United States Patent 3828971

The top-loading drawer assembly of a helix-type dispensing machine has a vertical divider extending through the center of the helix to separate the compartment controlled by the helix into a pair of adjacent sections on opposite sides of the helix. Two rows of products, on opposite sides of the divider, may thus be filled between the convolutions of the helix, and upon rotation of the helix, the products are dispensed alternately from opposite rows. A special ejector on the final convolution of the helix, set back from the terminus thereof, assures positive release of the products from opposite sides of the divider during successive 180° rotating cycles of the helix, and a resilient deflecting finger for the rearwardly leaning products on one side of the divider cooperates with the ejector to prevent tumbling of such products as they are dispensed. The forwardly leaning products on the opposite side of the divider topple from the drawer assembly at a point spaced rearwardly from the discharge end thereof.

Offutt, Elmer Bradley (Independence, MO)
Babich, Edward (Kansas City, MO)
Application Number:
Publication Date:
Filing Date:
The Vendo Company (Kansas City, MO)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65G59/00; G07F11/24; G07F11/42; (IPC1-7): G07F11/36
Field of Search:
View Patent Images:
US Patent References:
3335907Spiral vendor with empty source indicating means1967-08-15Holstein et al.
3057511Bag dispenser1962-10-09Mannhardt

Primary Examiner:
Reeves, Robert B.
Assistant Examiner:
Rolla, Joseph J.
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Schmidt, Johnson, Hovey & Williams
Having thus described the invention, what is claimed as new and desired to be secured by Letters Patent is

1. In product dispensing apparatus:

2. In product dispensing apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein said divider is supported in spaced relationship to said shelf above the latter, said convolutions of the feeder passing around the divider between the latter and said shelf.

3. In product dispensing apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein said ejector is constructed of a synthetic resinous material.

4. In product dispensing apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein said one section only is provided with a deflector adjacent said discharge end and projecting into the path of travel of the leading product substantially above said shelf for cooperating with said ejector to assure that the leading product is dispensed bottom-first.

This invention relates to product dispensing or vending machines and, more particularly, to improvements in the helix-type dispensing modules or drawer assemblies of such machines.

Helical feeders or conveyors such as disclosed in U.S. Letters Pat. No. 3,653,540, issued to Offutt on Apr. 4, 1972, and also disclosed in allowed pending application Ser. No. 235,489, filed Mar. 17, 1972, now U.S. Pat. No. 3,737,071, in the names of Offutt, et al., provide an efficient and highly flexible means of advancing products to a drop space in the dispensing machine when a selection has been made by a customer. The spaces defined between adjacent convolutions of the helix serve to confine the products prior to the selection being made by the customer, and upon rotation of the helix about its longitudinal axis in response to the customer making a selection and actuating appropriate mechanism, the products are advanced in unison by the convolutions toward the drop space to dispense the leading product in the feeder into the space.

The convolutions will accept virtually any type of product thereby contributing substantially to their inherent flexibility and popularity for use in general merchandising machines. However, such helixes have an inherent drawback in that their capacities are somewhat limited due to the space occupied by the convolutions that pass between adjacent products in the series. Where product storage space is at a premium within the cabinet of the machine, as is almost always the case, this can be a significant factor in deciding whether or not to employ a helix feeder. Moreover, it must be remembered that low product capacity increases the number of times which the machine must be resupplied with products by servicing personnel, hence having a direct affect upon the economic considerations involved.

Accordingly, one important object of the present invention is to increase the capacity of a product feeding helix by providing a normally vertical divider that passes through the interior of the helix along the length of the latter to separate the helix into two horizontal rows of product-receiving spaces on opposite sides of the divider.

In connection with the foregoing object, it is an important aim of this invention to maximize the capacity of a product-feeding helix without detracting from the ability of the helix to be easily loaded.

An additional important object of this invention is the provision of a special product ejector adjacent the terminus of the final convolution of the helix that assures positive dispensing of the products alternately from opposite sides of the divider while precluding accidental release of more than one product during each dispensing cycle.

Another important object is to provide a special ejector as aforesaid that dispenses the products alternately in the above manner, while at the same time releasing the products into the drop space in such a way that they will not jam therewithin. In this respect it is important that the products on one side of the divider, which are leaned rearwardly by the helix, are simply pushed off the shelf associated with the helix bottom-first so that such products do not tumble from the shelf to bridge the drop space. On the other hand, it is important that products on the opposite side of the divider which are leaned forwardly by the helix, be released from the helix at a point spaced rearwardly from the discharge end of the shelf so that such products can simply topple off the shelf top-first without bridging the drop space.

A further important object of the instant invention is to provide deflector means adjacent the discharge end of the shelf that projects into the path of travel of the rearwardly leaning products in order to engage the top margins thereof and augment the anti-tumbling action of the ejector.

Other important objects of this invention will become apparent or be made clear from the following specification and accompanying drawings, wherein:

FIG. 1 is a top plan view of a dual-helix drawer assembly embodying the principles of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a front, end elevational view thereof;

FIG. 3 is a vertical cross-sectional view of the drawer assembly taken along line 3--3 of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4 is a rear elevational view of the assembly;

FIG. 5 is a vertical cross-sectional view taken transversly of the drawer assembly along a line selected to show different constructional details in adjacent product compartments of the assembly at the rear thereof;

FIG. 6 is a fragmentary, detail view of the inner end of a helix, parts being shown in cross-section and in elevation to reveal details of construction;

FIG. 7 is a fragmentary, somewhat schematic view of the forwardmost end of the drawer assembly illustrating the manner in which forwardly leaning products on one side of the divider are dispensed top-first;

FIG. 8 is a fragmentary, somewhat schematic view similar to FIG. 7 but showing the opposite side of the divider and the manner in which the rearwardly leaning products thereof are dispensed bottom-first; and

FIG. 9 is an enlarged, fragmentary, top plan view of the final convolution of a helix illustrating details of the special product ejector.

The drawer assembly 10 selected to embody the principles of the present invention is of the dual-helix type, although it will be understood that the specific number of helixes utilized is not critical to the effectiveness of the present invention. Drawer assembly 10 is open across the top and at the forward end thereof, having an elongated shelf 12 provided with a discharge end 14; a pair of elongated, laterally spaced-apart and upstanding sidewalls 16; and a rear wall 18 rising upwardly from shelf 12 at the back of assembly 10 to close the same. An intermediate sidewall 20 between outer sidewalls 16 and extending from discharge end 14 to rear wall 18, partitions the area between sidewalls 16--16 into a pair of identical troughlike product compartments 22. In view of the fact that compartments 22 are identical to one another, only one of the same will be described in detail with the understanding that the principles hereinafter explained apply equally to both.

An elongated divider 24, disposed equi-distant from the outer sidewall 16 and the inner sidewall 20 of compartment 22, extends substantially the full length of the latter to separate compartment 22 into a pair of side-by-side sections 25 on opposite sides of divider 24. The divider 24 is supported at its forwardmost end by an elongated, upstanding bracket 26 secured to the down-turned lip 28 of shelf 12 and is supported at its rearmost end (FIG. 6) by a spindle 30 that projects forwardly from rear wall 18. The divider 24 is rigidly affixed to the reduced end of spindle 30 and does not rotate thereon. The front bracket 26 and rear spindle 30 are secured to the divider 24 in such a manner that the lower extremity of divider 24 is spaced a short distance above shelf 12.

An elongated, feeding or conveying helix 32 encircles divider 24 along the length of the latter within compartment 22 and has a plurality of longitudinally spaced-apart convolutions 34 that define two rows of product-receiving spaces 36 and 38 on opposite sides of divider 24 between the convolutions 34. As shown best in FIG. 3, sufficient space is provided between the shelf 12 and the lower extremity of divider 24 to clear the convolutions 34 as they pass therebetween. The rearmost portion of helix 32 has a series of closely wound convolutions 34a that firmly wrap around the enlarged part 40 of a generally conical coupler 42 (details in FIG. 6) that is rotatably supported by the spindle 30. A gear 44 integral with coupler 42 and reduced in diameter relative to part 40, meshes with a step-up gear train 46, 48 and 50 (FIGS. 1, 3 and 5) rotatably supported by rear wall 18. The shaft 52 of gear 50 projects through gear wall 18 and supports a cam 54 outwardly of rear wall 18 behind the latter. A housing 56 between coupler part 40 and rear wall 18 encloses gears 44-50.

The opposite end of helix 32 has a terminus 58 on the final convolution thereof and a molded, synthetic resin, product ejector 60 secured to the final convolution before terminus 58. The ejector 60 (FIG. 9) is transversely arcuate with respect to helix 32, having substantially the same radius as the convolutions 34. A bead-like segment 62 of ejector 60 extends along a stretch of the final convolution and is bonded thereto, there being a web 64 projecting outwardly from segment 62 and having an arcuate edge-like surface 66. The surface 66 progressively departs from segment 62 toward the discharge end 14 beginning at a point slightly less than 360° from terminus 58. Surface 66 continues until reaching a point of greatest departure from segment 62 approximately 180° from terminus 58 as shown best in FIG. 9, whereupon the surface 66 then returns rather abruptly to segment 62.

At the forwardmost end of compartment 22 is located a resilient deflecting finger 68 that projects laterally from intermediate sidewall 20 into the adjacent compartment section 25 substantially above shelf 12 and in approximate vertical alignment with discharge end 14.


In use, the drawer assembly 10 is adapted to be placed within the cabinet of a multi-purpose, general merchandising machine such as the types disclosed in the aforementioned Patent and allowed application. Before the drawer assembly 10 is inserted into the machine each compartment 22 should be loaded by inserting products 70 and 72, such as gum, small candy bars, and mints into the spaces 36 and 38 respectively between convolutions 34. It will be appreciated that such loading may be carried out very rapidly and with ease inasmuch as drawer assembly 10 is top-loading, it being necessary only to drop the products 70 and 72 into their proper positions on opposite sides of the dividers 24. While different compartments 22 may be loaded with different product choices, the adjacent sections 25 of each compartment 22 should be loaded with the same product choice.

After drawer assembly 10 has been loaded, it is placed within the machine with the discharge end 14 being directly adjacent the drop space of the machine and the rear wall 18 being adjacent the rear of the machine cabinet. In this disposition, the cams 54 are located to be operated by mechanism not shown but fully disclosed in the aforesaid Patent. In view of the complete description of said Patent of the manner of operation of such mechanism and its relationship to the cams 54, suffice it to say that when a customer has selected a product from one of the compartments 22 and the proper coinage has been deposited, actuation of the driving mechanism rotates the appropriate cam 54 associated with the selected compartment 22 through a 360° operating cycle. The gear 50 is thus also rotated 360°, but by virtue of the fact that gear 44 of coupler 42 has twice as many teeth as gear 50, the intermediate gears 46 and 48 rotate coupler 42 through only a 180° cycle. Hence, the helix 32 of the selected compartment 22 is rotated 180° in a clockwise direction, viewing FIG. 2, to advance all of the products 70 and 72 therewithin in unison toward discharge end 14 to dispense the leading product of the two sections 25 off discharge end 14 into the drop space of the machine. As shown in FIG. 1, the next product to be dispensed is product 72a, followed in the next vending cycle by product 70a from the opposite section 25. Thus, the products of a chosen compartment 22 are dispensed alternately from opposite sides of the divider 24 during successive dispensing cycles such that the sections 25 are depleted at substantially the same rate.

Viewing FIG. 3, it may be seen that the products 72 on the right side of each divider 24 (viewing FIG. 2) are caused by the convolutions 34 of helix 32 to lean forwardly within their product spaces 38, while those products 70 on the opposite side of divider 24 are caused to lean rearwardly within their product spaces 36. Accordingly, the leading product 72a, which is the next-to-vend product, is braced as shown by the extremity of the final convolution 34 adjacent terminus 58 as illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 3 in readiness for the next vend cycle. When helix 32 is actuated, rotating clockwise viewing FIG. 2, the terminus 58 is pulled away from the forwardly leaning project 72a so as to remove its support for product 72a, hence allowing the same to topple forwardly off discharge end 14 as shown in FIG. 7. At the same time that terminus 58 releases product 72a, the ejector 60 is rotating through the upper portion of its cycle so as to bring the ejecting surface 66 thereof progressively into position to engage the top rear margin of product 72a. Hence, product 72a is simultaneously released by terminus 58 and pushed by surface 66 outwwardly into the drop space for top-first delivery.

Note in FIGS. 3 and 7 that the product 72a topples forwardly when ejected about its lower front corner 74 and that corner 74 is spaced rearwardly from discharge end 14 at the beginning of the cycle. Therefore, although product 72a topples forwardly from discharge end 14, only a portion of product 72a projects beyond discharge end 14 during the toppling process, the remaining portion thereof overlying the shelf between discharge end 14 and corner 74 until the top 76 of product 72a has passed below discharge end 14, whereupon such remaining portion also leaves end 14. In this manner, the portion of product 72a that momentarily projects beyond discharge end 14 is insufficient to bridge the drop space between end 14 and the proximal cabinet wall or display window, hence eliminating any possibility of product 72a jamming the drop space.

The ejector 60 stops in the position illustrated in FIG. 7 at the completion of a vending cycle for the product 72a. As the next vend cycle is initiated, ejector 60 rotates clockwise, viewing FIG. 2, from its upper position and passes downwardly beneath the divider 24 to approach the leading product 70a on the opposite side of divider 24. As shown in FIG. 8, continued rotation of ejector 60 brings the ejecting surface 66 progressively against the lower rear margin of product 70a, hence pushing the same outwardly off discharge end 14 into the drop space. Inasmuch as product 70a is already leaning rearwardly at the beginning of its vend cycle, it is in condition to facilitate release from shelf 12 with the bottom 78 of product 70a leading.

It will be seen that in contrast to the release of product 72a, product 70a leaves shelf 12 without toppling, moving only directly downwardly in the direction of the arrow in FIG. 8 as bottom 78 of product 70a is pushed beyond discharge end 14. Hence, bridging of the product drop space is once again precluded, although in a different manner than with product 72a.

When the product 70a has been vended, the ejector 60 stops along the lower half of its path of travel in the position as shown in FIGS. 1 and 8 in readiness for the next vending cycle wherein one of the products 72 from the opposite side of divider 24 will be dispensed. Such process continues repeatedly, releasing products alternately from opposite sides of divider 24 during successive actuations of helix 32 until the compartment 22 has been completely depleted.

The ejector 60 is important because it both assures a positive vend of the products and helps prevent bridging of the drop space ahead of discharge end 14. This is particularly important with the products 70 which present their bottoms 78 to the outermost extremity of end 14 before leaving the same. If products 70 were to tumble forwardly at this time rather than simply dropping directly from discharge end 14, the likelihood of bridging the drop space could be increased.

Aiding the ejector 60 in assuring bottom-first delivery of the products 70 is the deflecting finger 68 that is disposed to engage the top front margins of the leading product 70a as it leaves discharge end 14. The added resistance of deflecting finger 68, coupled with the rearward inclination of product 70a and the engagement thereof by ejector 60 adjacent the bottom 78 assures that bottom 78 will lead as product 70a enters the drop space.

It is also important to point out that the location of ejector 60 with respect to terminus 58 enables ejector 60 to operate successfully in both product sections 25 on opposite sides of divider 24 and assures that one leading product will not be accidentally released while another leading product in the adjacent section 25 is being intentionally dispensed. As shown best in FIG. 1, while the ejector 60 is disposed to dispense one of the products 70, the terminus 58 of the end convolution 34 is disposed in blocking relationship to the leading product 72a on the opposite side of divider 24. Hence, product 72a cannot accidentally be released during the time that one of the products 70 is being positively dispensed. Similarly, it will be seen that as helix 32 is rotated clockwise to dispense the leading product 72a, the corresponding leading product 70a on the opposite side of divider 24 is disposed behind ejector 60 and hence is blocked by the latter from accidental release.

It will be apparent that minor modifications and adaptations of the present invention could be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit of the present invention. Accordingly, the present invention should be limited only by the fair scope of the claims that follow.