FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is directed to automatic packaging of articles, and more particularly, to an apparatus for orienting pills or capsules to be placed, for example, into blister packs.
Blister packages contain small articles, such as a pharmaceutical dosage form of medicinal products. These packages allow the user to access the product by applying pressure to the blister to force the product from an individual blister or capsule through a rupturable layer. Blister packs maintain an advantage over pill bottles in that with blister packs, when a single dose is needed, only the pill which is to be taken is disturbed. The remaining doses are maintained within their individual blisters and are not exposed to environmental factors.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Blister packs usually contain at least two layers: a clear plastic layer as a cover, and a foil layer as a barrier that together define an individual blister. In some instances, the foil layer is reinforced with a paper layer. The plastic cover layer usually defines cavities into which pills are maintained. These cavities are generally shaped similar to the shape of the pill (i.e. if the pill is oblong, the location is generally rectangular, if the pill is circular, the location is generally circular).
A method and an apparatus provide for orienting pills. According to an exemplary embodiment, the apparatus has a channel. The channel includes a smooth-walled twist portion which twists to rotate the pills as the pills move along the channel. In an exemplary embodiment, the smoothed-walled twist portion rotates the pills 90°.
According to another exemplary embodiment, a packaging apparatus is included for placing pills in a specific orientation into blister packs. The packaging apparatus includes an upper assembly portion having a hopper attached thereto and adapted to hold pills dispensed therein. A lower assembly portion is connected to the upper assembly portion and disposed at an angle to the upper assembly portion. A channel is formed in the upper assembly portion and the lower assembly portion. The channel includes a smooth-walled twist portion that twists 90° to rotate the pills 90° as the pills move from the upper assembly portion to the lower assembly portion. An impeller is disposed in the hopper of the upper assembly portion to urge the pills in the hopper into the channel of the upper assembly portion.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
A method is also contemplated for orienting pills to be placed into blister packs. The method includes inserting the pills into a smooth-walled channel defined by an upper assembly portion and rotating the pills 90° within the channel as the pills move from the upper assembly portion to a channel disposed in a lower assembly portion.
The invention is best understood from the following detailed description when read in connection with the accompanying drawing. It is emphasized that, according to common practice, the various features of the drawing are not to scale. On the contrary, the dimensions of the various features are arbitrarily expanded or reduced for clarity. Included in the drawing are the following figures:
FIG. 1 is an exploded perspective view of an exemplary packaging apparatus according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is an enlarged perspective view of an exemplary dispenser according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 3 is a partial cut-away enlarged perspective view of an orientation device according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 4A is a front perspective, detailed cut-away view of an orientation device shown in FIG. 3;
FIG. 4B is a rear perspective, detailed cut-away view of an orientation device shown in FIG. 3;
FIGS. 5A and 5B are partial cut-away perspective views of an exemplary smoothed-wall twist portion according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 6 is an exploded perspective view of an impeller according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 7 is an exploded perspective view of a circular member according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention.
Referring now to the drawing, in which like reference numbers refer to like elements throughout the various figures that comprise the drawing, FIG. 1 illustrates an exploded view of packaging apparatus 100. Packaging apparatus 100 includes collector 102 and slide 104 supported by frame 106, dispenser 200 including orientation device 300 (not shown), and conveyor 108 containing blister packages 110.
FIG. 2 is an enlarged perspective view of dispenser 200. Dispenser 200 includes hopper 202 mounted to upper assembly portion 204. Hopper 202 is defined by opposing walls 208 and 210 on the sides, and rear wall 212. Disposed opposite rear wall 212 is impeller 600. Connected to upper assembly portion 204 by angle portion 214 is lower assembly portion 206. At the upstream end, lower assembly portion 206 has orientation device 300 connected to angled portion 214. At the other end of lower assembly portion 206 is circular member 700 having locations 702 to hold pills or capsules. At the intersection of circular drum member 700 and lower assembly portion 206 is stop member 318. As shown in the embodiment of FIG. 2, upper assembly portion 204 is coupled with angled portion 214 and is separate from lower assembly portion 206 housing orientation device 300. Alternatively, upper assembly portion 204, angled portion 214, orientation device 300, and lower assembly portion 206 may be of unibody construction. That is, the upper assembly portion 204 and the lower assembly portion 206 may be combined into a single unit, together with angled portion 214 and orientation device 300.
FIG. 3 is an enlarged, partial cut-away perspective view of dispenser 200. Shown in FIG. 3, is the end of hopper 202 having impeller 600 having impeller blades 602. Hopper 202 sits atop upper assembly portion 204. Upper assembly portion 204 defines at least one channel. For example, as shown in an embodiment of the present invention in FIG. 3, upper assembly portion 204 defines eight (8) channels 304, of which three channels are exposed. Upper assembly portion 204 terminates at angled portion 214 and also has the same number of channels as upper assembly portion 204. Angled portion 214 creates an angle θ (reference numeral 312) with lower assembly portion 206. Angle θ 312 includes angles in the range of greater than 0° to 180°. For example, upper assembly portion 204 and lower assembly portion 206 may be disposed at a 90° angle with respect to one another or upper assembly portion 204 and lower assembly portion 206 may be disposed at a 180° angle, whereby upper assembly portion 204 and lower assembly portion 206 are substantially co-planar. Lower assembly portion 206 defines a corresponding number of channels 306 (not exposed) equal to the number of channels in angled portion 214 and upper assembly portion 204. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, lower assembly portion has eight (8) channels 306.
FIG. 3 shows orientation device 300 housed in lower assembly portion 206 adjacent angled portion 214. Orientation device 300 may be a incorporated into or a separate component form and housed by either lower assembly portion 206, upper assembly 204, or angled portion 214. For example, orientation device 300 may be a replaceable cassette that is specific to a particular size or shaped pill. In this manner, packaging apparatus 100 may be used to orient a variety of different sized and shaped pills by inserting the appropriate orientation cassette. According to an embodiment of the present invention, upper channels 304 above orientation device 300 have a width that is less than a width of lower channels 306 below the orientation device 300. According to another embodiment, upper channels 304 define an opening specific to a particular pill type and orientation that is different from lower channels 306. This feature is illustrated in more detail at FIGS. 4A and 4B.
Orientation device 300 is shown in more detail in the perspective views of FIGS. 4A and 4B. FIG. 4A is a detailed, perspective cut-away front view of orientation device 300. Orientation device 300 is defined by housing 408. The top portion of housing 408 has been removed to expose twist portions 406. Orientation device 300 houses a corresponding number of twist portions 406 as the number of upper and lower channels defined by upper assembly portion and lower assembly portion, respectively. FIGS. 4A and 4B show orientation device having eight (8) twist portions 406, however, any number of twist portions and channels may be used depending on the rows of pills or capsules to be placed into blister packages.
As illustrated in more detail in FIG. 4A, pills sliding through upper channels 304 are oriented in a direction. The pills from upper channels 304 pass into twist portions 406 of orientation device 300 at openings 404. As shown in the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 4A, twist portion 406 defines entrance opening 404, which has a particular shape. The particular shape of entrance openings 404 correspond to the orientation of the pills sliding through upper channels 304. As shown in the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 4A, entrance opening 404 has height 414 that is longer than its width 412.
FIG. 4B is a detailed, perspective cut-away rear view of orientation device 300. Exit opening 402 has height 416 that is shorter than its width 410. Comparing the shape of entrance opening 404 to that of exit opening 402, entrance opening 404 is rotated, for example, 90° from exit opening 402. In order for the pills to change their orientation from when they entered entrance opening 404 to when they exit opening 402, twist portion 406 includes a smooth-wall twist portion which twists, according to one exemplary embodiment, 90° to rotate the pills 90° as the pills move through smooth-walled twist portions 406 from entrance opening 404 to exit opening 402. Although FIGS. 4A and 4B show a particular pill shape and orientation, other shapes of entrance and exit openings may be employed depending on the shape of the pill or capsule to be placed into blister packages. The degree to which the orientation of the pill is changed as it travels through orientation device 300 may also be varied according to the size and shape of the pill.
FIGS. 5A and 5B show an enlarged cut-away perspective view of smooth-wall twist portion 406. As can be seen in more detail, twist portion 406 rotates 90° to rotate the pills 900 as the pills move from upper assembly portion 204 to the lower assembly portion 206 by way of upper and lower channels 304 and 306, respectively. As shown in the embodiment of FIG. 5A, smooth-wall twist portion 406 has entrance opening 404 having width 412 that is larger than width 410 of exit opening 402.
FIG. 6 is an exploded perspective view of impeller 600. Impeller 600 includes a plurality of blades 602 disposed at an angle and maintained by impeller rotator 604. Connected to each end of impeller rotator 604 are impeller rotator ends 606 maintained by fasteners 608.
FIG. 7 is an exploded perspective view of circular member 700. Circular member 700 includes a feeder drum 704 having locations 702. Circular member 700 rotates by means of O-rings 706, bearing 708, and bearing hub 710 secured by pin 712. The number of locations 702 disposed in a row on feeder drum 704 correspond to the number of cavities formed in blister packages 110 traveling along conveyor 108 shown in FIG. 1, which also correspond to the number of channels defined by upper and lower assembly portions.
Referring again to FIG. 1, pills that have a specific shape and a desirable placement orientation in blister packages are fed into collector 102. (Although the discussion herein refers to pills, any dosage having a form with a specific shape and desired placement orientation is contemplated.) From collector 102, pills are transported to dispenser 200. Specifically, the pills are transported into hopper 202 via slide 104. As shown in more detail in FIG. 2, hopper 202 maintains the pills until they are urged by impeller blades 602 into upper channels 304 of upper assembly portion 204. The shape of upper channels 304 are configured such that pills must have a first orientation position to enter upper channels 304. Pills traveling through upper channels 304 are passed through angle portion 214, shown in more detail in FIG. 3. As pills fall from angled portion 214, they enter orientation device 300. More specifically, the pills enter entrance opening 404 of smooth-wall twist portions 406, shown in FIG. 4A. Pills are then rotated 90° by smooth-wall twist portion 406 and exit opening 402 now configured in a second orientation position, shown by FIG. 4B. Referring again to FIG. 2, pills configured in the second orientation position travel through lower channels 306 of lower assembly portion 206 and engage stop member 318. Stop member 318 prevents pills from prematurely leaving lower channels 306 before they can be placed in locations 702 of circular member 700. As circular member 700 rotates, locations 702 align with lower channels 306 and pills fall from lower channels 306 into locations 702. Circular member 700 continues to rotate, maintaining the orientation of the pills while in locations 702, until pills are aligned with blister packaging 110 traveling along conveyor 108 as shown in FIG. 1. Pills are thus aligned by packaging apparatus 100.
The present invention also provides for a method of orienting pills to be placed into blister packs. The methods includes inserting pills into a smooth-walled channel defined by upper assembly portion 204. Once inserted, the pills are rotated 90° in twist portions 406 as the pills move from upper assembly portion 304 to lower assembly portion 306.
Although the invention is illustrated and described herein with reference to specific embodiments, the invention is not intended to be limited to the details shown. Rather, various modifications may be made in the details within the scope and range of equivalents of the claims and without departing from the invention.
While preferred embodiments of the invention have been shown and described herein, it will be understood that such embodiments are provided by way of example only. Numerous variations, changes and substitutions will occur to those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit of the invention. Accordingly, it is intended that the appended claims cover all such variations as fall within the spirit and scope of the invention.