Title:
Floor cleaning machine using micro-fiber pad
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A floor cleaning machine includes a vacuum pick-up in front of the machine for suctioning loose material and debris off the floor. A micro fiber pad assembly is mounted beneath the machine for cleaning the floor following the vacuum pick-up. The micro fiber pad may be motor driven. A source of solution delivers a controlled amount of solution or water to moisten the micro fiber pad. A vacuum motor provides suction to the forward vacuum pick-up, routes the suctioned air through filter, and the filtered air is then delivered to an air diffuser at the rear of the machine to dry any residual moisture behind the micro fiber pad.



Inventors:
Rau, Michael A. (Eden Prairie, MN, US)
Holly, David R. (Brooklyn Park, MN, US)
Application Number:
10/883066
Publication Date:
01/13/2005
Filing Date:
06/29/2004
Assignee:
MINUTEMAN INTERNATIONAL, INC. (Addison, IL, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47L11/20; A47L11/202; A47L11/293; (IPC1-7): A47L11/30
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
REDDING, DAVID A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Locke Lord LLP (Boston, MA, US)
Claims:
1. A floor cleaning machine comprising: floor-engaging support wheels; a vacuum pick-up on said machine at a forward portion thereof, and engaging and cleaning a swath of floor; a filter; a vacuum motor on said machine and coupled to said vacuum pick-up to suction air and recovered debris through said vacuum pick-up, said vacuum motor passing said suctioned air through said filter for removing debris and particles from said suctioned air; a micro fiber pad assembly, including a micro fiber pad engaging said floor located beneath said machine and to a rear of said vacuum pick-up, said micro fiber pad including a layer of micro fiber material engaging said floor; source of solution on said machine, coupled to deliver a controlled amount of solution to moisten said micro fiber pad; an air diffuser carried by said machine and located to the rear of said micro fiber pad assembly, said air diffuser receiving air passed through said filter and delivering said filtered air to said air diffuser, said diffuser directing said filtered air to said swath cleaned by said micro fiber pad assembly.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 further comprising a second motor on said machine for driving said micro fiber pad assembly.

3. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein said second motor drives said micro fiber pad assembly in rotary motion.

4. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein said second motor drives said micro fiber pad assembly in oscillating or reciprocating motion.

5. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein said vacuum pick-up includes a nozzle having an inlet opening extending the width of the machine in length at least equal to an operating width of said micro fiber pad.

6. The apparatus of claim 5 wherein said micro fiber pad is circular.

7. The apparatus of claim 5 wherein said vacuum pick-up includes a lower front edge equipped with one of a brush, micro fiber pad material, and notched edge permitting material to pass therethrough and be recovered by suctioned air.

8. The apparatus of claim 7 wherein said vacuum pick-up includes side edges and a rear edge engaging the floor, each of said side edges and rear edge being covered with one of a felt material and micro fiber pad material.

9. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said filter includes a cloth filter bag.

10. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said filter includes a HEPA filter.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of co-pending, co-owned U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/485,521 filed on Jul. 7, 2003 for “FLOOR CLEANING MACHINE USING MICRO FIBER PAD”.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to floor cleaning machines; and more particularly, it relates to a floor cleaning machine using a micro fiber pad for engaging and scrubbing the floor.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

One widespread procedure for cleaning floors commercially requires that the floor be pre-swept, normally by hand, prior to using a floor scrubbing machine to scrub the floor. Automatic floor scrubbers typically use a water spray or gravity feed from a solution tank applied directly to the floor (after the loose dirt and debris are removed manually or by a separate vacuum machine), followed by a series of brushes which may include cylindrical scrub brushes, a group of disc scrub brushes or a combination of the two, to work the solution into the floor and loosen dirt and debris.

Following the brushes, a squeegee suction device recovers the spent solution and returns it to a separate tank, sometimes referred to as the recovery tank. Automatic scrubbing machines of this type, if used in an area in which there is a lot of loose dirt and debris, generally require vacuuming of the area before scrubbing. If the area is of substantial size, these two operations, vacuuming and scrubbing in tandem may consume considerable time and require the use of a separate vacuum and scrub machines.

Moreover, automatic scrubbers are expensive, particularly more current machines such as rider/scrubbers. At least one rider/scrubber does have a dual sweeping/scrubbing capacity, with a forward-sweeping cylindrical brush for sweeping loose debris into a forward hopper, followed by a rear scrub deck with two or more disc scrub brushes. A rear squeegee recovers the dirty solution, which is stored in a recovery tank and must be discharged into a drain. Such machines use a considerable amount of solution and leave a substantial amount of water at the scrub deck, which must be recovered and disposed of.

Moreover, for scrubbing machines designed for application to larger areas, the size of the machine may be limited by the reality of design constraints. Currently, it is desirable, in the case of battery-operated scrubbing machines, to have a 36-volt battery power system for driving the machine and operating the brushes, the water solution delivery system and vacuum recovery system. The physical size of a typical battery source may occupy a substantial portion of the overall machine. Another factor in determining the size of the machine is the volume of cleaning solution that the machine is capable of storing. A mentioned, the cleaning solution, after application to the floor and operation of the scrub brushes, must then be recovered by suction and stored in the same machine until discarded. The machine must be moved or driven to an area where the dirty water may be discharged. The presence of two separate tanks, one for clean solution and one for spent solution acts as a limitation on the total area the machine may treat before the need to replace the clean solution and discharge the dirty solution. However, the size of the tanks are restrained because of the overall size limitations on the machine for practical reasons, and the presence of bulky batteries.

Various arrangements, including the use of a movable wall in a combination cleaning solution/recovery solution double tank system, have been employed to overcome the space limitation problem of storing a sufficient volume of solution. Nevertheless, the size of the typical commercial scrubbing machine has limited the area which the machine may clean before returning to the supply closet to discharge the spent solution and to place additional clean solution in the clean solution tank. Thus, the size of the solution tanks as well as the volume assumed by the batteries act to limit the application area of a conventional cleaning machine, even if the cost of the machine were not a factor.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention employs a micro fiber pad which is removably attached to a pad driver which may be driven by a motor. The pad driver may include a bristled brush for backing and securing the micro fiber pad during use. The machine includes a vacuum head or pick-up shoe, which may be provided with micro fiber pads for engaging the floor. The vacuum shoe is located in front of the machine and extends the width of the machine for suctioning loose debris and dirt in front of the principal micro fiber pad. The loose debris and dirt is entrained in the vacuum air stream and passed through a filter. The filter removes all particles, dust and debris; and the filtered air is then returned to the floor behind the machine, after operation of the moistened micro fiber pad, to dry any residual solution film or moisture that may be on the floor.

The micro fiber pad includes a water-permeable backer or stiffener so that the micro fiber sheeting or cloth at the bottom of the pad which engages the floor is made semi-rigid in the sense that it may accommodate, under the application pressure of the pad driver, to variations in the contour of the floor, but the pad itself is not flimsy, such as a cloth layer alone might be. The pad assembly, in other words, if held ony an edge will not fold or droop downwardly. Rather, it remains in a horizontal use position, but upon the application of a slight force, it may be deflected. Preferably the micro fiber filter material is secured, as by stitching or the like to a water permeable backing surface which then is engaged by or secured to the pad driver.

The pad assembly is capable of receiving and passing water and cleaning liquid to keep the micro fiber cloth moist. The size of the illustrated machine may be in the range of twenty to thirty-six inches in width (slightly larger than the diameter of the cleaning pad), and the machine would then accommodate a vacuum shoe having a width of twenty-two to thirty-eight inches (also slightly larger than the width of the intended cleaning swath of the machine which is, of course, determined by the width of the pad). That is, the front vacuum shoe would have an operating width slightly greater than the diameter of the pad which is circular, in the illustrated embodiment.

The machine includes a solution tank for storing the cleaning solution, but as will be understood from further description, the machine does not include, since it does not need, a tank for recovering spent solution.

A solution feed system applies a controlled amount of water to the top of the micro fiber pad. In the illustrated embodiment, the cleaning solution is fed through apertures in the pad driver. The solution feed may also be in the form of a spray or a shower. In any case, however, the amount of water applied to the micro fiber pad is sufficient to keep the micro fiber cloth moist, but it is small enough such that a substantial residue of standing water (as would require suctioning) is not left behind the micro fiber pad. The purpose of the solution is to keep the operating surface of the micro fiber pad moist, but not dripping wet. It is the moistened micro fiber cloth itself which does the primary cleaning.

By applying a controlled amount of solution to the micro fiber pad during operation such that no substantial amount of residual water is left following operation of the micro fiber pad, there is no need to have a vacuum recovery system behind the machine. The vacuum air, after passing through a filter, may be returned as exhaust air behind the micro fiber pad and directed on the cleaned surface, at the rear of the machine, to serve as a source of forced air onto the surface immediately behind the pad and in front of the operator, to evaporate any residual moisture left by the pad so that the operator continues to walk on a clean, dry surface, rather than a wet floor.

Persons skilled in the art will immediately appreciate some of the advantages of the present invention. First, a single pass of a machine removes all loose dirt and debris. Secondly, in the same pass, a cleaning pad scrubs the floor clean and leaves no residual water after operation. The size of the machine may thus be reduced for a given application area because there is no need to store recovery solution, or, conversely, the design application area for a given machine may be increased because of the size constraints discussed above. Third, the machine may be simple and inexpensive. No adjustments are necessary during operation. In fact, it is desirable not to leave the operator with the ability to control the amount of solution applied to the micro fiber pad. The machines uses simple principles known to those skilled in the art, namely, a vacuum recovery head with a vacuum bag or other filtering system, a conventional vacuum motor, and means for returning the suction air back to the floor behind the micro fiber pad.

Leaving the floors virtually dry immediately after the machine passes provides an obvious maintenance and safety feature in that the area may be accessible to consumers or workers immediately after cleaning.

Persons skilled in the art will be able to recognize other features and advantages of the present invention from the following description of an illustrated embodiment, accompanied by the attached drawing wherein identical reference numerals will refer to like parts in the various views.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

FIG. 1 is an upper, frontal perspective view of a machine incorporating the present invention, with portions of the machine cut away to illustrate the various operating components; and

FIG. 2 is a left side diagrammatic view of the machine of FIG. 1 showing the relative positions of the operating elements of the machine.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLUSTRATED EMBODIMENT

Referring first to FIG. 1, reference numeral 10 generally designates a floor scrubbing machine having a frame for supporting the various elements. The machine 10 includes forward and rear support wheels 12; and in the illustrated embodiment, the wheels are not driven by a motor. Rather, the machine is pushed by an operator standing behind the machine and grasping the handle 13, urging the machine in a leftward direction in FIG. 2 and a generally leftward and slightly toward the viewer in FIG. 1.

The machine 11 also includes an outer casing 15 in which there is formed a solution tank generally designated 16 for receiving a quantity of liquid cleaning solution or clean water 17. Beneath the machine 10 and carried by the frame is a pad assembly generally designated 18, in FIG. 2, and including a pad driver 19 and a micro fiber pad 20 attached to, or otherwise secured beneath, the pad driver 19.

The micro fiber pad 20 includes a lower layer of micro fiber sheet material or “cloth”, and an upper backing (such as non-woven synthetic material) intended to support and maintain the shape of the micro fiber sheet material and designed to be engaged and supported by the pad driver 19. The two layers may be seamed and sewn together about their aligned peripheries. Additional components for strength and wear may be added, but the pad should be permeable to water so that the micro fiber cloth is kept moist during use to control friction and wear, as well as to improve cleaning capacity.

In the case of the illustrated embodiment, the pad driver 19 is a brush having bristles 22 mounted in an upper plate or block 23 which may include apertures such as those designated 24. Alternatively, the pad and pad driver may be attached together by hook-and-loop fasteners arrangement so that they may be easily separated for changing the pad. Above the apertured pad driver mounting block 23, there is a solution feed conduit 25 which receives clean solution 17 from the tank 16 and applies it to the top of the pad driver under gravity. The solution (which may include water alone) may be metered by a constant displacement pump or an orifice. In any case, the amount of solution applied to the top of the pad driver 19 is merely sufficient to maintain the micro fiber material of pad 20 in a moist state. That is, it is not the intention to apply the solution to the floor or to maintain a wet floor, but only to keep the micro fiber pad 20 moist so that it may operate as intended, and as known in the art of micro fiber pad cleaning.

The micro fiber pad assembly 18 may be driven in rotation about a vertical axis, by a conventional motor 28 (seen in FIG. 2), which may be conventionally mounted to the frame of the machine 10 and powered either by batteries which may be stored on the chassis or frame of the machine, or by electric cord if the machine is designed to clean smaller areas. Alternatively, to overcome the friction experienced with micro fiber pads, the machine may drive the pad in an oscillating motion (as with some sanders) or a reciprocating or vibrating motion, in which case, the shape of the pad may be rectangular or square. Further, for a wider swath, more than one driven pad could be included on the machine. For example, one circular pad could be placed slightly forward and to one side; and a second pad could be slightly behind and to the other side, with an overlapping portion to insure full coverage. Both pads may be driven.

In front of the machine 10 is a vacuum head assembly generally designated 30 which includes a vacuum shoe (or pick-up nozzle) 31, which may be conventional. Preferably, the lower front edge of the vacuum shoe 31 may be provided with bristles, or finely notched or otherwise uneven, or it may be provided with cloth, to permit small particles and other debris to enter while permitting air to pass through to entrain the debris and pass it to the vacuum housing to be filtered out. The sides and rear edge of the vacuum shoe which engage the floor may be lined with felt or micro fiber cloth. A vacuum or suction hose 32 is mounted to the top of the vacuum head 31 and has its distal end coupled to a vacuum bag 33 which is housed in a vacuum or suction tank 34. The vacuum tank 34, in turn, is connected to the input of a conventional vacuum (or suction) motor 35. The filtered discharge of the vacuum motor 35 is routed through an exhaust air conduit 38 to a diffuser head 39. Alternatively, for better air quality, a HEPA filter could be used in place of the cloth bag 33.

The diffuser head 39 is located adjacent or behind the rear wheels 12 and adapted to apply the exhaust air from the vacuum motor 35, after passing through the filter bag 33, directly to the floor behind the micro fiber pad 20.

In operation, as the operator steers and moves the machine along the floor, the vacuum shoe 31 picks up all loose material, such as dust, particulate matter and any other debris capable of being vacuumed off the floor, ahead of the machine. The operating width of the vacuum shoe may be slightly greater than the diameter of the micro fiber pad, for example 2-4 inches greater, so that the entire swath of the pad driver assembly is free of loose debris.

The cleaning solution or clear water is applied sparingly, and as mentioned, in an amount sufficient only to keep the micro fiber pad 20 moist—as opposed to wet, and certainly not dripping wet.

The solution 17 may either be metered by a positive displacement pump, if desired, or it may be metered by means of an orifice or spray nozzle of a desired size.

The micro fiber pad 20, in its moist condition, is driven in rotation, oscillation or reciprocation, and scrubs the upper surface of the floor. It is a desirable scrubbing action which does not remove the finish on the floor, nor does it even substantially impair any materials for creating a shine or sheen on the floor, such as a previously applied polish.

The micro fiber pad leaves the floor substantially dry if a proper amount of lubricating cleaning solution is applied. But if there is any residual moisture on the floor, and certainly not a layer of moisture, the exhaust diffuser 39 directs clean air, having passed through the filter bag 33, onto the floor a few inches behind the pad driver to evaporate any remaining moisture.

Persons skilled in the art will realize that the present machine is economical, mobile, versatile and convenient, and that it may be scaled to applications of many different sizes. Smaller machines, energized by a conventional electrical cord adapted to be plugged into a wall outlet may be used for smaller applications, and the machine may be equally well adapted to being powered by batteries for larger applications.

Of significance, the amount of solution that is used in the described application is substantially less than would be used in a conventional floor scrubbing machine which uses a rear squeegee to recover the spent solution. It is estimated that the amount of solution for the instant machine is about 25% of what would ordinarily be used. Moreover, there is no need, in the instant machine, to recover (or dispose of) any spent solution since the micro fiber pad 20 is only wet sufficient to enable it to operate according to design.

Thus, there is no rear squeegee mechanism for recovering moisture as in conventional floor scrubbers of the type with which the present invention is concerned. This has substantial cost savings since the mechanisms for mounting squeegee pick-up devices is normally considered to be somewhat intricate in that it has to have many degrees of freedom, and the many degrees of motion to accommodate various floor situations, and it is necessarily includes rubber side walls or squeegee elements which have to be periodically replaced.

Another advantage of the micro fiber pad for scrubbing floors is that it may accommodate to variations in the floor, such as occur in tile floors and wooden floors, for example. Of significant advantage is the forward vacuum pick-up assembly which enables a micro fiber pad to operate over a substantially longer period of time than would otherwise occur if it had to operate with dust covered floors or floors with loose particles on the surface.

Another cost saving of the instant invention, as suggested above, is that for the same application area, the instant machine may be sized smaller because the solution tank may be smaller and there is no need for a recovery tank.

Obviously, the present invention may be scaled upwardly to the point where the machine itself is driven or a rider machine.

It is contemplated that a single machine would be equipped with a number of micro fiber pads, such as four or five, and that the pads may simply be rinsed, replacing one pad with another one, as use continues. This would enable the machine to be operated over an extended period of time, and after a given application, all of the micro fiber pads may then be laundered. In this manner, it is expected that the micro fiber pad would last for a substantial period of time since they could be laundered for perhaps hundreds of times.

The forward vacuum head 31 is intended to collect even the finest particles of dust, and, if desired, the vacuum air train from the forward vacuum head 31 may be passed through a filter intended to remove even the finest particles such as a HEPA filter, if desired.

In summary, it is submitted that the present invention is highly desirable from the standpoint of cost effectiveness of the machine manufacturer, as well as the operating costs of the user, and the long term maintenance costs of commercial floors.

Having thus disclosed in detail a preferred embodiment of the invention, persons skilled in the art will be able to modify certain of the structure which has been disclosed and to substitute equivalent elements for those described while continuing to practice the principle of the invention. It is therefore intended that all such modifications and substitutions be covered as they are embraced within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.