Title:
FEEDER FOR A THERMOFORMING MACHINE
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The feeder for tablets, capsules or dragées has a stationary base unit and an exchangeable format unit with a sorting plate for evenly distributing the products and with a filling unit including a number of vertically extending filling tubes having a guiding channel for receiving the tablets, capsules or dragées from the sorting plate, and a blocking slide unit for temporarily blocking the guiding channels of the filling tubes. The base unit has a first hanger device for the sorting plate, a second hanger device for the filling unit, and at least one adjusting device for adjusting the first hanger device relative to the second hanger device.



Inventors:
Jans, Erich (Orsenhausen, DE)
Gnann, Kurt (Biberach, DE)
Zuleger, Martin (Achstetten, DE)
Regner, Markus (Muttensweiler, DE)
Rodi, Wolfgang (Laupheim-Baustetten, DE)
Liebhardt, Juergen (Laupheim, DE)
Hess, Christian (Mietingen, DE)
Application Number:
12/424276
Publication Date:
10/22/2009
Filing Date:
04/15/2009
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B5/06
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MATTHEWS, TERRELL HOWARD
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BGL (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
1. A feeder for tablets, capsules or dragées, comprising: a stationary base unit; and an exchangeable format unit comprising: a sorting plate for evenly distributing the products; and a filling unit including a number of vertically extending filling tubes having a guiding channel for receiving the tablets, capsules or dragées from the sorting plate, and a blocking slide unit for temporarily blocking the guiding channels of the filling tubes; wherein the base unit comprises a first hanger device for the sorting plate, a second hanger device for the filling unit, and at least one adjusting device for adjusting the first hanger device relative to the second hanger device.

2. The feeder according to claim 1, wherein the adjusting device is assigned to the first hanger device.

3. The feeder according to claim 1, wherein the adjusting device is assigned to the second hanger device.

4. A feeder according to claim 1, wherein the adjusting device comprises an adjusting cam.

5. The feeder according to claim 1, wherein the first hanger device is supported by at least one first pin, which rests in a first guide groove in the adjusting device assigned to the first hanger device.

6. The feeder according to claim 5, wherein the first hanger device is supported by two first pins.

7. The feeder according to claim 1, wherein the second hanger device is supported by at least one second pin, which rests in a second guide groove in the adjusting device assigned to the second hanger device.

8. The feeder according to claim 7, wherein the second hanger device is supported by two second pins.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of European Patent Application No. EP 08 007 414.9 filed on Apr. 16, 2008, entitled “FEEDER FOR A THERMOFORMING MACHINE” the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention pertains to a feeder for a thermoforming machine.

Thermoforming machines or blister machines, especially in the pharmaceutical area, are used to package products individually, for which purpose, thermoplastic sheet is pulled from a supply roll in the thermoforming machine and sent to a heating station, in which the thermoplastic sheet is heated to the preforming temperature, so that the pockets which are intended to hold the product, which is made available as bulk material, can then be formed in the thermoplastic sheet in a forming station. The pockets in the thermoplastic sheet are usually made in a matrix-like or grid-like pattern and are then filled. Then the thermoplastic sheet with the filled pockets can be covered by a sealing film and hermetically sealed. Merely for the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that, downstream from the sealing station, a thermoforming machine usually comprises a stamping station, in which the blister packages with their filled pockets are stamped out. The capacity of a thermoforming machine also depends largely on how fast the pockets formed in the thermoplastic sheet can be filled, which depends in turn on the capacity of the other stations, for which purpose feeders have been developed to make it possible to fill several pockets simultaneously.

From the prior art, especially from the publicly known prior uses of Aylward Enterprises, Inc., USA, it is known that feeders of this type can be used in the pocket-filling station of a thermoforming machine to fill the pockets in the strip being conveyed through the filling station. The arrangement of filling tubes assigned to the pockets must be adapted precisely to the arrangement of the pockets in the strip, so that the small items can be deposited precisely into the pockets. When a change of format is to be made or when a different type of product is to be packaged, it is therefore necessary to remove and to clean the filling tube carrier and the filling tubes, for which purpose the filling tubes are removed from the filling tube carrier, so that even the smallest amounts of residual material can be cleaned off, as is necessary in particular when the small items are in the form of pharmaceutical products, no residues of which may remain on the filling tubes or on the filling tube carrier.

So that several pockets can be filled simultaneously, several filling tubes are usually assigned to a plurality of channels, which are combined into a filling shoe. Several filling shoes are combined in turn into a filling shoe unit, which forms a part of the dispenser unit. This filling shoe unit can be lowered vertically to dispense the small items and then raised again after the dispensing to allow the sheet which is to be or which has been filled to pass by without interference. So that only one item is ever dispensed at a time from a filling tube into the assigned channel, blocking fingers are used, by means of which the lowermost product in the stack formed in the filling tube can be released. The determining factor for the feed capacity of the feeder is the filling of the filling tubes; that is, it must be guaranteed that all of the filling tubes are always filled. This demands in turn that the feeder can transfer the products to the filling tubes uniformly over the entire surface area of the sorting plate.

In the case of conventional blister machine feeders, a format unit for the filling of the pockets comprises a sorting plate and a filling unit with a blocking slide unit, wherein the sorting plate is suspended elastically by way of resilient pads and is oscillated by vibrators attached to the sorting plate. The conventional arrangement suffers from the disadvantage that, because of the elastic mounting, it is difficult to position the sorting plate precisely with respect to the filling tubes of the filling unit. The requirements with respect to manufacturing tolerances are also high.

In the case of the previously known feeders with sorting plates, the plates comprise openings, into which the upper ends of the filling tubes project. The edges of the sorting plate are designed in such a way that the products to be fed can be loaded onto the plate as if into a flat-bottomed tray, wherein the sorting plate is moved vertically up and down, as a result of which the positions of the upper ends of the filling tubes change relative to the bottom of the sorting plate, which facilitates the sorting of the product items into the filling tubes. This effect is supported by additional drive units assigned to the sorting plate, which cause the product items on the sorting plate to execute “microjumps”, which are intended to promote the homogeneous distribution of the product items on the sorting plate.

With respect to the pattern of these movements of the sorting plates, however, feeders of this type suffer from several disadvantages, because, although the vertical movements of the sorting plate intended to produce the microjumps do loosen the product “carpet” formed by the products on the sorting plate, they cannot distribute the products uniformly over its surface. Product items are frequently missing in particular at the edges and in the corners of the sorting plate, so that the filling tubes present there cannot be filled reliably. This limits the capacity of the system. This can be compensated to only a limited extent by increasing the quantity of product on the sorting plate, because, although it is true that a sufficient quantity will be available in the disadvantaged zones, piles will form at the same time in the center of the sorting plate, which make it more difficult for the products to drop into the filling tubes.

With respect to the movements impressed on the sorting plate to produce the microjumps, it must be kept in mind that this is usually associated with an elastic mounting of the sorting plate on resilient pads, wherein the microjumps are generated by vibrators, which, in conjunction with the mounting of the sorting plate, lead to circular movements of the product carpet, which means that the product items in the center and in the corners hardly move at all. Depending on how the format unit is equipped with filling tubes, individual resonant frequencies develop and thus characteristic configurations are formed on the sorting plates, which means dead zones with little or no vibration, where again the product items hardly move at all, are present. To excite the sorting plates, pneumatic piston vibrators are usually used, which are characterized by their compact design. The disadvantage, however, is that several of these pneumatic piston vibrators are required, and they must be mounted in different positions. As a result of the mounting of the sorting plate on resilient pads and the design of the pneumatic piston vibrators, precise synchronization is not possible, and the reproducibility of the product distribution is not guaranteed.

In the case of feeders with a base unit and a blocking slide unit, which comprises slide guides and blocking slide base plates which move in the slide guides, it is advantageous for the blocking slide unit to be connected detachably to the base unit for maintenance or cleaning. In the case of conventional feeders, this is accomplished by plungers attached to the base unit, wherein spring elements press the blocking slide base plates onto the plungers. The advancing movement is produced by a single-acting pneumatic cylinder, which works against the spring elements and thus puts them under tension. The return stroke takes place exclusively by means of the spring elements. In the case of the conventional feeders, spring elements are attached on both sides of the blocking slide unit to ensure a uniform stroke.

When the conventional feeders are disassembled for cleaning or maintenance, the blocking slide unit with its blocking slide base plates must be removed. To prevent these plates from being pushed unintentionally out of the lateral guides by the force of the springs, a locking device is required. When this locking device is released, the blocking slide base plates can be removed, wherein care must be taken to ensure that, during this removal process, the spring elements, which are now loose, do not become lost.

The conventional feeders also suffer from the disadvantage that, because of the many small mechanical parts required for the detachable connection of the blocking slide unit to the base unit and for the transmission of movement from the base unit to the blocking slide unit, these conventional feeders are expensive to manufacture.

A format unit comprises the sorting plate, the filling unit with the blocking slide unit and the filling tubes, and the filling shoes, which can be selected to suit the products to be supplied and sorted. In the case of a conventional feeder, the format unit is attached to the base unit by a hanger device to secure it against shifting, wherein the attachment process is usually done by hand with the use of star handles and a clamping strip. This method of attachment suffers from the disadvantages that the star handles are not readily accessible, and that it is necessary to deal during the attachment process with many individual parts, which can become lost when the format unit is changed. In addition, the additional edges make it even more difficult to the clean the base unit and the format unit.

Conventional blocking slide units comprise a number of blocking fingers corresponding to the number of filling tubes, each of these fingers being assigned to one of the filling tubes, and a base plate with a number of through-openings, wherein the base plate comprises sockets for the blocking fingers. In the case of the conventional blocking slide units, the sockets for the blocking fingers are milled into the surface of the base plate.

During the production of the conventional blocking slide units, this leads to a first disadvantage that, because of the very small geometric forms and the large number of sockets, a long machine operating time is required to produce them. During the handling of the conventional blocking slide units, this leads to the second disadvantage that, because the sockets are introduced only into the top surface of the base plate, they make these units very difficult to clean. Because of their geometry, the corners of these sockets cannot be adequately cleaned, as a result of which residues can remain behind on the base plate.

Because of the danger of contamination with dust and the corresponding requirements, it is conventional for the feeder to have an external control panel. The feeder is arranged on a machine table of the blister machine, wherein the control panel is set up next to the blister machine.

This arrangement suffers from the disadvantage that the electrical lines must be laid individually into the control panel, because only there can the motors and sensors be connected to the control mechanism. The electrical lines extend along the filling section, where they can become contaminated with tablet dust. This increases the amount of cleaning work required. The external control panel, furthermore, requires additional space next to the blister machine and can under certain conditions interfere with access to the blister machine and make it more difficult to operate the machine.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the invention to provide a feeder, where the desired arrangement of the sorting plate with respect to the filling tubes of the filling unit is to be accomplished more easily, and in addition the requirements on manufacturing tolerances are to be lowered.

According to an aspect of the invention, the feeder for tablets, capsules or dragées comprises a stationary base unit and an exchangeable format unit comprising a sorting plate for evenly distributing the products and a filling unit including a number of vertically extending filling tubes having a guiding channel for receiving the tablets, capsules or dragées from the sorting plate, and a blocking slide unit for temporarily blocking the guiding channels of the filling tubes. The base unit comprises a first hanger device for the sorting plate, a second hanger device for the filling unit, and at least one adjusting device for adjusting the first hanger device relative to the second hanger device.

As a result, manufacturing tolerances can be compensated by way of a simple relative mechanical adjustment of the hanger devices, and the sorting plate and the filling tubes can be positioned very accurately with respect to each other. It can thus be guaranteed that the filling unit with the filling tubes is centered precisely with respect to the openings provided for them in the sorting plate, as a result of which the process of sorting the tablets into the filling tubes is realized in optimal fashion. Another advantage is that the different format units can be designed to be hung onto different feeders in the same way, so that maintenance work is simplified, and it becomes easier to refit a feeder with a new format unit.

According to one exemplary embodiment, the adjusting device is assigned to the first hanger device. Alternatively or in addition, the adjusting device can be assigned to the second hanger device. The assignment of an adjusting device to a hanger device makes it very easy to make the necessary adjustments, and the additional assignment of a second adjusting device to the second hanger device brings about even more improved adjustment possibilities for positioning the filling tubes with respect to the sorting plate.

The adjusting device preferably comprises an adjusting cam. This makes it possible to make the desired adjustments very easily during the assembly of the feeder, because the hanger devices can be positioned on the base unit once and for all by adjustment of the cam when they are attached.

It has been found to be advantageous for the first hanger device to be mounted on a first pin, which rests in a first guide groove in the adjusting device assigned to the first hanger device and/or for the second hanger device to be mounted on a second pin, which rests in a second guide groove in the adjusting device assigned to the second hanger device. In particular, both the first and the second hanger devices can each be mounted on two pins. This gives the hanger devices secure support and thus ensures that the sorting plate and the filling unit are securely supported.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention is explained in greater detail in the following on the basis of the exemplary embodiments illustrated in the drawings.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an inventive feeder;

FIG. 2 is a side view of the feeder of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the isolated base unit and the filling unit with the isolated sorting plate;

FIG. 4 is a top view of the sorting plate;

FIG. 5 is an exploded view of the filling unit with the sorting plate;

FIG. 6 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a filling shoe;

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the base unit and of the format unit, which comprises a sorting plate and the filling unit;

FIG. 8 is a top view of an arrangement of filling tubes in the sorting plate;

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an adjusting device arranged on the base unit;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the format unit with monolithic filling tube blocks arranged therein;

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of the isolated filling tube block;

FIG. 12 is a schematic perspective view of the hanging of the sorting plate and the filling unit on the base unit;

FIG. 13 is a schematic, cross-sectional view of the drive unit with counterweight for the sorting plate;

FIG. 14 is a first schematic perspective view of the base unit and of the filling unit;

FIG. 15 is a second schematic perspective view of the base unit and of a format unit comprising the sorting plate, the filling unit, and filling shoes;

FIG. 16 is an enlarged perspective view of the blocking slide unit with magnetic coupling;

FIG. 17 is a detailed perspective view of the arrangement of magnets, magnet mounts, and couplers for establishing the magnetic coupling;

FIG. 18 is a schematic cross-sectional view of the clamping of the sorting plate to the base unit by a pneumatic cylinder;

FIG. 19 is a perspective view of the openings in the format unit for the engagement of the pneumatic cylinders;

FIG. 20 is a perspective view of a base plate according to an exemplary embodiment of the blocking slide unit of the feeder;

FIG. 21 is an exploded view of the blocking slide unit of the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 20;

FIG. 22 is a perspective view of the blocking slide unit of FIG. 21 in the assembled state;

FIG. 23 is a perspective view of the base plate with an upper and a lower retaining plate and fastening devices according to another exemplary embodiment;

FIG. 24 is an enlarged perspective view of the fastening device of FIG. 23 in the locked state;

FIG. 25 is an enlarged perspective view of the fastening device of FIG. 23 in the released state;

FIG. 26 is a schematic perspective view of the blocking slide unit according to a third exemplary embodiment with guide parts;

FIG. 27 is an enlarged perspective view of a guide part in the state in which it is installed in the blocking slide unit;

FIG. 28 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of the guide part of FIG. 27;

FIG. 29 is a schematic cross-sectional view of the blocking slide unit according to another exemplary embodiment;

FIG. 30 is a perspective view of a base plate with blocking fingers according to another exemplary embodiment of the blocking slide unit of the feeder;

FIG. 31 is a perspective view of the base unit with an integrated control panel according to another aspect in a completely enclosed state;

FIG. 32 is a perspective view of the base unit with the integrated control panel according to FIG. 31, in which a first access area for mechanical maintenance has been opened;

FIG. 33 is a perspective view of the base unit with the integrated control panel according to FIG. 31, in which a second access area for electrical maintenance has been opened; and

FIG. 34 is a schematic perspective view of an arrangement of electrical drives and of a slide for synchronization in the base unit with the integrated control panel.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SPECIFIC EMBODIMENTS

FIGS. 1-6 show overview diagrams of a feeder 1, whereas the individual assemblies of the feeder 1 and the way in which they work together are described in the following figures.

The feeder 1 shown in FIGS. 1-6 serves to transfer products, which are made available as bulk material, in a controlled manner into the pockets of a continuously or discontinuously conveyed web of sheeting. This feeder 1 comprises a supply container 18, which holds the products as bulk material, from which container the products are transferred to a sorting plate 3, which sorts the products in such a way that they assume the pattern of the pockets, i.e., the pattern of pockets formed in the web of sheeting. The sorting plate 3 comprises openings 13 (FIG. 4) in the bottom, into which the upper ends of filling tubes 10 project. The product items are sorted into these upper ends. At least one blocking finger, which serves to release specifically the lowermost product item from the filling tube 10, is assigned to each filling tube 10, so that the products can be dispensed into the channels 23 of a filling shoe 24 (FIG. 6) of the filling shoe unit 25 in the filling unit comprising the blocking slide unit 4. The blocking fingers are, for example, formed in an upper blocking slide base plate 19 of the blocking slide unit 4 and in a lower blocking slide base plate 20 of the blocking slide unit 4 (FIG. 5), which carry the blocking fingers for all of the filling tubes 10. The sorting plate 3 is supported on a first guide 27, which allows movement in a horizontal translational direction, wherein this movement is generated by means of a first drive unit 21, which can cause the sorting plate 3 to oscillate (FIG. 12).

According to an exemplary embodiment not shown in the drawings, it is also possible to provide a second guide, which is designed to form a compound table together with the first guide in order to make possible a second movement in a horizontal direction which is not parallel to the first horizontal direction.

With a feeder 1 designed in this way, it is possible to transfer product items from the bulk material in the supply container 18 via the product conveyor 22 (FIG. 1) to the sorting plate 3, by which the items are distributed and set in motion by the oscillations of the sorting plate 3 produced by the drive units 21 with their vibrators. In the case of symmetric oscillations, the product carpet is loosened, whereas an asymmetric oscillation has the effect that the product carpet, as a result of the inertia of the individual product items, migrates in a certain direction. Because of the predetermined guidance of the sorting plate 3, it is possible to reproduce the movement of the product carpet and even to reverse it, so that, through the suitable excitation of oscillations of the sorting plate 3, the product can be distributed uniformly over all the upper ends of the filling tubes 10.

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a base unit 2 and of a format unit 12 in a disassembled state, the format unit 12 comprising a sorting plate 3 and a filling unit including the blocking slide unit 4 and the filling tubes 10. In the case of a feeder, products are conducted from a loading hopper (not shown in FIG. 7) onto the sorting plate 3. There they are distributed by horizontal oscillations and sorted into the filling tubes 10 by upward and downward movements of the sorting plate 3. The tablets are aligned in the filling tubes 10 and then individuated by the blocking slide unit 4. A first hanger device 5 for the sorting plate 3 and a second hanger device 6 for the blocking slide unit 4 are arranged on the base unit 2. The sorting plate 3 is not connected rigidly or elastically to the blocking slide unit 4, which means that the position of the blocking slide unit 4 relative to the sorting plate 3 can be adjusted.

FIG. 8 is a top view of the arrangement of filling tubes 10 in relation to the sorting plate 3 with the openings 13, wherein the filling tubes 10 are centered in the openings 13 provided for them so that the optimal distance 11 is present between the filling tubes 10 and the sorting plate 3, as a result of which the sorting of the tablets into the tubes can be optimized.

FIG. 9 shows an adjusting device 7 for the adjustment of the sorting plate 3 relative to the blocking slide unit 4. The adjusting device 7 is attached to the inside surface of a wall 14 of the base unit 2, wherein, in this exemplary embodiment, the first hanger device 5 is arranged on the outside surface of the wall 14 in an area which overlaps the adjusting device. The entire first hanger device 5 for the sorting plate 3 can therefore be shifted, so that the suspended position of the sorting plate 3 can be brought to coincide with the suspended position of the blocking slide unit 4 by means of a cam adjustment with an adjusting cam 8. The first hanger device 5 is supported on first pins, which rest in first guide grooves 9 in the adjusting device 7. Although it is not shown in FIG. 9, there is also the possibility that a corresponding adjusting device could be provided for the second hanger device 6.

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of part of the feeder which serves to load small items, simultaneously and in an orderly manner, into the pockets in the surface of the web of sheeting, these pockets being arranged in rows and columns transversely and parallel to the travel direction of the web of sheeting, for which purpose a plurality of filling tubes 10 is provided, which are combined into a unit in a filling tube carrier 15. The connecting parts 16a between the filling tubes 10 and the filling tube carrier 15 are seamless. In the exemplary embodiment shown in the drawing, this is achieved by forming the filling tubes 10 and the filling tube carrier 15 as a one-piece unit, namely, as a monolithic filling tube block 16. It is shown in FIGS. 10 and 11 that the filling tubes 10 are arranged with their ends standing on the filling tube carrier 15. FIG. 11 shows that each of the filling tubes 10 has a total of two openings, i.e., a lower opening 17a and an upper opening 17b, which make it possible to move blocking fingers into the interior of the tube so that the small items can be individuated from each other and deposited in an efficient manner.

As shown in FIG. 12, a vertical guide 26 for the sorting stroke movements of the sorting plate 3 and the filling tubes 10 can be mounted on the base unit 2. The product items are sorted into the filling tubes 10 by the slower sorting stroke movements in the vertical direction, whereas they are distributed across the sorting plate 3 by the vibratory movements in the horizontal direction.

There is also the possibility of varying the amplitude and/or the frequency and/or the symmetry of the oscillations, which means that a high degree of flexibility is obtained in terms of controlling the sorting behavior, which is influenced by the size of the product items, their contact surface areas, and their weights, all of which can be taken into consideration as appropriate.

FIG. 13 is a schematic, cross-sectional view of a preferred exemplary embodiment of a drive unit for the sorting plate 3. The servomotor 21 with a double cam 29 transmits the vibratory movements to a first guide roller 30 and to a second guide roller 31, wherein the first guide roller 30 is connected to the sorting plate 3 and the second guide roller 31 to a counterweight 32. By means of a spring unit, the sorting plate 3 and the counterweight 32 are pretensioned onto the double cam 29, so that, upon rotation of the double cam 29, the sorting plate 3 and the counterweight 32 move in opposite directions. The two opposite directions of these movements are indicated in FIG. 13 by the arrows pointing in opposite directions. As a result of the movement of this vibratory system in opposite directions, the forces cancel each other out, so that no forces are transmitted from the vibratory system to the other assemblies of the feeder 1.

FIG. 14 is a schematic perspective view of the feeder with a base unit 2 and a blocking slide unit 4 in the disassembled state. The base unit 2 is stationary, and the blocking slide unit 4 can be selected and replaced in a product-specific manner in accordance with the requirements of the products to be supplied and sorted.

FIG. 15 is another schematic perspective view of the feeder with the base unit 2 and a format unit 12, which comprises the sorting plate 3, the blocking slide unit 4, the filling tubes 10, and the filling shoe unit 25 with filling shoes 24, wherein the format unit 12 can also be selected and replaced in an appropriate product-specific manner to meet the requirements of the small items to be supplied and sorted. The base unit 2 also comprises the hanger devices 5 and 6, so that the format unit 12 can be removed from the base unit 2 without tools. The small items to be supplied are conducted from the loading hopper (not shown) via the vibration unit into the sorting plate 3. There they are sorted into the filling tubes 10 by upward and downward movements. The tablets are aligned in the filling tubes 10 and then individuated by the blocking slide unit 4. The tablets are dispensed onto the thermoformed web of sheeting under the feeder by way of the filling shoes 24.

FIG. 16 shows an exemplary embodiment in which the blocking slide unit 4 comprises slide guides 33 and, for example, two blocking slide base plates 19, 20, arranged one of above the other. FIG. 17 is an enlarged view of the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 16, in which a magnet 34, namely, a permanent magnet, on a magnet mount 35, is attached to the base unit 2, and the coupler 36 for the magnet 34 is attached to the lower blocking slide base plate 20 of the blocking slide unit 4.

So that the tablets can be individuated, the blocking slide base plates 19 and 20 in an advantageous embodiment are moved back and forth in opposite directions, wherein these movements are transmitted directly from the base unit 2 to the blocking slide base plates 19, 20. The blocking slide base plates 19, 20 are guided in the slide guides 33 and thus execute linear movement.

When the feeder is to be changed over to a new tablet format, the old blocking slide unit 4 must be removed from the base unit 2 and the new one attached to it. As can be seen in FIG. 17, the magnetic coupling and thus the connection between the base unit 2 and the blocking slide unit 4 is accomplished by the magnets 34 on the magnet mounts 35 and the couplers 36. Because of the fixed magnetic coupling, therefore, the movements for the blocking slide base plates can also be transmitted via the magnets.

FIG. 18 shows that the format unit 12 is prevented from moving unintentionally relative to the base unit 2 during operation by a pneumatic cylinder 37, which clamps the format unit 12 to the hanger device 5 on the base unit 2. As shown in FIG. 19, an opening 38 is provided, into which the pneumatic cylinder 37 can engage.

FIG. 20 shows a first exemplary embodiment of a base plate 42 for the blocking slide unit 4 of the feeder 1. The base plate 42 comprises first through-openings 49 and receiving portions 43 for first blocking fingers 41. The receiving portions 43 for the blocking fingers 41 are designed to pass all the way through the base plate 42.

The receiving portions 43 for the blocking fingers 41 can be cut out of the base plate 42 by means of a laser cutting system, for example, together with the first through-openings 49. It is advantageous for the receiving portions 43 for the blocking fingers 41 to have a narrowed section at the point where they connect to the first through-openings 49. As shown in FIG. 20, several receiving portions 43 for blocking fingers 41 are preferably assigned to each of the first through-openings 49.

FIG. 21 is an exploded view of a first exemplary embodiment of the blocking slide unit 4, and FIG. 22 shows the first exemplary embodiment of the blocking slide unit 4 in the assembled state. The base plate 42 is arranged between a lower retaining plate 44 with second through-openings 49a and an upper retaining plate 45 with third through-openings 49b in such a way that the blocking fingers 41 are secured in the receiving portions 43 of the base plate 42, wherein both the second through-openings 49a and the third through-openings 49b are aligned with the first through-openings 49.

FIG. 23 shows the base plate 42 with blocking fingers 41 according to an exemplary embodiment with an upper retaining plate 45 and a lower retaining plate 44 in the locked state.

In the locked state, the upper retaining plate 45 with the corresponding through-openings is preferably attached to the base plate 42 in such a way that these through-openings essentially coincide with the through-openings 49 in the base plate 42.

FIG. 24 shows the fastening device in the locked state, and FIG. 25 shows the fastening device in the released state. In the locked state, a locking projection 47, which is arranged on the base plate 42 and which comprises a neck part and a head part, is located in a narrowed area of the locking and release opening 46 in the upper retaining plate 45, so that the head part of the locking projection 47 secures the upper retaining plate 45 to the base plate 42. In the released state, however, the locking projection 47 is located in the widened area of the locking and release opening 46 in the upper retaining plate 45, so that the upper retaining plate 45 can be removed from the base plate 42 by pulling it up over the head part. The upper retaining plate 45 of FIG. 25 is pushed parallel to the base plate 42 to lock it or to release it. In this way, the upper retaining plate 45 can be detached and removed from the base plate 42 without tools. The lower retaining plate 44 can be secured in the same way.

FIG. 26 shows the blocking slide unit 4 according to another exemplary embodiment. The blocking slide unit 4 according to this exemplary embodiment comprises, instead of the base plate 42, a corresponding lower base plate 42a with lower through-openings and a corresponding upper base plate 42b with upper through-openings. The lower base plate 42a and the upper base plate 42b are arranged with respect to each other when in the operating state in such a way that each lower through-opening and a corresponding upper through-opening are assigned to a corresponding number of filling tubes 10. Because of the way in which the base plates are supported in the guide parts 53, they can be moved with precision in the blocking slide unit 4.

FIG. 27 is an enlarged view of the guide part 53 in the blocking slide unit 4 according to another exemplary embodiment. It can be seen in FIG. 27 that the guide part 53 can have different codings both for the connection with an upper cover plate and for the connection with a lower cover plate and for the guidance of the lower base plate 42a and of the upper base plate 42b. The lower base plate 42a comprises a first height H1, and the upper base plate 42b comprises a second height H2, wherein the first height H1 differs from the second height H2. The upper recess 55 in the upper cover plate and the lower recess 54 in the lower cover plate are of different shape. It is possible, for example, for the lower recess 54 to extend over the entire height of the lower cover plate, whereas the upper recess 55 extends over only a portion of the height of the upper cover plate. In addition to the height, the width and the length of the recesses can also be different. To establish the proper connection, an upper guide projection 57, which fits into the upper recess 55, is formed on the top surface of the guide part 53, and a lower guide projection 56, which fits into the lower recess 54, is formed on the bottom surface of the guide part 53. The asymmetry of the lower guide projection 56 and the upper guide projection 57 ensures that the guide parts 53 will be assembled correctly.

FIG. 28 shows that the lower guide is designed as a lower guide groove 58a with a width B1 which accommodates the first height H1, and that the upper guide is designed as an upper guide groove 58b with a width B2 which accommodates the second height H2. The asymmetry of the lower and upper guide grooves together with the asymmetry of the lower and upper base plates 42a and 42b provides a mechanical way of preventing the base plates from being confused with each other during assembly.

FIG. 29 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a blocking slide unit 4 according to another exemplary embodiment, in which the upper base plate 42b is arranged so that it can be adjusted.

The end position of the upper base plate 42b is adjustable, so that the tablets in the filling tubes 10 can be blocked off in optimal fashion. The adjusting distance is preferably continuously variable. This can be accomplished by the use of a motor. The upper base plate 42b is moved by a pneumatic cylinder 59, which comprises a continuous piston rod. A stop 60 can be used to set the desired position, wherein the stop can be adjusted by the motor, so that no manual interventions are required.

The technical features of these exemplary embodiments of the present invention can be combined with each other. It is also possible to replace the base plate 42 by a number of partial base plates or to replace the upper base plate 42b by a number of upper partial base plates and the lower base plate 42a by a number of lower partial base plates.

FIG. 30 shows the base plate 42 for the blocking slide unit 4, which comprises a number of blocking fingers 41 equal to the number of filling tubes 10, each blocking finger being assigned to its own filling tube 10, and through-openings 49, wherein the blocking fingers 41 are designed as integral parts of the base plate 42.

FIG. 31 shows the base unit 2 for a feeder 1, in which an integrated control panel 62 in the base unit 2 is arranged in an enclosed, dustproof area. The integrated control panel 62 forms one wall of the base unit 2, namely, a rear wall of the base unit 2.

FIG. 32 shows the base unit 2 with the integrated control panel 62, wherein a second access area 65 for mechanical maintenance in the base unit 2 has been opened. The integrated control panel 62 is mounted pivotably in the base unit 2 in such a way that the integrated control panel 62 serves as a rear door 61 of the base unit 2 for opening and closing a second access area 65 for mechanical maintenance. For any necessary maintenance work on the mechanical components, the integrated control panel 62 can be swung out together with the electrical components to open the second access area 65, wherein this second access area 65 can be opened without touching the electrical components. It is therefore possible for a mechanic to perform mechanical maintenance work without the help of an electrician.

FIG. 33 shows the integrated control panel 62 in the opened state, in which an outward-pivoted control panel door 63 has opened a first access area 64 for electrical maintenance work. This control panel door 63 corresponds to a conventional control panel door, which can be opened only with a special key to allow electrical maintenance. Accordingly, a first locking device for the control panel 62 and a second locking device for the door 61 of the base unit 2 are designed to work with different keys.

FIG. 31 shows that the integrated control panel 62 can comprise a coolant connector 66 on the control panel door 63 for a coolant circuit. The coolant circuit is designed as, for example, a cooling plate in the control panel door 63, so that the waste heat can be carried away easily from the integrated control panel 62.

FIG. 34 is a schematic perspective view of an arrangement of electrical drives 68 and of a slide 69 for synchronization in the base unit 2 with the integrated control panel 62. The slide 69 for synchronization and the electrical drives 68 for the feeder are arranged in the base unit 2 in such a way that the electrical drives 68 are stationary. The external housing of the base unit with the housing walls 67 is stationary, and the electrical drives 68 are arranged in such a way that they accompany only the format adjustments, wherein the drives 68 do not execute the overall movements such as the those for synchronization, sorting, and lowering. The mechanical movements are conducted on the basis of the slide principle in the interior of the feeder, as a result of which the electrical drives 68 remain stationary with respect to the travel direction of the web of sheeting.