THE BOTTLING TECHNOLOGY PAGE
SOUND BREWING SYSTEMS
Equipment for Sale
[ Bottling Equipment & Issues ] [
Filling Valve Technology ] [ Types of Fillers ] [ Purging and Air Reduction Add-Ons ]
[ Labeling Machines ] [ Bottle Rinsers ] [ Other Packaging Machines ]
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Equipment & Issues
Bottling is a formidable undertaking for a small brewer. It requires a large investment of capital at the outset, and only with substantial volume is it usually profitable. The cost of the packaging materials (bottles, six-pack carriers, labels, crown caps, case boxes) is much greater than the cost of producing beer itself. Minimum printing production runs for six-packs, boxes and labels are quite large, and there are one-time set-up costs for each printed packaging item. As a result, a substantial amount of cash is always tied up in inventoried packaging materials.
We have worked with numerous breweries on setting up bottling operations, and have gained an excellent grasp of what works and what doesn't. We've found that in the majority of instances, trying to grow into bottling by starting out a very modest production level with a low speed filler doesnt work. It is extremely difficult to get the economies of scale required for profitability, and a low output volume doesn't permit economical purchase of packaging materials.
Simple Bottling line
A small filler with four to eight valves, which may operate at 15-30 bottles per minute, is just fine for a small brewpub that wants to bottle a limited amount of product for off premises sale, and to generate some awareness of your company and its products among consumers. But such machines are not well suited for volume production for the distribution chain.
The fact is, in most instances bottling is only profitable if it is done in volume. How much volume? We firmly believe that no one who is serious about bottle distribution should even consider machinery that produces less than 50-60 bottles per minute. This would require a rotary type filler with at least 16-24 valves and 4-6 crowner heads.
If you are serious about making a profit bottling beer, an initial line speed of 100 bottles per minute (or 250 cases per hour) would be a practical place to start. A filler with 24 or 28 valves easily meets this requirement, and could run as fast as 160-200 BPM. It is better to run a large filler slowly than a small filler fast. If used equipment is being considered, it may be even possible to build a faster line for the same cost as a slow one.
Although new bottling machinery is of course very desirable, it is
not necessary to buy this equipment new. There is a very good supply of machinery
available used which can fill bottles at any speed from 100 BPM on up to 1000 BPM or more.
Here is a look at the basic filling valve technology and several types of rotary filling
machines and their advantages and drawbacks.
Filling Valve Technology
There are two basic types of filling valves, short tube and long tube. They work very differently, but both fill under counter pressure (the bottle is counter-pressurized to the same pressure as the filler bowl above the valves containing the carbonated beer) and the product flows by gravity into the bottle.
Short tube fillers have a vent tube about 2"-3" long which exhausts the air or gas in the bottle as it fills with liquid. The product flows in around the vent tube and over a small rubber umbrella spreader which fans the product to the walls of the bottle neck, where it cascades down the inside walls of the bottle. The tube serves to vent air or gas displaced by the beer from the bottle--no product flows through the vent tube in normal operation. In fact, the vent tube controls the fill level in the bottle--when the liquid level reaches the end of the vent tube, the product stops flowing because air can no longer leave the bottle. Fill height adjustments are mad by changing the length of the vent tube (some types have an adjustable plastic sleeve).
Older short tube fillers, lacking pre-evacuation or pre-purging, simply vent the air and gas from the bottle into the filler bowl headspace. This can increase air pick-up in the beer. Also, the large surface area exposed as the beer cascades down the sides of the bottle can further increase air pick-up in the product. Newer short tube valve designs add one or two pre-evacuation and purge stages to counter pressurization, effectively removing most of the air from the bottle before it is filled and minimizing air pick-up and oxidation.
Long tube fillers use a long product fill tube which extends nearly to the bottom of the bottle to quiet fill the bottle from the bottom up. Unlike vent tube fillers, they fill the bottle completely full, with correct fill height being assured by the displaced volume of the tube as it is withdrawn from the bottle. Many brewers swear by the long tube filler design, which offers the benefits of a quiet fill from the bottom of the bottle and minimal air pick-up.
Which is best? No simple answer here. The best results obtainable with long tube type and most pre-evacuation short tube type fillers are often not dramatically different. Many brewers prefer the long tube design because of its simplicity and ability to perform about as well as much more complex pre-evacuation models. Nonetheless, European manufacturers have in recent years done an admirable marketing job on the new pre-evacuation machines, displacing older long tube design fillers with the promise of better sanitation, the smoother mechanical operation a new machine affords, Monoblock design efficiency and simplified cleaning and maintenance with automated systems. If nothing else, peer pressure has undoubtedly sold many new machines in the craft brewing industry.
But new bottling equipment salesmen would prefer that you didn't
know that it is possible to fill bottles as effectively and to comparable package air
specs using older technology, perhaps with some upgrades and enhancements. A brief
discussion of methods of improving air specs with older fillers will be found below.
Types of Fillers:
|In-line and Tandem fillers: These are
small long tube machines which are built to fill from one to 8 bottles at a time. Most
common are the popular Meheen tandem machines with 4 spouts, although newer models are
offered with 6 spouts. Numerous different generations of these microprocessor-controlled
machines exist, and users seeking used machines should strive for the latest models (1997
or later if possible, with pre-purging cycles). Some earlier models can be updated at
significant cost. The main shortcoming of these machines is that because they fill bottles
in tandem (side by side) and have a fixed overhead bridge that supports the fill valves
and crowner heads, they are limited to one bottle size and type. Thus, it usually not cost
effective to convert a 12 ounce long neck machine to a 12 ounce Heritage machine, or a 22
ounce machine to a 12 ounce. Rated speeds of the four spout models is 20-30 bottles per
minute, though some operators claim that better airs are obtained by limiting speed to
Used Availability: Good
The in-line filling machines built by IMI, offering from one to eight valves, are much more versatile in terms of bottle handling capability and have pre-evacuation, but are also rather expensive for their capacity, and not widely available on the used market.
Rotary fillers: All high speed machines are rotary
machines. These have a carousel with anywhere from eight to over 100 valves and bottle
platforms, and range in speed from 20 bottles per minute to over 1000 per minute. These
are available as short- tube (or vent tube), and long tube machines, as discussed
above. Both fill under counter pressure (the bottle is counter-pressurized to the same
pressure as the filler bowl above the valves) and the product flows by gravity into the
|Short tube or vent tube filler (non
pre-evacuation): These are among the most common rotary fillers seen in small
breweries today. Originally designed primarily for soda filling applications, they fill by
flowing the beer down the inside wall of the bottle, like more modern pre-evacuation
fillers. The most common makes are Meyer and Crown Cork and Seal, in sizes of 24 to 72
valves and larger. Without pre-evacuation, or some type of pre-purging, this filling
method exposes a large surface area of beer to air, and high oxygen pickup can result.
Skilled operators can get 0.5-.08 ml/12 oz. Airs, but 0.7-1.2 is more common. Many brewers
have modified these fillers with purging devices of various types which can reduce the air
pick-up by 50% or more. Several machine rebuilders have retrofitted these machines with
pre-evacuation cycles, with some loss of speed. A brief discussion of methods is found
Used Availability: Good
Crown Uniblend 40/8 Filler
|Long tube Beer filler: The mainstay
of the U.S. large breweries until the 1990s. These machines quiet fill the
bottles from the bottom with a long product fill tube. Many manufacturers world wide, but
best known in US are Cemco machines, built by Crown Cork & Seal from the 1960s to the
late 1980s. Cemco machines are generally not found in smaller than 60 valve models, though
a few older 50 valve machines exist. Many German makers built machines of 16 valves and
upward which can be found used in Europe.
It's worth noting
that the Cemco long tube machines were made in 2-tube and 3-tube
versions. In the later, 3-tube versions the air in the bottle is displaced into a separate
chamber rather than into the filler bowl, where it is bled off through a relief valve, and
this results in lower air pick-up. 3-tube Cemco machines were made in 60, 72, 80, 104, and
120 spout models. The 60 to 80 spout models should be sought by regional brewers looking
for a reliable machine with low air pickup. Later 3 tube models are capable of
filling with airs of 0.15-0.4 ml/12 oz., 2 tube models usually run 0.3-0.6 ml/12 oz.
Cemco 60/12 Filler
|Single pre-evacuation, short tube filler:
Similar to the above but the bottle is only evacuated once. Performance typically
approaches that of dual pre-evacuation, with 0.15-0.25 ml/12 oz being considered typical.
H&K (Holsten & Kappert) is the most widely known of many manufacturers, common
sizes are from 42 to 100 valves and larger.
Used Availability: Fair to Good
H&K 60/10 Filler
|Dual pre-evacuation, short tube filler:
Considered by some to be the current state of the art. Best known are the very costly
fillers from Krones, but many other manufacturers make them as well. The bottle has the
air drawn out and is refilled with CO2 or Nitrogen twice before the beer goes in. The beer
flows down the side of the bottle, and a short vent tube extracts the gas from
the bottle as it fills. 12 ounce package airs of 0.1-0.2 ml are typical.
Used availability: Scarce and costly
Retrofitted pre-evacuation machines: Several
companies have devised retrofits for older short-tube machines, generally Crown Cork &
Seal Uni-Blend series fillers. These reportedly improve performance substantially, though
probably not quite to the standards of new, current model pre-evacuation fillers. Inherent
in the retrofit design is the fact that the machine must be run perhaps 15-20% slower than
it would as a non pre-evac machine in order to allow time for the evacuation cycles.
Purging and Air Reduction Add-Ons
Here are some methods which are employed to reduce bottle air pick-up by displacing the air by various methods:
Pre-purging machines are one way to reduce bottle airs to near-null levels when using old vent tube fillers. They will tend to slow the line down in most instances, unless the purging machine is oversized. They work best at speeds under 200 BPM.
Nitrogen drip systems inject a measured drop of liquid nitrogen into the bottle immediately before the filler, which evaporates almost instantly and displaces the air in the bottle. Results can be very good, with average airs of 0.15-0.4 ml/12 ounce bottle and better, depending on the type of filler it is used with.
Pre-evacuation retrofits have been installed on vent tube fillers with varying degrees of success. Often they employ a modified snifter valve (the valve which vents the counter pressure after the bottle is filled) to evacuate the bottle. These systems generally require slowing down the filler by 25-40% to allow the extra time to evacuate the bottle. Results are reportedly very good.
CO2 (and Nitrogen) purging retrofits take various forms, but they have been installed on the infeed star that transfers bottles to the filler carousel. One California operator reports airs consistently under 0.5ml/ 12 ounce bottle with an older Meyer vent tube filler. Other operators have placed purging nozzles ahead of the filler using a gang of nozzles to inject the gas.
Labelers fall into two general categories, glue machines and pressure sensitive machines.
|Pressure Sensitive Labelers are
mainly used on slower lines. The self-stick labels are fed into the machine off a spool
and applied to the bottle. Machines with wrap around label capability have a wrap station
to roll the label onto the bottle to assure adhesion. Getting pressure sensitive labels to
adhere properly to bottles that have been filled (and are therefore cold and wet with
condensation) can be a big challenge, so many operators label before the bottles are
filled. Generally, 50-60 BPM is a high speed for pressure sensitive label
Used Availability: Good
Enos Pressure Sensitive labeler
|Glue Labelers are mainly of the
rotary type for high-speed applications, and the straight-through type for moderate
speeds. Krones labelers, made in a vast variety of sizes, models and configurations, are
the standard by which all are measured, but other manufacturers make good machines as
well. Glue labelers require change parts to run different bottles and/or labels, and
machines are usually factory equipped to apply a body or full wrap label and optionally,
neck and/or back labels. Users should chose a machines with the maximum capabilities they
expect to use, as retrofitting to add neck labels on a body-only machine is costly and
Used Availability: Good
Krones Supermatic Labeler
|World Tandem is another type of glue
labeler that still sees wide use in the industry. This is a rather archaic design, however
it is fairly versatile in terms of handling different package and label sizes but at the
same time has many limitations. It will not do long wrap around labels, and neck labels
can be difficult. The label is applied with 2 stripes of glue at the left and right edges,
as opposed to rotary machines that apply glue to the entire label back for best adhesion.
Tandem-applied labels, because they are not fully back-glued, can pucker on wet bottles
and are more prone to going on crooked than rotary applied labels. These machines are
designed to be operated in multiple configurations in a line, hence the name Tandem.
Speeds of 50-80 BPM per machine are typical, assuming machines are in good repair. World
Tandems are inexpensive, and may be suited to slower lines and use with small fillers.
High speed applications, such as 150-200 BPM or more, are better suited to rotary
Used Availability: Good
World Tandem Labelers
Bottle rinsers are used to sanitize and remove warehouse dust from bottles prior to filling. Generally, a mild chemical sanitizer such as Oxine is used to assure the sterility of the bottles.
Twist Rinsers are the most common type of rinser.
These use a set of belt drives to feed the bottles into a set of rails which twist
and invert the bottle as it passes over a set of spray nozzles which spray into it. After
the nozzles, the bottle has a short straight inverted section where it is allowed to drain
and is then re-inverted to return to the line right side up. The longer the rinser's twist
section, , the faster it can run. Units of 14' length can usually handle 150-250 BPM.
Used Availability: Good
Rotary Rinsers are a compact and efficient
alternative to the relatively cumbersome twist unit. These rinsers have a rotary turntable
with grippers to invert, rinse and re-invert the bottle. They may have a footprint of 4'
square for smaller units.
Used Availability: Fair to scarce
GAI Rotary rinser
Gripper Rinsers are often used in larger lines. They can achieve very high speeds while requiring less floor space than a twist rinser of comparable capacity. They also handle different bottle sizes without change parts.
Seco Gripper Rinser
For any operation required in a bottling or packaging plant, machines exist to do the work. Some of these include Uncasers, Case packers, bottle depalletizers, box erectors, basket openers, box stuffers, case sealers, palletizers and stretch wrappers, to name a few. Contact us to discuss your needs for line automation.
Hartness Case Packer
McDowel Box Erector
Elliott Case Sealer
Equipment for Sale
All text and images Copyright © 2000 by Vince Cottone and Sound Brewing Systems, Inc.