Title:
POWERED FOLD PLATE FOR MAIL PROCESSING EQUIPMENT
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Methods and systems are provided which use a powered orientation controller incorporated into mail processing equipment in such a way to reorient materials as they pass through the equipment. In this way, the use of powered orientation controllers can provide significant advances to the flexibility of current mail processing equipment.



Inventors:
Gates, Jon (Honey Creek, IA, US)
Casto, Fred (Omaha, NE, US)
Tunink, Corey (La Vista, NE, US)
Application Number:
11/457065
Publication Date:
01/17/2008
Filing Date:
07/12/2006
Assignee:
First Data Corporation (Greenwood Village, CO, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65H29/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
TAWFIK, SAMEH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP - West Coast (Atlanta, GA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for folding a sheet-like material, the method comprising: feeding an inner portion of the sheet-like material between a first set of rollers comprising a first and a second roller which rotate in opposite directions to form a fold in the sheet-like material; capturing the sheet-like material into a holding assembly in a certain orientation; feeding the sheet-like material out from the holding assembly to a second set of rollers in the same orientation.

2. A method as in claim 1, wherein the second set of rollers comprises the second roller and a third roller which rotate in opposite directions.

3. A method as in claim 1, wherein the holding assembly comprises a housing, a solenoid, and a sensor; wherein the sheet-like material is captured in the housing; and further comprising actuating the solenoid when the sensor indicates that the sheet-like material is at a certain location in the housing, wherein the solenoid pushes the sheet-like material to the second set of rollers.

4. A method as in claim 2, further comprising feeding the sheet-like material from the second and third rollers to a first deflector which moves the sheet-like material between the third and a fourth roller.

5. A method as in claim 4, further comprising feeding the sheet-like material from the third and fourth rollers to a second deflector which moves the sheet-like material between the fourth roller and a fifth roller.

6. A method as in claim 1, further comprising placing the sheet-like material onto a conveyor.

7. A method as in claim 1, further comprising placing an insert onto the sheet-like material.

8. A method as in claim 1, further comprising stuffing at least the sheet-like material into an envelope.

9. A method as in claim 1, wherein the sheet-like material comprises a sheet of paper, and wherein the first set of rollers folds the sheet-like material substantially in half.

10. A system for processing sheet-like material, the system comprising: a first set of rollers, comprising a first roller and a second roller adjacent the first roller; wherein the first and the second rollers are configured to rotate in opposite directions so as to grab the sheet-like material at an inner portion and to fold the sheet-like material to form a folded end; a holding assembly that is configured to receive the sheet-like material from the first set of rollers in a certain orientation; a second set of rollers; and wherein the holding assembly is configured to feed the sheet-like material out from the holding assembly to the second set of rollers in the same orientation.

11. A system as in claim 10, wherein the second set of rollers comprises the second roller and a third roller adjacent the second roller, wherein the third roller is configured to rotate in a direction that is opposite the second roller.

12. A system as in claim 10, wherein: the holding assembly comprises a housing, a solenoid, and a sensor; the solenoid is configured to actuate upon receipt of a signal when the sensor senses that the sheet-like material is at a certain location in the housing; and the solenoid is further configured to push the sheet-like material to the second set of rollers.

13. A system as in claim 11, further comprising: a fourth roller that is configured to rotate in a direction opposite the third roller; and a first deflector spaced apart from the second and third rollers to deflect the sheet-like material between the third roller and the fourth roller.

14. A system as in claim 13, further comprising: a fifth roller that is configured to rotate in a direction opposite the fourth roller; and a second deflector spaced apart from the third and fourth rollers to deflect the sheet-like material between the fourth roller and the fifth roller.

15. A system as in claim 10, further comprising a conveyor for receiving the sheet-like material.

16. A system as in claim 10, further comprising an insertion mechanism for placing an insert onto the sheet-like material.

17. A system as in claim 10, further comprising a stuffing mechanism for stuffing at least the sheet-like material into an envelope.

18. A system as in claim 10, further comprising a control panel for controlling the operation of the system.

19. A system as in claim 10, further comprising a plurality of mail processing devices.

20. A feeding mechanism comprising: a housing having an open end for receiving and dispensing a sheet-like material; a sensor configured to sense when the sheet-like material has reached a certain location within the housing; and a solenoid that is configured to move the sheet-like material out of the housing upon the sensor sensing that the sheet-like material is at a certain location in the housing, and to push the sheet-like material to a set of rollers.

21. A feeding mechanism as in claim 20, wherein the solenoid comprises an air cylinder, a plunger and a plate coupled to the plunger.

22. A feeding mechanism as in claim 21, further comprising a stop that is configured to stop the plunger after moving a certain distance.

23. A feeding mechanism as in claim 20, wherein the housing includes at least one window and wherein the sensor is configured to sense a location of the sheet-like material through the window.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

This application relates generally to systems and methods for mail processing. More specifically, this application relates to systems and methods for handling the orientation of sheet material as it passes through mail processing equipment.

Over time, bulk mailings have become a critical component of advertising and notification for many types of businesses. Some types of mailings are relatively simple, involving printed postcards with pre-printed mailing labels. Others are more complicated, including documents which must be folded, custom printed, and stuffed into envelopes along with other inserts of assorted shapes, sizes, and orientations.

For example, a credit card company may desire to send new credit cards to thousands of customers. As part of the customer mailing, the company may want the cards glued to paper card carriers. They may want each paper carrier to be Z-folded and oriented such that a printed address shows through an envelope window when stuffed. Further, they may want the cards and carriers to be accompanied by various inserts, describing terms and conditions associated with the card and select promotional opportunities for the customer.

It may be critical to the efficacy of a mailing that the various mail processing steps are executed both quickly and accurately. Simple processing errors, like cards being mismatched with addresses or carriers being folded to show private information through envelope windows, can threaten the goodwill of a company as well as the privacy and security of their customers. Further, it may be required that the equipment can accomplish this near-error-free processing at speeds of thousands of mailings or more per hour.

It is therefore extremely important for a company which relies on these types of bulk mailings to have fast and reliable machines for mail processing. Many mail processing machines are known in the art. For example, the DI950 FastPacĀ® Inserting System from Pitney Bowes has a stated throughput of 5400 pieces per hour.

In addition to speed and reliability, flexibility may be crucial for companies with varying mailing needs. For this reason, these types of machines are often capable of supporting a variety of different shapes, sizes, and materials of inserts and envelopes, as well as types of folds.

Unfortunately, however, the flexibility of current processing machines is limited in terms of orientation capability. It may be desirable for various inserts to be passed through the mail processor in particular orientations. This may require that certain inserts are re-orientated (e.g. flipped) at some point during processing. This capability is currently lacking from the manufacturers of mail processing equipment.

The result is that the current configuration of mail processing machines has unsatisfactory orientation capability. Thus, it is desirable to have a mechanism that would add this functionality and allow the reorientation of inserts during the processing of mailings.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the invention can address this condition in the art by making use of a powered orientation controller incorporated into mail processing equipment in such a way as to reorient materials as they pass through the equipment. In this way, the use of powered orientation controllers can provide significant advances in the flexibility of mail processing equipment.

In a first set of embodiments, a method is provided for folding a sheet-like material. The method feeds an inner portion of the sheet-like material between a first set of rollers. This first set of rollers may comprise a first and second roller which rotate in opposite directions. By feeding the sheet-like material into the first set of rollers in this way, a fold may be formed in the sheet-like material. The method then captures the sheet-like material into a holding assembly in a certain orientation. The holding assembly then feeds the sheet-like material back out to a second set of rollers, maintaining the sheet like material in the same orientation as when it entered the holding assembly.

In some embodiments, the holding assembly comprises a housing, a solenoid, and a sensor. In these embodiments, the sheet-like material may be captured in the housing. When the sensor indicates that the sheet-like material is at a certain location in the housing, the solenoid may be actuated, pushing the sheet-like material to the second set of rollers.

In other embodiments, the second set of rollers may comprise the second roller and a third roller, which may rotate in opposite directions. In certain of these embodiments, the sheet-like material is fed from the second and third rollers to a first deflector which directs the sheet-like material to pass between the third roller and a fourth roller. In certain others of these embodiments, the sheet-like material is further fed from the third and fourth rollers to a second deflector which directs the sheet-like material to pass between the fourth roller and a fifth roller.

In still other embodiments, the sheet-like material is placed onto a conveyor. In certain embodiments, an insert is placed onto the sheet-like material. In some embodiments, at least the sheet-like material is stuffed into an envelope.

In some embodiments, the sheet-like material comprises a sheet of paper, and the first set of rollers folds the sheet-like material substantially in half.

In a second set of embodiments, a system is provided for processing sheet-like material. The system comprises a first set of rollers, a holding assembly, and a second set of rollers. The first set of rollers may comprise a first roller and a second roller adjacent the first roller. The first and the second rollers may be configured to rotate in opposite directions so as to grab sheet-like material at an inner portion so as to fold the material. The holding assembly may be configured to receive the sheet-like material from the first set of rollers in a certain orientation, and feed the sheet-like material back out to the second set of rollers in the same orientation.

In some embodiments, the holding assembly comprises a housing, a solenoid, and a sensor. In these embodiments, the solenoid may be configured to actuate upon receipt of a signal when the sensor senses that the sheet-like material is at a certain location in the housing. The solenoid may be further configured to push the sheet-like material to the second set of rollers.

In other embodiments, the second set of rollers may comprise the second roller and a third roller, which may rotate in opposite directions. In certain of these embodiments, the system further comprises a fourth roller and a first deflector. The fourth roller may be configured to rotate in a direction opposite the third roller. The first deflector may be spaced apart from the second and third rollers to deflect the sheet-like material between the third roller and fourth rollers. In certain others of these embodiments, the system further comprises a fifth roller and a second deflector. The fifth roller may be configured to rotate in a direction opposite the fourth roller. The second deflector may be spaced apart from the third and fourth rollers to deflect the sheet-like material between the fourth and fifth rollers.

In still other embodiments, the system may further comprise any or all of a conveyor for receiving the sheet-like material, an insertion mechanism for placing an insert onto the sheet-like material, a stuffing mechanism for stuffing at least the sheet-like material into an envelope, a control panel for controlling the operation of the system, or a plurality of mail processing devices.

It will be appreciated that various embodiments of the system may be configured to perform various embodiments of the method, including, but not limited to those summarized herein.

In a third set of embodiments, a feeding mechanism is provided. The feeding mechanism comprises a housing, a sensor, and a solenoid. The housing may have an open end for receiving and dispensing a sheet-like material. The sensor may be configured to sense when the sheet-like material has reached a certain location within the housing. The solenoid may be configured to move the sheet-like material out of the housing upon the sensor sensing that the sheet-like material is at a certain location in the housing, and to push the sheet-like material to a set of rollers.

In some embodiments, the solenoid comprises an air cylinder, a plunger and a plate coupled to the plunger. In certain of these embodiments, the solenoid may further comprise a stop that is configured to stop the plunger after moving a certain distance.

In some embodiments, the housing includes at least one window. In certain of these embodiments, the sensor is configured to sense a location of the sheet-like material through the window.

It will be appreciated that various embodiments of the feeding mechanism may be configured to operate with various embodiments of the method and system, including, but not limited, by those summarized herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A further understanding of the nature and advantages of the present invention may be realized by reference to the remaining portions of the specification and the drawings wherein like reference numerals are used throughout the several drawings to refer to similar components. In some instances, a sublabel is associated with a reference numeral and follows a hyphen to denote one of multiple similar components. When reference is made to a reference numeral without specification to an existing sublabel, it is intended to refer to all such multiple similar components.

FIG. 1A provides a flow diagram summarizing methods of the invention in various embodiments;

FIG. 1B provides a flow diagram summarizing a more detailed embodiment of Step 108 of FIG. 1A;

FIGS. 2A-2C provide schematic illustrations of functional elements that may be used for folding sheet-like material and an exemplary embodiment of their operation for use in embodiments of the invention;

FIG. 3 provides a schematic illustration of functional elements that may be used for folding and controlling the orientation of sheet-like material in embodiments of the invention;

FIG. 4 provides a schematic illustration of functional elements that may be used for a powered orientation controller in embodiments of the invention;

FIGS. 5A-5D provide schematic illustrations of functional elements that may be used for folding and controlling the orientation of sheet-like material and an exemplary embodiment of their operation for use in embodiments of the invention;

FIG. 6 provides an alternate schematic illustration of functional elements that may be used for folding and controlling the orientation of sheet-like material in embodiments of the invention;

FIG. 7 provides a system-level illustration of functional elements that may be used for processing mailings in embodiments of the invention; and

FIGS. 8A and 8B provide alternate embodiments of the invention wherein a powered orientation controller can be configured to act as various mail processing machine attachments.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the invention make use of a powered orientation controller incorporated into mail processing equipment in such a way as to reorient materials as they pass through the equipment. In this way, the use of powered orientation controllers can provide significant advances in the flexibility of mail processing equipment.

Many different types of machines are used in mail processing. For ease of discussion, embodiments of the invention are described herein with reference to folder machines. However, it will be appreciated that the invention may be similarly useful in conjunction with many types of mail processing machines, including inserters, sorters, meters, and scales. Further, the invention may be useful in conjunction with many other machines outside of mail processing, including printers, scanners, fax machines, and other devices for which material orientation may be important.

Folding machines tend to be used in mail processing systems to fold materials for mailings. These machines are often capable of executing a number of different types of folds, including Z-folds, C-folds, double folds, and bi-folds. These folds are executed on one or more pieces of sheet material. This sheet material may be paper, metal, plastic, rubber, or any other natural or artificial material which may be folded. While folding typically involves creating a creased, folded end and two free ends; a folder could also conceivably be used to bend or even break materials with varying properties.

FIGS. 2A-2C illustrate use of an exemplary folding machine 200 to execute a bi-fold on a piece of paper 210. The paper 210 feeds through rollers 202-1 and 202-2, which rotate in opposite directions. It will be appreciated that each roller 202 may actually comprise multiple rollers working to advance the sheet material 210. In fact, the rollers 202 may be configured in any way suitable for advancing the sheet material, including, but not limited to, being manufactured with different materials, coatings, enclosures, and coverings. For example, while smooth plastic rollers 202 may be sufficient for some applications, other applications may require knurled metal or corrugated rubber.

As the paper 210 moves through the rollers 202-1 and 202-2, it enters a fold plate 204. The fold plate 204 may be sized and oriented as needed to capture the sheet material 210. The paper 210 keeps moving until at least one edge collides with a stop plate 206. The position of the stop plate 206 may be adjusted for different types of folds, different shapes and sizes of material, or for any number of other reasons. Further, the fold plate 204 may be sized such that the stop plate is the back end of the inside of the fold plate 204.

As illustrated in FIG. 2B, even though at least one edge of the paper 210 is prevented from progressing forward by the stop plate 206, the rest of the paper 210 continues to feed through the rollers 202-1 and 202-2. As the paper 210 continues to feed, a fold 208 begins to form at an inner portion of the paper 210.

As illustrated in FIG. 2C, the formation of the fold 208 causes the inner portion of the paper 210 to feed through rollers 202-2 and 202-3. As the fold 208 or the paper 210 feeds through rollers 202-2 and 202-3, it collides with a deflector 212. A deflector may be either stationary or movable, and may be active or passive. For example, the deflector may be a shaped piece of plastic which passively diverts the sheet material, or the deflector may be a device like a lever arm or roller which actively moves the sheet material. Depending on the type of deflector, the deflector may be positioned appropriately to be capable of diverting the sheet material. For added flexibility, the position, orientation and other features of the deflector may be adjustable either manually or by some automated control system.

The deflector 212 routes the paper 210 to feed through rollers 202-3 and 202-4. In this way, the paper 210 exits the folder machine 200 in a folded condition.

It will be appreciated that while four rollers 202, one fold plate 204, and one deflector 212 are depicted in FIG. 2, many numbers and configurations of rollers 202, fold plates 204, and deflectors 212 are possible. For example, some types of folds (like Z-folds, double folds, and C-folds) require that sheet material 210 is fed through two stages of rollers 202 and fold plates 204. For various reasons, including adding flexibility, many mail processing machines are configured with multiple stages of rollers 202, fold plates 204, and deflectors 212, some of which may be interchanged or rearranged.

Unfortunately, while the use of rollers, fold plates, and deflectors provides many options with regard to fold type, they provide no simple way to adjust the orientation of the sheet material as it passes through the system. This may be critical where, for example, the paper exits the folding machine onto a conveyor. Without some way to flip the orientation of the material during processing, the folded material will always exit with the same side facing the conveyor, making it difficult or impossible to insert materials on that side of the folded material. Improper orientation may also affect the ability for future processing of the mailing, including future inserts, printing, or stuffing.

FIG. 1A illustrates one embodiment of a method for providing orientation control during processing. Sheet material is fed 102 to a first set of rollers, which form a fold. This may be accomplished in any suitable way, including the one illustrated in FIGS. 2A-2C and described above. Accordingly, the first set of rollers may comprise at least a first and second roller, which may be configured to rotate in opposite directions. The folded sheet material is captured 104 in a holding assembly in a certain orientation. The sheet material is then fed 108 out of the holding assembly in the same orientation to a second set of rollers. This second set of rollers may share rollers with the first set of rollers. For example, the first set of rollers may comprise a first and second roller, and the second set of rollers may comprise the second roller and a third roller. In that case, the third roller may be configured to rotate in a direction opposite that of the second roller.

FIG. 1B illustrates an embodiment of a method for using a powered orientation controller to feed 108 the sheet material out of the holding assembly in the same orientation. As the sheet material enters the holding assembly at reference point A 106, a sensor senses 110 whether the sheet material has reached a designated location within the holding assembly. If the sheet material has not 113-1 reached the designated location, the sensor continues to check 110 for the presence of the material. If the sensor senses that sheet material has 113-2 reached the designated location, a solenoid may be actuated 114 which pushes a plate and ejects the sheet material. Because the sheet material enters and exits the holding assembly in the same orientation, its orientation relative to the processing machine is flipped at reference point B 116. This orientation control capability is discussed further in reference to FIGS. 5A-5D, below.

Though in the exemplary embodiment, the sheet material continues to be processed after leaving the holding assembly 116, it will be appreciated that the sheet material could simply be fed out of a processing machine at this point in its inverted orientation either through a second set of rollers or directly. In that case, the method would be complete at 116.

In the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 1A, however, the sheet material may continue to be processed, reaching a first deflector. There, the material may be deflected 118 to pass between a third set of rollers. The material may be further deflected 120 by a second deflector to pass between a fourth set of rollers. These third and fourth sets of rollers may be independent of the first and second sets of rollers, or they may share one or more rollers with other sets. For example, where the second set of rollers comprises the second roller and a third roller; the third set of rollers may comprise the third roller and a fourth roller, and the fourth set of rollers may comprise the fourth roller and a fifth roller.

The material may then feed 122 out to a conveyor where it may be further transported and processed. The conveyor may be any device or assembly capable of advancing the sheet material. To this end, types of conveyors may include, but are not limited to, belts and sets of rollers. Additionally, the conveyor may be active or passive, causing the material to be pushed, pulled, guided, or otherwise advanced through the system. For example, sheet material may move along the conveyor because of a motor-driven belt, or it may simply roll down a set of rollers by gravity.

Further processing may involve placing 124 an insert on the sheet material. This may be done manually or automatically, for example with an inserter. The insert may be any other material to be included in the processing. Also, any or all of the inserts may be placed on or affixed to one another or the sheet material. The sheet material may then be stuffed 126 either alone or with other inserts into an envelope.

For example, if a company is sending new credit cards to customers, the sheet material may be a credit card carrier made of heavy paper. After passing through a folder machine, the carrier may be tri-folded. A credit card may then be inserted into slots in the carrier as a first insert, a promotional sticker may be glued to the carrier as a second insert, and a set of brochures may be placed on top of the sheet material. The carrier, card, and all other inserts may then be stuffed into an envelope.

Importantly, it may be desirable to invert the orientation of the sheet material at various points during the processing of the credit card mailing. In one example, the company may wish to insert the credit card on a particular side of the carrier. Without a powered orientation controller, the carrier may leave a folder machine in an incorrect orientation. This may significantly disrupt the processing by either forcing a manual flipping of the carrier or limiting the flexibility of the processing operation.

In another example, after inserting the inserts, the company may wish to ensure that the address information printed on the carrier shows through a window in the envelope for mailing. The printed address information may be on the side of the carrier opposite the credit card insertion side. Thus, the orientation of the carrier would need to be inverted before the carrier could be properly stuffed into the envelope.

Depending on the needs of the company, even further processing may be desired. For example, even after being stuffed into an envelope, a mailing may pass through a postage scale, a postage printer, and a mail sorter. It will be appreciated that many peripheral processing devices may be desirable depending on the type of mailing.

To effectuate these different mailing options, the use of powered orientation controllers may be desired in various machines at various stages of the processing method. Additionally, the powered orientation controllers may be used to invert the orientation of any number of inserts during processing, and to assist in accomplishing a number of different processing goals.

An exemplary embodiment of a powered orientation controller being used with a folder machine is illustrated in FIG. 3. The folder 300 may be substantially an enhanced version of the folder 200 illustrated in FIG. 2. As in FIG. 2, the first stage of the folder 300 comprises a set of rollers (202-1, 202-2, and 202-3) and a fold plate 204 with a plate stop 206. Unlike folder 200, folder 300 comprises a second stage with a powered orientation controller 400 and another roller 202-4.

An embodiment of the powered orientation controller is illustrated in FIG. 4. The powered orientation controller 400 may comprise a housing 402, a solenoid 404, and a sensor 420.

The housing 402 may be sized, shaped, and otherwise configured as appropriate for receiving sheet material. To receive the sheet material, the housing 402 may have an open end 403. The shape of this open end 403 may be configured to work in conjunction with other elements of a mail processing system. For example, as used in exemplary enhanced folder machine 300 (see FIG. 3), the upper lip of the open end 403 is curved upward to aid in the receipt of the folded sheet material as the material exits rollers 202-2 and 202-3.

The housing 402 may also be further configured with structural, mechanical, electrical, or other features to work more effectively in conjunction with a mail processing system. For example, machine rails, locking mechanisms, and other components may allow the powered orientation controller 400 to be inserted and locked into a folding machine. Other examples may include, but are not limited to paper guides, sensors, and rollers. These components may be incorporated into the housing (e.g. machined or molded into the shape of the body) or they may be attached to the body (e.g. with chemical or structural fasteners). Further, these components may be adjustable. Among other potential purposes, the adjustments may allow the powered folding plate 400 to be used on multiple machines or in multiple locations.

The solenoid 404 may be configured in any way suitable for feeding the sheet material out of the housing 402. For example, the solenoid may comprise an air cylinder 406 and plunger 408, with a plate 410 coupled to the plunger 408. It will be appreciated that there may exist many other ways for ejecting the sheet material from the housing 402, including, but not limited to, powered rollers and conveyors, vacuum pumps, air guns, levers, and electromagnets.

The solenoid 404 may further comprise other electrical, mechanical, or other elements to assist in properly feeding the sheet material out from the housing 402. For example, the solenoid may be configured with a stop which prevents the plunger from moving further than some distance or past a particular location within the housing. Elements for assisting the ejecting of the sheet material from the housing 402 may be incorporated in the solenoid 404, the housing 402, or any other suitable location or may be affixed to some suitable location. Further, components of the solenoid may be adjustable for various reasons, including working with different machines and different types of sheet material.

The powered orientation controller 400 may be configured to actuate the solenoid 404 and feed the sheet material out from the housing 402 when the sheet material passes or reaches a certain location within the housing 402. This may be accomplished by using a sensor 420 to detect whether the sheet material has passed or reached the certain location within the housing 402.

The sensor 420 may be configured in any way suitable for detecting the presence of sheet material. In one example, the sensor 420 may comprise an optical detection element (e.g. photodiode or charge coupled device) and the housing may comprise a window 422. When the optical detector 420 senses that sheet material has passed the window 422, the solenoid 404 may be actuated and the sheet material may be fed out from the housing 402. Alternatively or in addition to optical detectors, the sensor 420 may detect the presence of the sheet material using electrical detectors (e.g. resistance, capacitance, or mutual inductance), mechanical detectors (e.g. levers or switches), combinations of detectors, sets of detectors, or any other suitable detection method. Further, the sensor may be configured to sense continuously or periodically, and it may communicate with the solenoid using analog or digital signals.

FIGS. 5A-5D illustrate an embodied use of an enhanced folder machine 300 which may use a powered orientation controller 400 to invert the orientation of sheet material after bi-folding paper 210. Beginning with FIG. 5A, paper 210 enters the enhanced folder machine 300 by feeding between rollers 202-1 and 202-2. In FIG. 5B, the paper 210 may contact a stop plate 206 in a first folding plate 204, causing it to fold and feed into rollers 202-2 and 202-3. In FIG. 5C, after leaving rollers 202-2 and 202-3, the paper 210 feeds into the powered orientation controller 400. In FIG. 5D, upon sensing the presence of the paper 210, a solenoid is actuated, causing a plunger to move a plate, as indicated by arrow 510. This causes the paper 210 to feed out of the powered orientation controller 400 to rollers 202-3 and 202-4.

Importantly, using the powered orientation controller in this way allows sheet material to feed out from the orientation controller in the same orientation as when it fed into the orientation controller. By allowing the sheet material to feed out in the same orientation, the orientation may actually invert relative to a typical configuration of folder machine. This may be accomplished by using a powered orientation controller in place of a deflector.

To better understand this embodiment, it may be instructive to compare FIG. 2C with FIG. 5D. Note that in both figures, the paper 210 exits rollers 202-2 and 202-3 in a folded condition with a folded end and two free ends. In FIG. 2C, the deflector 212 then causes the paper 210 to route through rollers 202-3 and 202-4 folded end first. However, in FIG. 5D, the paper 210 feeds out from the powered orientation controller 400 into rollers 202-3 and 202-4 with the free ends first. By feeding the paper 210 out in this way, the orientation may be effectively inverted. It will be appreciated that rollers, fold plates, deflectors, and other mail processing elements may be configured in many different ways, while still allowing for the use of one or more powered orientation controllers for added orientation control.

FIG. 6 illustrates one of these alternate embodiments. Note that enhanced folder machine 600 differs from enhanced folder machine 300 (see FIG. 3) in two ways. First, in enhanced folder machine 300, after sheet material is fed out of the powered orientation controller 400, it feeds directly into rollers 202-3 and 202-4. In enhanced folder machine 600, however, after sheet material is fed out of the powered orientation controller 400, it contacts a deflector 610. The deflector 610 then routes the sheet material to feed through rollers 202-4 and 202-5. Second, in enhanced folder machine 300, rollers 202-3 and 202-4 are depicted as rotating in opposite directions to facilitate the advancement of sheet material through the machine. In enhanced folder machine 600, however, the sheet material is diverted to a different set of rollers, rollers 202-4 and 202-5. Therefore, while rollers 202-4 and 202-5 rotate in opposite directions, rollers 202-3 and 202-4 may rotate in the same direction.

FIG. 7 illustrates another alternate embodiment, in which an enhanced folder machine 710 is used as part of a larger mail processing system 700. The folder machine 710 comprises six rollers 202, two deflectors 212, and a powered orientation controller 400. Sheet material may exit the folder machine 710 through rollers 202-5 and 202-6 and onto a conveyor 720. The conveyor 720 may be configured in any way suitable for receiving the sheet material.

The sheet material is then fed to one or more peripheral mail processing machines 730. The peripheral machines 730 may or may not be integrated with one another, and may or may not be automated. Peripheral machines 730 include, but are not limited to, folders, inserters, envelope stuffers, printers, scales, and sorters.

Further, some or all of the system may be connected to a control panel 740. The control panel 740 may allow an operator to perform one or more of a number of functions, including programming, adjusting, operating, monitoring, diagnosing, and fixing the system 700. The control panel 740 may comprise a set of control panels which are collocated or distributed. Further, the control panel 740 may be integrated with the system or remote to the system, and it may have a connection 742 to the system which is wired or wireless.

For example, a control panel 740 may be connected by Ethernet to the enhanced folder machine 710. Using the control panel 740, an operator may be able to adjust the sensitivity of the sensor in the powered orientation controller 400 and change the speed at which paper feeds into the machine 710 and at which rollers 202 rotate. The panel 740 may also signal the operator as to paper jams or other malfunctions.

In various embodiments, powered orientation controllers may be used in lieu of either a diverter, passive fold plate, or other similar attachment in a mail processing machine. FIGS. 8A and 8B illustrate other embodiments of the powered orientation controller in which the features of those other attachments may be incorporated into a powered orientation controller.

FIG. 8A, for example, depicts a powered orientation controller configured to act as a diverter. The orientation controller 400 is configured so that the end mimics the end shape of a diverter. In this exemplary embodiment, this is accomplished by inserting a plug 810 into the end of the orientation controller 400, the plug being shaped like the end of a diverter 212 (see FIG. 2). As sheet material feeds through rollers 202-2 and 202-3, the material will collide with the diverter-shaped end 810 of the orientation controller 400. This will cause the material to be routed through rollers 202-3 and 202-4 without any orientation adjustment. It will be appreciated that the same end could be accomplished in a number of alternate ways. For example, by forming the diverter shape into one side of the stop plate 820, the orientation controller 400 could dynamically switch between acting as a powered orientation controller and a diverter.

Similarly, FIG. 8B depicts a powered orientation controller configured to act as a passive fold plate. In this embodiment, the stop plate 820 of the powered orientation controller 400 is set in a desired position. The position may be locked either by the solenoid or by some other mechanism. As with the embodiments of FIG. 8A, the position of the stop plate 820 could be programmed or dynamically adjusted to add flexibility to the mail processing system.

Further, the features of FIGS. 8A and 8B could also be combined. For example, a powered orientation controller could be configured with a stop plate, wherein the face of the plate is shaped like a diverter and the location of the plate within the housing is settable. This type of embodiment could create even greater flexibility in mail processing by allowing a machine or operator to program or dynamically change the purpose of an orientation controller within a processing system. For instance, an operator could program a system to independently control the orientation or even types of fold associated with each sheet as it passes through a processing system.

It will be appreciated that components of the systems described herein can be rearranged or connected differently to perform similar or identical functions; and steps of the methods described herein may be performed in alternate orders and still provide similar or identical results.

Thus, having described several embodiments, it will be recognized by those of skill in the art that various modifications, alternative constructions, and equivalents may be used without departing from the spirit of the invention. Accordingly, the above description should not be taken as limiting the scope of the invention, which is defined in the following claims.