Title:
Automatic envelope feeder device for a document enveloping works
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An automatic envelope feeder device adapted to feed a plurality of document enveloping machines is shown wherein the device includes a conveyor for conveying the envelopes to the plurality of enveloping machines and a centralized station for loading the envelopes onto the conveyor.



Inventors:
Faissolle, Gerard (Chateauneuf, FR)
Moreaux, Michel (Chelles, FR)
Application Number:
11/516394
Publication Date:
04/12/2007
Filing Date:
09/06/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B43/26
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
TRUONG, THANH K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PITNEY BOWES INC. (Shelton, CT, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An automatic envelope feeder device adapted to feed a plurality of document enveloping machines, comprising: a conveyor for conveying the envelopes to the plurality of enveloping machines; and a centralized station for loading the envelopes onto the conveyor.

2. The device according to claim 1, further comprising at least one area for unloading envelopes from the conveyor for the purpose of feeding the plurality of enveloping machines, the centralized loading station being situated away from said at least one unloading area.

3. The device according to claim 1, wherein the conveyor is an overhead conveyor.

4. The device according to claim 3, wherein at least a portion of the conveyor for conveying the envelopes is suspended from a wall of a premises in which the enveloping machines are installed.

5. The device according to claim 1, wherein the centralized loading station comprises one or more units for loading envelopes onto the conveyor.

6. The device according to claim 1, further comprising: a station for unloading envelopes from the conveyor for the purpose of feeding each of the enveloping machines.

7. The device according to claim 1, wherein the conveyor comprises devices for holding the envelopes onto the conveyor.

8. The device according claim 7, wherein the devices for holding the envelopes onto the conveyor are hinged pincers.

9. The device according to claim 8, wherein each pincer comprises a fixed jaw and a moveable jaw provided with an external operating lever the movement of which controls the opening/closing movement of said jaw.

10. The device according to claim 6, further comprising: at the centralized loading station and at each of the unloading stations of the conveyor, a movable actuating device which is adapted to occupy two positions, a first (A), referred to as a rest position, and a second (B), referred to as an active position, in which the actuating device is placed on the trajectory followed by the external operating levers for actuation of the moveable jaws of the pincers in order to cause the movement of said members.

11. The device according to claim 1, wherein the conveyance of the envelopes to the plurality of the enveloping machines is performed according to the needs of the machines for envelopes.

12. The device according to claim 1, further comprising a system of flow management for the envelopes on the conveyor.

13. The device according to claim 12, wherein the system for envelope flow management on the conveyor is adapted to manage the flow of the envelopes at the centralized loading station and at the unloading stations according to the needs of the enveloping machines for envelopes.

14. An enveloping system for documents comprising a plurality of enveloping machines each comprising at least one envelope feeder and which are installed in a document enveloping works, characterized in that the system comprises an automatic envelope feeder device which comprises: a conveyor for conveying the envelopes to the plurality of enveloping machines, and a centralized station for loading the envelopes onto the conveyor.

15. The system according to claim 14, wherein the centralized loading station is situated away from the enveloping machines.

16. The system according to claim 14, wherein the centralized loading station is installed in a different premises from the premises of the enveloping works.

17. The system according to claim 14, wherein the enveloping works being set up over several levels, the centralized loading station is installed at a different level from that at which the enveloping machines are installed.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to a device for an automatic envelope feeder device for feeding envelopes to a plurality of enveloping machines.

An enveloping machine is an apparatus which comprises document feeders (sheet feeders or continuous feeders) and an envelope feeder.

An envelope feeder is a mechanical device in which a stack of envelopes is stored (vertically or horizontally) and which, after unstacking, conveys the envelopes one by one to the insertion station of the machine.

The machine groups together the documents for the same recipient and inserts them in an envelope at the insertion station.

An enveloping works generally comprises several enveloping machines and each of them is provided with its own document and envelope feeders.

Currently the envelope feeding technique can take two forms: the envelopes may be manually fed using envelopes delivered in crates, or automatically using envelopes delivered on reels.

When the envelopes are delivered in reels, these may each contain approximately 40 000 envelopes which are spirally wound around a central hub. The spirals of envelopes are separated from each other and held by a continuous interposed support (ribbon).

The use of reels requires provision of a specific reeling-out device at the input of the enveloping machine in order to progressively supply the envelopes to the feeder according to need. The envelopes coming from the reel are accumulated in the standard feeder of the enveloping machine.

It should be noted that such reels, weighing more than 200 kg, are transported and put into place by machines (of fork-lift type) operated by a human driver.

This poses problems of encumbrance, materials handling and safety in the vicinity of the enveloping machines and of the operators.

When the envelopes are delivered in crates, on standard pallets, the loading of the feeder of the enveloping machine is always carried out manually by an operator, which is a painstaking and unrewarding task.

Attempts to replace human work by a robot have however proved unrealistic for reasons of encumbrance, cost and safety.

Moreover, in high capacity mail processing centers, several or even several tens of enveloping machines are located in the same room, each equipped with an envelope feeder device.

It can be appreciated that, in such a configuration, the problems of encumbrance and safety around the machines are exacerbated.

FIG. 1 provides a representation according to the prior art of several enveloping machines 1, 2, 3 and the respective areas 4, 5, 6 reserved around those machines for the materials handling of the envelopes.

To these areas it is further necessary to add the paths for conveyance of the pallets which contribute to further increasing the encumbrance. Arrow 7 illustrates very diagrammatically the conveyance of the pallets of crates or reels with respect to machine 1, and arrow 8 illustrates the loading of the envelopes into the feeder for that machine.

In view of the above, it appears desirable to implement a new feeder device which allows automatic feeding of the envelopes and limits the encumbrance around the enveloping machines.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention thus relates to an automatic envelope feeder device adapted to feed a plurality of document enveloping machines, characterized in that the device comprises:

a conveyor for conveying the envelopes to the plurality of enveloping machines; and

a centralized station for loading the envelopes onto the conveyor.

By grouping the operations of loading envelopes together into a single area disposed upstream of the conveyor, heavy operations of manipulating the crates or reels close up to each of the enveloping machines are avoided.

Furthermore, a centralized loading station assists the materials handling of the envelopes, whether they be delivered in crates or in reels.

At this station, the envelopes are thus loaded onto the conveyor and conveyed to the enveloping machines in order to be automatically deposited in the feeders of each of them.

This results in reduced encumbrance at the enveloping machines, greater safety due to the elimination of the heavy materials handling operations close to the operators, a limitation in the pollution by paper, as well as a reduction in the number of operators.

According to a feature, the device comprises at least one area for unloading envelopes from the conveyor for the purpose of feeding the plurality of enveloping machines, the centralized loading station being situated away from said at least one unloading area.

Thus the heavy operations of manipulating the crates or reels are situated far away from the enveloping machines.

The centralized loading station may be situated away in an environment less subject to the constraints of encumbrance and safety.

According to a feature, the conveyor is an overhead conveyor which thus obtains access to the enveloping machines from above, without encroaching onto the floor space, thus contributing to reducing the encumbrance on the floor around the enveloping machines.

It can easily convey the envelopes to any point in a building, and in particular convey envelopes from an envelope loading point to several unloading points, without encumbering the workspace around the enveloping machines, nor limiting passageways.

According to a feature, the centralized loading station comprises one or more units for loading envelopes onto the conveyor according to the number of enveloping machines and thus according to the envelope feed rate. For example, one unit may be provided for 5 or 6 enveloping machines.

These units are arranged in the centralized landing area.

According to a feature, the conveyor comprises devices for holding the envelopes.

These devices, which for example are hinged pincers, render the transport safe and enable packets of sheets or envelopes to be conveyed over relatively long distances.

According to a feature the device comprises a station for unloading envelopes from the conveyor for the purpose of feeding each of the enveloping machines.

According to other features of the invention:

the conveyance of the envelopes to the plurality of the enveloping machines is performed according to the needs of the machines for envelopes; and

the device comprises a system of flow management for the envelopes on the conveyor.

The system for envelope flow management on the conveyor is adapted to manage the flow of the envelopes at the centralized loading station and at the unloading stations according to the needs of the enveloping machines for envelopes.

According to another aspect, the invention relates to an enveloping system for documents comprising a plurality of enveloping machines each comprising at least one envelope feeder and which are installed in a document enveloping works, characterized in that the system comprises an automatic envelope feeder device which comprises:

a conveyor for conveying the envelopes to the plurality of enveloping machines, and

a centralized station for loading the envelopes onto the conveyor.

According to a feature the centralized loading station is situated away from the enveloping machines.

According to a feature the centralized loading station is installed in a different premises from the premises of the enveloping works.

According to a feature, the enveloping works being set up over several levels, the centralized loading station is installed at a different level from that at which the enveloping machines are installed.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Other Other features and advantages will appear in the following description, which is given solely as a non-limiting description and which is made with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a diagrammatic view representing the envelope feed for enveloping machines according to the prior art;

FIG. 2 is a diagrammatic view representing the envelope feed for enveloping machines according to the invention;

FIG. 3 is a diagrammatic overall representation of a enveloping system incorporating an envelope feeder device according to an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 4 is a diagrammatic representation of the conveyor loading station of the system represented in FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 illustrates the opening and closing mechanism of the pincers of the conveyor represented in FIG. 4;

FIG. 6 is a diagrammatic cross-section view of the conveyor of the system represented in FIG. 3;

FIG. 7 is a diagrammatic illustration of a conveyor unloading station of the system represented in FIG. 3;

FIG. 8 is a diagrammatic representation of the information flow management in an enveloping system according to the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

As represented very generally in FIG. 2, a device 10 for automatic feeding of envelopes according to the invention is provided upstream of a plurality of enveloping machines 1, 2 and 3 and comprises:

a conveyor 12 adapted to feed envelopes to the machines 1, 2 and 3 in the direction of the arrows referenced 14, 16, 18, and

a centralized envelope loading station of the conveyor, referenced 20, placed upstream of the conveyor.

Pallets of crates of envelopes or reels of envelopes are brought, as indicated by arrow 22, to the centralized loading station 20, in the materials handling area, and loading the conveyor with envelopes is carried out as indicated by arrow 24.

By virtue of such a configuration in which the envelope conveyor 12 is arranged between a loading station 20 and the enveloping machines, the area for materials handling of the crates or reels of envelopes is away from the machines and thus gives rise to less encumbrance with respect to the encumbrance generated by all the materials handling areas of all the machines.

It will be noted that the conveyor supplies envelopes at the envelope unloading areas situated at the enveloping machines and which in a way constitute transfer areas for the envelopes leaving the conveyor and destined for the feeders of the machines.

As represented in FIG. 3 and designated by the general reference denoted 30, a system for putting documents in envelopes (envelopes, folders, etc.) according to the invention comprises a device 10 for automatic feeding of envelopes, such as that of FIG. 2. The system 30 is set up, for example, in a high capacity mail processing center.

Such a center is installed in a building comprising several premises which, in the example shown in FIG. 3, are rooms 32, 34 separated from each other by a vertical wall or partition 36.

In room 32 which is an enveloping works, a plurality of document enveloping machines are set up that form part of the system 30 and of which only three, referenced 1, 2, 3, are represented in FIG. 3.

These machines are aligned parallel to each other, though this is in no way obligatory.

The enveloping machines each comprise one or more feeder machines fed with folders or envelopes via the document conveyor 12 which, in the example illustrated in FIG. 3, is advantageously an overhead conveyor.

A feeder for feeding folders to an enveloping machine is represented in FIG. 7 which will be described later.

The enveloping machines also comprise one or more feeders (not shown) containing the documents to envelope.

The feeder device 10 of the enveloping system 30 comprises a centralized station 20 for loading folders or envelopes onto the conveyor 12 and comprises a plurality of unloading stations 38, 40 and 42 of the conveyor 12, each being situated in an unloading area at each of the enveloping machines 1, 2 and 3.

As represented in FIG. 3, the centralized loading station 20 is set up, for example, in the room 34, away from the enveloping machines 1, 2 and 3 which are themselves installed in the room 32.

According to a first variant, the loading station 20 is arranged in the room 32 of the enveloping works, remote from the machines 1, 2 and 3.

In a second variant in which the enveloping works is arranged over several levels, station 20 is installed at a different level to that at which the machines are installed.

According to a third variant, station 20 is installed in a different premises and at a different level to that of the machines.

It will be noted that the overhead conveyor 12 passes through the vertical wall 36, for example, at two places, via two windows 44, 46 formed in that wall, one of them, 44 for the outward circuit of the conveyor (conveyance of the documents), and the other, 46, for the return circuit (conveyor without documents).

The path of the overhead conveyor is adapted to the configuration of the premises. Thus, it may pass from one room to the other through an opening formed in a partition, or from one floor (level) to the other by an opening made in a floor slab.

In FIG. 3, another wall of the premises, referenced 48, has also been represented diagrammatically and which corresponds, for example, to the ceiling arranged above room 32 and above room 34, and from which the conveyor 12 is suspended by means of fixing members 50.

It will be noted that only a portion of the overhead conveyor, for example that situated in room 32, is suspended from a wall, here a horizontal wall (ceiling).

With regard to the portion of the overhead conveyor situated in the other room 34, this may also be fixed to the ceiling 48, or to another wall such as wall 36, or, for example, to the floor where, in that room, the constraints of encumbrance and safety are not as severe as in the room in which the enveloping machines are set up.

Conveyor 12 is fully loaded with envelopes at the centralized loading station 20 and unloads progressively for feeding the enveloping machines.

On returning, the conveyor is not inevitably empty since the machines has not necessarily taken up the entire load and the loading station 20 then only performs a partial loading.

As shown in more detail in FIGS. 4 to 6, the conveyor 12 comprises a chain 54 composed of links hinged to each other and which slides in a metal member 56 of profiled section (FIG. 6).

The member of profiled section is attached to the ceiling of the rooms passed through by metal ties 50 (such as those which support false ceilings).

The member of profiled section and the chain are standard commercially available components.

Hinged pincers 58 are fixed to the chain at regular intervals and are, for example, spaced apart by approximately twelve centimeters. The pincers 58 constitute devices for holding the envelopes onto the conveyor.

Each pincer 58 (FIG. 5) comprises a fixed jaw 60 fastened to the transport chain 54 and a moveable jaw 62 provided with a lever 64 for external operation, for example a roller, the movement of which controls the opening/closing movement of said jaw. The levers are actuated by controlled devices fixed to the frame in order to open or close the pincers.

The hinged portions 62 of the pincers are held in closed position by elastic means not shown (spring), which makes it possible to achieve a variable width for the grip.

Such hinged pincers incorporating, for example, a spiral spring, are described in more detail in the patent U.S. Pat. No. 5,311,976.

The pincers may occupy two positions (FIGS. 4 and 5):

a first position (I) that is open due to the rubbing of the operating roller 64 of the pincer on a skid 66 of beveled shape, and

a second closed position (II), in which the jaws grip envelopes (packet of envelopes 67), when the roller leaves the skid.

Skid 66 constitutes an actuating device which is capable of moving, as double arrow 68 in FIG. 5 shows, between two positions, i.e. a first referred to as a rest position, represented in dotted line by reference A and corresponding to a high position, and a second referred to as an active position, represented in continuous line by reference B and corresponding to a low position.

In position A (high), the actuating device does not interfere with the trajectory followed by the holding devices 58 and thus leaves them in the closed position.

On the other hand, when the actuating device is vertically displaced to reach position B (low), it interferes with the trajectory of the devices 58, and more particularly with the operating levers 64 of those devices, and causes the movement of these latter downwardly by pivoting the moveable jaw with respect to a rotational axis 69 around which the jaw is rotatably mounted.

The device is carried by a jack (not shown) of which the movement is controlled either manually, or by automatic control in liaison with a data central processing unit located in room 32, in room 34, or even elsewhere in the building and which transmits actuation commands.

It will be noted that the pincers are open on loading, for taking folders or envelopes (FIG. 4) and on unloading (FIG. 7 which will be described later), for depositing folders or envelopes, in identical manner.

The only mechanical motion to produce for the conveyor 12 is the movement of the chain 54 in the member 56 of profiled section: this is achieved by several synchronized variable speed motors, distributed along the circuit of the conveyor in order to limit the effect of the forces due to friction.

The loading station 20 of the conveyor comprises, in the centralized loading area, one or more loading units or stations such as the one referenced 70 in FIG. 4. The required number of stations depends on the number of enveloping machines to feed with envelopes and on the processing speeds of the envelopes by those machines. However, for reasons of safety (breakdown) it is preferable to install at least two of those stations at the centralized loading station.

A loading station 70 is adapted to deposit a packet of envelopes 67 in each empty pincer 58 of the overhead conveyor 12, comprising, for example, of the order of 10 to 15 envelopes. The station is composed of a chain 72 with lugs 74 which wraps around two sprockets 76, 78, one of which is rotationally driven by a motor, not shown. The packets of envelopes 67 are then loaded onto the moving chain 72, between the lugs 74 (FIG. 4).

A suitable relative arrangement of the overhead conveyor 12 (dogleg 80 formed by the conveyor) and of the loading station or stations, as well as synchronization between these items, bring the packets of envelopes between the pincers of the conveyor. These are presented open at the junction point (as shown in FIG. 4) and close as soon as the envelopes are introduced between the jaws of the pincers.

It will be noted that the distance between the lugs on the chain is greater than that between the pincers on the conveyor and that the speed of the chain is greater in the same proportions in order to achieve the synchronization of the movements.

The computer control of each loading station of the central station 20 controls the advancement of the lug chain 72 and the opening of the pincer disposed opposite the loading station when the pincer is empty. The use of angle coders and variable-speed motors makes it possible to ensure synchronization between the movements of the conveyor and the lug chain.

As already mentioned, an unloading station 38, 40, 42 is provided for each enveloping machine 1, 2, 3. The station is situated, for example, vertically with respect to the envelope feeder of the machine concerned, as represented in FIGS. 3 and 7.

The object of each unloading station is to extract packets of envelopes 67 from the overhead conveyor 12 in order to bring them into the envelope feeder of the corresponding enveloping machine (transfer of envelopes).

As represented in FIG. 3, at each unloading station, the overhead conveyor forms a vertical dogleg 82, thus making it possible to bring the packets of folders or envelopes to the same height as that of the unloading station concerned.

The packets of envelopes are deposited in shingles on a standard belt 84 (FIG. 7) which is synchronized with the speed of the conveyor. The deposit of the packets of envelopes on the belt is achieved by opening the pincers 58 by virtue of the operating skid 66 controlled as described with reference to FIG. 5. A driving system measures the filling of the envelope feeder of each machine and, according to need, controls the deposit of envelopes on the basis of the number of pincers necessary, via action on the skid.

After deposit of the envelopes based on a certain number of pincers, as FIG. 7 shows, the conveyor transports empty pincers between full pincers.

At the unloading station, each packet is caught in a funnel 86 formed by two moving flexible belts 88, 90 wound round pulleys and which delimit a passage 92 between them for the introduction of the packets. The unloaded packets 67 are thus vertically transferred into the feeder 94 of the enveloping machine situated below.

It will be noted that the two flexible belts 88, 90 ensuring the descent of the packets of envelopes towards the envelope feeder of the enveloping machine, enable, if necessary a 90° pivotal movement (not shown) to be made to bring the envelopes into register with the positioning of the machine.

The overhead conveyor poses no safety problem, at least as regards the portions where it circulates at the ceiling, while the other portions of the conveyor are covered by the safety measures of the loading and unloading stations.

The flow of the envelopes in the feeder device according to the invention, and more particularly the flow of the envelopes on the conveyor, is managed by a system represented diagrammatically in FIG. 8 in relation to a conveyor 100 of which the arrangement is different from that of conveyor 12 of FIG. 3.

In general terms, the flow of envelopes is managed by the automatic envelope feed management system, at the centralized loading station 102 and at the unloading stations 104, 106, 108 situated at the document enveloping machines 1, 2, 3, according to the needs for envelopes of those machines.

The management of the automatic envelope feed management system relies on two main types of unit:

automatons for management of the mechanical units, and

a computer (PC) for overall management of the application (central data processing unit).

The task of the automatons is to perform the reading of the monitoring information of the mechanical movements, to actuate the different active units (motors, clutches, jacks of the pincer control devices, etc.) at the command of the managing computer and to give an account to the latter of the result of the operations.

The information is read via sensors of cell type, for example sensors providing information on the degree of filling of the feeders of the enveloping machines. The motors are fed via controlled relays and the jacks are actuated via controlled valves.

In FIG. 8 several automatons have been represented among which automaton 110 acts in liaison with the enveloping machine 1, the corresponding unloading station 104, and the portion of the conveyor concerned, via connections 110a, 110b, 110c. An identical automaton (not shown) is also provided to cooperate with the enveloping machines 2 and 3, the unloading stations and the corresponding portions of the conveyor.

An automaton 112 acts in liaison with the centralized loading station 102, the portion of the conveyor concerned and the arriving flow of the envelopes 118 at the station, via connections 112a, 112b, 112c, 112d.

An automaton 114 is also provided to cooperate with certain portions of the conveyor between the unloading stations, upstream of the first station and downstream of the last, and upstream and downstream of the loading station via connections 114a-f.

Moreover, the information transmitted between automatons 110, 112, 114 and the managing computer 120 circulate over a standard network 122, for example of ETHERNET type.

The managing computer 120 has several tasks including:

synchronization of the different units (via the automatons) according to needs, and transmission of the commands to the automatons;

interface with a management operator: viewing the works, viewing correct operation, display of anomalies and warnings; and

archiving of production information in order to enable the production of statistics (production, consumption, incidents).

The commands of the computer to the automatons are generic commands which always concern one function to be performed by the automaton (e.g. “unloading of n pincers”); the latter then takes the necessary measures depending on the situation it observes via its information reading devices and gives an account thereof to the computer (e.g. “unloading terminated”).

A command or account is a number or a word transmitted according to a defined codification protocol (e.g. “DE05” surrounded by transmission control characters for “unloading of 5 pincers”).

This function of automatic feeding of the envelopes is encompassed in the overall production architecture of the enveloping works. This architecture possesses software means for load supervision and planning which are active over the whole production chain: edition, printing, enveloping. These software applications know, in terms of volume and time, what are the enveloping productions in course and to come for each enveloping machine. Via the ETHERNET link, they may thus communicate the volumes of envelopes to be provided to each machine. Conversely, the management computer provides the supervision software applications with information concerning the state of envelope feed service.

It will be noted that the representation of the system made in FIG. 8 is just an example embodiment and that the number of automatons, the number of connections of those automatons with external units/devices (sensors, active units, etc.) and the location of those automatons may of course vary, and the same applies to the arrangement of the conveyor, the disposition and configuration of the centralized loading station, as well as the number of enveloping machines.