Herve Gillet and Nicole Schuler founded In-Bottle Packaging Inc. (Temecula, CA) in 1993. Life in California wine country inspired them to create sayings on T-shirts that could be sold in local wineries. However, they knew that the key to selling the T-shirt would be in the packaging. They figured that a novel idea would be to put the shirt in a wine bottle. They consulted with many “experts” who said it couldn’t be done, because of the problems inherent with cutting the bottles and putting them back together.

Gillet, a welding engineer from France, developed a method to cut the wine bottles. It worked, and the couple decided to make novelty “theme” bottles. The bottles could contain anything from fancy vinegar, fruits and vegetables, to golf balls and tees, tennis balls and T-shirts. They also put lamp oil in the bottles with fake fruits and vegetables. A wick is added on the end so it can be used as an oil lamp.

Once cut, sealing the bottles became a critical part of the operation. Two parts of the sealing operation were particularly difficult: finding the correct adhesive and how best to dispense it. The adhesive has to be food grade, because people might open the bottle and eat the food instead of using the bottles for decoration. In addition, many of the bottles contain vinegar. The adhesive has to withstand the vinegar’s acidity and not interact with it or the other contents of the bottle. Fifty different adhesives and epoxies were tried before finding the right product.

The sealing operation is complicated, because it has to be done quickly, accurately and precisely. The seal has to be tight enough so that no air or liquid gets into or out of the bottle. The valves have to handle the fluid and dispense it with the right viscosity and thickness so it is cosmetically appealing and invisible to the customer.

To apply the seal to the bottles, a platform is used that accommodates the shapes and dimensions of the bottles. The configuration and programming of the dispenser has to be flexible and easy enough to be adapted to the various bottle sizes. Speed is also important because the company produces 96 bottles per hour.

Gillet and Schuler cut the bottles with their secret operation before the rest of the workers arrive. They cut between 300 and 500 bottles a day. The process involves filling the larger end of the bottle with the chosen items, sealing the bottles, pouring in the vinegar or oil, and decorating the bottle.

Once Gillet found the adhesive that he would use, he consulted with his fluid formulator to help him find dispensing equipment that could handle his requirements. Techcon Systems (Garden Grove, CA) was recommended. Techcon’s TS3030 tabletop automated gantry dispensing table with a 300- by 300-millimeter work area was selected.

The dispensing table gives In-Bottle Packaging the ability to completely automate its dispensing operations. The table system can dispense on large parts and has a teach program that is easy to use for various configurations. Six bottles can be simultaneously placed on the platform. The bottles aren’t actually round, and each one has a different circular shape. Using an automated dispenser that can be precise enough to get adhesive on any edge of the bottle is especially difficult.

Another source of difficulty came in finding the appropriate valve for the dispensing operation. The adhesive’s high viscosity requires a special valve that can handle the fluid’s thickness. A suck-back action is required for precision dispensing. The suck-back ensures that the right amount of fluid is dispensed. No excess adhesive or trails of fluid can be left.

After several tests, the TS5322 mini-spool valve was selected. This high-speed valve is used for the precise deposit of heavy viscosity-filled pastes, including highly abrasive materials. A 1/10 pneumatic gun fills the cartridges.

Selection of the appropriate dispensing tip was another challenge.

The standard dispense tips would come from the factory out of alignment. However, when precision stainless steel tips were used, they gave constant, repeatable alignment with the thin-walled glass. The problem was alleviated. It took less than a week to create the table groove to hold the glass tops, program the system and conduct trial testing.

According to Schuler, “Once our orders picked up, we had to automate. The process is now three to four Arial faster, and there is no clean up and waste.”

For more information on dispensing systems, call Techcon at 714-799-9910, visit www.techconsystems.com or Reply 2.