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ThriftyVac® lets you vacuum pack your food using any re-sealable plastic bag in your pantry.

Figure 1. ThriftyVac® Housing with Check Valve Installed
Figure 1. ThriftyVac® Housing with Check Valve Installed
ThriftyVac® Mason Jar Lid In Action
ThriftyVac® Mason Jar Lid In Action

I believe in developing technologies that help everyday people at affordable prices.  In particular, we all would like to keep our refrigerated and frozen foods fresher for longer periods of time.  The only reliable way of doing this is to vacuum pack your food in air-tight containers or re-sealable vacuum bags. The problem is that existing vacuum food bags are expensive, ranging from 27 cents to 45 cents per bag, depending on the vendor.  At such prices the bag can sometimes cost more than the food you wish to preserve.  Adding to this cost is the price of machinery required to vacuum pack specialty vacuum bags, which ranges from a few dollars to over a hundred dollars for heat-sealed systems.  Finally, existing food vacuum packing systems are inconvenient because they only work with the vendor’s bags.  This limitation means that you must make a special trip to those retailers that sell the vendor’s vacuum bag whenever you run out.

Our system, called ThriftyVac®, gives you a better deal.  ThriftyVac® is inexpensive (retailing for approximately $25.00 plus shipping) and works with all existing re-sealable plastic bags, regardless of the type of bag or who manufactures it.  ThriftyVac® works by using a patented, simple process that evacuates air from ordinary bags without using adapters, heat, or foreign substances.

However, we need your help to bring ThriftyVac® to market.  The purpose of this project is to raise enough money to pay for production tooling and to purchase an initial supply of ThriftyVac® components.

The Best Home Vacuum-Packing System at Any Price

ThriftyVac® is a better vacuum packing solution at any price because it does things that other systems simply cannot do. Specifically, ThriftyVac® lets you vacuum pack food bags of any size by just changing out the gallon-size bag that comes with the system, for a bigger one. (You can change out bags in just 10 seconds, by hand, without using any tools at all.) There is no limit in size. This is illustrated in the photo below in which all of the outer bags are bigger than our standard gallon-size bag.

ThriftyVac® can handle your biggest vacuum-packing jobs.
ThriftyVac® can handle your biggest vacuum-packing jobs.

You can quickly change from one size outer bag to another size bag.

The capability to vacuum pack any size food bag is important when you want to vacuum pack large flat items like pizzas. The photos below show a large pizza lying on top of an extra-large zipper bag, and leftover pizza inside a gallon-size food bag that ThriftyVac® has just vacuum-packed.

ThriftyVac® installed in a bag big enough to handle a large pizza
ThriftyVac® installed in a bag big enough to handle a large pizza
Leftover large pizza vacuum packed in a gallon-size food bag.
Leftover large pizza vacuum packed in a gallon-size food bag.

The industrial-grade check valve in ThriftyVac® lets you draw the strongest possible vacuum on your food bags. In fact, the reason we made the Housing out of high-strength polycarbonate plastic (the same plastic used in bullet-proof windows) was to avoid crushing the Housing when you drew the maximum vacuum level of 100Kpa – the Housing may bend, but it will not break.

Outdoors-people involved in camping, traveling, hunting, fishing, etc. can preserve freshness without power using the lightweight ThriftyVac® solution. For example, you can preserve the freshness of that left-over bacon by placing your bacon in any bag, of any size, and simply pumping out the air.

Leftover camping food vacuum packed by ThriftyVac®
Leftover camping food vacuum packed by ThriftyVac®
Some people have suggested that ThriftyVac® might aptly be called EcoVac – because of its ability to use and re-use commonly available bags to save and preserve food, thereby avoiding waste. Further, it does so without using electricity or expensive one-time-use, throw-away vacuum bags.

ThriftyVac® in action
 
The two videos below show how easy it is to vacuum pack different foods, using ordinary re-sealable bags.

Why are re-sealable vacuum bags so expensive?

Makers of re-sealable plastic bags have successfully developed small, flat one-way air valves (called “check valves”) that can be embedded in the sides of ordinary plastic bags.  These ingenious little check valves turn ordinary re-sealable plastic bags into “vacuum bags” that can be evacuated after the bags are closed by pumping air out through the check valves.  However, incorporating check valves in every bag increases the cost.  Further, vacuum bags typically employ low-permeable materials such as nylon in the sides of their bags to enhance vacuum retention.  (A notable exception was the Handi-Vac bag made by Reynolds that had polyethylene walls.) Such materials are more expensive than the polyethylene used in most conventional plastic bags.  Finally, all specialty vacuum bags must have textured walls that provide air paths to the vacuuming mechanism. Incorporating all of these features and materials into a vacuum bag increases bag cost from 5 cents to as much as 45 cents. For this reason, sales of vacuum food bags have languished.

The good news is that ThriftyVac®’s patented technology (US Patent # 7818948) eliminates the need for check valves, textured walls, special seals, and special materials.  This allows you to vacuum any bag you choose, and allows manufacturers to produce less expensive vacuum bags (that is, bags having air-tight seals, but none of the other features) should they so desire.

What does ThriftyVac® do differently?

There are two ways of evacuating air from plastic bags – you can either pump it out or you can press it out.  Conventional systems pump the air out of bags.  Our system uses atmospheric pressure to press air out of bags.  To envision such a system, you have to think outside the bag.  Specifically, with ThriftyVac®, you insert food bags inside a larger, outer re-sealable plastic bag that does all the work.  When you draw a vacuum on the outer bag, it collapses onto the food bag inside it, thereby pressing the air out of the food bag.  The only apparatus needed inside the outer bag (besides the food bag itself) is a "housing" that forces the outer bag to collapse on the seal of the food bag in a consistent manner, and allows users to manually close the seal of the food bag at the desired vacuum level.

The only apparatus needed outside the outer bag is a vacuum pump.  Finally, the only other component needed is a small black check valve that prevents air from reentering the outer bag during the vacuum packing process.  It’s just that simple.

Eliminating the check valves that are embedded in current-day vacuum bags (along with all the special materials and extra manufacturing steps required) reduces the retail price of the vacuum bag from an average of 37 cents to an average of only 8 cents, a savings of 25 cents per bag.  Further, eliminating the check valve eliminates a possible air leakage path, thereby making vacuum bags that don’t have check valves more reliable than comparable vacuum bags that do have check valves.

What were the challenges in developing the ThriftyVac® System?

Although the final design of the ThriftyVac® system is simple and easy to use, it has taken several years involving numerous design iterations to get there. This evolution is illustrated in the series of timeline photos provided below showing five generations of ThriftyVac® designs. For clarity, the gallon-size zipper bag that serves as a flexible vacuum chamber, and which encloses the ThriftyVac® Housing, is omitted from these photos. Each photo includes a brown egg to show scale.

ThriftyVac® Development Timeline

Innovations are ignited by the first "Ah Ha" moment, but are powered by the ones that follow.
Innovations are ignited by the first "Ah Ha" moment, but are powered by the ones that follow.

Figure 2 depicts the first generation of ThriftyVac® Housings.

Figure 2. First Generation of ThriftyVac® Housings
Figure 2. First Generation of ThriftyVac® Housings

All of the first-generation ThriftyVac® assemblies employed a manually operated vacuum pump that connected to the back of the ThriftyVac® Housing through a rubber hose. The sole function of the first prototype Housing, dated January, 2009 was to prevent the outer bag (a gallon-size zipper bag) from collapsing on the vacuum exhaust port, thereby prematurely stopping the vacuuming process before the food bag was fully evacuated. This cardboard and wooden model revealed the actual biggest problems that the Housing had to address – how to prevent the outer bag from (1) prematurely closing the seal on the food bag being vacuumed, and (2) distorting the food bag seal so much that air leaked back into the food bag after the food bag was removed from the outer bag. Accordingly, virtually all subsequent prototypes incorporated inclined “sealing ramps” that limited the force that the outer bag exerted on the seal of the food bag, and which helped the outer bag collapse more uniformly onto the food bag seal without distorting it. All of these first-generation prototypes assumed that the food bag was open along full length. Accordingly, all such Housings had wide sealing ramps.

Figure 3 shows the second generation of ThriftyVac® Housings that reflects our first “ah ha” moment on how to make the system work better.

Figure 3. Second Generation of ThriftyVac® Housings
Figure 3. Second Generation of ThriftyVac® Housings

We realized that we did not have to close the entire length of the food bag’s seal, but only the last inch, because you could close most of the seal before inserting the food bag into the gallon-size outer bag. This breakthrough in thinking allowed us to reduce the size of the sealing ramp and hence the size of the entire assembly. Further, this change meant that the system could vacuum pack any size food bag by just increasing the size of the outer bag. Since we no longer needed to confine the food bag within the length of the sealing ramp, we were able to eliminate the left side wall of the Housing. After making this change, we experimented with various sealing ramp designs, trying to find one that consistently closed the food bag at just the right moment, without distorting its seal. The Housing labeled August 2010 and May 2011 were designed specifically to vacuum pack sliding zipper food bags wherein the outer bag forced the sliding zipper closed as it collapsed under vacuum.

Figure 4 shows the third generation of ThriftyVac® prototypes that reflected our second “ah ha” moment – we realized that we could use the “arm” on the left side of the sealing ramp to create a “sealing channel” that would force the outer bag to collapse onto the seal of the food bag the same way every time.  We just had to make the sealing channel wide enough to accommodate the seals of different food bags.

Figure 4. Third Generation of ThriftyVac® Housings
Figure 4. Third Generation of ThriftyVac® Housings

The two wooden models incorporated battery-powered vacuum pumps that proved too slow to be practical. We experimented with designing the new “sealing channel” to work with sliding-zipper food bags as well as press-to-seal food bags.  We wanted the ThriftyVac® assembly to either automatically close the sliding zipper, or allow the user to close the zipper after the vacuum process was finished. Our next “ah ha” moment occurred when we discovered that we could actually vacuum pack sliding-zipper bags starting with the zipper fully closed: our system was powerful enough to evacuate air from a closed zipper bag. From that point on we stopped treating sliding-zipper bags as special cases, vastly simplifying our design requirements.

Figure 5 shows the fourth generation of ThriftyVac® prototypes that feature high-quality, commercially-available check valves.

Figure 5. Fourth Generation ThriftyVac® Housings
Figure 5. Fourth Generation ThriftyVac® Housings

Check-valves prevent re-entry of air during the vacuum-packing process, thereby yielding a tighter vacuum. Previously we thought that such check valves were prohibitively expensive since we would have to customize them to work with our system. The “ah ha” moment occurred when we realized that we could integrate barb-type check valves into our system with changes so minor that manufacturers could make them using existing production tooling. (The only catch was we had to order production runs of 10,000 or more parts because our modifications required altering the normal setup.) In the ThriftyVac® system, the check valve not only lets you vacuum pack your food quicker and interrupt the process at any time you wish without losing vacuum, but they also tie the system together and provide a convenient mounting point for the vacuum pump.

Figure 5 also shows our custom-designed, high-capacity vacuum pump, which was needed to quickly evacuate the large outer bag. The beauty of this custom design was that it consisted of only four parts, which were assembled without using adhesives or any screw-type mechanisms.The only problem was cost. New production tooling was needed to create the plunger and end caps. Further, since our initial production quantities would be low, cost per part would be high. Thus our custom pump design was an engineering success but an economic failure – we needed a more economical solution.

Figure 6 shows the fifth generation of ThriftyVac® prototypes.

Figure 6. Fifth Generation ThriftyVac® Housings
Figure 6. Fifth Generation ThriftyVac® Housings

The final design is marked by a bright red cherry. This generation of prototypes focused on improving the reliability and durability of the system.Specifically, we wanted the system to work reliably, regardless of how much (or how little) food you put in the bag. Durability was important because even though you can replace the gallon-size bag any time you wish, we wanted the outer bag to last for at least 100 operations before showing wear. To reliably evacuate air from lightly-filled food bags, we had to extend the left side of the Housing by four inches. To prevent the Housing from stretching or puncturing the outer bag, we had to put generous radii on all edges of the sealing channel arm. Finally, after months of searching, we found a commercially-available high-capacity vacuum pump that could be modified to work with our system. That pump is shown on the right side of the photo.

The sequence of design generations described above illustrate an important characteristic of so-called “breakthrough” innovations – they typically require not just one “ah ha” moment, but a whole string of them.I have found this to be the case in every innovation that I have brought to market.

Photos of the Complete System

Figures 7 through 9 give close-up views of the ThriftyVac® system and its components.

Figure 7. Frontal View of Final ThriftyVac® Housing
Figure 7. Frontal View of Final ThriftyVac® Housing
Figure 8. Right Side View of Final ThriftyVac® Housing
Figure 8. Right Side View of Final ThriftyVac® Housing
Figure 9. Left Side View of Final ThriftyVac® Housing
Figure 9. Left Side View of Final ThriftyVac® Housing

Figure 10 provides a close-up view of the vacuum pump and check valve, with a cherry included to show scale.

Figure 10. Customized ThriftyVac® Vacuum Pump and Check Valve
Figure 10. Customized ThriftyVac® Vacuum Pump and Check Valve

The barb on the white stem of the check valve allows the check valve to be pressed through the mating hole in the Housing, but not come back out unless you intentionally pulled it out (in case you want to replace the gallon-size outer bag, for example).

Figure 11 shows the ThriftyVac® Housing inside the gallon-size bag that acts as the flexible vacuum chamber.

Figure 11. ThriftyVac® Housing Inside Flexible Vacuum Chamber
Figure 11. ThriftyVac® Housing Inside Flexible Vacuum Chamber

Figure 12 shows a bag of salmon just after it has been vacuum packed, and still residing inside the ThriftyVac® system.

Figure 12. Vacuum Packed Salmon Still Inside the ThriftyVac® Assembly
Figure 12. Vacuum Packed Salmon Still Inside the ThriftyVac® Assembly

Figure 13 shows the vacuum-packed bag of salmon removed from the ThriftyVac® system.

Figure 13. Vacuum Packed Salmon after Removal from ThriftyVac® Assembly
Figure 13. Vacuum Packed Salmon after Removal from ThriftyVac® Assembly

Finally, Figure 14 gives a close-up view of the ThriftyVac® Housing and check valve, complete with cherry.

Figure 14. Close-up of ThriftyVac® Housing and Check Valve
Figure 14. Close-up of ThriftyVac® Housing and Check Valve

Some Backers have asked for a ThriftyVac® accessory for vacuum packing liquids such as sauces, stews, and chili. In response, we announced the ThriftyVac® Mason Jar Lid, that will be given to all backers if we reach the stretch goal level of $35,000.

ThriftyVac® Mason Jar Lid Mounted on a Mason Jar
ThriftyVac® Mason Jar Lid Mounted on a Mason Jar

What are the challenges to bringing the ThriftyVac® system to market?

Bringing ThriftyVac® to market requires the following investments:

  • procuring tooling to produce the components of the system (the housing and rubber boot that attaches to the bottom of the vacuum pump)

  • designing the product packaging and producing tooling to manufacture the product packaging

  • ordering an initial supply of housings, vacuum pumps, check valves, gallon-size bags, and product packaging

  • promoting product awareness and sales

The above cost total $25,000, and that is what we seeking through this KickStarter project.

How you can help

We would like your financial support needed to bring this product to market.  What we are offering in return is described in the section, “Rewards to Backers.”

Aside from your financial support, we would also like your early and often feedback on your experiences, and suggestions for improvements

Finally, we would also like for you to be evangelists (or advocates) for the ThriftyVac® system, once we win you over with its utility, reliability, and ease-of-use.

Closing Statement

ThriftyVac® gives you the best performing and most economical way of vacuum packing food, at a retail price of approximately $25.00 (plus shipping).  ThriftyVac® works on every re-sealable plastic bag that you have in your home, both slider-zipper and press-to-seal bags.   At an average price difference of 25 cents per bag between special vacuum bags and regular re-sealable bags, ThriftyVac® makes it economical for you to vacuum pack those small portions of leftovers – rather than tossing them out or consuming unneeded calories.

About The Inventor

Tom Cannon has a knack for applying basic science to do amazing things.Case in point, he invented ThriftyVac® by thinking “outside the bag” and focusing on pressing air out of the food bag versus sucking air out (which made the task much easier).  Tom has applied his “back-to-basics” approach to invent (1) the optical connector that sent firing signal to the Patriot Missile and is now used in the USA’s missile defense system, (2) the ST Connector, the world’s most widely manufactured optical connector, and (3) a variety of devices that keep our military people safer and make our domestic lives more enjoyable.  He has taught classes at Purdue University (where he got his Ph D) and Stanford University (where he got his MS degree in Management as a Sloan Fellow).  Tom’s fundamental approach to life is reflected in his book, “Survival Routines for Professionals,” (Prentice-Hill, 1988) which was written to help employees succeed on new jobs.  Tom relishes the roles of teacher and coach and can give you succinct insights on topics ranging from raising children (“All puppies are cute”), to recruiting top talent (“Never overlook a diamond when you’re panning for gold”).  Tom is also an accomplished athlete, having won three national track and field titles and carried the Olympic Torch for a full week during the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay from New York to Los Angeles.  In 1999 Tom was inducted into the Unites States Corporate Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Tom also claims to play golf.  His golf adventures (or misadventures) led him to invent “BonusYards,” a golf club attachment that helps golfers set their driver at the perfect angle to drive the ball further off the tee.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

The biggest project risk is any delay that might occur in manufacturing the tooling that will mold the ThriftyVac® housing. I learned from my previous experiences that mold manufacturers give priority to their largest customers and sometimes smaller customers such as me slip downward in the queue. To minimize such occurrences, I nail down the specifics of exactly what will be delivered where, and when, using specific delivery dates, not relative times.

FAQ

  • Yes. Please add $7.00 to your pledge for the extra cost of shipping to Canada.

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  • We will start shipping to people residing outside of the United States, but we can't change the wording in the Rewards sections after someone has already backed a project at a particular level. The question we must answer is how much extra will shipping cost. It seems like we will have to answer this question on a case-by-case basis. So far, this is what we have decided:

    Canada: Add $7.00 for shippingAll other International Orders Outside of Canada: Add $13.00 for shipping

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  • Yes. In fact, we designed ThriftyVac® to vacuum pack any size food bag – even ones larger than a gallon. ThriftyVac® comes with a gallon-size outer bag already installed. However, you can quickly replace this gallon-size bag with one as large as you wish, which can accommodate whatever size food bag you wish to vacuum pack.

    To switch out the outer bag, perform the following easy steps (which take about 10 seconds):
    1. Pull the check valve out of the ThriftyVac® Housing, thereby releasing the gallon-size bag
    2. Insert the Housing into a larger size zipper bag, say, a 2.5 gallon bag, and position the Housing in the far right-hand corner of the 2.5 gallon bag.
    3. Use a pen or pencil to puncture the 2.5 gallon bag, going through the 1/4 inch hole in the ThriftyVac® Housing
    4. Replace the check valve.

    You are now good to go.

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  • Most conventional plastic food bags are made of polyethylene. Polyethylene is very permeable to air and you might expect such bags to leak over time. However, we actually have had thin-wall polyethylene bags under test for over a year with no perceptible leakage through the bag’s wall or anyplace else. This is because most foods contain moisture that can wet the interior surfaces of the bag, making them much less penetrable to air than dry surfaces. This includes the walls of the bag as well as its seal. Placing foods under a vacuum accentuates this wetting process because it draws out more moisture. However, you only get this benefit if the vacuum is drawn through the full length of the bag, as is the case with ThriftyVac®.

    In contrast, specialty vacuum bags that feature vacuum ports (or flat check valves) on their sides do not draw moisture through the full length of the bag, and certainly not through the bag’s seal (which is fully closed during the vacuum packing process). Accordingly, such bags do not benefit from completely wetted walls, and must be made of blends of materials that are much more resistant to air migration through their walls and seals. Such materials include nylon and other relatively stiff plastics. Further, the sides of specialty vacuum bags must be textured to provide unobstructed air evacuation paths along the sides of the bag and into the check valve (or into the bag’s main seal). Thus a typical vacuum bag consists of a special, high-quality main seal, a check valve (or vacuum port), textured plastic walls, and regular, un-textured low-permeability (i.e. expensive) plastic walls. Combining all of these components together adds complexity and cost to the manufacturing process, driving up the cost of specialty vacuum bags.

    Heat-sealed bags avoid most of the complexity of vacuum-port bags, but still must have at least one textured side to assure an unobstructed air path to the main seal. They must also be made of relatively expensive, low-permeability plastics. These two factors add cost.Heat-sealing systems also have one other significant drawback – excess liquids can degrade them.For heat sealers to operate reliably, the surfaces to be heat sealed should be relatively dry. Further if there is too much liquid in the bag being vacuumed; such liquid can flood the unit and be drawn into its motor, damaging the system. Accordingly manufacturers of heat-sealing vacuum packing systems recommend waiting until your food cools before vacuuming it. Waiting can sometimes be inconvenient. But the worst part of waiting is that your food can lose moisture.Losing moisture not only makes your food less palatable, but also leaves less moisture available to wet the interior surfaces of the bag to improve vacuum retention.

    In contrast, ThriftyVac® lets you vacuum pack your food immediately and works even better with moist foods. There is no vacuum motor that might be fouled by excess liquids, and the ThriftyVac® assembly can be easily disassembled for washing and cleaning its components, if necessary.For example, the rubber boot at the base of the ThriftyVac® vacuum pump is not bonded to the cylinder, but just pressed on.This allows you to pull it off and wash out fluids should they be drawn into the pump.

    ThriftyVac® works on all foods, moist or otherwise. Dry foods can remain vacuumed for extended periods of time by adding a few drops of cooking oil at the interior ends of the bag’s seal. This not only makes the seal work better (by blocking leakage paths), but also wets the two walls of the bag near the seal. Wetting the walls typically causes them to stick together and block out air that otherwise might seep in from a poor seal. My term for this phenomenon is “wall block.” Thus wall block can allow even bags having poor seals to hold a vacuum for extended periods of time. Such wall-to-wall liquid seals are the best type because our testing has shown that they can last for months.

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  • Yes. Vacuum packed bags may be opened, re-closed, then re-vacuum packed with ThriftyVac. This not only saves you money, but also saves the environment by reducing the number of plastic bags that are used just once and thrown away.

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  • If your order will ship to a US address, then you don't have to do anything. Your shipping cost is included in the $20 price.

    If you live in Canada, the total price is $27 per ThrifyVac unit, which would require increasing your pledge to that amount.

    If you are an International Backer outside of Canada, then you should increase your pledge to $33 per ThriftyVac unit.

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    BACKER – Standard ThriftyVac® vacuum packing system, complete with vacuum pump, housing, check valve, and gallon-size zipper bag (the flexible vacuum chamber), when available.

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    ADVOCATE BACKER – Standard ThriftyVac® vacuum packing system as for the BACKER tier, plus a digital (PDF) copy of the inventor’s booklet, “How to think like an innovator,“ when available.

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    SIGNATURE BACKER – Limited Edition, serialized and autographed Standard ThriftyVac® vacuum packing system, complete with vacuum pump, housing, check valve, and gallon-size zipper bag (the flexible vacuum chamber), plus a “ThriftyVac® Advocate” T Shirt, when available.

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    INNOVATION DISCIPLE BACKER – autographed ThriftyVac® vacuum packing system, plus an autographed copy of the inventor’s booklet, “How to think like an innovator,“ which reveals the thought processes that the author has used to methodically create over 20 patented innovations, including ThriftyVac®, when available.

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    COLLECTOR BACKER – Same rewards of all previous tiers, plus one of the two original ThriftyVac prototype systems used to film the Kickstarter video, autographed by the inventor, when available.

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Funding period

- (30 days)