Title:
SYSTEM FOR ALIGNING A SHEET FOR SIMULTANEOUS MODIFICATION OF A PLURALITY OF AREAS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system and method are described for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas of the sheet. The sheet may be received by an alignment device from a feeder. The alignment device may angularly align the sheet, which may cause the sheet to become flush to the alignment device. The alignment device may adjust the sheet to correct for an offset alignment which may cause the sheet to be aligned with the direction of travel of the sheet. The alignment device may also align the sheet with a plurality of print heads. A conveyor may then pass the sheet beneath the plurality of print heads. The plurality of print heads may simultaneously modify the plurality of areas of the sheet.



Inventors:
Jones, John F. (Allen, TX, US)
Application Number:
12/474084
Publication Date:
09/24/2009
Filing Date:
05/28/2009
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
271/250, 271/248
International Classes:
B65H9/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
CICCHINO, PATRICK D
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BGL (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A method for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet, comprising: receiving, by an alignment device, a sheet comprising of a plurality of areas; performing, by the alignment device, an angular alignment of the sheet, wherein the performing of the angular alignment causes the sheet to become flush to the alignment device; adjusting, by the alignment device, the sheet to correct for an offset alignment, wherein adjusting the sheet causes the sheet to be aligned with a direction of travel of the sheet; aligning, by the alignment device, the sheet with the plurality of print heads; and passing, by a conveyor, the sheet beneath the plurality of print heads.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein aligning, by the alignment device, the sheet with a plurality of print heads further comprises: modifying, simultaneously by the plurality of print heads, the plurality of areas of the sheet.

3. The method of claim 2 wherein performing, by the alignment device, the angular alignment of the sheet further comprises passing, by the alignment device, the sheet into a pair of stops, wherein the pair of stops angularly align the sheet.

4. The method of claim 2 wherein adjusting, by the alignment device, the sheet to correct for the offset alignment further comprises pulling, by the alignment device, a side of the sheet to correct for the offset alignment.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein aligning, by the alignment device, the sheet with a plurality of print heads further comprises: transporting, by the alignment device, the sheet over a plurality of angled belts; and pushing, by a plurality of belts and rollers, the sheet against a straight edge.

6. The method of claim 1 wherein receiving the sheet comprising of a plurality of areas further comprises receiving the sheet comprising of a plurality of areas from a pallet load feeder.

7. The method of claim 1 wherein aligning, by the alignment device, the sheet with the plurality of print heads further comprises aligning, by the alignment device, at least one of the plurality of areas of the sheet with at least one of the plurality of print heads

8. The method of claim 1 wherein the conveyor comprises of a friction conveyor.

9. The method of claim 1 further comprising: passing, by the conveyor, the sheet to an outfeed conveyor; and passing, by the outfeed conveyor, the sheet beneath a curing device.

10. The method of claim 9 wherein the outfeed conveyor allows for a variable cure time of the sheet.

11. The method of claim 9 further comprising, passing, by the outfeed conveyor, the sheet to a pallet unload stacker.

12. An alignment device for aligning a sheet with a plurality of print heads wherein the alignment device performs the steps of: receiving a sheet comprising of a plurality of areas; performing an angular alignment of the sheet, wherein performing the angular alignment causes the sheet to be flush to the alignment device; and adjusting the sheet to correct for an offset alignment, wherein the adjusting the sheet causes the sheet to be aligned with a direction of travel of the sheet; and aligning the sheet with the plurality of print heads.

13. The alignment device of claim 12 wherein the step of aligning the sheet with the plurality of print heads further comprises aligning at least one of the plurality of areas of the sheet with at least one of the plurality of print heads.

14. The alignment device of claim 12 wherein the step of performing the angular alignment of the sheet further comprises passing the sheet into a pair of stops, wherein the pair of stops angularly aligns the sheet.

15. The alignment device of claim 12 wherein the step of adjusting the sheet to correct for the offset alignment further comprises pulling a side of the sheet to correct for the offset alignment.

16. The alignment device of claim 12 wherein the step of aligning the sheet with the plurality of print heads further comprises: transporting the sheet over a plurality of angled belts; and pushing, by a plurality of rollers and belts, the sheet against a straight edge.

17. A system for aligning a sheet with a plurality of print heads, the system comprising: means for receiving a sheet comprising of a plurality of areas; means for performing an angular alignment of the sheet, wherein performing the angular alignment causes the sheet to be flush to an alignment platform; means for adjusting the sheet to correct for an offset alignment, wherein the adjusting the sheet causes the sheet to be aligned with a direction of travel of the sheet; and; and means for aligning the sheet with the plurality of print heads.

18. The system of claim 17 wherein means for aligning the sheet with the plurality of print heads further comprises means for aligning at least one of the plurality of areas of the sheet with at least one of the plurality of print heads.

19. The system of claim 17 wherein means for performing the angular alignment of the sheet further comprises means for passing the sheet into a pair of stops, wherein the pair of stops angularly aligns the sheet.

20. The system of claim 17 wherein means for adjusting the sheet to correct for the offset alignment further comprises means for pulling a side of the sheet to correct for the offset alignment.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/773,860, filed on Jul. 5, 2007, which is incorporated by reference herein.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present description relates generally to a system and method, generally referred to as a system, for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet, and more particularly, but not exclusively, to aligning a sheet for simultaneously printing indicia to multiple printed cards on the sheet.

BACKGROUND

Players of trading card games and collectible card games may collect cards, or decks of cards, which may be used to play a game. The cards may each have a specific function, or utility, in the card game and each card may have a varying degree of value associated with the function. There may be differing levels of availability of the cards, whereby some cards may be rarer than others. The more utility a card may have in the card game, the less available the card may be to the players. The players may collect their own deck of cards and use their specific cards to compete against other players.

There may be online collectible card games which users may play over the internet. The online collectible card games may embody the same basic principles as the physical collectible card games; however, players of the online collectible card games may collect “virtual” cards as opposed to physical cards. The “virtual” cards may only exist in digital form in the realm of the online card game. Players may be unable to use their personalized decks of physical collectible cards in the online card games. The inability to use the physical cards in the online play may be a result of an inability to efficiently print unique indicia on each card in each deck. Since each card has a specific function and value, it is necessary for each card to have a unique indicia printed on it. The unique indicia may make each card identifiable in the online realm.

The traditional process of printing collectible playing cards may involve printing cards in a standard sheet format. Thus, an entire sheet of cards may be printed with one pass through a printer. However, in order to print a unique indicia or marker on each individual card on a sheet, the sheets may need to be cut into individual cards and the cards may need to be printed on one-by-one. Printing on the cards individually may be time intensive and expensive and may render standard printing processes and efficiencies ineffective.

SUMMARY

A system is disclosed for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas of the sheet. The sheet may be received by an alignment device from a feeder. The alignment device may angularly align the sheet, adjust the sheet to correct for an offset alignment, and align the sheet with a plurality of print heads. A conveyor may then pass the sheet beneath the plurality of print heads. The plurality of print heads may simultaneously modify the plurality of areas of the sheet.

Other systems, methods, features and advantages will be, or will become, apparent to one with skill in the art upon examination of the following figures and detailed description. It is intended that all such additional systems, methods, features and advantages be included within this description, be within the scope of the embodiments, and be protected by the following claims and be defined by the following claims. Further aspects and advantages are discussed below in conjunction with the description.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The system and/or method may be better understood with reference to the following drawings and description. Non-limiting and non-exhaustive descriptions are described with reference to the following drawings. The components in the figures are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead being placed upon illustrating principles. In the figures, like referenced numerals may refer to like parts throughout the different figures unless otherwise specified.

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a general overview of a system for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 2 is block diagram of a component view of a system for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram of a side view of a print system used in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 4 is a block diagram of a top view of a feeder and an alignment platform in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 5 is a flowchart illustrating the steps of aligning a sheet using multiple alignment devices in the systems of FIG. 1, and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 6 is a flowchart illustrating the steps of aligning a sheet for printing in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 7 is a flowchart illustrating the steps associated with a sheet moving through the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 8 is a flowchart illustrating the steps of simultaneously modifying a plurality of areas on a sheet in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 9 is an illustration of an exemplary sheet layout in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIGS. 10A-D are an illustration of card layout data files in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 11 is an illustration of a sheet layout data file in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 12 is an illustration of a master machine sheet layout data file in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 13 is an illustration of an exemplary modified sheet in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

FIG. 14 is an illustration a general computer system that may be used in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

A system and method, generally referred to as a system, relate to aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet, and more particularly, but not exclusively, to aligning a sheet for simultaneously printing indicia to multiple printed cards on the sheet. The principles described herein may be embodied in many different forms.

FIG. 1 provides a general overview of a system 100 for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. Not all of the depicted components may be required, however, and some implementations may include additional components. Variations in the arrangement and type of the components may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the claims as set forth herein. Additional, different or fewer components may be provided.

The system 100 may include a user 110, a layout design system 120, an image control system 130, and a print system 140. The layout design system 120, the image control system 130, and the print system 140, may be in communication with one another, such as through a network. The layout design system 120, image control system 130, and print system 140, may each include a processor, a memory, a display, and an interface capable of inputting, outputting, displaying, or communicating data.

In operation, the user 110 may use the layout design system 120 to create one or more layout data files. The layout data files may indicate the existing layout of one or more printed sheets, such as a printed sheet of cards, and the modifications to be made to individual areas on the sheet, such as individual cards or fields on individual cards. The layout data files may be created in a spreadsheet application such as MICROSOFT EXCEL. The layout data files may be compiled into a master machine data file, such as a MICROSOFT ACCESS file, and communicated to the image control system 130. The image control system 130 may use the data in the master machine data file to communicate imaging, or printing, instructions to the print system 140. The print system 140 may use a plurality of print heads to simultaneously print unique indicia on multiple areas of a sheet, such as on individual cards of a sheet of cards for a collectible card game or a trading card game. Alternatively or in addition, the system 100 may be used to print labels, tickets, price tags, or generally any sheet of items which may benefit from modifying multiple areas simultaneously. The print system 140 may be able to print on any sheets, such as solid bleached sulphate (SBS) board, coated two side (C2S) board or foil laminated board, which may reference a SBS board being coated one side (C1S) or C2S, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a thermoplastic polyer resin of the polyester family, and pre-foil stamped C2S board. The system 100 may accommodate very large sheets, such as sheets which are forty inches by twenty-eight inches.

The indicia printed to the cards may be sequential numbering, variable data, codes, or secondary graphics. Alternatively or in addition the print system 140 may use solvents or solutions to simultaneously remove inks or coatings from multiple areas of the sheet to reveal the substrate below. Thus, the imaging process may refer to printing indicia onto a medium, such as a sheet, or applying a solution or solvent to remove existing ink from a medium.

In the case of trading cards, each modifiable area on the sheet may relate to each card on the sheet. The modification of the card may result in a unique identifier being printed on the card which may be used with the master machine data files to determine an association with other cards on the sheet. A player may be able to use the unique identifier to access an online database which may contain information pertaining to the card or any other cards printed on the same sheet. Alternatively or in addition a player may be able to enter the unique identifier on each card into an online game to “transfer” the card to their virtual deck of cards. The player may enter the unique identifier of each card individually, or the player may be able to enter the unique indicia on one card and retrieve the information relating to all of the cards in their deck.

More detail regarding collectible card games or trading card games, as well as their structure, function and operation, can be found in U.S. Pat. No. 5,810,666, filed on May 8, 1996, entitled “ROLE PLAYING GAME,” and U.S. Pat. No. 5,934,332, filed on Jan. 30, 1998, entitled “ROLE PLAYING GAME,” all of which are hereby incorporated herein by reference in their entirety. The systems and methods herein associated with collectible card games, trading card games, or cards in general may be practiced in combination with methods and systems described in the above-identified patent applications incorporated by reference.

FIG. 2 provides a component view of a system for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. Not all of the depicted components may be required, however, and some implementations may include additional components not shown in the figure. Variations in the arrangement and type of the components may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the claims as set forth herein. Additional, different or fewer components may be provided.

The system 200 may include one or more users 110, a design layout system 120, an image control system 130, and a print control system 140. The design layout system 120, image control system 130, and print control system 140 may be in communication with one another, such as through a network, direct connection, or generally any connection capable of communicating data. The design layout system 120 may include an interface 222, a sheet/card layout application 224, a data store 226, and a compiler 228. The image control system 130 may include an interface 232, an imaging application 234, and a data store 238. The printing system 140 may include a logic controller 241, a feeder 242, a photo eye 243, one or more print head controllers 244, a print conveyor 245, a curing device 246, a stacker 247, a plurality of print heads 248, an encoder 249, an alignment platform 250, and an outfeed conveyor 260.

In the design layout system 120, the interface 222 may be an input, output, and/or display component that may allow the user 110, or the other systems, to interact with the design layout system 120. The interface 222 may include one or more of a monitor, keyboard, mouse, communication device, or any other devices capable of inputting, outputting, and/or communicating data. The sheet/card layout application 224 may be a software application which may assist the user 110 in creating layout data files and card format files. The data layout files may be in any data format, such as XML format, comma-delimited format, or MICROSOFT EXCEL format. The data layout files may include one or more of a sheet layout file and a card layout file.

The software application may be a graphical user interface which may assist the user 110 with placing indicia on a sheet of cards, or may be a spreadsheet editing application, such as MICROSOFT EXCEL. The data store 226 may be any database such as MICROSOFT SQL SERVER, ORACLE, IBM DB2 or any other database software, relational or otherwise, data structure, or device capable of storing data, such as a hard drive, memory or removable storage medium. The compiler 228 may be a software application, such as PRISM GAMES BUILDER which may compile each of the data layout files into machine data files. The compiler 228 may also compile all of the individual machine data files, such as MICROSOFT ACCESS files, into a master machine data file.

Alternatively or in addition the sheet/card layout application 224 may provide a graphical user interface to assist the user in creating the card format files. The card format files may describe the number and size of fields on a card where data may be modified, such as the boundaries of each printable area on a card. The card format may be loaded onto flash memory cards in the print head controllers 244.

The master machine data file may contain a compilation of the data from the individual machine data files, such as the orientation and/or distribution of the data to be printed to the sheets and the sequence and/or status of the sheets to be printed. The orientation of the data may refer to the order in which the data may be communicated to the individual print head controllers 244 and the distribution of the data may refer to the manner in which the data is distributed amongst the print head controllers 244. The sequence of the sheets may refer to the order in which the sheets may be printed, and the status of the sheets may refer to whether the data for a particular sheet has been communicated to the print heads controllers 244 and, if so, a date/time stamp indicating the time of the communication. The master machine data file may be communicated to the image control system 130.

In the image control system 130, the interface 232 may be an input, output, and/or display component that may allow the user 110, or the other systems, to interact with the design layout system 120. The interface 232 may include one or more of a monitor, keyboard, mouse, communication device, or any other devices capable of inputting, outputting, and/or communicating data. The imaging control system 130 may include a computer, such as the one described in FIG. 14. The computer may execute an imaging application 234, such as MAILPRO, which may allow the user 110 to interface with the image control system 130 and the print system 140. The imaging application 234 may allow the user 110 to view the status of files, the status of the systems' readiness, and to make adjustments in the printing process. The computer may be multiplexed, via a multiplexer, to the encoder 249, photo eye 243, and print head controllers 244. The master machine data file may be an input to the imaging application 234. The data store 238 may be any database such as MICROSOFT SQL SERVER, ORACLE, IBM DB2 or any other database software, relational or otherwise, data structure, or device capable of storing data, such as a hard drive, memory or removable storage medium. The data store 238 may store the master machine data file or any other data.

In the print system 140, the logic controller 241, such as an ALLEN BRADLY MICROLOGIX, may be in communication with the image control system 130 and each of the components in the print system 140. The logic controller 241 may communicate the status of the components in the print system 140 to the image control system 130, may stop the components in the print system 140, or may communicate any other instructions to the individual components in the print system 140. The logic controller 241 may be programmable.

The feeder 242, such as a TEC LIGHTING, INC. # FED-007 Deep Pile Suction Cup Feeder, may feed sheets to the alignment platform 250. The feeder 242 may be a pallet load feeder or a hand load feeder. A pallet load feeder may allow greater volume of sheets to be passed through the print system 140 with less handling. However, stacks of sheets may generate static electricity which may cause the sheets to “cling” or “stick” together. For example, a stack of sheets may generate static electricity by acting as a capacitor where the individual sheets of printed cards act as plates in the capacitor and the ink printed on the cards acts like a dielectric in the capacitor. If the sheets cling or stick together, then a sheet being fed to the printing device may be misaligned, which may also cause a misalignment of the unique indicia being printed to the sheet. Therefore there also may be a need for a system for aligning sheets of printed cards prior to printing unique indicia on individual cards in the sheets.

The alignment platform 250 may align the sheets to ensure the indicia are printed in the correct areas on the sheets. The steps performed by the alignment platform 250 to align the sheets are discussed in more detail in FIG. 5 and FIG. 6 below. Once the sheet is aligned, the alignment platform 250 may feed the sheet to the print conveyor 245. The print conveyor 245 may be a friction conveyor, or a vacuum conveyor, such as a J.L. CUSTOM INC. ACCUJET, and may move the sheet through the print system 140. A vacuum conveyor may include vacuum belts, while a friction conveyor may include silicon surfaced belts with pressure rollers over the belt surface. The number of belts in the friction conveyor may vary in number, such as seven belts, or four belts, however increasing the number of belts may decrease the surface area a sheet may have to slide over, which may reduce the risk of scratching the backside of the sheet. The friction conveyor may maintain a constant velocity, even as the load changes, which may allow for improved accuracy when printing indicia to specific areas of the sheet. The photo eye 243, such as a SICK VL180-n132, may monitor when sheets may be fed by the feeder 242. The photo eye 243 may be in communication with the imaging application 234 and the print head controllers 244 and may communicate when a sheet passes beneath the photo eye 243 to both components.

The one or more print head controllers 244, such as the PRISM JETPACK (JP 1000), may instruct the print heads 248 to simultaneously modify the data on multiple areas of a sheet. Each print head controller 244 may have a processor, a memory, such as a flash memory card, a display, and a membrane keypad. The print head controllers 244 may be in communication with the imaging application 234, the encoder 249, the print heads 248, and the photo eye 243. The memory may be used to buffer data to be printed to one or more sheets. The amount of data which may be buffered may depend on the size of the memory. Alternatively or in addition, the amount of data which may be buffered may depend on print format of each card, such as the number and size of fields on each card.

The print heads 248 may be comprised of four pens, such as four half-inch wide HP 45A printer cartridges. The print heads 248 may be configured so that each print head 248 is associated with an area of the sheet. The print heads 248 may be capable of modifying the associated area of the sheet. In the case of a sheet of cards, the print heads 248 may print a unique indicia or identifier on each card, such as a bar code or a number. The size of the area of the sheet may be determined by the size of the printer cartridges. For example, a half-inch wide cartridge may be capable of printing on a half-inch wide area of the sheet, spanning the length of the sheet. The printer cartridges may be aligned in an echelon, so as to cover a two inch wide area of the sheet. In this case the print heads 248 may each be associated with a two inch wide parallel area of the sheet. Inks and dyes of various types, visible or invisible, may be loaded into the print heads 248 depending on the type of media being marked. The ink used in the print heads 248 may be ultraviolet (UV) ink, which is cured by ultraviolet light instead of air and temperature. UV inks may not penetrate the medium they are placed upon; thus, the UV ink can be converted back into liquid and removed from the sheet by reactivating the UV ink. Alternatively or in addition solvents and/or solutions may be loaded into the print heads so that inks or coatings may be removed from the media, such as a card on a sheet, to reveal the substrate below. The print heads 248 and the print head controllers 244 may collectively be referred to as a printer or an imager, such as the VIDEOJET TECHNOLOGIES, INC. Model # SAR06130-VIDEO JET IMAGER.

Once the sheet has passed through the print heads 248, the print conveyor 245 may pass the sheet to the outfeed conveyor 260. The outfeed conveyor 260 may be configured to be longer, such as twenty feet, to allow for a longer cure time, or the outfeed conveyor 245 may be configured to be shorter, such as five feet, to allow for a shorter cure time. By allowing a variable length cure time, the system 100 may be able to accommodate a larger variety of print medium. For example, the agent in MAX2 ink (produced by COLLINS INK CO.) may be used for applying the indicia to the sheets, and may cause UV ink already printed on the sheets to become re-activated. The agent in MAX2 used to carry the indicia ink may allow the UV ink to re-cure without ultraviolet light if given time for the agent to dissipate. A longer outfeed conveyor 260 may allow the time required for the agent to dissipate.

The curing device 246, such as a FANNON PRODUCTS Model # FPW-480-9Z-16, may be an infra-red dryer, such as twenty seven infra-red tubes sixteen inches long, or any device capable of drying or curing the printed sheet. The curing device 246 may be located on the outfeed conveyor 260 in order to allow the print conveyor 245 to remain a constant temperature and maintain greater stability. For example, changing the temperature of the print conveyor 245 may cause the print conveyor 245 to become warped, which may result in inaccurate printing of indicia. In addition, locating the curing device 246 on the outfeed conveyor 260 may allow the print heads 248 to stay clean, and may prevent the print heads 248 from drying out. For example, if the curing device 246 is located on the print conveyor 245, the heat from the curing device 246 may cause the print heads 248 to dry out.

The stacker 247, such as a TEC LIGHTING, INC. # FED-002 Auto Pile Stacker, may stack, collate, or otherwise order the printed sheets as to prepare them for the next process. The stacker 247 may be a hand unload unit or a pallet unload unit. Using a pallet unload unit as the stacker 247 may allow for greater volume of sheets to be unloaded from the print system 140 with less handling.

The encoder 249, such as a BAUMER CH-8501, may be a device that mechanically tracks the speed of the print conveyor 245 and converts this information to a digital signal. The encoder 249 may be in communication with the imaging application 234 and the print head controllers 244 and may communicate the speed of the print conveyor 245 to these components. The print head controllers 244 may use the speed of the print conveyor 245, along with the data from the photo eye 243 indicating when a sheet passes beneath the photo eye 243, to control the speed of the printing process, such as by controlling the speed of the print heads 248. For example, the print head controllers 244 may be programmed with the distance from the photo eye 243 to the print heads 248. If the print head controllers 244 know the distance a sheet may travel from the photo eye 243 to the print heads 248, the speed of the print conveyor 245, and the time a sheet passes under the photo eye 243, then the print head controllers 244 may be able to identify when the sheet is passing beneath the print heads 248.

The imaging application 234 may report the speed of the print conveyor 245, and the time when a sheet passes under the photo eye 243, to the user 110. Alternatively or in addition the imaging application 234 may process the data from the photo eye 243 and the encoder 249, and may communicate to the print head controllers 244, or the print heads 248, when the sheet has reached the print heads 248.

In operation, the user 110 may create layout data files, such as card data files and sheet layout data files, by using the interface 222 to interact with the sheet/card layout application 224. The layout data files may be stored in the data store 226. Once the user 110 has created each of the layout data files, the compiler 228 may compile each of the layout data files into machine data files. The machine data files may then be compiled into a master machine data file. The master machine data file may be communicated to the image control system 130, such as an input to the imaging application 234. The master machine data file may be loaded onto a removable storage medium and manually loaded on to the image control system 130, or the master machine data file may be communicated to the image control system 130 over a data connection, such as a network.

The imaging application 234 may communicate data, such as instructions, to the print head controllers 244 in the print system 140. The print head controllers 244 may communicate instructions to the print heads 248. The imaging application 234 may instruct the feeder 242 to feed a sheet to the alignment platform 250, or the feeder 242 may be manually started by the user 110. The alignment platform 250 may angularly align the sheet, correct for offset alignment of the sheet and align the sheet with the print heads 248. The alignment platform 250 may then pass the sheet to the print conveyor 245. The print conveyor 245 may move the sheet past the photo eye 243, to the print heads 248. When the leading edge of the sheet passes the photo eye 243, the photo eye 243 may act as a timing index and may send a signal to the imaging application 234, and/or the print head controllers 244, that the sheet is ready for printing.

The imaging application 234 may then activate the print head controllers 244 and print heads 248. Each of the print heads 248 may be assigned an area across the sheet and may print, or otherwise modify data, within the assigned area of the sheet. The encoder 249 may communicate with the print head controllers 244 to track the speed of the sheet so the print head controllers 244 can accurately instruct the print heads 248 to target specific areas on the sheet for imaging. In the case of a pre-printed sheet of cards, the sheet may be ten cards wide by ten cards long. The sheet may be presented to the print heads 248 so that the left edge of the cards passes under the print heads 248 first. Thus, in the case of four half-inch print cartridges, each print cartridge may cover a half-inch wide strip of a card, printing any data which may fall into that area.

After passing the print heads 248, the print conveyor 245 may pass the sheets under the curing device 246 for curing or drying. The print conveyor 245 may then move the sheets to the stacker 247 for stacking. Using twelve print heads 248, with four half-inch cartridges each, the process may be capable of handling forty inch by twenty-eight inch sheets or smaller, at rates approaching six thousand sheets per hour.

The user 110 may view or modify the imaging process on an interface 232, such as a display, in the image control system 130. Screens on the display may allow the user 110 to view the printing status of the master machine data file, the status of each of the components of the printing system 140, or may allow the user 110 to make adjustments to the imaging process.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram 300 of a side view of a print system 140 used in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. Not all of the depicted components may be required, however, and some implementations may include additional components not shown in the figure. Variations in the arrangement and type of the components may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the claims as set forth herein. Additional, different or fewer components may be provided.

The diagram 300 includes a feeder 242, an alignment platform 250, the print conveyor 245, the print heads 248, the curing device 246, the outfeed conveyor 260 and the stacker 247. The diagram 300 illustrates the travel of a sheet through the print system 140. A sheet is first fed from the feeder 242 to the alignment platform 250. As previously mentioned, the feeder 242 may be pallet load feeder to reduce the amount of handling required to feed the sheets.

The alignment platform 250 may receive the sheet and may pass the sheet through two alignment devices. The first alignment device may be a block and pull mechanism. The sheet may pass through the first alignment device to a pair of stops. The pair of stops may perform an angular alignment of the sheet. The first alignment device may then pull one edge of the sheet to correct the offset alignment of the sheet. The first alignment device may then release the sheet to a set of rollers which feed the sheet to the second alignment section.

The second alignment device may be a slip type alignment device. The second alignment device may include belts to transport the sheet. The belts may run at a slight angle to the direction of travel of the sheet. The angle of the belts may force the sheet to pass into a combination of rollers and belts that pushes the sheet against a straight edge. The straight edge may align the sheet for printing by the print heads 248. The second alignment device may then pass the sheet to the print conveyor 245. The print conveyor 245 may pass the sheet beneath the print heads 248. The print heads may simultaneously modify a plurality of areas on the sheet. The print conveyor 245 may then pass the sheet to the outfeed conveyor 260. The outfeed conveyor 260 may pass the sheet under the curing device 246 to cure the indicia printed on the sheet by the print heads 248. The outfeed conveyor may expose the sheet to air to allow any secondary curing to occur, such as the aforementioned UV curing. The outfeed conveyor 260 may then pass the sheet to the stacker 247. The stacker 247 may load the sheet onto a stack. As previously mentioned, the stacker 247 may be a pallet loading stacker to reduce the amount of handling required per sheet.

FIG. 4 is a block diagram 400 of a top view of a feeder 242 and alignment platform 250 in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. Not all of the depicted components may be required, however, and some implementations may include additional components not shown in the figure. Variations in the arrangement and type of the components may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the claims as set forth herein. Additional, different or fewer components may be provided.

The block diagram 400 may include a feeder 242, an alignment platform 250, and a sheet 430. The feeder 242 may include a feed head 435. The alignment platform 250 may include a first alignment device 410 and a second alignment device 420. The first alignment device 410 may include a block and pull device 418 and stops 414. The second alignment device 420 may include a set of rollers 422, such as pinch rollers, belts 424, and a drift alignment device 426.

In operation, the feed head 435 may feed a sheet 430 from the feeder 242 to the alignment platform 250. The sheet 430 may be passed to the first alignment device 410. The sheet 430 may pass through the first alignment device 410 until the sheet reaches the stops 414. The stops 414 may perform an angular alignment of the sheets by causing the leading edge of the sheet 430 to come into contact with both stops 414. The contact of the leading edge of the sheet 430 with the stops 414 may place the sheet 430 flush to the alignment device 410 and into a perpendicular orientation with the direction of travel of the sheet 430. Angular misalignment may refer to misalignment causing the sheet 430 to not be flush to the alignment platform 250. Angular misalignment may occur when the sheet 430 clings or sticks to the stack of sheets in the stacker 247. A sheet 430 clinging to the stack of sheets in the stacker 247 may cause the sheet 430 to rotate in relationship to the alignment platform 250.

Once the first alignment stops 414 have corrected any angular misalignment, the pull device 418 pulls the sheet 430 to one side of the first alignment device 410. For example, in FIG. 4 the sheet 430 is pulled towards the pull device 418. The pull device 418 may adjust the sheet 430 to correct for offset alignment by moving the sheet to a fixed edge which is a part of the pull device 418. The fixed edge is located in relationship to the straight edge device 426 located in alignment section 430. Offset alignment may refer to the horizontal alignment of the sheet 430 in relation to the alignment platform 250. Offset alignment may occur when the sheet 430 is rotated into a perpendicular alignment as a result of contacting both of the stops 414.

The sheet 430 may then be passed to a set of rollers 422. The set of rollers 422 may feed the sheet to the second alignment device 420. The second alignment device 420 may be a slip type of alignment device. A slip type of alignment may refer to a method of alignment that uses gravity and light friction to drift the sheet 430 into a straight edge 426 for alignment. The gravity is used when one and two inch balls made of steel or plastic are loosely captured in the straight edge device 426 over friction belts 424. The weight of the balls causes the sheet 430 to contact the belts 424 which are mounted in a slight angle to the straight edge 426. The friction caused by the weight of the balls on the sheet 430 causes the sheet 430 to come into contact with the belts 424. The belts 424 pulls the sheet 430 into the straight edge 426. Once the sheet 430 is firmly located into the straight edge 426, the resistance of the straight edge 426 against the sheet 430 causes the belts to slip on the sheet 430. The drift alignment device 426 may be moved to accommodate for different alignments with the print heads 248. Once the sheet 430 has been aligned with the print heads 248, the sheet 430 is passed to the print conveyor 245. The print conveyor 245 passes the sheet 430 under the print heads 248 which may simultaneously modify a plurality of areas of the sheet 430.

FIG. 5 is a flowchart illustrating the steps of aligning a sheet using multiple alignment devices in the systems of FIG. 1, and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. At step 510, the alignment platform 250 receives a sheet from the feeder 242. At step 520, the first alignment device 410 performs an angular alignment on the sheet. The sheet may be angularly aligned using a pair of stops 414. At step 530 the first alignment device 410 adjusts the sheet to correct for offset alignment of the sheet. A pull device 418 may adjust the sheet to correct for the offset alignment by pulling the sheet towards one side of the first alignment device 410.

At step 540, the second alignment device 420 may align the sheet with the print heads 248. The second alignment device 420 may use angled belts 424 to force the sheet into a combination of rollers and belts. The combination of rollers and belts may push the sheet against a straight edge, which may align the sheet with the print heads 248. At step 550 the second alignment device 420 may pass the sheet to the print conveyor 245. The print conveyor 245 may pass the sheet under the print heads 248 which may simultaneously modify a plurality of areas of the sheet.

FIG. 6 is a flowchart illustrating the steps of aligning a sheet for printing in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. At step 610 the alignment platform 250 may receive a sheet from the feeder 242. At step 620, the sheet may pass into a pair of stops 414. Passing the sheet into the pair of stops 414 may perform an angular alignment of the sheet by causing the sheet 430 to become flush to the alignment platform 250. The pair of stops 414 may also cause the sheet 430 to be rotated perpendicularly to the direction of travel. At step 630, the sheet is pulled to one side of the alignment platform 250, such as by the pull device 418. Pulling the sheet 430 to one side of the alignment platform 250 adjusts for offset alignment of the sheet by ensuring the sheet 430 is aligned with the direction of travel 430. In other words, the pull device 418 ensures the leading edge of the sheet 430 is the first edge that will be printed on. At step 640, the alignment platform 250 transports the sheet over angled belts 424. The angled belts 424 may run at a slight angle to the direction the sheet is moving. At step 650, the alignment platform 250 pushes the sheet against a straight edge to align the sheet with the print heads 248. For example, a combination of belts and rollers may be used to push the sheet against a straight edge of the drift alignment device 426. At step 660, the sheet is fed to the print conveyor 245. The print heads 248 may then simultaneously modify a plurality of areas of the sheet.

FIG. 7 is a flowchart illustrating the steps associated with a sheet moving through the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. At step 705, the feeder 242 may feed a sheet to the alignment platform 250. The sheet may be a printed sheet of collectible cards, a printed sheet of labels, a printed sheet of clothing tickets, an empty sheet, or generally any medium that may benefit from simultaneous modification of multiple areas. At step 710, the alignment platform 250 may align the sheet with the print heads 248. The steps associated with aligning the sheet are discussed in more detail in FIG. 5 and FIG. 6 above. At step 715, the alignment platform 250 presents the sheet to the print conveyor 245. At step 720, the print conveyor 245 may begin to move the sheet through the printing process. The print conveyor 245 may continuously move the sheet through the components in the print process until the sheet is passed to the outfeed conveyor 260. At step 730, as the leading edge of the sheet passes under the photo eye 243, the photo eye 243 may send a signal to the print head controller 244, and/or the imaging application 234, indicating that a sheet is ready for printing. The encoder 249 may also send a signal to both components indicating the speed of the print conveyor 245.

At step 740, the print head controllers 244 may use the data from the encoder 249 and the photo eye 243 to determine whether a sheet is beneath the print heads 248 and ready for modification. If a sheet has not passed beneath the print heads 248, the system 100 may return to block 735 and continue to wait until a sheet is ready for printing. If the print head controllers 244 determine that a sheet is passing beneath the print heads 248, the system 100 may move to block 750.

At step 750, the print heads 248 may receive instructions from the print head controllers 244 and may simultaneously modify multiple areas of the sheet. Each of the print heads 248 may be assigned an area of the sheet, such as a card or a specific section or field on a card, and may perform any modifications necessary within the assigned area. Each print head controller 244 may load a portion of the master data file relating to the current sheet and the cards each print head controller 244 may be responsible for.

For example, if each print head controller 244 controls two print heads 248 and each print head 248 contains four half-inch cartridges, each print head controller 244 may be responsible for a four inch wide area spanning the length of the sheet. If each card is two inches wide, then each print head controller 244 may be responsible for modifying data on two columns of cards. In this case, if the sheet has ten columns of cards, then the printing system 140 must include five print head controllers 244, each controlling two print heads 248, where each print head contains four half-inch cartridges.

At step 760, the print conveyor 245 passes the sheet to the outfeed conveyor 260. At step 770, the outfeed conveyor 260 may move the modified sheet under the curing device 246 where the sheet may be cured, such as dried. At step 780, the outfeed conveyor 260 may move the cured sheet to the stacker 247. At step 790, the stacker 247 may stack the sheet, such as readying the sheet for any additional processing. Alternatively or in addition, the sheet may be further processed after being stacked, such as by being cut or collated. In the case of a sheet of cards, the sheet may be cut into individual cards by a cutting device, such as a HSM CM 3815 Guillotine.

FIG. 8 is a flowchart illustrating the steps of simultaneously modifying a plurality of areas on a sheet in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. At step 810, the user 110 may generate the card data files and card format files. The card data files may include information indicating the data to be applied to various areas of the card and the card format files may describe the number and size of fields on the card where data may be modified. The card data files may have one row of data for each sheet the card exists on. Each row of data may have one column for each area of the card data may be printed to. The column may indicate what data, if any, should be printed to the given area of the card. FIGS. 10A-D may provide more specific information regarding the card data files. At step 820, the compiler 228 may compile the card data files into a machine data file. The machine data files may contain all of the data from one card data file in a single cell separated by delimiters, such as commas.

At step 830, the user 110 may create one or more sheet layout data files. The sheet layout data files may contain the layout of the individual cards, relating to the individual card data files, on the sheet. The sheet layout file may be used to describe the structure of the sheet. For example, in the case of a one hundred card sheet, the sheet layout file may have a column of cells in which each cell may correspond to a card on the sheet. The first cell in the column may represent the first card on the sheet, the second cell may represent the second card on the sheet, all the way through to the last cell in the column which may represent the last card on the sheet. The data stored in these cells may be the name of the card data file corresponding to the particular card on the sheet. For example, if the third card on the sheet is a card called “Blazer” then the name of the file containing the card data file for “Blazer” may be stored in the third cell of the column in the sheet layout file.

Alternatively or in addition if there is no data to be printed to a particular card, then a cell in an adjacent column may be provided as skip function for the card location. If the cell in the adjacent column is marked, such as with a checkmark, then the print head controller 244 may be issued an instruction to skip to the next card. FIG. 11 may provide more specific information regarding the sheet layout data files.

At step 835, the compiler 228 may compile the sheet layout data files into machine data files. At step 840, the compiler 228 may compile the card machine data files and the sheet layout machine data files into a master machine data file. The master machine data file may include a row for each sheet being printed. Each row may contain the data to be applied to each area of each card, in the order indicated by the sheet layout data file. The master machine data file may contain the orientation and distribution of the data to be sent to the image control system 130, as well as the sequence and status of each sheet to be printed. FIG. 12 may provide more specific information regarding the master machine data file.

At step 850, the master machine data file may be loaded into the image control system 130, such as loaded into the imaging application 234, and the card format files may be loaded onto the print head controllers 244, such as onto flash memory cards on the print head controllers 244. The master machine data file may be communicated from the design layout system 120 to the image control system 130 via a network or other data connection. Alternatively or in addition the master machine data file may be loaded onto a removable data storage medium and manually loaded into the image control system 130.

At step 860, the image control system 130 may use the data in the master machine data file to instruct the print system 140 to simultaneously modify multiple areas of the sheet. The image control system 130 may communicate instructions to the print head controllers 244. The print head controllers 244 may instruct the individual print heads 248 of the print system 140 to perform the modifications of the sheet. The operations of the print system 140 may be further explained in FIG. 7 above.

FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary sheet layout 900 in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. The sheet layout may include a position 1 910, a position 2 920, a position 3 930 and a position 4 940. In the case of a sheet of cards, each of the positions 910-940 may indicate a card on the sheet. The sheet may have any number of positions and each position, may be described in the sheet layout data file. In the sheet layout 900 each of the positions 910-940 may comprise four fields: field 1, field 2, field 3, and field 4. Each field may represent an area within each position where the card may be modified by one of the print heads 248. The card data files may indicate what data may print in the field, if any.

FIGS. 10A-D illustrate card layout data files 1000A-D in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. FIG. 10A may include card 1 data file 1000A, FIG. 10B may include card 2 data file 1000B, FIG. 10C may include card 3 data file 1000C, and FIG. 10D may include card 4 data file 1000D. The card data files 1000A-D may be created in MICROSOFT EXCEL or any other program capable of storing delimited data.

The card data files 1000A-D may include a row for every sheet the cards may be printed on. For example, the card represented by the card 1 data file 1000A may be printed on four sheets, represented by the rows “SHT 1,” “SHT2,” “SHT3,” and “SHT4.” The card data files 1000A-D may include a column for each modifiable area, or field, on the card. The number of fields on the card, and the boundaries of each field on the card may be described in a separate card format file found in the print head controllers 244. For example in the card data file 1 1000A, the row of “SHT 1” may indicate the values to be printed in the four fields on the card on “SHT 1.” Thus on sheet 1, the card represented by the card 1 data file 1000A may have “S1_C1_F1” printed in field 1, “S1_C1_F2” printed in field 2, “S1_C1_F3” printed in field 3, and “S1_C1_F4” printed in field 4. The card layout data files 1000A-D may demonstrate that different indicia can be printed on the card for each sheet the card is printed on.

FIG. 11 illustrates a sheet layout data file 1100 in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. The sheet layout data file 1100 may be created in MICROSOFT EXCEL or any other program capable of storing delimited data. The sheet layout data file 1100 may indicate the layout, or orientation, of the cards represented by the card data files 1000A-D on each of the sheets. For example, in the sheet layout data file 1100, on sheet 1, card 1 may be printed in position 1, card 2 may be printed in position 2, card 3 may be printed in position 3, and card 4 may be printed in position 4. The locations of each of the positions may be described in the sheet layout data file. The sheet layout data file 1100 may demonstrate that the cards may be laid out differently on each sheet.

FIG. 12 is an illustration of a master machine sheet layout data file 1200 in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. The master machine sheet layout data file 1200 may be created in MICROSOFT EXCEL or any other program capable of storing delimited data. The master machine layout data file 1200 may describe the data to be printed to each field on each card on the sheet. Each row of the master machine layout data file 1200 may represent a sheet of cards. Each column of the master machine layout data file 1200 may represent the data to be printed to each card on the sheet. The data from the card data files 1000A-D may be combined with the data in the sheet layout file 1100 to generate the master machine data file 1200. Thus in order to populate the row representing sheet 1 in the master machine data file 1200, “SHT 1,” the system 100 may first retrieve the data from the sheet layout data file 1100 indicating the orientation of the cards on the sheet. Once the orientation of the cards on the sheet is determined, the system 100 may retrieve the data from each of the individual card data files 1000A-D relating to the data to be printed to each field on the card.

For example, in the case of sheet 1, the system may retrieve the card in position 1 from the sheet layout data file 1100, card 1. The system may then retrieve the data to be printed on card 1 and sheet 1 from the card 1 data file 1000A. The system 100 may then populate the data in the master machine layout data file 1200 for fields 1 through 4 on the card in position 1, card 1. The system 100 may repeat this process for each card on each sheet until the master machine layout data file 1200 contains the data to be printed to each field on each card on each every sheet.

FIG. 13 illustrates an exemplary modified sheet 1300 in the systems of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, or other systems for aligning a sheet for simultaneous modification of a plurality of areas on the sheet. The modified sheet 1300 may represent the data described in the machine layout file depicted in FIG. 12 corresponding to “SHT 1.” Position 1 910 on the printed sheet 1100 may contain card 1 1310, position 2 920 may contain card 2 1320, position 3 930 may contain card 3 1330 and position 4 940 may contain card 4 1340. Each of the cards 1310-1340 may have the data described in the card data files 1000A-D printed to the specified field on the cards 1310-1340. For example, card 1 1310 may correspond to card 1 data file 1000A, card 2 1320 may correspond to card 2 data file 1000B, card 3 1330 may correspond to card 3 data file 1000C, and card 4 1340 may correspond to card 4 data file 1000D.

For example, the data printed in field 1 of card 1 1310 may be “S1_C1_F1,” as described by the first column, “POS1-FLD1,” of the “SHT 1” row in the master machine data file 1200. The data printed in field 2 of card 4 1340 may be “S1_C4_F2,” as described by the column “POS4-FLD2,” of the “SHT 1” row in the master machine data file 1200. The printing heads 248 may have applied the data to each of the fields on each of the cards 1310-1340 simultaneously.

FIG. 14 illustrates a general computer system 1400, which may represent a computer in the layout design system 120, the image control system 130, the print system 140, the print head controllers 244, or any of the other computing devices referenced herein. The computer system 1400 may include a set of instructions 1424 that may be executed to cause the computer system 1400 to perform any one or more of the methods or computer based functions disclosed herein. The computer system 1400 may operate as a standalone device or may be connected, e.g., using a network, to other computer systems or peripheral devices.

In a networked deployment, the computer system may operate in the capacity of a server or as a client user computer in a server-client user network environment, or as a peer computer system in a peer-to-peer (or distributed) network environment. The computer system 1400 may also be implemented as or incorporated into various devices, such as a personal computer (PC), a tablet PC, a set-top box (STB), a personal digital assistant (PDA), a mobile device, a palmtop computer, a laptop computer, a desktop computer, a communications device, a wireless telephone, a land-line telephone, a control system, a camera, a scanner, a facsimile machine, a printer, a pager, a personal trusted device, a web appliance, a network router, switch or bridge, or any other machine capable of executing a set of instructions 1424 (sequential or otherwise) that specify actions to be taken by that machine. In a particular embodiment, the computer system 1400 may be implemented using electronic devices that provide voice, video or data communication. Further, while a single computer system 1400 may be illustrated, the term “system” shall also be taken to include any collection of systems or sub-systems that individually or jointly execute a set, or multiple sets, of instructions to perform one or more computer functions.

As illustrated in FIG. 14, the computer system 1400 may include a processor 1402, such as, a central processing unit (CPU), a graphics processing unit (GPU), or both. The processor 1402 may be a component in a variety of systems. For example, the processor 1402 may be part of a standard personal computer or a workstation. The processor 1402 may be one or more general processors, digital signal processors, application specific integrated circuits, field programmable gate arrays, servers, networks, digital circuits, analog circuits, combinations thereof, or other now known or later developed devices for analyzing and processing data. The processor 1402 may implement a software program, such as code generated manually (i.e., programmed).

The computer system 1400 may include a memory 1404 that can communicate via a bus 1408. The memory 1404 may be a main memory, a static memory, or a dynamic memory. The memory 1404 may include, but may not be limited to computer readable storage media such as various types of volatile and non-volatile storage media, including but not limited to random access memory, read-only memory, programmable read-only memory, electrically programmable read-only memory, electrically erasable read-only memory, flash memory, magnetic tape or disk, optical media and the like. In one case, the memory 1404 may include a cache or random access memory for the processor 1402. Alternatively or in addition, the memory 1404 may be separate from the processor 1402, such as a cache memory of a processor, the system memory, or other memory. The memory 1404 may be an external storage device or database for storing data. Examples may include a hard drive, compact disc (“CD”), digital video disc (“DVD”), memory card, memory stick, floppy disc, universal serial bus (“USB”) memory device, or any other device operative to store data. The memory 1404 may be operable to store instructions 1424 executable by the processor 1402. The functions, acts or tasks illustrated in the figures or described herein may be performed by the programmed processor 1402 executing the instructions 1424 stored in the memory 1404. The functions, acts or tasks may be independent of the particular type of instructions set, storage media, processor or processing strategy and may be performed by software, hardware, integrated circuits, firm-ware, micro-code and the like, operating alone or in combination. Likewise, processing strategies may include multiprocessing, multitasking, parallel processing and the like.

The computer system 1400 may further include a display 1414, such as a liquid crystal display (LCD), an organic light emitting diode (OLED), a flat panel display, a solid state display, a cathode ray tube (CRT), a projector, a printer or other now known or later developed display device for outputting determined information. The display 1414 may act as an interface for the user 110 to see the functioning of the processor 1402, or specifically as an interface with the software stored in the memory 1404 or in the drive unit 1406.

Additionally, the computer system 1400 may include an input device 1412 configured to allow a user 110 to interact with any of the components of system 1400. The input device 1412 may be a number pad, a keyboard, or a cursor control device, such as a mouse, or a joystick, touch screen display, remote control or any other device operative to interact with the system 1400.

The computer system 1400 may also include a disk or optical drive unit 1406. The disk drive unit 1406 may include a computer-readable medium 1422 in which one or more sets of instructions 1424, e.g. software, can be embedded. Further, the instructions 1424 may perform one or more of the methods or logic as described herein. The instructions 1424 may reside completely, or at least partially, within the memory 1404 and/or within the processor 1402 during execution by the computer system 1400. The memory 1404 and the processor 1402 also may include computer-readable media as discussed above.

The present disclosure contemplates a computer-readable medium 1422 that includes instructions 1424 or receives and executes instructions 1424 responsive to a propagated signal; so that a device connected to a network 1426 may communicate voice, video, audio, images or any other data over the network 1426. Further, the instructions 1424 may be transmitted or received over the network 1426 via a communication interface 1418. The communication interface 1418 may be a part of the processor 1402 or may be a separate component. The communication interface 1418 may be created in software or may be a physical connection in hardware. The communication interface 1418 may be configured to connect with a network 1426, external media, the display 1414, or any other components in system 1400, or combinations thereof. The connection with the network 1426 may be a physical connection, such as a wired Ethernet connection or may be established wirelessly as discussed below. Likewise, the additional connections with other components of the system 1400 may be physical connections or may be established wirelessly.

The network 1426 may include wired networks, wireless networks, or combinations thereof. The wireless network may be a cellular telephone network, an 802.11, 802.16, 802.20, or WiMax network. Further, the network 1426 may be a public network, such as the Internet, a private network, such as an intranet, or combinations thereof, and may utilize a variety of networking protocols now available or later developed including, but not limited to TCP/IP based networking protocols.

The computer-readable medium 1422 may be a single medium, or the computer-readable medium 1422 may be a single medium or multiple media, such as a centralized or distributed database, and/or associated caches and servers that store one or more sets of instructions. The term “computer-readable medium” may also include any medium that may be capable of storing, encoding or carrying a set of instructions for execution by a processor or that may cause a computer system to perform any one or more of the methods or operations disclosed herein.

The computer-readable medium 1422 may include a solid-state memory such as a memory card or other package that houses one or more non-volatile read-only memories. The computer-readable medium 1422 also may be a random access memory or other volatile re-writable memory. Additionally, the computer-readable medium 1422 may include a magneto-optical or optical medium, such as a disk or tapes or other storage device to capture carrier wave signals such as a signal communicated over a transmission medium. A digital file attachment to an e-mail or other self-contained information archive or set of archives may be considered a distribution medium that may be a tangible storage medium. Accordingly, the disclosure may be considered to include any one or more of a computer-readable medium or a distribution medium and other equivalents and successor media, in which data or instructions may be stored.

Alternatively or in addition, dedicated hardware implementations, such as application specific integrated circuits, programmable logic arrays and other hardware devices, may be constructed to implement one or more of the methods described herein. Applications that may include the apparatus and systems of various embodiments may broadly include a variety of electronic and computer systems. One or more embodiments described herein may implement functions using two or more specific interconnected hardware modules or devices with related control and data signals that may be communicated between and through the modules, or as portions of an application-specific integrated circuit. Accordingly, the present system may encompass software, firmware, and hardware implementations.

The methods described herein may be implemented by software programs executable by a computer system. Further, implementations may include distributed processing, component/object distributed processing, and parallel processing. Alternatively or in addition, virtual computer system processing maybe constructed to implement one or more of the methods or functionality as described herein.

Although components and functions are described that may be implemented in particular embodiments with reference to particular standards and protocols, the components and functions are not limited to such standards and protocols. For example, standards for Internet and other packet switched network transmission (e.g., TCP/IP, UDP/IP, HTML, HTTP) represent examples of the state of the art. Such standards are periodically superseded by faster or more efficient equivalents having essentially the same functions. Accordingly, replacement standards and protocols having the same or similar functions as those disclosed herein are considered equivalents thereof.

The illustrations described herein are intended to provide a general understanding of the structure of various embodiments. The illustrations are not intended to serve as a complete description of all of the elements and features of apparatus, processors, and systems that utilize the structures or methods described herein. Many other embodiments may be apparent to those of skill in the art upon reviewing the disclosure. Other embodiments may be utilized and derived from the disclosure, such that structural and logical substitutions and changes may be made without departing from the scope of the disclosure. Additionally, the illustrations are merely representational and may not be drawn to scale. Certain proportions within the illustrations may be exaggerated, while other proportions may be minimized. Accordingly, the disclosure and the figures are to be regarded as illustrative rather than restrictive.

Although specific embodiments have been illustrated and described herein, it should be appreciated that any subsequent arrangement designed to achieve the same or similar purpose may be substituted for the specific embodiments shown. This disclosure is intended to cover any and all subsequent adaptations or variations of various embodiments. Combinations of the above embodiments, and other embodiments not specifically described herein, may be apparent to those of skill in the art upon reviewing the description.

The Abstract is provided with the understanding that it will not be used to interpret or limit the scope or meaning of the claims. In addition, in the foregoing Detailed Description, various features may be grouped together or described in a single embodiment for the purpose of streamlining the disclosure. This disclosure is not to be interpreted as reflecting an intention that the claimed embodiments require more features than are expressly recited in each claim. Rather, as the following claims reflect, inventive subject matter may be directed to less than all of the features of any of the disclosed embodiments. Thus, the following claims are incorporated into the Detailed Description, with each claim standing on its own as defining separately claimed subject matter.

The above disclosed subject matter is to be considered illustrative, and not restrictive, and the appended claims are intended to cover all such modifications, enhancements, and other embodiments, which fall within the true spirit and scope of the description. Thus, to the maximum extent allowed by law, the scope is to be determined by the broadest permissible interpretation of the following claims and their equivalents, and shall not be restricted or limited by the foregoing detailed description.