Title:
Transporter device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A transport device is provided comprising an actuator, a body coupled to the actuator, and a plurality of arms.



Inventors:
Mcleod, Jesse (Louisville, KY, US)
Application Number:
10/917972
Publication Date:
02/16/2006
Filing Date:
08/13/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B5/00
View Patent Images:
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20100083611STRIP-PACK APPARATUSApril, 2010Nakagawa et al.
20090038100PRE-SOAPED, DISPOSABLE LUFFAHFebruary, 2009Larsen et al.



Primary Examiner:
TAWFIK, SAMEH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Intellectual Property Group (Indianapolis, IN, US)
Claims:
1. 1-20. (canceled)

21. A transport device comprising; an actuator; a body coupled to the actuator having an abutment surface; and a plurality of arms coupled to the actuator that selectively extend from and retract into the body, extension of the arms from the body providing for grasping of an item between the arms and the abutment surface.

22. The transport of claim 21, wherein the arms are sized and shaped to enter a void in the item.

23. The transport of claim 21, wherein the arms are flexible such that the arms expand as the arms extend from the body and the arms contract as the arms retract into the body.

24. The transport of claim 23, wherein the expansion and contraction of the arms is governed by walls of an internal aperture of the body.

25. The transport of claim 21, wherein the actuator is a pneumatic cylinder.

26. The transport of claim 21, wherein the arms are springs.

27. The transport of claim 26, wherein the springs have a spring constant to allow the carrying of a baked good while substantially maintaining the shape and integrity of the baked good.

Description:

BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to transporters, such as conveyor systems, and in particular to gripper transporters used in the food industry.

Many types of products are transported by transporters, such as conveyor systems. For instance, in the food industry prepared food items, such as pizzas, entrees, and desserts, are assembled from various component pieces, including foodstuffs and packaging, which are transported by one or more transporters. Furthermore, the finished product and/or the component pieces are often transported on or by transporters between processing stations such as a packaging station.

The creation of the finished product from the component pieces often requires that the component pieces be brought together at certain times. Furthermore, such transport must be tailored to the piece being transported.

In one exemplary embodiment, a transport device is provided comprising an actuator a body coupled to the actuator having an abutment surface, and a plurality of arms coupled to the actuator that selectively extend from and retract into the body. The arms are spring loaded when within the body, and the arms provide a support surface for an item when extended outside the body.

An another embodiment, a method of transporting an item is provided including the steps of providing a transporter including an actuator; abutting the item with the transporter; activating the actuator to couple the transporter to the item; moving the transporter and the item coupled thereto; de-activating the actuator to uncouple the transporter from the item; and disengaging the transporter from the item.

In yet another embodiment of the present invention, a method of providing sanitary transport of a donut is provided including the steps of providing a transporter including an annular surface, abutting a top surface of the donut with the annular surface of the transporter, extending at least one arm from a position within the transporter to a position external to the transporter such that the at least one arm contacts the donut and hold the donut in contact with the annular surface, moving the transporter and donut about a facility, retracting the at least one arm from the external position to the internal position to release the donut from the transporter, and moving the transporter to disengage the transporter from the donut.

In another embodiment of the present invention, a transport device is provided comprising, an actuator, a body coupled to the actuator having an abutment surface, and a plurality of arms coupled to the actuator that selectively extend from and retract into the body. Extension of the arms from the body provides for grasping of an item between the arms and the abutment surface.

Additional features of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon consideration of the following detailed description of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side elevation view of an exemplary transporter with portions cut away;

FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of the transporter of FIG. 1 preparing to engage a foodstuff with portions cut away;

FIG. 3 is a side elevation view of the transporter of FIG. 1 engaging the foodstuff with portions cut away;

FIG. 4 is a side elevation view of the transporter of FIG. 1 transporting the foodstuff with portions cut away;

FIG. 5 is a side elevation view of the transporter of FIG. 1 placing the foodstuffs in packaging with portions cut away;

FIG. 6 is a side elevation view of the transporter of FIG. 1 releasing the foodstuffs with portions cut away;

FIG. 7 is a side elevation view of the transport system of FIG. 1 retreating from the foodstuff with portions cut away;

FIG. 8 is a cross sectional view of a gripper shell of the system of FIG. 1;

FIGS. 9a &b are a cross sectional and top views, respectively, of a shell adapter of the system of FIG. 1;

FIGS. 10a &b are cross sectional and top views, respectively, of a piston attachment 18 of the system of FIG. 1;

FIGS. 11a, b, &c are cross sectional, cross sectional side, and bottom views, respectively, of an arm coupler of the system of FIG. 1; and

FIGS. 12a, b, &c are front flat, side flat, and side shaped views of an arm of the system of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

In automated or semi-automated assembly systems, a number of transporters and conveyors are typically present. The transporters and conveyors provide consistency of part placement and process repeatability. Thus, a particular transporter is programmed to know where to go to retrieve a certain piece and knows to move the piece to a second location where it may be processed or otherwise subjected to another transporter. Such a system is described in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/678,708 titled A Transport System assigned to Raque Food Systems, Inc. that is expressly incorporated herein.

A transporter 10 is described herein that provides a gripping strength sufficient to grab and hold a baked product, such as a donut, but not crush the product during the gripping. Accordingly, transporter 10 includes a cylinder 12 and shell 14 coupled to cylinder 12 by adapter 16. Transporter 10 further includes piston attachment 18 that couples a piston 24 of cylinder 12 to at least two, preferably four, arms 22 via arm coupler 20.

Cylinder 12 is preferably a pneumatic cylinder having a piston 24 therein. Cylinder 12 has one or more air supply lines (not pictured) coupled thereto. Cylinder 12 is also coupled to an arm (not pictured) that provides for movement of the cylinder 12 vertically and horizontally about a facility. The arm is preferably a mechanical arm that is computer controlled. First end 40 of cylinder 12 includes a threaded portion to engage adapter 16. Piston 24 is movable relative to cylinder 12 so as to have a retracted position (FIGS. 1, 2, 6, 7) and an extended position (FIGS. 3-5). End 37 of piston 24 is threaded to engage piston attachment 18.

Adapter 16, shown in FIGS. 9a, 9b, is an annular structure having a threaded bore 38 defined therein sized and shaped to threadably receive first end 40 of cylinder 12 therein. An outer diameter of adapter 16 is threaded, sized, and shaped to be threadably received in a first section 42 of a multi-diametered bore 28 defined within shell 14. The outside of adapter 16 also includes wrench flats 29 to assist in theadably engaging adapter 16 to shell 14 and to cylinder 12.

Shell 14, shown in FIG. 8, is a substantially cylindrical body 26 having multi-diametered bore/aperture 28 therein. Body 26 includes a proximal end 30 and a distal end 32. Distal end 32 includes a contact surface 34. Contact surface 34 is annular and circumscribes body 26. Also, contact surface 34 extends perpendicularly to a longitudinal axis 36 of transporter 10. Embodiments are envisioned having a non-annular contact surface 34 where one or more contact surfaces 34 extend from body 26 to correlate to arms 22. The portion of body 26 below contact surface 34 has an outer diameter that is small enough to fit within the “hole” of a donut 82 or within a cavity of the item to be transported.

Bore 28 includes three sections 42, 44, 46. First section 42 is at proximal end 30 and is the largest of the three sections 42, 44, 46. As previously described, first section 42 is threaded, sized, and shaped to threadably receive adapter 16 therein. The diameter of second section 44 is smaller than the diameter of first section 42 but larger than the diameter of third section 46. The diameter of second section 44 is sized to slidably receive arm coupler 20 therein.

Arm coupler 20, shown in FIGS. 11a, b, &c, is an annular member having a first end 48 and a second end 50. First end 48 has an outer diameter slightly smaller than the diameter of second section 44 of bore 28 of shell 14. Second end 50 has a diameter slightly smaller than third section 46 of bore 28 of shell 14. In between first end 48 and second end 50 is a transition portion 53 that tapers on some sides (see FIGS. 11b &c) and includes wrench flats 52 on other sides (see FIGS. 11a &c). Internally, arm coupler 20 includes bore 54 therein. Bore 54 includes three sections 56, 58, 60 decreasing in diameter from first end 48 to second end 50. First section 56 is threaded and of a diameter slightly larger than a first section 62 of piston attachment 18. Second section 58 is of a diameter slightly larger than a second section 64 of piston attachment 18. Third section 60 is of a diameter slightly larger than a third section 66 of piston attachment 18. Accordingly, piston attachment 18 is sized and shaped to be received in bore 54 of arm coupler 20. A shoulder 78 is provided between second and third sections 58, 60.

Piston attachment 18 shown in FIGS. 10 a &b is a substantially cylindrical, multi-diametered, body. Piston attachment 18 includes first, second, third, and fourth sections 62, 64, 66, 68. First section 62 includes external wrench flats 70 and an internal piston bore 72. Wrench flats 70 extend only part of the length of first section 62 and provide parallel surfaces on opposite sides of piston attachment 18 suitable for being engaged by a wrench. The balance of the external of first section 62 not covered by wrench flats 70 is threaded to engage first section 56 of bore 54 of arm coupler 20. Piston bore 72 is also threaded to engage end 37 of piston 24. Second section 64 is sized and shaped to have a slightly smaller diameter than second section 58 of arm coupler 20. Third section 66 is of a diameter slightly less than third section 60 of arm coupler 20. Finally, fourth section 68 is of a decreasing diameter as the distance from third section 66 increases.

Arms 22 are originally flat thin metal pieces as shown in FIGS. 12 a &b that are bent to provide an attachment bend 74 and a grasp curl 76 as shown in FIG. 12c. When assembled, arms 22 are placed within third section 60 of bore 54 of arm coupler 20 such that attachment bends 74 of respective arms 22 sit on shoulder 78. Arms are preferably evenly distributed around sides of bore 54 of arm coupler 20. Once so seated, piston attachment 18 is threadably engaged to arm coupler 20 to hold arms 22 in place to create an arm assembly 80. The bent resting state of arms 22 causes arms 22 to act similarly to springs. Thus, the deflection of arms 22 is a function of the spring constant and the force applied.

In assembly, bore 38 of adapter 16 threadably couples to first end 40 of cylinder 12. Then, piston bore 72 of piston attachment 18 of arm assembly 80 threadably couples to piston 24. Shell 14 is placed over arm assembly 80 to receive arm assembly 80 within bore 28. Finally, first section 42 of bore 28 is threadably coupled to adapter 16, and thus cylinder 12.

In use, piston 24 and arm assembly 80 selectively assume first positions and second positions. First position of piston 24 and assembly 80 is a retracted position shown in FIGS. 1, 2, 6, and 7. In first position, arm coupler 20 is spaced apart from third section 46 of bore 28 of shell 14. Grasp curls 72 of arms 22 are withdrawn into third section 46 of bore 28 of shell 14 and contracted. Second position of piston 24 and assembly 80 is an extended position shown in FIGS. 3-5. In the second position, arm coupler 20 is proximate, but not within, third section 46 of bore 28 of gripper shell 28. The second position allows grasp curls 72 of arms to extend down and out of bore 28 and to expand. Such extension allows arms 22 to be relatively unrestrained and assume a curled attitude for engaging donut 82 through the donut “hole” and supporting donut 82 from beneath.

FIGS. 1-7 show transporter 10 in various stages of transporting items such as a donut 82. FIG. 1 shows transporter 10 ready to approach donut 82. Transporter 10 is in a raised position with piston 24 in the first, retracted, position. FIG. 2 shows transporter 10 in a lowered position with piston 24 still retracted. Transporter 10 is lowered such that contact surfaces 34 abut donut 82. FIG. 3 shows piston 24 having moved to the second, extended, position. Placing piston 24 in the second position causes arms 22 to extend out of bore 28 and assume curved attitudes. The curved attitudes along with the positioning of transporter 10 proximate donut 82 causes grasp curls 76 of arms 22 to engage donut 82. Furthermore, grasp curls 76 secure donuts 82 between arms 22 and contact surface 34. FIG. 4 shows transporter 10 in the raised position with donut 82 coupled thereto. Transporter 10 then moves about a facility, such as a packaging facility, and aligns itself over a package 84. FIG. 5 shows transporter 10 in the lowered position over package 84 or another processing station. Donut 82 is lowered into package 84 and piston 24 is in the second, lowered, position such that transporter 10 still is holding on to donut 82. FIG. 6 shows transporter 10 still in the lowered position with piston 24 in the first, raised, position. Placing piston 24 in the first, raised, position causes arms 22 to retract into bore 28 of shell 14. Thus, donut 82 is released from the grasp of transporter 10. FIG. 7 shows transporter 10 in a raised position above package 84 with donut 82 remaining in package 84. Once in the raised position, transporter 10 travels throughout the facility to position itself above another donut 82.

It should be appreciated that the force exerted by arms 22 on donut 82 is of a magnitude that binds donut 82 between arms 22 and contact surfaces 34 but does not crush donuts 82. Alternatively, the force exerted by arms 22 is just greater than the weight of donut 82 such that the weight of donut 82 does not cause significant deflection of arms 22 and does not allow donut 82 to fall.

All parts of transporter 10 are preferably manufactured out of materials so as to preserve the sanitary conditions of food production, packaging, and distribution facilities where transporter 10 is located. Such a material, for example, is stainless steel.

While the invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, exemplary embodiments thereof have been shown by way of example in the drawings and will herein be described in detail. It should be understood, however, that there is no intent to limit the invention to the particular forms disclosed, but on the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.