US 20050060958 A1
The preferred embodiments provide, among other advances over existing systems: a) a system and method that can count seeds; b) a novel counting apparatus; and/or c) a novel seed handling process (e.g., from cleaning to bagging) including an in-line seed counter.
1. A method for packaging seed based on seed count, comprising: counting seeds with an in-line counter.
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9. A method for packaging seed based on seed count, comprising: counting seed using an in-line seed counter that substantially continuously removes seeds from a flow of seeds to a bagger.
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15. A seed counting system, comprising: an in-line seed counter arranged to receive seed being delivered toward a bagger, said in-line seed counter including a plurality of detectors and a controller that determines a seed number based on output from said detectors.
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1. Field of the Invention
The preferred embodiments of the present invention relate generally to, among other things, seed handling applications and, the more preferred embodiments pertain more particularly to seed counting systems and methods, such as, e.g., for cotton seed applications.
2. Discussion of the Background
In traditional seed cleaning, treating and/or packaging facilities, seed is obtained, then cleaned, then treated, and then bagged (e.g., in 50 pound bags or the like) in a generally continuous flow. For some types of seed (i.e., cotton and corn), an additional step is required before cleaning to remove additional material leftover from harvest, such as lint on cotton and husks on corn. While some counters exist in other contexts, counters have not hitherto been appropriate for use in, among other applications, in-line continuous counting after cleaning in cotton seed applications. The preferred embodiments can provide, among other advances over existing systems: a) a novel system and method that can count cotton seeds; b) an improved counting apparatus; and/or c) an improved seed handling process (e.g., from cleaning to bagging) including an in-line seed counter.
While a variety of systems and methods are known, there remains a need for new and improved systems and methods.
The preferred embodiments of the present invention can significantly improve upon existing systems and methods.
According to some embodiments, a method for packaging seed based on seed count, comprises: counting seeds with an in-line counter located between a treater and a bagger. In some embodiments, the method includes using a controller to control the weight of the bags. In preferred embodiments, the seed includes cotton seed. Preferably, the method includes having fuzzy seeds initially brought into and stored in bulk warehouses. Preferably, the method includes cleaning the seed and storing the same in a cleaned state.
According to other embodiments, a method for packaging seed based on seed count, comprises: counting seed using an in-line seed counter that substantially continuously removes seed from a flow of seeds to a bagger. Preferably, the method includes sampling the removed seed to obtain a seeds-per-pound and/or bushel weight. Preferably, the method further includes with the seeds-per-pound and/or bushel weight from a plurality of samples, using a controller to set a bag weight for a bagger. Preferably, the method includes based on a bushel weight, using a controller to establish a bag size to use. Preferably, the method includes that when significant deviations from a bagger set point are encountered, a controller prompts an operator to change a bagging lot number or sets a bagger with a new set weight and/or that if the bag weight deviates from a set range, a bag is rejected.
According to some other embodiments, a seed counting system is provided that includes: an in-line seed counter arranged to receive seed being delivered toward a bagger; the in-line seed counter including a plurality of detectors and a controller that determines a seed number based on output from the detectors. Preferably, the controller is adapted to set a bag weight for a bagger. Preferably, the controller is adapted to establish a bag size to use.
The above and/or other aspects, features and/or advantages of various embodiments will be further appreciated in view of the following description in conjunction with the accompanying figures. Various embodiments can include and/or exclude different aspects, features and/or advantages where applicable. In addition, various embodiments can combine one or more aspect or feature of other embodiments where applicable. The descriptions of aspects, features and/or advantages of particular embodiments should not be construed as limiting other embodiments or the claims.
The accompanying figures are provided by way of example, without limiting the broad scope of the invention or various other embodiments.
FIGS. 3(A), 3(B), 3(C) and 4 show some illustrative system layouts and/or system components that can be employed in some illustrative embodiments of the invention.
While the present invention may be embodied in many different forms, a number of illustrative embodiments are described herein with the understanding that the present disclosure is to be considered as providing examples of the principles of the invention and such examples are not intended to limit the invention to preferred embodiments described herein and/or illustrated herein.
In traditional seed cleaning, treating and/or packaging facilities, harvested seed in its bulk form is obtained, and then is cleaned, treated, and bagged (such as, e.g., in 50 pound bags or the like) in a continuous flow. In some preferred embodiments of the invention, inefficiencies in these traditional processes can be overcome using a novel seed count system.
In the more preferred embodiments, rather than merely bagging by seed count with the seed sorted and sized prior to bagging or bagging based on a single sample counted off-line, the preferred embodiments employ an in-line counter and a plurality of continuous samples. Preferably, the in-line counter is located, e.g., between a treater and a bagger and can use a controller (such as, e.g., a Programmable Logic Controller [PLC] to control and record the weight of the bags and determine the correct bag size to use based on seed count and bushel weight)).
In some preferred embodiments, at least some, and preferably all, of the following is performed:
While some counters exist in other contexts, in-line continuous flow counters have not hitherto been appropriate for use in, among other environments, seed cleaning, treating and packaging environments. The preferred embodiments can provide, among other advances over existing systems: a) a novel system and method that can count seeds; b) a novel counting apparatus; and/or c) a novel seed handling process (e.g., from cleaning to bagging) including an in-line seed counter.
In some illustrative embodiments, seed counting can be used to facilitate, among other things: a) shipping products (e.g., bags or the like) having seed within a certain seed count range; b) shipping strategically based on seed count (e.g., adjusting shipping procedures and methods strategically based on seed count); c) bagging by seed count; and/or d) other handling or the like processes.
A. Shipping By Seed Count Range
In some preferred embodiments, shipping by seed count ranges can help to ensure that early on in the season, a farmer would not see a wide range of seed counts at a dealer location. For example, one illustrative goal may be that the spread between a minimum lot seed count and a maximum would not exceed about 500-1500 seeds per pound or, more preferably, about 1000 seeds per pound.
With respect to cotton seeds, spread ranges of certain varieties have been determined as being advantageous for implementation of processes described herein, such as, e.g.: DP 420 RR; SURE-GROW 585R; DP 409 B/RR; 00V06BR; DP 429 RR; SURE-GROW 521R; DELTAPINE ACALA 90; DP 436 RR; DELTAOPAL; SURE-GROW 747; DP 493; SURE-GROW 501; SURE-GROW 501 BR.
In some preferred embodiments, to implement a cotton seed count strategy, for example, black auto-release and treated auto-release programs are employed. In some preferred embodiments, these programs could check a variety table with label count ranges. If a lot met all other quality assurances (QA) standards and the label count was within range, it could be released. Any seed that did not meet this check, but met all other QA requirements could receive a special hold status that would keep the seed in supply, but unavailable to be treated. At a later date, this check could be removed and/or the ranges could be increased to allow this seed to be treated.
Among other things, the preferred embodiments can be used to, e.g., help ensure consistent label counts in the market place. In some instances, the preferred embodiments could be implemented at certain times of the season, such as, e.g., to have an impact only early in a season or the like.
B. Shipping Strategically Based On Seed Count
In some preferred embodiments, a strategy can be developed to maximize sales and technology fee revenues. For example, one illustrative strategy could include, e.g., the shipment of lots with lower label counts into the regions with the higher technology fees. For example, based on historical lot data, inventory can be divided in a number of seed count range buckets (such as, e.g., 2-100 buckets, or, in some illustrative embodiments about 5-10 seed count range buckets). This could, of course, be any number. If, e.g., a seed drop region with a highest tech fee had 230 bags sold of seed X in 2002, a weighted average for seed X was about 4471 seeds per pound, and a corresponding bucket 1 had 4981 bags at a seed count of 4060 seeds per pound, to plant the same acres that were planted with 230 bags, 253 bags would now be required.
C. Bagging By Seed Count
In some embodiments, this strategy could include bagging a substantially set seed count for each bag. In some embodiments, this seed count would be somewhere between about 150,000 to 250,000 seeds per bag, or, in other embodiments, about 200,000 to 300,000 seeds per bag, or in other embodiments about 250,000 seeds per bag. In some preferred embodiments, seeds-per-bag identifications could replace weight identifications (e.g., particular weight bags would no longer be required, such as, e.g., 50-pound bags—e.g., the bags would preferably not be sold by weight). For example, bags corresponding to former 50-pound bags could vary from, e.g., about 35-60 pounds.
In the corn industry, in some instances, it has been the standard to sell bags with about 60,000 to 80,000 kernels per bag. With corn, bulk corn seed may be brought in, shucked, dried, shelled (e.g., the cleaning process for corn includes shucking, drying and shelling), sorted (sized) and stored in bulk, uncleaned. The cleaned, untreated seed may then be treated and bagged (or boxed). During the bagging operations, it is believed that they do not count the seed. During the bagging operations, the seeds are actually bagged by weight, using knowledge gained from the previously obtained seed samples and historical knowledge of that variety to determine a weight to place in a bag for an 80,000 kernel count.
In such corn applications, complex methods of sorting and sizing is needed. The quality assurance personnel have to work closely with operations to ensure that certain screen sizes are in place on sorters. As truck loads of corn seed arrive, quality assurance takes samples and determines the screen sizes that are to be used to sort the seed. The plants use a tower concept for plant design. Cleaned, untreated seed starts near the top and is sorted into a flats and rounds. As the seed is separated and sent to the next floors, they are again separated, this time by size and dropped to the next floor. The smallest seed is diverted and sent to an appropriate cleaned, non-treated seed storage bin and the larger (overflow) seed is sent to the next sorter. This would continue until the seed is properly sorted into the appropriate cleaned, non-treated seed storage bins.
Rather than requiring a complex system as in the corn seed environments, in some preferred embodiments, to most accurately bag by seed count, seeds are sized in a novel process. Preferably, this sizing is done after delinting, but prior to boxing the black seed in corrugated boxes. Preferably, this sizing includes a plurality of seed sizes per variety, and most preferably, 3 or more seed sizes.
In preferred embodiments, quality assurance will take a load sample (e.g., a large truck load sample). Then, this sample would be cleaned using known techniques. Then, after cleaning, the seed would be run through a sorting device. Preferably, the seed would be run through the device several times to determine an appropriate set of screens to properly sort an entire load (e.g., an entire truck load). Preferably, a computer system or the like is provided having digital storage (e.g., databases) that would store the determined screen size results. In some embodiments, loads (e.g., truck loads) are preferably combined in the same warehouse bins, such that quality assurance would preferably monitor the screen size results to ensure that they are consistent.
In some preferred embodiments, the cleaning process could involve known techniques. However, prior to boxing the cleaned seed in the corrugated boxes or the like, the seed would preferably be sized. After the seed was sorted, it would preferably be stored by size in the corrugated boxes (e.g., with each box having a particular size). Preferably, each sorter would deliver seed to its own box filler. Preferably, each size would also receive its own lot number.
When the cleaned seed is being bagged or boxed or the like, the operations personnel can, in some embodiments, manually set a dump weight for the bagger and/or the box filler. Preferably, this weight could be determined by the seed size and the seeds per pound of the seed lot. In some embodiments, this determination could be automatically set. Preferably, an adjustment for treatment is made in this determination.
In some embodiments, at least between about 3-15 bag sizes may be needed per genetic type of seed. For example, in some embodiments, at least about 5-10, or preferably, at least about 7 bag sizes would be needed per genetic type in some embodiments. In preferred embodiments, before bagging, operations would take the seed size and seeds per pound to determine an appropriate bag.
Among other potential advantages, some embodiments of the present invention can avoid “wasting” of seeds and/or unnecessary “giving away” of seeds that occurs in existing systems. For example, a customer could always receive a substantially fixed number of seeds (e.g., within a narrow range) or can always receive at least a fixed number of seeds without the need to substantially overfill bags to ensure a desired seed count.
Preferred embodiments of the invention may be particularly advantageous with respect to smaller seed varieties. Among other things, preferred embodiments could potentially result in an increased number of units sold (e.g., it would preferably take more bags to plant the same acreage that a weight-based bag—such as, e.g., a 50-pound bag-once planted). While increased fees may be realized by the seed producers, the use of seed counting can provide costs savings benefits that could be realized by farmers and/or seed producers, preferably both. For example, the ability to avoid overfill and seed wastage could result in better seed usage efficiencies and, hence, increased savings that can result in lower overall seed costs seen by farmers and greater profits seen by seed producers.
In some preferred embodiments, while new equipment may be required (e.g., seed sizers, etc.), a plurality of different sized bags may be needed for each genetic group, procedures for choosing sorter screen sizes, bag weights, bag size and/or truck staging may be needed, substantial advantages can still be realized.
In some preferred embodiments, the products packaged for shipment to farmers or other consumers can be shipped by “seed count ranges” (such as, e.g., to ensure that a bag weight does not go below a particular limit and/or remains closer to existing bag weights than if done strictly by a fixed seed count number). In this manner, a softer transition can be realized when changing from shipment by weight to shipment by seed count.
While in some embodiments, seed sizing can be performed as discussed above, in other embodiments, sizing of seed can be substantially and/or entirely eliminated.
In some preferred embodiments, packaging by fixed counts can be performed using some or all of the following components or equipment.
In preferred embodiments, based on the cleaned, non-treated seed's actual seed count, a beginning bag size and bag weight can be chosen for the bagger (e.g., this can be automatically determined via computer software or the like). Preferably, a multi-channel counter continuously counts samples of seed (such as, e.g., a particular weight sample—for example, about 1-pound of seeds as an illustrative sample amount). These counts are preferably recorded to digital data storage (e.g., in a database) and monitored for deviations (e.g., this can be automatically monitored via computer software or the like).
In preferred embodiments, each bag size will have a range of acceptable volumes that it can hold. The bags themselves will preferably have the same pallet footprint. Preferably, the different sizes will expand to hold more seed. Preferably, a statistical analyzer (e.g., including a software module or the like) can monitor the deviations and determine if and/or when the bag sizes and/or bag weights need to be changed.
In preferred embodiments, bagging can be substantially the same as existing systems, with the (exception that the bag weights may vary more significantly. However, within a lot (e.g., a lot is a set of bags grouped together for inventory management purposes) of bagged seed, the weight will be the same. For example, bag weights can vary based on the initial seeds per pound of the cleaned, non-treated seed lots. When the bag weight needs to change, a new lot of seed is created.
In some illustrative embodiments, a seed counter can include, e.g., a holding bin, a collection bin, a lower bin, a control panel (e.g., a user interface control panel), a conveyor (e.g., a vibrated platform), a plurality of detectors (e.g., photo-eyes or the like), a weight measuring device (e.g., a load cell) and other components (such as, e.g., solenoids, valves, cylinders, etc.) for effecting operation.
In some illustrative embodiments, to begin the process, a seed counter is first “reset” via a user interface at a workstation (e.g., by a user pressing a reset seed counter button or the like). Then, the seed counter can preferably be placed in an automatic and/or hand-operated mode. Preferably, if a hand-operated mode is selected, an operator can depress a start button or the like in order to start the sequence. Preferably, an automatic mode will not require such an operator action.
In some embodiments, an initial stage includes transferring seeds from an aspirator and/or from another delivery and/or conveyance system to a holding bin. This transfer can be done in some embodiments, e.g., by energizing a solenoid that controls the application of pneumatic power to a venturi valve at the same time activates a cylinder to open a ball valve that allows seed flow. Preferably, when a seed level is adequate, a detector (e.g., photo-eye) inside the holding bin will cause seed flow to be de-activated. Simultaneously, vibrators can be activated that cause seed to travel along a vibrated platform or panel. The seeds are preferably conveyed, e.g., using the vibrated platform. However, in other embodiments, other forms of conveyance can be used (such as, e.g., inclined plates, conveyor belts, pneumatic blowers and/or other conveyance means). Preferably, detectors, such as, e.g., photo-detectors (e.g., photo-eyes) and/or the like, are situated in a linear array over channels through which the seeds are vibrationally conveyed. Preferably, seeds are spread out on the conveying surface (e.g., within the channels) and conveyed past the detectors. With the vibrators and detectors initiated, counters (using, e.g., a controller such as, e.g., a PLC) preferably keep track of each individual seed count per channel. Preferably, the sequence is stopped, however, by a weight amount determined (e.g., via a load cell). Preferably, a proper weight amount is determined by a user input from a user workstation. In preferred embodiments, once a weight amount is achieved, the vibrators are de-activated along with the detectors. The seeds conveyed past the detectors are preferably delivered into a collection bin (preferably, a weight determination is conducted based upon seeds in the collection bin—such as, e.g., having a load cell connected to the collection bin for weight determination). Preferably, upon a correct weight amount being present within the collection bin, the PLC will calculate the seed per pound and/or the total seed count (preferably both). Preferably, upon obtaining a correct weight, the collection bin will be activated so as to discharge the weighed contents. For example, a collection bin solenoid can be activated in some embodiments to activate a dump cylinder that opens the collection bin so as to dump or place the seed into a lower bin. This sequence can then be repeated.
Preferably, the lower bin returns the seed to an elevator and/or to another delivery and/or conveyance system (such as, e.g., by energizing a solenoid that initiates the application of pneumatic power to a venturi valve that generates seed flow).
FIGS. 1 to 5(Q) show exemplary components and features that can be used in some embodiments to carry out various aspects and methods of the preferred embodiments, such as, e.g., various aspects and methods as described above. In the figures, illustrative component sizes are numerically labeled (with such sizes being in designated as shown in inches ″). While the various embodiments are not limited to any sizes and/or proportions as shown, the figures show some general sizes and proportions of components according to some illustrative and non-limiting embodiments of the invention.
In this regard,
With reference to the illustrative system shown in
FIGS. 3(A), 3(B), 3(C) and 4 show some illustrative system layouts and/or system components that can be employed in some illustrative embodiments of the invention. For example,
As shown in
Broad Scope of the Invention:
While illustrative embodiments of the invention have been described herein, the present invention is not limited to the various preferred embodiments described herein, but includes any and all embodiments having equivalent elements, modifications, omissions, combinations (e.g., of aspects across various embodiments), adaptations and/or alterations as would be appreciated by those in the art based on the present disclosure. The limitations in the claims are to be interpreted broadly based on the language employed in the claims and not limited to examples described in the present specification or during the prosecution of the application, which examples are to be construed as non-exclusive. For example, in the present disclosure, the term “preferably” is non-exclusive and means “preferably, but not limited to.” Means-plus-function or step-plus-function limitations will only be employed where for a specific claim limitation all of the following conditions are present in that limitation: a) “means for” or “step for” is expressly recited; b) a corresponding function is expressly recited; and c) structure, material or acts that support that structure are not recited.