Aug 23, 2017 | By Tess

Making wine is an age-old science that has gone through many changes over the centuries. Even today, winemakers and researchers are searching for new ways in which the winemaking process can be improved and optimized in terms of cost and production time.

Recently, a winemaking research project being conducted by a team from the University of Adelaide turned to 3D printing technologies for the creation of a redesigned airlock device for wine testing.

In the winemaking process, it is often necessary to understand how a wine will react kinetically when it is produced on a large scale. Of course, it is not viable for producers to make large quantities of wine to test, so winemakers must be able to simulate the kinetics of volume production using only small quantities of the wine.

To do this, winemakers have traditionally used water-filled airlocks in testing flasks which allow for small-batch fermentation to mimic the conditions of volume production.

As a case study on the project explains, “The airlocks keep oxygen away from yeast during the fermentation process while allowing carbon dioxide to escape. This helps simulate large tank kinetics in a small-batch process.”

Traditional airlock system

The design for the water-filled airlock, which has been used for decades, is effective, though as Professor Vladimir Jiranek and Dr. Tommaso Watson from the University of Adelaide noted, is perhaps not the most efficient.

The researchers believed they could improve this efficiency by further automating the wine testing process through the robotic redesigning of certain lab components, such as the airlock.

As part of their plan to improve the efficiency of wine testing by eliminating certain manual steps, the researchers laid out plans to use a robotic arm to draw samples from the testing flasks. Normally, a human technician would be needed on site to sample the flasks manually and test the fermentation kinetics.

To make the process even more efficient, the researchers saw the need to redesign the airlock to ensure that a large number of flasks could “fit on a static test platform.” As you can see from the original airlock system, it is not spatially optimized in the slightest.

Part of the challenge then was to redesign the airlock in a way that reduced the footprint of the component so that more flasks could be tested at once and so that a robotic arm could more easily test the samples from an overhead contraption.

In making the airlock part, the researchers tested a number of manufacturing methods, including machining stainless steel which, while robust, made for a difficult to manufacture and expensive airlock. FDM 3D printing offered lightweight properties but could not meet the stringent temperature and leak-proof requirements necessary for the wine testing, while Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis 3D printing technology was also tested.

The researchers, who partnered with The Technology House (TTH) in using Carbon’s 3D printing method, found that the resin-based 3D printing method was the best suited for their airlock manufacturing needs as it demonstrated a 60% lower cost and 67% lower development time than the other two processes.

In the end, the airlock was produced using Carbon’s Cyanate Ester resin (CE 220), which showcased a number of advantages over the other manufacturing methods. For one, the researchers claim Carbon’s 3D printing tech offered a superior finish to FDM printing and say the part demonstrated that it was sealed against water and CO2 leaks. In terms of temperature, the 3D printed airlock met the autoclavability requirement at 121°C.

Further, the University of Adelaide researchers lauded Carbon’s technology for its quick production times and manageable costs. In fact, the technology has allowed for the researchers to fit a total of 384 flasks onto the testing platform, way more than their initial goal of 96.

The researchers have said they plan to work with TTH to 3D print many more airlocks using Carbon’s resin-based technology.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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