Title:
PALLET INSPECTION AND REPAIR SYSTEM AND ASSOCIATED METHODS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A pallet inspection and repair system includes a pallet in-feed for receiving pallets for inspection, and an automated pallet inspection system for inspecting the pallets. A processor cooperates with the automated pallet inspection system to generate a repair recipe for each pallet based on the inspecting, and compares the repair recipes to determine at least one performance repair parameter for the pallets. The at least one performance repair parameter corresponds to a type of repair to be made to the pallets.



Inventors:
Townsend, Steve (Chatswood, AU)
Lucas, Michael David (Chatswood, AU)
Application Number:
11/965919
Publication Date:
07/02/2009
Filing Date:
12/28/2007
Assignee:
CHEP Technology Pty Limited (Sydney, AU)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
414/222.11
International Classes:
B65H1/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
OBAID, FATEH M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ADDG - CHEP (Winter Springs, FL, US)
Claims:
That which is claimed:

1. A method for inspecting and repairing pallets comprising: receiving a plurality of pallets for inspection; inspecting each pallet using an automated pallet inspection system; generating a repair recipe for each pallet based on the inspecting; and comparing the repair recipes to determine at least one performance repair parameter for the pallets.

2. The method according to claim 1, wherein the at least one performance repair parameter corresponds to at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

3. The method according to claim 2, further comprising determining at least one repair trend based on the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

4. The method according to claim 2, further comprising determining material usage for repairing the pallets based on the at least one type of repair to be made.

5. The method according to claim 2, further comprising estimating an amount of time for repairing the pallets based on the at least one type of repair to be made.

6. The method according to claim 1, wherein the automated pallet inspection system inspects the pallets based on a plurality of inspection parameters each having a tolerance associated therewith; and further comprising adjusting at least one of the tolerances based on the at least one performance repair parameter.

7. The method according to claim 1 wherein inspecting each pallet using the automated pallet inspection system comprises: generating image data for each pallet; and comparing the generated image data with an expected profile of the pallet, with the repair recipe being generated based on the comparing.

8. The method according to claim 2, wherein the plurality of pallets are received from a customer, and further comprising: collecting customer data with respect to the received pallets; tracking the customer data with the at least one performance repair parameter; and analyzing the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets provided by the customer.

9. The method according to claim 8, further comprising providing feedback to the customer so corrective action can be taken by the customer.

10. The method according to claim 8 wherein the customer data comprises identification of the customer, and how many pallets are received from the customer.

11. The method according to claim 1 further comprising repairing damaged pallets based on the respective repair recipes using at least one processor-controller pallet repair device.

12. A pallet inspection and repair system comprising: a pallet in-feed for receiving a plurality of pallets for inspection; an automated pallet inspection system for receiving the plurality of pallets from said pallet in-feed for inspecting; and at least one processor cooperating with said automated pallet inspection system for generating a repair recipe for each pallet based on the inspecting, and comparing the repair recipes to determine at least one performance repair parameter for the pallets.

13. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 12, wherein the at least one performance repair parameter corresponds to at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

14. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 13, wherein said at least one processor further determines at least one repair trend based on the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

15. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 13, wherein said at least one processor further determines material usage for repairing the pallets based on the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

16. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 13, wherein said at least one processor further estimates an amount of time for repairing the pallets based on the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

17. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 12, wherein said automated pallet inspection system inspects the pallets based on a plurality of inspection parameters each having a tolerance associated therewith; and wherein said at least one processor further cooperates with said automated pallet inspection system for adjusting at least one of the tolerances based on the at least one performance repair parameter.

18. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 12 wherein said automated pallet inspection system generates image data for each pallet, and compares the generated image data with an expected profile of the pallet, with the repair recipe being generated by said at least one processor based on the comparing.

19. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 13, wherein the plurality of pallets are received from a customer; wherein said pallet in-feed collects customer data with respect to the received pallets; and wherein said at least one processor tracks the customer data with the at least one performance repair parameter, and analyzes the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets provided by the customer.

20. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 19, wherein said at least one processor further generates feedback for the customer so corrective action can be taken by the customer.

21. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 19 wherein the customer data comprises identification of the customer, and how many pallets are received from the customer.

22. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 12 further comprising at least one processor-controller pallet repair device for repairing damaged pallets based on the respective repair recipes.

23. A pallet inspection and repair system comprising: a pallet in-feed for receiving a plurality of pallets for inspection; an automated pallet inspection system for receiving the plurality of pallets from said pallet in-feed, and for generating image data for each pallet, and comparing the generated image data with an expected profile of the pallet; and at least one processor cooperating with said automated pallet inspection system for generating a repair recipe for each pallet based on the comparing, and comparing the repair recipes to determine at least one performance repair parameter for the pallets, with the at least one performance repair parameter corresponding to at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

24. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 23, wherein said at least one processor further determines at least one repair trend based on the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

25. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 23, wherein said at least one processor further determines at least one of material usage and estimates an amount of time for repairing the pallets based on the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets.

26. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 23, wherein said automated pallet inspection system inspects the pallets based on a plurality of inspection parameters each having a tolerance associated therewith; and wherein said at least one processor further cooperates with said automated pallet inspection system for adjusting at least one of the tolerances based on the at least one performance repair parameter.

27. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 13, wherein the plurality of pallets are received from a customer; wherein said pallet in-feed collects customer data with respect to the received pallets; and wherein said at least one processor tracks the customer data with the at least one performance repair parameter, and analyzes the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets provided by the customer.

28. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 23 further comprising at least one processor-controller pallet repair device for repairing damaged pallets based on the respective repair recipes.

29. The pallet inspection and repair system according to claim 23 further comprising: a plurality of spaced apart sensors for tracking movement of the pallets. a controller cooperating with said plurality of spaced apart sensors for controlling said automated inspection system based on movement of the pallets.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to pallet inspection and repair systems, and more particularly, to the processing of data obtained from a pallet inspection and repair system.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Wooden pallets are used to transport a variety of bulk goods and equipment as required in manufacturing and warehousing operations. In high volume industries, pallet pools provide a lower total industry cost than one-way pallets. The current assignee of the present invention recognizes the benefits of pooled pallets, and currently has over several hundred million pallets that are pooled each year.

After the bulk goods and equipment are off loaded from the pooled pallets, the pallets are returned to pallet inspection and repair facilities for inspection, and if necessary, repair, before the pallets are returned to service.

As one might expect, wooden pallets are subject to damage in use that occurs from handling with forklifts or other like equipment. Since wooden pallets are in wide use, a large number of damaged and unusable pallets need to be repaired or discarded daily during the pallet inspection and repair process. Repair of damaged pallets has become an increasingly sound alternative to disposal due to the sheer volume of pallets that require repair each day.

Pallet inspection and repair traditionally requires manual handling and inspection by an operator, with mechanized systems available for moving pallets to and from the human operator who completes the repair of the pallets. An automated pallet inspection and repair system is advantageous because it does not rely on a human operator to perform the inspection and repair.

U.S. published patent application no. 2006/0242820 discloses an automated pallet inspection and repair system, which is assigned to the current assignee of the present invention and is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety. The automated pallet inspection and repair system discloses an automatic pallet inspection cell comprising multi-axis robot arms that terminate in either internal or exterior pallet grippers. A robot may be used to transport a gripped pallet through an automated pallet inspection station that generates a three-dimensional data map of a pallet surface. A processor interprets the map and generates a corresponding repair recipe. One or more repair stations may conduct pallet repair operations that are specified by the repair recipe. These repairs may be automatically made by one or processor-controlled pallet repair devices, or manually by a human.

While automated pallet inspection and repair systems are advantageous for inspecting and repairing pallets, there is still a need to improve how the inspection data is processed and analyzed.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In view of the foregoing background, it is therefore an object of the present invention to further process and analyze pallet inspection data.

This and other objects, features, and advantages in accordance with the present invention are provided by a method for inspecting and repairing pallets comprising receiving a plurality of pallets for inspection, inspecting each pallet using an automated pallet inspection system, generating a repair recipe for each pallet based on the inspecting, and comparing the repair recipes to determine at least one performance repair parameter for the pallets.

The at least one performance repair parameter may correspond to at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets. The method may further comprise determining repair trends based on the types of repairs to be made to the pallets. This advantageously allows material usage and the amount of time for repairing the pallets to be estimated or determined, which in turn allows the throughput of the pallet inspection and repair system to be monitored so that lumber and personnel can be accurately forecasted.

The automated pallet inspection system may inspect the pallets based on a plurality of inspection parameters each having a tolerance associated therewith. The method may further comprise adjusting at least one of the tolerances based on the at least one performance repair parameter. If one or more of the inspection tolerances are set to stringent, for example, this may cause unnecessary repairs to be made to the pallets. By relaxing the inspection tolerances with the pallets still meeting customer demands, less repairs would be made. Alternatively, different customers may have different tolerance requirements.

The plurality of pallets to be inspected may be received from a customer, and the method may further comprise collecting customer data with respect to the received pallets, tracking the customer data with the at least one performance repair parameter, and analyzing the at least one type of repair to be made to the pallets provided by the customer. This advantageously allows feedback to be provided to the customer. The feedback would allow corrective action to be taken by the customer to reduce certain types of repairs being made to the pallets provided by that customer.

The method may further comprise repairing damaged pallets based on the respective repair recipes using at least one processor-controller pallet repair device. Alternatively, the repairs may be made by human operators.

Another aspect of the present invention is directed to a pallet inspection and repair system comprising a pallet in-feed for receiving a plurality of pallets for inspection, and an automated pallet inspection system for receiving the plurality of pallets from the pallet in-feed for inspecting. At least one processor may cooperate with the automated pallet inspection system for generating a repair recipe for each pallet based on the inspecting, and comparing the repair recipes to determine at least one performance repair parameter for the pallets.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a top-level block diagram of a pallet inspection and repair system in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a forklift removing pallets from a truck prior to inspection in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a schematic diagram of the stack in-feed illustrated in FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram of the tipper/accumulator illustrated in FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a schematic diagram of the preparation screening line illustrated in FIG. 1.

FIGS. 6 and 7 are schematic diagrams of the automated digital inspection (ADI) station illustrated in FIG. 1.

FIGS. 8 and 9 respectively illustrate a pallet repair summary table and an element repair summary table generated by the ADI station in accordance with the present invention.

FIGS. 10, 11 and 12 respectively illustrate different configurations of the top deck boards of a pallet as well as element ID and indexing of the boards in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 13 illustrates the bottom deck baseboards of a pallet as well as element ID and indexing of the boards in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 14 illustrates the stringers of a pallet as well as element ID and indexing of the boards in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 15 is a schematic diagram of the classification divert line illustrated in FIG. 1.

FIG. 16 is a more detailed block diagram of the different repair machines/repair devices associated with the repair line illustrated in FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

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

A top-level overview of the pallet inspection and repair system 40 will initially be discussed with reference to FIG. 1. Pooled pallets 50 from different customers are returned to a pallet pooling company for inspection, and if necessary, repair, before the pallets are returned to service 51. As the pallets 50 are received, customer data is collected and recorded. Customer data includes the customer providing the pallets, along with how many pallets are being returned. Customer data may also include other pertinent information about the customer, as readily appreciated by those skilled in the art.

Prior to inspection, the pallets 50 are provided to a stack in-feed 52. As the pallets 50 are placed in the stack in-feed 52, customer data 70 associated with the pallets are provided to at least one processor, referred to herein as a factory management system (FMS) server 56. As each pallet 50 is individually tracked through the pallet inspection and repair system 40 by an automated controller 60, the FMS server 56 keeps track of the corresponding customer data 70 to be associated therewith.

The stack in-feed 52 squares each stack of pallets before being passed to a tipper/accumulator 62. The tipper/accumulator 62 provides a steady stream of spaced apart pallets 50 for inspection by the automated digital inspection (ADI) station 66. As the pallets 50 leave the tipper/accumulator 62, they pass through a preparation screening line 64.

In the preparation screening line 64, each pallet 50 is visually inspected by a human operator to remove any loose debris or trash that may affect the ADI station 66. If necessary, the human operator will also make minor repairs. Each pallet 50 is individually tracked through the preparation screening line 64 by the automated controller 60. In some cases, a pallet 50 may be discarded during the preparation screening line 64 if it is damaged too badly, as indicated by block 65.

From the preparation screening line 64, each pallet 50 is inspected by the ADI station 66. The ADI station 66 may be configured as one or two inspection booths. As part of the inspection, image data 72 is generated for the pallet 50. The ADI station 66 compares the generated image data 72 to an expected profile 74. The generated image data 72 may also be referred to as measurement data, and the expected profile 74 may also be referred to as pallet classification. Based on the comparison, a damage report 76 is generated. As will be discussed in greater detail below, the damage report 76 comprises a pallet repair summary and an element repair summary.

The damage report 76 is sent to the FMS server 56. The FMS server 56 generates a repair recipe 78 for the inspected pallet 50 based on the damage report 76. During the pallet inspection and repair process, the information in the FMS server 56 (i.e., repair recipes 78) is queried. The inspected pallet 50 travels from the ADI station 66 to a classification divert line 68.

The classification divert line 68 may also be referred to as a sort line, and queries the FMS server 56 to determine if the inspected pallet is good or bad. If the inspected pallet 50 is bad, this means that the pallet requires repair (via repair line 80) or is to be discarded (via discard line 84). If the inspected pallet 50 is good, then the pallet 50 is sent to the paint booth 82 prior to being returned to service 51.

Prior to being sent to the repair line 80, the classification divert line 68 may position which way the pallets are to face for the repairs to be made. The repair line 80 includes a series of processor-controlled repair machines/repair devices available for repairing each pallet 50 based on the corresponding repair recipe 78, as will be discussed in greater detail below. Depending on how extensive the pallet 50 is damaged, the number of repair machines/repair devices involved in the repair can vary from one to more than one. In addition, certain repairs may be manually made by a human, as readily appreciated by those skilled in the art.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, the automated controller 60 controls the tipper/accumulator 62, the preparation screening line 64, the ADI station 66 and the classification divert line 68. In this portion of the pallet inspection and repair system 40, the pallets 50 are moved on a conveyor system, for example. A series of detectors, such as photocells, for example, are positioned along the conveyor system for tracking position and movement of each pallet. The automated controller 60 is a computer-based controller that tracks the position and movement of each pallet 50 via the sensors, and coordinates with the ADI system 66 on when the image data 72 of each pallet 50 is to be generated.

For each pallet 50, the corresponding customer data 70 and repair recipe 78 are provided from the EMS server 56 to another processor, which is referred to herein a data analysis server 58. The data analysis server 58 is illustrated as being separate from the FMS server 56. Alternatively, the FMS server 56 and the data analysis server 58 could be configured as a single server or processing system, as readily appreciated by those skilled in the art.

The data analysis server 58 performs post-analysis processing for the inspected pallets 50. This involves comparing the repair recipes 78 to determine performance repair parameters 90 for the pallets 50. The performance repair parameters 90 correspond to the different types of repairs to be made to the pallets.

As a result of analyzing the types of repairs being made to the pallets 50, statistical data can be collected including how many pallets are being repaired, how much time and lumber is being consumed or is expected to be consumed in repairing the pallets, as well as tracking what repairs are being made. This advantageously allows the throughput of the pallet inspection and repair system 40 to be monitored so that lumber and personnel can be accurately forecasted.

By determining certain repair trends, changes may be made to the pallet inspection and repair system 40 to more efficiently make the repairs. This may involve modifying one or more of the processor-controlled repair devices, or even the addition of a processor-controlled repair device if the repair was initially being manually made by a human operator.

Moreover, the repair trends may cause an examination of the inspection tolerances associated with the ADI station 66, for example. If one or more of the inspection tolerances are set to stringent, this may cause unnecessary repairs to be made to the pallets 50. By relaxing the inspection tolerances, less repairs would be made with the pallets 50 still meeting customer demands.

The performance repair parameters 90 may also be tracked with the customer data so that feedback can advantageously be provided to the customer. The feedback would allow corrective action to be taken by the customer to reduce certain types of repairs being made to the pallets provided by that customer.

By analyzing the types of repairs being made to the pallets for a particular customer, certain trends may be noted. For example, the customer may be damaging the supports blocks on the pallets more often than other customers, or the top deck boards are being replaced more often than other customers. Corrective action may be for the customer to instruct their forklift operators to reduce impacting the forklift tines with the support blocks, and to not stack loaded pallets too high on top of one another, for example. If the customer ignores the feedback, then the customer may be charged a higher rate on their pooled pallets.

The pallet inspection and repair system 40 will now be discussed in greater detail. Referring now to FIG. 2, a forklift 100 is used to unload wooden pallets 50 from a tractor-trailer truck 102. A standard tractor-trailer truck 102 holds about 500 pallets 50, for example. As the pallets 50 are unloaded, a vehicle mount terminal (VMT) 104 on the forklift 100 records the customer data 70. The customer data 70 includes the truck number, the customer providing the pallets 50, and how many pallets are being unloaded for inspection. The customer data 70 is entered into the VMT 104 by the operator of the forklift 100. This process is repeated each time pallets 50 are unloaded from a truck 102 or any other delivery vehicle.

At the stack in-feed 52, the forklift 100 places the wooden pallets 50 against a backboard 124, as illustrated in FIG. 3. As the pallets 50 are stacked, the VMT 104 communicates with the FMS server 56. The FMS server 56 may also be referred to as a logistics database, for example.

The stack in-feed 52 comprises a series of conveyors 110, 112, 114 and 116, which are controlled by electrical motors 119. The illustrated arrow 107 indicates the flow direction of the pallets 50. Each conveyor has one or more detectors 120 for determining the position of a stack of pallets 122 as it moves along the conveyors 110, 112, 114 and 116. The detectors 120 may be photoelectric sensors, or photoeyes, for example. A photoelectric sensor is used to detect the presence of a stack of pallets 122 by using a light transmitter, often infrared, and a photoelectric receiver. Other types and forms of detectors 120 may be used, as readily appreciated by those skilled in the art.

The pallets 50 are initially stacked on a conveyor 110 against the backboard 124 to form a stack of pallets 122. Each illustrated stack of pallets 122 is 20 pallets high. After a stack of pallets 122 has been formed, the stack moves from conveyor 110 to a stack squarer 126 via conveyor 112. The stack squarer 126 squares each stack of pallets 122. After being squared, the conveyor 114 associated with the stack squarer 126 moves the stack of pallets 122 to an adjacent conveyor 116. This conveyor 116 then moves the stack of pallets 122 toward the tipper/accumulator 62.

The tipper/accumulator 62 comprises a tipper 130 and an accumulator 140, as the name implies, as illustrated in FIG. 4. The illustrated arrow 107 indicates the flow direction of the pallets 50. The tipper 130 includes an L-shaped member that is tilted from a first position in which the long side 132 of the L-shaped member is upright and the short side 134 is horizontal, to a second position in which the long side 132 is near horizontal and the short side 134 is near vertical (as in FIG. 4). When the short side 134 of the L-shaped member is in the horizontal position, the stack of pallets 122 is loaded onto the tipper 140. After loading, the tipper 140 moves the L-shaped member to the second position in which the long side 132 of the tipper is nearly horizontally disposed so that the pallets 50 held on the L-shaped member can be moved off the tipper 130 to the accumulator 140.

The accumulator 140 provides an intermediate stage between the stack of pallets 122 and the preparation screening line 64. The tipper 130 delivers and transfers the stack of pallets 122 to the accumulator 140 which then holds and delivers the pallets 50 one at a time to the preparation screening line 64. This is while the tipper 130 returns to receive another stack of pallets 122.

At the output of the accumulator 140, the pallets 50 are passed to another series of conveyors 150, 152, 154, 156, 158 and 160 defining the preparation screening line 64, as illustrated in FIG. 5. The illustrated preparation screening line 64 is one example, and others variations are readily applicable. The illustrated arrow 107 indicates the flow direction of the pallets 50. Detectors 120 are spaced along the conveyors 150-160 for tracking the position of each pallet 50. The pallets 50 from the accumulator 140 are placed with the top deck facing up on conveyor 150. The top deck of each pallet 50 is visually inspected by a human operator to insure that any loose debris or trash is removed from the pallet 50 before reaching the ADI station 66. Also, any loose boards on the top deck that can be easily repaired may also be nailed down at this time. If the human operator determines that the pallet 50 is too damaged to be repaired, then the pallet is discarded at this point.

The pallets 50 travel along conveyor 152 and are then flipped because of the transition with conveyor 154 so that the bottom deck is now facing up. Likewise, the bottom deck of each pallet 50 is visually inspected by a human operator to insure that any loose debris or trash is removed from the pallets before reaching the ADI station 66. As with the top deck, any loose boards on the bottom deck that can be easily repaired may also be nailed down at this time. Again, if the human operator determines that the pallet 50 is too damaged to be repaired, then the pallet is discarded at this point.

The pallets 50 travel along conveyor 156 and are then flipped over at conveyor 158 so that the top deck is again facing up. This is so the ADI station 66 first inspects the top deck of each pallet 50. The pallets 50 continue moving on conveyor 160 toward the ADI station 66.

The next step in the pallet inspection and repair system 40 is to inspect the pallets 50, as illustrated in FIGS. 6 and 7. The illustrated embodiment for the ADI station 66 shown in FIG. 1 comprises a pair of ADI inspection stations 180, 182. The illustrated arrow 107 indicates the flow direction of the pallets 50.

During the inspection process, the top and bottom decks of each pallet 50 are inspected in separate ADI inspection stations 180, 182. Conveyor 170 receives a pallet 50 from conveyor 160 in the preparation screening line 64. The top deck of the pallet 50 is inspected in ADI inspection station 180. Detectors 120 are used to track movement of the pallet 50 prior to entering the ADI station 180, as well as tracking movement within the ADI station.

The ADI station 180 inspects the top deck of the pallet 50 using pallet feature sensing heads 190 placed above the pallet. Each pallet feature sensing head 190 may comprise a series of sensors in a line (linear array) to detect the presence or absence of timber (or other pallet material), as discussed in the above-referenced patent application that is incorporated herein by reference. This type of sensing head is positioned adjacent to the moving pallet 50 so that it scans the pallet surface passing near it for generating an image 72 of the pallet.

In another embodiment, the pallet feature sensing head 190 may comprise a laser and camera system to capture individual profiles (cross-sections) of the pallet 50 (i.e., the camera records the location of a projected laser line and triangulates its position to give height and coordinate data). The laser beam that is projected onto the pallet 50 may be fan shaped, or it may be scanned across the pallet surface using, for example, moving mirrors. Such a system will generate a three-dimensional digital data map on the pallet 50 and can be used for detecting gaps or protrusions such as nails, hanging wood, etc.

Alternatively, similar three-dimensional maps of pallet features, dimensions and topography may be created using a system of cameras, which may be stereoscopic or monocular in location and action. These can be mathematically manipulated to give data on each element that can then be analyzed for damage as in other pallet feature sensing head arrangements.

The ADI station 180 has at least one computing system 194 cooperating with the pallet feature sensing heads 190 for generating an image of the top deck of the pallet 50 being inspected. Likewise, the other ADI station 182 has at least one computing system 194 cooperating with the pallet feature sensing heads 190 for generating an image of the bottom deck of the pallet 50.

Between the ADI stations 180 and 182, conveyor 172 moves the pallet 50 to conveyor 174, wherein the transition between the two conveyors causes the pallet to flip over so that the bottom deck is facing up. The pallet 50 then moves on conveyors 176 and 178 to the ADI station 182 for inspecting the upper facing bottom deck.

Although not illustrated, the two computing systems 194 and 204 are coupled together for generating a damage report 76 on the pallet 50. The computing system 194 compares the generated image data 72 for the top and bottom decks of the pallet 50 with expected profiles 74 for generating the damage report 76.

The damage report 76 comprises a pallet repair summary and an element repair summary. The pallet repair summary and the element repair summary may be configured as tables, as illustrated in FIGS. 8 and 9. The element repair summary corresponds to the elements making up the pallet 50. For example, the top deck of the pallet 50 could be formed with 5, 6 or 7 boards as illustrated in FIGS. 10, 11 and 12. Accordingly, when a pallet 50 is to be inspected, the pallet needs to be classified as a 5, 6 or 7 board pallet. The corresponding element ID 206 and element index 208 for each type of pallet are also provided.

Once the pallet 50 has been classified, then the expected profile can be selected by the computing systems 194, 204. Similarly, the elements making up the bottom deck of the pallet 50, and the elements making up the stringer boards of the pallets are illustrated in FIGS. 13 and 14. The corresponding element ID 206 and element index 208 for the pallet are also provided.

As an alternative to separate ADI stations 180 and 182, a single ADI station may be used when pallet feature sensing heads 190 are positioned below the conveyor. In this embodiment, the pallet 50 does not have to be flipped over so that the bottom deck is facing up during inspection. In addition, a single computing system 194 may be used.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, the damage report is provided to the FMS server 56. Since the damage report 76 includes the pallet repair summary table and the element repair summary table as illustrated in FIGS. 8 and 9, the FMS server 56 generates a repair recipe 78 for the pallet 50.

The repair recipe 78 determines how the pallet 50 is to be repaired if it is damaged. The repair recipe 78 takes into account the inspection results, the complexity of the repair and the repair machines available and the paths available (with respect to the repair machines) in the pallet inspection and repair system 40. The repair recipe 78 also takes into consideration what repair operations get priority if multiple repairs have to be made to the pallet 50. The FMS server 56 thus creates a relational database scheme for handling the very large number of repair variables that are possible when repairing pallets 50.

Conveyor 180 moves the pallet 50 from the second ADI station 182 to the classification divert line 68, as illustrated in FIG. 15. The classification divert line 68 includes a conveyor 185 for receiving the pallet 50 from the second ADI station 182. Conveyor 210 operates as a control gate for directing the pallet 50 to conveyor 212 or to conveyor 208. Conveyor 212 provides the pallet 50 to conveyor 214 which directs the pallet to the repair line 80. Conveyor 208 provides the pallet 50 to the paint booth 82. Although not illustrated, the classification divert line 68 also directs the pallet to the discard line 84 if the pallet 50 is too damaged to be repaired. The classification divert line 68 thus operates based on the repair recipe 78.

In the repair line 80, a number of different processor-controlled repair devices and repair machines are available to support a complete repair of a pallet 50. The repair line 80 includes the following: a de-stubbing device 240, a lead board adjustment machine 242, a nailing machine 244 for the lead board adjustment machine, an any board removal machine 246, a board placing/nailing machine 248, a lead board removal machine 250 and a nail presser for proud nails 252. In addition, some repairs may be manually made by a human, either directly or with the human operating a repair machine, as indicated by reference 254. The order in which a pallet 50 is repaired in the repair line 80 is based on the generated repair recipe 78.

The repair recipe 78 may be provided to the repair line 80 in a number of different ways. For example, the position of each pallet 50 is still being tracked so that the repair recipe 78 “travels” with each pallet. Alternatively, each pallet 50 may be physically marked with their repair recipe 78 before leaving the classification divert line 68. This may be in the form of a bar code, or as a set of written instructions. Once the pallet 50 arrives at the repair line 80, the repair recipe 78 is read. The repair recipe 78 may be read by a processor or by a human operator.

As part of the repair line 80, one or more robot cells may be used to position each pallet 50 among the different repair devices/machines based on the repair recipe 78. Alternatively, conveyors with switch gates may be used for providing the pallets 50 to the appropriate repair devices/machines based on the repair recipe 78.

After a pallet 50 has been repaired, or for a pallet that did not need repair, the pallet may be sent to the paint booth 82 before being returned to service. In one embodiment, several pallets 50 are placed in the paint booth 82 at one time. The paint booth 82 is enclosed, and the pallets 50 spin as edges or sides of the pallets are sprayed with paint. Next, a stencil may be used to mark the pallets with indicia, such as the company logo. In one embodiment, a robot is used for dipping its paint guns into a pit of paint for marking at least two pallets at a time. An alternative design is to use an inkjet type paint sprayer to spray in a dot matrix format the indicia.

In the discard line 84, the pallets 50 are dismantled. A robot, for example, may be programmed to dismantle the pallets 50.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the invention will come to the mind of one skilled in the art having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is understood that the invention is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed, and that modifications and embodiments are intended to be included as readily appreciated by those skilled in the art.