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Flexicon equipment provides multiple benefits for Wine Innovations Ltd

21 July 2011

London-based Wine Innovations Ltd, the inventors, founders and pioneers of ‘The Tulip’ pre-filled wine goblet, is now using industrial peristaltic filling machines from Flexicon Liquid Filling, part of the Watson-Marlow Pumps Group, on its latest filling lines. Having originally used volumetric filling equipment, the company, which is known for its appearance on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den television programme in 2009, is enjoying a vast array of benefits from its switch to Flexicon technology.

It’s a simple idea but no one had thought of it: a pre-filled and sealed shatter-proof plastic wine goblet (187ml) for outdoor events such as concerts, festivals, sporting events, parties and fairs. Rapid serve time, no spillage or waste, safer than glass and fully recyclable – the benefits speak for themselves. To give an indication of its rising popularity, at a Rod Stewart concert in 2010, an event attended by 19,000 people, a total of 14,000 goblets were sold.

Now, the company is finding additional success as a convenient solution for airlines, ferries, hotel mini bars and railways. With its one-year shelf life there is also growing take-up from retail outlets such as Marks & Spencer as the general public looks for easier ways to facilitate picnics, barbeques and alfresco dining.

When James Nash, director of Wine Innovations Ltd, failed to secure much-needed investment in series 7 of Dragons’ Den, the company could be forgiven for feeling disappointed. However, as it turned out, the programme proved to be the launching pad for far greater things.

“The TV appearance provided us with a massive explosion of publicity,” says fellow director, Julian Nash. “Not only did we secure our required investment [£250,000] from a private source, the show is repeated all around the world and we were immediately getting enquiries for the product from far flung places such as Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South America, South Africa and the Far East.”

Wine Innovations Ltd has its UK filling line located at a partner company based in Middlesbrough. This company operates the machine and provides all the associated business functions, such as quality control, stock ordering and packaging, to serve the entire UK and European marketplace.

“Following the PR from Dragons’ Den it was immediately clear we couldn’t serve the global market from a single UK filling line, so we had the idea of building additional machines and licensing the entire concept to third party companies overseas,” says Mr Nash.

However, before constructing its second machine, there were certain design issues to address.

“The UK machine features volumetric filling,” he explains. “While this technology is accurate and quick, the equipment has a lot of complex parts, such as stainless steel pipes, pistons, three-way valves and air diaphragms, and these cause certain issues when it comes to cleaning: they create opportunities for yeast, bacteria and mould to harvest.”

For this reason, Wine Innovations has a strict cleaning regime that includes regular cold water, hot water and steam clean operations. However, if changing product, from white wine to rosé, for example, a flush-through and steam clean heats many of the volumetric filler’s intricate parts so they become extremely hot. In some instances, residue wine can ‘bake’ on to components and prove extremely difficult to remove. Furthermore, the parts can take 3-4 hours to cool down before filling can recommence, which is unacceptable from a productivity perspective.

“I’d seen Watson-Marlow at a packaging exhibition in Birmingham a couple of years ago, and this is where I first came across Flexicon technology,” says Mr Nash. “Faced with building a second machine, and possibly many more, I thought Flexicon machines could provide a better solution than volumetric filling – albeit with the benefit of hindsight.”

Working with Watson-Marlow, the company decided to acquire Flexicon PD22I industrial peristaltic machines in combination with Flexicon MC12P OEM control units.

The Flexicon PD22I is a tabletop unit that requires no cleaning validation. It also facilitates easy and rapid product change-over (less than 60 seconds) and provides no potential for cross-contamination, hence providing the perfect solution to the problems faced by Wine Innovations. But, as Mr Nash point out, there are many more benefits besides.

“The first thing I noticed was its ease of installation,” he says. “The control unit is a separate unit that we simply integrate into our HMI area, and then there is the nice new PD22I units with flexible tubing – it couldn’t be more straightforward.”

Mr Nash also cites the equipment’s accuracy (±0.5%) and speed, and likes the adjustable acceleration and deceleration capability, as well as being able to adjust other parameters with just a couple of button pushes.

“We are also achieving a much better dissolved oxygen result than before,” says Mr Nash. “Oxygen is the ‘enemy’ of wine and volumetric fillers can occasionally churn the product, creating bubbles, which in turn leads to rejects.”

Wine Innovations has just completed its first licensing deal, to Australia, and this machine is the first to feature the Flexicon peristaltic filling and control technology.

“The machine is built and tested, and it was signed-off immediately – the customer loved it,” says Mr Nash. “We now have another deal on the table for South Africa and we will use Flexicon equipment here too. In fact, as a company we have decided to standardise on peristaltic technology moving forward, perhaps developing its use within the machine even further.”

For further information, please contact:

Watson-Marlow Pumps Group
Tel: ++ 44 (0) 1326 370370
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