Title:
Wok-piece positioner
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Work-piece positioners include a positioner chassis, a rotary framework coupled to the chassis, and a mezzanine disposed above the chassis, wherein the mezzanine is configured to mount one or more robots above the positioner. The rotary framework may be configured such that it may rotate a work-piece between a work-piece load/unload zone and a work zone about a framework axis. More particularly, the mezzanine may be secured to the chassis such that when one or more robots are mounted to the mezzanine, the one or more robots may be positioned above the work zone of the positioner.



Inventors:
Jennings, Craig (Dayton, OH, US)
Michael, Zane (Troy, OH, US)
Schutte, Gary Daniel (Springfield, OH, US)
Metz, Donald Joseph (North Hampton, OH, US)
Hickle, Wade (Vandalia, OH, US)
Harbaugh, Ken (Vandalia, OH, US)
Application Number:
11/099996
Publication Date:
10/12/2006
Filing Date:
04/06/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B21J13/08
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
COZART, JERMIE E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DINSMORE & SHOHL LLP (One Dayton Centre Suite 1300 One South Main Street, Dayton, OH, 45402-2023, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A work-piece positioner comprising: a positioner chassis; a rotary framework coupled to said chassis, said rotary framework configured to rotate a work-piece between a work-piece load/unload zone and a work zone about a framework axis; and a mezzanine disposed above said chassis, said mezzanine including a substantially horizontal member and configured to mount at least one robot above said positioner.

2. The work-piece positioner of claim 1, wherein said mezzanine is affixed to said positioner chassis, and wherein said positioner chassis is configured to support both said mezzanine and said at least one robot above said positioner.

3. The work-piece positioner of claim 1, wherein said mezzanine is comprised of a first mezzanine support and a second mezzanine support secured to opposite ends of said horizontal member.

4. The work-piece positioner of claim 4, wherein said work-piece support is comprised of: opposite rotary framework arms rotatable about said framework axis; a first set of work-piece supports positioned on one end of said framework arms so as to define a first work-piece axis extending between said first set of work-piece supports; and a second set of work-piece supports positioned on an end of said framework arms opposite said first set of work-piece supports so as to define a second work-piece axis extending between said second set of work-piece supports.

5. The work-piece positioner of claim 4, wherein said rotary framework is comprised of a work-piece support rotatable about said framework axis and said framework axis is substantially vertical.

6. The work-piece positioner of claim 4, wherein framework axis is substantially horizontal.

7. The work-piece positioner of claim 1, wherein a divider is disposed along said rotary framework so as to separate it into two areas.

8. The work-piece positioner of claim 1, further comprising one or more robots mounted to said mezzanine such that said one or more robots are disposed above said work zone of said positioner.

9. An work-piece positioner comprising: a positioner chassis; a framework rotatably coupled to said chassis and configured to rotate a work-piece between a work-piece load/unload zone and a work zone about a substantially horizontal axis; and a mezzanine disposed above said chassis, wherein said mezzanine is configured to mount at least one robot above said positioner.

10. The work-piece positioner of claim 9, wherein said mezzanine is affixed to said positioner chassis, and wherein said positioner chassis is configured to support both said mezzanine and said at least one robot above said positioner.

11. The work-piece positioner of claim 10, wherein said mezzanine is comprised of a first mezzanine support and a second mezzanine support secured to opposite ends of a substantially horizontal member.

12. The work-piece positioner of claim 19, wherein said rotary framework is comprised of: opposite rotary framework arms; a first set of work-piece supports positioned on one end of said framework arms so as to define a first work-piece axis extending between said first set of work-piece supports; and a second set of work-piece supports positioned on an end of said framework arms opposite said first set of work-piece supports so as to define a second work-piece axis extending between said second set of work-piece supports.

13. The work-piece positioner of claim 9, wherein a divider is disposed along said rotary framework so as to separate it into two areas.

14. The work-piece positioner of claim 9, further comprising one or more robots mounted to said mezzanine such that said one or more robots are disposed above said work zone of said positioner.

15. A work-piece positioner comprising: a positioner chassis; a movable framework movably coupled to said chassis, said framework configured to move a work-piece from a work-piece load/unload zone to a robot work zone; a mezzanine disposed above said chassis, said mezzanine configured for mounting at least one robot above said positioner; at least one robot mounted to said mezzanine; and wherein said positioner defines a footprint having an area of less than about 30 m2 and said at least one robot is within said footprint.

16. The work-piece of claim 15, wherein said framework is rotatably coupled to said chassis such that said framework rotates a work-piece from said load/unload zone to said work zone about a framework axis.

17. The work-piece positioner of claim 15, wherein said mezzanine is comprised of a substantially horizontal member.

18. The work-piece of claim 17, wherein said mezzanine is comprised of a first mezzanine support and a second mezzanine support secured to opposite ends of said horizontal member.

19. The work-piece positioner of claim 15, wherein said footprint is less than or equal to about 10 m2, and wherein said at least one robot comprises two robots.

20. The work-piece positioner of claim 15, wherein said mezzanine is affixed to said positioner chassis, and wherein said positioner chassis is configured to support both said mezzanine and said at least one robot above said positioner.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to work-piece positioners. More particularly, the present invention relates to a work-piece positioner that comprises a positioner chassis and an overhead mezzanine configured such that a robot or multiple robots may be mounted to it above the positioner and/or a work zone.

Industries often employ work-piece positioners to hold, manipulate, move, or orient a work-piece while one or more robots perform a variety of applications on the work-piece. Some of the positioners may include an unload/load zone and a work zone, wherein the positioner moves work-pieces back and forth between the unload/load zone and the work zone. Generally, the robot has been placed on the floor adjacent to these types of work-piece positioners such that the robot may work on the work-piece held by the positioner. This configuration consumes a significant amount of valuable floor space because both the positioner and the robot are consuming the floor space. This issue is magnified if the application requires multiple robots to perform tasks on the work-piece because each robot will consume additional floor space, adding to the overall footprint of the robot work cell (e.g., work-piece positioner and robot(s)).

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention is intended to address and obviate problems and shortcomings and otherwise improve previous work-piece positioners.

An exemplary embodiment of the work-piece positioner of the present invention includes a positioner chassis, a rotary framework coupled to the chassis, and a mezzanine disposed above the chassis, wherein the mezzanine includes a substantially horizontal member and is configured to mount at least one robot above the positioner. The rotary framework may be configured such that it may rotate a work-piece between a work-piece load/unload zone and a work zone about a framework axis.

In another exemplary embodiment of the work-piece positioner of the present invention, the positioner comprises a positioner chassis, a framework rotatably coupled to the chassis, and a mezzanine disposed above the chassis and configured to mount at least one robot above the positioner. The rotary framework of this embodiment is configured to move a work-piece from a work-piece load/unload zone to a work zone and is rotable about a substantially horizontal axis.

In still a further exemplary embodiment of the present invention, a work-piece positioner comprises a work-piece chassis, a movable framework movably coupled to the chassis, a mezzanine disposed above the chassis and configured to mount at least one robot above the positioner, and at least one robot mounted to the mezzanine. In addition, the rotary framework is configured to move a work-piece from a work-piece load/unload zone to the work zone. Such a positioner defines a footprint having an area of less than 30 m2 and the at least one robot is within this footprint.

A further understanding of the nature and advantages of the present invention may be realized by reference to the remaining portions of the specification and the drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

While the specification concludes with claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the invention, embodiments of the invention will be better understood from the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is an isometric view of an exemplary embodiment of a work-piece positioner according to the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a side elevational view of the work-piece positioner illustrated in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is an isometric view of the mezzanine of the work-piece positioner illustrated in FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a side elevational view of another exemplary embodiment of a work-piece positioner according to the present invention;

FIG. 5 is a front elevational view of the work-piece positioner illustrated in FIG. 4;

FIG. 6 is a side elevational view of another exemplary embodiment of a work-piece positioner according to the present invention; and

FIG. 7 is a front elevational view of the work-piece positioner illustrated in FIG. 6.

The embodiments set forth in the drawings are illustrative in nature and not intended to be limiting of the invention which is defined by the claims. Moreover, individual features illustrated in the drawings will be more fully apparent and understood with reference to the following detailed description.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring to FIGS. 1-3, an exemplary embodiment of a work-piece positioner 10 of the present invention is shown as including a positioner chassis 12, a rotary framework 20, a first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32, a second set of work-piece supports 40 and 42, and a mezzanine 50. Positioner 10 may also include a load/unload zone 1 and a work zone 2 disposed on an opposite side of positioner 10 from load/unload zone 1, wherein rotary framework 20 may move a work-piece 4 (e.g., automotive components) back and forth between load/unload zone 1 and work zone 2.

As shown in FIG. 3, mezzanine 50 includes a first mezzanine support 52 and a second mezzanine support 54, each of which are substantially vertical in orientation and a substantially horizontal member 56. First and second supports 52 and 54 may optionally include a flange end 51 to connect to positioner chassis 12. First and second supports 52 and 54 may be secured or affixed to opposite ends of substantially horizontal member 56 using a variety of conventional or yet-to-be discovered methods without departing from the scope of the present invention. For example, first and second mezzanine supports 52 and 54 and horizontal member 56 may be welded together, bolt connected, or formed as an integral unit to form mezzanine 50. As shown in FIGS. 1-2, mezzanine 50 may be secured to positioner chassis 12 (described later herein) by welding the flange ends 51 to flanges on the chassis. However, it is understood that the positioner chassis and mezzanine may be connected together using a variety of known or yet-to-be discovered securing devices or methods (e.g., weld or bolt connections) without departing from the scope of the present invention. Alternatively, rather than securing mezzanine 50 to positioner chassis 12, first and second mezzanine supports 52 and 54 may be disposed along the floor adjacent positioner chassis (as shown in FIG. 7 and described later herein).

Mezzanine 50 of the present invention may be configured to support one robot or multiple robots above positioner chassis 12, rotary framework 20, work-piece supports 30, 32, 40, and 42, load/unload zone 1, and/or work zone 2. For example, as shown in FIGS. 1-2, three robots 70 may be mounted to mezzanine 50 above work zone 2, which enables robots 70 to perform a variety of applications on work-piece 4 while being held by either first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32 (as shown) or second set of work-piece supports 40 and 42 within work zone 2. Such applications that may be performed by robots 70 on work-piece 4 may include, but are not limited to, welding, cutting, assembly, etc. The mounting of robots 70 to mezzanine 50 above positioner 10 allows the positioner 10 and robots 70 to encompass a single footprint that is smaller than the combined footprint of a conventional positioner and robot work cell (i.e., wherein both the positioner and the robots are mounted on the floor). In one exemplary embodiment, positioner 10 and one or more robots 70 mounted to positioner 10 may define a footprint of less than 30 m2. In another exemplary embodiment, positioner 10 and one or more robots mounted to positioner 10 may define a footprint of less than or equal to 25 m2. In yet another exemplary embodiment, positioner 10 and two robots mounted to positioner 10 may define a footprint of less than or equal to 10 m2. The footprint of the present invention (i.e., work-piece positioner and mounted robot) represents a reduction in required floor space from about 20% to about 45% compared to a conventional work-piece positioner and robot work cell. Such a positioner and robot configuration is particularly advantageous because it frees up industrial floor space to be used for additional applications, which is valuable.

Since mezzanine 50 is configured to mount robots thereon, the particular materials and dimensions of mezzanine 50 are chosen to provide the necessary rigidity and strength to support the desired number of robots to be mounted above positioner 10, including but not limited to formed sheet metal, plate steel, or any other conventional or yet-to-be developed materials. It is understood that mezzanine 50 may also take on other shapes and configurations such as having only a substantially vertical mezzanine support configured for robot mounting (not shown) or a cantilevered, substantially horizontal member (not shown) secured to a single mezzanine support (not shown), wherein a robot may be mounted to the horizontal member such that the robot may rotate between multiple work zones.

Still referring to FIGS. 1-3, positioner chassis 12 may include a base 13 connected to a first column 14 and to a second column 15 positioned opposite first column 14, wherein first and second columns have a substantially vertical orientation. In this embodiment, first and second columns 14 and 15 are welded to first and second supports 52 and 54, respectively. Positioner chassis 12 is configured to support both the mezzanine 50 and at least one robot (e.g., 70). In this exemplary embodiment, positioner chassis 12 may be fabricated from steel such as formed sheet metal or plate steel. Such positioner chassis 12 may comprise a variety of different shapes, sizes, materials, and components without departing from the scope of the present invention. For example, positioner chassis 12 may be fabricated such that first column 14 and first support 52 are not two separate components welded together but a single component forming a vertical support (e.g., a single piece of plate steel). Similarly, second column 15 and second support 54 may be a single component forming a vertical support (e.g., a single piece of sheet steel) rather than two separate components welded together. Horizontal member 56 may be welded between both of these columns.

With regard to rotary framework 20 of the exemplary embodiment in FIGS. 1-2, it includes opposite rotary framework arms 24 and 25 and may be coupled to first and second vertical columns 14 and 15 so as to be rotatable about a framework axis 26. Framework axis 26 is in a substantially horizontal orientation. Rotary framework 20 may rotate 180 degrees around framework axis 26 between load/unload zone 1 and work zone 2. However, it is understood that rotary framework 20 may rotate any number of degrees about framework axis 26.

In this exemplary embodiment, rotary framework arms 24 and 25 may include a first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32 located at one end of framework arms 24 and 25, respectively, so as to define a first work-piece axis 34 extending between first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32. Rotary framework 20 may also include a second set of work-piece supports 40 and 42 that are located at an opposite end of framework arms 24 and 25, respectively, from first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32. Second set of work-piece supports 40 and 42 define a second work-piece axis 44 extending between the second set of work-piece supports 40 and 42. First work-piece axis 34 and second work-piece axis 44 may lie in a common work-piece plane. Such rotary framework may hold one or more work-pieces (e.g., work-piece 4) with first and second sets of work-piece supports to rotate and/or move the work-pieces between load/unload zone 1 and work zone 2. FIGS. 1-2 also show that rotary framework 20 may include a divider 28 to separate load/unload zone 1 from work zone 2 in order to provide protection to an operator positioned near load/unload zone 2 from the work being performed in work zone 1. Divider 28 may be oriented substantially perpendicular to rotary framework arms 24 and 25.

As discussed herein, positioner chassis 12 and rotary framework 20 may be made of any known or yet to be discovered material having sufficient strength and rigidity to withstand the stresses and forces of the moving rotary framework 20 and the load associated with one or more work-pieces held by rotary framework 20. And, as described above, the material for and the size and dimensions of positioner chassis 12 are configured such that chassis 12 may support the weight of the mezzanine 50 and one or more robots mounted to mezzanine 50. Such a positioner is commercially available from Motoman, Inc., West Carrollton, Ohio, within the 6000 Series of positioners.

In addition, positioner 10 may include a drive motor assembly, and any associated gears, clutches, etc., which are all beyond the scope of the present invention and may be gleaned from conventional teachings, e.g., U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,666,363, 5,074,741, and 5,873,569, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference. For example, work-piece positioner 10 may comprise a single drive motor (not shown) and a clutch assembly (not shown) arranged to impart selectively rotary motion to the rotary framework 20 about the framework axis 26 and rotary motion to work-piece 4 supported by first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32.

Positioner 10 may also include one or more robots mounted to mezzanine 50 above positioner 10 and/or work zone 2. Such robots 70 may include any variety of conventional or yet-to-be developed robots, lasers, or other robotic equipment necessary to perform the desired applications to work-piece 4 within work zone 2 without departing from the scope of the present invention. In one exemplary embodiment, industrial robots commercially available from Motoman, Inc. of West Carrollton, Ohio may be mounted to positioner 10.

In operation, an operator may load work-piece 4 between first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32 while first set of work-piece supports are positioned in the load/unload zone 1. Drive motor and clutch assembly may rotate framework arms 24 and 25 such that first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32 and work-piece 4 may be rotated 180 degrees from load/unload zone 1 to work zone 1. All the axes of rotation of the positioner may rotate simultaneously during the sweep from zone 1 to zone 2, resulting in the work-piece being in the desired position at the end of the sweep motion. Once in work zone 2, robots 70 mounted upon mezzanine 50 may perform applications on work-piece 4 from above this work zone as shown in FIG. 1. While robots 70 perform this work, the operator may unload and/or load a second work-piece (not shown) between second set of work-piece supports 40 and 42. As described above, divider 28 may provide protection to load/unload zone 1 (i.e., operator) from potential hazards of the work being performed within work zone 2. Once robots 70 have completed work on work-piece 4, rotary framework arms 24 and 25 may be rotated 180 degrees back to load/unload 1 such that work-piece 4 may be unloaded and a new work-piece loaded onto positioner 10 between first set of work-piece supports 30 and 32.

The work-piece positioner of the present invention may combine the mezzanine with a variety of different types of positioner chasses, rotary frameworks, and work-piece supports without departing from the scope of the invention. For example, FIGS. 4-5 show positioner 100 as including a mezzanine 150, a positioner chassis 112, and a rotary framework 120 rotatably coupled to chassis 112, wherein rotary framework 120 includes a table 122 that rotates about a vertical axis 126. In this exemplary embodiment, rotary framework 120 rotates a work-piece 104 that has been positioned on rotary framework 120 from a load/unload zone 101 to a work zone 102. Such a rotary framework 120 may rotate work-piece 104 (e.g., 180 degrees) between load/unload zone 101 and work zone 102. As described above with reference to the first exemplary embodiment, positioner 100 may be capable of simultaneous, multiple axis movement such that the work-piece may be in the desired position at the end of the sweep motion from zone 101 to zone 102. As shown, rotary framework 120 may also include a divider 128 separating rotary framework 120 into two areas to provide protection to an operator and to separate work-pieces held by rotary framework 120. In the exemplary embodiment shown in FIGS. 4-5, rotary framework 120 is a turntable-style positioner, wherein a substantially circular table rotates about a substantially vertical axis 126 between two positions (i.e., load/unload zone 101 and work zone 102). Although, as described above, mezzanine may be configured to support any number of robots, this particular exemplary embodiment shows two robots 170 mounted to mezzanine 150, specifically to a horizontal member 156 of mezzanine 150, above work zone 102. In this exemplary embodiment, positioner chassis 112 includes a first vertical support 114 and a second vertical support 115 that are then welded to horizontal member 156 of mezzanine 150 and is configured to support both the mezzanine and one or more robots (e.g., 170). This exemplary embodiment of the positioner 10 and robots 170 of the present invention may also comprise the same footprint as described above herein. The positioner of this exemplary embodiment is commercially available from Motoman, Inc., West Carrollton, Ohio, within the 1200 Series of positioners.

In still another exemplary embodiment of the present invention shown in FIGS. 6-7, positioner 200 includes mezzanine 250, positioner chassis 212, a rotary framework 220, a first set of work-pieces supports 230 and 232, and a second set of work-piece supports 240 and 242, wherein rotary framework 220 rotates about a vertical rotary framework axis 226. Such rotary framework 220 may also include opposite rotary framework arms 224 and 225, wherein first set of work-piece supports 230 and 232 are located at one end of opposite framework arms 224 and 225, respectively, so as to define a first work-piece axis 234 extending between first set of work-piece supports. Rotary framework 220 may also include a second set of work-piece supports 240 and 242 that are located at an opposite end of opposite framework arms 224 and 225, respectively, from first set of work-piece supports 230 and 232. Second set of work-piece supports 240 and 242 may also define a second work-piece axis (not shown) extending between the second set of work-piece supports. The first and second work-piece axes may lie in a common work-piece plane. Such rotary framework may hold one or more work-pieces with first and second sets of work-piece supports to rotate and/or move work-pieces between load/unload zone 201 and work zone 202.

Still referring to FIGS. 6-7, mezzanine 250 may include first and second mezzanine supports 252 and 254 that are secured to a substantially horizontal member 256 and is configured to hold one or more robots 270 (e.g., one in this exemplary embodiment). First and second mezzanine supports 252 and 254 may be attached (e.g., welded) to a base 213 of positioner 200 and positioned along the floor adjacent positioner chassis 212. Such a positioner may rotate a work-piece (not shown) held in first set of work-piece supports 230 and 232 about framework axis 226 (e.g., 180 degrees) from a load/unload zone 201 to a work zone 202, and then allow a second work-piece (not shown) to be loaded onto second set of work-piece supports 240 an 242 in load/unload zone 201. Additionally, this configuration of positioner 200 and robot 270 may define a combined footprint as detailed above herein.

As will be understood by those familiar with the art, the present invention may be embodied in other specific forms without departing from the spirit or essential characteristics thereof. For example, the invention is not limited to the type and dimensions of the transport vehicle specifically disclosed. Accordingly, the disclosures and descriptions herein are intended to be illustrative, but not limiting.





 
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