Title:
Container guide for packaging machine
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A container guide for preventing bottles or other containers from overturning as the bottles are loaded into cartons includes guide bars mounted above a container conveyor and in parallel alignment with lane dividers for directing bottles from the container conveyor and into the cartons, which are conveyed on a carton conveyor. The guide bars support the upper portions of the bottles as the bottles cross a potentially uneven transition region extending between the two conveyors and beyond the extent of the lane dividers. Each guide bar has a guiding edge for supporting the upper portion of the bottles, which may be tapered or shouldered thereby requiring the guiding edge to be offset somewhat from the lane dividers. Each guide bar also has an outfeed end that is relatively thinner than its infeed end to facilitate the outfeed end clearing the upper edges of the end flaps of the cartons.



Inventors:
Cash III, John W. (Dallas, GA, US)
Murray, Shawn A. (Marietta, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/323184
Publication Date:
07/06/2006
Filing Date:
12/30/2005
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
198/836.1
International Classes:
B65B5/00
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Primary Examiner:
TRUONG, THANH K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WESTROCK COMPANY (Richmond, VA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An article guide for preventing articles from overturning as said articles are loaded into a carton by a packaging machine, the packaging machine including a carton conveyor for conveying cartons along a carton path in a direction of machine flow, an article conveyor for transporting said articles along an article path, and at least one lane defined by a pair of lane dividers that are disposed above said article conveyor for directing said articles from said article conveyor toward said carton conveyor, the article guide comprising: a guide bar mounted above said article conveyor, said guide bar comprising: an outfeed end that extends at least partially across a transition region between an end of one of said lanes and an open end of one of said cartons, said outfeed end including a support surface that guides an upper portion of each of said articles as said article crosses over said transition region.

2. The article guide of claim 1, wherein said guide bar extends beyond said end of said one of said lanes.

3. The article guide of claim 1, wherein said transition region comprises the region in which an article leaving said at least one lane loses the support of one or both lane dividers before entering a carton.

4. The article guide of claim 1, wherein the support surface of said guide bar is offset from at least one of said pair of lane dividers.

5. The article guide of claim 1, wherein said guide bar is substantially parallel to at least one of said pair of lane dividers.

6. The article guide of claim 1, wherein said outfeed end of said guide bar comprises a distal edge that is angled so as to be generally parallel to the direction of machine flow of said carton conveyor.

7. The article guide of claim 1, wherein said guide bar further comprises an infeed end, and the thickness of said infeed end is substantially greater than the thickness of said outfeed end.

8. The article guide of claim 7, wherein said guide bar is adjustably mounted so as to repositionable to guide articles of varying sizes and shapes.

9. The packaging machine of claim 1, wherein said open end of said carton is defined at least in part by a fold line hingedly connecting an end flap of said carton and a carton wall.

10. A packaging machine for loading articles into cartons, each carton having an open end, and each article having a base and a relatively smaller upper portion, comprising: a carton conveyor for conveying cartons along a carton path in a direction of machine flow; an article conveyor for transporting said articles along an article path; at least one lane defined by a pair of lane dividers that are disposed above said article conveyor for directing said articles from said article conveyor toward said carton conveyor; a transition region, comprising the area between an outfeed end of one of said pair of lane dividers and an adjacent edge of said open end of said carton; and an article guide for supporting said upper portion of each article as said article moves at least partially across said transition region and toward one of said cartons conveyed on said carton conveyor, said article guide comprising: a guide bar mounted above said article conveyor, said guide bar comprising an outfeed end that extends at least partially across said transition region, said outfeed end including a support surface that guides an upper portion of each of said articles as said article crosses over said transition region.

11. The packaging machine of claim 10, wherein said edge of said open end of said carton is defined at least in part by a fold line hingedly connecting an end flap of said carton and a carton wall.

12. The packaging machine of claim 10, wherein said guide bar is substantially parallel to at least one of said pair of lane dividers.

13. The packaging machine of claim 12, wherein said guide bar is offset with respect to said at least one of said pair of lane dividers

14. The packaging machine of claim 11, wherein said carton wall rests on the surface of the carton conveyor.

15. An article conveyor for transporting said articles along an article path, said article conveyor comprising: a conveying surface; at least one lane defined by a pair of lane dividers that are disposed over said conveying surface; a transition region including the area between an outfeed end of one of said pair of lane dividers and the adjacent edge of said conveying surface; and a guide bar mounted above said conveying surface, said guide bar comprising: an outfeed end that extends beyond said outfeed end of said one of said pair of lane dividers and at least partially across said transition region, said outfeed end of said guide bar including a support surface that guides an upper portion of each of said articles as said article moves at least partially across said transition region.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of the filing of Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/640,364, entitled “Container Guide for Packaging Machine” and filed on Dec. 30, 2004, the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates generally to machines for loading containers into cartons or other packages, and more particularly, to an article guide that prevents containers from overturning during the carton loading process.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Automatic packaging machines are commonly configured to rapidly load one or more lanes of cylindrical containers such as bottles, into cartons to facilitate distribution and ultimate use of the product within the containers. For example, certain packaging machines include article conveyors that convey bottles along multiple lanes in which the bottles are grouped according to the package configuration. Then the bottles are directed off of the article conveyor and into one or both ends of sleeve-type paperboard cartons. Such automatic packaging machines operate at high speeds to maximize the efficiency of the packaging operation. Furthermore, the bottles must be pushed into the carton with sufficient force to overcome the friction caused by the top and base of each bottle contacting the respective upper and lower inner surfaces of the carton, as only very small gaps therebetween can be tolerated to yield a snug package.

Unfortunately, propelling bottles forward at high speeds into a relatively snug carton yields an unacceptably high probability that bottles will frequently overturn. This is particularly the case when the bottles are inherently relatively unstable. For example, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles that commonly have petaloid bases, or bottles having a relatively high ratio of height to diameter, are inherently relatively unstable. Overturned bottles are costly in time and resources. The entire machine may have to be shut down to clear overturned bottles, packages may be improperly loaded or damaged, and bottles may rupture and spill their contents. Ruptured bottles often contain sugary beverages that are difficult to clean from the packaging machine components and surroundings.

Bottles frequently overturn at the critical transition region between the angled outfeed ends of lane dividers that guide the bottles along conveyor surface of an article conveyor and into the opening of a carton on a carton conveyor. Each bottle on the article conveyor surface is conveyed along an article path in the general direction of travel or machine flow of the product conveyor until the bottle reaches the angled lane dividers. The lane dividers are typically angled with respect to the direction of travel or machine flow of the continuously moving article conveyor to direct the bottles toward, and over, an edge of the article conveyor. The bottles move from the outfeed end of a lane, over a transition region, and into a carton. The transition region includes the area between the end of a lane and an adjacent open end of a carton. The carton typically moves on a carton conveyor at a comparable pace as the article conveyor. As grouper lugs on the product conveyor push each group of bottles forward, the angled lane dividers support and redirect the bottles off of the article conveyor and into the carton. In the transition region, each bottle travels beyond the extent of one or both of the adjacent lane dividers, which cannot extend across the transition region without interfering with the passage of the minor flaps of the cartons on the carton conveyor. As it crosses the transition region, each bottle is propelled by the force of other bottles, but is no longer guided on both sides by the adjacent lane dividers that define the lane. During this interval, maneuvering small gaps and differences in elevation between any of the conveyors, the carton surface, or the transition region can cause a bottle (such as the first bottle in the first row that is loaded into each carton) to overturn.

Previous attempts at addressing the problem of overturning bottles require tight tolerances or frequent adjustment and maintenance, as the attempts have focused on minimizing gaps and minimizing variations in elevation between the various conveyors, carton surfaces, and the transition region, or on stabilizing mechanisms such as brushes that apply pressure to top flaps or walls of the carton. These solutions, although time consuming and resource intensive, fail to eliminate the problem of bottles overturning.

Thus, there is a need for a solution that reduces the incidence of containers overturning in high-speed packaging machines.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The various embodiments of the present invention overcome the shortcomings of the prior art by providing a packaging machine that implements systems and methods for guiding a container or other article so as to prevent the container from overturning as the container is conveyed from an article conveyor and loaded into a carton or other package. The embodiments described illustrate the various features of an exemplary container guidance system that can be implemented in a packaging machine for loading containers into cartons or similar packages.

When erected, the exemplary carton comprises a top wall, a pair of opposed side walls connected to opposing side edges of the top wall, at least one end wall interconnecting the side walls, and a bottom wall interconnecting respective lower edges of the side walls and the end walls. During the container loading process, the carton may be partially erected such that at least one end of the carton is open.

Generally, a packaging machine equipped with the article guide of the present invention includes one or more substantially rigid guide bars that are each mounted above a lane. The lane guides products driven on the surface of and by an article conveyor. In the exemplary embodiments, at least a portion of the article conveyor is in parallel alignment with a carton conveyor, and both are simultaneously driven at substantially similar or complementary speeds. Each guide bar angles toward the carton conveyor, extends beyond the end of at least one of a pair of angled lane dividers that define the respective lane, and extends at least partially across a transition region. The transition region includes the area between the outfeed end of a lane and the open end of a carton on the carton conveyor. The transition region can be small or relatively expansive, depending primarily on the clearance required to prevent the lane dividers from striking the flaps of the cartons on the carton conveyor. In general, the transition region can be defined as the region in which an article leaving the product conveyor loses the support of one or both lane dividers that define the lane along which the article travels. The transition region may include, but is not limited to, a stationary component of the packaging machine that separates the product and carton conveyors, or may include a gap between the two conveyors.

According to an aspect of the invention, each guide bar can be mounted to a component of the packaging machine, such as a lane divider or an overhead boom structure. The mounting position of the guide bar is at least vertically adjustable to accommodate bottles of different heights. Each guide bar is substantially parallel to the angle of the lane dividers, and maybe offset somewhat such that at least one side of the guide bar is not in vertical alignment with any surface of any lane divider, to compensate for containers having caps with smaller diameters than their sides. This offset is not needed if the articles have constant diameters, e.g., beverage cans. Preferably, the guide bar is also horizontally adjustably mounted to facilitate adjustment of the offset distance to accommodate bottles having various diameters or widths. The infeed end of the guide bar can extend as far upstream, with respect to the flow of bottles, as necessary to provide convenient mounting at some point along its length to a fixed component. It is advantageous for at least a portion of the proximal edge of the infeed end of the container guide to be angled, tapered, and/or rounded to avoid obstructing incoming bottles.

According to another aspect of the invention, each guide bar is machined or otherwise shaped such that at least a portion of an edge of the guide bar provides a support surface that aligns closely with, and preferably matingly engages a surface of the upper portion of the bottle, such as the outer surface of a bottle cap. This portion of the guide bar is herein after referred to as the guiding edge. The guiding edge is parallel to the direction of travel of the bottle within the lane, and is preferably vertically positioned no higher than an upper edge of the carton. The guiding edge provides support to the upper portion of the bottle until the bottle has substantially crossed over the transition region and entered the carton, thereby countering the tendency of the bottle to overturn as it crosses the transition region.

According to another aspect of the invention, a distal edge of the outfeed end of the guide bar is positioned so as to vertically align with the top of the open end of each carton as the carton travels through the loading station, and can be angled to be parallel to the direction of machine flow of the carton conveyor.

According to another aspect of the invention, the guide bar also includes a leading edge opposite the guiding edge. The shape and configuration of the leading edge enables the guide to avoid interfering with the passage of the minor side flaps of the carton as the carton travels through the loading station. In certain embodiments, at least a portion of a leading edge of the guide bar is tapered proximal to the outfeed end of the guide bar, and relative to the guiding edge. In certain other embodiments, the guide bar is a thin (for example, about ¼ inch) polygonal, cylindrical, or tubular rod fashioned from material with sufficient strength to provide enough support to guide bottles into the carton. Examples of suitable materials for guide bars include stainless steel and other ferrous or non-ferrous alloys, or any other material having yield strength sufficient to resist deformation.

Yet another aspect of the invention provides means for each guide bar to dynamically adjust for guiding and supporting containers or other articles having varying heights, widths, and shapes. Examples of means for dynamically adjusting include spring-loaded or slotted mounting brackets that allow fluctuations in the elevation and angular orientation of the guide bar with respect to a horizontal plane defined by the container conveyor.

According to another aspect of the invention, the guide bars may be detachable, adjustable, or interchangeable to be compatible with various container and package types and configurations.

The foregoing has broadly outlined some of the aspects and features of the present invention, which should be construed to be merely illustrative of various potential applications of the invention. Other beneficial results can be obtained by applying the disclosed information in a different manner or by modifying the disclosed embodiments. Accordingly, other aspects and a more comprehensive understanding of the invention may be obtained by referring to the detailed description of the exemplary embodiments taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in addition to the scope of the invention defined by the claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a plan view of the exemplary embodiment of a blank for forming a carton of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the carton formed from the blank of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a plan view of an exemplary guide bar according to certain of the various embodiments of the container guide invention.

FIG. 4 is a side elevation view of the guide bar of FIG. 3.

FIG. 4b is a end elevation view of the guide bar of FIG. 3

FIG. 5 is a simplified plan view showing certain components of an exemplary packaging machine, including an exemplary embodiment of an article guide.

FIG. 6 is a partial perspective view of the packaging machine of FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 shows the packaging machine of FIGS. 5 and 6, as viewed from the perspective of the outfeed end of the exemplary guide bar.

FIG. 8 is a side elevation of a carton passing through the loading station of a packaging machine.

FIG. 9 is a side elevation of an alternative guide bar according to certain embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 10 is a side elevation of another alternative guide bar according to certain embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 11 is a side elevation of yet another alternative guide bar according to certain embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 12 is a side elevation of yet another alternative guide bar according to certain embodiments of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

As required, detailed embodiments of the present invention are disclosed herein. It will be understood that the disclosed embodiments are merely examples to illustrate aspects of the invention that may be embodied in various and alternative forms. The figures are not necessarily to scale, and some features may be exaggerated or minimized to show details of particular components. In other instances, well-known materials or methods have not been described in detail to avoid obscuring the present invention. Therefore, specific structural and functional details disclosed herein are not to be interpreted as limiting, but as a basis for the claims and for teaching one skilled in the art to variously employ the present invention.

Referring now to the drawings in which like numerals indicate like elements throughout the several views, the drawings illustrate certain of the various aspects of exemplary embodiments of an article guide according to the teachings of the present invention. In the embodiments described herein, the term “container” refers to any cylindrical article or receptacle having a circular, elliptical, or polygonal base with or without a tapered or relatively narrower upper portion, where the container is solid or encloses a liquid, semi-liquid, gaseous, or solid substance, such as a consumable product. The term “package” refers, for the non-limiting purpose of illustrating the various features of the invention, to a carton for enclosing, carrying, and dispensing articles such as beverage bottles. However, it is contemplated that any suitable package could be loaded via the systems and methods of the various embodiments of the invention.

The features and aspects of the systems and methods of the invention are described with reference to a carton 200 formed from a foldable sheet material such as paperboard, corrugated board, plastic, laminates, any combination thereof, or the like. To encourage an understanding of the various aspects of the invention, the construction of an exemplary carton will now be described in some detail. The foldable sheet material is typically provided as a unitary blank 100, the inside surface of which is shown in FIG. 1. The blank 100 includes a first side panel 102 hingedly connected along longitudinal fold line 105 to a top panel 104, which is hingedly connected along fold line 106 to a second side panel 108, which is hingedly connected along fold line 110 to a bottom panel 112, which is hingedly connected along fold line 114 to an edge flap 116. Each of the panels is hingedly connected, respectively, to minor end flaps 118a, 120a, 136a or end wall panels 122a, 124a defined in part by transverse fold lines 126a, 128a, 130a, 132a, 138a disposed along one edge of the blank 100. At the opposite edge of the blank 100, the panels may also include hinged connections to similar minor end flaps 118b, 120b, 136b or end wall panels 122b, 124b defined in part by transverse fold lines 126b, 128b, 130b, 132b, 138b. More specifically, top panel 104 is hingedly connected to end wall panels 122a, 122b along respective fold lines 128a, 128b. Second side panel 108 is hingedly connected to end flaps 120a, 120b along respective fold lines 130a, 130b. Bottom panel 112 is hingedly connected to end wall panels 124a, 124b along respective fold lines 132a, 132b. First side panel 102 is hingedly connected to end flaps 118a, 118b along respective fold lines 126a, 126b. In certain embodiments, edge flap 116 is hingedly connected to end flaps 136a, 136b along respective fold lines 138a, 138b.

To erect the carton 200 shown in FIG. 2, the first side panel 102 is glued or is otherwise secured to the edge flap 116 to form the first side wall 202 of carton 200, which is at this point open-ended and tubular. End flaps 136a, 136b are secured to respective end flaps 118a, 118b to form composite end flaps 118a/136a and 118b/136b. The top panel 104 becomes the top wall 204 of the erected carton 200. Similarly, the second side panel 108 becomes the second side wall 208, and the bottom panel 112 forms the bottom wall 212 of the erected carton 200. In this collapsed state, the open-ended carton can be fed into the packaging machine, where the carton 200 is partially erected and placed on a carton conveyor, which is described in greater detail below. After the articles are grouped and loaded through either or both of the open ends of the carton 200, the end flaps 118a/136a, 120a and end wall panels 122a, 124a are folded and secured together to form an end closure structure 210 while the end flaps 118b/136b, 120b and end wall panels 122b, 124b are folded and secured together to form the other end closure structure 214.

FIG. 3 shows a plan view of the exemplary guide bar 300 according to certain embodiments of the invention. Generally described, the guide bar 300 is substantially longer than it is wide, and thus, has two relatively long side edges 302, 304 and two relatively shorter end edges 306, 308. End edge 308 is angled so as to be parallel with the direction of machine flow 506 of a container conveyor 502 (best shown in FIGS. 5 and 6). End edge 306 at infeed end 310 of the guide bar 300 includes a lead-in angle and/or a radius, which is useful to avoid interfering with the flow of containers 504.

With regard to FIGS. 3 and 4, side edge 302 is hereinafter referred to as the leading edge of the guide bar 300 and side edge 304 is hereinafter referred to as the guiding edge of the guide bar 300. Portions of respective leading and guiding edges 302 and 304, near the outfeed end 312 of the guide bar 300, are tapered. Stated differently, the surface height A of at least a portion of edges 302, 304 are tapered or otherwise gradually diminished near the end edge 308 so that the surface height A at the end edge 308 is substantially less than the surface height B of most of each of the edges 302, 304, as can also be seen in FIG. 4b. This arrangement provides the guide bar 300 with a chamfered, or beveled, surface 402 that extends from an angled edge 314 on a lower surface 322 toward an upper surface 320, and toward the angled end edge 308. In alternative embodiments, the surface height B of the guiding edge 304 may remain constant along the length of the guide bar 300 on condition that it is sufficient to provide a support surface for supporting an upper portion 700 of a container 504 (as best shown in FIG. 7) as the container 504 crosses a transition region, as discussed in further detail below. As also will be discussed in more detail below, tapering the leading edge 302 and the guiding edge 304, to at least partially define the beveled surface 402, is advantageous to ensure that the guide bar 300 clears the uppermost edges of end flaps 118a/136a, 120a as the open-ended cartons 200 move through the loading station.

Referring to FIGS. 3 and 4, infeed end 310 of guide bar 300 includes means for facilitating attachment of guide bar 300 to a stationary component of the packaging machine, such as drilled holes 318 for receiving connecting means such as bolts, pins, or screws, and the like (not shown). As shown, each of upper and lower surfaces 320 and 322 of guide bar 300 is flat and smooth. The upper surface 320 is greater in length than the lower surface 322. However, in alternative embodiments, each of the upper surface 320 and the lower surface 322 may taper or curve, and they each may have the same length.

An article conveyor 502 transports at least one container 504, in a direction of machine flow 506, along an article path and through a loading station. A portion of the loading station is represented by FIGS. 5, 6, 7 and 8. The carton conveyor 508 is positioned parallel to the article conveyor 502, and is spaced from the article conveyor 502 at a width W. The carton conveyor 508 simultaneously transports cartons 200 (FIG. 8), each being disposed on its bottom wall 212, along a carton path that follows the same direction of machine flow 506. For example, the carton 200 is placed on the carton conveyor 508 such that first side wall 202 is perpendicular to and opposes the direction of machine flow 506 and top wall 208 is perpendicular to and faces the direction of machine flow 506. Prior to reaching an infeed end of the angled lane dividers 510, the direction of travel of each of the containers may be substantially the same as the direction of machine flow 506. When the containers 504 enter the carton loading station, the containers 504 are metered or grouped by grouper lugs 812 (best shown in FIG. 8), elevated flight bars, or other means for grouping containers. The guide bars of the present invention are contemplated in packaging machines having grouping means that span all or part the width of the article conveyor 502, or that extend beyond either edge of the article conveyor. Each lane is defined by two successive parallel lane dividers 510. The outfeed end of each pair of lane dividers 510 is angled so as to alter the direction of travel of the individual containers 504, thereby causing the group of containers 504 to move from the outfeed end of the respective lane, across a transition region, and toward an open end of a carton 200 (FIG. 8) that is transported on the carton conveyor 508.

The transition region includes the area between the outfeed end of a lane, defined by two parallel lane dividers 510, and the open end of a carton 200. More specifically, the transition region is the area in which one or both of the parallel lane dividers 510 ceases to support the container 504 as it moves toward and into a carton 200. The transition region may include a portion of the container conveyor 502 and, additionally, can encompass a stationary or mobile element that is disposed in a gap, of width W, between container conveyor 502 and carton conveyor 508. Alternatively, there may be no element other than the gap W, between the conveyors 502, 508.

In the exemplary embodiment, the transition region includes the upper surface of a bridge panel 514. Bridge panel 514, which is normally a dead plate, separates the moving parts of container conveyor 502 and carton conveyor 508. The bridge panel 514 provides an upper surface for supporting containers 504 as they slide into the carton 200. The bridge panel 514 may also position the end wall panel 124a so that the distal end portion of the end wall panel 124a is placed under the bridge panel 514 while each carton is moved through the loading station of the packaging machine.

One or more guide bars 300 are mounted or otherwise attached to stationary components in the loading station of the packaging machine. Any suitable stationary component may be utilized to support each guide bar 300 including, but not limited to, a lane divider 510 or an overhead boom (not shown). As can be seen in FIGS. 5, 6, and 7, each guide bar 300 is mounted using a bracket 505, which may be adjustable with respect to height, and with respect to distance from or angle between an adjacent lane divider 510, so that the guiding edge 304 of the guide bar 300 rests against the cap or upper portion of each container 504 flowing along the lane. Each guide bar 300 forms an angle with respect to the direction of machine flow 506. The angle of the guide bar 300 preferably approximates the angle of the closest lane divider 510, which is also angled with respect to the direction of machine flow 506. The guide bar 300 extends from the outfeed end of a lane and at least partially across the transition region. The guide bar 300 preferably, but not necessarily, extends no further than an edge of the open end of each carton 200 where the upper and lower edges of the open end of the carton 200 are defined by respective fold lines 132a and 128a.

FIG. 7 shows a section view, taken from the perspective of line VII-VII in FIG. 5, wherein a container 504 travels across the transition region. The guide bar 300 is preferably offset with respect to the lane divider 510, such that the guiding edge 304 of the guide bar 300 is not aligned with either side of the nearest lane divider 510. The amount of offset is engineered to place the guiding edge 304 matingly in contact with a surface of an upper portion 700 of a container 504. The exemplary container 504 has an upper portion 700 that is tapered, stepped down, or otherwise made narrower than the base 702 of the container 504. For instance, a container 504 may have shoulders that distinguish the upper portion 700 from the base 702. The surface of the upper portion 700 of the container 504 matingly engages the guiding edge 304 of one of the guide bars 300 after such time as at least a portion of the container 504 has traveled beyond the extent of, or is otherwise not supported by, one or both of the adjacent lane dividers 510.

As shown in FIG. 8, prior to each carton 200 entering the loading station, the distal end portion of the lower end wall panel 124a is folded out of the way by an end wall panel guide (not shown) into the position under the bridge panel 514. The bridge panel 514 is capable of supporting containers 504 between the container conveyor 502 and the carton conveyor 508. Those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that, as containers 504 move across the fold line 132a between end wall panel 124a and wall 212, the containers 504 may tip easily due to variations in elevation and surface texture. Thus, it is desirable for the guide bar 300 to extend as close to this point as possible, without interfering with passage of the cartons 200 on the carton conveyor 508. Fold line 132a is then presented as the bottom edge of the open end of the carton 200, and is positioned at the edge of the carton conveyor 508 or otherwise at scoreline position 602 (shown in FIGS. 5 and 6). In alternative embodiments, the width W is substantially small such that the article conveyor 502 is adjacent to the carton conveyor 508. More specifically, the scoreline position 602 is substantially side edge 511 of the container conveyor.

Upper end wall panel 122a may be folded at least slightly upward by an upper end wall panel guide (not shown), thereby exposing the uppermost edges 808, 810 of end flaps 118a/136a and 120a as the open ended cartons 200 move through the loading station. The leading edge 302 of guide bar 300 clears the uppermost edge 808 of end flap 120a, containers 504 are pushed into the carton 200 guided by guiding edge 304, and then the leading edge 302 of the guide bar 300 clears the upper edge 810 (not shown) of end flap 118a/136a (not shown).

It will be appreciated that the size and shape of the guide bar 300 is preferably engineered to correspond to the respective shapes and amount of clearance between end flaps 118a/136a and 120a and end wall panel 122a, which in the nonlimiting exemplary embodiments shown, have angled upper edges 808, 810. The primary objectives are to provide a guide bar with an outfeed end portion that is shaped so as to easily clear carton end flaps while providing stability to the upper portions of containers flowing into the cartons. To that end, the guide bar can assume any shape that is suitable for the application, including but not limited to the shapes shown in FIGS. 9 through 12. Each of FIGS. 9 through 12 illustrates a side elevation of an alternative guide bar 900, 1000, 1100, 1200 that has been angled, tapered, chamfered, or otherwise shaped to meet the objectives of the exemplary embodiments described herein. In FIGS. 9 and 10, the guide bar 900, 1000 has a relatively thinner outfeed end and a relatively thicker infeed end which increases the overall strength of the guide bar without obstructing the carton flaps. At least a portion of the leading edge of the guide bar may be thinner as compared to at least a portion of the guiding edge of the guide bar. In FIGS. 11 and 12, the entire length of the guide bar 1100, 1200 has a constant or graduated thickness, the guide bar having an elliptical, triangular, or polygonal cross section. A guide bar having a constant thickness should be constructed of a material strong enough to guide containers without yielding, such that the guide bar can be thin enough to avoid obstructing carton end flaps, but thick enough to matingly contact and provide support to containers.

Furthermore, any number of guide bars may be required to accomplish the objective of preventing containers from overturning. For example, one or more guide bars may be provided for each lane, or a single guide bar may be sufficient to guide containers in multiple lanes.

The present invention has been illustrated in relation to particular embodiments which are intended in all respects to be illustrative rather than restrictive. Those skilled in the art will recognize that the present invention is capable of many modifications and variations without departing from the scope of the invention. For example, as used herein, directional references such as “top”, “base”, “bottom”, “end”, “side”, “inner”, “outer”, “upper”, “middle”, “lower”, “front” and “rear” do not limit the respective walls of the carton to such orientation, but merely serve to distinguish these walls from one another. Any reference to hinged connection should not be construed as necessarily referring to a junction including a single hinge only; indeed, it is envisaged that hinged connection can be formed from one or more potentially disparate means for hingedly connecting materials.

Those skilled in the art will also appreciate that the packaging machine described represents only one example of the various packaging machine types and configurations that will be suitable for implementation of the various embodiments of the invention. Each of the conveyors described with reference to the packaging machine can consist of a series or conveyors or other means for transporting articles or cartons from one location to another, with the speed and ultimate direction of flow of each conveyor being consistent with the synchronization and direction of machine flow. Accordingly, the scope of the present invention is described by the claims appended hereto and supported by the foregoing.