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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!