Title:
APPARATUS, SYSTEMS, AND METHODS FOR MATERIAL TRANSFER
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A coupler apparatus may be used to couple a container to a reservoir to transfer material therebetween. The coupler apparatus may be coupled to the container, and then to the reservoir. Material may not be allowed to flow through the coupler when the coupler is not coupled to the reservoir.



Inventors:
Claussen, Steven W. (Glenwood, MN, US)
Hoeft, Peter A. (Blaine, MN, US)
Application Number:
14/776364
Publication Date:
02/04/2016
Filing Date:
03/14/2014
Assignee:
CLAUSSEN TECHNOLOGY, LLC
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
206/503, 220/200, 220/256.1
International Classes:
B65D21/02; B65B1/06; B65D51/20
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
KELLY, TIMOTHY PATRICK
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MUETING RAASCH GROUP (MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US)
Claims:
1. A coupler apparatus for coupling a container holding material to a reservoir, the coupler apparatus comprising: a first end portion configured to be inserted into the container; a second end portion configured to be coupled to the reservoir, wherein each of the first end portion and the second end portion define a channel extending from the first end portion to the second end portion to allow material to flow from the first end portion to the second end portion, wherein material is free to flow through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is coupled to the reservoir, wherein material is inhibited from flowing through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is not coupled to the reservoir; and attachment apparatus located between the first end portion and the second end portion configured to retain the coupler apparatus to the container when the first end portion is inserted in the container.

2. 2-4. (canceled)

5. The coupler apparatus of claim 1, wherein the container defines an opening sealed by a membrane, wherein the first end portion is configured to pierce and cut the membrane when the first end portion is inserted into the container.

6. The coupler apparatus claim 5, wherein the first end portion comprises a plurality of blade portions arranged radially about an axis configured to pierce and cut the membrane when the first end portion is inserted into the container.

7. The coupler apparatus claim 6, wherein each blade portion of the plurality of blade portions defines an outer edge that corresponds to an inner surface of the opening of the container.

8. The coupler apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first end portion defines a plurality of apertures configured to allow material to flow from the container into the channel when the first end portion is inserted into the container.

9. The coupler apparatus of claim 8, wherein the first end portion defines a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein a length is defined between the aperture of the plurality of apertures closest to the attachment apparatus and the attachment apparatus, wherein a radius is defined between an outer surface of the cylindrical region and an axis extending through the first end portion, wherein the length is greater than or equal to the radius.

10. The coupler apparatus of claim 8, wherein the first end portion defines a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein each of the cylindrical region and the conical region defines at least one aperture of the plurality of apertures.

11. The coupler apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first end portion defines a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein first end portion comprises a sealing element extending radially from the cylindrical region, wherein the sealing element is configured to provide a seal between an inner sealing structure of the opening of the container when the first end portion is inserted into the container and the coupling apparatus is retained to the container by the attachment apparatus.

12. The coupler apparatus of claim 11, wherein a length is defined between the sealing element and the attachment apparatus, wherein a radius is defined between an outer surface of the cylindrical region and an axis extending through the first end portion, wherein the length is greater than or equal to the radius.

13. The coupler apparatus of claim 1, wherein the second end portion defines one or more coupling features configured to couple the second end portion to a reservoir.

14. A container configured to hold material and to be opened using a coupler apparatus, wherein the container comprises: a body defining a cavity configured to hold material and an opening extending into the cavity; and a membrane coupled to the body and configured to seal the opening, wherein the membrane is further configured to be pierced and cut by the coupler apparatus inserted into the opening.

15. The container of claim 14, wherein the container further comprises an inner sealing structure located in the opening configured to mate with a sealing element of the coupler to provide a seal between the cavity of the body and a channel of the coupler apparatus.

16. The container of claim 14, wherein the body comprises a neck region extending along an axis to the opening defining a length, wherein the neck portion defines a uniform outer shape about the axis, wherein a radius is defined between an outer surface of the neck portion and the axis, wherein the length is greater than or equal to the radius.

17. The container of claim 14, wherein the body defines an insertion region and a recessed region configured to receive an insertion region of another like container to allow stacking of one or more like containers.

18. The container of claim 14, wherein the container further comprises a cap portion configured to be coupled to the opening to cover the membrane.

19. A material transfer system couplable to a reservoir comprising: a container configured to hold material; and a coupler apparatus comprising: a first end portion configured to be inserted into the container, a second end portion configured to be removably coupled to the reservoir, wherein each of the first end portion and the second end portion define a channel extending from the first end portion to the second end portion to allow material to flow from the first end portion to the second end portion, wherein material is free to flow through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is coupled to the reservoir, wherein material is inhibited from flowing through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is not coupled to the reservoir; and attachment apparatus located between the first end portion and the second end portion configured to retain the coupler apparatus to the container when the first end portion is inserted in the container.

20. The system of claim 19, wherein the container defines an opening sealed by a membrane, wherein the first end portion is configured to pierce and cut the membrane when the first end portion is inserted into the container.

21. The system of claim 20, wherein the first end portion comprises a plurality of blade portions arranged radially about an axis configured to pierce and cut the membrane when the first end portion is inserted into the container.

22. The system of claim 19, wherein the first end portion defines a plurality of apertures configured to allow material to flow from the container into the channel when the first end portion is inserted into the container.

23. The system of claim 22, wherein the first end portion defines a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein a length is defined between the aperture of the plurality of apertures closest to the attachment apparatus and the attachment apparatus, wherein a radius is defined between an outer surface of the cylindrical region and an axis extending through the first end portion, wherein the length is greater than or equal to the radius.

24. The system of claim 22, wherein the first end portion defines a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein each of the cylindrical region and the conical region defines at least one aperture of the plurality of apertures.

25. The system of claim 19, wherein the first end portion defines a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein first end portion comprises a sealing element extending radially from the cylindrical region, wherein the sealing element is configured to provide a seal between an inner sealing structure of the opening of the container when the first end portion is inserted into the container and the coupling apparatus is retained to the container by the attachment apparatus.

26. The system of claim 19, wherein a length is defined between the sealing element and the attachment apparatus, wherein a radius is defined between an outer surface of the cylindrical region and an axis extending through the first end portion, wherein the length is greater than or equal to the radius.

27. The system of claim 19, wherein the second end portion defines one or more coupling features configured to couple the second end portion to a reservoir.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This applications claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/791,309 filed on 15 Mar. 2013 and entitled “APPARATUS, SYSTEMS, AND METHODS FOR MATERIAL TRANSFER,” which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

The present disclosure relates to apparatus, systems, and methods for use in material transfer (e.g., transfer of granulated materials, etc.). For example, the apparatus may pertain to a coupler apparatus configured to couple a container (e.g., a container holding material) to a reservoir to allow transfer of the material from the container to the reservoir.

Agricultural vehicles may use dispensing apparatus to apply various materials to fields. The dispensing apparatus may be include reservoirs, or hoppers, for holding the various materials (e.g., granular materials, etc.) such as, but limited to, e.g., seed, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides, any combination thereof, etc. Additionally, the dispensing apparatus may include meters for controlling the flow of the materials being applied onto the field.

SUMMARY

The present disclosure describes exemplary apparatus, systems, and methods for use in material transfer. One exemplary system may include a container for holding material, a reservoir also for holding material, and a coupler apparatus for coupling the container to the reservoir to transfer material therebetween without letting material escape into the environment (e.g., into the air, onto the ground, etc.). One or more exemplary material transfer systems described herein may be described as being a closed-handling system, which may indicate that the material transferred within the system is maintained within, or restricted from leaving, the container, the reservoir, the coupler apparatus, and/or any other part of the system during transfer of the material. The coupler apparatus and/or the reservoir may include one or more valves, or valve mechanisms, configured to allow material to move between the container and reservoir when the coupler apparatus is securely attached, or coupled, to the reservoir and to prevent the material from moving between the container and the reservoir when the coupler apparatus is not coupled to the reservoir.

One exemplary coupler apparatus for coupling a container (e.g., a container holding material) to a reservoir (e.g., a reservoir or container for receiving material from the container) may include a first end portion configured to be inserted into the container, a second end portion configured to be coupled to the reservoir (e.g., wherein each of the first end portion and the second end portion may define a channel extending from the first end portion to the second end portion to allow material to flow from the first end portion to the second end portion, wherein material may be free to flow through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is coupled to the reservoir, and wherein material may be inhibited from flowing through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is not coupled to the reservoir), and attachment apparatus located between the first end portion and the second end portion configured to retain the coupler apparatus to the container when the first end portion is inserted in the container.

One exemplary material transfer system couplable to a reservoir may include a container configured to hold material and a coupler apparatus. The coupler apparatus may include a first end portion configured to be inserted into the container, a second end portion configured to be removably coupled to the reservoir (e.g., wherein each of the first end portion and the second end portion may define a channel extending from the first end portion to the second end portion to allow material to flow from the first end portion to the second end portion, wherein material may be free to flow through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is coupled to the reservoir, and wherein material may be inhibited from flowing through the channel from the first end portion to the second end portion when the second end portion is not coupled to the reservoir), and attachment apparatus located between the first end portion and the second end portion configured to retain the coupler apparatus to the container when the first end portion is inserted in the container.

Another exemplary material transfer system may further include a reservoir configured to hold material, in addition to the container configured to hold material and the coupler apparatus.

Further, an exemplary method of transferring material may include providing a container configured to hold material, providing a reservoir configured to hold material, and providing a coupler apparatus as described herein. The method may further include attaching the coupler apparatus to the container using the attachment apparatus and coupling the second end portion of the coupler apparatus to the reservoir.

One or more of the coupler apparatus, systems, or methods herein may include one or more of the following features: the container may define an opening sealed by a membrane; the first end portion may be configured to pierce and cut the membrane when the first end portion is inserted into the container; the first end portion may include a plurality of blade portions arranged radially about an axis configured to pierce and cut the membrane when the first end portion is inserted into the container; each blade portion of a plurality of blade portions may define an outer edge that corresponds to an inner surface of the opening of the container; the first end portion may define a plurality of apertures configured to allow material to flow from the container into the channel when the first end portion is inserted into the container; the first end portion may define a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein a length may be defined between the aperture of the plurality of apertures closest to the attachment apparatus and the attachment apparatus and wherein a radius may be defined between an outer surface of the cylindrical region and an axis extending through the first end portion (e.g., the length may be greater than or equal to the radius); the first end portion may define a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein each of the cylindrical region and the conical region may define at least one aperture of a plurality of apertures; the first end portion may define a cylindrical region and a conical region extending from the cylindrical region, wherein the first end portion may include a sealing element extending radially from the cylindrical region and the sealing element may be configured to provide a seal between an inner sealing structure of the opening of the container when the first end portion is inserted into the container and the coupling apparatus is retained to the container by the attachment apparatus (e.g., a length may be defined between the sealing element and the attachment apparatus, a radius may be defined between an outer surface of the cylindrical region and an axis extending through the first end portion, and the length may be greater than or equal to the radius); and/or the second end portion may define one or more coupling features configured to couple the second end portion to a reservoir.

One exemplary container configured to hold material and to be opened using a coupler apparatus (such as a coupler apparatus described herein) may include a body defining a cavity configured to hold material and an opening extending into the cavity and a membrane coupled to the body and configured to seal the opening, wherein the membrane is further configured to be pierced and cut by the coupler apparatus inserted into the opening.

One or more embodiments of the container may include one or more of the following features: an inner sealing structure (e.g., a flange, lip or radially extending element) located in the opening configured to mate with a sealing element of the coupler (e.g., a flange, lip or radially extending element) to provide a seal between the cavity of the body and a channel of the coupler apparatus; the body may include a neck region extending along an axis to the opening defining a length; the neck portion may define a uniform outer shape about the axis and a radius may be defined between an outer surface of the neck portion and the axis (e.g., wherein the length is greater than or equal to the radius); the body may define an insertion region and a recessed region configured to receive an insertion region of another like container to allow stacking of one or more like containers; and/or a cap portion may be configured to be coupled to the opening to cover the membrane.

The above summary is not intended to describe each embodiment or every implementation of the present disclosure. A more complete understanding will become apparent and appreciated by referring to the following detailed description and claims taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an exemplary material transfer system.

FIG. 2A is a perspective view of an exemplary reservoir of the material transfer system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 2B is a perspective view of the reservoir of FIG. 2A with a reservoir cap removed from covering a valve apparatus.

FIG. 3A is an upper perspective view of an exemplary container of the material transfer system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3B is a lower perspective view of the container of FIG. 3A.

FIG. 3C is an enlarged top view of a portion of the container of FIG. 3A.

FIG. 4A is a front perspective view of an exemplary coupler apparatus of the material transfer system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4B is a top view of the coupler apparatus of FIG. 4A.

FIG. 5 is a block diagram of a method of transferring material, e.g., using the material transfer system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 6A is a partially-transparent perspective view of the coupler apparatus of FIG. 4 inserted into and retained within the container of FIG. 3.

FIG. 6B is an enlarged view of a portion of the coupler apparatus inserted into and retained within the container of FIG. 6A.

FIG. 7 is a partially-cutaway, exploded perspective view of the coupler apparatus of FIG. 4 inserted into and retained within the container of FIG. 3 to be coupled to the reservoir of FIG. 2B.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

In the following detailed description of illustrative embodiments, reference is made to the accompanying figures of the drawings which form a part hereof, and in which are shown, by way of illustration, specific embodiments which may be practiced. It is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and structural changes may be made without departing from (e.g., still falling within) the scope of the disclosure presented hereby.

Exemplary apparatus, systems, and methods shall be described with reference to FIGS. 1-7. It will be apparent to one skilled in the art that elements from one embodiment may be used in combination with elements of the other embodiments, and that the possible embodiments of such apparatus, systems, and methods using combinations of features set forth herein is not limited to the specific embodiments shown in the figures and/or described herein. Further, it will be recognized that the embodiments described herein may include many elements that are not necessarily shown to scale. Still further, it will be recognized that the size and shape of various elements herein may be modified but still fall within the scope of the present disclosure, although certain one or more shapes and/or sizes, or types of elements, may be advantageous over others.

An exemplary material transfer system 10 configured to transfer material from a container to a reservoir is depicted in FIG. 1. The material transfer system 10 may include a reservoir 20 for holding material (e.g., a bulk container for containing material), a container 30 for holding material (e.g., a container for containing material that may be emptied into reservoir 20), and a coupler apparatus 60 (e.g., a separate removable apparatus) configured to couple the container 30 to the reservoir 20 to allow material to flow from the container 30 to the reservoir 20 through a channel of the coupler apparatus 60 (e.g., without allowing the material to be dispersed or leaked into the environment). Each of the reservoir 20 and the container 30 may define an enclosure, cavity, or volume, for holding material. The material may include (e.g., granular materials, etc.) such as, but not limited to, e.g., see, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides, combinations thereof, etc.

The reservoir 20 may be coupled (e.g., fixedly coupled) to dispensing apparatus of a vehicle such as, e.g., tractor or implement attached thereto, that is configured to apply, dispense, and/or spread the material to a field while the vehicle traverses the field. The reservoir 20 may act as a storage vessel or tank for the material while the material is being dispensed by the dispensing apparatus. In at least one embodiment, the reservoir 20 may be configured to be coupled, or mounted, to a SMARTBOX system made by AMVAC Chemical Corporation to, e.g., provide material to the SMARTBOX system. In at least one embodiment, the reservoir 20 may be coupled to, or be part of (e.g., such as a lid), a hopper as described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,029,624 entitled “Closed Granular Chemical Handling System” to McCunn et al. and issued on Jul. 9, 1991, which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

The reservoir 20 may be shaped and/or sized in various manners and the present disclosure is not limited to the particular shaped and sized reservoirs presented herein. As shown in FIGS. 2A-2B, the reservoir 20 defines a box-like shape including a pyramidal upper region 22 and a pyramidal lower region 24. Valve apparatus 50 may be located proximate the upper region 22 (e.g., coupled to the upper region 22) and may be configured to be coupled to the coupler apparatus 60, which will be described further herein with reference to FIG. 7. The valve apparatus 50 may generally be in a closed configuration such that the cavity of the reservoir 20 remains enclosed, or sealed shut, but may be opened when engaged by the coupler apparatus 60. For example, valve apparatus 50 may be spring biased into a closed position and may be configured to automatically open when the coupler apparatus 60 is coupled to the reservoir 20 and the valve apparatus 50. When uncoupling the coupler apparatus 60 from the reservoir 20 and the valve apparatus 50, the valve apparatus 50 may automatically close. The reservoir 20 may further include a cap 29 to cover and protect the valve apparatus 50 when the coupler apparatus 60 is not coupled, or attached, thereto. In FIG. 2A, the cap 29 is located over the valve apparatus 50 thereby covering and protecting (e.g., from accidental engagement, damage, etc.) the valve apparatus 50. In FIG. 2B, the cap 29 is not located over the valve apparatus 50 thereby exposing the valve apparatus 50 such that it may be engaged by and coupled to the coupler apparatus 60.

The lower region 24 may taper towards an exit opening 26 configured to be coupled to dispensing apparatus so as to deliver, or transfer, material from inside of the reservoir 20 to the dispensing apparatus as needed. The tapered, pyramidal shape of the lower region 24 may assist in material being directed to the exit opening 26 such that all the material located in the reservoir 20 may be delivered to the dispensing apparatus.

The reservoir 20 may define one or more apertures 28 (e.g., mounted holes) for mounting or holding the reservoir to the dispensing apparatus of a vehicle or implement, such as, e.g., a tractor or planter, that is configured to apply, dispense, and/or spread the material to a field while the vehicle traverses the field.

Similar to the reservoir 20, the container 30 may be shaped and/or sized in various manners and the present disclosure is not limited to the particular shaped and sized containers presented herein. As shown in FIGS. 3A-3B, the container 30 may include a body 32 defining a cavity configured to hold material and an opening 34 extending into the cavity.

A plurality of containers 30 may be shipped or stored together at the same time. Each container 30 may define one or more features to facilitate effective storage (e.g., stacking) For example, as shown in FIGS. 3A-3B, the body 32 of the container 30 may define an insertion region 40 and a recessed region 42 located opposite the insertion region 40. When the containers 30 are stacked together, the insertion region 40 of a first container 30 may be located in the recessed region 42 of another container 30 to provide stability to a stack of containers 30. Additionally, the container 30 may define one or more handle recesses 47 configured to be grasped by a user.

A membrane 36 may be coupled to the body 32 over the opening 34. The membrane 36 may be coupled to the body 32 of the container 30 using adhesive, heat welding or fusion, or any other attachment or coupling process or technique. The membrane 36 may be configured to seal the opening 34 such that the cavity is sealed and no material located within the cavity may escape or leak from the container 30. Further, the membrane 36 may be configured to be broken such as, e.g., pierced and cut, by the coupler apparatus 60 when the coupler apparatus 60 is inserted into the opening 34, which will be described further herein with respect to the FIGS. 6A-6B. Once the membrane 36 is broken, the opening 34, and therefore, the cavity through the opening 34, may be accessed such that, e.g., material may be dispersed, or transferred, from the container 30.

The membrane 36 may include and/or be formed of one or more materials such as, but not limited to, e.g., polymers (e.g., polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), vinylidene chloride, etc.), metals or metal alloys (e.g., aluminum, tin, etc.), any variation/combination thereof, etc. The membrane 36 may be formed into sheets or foils so as to provide a layer of material covering the opening 34.

The body 32 of the container 30 may further include a neck region 44 extending along an axis 46 through the opening 34. The neck region 44 may define a length 48 extending parallel to the axis 46. Further, the neck region 44 may be a region of the body 32 that defines a uniform outer shape about the axis 46. As shown in FIG. 3A, the neck region 44 defines a uniform cylindrical shape about the axis 46, however the present disclosure is not limited to such a particular shaped and/or sized neck presented herein.

The length 48 of the neck region 44 may define a trap area 49 for one or more portions, or cut pieces, of the membrane 36 to be located after the membrane 36 has been broken by the coupler apparatus 60, which will be described further herein with respect to FIGS. 6A-6B. Generally, the length 48 of the neck region 44 may be defined in terms of the radius of the opening 34. For example, a radius 51 (see FIG. 5C) may be defined between an outer surface 52 of the neck region 44 and the axis 46 (or center of the opening 34) and the neck length 48 may be greater than or equal to the radius 51 such that, e.g., if the membrane 36 were cut radially from the center (e.g., into to wedge shape slices), each cut portion of the membrane 36 may extend along an inner wall surface 56 of the neck region 44 without exceeding the length 48 of the neck region 44.

Additionally shown in the enlarged, top view of FIG. 3C is an inner sealing structure 54 of the container 30. The inner sealing structure 54 may be located in the opening 34 (e.g., extending from the inner wall 56 of the opening 34) and may be configured to mate with a sealing element of the coupler apparatus 60 to provide a seal between the cavity of the body 32 and a channel of the coupler apparatus 60, which will be described further herein with reference to FIGS. 4A-4B &6A-6B. The inner sealing structure 54 may be a lip structure (e.g., a flange) that extends inward from an inner wall 56 of the neck region 44. As shown, the inner sealing structure 54 extends all the way around the inner wall 56 for use in providing a complete seal around the opening 34.

Although not shown, the container 30 may further include a cap to cover and protect the membrane 36 prior to breaking the membrane 36 with, e.g., coupler apparatus 60. To facilitate attachment of the cap to the container 30, the neck region 44 may define threading 33 for the cap to thread, or screw, onto. Also, the threading 33 may be used to couple the coupler apparatus 60 to the container 30.

Each of the reservoir 20 and the container 30 may be formed of any one or more materials operable to store material. For example, the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30 may be formed of a metal (e.g., steel, aluminum, etc.), a polymer (e.g., polyethylene, nylons, low density polyethylene (LDPE), linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE), polypropylene, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), etc.), fiber glass, carbon fiber, etc. Further, the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30 may be formed of single part construction. In other words, the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30 may be a single, continuous piece. Also, an inner surface (not shown) of the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30, i.e., defining the cavity, or volume, of the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30, may be smooth to, e.g., allow for improved drainage, cleanout, discharge, etc. In least one embodiment, the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30 may be formed using rotational molding techniques and/or processes. In least one or more embodiments, the reservoir 20 and/or the container 30 may be formed using injection molding techniques and/or processes, blow molding techniques, thermo-forming molding techniques, etc.

The coupler apparatus 60 may be configured to couple the container 30 to the reservoir 20 such that material may be transferred from the cavity of the container 30 to the cavity of the reservoir 20 through a channel, or passage, 62 extending through the coupler apparatus 60. The coupler apparatus 60 may selectively allow material to flow through the channel 62, e.g., to reduce spillage, to maintain a closed delivery system, etc. For example, after the coupler apparatus 60 has been attached, or coupled, to the container 30, the coupler apparatus 60 may not allow material to flow from the container 30 and completely through the channel 62 until the coupler apparatus 60 is coupled to the reservoir 20. After the coupler apparatus 60 has been coupled to the reservoir 20, the coupler apparatus 60 may then allow material to flow from the container 30 and completely through the channel 62 to the reservoir 20. As such, the channel 62 may be described as being selectively sealable. For example, the channel may be selectively sealed depending on whether the coupler apparatus 60 is coupled to the reservoir 20. In at least one embodiment, the coupler apparatus 60 may include internal valve apparatus, which is described further herein with respect to FIG. 7, that may include a spring valve biased into a closed position. The spring valve may be configured to automatically open when the coupler apparatus 60 is coupled to the reservoir 20. When uncoupling the coupler apparatus 60 from the reservoir 20, the spring valve may automatically close.

The exemplary coupler apparatus 60 shown in FIGS. 4A-4B may include a first end portion 66 and a second end portion 68 arranged along an axis 64. The first end portion 66 may be configured to be inserted into the container 30, and then retained in the container 30 through the use of attachment apparatus 90 located between the first end portion 66 and the second end portion 68. Generally, the attachment apparatus 90 may be configured to retain the coupler apparatus 60 to the container 30, and vice versa. In at least one embodiment, the attachment apparatus 90 may be configured to be threaded onto threading 33 of the neck portion of the container 30. However, the present disclosure is not limited to such particular attachment apparatus presented herein (e.g., other attachment mechanism may be used, such as clamping mechanisms, tie mechanisms, fiction fit structure, etc.).

The first end portion 66 of the coupler apparatus 60 may be the portion, or part, of the coupler apparatus 60 configured to pierce and cut the membrane 36 of the container 30 when inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30. To provide such functionality, the first end portion 66 may define an outer circumference that is less than the inner circumference of the opening 34 of the container 30 (e.g., to be insertable therein) and may include one or more features configured to pierce (e.g., puncture) and cut the membrane 36 of the container 30 (e.g., the outer circumference of the first end portion 66 may correspond to the inner wall 56, for example, the diameter of the cross-section of the first end portion 66 orthogonal to the axis 64 may be slightly less than the diameter of the cross-section of the inner wall 56 orthogonal to the axis 64). For example, the first end portion 66 as shown in FIG. 4A defines a conical surface 71, which may assist in piercing and cutting the membrane 36 when the first end portion 66 is inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30.

Further, for example, as shown, the first end portion 66 includes a plurality of blade portions 72 arranged radially about the axis 64 (e.g., extending radially from the axis 64). Each of the blade portions 72 may be configured to pierce and cut the membrane 36 when the first end portion 66 is inserted into the container 30 (e.g., inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30) as shown in FIGS. 6A-6B. Each blade portion 72 may include an outer region 74 and an inner region 76. The outer region 74 may define an outer edge 75 that corresponds to the inner surface 56 of the opening 34 of the container 30 such that, e.g., the outer edges 75 may assist in centering the first end portion 66 when being inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30 (e.g., centering may provide even and uniform cuts across the membrane 36). The inner region 76 of each blade portion 72 may extend toward the axis 64 paralleling the slope of the conical surface 71. Additionally, the outer regions 74 of the blade portions 72 may extend further away (e.g., upwardly as oriented in FIG. 4A) from the attachment apparatus 90 than the inner regions 76 such that the outer regions 74 may be configured to pierce the membrane 36 prior to the inner regions 76. As shown, the outer edges 75 of the outer regions 74 extend the furthest away from the attachment apparatus 90 (e.g., such that the outer edge 75 of the outer region 74 may be located adjacent the inner surface 56 of the opening 34 as soon as any part of the blade portions 70 penetrate the membrane 36). Further, for example, in one embodiment, the distance between opposing outer edges 75 orthogonal to the axis 64 may be slightly less than the diameter of the cross-section of the inner wall 56 orthogonal to the axis 64. The blade portions 72 may be described as being able to cross-cut the membrane 36 when the first end portion 66 is inserted into the opening 34. The cross-cuts made across the membrane 36 may resemble an “X” across the membrane 36 with the center of the “X” corresponding to the axis 46 of the opening 34.

In the embodiment depicted, the first end portion 66 includes 4 blade portions 72. In other embodiments, the coupler apparatus 60 may include less than 4 blade portions or more than 4 blade portions such as, e.g., 3 blade portions, 5 blade portions, 6 blade portions, 8 blade portions, etc.

The coupler apparatus 60 defines a channel 62 that extends from the first end portion 66 to the second end portion 68. The first end portion 66 may define one or more apertures 78 extending into the channel 62 to allow material to flow from inside of the container 30 (e.g., the cavity of the container 30) into the channel 62 through the one or more apertures 78 when the first end portion 66 is located inside the opening 34 of the container 30. As shown, the first end portion 66 defines more than one aperture 78, or a plurality of apertures 78.

The plurality of apertures 78 may be located in different regions, or parts, of the first end portion 66. For example, the first end portion 66 may include a cylindrical region 80 located proximate the attachment apparatus 90 and a conical region 82 extending from the cylindrical region 80. The conical surface 71, as previously described, may define the conical region 82. Apertures 78 may be located in one or both of the cylindrical region 80 and the conical region 82. As shown, apertures 78 are located in both of the cylindrical region 80 and the conical region 82.

A sealing element 84 may extend radially from the cylindrical region 80 and may be configured to provide a seal between the inner sealing structure 54 of the container 30 when the first end portion 66 is inserted into the container 30. In other words, the sealing element 84 may be configured to mate with the inner sealing structure 54 of the container 30 to provide a seal between the cavity of the body 32 of the container 30 and the channel 62 of the coupler apparatus 60 (e.g., when the coupler apparatus 60 is retained on the container 30).

A portion, or part, 86 of the cylindrical region 80 may correspond to the trap area 49 of the neck region 44 of the container 30 where one or more portions of the membrane 36 may be located after the membrane 36 has been broken (e.g., pierced and cut into wedges) by the coupler apparatus 60. The portion 86 of the cylindrical region 80 that corresponds to the trap area 49 may define a length 88 that may be described in relative terms. For example, the length 88 may be defined as extending between an aperture 79 of the plurality of apertures 78 that is located closest to the attachment apparatus 90 and the attachment apparatus 90 (e.g., a portion 93 of the attachment apparatus 90 or location thereof that lies adjacent the rim of the container 30 defining the opening 34 when the coupler apparatus is retained on the container 30). Further, for example, the length 88 may be defined as extending between the sealing element 84 and the attachment apparatus 90. Further, the length 88 may be described in terms of a radius extending between an outer surface 81 of the cylindrical region 80 and the axis 64 extending through the first end portion 66. For example, the length 88 may be greater than or equal to the radius 89 extending between an outer surface 81 of the cylindrical region 80 and the axis 64 (e.g., so as to create a trap area 49 large enough for one or more cut portions of the membrane 36).

An exemplary method 100 of transferring material using the material transfer system 10 described herein is depicted in FIG. 5. The method 100 includes providing a reservoir 20 for holding material, providing a container 30 for holding material, and providing a coupler apparatus 60 (block 102).

Next, the coupler apparatus 60 may be inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30 (block 104) as shown in FIGS. 6A-6B. More specifically, the first end portion 66 of the coupler apparatus 60 may be inserted through the membrane 36 and into the opening 34 of the container 30. As described herein, the blade portions 72 of the first end portion 66 may pierce and cut the membrane 36 in, e.g., a cross-cut fashion. After the membrane 36 has been cut, the membrane 36 may be separated into smaller portions. As shown, the membrane 36 has been cut into wedge-shaped portions 37.

When the first end portion 66 of the coupler apparatus 60 is fully inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30 such that the attachment apparatus 90 contacts the neck region 44 of the container 30, the wedge-shaped portions 37 of the membrane 36 may be located in the trap area 49 defined by the neck region 44 and a portion 86 of the cylindrical region 80 (e.g., described herein in terms of lengths 48, 88). As shown, the wedge-shaped portions 37 of the membrane 36 may be completely located in the trap area 49 so as to not interfere with the apertures 78 (e.g., to not interfere with any material being transferred through the apertures 78).

Once the first end portion 66 of the coupler apparatus 60 is fully inserted into the opening 34 of the container 30 such that the attachment apparatus 90 contacts the neck region 44 and is adjacent the threading 33, the attachment apparatus 90 may be used to attach the coupler apparatus 60 to the container 30 (block 106). For example, the attachment apparatus 90 may define threads that correspond to the threading 33, and the attachment apparatus 90 may be rotated to couple the attachment apparatus 90 to the container 30. With the attachment apparatus 90 coupled to the container 30, the sealing element 84 of the coupler apparatus 60 may mate with the inner sealing structure 54 of the container 30 to provide a seal between the cavity of the body 32 of the container 30 and the channel 62 of the coupler apparatus 60 as shown in FIG. 6B (e.g., a surface of each of such structures may be pressed into contact to form a seal, an o-ring about a portion of the coupler may be seated into a deformation of the container, etc.).

After the coupler apparatus 60 has been attached, or coupled, to the container 30 (e.g., using the attachment apparatus 90), the channel 62 of the coupler apparatus 60 may still remain closed, or sealed, since the coupler apparatus 60 has not been coupled to the reservoir 20. As such, the material located in the container 30 may be still described as being located in a sealed, closed system after the coupler apparatus 60 has been attached, or coupled, to the container 30.

The coupler apparatus 60, which is now coupled to the container 30, may be coupled to the reservoir 20 (block 108). More specifically, as shown in FIG. 7, the second end portion 68 may be moved towards the valve apparatus 50 of the reservoir 20 as indicated by arrow 92 to engage the valve apparatus 50, and then the coupler apparatus 60 and the container 30 may be rotated together with respect to the reservoir 20 such that a threaded surface 69 of the second end portion 68 mates with the valve apparatus 50 to couple the reservoir 20 to the coupler apparatus 60. As described, the coupler apparatus 60 is configured to allow material to flow freely through the channel 62 from the first end portion 66 to the second end portion 68 when the second end portion 68 is coupled to the reservoir 20, and to inhibit, or prevent, material from flowing through the channel 62 from the first end portion 66 to the second end portion 68 when the second end portion 68 is not coupled to the reservoir 20. To provide such functionality, the coupler apparatus 60 may include internal valve apparatus 63 configured to open the channel 62 when the second end portion 68 is coupled, or engaged, to the valve apparatus 50 of the reservoir 20. For example, the internal valve apparatus 63 of the coupler apparatus 60 may open when engaged by a portion of the valve apparatus 50 of the reservoir 20. Likewise, the valve apparatus 50 of the reservoir 20 may open when engaged by the second end portion 68 of the coupler apparatus 60.

Further, for example, each of the valve apparatus 50 and the internal valve apparatus 63 may include spring valves biased into a closed position. Each of the spring valves may be configured to automatically open when the second end portion 68 and the internal valve apparatus 63 is properly coupled to the reservoir 20 and the valve apparatus 50. When uncoupling the second end portion 68 and the internal valve apparatus 63 from the reservoir 20 and the valve apparatus 50, both spring valves may automatically close.

The internal valve apparatus 63 and the valve apparatus 50 of the present disclosure may be similar to the “dispensing valve” and “receiving valve,” respectively, described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,029,624 entitled “Closed Granular Chemical Handling System” to McCunn et al. and issued on Jul. 9, 1991, which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety. However, the present disclosure is not limited to such particular valve structures presented herein or coupling structures of the second end portions described herein as such structures may be dependent on the reservoir with which the coupler is utilized.

All patents, patent documents, and references cited herein are incorporated in their entirety as if each were incorporated separately. This disclosure has been provided with reference to illustrative embodiments and is not meant to be construed in a limiting sense. As described previously, one skilled in the art will recognize that other various illustrative applications may use the techniques as described herein to take advantage of the beneficial characteristics of the exemplary apparatus described herein. Various modifications of the illustrative embodiments, as well as additional embodiments of the disclosure, will be apparent upon reference to this description.