about your project and/or about its impact on packaging sustainability.

Historically, pressure sensitive labels and shrink sleeves have enabled craft brewers and smaller beverage producers to get their product onto the market in an industry where can manufacturers typically require minimum orders of 300k-1M (and a three-month lead time) for offset-printed cans. But this comes at a cost to the environment. Labels and sleeves have to be separated from the aluminium can before the latter can be recycled. In reality, at many waste sorting facilities this doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons and the cans end up in landfill – an absolute crime in sustainability terms since aluminium is infinitely recyclable.

The use of “direct to shape” digital printing is the answer to this problem, allowing newly manufactured blank beverage cans to be printed directly using industrial inkjet technology with zero set up time, zero setup cost, and zero waste. Most companies offering the service will accept orders down to 1000 cans, satisfying the needs of even the smallest brewers and the most focused of niche marketing campaigns. The label is no longer required and will disappear in this market as brands and brewers discover direct to shape printing. We are talking about a potential saving of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic globally from sleeves alone (source: Coherent Market Insights “Stretch & Shrink Sleeve Packaging Market 2021-27”)

The Tonejet printhead technology inside the Cyclone C4+ is truly innovative. Unlike traditional inkjet our printhead creates droplets using electrostatic forces. This means that we can put down high levels of colour pigment in a very thin (less than a micron) layer, creating a vibrant image under industry standard over-varnish. Not only do we enable end-users to do away with labels and sleeves, but we add negligible quantities of materials to the can – around 10x to 20x less than older inkjet technologies use. This means the beverage can remains fully recyclable using traditional waste channels.

The technology is also lower cost for end users and offers the fastest turnaround – typically two weeks from artwork being received to cans being shipped – in the industry. These factors encourage take up and will result in fewer and fewer cans being labelled or sleeved in future.


How has your innovation/initiative been received?

Our lead customers in North America (Solucan) and Europe (Bevcraft) have both installed second systems following massive demand for their services, and plan significant further expansion. They are finding that once new customers switch from labelling to direct digital, they don’t look back. As these customers learn how quickly they can turn new pack designs around, it transforms the way they manage both their product lines and their inventory, further strengthening demand for what we do.

You’re shortlisted for the Machinery category. What do you see as the key demands, challenges and opportunities in relation to machinery in packaging?

Right now, the big challenge is simply getting hold of components. We have good stock of the PCB assemblies and electronics in our systems, fortunately, but we are seeing delivery quotes of 6-12 months on commodity items like touch screens and PLC controllers. To date we have mitigated this by shopping around, but it’s a big concern, as is the simple fact that most of our input materials costs have increased by 10%-20%.

The opportunity for packaging machinery manufacturers in digital packaging are huge, and we are only just getting started. Whether it is printing equipment like ours for beverage can decoration, or the inkjet systems now being used to decorate and individually personalise corrugated board packaging, or cutting and folding equipment which will enable secondary packs to be sized precisely and produced on demand to reduce waste, there is a lot of space for innovative equipment manufacturers to move into.

The winners of this Sustainability Awards category will be announced at a dinner taking place at the Sustainable Packaging Summit in Lisbon on 13th-14th September 2022. To attend the ceremony, register here.