Sometimes simplicity can be exceedingly complex.
Cirkul’s concept is straightforward and transparent: a beverage system that encourages consumers to drink more water by making it tastier and more personalized. Its next-generation bottle, the Cirkul Sip, allows for water to be infused with more than 100 flavors, all with no sugar, calories or artificial colors.
Among the Cirkul system’s differentiators is a function that allows consumers to control how much flavor is released into the water bottle. This attractive customizability has helped make Cirkul a popular item at several major retailers. To date, millions of people across the U.S. have have experienced the magic of Cirkul.
In the beverage space, an overabundance of plastic and inefficient shipping are unfortunate standards. By contrast, Cirkul is sustainable by design. Consumers fill and refill the bottle with water, as typical with a reusable water bottle; however, Cirkul’s differentiator is the proprietary flavor cartridges that go alongside the bottle. Each flavor cartridge contains roughly the same amount of plastic as a typical bottled beverage, but flavors the equivalent of six 22-oz. bottle refills. Since the Cirkul system removes the water from the beverage equation, the 1.5-oz. cartridge equates to almost nine pounds of standard bottled beverages.
So a system that encourages consumers to drink more water by giving them flavorful, better-for-you reasons to drink it. Pretty simple concept.
But making it a widespread reality? Not simple whatsoever. The Cirkul Sip is comprised of no less than eleven separate components, running the materials science gamut from rigid plastic pieces and pliable plastic valves to thin films. While certainly easy for consumers to use, Cirkul was by no means easy to design, develop and produce at scale.
With national retailers quickly coming around the system, the Cirkul team turned to manufacturing machinery specialist Norwalt for a solution that produced enough Cirkul Sips to quench surging demand.
A Well-Rounded Solution—One Challenge at a Time
Complexity and speed are inherently at loggerheads. For a custom machinery developer such as Norwalt, the multi-component sophistication of the Cirkul Sip required an equally sophisticated equipment solution—one that not only passed muster for precision, but did so at the high speeds necessary to meet the rapidly growing volume demands of national retailers.
For starters, several of the components presented significant handling challenges, necessitating individual proof of concept processes to ensure smooth, synergistic line production. Various parts, comprised of differing materials presented a daunting challenge. One component in particular was so uniquely designed that it required a novel solution. This exemplified a more overarching challenge: The Cirkul Sip’s impressive, unprecedented design was perfectly conducive for consumer enjoyment…but a perfect storm for mechanical engineers concocting a high-speed automatic assembly system. For example, several of the Cirkul Sip system’s components necessitated individual positioning, so vision inspection systems were implemented to assure each piece was affixed precisely to the next.
Norwalt’s approach met complexity head on, utilizing an approach that both ensured product flow, and also made certain that product would not be wasted in the event that the in-line quality systems detected an anomaly. This approach made the machine larger and more complex, but ultimately allowed for the most conducive operating conditions for both output and quality.
The Cirkul Sip’s flexible flavor container also presented its share of production obstacles. For controlled flavor infusion, the Cirkul Sip incorporates a flexible packaging flavor container system that, so far as either partner knew, had never before been attempted at such high-speed, high-volume production. Mastering the procedure would take close collaboration and a trial-and-error process that leaned heavily upon both engineering expertise and Cirkul’s desired product aesthetics and functionality.
“For the flavor container feeding especially, some fairly radical modifications from our earliest concepts were necessary during the prototype stage,” says Keith Harman, director of business development for Norwalt.
Initially, the flavor containers weren’t behaving properly as they entered the machine, an issue that subsequent testing showed could affect its performance. Mastering the insertion process at high speeds became among the trickiest and least anticipated hurdles of this very intricate assembly process.
“The irony is not lost on us that, in a project where we were literally designing per-component orientation and inspection systems, getting a pliable flavor container to behave precisely and fit securely into its final position may have been the toughest step,” says Harman. “It goes to show that, with production machinery development, even the best-laid plans often need on-the-fly adjustments.”
The solution took more than smarts. It took teamwork.
“As a fairly young organization, at times there can be difficulties working with partners who’ve been in the industry far longer,” says Garrett Waggoner, CEO of Cirkul, Inc. “Among the strengths Norwalt brings to our team is a culture of collaboration.”
He continues: “In an arena as technical as high-speed automated assembly, there’s no shortage of really smart people, and when that happens humility can be hard to find. When you can collaborate and problem-solve—rather than compete for the ‘best’ individual ideas—the results reflect that.”
As the desired launch date approached, Norwalt also helped ensure that any variation or evolution in components would not slow down the assembly process. This involved constructing a special turret to employ a versatile articulating assembly system designed to be more size- and shape-agnostic, and therefore suitable for both current and future parts. As a result, consistent, damage-free assembly is assured for the foreseeable future.
Both the manufacturing solution and the Cirkul Sip itself proved a significant success. But neither customer nor vendor are anywhere near done. The Cirkul, one could say, is not yet complete.
“One of the most impressive parts of our relationship with Norwalt is the continuous improvement cycle post-installation,” Waggoner explains. “Norwalt’s commitment to excellence and dogged pursuit of progress is both admirable and, from my experience, more the exception than the rule among machine builders.”