Title:
Modular cassette for a bagging machine
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A set of modules for a bagging machine that are assemblable to form a compression chamber for compressing at least one item prior to the at least one item being inserted into a bag. The compression chamber includes a first module and a second module that both have side plates that form the side walls of the compression chamber and transverse plates that form the transverse walls of the chamber. The modules are connected to actuators that impart movement to both the side plates and transverse plates in unison, such that the two modules move towards and away from each other. The set of modules can be connected to the bagging machine via quick-connect fasteners.



Inventors:
Couture, Paul (Repentigny, CA)
Stamate, Mihai I. (Laval, CA)
Application Number:
10/209062
Publication Date:
02/05/2004
Filing Date:
07/31/2002
Assignee:
COUTURE PAUL
STAMATE MIHAI I.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B63/02; (IPC1-7): B65B63/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PARADISO, JOHN ROGER
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
JOSEPH F. SHIRTZ (NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A module for forming at least a portion of a compression chamber for a bagging machine, the compression chamber being adapted for compressing at least one item prior to the at least one item being inserted into a bag, the compression chamber having a bottom transverse wall, a top transverse wall and first and second side walls opposing each other, the bagging machine including an actuator for displacing one of the first and second side walls of the compression chamber toward the other of the first and second side walls thereof to compress the at least one item in the compression chamber, said module comprising; i) a side plate forming at least a portion of the first side wall of the chamber: ii) a transverse plate connected to said side plate and projecting therefrom to form at least a portion of one of the transverse walls of the chamber; iii) said module being suitable for connection to the at least one actuator such that the actuator can impart movement to said side plate and to said transverse plate in unison.

2. A module as defined in claim 1, wherein said module is releasably connectable to the actuator.

3. A module as defined in claim 2, wherein said module is releasably connectable to the actuator via at least one quick-connect fastener.

4. A module as defined in claim 1, wherein said side plate of said module forms the first side wall of the chamber in its entirety.

5. A module as defined in claim 1, wherein said transverse plate of said module forms a portion of the top transverse wall of the chamber.

6. A set of modules assemblable to form at least a portion of a compression chamber for a bagging machine, the compression chamber being adapted for compressing at least one item prior to the at least one item being inserted into a bag, the compression chamber having a bottom transverse wall, a top transverse wall and first and second side walls opposing each other, the bagging machine including an actuator for displacing one of the first and second side walls of the compression chamber toward the other of the first and second side walls thereof to compress the at least one item in the compression chamber, said set of modules comprising; a) a first module, having: i) a side plate forming at least a portion of the first side wall of the chamber: ii) a transverse plate connected to said side plate and projecting therefrom to form at least a portion of one of the transverse walls of the chamber; iii) said module being suitable for connection to the at least one actuator such that the actuator can impart movement to said side plate and to said transverse plate in unison. b) a second module having: i) a side plate forming at least a portion of the second side wall of the chamber; ii) a transverse plate connected to the side plate of said second module and projecting therefrom to form at least a portion of one of the transverse walls of the chamber.

7. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein said first module is releasably connectable to a first actuator.

8. A set of modules as defined in claim 7, wherein said first module is releasably connectable to the first actuator via at least one quick-connect fastener.

9. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein said second module is releasably connectable to the bagging machine.

10. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein said second module is releasably connectable to a second actuator.

11. A set of modules as defined in claim 10, wherein said second module is releasably connectable to the second actuator via at least one quick-connect fastener.

12. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein said side plate of said first module forms the first side wall of the chamber in its entirety.

13. A set of modules as defined in claim 12, wherein said side plate of said second module forms the second side wall of the chamber in its entirety.

14. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein said transverse plate of said first module forms a portion of the top transverse wall of the chamber and said transverse plate of said second module forms a portion of the top transverse wall of the chamber.

15. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein in a combination of said transverse plate of said first module and said transverse plate of said second module form the top transverse wall of the chamber in its entirety.

16. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, comprising a transverse module that forms a portion of the top transverse wall and the bottom transverse wall of the chamber.

17. A set of modules as defined in claim 16, wherein said transverse module is releasably connectable to the bagging machine via at least one quick-connect fastener.

18. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, comprising a first segmented transverse module and a second segmented transverse module that form a portion of the top transverse wall and the bottom transverse wall of the chamber.

19. A set of modules as defined in claim 18, wherein said first segmented transverse module and said second segmented transverse module are releasably connectable to the bagging machine via at least one quick-connect fastener.

20. A set of modules as defined in claim 6, wherein said transverse plate of said first module and said transverse plate of said second module each have an entrance portion and an exit portion and wherein said entrance portion bends away from the transverse wall of the chamber that is opposite the transverse plate of the first module and the transverse plate of the second module.

21. A set of modules as defined in claim 20, wherein said exit portion bends towards the transverse wall of the chamber that is opposite the transverse plate of the first module and the transverse plate of the second module.

22. A bagging machine, comprising: a) a chamber adapted to hold at least one item prior to the at least one item being inserted into a bag, said chamber having: i) an interior surface; ii) an exterior surface; and iv) a releasable component defining at least a portion of said chamber; b) said component being movably mounted to said bagging machine between a first position and a second position via a quick-connect fastener, said quick-connect fastener being operative to move between a release position and a lock position, wherein: i) in said release position, said component is movable from said first position to said second position in order to expose at least a portion of said interior surface of said chamber; ii) in said lock position, said component is prevented from moving to said second position; c) a loader to drive the at least one item into said chamber; d) an ejector to push the at least one item from said chamber into a bag.

23. A bagging machine as defined in claim 22, wherein said at least one item is a sanitary napkin.

24. A bagging machine as defined in claim 22, wherein said quick-connect fastener is operable by hand in angular movement in order to move between said release position and said lock position.

25. A bagging machine as defined in claim 26, wherein said chamber includes a bottom transverse wall, a top transverse wall, and first and second side walls and wherein said component forms one of said side walls.

26. A bagging machine as defined in claim 25, wherein said component forms at least a portion of said top transverse wall.

27. A bagging machine as defined in claim 26, comprising an actuator for imparting movement to said component and wherein said component is removably mounted to said actuator.

28. A bagging machine, comprising: a) a support structure including a first locating member; b) a chamber adapted to hold at least one item prior to the at least one item being inserted into a bag, said chamber having: i) an interior surface; ii) an exterior surface; and iii) a releasable component defining at least a portion of said chamber; (1) said component being movably mounted to said bagging machine between a first position and a second position, wherein: (2) in said first position, said releasable component forms at least a portion of said chamber; (3) in said second position said releasable component exposes at least a portion of said interior surface of said chamber; (4) said releasable component having a second locating member, said first and said second locating members being engageable in at least one predetermined position that determines a spatial position of said releasable component in said bagging machine when said releasable component is in said first position; (5) when said releasable component is moved from said first position to said second position said first locating member and said second locating member are disengaged; (6) when said releasable component is moved from said second position to said first position said first locating member and said second locating member are engaged such as to acquire said predetermined position; (7) said first and second locating members being such that repeated movement of said releasable component from said second position to said first position places said releasable component consistently at said spatial position.

29. A bagging machine as defined in claim 28, wherein said first and second locating members are engageable in a single position.

30. A bagging machine as defined in claim 28, wherein one of said first and second locating members includes a projection and the other of said first and second locating members includes a recess, said projection matingly engaging said recess when said first and second locating members are engaged.

31. A bagging machine as defined in claim 28, wherein said recess includes a ledge.

32. A bagging machine as defined in claim 28, wherein said releasable component is secured in said spatial position via a quick-connect fastener.

33. A bagging machine as defined in claim 32, wherein said quick-connect fastener is operable by hand.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates generally to bagging machines, and more specifically to a cassette for use with a bagging machine that is capable of compressing at least one item prior to the item being inserted into a bag.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] In packaging plants, bagging machines are commonly used to insert items such as products to be packaged into a bag. The efficiency of such bagging machines is judged primarily based on the ratio of its operating time to its down time, and based on the amount of wasted products it produces. Therefore, it is desirable to have a machine that has very little down time and that is able to successfully bag most of the products it processes. As such, the efficiency of the bagging machine depends heavily on the functioning of the cassette. The cassette is the part of the bagging machine that includes a chamber for receiving the products prior to being bagged, and for guiding the products into the bag. The cassette is one of the parts of the bagging machine that is likely to produce waste and downtime, since it is the part that has to transfer the products from the conveyor belt to the bag. Moreover, the cassette often needs to be changed in order to accommodate different products or different amounts of products. Every time the cassette needs to be changed, the bagging machine must stop operation, which creates inefficiency in the production line.

[0003] A first type of prior art cassette is made of a rigid frame that defines a chamber having a base wall, two opposing side-walls and a top wall comprising a slit along the direction of travel of the products. These four walls define a tube-like chamber that has an entrance and an exit. In use, the items to be bagged are inserted into the chamber through the entrance and are then pushed through the exit into a bag. The chamber tapers from its entrance to its exit such that the two opposing side-walls are closer together at the exit than at the entrance. The purpose of this taper is to cause the items to compress as they travel through the exit. However, a deficiency with this type of cassette is that the compressive force that is applied to the items as they travel through the exit has the effect of causing the items to spring back towards the entrance. This often causes a clog in the machinery thereby causing the machinery to cease operation.

[0004] A further type of prior art cassette, which is shown in FIG. 1, includes a top plate, two opposing side plates and a base plate that define a chamber. The top plate and the base plate are rigidly connected to the bagging machine via a plurality of bolts and screws. The two opposing side plates are connected to the bagging machine separately from the top plate and base plate, and are connected to an actuator that is able to move the two opposing side plates towards and away from each other. The two opposing side plates are connected to the actuator via a plurality of bolts and screws. As such, a deficiency with this cassette is that it takes a machinery operator far too long to un-tighten the screws, set the components in position and re-tighten all the screws. Therefore, the process of removing the top plate, the two opposing side plates, and the base plate, in order to maintain, clean and change the cassette is very inefficient.

[0005] As can be seen based on the above description of the prior art, there is a need in the industry for a cassette or the components of a cassette that alleviate, at least in part, the deficiencies associated with the existing cassettes.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0006] As embodied and broadly described herein, the present invention provides a module for forming at least a portion of a compression chamber for a bagging machine. The compression chamber is adapted for compressing at least one item prior to the item or items being inserted into a bag. The compression chamber has a bottom transverse wall, a top transverse wall and two side walls opposing each other. The bagging machine has an actuator for displacing one of the side walls towards the other side wall in order to compress the item or items contained in the compression chamber.

[0007] The module has a side plate for forming at least a portion of the first side wall of the compression chamber, a transverse plate connected to the side plate to form at least a portion of one of the transverse walls of the compression chamber. The module is suitable for connecting to the actuator such that the actuator can impart movement to the side plate and to the transverse plate in unison.

[0008] As further embodied and broadly described herein, the present invention provides a set of modules that are assemblable to form at least a portion of a compression chamber for a bagging machine. The compression chamber is adapted to compress an item or items prior to the items being inserted into a bag. The compression chamber has a bottom transverse wall, a top transverse wall and two side walls opposing each other. The bagging machine includes an actuator for displacing one of the two side walls of the compression chamber toward the other side wall in order to compress the item or items in the compression chamber.

[0009] The set of modules comprises a first module that has a side plate that forms at least a portion of the first side wall of the chamber, and a transverse plate connected to the side plate to form at least a portion of one of the transverse walls of the chamber. The module is suitable for connection to the actuator such that the actuator can impart movement to the side plate and to the transverse plate in unison.

[0010] The set of modules further includes a second module. The second module has a side plate that forms at least a portion of the second side wall of the chamber and a transverse plate connected to the side plate to form at least a portion of one of the transverse walls of the chamber.

[0011] As further embodied and broadly described herein, the present invention provides a bagging machine that has a chamber that is adapted to hold an item or items prior to the items being inserted into a bag. The chamber has an interior surface, an exterior surface and a releasable component that defines at least a portion of the chamber. The releasable component is movably mounted to the bagging machine between a first position and a second position via a quick-connect fastener. The quick-connect fastener is operative to move between a release position and a lock position, wherein in the release position, the releasable component is movable from the first position to the second position in order to expose at least a portion of the interior surface of the chamber. And in the lock position, the component is prevented from moving to the second position.

[0012] The bagging machine further includes a loader to drive the at least item or items into the chamber and an ejector to push the item or items from the chamber into a bag.

[0013] As still further embodied and broadly described herein, the present invention provides a bagging machine with a support structure that includes a first locating member. The bagging machine further includes a chamber that is adapted to hold at least one item prior to the item or items being inserted into a bag. The chamber has an interior surface, an exterior surface, and a releasable component that defines at least a portion of the chamber. The releasable component is movably mounted to the bagging machine between a first position and a second position. In the first position, the releasable component forms at least a portion of the chamber. In the second position the releasable component exposes at least a portion of the interior surface of the chamber. The releasable component has a second locating member. The first and the second locating members are engageable in at least one predetermined position that determines a spatial position of the releasable component in the bagging machine when the releasable component is in the first position. When the releasable component is moved from the first position to the second position the first locating member and the second locating member are disengaged. When the releasable component is moved from the second position to the first position the first locating member and the second locating member are engaged such as to acquire the predetermined position. The first and second locating members are such that the repeated movement of the releasable component from the second position to the first position places the releasable component consistently at the spatial position.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0014] A detailed description of the specific examples of implementation of the present invention is provided hereinbelow with reference to the following drawings, in which:

[0015] FIG. 1 shows a prior art cassette for use within a bagging machine for bagging sanitary products;

[0016] FIG. 2 shows an overall representation of the components of a bagging machine for bagging sanitary products in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0017] FIG. 3a shows a cassette for receiving a single row of items in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0018] FIG. 3b shows a cassette for receiving a double row of items in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0019] FIG. 4 shows a frontal perspective view of a first module of a compressible chamber in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0020] FIG. 5 shows a back perspective view of the first module shown in FIG. 4;

[0021] FIG. 6 shows a perspective view of a transverse module for use with the compressible chamber shown in FIG. 3a;

[0022] FIG. 7 shows a front perspective view of a first segmented transverse module for use with the compressible chamber shown in FIG. 3b;

[0023] FIG. 8 shows a back perspective view of the first segmented transverse module shown in FIG. 7;

[0024] FIG. 9 shows a back perspective view of the first module shown in FIG. 4 positioned above its respective quick-connect fastener in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0025] FIG. 10 shows a front perspective view of the first segmented transverse module shown in FIG. 8 positioned above its respective quick-connect fastener in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0026] FIG. 11 shows a back perspective view of the first segmented transverse module shown in FIG. 8 positioned above its respective quick-connect fastener in accordance with a specific example of implementation of the present invention;

[0027] FIG. 12a shows a quick-connect fastener in the release position in accordance with a specific example of implementation;

[0028] FIG. 12b shows the quick-connect fastener of FIG. 11a in the lock position;

[0029] FIG. 13 shows an exploded view of the quickconnect fastener of FIG. 11;

[0030] FIG. 14a shows an expanded view of a slot of a locking mechanism in accordance with a first specific embodiment of the invention;

[0031] FIG. 14b shows an expanded view of a slot of a locking mechanism in accordance with a second specific embodiment of the invention;

[0032] FIG. 14c shows an expanded view of a slot of a locking mechanism in accordance with a third specific embodiment of the invention;

[0033] FIG. 15 shows a front perspective view of half of the compressible chamber shown in FIG. 3b.

[0034] In the drawings, embodiments of the invention are illustrated by way of example. It is to be expressly understood that the description and drawings are only for purposes of illustration and as an aid to understanding, and are not intended to be a definition of the limits of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0035] Shown in FIG. 2 is an overall representation of a bagging machine 10 in accordance with a specific embodiment of the present invention. It is to be appreciated that bagging machine 10 can be used to bag any type of item such as a product, or any quantity of products. For example, the product can be a single item, such as a pillow, or a plurality of items, such as a load of sanitary napkins.

[0036] For the specific purposes of this description, the bagging machine 10 is adapted to be used for bagging sanitary products. It will be appreciated, however, that bagging machines in accordance with the present invention are in no way limited to this function.

[0037] As can be seen in FIG. 2, bagging machine 10 includes a conveyor belt 12 for transporting a load of sanitary products 28 towards cassette 20. Cassette 20 includes a set of modules that define a chamber for receiving the products to be bagged. As such, when the sanitary products 28 are within close proximity to cassette 20, a loader 14 pushes them into the chamber of cassette 20 through entrance 30. Once the sanitary products 28 are within the chamber of cassette 20, an ejector 18, which is attached to a drive belt 16, pushes sanitary products 28 through the exit 32 of the chamber into a bag 22. A sealer device 24 then seals the open end of bag 22, and bag 22 moves onto a second conveyor belt 26 such that it may be carried towards a new destination.

[0038] As shown in FIG. 3, cassette 20 further includes quick-connect fasteners 62 for connecting the set of modules that define the chamber to the bagging machine 10. As such, for the purposes of this application, the term “cassette” will refer to the combination of the chamber formed of the set of modules, and the quick-connect fasteners that fasten the set of modules to bagging machine 10.

[0039] Shown in FIG. 3a is a cassette 20 for receiving a single row of sanitary products (not shown), and shown in FIG. 3b is a cassette 40 for receiving a double row of sanitary products (not shown). Both cassettes 20 and 40 include a chamber having an interior surface 21 and an exterior surface 23, formed of a set of modules. The chambers of both cassettes have a top transverse wall, a bottom transverse wall, and first and second opposite side walls. In the specific examples of implementation shown in FIGS. 3a and 3b, the walls of the chambers are formed by a set of modules, which will be described below.

[0040] Both cassettes 20 and 40 include a first module 42 and a second module 48. Second module 48 is a mirror image of first module 42, and as such only first module 42 will be described herein. It should be appreciated that all the parts of first module 42 described herein are also found in second module 48.

[0041] First module 42 can best be seen in FIGS. 4 and 5. In the specific example of implementation shown, first module 42 includes a side plate 46, a transverse plate 44, and a support bar 50, which is attached to a connection plate 52. Included within connection plate 52 is an attachment slot 88. As shown in FIG. 5, side plate 46 is connected to support bar 50 by a plurality of bolts 54, and transverse plate 44 is connected to side plate 46 using a plurality of bolts 56. It should be understood, however, that the plates can be connected using any means known in the art, or alternatively can be formed integrally. It should be understood that although side plate 46 is preferably planar, other shapes are within the scope of the invention.

[0042] Transverse plate 44 projects from side plate 46, such that when the first module 42 and the second module 48 are mounted to the bagging machine 10, their respective transverse plates 44 project towards each other.

[0043] As shown in FIG. 3a, side plate 46 of first module 42 forms a first side wall of the chamber of cassette 20. Although in the specific example of implementation shown, side plate 46 forms all of the first side wall of the chamber, it should be appreciated that a side plate 46 that forms only a portion of the first side wall of the chamber is also within the scope of the invention. The side plate 46 of the second module 48 forms the second side wall of the chamber of cassette 20.

[0044] Depending on the orientation of the first and second modules 42, 48 within the cassettes 20, 40, their transverse plates 44 are able to form at least a portion of one of the top transverse wall or the bottom transverse wall of the chamber. As can be seen in FIGS. 3a and 3b, the transverse plate 44 of the first module 42 forms a portion of the top transverse wall of the chamber of cassettes 20 and 40. In the specific embodiment shown, the combination of the transverse plate 44 of the first module 42 and the transverse plate 44 of the second module 48 form the complete top transverse wall of the chamber. However, it should be appreciated that it is within the scope of the invention for the transverse plates 44 of the first and second modules 42, 48 to form only a portion of the top transverse wall of the chamber, or alternatively only a portion of the bottom transverse wall of the chamber.

[0045] The chambers of cassettes 20 and 40 can be of a fixed volume, such that all the modules that form the chamber are stationary and do not move, or alternatively, the chambers can be compressible such that the modules are movable in relation to each other in order to vary the volume of the chamber. In the case where the chamber is of a fixed volume, the modules are mounted directly to bagging machine 10, and in the case where the chamber is compressible, at least one of the modules is mounted to an actuator that is operable to impart movement to the module. In a preferred embodiment, both first module 42 and second module 48 are mounted to actuators that are able to impart movement, in unison, to both the side plate 46 and the transverse plate 44, of the first and second modules 42, 48, respectively. More specifically, the movement imparted by the actuator, or actuators, causes the first and second modules 42, 48 to move towards and away from each other, relatively. As the modules move towards each other, any products contained within the compressible chamber will be compressed.

[0046] In the specific embodiments shown, the transverse plates 44 of the first and second modules 42, 48 include an entrance end portion 58 and an exit end portion 60. The entrance end portion 58 and exit end portion 60 can be formed integrally with transverse plate 44 or alternatively can be separate plates that are connected to transverse plate 44 through any means known in the art. Entrance end portion 58 is positioned such that it extends away from the opposing transverse wall of the chamber, and exit end portion 60 is positioned such that it extends towards the opposing transverse wall of the chamber. As such, entrance end portion 58 acts to funnel the products into the chamber, and exit end portion 60 acts to further compress the products as they exit the chamber.

[0047] Shown in FIGS. 3a and 6 is a transverse module 64 for use with cassette 20, which as mentioned above, is adapted to receive a single row of products. Transverse module 64 includes a flat plate 66 and two attachment plates 68. The two attachment plates 68 each include two attachment slots 142 and two positioning projections 144. Flat plate 66 is adapted to be positioned within cassette 20 such that it sits opposite the transverse plate 44 of the first and second modules 42, 48. In the specific example of implementation shown in FIG. 3a, flat plate 66 forms the bottom transverse wall of the chamber.

[0048] Shown in FIG. 3b is a first segmented transverse module 70 and a second segmented transverse module 72, for use with cassette 40, which as mentioned above, is adapted to receive a double row of products. First segmented transverse module 70 is a mirror image of second segmented transverse module 72 and as such only first segmented transverse module 70 will be described herein. In the specific example of implementation shown in FIG. 3b, the combination of the flat plate portions 74 of the first and second segmented transverse modules 70 and 72, form the middle transverse wall of the chamber. Positioned below first and second segmented transverse modules 70 and 72, is a lower plate 75. In the specific example of implementation shown, lower plate 75 forms the bottom transverse wall of the chamber of cassette 40.

[0049] First segmented transverse module 70 can best be seen in FIGS. 7 and 8. First segmented transverse module 70 includes a flat plate portion 74 and one attachment plate 68 identical to those found in transverse module 64. Attachment plate 68 includes two attachment slots 142 and two positioning projections 144, which will be described in more detail further on in the specification. The flat plate portion 74 of the first segmented transverse module 70 and the flat plate portion 74 of the second segmented transverse module 72 are positioned within cassette 40 to sit opposite transverse plate 44 of the first and second modules 42, 48.

[0050] At least one of the first and second modules 42, 48 and the transverse module 64 of cassette 20 is releasably connected to bagging machine 10 via a quickconnect fastener 62. In the preferred example of implementation shown in FIG. 3a, all the modules are releasably connected to bagging machine 10, or to an actuator as described above, via quick-connect fasteners 62. Similarly, at least one of the first and second modules 42, 48 and the first and second segmented transverse modules 70, 72 of cassette 40 is releasably connected to bagging machine 10 via a quick-connect fastener 62. In the preferred example of implementation shown in FIG. 3b, all the modules are releasably connected to bagging machine 10 or to an actuator, via quick-connect fasteners 62.

[0051] For the purposes of this description, the term “quick-connect fastener” refers to a fastening device that has a predetermined number of operative positions. In a specific example of implementation, the quick-connect fastener has two predetermined operative positions, namely a lock position and a release position. Alternatively, more than two predetermined positions can be provided such as multiple lock positions providing increasing levels of clamping force. In contrast to a bolt and nut arrangement that provides a continuous range of positions, a quick-connect fastener according to the present invention does not provide such a continuous range, but instead provides a finite predetermined number of positions.

[0052] As can be seen in FIG. 9 the first module 42 is releasably connected to bagging machine 10 at its connection plate 52. Although not shown, second module 48 is also releasably connected to bagging machine 10 at its connection plate 52. As can be seen in FIGS. 10 and 11, the first segmented transverse module 70 is releasably connected to bagging machine 10 at its attachment plate 68. Although not shown, second segmented transverse module 72 is also connected to bagging machine 10 at its attachment plate 68. It should be noted that transverse module 64 includes attachment plates 68 that are identical to the attachment plates 68 of the first and second segmented transverse modules 70 and 72, and as such, transverse module 64 is also releasably connected to bagging machine 10 at its attachment plates 68.

[0053] The quick-connect fasteners 62 enable each releasably connected module to be movably mounted to bagging machine 10 between a first position and a second position. In the first position, the releasably connected module is fixedly attached to bagging machine 10, as shown in FIGS. 3a and 3b, such that it cannot be moved to the second position. And, in the second position, the releasably connected module is completely detached from bagging machine 10, as shown in FIGS. 9, 10 and 11. It should be understood that in the second position, the releasably connected module may not be completely detached from the bagging machine 10, but instead may simply be in a position different from the first position wherein the interior surface 21 of the chamber is exposed.

[0054] When the quick-connect fastener 62 is in the release position, its respective releasably connected module is movable between its first position and its second position, and when the quick-connect fastener 62 is in the lock position, its respective releasably connected module is securely fastened in the first position such that it is prevented from moving to the second position.

[0055] In the specific example of implementation shown in FIG. 9, the quick-connect fastener 62 includes a base member 78, a shaft 80, a hand-operated actuator 82 and a locking mechanism 84.

[0056] The construction of quick-connect fastener 62, in accordance with a specific example of implementation will be described below with reference to FIGS. 12a, 12b and 13. In the specific example of implementation shown, base member 78 is formed as a plate that defines a first abutment 86, which is located on the side of the plate that is farthest away from the hand-operated actuator 82. As will be described further on, the first abutment 86 is adapted to contact a first surface of a releasable component that is to be fastened by the quick-connect fastener 62. Base member 78 further includes a recessed area 90 in the region of the first abutment 86 in order to help align the component with the base member 78. As can be seen in FIG. 13, at the base of the recessed area 90 is a ledge-like protrusion that acts as a stop 92. Stop 92 helps to position a releasable component in a predetermined position. As such, stop 92 defines a first locating member that is engageable with the releasable component in at least one predetermined position in order to determine a spatial position for the releasable component in relation to the bagging machine. Although the first locating member is located within the base member 78 of the quick connect fastener, it should be understood that the first locating member can be any part of the bagging machine to which a releasable component can be attached. Although only one predetermined position is shown in FIG. 13, more than one predetermined position, each one defining a different spatial position for the releasable component, can be included within the bagging machine without departing from the spirit of the invention.

[0057] In the specific example of implementation shown, shaft 80 is of a generally cylindrical shape and has a longitudinal axis. As shown in FIGS. 12a and 12b, attached to a first end of shaft 80 is a hand-operated actuator 82 that is shaped as a lever 94 with a ball-shaped grip 96. It should be understood that hand-operated actuator 82 may be of any shape, size or configuration that enables a user to cause shaft 80 and base member 78 to move in relation to each other. As shown in FIG. 13, shaft 80 is keyed to lever 94 via a pin 98.

[0058] A second abutment 100 is attached to the end of shaft 80 opposite the end of shaft 80 that is attached to hand-operated actuator 82. In the specific example of implementation shown, second abutment 100 is formed integrally with shaft 80, however, it is within the scope of the invention for second abutment 100 to be a separate part that is removably attached to shaft 80. As will be described further on, second abutment 100 is adapted to contact a second surface of the component that is to be fastened. As such, the component will be clamped between first abutment 86 and second abutment 100.

[0059] Positioned around shaft 80 near second abutment 100 is a resilient element 102 comprising the combination of two bevel washers 104, and a washer 106. The combination of these washers 104, 106 enables the first abutment 86 and the second abutment 100 to clamp the removable component very tightly. The benefit of forming the resilient element 102 out of the combination of two bevel washers 104 and a washer 106 is that this combination of washers 104, 106 occupies a very small amount of space. If space is not a concern, other types of resilient elements, such as coil springs around shaft 80, or blocks of rubber could be used. It should be understood that resilient elements of any shape and size can be used without departing from the spirit of the invention.

[0060] It will be noticed that the resilient element 102 is positioned close to the second abutment 100, and is kept in place by a snap ring 108. The snap ring 108 keeps the resilient element 102 close to second abutment 100 so that when shaft 80 is in the release position, as shown in FIG. 12a, there is always a space between first abutment 86 and resilient element 102 that can receive the component to be fastened. It should, however, be understood that a quick-connect fastener with a resilient element positioned near the base member 78 is also within the scope of the invention, as is a quick-connect fastener with no resilient element at all. Alternatively, the resilient element may not be on the quick-connect fastener at all, but may be carried by the component to be fastened instead.

[0061] In the specific example of implementation shown, locking mechanism 84 is positioned on the same side of base member 78 as hand-operated actuator 82, and comprises two mating parts. The first mating part is a pin 110, and the second mating part is a shaft-receiving member 112. Shaft-receiving member 112 has a longitudinal axis and is attached to base member 78 via a plurality of screws 114. It will be appreciated by a person of skill in the art that shaft-receiving member 112 can be attached to base member 78 using any other means known in the art, or alternatively can be formed integrally with base member 78.

[0062] Shaft-receiving member 112 has a peripheral wall 116 with an exterior surface and an interior surface. The interior surface defines a shaft-receiving channel 118 for receiving shaft 80. In the specific embodiment shown, shaft-receiving member 112 is of a cylindrical shape, with a large cylindrical portion 120 and a smaller cylindrical portion 122. Although shaft-receiving member 112 is shown as being of a cylindrical shape, it should be understood that shaft-receiving member 122 may be of any other suitable shape.

[0063] Base member 78 also includes a shaft-receiving channel 118 (shown in FIG. 13) such that shaft 80 may extend through both base member 78 and shaft-receiving member 112, and move freely within the shaft-receiving channel 118.

[0064] Included in the peripheral wall 116 of shaft-receiving member 112 is at least one slot 124 for receiving pin 110. Shaft-receiving member 118 includes two slots 124, positioned angularly around the smaller cylindrical portion 122, and positioned opposite each other. Slots 124 can extend all the way through the peripheral wall 116 of the shaft-receiving member 112 from the interior surface to the exterior surface, as shown in the Figures, or alternatively, slots 124 may be blind slots that do not extend all the way through peripheral wall 116.

[0065] As can be seen in FIG. 13, pin 110 fits within a cross-drilled hole 126 of shaft 80, such that it extends through shaft 80 on both sides. When quick-connect fastener 62 is fully assembled, pin 110 fits within the respective opposing slots 124 of the shaft-receiving member 112 such that it is able to move freely within slots 124. Pin 110 further acts to prevent shaft 80 from sliding out of shaft-receiving channel 118, since when pin 110 is inserted within hole 126 of shaft 80, and slots 124 of the shaft-receiving member 112, shaft 80 is held within shaft-receiving channel 118.

[0066] The manner in which shaft 80 and base member 78 move in relation to each other in order to fasten a component between first abutment 86 and second abutment 100, will be described with reference to FIGS. 9, 10, 11, 12a, 12b, 14a, 14b and 14c.

[0067] In the specific example of implementation shown, base member 78 is a fixed part, and shaft 80 is moveable in relation to base member 78 in response to movement of hand-operated actuator 82. It should be understood, however, that this relationship may be reversed and shaft 80 may be fixed and base member 78 may be movable.

[0068] As explained above, when quick-connect fastener 62 is assembled, pin 110 is adapted to move within slots 124 of shaft-receiving member 118. As such, slots 124 define the range of motion available to shaft 80.

[0069] FIG. 14a shows a single slot 124 in accordance with a first embodiment of the invention. Slot 124 has a first end and a second end. The first and second ends define two stops that indicate two predetermined operative positions, namely a lock position and a release position. These two predetermined operative positions provide the operator with positive feedback as to when pin 110 has reached the lock position and the release position. The slot extends from the first end to the second end in both an angular direction and a direction along the longitudinal axis of the shaft-receiving member 112. This means that when pin 110 moves within slot 124, it is forced to move both angularly with relation to shaft-receiving member 112, as well as in a direction along the longitudinal axis of shaft 80. Preferably, as shaft 80 is angularly displaced, the slot 124 forces shaft 80 to move in a direction along its longitudinal axis.

[0070] FIG. 14b shows a slot 128 in accordance with a second embodiment of the invention. Slot 128 is similar to slot 124 in that it has a first end and a second end and extend in both an angular direction and a direction along the longitudinal axis of the shaft-receiving member 112 from the first end to the second end. However, slot 128 further includes an extension 130 that is positioned transversely to the direction of the longitudinal axis of the shaft 80. As such, as pin 110 moves within extension 130, shaft 80 is able to be angularly displaced, but is prevented from being displaced in a direction along its longitudinal axis.

[0071] FIG. 14c shows a slot 132 in accordance with a third embodiment of the invention. Slot 132 is also similar to slot 124 for the same reasons as slot 128. However, it further includes both an extension 130 that is positioned transversely to the direction of the longitudinal axis of the shaft 80, and an extension 134 that is positioned parallel to the direction of the longitudinal axis of the shaft 80. As pin 110 moves within extension 134, shaft 80 is able to move in a direction along its longitudinal axis, but is prevented from moving angularly. Furthermore, slot 132 defines three stops that indicate three predetermined operative positions, namely a release position and two lock positions. The first lock position is at the end of extension 130 and the second lock position is at the end of extension 134. Instead of having multiple stops, the locking mechanism can include a detente mechanism that acts to maintain pin 110 within the various multiple lock positions as the quick-connect fastener is tightened.

[0072] For clarity, FIGS. 14a through 14c show pins 110 within slots 124, 128 and 132 in both the lock position and the release position. Pins 110 shown in the release position are illustrated by solid lines, and pins 110 shown in the lock position are illustrated by dotted lines. The first and second ends of the slots 124, 128 and 132 help to provide the user with positive feedback as to when the lock position or the release position has been reached. More specifically, when the user has displaced the shaft 80 such that pin 110 is stopped at the first end of the slot, the user will know that the quick-connect fastener 62 is in the release position. And, when the user has displaced the shaft 80 such that pin 110 is stopped at the second end of the slot, the user will know that the quick-connect fastener 62 is in the lock position. Furthermore, when pin 110 is in the second end indicating that the quick-connect fastener is in the lock position, a specific amount of force will be applied to the fastened component that will be the same whenever the quick-connect fastener is in the lock position.

[0073] It will be appreciated that extension 130 of slot 128, and extensions 130 and 134 of slot 132 provide the advantage of helping to maintain pin 110 within the lock position.

[0074] Referring back to FIG. 12a, the quick-connect fastener is shown in the release position. When pin 110 (not shown in FIG. 12a) is positioned in the release position within slots 124, there is a spacing “X” between first abutment 86 and second abutment 100. As hand-operated actuator 82 is rotated, pin 110 moves angularly from the release position towards the lock position, thereby causing shaft 80 to move along its longitudinal axis in a direction that causes the second abutment 100 to move towards the first abutment 86. As such, when pin 110 is in the lock position, as shown in FIG. 12b, there is a spacing “Y” between first abutment 86 and second abutment 100 that is less than spacing “X”.

[0075] Referring back to FIG. 9; a quick-connect fastener 62 is shown with a first module 42 that is about to be clamped to base member 78. A single quick-connect fastener 62 is sufficient to fasten first module 42 to bagging machine 10, as shown in FIGS. 3a and 3b. As mentioned above, first module 42 includes an attachment slot 88 within connection plate 52. Attachment slot 88 is adapted to be able to slide over shaft 80 of the quick-connect fastener.

[0076] Referring to FIGS. 10 and 11, two quick-connect fasteners 62 are shown with a first segmented transverse module 70 that is about to be connected to base members 78. For stability, there is a link bar 146 positioned between the two quick-connect fasteners 62. As mentioned above, first segmented transverse module 70 includes two attachment slots 142 within attachment plates 68. Attachment slots 142 are adapted to slide over the shafts 80 (not shown in FIG. 10 and 11) of the two quick-connect fasteners 62. In addition, there are two positioning projections 144 that are adapted to correspond to two grooves 148 within base member 78. The positioning projections 144 help to position first segmented transverse module 70 into a position to be fastened. It should be understood that attachment plates 68 of transverse module 64 also include the attachment slots 142 and positioning projections 144 as described above.

[0077] The operation of a quick-connect fastener 62 will be described below using first module 42 as an example of a component. As mentioned above, first module 42 includes a connection plate 52 with an attachment slot 88 formed therein. Connection plate 52 is adapted to slide within recessed area 90 of base member 78 such that attachment slot 88 is positioned over shaft 80 and connection plate 52 is positioned between first abutment 86 and second abutment 100.

[0078] In order to secure first module 42 to base member 78 a user must firstly ensure that pin 110 is in the release position such that there is a large enough spacing between the first abutment 86 and the second abutment 100 to receive the connection plate 52. If the spacing between the two abutments is not large enough, the user must simply move hand-operated actuator 82 such that pin 110 moves into the release position. Secondly, the user must slide the connection plate 52 within recessed area 90 such that attachment slot 88 fits over shaft 80 of quick-connect fastener 62. Recessed area 90 acts as a guide which can be engaged by connection plate 52 in order to position connection plate 52 between first abutment 86 and second abutment 100. In this position, the base of connection plate 52 defines a second locating member and engages stop 92, which as described above defines a first locating member. As such, when the first locating member and the second locating member engage each other in a predetermined position, module 42 is positioned in a certain spatial position in relation to the bagging machine. The first and second locating members, namely stop 92 and the base of connection plate 52, cause module 52 to be consistently placed at the same spatial position each time module 52 is connected to the bagging machine. Furthermore, stop 92 helps to prevent connection plate 52 from rotating about the longitudinal axis of shaft 80 prior to being fastened. Finally, the user moves hand-operated actuator 82 such that shaft 80 rotates about its longitudinal axis and pin 110 moves into the lock position.

[0079] As hand-operated actuator 82 is being moved and pin 110 moves angularly into the lock position, shaft 80 moves along its longitudinal axis in a direction that causes the second abutment 100 to move towards the first abutment 86, thereby clamping connection plate 52 between the first abutment 86 and the second abutment 100.

[0080] In the specific example of implementation shown, as second abutment 100 moves towards first abutment 86, the resilient element 102 comes into contact with connection plate 52 of first module 42, and begins to compress. The compression of resilient element 102 helps to securely first module 42 to base member 78.

[0081] It should be noticed that the quick-connect fastener 62 of the present invention provides the advantage that once pin 110 has been moved into the locked position, quick-connect fastener 62 applies the same amount of force to the connected component regardless of the strength of the person who fastened it.

[0082] As can be seen in FIGS. 15, 3a and 3b, both cassettes 20 and 40 include two lower side plates 76 which are mounted to the same base members 78 as the first and second modules 42, 48 respectively. As such, when movement is imparted to the first and second modules 42, 48 by actuators, the movement is also imparted to the lower side plates 76. Lower side plates 76 may be permanently fixed to the base member or alternatively may be attached to the base member by quick-connect fasteners 62 as described above.

[0083] Referring to FIGS. 2 and 3a, the operation of cassette 20 will be described. Firstly, sanitary products 28 approach cassette 20 on conveyor belt 12. The flat plate 66 is positioned flush with the conveyor belt 12 such that the sanitary products 28 can be pushed into the entrance 30 of the compression chamber by a loader 14. Once inside, the actuator causes first module 42 to move towards second module 48, or alternatively, the actuators cause first module 42 and second module 48 to move towards each other, thereby causing the sanitary products 28 within the compression chamber to compress. At this stage, ejector 18 travels through the compression chamber by passing through slot 79 formed between transverse plates 44, and pushes the compressed products through exit 32 into a bag 22. Flat plate 66 does not move throughout this process. The dimensions and range of motion of transverse plates 44 are such that there is no interference with ejector 18 as ejector 18 moves through slot 79.

[0084] Referring to FIGS. 2 and 3b, the operation of cassette 40 will be described. Firstly, an initial load of sanitary products 28 approaches cassette 40 on conveyor belt 12. The flat plate portions 74 of first and second segmented transverse modules 70, 72 are positioned flush with the conveyor belt 12 such that the initial load of sanitary products 28 can be pushed into the entrance 30 of the compressible chamber by a loader 14. Once inside, the cassette 40 moves upwards such that the lower plate 75 is flush with the conveyor belt 12 and the loader 14 pushes a subsequent load of sanitary products 28 into the lower entrance 30. At this stage, an actuator causes first module 42 and its respective lower side plate 76 to move towards second module 48 and the other lower side plate 76, or alternatively, the actuators cause first module 42 and second module 48 and their respective lower side plates 76 respectively to move towards each other, thereby causing the products within the compression chamber to compress. At this stage, a dual ejector (not shown) travels through the compression chamber by passing through slot 79 formed between transverse plates 44, and through slot 81 formed between flat plate portions 74, and pushes the compressed products through exit 32 into a bag 22. Flat plate portions 74 do not move towards each other throughout this process. It should be understood that in an alternative embodiment, the lower level of the compression chamber may be filled first, and the upper level of the compression chamber may be filled second. The dimensions and range of motion of transverse plates 44 and flat plate portions 74 are such that there is no interference with ejector 18 as ejector 18 moves through slots 79 and 81.

[0085] As mentioned above, in the preferred example of implementation of both cassettes 20 and 40, all the modules that form the compression chamber are releasably connected. As such, cassette 20, as shown in FIG. 3a, can be converted into cassette 40 as shown in FIG. 3b, simply by removing first and second modules 42, 48 and transverse module 64, and replacing transverse module 64 with first and second segmented transverse modules 70, 72 and reinserting first and second modules 42, 48. As such, depending on the set of modules being used, bagging machine 10 can be configured as cassette 20 in order to process a single row of sanitary products, or as cassette 40 in order to process a double row of sanitary products.

[0086] Advantageously, the quick-connect fasteners 62 enable the set of modules of the cassettes to be changed quickly and easily thereby reducing the amount of down time experienced by the bagging machine 10.

[0087] Although various embodiments have been illustrated, this was for the purpose of describing, but not limiting, the invention. Various modifications will become apparent to those skilled in the art and are within the scope of this invention, which is defined more particularly by the attached claims.