The Curious Case of Coating 160 Billion Beverage Cans

The Curious Case of Coating 160 Billion Beverage Cans

Rob must gauge marketplace acceptance of his firm’s innovative UV-cured coatings.for beverage cans.

Rob’s Problem

Rob’s division produces products used for thermal curing of beverage cans’ interiors.

Rob’s R&D group is overconfident of acceptance of their UV-cured coatings.

Rob is Director of the division. He wants a blind study1 of market acceptance by beverage companies of UV-cured coatings.

Rob knows that:

  • 160 billion aluminum cans per year are used it ship beer and soft drink.
  • Thermal-cured coating of the cans’ interior prevents corrosion. Coating stops leaks and beverage taste changes.
  • Thermal heating solidifies the liquid coating

Thermal-cured coating may generate traces of BPA

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) exhibits very weak, hormone-like properties. This behavior initiated ongoing debates about its health effects in humans.
  • Beverage industry’s position: No FDA-approved evidence that, in cans with thermal-cured interior coating, the BPA levels are high enough to cause endocrine damage to a drinker.

UV-cured coatings

UC-cured coatings cure at room temperature. No BPA is generated.

Rob’s Solution

Rob was familiar with my system for B2B customer research2. He hired me to carry out a blind study of market acceptance of UV-cured coatings.

Tasks for the UV-cured coatings project

  • My first task is to build a list of 200 knowledgeable people in the beverage can industry.
  • Second task is to chose, at random, people on the list and cold-call them.
    All respondents will hear the following phrase. “My client has created a new product concept for UV-cured coating of the interior of beverage cans.”
  • Third task is to analyze data collected during the calls. For statistical significance, I analyzed the data using the Central Limit Theorem.

Executive Summary: Market Acceptance of UV-Cured Coating of Beverage Cans

30 knowledgable people were interviewed.

We found market acceptance of UV-cured coatings is low and dropping.

Why?

  1. Cost of conversion from thermal-cured to UV-cured: > $7bn
  2. UV-cured coating is FDA approved only for exterior of cans. FDA approves thermal-cured coating for interior and exterior of cans.
  3. Thermal coating is faster

Quotes from knowledgeable people

“George, our thermal-curable machines are twice as fast as UV-curable machines. The only commercial UV-curable lines I know of are at VMContainer. It’s a 20-year old vanity operation and losing money.”
     Dir. R&D … Sequa Can Machinery, Inc.

“EPA looks at the top — in terms of compliance with environmental imperatives — 15% of production in an industry. The EPA says to the rest of the industry —meet it.”
      Mgr., Environmental Health & Safety … Coors Brewing Co.

   (Coors is VMContainer’s co-owner. VMC’s production is less than 5% of industry’s production.)

“Beverage companies don’t want to put in UV-cured coating systems before the government tells them to do so. Cost to switch industry to UV-cured is huge —several billion dollars. Includes not only capital but the 6 weeks of lost beverage production during switch.
Once they switch, they can’t afford to go back.”
     Dir. of Marketing … Ball Metal Packaging

“Thermal-cured coatings are FDA approved for both interior and exterior of beverage cans. UV-cured coatings are approved only for exterior coatings. Tests for approval of UV-cured coated interiors have 3-4 more years to run before FDA says yes or no.”
      Prod.Mgr., UV Inks and Coatings …Akzo Nobel

Outcomes

  • Rob shut down all development work on UV-cured coatings for beverage cans.
  • In the following year, a new president at Coors shut down VMContainer UV-cured, can coating plant. He said, “We are in the beverage business, not the can making business.”
  • Two decades after Rob’s decision: Thermal-cured coatings cover the interior and exterior of > 213 billion beverage cans per year.

Lesson Learned

A blind customer research study blows Experimenter Bias out of the water. This bias occurs when a R&D group believes only data that agrees with their expectations. The group disbelieves data that appears to conflict with their expectations.

Endnotes

  1. Blind Study: In a blind study, a respondent doesn’t know who commissioned the study. “Blinding”reduces biased answers from prospective customers. It encourages candid evaluation by the respondent of the product concept’s value.
  2. Rule of 30 System: Key Tools, Key Skills.