Title:
Tire and Wheel Mounting System and Method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for providing at least a partially mounted tire and wheel assembly is disclosed. The system includes the steps of using a prime mover to bring a tire and wheel together and using the primer mover to work on at least one of the tire or the wheel to mount the tire and the wheel together, wherein the work performed by the prime mover is the only positive work introduced into the tire/wheel system.



Inventors:
Lawson, Lawrence J. (Troy, MI, US)
Reece, Robert (Clarkston, MI, US)
Standen, Richard J. (Grosse Ile, MI, US)
Hamilton, Richard E. (Flint, MI, US)
Application Number:
11/957068
Publication Date:
07/03/2008
Filing Date:
12/14/2007
Assignee:
Android Industries LLC (Auburn Hills, MI, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B60C25/132
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MULLER, BRYAN R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HONIGMAN LLP (Kalamazoo, MI, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of at least partially mounting a tire and a wheel together, comprising the steps of: using a prime move to engage one of a tire or a wheel and to carry the engaged tire or wheel proximate to the other to define a tire/wheel system; using said prime mover to bring a portion of the wheel and a bead portion of the tire in contact with one another; using said prime mover to exert work directly on at least one of the wheel and the tire to render the bead portion of the tire at least partially mounted to the wheel, wherein the work exerted by the prime mover is the only positive work introduced into the tire/wheel system.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the prime mover performs work directly on said wheel, and indirectly on said tire through said wheel.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein said work rendered by said prime mover includes revolvingly manipulating the prime mover.

4. The method of claim 3, wherein said prime mover performs work directly on said wheel, and indirectly on said tire through said wheel by precessionally moving the wheel against the tire.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein said work rendered by said prime mover further includes moving said prime mover at least in one of a precessional, linear, plunging, rotational pendulum, or sinusoidal motion.

6. The method of claim 5, wherein said prime mover movement includes combining two or more precessional, linear, plunging, rotational, pendulum, or sinusoidal motions.

7. A method for providing at least a partially mounted tire and wheel assembly, comprising the steps of: a) bringing together a portion of a wheel and tire wherein the wheel defines a wheel axis of rotation and wherein the tire defines a tire axis of rotation, and b) revolvingly manipulating one of the tire and the wheel to provide at least a partially mounted tire and wheel assembly.

8. The method of claim 7, further including the step of: c) moving at least one of the tire and the wheel linearly along a plunging axis.

9. The method according to claim 7, wherein step a) includes bringing together a portion of a wheel and a portion of a tire using: a pendulum motion, and disposing the portion of the wheel adjacent a first bead of the tire, wherein the portion of the wheel is a drop center portion.

10. The method according to claim 7, further comprising the steps of: c) arranging a plurality of rollers adjacent an axial end surface of the tire; d) displacing at least one of the rollers toward the axial end surface of the tire to urge a second bead of the tire toward the wheel; e) rotating the wheel relative to the tire.

11. A method for providing at least a partially mounted tire and wheel assembly, comprising the steps of: orienting a tire and a wheel relative to one another, wherein the tire includes a bead and an axis, and wherein the wheel includes a circumference; revolvingly manipulating at least one of the tire and the wheel; and urging at least one of the tire and the wheel against the other.

12. The method of claim 11, wherein said orienting step includes positioning at least one of said tire and wheel so that an angle of approach which is equal to zero degrees is established.

13. The method of claim 11, wherein said orienting step includes positioning at least one of said tire and wheel such that an angle of approach θ, that is not equal to zero degrees is established.

14. The method of claim 11, wherein said urging step includes moving at least one of the tire and wheel along a plunging axis.

15. The method of claim 14, wherein the plunging axis is generally coincident with the tire axis of rotation.

16. The system of claim 11, wherein the wheel is rotated relative to the tire.

17. The system of claim 11, wherein the wheel has an axis of rotation and the tire has an axis of rotation, wherein the orienting step further includes the step of orienting the wheel's axis of rotation non-parallel to the tire's axis of rotation.

18. The system of claim 11, further including the step of: pinching the sidewalls of the tire toward one another.

19. A device for mounting a tire to a wheel, comprising: a master actuator adapted to be coupled to at least one of a tire or a wheel for: i) engaging the at least one of a tire or a wheel; and ii) while engaged to said at least one of a tire or a wheel, transporting said at least one of a tire or a wheel in proximity to the other, and iii) while engaged to said at least one of a tire or a wheel, revolvingly manipulating the at least one of the tire or wheel to at least partially mount the tire and the wheel together.

20. The device of claim 19, further including: a compression mechanism for compressingly engaging a sidewall portion of the wheel.

21. The device of claim 19, wherein the master actuator includes a pivot joint coupled to a rotary actuator for allowing the at least one of the tire and the wheel to pivot.

22. The device of claim 20, wherein the compression mechanism includes at least one pair of pinching fingers for compressingly engaging opposing side walls of the tire.

23. The device of claim 19, wherein said circular manipulating of said actuator includes at least one of means for manipulating rotatingly and means for manipulating precessionally.

24. The device of claim 19, further including a plurality of rollers adapted to engage said tire.

25. The device of claim 21, wherein at lest one of said rollers in said plurality of rollers is coupled to a repositional roller which may be manipulated toward or away from the tire.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of Provisional Patent Application No. 60/882,377 filed on Dec. 28, 2006 and Provisional Patent Application No. 60/984,853 filed on Nov. 2, 2007.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The disclosure relates to tire and wheel assemblies and to a system and method for mounting tires and wheels together.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Partially automated equipment for mounting vehicle tires to vehicle wheels is well known. Some of this equipment is designed to be used, for example, in an automobile repair shop setting where, for example, low volume tire-wheel mounting tasks are common.

Fully automated equipment for mounting vehicle tires to vehicle wheels is also well known. Fully automated systems typically employ delivery systems wherein tires and wheels are continually fed to an apparatus that mounts vehicle wheels to vehicle tires. Equipment which is fully automated can easily mount hundreds of tires to wheels in an eight hour work shift.

Although fully automated tire mounting equipment is known, it lacks compactness and it often includes a significant financial investment because of the sophisticated controls, actuators, mechanisms, sensors, and the like that have been traditionally used for manipulating the tires and wheels into position, mounting the tires onto the wheels, and moving the tire/wheel assembly away from the mounting machine. The most common automated approach to mounting vehicle tires to vehicle wheels includes (1) fixing the vehicle wheels in a stationary position, (2) partially manipulating the vehicle tire over at least an edge portion of the vehicle wheel, and (3) using an installation tool to urge a remaining portion of the tire bead over an edge portion of the wheel. This urging step has traditionally been carried out by downwardly urging the tire bead over the wheel bead seat by way of an installation tool (e.g. a roller wheel) or the like.

Although the above methods for mounting a vehicle tire to a vehicle wheel are effective, these methods are expensive to implement and require significant factory floor space. The present invention overcomes drawbacks associated with the prior art by setting forth a simple method for mounting a vehicle tire to a vehicle wheel such that only minimal equipment and minimal space is necessary.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The disclosure will now be described, by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIGS. 1A-1C illustrate a series of steps for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 1D-1J depict various exemplary embodiments of revolving and non-revolving movement patterns contemplated by the present invention;

FIGS. 2A-2D illustrate a series of steps for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 3 illustrates a top view of the series of steps for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel according to FIGS. 2A-2D;

FIGS. 4A-4D illustrate a series of steps for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 5A-5D illustrate a top view of the series of steps for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel according to FIGS. 4A-4D respectively;

FIG. 6 illustrates an environmental view of a system for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 7A-7E illustrate a series of steps for mounting a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel according to the system shown in FIG. 6;

FIG. 8 illustrates an environmental view of the system of FIGS. 6-7D that mounted a vehicle tire and a vehicle wheel;

FIG. 9A is yet another embodiment of the system of the present invention showing a vehicle tire in a non-pinched orientation.

FIG. 9B is the system of FIG. 9A showing a tire bead in a pinched position.

FIG. 9C is the system of FIG. 9A showing the tire bead maintained in a pinched position wherein a vehicle wheel is rotated about a first axis and urged along a second axis into the pinched bead seat area of a vehicle tire.

FIG. 9D is the system of FIG. 9A wherein a first bead of a tire wheel has passed completely through an opening formed by the pinched portion of a tire bead.

FIG. 10A is a still a further embodiment of the present invention wherein a vehicle wheel is rotated about a first axis while being urged along a second axis.

FIG. 10B is the system of FIG. 10A wherein the bead seating portion of the wheel is partially passed through an opening formed by a first bead of the tire.

FIG. 10C is the system of FIG. 10A wherein a first bead seat portion of the wheel is completely passed through an opening formed by the first bead of the tire.

FIG. 10D is the system of FIG. 10A wherein the first bead seat of the wheel is completely passed through a second opening formed by a second bead of the tire.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The Figures illustrate an exemplary embodiment of a system and method for mounting a tire to a wheel in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. Based on the foregoing, it is to be generally understood that the nomenclature used herein is simply for convenience and the terms used to describe the invention should be given the broadest meaning by one of ordinary skill in the art. For example, the phrase “mounting a tire to a wheel” is used throughout this disclosure and it is synonymous with “mounting a wheel to a tire.” Also the phrase “tire axis of rotation” or “wheel axis of rotation” is understood to mean the imaginary axis around which a tire or wheel rotates when it is functioning in a vehicle. Also, the term “revolvingly manipulating” a tire or a wheel, is used throughout the disclosure. This term is to be broadly construed as covering at least the movement patterns contemplated in FIGS. 1D through 1J. Specifically, FIG. 1D depicts a simple rotation of a wheel W, or a tire T about its respectively associated wheel axis WA, tire axis TA. FIG. 1E depicts a rotation of a wheel W, or a tire T about an axis OA-OA wherein the wheel axis WA or tire axis TA is spaced a distance R from the axis OA-OA. FIG. 1F depicts the combined rotations shown in FIGS. 1D and 1E in that the wheel W, or tire T rotates about its own respective axis WA, TA as well as about a second axis OA-OA wherein the wheel axis WA or tire axis TA is spaced from axis OA-OA by a distance R. In FIG. 1G, the rotational path of wheel W, or tire T is similar to that shown in conjunction with FIG. 1D except that the wheel axis WA or tire axis TA is pitched at an angle θ from the axis OA-OA (WA, TA is generally parallel to OA-OA in FIG. 1D through FIG. 1F). FIG. 1H shows the rotation of the wheel W, or tire T about offset axis OA-OA without rotation about its own respective axis WA, TA. FIG. 1I depicts the compound motion of the wheel W or the tire T about its own respective axis WA, TA as well as offset axis OA-OA. FIG. 1J depicts a helical rotational path traced out by wheel W or tire T wherein the wheel W or tire T is rotated in any manner shown in FIGS. 1D-1H in addition to being translated in a direction parallel to offset axis OA-OA. As is readily apparent from the depiction of FIG. 1A, the path traced out by wheel W, or tire T, in the embodiment of FIG. 1J is a path generally defined as a helix.

Referring to FIGS. 1A-3, a system for mounting a tire, T, and a wheel, W, is shown generally at 10 according to an embodiment. Although the system 10 is explained primarily from the vantage point of constraining the tire (i.e. impeding its movement relative to the wheel) and manipulating the wheel to mount the wheel to the tire, it is to be understood that system 10 may also be used by constraining the movement of the wheel (relative to the tire) and manipulating the tire to mount the tire to the wheel. In either mounting procedure, the system 10 yields a fully or partially mounted tire-wheel assembly, TW (see, e.g., FIGS. 1C, 3, 4D, 6, 8).

It is important to note that the present invention eliminates the need of traditional installation tools (sometimes referred to as removing tools, fitting tools, pressure roller wheels, tool packs, press-in rollers, bead deflectors, or the like) used in mounting a tire to a wheel. Because the present invention eliminates traditional installation tools, it is accurate to characterize the present invention as a “tool-less” mounting system. In an embodiment, the present invention could also be understood as a mounting system wherein the wheel and the tire are manipulated in a way such that at least one of them performs work directly on the other (without the use of an intermediate tool). In this sense the “work performer” functions as the installation tool (or at least as part of the installation tool). In an embodiment, one of the tire or the wheel is driven by a prime mover (e.g. an electric motor), while the other remains passive. If the tire and wheel are considered a system (in the physics sense of the word), no other prime mover is used to introduce energy into the tire/wheel system. This approach is vastly different from traditional methods all of which include the use of intermediate installation tools (powered by a prime mover) to mount the tire to the wheel.

In an embodiment, a “partial” mounting of a tire, T, and a wheel, W, may include one of the beads, B1, B2, of the tire, T, being partially or fully disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W (see, e.g., FIGS. 1C and 3). In an embodiment, a “full” mounting of a tire, T, and a wheel, W, may include one of the beads, B1, B2, of the tire, T, being fully disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W (see, e.g. FIGS. 4D and 6). In an embodiment, a “full” mounting of a tire, T, and a wheel, W, may also include both of the beads B1, B2, of the tire, T, being fully disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W (see, e.g., FIG. 8). Accordingly, it will be appreciated that the mounting of a tire, T, and a wheel, W, may include the partial or full locating of one or more beads, B1, B2 about the circumference, WC, of the tire, T, (to create a tire/wheel assembly) and that the tire, T, and wheel, W, assembly may be passed along for additional processing in a subsequent station (not shown) that may include, for example, the match-marking, inflating, bead seating, uniformity testing, and balancing of the mounted tire-wheel assembly, TW.

Referring initially to FIG. 1A, the system 10 may include a master actuator adapted to be coupled to at least one or a tire or a wheel. The master actuator may include actuator 25, a wheel support arm assembly 12 including a rotating actuator 14, which is coupled between a base 16 and a spindle 18. The spindle 18 is coupled to the wheel W, for example, to the central hub portion of the wheel, W. It is contemplated that actuation tasks accomplished by master actuator 25 may be accomplished by a general purpose robot and for convenience, reference numeral 25 references a block which is labeled “robot.” However, it is to be understood that although a robot can be used to accomplish the actuation motion (or motions) herein disclosed in association with the present invention, it is also understood that very simple machines can also be used to accomplish the movement taught herein. In some cases these may be automated but in other cases it may also be simply manually manipulated. Thus, nothing in this disclosure is to be construed in any way which limits its applicability to robotic base systems.

As illustrated, the tire, T, includes a first bead, B1, and a second bead, B2. An axis, AT-AT, extends through a center or rotational axis of the tire, T. The axis, AT-AT, is hereinafter referred to as a tire axis and it corresponds to the actual rotational axis of the tire when the tire is used on a vehicle.

As illustrated, the wheel, W, includes a first bead seat, S1, that is adapted to receive and seat the first bead, B1, and a second bead seat, S2, that is adapted to receive and seat the second bead, B2. It will be appreciated that the entire circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, defines the first and second bead seats, S1, S2.

An axis, AW-AW, may extend through a center point or axis of rotation of the wheel, W. The axis, AW-AW, is hereinafter referred to as a wheel axis. AW-AW corresponds to the actual rotational axis of the wheel when the wheel is mounted to a vehicle axle.

The base 16 may be coupled to an actuator, which is shown generally at 25, that is capable of moving the entire wheel support arm assembly 12, and, accordingly, the wheel, W, in three-dimensional space. As illustrated, the wheel axis, AW-AW, extends through the wheel support arm assembly 12, and accordingly, movement of the wheel support arm assembly 12 by way of the actuator 25 also results in the movement of the wheel axis, AW-AW.

In an embodiment, the actuator 25 is capable of moving the wheel support arm assembly 12, to accomplish any combination of motions M such as a generally linear motion, (see, e.g., FIGS. 1A-1C), a precessional motion, P1-P4 (see, e.g., FIGS. 1G-1I, 2A-3), or, in an embodiment, in a plunging motion, P (see, e.g. FIGS. 4A-5D), or, in an embodiment, a non-precessional, rotational motion (see, e.g., FIGS. 7A-7E), in a pendulum motion, in a sinusoidal motion, or any combination thereof. The actuator 25 may be an automated device (such as a robot) that is governed by a processor (not shown), or, alternatively, a manually-operated device that is overseen and physically operated by a person (not shown).

In an embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 1A-1C, in a first step, the support arm assembly 12 is swung, dropped or otherwise moved generally according to the direction of the arrow, M. Motion M may be any motion, or combination of motions (including a linear, a sinusoidal, or a pendulum). As seen in FIG. 1A, the assembly 12 moves the wheel, W, proximate the tire, T. Then, in FIG. 1B, the assembly 12 moves a drop center portion, DC, of the wheel, W, proximate the first bead, B1, of the tire, T. Referring to FIGS. 1C/2A, the assembly 12 moves the drop center portion, DC, of the wheel, W, adjacent the first bead, B1, of the tire, T, such that a portion of the first bead, B1, of the tire, T, is pressed firmly against a portion of the drop center of the wheel, W.

As seen in FIGS. 2A, prior to the actuator 25 causing further movement of the assembly 12 and wheel, W, the actuator 25 locates the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, such that the wheel axis, AW-AW, is canted θ (i.e. not parallel to the tire axis, AT-AT). In an embodiment, the actuator 25 may then move the wheel support arm assembly 12 and, accordingly, the wheel, W, as well as the wheel axis, AW-AW, relative the tire, T, and the tire axis, AT-AT, sweeping out a precessional motion according to the direction of the arrows P1-P4 (FIGS. 2A-3, and 1G). In general, the precessional movement, P1-P4, is defined by canting the wheel axis relative to the tire axis, and then rotating the wheel axis, AW-AW, about the tire axis, AT-AT, such that the movement of the wheel axis, AW-AW, about the tire axis, AT-AT, sweeps out an area that generally defines a surface of a cone. During the precessional movement of W, it may be advantageous with some tire T/wheel W combinations to also rotate wheel W about its own AW-AW axis FIG. 1H using rotating actuator 14.

Referring first to FIG. 2A, the actuator 25 may cause the wheel support arm assembly 12 to precessionally locate the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, for example, at the “9 o'clock position” (see, e.g., FIG. 3) for precessional movement of the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, to the “12 o'clock position” (see, e.g., FIG. 3) according to the clockwise direction of the arrow, P1. Then, as seen in FIG. 2B, the actuator 25 may cause the wheel support arm assembly 12 to precessionally locate the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, for example, at the “12 o'clock position” for precessional movement of the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, to the “3 o'clock position” according to the clockwise direction of the arrow, P2. Then, as seen in FIG. 2C, the actuator 25 may cause the wheel support arm assembly 12 to precessionally locate the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, for example, at the “3 o'clock position” for precessional movement of the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, to the “6 o'clock position” according to the clockwise direction of the arrow, P3. Then, as seen in FIG. 2D, the actuator 25 may cause the wheel support arm assembly 12 to precessionally locate the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, for example, at the “6 o'clock position” for precessional movement of the wheel, W, relative the tire, T, to the “9 o'clock position” according to the clockwise direction of the arrow, P4.

Although the movement of the wheel support arm assembly 12 and wheel, W, is described in discreet steps in FIGS. 2A-2D, it will be appreciated that the precessional movement, P1-P4, may be continuous and fluid. In addition, it will be appreciated that the precessional movement, P1-P4, is not limited to a clockwise movement and that the precessional movement, P1-P4, may alternatively be conducted in the counter-clockwise direction. In addition, above references to a particular “o'clock” position of the wheel, W, and/or wheel support aim assembly 12 is made simply for convenience when correlating FIGS. 2A-2D to what is shown in FIG. 3 and that the disclosure is not limited to a particular “o'clock” reference point, starting position or ending position when mounting the tire, T, and wheel, W.

During the precessional movement, P1-P4, as shown and described in FIGS. 2A-3, at least one of the beads, B1, B2, of the tire, T, is drawn over and at least partially located about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W. In an embodiment, the first bead, B1, may be drawn over and at least partially located proximate the first bead seat, S1. Once the bead, B1, is drawn proximate the bead seat, S1, the wheel axis, AW-AW, and the tire axis, AT-AT, may be substantially co-axial. Thus, the precessional movement, P1-P4, may result in the subsequent partial or full mounting of the tire, T, and the wheel, W. Once the tire, T, is mounted to the wheel, W, the assembled, substantially co-axial tire, T, and wheel, W, may be moved to another station (not shown) for match-marking, inflating, balancing, or any other subsequent operation.

During the above tire/wheel mounting operation, it will be appreciated that the tire, T, may, if desired, be retained by one of its axial end surfaces, TA, or its outer circumference, TC, while the wheel, W, is precessionally moved relative the tire, T, as described above. However, it will be appreciated that there is nothing to prevent the opposite technique from effectively working, namely holding the wheel, W, constant as, the tire, T, is precessionally moved about the wheel, W.

Referring now to FIGS. 4A-5D, a system for mounting a tire, T, and a wheel, W, is shown generally at 100 according to an embodiment. The system 100 is substantially similar to the system 10 in that the system 100 incorporates a precessional movement, P1-P4, of the wheel, W, by way of an actuator 25 and wheel support arm assembly 12; however, the system 100 simultaneously compounds the precessional movement, P1-P4, of the wheel, W, via the movement of the support arm assembly 12 with an axial plunging movement of the support arm assembly 12 along an axis, which is shown generally at, AP-AP. The axis, AP-AP, is hereinafter referred to as a plunging axis.

Referring to FIG. 4A, the wheel support arm assembly 12 may be positioned substantially similarly as shown and described in FIGS. 1C/2A. An axial end surface, TA, of the tire, T, may be retained by and is positioned against an axial support surface, S.

As shown in FIGS. 4A-5C, the wheel support arm assembly 12 and wheel, W, may be moved in a simultaneous, compounded motion according to precessional movement as illustrated by arrows, P1-P4, in conjunction with an axial plunging movement according to the direction of arrow, P, along the plunging axis, AP-AP. Although a compounded movement according to the direction of arrows P1-P4 and P are described above, it will be appreciated that the invention is not limited to a compounded movement of the assembly 12 and wheel, W; for example, it will be appreciated that as the wheel, W, is moved in a precessional motion, P1-P4, the tire, T, may be moved axially toward the wheel, W, such that axial movement between the wheel, W, and the tire, T, is accomplished by moving the tire, T, toward the wheel, W. Thus, it will be appreciated that the wheel, W, may be precessionally moved as the tire, T, is axially moved toward the wheel, W. The present invention also contemplates that during the precessional movement of wheel W, it may be advantageous with some tire T, wheel W, combinations to also rotate wheel W about its own AW-AW axis (using rotational actuator 14)

As seen in each subsequent Figure in FIGS. 4A-4D, as the tire, T, is mounted on to the wheel, W, by way of the compounded motion, P1-P4 and P of the wheel, W, the angular spacing of the wheel axis, AW-AW, and the tire axis, AT-AT, according to angle, θ, may be reduced to approximately zero such that the wheel axis, AW-AW, and the tire axis, AT-AT, converge upon one another and become substantially co-axial.

As seen in FIGS. 4D and 5D, the tire, T, may be at least partially mounted to the wheel, W, such that the first bead, B1, is located about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W. Referring to FIG. 6, the wheel support assembly 12 may move the partially-mounted tire, T, relative the wheel, W, to a finishing station, which is shown generally at 150. Finishing station 150 is effective for mounting second bead B2 about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W.

In an embodiment, the finishing station 150 generally includes a plurality of grounded rollers, which are shown generally at 152a-152c, and one or more repositional rollers. Repositional roller can be a pivoting “see-saw” roller assembly which is shown generally at 154. The see-saw roller 154 is in communication with an actuator 156 to permit a pivoting up/down “see-saw” movement of the see-saw roller 154. In an embodiment, the grounded rollers 152a-152c and the see-saw roller 154 are disposed about a circumference, WC, of an axial end, TA, of the tire, T. In an embodiment rollers 152a-152c and 156 are free to rotate about their own respective axis of rotation but they are passive (i.e. they are not driven by a prime mover and consequently, they are not capable of doing any positive work on tire T).

In an embodiment, the grounded roller 152a is circumferentially positioned substantially opposite that of the see-saw roller 154. Although only three grounded rollers 152a-152c are shown, it will be appreciated that any desirable number of grounded rollers 152a-152c may be included in the design of the finishing station 150. The rotational axis of the rollers 152, 154 may be directed along a radial path extending perpendicular to axis AT, AW, AP.

In operation, referring to FIG. 7A, the wheel support assembly 12 moves the partially-mounted tire, T, and wheel, W, toward the finishing station 150 according to the direction of the arrow, Z, such that the axial end, TA, of the tire, T, contacts the grounded rollers 152a-152c and see-saw roller 154. Then, the actuator 156 moves the see-saw roller 154 from a down position, D, to an up position, U, so as to urge at least a portion of the axial end, TA, of the tire, T, in a direction away from the grounded rollers 152a-152c.

Referring to FIG. 7B, at least one of the wheel support assembly 12 or the rotating actuator 14 rotates the partially mounted tire, T, and wheel, W, about an axis, AR-AR, which is substantially co-axial to the axes, AT-AT, AW-AW. The axis, AR-AR, is hereinafter referred to as a finishing station rotation axis. Because the axial end, TA, of the tire, T, is brought in contact with the grounded rollers 152a-152c and see-saw roller 154, the rotational movement of the wheel support assembly 12 is translated from the wheel, W, and tire, T, to the grounded rollers 152a-152c and see-saw roller 154.

As the partially mounted tire, T, and wheel, W, begin to rotate about the finishing station rotation axis, AR-AR, the up positioning, U, of the see-saw roller 154 urges the second bead, B2, to begin to be partially disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, proximate the see-saw roller 154 (see, e.g., FIG. 7B). At this position, it may be said that the second bead, B2, is approximately 5% disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W.

Then, as seen in FIG. 7C, upon further rotational movement of wheel, W the second bead, B2, begins to “thread” itself onto the wheel (much like a nut is rotated when it is joined to a threaded shaft) further partially disposing it about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, proximate the grounded roller 152c, which is closest to the see-saw roller 154. If desired, the actuator 156 may increase the up positioning, U, of the see-saw roller 154 so as to further urge the second bead, B2, about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W. At this position, it may be said that the second bead, B2, is approximately 10% disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W.

Then, as seen in FIG. 7D, upon further rotational movement of wheel, W, the second bead, B2, is yet further partially disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, proximate the grounded roller 152b, which is further away from the see-saw roller 154 than that of the grounded roller 152c, but closer to the see-saw roller 154 than that of the grounded roller 152a. If desired, the actuator 156 may further increase the up positioning, U, of the see-saw roller 154 so as to further urge the second bead, B2, about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W. As this position, it may be said that the second bead, B2, is approximately 15% disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W.

Then, as seen in FIG. 7E, the second bead, B2, may suddenly become fully disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, such that the second bead, B2, is disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, proximate the grounded roller 152a that is farthest away from the see-saw roller 154. Because the partially disposed second bead, B2, becomes exponentially disposed about the wheel, W (i.e., percentage of the second bead, B2, being disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W, rises from 15% to 100%), a snap or pop may be heard such that an operator knows that the second bead, B2, has fully transitioned across the outer periphery of wheel W and is disposed about the circumference, WC, of the wheel, W. Referring to FIG. 8, the wheel support assembly 12 is then moved according to the direction of the arrow, Z′, opposite that of the arrow, Z, to move the mounted tire-wheel assembly, TW, away from the finishing station 150 for further processing at one or more subsequent match-marking/inflating/bead seating/balancing station(s).

Now referring to FIG. 9A, in yet a further embodiment wheel 916 is fixed to wheel support arm assembly 910. Wheel support arm assembly 910 may include rotating actuator 914 (such as a motor or the like) which is coupled between base 912 and spindle 915. Optionally, pivot joint 919 may be interposed between base 912 and rotating actuator 914. Spindle 915 is coupled to the central hub portion of wheel 916 in a manner which is well known to those skilled in the art. Base 912 may be coupled to a linear actuator 911 such that linear actuator is capable of moving the entire wheel support arm assembly 910 parallel to first axis B. Linear actuator 911, base 912, pivot joint 919, and rotating actuator 914 accomplish the functions that can all be incorporated into a single robotic system. Thus, although linear actuator 911, base 912, pivot joint 919, and rotating actuator 914 are all shown as discrete components, nothing herein should limit the breadth of this disclosure to individual components and some, or all, of the functions associated with these components can be accomplished by way of a robotic system. Axis B may be generally coincident with the axis of rotation of tire 922. Pivot join 919 may be used to pivot rotating actuator 914 relative to base 912 such that the axis of rotation A of rotating actuator 914 is adjustable with respect to axis B. Axis A may be adjusted to be coincident with axis B (i.e. θ=0°), or in an alternative embodiment, axis A may be angularly oriented (i.e. θ≠0°) with respect to axis B (angular orientation depicted as θ herein and will also be known as the angle of approach). Rotating actuator 914 can be any prime mover, including, for example, an electric, pneumatic, hydraulic, or other type of rotating actuator and is adapted to rotate wheel 916 about axis A. Tire 922 includes first tire bead 924 and second tire bead 926. When tire 922 is in an uncompressed state, bead 924 and 926 are typically separated by gap 944. At least one bead compression mechanism 928 is located proximate to a sidewall portion of tire 922. In the embodiment of FIG. 9A, two bead compression mechanisms 928, 930 are shown; however, it is contemplated within the scope of this invention that one or more bead compression mechanisms may be used. Each bead compression mechanism 928, 930 includes a respectively associated compression actuator 932, 938 which is, in turn, is coupled to respectively associated top pinching fingers 934, 940 and bottom pinching fingers 936, 942. Now referring to FIG. 9A and 9B, in order to mount wheel 916 to tire 922, wheel 916 is first mounted to spindle 915 wherein it is rotated 945 about axis A by actuator 914. Also, at least one bead compression mechanism 928, 930 is activated thereby pressing together at least a portion of the bead 924, 926 of wheel 922 such that at least a portion of gap 944 is diminished 944′ over that of its relaxed state (relaxed state shown in FIG. 9A).

Now referring to FIG. 9A, 9B, and 9C, next base 912 is moved linearly 946 along axis B thereby causing at least a portion 948 of second bead seat 920 of wheel 916 to pass through opening 950 formed by first and second bead 924, 926 of tire 922. Next, linear movement 946 continues along axis B such that the entire second bead seat 920 of wheel 916 passes through opening 950 (see FIG. D). Once the wheel 916 has assumed the position shown in FIG. 9D, actuators 932, 938 are released and the tire/wheel assembly is disconnected from spindle 915 and moved to the next stage of operation (such as tire inflation, balancing, and the like). The angle of attack θ may be critical for some tire wheel combinations while for other tire wheel combinations it might not be critical at all. For example, in some tire wheel combinations where the tire material is highly compliant (i.e. easily flexible), a non-existent angle of attack (i.e. θ=0°) or a very small θ may be sufficient to accomplish mounting wheel 916 to tire 922. In contrast, tires which are fabricated from materials which are thicker or more resilient may necessitate using a more steeper angle of attack such as ten degrees, twenty degrees, or more. Also, it is contemplated that a lubricant placed on one or more tire beads 924, 926 or one or more wheel portions (such as bead seats 918, 920) may facilitate the installation process and prevent any scoring or tearing of the first and second bead 924, 926 of tire 922 by virtue of the frictional contact made between tire and wheel during the installation process.

Now referring to FIG. 10A, in a further embodiment, wheel support arm assembly 910 works in the exact manner as described in conjunction with FIGS. 9A-9D. However, in the embodiment of FIG. 10A-10D, tire beads 924, 926 are not pinched together by a bead compression mechanism but rather beads 924, 926 of tire 922 are left in a relaxed state. Now referring to FIG. 10A and 10B, next, wheel support arm assembly 910 is moved linearly 946 along axis B while, simultaneously, wheel 916 is rotated 945 about axis A. As second bead seat 920 of wheel 916 is brought into contact with first tire bead 924 of tire 922, a portion 948 of second bead seat 920 will pass through opening 950 formed by first and second bead 924, 926 of tire 922. Next, as base 912 continues its linear 946 motion, second bead seat 920 of wheel 916 will completely pass through upper opening 950 formed by first bead 924 of tire 922 (see FIG. 10C). Next, as base 912 is still further urged along axis B, second bead seat 920 of wheel 916 will pass through lower opening 950′ formed by second bead 926 of tire 922. Next, the wheel/tire assembly is released from spindle 915 whereby it is shuttled to the next work station to be inflated, balanced, and the like. Although FIGS. 9A through 10D generally show that the wheel opening of tire 922 is generally concentric with axis B, nothing herein shall limit the orientation of tire 922 relative to axis B in this way. It is contemplated that other orientations between axis B and the wheel opening of tire 922 will work equally well. Also it is understood that tire 922 is secured in a way that generally impedes it from rotating or otherwise moving (in response to the forces exerted on it by wheel 916). However, it is not necessary to prevent all rotary movement of the tire as it reacts to the rotational energy imparted to it by the rotating wheel. In fact it is contemplated that the mounting process may be improved by allowing the tire to undergo a controlled amount of movement during the mounting procedure. Although the installation of the wheel and tire have been illustrated in terms of the wheel rotating and moving linearly relative to the fixed wheel, it is fully contemplated that the position of the wheel and the tire can be interchanged without adversely affecting the disclosed method.

The present invention has been described with reference to certain exemplary embodiments thereof. However, it will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art that it is possible to embody the invention in specific forms other than those of the exemplary embodiments described above. This may be done without departing from the spirit of the invention. The exemplary embodiments are merely illustrative and should not be considered restrictive in any way. The scope of the invention is defined by the appended claims and their equivalents, rather than by the preceding description.