A FILLING MACHINE FOR THE BEVERAGE INDUSTRY
The beverage industry is typically high speed production on rotary filling equipment. The primary filling machine used to fill carbonated beverages is typically a 1000 container per minute system costing millions of dollars. However, there is a sizeable market for slower speed “inline” filling machines for specialty beverages and regional distribution of some beverages. Please note that this discussion and description specifically excludes carbonated products. The reason these products are being excluded is that there are few viable manufacturers of slow speed carbonated filling machines. The reason there are few of these slow speed filling machine manufacturers (about 3 worldwide) is that the market for carbonated products is very mature and almost entirely high speed. Those slow speed carbonated filling machine manufacturers that do exist primarily serve microbreweries producing beer in glass at very slow speeds e.g. 24 containers per minute.
There are smaller worldwide markets for fresh and pasteurized juice, artificial juice (i.e. “belly wash”), teas and bottled water industries that are served by filling machines operating in the range of 100bpm (or less) . There are two filling machine types to consider for the slow speed beverage industry but only one machine in particular dominates the market for filling beverages. The Overflow Filling Machine is the primary machine used in the (non carbonated) beverage industry but some discussion below will apply to a Time Gravity Filling Machine to better educate the buyer.
OVERFLOW FILLING MACHINE FOR BEVERAGE PRODUCTS
Most non carbonated beverage products are thin, flow-able liquids filled in PET, HDPE, or glass containers. Examples of these products are juices, teas, sports drinks, bottled water products, nutritional supplements, etc. Almost all of these products are filled using the Overflow Filling Machine for one major reason: the Overflow Filling Machine is a “fill to level” filling machine which means that the product will always appear to have the same fill height in the container regardless of the manufacturing (and volumetric) variations of the container. This is especially true for beverage products that are filled in glass whose interior dimensions are variable and also in soft HDPE containers that lose their shape due to the weight of the product or during high filling temperatures. Another major reason for filling these products on the Overflow Filling Machine is that the overflow filler produces relatively high output for very reasonable capital cost. Because these types of beverage products are typically sold in various sizes, the Overflow Filling Machine is also very attractive because it has the ability to fill a wide range of sizes with few to no change parts and with remarkable ease of setup. The machine is also flexible in that non carbonated beverages can be filled at ambient temperature, “hot fill” temperatures i.e. 200 deg F, or at refrigerated temperatures with very little modification to the basic type of machine (assuming it was constructed for food grade operation). It should be noted that these machines are fast to changeover and easy to clean which makes them ideal for small producers of varied beverage products.
The limitation of this type of filling machine is the thickness of the product or the density of particulates and particulate size that can pass through it. For example, very heavy fruit nectars with very dense pulp composition may cause the nozzles to clog. In this unusual case it might be better to consider the Piston Filling Machine or Servo Pump Filling Machine.
TIME GRAVITY FILLING MACHINES FOR CHEMICAL PRODUCTS
Because beverage products require a very high degree of repeatability and because appearance of the fill height in beverage containers is important, the Time Gravity Filling Machine has very little application in the beverage industry and generally is not recommended. The mention of this filling machine in the context of beverage filling is only because in recent past, time gravity fillers were used almost exclusively for bottled water applications and only with small regional producers or start up companies. These producers were less focused on sanitation and repeatability and more focused on the low capital cost of the machinery.
Time Gravity Filling Machines are less expensive than other types of filling machines but they have limited use in the beverage industry. The general flaw in this type of machinery for use in high volume production is that the types of valve/nozzles used on this machine are workable for water but generally difficult to clean and keep clean for sanitary beverage products that might have sugars or salts in them. Another problem of using this filling machine for beverages is that as the machine ages, it is difficult to keep the fill heights constant without continuous adjustment of the filling machine. In conclusion, although the machine can be used for some beverage filling, it is generally inferior for this purpose albeit useful in other industries such as harsh chemical filling where sanitation and cosmetic fill heights are less important.