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4.2. Bottle-tops


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 4. Applied Simple Science > 4.2. Bottle-tops

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What could be simpler than bottle tops and other food containers? Next time you are in the supermarket, look around: you will see many different bottles and containers with a wide range of tops. The numbers of designs suggest that the functions vary quite a lot, which they do. This is a simple but interesting invention subject which we will explore now in terms of issues of shape and time.

So what is the function of the bottle top. Is it to keep the contents, such as a liquid, in the bottle? But this is not quite enough because the liquid could be kept in by sealing the bottle completely. This, however is still wrong because we want to get the contents out. So the function is really about access: I want the liquid to come out when I want it to and stay in the bottle when I do not.

There are several other factors which have led to the different bottle-top designs. Preservation of food is enhanced if there is little or no air which may react with the contents, and what air there is has been sterilised to remove airborne bacteria. Thus, once the bottle has been opened, the contents may well have a limited shelf life. The life may be extended by keeping the bottle in the refrigerator, in which there may be little space or headroom which, in turn, will affect the design of the bottle and thus the top.

In today’s world of terrorism I also need to have a way for the customer to know that they are the first to open the bottle, that it has not been accessed after sealing at the factory with something put in it that I do not want there. So designs now take into account the difference between first access and later access. There are many designs which have “locks” which break on first access. These locks might also be used to increase the sealing while in storage.

There are thus several time elements to bottle-tops, from initial preservative and security sealing, to subsequent sealing after use. Even when the ‘use by’ date is passed, the top is still useful to keep the remnants in to prevent mess and keep in any decomposed food.

As many frustrated people will attest to, despite the attention of a huge industry, bottle and other container tops are far from satisfactory. Friction effects are familiar to those who know the ritual of passing around a jar or bottle with a reluctant lid, often exacerbated by the forces of a partial vacuum in the jar. All are grist to the mill of the determined inventor. So think: how could you improve the situation? How could you reinvent the bottle-top such that it preserves food before opening, is easy to open, easy to reseal, and is also very cheap to manufacture?

Fig. 4.3 Can you improve these container tops and seals?


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