Title:
Torque transducer assembly
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A torque transducer assembly includes a first shell having a threaded neck and a distal end. A second shell is also provided. A sensor module includes a first frame member, a second frame member, and a sensor. The first frame member is attached to the first shell and the second frame member is attached to the second shell such that the first and second shells are coupled to one another. A method of manufacturing a torque transducer assembly is also provided. A packaging system including a torque transducer assembly is additionally provided.



Inventors:
Haynes, Clinton A. (Mason, OH, US)
Marriott, Douglas L. (South Lebanon, OH, US)
Buchholz, Todd J. (Hermitage, TN, US)
Miller Jr., William A. (Houston, TX, US)
Johnson, Rande T. (Edwardsville, IL, US)
Robbins, Eric M. (Cincinnati, OH, US)
Application Number:
11/040155
Publication Date:
07/27/2006
Filing Date:
01/21/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B7/28
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
HUYNH, LOUIS K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ULMER & BERNE, LLP (CINCINNATI, OH, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A torque transducer assembly comprising: a first shell comprising a threaded neck having a longitudinal axis and a distal end opposite the threaded neck; a first frame member attached to the first shell adjacent to the distal end, the first frame member comprising a first engagement surface; a second shell; a second frame member attached to the second shell and comprising a second engagement surface, the second frame member rotatably coupled with the first frame member for rotation at least partially about the longitudinal axis; a load cell positioned between the first and second engagement surfaces such that the load cell is compressed between the first and second engagement surfaces when the first shell is rotated with respect to the second shell; and a monitoring circuit electronically connected with the load cell.

2. The transducer assembly of claim 1 wherein the monitoring circuit is disposed at least partially within at least one of the first and second shells.

3. The transducer assembly of claim 1 wherein the first frame member is disposed at least partially within a cavity in the first shell, and wherein the second frame member is disposed at least partially within a cavity in the second shell.

4. The transducer assembly of claim 1 further comprising a first filler material disposed at least partially between the first shell and the first frame member.

5. The transducer assembly of claim 1 further comprising a second filler material disposed at least partially between the second shell and the second frame member.

6. The transducer assembly of claim 1 wherein the monitoring circuit comprises a conditioning circuit in electrical communication with the load cell, a controller, and memory.

7. The transducer assembly of claim 6 wherein the monitoring circuit further comprises at least one of a clock and a timer, and the monitoring circuit is configured to provide data indicative of a capping torque profile as a function of time.

8. The transducer assembly of claim 7 wherein the monitoring circuit is configured to store multiple capping torque profiles as a function of time.

9. The transducer assembly of claim 1 wherein the monitoring circuit comprises a transmitter configured to transmit capping torque data.

10. The transducer assembly of claim 1 wherein the monitoring circuit is configured to provide data relating to at least one of: a capping head which operates upon the torque transducer assembly; and a time of day at which the torque transducer assembly is capped.

11. The transducer assembly of claim 1 wherein the transducer assembly is configured such that the first engagement surface is urged toward the second engagement surface when the first shell is rotated with respect to the second shell.

12. A method for manufacturing a torque transducer assembly, the method comprising: providing a container having a shell including a threaded neck and a base, the shell extending from the threaded neck to the base along a longitudinal axis; severing the container in a direction substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, thereby separating the container into a first shell and a second shell, the first shell extending along the longitudinal axis from the threaded neck to a first severed end, and the second shell extending along the longitudinal axis from a second severed end to the base; providing a sensor module comprising a first frame member, a second frame member, and a sensor; and attaching the first frame member to the first shell and attaching the second frame member to the second shell, such that the first and second shells are coupled to one another.

13. The method of claim 12 wherein the sensor comprises a load cell, the load cell being positioned between the first and second frame members such that the load cell is compressed between the first and second frame members when the first shell is rotated with respect to the second shell.

14. The method of claim 12 wherein the sensor module is configured such that the first frame member is rigidly connected by at least one strut to the second frame member, and wherein the sensor comprises at least one strain gauge attached to said at least one strut.

15. The method of claim 12 wherein the first frame member is attached to the first shell and the second frame member is attached to the second shell using at least one of an adhesive and a fastener.

16. The method of claim 12 further comprising inserting a first filler material between the first frame member and the first shell, and inserting a second filler material between the second frame member and the second shell.

17. The method of claim 12 wherein the first frame member is attached to the first shell such that the first frame member is disposed at least partially within a cavity in the first shell, and the second frame member is attached to the second shell such that the second frame member is disposed at least partially within a cavity in the second shell.

18. A packaging system comprising: a conveyor system configured to transport containers; a capping system comprising at least one capping head disposed adjacent to the conveyor system, said capping head configured to install caps upon containers transported by the conveyor system; at least one torque transducer assembly configured to be periodically inserted into the conveyor system for capping by the capping system, the torque transducer assembly comprising a first shell, a second shell coupled to the first shell, and a sensor module, the sensor module having a first frame member attached to the first shell, a second frame member attached to the second shell, and a sensor configured to generate electrical signals indicative of capping torque, the torque transducer assembly further comprising a transmitter configured to transmit data indicative of capping torque; and a control system electrically connected with the capping system and comprising a receiver configured to receive the capping torque data from the transmitter, the control system being configured to adjust the amount of rotational torque applied by said capping head in response to the capping torque data received by the receiver.

19. The packaging system of claim 18 wherein the first frame member comprises a first engagement surface, the second frame member comprises a second engagement surface, and the sensor comprises a load cell positioned between the first and second engagement surfaces such that the load cell will be compressed between the first and second engagement surfaces when the first shell is rotated with respect to the second shell.

20. The packaging system of claim 18 wherein the first frame member is rigidly connected by at least one strut to the second frame member, and wherein the sensor comprises at least one strain gauge attached to said at least one strut.

21. The packaging system of claim 18 wherein the control system is configured to automatically adjust in real time the amount of rotational torque applied by said capping head in response to the data received by the receiver.

22. The packaging system of claim 18 wherein said packaging system comprises a plurality of said torque transducer assemblies, the receiver being configured to receive data from each of said transducer assemblies, and the control system being configured to automatically adjust the amount of rotational torque applied by said capping head in response to the data received by the receiver.

23. The packaging system of claim 18 wherein the capping system comprises a plurality of capping heads each being respectively disposed adjacent to the conveyor system, wherein said torque transducer assembly is configured to identify a particular capping head associated with capping torque data and is further configured to transmit the identity of the particular capping head, wherein the receiver is further configured to receive the identity of the particular capping head, and wherein the control system is configured to automatically adjust the amount of rotational torque applied by the particular capping head in response to capping torque data associated therewith.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to a torque transducer assembly that can be introduced to a capping system for measuring the amount of torque applied during a capping process. The torque transducer assembly can include electronics for storing and/or transmitting the measured torque and/or other measured parameters.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Containers (e.g., bottles) with screw-type caps or lids are commonly used for packaging of nearly an endless variety of consumer goods. After such containers are filled with their desired contents, they are typically presented to a capping system which presents and rotates a threaded cap onto a threaded neck of the container until the cap is sufficiently tightened for sealing the container. The amount of capping torque required to fully seal the cap upon a container varies depending upon many factors including, for example, the size and thread configuration of the container's threaded neck. As containers are typically designed for efficiency to include as little material as possible, threaded neck portions often can only withstand capping torques that slightly exceed the capping torque required to seal the container. Conversely, inherent variation in capping machinery may result in a capping application torque that is too low. A capping system must therefore be finely tuned so as to provide enough capping torque to seal the container, but not so much capping torque as to cause deformation of the container.

It can be desirable to assess performance of a capping system by monitoring the amount of torque applied by the capping system during the capping process. Knowing the amount of torque applied during the capping process can enable an operator to determine whether or not a cap has been adequately tightened upon a container. If the operator finds that this capping torque is insufficient or excessive, he or she can adjust the capping system as necessary to increase or decrease the amount of capping torque accordingly.

However, measuring the amount of capping torque applied by a capping system can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. For example, one common method by which to assess capping torque is to measure the amount of removal torque necessary to remove a cap from a capped container, wherein the measured removal torque is estimated to be proportional to the capping torque which had been applied. Other prior art methods and devices for measuring and/or approximating capping torque are also known. However, none of these methods or devices provides a simple, quick, effective, and relatively inexpensive solution for measuring the capping torque applied by a capping system.

Accordingly, there is a need for a simple, quick, effective, and relatively inexpensive solution for measuring the capping torque applied by a capping system.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is an aspect of the present invention to provide a simple, quick, effective, and relatively inexpensive solution for measuring the capping torque applied by a capping system.

In one aspect of the present invention, a torque transducer assembly is provided that comprises a first shell including a threaded neck having a longitudinal axis and a distal end opposite the threaded neck. A first frame member is attached to the first shell adjacent to the distal end, and the first frame member comprises a first engagement surface. A second shell is also provided. A second frame member is attached to the second shell and comprises a second engagement surface. The second frame member is rotatably coupled with the first frame member for rotation at least partially about the longitudinal axis. A load cell is positioned between the first and second engagement surfaces such that the load cell is compressed between the first and second engagement surfaces when the first shell is rotated with respect to the second shell. A monitoring circuit is electronically connected with the load cell.

In another aspect of the present invention, a method for manufacturing a torque transducer assembly is provided. The method comprises providing a container having a shell including a threaded neck and a base, wherein the shell extends from the threaded neck to the base along a longitudinal axis. The container is severed in a direction substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, thereby separating the container into a first shell and a second shell. The first shell extends along the longitudinal axis from the threaded neck to a first severed end. The second shell extends along the longitudinal axis from a second severed end to the base. A sensor module is provided comprising a first frame member, a second frame member, and a sensor. The first frame member is attached to the first shell and the second frame member is attached to the second shell, such that the first and second shells are coupled to one another.

In yet another aspect of the present invention, a packaging system is provided that comprises a conveyor system configured to transport containers. A capping system comprises at least one capping head disposed adjacent to the conveyor system. The capping head is configured to install caps upon containers transported by the conveyor system. At least one torque transducer assembly is configured to be periodically inserted upon the conveyor system for capping by the capping system. The torque transducer assembly comprises a first shell, a second shell coupled to the first shell, and a sensor module. The sensor module has a first frame member attached to the first shell, a second frame member attached to the second shell, and a sensor configured to generate electrical signals indicative of capping torque. The torque transducer assembly further comprises a transmitter configured to transmit data indicative of capping torque. A control system is electrically connected with the capping system and comprises a receiver configured to receive the capping torque data from the transmitter. The control system is configured to adjust the amount of rotational torque applied by the capping head in response to the capping torque data received by the receiver.

One advantage of the present invention is its provision of a simple, quick, effective, and relatively inexpensive solution for measuring the capping torque applied by a capping system. Additional aspects, advantages, and novel features of the invention will be set forth in part in the description that follows and in part will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon examination of the following, or may be learned with the practice of the invention. The aspects and advantages of the invention may be realized and attained by means of the instrumentalities and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

While the specification concludes with claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the present invention, it is believed that the same will be better understood from the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view depicting a torque transducer assembly in accordance with one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view depicting a torque transducer assembly in accordance with an alternate exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a side elevational view with partial cut-out depicting the torque transducer assembly of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view depicting portions of the sensor module taken along section lines 4-4 in FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 is a partially exploded front perspective view depicting selected internal components of the torque transducer assembly of FIGS. 1, and 3-4;

FIG. 6 is a partially exploded rear perspective view depicting selected internal components of the torque transducer assembly of FIGS. 1 and 3-5;

FIG. 7 is a front perspective view depicting selected internal components of the torque transducer assembly of FIGS. 1 and 3-6 as assembled;

FIG. 8 is a rear perspective view depicting selected internal components of the torque transducer assembly of FIGS. 1 and 3-7 as assembled;

FIG. 9 is a side elevational view of a packaging system in accordance with one exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 10 is a partially exploded front perspective view depicting the torque transducer assembly of FIGS. 1, and 3-8;

FIG. 11 is a functional block diagram depicting the electronic layout of an exemplary torque transducer assembly;

FIG. 12 is a schematic diagram depicting exemplary circuitry present within the conditioning circuitry of FIG. 11;

FIG. 13 is a front perspective view depicting a sensor module in accordance with another exemplary embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 14 is a front perspective view depicting a sensor module in accordance with yet another exemplary embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 15 is a schematic diagram depicting circuitry present within a torque transducer assembly in accordance with another exemplary embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 16 is a schematic diagram depicting circuitry present within a torque transducer assembly in accordance with yet another exemplary embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

The present invention and its operation is hereinafter described in detail in connection with the views and examples of FIGS. 1-16, wherein like numbers indicate the same or corresponding elements throughout the views. These embodiments are shown and described only for purposes of illustrating examples of elements of the invention, and should not be considered as limiting on alternative structures or assemblies that will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art. Referring to FIG. 1, a torque transducer assembly 16 is depicted. The torque transducer assembly 16 can have an external configuration that is sufficiently similar to that of an ordinary container such that the torque transducer assembly 16 can be capped along with normal containers (e.g., as shown and discussed later with respect to FIG. 9) without substantially interfering with the capping process (i.e., the torque transducer assembly can have a size and shape that won't jamb the conveyor and/or capping system). A torque transducer assembly might even have a similar size and shape to the normal containers being capped. The conveyor system can carry the containers and the torque transducer assembly 16 to a capping system, whereby the capping system can install caps thereon. As discussed in detail below, the torque transducer assembly 16 is a self-contained and wireless device that can be configured to measure, and then record and/or transmit, data which can indicate the amount of torque to which the torque transducer assembly 16 is subjected during the capping process by the capping system. The torque transducer assembly 16 can thus interact with other containers or machinery the same as if it were a normal, unmodified, container.

The torque transducer assembly 16 is shown in FIG. 1 to comprise a first shell 18 and a second shell 20. The first shell 18 and the second shell 20 can be formed from any of a substantial variety of materials including, for example, metal, glass or plastic. However, in one exemplary embodiment of the present invention, the first and second shells 18, 20 can be formed simply by providing an ordinary container (i.e. of the type normally filled with product and capped), and then cutting or severing that container substantially perpendicularly to its longitudinal axis (L). Using an ordinary container in this manner to provide the first and second shells 18, 20 is simple, inexpensive, and involves very little time. There is accordingly no need for special container molds or castings, and a torque transducer assembly 16 formed in such a manner can therefore be quite similar in external characteristics to the ordinary containers which are capped by the capping system. In other circumstances, however, it is possible that the first shell 18 and/or the second shell 20 might be formed from materials other than those which form the ordinary containers to be capped.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the first shell 18 is shown to have a threaded neck 22 and a distal end 26 that are spaced along a longitudinal axis (L). In some embodiments, the threaded neck might comprise a standard thread profile (e.g., as shown in FIG. 1), or might alternatively comprise an alternate configuration (e.g., a bayonet-type fitting). The second shell 20 is shown to include a proximal end 28 which extends to a base 24 along the longitudinal axis (L). The first and second shells 18, 20 can be connected together by a sensor module 36 (shown in FIGS. 3-8, and 10, and discussed in detail below), although this sensor module 36 is not depicted in FIG. 1. Screws 32 can be provided to attach the first shell 18 to the sensor module 36, and screws 34 can be provided to attach the second shell 20 to the sensor module 36. Adhesives and/or other connection devices or methods might additionally and/or alternatively be provided to facilitate these connections between the first shell 18, the second shell 20, and the sensor module 36. When the torque transducer assembly 16 is assembled as shown in FIG. 1, wherein both the first shell 18 and the second shell 20 are attached to an underlying sensor module 36, a gap 30 can be formed between the first shell 18 and the second shell 20 such that the first shell 18 is spaced from, and hence does not touch, the second shell 20.

A port 72 can be provided in the second shell 20. This port 72 can be used to facilitate transfer of data and/or power to and/or from internal components of the torque transducer assembly 16. For example, power might be provided to the torque transducer assembly through port 72, and/or data might be read from the torque transducer assembly through port 72. Although port 72 is depicted as being accessible through an aperture in the second shell 20, it should be appreciated that port 72 might alternatively be located through an aperture in the first shell 18, through an aperture in the base 24 of the second shell 20, or through an opening 21 in the threaded neck 22 of the first shell 18. Other embodiments of the present invention might involve a torque transducer assembly 16 having more than one such port 72, while other embodiments might not involve any such port 72 whatsoever.

Turning now to FIG. 2, a torque transducer assembly 116 is shown to have a first shell 118 and a second shell 120. The first shell 118 is shown to extend from a threaded neck 122 to a distal end 126, while the second shell 120 is shown to include a base 124. The first shell 118 can attach to an interior sensor module (not shown) with screws 132, and the second shell 120 can attach to the interior sensor module with screws 134. Screws 134 might alternatively or additionally be inserted vertically upwardly through the base 124 and into the sensor module. In either circumstance, a gap 130 can be formed between the first shell 118 and the second shell 120 when the first and second shells 118, 120 are each respectively attached to an interior sensor module. By virtue of this gap 130, the first shell 118 can be spaced from second shell 120 such that the first shell 18 does not directly contact the second shell 20.

FIG. 1 depicts the gap 30 between the first and second shells 18, 20 as being located near the threaded neck 22, whereby the container forming the first and second shells 18, 20 had been severed near the threaded neck 22. FIG. 2 depicts the gap 130 between the first and second shells 118, 120 as being located near the base 124, whereby the container forming the first and second shells 118, 120 had been severed near the base 124. As evidenced in part by FIGS. 1 and 2, a container forming the first and second shells of an exemplary torque transducer assembly can be substantially perpendicularly severed in virtually any location along the longitudinal axis of that container. In one exemplary embodiment, the substantially perpendicular severance of the container can occur below the threaded neck of the container, as shown for example in both FIGS. 1 and 2. In another exemplary embodiment, the substantially perpendicular severance of the container can occur at a portion of the container having a diameter similar to that of adjacent container portions (e.g., an untapered portion of the container). It is contemplated herein that severance of the container will remove a portion of the container that is longitudinally equivalent to any gap (e.g., 30 in FIG. 1, 130 in FIG. 2) that is provided between the first and second shells of an assembled exemplary torque transducer assembly (in order that an assembled torque transducer assembly will have the same height as an ordinary container). Regardless of the severance location and resultant gap orientation with respect to the first and second shells, any sensor module and/or other electrical/mechanical components of an exemplary torque transducer assembly can be positioned within one or both of the first and second shells in any of a variety of alternate configurations.

Referring now to FIG. 10, a partially exploded view of the torque transducer assembly 16 of FIG. 1 can be seen. The sensor module 36 is shown to include a first frame member 38 and a second frame member 40. Circuit boards 64 and 66 are shown to be supported by the second frame member 40. A first filler material 50 can be disposed at least partially between the first shell 18 and the first frame member 38. A second filler material 52 can be disposed at least partially between the second shell 20 and the second frame member 40. The first frame member 38 can include threaded apertures 46 for receiving screws 32 inserted through apertures 37 in the first shell 18 and then through corresponding apertures 33 in the first filler material 50. Adhesives and/or other mechanical fasteners might additionally or alternatively be provided to facilitate connection of the first frame member 38 to the first shell 18. Likewise, the second frame member 40 can include threaded apertures 48 for receiving screws 34 inserted through apertures 41 in the second shell 20 and then through corresponding apertures 35 in the second filler 52 material. Adhesives and/or other mechanical fasteners might additionally or alternatively be provided to facilitate connection of the second frame member 40 to the second shell 20. Hence, attachment of the first frame member 38 to the first shell 18 and attachment of the second frame member 40 to the second shell 20 can both involve at least one of an adhesive and fasteners.

The first and second filler materials 50, 52 can assist in providing a secure and solid connection between the sensor module 36 and the first and second shells 18, 20. Furthermore, through use of such filler materials 50, 52, a single sensor module 36 can be installed into containers having differing diameters and/or surface contours. The first and second filler materials can be formed (e.g., by casting or machining) from any of a variety of suitable materials, including for example, plastic, epoxy, wood, metal, and/or facsimile compound.

FIG. 3 depicts an assembled side view of the torque transducer assembly 16 of FIGS. 1 and 10, although portions of the first and second shells 18, 20, portions of the first and second filler materials 50, 52, and screws 32, 34 have been removed in order to provide greater clarity of depiction for selected internal components of the torque transducer assembly 16. In particular, FIG. 3 depicts the first frame member 38 being attached to the first shell 18, and the second frame member 40 being attached to the second shell 20. Also, FIG. 3 depicts the sensor module 36 as including a first sensor 42 (e.g., a load cell) disposed between the first frame member 38 and the second frame member 40, while a bumper 78 is provided as a buffer between the first frame member 38 and the first sensor 42. The first sensor 42 can be positioned between the first and second frame members 38, 40 such that the first sensor 42 is compressed between the first and second frame members 38, 40 when the first shell 18 is rotated about the longitudinal axis with respect to the second shell 20.

A wire 43 is shown to connect the first sensor 42 to the circuit boards 64 and/or 66. The circuit boards 64 and 66 can be electrically and mechanically connected together through use of connectors 68, and can be together supported upon a bracket 58 with respect to the sensor module 36. In one embodiment, the first circuit board 64 can generally contain conditioning circuitry (e.g., 95 and 97, discussed below), while the second circuit board 66 can generally contain data acquisition circuitry (e.g., including controller 98 and memory 99, as discussed below). The second circuit board 66 is shown to support a battery holder 71, which can hold a battery 70 (e.g. AA or AAA) battery. Although circuit boards 64 and 66 are shown as being mechanically connected with the sensor module 36 (i.e., with bracket 58), it should be appreciated that monitoring circuitry might alternatively not include this mechanical connection (other than with wires leading to sensors), but rather might be disposed elsewhere within a cavity formed by the first and/or second shell of a torque transducer assembly.

FIG. 4 presents a cross-sectional view of the torque transducer assembly 16, and in particular, the sensor module 36, of FIGS. 1, 3, and 10. In particular, the first sensor 42 is shown as directly contacting a second engagement surface 76 provided by the second frame number 40. The first sensor 42 is also shown in close proximity to the bumper 78 which is held upon a projection 94 extending from a first engagement surface 74 on the first frame member 38. The sensor module 36 is also shown to include a second sensor 44 (e.g., also a load cell) which directly contacts another second engagement surface 77 provided by the second frame number 40. The second sensor 44 is also shown in close proximity to the bumper 80 which is held upon a projection 96 extending from another first engagement surface 75 on the first frame member 38. With this arrangement, the sensor module 36 can effectively constrain five degrees of freedom between first and second shells 18, 20 except that degree of freedom which extends in a rotational direction around the longitudinal axis (L) which is constrained only by the sensor(s) 42, 44.

The transducer assembly 16 can be configured such that the first engagement surface 74 is urged toward the second engagement surface 76 when the first shell 18 is rotated with respect to the second shell 20. In particular, the first engagement surface 74 can be configured for movement toward the second engagement surface 76 when the first shell 18 is rotated in a direction (e.g., clockwise) about the longitudinal axis (L) with respect to the second shell 20. The sensor 42, being positioned between the first and second engagement surfaces 74, 76, can be compressed between the first and second engagement surfaces 74, 76 when the first shell 18 is rotated in that direction about the longitudinal axis (L) with respect to the second shell 20. Additionally, the first engagement surface 75 can be configured for movement toward the second engagement surface 77 when the first shell 18 is rotated in a direction (e.g., counter-clockwise) about the longitudinal axis (L) with respect to the second shell 20. The sensor 44 being positioned between the first and second engagement surfaces 75, 77 can be compressed between the first and second engagement surfaces 75, 77 when the first shell 18 is rotated in that direction about the longitudinal axis (L) with respect to the second shell 20. By having first and sensors 40, 42 arranged in this manner, data can be measured that is indicative of torque applied to the torque transducer assembly in both directions about the longitudinal axis (L). It should be appreciated that the amount of rotation between rotatably coupled first and second shells 18, 20 can be very small, and can in some circumstances amount to only a few radial degrees.

The first and second sensors 42 and 44 can comprise load cells that are configured to generate output signals in proportion to the amount of force to which they are subjected. This force can be presented to these load cells by the engagement surfaces (e.g., 74, 75, 76, 77) of the first and second frame members 38, 40. Because the radial distance between the center of the load cells and the central rotational axis of the sensor module (i.e., longitudinal axis (L)) is known and held constant, torque can be determined by multiplying this radial distance by the amount of compressive force measured by a load cell.

FIGS. 5-6 depict an exploded view of certain components of the torque transducer assembly 16. The first frame member 38 of the sensor module 36 is shown to include threaded apertures (e.g., 92) for receiving screws (e.g., 88) inserted through apertures 90 in a mounting plate 86, as well as through a bearing 84 and a washer 82. The mounting plate 86 is shown to include the threaded apertures 46 provided for connection with the first shell 18. The bracket 58 is shown to be connected with a screw 62 which is inserted through an aperture 57 in the bracket 58, an aperture 59 in a platform 56, a bearing 54, an aperture 39 in the second frame member 40, a sleeve 60 and into a threaded aperture (not shown) in the first frame member 38. Through insertion of this screw 62 as described, the bracket 58, the platform 56, the bearing 54, the second frame member 40, the sleeve 60, and the first frame member 38 are all held together. The circuit boards 64 and 66 can then be connected to the bracket 58, wherein the first sensor 42 connects with wire 43 and the second sensor 44 connects with wire 45. The sensors 42 and 44 and bumpers 78 and 80 are disposed as shown and as described previously. FIGS. 7 and 8 depict these same components as assembled.

The circuit boards 64 and 66 can include any of a variety of components. For example, as illustrated in part by the functional block diagram of FIG. 11, the circuit boards 64 and 66 can contain a monitoring circuit that can be configured to perform at least one of storing, conditioning, and transmitting data measured by the sensors 42 and 44. The monitoring circuitry can include, among other components, conditioning circuitry 95 and 97, a controller 98 (e.g., a digital processor, microprocessor, ASIC, or FPGA), a battery 70, a port 72, memory 99 (e.g., NV-RAM, SRAM, or DRAM), a transmitter 100, and/or a receiver 91. The monitoring circuitry can also be configured to receive, process, store and even transmit signals from other sensors disposed within the torque transducer assembly or associated therewith. Such other sensors might measure temperature, pressure, cap position, acceleration, noise level, top-loading during capping, and/or any of a variety of other characteristics. The monitoring circuitry might even be configured to receive cap position information (through receiver 91) that is determined by equipment external to the torque transducer assembly.

The conditioning circuitry 95 is shown in FIG. 11 to be in electrical communication with the sensor 42 (e.g., a load cell) for receiving signals from the sensor 42. The conditioning circuitry 95 is also shown to receive power from the battery 70, and to be connected with the controller 98 for providing conditioned output signals thereto. Likewise, the conditioning circuitry 97 is shown to receive signals from the sensor 42, as well as power from the battery 70, and to then provide conditioned output signals to the controller 98.

As shown in FIG. 3, for example, both the sensor module 36 and the monitoring circuit (e.g., provided on circuit boards 64 and 66) can be disposed at least partially within at least one of the first and second shells 18, 20. In particular, the first frame member 38 of the sensor module 36 is shown to be disposed at least partially within a cavity in the first shell 18, and the second frame member 40 of the sensor module 36 is shown to be disposed at least partially within a cavity in the second shell 20. The monitoring circuit is shown in FIG. 3 to be largely resident within a cavity in the second shell 20. It should be appreciated, however, that the sensor module 36 and monitoring circuit could be oriented differently depending upon the container shape and relative position of the sensor module 36 along the container's longitudinal axis.

The monitoring circuit can further include at least one of a clock and a timer, either or both of which might be integrally provided within the controller 98. The controller 98 is shown to interface memory 99 for transmission and receipt of data therebetween. The port 72 can be provided in communication with the controller 98 to facilitate the transmission/receipt of data and/or instructions to/from external equipment, and might also or alternatively be connected with the battery 70 to enable charging of the battery 70. The port 72 can support such communication protocols as USB, RS232, RS485, Ethernet, Firewire, DeviceNet, Interbus-S, Profibus, Data Highway, and/or any of a variety of other communications protocols. A transmitter 100 might also be provided in communication with the controller 98 to facilitate infrared or radio frequency transmission of measured and/or processed data to equipment external to the torque transducer assembly 16. In one exemplary embodiment of the present invention, the transmitter 100 can be configured to transmit capping torque data. A receiver 91 might also be provided in communication with the controller 98 to facilitate reception of data relating, for example, to the position of the torque transducer assembly 16 with respect to a packaging system or components thereof (e.g., a capping head). Other exemplary uses for this transmitter 100 and receiver 91 are discussed below.

Exemplary conditioning circuitry 95 is depicted in FIG. 12. Notable aspects of this conditioning circuitry include provision of a sensor 42 in the form of a Wheatstone bridge that is coupled with a series of two op-amps to implement signal gain and biasing before passage from the conditioning circuitry 95 upon output 67 to the controller 98. A transistor 61 can be provided to receive a control signal from the controller 98 upon input 69 to enable/disable excitation of the Wheatstone bridge within the sensor 42, as it may at times be desirable to remove excitation from the sensor 42 to conserve power. A transistor 63 can be provided to receive a control signal from the controller 98 upon input 73 to enable/disable activation of a relay 65, which relay 65 can enable intermittent shunt calibration of the Wheatstone bridge within the sensor 42. The conditioning circuitry 97 of FIG. 11 can be similar or even identical to the conditioning circuitry 95, or might alternatively be completely different. Also, a torque transducer assembly in accordance with the teachings of the present invention might include fewer than two or greater than two sensors, and might accordingly have a corresponding number of conditioning circuits instead of exactly two as depicted in FIG. 12.

FIG. 15 depicts an alternate monitoring circuit which might be provided within an exemplary torque transducer assembly. The circuit depicted in FIG. 15 is shown to connect with two separate sensors, each of which is shown to be provided as a Wheatstone bridge, such as for example might be included within the torque transducer assembly 16 discussed above with respect to FIGS. 1, 3-8 and 10. Switches DO0, DO1, DO2, and DO3 represent transistors and/or relays that are switched on and off by the MOSFET transistors shown to be connected with the microcontroller. In particular, switches DO2 and DO3 might be switched on during a shunt calibration process, and switches DO0 and DO1 can be switched off whenever the sensors are not desired to function (thereby conserving power). The circuit of FIG. 15 also presents exemplary communications options as being connected with the microcontroller. The circuit of FIG. 16 depicts alternate exemplary conditioning circuitry (e.g., for 95 and/or 97 of FIG. 11) that might be provided within a torque transducer assembly. The circuitry shown in FIG. 16 can consume substantially less power than the conditioning circuitry shown in FIG. 12, thereby extending battery life and/or continuous operation time of a torque transducer assembly.

FIGS. 13 and 14 provide examples of alternate sensor modules which may be incorporated into a torque sensor assembly made in accordance with the teachings of the present invention. In particular, FIG. 13 depicts a sensor module 336 having a first frame member 338 and a second frame member 340 that are rigidly connected by at least one strut 374 (four struts 374 are depicted in FIG. 13). The first frame member 338 can include threaded apertures 346 for facilitating connection to a first shell (not shown), while the second frame member 340 can include threaded apertures 348 for facilitating connection to a second shell (also not shown). The sensor module 336 can include one or more sensors in the form of strain gauges. As shown in FIG. 13, two strain gauges sensors 342 can be attached to each strut 374, and wires 343 can lead from each of these strain gauges sensors 342 to monitoring circuitry also disposed within the torque transducer assembly. This monitoring circuitry can be similar to that described above with respect to the sensor module 36. It should be appreciated, however, that fewer or additional strain gauge sensors 342 can be provided on each strut 374, and that one or more struts 374 might not have any strain gauges sensors 343 associated therewith. A sufficient number of independent deformation measurements can be taken with such strain gauge sensors 343 such that the desired information regarding rotational torque can be determined.

FIG. 14 depicts a sensor module 436 having a first frame member 438 and a second frame member 440 that are rigidly connected by a single strut 474. The first frame member 438 can include threaded apertures 446 for facilitating connection to a first shell (not shown), while the second frame member 440 can include threaded apertures 448 for facilitating connection to a second shell (also not shown). The sensor module 436 can include one or more sensors in the form of strain gauges. As shown in FIG. 13, six strain gauges sensors 442 are shown as being attached to the strut 474, and wires 443 can lead from each of these strain gauges sensors 442 to monitoring circuitry also disposed within the torque transducer assembly. This monitoring circuitry can also be similar to that described above with respect to the sensor module 36. It should be appreciated, however, that fewer or additional strain gauge sensors 442 can be provided on the strut 474.

The use of strain gauge sensors in the manner illustrated in FIGS. 13-14 to measure data indicative of torque provides an advantage over the sensor module 36 embodiment depicted in FIGS. 3-8 and 10 in that the sensor modules 336 and 436 involve no moving parts that are subject to wear. However, the sensor module 36 can have other advantages with respect to the sensor modules 336 and 436. In particular, the sensor module 36 can in some circumstances be constructed more compactly, less expensively, with less weight, and with less power consumption.

A torque transducer assembly of the present invention can also be used as part of a packaging system. An exemplary packaging system 202 is depicted in FIG. 9 to include a conveyor system to 222 and a capping system 204. The capping system is shown to include a plurality of rotatable capping heads that are each respectively disposed along the conveyor system 222, which particularly include a first capping head 206, a second capping head 208, a third capping head 210, and a fourth capping head 212. Each of these capping heads 206, 208, 210, and 212 is shown to be respectively operated by a first capping actuator 214, a second capping actuator 216, a third capping actuator 218, and a fourth capping actuator 220. Each of these capping actuators 214, 216, 218 and 220 can be configured to rotate its respective capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 to facilitate installation of a cap 224 upon a container passing along the conveyor system 222. Each of the capping actuators 214, 216, 218, 220 is shown as being electrically connected with a control system 246. The control system 246 may include a receiver 248. The conveyor system 222 is shown to be conveying multiple uncapped containers 242 as well as a few capped containers 244. Also present upon the conveyor system 222 are multiple torque transducer assemblies 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238 and 240 that can be similar to the torque transducer assembly 16 described above, for example.

In some embodiments, a torque transducer assembly (e.g., 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238 and 240) may include components (e.g., receiver 91 in FIG. 11) for detecting which capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 actually installs the cap 224 upon that torque transducer assembly. In this manner, when the data in the torque transducer assembly is offloaded and evaluated, an operator can see which of the capping heads 206, 208, 210, 212 actually applied the cap to the torque transducer assembly, and can thus determine, whether a particular capping head requires adjustment. For example, each of the capping heads 206, 208, 210 and 212 are shown to respectively include a radio frequency identification tag (RFID) 250, 252, 254, 256. A torque transducer assembly can communicate with these RFID tags, and can accordingly store data which identifies a particular capping head along with its particular capping torque (and also possibly data which identifies the capping time). Instead of using this RFID arrangement, other suitable arrangements might be provided to enable a torque transducer assembly to identify which capping head is providing a cap upon it. For example, a barcode reading/scanning arrangement might be used, or a torque transducer assembly might alternatively be integrally provided with a Global Positioning Satellite receiver. When data is read from such a torque transducer assembly, an operator can ascertain the exact torque which had been applied to cap the torque transducer assembly, as well as the capping head which applied the cap, and possibly also the time of day at which the cap was applied. Such information can be extraordinarily helpful in troubleshooting a broken capping head and/or in identifying which sealed containers had been capped by that broken capping head.

There are many manners in which a torque transducer assembly in accordance with the teachings of the present invention can be used in conjunction with the capping system 202 of FIG. 9. In one example, a single torque transducer assembly (e.g., 234) can be inserted onto the conveyor system 222, can accordingly be capped by one of the capping heads 206, 208, 220, 212, and can exit the conveyor system 222. After exiting from the conveyor system 222, the torque transducer assembly can be interfaced (e.g., through connection with port 72, transmitter 100 and/or receiver 91) with external equipment in order that data stored within memory 99 can be offloaded and viewed. After viewing this data, an operator can adjust the control system 246 as appropriate to increase or decrease the amount of torque provided by one or more of the capping heads 206, 208, 210, 212.

A torque transducer assembly in accordance with the teachings of the present invention might have a monitoring circuit including a clock in order that any measured data can be associated with a particular time. Therefore, an operator who later evaluates data can determine the time of day in which the data was obtained. Likewise, a torque transducer assembly might include a monitoring circuit that is configured to provide data indicative of a capping torque profile as a function of time. Such a monitoring circuit can include a clock or a timer in order that an entire torque profile as a function of time can be recorded, which necessarily would also include peak torque. This torque profile can be particularly beneficial to determine whether the capping heads 206, 208, 210, 212 are properly performing the capping process. A torque transducer assembly in accordance with the teachings of the present invention might even be configured to store multiple capping torque profiles as a function of time (e.g., by repeated presentation of a torque transducer assembly to a capping system before data is offloaded therefrom).

As opposed to manual calibration of the control system 246 in response to data read from one or more torque transducer assemblies, the torque transducer assemblies can be configured to include a transmitter 100 to facilitate transmission of this data. Such a transmitter might, in some embodiments, be configured only to transmit this information upon docking of a self-contained torque transducer assembly in a particular area or bay. However, in alternate embodiments, the transmitter might be configured to operate continuously or automatically upon measurement of data to facilitate transmission of that data to the receiver 248 of the control system 246.

For example, the packaging system 202 of FIG. 9 is shown to include multiple torque transducer assemblies 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238, 240. Each torque transducer assembly 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238, 240 can include a transmitter (as discussed above with respect to FIG. 11) for communicating with the receiver 248. The receiver 248 can be configured to receive data from each transmitter, and the control system 246 can be configured to automatically adjust the amount of rotational torque applied by each capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 in response to the data received by the receiver 248. The torque transducer assemblies 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238, 240 can be configured to identify a particular capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 as discussed above, and can further be configured to transmit the identity of the particular capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 to the receiver 248, wherein the receiver 248 can receive the identity of the particular capping head 206, 208, 210, 212. The control system 246 can then be configured to automatically adjust the amount of rotational torque applied by the particular capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 in response to the data and identity of the particular capping head received by the receiver 248. This adjustment might even occur in real time such that the particular capping head 206, 208, 210, 212 that is capping the torque transducer assembly is adjusted before the capping process is completed, and such that the amount of torque applied to the torque transducer assembly is actually affected by the measurements taken by that torque transducer assembly. Hence, the control system 246 can automatically adjust in real time the amount of rotational torque applied by a capping head (e.g., 206) in response to data received by the receiver 248.

In another embodiment, the control system 246 can automatically adjust the control signals to the capping actuators 214, 216, 218, 220 quickly enough in response to transmissions from recently capped torque transducer assemblies 226, 228, 230 and 232, such that the next containers to be capped will be capped using an appropriate torque. Additional torque transducer assemblies 234, 236, 238, 240 can then be inserted along the conveyor system 222 in order to verify that the appropriate torque calibrations have been made by the control system 246 in response to data received from the torque transducer assemblies 228, 230, 232 via the receiver 248. In response to data received from torque transducer assemblies 234, 236, 238 and 240 by receiver 248, the control system 246 can implement further adjustments to torque as appropriate. Torque transducer assemblies can be inserted into and taken from the conveyor system 222 by hand or through some automatic arrangement. A conveyor system 222 might be provided with an auto-eject system which recognizes the presence of a torque transducer assembly and ejects it from the normal flow of containers so that data can either be offloaded from this torque transducer assembly and/or this torque transducer assembly can either be manually or automatically reinserted onto the conveyor line for recapping.

The battery 70 discussed above may be provided as an alkaline, rechargeable, or other type of battery. Although the torque transducer assembly may be configured such that its battery is easily replaceable, the battery might alternatively be configured to be rechargeable while present within the torque transducer assembly. In such a circumstance, the monitoring circuit might be configured so that power received through port 72 can be passed to the battery 70 to facilitate its charging, as shown for example in the exemplary block diagram of FIG. 11. In another embodiment, however, the battery 70 might be recharged through an inductive coupling arrangement, whereby radio frequency energy is received by the receiver 91 and is passed to the battery 70 for charging. The receiver 91 in such a circumstance could comprise a coil or another circuit arrangement to harness power from an external inductive charger. The inductive charger could be configured as a drop-in type charger into which the torque transducer assembly could be placed (e.g., during periods of non-use). Alternatively, the inductive charger could be stationed along the conveyor system 222 to charge a torque transducer assembly as it passes.

The monitoring circuit of an exemplary torque transducer assembly might also include one or more LED's or other such indicia which might be viewable through one or more apertures in the first shell and/or the second shell. Such indicia can provide an onlooker of the torque transducer assembly with immediate diagnostic information regarding status of the torque transducer assembly. For example, one or more LED's might be capable of displaying (e.g., in blinking patterns and/or colors) diagnostic information such as battery level, sensor activation status, memory capacity level, peak torque value measured, transmitter activation status, receiver status, data transfer status, charging status, and/or any of a variety of other such information.

An exemplary torque transducer assembly might also include an activation device, such as a switch, to prevent drainage of the battery 70 during periods of non-use. Although this switch might be accessible through an aperture in the first shell and/or second shell (e.g., 18, 20 in FIG. 1), the switch might alternatively be disposed entirely within the torque transducer assembly. For example, the switch might comprise a magnetic reed switch that can be configured to deactivate the monitoring circuit of the torque transducer assembly whenever a magnet is brought into the immediate vicinity of the torque transducer assembly. In particular, during periods of non-use, a magnet might be strapped to a predetermined position on the exterior of a torque transducer assembly, which would resultantly serve to deactivate the monitoring circuit. A drop-in charger as discussed previously could also include such a magnet in order that any torque transducer assembly inserted therein would be deactivated during charging.

The foregoing description of exemplary embodiments and examples of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. These examples and descriptions are not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the forms described. Numerous modifications are possible in light of the above teachings. Some of those modifications have been discussed, and others will be understood by those skilled in the art. It is hereby intended that the scope of the invention be defined by the claims appended hereto.