Title:
WEIGHING AND BAGGING APPARATUS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An apparatus for automatically weighing and bagging ice or other objects which can weigh more than one distinct weights of the objects, comprising a frame, an ice delivery assembly and a weighing apparatus. After weighing, the ice is bagged and delivered to an area for storage or customer access. In one mode of operation, the weighing apparatus can weigh and deliver a preweighed bag of ice; in a second mode of operation, the apparatus can weigh and deliver a preweighed amount of bulk, unbagged ice. The weighing apparatus is automatically refilled with ice based on signals and sensors associated with a central processing unit.



Inventors:
Soderman, Richard J. (Clarkesville, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/695864
Publication Date:
11/22/2007
Filing Date:
04/03/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
141/83, 141/114, 141/313, 700/1
International Classes:
B65B3/28
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ARNETT, NICOLAS ALLEN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BRYAN CAVE LLP (1201 WEST PEACHTREE STREET, NW ONE ATLANTIC CENTER, FOURTEENTH FLOOR, ATLANTA, GA, 30309-3488, US)
Claims:
Claimed is:

1. An apparatus as described herein and as shown in the Figures, including each and every limitation and embodiment.

2. A method of operation as described herein and as shown in the Figures, including each and every limitation and embodiment.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims benefit of co-pending U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/788,655, filed Apr. 3, 2006, entitled WEIGHING AND BAGGING APPARATUS, and commonly owned by the owner of the present application, the disclosure of which is incorporated by reference in its entirety herein.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to weighing apparatus and, more particularly, to a single apparatus which can automatically weigh one or two distinct weights of a material, such as ice cubes or other particulate or flowable material.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention is illustrated in the drawings in which like reference characters designate the same or similar parts throughout the figures of which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective schematic view of the weighing scale portion of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a detail perspective view of the weighing scale;

FIG. 3 is a side elevation view of the weighing scale with the bucket being partially filled with ice cubes;

FIG. 4 is a side elevation view of a detail of the bucket portion;

FIG. 5 is a side elevation view of a detail of the weighing scale and bucket with the bucket being empty;

FIG. 6 is a side elevation view of a detail of the weighing scale and bucket with the bucket being full;

FIG. 7 is a flow diagram of an exemplary embodiment of the operation of the present invention;

FIG. 8 is a continuation of FIG. 7;

FIG. 9 is a continuation of FIG. 8;

FIG. 10 is a front elevation view of a detail of the weighing apparatus, showing the exit chute and the payment collector;

FIG. 11 is a schematic view of an exemplary embodiment of a bagging and sealing assembly, with the assembly being in position to start;

FIG. 12 is a schematic view of an exemplary embodiment of a bagging and sealing assembly, with a bag in place and being filled;

FIG. 13 is a schematic view of an exemplary embodiment of a bagging and sealing assembly, with a filled bag being sealed;

FIG. 14 shows a first elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 15 shows a second elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 16 shows a third elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 17 shows a fourth elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 18 shows a fifth elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 19 shows a sixth alternative elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 20 shows a seventh alternative elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 21 shows an eighth alternative elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 22A shows a ninth alternative elevation view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 22B shows a top view of the present invention as shown in FIGS. 19-22A;

FIG. 23 is a flow diagram of an exemplary embodiment of the remote operation/monitoring software and method;

FIG. 24 shows a first exemplary output report obtained using the remote monitoring system;

FIG. 25A shows a second exemplary output report obtained using the remote monitoring system;

FIG. 25B is a continuation of FIG. 25A;

FIG. 26A shows a first exemplary output image obtained using the remote monitoring system;

FIG. 26B shows one view of one embodiment of the apparatus;

FIG. 26C shows one view of one embodiment of the apparatus;

FIG. 26D shows one view of one embodiment of the apparatus;

FIG. 26E shows one view of one embodiment of the apparatus;

FIG. 26F shows one view of one embodiment of the apparatus;

FIG. 27 shows an exemplary output report obtained using the remote monitoring system;

FIG. 28 shows an exemplary output report obtained using the remote monitoring system;

FIG. 29 shows an exemplary output report obtained using the remote monitoring system; and

FIG. 30 shows an exemplary output report obtained using the remote monitoring system.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides, in general, an apparatus for automatic weighing of a quantity of material and, preferably, preparation of the weighed amount of material for subsequent delivery. Objects to be weighed are provided by an automated delivery assembly to a scale, also referred to herein as a weighing apparatus. The weighed material is subsequently bagged or delivered to a collector for later delivery to a customer. The scale has at least two modes, one mode for delivering a first predetermined weight of objects, and a second mode for delivering a second predetermined weight of objects. Preferably, the first mode provides for producing a closed bag containing the objects and the second mode provides for bulk delivery of weighed objects to the customer for use in the customer's own container. In one exemplary embodiment described herein, the first mode provides a bag of, for example, 16 pounds of ice cubes and a second mode provides a bulk delivery via a chute of, for example, 20 pounds of ice. As is commonly done in the industry, the customer obtains more ice if a bag is not needed. The different amounts can be discretely measured and provided using the weighing apparatus of the present invention. The present invention also provides a mechanism for rapidly filling the scale with objects until close to the approximate desired weight is reached and then slowly filling the scale with the remaining amount of objects. This enables rapid yet accurate weighing and reduces the overall time to cycle the apparatus to obtain the desired quantity of objects.

FIG. 1 shows a side view of one exemplary embodiment of the present invention and comprises an apparatus 10 including a housing 11 and also having a bucket 12 for receiving objects to be weighed. In an exemplary embodiment ice cubes 14 are the objects or material to be weighed. It is to be understood that many types of objects or materials can be used with the present invention, including, but not limited to, flowable materials such as, but not limited to, liquids, particulate or granular material (such as, but not limited to, sand, dirt, gravel, and rocks), small objects such as hardware parts (such as, but not limited to, nails, screws, bolts, nuts, washers or the like), larger objects such as, but not limited to, blocks, food items (such as potatoes, vegetables, fruit, meat or the like), balls, mixtures of the foregoing and the like. The apparatus 10 may preferably be contained in a closed environment by the housing 11 and cooled to permit formation and storage of ice.

The bucket 12 can be filled by a feed assembly 20, such as, but not limited to, an auger 22 associated with a drive motor (not shown) and which transports ice cubes 14 via a conduit 24 from a storage area in response to a signal for more ice cubes 14. Other feed apparatus, such as, but not limited to, a hopper, conveyor belt, elevator, conduit, hose, combinations thereof, with associated controlled actuation mechanism are possible. The bucket 12 is sized to hold a desired amount of ice cubes 14, preferably with enough room to prevent overfilling.

The bucket 12 is pivotably connected to an arm assembly 26 by a pair of pins 28. Alternatively, it is possible for the bucket to be fixedly attached to the arm assembly 26. The arm assembly 26 may comprise a pair of generally parallel arms 30, 32 between which the bucket 12 is disposed. The arms 30, 32 are connected by a crossbar 34. The arms 30, 32 and crossbar 34 may be constructed of rigid metal, such as angle iron, steel, aluminum or other rigid, strong and durable material. The arms 30, 32 are each pivotably connected to a frame member 36 by means of a pin 38, 40 passing through apertures 42, 44 in the arms 30, 32, respectively. The pin 38, 40 may include a bearing (not shown) to reduce friction. The frame member 36 is connected to a frame 46 generally comprising a first side frame member 48, second side frame member 50, rear frame member 51, vertical frame members 52, 54, 56, 58, which are connected to a generally rectangular base frame segment 60 (not shown). The frame 46 also comprises a bracket segment 62 comprising a pair of downward depending members 64, 66 and a crossbar segment 68. The frame 46 preferably includes a crossbrace member 69.

Extending preferably horizontally from the crossbar 34 is a support member 70 facing toward the rear frame member 51 and a support member 72 facing in the direction opposite the support member 70. Attached to the support member 70 is an actuation mechanism, preferably, though not mandatorily, a first limit switch or microswitch 74. The pivoting portion contact portion 75 of the switch can, in the proper orientation, contact the arm 30. Attached to the support member 72 is a similar actuation mechanism, such as a second limit switch or microswitch 76, having a contact portion 77 which can contact the second arm 32. As will be described in greater detail hereinbelow, the microswitches 74, 76 actuate a signal depending on the relative position of the arm 30 as it pivots from a first to a second position.

An arm 80 is pivotably attached to the support member 34 by a bracket 82 and a pin 84. The distal end 86 has attached to it a first trough 88 which can support a weight. A raising and lowering mechanism, preferably a piston 90 (preferably air as the interior of an apparatus for making ice cubes can be sufficiently cold to freeze a hydraulic cylinder, but, under warmer conditions a hydraulic or other form of piston or moving device can be used) is attached to the arm 80 at one end and to a mounting bracket 92 associated with the crossbar 34. The piston 90 is preferably operatively connected to a controller for actuation.

The first side frame member 48 has a trough 94 associated therewith. The second side frame member 50 has a trough 96 associated therewith. The arm 30 has a trough 98 associated therewith and the arm 32 has a trough 100 associated therewith. The crossbar 34 has a trough 102 associated therewith.

The apparatus 10 has a number of weights associated with the assembly and the method. A main counterbalance weight 110 is associated with the crossbar 34. In one exemplary embodiment an auxiliary weight 114 preferably comprises a crossbeam 116 from which depends two arms 118, 120 which are attached to a weight 117 of a predetermined amount. The crossbeam 116 is, in an initial position, resting in the trough 88 with the weight portion 117 resting in the trough 102. A secondary weight 130 comprises a bar 132 which may optionally have one or more weights 134 associated therewith. The bar 132 can rest in the troughs 98, 100 in an initial position.

Preferably, a controller 150 comprises a conventional programmable logic controller unit, known to those skilled in the art. The controller 150 may be programmed to actuate and control the various activities of the apparatus 10. The controller 150 may be operatively connected to the piston 90 and the microswitches 74, 76 as well as the auger 22 drive motor (not shown). The controller 150 is also preferably connected to a payment controller 152 which actuates the controller 150 upon successful payment of the prescribed amount.

When used in the above-described exemplary embodiment for bagging a weighed quantity of ice, the apparatus 10 also optionally includes a bagging and sealing assembly 160, which includes a supply of bags 162. The apparatus 10 can also optionally include a chute subassembly for conveying bagged ice from the bagging and sealing assembly 160 to an exit for controlled access by a customer after purchase.

While the ice cubes 14 may be manually removed from the bucket 12, the bucket 12, in an exemplary preferred embodiment also preferably includes a release assembly 180 (see FIGS. 2-4), including a first door 182 which is hingedly attached by a hinge 184 to a first wall 186. A first mounting bracket 188 extends generally horizontally outward from the first wall 186 at a position above the hinge 184. A second mounting bracket 190 extends outward from the first door 182. A piston 192 (preferably an air cylinder) is attached at one end to the bracket 188 and at the other end to the bracket 190. The piston 192 is preferably operatively connected to the controller 150. The first door 182 can swing from the closed position shown to an open position 194 (shown in phantom).

In a similar manner, a second door 196 is hingedly attached by a hinge 198 to a second wall 200. A second mounting bracket 202 extends generally horizontally outward from the second wall 200 at a position above the hinge 198. A second door mounting bracket 204 extends outward from the first door 196. A piston 206 (preferably an air cylinder) is attached at one end to the bracket 202 and at the other end to the bracket 204. The piston 206 is preferably operatively connected to the controller 150. The second door 196 can swing from the closed position shown to an open position 208 (shown in phantom). The first door 182 and second door 196 meet at one edge to close the bottom of the bucket 12. The bucket 12 also has two preferably fixed side walls 210, 212.

The first door 182 may open to release the quantity of pre-weighed ice cubes 14 into a bag 162. The second door 196 may open to release ice cubes 14 into a collector 214 for delivery to a chute 216. The collector 214 has a first angled wall 214A and a second angled wall 214B (shown in phantom in FIG. 4). A gate 218 may be raised by a customer-operated lever 220 (see FIG. 10) allowing the quantity of unbagged ice to be delivered to a customer provided cooler or other container.

In an alternative embodiment, the doors 182, 198 can be a horizontally mounted door which slides to one side. In another alternative embodiment, instead of a door the vertical walls of the bucket 12 can taper to create a funnel, with the bottom opening of the funnel removably sealed by a cap. Such a funnel and cap arrangement may be advantageous where liquids, flowable material or small objects are weighed and transferred to a narrow opening container, such as a jug, bottle or the like.

Operation

According to one exemplary embodiment, shown in the flow diagrams of FIGS. 7-9, the present invention may be operated as follows.

Customer Purchase and Ice Delivery

A customer inserts money into the payment controller 152. The customer chooses whether to receive a bag of ice or bulk loose ice delivered by a chute into a container the customer provides. The controller 150 is actuated and a gate 218 may opened by the to allow a bag of ice to slide down a chute to the customer Bulk ice cubes 14 are delivered to the customer's container through the door 222 by pulling a lever 220. The customer releases the lever and the door 222 closes. The apparatus 10 is activated as follows to prepare another bag 162 of ice cubes or a preweighed amount of loose ice in the collector 214.

Weighing and Preparing Ice for Delivery

For Bag Ice

When the bucket 12 is empty the limit switch 74 is on, as shown in FIG. 5. If a bag of ice is to be created (because the prior bag has been dispensed to the customer), the controller 150 activates the piston 90, which raises the arm 80 and the weight 117 is lifted off of the trough 102, thereby reducing the total counterweight. The controller 150 activates the auger 22 to operate at high speed. Ice cubes 14 are moved through the conduit 24 by the auger 22 and the ice cubes 14 are transported into the bucket 12. It is to be understood that other transport mechanisms, such as an elevator, paddlewheel, conveyor belt or other mechanisms known to those skilled in the art, may be used to move the ice. The auger 22 can operate at high speed to move larger quantities of ice cubes 14 quickly, or at low speed to move smaller amounts so as to prevent possible overfilling or splashing of ice cubes 14 out of the bucket 12 when the bucket 12 reaches capacity.

Ice cubes 14 are delivered to the bucket 12 at high speed until the weight of ice cubes 14 entering the bucket 12 approaches the appropriate weight to counterbalance the main counterbalance weight 110. As the arms 30, 32 pivot on the pins 38, 40 and reach a horizontal orientation, the limit switch 74 is deactivated (at which time the limit switch 76 is not yet activated, see FIG. 3). The deactivated limit switch 74 results in the controller 150 signaling the auger 22 to switch to low speed. The bucket 12 is filled slowly until the weight in the bucket 12 is sufficient to counterbalance the secondary weight 130. It is to be understood that the counterweights discussed herein need not be the same weight as the various bucket weights (empty, part filled and filled), rather, depending on the offset and overall construction, the pivot point, and the component weights, the counterweight to ice cube 14 weight will be predetermined as appropriate for the distance from the pivot and the force weight applied.

When the bucket 12 is filled and the arms 30, 32 pivot (see FIG. 6) the limit switch 74 is activated. The controller 22 signals the auger 22 to stop. The controller 22 signals the piston 192 (or other door opening mechanism which might be used) to retract, which causes the door 182 to pivot on the hinge 184 and the ice cubes 14 are released, thereby emptying the bucket 12. When the weight in the bucket 12 is reduced, the arms 30, 32 pivot back to the initial position and activate the limit switch 74, which causes the controller 150 to activate the piston 184 which extends and recloses the door 182. The weighing apparatus 10 is thereby reset for the next use.

Bulk Ice

In a second mode of operation, namely, for weighing of a quantity of ice cubes 14 to be dispensed, but not bagged by the apparatus of the present invention, the initial and final steps are changed, as follows.

Delivery of Bulk Ice

After paying the customer selects the “bulk” option on the payment controller 152 and pulls the lever 220. The gate 218 is opened and the correct amount/weight of ice cubes 14 which are stored on the chute 216 empties through the gate 218 and the door 222 to the customer-provided receptacle. The customer releases the lever 220 and the door 222 closes and the system resets.

Production of Weighed Bulk Ice

In order to produce another pre-weighed quantity of bulk ice for dispensing, the system is reactivated. As discussed above, the quantity of bulk ice cubes 14 may be more than that of bagged ice for the same price; therefore, the weighing apparatus 10 must be able to automatically determine what the appropriate weight of ice cubes 14 in the bucket 12 is to be. To accomplish this, the initial position of the arms 30, 32 is as shown in FIG. 5 and the limit switch 74 is on. As compared to the operation for production of bagged ice, the arm 80 is not raised and the weight 117 is not raised from the trough 102. The weight 117 is additive with the main counterbalance weight 110 to reach the proper weight (e.g., 20 pounds, as in the example discussed hereinabove). The controller 150 activates the auger 22 and the process forward described hereinabove for bagged ice weighing is followed. When the proper weight of ice cubes 14 is conveyed to the bucket 12, the controller 150 activates the piston 206, which opens the door 196. The ice cubes 14 exit the bucket 12 and are received by a collector 214 which deposits the ice cubes 14 onto the chute 216 and stopped by the gate 218. The ice cubes 14 are thus ready for delivery to the customer through the door 224 upon activation. The now empty bucket 12 rises due to the reduced bucket 12 weight, the limit switch 76 is deactivated and the limit switch 74 is activated, thereby resetting the system.

Bagging Assembly

Optionally, the present invention also may include, in an exemplary embodiment, a bagging assembly 300, shown in FIGS. 11-13, and includes a set of bags 162 fitted on pins 304, 306. The bags 162 may be conventional available ice bags commercially available from a number of manufacturers. A vacuum manifold 308 is connected to a vacuum hose 310 which is connected to a vacuum 312. The manifold 308 reciprocates along a rod 314 in the direction of arrow 316. The manifold is moved by a piston 318, which is operably connected to the controller 150. A plate 320 can pivot from a horizontal position downward to a vertical position by a hinge or pivot 322. The plate 320 swings downward to hold one side of the bag 162 and keep it open when the bag 162 is being filled with ice cubes 14. The plate 320 is also operably connected to the controller 150.

When actuated the manifold 308 moves toward the rack of bags 162 and the vacuum 312 is turned on, creating a vacuum force at the manifold 308 opening. The manifold 308 is moved by the piston 318 toward the bags 162 and sucks one side of a bag 162 away from the rack, holding the bag open. The plate 320 swings down to maintain the bag 162 in an open position. The weighing apparatus 10 is actuated as described hereinabove for filling a bag and ice cubes 14 are emptied from the bucket 12 through one side of the collector 214 and into the bag 162 (see FIG. 12). When the filling is complete, a gripper 330 (see FIG. 13) grips the top of the bag and moves via a rod 332 and piston 333 the filled bag 162 to a sealing assembly 334. The sealing assembly 334 comprises a first arm 336 and a second arm 338, the second arm 338 being reciprocatingly movable by a piston 340. Either or both of the arms 336, 338 may have a heated portion (such as a wire) which can partially melt or fuse the two sides of the bag 162 together. The second arm 338 moves toward the first arm 336 with the top of the bag 162 therebetween. The heat and pressure supplied by the arms 336, 338 fuses the top of the bag, thereby sealing the bag 162 of ice cubes 14. The bag 162 is maintained until dispensed through the door 222 or other exit means.

Remote Monitoring/Control System

The present invention may also optionally incorporate a remote monitoring and control system 400. The system 400 may included a server 402, a voice modem 404 or other communications system and protocol, an interface 406 to the controller 150, an interface 408 which connects to at least one camera 410 or other imaging device and software program 412 which controls the operation of the foregoing. Various sensors 413 can be employed, such as, but not limited to, thermal, light, photooptic, motion, system interrupt, and the like. In the event one of the sensors is either activated or a condition (e.g., movement, temperature rise or out of bounds to a predetermined range) is reached 414, the modem 404 may be activated, which can either dial a voice phone number 416 and, if answered by a person, play a prerecorded message indicating the trouble, or, dial a data line number 418 which connects to the server 402 or other location. If the voice number 416 route is used, the software 412 may allow the person to check the status of various conditions of the weighing apparatus 10 via the controller 150 or issue commands using buttons on the phone or voice activation.

A web server 420 may be part of the system 400 (as shown in FIG. 23) in one exemplary embodiment by providing a means for obtaining visual images from the camera(s) 410 or detailed status data. Such data may include, but is not limited to, total money received, bags dispensed, total amount of ice dispensed, temperature profiles of the internal environment. FIGS. 24-30 show various exemplary output reports and images obtained by the system 400.

Advantages

An advantage of the present invention is that the apparatus can use the same components to weigh two discrete amounts depending on a controller activation without requiring substantial reprogramming or reconfiguration of the weights. Another advantage of the present invention is the automatic and reliable bagging of ice cubes (or other objects) using the bagging and sealing assembly. A further advantage of the present invention is the control the operator (not the customer) maintains using the remote access to monitor and control various functions and obtain reports. Yet another advantage is the controlled speed of filling the bucket using a high and low speed fill rate depending on how full the bucket is.

Although only a few exemplary embodiments of this invention have been described in detail above, those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that many modifications are possible in the exemplary embodiments without materially departing from the novel teachings and advantages of this invention. Accordingly, all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of this invention as defined in the following claims.