Designing A Condiment Dispenser with Quick-Release Mechanism
The food service industry is a dynamic landscape with concepts, menus, packaging and service innovations being continuously improved to suit demanding and discerning customers. With healthcare and food safety regulations becoming more stringent, compliance is not a choice. Likewise, speed and efficiency are critical to maintain profitability and maintain customer loyalty. While all the above make for an exciting industry setting, the challenges are not easy to overcome. Having a trusted partner to provide the right technology and equipment is essential. That’s where we come in—Pivot Point proudly serves our customers in the food service industry, helping them meet their toughest challenges.
This case study focuses on the application of Pivot Point’s SLIC pin™ technology into one of our customers’ groundbreaking condiment dispensing products.
- Industry: Food Service
- Processes: Manufacturing: Point-of-Use Dispensing and Holding Equipment
- Company Background: This long-time customer of Pivot Point started developing solutions for the foodservice industry back in 1949. Since then, they’ve continued to work with foodservice operators to develop innovative dispensing and point-of-use equipment to solve everyday serving challenges—including systems for dispensing condiments, sauces, salad dressings, hot topping dispensers, food and soup warmers, condiment stations, nacho cheese servers and more.
- Challenge: When the customer was in the process of designing the drive rod for their new dispenser (Figure 1), they needed a quick-install/quick-release tip on the rod as a convenient feature for foodservice operators. With the majority of the drive rod already designed to function properly with the top half of the unit, the customer came to Pivot Point for a quick-release mechanism on the bottom end of the drive rod to interface with the piston.
- Assessment: During assembly, the quick-release mechanism needed to engage smoothly and easily, without the operator having to exert much force. However, once assembled, the quick-release mechanism needed to be able to withstand the forces trying to separate the rod from the piston when being pulled back out of the body once the unit is empty. Then, upon removal, it had to be easy to separate the piston from the rod for cleaning. Space constraints required an extremely compact design. Due to its proximity to food, the mechanism that would interface with the piston needed to be 100% stainless steel.
Exploring Quick-Release Options
Initially, the manufacturer contacted Pivot Point with the idea of a spring-loaded ball detent to act as the quick-release mechanism. Ball detent pins (Figure 2) contain a spring-loaded ball bearing which, at a certain amount of force, will depress into the body of the pin and allow insertion/removal.
The challenges with this approach were two-fold.
- First, with the drive rod diameter being so small (Ø3/16”) there was limited space inside the pin to house a spring. This limited the amount of breakaway force that Pivot Point could achieve in the ball detent design because more spring force requires more space for a larger spring. In addition to room for the spring, there also had to be enough clearance left inside the pin for the ball to depress below the surface of the pin and flush with the shank. The maximum force that could be achieved was not enough to hold up to forces present during removal, and the piston would have disengaged from the drive rod while still in the body of the dispenser.
- Even if enough force could have been generated in the ball detent version, the second problem would have been assembly/disassembly. The force required to insert/remove the piston from the rod end would not be convenient for the operator.
Finding the Right Fit for the Application
Overview of Pivot Point’s patented SLIC plunger
SLIC is an acronym for Self-Locking Implanted Cotter. Here’s how it functions:
- The spring-loaded plunger functions as an “automatic cotter”.
- As opposed to a ball detent pin, a SLIC Pin offers a positive hold once installed.
- The rear face of the plunger is flat in order to stop the pin from backing out.
- The front surface of the plunger is ramped, and the spring force is tailored so that it is light enough for the plunger to automatically ramp down easily upon installation yet robust enough to securely hold the plunger in the engaged position once installed.
- Once removed from the body of the dispenser, the operator simply depresses the SLIC plunger with their finger and removes the piston.
Pivot Point’s SLIC Plunger is made of 316 stainless steel and the underlying spring is 304 stainless, so it met the material criteria of this food-grade application.
Testing the SLIC Pin
Although capable of withstanding surprising loads, the plunger of a SLIC Pin is not intended to be a load-bearing feature, but only to retain the pin in a double-shear type application. As always, Pivot Point recommends testing the SLIC Pin in an application so that our end user can be certain of suitability. We make this easy by typically offering free samples. In this case, the customer sent Pivot Point some of the machined drive rods and Pivot Point installed SLIC plungers in them at no charge. After testing, the customer felt confident that the SLIC plunger would withstand the repetitive removal process in their application.
If you have a tough application, or you want to learn more about Pivot Point’s range of fastening and cable solutions, then reach out today. We’re ready to help with technical information, design assistance, samples, and more.
Don’t have a specific project at the moment? Schedule a free on-site, or digital, fastener training session with your engineering group to enhance your general knowledge of fastening. We can help you be better prepared for your next design challenge.
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