US 20060144015 A1
A container guide for preventing bottles or other containers from overturning as the bottles are loaded into cartons includes guide bars mounted above a container conveyor and in parallel alignment with lane dividers for directing bottles from the container conveyor and into the cartons, which are conveyed on a carton conveyor. The guide bars support the upper portions of the bottles as the bottles cross a potentially uneven transition region extending between the two conveyors and beyond the extent of the lane dividers. Each guide bar has a guiding edge for supporting the upper portion of the bottles, which may be tapered or shouldered thereby requiring the guiding edge to be offset somewhat from the lane dividers. Each guide bar also has an outfeed end that is relatively thinner than its infeed end to facilitate the outfeed end clearing the upper edges of the end flaps of the cartons.
1. An article guide for preventing articles from overturning as said articles are loaded into a carton by a packaging machine, the packaging machine including a carton conveyor for conveying cartons along a carton path in a direction of machine flow, an article conveyor for transporting said articles along an article path, and at least one lane defined by a pair of lane dividers that are disposed above said article conveyor for directing said articles from said article conveyor toward said carton conveyor, the article guide comprising:
a guide bar mounted above said article conveyor, said guide bar comprising:
an outfeed end that extends at least partially across a transition region between an end of one of said lanes and an open end of one of said cartons, said outfeed end including a support surface that guides an upper portion of each of said articles as said article crosses over said transition region.
2. The article guide of
3. The article guide of
4. The article guide of
5. The article guide of
6. The article guide of
7. The article guide of
8. The article guide of
9. The packaging machine of
10. A packaging machine for loading articles into cartons, each carton having an open end, and each article having a base and a relatively smaller upper portion, comprising:
a carton conveyor for conveying cartons along a carton path in a direction of machine flow;
an article conveyor for transporting said articles along an article path;
at least one lane defined by a pair of lane dividers that are disposed above said article conveyor for directing said articles from said article conveyor toward said carton conveyor;
a transition region, comprising the area between an outfeed end of one of said pair of lane dividers and an adjacent edge of said open end of said carton; and
an article guide for supporting said upper portion of each article as said article moves at least partially across said transition region and toward one of said cartons conveyed on said carton conveyor, said article guide comprising:
a guide bar mounted above said article conveyor, said guide bar comprising an outfeed end that extends at least partially across said transition region, said outfeed end including a support surface that guides an upper portion of each of said articles as said article crosses over said transition region.
11. The packaging machine of
12. The packaging machine of
13. The packaging machine of
14. The packaging machine of
15. An article conveyor for transporting said articles along an article path, said article conveyor comprising:
a conveying surface;
at least one lane defined by a pair of lane dividers that are disposed over said conveying surface;
a transition region including the area between an outfeed end of one of said pair of lane dividers and the adjacent edge of said conveying surface; and
a guide bar mounted above said conveying surface, said guide bar comprising:
an outfeed end that extends beyond said outfeed end of said one of said pair of lane dividers and at least partially across said transition region, said outfeed end of said guide bar including a support surface that guides an upper portion of each of said articles as said article moves at least partially across said transition region.
This application claims the benefit of the filing of Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/640,364, entitled “Container Guide for Packaging Machine” and filed on Dec. 30, 2004, the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference.
This invention relates generally to machines for loading containers into cartons or other packages, and more particularly, to an article guide that prevents containers from overturning during the carton loading process.
Automatic packaging machines are commonly configured to rapidly load one or more lanes of cylindrical containers such as bottles, into cartons to facilitate distribution and ultimate use of the product within the containers. For example, certain packaging machines include article conveyors that convey bottles along multiple lanes in which the bottles are grouped according to the package configuration. Then the bottles are directed off of the article conveyor and into one or both ends of sleeve-type paperboard cartons. Such automatic packaging machines operate at high speeds to maximize the efficiency of the packaging operation. Furthermore, the bottles must be pushed into the carton with sufficient force to overcome the friction caused by the top and base of each bottle contacting the respective upper and lower inner surfaces of the carton, as only very small gaps therebetween can be tolerated to yield a snug package.
Unfortunately, propelling bottles forward at high speeds into a relatively snug carton yields an unacceptably high probability that bottles will frequently overturn. This is particularly the case when the bottles are inherently relatively unstable. For example, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles that commonly have petaloid bases, or bottles having a relatively high ratio of height to diameter, are inherently relatively unstable. Overturned bottles are costly in time and resources. The entire machine may have to be shut down to clear overturned bottles, packages may be improperly loaded or damaged, and bottles may rupture and spill their contents. Ruptured bottles often contain sugary beverages that are difficult to clean from the packaging machine components and surroundings.
Bottles frequently overturn at the critical transition region between the angled outfeed ends of lane dividers that guide the bottles along conveyor surface of an article conveyor and into the opening of a carton on a carton conveyor. Each bottle on the article conveyor surface is conveyed along an article path in the general direction of travel or machine flow of the product conveyor until the bottle reaches the angled lane dividers. The lane dividers are typically angled with respect to the direction of travel or machine flow of the continuously moving article conveyor to direct the bottles toward, and over, an edge of the article conveyor. The bottles move from the outfeed end of a lane, over a transition region, and into a carton. The transition region includes the area between the end of a lane and an adjacent open end of a carton. The carton typically moves on a carton conveyor at a comparable pace as the article conveyor. As grouper lugs on the product conveyor push each group of bottles forward, the angled lane dividers support and redirect the bottles off of the article conveyor and into the carton. In the transition region, each bottle travels beyond the extent of one or both of the adjacent lane dividers, which cannot extend across the transition region without interfering with the passage of the minor flaps of the cartons on the carton conveyor. As it crosses the transition region, each bottle is propelled by the force of other bottles, but is no longer guided on both sides by the adjacent lane dividers that define the lane. During this interval, maneuvering small gaps and differences in elevation between any of the conveyors, the carton surface, or the transition region can cause a bottle (such as the first bottle in the first row that is loaded into each carton) to overturn.
Previous attempts at addressing the problem of overturning bottles require tight tolerances or frequent adjustment and maintenance, as the attempts have focused on minimizing gaps and minimizing variations in elevation between the various conveyors, carton surfaces, and the transition region, or on stabilizing mechanisms such as brushes that apply pressure to top flaps or walls of the carton. These solutions, although time consuming and resource intensive, fail to eliminate the problem of bottles overturning.
Thus, there is a need for a solution that reduces the incidence of containers overturning in high-speed packaging machines.
The various embodiments of the present invention overcome the shortcomings of the prior art by providing a packaging machine that implements systems and methods for guiding a container or other article so as to prevent the container from overturning as the container is conveyed from an article conveyor and loaded into a carton or other package. The embodiments described illustrate the various features of an exemplary container guidance system that can be implemented in a packaging machine for loading containers into cartons or similar packages.
When erected, the exemplary carton comprises a top wall, a pair of opposed side walls connected to opposing side edges of the top wall, at least one end wall interconnecting the side walls, and a bottom wall interconnecting respective lower edges of the side walls and the end walls. During the container loading process, the carton may be partially erected such that at least one end of the carton is open.
Generally, a packaging machine equipped with the article guide of the present invention includes one or more substantially rigid guide bars that are each mounted above a lane. The lane guides products driven on the surface of and by an article conveyor. In the exemplary embodiments, at least a portion of the article conveyor is in parallel alignment with a carton conveyor, and both are simultaneously driven at substantially similar or complementary speeds. Each guide bar angles toward the carton conveyor, extends beyond the end of at least one of a pair of angled lane dividers that define the respective lane, and extends at least partially across a transition region. The transition region includes the area between the outfeed end of a lane and the open end of a carton on the carton conveyor. The transition region can be small or relatively expansive, depending primarily on the clearance required to prevent the lane dividers from striking the flaps of the cartons on the carton conveyor. In general, the transition region can be defined as the region in which an article leaving the product conveyor loses the support of one or both lane dividers that define the lane along which the article travels. The transition region may include, but is not limited to, a stationary component of the packaging machine that separates the product and carton conveyors, or may include a gap between the two conveyors.
According to an aspect of the invention, each guide bar can be mounted to a component of the packaging machine, such as a lane divider or an overhead boom structure. The mounting position of the guide bar is at least vertically adjustable to accommodate bottles of different heights. Each guide bar is substantially parallel to the angle of the lane dividers, and maybe offset somewhat such that at least one side of the guide bar is not in vertical alignment with any surface of any lane divider, to compensate for containers having caps with smaller diameters than their sides. This offset is not needed if the articles have constant diameters, e.g., beverage cans. Preferably, the guide bar is also horizontally adjustably mounted to facilitate adjustment of the offset distance to accommodate bottles having various diameters or widths. The infeed end of the guide bar can extend as far upstream, with respect to the flow of bottles, as necessary to provide convenient mounting at some point along its length to a fixed component. It is advantageous for at least a portion of the proximal edge of the infeed end of the container guide to be angled, tapered, and/or rounded to avoid obstructing incoming bottles.
According to another aspect of the invention, each guide bar is machined or otherwise shaped such that at least a portion of an edge of the guide bar provides a support surface that aligns closely with, and preferably matingly engages a surface of the upper portion of the bottle, such as the outer surface of a bottle cap. This portion of the guide bar is herein after referred to as the guiding edge. The guiding edge is parallel to the direction of travel of the bottle within the lane, and is preferably vertically positioned no higher than an upper edge of the carton. The guiding edge provides support to the upper portion of the bottle until the bottle has substantially crossed over the transition region and entered the carton, thereby countering the tendency of the bottle to overturn as it crosses the transition region.
According to another aspect of the invention, a distal edge of the outfeed end of the guide bar is positioned so as to vertically align with the top of the open end of each carton as the carton travels through the loading station, and can be angled to be parallel to the direction of machine flow of the carton conveyor.
According to another aspect of the invention, the guide bar also includes a leading edge opposite the guiding edge. The shape and configuration of the leading edge enables the guide to avoid interfering with the passage of the minor side flaps of the carton as the carton travels through the loading station. In certain embodiments, at least a portion of a leading edge of the guide bar is tapered proximal to the outfeed end of the guide bar, and relative to the guiding edge. In certain other embodiments, the guide bar is a thin (for example, about ¼ inch) polygonal, cylindrical, or tubular rod fashioned from material with sufficient strength to provide enough support to guide bottles into the carton. Examples of suitable materials for guide bars include stainless steel and other ferrous or non-ferrous alloys, or any other material having yield strength sufficient to resist deformation.
Yet another aspect of the invention provides means for each guide bar to dynamically adjust for guiding and supporting containers or other articles having varying heights, widths, and shapes. Examples of means for dynamically adjusting include spring-loaded or slotted mounting brackets that allow fluctuations in the elevation and angular orientation of the guide bar with respect to a horizontal plane defined by the container conveyor.
According to another aspect of the invention, the guide bars may be detachable, adjustable, or interchangeable to be compatible with various container and package types and configurations.
The foregoing has broadly outlined some of the aspects and features of the present invention, which should be construed to be merely illustrative of various potential applications of the invention. Other beneficial results can be obtained by applying the disclosed information in a different manner or by modifying the disclosed embodiments. Accordingly, other aspects and a more comprehensive understanding of the invention may be obtained by referring to the detailed description of the exemplary embodiments taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in addition to the scope of the invention defined by the claims.
As required, detailed embodiments of the present invention are disclosed herein. It will be understood that the disclosed embodiments are merely examples to illustrate aspects of the invention that may be embodied in various and alternative forms. The figures are not necessarily to scale, and some features may be exaggerated or minimized to show details of particular components. In other instances, well-known materials or methods have not been described in detail to avoid obscuring the present invention. Therefore, specific structural and functional details disclosed herein are not to be interpreted as limiting, but as a basis for the claims and for teaching one skilled in the art to variously employ the present invention.
Referring now to the drawings in which like numerals indicate like elements throughout the several views, the drawings illustrate certain of the various aspects of exemplary embodiments of an article guide according to the teachings of the present invention. In the embodiments described herein, the term “container” refers to any cylindrical article or receptacle having a circular, elliptical, or polygonal base with or without a tapered or relatively narrower upper portion, where the container is solid or encloses a liquid, semi-liquid, gaseous, or solid substance, such as a consumable product. The term “package” refers, for the non-limiting purpose of illustrating the various features of the invention, to a carton for enclosing, carrying, and dispensing articles such as beverage bottles. However, it is contemplated that any suitable package could be loaded via the systems and methods of the various embodiments of the invention.
The features and aspects of the systems and methods of the invention are described with reference to a carton 200 formed from a foldable sheet material such as paperboard, corrugated board, plastic, laminates, any combination thereof, or the like. To encourage an understanding of the various aspects of the invention, the construction of an exemplary carton will now be described in some detail. The foldable sheet material is typically provided as a unitary blank 100, the inside surface of which is shown in
To erect the carton 200 shown in
With regard to
An article conveyor 502 transports at least one container 504, in a direction of machine flow 506, along an article path and through a loading station. A portion of the loading station is represented by
The transition region includes the area between the outfeed end of a lane, defined by two parallel lane dividers 510, and the open end of a carton 200. More specifically, the transition region is the area in which one or both of the parallel lane dividers 510 ceases to support the container 504 as it moves toward and into a carton 200. The transition region may include a portion of the container conveyor 502 and, additionally, can encompass a stationary or mobile element that is disposed in a gap, of width W, between container conveyor 502 and carton conveyor 508. Alternatively, there may be no element other than the gap W, between the conveyors 502, 508.
In the exemplary embodiment, the transition region includes the upper surface of a bridge panel 514. Bridge panel 514, which is normally a dead plate, separates the moving parts of container conveyor 502 and carton conveyor 508. The bridge panel 514 provides an upper surface for supporting containers 504 as they slide into the carton 200. The bridge panel 514 may also position the end wall panel 124 a so that the distal end portion of the end wall panel 124 a is placed under the bridge panel 514 while each carton is moved through the loading station of the packaging machine.
One or more guide bars 300 are mounted or otherwise attached to stationary components in the loading station of the packaging machine. Any suitable stationary component may be utilized to support each guide bar 300 including, but not limited to, a lane divider 510 or an overhead boom (not shown). As can be seen in
As shown in
Upper end wall panel 122 a may be folded at least slightly upward by an upper end wall panel guide (not shown), thereby exposing the uppermost edges 808, 810 of end flaps 118 a/136 a and 120 a as the open ended cartons 200 move through the loading station. The leading edge 302 of guide bar 300 clears the uppermost edge 808 of end flap 120 a, containers 504 are pushed into the carton 200 guided by guiding edge 304, and then the leading edge 302 of the guide bar 300 clears the upper edge 810 (not shown) of end flap 118 a/136 a (not shown).
It will be appreciated that the size and shape of the guide bar 300 is preferably engineered to correspond to the respective shapes and amount of clearance between end flaps 118 a/136 a and 120 a and end wall panel 122 a, which in the nonlimiting exemplary embodiments shown, have angled upper edges 808, 810. The primary objectives are to provide a guide bar with an outfeed end portion that is shaped so as to easily clear carton end flaps while providing stability to the upper portions of containers flowing into the cartons. To that end, the guide bar can assume any shape that is suitable for the application, including but not limited to the shapes shown in
Furthermore, any number of guide bars may be required to accomplish the objective of preventing containers from overturning. For example, one or more guide bars may be provided for each lane, or a single guide bar may be sufficient to guide containers in multiple lanes.
The present invention has been illustrated in relation to particular embodiments which are intended in all respects to be illustrative rather than restrictive. Those skilled in the art will recognize that the present invention is capable of many modifications and variations without departing from the scope of the invention. For example, as used herein, directional references such as “top”, “base”, “bottom”, “end”, “side”, “inner”, “outer”, “upper”, “middle”, “lower”, “front” and “rear” do not limit the respective walls of the carton to such orientation, but merely serve to distinguish these walls from one another. Any reference to hinged connection should not be construed as necessarily referring to a junction including a single hinge only; indeed, it is envisaged that hinged connection can be formed from one or more potentially disparate means for hingedly connecting materials.
Those skilled in the art will also appreciate that the packaging machine described represents only one example of the various packaging machine types and configurations that will be suitable for implementation of the various embodiments of the invention. Each of the conveyors described with reference to the packaging machine can consist of a series or conveyors or other means for transporting articles or cartons from one location to another, with the speed and ultimate direction of flow of each conveyor being consistent with the synchronization and direction of machine flow. Accordingly, the scope of the present invention is described by the claims appended hereto and supported by the foregoing.