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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Equipment/Sanitation > DIY Multi-bottle gravity filler
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Old 12-09-2012, 06:24 PM   #1
killsurfcity
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Default DIY Multi-bottle gravity filler

A friend and I have been doing 20g batches together, and are looking for a way to make bottling easier/faster. We were looking into some kind of semi-automation, but weren't really happy with either the price-tag, or fill-method of the available solutions. After mulling it for a while, this is what I've come up with. I want to build a prototype soon, but thought I'd share to see if anyone had any comments/suggestions on how I could improve it.

I figure bottle conditioning and gravity are both our friends at this point, so may as well design around that. So, here's the idea, we take one of those blue HDPE drums, and put 4 valves on it. Those 4 valves feed our bottling array. The bottling array is really simple. It's basically a shelf and backing, with 4 hinged bottle fillers and four valves affixed.

To bottle, we would prime the beer in the drum, hoist it (or pump the beer into it). Then we'd attach the bottling array, and open the valves on the drum, priming the filling lines. Next, we swing out each filler, and slide a bottle on, swinging it back to rest the bottle on the fixed base/shelf. As each bottle goes on, we open the valve just enough to get a fast enough flow. if timed right, we should be able to get into a rhythm, where by the time the last bottle is on, the first is ready to come off. allowing for continuous filling.

See the attached drawing for clarification. In case you can't read my scrawl, I numbered the text...



1) Primed beer
2) 4 valves
3) Swing block
4) Hinged at top
5) Open ended wands
6) Fixed base
7) Backing

Pros:
- Using bottle conditioning and gravity, means the design can be simple and cheap
- Can be built with readily available parts
- Likely cheaper than any off the shelf product
- So simple almost anyone could build it
- Easy to clean and sanitize
- Speeds up bottling roughly 4x

Cons:
- Gravity filling involves positioning a lot of liquid high in the air
- Force carbing not an option
- Less sanitary than moving liquid under pressure
- No auto-fill level
- Mistakes could be messy
- Filling the last couple bottles could be tricky

Note: Since drawing this, I've realized the hinge blocks probably aren't necessary and could be replaced with flexible tubing.

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Old 12-09-2012, 06:44 PM   #2
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I am not sure I would like to use individual valves and the beer freefalling even a short distance into the bottle. Maybe something with bottle fillers and each bottle is hinged and slightly sprung for lack of a better term to pop up when no weight is on it. So you can hold them down and when one is done release it while the other bottles keep filling. Theoretically they all will fill at the same rate but well something tells me that is not true.

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Old 12-09-2012, 07:21 PM   #3
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I'd try to get the "free fall" as short as possible. Perhaps a 1/4" or so. Shouldn't really matter, because as soon as there's beer in the bottle, it's not free-falling anymore. (if i get what you mean)

The man reason to use open ended plastic fillers, is to eliminate the bottle wand depressor (for lack of a better term). This is for several reasons:

1) No two fill at the same rate, so if you are relying on that, you're screwed
2) They often get stuck, resulting in overfills and beer spraying all over
3) More moving stuff that you can't see is clean with your own eyes
4) In a system like this you'd have to figure out a way to engage and release that fill mechanism, which gets you into all kinds of mechanical hoo-hah that could potentially be a dead end. (example: having a based that could be raised and lowered)
5) Bottle wands are just way less reliable than valves.

I know it seems like having four open valves with no auto shutoff is asking for trouble, but: (sorry i'm into lists today)

1) It's only 4 valves
2) You can set the flow to as slow as you want
3) If you start to lose control, just shut them all off
4) At the worst, you just run them all slow, starting left to right, with a couple seconds in between. As long as the first doesn't finish before you get done setting up the last, you are fine. Just wait for each bottle to fill in succession, rinse, repeat.

I really can't imagine this method being any harder on the beer than using a bottling wand.

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Old 12-10-2012, 03:20 PM   #4
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Been thinking a bit more about construction. I'm working on a prototype sized for 5g batches. I think i'm going to have it be a self-contained stand for the primed beer, with a bottling array below. This is going to make the distance the beer travels pretty minimal, which is probably for the best.

Also thinking about component selection. I think I'm going to go with 2 piece, barbed bottling spigots, 3/8" tubing, then 3/8" ball valves on the array, to 1/4" ID filling "wands". I went with relatively small sizes to mimic the flow rate you'd get from a standard bottling wand. If you actually look at the end of a bottling wand, the flow is restricted quite a bit there. Since my wands won't have that restriction at the bottom, I thought narrowing them all around would be the best choice. I'm hoping that my ideal flow rate is somewhere close to full open.

One of the nice things about the simplicity of my current design is that if the components turn out to be sub-optimal, they can easily be swapped out for better without much hassle.

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Old 12-13-2012, 03:21 PM   #5
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How about one valve inline, THEN the manifold? Use tubing clamps if you want to turn individual lines off. One valve controls the rate, and shuts them all down at once....should speed up your operation while keeping things simple.

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Old 12-13-2012, 05:12 PM   #6
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I had thought of that, but my issue was that with them all going through a single valve, you are going to likely get an uneven flow rate. with four valves it's a bit trickier to operate, but flow rates should be almost equal.

Doing some more detailed drawings i can share soon. Also, just got most of the bits I need from McMaster. I should be building up a prototype soon.

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Old 02-13-2013, 03:16 PM   #7
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Did you build this? Interesting idea, I would like to hear how it turned out.
With a 53 gallon bourbon barrel full of RIS in my basement, I could see a device like this in my future.

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Old 02-13-2013, 04:20 PM   #8
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Hey, thanks for the interest. I'm very slow with projects, but I did manage to get this one started. So this is what I'd call a prototype, or proof of concept. I used all scrap wood i had laying around. I'll probably prime and enamel pain it, to add some liquid resistance. It may even become the finished product depending how well it works.

Right now it's just the actual bottle shelf with valves in place. I still need to figure out a base for it that i can live with. I thought about making the whole thing collapsable, so that I could transport it and it wouldn't take up much room. But, I need to figure out a way to mount the bottle shelf so that is has an adjustable back-tilt. You can see a demonstration of the angle in the last shot. The tilt help keep the bottles in place, and it also aides in directing any spillage toward the back of the shelf where there is a draining space.

I think I may steal a folding chair design and build a custom "stool" to hold the bucket and on which to mount the shelf.









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Old 02-18-2013, 05:14 PM   #9
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So I spent some time thinking about what kind of stand this could be attached to. I wanted a user to be able to sit comfortably in a chair and run the valves with little hassle. A hopper (bottling bucket) needs to be positioned above the valves for the liquid feed. A simple platform should be enough. I also decided I didn't want to construct some bulky apparatus that would be in my way all the time, and couldn't be transported easily.

I decided at length, that a folding structure would be best. Since it's only supporting 5g at a time, sturdiness is not an issue, and issues of balance could be handled relatively simply by ensuring the stance was wide enough at the bottom.

Today I drew a prototype up in Sketchup. Note, I'm not sure the stance is quite wide enough here to support the pressure that will be exerted on the valve handles. Also, on the real version, all of the ends of the "legs" will be rounded so that the hinge functions work smoothly. This sketch was more a proof of concept for the folding action. While it may look like it will not fold properly, note; the front leg folds down, not back. This should make it pretty flat when folded.



Hopefully I'll be able to get the wood for this project soon and get started.

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Old 02-18-2013, 07:32 PM   #10
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I was going to say save yourself some money on hardware and get 4 bottling wands and some tubing then you could secure the wand and build a shelf that you would put the bottles on.

Then said shelf could be raised to engage the wands and lowered once the bottles were full.

Either way, good idea and good luck with the build.

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