Title:
High page count method for mail inserts
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention is directed to a High Page Count method for mail inserters. The High Page Count method utilizes multiple source feeders to deposit source material onto a moving track at a rate equal to the speed at which the track operates. The High Page Count method is designed to optimize the mail inserter process by ensuring that no track position goes unfilled.



Inventors:
Stevens, Kenneth A. (Batavia, IL, US)
Application Number:
09/945219
Publication Date:
03/06/2003
Filing Date:
08/30/2001
Assignee:
STEVENS KENNETH A.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B42C1/10; B65H39/02; (IPC1-7): B65H3/44
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
RODRIGUEZ, JOSEPH C
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Barnes & Thornburg LLP (CH) (Chicago, IL, US)
Claims:
1. A method for processing mail inserts, comprising the steps of: selectively operating two source feed units to compile and deposit therefrom source material; at least one of the source feed units being located downstream from an upstream source feed unit; depositing source material onto a track from the upstream source feed unit onto a track position; detecting when the upstream source feed unit is unable to deposit source material onto a track position; and, depositing source material onto the track from the downstream source feed unit when the upstream source feed unit fails to deposit source material onto a track position.

2. The method described in claim 1 including, detecting whether the downstream source feed unit is prepared to deposit source material; and, operating the upstream source feed unit to purposely leave an empty track position when the downstream source feed unit is prepared to deposit source material.

3. A method for processing mail inserts, comprising the steps of: selectively operating two source feed units to compile and deposit therefrom source material; at least one of the source feed units being located downstream from an upstream source feed unit; selectively operating a common feeder located upstream from the upstream source feed unit; depositing common material from the common feeder onto a track at positions therealong; depositing source material from the upstream source feed unit onto the track at positions therealong; detecting when the upstream feed unit is unable to deposit source material onto a track position; and depositing source material from the downstream source feed unit onto the track at positions therealong at which positions the upstream source feed unit fails to deposit source material thereat.

4. A method for processing mail inserts, comprising the steps of: placing two source feed units adjacent the same position along a track; selectively operating said two source feed units to compile and deposit therefrom source material; one of the source feed units being a primary source feed unit the other being a secondary source feed unit; depositing source material from the primary source feed unit onto the track at positions therealong; detecting when the primary source feed unit is unable to deposit source material onto a track position; and depositing source material from the secondary source feed unit onto the track at positions at which the primary source unit has failed to deposit source material thereat.

5. The method described in claim 4 including, detecting when the secondary source feeder unit is prepared to deposit source material; and, operating the primary source feed unit to purposely leave an empty track position when the secondary source feed unit is prepared to deposit source material.

6. A method for sorting compiled pieces of source material, comprising the steps of: selectively diverting source material, compiled from a source feed unit feeding selected track positions, from said selected track positions into a sorting path for said source material from the source feed unit; depositing the source material from the sorting path to an output station; and distributing the source material from the output station to a collector.

7. The method described in claim 6 including, selectively operating a plurality of source feed units to compile source material and separately diverting and depositing source material corresponding to each one of said plurality of source feed units.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] This invention may be described as an improved method for optimizing mail inserters to match the document feeder output with the speed of the track that carries the unique document downstream where it is grouped with common documents and is inserted into an envelope.

DESCRIPTION OF RELATED ART

[0002] In a typical mail inserter used for statement processing or the like, one feeding unit serves as a master document feeder. This master document feeder is generally the first device on the track from start to end or from upstream to downstream track positions. As the master document travels downstream, all other machine functions will not be allowed to operate unless the master document is present. For example, without the master, an outer envelope will not be pulled; without the master, no marketing material will be pulled; without the master, the postage meter will not fire.

[0003] By definition, the absence of the master document feeder is an empty track position. In normal operation, it is common occurrence to have a track outrun the master feeder. This is especially true if the master feeder is collating multiple pages together as a set. When the base machine outruns the master feeder, the feeder is not ready to deposit its material onto the track, and thus, loses its window of opportunity.

[0004] Obviously, the optimal running state of the machine is always to maintain a full track with no empty positions. If empty positions occur, there is a wasted machine cycle, which lessens the machine's actual output and adds unnecessary wear to the machine.

[0005] A unique and active solution to optimize the machine's performance is to provide a means by which the track is to be kept full by incorporating additional master feeders into the system. A total of two or more master feeders can be configured in succession down the track. If an upstream master feeder misses its window of opportunity and leaves an empty track position, the downstream feeder can ensure optimal machine operation by filling the empty position.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0006] This invention may be described as an improved method for optimizing mail output by utilizing more than one source feed unit to match the speed of the track. By matching the speed of the track, the source feed units ensure that there is no empty position on the track, and therefore, allow the mail inserter system to operate at maximum capacity.

[0007] The High Page Count method can be configured in at least three different systems. In the first system an upstream source feed unit deposits the source material onto the track as fast as it can. Unfortunately, because the track operates at a rate in excess of what the upstream feeder can deposit source material at, there will occasionally be an empty track position. In this situation, the downstream feeder senses the empty track position and deposits it's source material onto the track, thereby ensuring that no track position goes unfilled.

[0008] In the second system, the High Page Count method introduces a common feeder located upstream from the upstream source feed unit. This common feeder places common material onto the track at a rate equal to the track speed. As the common material gets to the upstream source feed unit, the upstream source feed unit will deposit it's source material onto the track position to accompany the common material. Again, as the upstream source feeder cannot match the rate of deposit with the speed of the track there will occasionally be an empty track position. In this situation, the downstream source feed unit will sense that the upstream source feed unit did not deposit source material onto a track position and will deposit it's source material onto the track, thereby ensuring that every track position receives source material.

[0009] In the third system, the High Page Count method is configured such that the source feed units are positioned across from each other at the same track position. Once again, the primary source feed unit cannot match the rate of deposit with the speed of the track and the secondary source feed unit deposits it's source material when it detects that the primary source feed unit cannot make a deposit.

[0010] Each of these three systems for the High Page Count method presents a unique solution for optimizing the mail inserter process by utilizing multiple source feed unit to match the rate at which the track operates. Furthermore, each of these three systems can be configured such that the downstream output stations can be placed at a right angle to the upstream source feed units thereby creating a more compact design.

[0011] In each of the three systems for the High Page Count method, because the source material is being deposited from at least two source feed units the source material is in a random order on the track. Therefore, it is a goal of the High Page Count method, at the downstream section of the operation, to correct the randomness of the source material placement on the track and reorder the source material such that all the source material from the primary source feed unit is sorted into one path, and all of the source material from the secondary source feed unit is sorted into another path.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a two source feed unit layout of the present invention.

[0013] FIG. 2 is a flow chart of the high page count method with a second source feed unit downstream from the primary source feed unit.

[0014] FIG. 3 is a block diagram of a common feeder located upstream from the two source feed units.

[0015] FIG. 4 is a flow chart for the high page count method wherein a common feeder is located upstream from the two source feed units.

[0016] FIG. 5 is a block diagram of the source feed units sharing the same track position.

[0017] FIG. 6 is a flow chart for the high page count method wherein the two source feed units share the same track position.

[0018] FIG. 7 is a block diagram of the downstream output station.

[0019] FIG. 8 is a block diagram of the high page count method in an alternate embodiment with the downstream output station shown perpendicular to the upstream source feed units.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0020] For the purpose of promoting an understanding of the principles of the invention, references will be made to the embodiments illustrated in the drawings. It will, nevertheless, be understood that no limitation of the scope of the invention is thereby intended, such alterations and further modifications in the illustrated device, and such further applications of the principles of the invention illustrated herein being contemplated as would normally occur to the one skilled in the art to which the invention relates.

[0021] Turning to FIG. 1, there is shown a block diagram of a two source feed unit layout for System 1 of the present invention.

[0022] System 1 comprises at least two source feeder units 10 and 11. A first source feed unit 10 located at the beginning of a track 12 serves as a primary source feed unit 10. A second source feed unit 11 is located downstream from the primary source feed unit 10. Each source feed unit contains source material 17. The source material 17 represents unique material that is customized for individual purposes. For example, if the high page count method is used for compiling billing material the source material 17 would represent an individuals billing statement, which is unique to a particular individual. Additionally, each source feed unit 10 and 11 contains a sensor 15 that detects whether the track 12 is empty or whether the track has already been loaded with source material 17.

[0023] In order to correct the randomness that occurs as a result of multiple source feed units operating on a single track, each system described herein contains at least one output station 4A and 4B for each source feed unit 10 and 11, as shown in FIG. 7. Each output station 4A and 4B contains multiple sorting paths 14A-D, which allow the mail to be sorted in sequential order. For instance, the mail that is produced from source material 17, as shown in FIG. 1, from source feed unit 10 is directed to a collector, such as bin 5A, at output station 4A. Mail that is generated using source material 17, as shown in FIG. 1, from source feed unit 11 is similarly directed to a collector, such as bin 5C, at output station 4B. Each output station 4A and 4B contains at least one bin 5, however, an alternate embodiment would contain multiple collectors, such as bins 5A-D, so that depending on line speed, economics, and operator speed, in the event of overflow of one bin 5A a backup bin 5B is present to accept the overflow mail. The output stations 4A and 4B would know what mail to receive because each track section 16 is monitored such that the system knows whether source feed unit 10 or source feed unit 11 deposited a piece of source material 17 on a particular track section 16. Furthermore, each output station 4A and 4B contains diverters 19 to direct the mail from its respective source feed unit 10 and 11 into the collectors, such as the bins, 5A-D, at the output stations 4A and 4B. The output stations 4A and 4B of this invention operate continuously, wherein a downstream track section 7 of the output stations 4A and 4B moves at a speed that is faster than an upstream track section 6 at the upstream source feed units 10 and 11.

[0024] Turning to FIG. 2, there is shown a flow chart of the high page count method with the second source feed unit 11 downstream from the primary source feed unit 10. The High Page Count method has the ability to ensure that there are no empty track spaces 16. The method begins by putting the track 12 in motion. Step 22 determines whether the primary source unit feeder 10 is ready. The primary source feeder unit 10 is ready when it has compiled all of the source material 17 that it needs for an individual. If the response to step 22 is YES, the primary source feed unit 10 deposits its source material 17 onto the track space 16, as is shown in step 24. After the primary source feeder 10 has deposited the source material 17 onto the track space, step 26 shows that the track 12 is advanced one position and the cycle begins again at step 22 for the primary source feed unit 10. Alternatively, if the response to step 22 is NO, the primary source feed unit 10 does not deposit any source material 17 onto the track space 16 and automatically proceeds to step 26 wherein the track 12 is advanced one position.

[0025] At the same time the primary source feed unit 10 is running through its cycle to determine whether it will deposit source material 17 onto the track space 16, the secondary source feed unit 11 is running through a similar cycle. As is illustrated by step 28, the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle by determining whether the secondary source feed unit 11 is ready. As with the primary source feed unit 10, the secondary source feed unit 11 is ready when it has compiled all of the source material 17 that it needs for an individual. If the response to step 28 is NO, the secondary source feed unit 11 automatically proceeds to step 34 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 waits until the track 12 is advanced one position and the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle again with step 28.

[0026] If the response to step 28 is YES, the secondary source feed unit 11 proceeds to step 30 and determines whether the track space 16 located directly in front of the secondary source unit 11 is empty. If the response to step 30 is NO, the secondary source feed unit 11 again automatically proceeds to step 34 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 waits unit the track 12 is advanced one position and the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle again with step 28.

[0027] If the response to step 30, however, is YES, the secondary source feed unit 11 will deposit its source material 17 onto the empty track space 16 located directly in front of the secondary source feed unit 11. After the secondary source feed unit 11 deposits its source material 17 the secondary source feed unit 11 then proceeds to step 34 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 waits for the track 12 to advance one position and the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle again with step 28.

[0028] Turning to FIG. 3 there is shown a block diagram of a common feeder 13 located upstream from the two source feed units 10 and 11 for System 2 of the present invention.

[0029] System 2 comprises a common feeder 13 located upstream from at least two source feeder units 10 and 11. The common feeder 13 contains common material 18. Common material 18 represents material that must be included in every piece of mailing. For instance, if the High Page Count method is used for sending out billing statements, the common material may be a standard form that accompanies every billing statement. The common feeder 13 is located at the beginning of the track 12. The first source feed unit 10 is located downstream from the common feeder 13 and upstream from the secondary source feed unit 11. The first source feed unit 10 serves as the primary source feed unit. The second source feeder unit 11 is located downstream from both the primary source feed unit 10 and the common feeder 13. Each source feed unit 10 and 11 contains source material 17 and the central processing unit of the system (CPU) monitors source feed units 10 and 11 to verify whether the primary and secondary source feed units 10 and 11 have deposited the source material 17 onto the track space 16 on track 12.

[0030] The process whereby the High Page Count method operates with a common feeder 13 is similar to the process where there are multiple source feed units 10 and 11. However, the source feed units 10 and 11 will not have a step that will ask whether the track space 16 is empty. When the High Page Count method runs with a common feeder 13 the only time a track space 16 will be empty is when it initially reaches the common feeder 13. The common feeder 13 then deposits its common material 18 onto the track 12, and the track 12 is advance one position. When the track space 16 gets to the source feed units 10 and 11 the track space 16 has already been filled with common material 18. Therefore, instead of determining whether the track space 16 is empty, the source feed units 10 and 111 are reprogrammed to determine whether the track space 16 has source material 17.

[0031] Turning to FIG. 4, there is shown a flow chart for the High Page Count method of FIG. 3 wherein a common feeder 13 is located upstream from the two source feed units 10 and 11.

[0032] The cycle for System 2 begins by putting the track 12 in motion and the common feeder 13 deposits common source material 18 onto the track 12.

[0033] Step 112 determines whether the primary source unit feeder 10 is ready. The primary source feed unit 10 is ready when it has compiled all of the source material 17 that it needs for an individual. If the response to step 112 is YES, the primary source feed unit 10 deposits its source material 17 onto the track space 16, as is shown in step 114. After the primary source feed unit 10 has deposited the source material 17 onto the track space 16, step 116 shows that the track 12 is advanced one position and the cycle begins again at step 112 for the primary source feed unit 10. Alternatively, if the response to step 112 is NO, the primary source feed unit 10 does not deposit any source material 17 onto the track space 16 and automatically proceeds to step 112 wherein the track 12 is advanced one position.

[0034] At the same time the primary source feed unit 10 is running through its cycle depositing source material 17 onto the track space 16, the secondary source feed unit 11 is running through a similar cycle. As is illustrated by step 120, the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle by determining whether the secondary source feed unit 11 is ready. As with the primary source feed unit 10, the secondary source feed unit is ready when it has compiled all of the source material 17 that it needs for an individual. If the response to step 120 is NO, the secondary source feed unit 11 automatically proceeds to step 126 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 waits until the track 12 is advanced one position and the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle again with step 120.

[0035] If the response to step 120 is YES, the secondary source feed unit 11 proceeds to step 122 and determines whether the track space 16 located directly in front of the secondary source unit 11 is empty. If the response to step 122 is NO, the secondary source feed unit 11 again automatically proceeds to step 126 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 waits unit the track 12 is advanced one position and the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle again with step 120.

[0036] If the response to step 122 is YES, the secondary source feed unit will deposit its source material 17 onto the empty track space 16 located directly in front of the secondary source feed unit 11. After the secondary source feed unit 11 deposits its source material 17 the secondary source feed unit 11 then proceeds to step 126 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 waits for the track 12 to advance one position and the secondary source feed unit 11 begins its cycle again with step 120.

[0037] Turning to FIG. 5 there is shown a block diagram of the source feed units 10 and 11 sharing the same track position for System 3 of the present invention.

[0038] System 3 comprises two source feed units 10 and 11 located across from each other at the same track space 16 on track 12. Unlike the previously described arrangements of the High Page Count method where the source feed units do not share the same track position, this arrangement requires a greater level of timing to ensure that the source feed units 10 and 11 do not collide the source material 17 when they are placed onto the track 12. In this system, as in the other two systems, source feed unit 10 operates as the primary source feed unit, and source feed unit 11 operates as the secondary source feed unit. Both source feed units 10 and 11 contain source material 17 and the CPU of the system monitors source feed units 10 and 11 to verify whether the primary and secondary source feed units 10 and 11 have deposited the source material 17 onto the track space 16 on track 12.

[0039] Turning to FIG. 6 there is shown a flow chart for the High Page Count method of FIG. 5 having said two source feed units 10 and 11 sharing the same track space 16 on track 12. The method for System 3 begins at step 50 by putting the track 12 in motion and beginning a cycle. Step 56 determines if the primary source feed unit 10 is ready to deposit its source material 17 onto the track 12. If the answer to step 56 is YES, the primary source feed unit 10 proceeds to step 58 whereby the primary source feed unit 10 determines whether the track 12 is empty. If the response to step 58 is YES, the primary source feed unit 10 deposits its source feed material 17 onto the track 12 and automatically renews its cycle by proceeding directly back to step 52. If the response to step 58 is NO, indicating that the track 12 is full, the primary source feed unit 10 also proceeds automatically to step 52. If at step 56 the response is that the primary source feed unit 10 is not ready to deposit its source material 17 onto the track 12, the system proceeds to step 70 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 is queried as to whether it is ready. If the response to step 70 is NO, the system automatically returns to the beginning of the cycle at step 52. On the other hand, if the response at step 70 is YES, indicating that the secondary source feed unit 11 is ready to deposit its source material 17 onto the track 12, the system proceeds to step 72 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 determines if the track 12 is empty.

[0040] At step 72, if the track 12 is full this would indicate that the primary source unit 10 has fully performed its cycle and has deposited its source material 17 onto the track. In this case, the secondary source feed unit 11 returns to the beginning of the cycle at step 52. If the primary source feed unit 10 has not deposited its source material 17 and the response to step 72 is YES, indicating that the track 12 is empty, the secondary source feed unit 11 proceeds to step 74 wherein the secondary source feed unit 11 deposits its source material 17 onto the track 12.

[0041] In an alternate embodiment of the High Page Count method, the two source feed units 10 and 11, or more than two, can be programmed such that they perform a true load balancing between such two or more units. This load balancing system can be performed in either an “intelligent” or “non-intelligent” manner.

[0042] In the “non-intelligent” load balancing system, for example, the primary source feed unit 10 ensures that the secondary source feed unit 11 has a turn by purposely not filling the track space 16. In this manner, the material is used up more equally. In a system using multiple feeders, each feeder would pause feeding the same number of times that there are feeders on the system.

[0043] In the “intelligent” load balancing system, the primary source feed unit 10 must check the secondary source feed unit 11 to determine whether the secondary source feed unit 11 is ready. If the secondary source feed unit 11 is ready, the primary source feed unit 10 is allowed to leave an empty track position 16. This mode is considered “intelligent” load balancing because inter-communications are required and a test for downstream readiness must be performed.

[0044] As is shown in FIG. 8, in an alternate to the embodiment of the High Page Count shown in FIG. 7, method the downstream section with output stations 4A and 4B is placed perpendicular to the upstream source output units 10 and 11. The benefit of this perpendicular setup is that it reduces operator foot traffic. Therefore, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 8, the operator is able to cover more of the unit in fewer steps.

[0045] Various features of the invention have been particularly shown and described in connection with the illustrated embodiments of the invention. However, it must be understood that these particular products, and their method of manufacture, do not limit but merely illustrate, and that the invention is to be given its fullest interpretation within the terms of the appended claims.