Title:
Conveyor oven having a removable front cover
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is a conveyor oven that has a base. The base has a first end and a second end. A housing is secured to the second end of the base. A fixed end of a cantilevered top is attached to the housing. The cantilevered top extends generally parallel to the base and towards the first end of the base. The volume between the cantilevered top and the base generally defines an oven chamber.



Inventors:
Kingdon, Charles (Flower Mound, TX, US)
Zapata, David (Dallas, TX, US)
Gilleland, John (Arlington, TX, US)
Application Number:
09/947501
Publication Date:
03/06/2003
Filing Date:
09/06/2001
Assignee:
KINGDON CHARLES
ZAPATA DAVID
GILLELAND JOHN
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
99/443C, 126/21A
International Classes:
A21B1/26; A21B1/48; (IPC1-7): F24C15/32
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
BASICHAS, ALFRED
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Sanford E. Warren, Jr. (Dallas, TX, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A conveyor oven comprising: a base having a first end and a second end; a housing secured to the second end of the base; a cantilevered top having a fixed end and a free end, the fixed end attached to the housing, the cantilevered top extending generally parallel to the base and towards the first end of the base; and an oven chamber generally defined by the volume between the cantilevered top and the base.

2. The conveyor oven of claim 1 further comprising a removable plug that fills an area defined by the first end of the base and the free end of the cantilevered top.

3. The conveyor oven of claim 2 wherein the removable plug has one or more handles to facilitate removal and replacement of the removable plug.

4. The conveyor oven of claim 2 wherein the removable plug is insulated to retain heat within the conveyor oven.

5. The conveyor oven of claim 1 wherein the oven chamber is heated by forced convection.

6. The conveyor oven of claim 1 wherein heated air is introduced into the cooking chamber by one or more plenums.

7. The conveyor oven of claim 6 wherein the heated air is heated by a resistive heating element.

8. The conveyor oven of claim 6 wherein the heated air is heated by combustion of a fuel.

9. A modular oven system comprising: a housing having an upper end and a lower end; a base having a first end and a second end, the first end of the base attached to the lower end of the housing; a top having a first end and a second end, the first end of the base attached to the upper end of the housing, the top extending generally parallel and adjacent to the base; an oven chamber, the oven chamber generally defined by the volume between the base and the top; a removable plug to generally fill an area between the second end of the top and the second end of the base; a removable conveyor within the oven chamber.

10. The system of claim 9 further comprising one or more removable upper plenums extending generally adjacent the top to deliver heated air to the oven chamber.

11. The system of claim 9 further comprising one or more removable lower plenums extending generally adjacent the base to deliver heated air to the oven chamber.

12. The system of claim 9 further comprising one or more removable upper plenums extending generally adjacent the top to deliver heated air to the oven chamber and one or more removable lower plenums extending generally adjacent the base to deliver heated air to the oven chamber.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to conveyor ovens and, more particularly to, an improved conveyor oven having a removable front cover to facilitate disassembly and cleaning of the interior and components of the conveyor oven.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Many restaurants use conveyor ovens to prepare food. A food service professional may place food such as a pizza or a dish of lasagna, for example, on the conveyor and the food is cooked or heated as it is conveyed through the oven. As the food cooks, cheese may melt and drip on the oven surfaces, tomato sauce may splatter on the oven surfaces, and crumbs of food may fall from the conveyor and collect in the oven. Because most conveyor ovens have relatively confined cooking chambers, cleaning the oven after a day of cooking can be a difficult task.

[0003] Some conveyor ovens have removable interior components that allow the food service professional to partially disassemble the conveyor oven for cleaning. However, typical oven designs have significant obstacles to cleaning. For example, many conventional conveyor ovens have a tunnel-like cooking chamber that is open on opposite ends. The conveyor moves food from one end of the cooking chamber to the other. The cooking chamber is difficult to clean because access is limited to either end of the oven. Additionally, thoroughly cleaning areas near the center of the cooking chamber in larger ovens may be difficult or impossible for a food service professional to reach these areas. Cleaning cooking chambers in smaller ovens may be difficult because the limited space in the oven also limits access by the food service professional.

[0004] Removing interior components of a conventional conveyor oven may only slightly improve cleaning tasks. The interior components must be removed from the relatively small opening at either end of the conveyor oven. Because the orientation of the oven may be parallel to a countertop or table, maneuvering the interior components for removal and subsequent reassembly could be awkward. Access to the interior of the oven may still be limited because of the orientation of the oven on the countertop, even after the interior components are removed.

[0005] Inspecting the interior of the cooking chamber before and after cleaning is also difficult because of the confined area inside the oven. Areas of the oven may not be cleaned because the food service professional may not be able to clearly see certain regions of the cooking chamber. Similarly, an inspection of the oven after cleaning may not reveal unclean regions. As a result, improperly cleaned ovens may be less efficient, wear faster, decrease the quality of the food or even cause adverse health conditions.

[0006] It would, therefore, be desirable to have an improved conveyor oven that does not have regions that are difficult to access for cleaning. It would also be desirable to have an improved conveyor oven that is not difficult to disassemble for cleaning. Further, it would be desirable to have an improved conveyor oven that does not require a particular orientation for disassembly and cleaning.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] The present invention is a conveyor oven that has a base. The base has a first end and a second end. A housing is secured to the second end of the base. A fixed end of a cantilevered top is attached to the housing. The cantilevered top extends generally parallel to the base and towards the first end of the base. The volume between the cantilevered top and the base generally defines an oven chamber.

[0008] In one embodiment of the invention, a modular oven system has a housing having an upper end and a lower end. A first end of a base is attached to the lower end of the housing. A first end of a top is attached to the upper end of the housing. The top extends generally parallel and adjacent to the base. The volume between the base and the top generally defines an oven chamber. A removable plug generally fills an area between the second end of the top and the second end of the base. A removable conveyor is located within the oven chamber.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0009] For a more complete understanding of the present invention, including its features and advantages, reference is now made to the detailed description of the invention, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings of which:

[0010] FIG. 1 is a perspective exploded view of a conveyor oven that depicts an embodiment of the present invention;

[0011] FIG. 2 is top view of a conveyor oven that depicts an embodiment of the present invention;

[0012] FIG. 3 is a front view of a conveyor that depicts an embodiment of the present invention; and

[0013] FIG. 4 is a side view of a conveyor oven that depicts an embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0014] While the making and using of various embodiments of the present invention is discussed in detail below, it should be appreciated that the present invention provides many applicable inventive concepts that can be embodied in a wide variety of specific contexts. The specific embodiments discussed herein are merely illustrative of specific ways to make and use the invention, and do not delimit the scope of the invention.

[0015] A conveyor oven according to one embodiment of the present invention has many useful advantages over a typical conveyor oven. Typical conveyor ovens have an entrance and an exit. Food is placed on the conveyor at the entrance; it is carried through hot gasses in the cooking chamber; and, presumably, the food exits in a cooked state. The dimensions of the entrances and exits of the typical oven are designed to be large enough to accommodate various foods but small enough to retain the heated gas and maintain efficient operation. As discussed above, cleaning and maintenance of the oven are hindered by the confined nature of conventional ovens. A conveyor oven having the improvements described in detail below overcomes this and other disadvantages of conventional ovens.

[0016] As depicted in FIGS. 1-4, an oven 10 has a housing 12. The housing 12 may house various components of the oven 10 such as heating elements, a power supply, switches, motors and the like. The housing 12 may be fabricated from stainless steel or other suitable material such as aluminum or carbon fiber. A stainless steel housing 12 may be formed by a brake or fabricated from multiple pieces and bolted, screwed or welded together, for example. The housing 12 may rest directly on a countertop or table or may have adjustable feet (not shown) to compensate for out-of-level surfaces.

[0017] The weight of the housing 12 may be altered according to desired design characteristics. For example, weight may be added to the housing 12 to increase the stability of the oven 10. Plates of steel may be added to the housing 12 or heavier gauge stainless steel may be used to fabricate the housing 12 to increase total weight. A heavier housing 12 is less likely to slide across a surface if a user accidentally bumps the oven 10. Consequently, a heavier housing 12 may enhance user safety. Increased weight may also impart an additional perception of quality to the user of the oven 10.

[0018] Alternatively, the weight of the housing 12 may be reduced to save material and shipping costs, thereby reducing costs passed to the customer. Reducing weight may be accomplished by using a lighter gauge stainless steel to fabricate the housing 12. Smaller, more efficient components may also be installed in the housing 12 to reduce weight.

[0019] A base 14 is attached to the lower portion of the housing 12. The base 14 may be welded, bolted or screwed to the housing 12. Similar to the housing 12, the base 14 may also be fabricated from stainless steel, aluminum or other suitable material for the food service industry. The base 14 may impart additional stability to the oven 10 by distributing the weight of the oven 10 over a larger area. The dimensions of the base 14 will generally define the size of the oven 10. Smaller capacity ovens 10 will usually have a smaller base 14, whereas larger capacity ovens 10 will usually have a larger base 14.

[0020] The base 14 provides support for a conveyor 16. The conveyor 16 may be a wire mesh that conveys food through the oven 10. A motor within the housing 12 typically drives the conveyor 16 but the conveyor 16 may also be driven by an external drive or other drive that is housed within the conveyor 16. Alternative methods of driving the conveyor 16 will be apparent to those having ordinary skill in the art of conveyor ovens.

[0021] The base 14 may also support one or more lower plenums 18, although some ovens 10 may not have lower plenums 18. The lower plenums 18 deliver heated air or gasses to the lower side of a food that is cooked in the oven 10. The lower plenums 18 may be fabricated from stainless steel, aluminum, molded plastic or other material that is suitable to channel heated air or gasses. The lower plenums 18 may simply rest on the base 14 or interlock into the base 14 or the housing 12. The lower plenums 18 may be easily removable from the oven 10 to facilitate cleaning and maintaining the oven 10.

[0022] Heated air or gasses may be generated in the housing 12 by electric heating elements or gas combustion, for example. A blower within the housing 12 may force the heated air or gasses into the lower plenums 18. The lower plenums 18 may be tapered towards their distal ends to maintain air or gas velocity along the length of the lower plenums 18. The heated air or gasses may be discharged from the lower plenums 18 through a series of air distribution ports in the upper surface of the lower plenums 18. The series of ports may be sized and arranged to deliver an appropriate volume of heated air or gasses and properly cook food within the oven 10. Heated air or gasses from the lower plenums 18 travels through the conveyor 16 and may impinge on the lower surface of the food. This directional distribution of heated air or gasses aids in cooking separate portions of foods such as the bottom of a pizza crust, for example.

[0023] A top 20 is attached to an upper portion of the housing 12. The top 20 may be fabricated from materials such as stainless steel, aluminum or other materials known in the art of oven manufacturing. The size of the top 20 may have dimensions similar to the dimensions of the base 14. The volume of space between the base 14 and the top 20 generally defines a chamber 22 of the oven 10. The size of the chamber 22 determines the size of the conveyor 16 and ultimately determines the size or amount of food that may be cooked in the oven 10 during a particular time. Different sizes of ovens 10 may be manufactured by varying the lengths and widths of the top 20 and base 14 and varying the distance between the top 20 and the base 14.

[0024] The top 20 is attached to the housing 12 in a cantilevered manner. The housing 12 provides structural support for the cantilevered top 20. The connection between the top 20 and the housing 12 may be screwed, bolted, welded or fastened in another manner known to those of ordinary skill in the oven fabricating art. The top 20 is rigid enough to have little or no deflection at the distal end of the top 20. Consequently, the top 20 requires no additional support structure.

[0025] The top 20 may support one or more upper plenums 24, although some ovens 10 may not have upper plenums 24. The upper plenums 24 deliver heated air or gasses to the upper side of a food that is cooked in the oven 10. The upper plenums 24 may also deliver heated air or gasses to the chamber 22 to thoroughly cook the entire food rather than cook only a particular region of the food, such as the top of a pizza, for example. The upper plenums 24 may be fabricated from stainless steel, aluminum, molded plastic or other material that is suitable to channel heated air or gasses. The upper plenums 24 may interlock into the top 20 or the housing 12. The upper plenums 24 may be easily removable from the oven 10 to facilitate cleaning and maintaining the oven 10.

[0026] The blower within the housing 12 may force the heated air or gasses into the upper plenums 24. The upper plenums 24 may be tapered towards their distal ends to maintain air or gas velocity along the length of the upper plenums 24. The heated air or gasses may be discharged from the upper plenums 24 through a series of air distribution ports in the lower surface of the upper plenums 24. The series of ports may be sized and arranged to deliver an appropriate volume of heated air or gasses and properly cook food within the oven 10. Heated air or gasses from the upper plenums 24 may be directed to impinge on the upper surface of the food. This directional distribution of heated air or gasses aids in cooking separate portions of foods such as the meat or cheese toppings on a pizza, for example.

[0027] The cantilever structure of the top 20 imparts many beneficial features to the oven 10. One result of the cantilever structure is that the chamber 22 of the oven 10 is only bounded on one side, which may be located at the back of the oven 10. This beneficial result allows internal components of the oven 10 such as the conveyor 16, the lower plenums 18 and the upper plenums 24 to be removed from the front or the sides of the oven 10. Consequently, cleaning and maintaining the oven 10 is simplified because the orientation of the oven 10 does not hinder access by maintenance and cleaning personnel.

[0028] Because access to the chamber 22 is not restricted to the entrance and exit, the chamber 22 may also be cleaned from the front. Cleaning the chamber 22 from the front results in more thorough and sanitary cleaning. Many areas in the chamber of an oven without a cantilever top are confined, difficult to reach and often impossible to observe without using specialized equipment. As a result, these areas may not be thoroughly cleaned, which could contaminate food that is cooked in a non-cantilever oven. The cantilever top 20 on the oven 10 according to one embodiment of the present invention allows much better access to the chamber 22 and the interior surfaces of the oven 10 for cleaning and maintenance purposes. Therefore, the cantilevered top 20 allows users to prepare food in a more sanitary manner.

[0029] Heat may be lost through the area between the distal end of the top 20 and the distal end of the base 14. A plug 26 may be fitted in this area between the top 20 and the base 14 to reduce or eliminate this heat loss. The plug 26 may have one or more handles 28 to facilitate installation and removal of the plug 26. The plug 26 may be fabricated from stainless steel, aluminum, heat-resistant polymers and the like. The plug 26 may also be insulated to reduce heat loss through the front of the chamber 22 and to reduce chances that users will be injured by hot surfaces on the oven 10. A friction fit between the plug 26 and the distal ends of the top 20 and the base 14 may hold the plug 26 in place during use. The plug 26 may also have detents that mate with protrusions on the distal ends of the top 20 and the base 14 to hold the plug 26 in place. Other methods of removably fastening the plug 26 to the oven include, but are not limited to, springs, straps, thumb screws, hinges, latches and the like.

[0030] The top 20 may also provide support for easily removable baffles 30 and side covers 32. One or more baffles 30 may be removably attached to the top 20 or other portion of the oven 10 to contain and redirect heated air or gasses within the chamber 22. The baffles 30 may help prevent heated air or gasses from escaping through the entrance or exit of the oven 10, and thereby improve the efficiency of the oven 10 and the environment of a user. The baffles 30 may be removed from the front of the oven 10 after the plug 26 is removed to facilitate cleaning the chamber 22. One or more side covers 32 may also be removably attached to the top 20 or other portion of the oven 10. The side covers 32 may be insulated to help protect users from injuries caused by hot surfaces on the oven 10.

[0031] Whereas the invention has been shown and described in connection with the preferred embodiment thereof, it will be understood that many modifications, substitutions and additions may be made which are within the intended broad scope of the appended claims. There has therefore been shown and described an improved conveyor oven that accomplishes at least all of the above stated advantages.