December 29, 2015

Trying to Blow Up an IntelliTank

Testing a new product takes all kinds of forms, and we tested the heck out of the IntelliTanks before bringing them to market.  Take a look at us trying to explode this prototype IntelliTank 57 with over twice the pressure it is rated at.  The end may shock you...

The Ported Spout and Vacuum Racking

Our IntelliTanks are built with high quality, high-density polyethylene.  The spout that comes with the tank as a basic model is a 1-1/2” diameter 304 grade stainless steel tube with a nominal 1-1/2” stainless steel sanitary ferrule welded on the tube.  It is secured to the top of the tank with six stainless steel screws and washers through a 1/8” thick silicone gasket, ensuring an air-tight seal.

We chose to use the sanitary system because it is the standard for the wine industry’s systems of securely and quickly attaching hoses, pumps, and other equipment to each other.  For the vintner and brewer who wants to expand the capability of their IntelliTanks, we’ve created the Ported Spout. By replacing the Standard Spout with our Ported Spout, you’ll be able to perform myriad functions that you can’t do with any other tank. 

Vacuum Racking

Using a vacuum pump to draw wine or beer/wort into an IntelliTank ensures a clean, non-agitating way to move the beverage.  The product is never touched by the pump.  To set up your system to vacuum transfer from any container, just connect your hoses to our racking cane and connect it to the top of the Ported Spout with our racking cane adaptor and a tri-clamp.  Then connect your vacuum pump to the side port on the ported spout with our 3/4” tri-clover hose adaptor.

Now you’re set. Turn on the vacuum pump and you’ll effortlessly pull the beverage into the IntelliTank.  To get down to just about the last drop, you can add our 3/4” ball valve to the racking cane and as soon as the liquid gets to the valve, give it a quick turn to shut off the valve and you’ll have efficiently racked clean and completely.  

For the best deal on setting up your vacuum racking system, just order our Deluxe Racking Package and save over 20% over ordering the parts individually.



September 17, 2015

mold making ›

How IntelliTanks are Made

With the design finished and prototypes tested and re-tested, it was time to put the tanks into production.  The whole process of rotational molding is really interesting and we felt we came up with the ideal way to build the perfect small format tank.  

To make a roto-molded tank we first had to have a cast aluminum mold custom built by hand.  This entailed crafting a model of the tank out of solid material then building a multi-part case around the outside of the model to accept the molten aluminum.

The model of the IntelliTank 57

Once the mold was poured, attachments needed to be applied so the mold could be attached to the machinery that would produce the tank.  Ultimately, in order to remove the finished tank from the mold, it was determined that the mold needed to be constructed in four parts which would be taken apart to remove each tank.

The four-part, cast aluminum mold of the IntelliTank 23

Once the mold is mounted and ready to make a tank, it is opened up and a predetermined amount of high quality, high density polyurethane powder is poured in.  It is then closed up tightly, and the huge wheel that the tank is mounted on begins to rotate in two directions on a slowly turning arm to begin its journey through an oven the size of a small house.

It takes about an hour to cycle through the oven, for the mold to cool and the tank inside to shrink a bit, the mold taken apart and re-filled with resin to start the process of making another tank.  Meanwhile, the freshly made tank moves over to be “dressed up” by removing excess plastic from the joints in the mold, to drill out the spout and to have the stainless steel spout installed.

Finally the new tank is placed in a box, labeled and palletized ready to ship to the Catalyst warehouse.

Take a look at our partner’s video on how they build our products:

Finalizing the Design

Designing anything is always a challenge and a thrill when the parts and pieces come together to make a vision a reality.  So it was with IntelliTank.  As we sat in meeting after meeting with our engineers, we focused on the most minute details.  Little things like putting the bottom racking port off center, so it would be easy to access it while it was stacked right above another tank. Like adding ribs to them to add strength to the body of the tank.  Squaring up the general shape to save space when the tanks are placed closely together.

Initially we tried to work the spout into the plastic molds to help reduce costs and numbers of suppliers.  As we got to understand rotational molding more, and how the molds had to open to remove the tank, we realized a molded-in spout would be difficult to develop.  Stainless steel would be more expensive, but would certainly be more durable, and much more flexible allowing for switching it out for a side-ported spout that was integral to the overall design objective.  And the side port could point in several different directions to make it adaptable to many different locations and circumstances our customers would encounter.

We played a lot with trying to make a handle incorporated into the mold, but kept finding places for crud to get trapped and make cleaning more difficult.  We totally abandoned the concept for a handle until, after prototyping, we saw the opportunity to place a stainless steel one on top near the rear of the tank.  Two little inserts would be all that was needed for the the tank manufacturer to install.  The designers were very skeptical about their strength and them pulling out and wanted to add more than just the two that we settled on.  I figured that a full tank would weigh 20 lbs plus the beverage at 120 lbs, so each insert would need to handle about 70 lbs each.  I strung up the tanks from the rafters of my workshop with a cable and a screw-eye threaded into an insert and put over 200 lbs of weight on it -- I sat on it and swung back and forth like a tire swing.  Who says you can't have fun while testing a new product?

Inventing the IntelliTank

Inventing a new product isn’t easy, nor cheap! After years of touring countless wineries across the globe and getting backroom tours of their facilities, nearly a decade of making wine in my garage winery, and even writing a book on building The Homebuilt Winery, I felt the need to help folks replace all those fragile glass carboys and demijohns from their wineries and breweries with a professional grade vessel that will stand up to the rigors of commercial use and generations of garagiste winemakers alike.

Years of research went into determining just the right materials for the most versatile small format tank on the market today.  Like Goldilocks sampling the bear’s porridge, we looked at lots of options:  stainless steel was too expensive; blow-molded plastic was too thin; but rotomolded High Density Polyethylene was JUST RIGHT!  

Now, equipped with a basic concept we set out to craft the list of functions that these new tanks would provide the fervent fermenters our customers would become.  The basic elements of this list are 

  • A tapered top to reduce head space as the tank fills
  • A forward leaning spout to allow access to the top of the tank while another tank is stacked closely above
  • A bottom racking port option
  • The ability to withstand up to 20” of hg of vacuum pressure so winemakers can degas their wines and vacuum rack from one IntelliTank to another
  • The ability to withstand up to 30 PSI of positive pressure to allow beer and wine makers to force carbonate their beverages right in the tanks
  • A spout that would allow for vacuum racking and pressurizing the tanks and keeping them attached to an inert gas cylinder
  • An attachment system that would provide industry standard connections to a winery and brewery’s existing equipment as well as improving the garagiste and home brewer’s equipment 
  • An assembly that would provide wineries and restaurants to utilize the tanks for wine-on-tap and breweries to use them for replacement options for expensive beer kegs.
  • And, oh, they had to be SEXY as well! I wanted to experience a thrill every time I opened the tank room door and saw my lovely elixir being swaddled by this HDPE and stainless steel armor.

With my list in hand, I sought out an industrial engineering firm that could create my vision on paper and draft the blueprints for manufacturing.  After a week of sketching and computer rendering, we had some interesting shapes to look at and discuss.

Next up, flushing out the final designs…  Stay tuned!