Title:
CARTON FEEDER WITH POSITIONABLE VACUUM CUPS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A packaging machine (100) includes a carton feeder (112) with a wheel assembly (214) having selectively positionable vacuum cups (S) for removing collapsed cartons (C) from a hopper (102). The vacuum cups (S) are mounted to feeder arms (304). At least of one the vacuum cups (S) can be repositioned to accommodate collapsed cartons (C) having various sizes, shapes, contours, or features (F) that would otherwise impede the ability of the vacuum cups (S) to maintain sufficient pressure so as to engage a surface of the collapsed carton (C). In certain embodiments, each vacuum cup (S) is mounted to the feeder arm via a manifold (M) that is slidably mounted to the feeder arm (304). The manifold (M) may be fixably positioned by or otherwise locked in place by a locking means (L). In other embodiments, the feeder arm (304) has several vacuum ports (308) distributed along its length, to which the vacuum cups (S) can be selectively attached and detached.



Inventors:
Flagg, Michael F. (Newnan, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/460872
Publication Date:
02/01/2007
Filing Date:
07/28/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B41/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
WEEKS, GLORIA R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WESTROCK COMPANY (Richmond, VA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A carton feeder (112) for sequentially engaging collapsed cartons (C) and depositing the cartons (C) at a selected location in a packaging machine (100), the carton feeder (112) comprising: at least one wheel assembly (214, 216, 218) that is rotatable about an axis of rotation; a feeder arm (304) comprising a substantially continuous vacuum conduit (B) that extends along at least a portion of the length of the feeder arm (304); and vacuum driven means for engaging (300) the cartons, the means for engaging being mounted on the feeder arm and selectively positionable along at least a portion of the length of the feeder arm; wherein vacuum pressure is transferred along the conduit (B) to said means for engaging.

2. The carton feeder of claim 1, wherein said means for engaging comprises at least one vacuum cup assembly (300) comprising at least one vacuum cup (S1, S2).

3. The carton feeder of claim 2, wherein the feeder arm is substantially parallel to and offset from the axis of rotation of the feeder wheel assembly, and the at least one vacuum cup assembly is attached to the feeder arm (304).

4. The carton feeder of claim 3, wherein the at least one vacuum cup assembly is selectively positionable by being slidable along the feeder arm (304).

5. The carton feeder of claim 3, wherein the feeder arm comprises a plurality of ports distributed along the length of the feeder arm each capable of connecting to the at least one vacuum cup assembly, and each of the at least one vacuum cup assembly is selectively positionable by being detached from one of said plurality of ports and reattached to another one of said plurality of ports.

6. A carton feeder (112) for sequentially engaging collapsed cartons (C) depositing the cartons (C) at a selected location in a packaging machine (100), the carton feeder (112) comprising: an inlet (316) for coupling the carton feeder (112) to a vacuum source (A) associated with the packaging machine (100), the vacuum source being for generating vacuum pressure; at least one wheel assembly (214, 216, 218), comprising: a shaft (314); at least one rotatable plate (310, 312) having an axis of rotation defined by the shaft (314), the at least one plate being mounted to the shaft (314); at least one feeder arm (304) extending from the at least one plate (310, 312), the feeder arm (304) comprising a substantially continuous vacuum conduit (B) that extends along at least a portion of the length of the feeder arm (304), the vacuum conduit (B) being coupled to the inlet so as to transfer vacuum pressure generated by the vacuum source (A); and at least one vacuum cup assembly (300) selectively positionable along the length of the feeder arm (304).

7. The carton feeder of claim 6, wherein the vacuum cup assembly (300) further comprises: a vacuum cup (S1, S2), and a manifold (M1, M2) that is coupled to the vacuum cup (S1, S2) and to the vacuum conduit (B) so as to transfer vacuum pressure from the vacuum conduit (B) to the vacuum cup (S); the manifold (M) being slidably mounted to the feeder arm (304) to selectively position the vacuum cup (S).

8. The carton feeder of claim 7, further comprising locking means (L) for releasably fixing the position of the manifold (M) along the feeder arm (304).

9. The carton feeder of claim 6, wherein: the feeder arm (304) further comprises a plurality of vacuum ports (308) distributed along at least a portion of its length for connecting to the vacuum cup assembly (300); and the vacuum cup assembly (300) is removable from one of the plurality of ports to be selectively attached to another of the vacuum ports (308) to couple the vacuum cup (S) to the vacuum conduit (B) so as to transfer vacuum pressure along the vacuum conduit (B) to the vacuum cup assembly (300).

10. The carton feeder of claim 9, wherein each vacuum port (308) is configured to transfer vacuum pressure only when a vacuum cup assembly (300) has been attached to it.

11. The carton feeder of claim 6, wherein the feeder arm (304) is rotatably connected to the at least one plate (310, 312) via a flipper arm (305).

12. A packaging machine (100) comprising a carton feeder (112) for sequentially removing collapsed sleeve type cartons (C) from a hopper (102) and depositing the cartons (C) on a carton conveyor (220), the packaging machine (100) comprising: a vacuum source (A) for generating vacuum pressure; at least one wheel assembly (214, 216, 218), comprising an elongated feeder arm (304) offset from and parallel to an axis of rotation (314) of the wheel assembly (214, 216, 218), the feeder arm (304) comprising a substantially continuous vacuum conduit (B) that extends along at least a portion of the length of the feeder arm (304), the vacuum conduit (B) being coupled to the vacuum source (A) so as to transfer vacuum pressure generated by the vacuum source (A); and at least one vacuum cup assembly (300) movably attached to the feeder arm (304) and selectively positionable along the length of the feeder arm (304).

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. application Ser. No. 60/703,533, filed Jul. 29, 2005, the entirety of which is incorporated herein by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates generally to machines for erecting collapsed cartons, and more particularly, to a carton feeder including positionable vacuum cups.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

A typical continuous-motion automatic packaging machine rapidly applies secondary packaging to multiple individually packaged products such as canned or bottled consumables for greater ease of transportation, storage, sale, and consumer utilization. Many such packaging machines integrate several modular stations, including carton erectors, case packers, carton sealing machines, palletisers, and interconnecting product and carton conveying systems that convey the products through the various modular stations and into each of a series of cartons. It is known to provide a packaging machine with a modular or integral carton feeder that erects collapsed cartons. As described herein, collapsed cartons are those which are formed from carton blanks that have been partially assembled and collapsed into a flattened condition prior to being fed into the packaging machine, such as sleeve type cartons.

The carton feeder can include one or more wheel assemblies that cooperate to remove collapsed cartons from a hopper, partially erect the collapsed cartons into tubular structures, and deposit the tubular structures onto a carton conveyor in preparation for loading. Each wheel assembly typically includes two substantially circular plates that are rotatably mounted to a shaft, feeder arms extending between the plates, and vacuum cups mounted to each of the feeder arms. The vacuum cups are selectively activated and deactivated by valves that are controlled by a processing device such that the carton feeder can engage, transport, manipulate, and disengage the cartons.

In general, cartons include decorative or functional features such as perforations, handle apertures, and creased fold lines. In certain instances, the position of the vacuum cups is such that the vacuum cups engage the surface of a collapsed carton so as to overlap a feature disposed in the surface of the carton. In overlapping certain features, the ability of the vacuum cups to fully adhere to the surface of the collapsed carton is inhibited. For example, features such as perforations, handle apertures, and creased fold lines do not allow the vacuum cups to create or sustain a level of vacuum pressure that is sufficient to properly and securely engage the collapsed carton. If the collapsed carton is not properly engaged, the collapsed carton may cause the packaging machine to jam or otherwise malfunction as the carton is passed between the wheel assemblies. Clearing a jammed machine requires time-consuming and, therefore, costly intervention by a human or mechanical operator. Alternatively, the packaging machine may continue to run without properly erecting the collapsed carton into a tubular structure and/or without depositing the carton on the carton conveyor for loading. In this case, the packaging machine may attempt to load bottles or other articles into a damaged or nonexistent carton. Thereby, articles may be expelled onto the carton conveyor resulting in damage to the articles, equipment malfunction, and costly intervention by an operator.

A similar problem occurs with collapsed cartons of different sizes and shapes in that the position of vacuum cups may cause the collapsed cartons to be improperly engaged. As an example, the packaging machine cannot accommodate or properly engage cartons that are narrower than the distance between vacuum cups on a feeder arm.

Clearly, it is desirable to have a continuous-motion packaging machine that can accommodate cartons of various sizes and shapes and that avoids applying suction to carton features or to interrupted or porous surfaces in order to prevent malfunctions and misfeeds.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The various embodiments of the present invention overcome the shortcomings of the prior art by providing a carton feeder with at least one wheel assembly. Each wheel assembly includes at least one feeder arm that supports two or more engaging means, such as vacuum cup assemblies. Advantageously, each vacuum cup assembly can be independently positioned along the length of the feeder arm to which it is mounted, and is positionable at an infinite number of positions. Thus, the alignment and configuration of the vacuum cups can be optimized such that the vacuum cups apply suction to uninterrupted surfaces of collapsed cartons and thereby provide maximum control of the collapsed cartons. In addition, the alignment and configuration of the vacuum cups can be adjusted to accommodate cartons of various sizes and shapes. With this flexibility, the packaging machine can be quickly and easily reconfigured for different applications.

To teach the benefits of the various aspects of the invention, its various embodiments are described in the context of a non-limiting example of a continuous-motion packaging machine. The exemplary packaging machine includes a carton feeder for sequentially removing collapsed cartons from a hopper and for depositing the cartons in a partially erected condition on a carton conveyor. The carton feeder includes three wheel assemblies. Each wheel assembly includes multiple feeder arms and is rotatable about a fixed axis such that the feeder arms move in an orbital path. In essence, the carton feeder is an apparatus for erecting a collapsed carton.

The first wheel assembly, hereinafter referred to as the pickup wheel assembly, continuously and sequentially engages and removes individual collapsed carton from a carton hopper and transports each collapsed carton to the second wheel assembly, hereinafter referred to as the transfer wheel assembly. The transfer wheel assembly transfers the collapsed carton from the pickup wheel assembly to the third wheel assembly, which is hereinafter referred to as the erecting wheel assembly. The erecting wheel assembly, in concert with the transfer wheel assembly, opens or partially erects the carton to form a tubular structure and places the carton on a carton conveyor, which transports the carton to a loading station.

Generally described, each wheel assembly includes a pair of rotatable plates and a shaft, which defines an axis of rotation for the plates. Each plate is mounted at or near opposite ends of the shaft. An elongated feeder arm extends between the plates so as to be offset from and parallel to the shaft. Several such feeder arms can be disposed at regular or repeating intervals near the periphery of the plates. One or more of the feeder arms may reciprocate in a substantially radial direction or otherwise toward and away from the shaft so as to, in some applications, extend beyond the periphery of the plates to engage an endmost collapsed carton in the hopper and draw the carton back toward the periphery of the plates. The feeder arm houses a substantially continuous vacuum conduit that extends along at least a portion of the length of the feeder arm. The vacuum conduit is coupled by a vacuum fitting assembly to a vacuum source, such as a vacuum pump, vacuum generator, or other means for generating the vacuum pressure that is utilized to engage the cartons. The vacuum conduit is further coupled by a vacuum fitting assembly to the vacuum cups so as to transfer vacuum pressure generated by the vacuum source to the vacuum cups. In the exemplary embodiment, the vacuum fitting assembly includes fittings and tubing.

In certain embodiments, at least one vacuum cup assembly is attached to each of the feeder arms and includes a vacuum cup, a manifold to which the vacuum cup is coupled, and means for locking the manifold in place. In these embodiments, the manifold is slidably mounted to the feeder arm and is fixedly positioned along the length of the feeder arm by locking means such as, but not limited to, a thumb screw, clamp, knob, pin, indexed detent, spring loaded release, and the like. In this embodiment, the vacuum fitting assembly includes tubing and fittings that connect the vacuum conduit to the manifold. The manifold can include channels or vacuum conduit, similar to the feeder arm, to couple the associated fitting and the vacuum cup and transfer pressure therebetween.

In alternative embodiments, each vacuum cup is directly coupled or fixed to a port disposed in the feeder arm. In these embodiments, multiple ports are disposed along the feeder arm at intervals corresponding to desirable locations for positioning a vacuum cup for a particular application. Thus, a vacuum cup can be positioned and repositioned by unscrewing or otherwise detaching the vacuum cup from one port on the feeder arm and screwing or otherwise attaching the vacuum cup to another port that corresponds to or is closest to the desired location. The ports may be spaced apart somewhat, or may be directly adjacent to one another to maximize the potential locations for placement of vacuum cups. Each port is coupled to the vacuum conduit so as to transfer vacuum pressure only when a vacuum cup is attached thereto. Those skilled in the art will recognize that restricting means, such as a unidirectional elastomeric port valve, can restrict the ingress and egress of air as necessary to prevent loss of vacuum pressure through unused ports.

According to one aspect of the invention, all or some of the vacuum cups that are mounted or attached to a particular feeder arm may be independently repositionable. For example, in certain applications having two vacuum cups per feeder arm, it may be desirable to fix the location of one of the vacuum cups on each feeder arm, and to only allow repositioning of the other vacuum cup as needed. Accordingly, a narrower carton can be accommodated by moving a repositionable vacuum cup closer to a fixed vacuum cup.

According to another aspect of the invention, the vacuum cups on adjacent feeder arms need not be aligned. For example, in instances where vacuum cups on adjacent feeder arms engage the same carton, the vacuum cups on adjacent feeder arms may be offset relative to one another in order to engage a carton that is irregularly shaped or to engage a carton that includes a feature at one end of the carton which does not run the length of the carton.

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 combining various aspects of 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 partial perspective view of an exemplary packaging machine, according to the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a partial side elevation view of the packaging machine of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a partial perspective view of a wheel assembly of the packaging machine of FIG. 1.

FIGS. 4 and 5 are front elevation views of an exemplary collapsed carton illustrating the position of a set of suction cups relative to an exemplary feature.

FIGS. 6 and 7 are front elevations views of the collapsed carton of FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrating the position of an alternative set of suction cups relative to the feature.

FIG. 8 is a block diagram illustrating the connections between certain components of the packaging machine.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

As required, detailed embodiments of the present invention are disclosed herein. It must be understood that the disclosed embodiments are merely exemplary of the invention that may be embodied in various and alternative forms, and combinations thereof. As used herein, the word “exemplary” is used expansively to refer to embodiments that serve as illustrations, specimens, models, or patterns. 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 components, systems, materials, or methods have not been described in detail in order to avoid obscuring the present invention. Therefore, specific structural and functional details disclosed herein are not to be interpreted as limiting, but merely as a basis for the claims and as a representative basis 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 a carton feeder having means for engaging cartons. Means for engaging cartons can include at least one vacuum cup that can be selectively positioned along the length of a feeder arm as necessary to accommodate various types of cartons having different sizes, shapes, topographies, textures, perforations, features, or orientations.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an exemplary packaging machine 100. The packaging machine 100 includes a hopper 102, a carton feeder 112 (partially obstructed), and a carton conveyor 220 (shown in FIG. 2). The hopper 102 holds a queue of collapsed cartons C that are substantially vertically oriented so as to stand on their bottom edges. The hopper 102 includes means for conveying the queue of collapsed cartons C from the rear of the hopper 102 to the front of the hopper 102 to in preparation for removal and manipulation by the exemplary carton feeder 112. The bottom edges of the collapsed cartons C rest transversely across means for conveying the cartons C toward the feeder 112, which in the exemplary embodiments includes a set of one or more advancing belts 110. Although, any suitable means for conveying can be substituted for the advancing belts 110, including a single advancing belt, a conveying surface, and the like. The advancing belts 110 shown in FIG. 1 are toothed or serrated continuous roller belts which are known for use in various conveying applications.

The exemplary hopper 102 includes guides 106, 108 that provide lateral support to opposing side edges of the collapsed cartons C in the queue. Guide 106 extends along the entire length of the advancing belts 110. Guide 108 is adjustable to change the distance between the guides 106, 108 or to otherwise alter the width of the hopper 102. Thereby, the hopper 102 is able to accommodate collapsed cartons C having various dimensions. For example, for relatively narrower collapsed cartons C, the guide 108 is moved toward the guide 106. As described in further detail below, in accordance with the principles of the invention, the vacuum cups S or otherwise means for engaging can be positioned closer together in order to accommodate relatively narrower collapsed cartons C.

Referring to FIG. 2, the exemplary carton feeder 112 includes a pickup wheel assembly 214, a transfer wheel assembly 216, and an erecting wheel assembly 218 that cooperate to select, transport, relay, and at least partially erect each collapsed carton C and place the at least partially erected carton C a carton conveyor 220. The vacuum cups S extend radially outward with respect to each wheel assembly 214, 216, 218 and the wheel assemblies 214, 216, 218 are aligned and synchronized such that the collapsed cartons C are manipulated by the carton feeder 112 as vacuum cups S of one or more wheel assemblies 214, 216, 218 selectively engage and disengage the surfaces of the collapsed cartons C.

Referring again to FIG. 1, each of the collapsed cartons C may include a feature F that would impede or resist the application of a vacuum cup S. In the exemplary embodiment, for purposes of teaching, the feature F is a removable section of a collapsed carton C that, for example, defines a handle or an article dispenser. The feature F is defined by a severance line 116. As used herein, the term severance line includes, but is not limited to, a line of perforations, a score line, a line of short slits, a line of half cuts, a single half cut, any combination of slits, score lines, and half cuts, and the like. The severance line 116 interrupts the surface of a face of each carton C. The term “face” as used herein refers to a substantially flat surface of the collapsed carton C that, when erected, may include or define a carton wall or at least one partition. Each face may be a single panel or may include at least a portion of more than one panel. The inside face of a collapsed carton C that is in the queue is defined as the face that is directed toward the carton feeder 112 rather than toward the rear of the hopper 102. The severance line 116 is shown in broken lines on an outside face of the rearmost collapsed carton C to indicate that the severance line 116 is disposed on an inside face of the rearmost collapsed carton C, which is obstructed in FIG. 1. It should be understood that the feature can be located anywhere on either or both faces of the collapsed carton C and can be any size or shape. In addition the feature can include or be defined by an edge of the collapsed carton C.

If a vacuum cup S (best shown in FIG. 3) attempts to engage the inside face of the frontmost collapsed carton C in the queue (shown in FIG. 2) such that the vacuum cup S is placed over any portion of the severance line 116, it becomes difficult to maintain a pressure level or a pressure difference that is sufficient to generate adequate suction on the surface of the collapsed carton C. Specifically, it is difficult to produce adequate suction because the vacuum pressure supplied via the vacuum cup S does not compensate for the air that leaks through the severance line 116. Thus, it is desirable to reposition the vacuum cup S to avoid the feature F or to otherwise engage a solid portion of the surface of the collapsed carton C.

One of the wheel assemblies—the pickup feeder 214—will now be described now in greater detail with reference to FIG. 3. The pickup feeder 214 includes substantially circular end plates 310, 312 that are rotatably mounted to shaft 314, which defines the axis of rotation of the plates 310, 312. Multiple feeder arms 304 are radially offset from the shaft 314 and extend between the plates 310, 312. The opposite ends of each feeder arm 304 are roratably connected respectively to the distal ends of flipper arms 305 (only one shown in FIG. 3) which in turn are rotatably connected at their proximal ends to the plates 310, 312 respectively. This arrangement allows each feeder arm 305 to move toward and away from the shaft 314 as it is turned about pins 307 (only one shown in FIG. 3) that rotatably connect the proximal ends of the associated flipper arms 305 to the plates 310, 312 respectively. In the exemplary embodiment, referring to FIG. 8, two or more vacuum cup assemblies 300 are slidably attached to each feeder arm 304 and connected via an inlet 316 coupled to an external vacuum source A that can be controlled, for example, by a rotary vacuum valve 318 (shown in FIG. 2).

In the embodiment shown, each vacuum cup assembly 300 includes a manifold M1, M2 and a vacuum cup S1, S2 that is mounted to a respective manifold M1, M2. A groove portion V of each of the manifolds M1, M2 slides along a tongue portion G of the feeder arm 304. The tongue and groove portions G, V correspond to one another and can be any shape or size that secures the tongue portion G to the groove portion V as well as facilitates translational motion of the tongue portion G along the length of the groove portion V. For example the cross-sectional shape of the tongue portion can be T-shaped, L-shaped, triangular, circular, or any other shape that includes a wider distal portion and a narrower proximal portion. Accordingly, the groove portion has a corresponding shape. It should be understood that the feeder arm 304 can include a groove and the manifolds M1, M2 can include tongues in order to slidably attach the manifolds M1, M2 to the feeder arm 304.

Each vacuum cup assembly 300 further includes a locking means L to securely position the manifolds M1, M2 along the length of the feeder arm 304. In the exemplary embodiment, the locking means L is a thumb screw that is inserted through a threaded aperture in each manifold M1, M2 and is directed toward the tongue portion G of the feeder arm 304. Thereby, the thumb screw can be tightened against the tongue portion G of the feeder arm 304 to releasably lock the manifolds M1, M2 in position.

The feeder arm 304 shown includes ports 308 that are connected by a hollow interior (not shown) of the feeder arm 304 or otherwise by vacuum conduit B within the feeder arm 304 that at least partially defines the path between suction cups S and vacuum source A. The path is represented by dashed lines. The vacuum cup assemblies 300, the vacuum conduit B, and the vacuum source A are connected one to the next by vacuum fitting assemblies. In the exemplary embodiment, the vacuum fitting assemblies include fittings 302 that are attached to the manifolds M1, M2, fittings 303 that are connected to ports 308 of the feeder arm 304 near the vacuum cups S, and a fitting 306 that is connected to a port 308 of the feeder arm 304 at the end of the feeder arm 304 or otherwise near the vacuum source A. The vacuum fitting assemblies further include tubing T that interconnects the fittings 302, 303 in order to connect the manifolds M1, M2 to the vacuum conduit B in the feeder arm 304 and tubing T that connects the fitting 306 to a fitting on the vacuum source A in order to connect the vacuum conduit B in the feeder arm 304 to the vacuum source A. The feeder arm 304 may include multiple ports 308 so that the vacuum fittings 303 can be moved to different locations along the length of the feeder arm 304, for example, to reduce the length of the tubing T required to link each manifold M1, M2 to the vacuum conduit B within the feeder arm 304.

In alternative embodiments, the vacuum cups S1, S2 are directly connected to a port 308 in the feeder arm 304. Accordingly, the vacuum cups S1, S2 can be moved along the length of the feeder arm 304 by disconnecting a vacuum cup S1, S2 from a first vacuum port 308 and moving the vacuum cup S1, S2 to a second vacuum port 308.

The erection of a collapsed carton C by the carton feeder 112 is described according to an exemplary method. Referring to FIG. 2, the pickup feeder 214 selects the endmost collapsed carton C in the hopper by engaging the inside face of the collapsed carton C. To avoid applying suction to the feature F on the inside face of the collapsed carton C, the vacuum cups S1, S2 can be appropriately positioned by releasing the associated locking means L and sliding the manifolds M2, M1 along the length of the feeder arm 304. For example, referring to FIGS. 4 and 5, since the feature F is adjacent to a first edge El of the collapsed carton C, the manifolds M1 M2 can be moved to an end of the feeder arm 304 such that the vacuum cups S1, S2 engage a portion of the collapsed carton C that is adjacent to a second edge E2 of the collapsed carton C, which is opposite the first edge E1.

The pickup feeder 214 relays the still collapsed carton C to a transfer feeder 216 that engages an outside face of the collapsed carton C as the pickup feeder 214 disengages the inside face. In the exemplary embodiment, there are no features F on the outside face of the collapsed carton C that can be engaged by the vacuum cups S that are mounted on the transfer feeder 216 and, thus, the position of the vacuum cups S that are mounted on the transfer feeder 216 is not necessarily adjusted to avoid features F on the collapsed cartons C.

The transfer feeder 216 relays the collapsed carton C to the erecting feeder 218, which engages an inside face of the collapsed carton C, typically before the transfer feeder 216 disengages the outside face of the collapsed carton C. Since the inside face of the collapsed cartons C includes a feature F, the vacuum cups S mounted on the erecting feeder 218 may need to be repositioned to avoid the feature F. The rotation of the wheel assemblies 214, 216, 218 is synchronized to ensure that opposing faces of the collapsed carton C are simultaneously engaged by the transfer and erecting feeders 216, 218, thereby pulling the faces of the collapsed carton C apart and at least partially erecting the carton C to form a tubular structure. Before the now partially erected carton C can spring back to a collapsed state, the erecting feeder 218 deposits the partially erected carton C on the carton conveyor 220 in preparation for loading.

Certain cartons C are relatively large and/or certain wheel assemblies 214, 216, 218 include relatively closely spaced feeder arms 304 such that collapsed cartons C are simultaneously engaged by vacuum cups S extending from more than one feeder arm 304 of a single wheel assembly 214, 216, 218. Thus, it may be necessary to vary the position of the vacuum cups S on adjacent feeder arms 304. For example, referring to FIGS. 6 and 7, the vacuum cups S1, S2 on a first feeder arm may be positioned closer together, while the vacuum cups S1, S2 on a second feeder arm adjacent to the first feeder arm may be positioned relatively further apart. As another example, a first vacuum cup S1 on a first feeder arm is offset from a first vacuum cup S1 on a second feeder arm such that the first vacuum cups S1 are not coplanar in a plane that is parallel to, and disposed between, the surfaces of the plates 310, 312 of a wheel assembly 214, 216, 218 or otherwise substantially perpendicular to the shaft 314. In other words the first vacuum cups S1 on adjacent arms are not necessarily offset from one of the plates 310, 312 by the same distance. This is particularly true with a feature F does not extend the entire length of the collapsed carton C, i.e., from the top edge of the collapsed carton C to the bottom edge.

It should be noted that it is advantageous to have a wheel assembly 214, 216, 218 with adjustably positionable vacuum cups S for use in applications where the hopper 102 is loaded with collapsed cartons C of various sizes. It is envisioned that the adjustment of the vacuum cups S can be automated to automatically adjust to collapsed cartons C of various sizes within a single run or that the position of the vacuum cups S can be adjusted between runs, either manually or automatically, to accommodate using different sizes or shapes of collapsed cartons C in each run.

The present invention has been illustrated in relation to a particular embodiment which is 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. In addition, any suitable picking and placing device may be used as means for engaging the cartons, in addition to or instead of vacuum cup assemblies, including pinching fingers, hooks, magnets, non-permanent adhesives, or hook and loop fasteners such as VELCRO®, which is a trademark registered to Velcro Industries B.V. The exemplary vacuum cup assemblies may utilize any negative pressure generating devices and principles, including without limitation, Venturi or Bernoulli vacuum devices, which may but do not necessarily contact the surface of the article to be engaged and disengaged. Accordingly, the scope of the present invention is described by the claims appended hereto and supported by the foregoing.

It must be emphasized that the law does not require and it is economically prohibitive to illustrate and teach every possible embodiment of the present claims. Hence, the above-described embodiments are merely exemplary illustrations of implementations set forth for a clear understanding of the principles of the invention. Variations, modifications, and combinations may be made to the above-described embodiments without departing from the scope of the claims. All such variations, modifications, and combinations are included herein by the scope of this disclosure and the following claims.





 
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