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Publication numberUS20050034427 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/897,570
Publication dateFeb 17, 2005
Filing dateJul 23, 2004
Priority dateJul 31, 2003
Also published asWO2005012092A2, WO2005012092A3
Publication number10897570, 897570, US 2005/0034427 A1, US 2005/034427 A1, US 20050034427 A1, US 20050034427A1, US 2005034427 A1, US 2005034427A1, US-A1-20050034427, US-A1-2005034427, US2005/0034427A1, US2005/034427A1, US20050034427 A1, US20050034427A1, US2005034427 A1, US2005034427A1
InventorsLanden Higer, Charles Albritton
Original AssigneeLanden Higer, Albritton Charles Wade
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Vacuum sealing system with a sealing element inside an evacuation chamber
US 20050034427 A1
Abstract
A vacuum packaging appliance for sealing items in a plastic bag is disclosed. The appliance comprises a lid adapted to define a vacuum chamber when it is moved to a closed position relative to a trough in the base of the device. The trough in the lower portion of the device contains a heat-sealing element used to seal the contents of the bag once the vacuum packaging is complete. In another embodiment, the heat-sealing element is mounted on the lid of the device and comes into contact with the vacuum bag when the lid is in a closed position. The placement of the heat-sealing element minimizes wasted bag material as the heat seal is placed closer to the end of the bag itself
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Claims(33)
1. A vacuum sealing system, comprising:
a housing, including a hermetic inlet configured to receive at least a portion of a vacuum sealable container, wherein inner surfaces of said housing define a vacuum chamber therein;
a vacuum source, in fluidic communication with said vacuum chamber, configured to substantially evacuate said vacuum chamber during an evacuation procedure; and
a sealing element, located within the inner surfaces of said housing, configured to secure a first part of said portion of said vacuum sealable container to a second part of said portion of said vacuum sealable container when said portion of said vacuum sealable container is proximate to said sealing element at least during a time period in which said vacuum chamber is substantially evacuated during said evacuation procedure.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein said hermetic inlet is between an upper hermetic member and a lower hermetic member, wherein said housing further includes:
an upper housing member, including an upper hermetic member, that is configured to be opened to facilitate placement of said vacuum sealable container; and
a lower housing member, wherein during said evacuation procedure said upper housing member is closed such that said upper hermetic member contacts said lower hermetic member, thereby forming a barrier to substantially prevent air from entering said vacuum chamber via said hermetic inlet.
3. The system of claim 1, wherein said sealing element includes a heat sealing element.
4. The system of claim 1, further comprising a power conduit configured to provide power from a power source to drive said sealing element at least during said time period.
5. A system for vacuum sealing a container, comprising:
an evacuation means for evacuating a vacuum chamber during an evacuation procedure;
a hermetic inlet means for facilitating insertion of at least a portion of a vacuum sealable container into said vacuum chamber;
a sealing means, located within said vacuum chamber, for securing a first part of said portion of said vacuum sealable container to a second part of said portion of said vacuum sealable container during said evacuation procedure;
6. The system of claim 5, wherein said sealing means includes a heat sealing means.
7. The system of claim 5, further comprising a power conduit means for providing power to drive said sealing element.
8. A method for vacuum sealing a container, including the acts of:
placing a vacuum sealable container, that contains contaminants, in a position such that an open end of said vacuum sealable container is in fluidic communication with a vacuum chamber;
evacuating said vacuum chamber such that at least some of said contaminants are evacuated out of said vacuum sealable container; and
activating a sealing element located in said vacuum chamber, wherein the activated sealing element causes at least a portion of said vacuum sealable container to seal.
9. The method of claim 8, further comprising:
applying pressure to an upper housing of said vacuum chamber to bring an upper and lower hermetic member firmly together, thereby ensuring said vacuum chamber is hermetically sealed prior to evacuating said vacuum chamber;
releasing said pressure after the activated sealing element causes at least a portion of said vacuum sealable container to seal; and
removing said vacuum sealable container from said vacuum chamber.
10. A vacuum sealing device, comprising:
a housing, wherein inner surfaces of said housing define an evacuatable chamber therein when said housing is operationally configured;
an evacuation detection mechanism for determining whether said evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated; and
a sealing element, coupled to said housing, inside the evacuatable chamber, positioned such that said sealing element seals a container that is at least partially inserted into said evacuatable chamber when said vacuum detection mechanism determines that said evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated.
11. The device of claim 10, further comprising:
a power conduit for providing power to said sealing element at least when said vacuum detection mechanism determines that said evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated.
12. A method for vacuum sealing a container, comprising:
at least partially evacuating an evacuatable chamber;
determining that the evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated; and
sealing a portion of a container that extends into the evacuatable chamber.
13. The method of claim 12, further comprising:
energizing the sealing element in response to determining that the evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated.
14. A vacuum sealing apparatus for sealing a container using a heating element located within a vacuum chamber, said vacuum sealing apparatus comprising:
a first evacuation module member;
a second evacuation module member, wherein said first evacuation module member and said second evacuation module member are configured to fit together such that a vacuum chamber is defined by inner surfaces of said first evacuation module member and said second evacuation module member;
a heating element connected to at least one of said inner surfaces;
a power coupling that engages said heating element for at least a first period of time during which said vacuum chamber is defined by said inner surfaces; and
an evacuation channel that extends from said vacuum chamber when said vacuum chamber is defined by said inner surfaces;
a vacuum module, coupled to said evacuation channel, that evacuates said vacuum chamber of at least some contaminants through said evacuation channel for at least a second period of time during which said vacuum chamber is defined by said inner surfaces,
wherein said heating element is energized by power received through said power coupling for at least a third period of time during which said vacuum chamber is defined by said inner surfaces.
15. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein said first evacuation module member has an evacuation port formed therein, wherein said evacuation channel is connected to said first evacuation module member at said evacuation port, and wherein said contaminants are evacuated from said vacuum chamber through said evacuation port.
16. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein said second evacuation module member includes a trough.
17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein said first evacuation module member is a lid that covers said trough while said inner surfaces define said vacuum chamber.
18. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein said power coupling includes two contact points connected to said first evacuation module member, and wherein said contact points contact said heating element when said first evacuation module member and said second evacuation module member fit together to define said vacuum chamber.
19. The apparatus of claim 14, further comprising:
a first gasket connected to said first evacuation module member;
a second gasket connected to said second evacuation module member, wherein said first gasket and said second gasket are positioned between said first evacuation module member and said second evacuation module member when said first evacuation module member and said second evacuation module member fit together to define said vacuum chamber, wherein said first gasket and said second gasket together form a hermetic barrier into said vacuum chamber, and wherein a container is insertable between said first and second gasket without substantially degrading the hermetic barrier, such that said container extends at least partially into said vacuum chamber.
20. The apparatus of claim 19, wherein said first gasket includes a pressure profile to push a zone of said container into said heating element to assist in forming a seal on said container substantially along said zone when said container is at least partially inserted into said vacuum chamber.
21. The apparatus of claim 14, further comprising a pressure profile to push a zone of a container, that is at least partially inserted into said vacuum chamber, into said heating element to assist in forming a seal on said container substantially along said zone.
22. The apparatus of claim 14, further comprising a barrier wall configured to segregate said power conduit from said vacuum chamber.
23. A method for sealing a container using a heating element located within a vacuum chamber, said method comprising the acts of:
defining a vacuum chamber by fitting together first and second evacuation module members;
inserting a container at least partially into the vacuum chamber;
evacuating the vacuum chamber of at least some contaminants;
energizing a heating element located within the vacuum chamber; and
sealing the container using heat from the heating element.
24. The method of claim 23, further comprising pushing a zone of the container onto the heating element, wherein the act of sealing the container includes sealing the container substantially along the zone.
25. A trough module for use with a vacuum packaging system, said trough module comprising:
a trough that defines a volumetric depression that, when said trough is operationally configured for use in a vacuum packaging system, makes up part of an evacuation chamber; and
a heat sealing element connected to said trough, said heat sealing element extending along at least a portion of said trough, wherein, when said trough is operationally configured for use in said vacuum packaging system, said heat sealing element is enclosed within said evacuation chamber.
26. The trough module of claim 25, further comprising a removable drip tray suspended within said trough, wherein, when said trough is operationally configured in a vacuum packaging system, said drip tray is positioned beneath at least a portion of a heat sealable bag that extends into said evacuation chamber.
27. The trough module of claim 25, further comprising a power conduit connecting a power source to said heat sealing element.
28. The trough module of claim 27, further comprising a barrier wall that makes up part of said evacuation chamber, wherein said barrier wall segregates said power conduit from said evacuation chamber.
29. The trough module of claim 25 further comprising baffolding to prevent liquid intake into said evacuation chamber from a heat sealable bag that extends into said evacuation chamber.
30. A vacuum chamber lid with integrated power coupling for use with a vacuum packaging system, comprising:
a lid for covering a trough that defines a volumetric depression, wherein said trough includes an integrated sealing element, and wherein said lid and trough together define an evacuatable chamber that includes said volumetric depression; and
a power coupling connected to said lid, wherein said power coupling contacts said integrated sealing element, thereby facilitating powering said integrated sealing element.
31. The vacuum chamber lid with integrated power coupling of claim 30, wherein said power coupling has a vampire wing configuration.
32. A vacuum chamber lid with integrated heat sealing element for use with a vacuum packaging system, said vacuum chamber lid comprising:
a lid for covering a trough that defines a volumetric depression, wherein said lid and trough together define an evacuatable chamber that includes said volumetric depression when said lid and trough are operationally configured in a vacuum packaging system; and
a heat sealing element connected to said lid; wherein, when said lid and trough are operationally configured in a vacuum packaging system, a portion of a heat sealable bag that is within said evacuatable chamber and proximate to said heating sealing element is sealed by said heat sealing element.
33. The vacuum chamber lid of claim 32 wherein said heat sealing element is configured to rest against a pressure profile connected to said trough.
Description
REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) to U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/492,090 entitled VACUUM SEALING DEVICE WITH INTEGRATED SEALING ELEMENT(S) AND EVACUATION CHAMBER, by Landen Higer and Charles W. Albritton, and filed on Jul. 31, 2003, which is incorporated herein by reference for all purposes.

BACKGROUND

Vacuum sealing systems are used to evacuate a container of air and fluid. Vacuum sealing has advantages such as compression of items for easier handling and storage or removal of contaminants such as oxygen or other gases, fluids, or air-borne or fluid-borne particles from the vicinity of items that can be adversely effected by the contaminants. A vacuum sealing apparatus is described in Applicant's U.S. Pat. No. 4,941,310 by inventor Hanns J. Kristen dated Jul. 17, 1990, which is incorporated herein by reference. The apparatus is for vacuum sealing bags of the type disclosed in Applicant's U.S. Pat. No. 4,756,422 (referred to hereinafter as the '422 patent) by inventor Hanns J. Kristen dated Jul. 12, 1988, which is incorporated herein by reference. Container material for making vacuum sealing bags may be in the form of a roll of continuously bonded plastic as described in the '422 patent. The apparatus includes a hood adapted to define a vacuum chamber when it is moved to a closed position on a support surface. A sealing element, outside the vacuum chamber, is adapted to seal the bag. An alternative sealing element is described in Applicant's U.S. Pat. No. 6,058,998 by inventor Hanns J. Kristen dated May 9, 2000, which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIG. 1 depicts an exemplary prior art vacuum sealing bag 10-1 before evacuation and the vacuum sealing bag 10-2 after evacuation. An item 12 and contaminants 14 are inside the bag 10-1. Contaminants 14 may include moisture, atmospheric gases beyond a certain pressure, and other gas, liquid, or particulate impurities. The contaminants may be spread throughout the interior of the bag 10-1 and may be on the item 12. The bag 10-1 is evacuated through the opening 16. After evacuation, the item 12 remains inside the bag 10-2, but a large proportion of the contaminants 14 have been evacuated. Nevertheless, some contaminants 18 may remain near the seal zone 20. In addition, a portion 22 of the bag material may be wasted.

It would be advantageous to provide an apparatus that can reduce the contaminants that are trapped near the seal zone of a vacuum sealing bag or to reduce the amount of wasted bag material.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 depicts a prior art vacuum sealing container before and after evacuation.

FIG. 2 depicts a conceptual isometric view of an exemplary vacuum sealing system according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 3 depicts a flowchart of an exemplary method for vacuum sealing using the system of FIG. 2.

FIG. 4 depicts an exemplary vacuum sealing container before and after evacuation using the method of FIG. 3.

FIG. 5 depicts a flowchart of an exemplary method for vacuum sealing according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 6 depicts an isometric view of an exemplary vacuum sealing apparatus according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 7 depicts a flowchart of an exemplary method for vacuum sealing using the apparatus of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 depicts a cross-sectional view of an exemplary trough with integrated sealing element according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 9 depicts an isometric view of an exemplary vacuum chamber lid with integrated power coupling according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 10 depicts a cross-sectional view of an exemplary vacuum chamber lid with integrated sealing element and trough according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 11 depicts a cross-sectional view of an exemplary vacuum chamber lid and trough with integrated sealing element according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 12 depicts a stylized prior art system for sealing a vacuum bag with or without evacuating the bag.

FIG. 13 depicts a stylized system, according to an embodiment of the invention, for sealing a vacuum bag with or without evacuating the bag.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The descriptions below are provided for illustrative purposes only. Unless specifically stated, the following descriptions should not be limited to the specific structure or instances taught in the application. Moreover, the figures are for exemplary purposes only. The figures generally illustrate but one of many alternatives.

The following discussion, with reference to FIGS. 2-5, provides a conceptual overview of an embodiment of the invention. Later, after presentation of this overview, other embodiments are discussed with reference to the remaining figures.

FIG. 2 depicts a conceptual isometric view of an exemplary vacuum sealing system according to an embodiment of the invention. The depicted system is but one of many alternatives. The system includes a vacuum sealing device 30 and a vacuum sealable container 32. Inside the vacuum sealing device 30 is a vacuum chamber (not shown) that includes a hermetic inlet 46 configured to receive at least a portion 34 of the vacuum sealable container 32. The vacuum chamber is configured for evacuation by a vacuum source (not shown) that is in fluidic communication with the vacuum chamber during an evacuation procedure. The evacuation procedure entails substantially evacuating the vacuum chamber. The system may include a power conduit (not shown) that is configured to provide power from a power source (not shown) to drive the vacuum source during the evacuation procedure.

The vacuum sealing device 30 includes an upper housing member 36, a lower housing member 38, an upper hermetic member 40, a lower hermetic member 42, and a sealing element 44. The upper hermetic member 40 is connected to the upper housing member 36 and the lower hermetic member 42 is connected to the lower housing member 38. When the upper housing member 36 abuts the lower housing member 38, the upper hermetic member 40 and lower hermetic member 42 form a barrier, which substantially prevents air from entering the vacuum chamber of the vacuum sealing device 30. Pressing the upper housing member 36 and lower housing member 38 together may help to form a better barrier. The inner surfaces of the housing, which includes the upper housing member 36 and the lower housing member 38, defines the vacuum chamber therein.

The sealing element 44, which may be a heat sealing element, is located within the vacuum chamber. The sealing element 44 is configured to secure a first part of the portion 34 of the vacuum sealable container to a second part of the vacuum sealable container when the portion 34 is proximate to the sealing element 44 at least during a time period in which the vacuum chamber is substantially evacuated during the evacuation procedure. Conceptually, the sealed parts of the vacuum sealable container are the sides of the container, which are stuck together to form a seal. The system may include a power conduit (not shown) that is configured to provide power from a power source (not shown) to drive the sealing element 44 at least during the time period in which the vacuum chamber is substantially evacuated. The sealing element 44 may complete the seal during that time period. The sealing element 44 may be energized in response to an evacuation detection mechanism determining that the vacuum chamber has been at least partially evacuated. Evacuation detection mechanisms are well-known in the art of vacuum packaging so a detailed description of such mechanisms is omitted herein.

The upper housing member 36 may serve as a lid for the vacuum sealing device 30. The upper housing member 36 may be detachable or affixed to the lower housing 34. If the upper housing member 36 is affixed to the lower housing 34, it may be affixed by a hinge. Assuming the upper housing member 36 can be opened, when the upper housing member 36 is open, the vacuum sealable container may be easier to place than when the upper housing member 36 is closed. When the upper housing member 36 is closed, the upper hermetic member 40 contacts the lower hermetic member 42, thereby forming a barrier to prevent air from entering the vacuum chamber via the hermetic inlet 46 through which the vacuum sealable container 32 extends.

FIG. 3 depicts a flowchart of an exemplary method for vacuum sealing using a vacuum sealing system, such as the system depicted in FIG. 2. The depicted method is but one of many alternatives. The flowchart begins at block 50 with placing a vacuum sealable container, that contains contaminants, in a position such that an open end of the vacuum sealable container is in fluidic communication with a vacuum chamber. The flowchart continues at optional block 52 with applying pressure to an upper housing of the vacuum chamber to bring an upper and lower hermetic member firmly together, thereby ensuring the vacuum chamber is hermetically sealed prior to evacuating the vacuum chamber. The flowchart continues at block 54 with evacuating the vacuum chamber such that at least some of the contaminants are evacuated out of the vacuum sealable container. The flowchart continues at block 56 with activating a sealing element located in the vacuum chamber, wherein the activated sealing element causes at least a portion of the vacuum sealable container to seal. The flowchart continues at optional block 58 with releasing the pressure after the activated sealing element causes at least a portion of the vacuum sealable container to seal. The flowchart ends at optional block 60 with removing the vacuum sealable container from the vacuum chamber.

FIG. 4 depicts an exemplary vacuum sealing container 70-1 before evacuation and the vacuum sealing container 70-2 after evacuation using the method just described with reference to FIG. 3. An item 72 and contaminants 74 are inside the container 70-1. Contaminants 74 may include moisture, atmospheric gases beyond a certain pressure, and other gas, liquid, or particulate impurities. The contaminants 74 may be spread throughout the interior of the container 70-1 and may be on the item 72. The container 70-1 is evacuated through the opening 76. After evacuation, the item 72 remains inside the container 70-2, but a large proportion of the contaminants 74 have been evacuated. There is little or no contamination near the seal zone 78 because the seal was made inside the vacuum chamber. Moreover, only a small portion 80 of the container material may be wasted because the seal was made close to the opening 76. In fact, in an embodiment, the portion 80 may not exist (e.g., the seal zone 78 extends to the end of the container).

FIG. 5 depicts a flowchart of an exemplary method for vacuum sealing according to an embodiment of the invention. The flowchart starts at block 90 with at least partially evacuating an evacuatable chamber. The flowchart continues at block 92 with determining that the evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated. The flowchart continues at optional block 94 with energizing the sealing element in response to determining that the evacuatable chamber is at least partially evacuated. The flowchart ends at block 96 with sealing a portion of a container that extends into the evacuatable chamber.

As previously mentioned, the description with reference to FIGS. 2-5 provides a conceptual overview of the invention. However, the invention is not simply a more complex version of the embodiments described with reference to FIGS. 2-5. The invention is limited only by the claims.

FIG. 6 depicts an isometric view of an exemplary vacuum sealing apparatus 100 according to an embodiment of the invention. The illustrated apparatus 100 is but one of many alternatives. For example, apparatuses suitable to be adapted for use according to an embodiment of the invention are also disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,941,310 and co-pending patent application 60/450,295 filed on Feb. 27, 2003 by inventor Alexandre Baptista, which are incorporated herein by reference. Another apparatus suitable to be adapted for use according to an embodiment of the invention is a portable vacuum sealing apparatus with an evacuation chamber in a hand-held housing. Making use of the portable vacuum sealing apparatus may include clamping the hand-held housing over the opening of a vacuum sealable container, then evacuating the evacuation chamber. Another apparatus suitable to be adapted for use according to an embodiment of the invention is a vacuum sealing apparatus with a side-opening housing. The housing may have a narrow profile that is lowered across the opening of a vacuum sealable container prior to vacuum sealing the container. Another apparatus suitable to be adapted for use according to an embodiment of the invention is a lidless vacuum sealing apparatus, such as described in the co-pending patent application bearing the attorney docket number 37469-8023-001, which is incorporated herein by reference for all purposes. The apparatuses described are for exemplary purposes only. One who is skilled in the art should be able to adapt other vacuum sealing systems for use according to an embodiment of the invention.

As depicted in FIG. 6, the apparatus 100 includes an upper housing 102 and a lower housing 104, which are connected to one another by a hinge 105. The upper housing 102 and lower housing 104 may be made of, for example, molded plastic, ceramic, metal, or some other material. The upper housing 102 and lower housing 104 may be referred to collectively as a housing. The hinge 105 may be a mechanism that serves to pivotally mount the upper housing 102 on the lower housing 104, such that the upper housing 102 is moveable to a closed position. For example, the upper housing 102 may be pivotally mounted on the lower housing 104 by a pair of longitudinally spaced pins. The hinge 105 may also include a torsion spring mounted on each pin to normally bias the upper housing 102 in an open position. It should be noted that the upper housing 102 and lower housing 104 need not be connected by a hinge and, indeed, need not be connected at all (e.g., the upper housing could be a lid that is separable from the lower housing). Alternatively, the upper housing could be fixed in place above the lower housing.

The upper housing 102 includes a first evacuation module member 106, a gasket 108, an evacuation port 110, a pressure profile 111, and two contact points 112. The lower housing 104 includes a second evacuation module member 114, a heating element 116, and a gasket 118. Prior to carrying out an evacuation procedure to evacuate contaminants, such as air, from a container (not shown) and then seal the container, an operator, such as a human being or robotic mechanism, closes the upper housing 102 onto the lower housing 104. When closed, the first evacuation module member 106 fits together with the second evacuation module member 114 such that a vacuum chamber is defined by the inner surfaces of the evacuation module members.

Since the first evacuation module member 106, in the example of FIG. 6, fits over the second evacuation module member 114, the first evacuation module member 106 may be referred to as a lid, a cap, or a cover. It should be noted that the first evacuation module member 106 could, in alternate embodiments, be slid over the second evacuation module member 114, or screwed on, or fastened with a clamp or other securing device. Moreover, the first evacuation module 106 member could be fixed in place, capping the second evacuation module member 114, or pivotally mounted on the second evacuation module member 114. Since the second evacuation module 114, in the example of FIG. 6, defines a volumetric depression, the second evacuation module 114 may be referred to as a trough, a cavity, or a trench. The volumetric depression may function to collect liquids and powder particles that are exhausted from the container to prevent their ingress into a vacuum pump. The first and second evacuation module members may be made of any gas impermeable material, including molded plastic, ceramic, metal, or some other material.

When the evacuation module members are fit together to form the vacuum chamber, the gasket 108 and the gasket 118 contact one another, forming a hermetic seal between the evacuation module members. In this way, the evacuation module members may not actually contact one another while fit together to form the vacuum chamber. The hermetic seal is a barrier that prevents gas or other contaminants from entering the vacuum chamber during an evacuation procedure. The gaskets may be formed of an elastomeric material. However, in an embodiment, the gaskets are formed of different materials and the contact surface of one or both gaskets may be rigid. For example, in an alternative, the gasket 108 is formed of an elastomeric material while the gasket 118 is formed of a rigid material. As depicted in FIG. 6, the gaskets 108 and 118 extend completely around the periphery of the vacuum chamber. While the gaskets 108 and 118 in the example of FIG. 6 are approximately elliptical in shape, in other embodiments, the gaskets 108 and 118 may be rectangular, polygonal, or of some other shape. It should be noted that the hermetic seal could be formed using a single gasket or more than two gaskets.

In the example of FIG. 6, the evacuation port 110 is formed in the first evacuation module member 106. An evacuation channel 120 extends from the evacuation port 110 to a vacuum module 122. The evacuation channel 120 may be a plastic tube. In the example of FIG. 6, the evacuation channel 120 extends from the upper housing 102 to the lower housing 104. The vacuum module 122 is located in the lower housing 104. The vacuum module may include a vacuum motor (not shown) and a vacuum pump (not shown). The vacuum motor drives the vacuum pump. The vacuum pump communicates with the evacuation channel 120, which is exposed at the evacuation port 110 to the vacuum chamber, to draw a vacuum therein. The drawing of a vacuum in the chamber may create a differential pressure on opposite sides of the first and second evacuation module members to aid in the static sealing of the vacuum chamber and the container at the hermetic seal, while simultaneously evacuating the container and vacuum chamber. Since evacuation pumps and drive mechanisms are well known in the art, further description of the vacuum module is deemed unnecessary. It should be noted that the evacuation port 110 need not be formed in the first evacuation module member 106. For example, the evacuation port could be formed in the second evacuation module member 114, or the evacuation port could be affixed to the end of a hose or tube that extends between the gaskets 108 and 118. It should further be noted that the vacuum module 122 need not be located in the lower housing 104. For example, the vacuum module 122, or a portion thereof, could be located in the upper housing 102 or external to the housing.

In the example of FIG. 6, the heating element 116 is connected to an inner surface of the second evacuation module 1 14. However, the placement of the heating element 116 need not be as depicted in FIG. 6. For example, the heating element. 116 could be affixed to an inner surface of the first evacuation module 106. Moreover, the heating element 116 could be affixed to an inner surface by an adjustable support, a detachable support, or a flexible support, such as a spring. The heating element 116 includes at least one electrically conductive wire or sealing element that produce heat when a voltage differential is applied across the length of the wire. The heating element may be a low voltage heating element. The heating element 116 may be covered with a material to prevent the heating element 116 from adhering to a container material when the heating element 116 is used to form a heat seal on the container. The heating element 116 could be covered for other reasons, as well, such as safety or to make cleaning easier. The covering material of the heating element 116 could be Teflon® (polytetrafluroethylene) tape or some other relatively heat-resistant material. The heating element 116 or individual wires of the heating element could be wrapped in a material or otherwise coated to protect the heating element 116 from exposure to, for example, liquid. The coating can also serve to protect the apparatus or an operator from the voltage across the heating element 116.

In the example of FIG. 6, the contact points 112 are positioned in such a way that when the first evacuation module member 106 and the second evacuation module member 114 are fit together to form the vacuum chamber, the contact points 112 contact the heating element 116. The contact points 112 are part of a power coupling that provides power to the heating element 116. The contact points 112 may include exposed conductive nodes that conduct electrical current from a power source (not shown) to the heating element 116, thereby energizing the heating element 116. Since the contact points 112 are connected to the first evacuation module member 106, when the evacuation module members are not fit together, the heating element does not receive current through the conductive nodes. Positioning the contact points 112 in this manner results in the equivalent of a switch that disengages the heating element 116 when the evacuation module members are not fit together. This may, for example, prevent an operator from suffering injury. In addition, the contact points 112 may be disengaged from the power source using a switch (not shown) that is open when the evacuation module members are not fit together and is closed when the evacuation module members are fit together, thereby reducing the risk of injury, such as electrical shocks, to an operator.

The pressure profile 111 may be a longitudinally extending elongated elastomeric member. The pressure profile 111 serves to push a zone of the container into the heating element 116 to assist in forming a seal on the container substantially along the zone. The pressure profile 111 may ensure that adequate pressure is applied on the container over the heating element 116 so that a full seal is made via heat conduction through upper and lower panels of the container to seal heat sealable layers of the container together.

In operation, an operator, such as a human or robotic mechanism, places a container (not shown) over the heating element 116. The operator then closes the upper housing 102 onto the lower housing 104. This has the effect of fitting the first evacuation module member 106 to the second evacuation module member 114 to form the vacuum chamber. The container may extend between the gaskets 108 and 118 through what may be referred to as a hermetic ingress, which is represented in FIG. 6 by arrows 124. The hermetic ingress is so named because the gaskets 108 and 118 form a barrier between the container and the gasket 108 and between the container and the gasket 118 that substantially block the amount of contaminants, such as air, that pass into the vacuum chamber from ambient while the container is positioned between the gaskets 108 and 118. While so positioned, the container may be in fluidic communication with the vacuum chamber such that if the vacuum chamber is evacuated, the container is similarly evacuated.

As previously indicated, the power coupling engages the heating element 116 through the contacts 112 that contact the heating element 116. In an embodiment, the power coupling engages the heating element 116 for the entire period of time during which the vacuum chamber is defined by the inner surfaces of the first and second evacuation module members. However, in an alternative, the power coupling need not engage the heating element 116 for the entire period. For example, the power coupling could be set to engage the heating element 116 only when a switch is closed, when a button is pressed, or in response to some other stimulus.

As previously indicated, the evacuation channel 120 is coupled to the vacuum module 122. The vacuum module 122 evacuates the vacuum chamber of at least some contaminants through the evacuation channel 120 for at least a period of time during which the vacuum chamber is defined by the inner surfaces of the first and second evacuation module members. This evacuation procedure may begin in response to the first and second evacuation module members being fit together. Alternatively, the evacuation procedure may begin in response to pressure on the upper housing 102 that activates the vacuum module 122 or in response to some other stimulus, such as activating a button, switch, or knob that activates the vacuum module 122. The evacuation procedure may continue until a vacuum detector (not shown), such as a pressure sensor, determines that the vacuum chamber is sufficiently evacuated. Alternatively, the evacuation procedure may continue until some other stimulus, such as the end of a predetermined or determinable period of time, occurs.

When the vacuum chamber has been at least partially evacuated, the heating element 116 is energized by power received through the power coupling for at least a period of time during which the vacuum chamber is defined by the inner surfaces of the evacuation module members. The heating element 116 should be energized while the vacuum chamber is defined because if the vacuum chamber integrity is compromised, such as by unfitting the evacuation module members, the integrity of the evacuated container may be adversely effected. The heating element 116 may be energized for a predetermined period of time, such as five seconds, or for a period of time that is determined according to a plurality of factors, such as the initial temperature of the heating element 116 or the presence of liquid or other substance within the vacuum chamber. Moreover, the heating element 116 could be energized at any time by an operator, if desired. For example, an operator may wish to seal a container that has not been evacuated at all.

FIG. 7 depicts a flowchart of an exemplary method for vacuum sealing using the apparatus of FIG. 6. The flowchart starts at block 130 with defining a vacuum chamber by fitting together first and second evacuation module members. The flowchart continues at block 132 with inserting a container at least partially into the vacuum chamber. It should be noted that, as described previously with reference to FIG. 6, inserting a container may involve positioning a container and then closing an upper housing. When the upper housing is closed, the vacuum chamber is defined. For this reason, the block 132 may describe an action that begins prior to the action described in block 130, but the actions end at approximately the same time. The flowchart continues at optional block 134 with pushing a zone of the container onto the heating element. The flowchart continues at block 136 with evacuating the vacuum chamber of at least some contaminants. The flowchart continues at block 138 with energizing a heating element located within the vacuum chamber. The flowchart ends at block 140 with sealing the container using heat from the heating element. If the act described in optional block 134 was executed, the act of sealing the container (block 140) includes sealing the container substantially along the zone.

The techniques described with reference to FIGS. 6 and 7 allow for improvements over the prior art. For example, the seal on a container is closer to the opening because the sealing element is located inside the vacuum chamber. This results in the consumption of less container material each time a container is sealed, especially when a container is openend and resealed more than once. Moreover, the seal may be better because the seal is made inside the vacuum chamber instead of outside the hermetic seal. Contaminants may be more likely to be trapped just behind the hermetic seal and may be located between the upper and lower panels of the container at the seal zone, thereby reducing the quality of the seal.

FIGS. 8-10 depict alternative embodiments of the invention. These figures are intended for exemplary purposes only and generally illustrate but one of many alternatives.

FIG. 8 depicts a cross-sectional view of an exemplary trough with integrated sealing element 150 (referred to hereinafter as the integrated trough 150) according to an embodiment of the invention. The integrated trough 150 includes a trough 152, a gasket 154, a heat sealing element 156, a support member 158, and a removable drip tray 159. The trough 152 defines a volumetric depression that makes up a portion of an evacuatable chamber when a lid (not shown) is fitted over the trough 152. The gasket 154 is used to form a hermetic seal around a perimeter of the evacuatable chamber when the lid is placed over the gasket 154. The heat sealing element 156 is connected to the trough 152 by the support member 158. The support member supports the heat sealing element 156 at at least one point along the length of the evacuatable chamber such that the sealing element extends along at least a portion of the trough 152. The support member 158 may be, for example, a sequence of studs along the length of the evacuatable chamber, or an elongated baffold that extends the length of the evacuatable chamber. The heat sealing element 156 is enclosed within the evacuation chamber when the integrated trough 150 is operationally configured for use in a vacuum packaging system. The removable drip tray 159 may be suspended on a flange connected to the stud 158 or some other portion of the trough 152.

In operation, a container (not shown) is placed over the gasket 154 arid across the heat sealing element 156. When the container is evacuated in an evacuation procedure, liquid or particulate contaminants may be caught in the removable drip tray 159. The sealing element 156 then seals the container. The removable drip tray 159 may be conveniently removed for cleaning. It should be noted that the removable drip tray 159 is one way to implement the functionality of a removable trough. The removable drip tray implementation could cost less than a removable trough with integrated heating element. Alternatively, the removable drip tray could make providing power to the heating element easier, such as by providing a power coupling by wiring through the surface of the trough into the heating element.

An alternative technique for providing power to the sealing element is described with reference to FIG. 9. FIG. 9 depicts an isometric view of an exemplary vacuum chamber lid with integrated power coupling 160 (referred to hereinafter as the integrated lid 160) according to an embodiment of the invention. The integrated lid 160 includes a lid 162, a gasket 164, and a “vampire wing” power coupling 166. The integrated lid 160 could be used with, for example, the integrated trough 160 (FIG. 8). The lid 162 may fit over a trough to define an evacuatable chamber and the gasket 164 may form part of a hermetic seal around a perimeter of the evacuatable chamber. The “vampire wing” power coupling 166 is configured for coupling at or near the ends of a sealing element, such as a heating wire, such that a current flows through the sealing element. The “vampire wings” may be associated with respective positive and negative poles. Current may or may not flow through the sealing element when the “vampire wing” power coupling 166 is engaged. For example, there may be a switch that must be closed in order for the current to flow. The switch may be closed when the “vampire wing” power coupling 166 is engaged, or the switch may be closed in response to some other stimulus, such as substantial evacuation of the evacuation chamber.

FIG. 10 depicts a cross-sectional view of an exemplary vacuum chamber lid with integrated sealing element and trough according to an embodiment of the invention. FIG. 10 includes a lid 170, a trough 172, a gasket 174, a heat sealing element 176, a gasket 178, a support member 180, and a pressure profile 182. The lid 170 is for covering the trough 172. The trough 172 defines a volumetric depression and the lid 170 and trough 172 together define an evacuatable chamber that includes the volumetric depression when the lid 170 and trough 172 are operationally configured in a vacuum packaging system. Operationally configuring the lid 170 and trough 172 may include fitting the lid 170 and trough 172 together such that the gasket 174 and the gasket 178 form a hermetic inlet 184 and the heat sealing element 176, which is connected to the lid 170, rests on the pressure profile 182. The pressure profile 182 is connected to the trough 172 by the support member 180. The heat sealing element 176 may receive power through a power conduit (not shown) that extends through the lid 170.

In operation, a portion of a heat sealable bag that is within the evacuatable chamber and proximate to the heating sealing element 176 is sealed by the heat sealing element 176. For example, the heat sealable bag could be positioned between the heat sealing element 176 and the pressure profile 182 when the heat sealing element 176 is energized, thereby forming a seal on the heat sealable bag.

FIG. 11 depicts a cross-sectional view of an exemplary lid 190 and trough 192 according to an embodiment of the invention. The lid 190 includes a gasket 194. The trough 192 includes a gasket 196, a sealing element 198, a support member 200, baffolding 202, a power conduit 204, and a barrier wall 206. A hermetic inlet is represented by the arrow 208.

When the lid 190 is engaged with the trough 192, the gasket 194 forms a hermetic seal with the gasket 196. In addition, the gasket 194 acts as a pressure profile, much like the pressure profile 182 (FIG. 10), that presses a vacuum sealable container (not shown) onto the sealing element 198. In the example of FIG. 11, the gasket 194 is larger than the respective gasket 196 and sealing element 200. In an embodiment, the gasket 194 may have a width dimension that extends from an outer edge of the gasket 196 to the inner edge of the sealing element 200. In another embodiment, the gasket 194 may extend up to but not over the baffolding 202. In another embodiment, the gasket 194 may extend over the baffolding 202. In fact, the gasket 194 could be of any practicable width so long as it performs its function as an upper part of a hermetic seal when the lid 190 and trough 192 are engaged. The baffolding 202 helps to prevent intake of fluid from the vacuum sealable container into the trough 192. A drip tray (not shown) could also be used to catch fluids or other matter that enters the trough, either in conjunction with the baffolding 202 or in lieu of the baffolding 202. In the example of FIG. 11, the sealing element 198 receives power via a power conduit 204. The barrier wall 206 segregates the power conduit 204 from the vacuum chamber that is defined by inner walls of the lid 190 and trough 192 when the lid and trough are engaged. The barrier wall 204 is not necessary if power is supplied to the sealing element in some other manner, such as those described with reference to FIGS. 8-10, above. Alternatively, a power conduit may extend through the support member 200 without becoming exposed as depicted in FIG. 11.

FIG. 12 depicts a stylized prior art system 210 for sealing a vacuum bag 212 with or without evacuating the bag. The system 210 includes a bag sealer 214, an air barrier 216, and part of a vacuum chamber 218. In this system, the bag is normally sealed at a distance x+1 from the end of the bag that opens into the vacuum chamber 218. When the trough is evacuated, the bag sealer 214 may seal the bag automatically. For example, the bag sealer 214 may be energized when a vacuum exists in the vacuum chamber 218. Notably, if the bag opening extends past the bag sealer 214, but not past the air barrier 216, then when the vacuum chamber 218 is evacuated, the bag can be sealed automatically, as well. This technique consumes less than a length x of bag material, but does not allow for a vacuum seal. The technique is particularly useful when a partial bag, with two open ends, is to be sealed at one of the open ends, filled with materials that are to be vacuum packaged, and vacuum sealed. Since the partial bag need not extend past the air barrier 216, the vacuum chamber 218 may be evacuated normally and the partial bag automatically sealed when the vacuum chamber 218 has a requisite pressure.

FIG. 13 depicts a stylized system 220, according to an embodiment of the invention, for sealing a vacuum bag 222 with or without evacuating the bag. The system 220 includes a bag sealer 224, an air barrier 226, and a part of a vacuum chamber 228. In this system, if the bag 222 extends past the bag sealer 224, the bag invariably extends past the air barrier 226 into the vacuum chamber 228 because the bag sealer 224 is located inside the vacuum chamber 228. This may be an issue when, for example, a partial bag is cut from a roll of material and has two open ends. If one end of a partial bag is inserted into the vacuum chamber 228, the vacuum chamber 228 may not be able to evacuate, since air is drawn through one end of the partial bag into the vacuum chamber 228. According to the usual technique, only a bag (not a partial bag) can be sealed in this manner, since the bag can be evacuated simultaneously with the vacuum chamber 228, thereby allowing the vacuum chamber 228 to be evacuated. To make the first seal on a partial bag, a technique that avoids evacuating the vacuum chamber 228 or enables evacuation of the vacuum chamber 228 even though a partial bag is inserted into the vacuum chamber 228. Such techniques may include, but are not limited to, applying sufficient pressure to the air barrier 226 that substantially less air passes from the partial bag into the vacuum chamber 228 than usual, enclosing the partial bag in a bladder that is evacuated simultaneously with the vacuum chamber 228, providing a latch that can close over a portion of the partial bag such that a significant air barrier is formed at the location of the latch due to pressure on the sides of the bag, or providing a seal-only mode of operation wherein the system does not attempt to evacuate the vacuum chamber 228 prior to energizing the bag sealer 224.

Although it is presented here that the present invention is designed primarily for use in food preservation, it is contemplated that the improved vacuum sealing would allow for use in other types of preservation systems. For example, the use of toxic dessicants for the shipment of electronic components could be eliminated. The invention could be applied to medical as well as pharmaceutical use. The scope of the invention is not to be restricted by the above descriptions which are provided for illustrative and enablement purposes, but rather should be defined by the claims listed below.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7146783Mar 18, 2005Dec 12, 2006Hantover, Inc.Vacuum packaging machine
WO2009078937A2 *Dec 11, 2008Jun 25, 2009Siri AdamBaggy deflation system educed removal air
Classifications
U.S. Classification53/432, 53/374.8, 53/510, 53/477
International ClassificationB65B, B65B31/00, B65B31/02, B65B51/14
Cooperative ClassificationB65B51/148, B65B31/046
European ClassificationB65B51/14T, B65B31/04E
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Nov 1, 2004ASAssignment
Owner name: TILIA INTERNATIONAL, INC., CALIFORNIA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:HIGER, LANDEN;ALBRITTON, CHARLES WADE;REEL/FRAME:015943/0651
Effective date: 20040924