FAIRFIELD — There’s a saying that once you know how a product is made, you probably won’t want to use it.
After seeing how the Ball Metal plant on Huntington Drive makes its aluminum cans, most observers are much more comfortable with drinking a soda or a beer.
The 169 employees at the 36-year-old facility efficiently create more than 8 million cans a day to hold beverages from Coca-Cola to Sierra Nevada beer, most of which are delivered to customers within a 500-mile radius of the plant.
Some of its longtime employees are so discerning about their creations that when they buy a can at a store, they say they check to see if it was made at their plant and give the can a critical eye if it wasn’t.
Plant Manager Dave Trujillo notes that while most metal beverage-making facilities have the same equipment, the secret of Ball Metal’s success is a combination of excellent, dedicated employees; a safe, clean workplace and keeping on the leading edge of the industry.
“I love this business. It is very dynamic,” Trujillo said of working for Ball in Fairfield.
The Fairfield facility was established in 1976, located here to serve the nearby Anheuser-Busch plant and the Coca-Cola facility in Sacramento.
“It provided most of the volume at the time,” Trujillo said of the relationship with Anheuser-Busch.
The Ball Metal plant now runs three production lines that are going 24 hours a day, making 2.7 billion cans a year with 700 different labels for 78 different customers – from Shasta sodas to Campbell’s soups. Up to 70 percent of the aluminum that the plant uses is recycled.
Massive rolls of aluminum are pressed and shaped into 12-, 8-, 7.5- and 5.5-ounce cans that are washed, cleaned, dried, necked, flanged and decorated without slowing down. The cans are also repeatedly inspected in the process by cameras and computers, with rejects sent back for recycling.
“We recapture every piece of aluminum that does not go out as a can on a pallet,” Trujillo said.
The Ball Corporation was born when brothers Edmund, Frank, George, Lucius and William Ball founded the company with a $200 loan from their Uncle George in 1880 to buy the Wooden Jacket Can Company, which made wood-jacketed tin cans for products such as paint and kerosene.
The brothers entered household legend when they began making glass home-canning jars in 1884 with the distinctive Ball logo on the glass jar and the metal lid, according to the corporation history.
Three years later, the brothers moved the company to Muncie, Ind., to take advantage of the abundant natural gas reserves that were essential to making glass.
Ball grew rapidly during the next decade and has been involved in more than 45 businesses since it was founded.
In 1956, Ball Brothers Research Corporation was formed. It is now known as Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation and produces space systems engineering products, telecommunications technology and electro-optics and cryogenics materials.
Ball entered the field of metal beverage container manufacturing when it acquired the Jeffco Manufacturing Company in Denver. That was the same year that it changed its name to Ball Corporation.
It no longer manufactures the canning jars that made it famous, which it exited in 1996, but has expanded into a worldwide metal packaging company that makes billions of recyclable metal containers from soda cans to aerosol cans and paint cans, as well as an aerospace business. As of 2009, Ball became the largest supplier of beverage cans in the world.
It’s corporate headquarters are now based in Broomfield, Colo., employing more than 14,500 employees in more than 90 locations worldwide.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.