Title:
Vertical storage systems
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Vertical storage systems are disclosed herein. In one embodiment, a vertical storage system includes a first chamber, a second chamber adjacent to the first chamber, a vertical lift module or vertical carousel positioned in the first and second chambers. The first chamber is configured to store items at a first temperature, and the second chamber has an operating temperature different than the first temperature. The vertical lift module or vertical carousel has a first portion positioned in the first chamber and a second portion positioned in the second chamber.



Inventors:
Sidor, Michael R. (Sumner, WA, US)
Van Gelderen, Merlin J. (Seattle, WA, US)
Application Number:
11/301267
Publication Date:
07/13/2006
Filing Date:
12/12/2005
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
312/236, 312/294, 62/441
International Classes:
F25D25/00; A47B77/08; A47B88/48; F25D11/02
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ALI, MOHAMMAD M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PERKINS COIE LLP - SEA General (SEATTLE, WA, US)
Claims:
I/We claim:

1. A vertical storage system, comprising: a first chamber for storing items at a first temperature; a second chamber adjacent to the first chamber, the second chamber having an operating temperature different than the first temperature; and a vertical lift module or vertical carousel having a first portion positioned in the first chamber and a second portion positioned in the second chamber.

2. The storage system of claim 1 wherein: the vertical lift module or vertical carousel further comprises (a) a plurality of movable storage members in the first chamber, and (b) a drive assembly operably coupled to the storage members for moving the storage members at least in a vertical direction; the drive assembly includes a first portion in the first chamber and a second portion in the second chamber; the second portion of the drive assembly comprises a motor; the first temperature is approximately −60° C. or less; and the system further comprises a thermal barrier between the first and second chambers.

3. The storage system of claim 1 wherein the vertical lift module or vertical carousel comprises a drive assembly including a first portion in the first chamber and a second portion in the second chamber.

4. The storage system of claim 1, further comprising a thermal barrier between the first and second chambers.

5. The storage system of claim 1, further comprising: a first thermal barrier between the first and second chambers; and a second thermal barrier at a perimeter of the second chamber.

6. The storage system of claim 1 wherein the first temperature is approximately −60° C. or less.

7. The storage system of claim 1 wherein: the first temperature is approximately −60° C. or less; and the operating temperature of the second chamber is between approximately −10° C. and −60° C.

8. The storage system of claim 1, further comprising an anteroom adjacent to the second chamber, the anteroom having an operating temperature above the operating temperature of the second chamber.

9. The storage system of claim 1, further comprising a pump operably coupled to the first or second chamber to provide a pressure differential between the first and second chambers with the first chamber having a greater pressure.

10. The storage system of claim 1, further comprising a refrigeration unit operably coupled to the first chamber to cool the first chamber.

11. A vertical storage system, comprising: a chamber; a thermal barrier at least partially surrounding the chamber; a plurality of movable storage members in the chamber; and a drive assembly operably coupled to the movable storage members for moving the storage members at least in a vertical direction, the drive assembly including a first portion in the chamber and a second portion external to the chamber.

12. The storage system of claim 11 wherein: the chamber comprises a first chamber; the system further comprises a second chamber proximate to the first chamber such that the thermal barrier is positioned between the first and second chambers; and the second portion of the drive assembly is positioned in the second chamber.

13. The storage system of claim 11 wherein: the chamber comprises a first chamber for storing items at a first temperature; and the system further comprises a second chamber proximate to the first chamber, the second chamber having an operating temperature different than the first temperature.

14. The storage system of claim 11, further comprising a refrigeration unit operably coupled to the chamber to cool the chamber.

15. The storage system of claim 11 wherein the drive assembly further comprises a motor positioned external to the chamber.

16. A vertical storage system, comprising: a freezer having a first section for storing items at a first temperature and a second section having an operating temperature above the first temperature; a plurality of movable storage members in the first section of the freezer; and means for moving the storage members in the first section of the freezer.

17. The storage system of claim 16, further comprising a vertical lift module or vertical carousel including the movable storage members and the means for moving the storage members.

18. The storage system of claim 16 wherein the means for moving the storage members comprise a drive assembly having a first portion in the first section of the freezer and a second portion in the second section of the freezer.

19. The storage system of claim 16, further comprising a thermal barrier between the first and second sections of the freezer.

20. The storage system of claim 16 wherein: the first temperature is approximately −60° C. or less; and the operating temperature of the second chamber is between approximately −10° C. and −60° C.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The present application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/635,396, entitled Thermal Vertical Storage System, filed Dec. 10, 2004, which is hereby incorporated in its entirety by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention is directed to vertical storage systems.

BACKGROUND

Progress in medicine and biotechnology has led to the collection and storage of increasing numbers of biological specimens. Many biological specimens must be stored at cold temperatures to preserve them for future use and/or analysis. For example, cultured cells, embryos, sperm, cord blood, and other cells and tissues are typically stored at cryogenic temperatures to prevent reactions and degradation that would interfere with the use and/or reliable analysis of the biological products. When properly treated, biological specimens can be stored almost indefinitely at sufficiently cold temperatures.

Many research labs, testing facilities, and other institutions include walk-in freezers for storing biological specimens. One drawback of conventional walk-in freezers is that the freezers have large footprints and consume significant space. Another drawback of conventional freezers is that lab technicians may need to walk several feet inside the freezer to obtain a particular specimen. Due to the temperature in the freezer, the technicians may need to don protective thermal clothing before entering the freezer. As a result, the process of retrieving specimens in conventional freezers can be a hassle. Accordingly, there exists a need to improve the methods for storing biological samples at cold temperatures.

SUMMARY

Several aspects of the invention are directed to vertical storage systems. A vertical storage system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention includes a first chamber, a second chamber adjacent to the first chamber, and a vertical lift module or vertical carousel positioned in the first and second chambers. The first chamber is configured to store items at a first temperature, and the second chamber has an operating temperature different than the first temperature. The vertical lift module or vertical carousel has a first portion positioned in the first chamber and a second portion positioned in the second chamber. In several applications, the first temperature can be lower than or approximately equal to −60° C., and the operating temperature of the second chamber is between approximately −10° C. and −60° C.

In another embodiment, a vertical storage system includes a chamber, a thermal barrier at least partially surrounding the chamber, a plurality of movable storage members in the chamber, and a drive assembly operably coupled to the movable storage members for moving the storage members at least in a vertical direction. The drive assembly includes a first portion in the chamber and a second portion external to the chamber. The drive assembly can also include a motor external to the chamber. The system may further include a refrigeration unit operably coupled to the chamber to cool the chamber.

In another embodiment, a vertical storage system includes a freezer having a first section for storing items at a first temperature and a second section having an operating temperature above the first temperature. The system further includes (a) a plurality of movable storage members in the first section of the freezer, and (b) means for moving the storage members in the first section of the freezer. The system can further includes a vertical lift module or vertical carousel that includes the movable storage members and the means for moving the storage members.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1A is a schematic isometric view of a vertical storage system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 1B is a schematic side view of the vertical storage system of FIG. 1A.

FIG. 1C is a schematic top view of the storage system illustrated in FIGS. 1A and 1B.

FIG. 2 is a schematic top view of the storage system of FIG. 1C illustrating a drive subassembly in accordance with one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 3 is an enlarged schematic view of the thermal barrier and the drive subassembly of FIG. 2.

FIG. 4 is a schematic side view of a carrier for carrying the drive shaft along the slot in accordance with one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 5A is a schematic top cross-sectional view of a section of the thermal barrier with inner and outer seals in accordance with another embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 5B is a schematic side cross-sectional view of the outer seal of FIG. 5A.

FIG. 5C is a schematic front view of the outer seal of FIG. 5A.

FIG. 6 is a schematic side view of a seal assembly for sealing the slot in the thermal barrier in accordance with another embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 7 is a schematic top plan view of a vertical storage system in accordance with another embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The following disclosure is directed to vertical storage systems. Specific details of several embodiments of the invention are described below with reference to vertical storage systems having vertical lift modules, but in other embodiments, the system can include vertical carousels and/or other suitable types of vertical storage machines. Several details describing well-known structures or processes often associated with freezers, vertical lift modules, and vertical carousels are not set forth in the following description for purposes of brevity and clarity. Also, several other embodiments of the invention can have different configurations, components, or procedures than those described in this section. A person of ordinary skill in the art, therefore, will accordingly understand that the invention may have other embodiments with additional elements, or the invention may have other embodiments without several of the elements shown and described below with reference to FIGS. 1A-7.

Where the context permits, singular or plural terms may also include the plural or singular term, respectively. Moreover, unless the word “or” is expressly limited to mean only a single item exclusive from other items in reference to a list of at least two items, then the use of “or” in such a list is to be interpreted as including (a) any single item in the list, (b) all of the items in the list, or (c) any combination of the items in the list. Additionally, the term “comprising” is used throughout to mean including at least the recited feature(s) such that any greater number of the same features and/or types of other features and components are not precluded.

A. Embodiments of Vertical Storage Systems

FIG. 1A is a schematic isometric view of one embodiment of a vertical storage system 100, and FIG. 1B is a schematic side view of the vertical storage system 100 of FIG. 1A. Referring to both FIGS. 1A and 1B, the illustrated storage system 100 includes a freezer 110 and an anteroom 180 adjacent to the freezer 110. The illustrated freezer 110 has an exterior wall 112 and a door 114 for accessing the interior of the freezer 110. The exterior wall 112 can provide a thermal barrier to maintain a temperature differential between the cool air within the freezer 110 and warmer air outside the freezer 110. In other embodiments, the freezer 110 may not have a door and permit walk-in access.

The illustrated anteroom 180 is an enclosed chamber having (a) an exterior door 181 through which an operator can ingress and egress, (b) an operator workstation 182 for accessing a movable storage member 124 from the freezer 110, and (c) controls (not shown) for selecting the storage member 124 and/or other items from the freezer 110. The workstation 182 may include a position indicator device 186, such as a laser pointer, for identifying the location of an item in the storage member 124. The anteroom 180 may further include controls for controlling the temperature, humidity, and/or other environmental conditions in the freezer 110 and/or anteroom 180. For example, in several embodiments, the air in the anteroom 180 can be dehumidified and the temperature can be maintained at approximately 20° C. In other embodiments, the anteroom 180 may have a temperature of greater than or less than 20° C. In additional embodiments, the storage system 100 may not include an enclosed anteroom, but rather may have an operator workstation in the freezer 110 or at an external wall of the freezer 110.

FIG. 1C is a schematic top view of the storage system 100 illustrated in FIGS. 1A and 1B. The illustrated storage system 100 further includes a vertical storage assembly 120 (shown schematically), a thermal barrier 150, and a refrigeration unit 170 (shown schematically) in the freezer 110. The vertical storage assembly 120 can be a vertical lift module, a vertical carousel, or another suitable vertical storage machine for storing items. The illustrated vertical storage assembly 120 includes a housing 122, a plurality of movable storage members 124, and a drive subassembly 130 operably coupled to the storage members 124 for moving the storage members 124 within the housing 122. The movable storage members 124 can be trays, containers, and/or other suitable members for carrying items. The drive subassembly 130 includes components disposed within the housing 122 and other components external to the housing 122 as described below in detail.

The illustrated thermal barrier 150 surrounds the housing 122 of the vertical storage assembly 120 and divides the freezer 110 into a first chamber 152 containing the housing 122 and a second chamber 154 between the barrier 150 and the external wall 114 of the freezer 110. The thermal barrier 150 inhibits heat transfer between the first and second chambers 152 and 154 such that the first chamber 152 may have a first operating temperature and the second chamber 154 may have a second operating temperature different than the first temperature. As a result, the storage system 100 can store items in the vertical storage assembly 120 at one temperature while the second chamber 154 is maintained at a different temperature. For example, in several applications, such as for cryogenic storage of medical samples or other items, the first chamber 152 can be maintained at a temperature of approximately −60° C. or less (e.g., −70° C.), and the second chamber 154 can be maintained at a temperature of between approximately −10° C. and −60° C. (e.g., −20° C.). In other applications, the temperatures of the first and/or second chambers 152 and/or 154 may be different. For example, the second chamber 154 may be maintained at a room temperature. In additional embodiments, the storage system 100 may not include the second chamber 154 and the external wall 114, but rather the thermal barrier 150 can define the external wall of the freezer 110.

In applications in which the first chamber 152 is maintained at a temperature greater than the second chamber 154, the storage system 100 may further include a pump 176 for creating a positive pressure in the first chamber 152 to prevent warmer air in the second chamber 154 from flowing into the first chamber 152. Although the illustrated pump 176 flows gas into the first chamber 152 to create the pressure differential between the first and second chambers 152 and 154, in other embodiments, the pump 176 may remove gas from the second chamber 154.

The illustrated refrigeration unit 170 is operably coupled to the first chamber 152 to maintain the first chamber 152 at a desired temperature. The refrigeration unit 170 can be selected based on the temperature specification of the first chamber 152. The refrigeration unit 170 may also maintain the second chamber 154 at a desired temperature. Alternatively, the storage system 100 may further include a second, separate refrigeration unit 171 (shown in broken lines) for cooling the second chamber 154.

The illustrated storage system 100 further includes (a) a door 160 in the external wall 114 of the freezer 110 adjacent to the anteroom 180, (b) a door 151 in the section of the thermal barrier 150 facing the anteroom 180, and (c) a conveyor 164 positioned between the door 160 in the external wall 114 and the door 151 in the thermal barrier 150. The conveyor 164 moves selected storage members 124 between the vertical storage assembly 120 in the first chamber 152 and the workstation 182 in the anteroom 180. Specifically, an operator can manipulate the controls at the workstation 182 to request a specific item stored in the vertical storage assembly 120. In response, the drive subassembly 130 moves the particular storage member 124 that carries the selected item within the vertical storage assembly 120 and positions the member 124 at an opening in the assembly 120. Next, the doors 151 and 160 open, and the vertical storage assembly 120 moves the storage member 124 onto the conveyor 164, which carries the member 124 and the item to the workstation 182. In other embodiments, however, the storage system 100 may not include a conveyor 164. For example, the vertical storage assembly 120 can be positioned proximate to the external wall 114 of the freezer 110 and adjacent to the anteroom 180 such that the storage members 124 are delivered directly from the vertical storage assembly 120 to the anteroom 180 without the use of a conveyor.

One feature of the storage system 100 described above with reference to FIGS. 1A-1C is that the system 100 delivers the storage members 124 from the vertical storage assembly 120 in the freezer 110 to the workstation 182 in the anteroom 180. An advantage of this feature is that the operator does not need to don protective thermal clothing and walk into a cold freezer to retrieve a desired item. Rather, the operator can remain in the anteroom 180, which may be maintained at a comfortable temperature, and the system 100 will deliver the item to the operator. Another advantage of the storage system 100 described above with reference to FIGS. 1A-1C is that the vertical storage assembly 120 stores items vertically and thereby increases the available space to store items within a given footprint.

B. Embodiments of Drive Subassemblies for Use in Storage Systems

FIG. 2 is a schematic top view of the storage system 100 of FIG. 1C illustrating a drive subassembly 130 for moving the vertical storage assembly 120 in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. The drive assembly 130 includes a first portion 132 in the first chamber 152 and a second portion 134 in the second chamber 154. The first portion 132 may include a drive shaft 133 for moving the storage members 124 within the vertical storage assembly 120. The second portion 134 can include a motor 135 (shown schematically), a rack 136, a pinion 137, and/or other components for moving the shaft 133 within the vertical storage assembly 120. In other embodiments, the drive assembly 130 can include other components in addition to or in lieu of those mentioned above. For example, the drive assembly 130 may include a cable, chain, roller chain, timing belt, and/or other lifting mechanisms for moving the storage members 124 within the vertical storage assembly 120. In either case, the first portion 132 of the drive assembly 130 is disposed in the first chamber 152 and the second portion 134 of the drive assembly 130 is disposed in the second chamber 154. Because the second portion 134 is positioned in the second chamber 154 at the second temperature, the drive assembly 130 functions properly even if the first temperature in the first chamber 152 is below a temperature at which the motor 135, gearing, and/or other drive subassembly components can operate. As such, the vertical storage assembly 120 can be used in cryogenic or other conditions in which the ambient temperature is below the typical operating temperature.

FIG. 3 is an enlarged schematic cross-sectional view of the thermal barrier 150 and the drive subassembly 130 of FIG. 2. The illustrated thermal barrier 150 includes (a) a slot 156 through which the drive shaft 133 and/or a vertical storage assembly support member (not shown) can move vertically, and (b) a flexible slit seal 140 for sealing the slot 156. The seal 140 can be made of silicone, rubber, and/or other suitable materials for maintaining a temperature gradient between the first and second chambers 152 and 154. In additional embodiments, such as those described below with reference to FIGS. 5A-5C, the thermal barrier can have multiple seals and/or a seal with different configuration.

FIG. 4 is a schematic side view of a carrier 138 for carrying the drive shaft 133 along the slot 156 in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. The carrier 138 includes noses 139 at each end to assist in parting the seal 134. The flexible and resilient characteristics of the seal 134 are such that after the carrier 138 moves through a section of the seal 134, the section of the seal 134 closes to maintain the temperature gradient between the first and second chambers 152 and 154. In other embodiments, the drive assembly 130 may not include a carrier 138 for parting the seal 134, or the carrier 138 can have other configurations.

FIG. 5A is a schematic top cross-sectional view of a section of the thermal barrier 150 with an inner seal 240a and an outer seal 240b in accordance with another embodiment of the invention. The inner seal 240a can be generally similar to the flexible seal 140 described above with reference to FIG. 4. Portions of the outer seal 240b are illustrated in FIGS. 5B and 5C. For example, FIG. 5B is a schematic side cross-sectional view of the outer seal 240b, and FIG. 5C is a schematic front view of the outer seal 240b. Referring to FIGS. 5A-5C, the illustrated outer seal 240b includes a shade 241 carried by two rollers 244. The shade 241 pays out from one roller 244 and accumulates on the other roller 244 as the drive shaft 133 moves vertically in a direction D in the slot 156. The shade 241 includes a hole for receiving the drive shaft 133 and a seal 246 around the drive shaft 133. The thermal barrier 150 includes two guides 258 on corresponding sides of the shade 241 to retain the shade 241 against the barrier 150 as the drive shaft 133 moves vertically. In other embodiments, the thermal barrier 150 may include an inner and/or outer seal with a different configuration.

FIG. 6 is a schematic side view of a seal assembly 340 for sealing the slot 156 in the thermal barrier 150 in accordance with another embodiment of the invention. The seal assembly 340 includes a continuous blind seal 341, a plurality of rollers 344 carrying the blind seal 341, and a tensioning device 345 for providing tension to the blind seal 341. The blind seal 341 can be attached to the drive shaft 133 and/or vertical storage assembly support member similar to the way that the shade 241 is attached to the drive shaft 133 (described above with reference to FIGS. 5A-5C). The blind seal 341 accordingly moves about the rollers 344 as the drive shaft 133 moves vertically in the slot 156 of the thermal barrier 150. The tensioning device 345 is positioned to provide tension to the blind seal 341 so that the section of the blind seal 341 adjacent to the slot 156 remains close to and/or in contact with the thermal barrier 150 and over the slot 156 as the drive shaft 133 moves vertically in the slot 156. The seal assembly 340 accordingly assists in maintaining the temperature gradient between the first and second chambers 152 and 154. In additional embodiments, the seal assembly 340 can have other configurations.

FIG. 7 is a schematic top plan view of a vertical storage system 400 in accordance with another embodiment of the invention. The illustrated storage system 400 includes a freezer 410, an anteroom 480 adjacent to the freezer 410, a plurality of discrete thermal barriers 150 defining corresponding first chambers 152 in the freezer 410, and a plurality of vertical storage assemblies 120 disposed partially within corresponding first chambers 152. The individual thermal barriers 150 and vertical storage assemblies 120 are generally similar to the thermal barrier 150 and vertical storage assembly 120, respectively, described above with reference to FIGS. 1A-3. The illustrated system 400 further includes a plurality workstations 482 in the anteroom 480. Although the illustrated system 400 includes three vertical storage assemblies 120 and three workstations 482, in other embodiments, the system 400 can include more or less than three vertical storage assemblies and/or workstations.

From the foregoing, it will be appreciated that specific embodiments of the invention have been described herein for purposes of illustration, but that various modifications may be made without deviating from the spirit and scope of the invention. For example, many of the elements of one embodiment can be combined with other embodiments in addition to or in lieu of the elements of the other embodiments. Accordingly, the invention is not limited except as by the appended claims.