The Green Drinks Company, located in Gloucestershire, UK, was established in 2004. It has developed an innovative vending machine integrated with a packaging mechanism to fill pouches of fruit-based soft drinks to order. Known as Pouchlink, the vending machine was launched in the third quarter of 2010 in the UK beverage market.

The concept was inspired by Indian street vendors selling water in small plastic bags to people who could not afford bottled water. Environmentally conscious, The Green Drinks Company claims that the machine has a 75% smaller carbon footprint than conventional PET bottled drinks.

Pouchlink was developed over a period of five years and is the first of its kind in the world. The machine is supported by ‘bag-in-box’ technology provided by Rapak, a part of DS Smith Plastics.

Through this machine, The Green Drinks Company supplies a range of post-mix drinks such as Bottlegreen, Vimto, Sunkist and its own patented drink Purifi in 300ml and 500ml packs.

Pouchlink process

The Pouchlink vending machine functions like a mini bottling factory. It is loaded with flat pouches that are hooked to the bespoke mechanical plastic hook and pin arrangement. It can store up to 1,000 pouches at a time.

“The Green Drinks Company plans to develop a similar machine for carbonated drinks.”

When a drink is requested, a sealed pouch is detached from the spool. The pouch handling unit sends the detached pouch to a filling section where the pre-sealed cap is removed to fill it with the requested drink by mixing juice concentrate and chilled water.

After filling, the cap is replaced and the pouch dispensed to the customer through a serving chute.

Bag-in-box packing technology

Pouchlink is supported by bag-in-box packing technology which enables storing of different concentrates in separate boxes. Upon selection of a drink, the concentrate is extracted from the respective box to make a selected drink.

To avoid contamination inside the bags, a bespoke mixing system is used. It comprises a one-way valve, which is fixed to an outlet of pipes through which filtered water is pumped.

When a drink is requested, filtered water flows first through these outlets after which the concentrate is pumped from the valve spindles allowing the water to flow above the concentrate.

Water continues to flow for a few more seconds even after the drink is prepared. This removes any traces of concentrate, thus cleaning the valve’s spindles.

The bag and box containing the concentrate can be entirely replaced along with the valve when the machine is empty.

“Pouchlink was developed over a period of five years and is the first of its kind in the world.”

A chiller placed at the base of the machine cools the filtered water to six degrees. An automated system is also equipped at the base to avoid the formation of pathogens or micro-organisms on the wet surfaces of the machine.

The system automatically puts itself into clean mode at preset intervals. A corona discharge device creates ozone that reaches every corner in the machine where water is collected.

The ozone generator automatically gets switched off after the machine is sterilised. The dissipated ozone is then destroyed by carbon air filter leaving the water to return to its pure form.

Benefits

The pouch is a laminate of PE and PET. It provides all the benefits of a PET bottle and is 100% recyclable.

The gusset in the base opens up when filled and takes the shape of a bottle which is easy to hold. The pouch retains its shape until the drink is completely consumed.

As the water is chilled only when required, the machine saves up to 80% of electricity compared to any other conventional vending machine.

Future plans

The Green Drinks Company plans to develop a similar machine for carbonated drinks. It also plans to incorporate a control mechanism that will allow customers to make their own drink from a variety of concentrates.