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Publication numberUS20100139222 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 12/450,674
PCT numberPCT/US2008/004842
Publication dateJun 10, 2010
Filing dateApr 15, 2008
Priority dateApr 17, 2007
Also published asWO2008130536A2, WO2008130536A3
Publication number12450674, 450674, PCT/2008/4842, PCT/US/2008/004842, PCT/US/2008/04842, PCT/US/8/004842, PCT/US/8/04842, PCT/US2008/004842, PCT/US2008/04842, PCT/US2008004842, PCT/US200804842, PCT/US8/004842, PCT/US8/04842, PCT/US8004842, PCT/US804842, US 2010/0139222 A1, US 2010/139222 A1, US 20100139222 A1, US 20100139222A1, US 2010139222 A1, US 2010139222A1, US-A1-20100139222, US-A1-2010139222, US2010/0139222A1, US2010/139222A1, US20100139222 A1, US20100139222A1, US2010139222 A1, US2010139222A1
InventorsIngo Federle, Ben Brower, Peter Buczynsky
Original AssigneeMicron Pharmaworks, Inc.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Product filling system
US 20100139222 A1
Abstract
A product filling system (100) includes a first multi-lane conveyor (106) for receiving products and a second multi-lane conveyor (110) for receiving the products from the first multi-lane conveyor (106). The first multi-lane conveyor (106) and the second multi-lane conveyor (110) include a plurality of independently movable belts controlled by a controller (128). First and second camera systems (108, 112) inspect first and second portions of the products on the plurality of belts and judge whether each of the products is defective or not defective.
Images(10)
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Claims(29)
1. A product filling system comprising:
a controller;
a driving device coupled to the controller;
a multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of belts independently movable by the driving device, each of the plurality of belts including product storing means for storing a plurality of products; and
a camera system coupled to the controller, the camera system disposed in proximity to the plurality of belts to inspect each of the plurality of products,
wherein the controller is configured to control the driving device to independently move each of the plurality of belts.
2. The product filling system of claim 1, wherein the driving device includes a plurality of motors respectively coupled to the plurality of belts, wherein the controller is configured to activate or de-activate a particular one of the plurality of motors to independently move each of the plurality of belts.
3. The product filling system of claim 1, further comprising a vacuum pump coupled to the controller for maintaining the products on the belts of the multi-lane conveyor while the camera system performs the inspection, wherein the product storing means includes a plurality of apertures for receiving vacuum from the vacuum pump.
4. The product filling system of claim 3, further comprising:
a blow-off device for releasing the products from the plurality of belts; and
a counting sensor coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the plurality of belts for counting a number of the products released from the plurality of belts.
5. The product filling system of claim 4, further comprising a verification sensor coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to a rejection receptacle to verify release of the products by the blow-off device.
6. The product filling system of claim 1, further comprising:
another multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of primary feeding belts independently movable by the driving device, each of the plurality of primary feeding belts including a plurality of holders for storing the plurality of products; and
another camera system coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the plurality of primary feeding belts to inspect each of the plurality of products,
wherein the controller is configured to control the driving device to independently move each of the plurality of primary feeding belts.
7. The product filling system of claim 6, wherein the another camera system inspects a first portion of the plurality of products and the camera system inspects a second portion of the plurality of products.
8. The product filling system of claim 7, wherein the another camera system includes a plurality of first cameras disposed to inspect the first portion of the plurality of products in the holders of the plurality of primary feeding belts, and the camera system include a plurality of second cameras disposed to inspect the second portion of the plurality of products on the plurality of transfer belts, wherein the controller is configured to independently control movement of a particular one of the plurality of primary feeding belts and the plurality of transfer belts based upon an inspection performed by its respective one of the plurality of first cameras or the plurality of second cameras.
9. The product filling system of claim 7, wherein the camera system and the another camera system judge whether the product is defective or not defective and count the number of products judged to be defective and the number of products judged to not be defective, wherein the controller is configured to control the driving device to independently move each of the plurality of belts in accordance with the count performed by the camera system and the another camera system.
10. A product filling system comprising:
a primary feeding belt having holders for storing products in a state in which a first portion of the products faces in a first direction;
a first camera system configured to inspect the first portion of the products on the primary feeding belt;
a transfer belt for receiving the products from the primary feeding belt, the transfer belt including apertures for storing the products in a state in which a second portion of the products faces in a second direction;
a second camera system configured to inspect the second portion of the products on the transfer belt; and
a controller coupled to the first and second camera systems, the controller configured to independently control the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt.
11. The product filling system of claim 10, further comprising a vacuum pump for providing vacuum to the apertures to maintain the products on the transfer belt while the second camera system inspects the second portion.
12. The product filling system of claim 10, further comprising:
a counting sensor coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the transfer belt for counting a number of the products removed from the transfer belt,
wherein the controller is configured to independently control the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the count performed by the counting sensor.
13. The product filling system of claim 10, further comprising a rejection receptacle coupled to the transfer belt for receiving products based upon the inspection performed by one of the first and second camera systems.
14. The product filling system of claim 13, further comprising a verification sensor coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the rejection receptacle to verify reception of the products by the rejection receptacle, wherein the controller is configured to independently control the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the verification performed by the verification sensor.
15. The product filling system of claim 10, wherein the controller is configured to control movement of the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the inspection performed by the first camera system or the second camera system.
16. The product filling system of claim 10, wherein the first and second camera systems judge whether the product is defective or not defective and count the number of products judged to be defective and the number of products judged to not be defective, wherein the controller is configured to control movement of the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the inspection and the count performed by the first camera system or the second camera system.
17. A product filling system comprising:
a belt including storage means for storing the products in a state in which a portion of the products faces in a predetermined direction;
a camera system configured to inspect the portion of the products on the belt and to count the number of inspected products;
a counting sensor disposed in proximity to the belt for counting a number of the products released from the belt; and
a controller configured to control the belt based upon the counting performed by the counting sensor and the camera system.
18. The product filling system of claim 17, further comprising a rejection receptacle for receiving products based upon the inspection performed by the camera system.
19. The product filling system of claim 18, further comprising a verification sensor coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the rejection receptacle to verify reception of the products by the rejection receptacle, wherein the controller is further configured to control the belt based upon the verification performed by the verification sensor.
20. The product filling system of claim 17, further comprising a vacuum pump coupled to the controller for maintaining the products on the belt while the first camera system performs the inspection.
21. The product filling system of claim 17, wherein the controller is configured to control the belt based upon the inspection performed by the camera system.
22. A product filling system comprising:
a first multi-lane conveyor for receiving products, the first multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of independently movable primary feeding belts having holding devices for storing the products in a state in which a first portion of the products faces in a first direction;
a first camera system configured to inspect the first portion of the products on the plurality of primary feeding belts of the first multi-lane conveyor;
a second multi-lane conveyor for receiving the products from the first multi-lane conveyor, the second multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of independently movable transfer belts having apertures for storing the products in a state in which a second portion of the products faces in a second direction;
a second camera system configured to inspect the second portion of the products on the plurality of transfer belts of the second multi-lane conveyor; and
a controller configured to independently control each of the primary feeding belts and the transfer belts.
23. The product filling system of claim 22, wherein the first and second camera systems judge whether each of the products is defective or not defective.
24. The product filling system of claim 23, further comprising a rejection receptacle for receiving products judged to be defective by one of the first camera system and the second camera system.
25. The product filling system of claim 22, wherein the second camera system is further configured to count the products judged to be not defective for each of the transfer belts, and the controller is further configured to suspend movement of one of the transfer belts when the second camera system has counted a predetermined number of products judged to be not defective for the one of the transfer belts.
26. A method of inspecting products and distributing inspected products into containers, the method comprising:
distributing the products on a first multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of independently controlled primary feeding belts in a state in which a first portion of the products faces in a first direction;
inspecting the first portion of the products to judge if the products are defective or not defective;
distributing the products on a second multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of independently controlled transfer belts in a state in which a second portion of the products faces in a second direction;
inspecting the second portion of the products to judge if the products are defective or not defective; and
filling the containers with the products judged to be not defective based upon the inspecting of the first portion and based upon the inspecting of the second portion.
27. The method of claim 26, further comprising counting a number of the products judged to be defective or not defective.
28. The method of claim 27, depositing products judged to be defective in a rejection receptacle.
29. The method of claim 28, further comprising verifying that a number of the products deposited in the rejection receptacle is equal to the number of products judged to be defective.
Description
    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION
  • [0001]
    The present application is related to and claims priority from pending U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/907,789 filed Apr. 17, 2007.
  • TECHNICAL FIELD
  • [0002]
    The technical field relates generally to inspecting and distributing of pills, tablets, capsules, and the like, and, more particularly, to an apparatus and method for inspecting such pills, tablets, capsules, and the like and distributing into containers.
  • BACKGROUND
  • [0003]
    In the post-production stage of small objects such as tablets, pills, capsules, and the like, which will be referred to here collectively as products, it is necessary to inspect the products for defects, remove products judged as being defective, and accurately fill a container, package or the like with the products judged not to be defective. Inspection can be performed manually, but such an approach is not feasible for a production line that may be producing or packaging thousands of the products per hour.
  • [0004]
    An automated product filling system can be used to perform the above container filling or packaging. However, conventional product filling systems fail to achieve the level of inspection needed, and also fail to include necessary safeguards for ensuring that products judged as being defective are not inadvertently packaged or bottled and that an accurate number of non-defective products are being packaged or bottled.
  • [0005]
    Recently, automated product filling systems are being operated in multi-product environments in which various products are being distributed to containers on the same system. The system may need to distinguish between different products to ensure that a particular product is distributed into its designated container, particularly when the product is a tablet or pill for prescription medicine.
  • SUMMARY
  • [0006]
    Accordingly, one or more embodiments of the present invention provide a product filling system including a first multi-lane conveyor having a plurality of independently movable primary feeding belts with holding devices for storing the products in a state in which a first portion of the products faces in a first direction. A first camera system is configured to inspect the first portion of the products on the plurality of primary feeding belts. The system further includes a second multi-lane conveyor for receiving the products from the first multi-lane conveyor. The second multi-lane conveyor includes a plurality of independently movable transfer belts, each of which has apertures for storing the products in a state in which a second portion of the products faces in a second direction. A second camera system is configured to inspect the second portion of the products on the plurality of transfer belts of the second multi-lane conveyor. A controller is configured to independently control each of the primary feeding belts and the transfer belts.
  • [0007]
    The first and second camera systems judge whether each of the products is defective, not defective or missing. The system can include a rejection receptacle for receiving products judged to be defective by the first camera system and the second camera system.
  • [0008]
    The camera systems can be further configured to count the products judged to be not defective and the products judged to be defective, and the controller can be further configured to suspend movement of one of the transfer belts when a predetermined number of products judged to be not defective for the one of the transfer belts has been released into a container.
  • [0009]
    One or more embodiments of the present invention also provide a method of inspecting products and distributing the inspected products into containers. The method according to a first aspect includes distributing the products on a first multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of independently controlled primary feeding belts in a state in which a first portion of the products faces in a first direction; inspecting the first portion of the products to judge if the products are defective or not defective; distributing the products on a second multi-lane conveyor including a plurality of independently controlled transfer belts in a state in which a second portion of the products faces in a second direction; inspecting the second portion of the products to judge if the products are defective or not defective; and filling the containers with the products judged to be not defective based upon the inspecting of the first portion and based upon the inspecting of the second portion.
  • [0010]
    The method according to a second aspect further includes counting a number of the products judged to be defective or not defective.
  • [0011]
    The method according to a third aspect further includes depositing products judged to be defective in a rejection receptacle and verifying that a number of the products deposited in the rejection receptacle is equal to the number of products judged to be defective.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0012]
    The accompanying figures, which together with the detailed description below are incorporated in and form part of the specification, serve to further illustrate various exemplary embodiments and to explain various principles and advantages in accordance with the present invention.
  • [0013]
    FIG. 1A is a front perspective view of a product filling system according to an exemplary embodiment;
  • [0014]
    FIG. 1B is rear perspective view of the product filling system;
  • [0015]
    FIG. 1C is a left side elevation view of the product filling system;
  • [0016]
    FIG. 1D is a top plan view of the product filling system;
  • [0017]
    FIG. 1E is a right side elevation view of the product filling system;
  • [0018]
    FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the product filling system according to the exemplary embodiment;
  • [0019]
    FIG. 3 is a flow diagram illustrating an exemplary method of operating the product filling system;
  • [0020]
    FIG. 4A is an exemplary top plan view of the junction between the first and second multi-lane conveyers; and
  • [0021]
    FIG. 4B is an exemplary bottom plan view of the junction between the first and second multi-lane conveyers.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • [0022]
    The instant disclosure is provided to further explain in an enabling fashion the best modes of performing one or more embodiments of the present invention. The disclosure is further offered to enhance an understanding and appreciation for the inventive principles and advantages thereof, rather than to limit in any manner the invention. The invention is defined solely by the appended claims including any amendments made during the pendency of this application and all equivalents of those claims as issued.
  • [0023]
    It is further understood that the use of relational terms such as first and second, and the like, if any, are used solely to distinguish one from another entity, item, or action without necessarily requiring or implying any actual such relationship or order between such entities, items or actions. It is noted that some embodiments may include a plurality of processes or steps, which can be performed in any order, unless expressly and necessarily limited to a particular order; i.e., processes or steps that are not so limited may be performed in any order.
  • [0024]
    Referring to FIGS. 1A-1E, a product filling system 100 for sorting, inspecting and filling small objects such as tablets, pills, capsules, and the like, which will be referred to here collectively as products, into containers according to an exemplary embodiment will be discussed. Although not shown here, the product filling system 100 can be mounted to or integrated within a mono-block bottle handling system.
  • [0025]
    The product filling system 100 includes a bulk hopper 102 for feeding or filling the products into a flood feeder 104, a first multi-lane (inspection) conveyor 106 for receiving the products from the flood feeder 104, a first camera system 108 for inspecting the products on the first multi-lane conveyor 106, a second multi-lane (pickup) conveyor 110 for receiving the products from the first multi-lane conveyor 106, a second camera system 112 for inspecting the products on the second multi-lane conveyor 110, a rejection receptacle 114 for receiving products judged to be defective, and stationary funnels 116 for receiving products judged not to be defective, counting the products and distributing (or dispensing) the products to containers 118. The above portions of the product filling system 100 will be discussed more fully below.
  • [0026]
    The bulk hopper 102 includes a product hopper 120 for receiving the products from a source, and a vibratory feeder 124 for feeding the products into the flood feeder 104. The vibratory feeder 124 can be coupled to a capacitive proximity sensor mounted on the flood feeder 104 to feed the products into the flood feeder 104 on demand. The flood feeder 104 is for placing the products onto the first multi-lane conveyer 106. The flood feeder 104 can be, for example, a three stage flood feed, including three independent brushes and three independent stirring heads.
  • [0027]
    The first multi-lane conveyor 106 includes a plurality of belts 106 a-106 e as shown in FIGS. 1B and 1D, which will be referred to here as primary feeding belts. The primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e can be, for example, timing type belts, including fixtures or holding devices 402 (see FIGS. 4A-4B) attached thereto (product storing means). Generally, the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e are configured to receive the products from the flood feeder 104 and securely store and transport the products in the holding devices 402 in a state in which a first portion of the products faces upwards or generally in a first direction. The product can remain in the holding devices 402 by force of gravity or by receiving vacuum from a vacuum pump (not shown). The holding devices 402 can include machined pockets which accommodate and transport the product. Although in this example five primary feeding belts 106 a-106e are shown, it should be appreciated that the product filling system 100 is not limited to this number of feeding belts. For example, the system 100 could include as few as one primary feeding belt. 100281 The first multi-lane conveyor 106 can also include dead plates (not shown) located between adjacent belts in order to fill the gaps between the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e. The dead plates can be composed of, for example, Delrin, and can be formed to be slightly chamfered in order to force products toward the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e.
  • [0028]
    A driving device 126 is coupled to the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e for independently moving each of the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e based upon control signals received from a controller 128 (see FIG. 2). In this exemplary embodiment, the driving device 126 includes a plurality of servo-motors 126 a-126 e mechanically coupled to the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e, respectively. The controller 128 can activate or de-activate a particular one of the servo-motors 126 a-126 e to move or stop movement of a respective one of the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e. Although in this example the servo-motors 126 a-126 e are shown coupled to the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e at a bottom side of the system 100, it should be appreciated that the product filling system 100 is not limited to this particular configuration. For example, the system 100 could include motors inside the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 b.
  • [0029]
    The first camera system 108 is located in proximity to the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e to inspect each of the plurality of products in the holders. Preferably, the first camera system 108 is disposed above the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e for inspecting a first portion, such as a top side, of the products. The first camera system 108 is configured to inspect the products on each primary feeding belt 106 a-106 e independently. Inspecting of the products can include, for example, an evaluation of the color and shape of the product, a determination of whether a product is present, and/or a determination of whether the product is broken or chipped. The evaluation can be used to distinguish the product from, for example, a different product that may have been earlier or is simultaneously being distributed within the system 100 to designated containers. The first camera system 108 can be, for example, a scanware Lynx-Spectra system for performing full color inspection or a scanware Lynx-11 system for performing black and white inspection. Further, the first camera system 108 can include separate first cameras (see FIG. 2) respectively disposed above the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e as well as a single camera for all or some of the belts 106 a-106 e.
  • [0030]
    The first camera system 108 can further be configured to count the number of products judged to be defective and the number of products judged to not be defective. Alternatively, a separate count sensor can be located near the first camera system 108 to perform the counting. The first camera system 108 (or the separate counter sensor) preferably sends data regarding the count and the inspection to a memory associated with the controller 128 so that it can independently control the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e based upon the data. The driving device 126 can move all of the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e to start a feed cycle together, but some belts may be stopped by the controller 128 before others as each belt reaches a correct product count.
  • [0031]
    As shown in FIG. 1D, the second multi-lane conveyor 110 also includes a plurality of belts 110 a-110 e, which will be referred to here as transfer belts. The transfer belts 110 a-110 e can be, for example, urethane based belts that are machined to a specific format to have apertures 406 (see FIGS. 4A-4B) or cavities (product storing means) for accommodating the products. The transfer belts 110 a-110 e are mechanically and electrically aligned with the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e and synchronized with the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e so that the products can be smoothly transferred from the holding devices 402 to apertures 406 of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e. Particularly, the timing of the movement of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e and the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e should be sufficiently synchronized so that a product in one of the holding devices arrives at an aperture of the transfer belt 110. Although in this example five transfer belts 110 a-110 e are shown, it should be appreciated that the product filling system 100 is not limited to this number.
  • [0032]
    A driving device 130 is coupled to the transfer belts 110 a-110 e for independently moving each of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e based upon control signals received from the controller 128. In this exemplary embodiment, the driving device 130 includes a plurality of servo-motors 130 a-130 e coupled respectively to the transfer belts 110 a-110 e. The controller 128 can activate or de-activate a particular one of the servo-motors 130 a-130 e to move or stop movement of a respective one of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e.
  • [0033]
    The transfer belts 110 a-110 e can be coupled to a vacuum pump 202 (see FIG. 2) so that the products can be stored on the transfer belts 110 a-110 e in a state in which the products face downwards. That is, the vacuum pump 202 maintains the products in or on the apertures 406 of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e. A defective product removal device such as, for example, a blow off device 204 (see FIG. 2), can be disposed in proximity to the transfer belts 110 a-110 e for removing products judged to be defective. The pneumatic blow off device 202 can be controlled by the same controller 128 that controls the servo-motors 130 a-130 e. The blow off device 202 can be activated by the controller 128 electronically (via control signals) or mechanically via mechanical coupling with, for example, the driving device 130. The blow off device 202 can be a pneumatic blow off device 202. Alternatively, defective product removal device can be an electro-mechanical strip-off device.
  • [0034]
    The second camera system 112 is disposed below the second multi-lane conveyor 110 for inspection of a second portion, such as a bottom side, of the products. The second camera system 112 can also be configured to count and inspect the products on each transfer belt independently, and to adjust the count when it judges a product judged to not be defective by the first camera as defective. Similarly to the first camera system 108, the second camera system 112 can also be a Scanware Lynx-Spectra system or scanware Lynx-11 system and can include separate cameras respectively disposed below the transfer belts 110 a-110 e.
  • [0035]
    The rejection receptacle 114 is disposed below the second multi-lane conveyor 110 for receiving products judged to be defective by either the first camera system 108 or second camera system 112. The rejection receptacle 114 can include a verification sensor 206 (see FIG. 2) coupled to the controller 128 to verify that products judged as defective were actually received by the rejection receptacle 114. The controller 128 can be configured to independently control the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e and the transfer belts 110 a-110 e based upon the verification performed by the verification sensor 206.
  • [0036]
    The stationary funnels 116 are for receiving products judged not to be defective by the first camera system 108 and second camera system 112 from the transfer belts 110 a-110 e of the second multi-lane conveyor 110. A beam sensor 208 (see FIG. 2) can be disposed above the stationary funnels 112 to verify that the products actually passed into the funnels 116 and to verify the product count. The stationary funnels 116 can distribute the products to containers 118 disposed below the stationary funnels 116. The controller 128 can be configured to independently control the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e and the transfer belts 110 a-110 e based upon the verification performed by the beam sensor 208. For example, when a container 118 at a particular transfer belt receives a predetermined number of the product, that particular transfer belt can be stopped, while transfer belts of containers which have not yet received the predetermined number of the products continue to be moved. It should be noted that the stationary funnels 116 are optional.
  • [0037]
    The product filling system 100 will now be discussed with reference to the block diagram of FIG. 2. The system 100 can include one or more motion controllers 210 coupled between the controller 128 and the drive devices 126, 130 to perform independent control of the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e of the first multi-lane conveyor 106 and the transfer belts 110 a-110 e of the second multi-lane conveyor 110. The motion controller 210 can be, for example, an Allen Bradley servo drive or equivalent device. The motion controllers 210 and the motors 126, 130 can all be considered a drive device.
  • [0038]
    The controller 128 is also coupled to bottom side and top side inspection vision system controllers 212, 214 for performing control and collecting data from the individual cameras of the first and second cameras systems 108, 112. The inspection vision system controllers 212, 214 can be a PC/frame grabber combination with vision software.
  • [0039]
    The controller 128 is also coupled to the flood feeder 104 to control the feeding of the products onto the first multi-lane conveyer 106. For example, the controller 128 can control the brushes and stirring heads of the flood feeder 104.
  • [0040]
    The controller 128 is also coupled to the reject verification sensor 206 and the fill/count verification sensor 208. As discussed above, the verification sensor 206 verifies that products judged as defective were actually received by the rejection receptacle 114. A number of the verification sensors 206 can be respectively disposed between each of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e and the rejection receptacle 114 to perform independent verification for each lane. Similarly, a number of the beam sensors 208 can be respectively disposed between each of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e and the containers 118 to perform independent verification that products were deposited in a container for each lane.
  • [0041]
    The controller 128 can also be coupled to an operator interface/human machine interface (HMI) 216 so that a user can view the data collected by the various sensors and cameras, and perform manual control of, for example, the drive device (motion controllers 210 and the motors 126, 130) or the vacuum pump 202.
  • [0042]
    The controller 128 executes instructions stored in an associated memory to control the belts based upon, for example, data from the first and second camera systems 108, 112, data from the beam or verification sensors, or control instructions received from the operator interface 210. For example, the controller 128 can control the transfer belts 110 a-110 e so that movement of one of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e is suspended when the second camera system 112 has counted a predetermined number of products judged to be not defective for the one of the transfer belts 110 a-110 e. Particularly, when a particular container at the transfer belt receives a predetermined number of the products, or is ‘full’, the controller 128 can stop movement of that particular transfer belt. In another example, if the verification sensor 206 cannot verify that a defective product was received by the rejection receptacle 114, the controller 128 can stop the system 100 and operation can be suspended until reset by authorized personnel to thereby prevent defective products from entering the containers.
  • [0043]
    The controller 128 can be coupled to the various components by, for example, a bus or other conventional means. Each of the first and second cameras 108, 112 and various sensors can be configured to output data such as inspection results and counting data to the associated memory. The controller 128 can include various logical elements such as a shift register and flags for storing the various results such as count and inspection data to create a virtual representation of the products on the conveyors.
  • [0044]
    Referring to FIG. 3, an exemplary method of operating the product filling system 100 will be discussed in which tablets as the product are inspected. Initially, at 305, the tablets are inserted into the product hopper 120 in bulk. The vibratory feeder 124 coupled to the product hopper 120 feeds the tablets into the flood feeder 104. At 310, the flood feeder 104 distributes the tablets onto the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e of the first multi-lane conveyor 106. The flood feeder 104 aids in filling as many of the holders 406 of the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e as possible. The tablets are stored in the holders 406 on the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e in a state in which a first portion of the tablets faces in a first direction. That is, the tablets are stored in the holders or fixtures of the primary feeding belts facing upwards.
  • [0045]
    At 315, the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e are driven by the servomotors 126 a-126 e or other type of motor so that the tablets pass under the first camera system 108 for inspecting a first portion such as the top side of the tablets. The first camera system 108 judges whether the first portion of the tablets is defective, non-defective or missing, and counts each defective or non-defective tablet.
  • [0046]
    After the inspection, at 320 the tablets are transferred from the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e of the first multi-lane conveyor 106 to the transfer belts 110 a-110 e of the second conveyor 110. Here, the vacuum pump 202 can pick up the tablets from the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e and maintain the tablets suspended on the transfer belts 110 a-110 e in a state in which a second portion of the tablets faces in a second direction (facing downwards).
  • [0047]
    At 325, the second camera 108 can inspect the second portion (reverse side) of the tablets while they are suspended on the transfer belts 110 a-110 e. The second camera 108 also counts each tablet after inspection.
  • [0048]
    At 330, it is determined if the tablet is defective based upon the inspection performed by the first and second cameras 108, 114. If a tablet is judged to be defective (YES at 330), at 340 it is released from the transfer belt into a particular one of the rejection receptacles 114. Here, the blow off device 204 can remove the tablet judged to be defective to be deposited in the rejection receptacle 114. At 345, the reject verification sensors 206 in the rejection receptacles 114 verify that the tablet judged to be defective is actually deposited into the rejection receptacle 114. If the sensors 206 cannot verify that the tablet was deposited into the rejection receptacle (NO at 345), the product filling system 100 can be shutdown at 350
  • [0049]
    Returning to 330, if a tablet is determined not to be defective (NO at 330), at 335 it is decoupled from the transfer belts so that it is deposited into one of the containers 118 via the stationary funnels 116. At 355, the fill/count verification sensors 208 disposed in the stationary funnels 116 count the number of tablets inserted into respective funnels. For example, when the count is greater than a predetermined number of tablets (NO at 350), the product filling system 100 can be temporarily shutdown at 355 so that a container can be removed, or a container can be maintained at a particular transfer belt longer than containers at adjacent belts in order to continue to add more tablets. Otherwise, each of the transfer belts 116 a-116 e continue to be driven by the motors 130 until a predetermined number of the tablets are counted and inserted into a respective funnel at the end of the transfer belts.
  • [0050]
    Returning to 330, the determination of whether a tablet is defective can be done based upon parameters input to the controller 128 by a user at the operator interface 210. For example, a tablet may be judged to be defective if both or one of the sides of the tablet do not conform to a certain shape or color. That is, a product may be judged to be defective not due to a manufacturer error, but because it is not the product intended for a particular container. For example, if the system 100 was used to inspect and distribute a first type of tablets for a certain prescription medicine at a first time period, there is a chance that the first type of tablets may remain in the system 100 even when it is being used at a later time to inspect and distribute a second type of tablets. In this case, the camera systems 108, 112 can be configured to recognize the first type of tablets so that it is immediately judged as defective when the system 100 is being used to inspect and distribute the second type of tablets. In another example, the system 100 can be used to recognize tablets that are defective due to a manufacturer error.
  • [0051]
    Referring to FIGS. 4A-4B the junction between the first and second multi-lane conveyers 106, 112 will be discussed in more detail. The holders 402 of the primary feeding belts 106 a-106 e store the tablets 404 in a state in which a top (first) portion of the products faces upwards (in a first direction). When the holders 402 arrive under the transfer belts 110 a-110 e, the vacuum pump 202 (FIG. 2) draws the tablets 404 from the holders 406 to the apertures 406 of the transfer belts 106 a-106 e. That is, the vacuum pump 202 can apply vacuum to the apertures 406 so that the tablets 404 are stored on the transfer belts 110 a-110 e in a state in which a bottom (second) portion of the products faces downwards (in a second direction) as shown in FIG. 4B.
  • [0052]
    Therefore, the present disclosure concerns a product filling system 100 comprising: a controller 128; a driving device 126, 130 coupled to the controller 128; a multi-lane conveyor 110 including a plurality of belts independently movable by the driving device, each of the plurality of belts including product storing means 406 for storing a plurality of products 404; and a camera system 214 coupled to the controller 128 and disposed in proximity to the plurality of belts to inspect each of the plurality of products, wherein the controller 128 is configured to control the driving device 126, 130 to independently move each of the plurality of belts.
  • [0053]
    The driving device 126, 130 can include a plurality of motors 130 respectively coupled to the plurality of belts, and the controller 128 can be configured to activate or de-activate a particular one of the plurality of motors to achieve independent motion.
  • [0054]
    A vacuum pump 202 can be coupled to the controller 128 for maintaining the products on the belts of the multi-lane conveyor while the camera system 214 performs the inspection. The product storing means 406 is preferably a plurality of apertures 405 for receiving vacuum from the vacuum pump 202.
  • [0055]
    A blow-off device 204 can release the products from the plurality of belts; and a counting sensor such as the verification sensor 208 or the reject verification sensor 206 is coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the plurality of belts for counts a number of the products released from the plurality of belts.
  • [0056]
    The product filling system can include another multi-lane conveyor 106 including a plurality of primary feeding belts independently movable by the driving device 126, 210, each of the plurality of primary feeding belts including a plurality of holders 402 for storing the plurality of products; and another camera system 108 coupled to the controller 128 and disposed in proximity to the plurality of primary feeding belts to inspect each of the plurality of products. The controller 128 can be configured to control the driving device 126, 210 to independently move each of the plurality of primary feeding belts.
  • [0057]
    The another camera system 108 inspects a first portion of the plurality of products and the camera system 112 inspects a second portion of the plurality of products. The another camera system 108 can include a plurality of first cameras disposed to inspect the first portion of the products in the holders of the plurality of primary feeding belts, and the camera system 112 include a plurality of second cameras disposed to inspect the second portion of the products on the plurality of transfer belts. The controller can be configured to independently control movement of a particular one of the plurality of primary feeding belts and the plurality of transfer belts based upon an inspection performed by its respective first camera or second camera.
  • [0058]
    The camera systems 108, 112 judge whether the product is defective or not defective and count the number of products judged to be defective and the number of products judged to not be defective. The controller 128 is configured to control the driving device 126, 210 to independently move each of the plurality of belts in accordance with the count performed by the camera system and the another camera system.
  • [0059]
    That is, although the system 100 shown in FIG. 1A has two multi-lane conveyors, the system 100 could alternatively have a single multi-lane conveyor. For example, the system 100 could only include the second multi-lane conveyor 110.
  • [0060]
    The disclosure also concerns a product filling system 100 comprising: a primary feeding belt 106 a-106 e having holders 402 for storing products in a state in which a first portion of the products faces in a first direction; a first camera system 108 configured to inspect the first portion of the products on the primary feeding belt; a transfer belt 110 a-110 e for receiving the products from the primary feeding belt, the transfer belt including apertures 406 for storing the products in a state in which a second portion of the products faces in a second direction; a second camera system 112 configured to inspect the second portion of the products on the transfer belt 110 a-110 e; and a controller 128 coupled to the first and second camera systems 108, 112, the controller 128 configured to independently control the primary feeding belt 106 a-106 e and the transfer belt 110 a-110 e.
  • [0061]
    The system 100 can include a vacuum pump 202 for providing vacuum to the apertures 406 to maintain the products on the transfer belt while the second camera system inspects the second portion. A counting sensor 208 coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the transfer belt counts a number of the products removed from the transfer belt, and the controller can be configured to independently control the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the count performed by the counting sensor 208.
  • [0062]
    A rejection receptacle 114 coupled to the transfer belt receives products based upon the inspection performed by one of the first and second camera systems, and a verification sensor 206 coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the rejection receptacle verifies reception of the products by the rejection receptacle. The controller 128 can be configured to independently control the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the verification performed by the verification sensor.
  • [0063]
    The controller can be configured to control movement of the primary feeding belt and the transfer belt based upon the inspection performed by the first camera system or the second camera system, particularly whether the product is defective or not defective and count the number of products judged to be defective and the number of products judged to not be defective.
  • [0064]
    That is, although the system 100 shown in FIG. 1A has two multi-lane conveyors which each include multiple belts, the system 100 could alternatively have two multi-lane conveyors which each include only a single belt.
  • [0065]
    The disclosure also concerns a product filling system 100 comprising a belt including storage means for storing the products in a state in which a portion of the products faces in a predetermined direction; a camera system configured to inspect the portion of the products on the belt and to count the number of inspected products; a counting sensor disposed in proximity to the belt for counting a number of the products released from the belt; and a controller configured to control the belt based upon the counting performed by the counting sensor and the camera system.
  • [0066]
    A rejection receptacle receives products based upon the inspection performed by the camera system and a verification sensor coupled to the controller and disposed in proximity to the rejection receptacle to verify reception of the products by the rejection receptacle. The controller is further configured to control the belt based upon the verification performed by the verification sensor. A vacuum pump coupled to the controller for maintaining the products on the belt while the first camera system performs the inspection, and the controller is configured to control the belt based upon the inspection performed by the camera system.
  • [0067]
    That is, although the system 100 shown in FIG. 1A has two multi-lane conveyors which each include multiple belts, the system 100 could alternatively have a single multi-lane conveyor multi-lane conveyors which includes only a single belt.
  • [0068]
    This disclosure is intended to explain how to fashion and use various embodiments in accordance with the invention rather than to limit the true, intended, and fair scope and spirit thereof. The invention is defined solely by the appended claims, as they may be amended during the pendency of this application for patent, and all equivalents thereof. The foregoing description is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise form disclosed. Modifications or variations are possible in light of the above teachings. The embodiment(s) was chosen and described to provide the best illustration of the principles of the invention and its practical application, and to enable one of ordinary skill in the art to utilize the invention in various embodiments and with various modifications as are suited to the particular use contemplated. All such modifications and variations are within the scope of the invention as determined by the appended claims, as may be amended during the pendency of this application for patent, and all equivalents thereof, when interpreted in accordance with the breadth to which they are fairly, legally, and equitably entitled.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification53/474, 53/266.1
International ClassificationB67D7/22, B65B5/08
Cooperative ClassificationB65B57/20, B65B57/14
European ClassificationB65B57/14, B65B57/20
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Oct 6, 2009ASAssignment
Owner name: MICRON PHARMAWORKS, INC.,FLORIDA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:FEDERLE, INGO;BROWER, BEN;BUCZYNSKY, PETER;REEL/FRAME:023363/0859
Effective date: 20090928