MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) _ Can a can get smaller without shrinking the drink?

Ball Corp., one of the nation's biggest producer of aluminum beverage cans, is using less metal to make its standard soft drink and beer cans. But the volume of can won't change.

For the last 10 years, Ball has made can tops that measure 2 3/8 inches in diameter, known in the industry as ''206'' tops (for 2 6-16 inches).

By the end of the year, the company plans to reduce its tops to 2 inches, called ''204'' models (2 4-16 inches).

Shaving 1/8 inch doesn't change the volume of the can. But it does change the cost.

''It doesn't seem like much,'' says Harold Sohn, a Ball spokesman. ''But when we produce 14 to 15 billion cans a year, it adds up.'' To millions of dollars, the company says.

Ball plans to retool its can-top plants in Findlay, Ohio, and Golden, Colo., to accommodate the change. The smaller tops not only save money but reduce the amount of aluminum that gets tossed into landfills each year.

Stroh Brewery Co. began using 204 tops three years ago. Lacey Logan, a spokeswoman for the Detroit beer company, said the smaller tops are 18 percent cheaper than larger ones. She said the savings are passed on to consumers.

The soft-drink industry hopes to take the incredible shrinking cans one step farther, to a ''202'' at 2 1/8 inches across.