BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention relates generally to data gathering systems and, more particularly, to a portable, integrated scanner/scale apparatus for scanning and weighing substances, and method of use thereof. Any substance in a container having a bar code, such as bottled liquids or pharmaceuticals in bottles or jars can be inventoried by the present invention. Inventorying the former is primarily intended for tracking inventory in restaurant and bar establishments, with the latter being useful in pharmacies or pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities or research laboratories.
2. Description of the Related Art
Controlling inventory, especially for the small business person or entrepreneur, is critical to financial success. To be understocked during peak business times is disastrous and to be overstocked is unsound fiscally and simply poor business practice. Businesses that cater to a specific market and that require a relatively large inventory of a specific product or type of product are especially sensitive and vulnerable to changes in the demand for their services and/or products, for example, seasonal fluctuations, holidays, and special occasions. This is especially true for restaurants where the average usage of goods and services over time tends to be volatile. Therefore, rapidly assessing the available inventory and adjusting the inventory up (increase) or down (decease) in accordance with the anticipated demand is crucial to financial success and fiscal solvency.
Although data acquisition or gathering systems of the type installed in checkout counters in supermarkets are now commonplace, other applications of the components comprising such systems are limited. Typically such system includes a scanner which scans or reads bar codes, industrial symbols, alphanumeric characters or other indicia for object recognition. Typically, bar code labels or other indicia are read as items are passed over a scanning window in the top surface of the scanner. The bar code or other indicia is then converted into product identification and pricing information which may be used for inventory control. Such existing data gathering systems also typically include a scale which allows a check-out clerk to weigh items which are sold according to weight, such as produce. The weight may then be fed directly to the point-of-sale terminal for purposes of calculating a price.
The scanner component typically includes a light source such as a laser, a rotating mirror driven by a motor, and a mirror array. The laser beam is reflected off the rotating mirror and mirror array to produce a pattern of scanning light beams. As a bar code or other indicia on the item is passed over the aperture or window, the scanning light beams scatter off the bar code or other indicia, and a carrier signal returns to the data gathering system where it is collected and detected. The scale component of such data gathering systems typically comprises a top plate on which the item to be weighed is placed. The top plate may also include an aperture or window whose location corresponds to the window of the scanner and through which the scanning light beams pass.
Several data gathering systems are defined by a scanner and scale mounted in a counter top. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,410,108, issued on Apr. 25, 1995 to Kevin J. Williams et al., describes a combined laser scanner and weigh scale having an integrated construction and a rigid casing. Similarly, U.S. Pat. No. 5,174,399, issued on Dec. 29, 1992 to James E. Brauneis, also describes an integrated construction for a scanner/scale assembly. A problem found in each of these configurations is that they are not portable for enabling the systems to be moved to different locations.
Another problem with certain data gathering systems is that they lack a convenient means for storing information obtained by the data gathering systems. For example, several known integrated units having a scanner and a scale lack a memory means for storing information in a database. Consequently, information acquired by the scanner and scale is typically recorded by either printing out the information or writing the information by hand. Such a method of recording data is undesirable because it wastes considerable amounts of paper and presents an added burden in paper management and storage.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,583,684, issued on Dec. 10, 1996 to James Chen, describes a scanning lens fixing device. Chen does not suggest an integrated scanner/scale apparatus according to the claimed invention.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,654,534, issued on Aug. 5, 1997 to Edward P. Coleman, describes a portable hand held scanning terminal. Coleman does not suggest an integrated scanner/scale apparatus according to the claimed invention.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,703,347, issued on Dec. 30, 1997 to Brad R. Reddersen et al., describes an interface selection and configuration system for a computer peripheral in which configuration for the peripheral and/or the host interface is at least in part accomplished by the interface connector cable. Reddersen et al. do not suggest an integrated scanner/scale apparatus according to the claimed invention.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,736,726, issued on Apr. 7, 1998 to David B. VanHorn et al., describes a portable hand held scanning terminal. VanHorn et al. do not suggest an integrated scanner/scale apparatus according to the claimed invention.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,744,789, issued on Apr. 28, 1998 to Motofumi Kashi, describes a bar code reader having a memory for storing information read by a reading section and a key pad capable of inputting data into the memory. However, Kashi does not disclose integration of the bar code reader with a scale for use in scanning and weight articles of inventory. Kashi does not suggest an integrated scanner/scale apparatus according to the claimed invention.
U.S. Pat. No. 2,936,163, issued on May 10, 1960 to Carroll C. Foster, describes a bar accessory which will indicate the amount of fluid or liquid such as liquor that has been used up or dispensed.
U.S. Pat. No. 3,863,724, issued on Feb. 4, 1975 to Nichola Dalia, Jr., describes a method and apparatus for determining and accounting for the amount of material dispensed from a container, such as the amount of alcoholic beverage dispensed from a bottle thereof.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,419,734, issued on Dec. 6, 1983 to William Wolfson et al., describes an inventory control system which, utilizes, at each of a plurality of storage areas, means including load-responsive transducers arranged to detect changes in the total weight presented by the articles stored in each area.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,563,739, issued on Jan. 7, 1986 to George E. Gerpheide et al., describes a computer based system for, taking inventory and obtaining inventory reports on numerous products which are dispensed in full containers or in quantities from partially filled containers. The Gerpheide et al. apparatus is self-contained in that it provides inventory and other reports without interfacing with a remote computer. Software updates and programming is more difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of a remote computer. Additionally the apparatus of Gerpheide et al. does not allow for the entry of other data (as in the remote computer which can interface with the instant invention), such as costs, receipts, etc., to be used in the preparation of reports. Further, this apparatus does not include means for receiving information from a remote computer.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,961,533, issued on Oct. 9, 1990 to David M. Teller et al., describes an apparatus for determining the volume contents of a plurality of containers, such as bottles containing alcoholic beverages.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,997,012, issued on Mar. 5, 1991 to Swiatoslaw Kuziw, describes a method of dispensing at a tap an effervescent liquid from a keg-like supply. The method comprises the steps of continuously monitoring the weight of the supply and generating an output corresponding thereto, collecting at the tap the liquid that overflows from a vessel into which it is being dispensed, weighing the collected overflow liquid and generating an output corresponding to this weight, comparing the outputs and calculating the difference therebetween, and periodically recording the difference.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,608,193, issued on Mar. 4, 1997 to Ali H. Almogaibil, describes an electronic scale for tracking an inventory of tools before and after maintenance work to assure that no tools were left behind after the work was completed and no parts were accidentally removed from the work site and kept with the tools.
U.S. Pat. No. 6,092,726, issued on Jul. 25, 2000 to John Toussant et al., teaches a scale for weighing consumable products which can upload data to a computer.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,986,219, issued on Nov. 16, 1999 to Nicholas C. Carrol et al. teaches a method of inventorying liquor in which a plurality of liquor bottles are weighed for determining the amount of liquor used. A computer program is used to facilitate this method.
Thus, although the prior art is replete with data gathering systems employing similar components including scanners and scales, none have the appropriate combination of features necessary for expediently and accurately inventorying bottled fluid volumes by weight in environments which depend upon accurate inventory records for day to day operations. More specifically, restaurants and bars have specialized problems and needs. Operations depend upon recording the volume of drinks sold on a nightly basis in order to establish inventories of the bottled fluids, such as liquor. These inventory records are then used to calculate drinks per bottle poured, cost and profit margins per bottle, and daily consumption volumes used to restock and to continue day to day operations.
Yet, at present, the preferred method of inventorying used by such establishments is crude and time consuming, namely, to have an individual visually “eyeball” the volume of liquor contained in each individual bottle at the end of each day of operations, and therefrom calculate a difference. Some obvious problems with such a method include its dependence upon an entirely subjective opinion of volume, as between different individuals, as from day to day even if performed by the same individual, and as between different bottles sizes, shapes and transparency, even if performed at the same time by the same individual. Thus an apparatus and method is needed and desired which can effectively, quickly, accurately and repetitively measure fluid volumes held by a large number of bottles of different sizes, weights and transparency.
None of the above described inventions and patents, taken either singularly or in combination, is seen to describe the instant invention as claimed, nor addresses the needs and problems as discussed.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is a portable, integrated scanner/scale apparatus for use in scanning and weighing articles, specifically bottles, jars, or other containers applied with bar codes or similar coding recording inventory information. The integrated scanner/scale apparatus includes a portable housing defined by an outer housing wall for housing all components of the scanner/scale apparatus, a bar code scanner for scanning coded articles of inventory, a scale formed in the outer housing wall for weighing articles of inventory, and a memory device contained within the housing that is operatively connected to both the bar code scanner and to the scale for storing information read by the bar code scanner. To transfer data read and stored by the scanner/scale apparatus to a remote personal computer, a serial port is provided in the outer housing wall and is connected to the memory device. Alternatively, an RF transmitter can be located internal to the housing for data transfer to the remote computer. A display device is operatively connected to the bar code scanner for visually displaying the information to a user.
By employing this device, an operator of a restaurant, bar, pharmacy, research laboratory, etc. can rapidly weigh containers labelled with a bar code. The method of use initially includes entering information by a remote computer into the memory device to create a database. The device may receive data by an RF receiver located inside the housing. In the case of a restaurant or bar, such information may include the type of liquor, brand name, and number of fluid ounces as stated on the label of any given brand, which is typically encoded into the bar code supplied by the bottler, and the fluid weight as weighed by the scale. In addition, the scale may be used with a software program on a personal computer, wherein variables can be entered to be associated with the bar code information stored in the memory device. For example, the variables may include important but missing bar code information (e.g. specific identifying descriptions), figures associated with sales data, and calculations dependent upon each bottle volume. Such figures and calculations may include the total number of drinks (shots) per bottle volume to be obtained from a given volume bottle, the cost per bottle, and the sales price per shot. In this way, calculations can be performed by the associated software and computer which can be linked to the scanner/scale apparatus, either through the serial port or the RF transmitter, which assists the proprietor of the establishment in determining usage and profits from daily operations.
Possible inputs include the gross weight of a product including the weight of its contents, the amount of product purchased in a specific time period, and the gross sales per product in a specific time period. From the given inputs, the remote computer can convert all gross mass ounce weights to net volume ounces, track product usage, pour costs, create order forms and par sheets, create graphs, and track sales, usage, holding costs, total purchases and total drink numbers on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. The scanner/scale apparatus, which serves as an input device for the remote computer, is indispensable to the bar or restaurant proprietor. With the scanner/scale apparatus inputting data into a software program on a remote computer, appropriate percentages can be established, and budgets and cost projections for future fiscal periods can be created.
It is noted that inputs, outputs, and terms of measurement may vary depending on the article inventoried, i.e. for liquor or pharmaceuticals. The flexibility afforded by the remote software allows for the programming to accommodate the management of any type of inventory.
It is a principal object of the invention to provide a portable, integrated scanner/scale apparatus for use in scanning and weighing articles of inventory at various locations for input into a computer.
It is another object of the invention to provide a portable, integrated scanner/scale apparatus which includes a memory device contained therein for storing information produced by the scanner/scale apparatus.
It is a further object of the invention to provide an integrated scanner/scale apparatus having an input device for inputting data to a remote computer.
It is a further object of the invention to provide an integrated scanner/scale apparatus having a display means formed therein for displaying data related to scanned and weighed articles.
Still another object of the invention is to provide an input device so that a remotely-located computer can generate inventory reports, and software updates and programming can be done on the computer.
Yet another object of the invention is to provide a system which has the flexibility to operate with different or differently-programmed remotely-located software such that any type of inventory can be managed.
It is an object of the invention to provide improved elements and arrangements thereof in an integrated scanner/scale apparatus for the purposes described which is inexpensive, dependable and fully effective in accomplishing its intended purposes.
These and other objects of the present invention will become readily apparent upon further review of the following specification and drawings.