DIY Multi-bottle gravity filler

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killsurfcity

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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.
 

mb82

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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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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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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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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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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.
 

ScubaSteve

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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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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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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.
 

lakedawgs

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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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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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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.









This album on Imgur
 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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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.
 

ApothecaryBrewing

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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.
 

BridgewaterBrewer

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I like ApothecaryBrewing's idea. I think one of the issues is that you need to have the bottles reasonably secure but be able to get them in/out position quickly to make it worthwhile.
 

cooldood

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Wouldnt it be easier to just use multiple spring tip filling wands?
 

geckholm

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I think you could do this with force carbed too? Would need to run a single hose from the keg to a manifold, then to bottles I think. Not sure of impact to carbonation though.
 

ApothecaryBrewing

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Wouldnt it be easier to just use multiple spring tip filling wands?
That's what I meant by bottling wands.

In my head this device would be 4 wands on a handheld rig and would hook up the the bottling spigot or auto-siphon. Then that would be split to the 4 wands. Then you just leave the bottles in a case and fill a row at a time.

 

jmcquesten

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This is a good idea. Interested to see what comes of it. I was looking for a multi bottle solution, but stopped with 2 bottles instead of 4. I ended up drilling a second 1" hole in my bottling bucket and adding another spigot. Both spigots have bottle wands attached with a short piece of racking tubing. It works well, and cut bottling time down quite a bit. Only problem I can think of is sometimes the bottles fill at slightly different rates in my situation. I can control it with a bottle in each hand, but I'm not sure how it would work with 4 bottles on a rack.
 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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Wouldnt it be easier to just use multiple spring tip filling wands?
I've seen a bunch of setups like that, and It causes other mechanical problems. for instance, rigging a platform to raise and lower bottles, sounds simple until you have to build one.

FWIW, this is my build, and it's built around my preferences/needs, and while I appreciate the input, this is the build I think will do what I want. I know there's lots of other ways (PNEUMATICS!), but I'm not building them.

Essentially I'm building a gravity fed version of this...

http://www.youtube.com/embed/9ikKnYwKtjA

With a little bit of inspiration from this...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KA3LlPQmsuI

:mug:
 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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Still slowly chipping away at this when I have time. Finally got the stand built. Looks pretty much like the sketchup! :)
Now to get all of the liquid flow issues worked out. Got a 30g bottling day coming up, so we're going to find all the kinks I'm sure, haha.



 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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Finally got some time last night to do a quick hookup and liquid flow test. I tested the following arrangement.



It looks elegant enough, but there's a rather large problem. Due to the fact that the hoses are all connected to a single source, and not to the bucket itself, they all interact. So opening and closing them creates different vacuums and flow patterns. I should have realized this would happen, but hell, that's why you build prototypes.

The rest of it went great. The stand is quite sturdy enough to hold this volume of liquid. The stand itself is not tippy when it's top weighted. The valves don't really put any pressure on the stand from torque so no worries there. And the wands work great. You can adjust them about a 1/2 inch, so that you can get them as close to the bottom of the bottles as you like. When testing with a single source the flow was very smooth, with about as much or less agitation as a normal bottling wand. The angle of the stand is also just right. If you can see the slight gap behind the platform, this in conjunction with the angle meant that when bottles overran, the liquid flowed out the back instead of into your lap. In future I'll rig up a trough to direct overflow to a bucket on the floor. So, I have a couple things to be happy about anyway.

So it looks like I have a couple options for getting the flow to work...

1) Reduce number of wands to 2, in a "Y" configuration.
I noticed in testing, that if I used the middle two wands, I got very smooth flow, and very little interaction between the valves. The bottles don't fill super fast, but fast enough.

2) Use some form of "hopper".
This is a tough one. It'd mean adding a bit more to this, and kind of complicating it to the point of being possibly annoying to set up, sanitize, clean, and take down. The best method i could think of is if I was able to find a food-grade, waterproof plastic box of some kind. I could then, mount four ports on it to go to the valves, and one somewhat larger one to go to the bucket.

3) Go back to the original idea of putting four valves on the bucket. In tweaking this setup I noticed it's very easy to make and break connections to the taps that i have, so it may not be too annoying to disconnect and re-fill the bucket on larger brews, and reconnect the taps when you're ready to bottle again. A quick spray of sanitizer and you're ready to go. This would mean the bucket would act as a hopper, and there would be relatively no interaction between the taps until the very end. At the end, I'd just shut the other taps off, and finish out the last couple bottles on one wand.
 

BrutalBrew

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I just have my wife help when bottling. She fills, I cap. Goes quick and cheaper. But I LOVE BUILDING STUFF.
You can put a straight piece of wood on a hinge to hold bottles in place. With foam attached would give a cushioning to protect bottles , have a wood fence latch on other end to lock it in , and would be quick to latch/unlatch. You could Velcro a foam pad on the backside on the wood so the door arm wouldn't press the bottles to far back. You would have to play with thickness of foam padding.
 

ThaBrewFather06

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I am a plumber and we run into this problem with two or three water heaters hooked up together in commercial building sometimes. You need to hook all off the lines coming off your spigot with exact measurements. For instance come out of the spigot with a 1.5 inch piece then put a "t" to separate into 2 lines then off either Side have 2 in runs then another "t" then 6 in. Lines to each bottle and your flow will be more even without having to fiddle with the individual shut offs.
 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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Interesting. And this stops them interacting so much? The other issue seemed to be excessive air in the lines. Which appeared to be exacerbated by the interconnections.

I decided to go ahead and drill out my bucket for 3 more taps (FOR SCIENCE!). And wouldn't you know, it works like 1000x better!

Pros: Since each spigot is hooked directly in to the source, you get very efficient flow rate, and next to zero splashing, glugging, etc. And it's fast! This fills four bottles in about 30 seconds. When compared to my bottling wand, which always took about a minute per bottle.

Cons: Now, I can't use just any random bucket with this setup, it has to be a custom one. A full bucket is heavy and difficult to get up to this height with one person. re-filling the bucket means having to break and reconnect all four hoses.

I'm going to see how this works on a 30+ gallon bottling run this weekend. At least I know I won't have any flow issues. haha

 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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The concept behind this apparatus has always been to aid in bottling large batches. Currently there are a couple projects in our homebrew club which yield 30g+, which makes hand bottling a chore.

A future expansion to this system could make this device scalable to batches even above 30g.



Using a float valve like this one, this bucket could function as a hopper which is being constantly autofilled from another source. For instance, a lift could be used to hoist a vessel like a sanke keg, to allow for gravity feed to this apparatus, much like what is seen in
. Allowing 30g of continuous feed while bottling.

Also, since the valve is rated to 100psi, primed beer could theoretically be pushed from a keg sitting on the floor.

Actually going to test this on a couple 5g batches today, so wish us luck! :)
 
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killsurfcity

killsurfcity

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WOOT! Results are in. With two people running the heads and one person capping we did 5g in 6 minutes! I'm sure when we are more used to the flow rate and are using more consistent bottle sizes we could match that time with two people. That means we could potentially do a 30g batch in about a half hour.
 

brumcl13

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Forgive me for restructuring this thread, but I am looking at something similar and if you will humor me I have a couple questions:

How has it held out over time? (How long did you use it?)
I see the wands don't have release valves, was this due to inconsistent flow?
If there aren't spring release valves, how much wastage occurred when shutting valves and removing bottles?
 
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