Title:
Top Loading Wedge with Adjustably Engageable Bottom Apparatus and Method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A non-hydraulic dredge comprised of a vaned conveyor/traction/drive assembly. A bi-directional embodiment is disclosed. An elevation adjustment and obstruction override embodiment as disclosed.



Inventors:
Platt, Michael (Yates City, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/917658
Publication Date:
05/21/2009
Filing Date:
06/16/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
37/195, 29/428
International Classes:
E02F3/08; B21D39/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
BUCK, MATTHEW R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HUSCH BLACKWELL LLP (ST. LOUIS, MO, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A dredge for lifting said segments of sediment comprising: a mounting assembly; a conveyor assembly, said conveyor assembly being mounted on said mounting assembly; a drive wheel, said drive wheel being drivingly engaged with said conveyor assembly; a drive generator, said drive generator being drivingly engaged with said drive wheel; a plurality of vanes, said plurality of vanes being attached to said conveyor assembly; a cutter bar, said cutter bar being disposed in working relation to said plurality of vanes, such that segments of sediment are cut as said conveyor assembly moves, the cutter bar cutting a bottom of each segment, a first vane cutting a first side of each segment and a next vane cutting an opposing side of each segment; said conveyor assembly being further disposed to lift each segment after said cutter bar has completed cutting each segment; and said conveyor assembly being flexible and mounted on at least two spaced apart wheels.

2. The dredge of claim 1 wherein said mounting assembly is a buoyant hull.

3. The dredge of claim 1 wherein said conveyor assembly is further comprised of a drive chain.

4. The dredge of claim 1 wherein said conveyor assembly is further comprised of a belt.

5. The dredge of claim 1 wherein said conveyor assembly is held substantially flat against a top surface of sediment by at least two wheels.

6. The dredge of claim 1 wherein said drive generator is selected from the group comprising: a gasoline engine, a diesel engine, an electric motor and a hydrostatic drive.

7. The dredge of claim 1 wherein at least three of said plurality of vanes are engaged with sediment as said dredge moves over the sediment.

8. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising a throat, said throat being disposed to guide each segment of sediment onto an upwards moving aspect of said conveyor assembly.

9. The dredge of claim 8 wherein said throat is comprised of a plurality of transverse plates.

10. The dredge of claim 9 wherein said plurality of transverse plates are disposed to slide along a guide, said guide being mounted on at least one side plate.

11. The dredge of claim 9 wherein said cutter bar is also a first of said plurality of transverse plates.

12. The dredge of claim 9 wherein said plurality of transverse plates is held in a first position by a throat position maintenance device.

13. The dredge of claim 12 wherein said throat position maintenance device is an hydraulic cylinder and piston.

14. The dredge of claim 9 wherein said transverse plates are maintained in a first position and disposed to retract from said first position to a retracted position in response to contact with a submerged object.

15. The dredge of claim 1 wherein said conveyor assembly is disposed to deposit segments of sediment in a receiving assembly.

16. The dredge of claim 15 wherein said deposition of said segments of sediment is by gravity.

17. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising at least one side plate.

18. The dredge of claim 12 wherein said side plate is disposed to cut a third side of each segment of sediment.

19. The dredge of claim 18 further comprising a second side plate, said second side plate being disposed to cut a fourth side of each segment of sediment.

20. The dredge of claim 1 wherein at least two adjacent ones of said plurality of vanes are maintained substantially parallel to one another while engaged with sediment.

21. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising containment skirts around said conveyor assembly.

22. A method of dredging segments of sediment comprising: deploying a mounting assembly; said mounting assembly having a conveyor assembly being mounted thereon; driving said conveyor assembly with a drive wheel, said drive wheel being drivingly engaged with said conveyor assembly; powering said drive wheel with a drive generator, said drive generator being drivingly engaged with said drive wheel; sectioning sediment with a plurality of vanes, said plurality of vanes being attached to said conveyor assembly; cutting said sections with a cutter bar, said cutter bar being disposed in working relation to said plurality of vanes, such that segments of sediment are cut as said conveyor assembly moves, the cutter bar cutting a bottom of each segment, a first vane cutting a first side of each segment and a next vane cutting an opposing side of each segment; and lifting said segments with said conveyor assembly, said conveyor assembly being further disposed to lift each segment after said cutter bar has completed cutting each segment; wherein, said conveyor assembly is flexible and is mounted on at least two spaced apart wheels.

23. A method of building a dredge for lifting segments of sediment comprising: providing a mounting assembly; mounting a conveyor assembly on said mounting assembly; engaging a drive wheel with said conveyor assembly; engaging a drive generator with said drive wheel; attaching a plurality of vanes to said conveyor assembly; disposing a cutter bar in working relation to said plurality of vanes, such that segments of sediment are cut as said conveyor assembly moves, the cutter bar cutting a bottom of each segment, a first vane cutting a first side of each segment and a next vane cutting an opposing side of each segment; and deploying said conveyor assembly to lift each segment after said cutter bar has completed cutting each segment; wherein, said conveyor assembly being flexible and mounted on at least two spaced apart wheels.

24. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising a guard rail.

25. The dredge of claim 24 wherein said guard rail is disposed to be the deepest penetrating component of the dredge.

26. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising tracks mounted on said overall dredge assembly, said tracks being disposed to selectively engage a bottom surface of a body of water.

27. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising pontoons.

28. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising pontoons having buoyancy control ballast tanks.

29. The dredge of claim 1 further comprising pontoons and rotating tracks mounted on said pontoons, said rotating tracks being disposed to selectively engage a bottom surface of a body of water.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Nos. 60/691,724 filed Jun. 17, 2005; 60/712,228 filed Aug. 29, 2005; 60/723,485 filed Oct. 4, 2005; 60/736,886 filed Nov. 15, 2005; and 60/800,172 filed May 13, 2006.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention is in the field of earth and other material handling, in particular dredging.

2. Related Art

Traditional hydraulic dredging is known to have manifest problems with efficiency, accuracy, and material control. Traditional dredging involves hydraulically pumping fluid from the bottom of the body of water after a cutter of one of several types is used to disrupt mud, silt or gravel on the bed of the body of water. On the surface, solid and liquid matter is separated. Typically, 90% of the material pumped from the bottom of the body of water is fluid, which is highly inefficient. Another technique is a drag line or bucket dredge which must repeatedly haul up bucket full of material from the bottom, one bucket at time which is inefficient because it is slow.

Both of these prior methods create plumes of sediment in the body of water. These plumes can be highly problematic, especially when the body of the water may be polluted by material such as heavy metals or PCBs.

There is a need in the art for a more efficient apparatus and technique for lifting mud, sediment and gravel from the bottom of a body of water. There remains a continuing need in the art for durability, economy, and operability in a range of conditions. There is also a need in the general earth moving arts for a more efficient apparatus and technique for lifting earth, loose rock, sand, mud or other material from any area, including dry land, quarries, oil sand recovery, oil or other spill recovery, reclamation in areas that may be dry but also includes swamp, bog, peat, tundra, taiga and the like.

Further challenges in the art of shallow water non-hydraulic dredging include efficient turning of the dredge and avoiding or overriding obstructions on the bottom of the body of water. There is a need in the art for a bi-directional non-hydraulic dredge. There is a further need in the art for a mechanism for meeting and/or coming obstructions such as trees, rocks or the like on the bottom of the body of water being dredged. As always, there are continuing needs for economy, flexibility, durability and efficiency.

In maneuvering a non-hydraulic shallow water dredge steering and positioning, particularly in a current, create problems not readily addressed by normal marine steering and propulsion systems. There is a need in the art for bottom engaging steering and positioning systems.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The disclosed embodiment of the present invention is a non-hydraulic dredge. The apparatus includes a conveyor or other similar moving belt or chain with a plurality of vanes or cutters attached to it. The conveyor and vanes are at least partially submerged and disposed to be in contact with the bottom of the body of water to be dredged, at least in part. As the conveyor moves over the bottom material, the vanes enter the solid material, cut and section it and then direct the solid matter towards a cutting and lifting apparatus. Although the disclosed embodiment is a dredge for using on submerged materials such as mud, silt or gravel, it is within the scope of the present invention that the invention be used for any earthly material moving on dry or wet ground, submerged or otherwise, including but not limited to hard packed earth, loose earth, dirt, mud, sand, gravel, swamp, bog, peat, tundra or taiga.

In one embodiment of the present invention, the entire conveyor and vane assembly is submerged entirely. In this embodiment, a horizontal cutter and riser apparatus trails the conveyor/vane apparatus. The cutter is underneath the section of bottom material. Disposed in close cooperation with the cutter is a riser or lifting apparatus. The lifting apparatus deposits the section that cut portion of bottom material onto a conveyor. This conveyor conveys the section of cut bottom material above the surface of the water and deposits it a hopper.

In another embodiment of the invention, only a portion of the conveyor/vane assembly is in contact with the bottom of the body of water. Another portion of the conveyor extends above the surface of the water and over a hopper for disposal of the section of cut portions of bottom material. In this lifting function, the conveyor/vane assembly works in close cooperation with a lifting throat which also extends from the cutter beneath the surface of the bottom of the body of water and extends to above the surface of the water. At the top, trailing end of the throat, the sectioned material is deposited from the conveyor/vane assembly into a hopper.

In another aspect of the present invention, the wedge may be operated in either direction. Bidirectional cutters and material elevation apparatuses enable bi-directional capability. In another embodiment of the present invention, the wedge is equipped with an adjustable apparatus so that the flap, bottom engaging portion of the apparatus may remain level in its engagement in the bottom of the body of water as the depth of the water and consequently the elevation of the non-hydraulic change. Moreover, in another aspect of the invention, a obstruction override and avoidance apparatus is enabled.

Further areas of applicability of the present invention will become apparent from the detailed description provided hereinafter. It should be understood that the detailed description and specific examples, while indicating the preferred embodiment of the invention, are intended for purposes of illustration only and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention will become more fully understood from the detailed description and the accompanying drawings, wherein:

FIG. 1 is side view of a conveyor vane assembly with a cutter and throat.

FIG. 2 is a side view of a wedge shaped configuration of a conveyor vane assembly with a cutter and throat.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a traction vane assembly disposed in close cooperation with a cutter and lifter apparatus and a lifting conveyor.

FIG. 4 is a cutaway perspective view of a traction vane assembly disposed in close cooperation with a cutter and lifter apparatus and a lifting conveyor.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the submerged traction vane and cutter assembly together with a lifting and control frame.

FIG. 6 is a side view of a bi-directional non-hydraulic dredge.

FIG. 7 is a side view of an elevation adjustable non-hydraulic dredge.

FIG. 8 is a detailed side view of an elevation adjustable non-hydraulic dredge.

FIG. 9 is a perspective close up of the elevation adjustable non-hydraulic dredge.

FIG. 10 is a perspective close up of the elevation adjustable non-hydraulic dredge in a different position.

FIG. 11 is a top view of an elevation adjustable non-hydraulic dredge.

FIG. 12 is a side view of another embodiment.

FIG. 13 is perspective view of a dredge hull having turning anchors mounted on its bow.

FIG. 14 is a front view of a non-hydraulic dredge hull with positioning anchors mounted its bow.

FIG. 15 is a side view of a dredge hull with a bottom engaging directional rudder in a removed position.

FIG. 16 is a side view of a non-hydraulic dredge hull with a bottom engaging rudder in an engaged position.

FIG. 17 is a top view of a dredge hull with a schematic representation of a bottom engaging rudder.

FIG. 18 is a side view of a cleat and fin assembly.

FIG. 19 is a perspective view of a fin.

FIG. 20 is a perspective view of an individual cleat.

FIG. 21 is a side view of an individual fin.

FIG. 22 is an end view of an individual fin.

FIG. 23 is a side view of a dredge assembly including sectioning fins.

FIG. 24 is a perspective view of a releasable throat and sectioning fin assembly.

FIG. 25 is a perspective view of releasable throat and sectioning fin assembly having one released throat section.

FIG. 26 depicts a dredge having containment skirts.

FIG. 27 is a front view of a dredge including a guard rail.

FIG. 28 is a side view of a dredge including a guard rail.

FIG. 29 is a perspective view of a tracked embodiment.

FIG. 30 is a side view of a tracked embodiment.

FIG. 31 is a side view of a dredge assembly having a tensioning roller.

FIG. 32 is a top view of a tracked embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The following description of the preferred embodiment(s) is merely exemplary in nature and is in no way intended to limit the invention, its application, or uses.

Referring now to the drawings where like numbers designate like elements, FIG. 1 depicts a conveyor vane assembly. A plurality of vanes 1 are attached to a conveyor 2. A conveyor is disposed to rotate partially around each of an upper and a lower wheel 12. Either or both of the wheels 12 may be a drive wheel. Either wheel may also be an undriven return wheel. Either or both wheels may be controlled and maintained by tensioning devices 9 and 10. Structural support for the upper aspect of the moving conveyor 2 is provided by a linear upper slide 8 over which the conveyor 2 travels. Similarly, a lower slide 11 provides support for the flexible conveyor on its underside return path.

Disposed to work in close cooperation with the vanes 2 at their lowermost and deepest penetration into the bottom material is a substantially horizontal cutter blade 4. The cutter blade 4 is positioned and maintained by a lower support structure 5. The lower support structure 5 is also integrally formed or assembled with a lifting throat providing a surface disposed to work in close cooperation with the outer edge of each of the plurality of vanes. The lower support structure 5 extends upwards and rearwards relative to the direction of travel (arrow A). The lower support structure extends above the surface of the water, as does the upper and rearward portion of the conveyor vane assembly. Extending the length of the lower support unit and, optionally, above it is a side shield 14. The side shield may be disposed in close cooperation with the sides of the vanes 2.

In operation, the conveyor rotates in a clockwise direction as depicted in FIG. 1 such that each vane in turn as the dredge moves forward is brought into contact with the bottom material. As rotation of the conveyor continues, the vane, driven by the conveyor and supported by the weight and pressure of the dredge above it, cuts into the bottom material as indicated at vane 2A. Substantially at a vertical position, each vane in its lowermost position (2A) presents a laterally sectioned portion of bottom material to the cutting blade 4. The cutting blade cuts under the section of material. As the conveyor continues to rotate, the material is urged upwards and rearwards on the throat, which is comprised of the lower support structure 5. A left and right side shield 14 at its lowermost portion 14A cuts the bottom material along its side, thus completely separating a section of bottom material from the rest of the continuous bottom. The forward motion of the dredge and continued rearward clockwise rotation of the conveyor and vanes urges each fully cut and section portion of bottom material rearwards from the cutting blade and therefrom upwards onto the lower support structure and into the lifting throat. As illustrated by the arrows in FIG. 1, continued rotation of the conveyor continuously urges sectioned material upwards and rearwards until it is lifted above the water surface level and to a position roughly proximate to the upper rearward wheel 12. At that point a discharge chute 15 guides the sectioned material into a hopper. It is within the scope of the present invention that the structure receiving the sectioned and lifted material may be any suitable material handling structure including without limitation a hopper, a barge, a standing conveyor, a floating conveyor, a multi-hull, deposit and transport assembly or system or a single hull deposit and transfer configuration. Illustrations of examples of such receiving structures are found in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/486,280, which is incorporated fully by reference herein.

In a second version of the present invention, a third wheel is used to configure the conveyor vane assembly into a wedge, see FIG. 2. Again a plurality of vanes 101 are attached to a conveyor 102 which is supported by an upper slide in its upper aspect 103. As depicted in FIG. 2, three wheels 107 orient the conveyor 102 such that a portion of it 102A is placed flat along the bottom surface for a length defined by the distance between lead wheel 107A and trailing bottom wheel 107B. Any single one or any combination of wheels 107 may be a drive wheel. The conveyor 102 is further supported by an upper slide 103, lower slide 109 and back slide 108. The two slides in turn are structurally supported by tension devices 110.

Similar to the previous embodiment, a cutting blade 106 is disposed horizontally and beneath the surface of the bottom material in order to cut and separate sections of material presented to the cutter blade by the advancing conveyor/vane assembly. The cutting blade 106 is backed by the lower support structure 104 and, as before, flanked by a shield 105 on either side. A discharge chute 15 again is oriented to deposit the cut and lifted sections of bottom material into a receiving structure.

In operation, as before, the conveyor 102 rotates around the wheels and translates between them in a clockwise direction as depicted in FIG. 2 so that each of the plurality of vanes 101 in turn cuts into the bottom material as it rotates around lead wheel 107A. In this embodiment, as the dredge and wedge conveyor assembly move forward, each vane, having cut into the bottom material, remains relatively stationary to the bottom material as the dredge and conveyor wedge moves forward over it. Upon reaching the lower rear wheel 107B, each vane in turn rotates around it and, again in close cooperation with the lower support structure, and sides 104 and side shields 105, which together form the lifting throat, urges a cut and sectioned portion of bottom material upwards and rearwards along the throat. As before, the upper portion of the throat and upper rearward wheel 107C are above the surface of the water, such that when a section of bottom material reaches a discharge chute 115, it drops into the receiving structure.

In the embodiment depicted in FIGS. 3-5, a support structure 201 supports a lifting conveyor 209. The lower, lead portion of the lifting conveyor 209 is disposed substantially at or near the surface of a bottom of the body of water. The upper and rear portion of the lifting conveyor 209 is disposed substantially at or above the surface of the body of water and oriented to deposit cut and sectioned portions of bottom material into a receiving structure.

Material is cut and advanced onto the lifting conveyor 209 by a cutter blade 204, which is again disposed to be substantially horizontal and beneath the surface of the bottom material. The cutting blade 204 is attached to a mold board or lifter 203 which raises the cut portion of bottom material onto the lift conveyor 209. The forward advancement of the dredge as indicated by arrow A serves to force the blade 204 forward to cut the material and also to urge the material onto the lift conveyor 209. The lift conveyor 209 includes upper and lower wheels 212 and, optionally, intermediate idler wheels 214 and a lower support shield 213 internally, as best seen in FIG. 4. These components may be supported, protected and contained by side shields 211.

In advance of the cutter blade 204 is a traction device indicated generally at 220. This device is again comprised of a conveyor, belt, chain or other flexible rotating assembly 206. Disposed on the belt 206 are cleats or vanes 207. This traction device may be driven through one or more of its wheels 214A. The traction device is disposed immediately before the cutter blade 4 in the depicted embodiment. Optionally, the traction device may be placed farther in advance. As with the previous embodiment, the vanes or cleats 207 rotate clockwise as depicted in the figures such that the rotation of belt presents each vane in turn at the leading edge of the traction device for cutting into the surface end of the bottom material. As the traction device travels over the bottom, each vane on the bottom of the traction device that has embedded itself into the bottom material remains stable relative to the bottom material around it as the traction device and dredge assembly moves over it. In the depicted embodiment, the vanes serve to section the bottom material and present the bottom material in sections to the cutter blade 204 for cutting.

A support structure for the traction device and separate lift conveyor embodiment of the present invention is presented in FIG. 5. This is comprised of a support structure 220 and a surface superstructure 216. The surface superstructure is fixedly attached to a hull 215. The support structure for the lift conveyor 209 is attached to the hull at 211 with hinge pins 230. The frame 220 is attached to the superstructure. The entire lift conveyor may be raised or lowered by means of hydraulic lift arms 221 which are anchored at either end on the frame 220 and the surface frame 216. Further control and support may be had by operative connection of a lift cable 218 as operated by a winch 217 and attached to the frame 220 at anchor 219.

The traction device in the embodiment depicted in FIG. 5 may be controlled in its angle relative to the bottom surface by means of its mounting and control assembly. The traction device is attached to a lift conveyor superstructure 201 with support arms 223. These support arms are hingedly attached to the lift conveyor superstructure 201. The support arms 223 may be controlled by hydraulic rams 222 connected to the support arms 223 and a first end into the frame 220 at a second end. At a forward portion of the traction device a control frame 227 is provided. Control frame 227 is attached to the traction device near its forward aspect. The attachment may be hinged 228. An anchor 225 serves to mount a second lifting and control cable 224 which may be operated with winch 226. Through the combined selected control of hydraulic rams 222 and control cable 224, an operator may control the angle of traction device. Accordingly, the traction device may be used for traction, driving, digging, sectioning, avoiding submerged objects and the like.

FIG. 6 depicts another embodiment of the present invention having a bi-directional capability. This non-hydraulic dredge may be operated in direction A in which case cutter 304 and material elevation apparatus 303 still cut and elevate the bottom material. When operating in direction A, collapsible throat 302 elevates above the contact point. Bottom contact surface 305 of the dredge conveyor is exposed for dredging contact with the bottom of the body of water by elevation of collapsible throat assembly 302. In operating in direction B, cutter and material elevation assembly 303 is raised up and away from the contact point of the bottom of the body of water with engagement portion 305 of the conveyor.

Collapsible throat 302, in the depicted embodiment has two parts, 312 and 314, lower component 312 includes a cutter 316. In the depicted embodiment, lower component 312 and cutter 316 may pivotably rotate counterclockwise in FIG. 6 in order to telescope into upper component 314. Alternatively, whether telescoped or not, the entire assembly 302 may be elevated. In the depicted embodiment, elevation of lower component 312 and/or the entire assembly 302 is by pivoting around pivot point 320.

Another embodiment of the present invention is depicted in FIG. 7. In FIG. 7 hull 407 supports crane 404 with the boom and grapple for multiple purposes, including removal of obstructions. A wood chipper and exhaust chute assembly 403 is available for elimination of wooden obstructions, such as trees. A transfer conveyor 402 receives elevated bottom material in order to discharge it to a hopper on hull 407 or alternatively an off hull receptacle, including either another conveyor, another hull or direct deposit in a preferred location for material deposit. As described previously, non-hydraulic dredge assembly 401 is disposed to engage top surface 406 of the bottom of the body of water at bottom engagement surface 420. Thereafter, throat assembly 424, including cutter 426 cuts the pre-selected depth of bottom material from the bottom of the body of water to a depth 409 selected by the user. Throat assembly 424 deposits the material on the upper traveling top surface of the conveyor/non-hydraulic dredge 401 in order that the material may be carried out of the water, through the hull and deposited on transfer conveyor 402.

In FIG. 8, details of the non-hydraulic bottom engaging dredge are shown. Conveyor assembly 401 is comprised of a cleated belt 430. Rollers 432 and conveyor frame components 443 support the conveyor. One or more of top roller 432a, bottom front roller 432b or bottom back roller 432c may be powered for driving the conveyor. In the depicted embodiment, the preferred direction of travel is to the left of FIGS. 7-10. The conveyor would rotate counterclockwise in FIGS. 7-10. In the depicted embodiment, the movement of the conveyor and the engagement of its cleats or vanes with the bottom material provides drive to the entire dredge vessel. Depth control is by cleat length.

Efficient operation of the dredge is optimized if engagement surface 411 remains level, or at least substantially parallel with the slope or grade of the top surface of the bottom material of the body of water. Operating problems will include maintaining this flat engagement of bottom engagement surface 411 with the bottom material when the depth of the water changes. Another problem is meeting and overcoming without damage, delay, or unnecessary failure to dredge a portion of the bottom when an obstruction is met. In the depicted embodiment, adjustable tensioners provide for flexible and user selectable adjustment of the angle and position of the overall non-hydraulic dredge 401 and conveyor in order to meet these and overcome these operational problems.

In the depicted embodiment, at least one of formed portions 433 are mounted such that they can move relative to the bottom of the body of water and/or to the hull on which they are mounted. In particular, front member 433a may be pivoted, substantially around pivot point 412 to extend forward of the rest of the overall dredge assembly 401 or towards the bow of the hull by extension of telescoping arm 450. Likewise, front bottom roller 432b may be extended or retracted through the use of telescoping arm 437 on which it is mounted. Telescoping arms 437 may be further mounted on a pivot point 452 in order to accommodate a change angle between bottom engaging surface 411 and front frame member 433a and the conveyor riding on it. Alternatively or additionally, additional adjustments in depth, elevation of the bottom engaging surface or the angled relationship between back frame member 433b, the conveyor riding on it and bottom engaging surface 411 may be made by extending or retracting rear bottom roller 432c through the use of telescoping arm 438. In the depicted embodiment, telescoping arm 438 is mounted at a bottom end of rear support frame element 433b and extends or retracts substantially parallel to the long dimension of rear frame element 433b.

FIG. 9 depicts the overall assembly of the non-hydraulic dredge 401 and the cleated conveyor engaging a bottom surface in a first position. In this position the difference between front bottom roller 432b and the rear frame portion 433b with the conveyor riding on it is relatively narrow through dimension C (telescoping adjustment arms have been omitted from FIGS. 9 and 10 for clarity and illustrating the variability of the position of the components). In FIG. 10, dimension C has been expanded, by extending telescoping arm 437 (again omitted from FIG. 10 for clarity). It is anticipated that in the position shown in FIG. 9, the entire dredge assembly 401 can further be adjusted rearwardly relative to the hull by allowing for such pivoting, as for example at schematically depicted mount 460, which would essentially pivot around the axis of top roller 432a. Accordingly, it is anticipated that a rearward pivoting of the overall assembly 401 and narrowing of dimension C would allow optimized contact with the bottom of bottom engaging portion 411 in a shallower depth. For a deeper depth, the components would be adjusted more as depicted in FIG. 10. That is, the overall assembly 401 would be rotated in direction D and dimension C would be expanded. Accordingly, bottom engaging portion 411 would continue to maintain substantially full contact with the surface of the bottom of the body of water, allowing for efficient dredging of it.

The embodiment as depicted in FIG. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 or 12 may be mounted otherwise than on a hollow or floatation device. As such, the chain, belts and other apparatus as disclosed herein as the invention may be applied for use in a wide variety of applications, including without limitations those that are not submerged such as dry land, and loose earth, hard packed earth, loose rock, gravel, sand, oil sand, waste fills, trash, refuse, quarried products, or other mixed uses that are neither purely dry land nor submerged, such as swamps, bogs, peat, tundra or taiga.

Another operational problem is meeting and overcoming obstructions. If a semi-submerged rock or tree is met by the dredge, the compression of telescoping arm 437 would be capable of narrowing dimension C in order to allow the leading edge of the engagement surface 401 (that portion of the conveyor turning around bottom front roller 432b) to rise up over the obstruction. Alternatively or additionally, the entire assembly 401 may pivot upwardly and rearwardly relative to the hull, or, in a direction opposite to indicated direction D in FIG. 10, in order to provide further elevation for riding up and over a submerged obstruction. Finally, the rear throat assembly 424 is provisioned as described in FIG. 6 above so that it may elevate cutter 426 and the overall assembly 424 upwards, counterclockwise in the figures and away from the obstruction in order to avoid it. In the embodiment depicted in FIGS. 4-11, assembly 424 elevates by pivoting around pivot point 428.

FIG. 11 is a top view of one configuration of the non-hydraulic dredge of the present invention on a hull 407. Dredge assembly 401 would deposit material elevated from the bottom in a transfer conveyor 402 where it could be selectively deposited in turn onto side conveyors 474a or 474b for direct re-deposit in a user selected position, deposit on another hull or deposit into a hopper.

In the embodiment depicted in FIG. 12 the overall apparatus 500 moves in the direction indicated by arrow A. The belt, drive chain and vanes rotate clockwise as shown in FIG. 12 or, in the direction indicated by arrow B. Apparatus 500 is comprised of a side panel 501 onto which are mounted drive and idling wheels 502. Any combination of gears 502 may be drive wheels, but in the depicted embodiment the lower two wheels are drive wheels. Any drive system may be employed to generate drive, including without limitation engines and motors, but in the depicted embodiment hydrostatic drive is used. In the depicted embodiment, upper wheel 502A is deployed as an idling wheel. Accordingly, tensioning device 506 is used for an operator to maintain an optimal tension on the drive chain/belt/vane assembly.

The drive chain 503 engages with the teeth of the drive gears 502 in order to rotate the chain. Attached to the chain is belt 505, which provides a continuous surface from one side wall 501 to a second side wall (obscured in the side view of FIG. 12). Belt 505 also provides a continuous, substantially uninterrupted top surface for a section of sediment, earth or other material to be lifted as belt 505 proceeds along a top surface of the sediment 512 to be lifted. A plurality of vanes 504 are structurally attached to drive chain 503 in the depicted embodiment and along belt 505. Together the drive chain 503, belt 505 and vanes 504 comprise a conveyor assembly. This conveyor assembly may be mounted in a variety of manners without departing from the scope of the present invention, including without limitation a single floating hull, pontoons, multiple hulls, static conveyors, moveable conveyors, trucks or other earth moving apparatuses.

In operation, as the drive chain 503 and belt 505 rotate clockwise, each successive vane 504 is driven by the weight of the dredge into the bottom material 512 in the vicinity of leading drive wheel 502. This sediment or sand material is also being penetrated by the leading edge of the substantially vertical side wall 501. As the dredge moves forward, a section of sediment is cut by the combination of each successive vane 504 with a first and second side wall 501. Simultaneously, the pressure of at least one vane being driven rearward against the sediment or other material 512 drives the dredge forward. In the depicted embodiment, four vanes 504 are fully engaged with the bottom material at all times, providing propulsion.

Thus, the belt 505, sidewalls 501, and vanes 504 cut the sediment to be lifted into a section having a top (with belt 505) side (at side plates 501) front and back (successive vanes 504). The section of material to be lifted is completed by a substantially horizontal cut into the bottom material by cutter bar 510 at level 513. As the dredge advances, a section of material 514 is cut by the cutter bar 510, which cut comprises the sixth and final side of the section of material to be lifted. Immediately behind cutter bar 510 are a plurality of transverse plates 508 which together comprise a lifting throat. After the cutter bar 510 has completed a section, the continuing rotation of the chain/belt/vane assembly lifts each section against the curvilinear contour of the throat 508 and around the trailing drive wheel 502. After a sufficient degree of rotation, gravity holds the section of material 514 against the belt as it rises upwards.

In the depicted embodiment, at the upper extent of the drive chain/belt/vane assembly, this assembly is angled such that as it rounds wheel 502A, the force of gravity causes each sediment section to fall from the assembly into a receiving device such as any of those described hereinabove, for example a conveyor or hopper.

In order to accommodate travel over possible buried objects, the cutter bar 510 and partitioned throat 508 assembly is designed to retract. The cutter bar 510 and each transverse section 508 of the throat are disposed to be held in place by and slide along guide rails 509. The guide rails are attached to the side walls 501. An upper terminal transverse throat panel 508 is in contact with the piston of hydraulic arm 507. The pressure exerted by this arm is selectable by an operator, in order to maintain a selected pressure for cutting the material being worked upon and also for maintaining a selected “break away” pressure at which the cutter bar and panels will retract when brought into contact with a submerged object such as a large rock, tree, debris or otherwise. When encountering such an obstruction, the transverse panels of the throat 508 and cutter bar retract upwards and rearwards along the guide tracks 509 and are retained therein until such time as the obstacle has been traveled over by the dredge 500. At that time, the pressure of the hydraulic arm 507 acts to return the throat downwards and forwards repositioning the throat and also the cutter bar 510 in reestablishing cutting engagement with the bottom material.

Steering and Positioning Mechanisms

FIGS. 13 and 14 depict a non-hydraulic dredge hull with positioning anchors of the present invention. FIG. 13 is a perspective view of the hull 600 having a non-hydraulic dredge wedge assembly installed thereon 610. At its bow 620, the hull includes (in schematic representation) starboard 621, center 622 and port 623 positioning anchors. FIG. 14 is a front view of the hull showing the bow 620 and the starboard 621, center 622 and port 623 positioning anchors. FIG. 2 depicts the body of water in which the hull 300 floats and further depicts the soft bottom surface of the body of water. Of the positioning anchors 621, 622, 623 depicted in FIG. 14, the starboard anchor 621 is vertically extended downwardly to an extent sufficient to sink into the mud, silt or other material composing the bottom of the body of water.

In operation, a typical non-hydraulic dredge has a dredging breadth as wide as the dredge head. In order to dredge an area, the dredge will need to make a first pass which will be as wide as the head breadth and then make successive passes. Preferably each pass is adjacent to the previous pass in order to dredge the entire bottom surface as required. In a current or possibly a wind, at the end of the pass it may be problematic to properly position the dredge hull to ensure that the second pass is optimally adjacent to the first pass. Additionally, should conventional hydraulic steering control methods (a propeller and rudder) be used, a certain amount of time will be expended in motoring past the end of the first pass, turning and repositioning the vessel in the opposite direction to begin a second pass. Accordingly, the positioning anchors of the present invention insure a proper beginning position for a next pass relative to a previous pass and also reduce turning time. A side anchor, that is starboard 621 or port 623, at an operators discretion, is mechanically, in the depicted embodiment hydraulically, extended vertically downwards until it engages the bottom of the body of water being dredged. The positioning anchor is driven into the bottom of the body of water to a depth sufficient to maintain a position of the dredge during a turning operation. After the positioning anchor is driven to the sufficient depth, the dredge head 640 is disengaged from the bottom of the body of water, as by buoyancy compensation, mechanical retraction, extension of the positioning anchor itself, or any combination of these. Thereafter, the hull is turned around the positioning anchor. Turning may be achieved by a conventional propeller and rudder, side thrusters 630, a bottom engaging rudder as described below, or any combination thereof. Being anchored, the hull will turn in a radius centered on the engaged anchor. After turning 180 degrees, the hull will be properly positioned for a next pass that will be adjacent to the previous pass. When in its proper position, the dredge head is re-engaged with the bottom of the body of water and anchor is retracted from the extended position, again hydraulically in the depicted embodiment. Then the next dredging pass is initiated. In the depicted embodiment, the outboard heads positioning anchors 621 and 623 are substantially in line with the outer edge of the dredge head 640, such that they are as far apart as the dredge head is wide.

Bottom Engaging Rudder

For further control in a non-hydraulic dredge operation, typically in medium or shallow depths of water, a bottom engaging directional rudder is disclosed. In FIG. 15 a hull 700 has attached to its stern a boom 710 that is mounted to the hull 700 with a pivot 712 such that the boom 710 may be pivotably raised and lowered. The axis of pivot 712 is substantially horizontal. Raising and lowering the boom 710 is effected with an actuator 714 which, in the depicted embodiment, is hydraulic. At a distal end of the boom 710 is a directional rudder 720. In the depicted embodiment, the rudder is circular and narrow relative to its radius. Optionally, the edge of the rudder 720 may be sharp. In FIG. 15, the bottom engaging rudder 720 is depicted in a retracted or elevated position. In FIG. 16, the same directional rudder 720 is depicted in a lowered or engaged position. In this engaged position, a portion of the bottom engaging rudder 720 is engaged with, that is, sunk into, the material comprising the bottom of the body of water. This may be mud, clay, silt, gravel or otherwise. In the depicted embodiment, the bottom engaging rudder is designed and operated such that its entry into the bottom material is less than its radius. That is, the axle 722 on which the bottom engaging rudder 720 is mounted to the boom 710, does not engage or descend below the top surface of the bottom material.

In FIG. 17, the bottom engaging rudder is schematically presented on the stem of the hull 700. Rudder 720 is mounted with the axle 722 to the boom 710. The boom 710 is further attached to the hull 700 with a mount 730 configured to provide its lateral turning, as by pivoting around an axis that is substantially vertical.

In operation, the bottom engaging rudder is lowered vertically, with hydraulics in the depicted embodiment, until it engages the bottom material. As the hull 700 is propelled forward by other means, for example a propeller, the bottom engaging rudder 720 rolls forward, cutting its way through the bottom material. When needed to steer, turn or otherwise control the position and direction of the hull 700, an operator engages an actuator 730 also, hydraulic in the depicted embodiment, to pivot the boom 710 as the user selects from side to side to turn the hull.

In the depicted embodiment, the positioning anchors appear on the bow of the hull and the bottom engaging rudder on the stern. It is within the scope of the present invention that positioning anchors and bottom engaging devices such as the rudder 720 may all be attached to the hull at any point; bow, stern, sides or bottom.

Cleat and Fin Combination

A novel cleat and fin arrangement is disclosed in FIGS. 18 through 22. For some applications a broad belt segmenting broad rectangles of sediment for raising may be divided into subsections transverse to the belt. It is also advantageous to bolster the strength of transverse vanes or cleats. Accordingly, in FIGS. 18-22 a combination of interacting cleats and fins are disclosed. As previously described, a chain 806 rotates around the drive wheels and carries with it a belt 804. On top of the belt are cleats 802 which serve the same function vanes depicted in previous embodiments of sectioning mud or sediment to be lifted. Each cleat 802 has a foot 803 which attaches to the belt 804 and/or chain 806 underneath it. Interacting and/or with each cleat 802 is a fin 808. The fin 808 is aligned longitudinally with the belt 804 and chain 806 as depicted in FIG. 21. Each vane is comprised of a side 820 which is longitudinally aligned and an angled base comprised of a fin foot 812 and a fin lead face 810. As depicted in FIG. 19, a perspective view, the fin base 806 is transverse to the belt 804 and is mounted on it. The fin face plate 810 is disclosed to abut an adjacent cleat 802 when the belt 804 is flat. In the depicted embodiment, each fin 808 further has a notch 816 in its leading edge and a extension 818 in its tailing edge. The notch of each fin aligns and closely cooperates with the extension of the next adjacent fin.

As can be seen in FIG. 20, a perspective view and FIG. 22, an end view, each cleat or vane has a vertical member 802 which serves to section the mud as described above. Each cleat or vane also has a foot 803 for mounting onto the belt 804. Each cleat also has a notch 822 dimensioned and positioned to interact with the extension 818 of each fin. These components interact and combine to provide strength to the cleats as they section mud or sediment. They also divide sections of mud or sediment into smaller volumes for ease of cutting and lifting. The notch and extension arrangement for interaction between each cleat and the adjacent fin promotes unloading of sediment as each cleat and fin rounds the upper wheel.

FIGS. 23 through 25 depicts a wedge conveyor, non-hydraulic dredge employing the cleat and fin assembly. As depicted in FIG. 23, the belt rotates counterclockwise for a direction of travel for the overall dredge to the left in FIG. 23. Each fin trailing edge rotates away from the belt at each rotation of the belt around a wheel. At a top wheel 830 this rotation promotes the ejection of a section of sediment from the belt. On a bottom contact plane 832 the fins may advantageously exceed the cleats in depth. This will promote the contacting and driving away from the belt and other operational components of the dredge any submerged obstructions. The fins 802 further provide reinforcement to keep loading forces from pulling the cleats backward or out of vertical with the belt and thereby warping the belt and/or drive chains away from the drive wheels and sprockets.

FIG. 24 is a perspective view of an assembly including support fins 802. In the depicted embodiment, the support fins subdivide a transverse section between cleats 802 into four sections. The outermost section edges are defined by the sidewalls 834 of the dredge. As fins 808 rotate around trailing wheel 836 they advance between the adjacent edges of an assembly of adjacent trip bottom throats 838. This construction further allows the fins 808 to be a greater depth than the cleats 802 in order to provide protection from submerged and buried objects. Each adjacent throat section 838 is mounted to a side wall 834 of the dredge at pivoting mount 844 and to a frame portion 840 with mounting rods 842. Each throat section 838 is configured to release or “trip” in the event that its leading edge, which is the cutting edge 846, hits a buried or submerged obstacle. Each throat section 838 is biased into its down and engaged cutting position for normal operation and maintained there at a preconfigured pressure. In the depicted embodiment, hydraulic rams 848 apply this pressure. The pressure is preconfigured to be overcome when it exceeds a threshold and that threshold is anticipated to be set at the degree of resistance corresponding to the cutting edge 846 meeting and buried obstruction that would otherwise break the throat component 838.

FIG. 25, another perspective view of the sectioned assembly with fins depicts one of the throat sections 838 in its released or tripped position, which allows a buried obstruction to pass.

Sediment Containment Skirts

Another novel aspect of the present invention is that in addition to the absence of a sediment plume such as created by hydraulic dredging techniques or clam shell buckets in the prior art, the dredge of the present invention may further reduce sedimentation with the advantageous use of sediment containment skirts. As depicted in FIG. 26, two to four containment skirts 902, 904 extending from the hull of the dredge down to the bottom of the body of water and, optionally, into the sediment forming the bottom are containment skirts. These skirts are outside the footprint of the dredge itself and its contact with the bottom of the body of water. These skirts may be made of flexible material, or alternatively, solid material such as steel mounted in a pivoting fashion. In operation any small amount of sediment suspended into the body of water by the operation of a dredge is maintained within the immediate vicinity of the dredge by the skirts and thereby further suppressing the suspension of sediments and the bottom of water at large, outside the skirts.

In some areas, including certain harbors, marinas and the like, certain instructions are known to exist in and under the sediment comprising the bottom of the waterway. For example, some floating docks are anchored by a network of chains. In some applications, it is advantageous to provide a continuously present device for deflecting such underwater obstacles and protecting the dredge and its operating parts from those obstacles.

Depicted in FIG. 27 and FIG. 28 are a guard rail 1002. In a depicted embodiment it is centered underneath the conveyor and its vanes. The guard rail 1002 descends into the sediment or other bottom material to a depth (C). This depth is deeper than a depth (D) at which side rails 1004 operate. The depth of vanes 1006, attached as before to a drive chain and/or belt (obscured) may alternately penetrate to a depth of the side plates 1004, or be more shallow than the side plates 1004. In any event, any depth of vane penetration or side wall penetration shallower than a penetration depth of the guard rail 1002 is within the scope of the present invention.

In FIG. 28, a side view of the guard rail is shown 1002 including a mount assembly 1008 attaching the guard rail 1002 to the side rails. Otherwise, the dredge conveyor operates as previously described, with conveyor 1010 conveying vanes 1006 around wheels 1014 to section and lift sediment from the bottom.

The guard rail 1002 may be disposed to present only an edge to the direction of travel, thereby minimally impeding forward progress and the power needed to attain it. The leading edge of guard rail 1002 may optionally extend ahead of the leading edge of the side walls 1004, with a direction of travel being in either direction. In operation, underwater obstructions contact the leading edge of the guard rail 1002 and, as the dredge moves forward, the guard rail and dredge rise and/or the obstruction sinks, thereby allowing the dredge assembly to travel over the obstruction.

A further embodiment of the present invention is depicted in FIGS. 29-31, as a track mounted dredge. A dredge assembly 1102 is mounted on a chassis, hull, frame or platform 1104. Also mounted on the chassis 1108 is at least one pontoon 1106. In the depicted embodiment, there are two laterally mounted pontoons 1106. The deck 1104 may alternatively be directly mounted on the pontoons and together serve to mount the dredge assembly 1102.

Each pontoon 1106 has mounted thereon a propulsion device. In the depicted embodiment, the propulsion device is a rotating track 1110 mounted around a perimeter of each pontoon. Each track 1110 submerges below a water level 1112 to drivingly engage a bottom surface 1114. A new bottom surface 1116 trails the dredge assembly. The contents of the pontoons may be controlled with ballast tanks 1120 and pumps 1122 such that their buoyancy and thereby the weight of the dredge transferred to the bottom surface through the tracks may selectively controlled, as well as the relative force exerted by the dredge assembly 1102 on the bottom material. Thus, the depicted embodiment is readily adaptable to swamp, marsh, taiga, tundra or other soft, marginal terrain for which a more amphibious device is desirable.

An off loading conveyor 1130 may be mounted to dispose of dredged material 1132 for direct deposit on an island or levee to be built or to a barge for remote deposit. Dredged material may be dumped on the conveyor 1130 directly from the dredge assembly 1102, as depicted in FIG. 30, or via a transfer conveyor 1134, as depicted in FIG. 29. Power may be delivered to all powered elements from a power source 1140 such as an engine. Control of all elements may be had through a pilot house 1142.

FIG. 31 depicts an alternative dredge assembly 1102 that may be mounted on any embodiment, but for illustration is shown in FIGS. 29 and 30. It includes a tensioning roller 1150. The tensioning roller 1150, together with wheels 1152 deploy the dredge conveyor 1154 in a path that becomes entirely inverted over a transfer conveyor 1134, thus facilitating the ejection of dredged material from the dredge vanes 1156 and onto the transfer conveyor 1134. The tensioning roller 1150 may be further mounted to the deck 1104 either rigidly or on a moveable mount 1160 such as a shock absorbing, sprung or hydraulically controlled shaft such that tension of the dredge conveyor 1154 may also be controlled and/or extraordinary stresses on the dredge conveyor may be absorbed without damage or work interruption.

FIG. 32 is a top view of the tracked embodiment showing the moveable mount 1160, as well as the other components. It further shows a space or throughole in the deck 1104 dimensioned to accommodate the dredge assembly 1102.

As various modifications could be made to the exemplary embodiments, as described above with reference to the corresponding illustrations, without departing from the scope of the invention, it is intended that all matter contained in the foregoing description and shown in the accompanying drawings shall be interpreted as illustrative rather than limiting. Thus, the breadth and scope of the present invention should not be limited by any of the above-described exemplary embodiments, but should be defined only in accordance with the following claims appended hereto and their equivalents.