The centerpiece of our brewery upgrade is our new bottling line. We purchased a brand new 6-head USA-made Meheen bottle filler/capper along with a new automated labeler. The short story is that we are currently running at 3 times our previous maximum speed and we anticipate we should be easily able to get up to 4 times with some minor tweaks.
For those that are interested in some more details, read on!
Before we even started a bottling run on our old filler, we needed someone to label the bottles. This involved Forked River staff placing bottles one at a time on a labeler and hitting a foot pedal. After this, we rinsed our bottles, and placed them in our bottling line. Our tempermental inkjet coder would hopefully code each bottle with our lot code as they progressed to the 2-head filling station. After filling, the bottles meandered to the capping head and were then rinsed and packed away at a rate of about 350 bottles/hour.
For those that are visual learners, here's a video of our old line in operation:
Bottling lines all work pretty similarly and adding filling heads is certainly going to make things faster. Our first few runs have gotten us to a comfortable 1080 bottles/hour. Fast enough to empty one of our 2000L packaging tanks in a single day with time to spare! A similar packaging run on our old line would need three full days in the schedule.
Once again, for those that love a detailed account of the equipment, read on:
After rinsing the bottles 24 at a time in special grabbers, the bottles are placed 6 wide on the load ramp. Bottles are advanced and the filling heads come down very similarly to our old line. Once the fill is finished and the heads come up, capping is done within seconds and 6 at a time! One of our favourite additions is the cap sorter/feeder. We used to have to manually load a 13 cap slide; the Meheen loads the caps for us.
After our bottles have been filled evenly and to the correct level, they eventually get to a conveyor to the labeling station. Labels are first automatically hot stamped with our lot code and then make their way onto bottles. No one should have any trouble reading our lot codes now. Our labeler should be able to do 100 bottles/min! We certainly haven't tested it to that level though. #futureproofing Bottles accumulate on a nice big 2'x4' conveyor table for unload. Check out the new boxes!
While the bottling line and labeler are the centerpieces for our upgrade, the whole place is getting a facelift. Here's the list of upgrades:
- Brand new, top of the line air compressor: that's right. Air compressor. Not super flashy but it's quiet and efficient. Now we can run any and all the equipment in the brewery that requires compressed air at the same time!
- A second glycol chiller: our glycol chillers maintain cool to cold temperatures in our fermentation and packaging tanks. One chiller was sufficient but coming into the summertime rush we'll be pushing our existing tanks harder than last year. Not only that but...
- 4 more tanks are coming! Yup, another capacity expansion. Less than a year after our last set of tanks arrived. This will bring us to 17,000L of fermentation capacity (up from 11,000L).
With that, our brewery upgrades will need to slow down. We don't have any more space for more tanks! We'll be doing all we can to get as much beer out of this setup as possible.