From bottled water to sports drinks, juices, spirits and soda, there are a multitude of thirst quenching products on the shelves from which consumers can choose. But the way those products make their way into the bottles can vary depending on a number of different factors. Below are a few of the beverage choices available to the thirsty consumer, along with a brief explanation of some of the common machinery used to package the products.
Arguably, one of the simplest packaging lines to create is the bottled water line. This is in part because almost all bottled waters are packaged in a nearly identical manner. A typical bottle of water will be packaged in a 16.9 ounce clear plastic bottle, with a flat, screw on cap and a wrap label. Repetition leads to simplicity and efficiency, so that many bottled water packaging systems will look nearly identical. Bottle rinsers will be used to remove dust and debris from containers before the filling process in most applications. These packaging machines remove contaminants that may be left over from the manufacture of the bottle or that may accumulate during transport or storage of the bottle. Once rinsed, an overflow filler can almost always be found after the container cleaning equipment. The overflow filler allows for a level fill on each and every bottle, which can be important when dealing with clear bottles. Level fills create an appealing shelf appearance when the product reaches the customer. After the fill, either a spindle capper or chuck capper will normally be found, either of which will tighten the screw on cap consistently and reliably. Finally, a pressure sensitive labeling machine will wrap the label around the bottle, again allowing for consistent and reliable packaging. The loading and unloading of bottles may differ, with some using automated equipment and others using manual labor, and the water treatment used may vary depending on the source. But the rinse, fill, cap and label applications will almost always be similar to those noted above. Using this basic bottled water system as the norm, we can look at some other popular beverages and the differences that are required when it comes to packaging machinery.
Carbonated beverages may present the biggest deviation from what we term the norm for this article. The unique filling machine used for carbonation is known as a counter pressure filler. In general terms, the counter pressure filler will pressurize the container being filled and replace oxygen with CO2 to keep a beverage fizzy. Adding carbonation to a beverage will normally require a carbonator and a chiller, as low temperatures are also a necessity for carbonation. Other packaging machinery may vary as well, as carbonated beverages are more likely to use a variety of different bottle or can materials, come in various sizes and use different closures. While spinde and chuck cappers might still be used, as well as a pressure sensitive wrap labeler, carbonated beverages may use unique closures and labels that require a different type of machine. However, the biggest difference lies in the filling equipment and the counter pressure filler.
ALCOHOLS OR SPIRITS
Again, with alcohols and spirits the bottle size and shape may differ more than would be seen with bottled water. But surprisingly, much of the equipment may be the same. Overflow fillers can work with alcohol or distilled spirits, though gravity fillers may also be a popular choice. Capping machines may also be unique, in that bartop corkers are popular for corks, T-corks and other stopper type closures. Capsule spinners are also somewhat unique to alcohols and spirits, though they may be seen on olive oils, sauces and some other products. These extra machines will use heat or a spinner (for plastic or tin capsules, respectively) to provide tamper evidence and aesthetic value to the product. The biggest difference, however, will be the sensors used in the vicinity of the fill area on the packaging line. Many distilled spirits lines will use intrinsically safe sensors, floats, pumps and other components near the fill zone, to protect against the flammable properties that come with these products. Remote control panels will also be set up outside the fill area for safety purposes as well.
THICK BEVERAGES AND PARTICULATES
Some creamy drinks or drinks with higher viscosities (without carbonation) may require a different type of filling machine, moving away from overflow and gravity fillers. The same is true of beverages with pulp or other particulates, like those found in some juices. Both pump fillers and piston filling machines are manufactured to handle higher visocisty products and the principles allow for particulates to pass through in a consistent manner. Different pump types and piston sizes will be used depending on the particulate size and product fill size. Other than the filling machine, other equipment will stay pretty standard, but will also show more variation than the bottled water line simply due to a wider range of product and package characteristics.
Of course, there are many other beverage types on the market, with new products emerging nearly every day. Other features of beverage packaging lines may include sanitary equipment to keep the product safe, as well as hot fills when pasteurization is necessary. While almost all beverage lines will include some type of bottle rinser or other container cleaning machine, other lines will incorporate unique machinery, such as the capsule spinner for distilled spirits. Though some similarities and consistencies have been pointed out for specific beverages in this article, it is always a good idea to speak directly with the machine manufacturer to ensure that the best equipment is built for and given packaging project.