Title:
PIPE DISTRIBUTING SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for distributing large pipe or conduit at a job site includes a containment mounted on a vehicle and configured to contain a quantity of pipe. The containment defines an opening sized for passage of a pipe lengthwise. A pipe dispensing apparatus is disposed within the opening and includes a pair of grabber plates each defining a slot to receive a pipe therein. The grabber plates are simultaneously rotated to acquire a pipe from within the containment and convey the pipe through the opening. The grabber plates continue to rotate until the slots are oriented so that the pipe drops from the grabber plates by gravity. The vehicle is then moved to another location to drop another pipe.



Inventors:
Lykins, David C. (Sunman, IN, US)
Application Number:
12/234640
Publication Date:
03/25/2010
Filing Date:
09/20/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
414/800
International Classes:
B63B35/03
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ADAMS, GREGORY W
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MAGINOT, MOORE & BECK, LLP (INDIANAPOLIS, IN, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A system for distributing large pipe or conduit at a job site comprising: a vehicle; a containment mounted on the vehicle and configured for containing a plurality of pipes on the vehicle, said containment defining an opening at one side of the vehicle sized to permit passage of a pipe therethrough; and a pipe dispensing apparatus disposed to block said opening to prevent passage of a pipe therethrough, and movable from a first position to acquire a pipe and passing through said opening to a second position to drop the pipe outside the vehicle.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein said containment includes a gravity feed element for feeding successive ones of the plurality of pipes to the pipe dispensing apparatus.

3. The system of claim 2, wherein the gravity feed element includes at least one ramp disposed within the containment and inclined toward the pipe dispensing apparatus.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein said pipe dispensing apparatus includes: a pair of plates offset from each other, each of said plates defining a slot for receiving the pipe therein, said pair of plates mounted for rotation relative to the vehicle; and a drive system for simultaneously rotating said pair of plates between said first and second positions.

5. The system of claim 4, wherein each of said plates defines a cam edge extending from the opening of said slot.

6. The system of claim 5, wherein said cam edge is defined substantially at a circular radius.

7. The system of claim 4, wherein each of said plates includes an inner arm and an outer arm which define said slot, said outer arm being longer than said inner arm.

8. The system of claim 7, wherein each of said plates defines a cam edge extending from the opening of said slot at said inner arm.

9. The system of claim 8, wherein each of said plates further defines a truncated edge generally aligned with said outer arm, said cam edge terminating at said truncated edge.

10. The system of claim 4, wherein: each of said pair of plates is supported for rotation by a short axle; and said drive system includes; a common axle rotatably driven by a power source; and a transmission mechanism coupled between said common axle and the short axle of each of said pair of plates.

11. The system of claim 10, wherein said transmission mechanism is configured to multiply the rotation of said common axle to the short axle of each of said pair of plates.

12. The system of claim 10, wherein said power source includes a hydraulic motor and a linkage from an output shaft of said motor to said common axle.

13. A method for distributing large pipe or conduit at a job site comprising: (a) loading a plurality of pipes into a containment on a vehicle, the containment defining an opening sized for passage of a pipe lengthwise therethrough, the vehicle including a pair of rotating grabber plates disposed in the opening and offset from each other, each grabber plate including a slot for receiving a pipe therein; (b) simultaneously rotating the grabber plates in a first direction to acquire a pipe within the containment; (c) simultaneously rotating the grabber plates in an opposite second direction to carry the acquired pipe through the opening; (d) continuing to simultaneously rotate the grabber plates until the slots are positioned to allow the pipe to fall from the slots by gravity; (e) moving the vehicle to another location; and repeating steps (b)-(e) for subsequent pipes to be distributed at the job site.

Description:

BACKGROUND

The present invention relates to methods for scatting pipe or conduit at a job site, and more particularly to an apparatus for accomplishing this task.

Most commercial and residential construction sites require the installation of piping designed to carry such fluids as water, sewage, gas or oil. In the majority of the cases, the pipes or conduits are buried underground. Much effort has gone into the development of a variety of equipment for assisting in the task of burying the pipe, ranging from digging the trench, covering the bottom of the trench with a somewhat flexible material such as coarse gravel, placing and accurately positioning the pipe within the trench and backfilling. Many devices have been developed to assist workers with picking up a piece of pipe and lowering that pipe into position within the trench. For instance, such equipment includes self-propelled counterweighted vehicles and systems utilizing a carriage running along a bridge extending across the trench. Laser devices are often used to ensure accurate alignment of the pipe or conduit. Other equipment greatly simplifies the back-filling process.

In spite of the many advances in the process of burying pipe or conduit, no attention has been paid to the first step in this process—distributing the pipe at the job site. Once the trench has been dug, the pipe or conduit is typically laid alongside the trench in position to be lifted and dropped into the trench. For most building sites, the pipe is usually provided in 10, 14, or 20 foot lengths and is too heavy for manual lifting and placement. Consequently, this step is usually performed using a front-end loader or lift vehicle that removes each pipe one at a time from a transport trailer and drops the pipe near the trench. For a job site where dozens of pipe sections must be dropped for installation, it is not hard to imagine that the process of distributing the pipe can be very time consuming.

Consequently, there is an unmet need for an apparatus that simplifies the process of distributing pipe or conduit sections throughout a job site.

SUMMARY

To meet this need, the present invention comprises a system that can be mounted to a truck or trailer that hauls the pipe or conduit to the job site. The system for distributing large pipe or conduit at a job site comprises a containment mounted on a vehicle, such as a light duty truck, and configured for containing a quantity of pipes stacked thereon. The containment includes a frame that defines an opening at one side of the vehicle sized to permit passage of a pipe lengthwise therethrough. A pipe dispensing apparatus is disposed to block the opening but is movable from a first position to acquire a pipe and then passing through the opening to a second position to drop the pipe outside the vehicle. The containment includes a gravity feed element, such as a ramp, for feeding successive pipes to the pipe dispensing apparatus.

In one feature of the invention, the pipe dispensing apparatus includes a pair of plates offset from each other, each of the plates defining a slot for receiving the pipe therein. The pair of plates are mounted for rotation by a drive system configured to simultaneously rotate the pair of plates between the first and second positions. In one feature, each of the plates defines a cam edge extending from the opening of the slot in a substantially at a circular radius. The cam edge holds back the remaining pipes in the containment as the dispensing apparatus carries a pipe to be dropped at the job site.

In another feature, the drive system for the rotating plates includes a short axle supporting each plate and a common axle that is rotatably driven by a power source. Each short axle is craven by a transmission mechanism coupled between the common axle and the short axle. The transmission preferably multiplies the rotation of the common axle to the short axle so that a limited range of rotation of the common axle produces the appropriate amount of rotation of the plates carrying the pipe. In one embodiment, the power source includes a hydraulic motor and a linkage from an output shaft of the motor to the common axle.

Another aspect of the invention provides a method for distributing large pipe or conduit at a job site comprising the initial step of loading a plurality of pipes into a containment on a vehicle. The containment defines an opening sized for passage of a pipe lengthwise therethrough. A pair of rotating grabber plates are disposed in the opening and offset from each other to support a pipe near its opposite ends.

The method includes the steps of: simultaneously rotating the grabber plates in a first direction to acquire a pipe within the containment; simultaneously rotating the grabber plates in an opposite second direction to carry the acquired pipe through the opening; and continuing to simultaneously rotate the grabber plates until the slots are positioned to allow the pipe to fall from the slots by gravity. The vehicle is then moved to another location and these steps are repeated to drop subsequent pipes to be distributed at the job site.

The present invention greatly reduces the time and manpower required to distribute large pipes or conduits at a job site. The system requires only one vehicle and one operator to place a string of pipe adjacent a trench. Thus, a task that previously required multiple workers half a day to accomplish can be completed by a single worker in just over an hour.

DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1 is a side view of a truck outfitted with the pipe distributing system according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a top view of the vehicle frame and pipe distributing system shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is an end view of the pipe distributing system shown in FIG. 2.

FIGS. 4a-4e show one pipe grabber plate of the pipe distributing system shown in the prior figures, with the plate at different locations in its range of rotational movement.

FIG. 5 is a diagram of one embodiment of a drive system for the pipe distributing of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a side view of a pipe grabber plate with an adapter plate mounted thereon.

DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLUSTRATED EMBODIMENT

For the purposes of promoting an understanding of the principles of the invention, reference will now be made to the embodiments illustrated in the drawings and described in the following written specification. It is understood that no limitation to the scope of the invention is thereby intended. It is further understood that the present invention includes any alterations and modifications to the illustrated embodiments and includes further applications of the principles of the invention as would normally occur to one skilled in the art to which this invention pertains.

In one embodiment, a light-duty or stake bed truck T includes a containment 10 mounted on the vehicle frame F, as illustrated in FIGS. 1-3. The vehicle frame F is sized to the length of the commercial/industrial pipe to be hauled. Thus, in one specific embodiment, the truck bed has a length of about 15 feet to carry 14 foot pipe sections. The containment 10 is configured to retain a quantity of pipe stacked within the frame (see FIG. 3). Thus, the containment includes end bulkheads 12 at the opposite ends of the frame F. In one embodiment, a pair of support beams 20 (FIG. 2) are mounted cross-wise on the vehicle frame F and extend to the opposite sides of the truck T. On one side of the truck, side posts 14 are mounted to one end of the support beams and extend vertically upward to about the same height as the bulkheads 12, On the opposite side of the truck, a cross bar 18 extends between the end bulkheads 12, as best seen in FIG. 1. This cross bar 18 is offset from the tops of the support beams 20 by an opening 19 that is large enough to permit passage of a pipe lengthwise underneath the cross bar. Side posts 16 are mounted to the cross bar 18 and extend vertically to the same height as the opposite side posts 14. Thus, except for the opening 19, the side posts 14 and 16 are arranged to retain a stack of pipe P within the containment, as seen in FIG. 3.

Thus, the quantity of pipes P is supported on the support beams 20 within the containment. An additional center beam 24 may be provided to help distribute the weight of the pipes. The beams are preferably provided with gravity feed elements in the form of ramps 22, 25 that are inclined toward the opening 19. It can be appreciated that these ramps help feed the pipes P by gravity toward the opening 19.

In accordance with one aspect of the invention, a pipe dispenser mechanism 30 is disposed within the opening 19. The mechanism 30 is configured to normally block the opening and contain the quantity of pipes P within the containment 10 while the pipes are conveyed by the truck T to the job site. As shown in FIG. 4a, the mechanism 30 includes a pipe grabber plate 32 that is supported on a short axle 38. The plate defines a slot 33 that is sized to receive a pipe therein. The slot 33 is bounded by an outer arm 34 and a shorter inner arm 35. The slot is elongated from the opening of the slot between the two arms 34 and 35 to the circular base 33a of the slot. As shown in FIGS. 1 and 3, the longer outer arm 34 is sized to that the edge of the arm is close to the cross bar 18. When the grabber plate 32 is in its idle position, the plate and arm 34 block the opening 19 and hold the pipes within the containment.

The grabber plate further includes a cam edge 36 starting at the shorter inner arm 35 from the opening of the slot 34 and extending around the plate to a truncated edge 37. The truncated edge 37 is generally aligned with the outer arm 34 so that the grabber plate 32 stays within the side clearance limits of the vehicle. The cam edge 36 is preferably defined at a circular radius for smooth operation as described below. In the specific embodiment, the circular radius is about 18 inches. The angular extent of the cam edge 36 is determined by the range of rotation of the grabber plate 32, as described below. In the illustrated embodiment, the cam edge subtends an angle of less than about 200°, which corresponds to the range of rotational movement of the plate.

As shown in FIG. 2, two such pipe dispenser mechanisms 30 are provided, each aligned with a corresponding support beam 20. The short axle 38 that carries the grabber plate 32 is supported at one end by a bearing 40 and at its opposite end by a drive system 43. As explained more fully herein, the drive system 43 is configured to rotate the short axle 38 and consequently the grabber plate 32 through a series of movements depicted in FIGS. 4a-4e.

In its idle position, the grabber plate 32 blocks the opening 19 and prevents the passage of pipes from the containment. For simplicity, two such pipes P1 and P2 are shown in FIG. 4a resting on the ramp 22. Gravity causes the first pipe P1 to bear against a cam edge 36 of the plate 32. As the grabber plate 32 rotates clockwise, as depicted in FIG. 4b, the cam edge slides against the pipe P1 as the end of the inner arm 35 approaches the pipe. Once the inner arm 35 drops below the ramp 22, the pipe P1 is free to roll into the pipe slot 33, as shown in FIG. 4c. The outer arm 34 prevents the pipe from rolling out of the containment.

Once the grabber plate 32 has acquired the pipe P1, as shown in FIG. 4c, the plate 32 begins to rotate in the opposite (counter-clockwise) direction. As the plate rotates, the pipe P1 slides fully into the slot 33 and into contact with the circular base 33a. With the pipe nestled in the slot 33, as shown in FIG. 4d, the plate 32 continues to rotate. The elongated outer arm 34 holds the pipe P1 in position as the plate continues to rotate. Meanwhile, the cam edge 32 contacts the second pipe P2 to hold it in place. When the pipes are stacked (see FIG. 3), a third pipe P3 may also be held back by the cam edge 36 of the plate 32, as illustrated in FIG. 4d. The cam edge 36 continues to hold the other pipes P2 and P3 back as the grabber plate 32 rotates to the position shown in FIG. 4e. In this position, the outer arm 34 is dipped at enough of an angle for gravity to pull the pipe P1 out of the slot 33 and drop to the ground. Once the pipe P1 is released, the plate 32 changes directions and rotates in the clockwise direction toward the idle position shown in FIG. 4a. As the plate rotates, the cam edge 36 continues to maintain contact with the remaining pipes P2, P3, holding them back and within the containment.

It can be readily appreciated that continued cycling of the grabber plate 32 allows the plate to grab the next immediate pipe and convey it out of the containment to drop onto the ground. Each successive pipe will feed automatically into the slot 33 once the slot is rotated sufficiently towards the stack of pipes. Pipes stacked above the plate 32, such as the pipe P3 shown in FIG. 4d, will readily fall into the slot 33, while pipes supported by the ramp 22 will roll into the slot. It can also be appreciated that when a pipe is already disposed within the slot 33, even if the plate continues to rotate clockwise toward the stack of pipe, no additional pipe can find its way into the slot.

As explained above, each of the two grabber plates 32 is mounted on a corresponding short axle 38. Each short axle is rotated by a corresponding drive system 43 through a transmission mechanism 44. Each transmission mechanism is connected to a common axle 50, as shown in FIG. 2. As depicted in FIG. 5, the transmission mechanism 44 includes a transmission pulley or chain 45 that runs between the short axle and a drive gear 46 mounted on the common axle 50. The transmission mechanism 44 is configured to gear up the rotation of the drive gear 46 to the short axle 38, to in effect multiply the angular rotation of the common axle. In other words, where the diameter of the drive gear 46 is twice as large as the diameter of the short axle 38, the short axle, and therefore the grabber plate 32, will rotate through twice the angle of the common axle.

This gear ratio allows short rotational movement of the common axle to produce sufficient rotation of the grabber plate 32 from the position show in FIG. 4c to the position in FIG. 4e. In one embodiment, this rotation is almost 180 degrees between the position in which the pipe enters the slot 33 and the position in which the pipe is dropped to the ground. In this embodiment, the common axle 50 only rotates through about 90 degrees based on the crank arm arrangement used to rotate the axle. In particular, a crank arm 52 is connected to the common axle 50. A crank drive 54 is connected to the output shaft 62 of a motor 60. A link arm 56 is connected by pivot joints 57, 58 to the crank arm 52 and crank drive 54. Thus, counter-clockwise rotation of the output shaft 62, as shown in FIG. 5, moves the link arm 56 laterally, which causes the crank arm 52 to rotate. Rotation of the crank arm 52 rotates the long shaft 50 to ultimately drive the rotation of the grabber plate 32 by way of the transmission chain 45.

In one specific embodiment, the drive motor 60 is a reversible hydraulic motor that can be readily integrated into the truck's hydraulic system. The activation and direction of rotation of the drive motor may be controlled by a remote control so that the pipe dispenser 30 can be operated from within the cab of the truck to ensure the safety of the truck operator. The stopping, starting and reversing rotation of the motor can be controlled by the operator. Alternatively, the motor cycle can be automatically controlled by appropriately configured hydraulic circuitry or by the use of limit switches that sense the position of the grabber plate 32. Since the pipes are automatically fed into and dropped from the grabber plate 32, the plate can be continuously run through a series of cycles until all of the pipes have been removed from the containment 10. The cycle can incorporate a predetermined dwell period to account for the truck T moving from one drop location to another. Once the last pipe has been dropped, the plate can be returned to the idle position shown in FIG. 4a so that the truck can be re-loaded with a quantity of pipe as needed.

It is contemplated that any manner of controlled rotation of the common axle 50 may be used. For instance, the hydraulic motor may be replaced with a reversible electric motor. In another alternative, the motor may be a unidirectional motor with appropriate modification to the crank mechanism to permit reversal of the rotation direction of the common axle. In other alternatives, the long shaft 50 may be directly driven by a motor, or each short shaft 38 or each grabber plate 32 may be directly driven by synchronized motors.

As shown in FIG. 3, the containment 10 can hold several rows of pipe, with the number of contained pipes dependent upon the diameter of the pipe. Although not shown in FIG. 3, pipes will also be stacked above the grabber plate 32. In its idle position, the plate 32 may be oriented as shown in the figure with the slot 34 facing upward into the containment, in which case a pipe loaded into the containment will initially fall into the slot. Alternatively, the plate 32 may be rotated slightly so that the slot 34 is partially blocked, such as by the cross bar 18, so that a newly loaded pipe will rest on the cam edge 36 rather than reside within the slot during transport.

When pipes are stacked above the grabber plate 32, the first few cycles of the pipe dispenser apparatus 30 will draw from that vertical stack. In doing so, other stacked pipes will shift toward the dispenser apparatus, eventually being acquired by the grabber plate on a subsequent cycle. Eventually, the vertical stack of pipes will be reduced to a stable arrangement, such as depicted in FIG. 3. In this position, the grabber plate will acquire the pipe P1 immediately adjacent the plate, which will then cause the stack of pipes to shift again. However, as the remaining pipes shift, the cam edge 36 holds the pipes back until the next pipe is acquired by the grabber plate 32.

In the illustrated embodiment, the slot 33 in the plate 32 is sized to accommodate a larger diameter pipe, such as a 10 or 12 inch diameter pipe. In this embodiment, the slot has a width that is 13-14 inches to easily accept a pipe sliding into the slot. However, with this width, the slot is large enough to accept more than one smaller diameter pipe, such as a standard 8 inch diameter pipe. For applications in which smaller pipe is being dropped at the job site, an adapter plate 70 is provided, as shown in FIG. 6. The adapter plate 70 includes a narrower slot 72 that is sized for nominal clearance around a smaller pipe. For an 8 inch pipe, the slot 72 can have a diameter of 9 inches. The adapter plate 70 may be mounted to the existing grabber plate 32 by bolts 74 or other appropriate fastener arrangement.

The plates 32 are sized to repeatedly support heavy industrial pipes or conduits. In a specific embodiment, the plates are ⅜-½ inch thick steel plates. The axles 38 and 50 are 1 inch diameter shafts.

The pipe dispenser 30 of the present invention greatly simplifies the task of scattering pipe at a job site. The pipes are loaded into the containment mounted on a vehicle, such as the medium duty truck T shown in FIG. 1 or on a towable trailer. For instance, the pipes may be loaded into the vehicle by a front-end loader and then transported to the job site. At the job site, the vehicle can then be moved from location to location to drop the pipe along the length of a prepared trench. While prior approaches required a hauling vehicle and an unloading vehicle, the present invention only requires a single vehicle that both hauls and unloads a supply of pipe or conduit. Thus, a job that might require a half a day to unload and distribute pipe can be accomplished in little more than an hour. Moreover, the job can be accomplished by a single operator who drives the truck T and operates the pipe dispenser 30, as opposed to the prior technique that requires two operators. With the present invention, not only is the time to distribute a full load of pipe reduced, the manpower is also reduced, which ultimately leads to a significant reduction in costs to complete the job.

The pipe dispenser 30 is readily adapted for retrofit mounting on an existing light duty or stake bed truck. The bed of the light truck can be easily modified to incorporate the pipe containment. A stake bed truck can be modified to incorporate the cross bar 18 that defines the pipe dispensing opening 19 at one side of the bed. The pipe grabber plate 32 is sized to fit in the lateral space between the vehicle frame F and the side clearance of the end bulkheads. The support beams 20, 24 and ramps 22, 25 can fastened to the existing vehicle frame in any suitable manner, such as by welding. The beams may also be clamped to the vehicle frame to permit removal provided that the clamps are capable of holding the beams in place while the vehicle is on the move.

In the illustrated embodiment, the pipes are dispensed laterally at one side of the vehicle. The containment may be modified to permit rear dispensing of much shorter pipes. The rear bulkhead may be modified to define the dispensing opening with the pipe dispenser positioned at the rear of the vehicle. In this adaptation, the support beams 20 and ramps 22 would extend along the length of the vehicle frame to direct the supply of pipe toward the rear side of the vehicle.

While the invention has been illustrated and described in detail in the drawings and foregoing description, the same should be considered as illustrative and not restrictive in character. It is understood that only the preferred embodiments have been presented and that all changes, modifications and further applications that come within the spirit of the invention are desired to be protected.