Title:
Vacuum Apparatus and Methods for Handling Pills
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A pill handling apparatus having a plurality of rotary slats delivers pills from a reservoir to a number of containers. The rotary slats have receptacles in fluid communication with a vacuum assembly and the pills are drawn into the receptacles by vacuum. The pill may be released into containers by expelled air from a blower assembly. Pills entering containers may be individually counted to assure accurate filling of the containers. A conveyor may position the containers at filling stations to receive pills. The rotary slats may be independently rotatable for delivering accurate pill counts to the containers. Optical devices may inspect the pills as they travel toward the containers.



Inventors:
Aylward, John Thomas (New Bern, NC, US)
Application Number:
11/421624
Publication Date:
12/20/2007
Filing Date:
06/01/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B3/04
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
NIESZ, JASON KAROL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ALSTON & BIRD LLP (CHARLOTTE, NC, US)
Claims:
That which is claimed:

1. A pill handling apparatus comprising: a plurality of rotary slats that are each rotatable about a first axis, each of said rotary slats having an outer surface defining a plurality of receptacles for receiving pills; and a vacuum assembly disposed in fluid communication with each of said rotary slats and configured to draw air into at least a portion of said receptacles to urge pills to be received by said portion of said receptacles.

2. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, wherein each of said plurality of rotary slats is independently rotatable.

3. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, wherein said outer surface of each of said plurality of rotary slats defines an outer contour sloped toward said receptacles to facilitate the entry of pills into said receptacles.

4. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, wherein said outer surface of each of said plurality of rotary slats defines a continuous circumferential groove, with said receptacles defined in said groove.

5. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, further comprising a conveyor configured to move a plurality of open containers along a predetermined path of travel and position each of said containers adjacent a respective rotary slat for receiving pills therefrom.

6. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, further comprising a plurality of optical devices, each optical device positioned adjacent a respective rotary slat for detecting pills received by the receptacles of the rotary slat.

7. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, wherein said vacuum assembly is configured to selectively draw air into said receptacles according to the rotational position of each rotary slat, such that the pills are urged into said receptacles at a first circumferential position and released from said receptacles at a second circumferential position.

8. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, further comprising a blower assembly disposed in fluid communication with each of said rotary slats and configured to expel air from a receptacle of each rotary slat to urge pills to be dispensed from said receptacle.

9. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, further comprising a reservoir configured to hold pills in contact with said outer surfaces of said rotary slats for receipt of the pills by said receptacles.

10. A pill handling apparatus according to claim 1, further comprising a controller configured to control the rotation of said rotary slats at dissimilar speeds.

11. A method of handling pills comprising: disposing a plurality of pills into contact with a plurality of rotary slats, each rotary slat having an outer surface defining a plurality of receptacles for receiving pills; drawing air into at least a portion of the receptacles such that pills are urged to be received by the portion of the receptacles.

12. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising rotating the rotary slats independently.

13. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising rotating the rotary slats at dissimilar speeds such that pills are dispensed from two of the slats at different rates.

14. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising providing each rotary slat with an outer surface defining a plurality of receptacles for receiving pills and defining an outer contour sloped toward the receptacles to facilitate the entry of pills into the receptacles.

15. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising providing each rotary slat with a continuous circumferential groove, the receptacles being defined in the groove.

16. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising moving a plurality of open containers on a conveyor along a predetermined path of travel and positioning each of the containers adjacent a respective rotary slat for receiving pills therefrom.

17. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising inspecting pills received by the rotary slats using a plurality of optical devices respectively disposed adjacent the rotary slats.

18. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, wherein said step of drawing air comprises selectively drawing air into the receptacles according to the rotational position of each rotary slat, such that the pills are urged into the receptacles at a first circumferential position and released from the receptacles at a second circumferential position.

19. A method of handling pills according to claim 11, further comprising expelling air from a receptacle of each rotary slat to urge a pill to be dispensed from the receptacle.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to pill handling apparatus and methods and, more particularly, relates to an apparatus and associated methods for handling pills with a vacuum assembly.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Pharmaceutical medicines and associated packaging apparatuses are subject to high expectations from consumers and guidelines and dictates from regulatory entities. For example, pills, capsules, and the like are produced and packaged to meet various regulations including sterility requirements. In addition, pills should be accurately counted and packaged so that each package includes exactly a predetermined number of units as labeled. Cost effective automated counting and packaging systems address these challenges.

A typical conventional pill counting and packaging machine includes a hopper having a reservoir of pills in contact with a pill-capturing assembly such as an array of rotary slats. The rotary slats capture pills and drop or guide the pills into bottles. The bottles are distributed along a conveyor belt having movements timed to advance and stop the bottles according to the filling operation.

Some pill-capturing assemblies include a series of rotary slats that are each configured to receive, hold, and move a plurality of capsules or pills along a respective closed path. Each such rotary slat is typically a disc-like device that is fixed on a rotatable shaft and typically has a circumferential outer periphery that defines openings for capturing individual pills from a reservoir of pills as the slat is rotated and the reservoir is agitated. Accordingly, the closed path is arcuate and generally disposed between the pill hopper and a discharge area above a conveyor belt. By the rotary action of the slats, the pills move in a direction normal to the conveyor belt. The pill capturing device then generally discharges the pills by rotating the slats, the movements of which correspond to the closed paths, such that the pills fall out of the openings at filling stations. The pills are often funneled through a chute that empties into a corresponding bottle.

The “count,” or number of pills in the bottle, can be determined by positioning the bottles in the pill dropping zone for a predetermined time. The duration of the filling operation for each bottle corresponds to the number of openings in each slat that the machine is capable of delivering to the bottles per unit of time. The duration of the filling operation, speed of the rotary slats, and configuration of the pill capturing device are used to calculate the count.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,185,901 to Aylward, titled “Positive Count Rotary Slat Packaging Apparatus and Related Methods,” provides an improved machine with independently driven rotary slats. The pills are allowed to fall from a reservoir into an exterior receptacles of the rotary slats, and a separate counting device is associated with each rotary slat for counting each pill as it falls from the slat into the container. A positive count is provided for each container, and improperly filled slats will not affect the total count for that container. That is, if a particular container has a low count, the respective slat can be further rotated to fill the container. Because the slats are independently driven, the other slats can remain stationary to prevent overfilling. Thus, the machine permits an accurate filling of each bottle.

Although the slats can be independently driven to achieve a desired count in each container, it is typically desirable to dispense pills from most or all of the receptacles to minimize the rotation necessary for filling the container and thereby minimize the time required for filling the container. In this regard, FIGS. 1 and 3 of U.S. Pat. No. 6,185,901 illustrate a brush bar 22 that rotates in the same direction as the slats 15 so that the bottom surface of the brush rotates against the direction of the surface of the slats. The brush bar works to help seat the captured pills 11 into the openings 18 and also to divert additional pills from the delivery path. This device may operate well; however, pills may occasionally fail to be captured and the cover 80 prevents visual inspection of pills received in the openings 18.

Accordingly, there exists a need for an improved pill handling device that facilitates the capture of pills into receptacles and the dispensing of the pills into containers. The handling device should facilitate the detection and/or inspection of the pills.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides a pill handling apparatus having a plurality of rotary slats, each of which is disposed in fluid communication with a vacuum assembly. The rotary slats each have an outer surface that defines receptacles for receiving pills. The outer surface of each rotary slat may further define an outer contour sloped toward the receptacles thereof to facilitate the entry of pills into the receptacles. Air is drawn into the pill receptacles by the vacuum assembly to urge pills within a reservoir to be received by the receptacles. The rotary slats rotate to transport the pills from the reservoir to containers, which may be disposed at filling stations to receive pills from respective rotary slats. The rotary slats may be independently rotatable so that each container can be accurately filled by a respective rotary slat. The pill handling apparatus may also include a blower assembly configured to expel air from the receptacles to urge pills to be dispensed from the receptacles to the containers. Camera devices may be positioned adjacent respective rotary slats for detecting and/or inspecting pills received by the slats, e.g., before the pills are released to containers. A conveyor may move the containers and position each container adjacent a respective rotary slat for receiving pills therefrom.

A method of handling pills according to the invention includes disposing pills into contact with rotary slats, each of which has an outer surface that defines receptacles for receiving pills, and drawing air into the receptacles such that pills are urged to be received by the receptacles. The method may include rotating the rotary slats independently so that pills are transported to containers and each container can be accurately filled. The method may further include detecting and/or inspecting pills received by rotary slats using a plurality of optical devices respectively disposed adjacent the rotary slats, and expelling air from a receptacle of each rotary slat to urge pills to be dispensed from the receptacles.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

Having thus described the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, wherein:

FIG. 1 is a front elevation view of a pill handling apparatus according to one embodiment of the present invention, wherein a rotary slat is shown in a partial cross section view as seen along the line 1-1 of FIG. 4;

FIG. 2 shows a portion of the pill handling apparatus of FIG. 1 in a magnified view;

FIG. 3 is a front elevation view of the rotary slat of the apparatus of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a side elevation view of the rotary slat of FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 is a front elevation view of the rotary slat of FIG. 3, illustrating internal channels thereof in broken lines; and

FIG. 6 is a side elevation view of the apparatus of FIG. 1, illustrating multiple rotary slats and filling stations for dispensing pills into containers.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which preferred embodiments of the invention are shown. This invention may, however, be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will be thorough and complete, and will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.

The present invention is generally directed to a pill handling apparatus 10, such as an automated packaging machine. For example, the handling apparatus of the present invention can be used for dispensing pills into containers, as is discussed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,185,901 to Aylward, and in U.S. Pat. No. 6,401,429 to Aylward, the entire contents of each of which is incorporated herein by reference. In other embodiments of the present invention, the pill handling apparatus can be used for other handling operations besides pill packaging, such as transporting pills during manufacture or inspection or the like.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, the pill handling apparatus 10 is adapted for delivering pills 12 from a reservoir 14 into containers 16. As used herein, the term “pill” is not intended to be limiting and includes any discrete articles of the type used in the pharmaceutical industry or otherwise including, but not limited to, capsules, caplets, gelcaps, dragees, and tablets. Similarly, the receiving containers 16, although illustrated as bottles throughout, are not limited thereto and can be any of various configurations which provide an opening for receiving discrete articles therein, such as pouches or boxes.

As shown in FIGS. 1 and 6, the pill handling apparatus 10 includes one or more rotary slats 18 for transporting pills. As shown in FIGS. 1 and 4, each rotary slat 18 has an outer surface 20 defining receptacles 22 along one or more paths about the rotary slat. For example, the slats 18 are illustrated to have a single circumferential path of receptacles 22. Each outer surface 20 furthermore defines an outer contour 24 (FIG. 4) sloped toward the receptacles to facilitate the entry of pills into the receptacles. In particular, the outer surface 20 of each rotary slat 18 can define a continuous groove or slot that extends circumferentially around the slat 18, with the receptacles 22 being defined in the groove and the groove providing the sloped contour, so that the pills 12 are received by each groove and guided thereby into the receptacles 22.

While the receptacles 22 are illustrated to be pocket-like apertures that extend inward from the exterior of the slat 18, the apertures can have other configurations in other embodiments of the present invention. For example, the apertures can be holes, grooves, flat portions on the exterior of the slat 18, or the like. Thus, the receptacles can define positions on the outer surface of the slat 18 where the pills are received, i.e., positioned, and held during transport of the pills to the containers 16, and the receptacles need not define a contour that corresponds to the shape of the pills. Further, the receptacles can be provided with or without the illustrated grooves. That is, the receptacles can be defined on or by the outer surface of the slat, or on or by the surface of an inwardly-extending groove as shown in FIG. 1.

As shown in FIG. 1 and 6, each slats 18 may be independently mounted on a shaft 40 and may be rotated by a respective drive motor 42 and drive wheel 44 to transport pills independently of the other slats 18. Each rotary slat 18 rotates in a first direction 19 defining an arcuate delivery path from a first, pill capture position 21 (FIG. 1) within the reservoir 14 to a second, release position 23, where the pill 12 is released. As shown in FIG. 1, the release position 33 is generally about 270 degrees away from the capture position 21. The drive wheels 44 are turned by the motors 42 in a second direction 43, rotationally opposite the first direction 19. The drive wheels engage the outer surfaces 20 by friction or geared engagement and turn the rotary slats in the first direction 19.

A controller 46 can be provided for controlling the operation of the drive motor(s) 42. The controller 46 can control the drive motors independently of each other such that the rotary slats 18 can be independently rotated at various dissimilar speeds. For example, each slat 18 can be rotated at a fast speed during the initial portion of the pill filling operation until a predetermined number of the pills 12 is delivered to the respective container 16 and subsequently rotated at a slower speed to finish the filling operation and to prevent under-filling or over-filling of the container 16. By rotating the various rotary slats at dissimilar speeds, e.g., rotating one slat at relatively fast speed while another slat is rotated at a relatively slow speed (or stopped), the pills can be dispensed from the different slats at different rates. Additionally, the controller 46 can alternately accelerate and decelerate the rotary slats, individually or in unison, to cause a jerking or vibratory motion in the rotary slats 18 and agitate the pills 12. Such agitation of the pills 12 can be useful in encouraging the pills 12 to become seated in the pill receptacles 22.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, a vacuum assembly is disposed in fluid communication with each of the rotary slats and draws air into a portion of the receptacles of each rotary slat to urge pills to be received by the receptacles. In particular, the illustrated vacuum assembly includes a plurality of vacuum shrouds 30 that are each disposed adjacent a respective rotary slat 18. Air is drawn from each shroud 30 by a fan, pump, or low pressure source through a respective vacuum port 32. As shown in FIGS. 1-3 and 5, air passages 26 are formed within the rotary slat and lead inwardly from respective receptacles 22 to respective openings 28 disposed radially inwardly from the receptacles. Thus, each air passage 26 fluidly connects one of the receptacles 22 at the circumference of the slat 18 to one of the openings 28, which are defined on a side of the slat 18. In FIG. 1, those openings 28 that are temporarily disposed under the vacuum shroud 30 provide fluid communication between the respective receptacles and the shroud. In particular, the receptacles 22 temporarily disposed between the capture position 21 and the release position 23 are temporarily disposed in fluid communication with the shroud 30 such that, as air drawn from the shroud by the vacuum port 32, air is drawn into the receptacles and through the air passages 26. Dispositions of the receptacles and openings 28 are referred to herein as temporary because the rotary slats are generally rotated when the pill handling apparatus 10 is used. Thus, the vacuum assembly can selectively draw air into the receptacles 22 according to the rotational position of each rotary slat 18 so that the pills 12 are urged into the receptacles 22 at a first circumferential position (e.g., the capture position in the reservoir 14) and released from the receptacles 22 at a second circumferential position (e.g., the release position 23 for dispensing into the containers 16).

Thus, as shown in FIG. 1, and as shown in the magnified view of FIG. 2, which is taken in the vicinity of the capture position, pills 12 within the reservoir 14 are urged toward receipt and capture by the receptacles 22 because air currents and pressure differentials are present at the receptacles due to the drawing of air into the receptacles. In some cases, the pills, once seated in the receptacles, partially or entirely block the air passages 26. Thus, these descriptions relate to configurations wherein each seated pill completely seals the receiving receptacle to prevent further air flow, configurations wherein each seated pill partially seals the receiving receptacle to limit further air flow, and configurations wherein air flow is permitted without significant reduction by a pill seated in a receptacle. As a receptacle arrives at the release position 23 (FIG. 1), the opening 28 associated therewith loses fluid communication with the vacuum shroud 30 and may therefore be released from the receptacle to be received by a container 16. That is, each opening 28 is disposed under the shroud 30 while the associated receptacle 22 is rotated from the captive position 21 to the release position 23 so that the evacuation of air through the vacuum port 32 retains the pill in the associated receptacle 22; however, as each receptacle reaches the release position 23, the associated opening 28 is rotated beyond the shroud 30 so that the pill is no longer held in the receptacle 22. It is appreciated that other configurations of vacuum assemblies can be used to provide desired flow of air for controlling the seating of the pills in the rotary slats. Also, while the illustrated vacuum assembly is used to maintain the pills in the receptacles between the capture and release positions, a shroud or cover can additionally or alternatively be provided for preventing the release of the pills from the receptacles. One such cover is further disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,401,429.

As shown in FIG. 1, a brush bar 48 assists in seating pills captured by the receptacles 22, and assists in returning un-captured pills to the reservoir 14 by sweeping the un-captured pills toward the reservoir 14. The brush bar 48 can brush against the slats 18, or the brush bar 48 can be configured to operate in close proximity to the slats 18 without contacting each of the slats. As shown in FIG. 6, a drive motor 50 is controlled by the controller to rotate the brush bar in the first direction 19. Brushes are further described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,401,429 and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/001,751, both of which are incorporated herein by reference.

In some embodiments of the present invention, the pills can be released from the receptacles at the release position 23 such that the pills fall therefrom without being positively discharged from the slats 18. Alternatively, as illustrated in FIG. 1, a blower assembly can be disposed in fluid communication with each rotary slat to blow air into the slat and expel air outward from each receptacle that arrives at the release position. In particular, the blower assembly can include a plurality of blower shrouds 34 that are each disposed adjacent a respective rotary slat 18. Air is provided to the blower shroud 34 by a pump, fan, or high pressure source through a respective blower port 36. In FIG. 1, the blower shroud is disposed proximate the release position 23, and expels air from the receptacle 22 at the release position by way of the opening 28 and air passage 26 associated with that receptacle. The expelled air assists to dislodge the pill captured by the receptacle in order for the pill to be released and dispensed into the respective container 16. Thus, as each receptacle arrives at the release position 23 by movement of the rotary slat, any pill seated in the receptacle is urged to be released by the air provided by the blower shroud 34.

As illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 6, a respective optical inspection device 52 is disposed to optically inspect each particular rotary slat and detect the pills transported in the receptacles thereof In some cases, each inspection device can be an optical imaging device, such as a camera, that inspects the pills by detecting an image of each pill to determine the size, shape, or other characteristics of the pill. Thus, the inspection devices 52 can be configured to determine the presence of the pills in the receptacles and/or determine a characteristic of the pills, such as whether the pills are broken or otherwise defective. The optical inspection devices can be disposed downstream of the reservoir 14 and brush bar 48 for inspecting pills seated in receptacles 22. The optical inspection devices 52 are disposed in electrical communication with the controller 46, e.g., so that the controller can use the devices 52 to determine if pills are transported and delivered by each receptacle to the containers and the number of pills deposited in each container.

As shown in FIG. 6, a stationary spacer 38 is provided between each pair of adjacent rotary slats 18. Each stationary spacer 38 is associated with a particular rotary slat 18 and houses the vacuum shroud 30 and blower shroud 34 (FIG. 1) associated with that rotary slat. For example, a particular spacer 38a is associated with the particular rotary slat 18a and houses the particular vacuum shroud and blower shroud associated with that rotary slat 18a. The vacuum port 32a and blower port 36a extend from, or are available at, the periphery of the spacer 38a for further connection to air handling components (not shown) that draw air from the vacuum ports and provide air to the blower ports.

Each rotary slat is disposed above a respective filling station 60 where a respective container 16 receives pills. As shown in FIGS. 1 and 6, a chute 62 is disposed at each filling station 60 to guide pills from the respective rotary slat 18 to the respective container 16. As a receptacle 22 having a pill therein arrives at a release position, the pill is released from the receptacle. The release may be facilitated by gravity as the receptacle arriving at the release position loses fluid communication with the vacuum shroud. The release of the pill may also or alternatively be facilitated by air from a blower shroud being expelled through the receptacle at the release position. The pill is then guided by a chute 62 to a container 16.

The number of pills 12 delivered to each container 16 can be determined and used to direct the independent operation of the rotary slats 18. In this regard, a counting device 64 can be associated with each filling station 60 as shown in FIG. 1. Each counting device 64 can be disposed between a rotary slat 18 and the respective container 16. For example, each counting device 64 can be positioned adjacent, above, below, or within a respective chute 62 so that any pill 12 which travels through the chute will be detected by the counting device 24. While the counting devices 64 and optical inspection device 52 are illustrated as different components, a single detection device can alternatively be provided for each rotary slat to perform the counting and/or inspecting of the pills. For example, either of the illustrated counting devices 64 or inspection devices 52 can be configured to detect the pills by counting and/or inspecting the pills.

The chutes 62 are not necessary in all embodiments of the present invention. For example, in some embodiments, the containers 16 are sufficiently close to the rotary slats 18 such that guiding by a chute is not needed. If each rotary slat has more than one circumferential row or path of receptacles, the chute can direct the pills from all of the rows of a particular slat into a single container. In some embodiments, each chute 62 directs pills 12 from multiple rotary slats 18 into a single container 16 to provide rapid filling.

One exemplary counting device 64 includes an infrared light source and a light receiver positioned substantially opposite the light source across a central passage of the counting device. The light source generates a light beam that is detected by the opposing light receiver. When the light beam is interrupted by a falling pill 12, the light receiver transmits a signal which increases the count in the controller 46. Thus, the number of interruptions corresponds to the number of pills 12 which have been delivered into the container 16.

In some embodiments of the invention, the controller 46 controls the quantity of pills 12 provided in the reservoir 14. For example, a level sensor can detect the quantity of pills 12 in the reservoir 14. The quantity may be determined optically, by weight, or otherwise. The level sensor communicates a corresponding value or signal to the controller 46. When the controller 46 detects that the level of pills 12 in the reservoir 14 is below the desired level, the controller 46 can open a reservoir gate that controls the passage of pills 12 from a bin to the reservoir 14, thereby maintaining a desired number of pills 12 in the reservoir 14. The desired level of pills 12 in the reservoir 14 can be adjusted to optimize the seating of pills 12 in the receptacles 22 of the slats 18 and to prevent wearing or breaking of the pills 12 caused by overfilling of the reservoir 14.

After the containers 16 at the filling stations 60 have been filled, the containers 16 are transported away from the filling stations 60 for further processing or packaging and different, unfilled containers 16 are transported to the filling stations 60. For example, the containers 16 can be supported by a conveyor belt 70 (FIGS. 1 and 6) that is driven by a motor (not shown), in a direction 71 parallel to the axis 17 about which the rotary slats 18 rotate. Stop gates (not shown) may be disposed proximate to the conveyor belt 70 and configured to be extended to block the path of the containers on the conveyor belt and hold the containers in positions corresponding to the filling stations. A stop gate can be extended to block the path of the unfilled containers before they have entered the filling stations. Alternatively, a screw auger (not shown) can be used to transport the containers and position the containers at the filling stations. The screw auger can maintain the containers at consecutively spaced intervals, and as the screw auger is rotated, each of the containers is transported toward or away from the filling stations. Rotation of the screw auger can be adjusted to control the speed and direction of the movement of the containers. In any case, the operation of the transportation device may be controlled by the controller.

In a typical operation of the pill handling apparatus 10, the containers 16 are advanced to respective filling stations 60 and stopped. Once properly positioned at the filling stations, the rotary slats 18 can be rotated in concert to conduct the filling operation as the counts in the containers approach the desired full count. Because the rotary slats 18 are all rotated concurrently, the slats 18 fill the containers 16 at approximately the same rate. At the end of the filling operation, the controller 46 directs the filled containers 16 out of the filling stations 60 and directs other empty containers 16 to the filling stations 60. However, if any one container 16 is determined to be under-filled, that is, if less than the desired number of the pills 12 reaches the container according to the respective counting device 64, then the controller 46 directs the respective rotary slat 18 to deliver more pills to that container. Once all containers are appropriately filled, the controller 46 prompts the conveyor to advance the containers out of the filling stations. Optionally, an alarm 47 in electrical communication with the controller may alert an operator to problems. For example the alarm may sound if an accurate count cannot be automatically achieved in one or more containers, or if an optical inspection device 52 detects faulty pills.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the invention will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which this invention pertains having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.