US 3587856 A
Description (OCR text may contain errors)
United States Patent  Inventor Jerome H. lemelson Primary Examiner- Richard A. Schacher 85 Rector St., Metuchen, 3.108840  Appl. No. 665.526
gg 8-7 ABSTRACT: An apparatus and method for coding and distributing articles such as mail pieces is provided which is subject to semiautomatic or automatic operation. In one form of  CODING AND ROUTING APPARATUS AND the invention, flat articles such as envelopes and cards are fed, METHOD one at a time by selection means, from a supply or stack [8 Claims, 7 Drawing Figs thereof, to a reading station. An operator, after reading the identification means such as the address on the face of each 521 U.S. Cl 209/1ii.7, card or envelope, operates a bank of pushbumn Switches or 1 250/219 340/!74' l 346/74 other means for applying a destination code to an edge area of [5 I] Int. Cl ..B07C 5/342, the ma piece The apparatus may 1 include means f 5/344 plying erasable recording material such as magnetic recording  Fleld of Search 209/72 material as a tape or m to a predetermined area of each n (MSD)' 111:, ll3i235/(1nqu1red);340/1741 piece either with the code defining the mail piece or its (G); ws/(lnqmred)? 97/53; 346/74 (MP); destination recorded on said applied material or to be 7 250/223 219 (Doc) recorded thereon after it is applied.
In another system, al hanumeric characters rinted on the  References cued face of the mail piece of a label applied thereto are automati- UNITED STATES PATENTS cally read by a document character scanner which provides a 2,609,928 9/1952 Doust 209/72(MSD) code output signal which is used to modulate a means for 2, 12/1954 51am 2 recording characters or codes along a predetermined band 2,891,467 6/1959 Keilig 209/72(MSD) area ofthe mail piece. 3,040,323 6/1962 Brenner.... 209/1 1 1.8X The apparatus also includes improvements in the structures 3,1 52.256 1 /1 64 Z 209/111.7X of the conveying, scanning and coding equipment utilized 3,295,652 l/1967 Sasaki 197/53 therein. 3,309,711 3/1967 Sorrells 209/72(MSD) Means for modifying the apparatus for coding and scanning 3,368,672 2/1968 Heaney 209/1 1 1.8 packages other than flat envelopes or cards are also provided.
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CODING AND ROUTING APPARATUS AND METHOD A number of methods are known for the scanning and sort ing of cards and pieces of mail for filing or distributing same and retrieving a selected unit. It is known, for example, to punch holes in a card and to drive said card through a scanning device including electrical contact or optical scanning means which is operative to generate one or more codes indicative of the identification of the card. Such punchings or cutouts are generally provided longitudinally along the face of the card and suffer a number of shortcomings. It is obvious that cutouts cannot be utilized for the coding or sorting of envelopes such as mail. Such coding and sorting is generally effected by printing alpha numeric characters or a train of numbers which are electrooptically scanned by a device reading the face of the envelope. In the latter arrangement, various shortcomings are also experienced, one of which includes the necessity of separating stacked envelopes and properly disposing same with respect to the reading device which generally comprises one or more banks of photomultiplier tubes or reading heads. Unless all characters are predeterminedly positioned on the face of the envelope, a condition which is generally very difficult to attain in an automatic sorting system applied to mail and the like, the reading device requires a relatively complex means for aligning its optical system or the envelope so as to permit reading the proper line of characters while ignoring other characters associated with other information on the face of the envelope. Another shortcoming includes, in addition to separating envelopes from a stack thereof, various problems involved in reading envelopes of different sizes, positioning envelopes so that the information-bearing face is in the direction of the electro-optical scanning means, and assuring that the envelope is in the proper attitude where typewritten characters are to be read.
Furthermore, conventional electrooptical character-reading equipment is relatively complex and quite expensive to manufacture and use as it requires very sophisticated electrical logic circuitry.
It is, accordingly, a primary object of this invention to provide a new and improved record-scanning system of simple structure and operation.
Another object is to provide a coding, sorting and scanning system applicable for the automatic distribution of record cards, pieces ofmail and the like.
Another object is to provide an improved system for scanning and coding oblong, flat objects such as envelopes and cards which system operates by coding and scanning an area along the edge or edge border of each member which may be easily positioned to effect the scanning of said area without the need for relatively complex conveying and scanning apparatus,
Another object is to provide a new and improved apparatus for scanning coded cards and envelopes which is relatively inexpensive and simple to operate.
Another object is to provide a cardand envelope-scanning apparatus which does not require complex means for locating identifying codes and may be operated without the use of complex logic circuitry for determining said codes.
Another object is to provide an improved system for coding and sorting mail which is relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated.
Another object is to provide an improved method and apparatus for coding pieces of mail, such as envelopes and cards, by employing the force of gravity to align the lower edge of said mail with a coding means and also utilizing gravity for alignment during reading, thereby eliminating a substantial amount of equipment ordinarily needed for providing coded characters on the face of an envelope and thereafter aligning said envelope characters with a reading device,
Another object is to provide a new and improved apparatus and method for coding and routing packages, pallets and other objects having an alignable straight edge portion.
Another object is to provide an improved routing apparatus for articles such as mail pieces including means for applying coding or recording means for coding in the form ofa coating, film or tape such as magnetic recording material.
Another object is to provide improved rotary means for applying variable series codes to stationary articles or articles moving therepast.
Another object is to provide a method and apparatus for coding articles in a manner to permit simple reading of the applied codes by spray application of coding or codable material on predetermined areas ofsaid articles.
Another object is to provide a method and apparatus for coding and identifying articles by recording codes on said articles with a modulated intense radiation beam such as a light beam generated by a laser operative to discolor or burn codes in the surface strata of the articles.
With the above and such other objects may hereinafter more fully appear, the invention consists of the novel constructions, combinations and arrangements of parts as will be more fully described and illustrated in the accompanying drawings, but it is to be understood that changes, variations and modifications may be resorted to which fall within the scope ofthe invention as claimed.
IN THE DRAWINGS FIG. I is a schematic diagram illustrating an article coding, reading and routing system which is particularly applicable to the routing of mail pieces and information-bearing cards;
FIG. 2 is an end view of one type of conveyor for oblong flat articles of the type conveyed in FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is a side view with parts broken away for clarity of a modified form of the feed and conveying means of FIG. 1;
FIG. 4 is a side view of one form of piece conveyed by the apparatus of FIGS. 1-3;
FIG. 5 is a side view of another form of piece conveyed by the apparatus of FIGS. 13; and
FIG. 6 is a fragmentary view of another form of piece which may be coded and conveyed by apparatus of the type described.
FIG. 7 is a side view with parts broken away for clarity of a portion ofa wheel-device operative for recording series codes along a band area of a card, envelope, box, tape or other article.
In FIG. 1 is shown part of a system for automatically coding and routing articles such as envelope and card mail pieces. However, the system illustrated in FIG. I is also applicable to the coding and routing of packages by utilizing most of the scanning, coding and conveying techniques provided therein.
The coding and sorting or routing system 10 includes a first means 11 such as a feeding bin or other suitable storage means for a plurality of mail pieces or cards which are individually designated by the alphabetical character E. The pieces E to be coded and routed may be horizontally or vertically stacked within the bin or feed magazine 11 in accordance with known designs, one such magazine being illustrated in U.S. Pat. No. 2,891,467 as containing means for feeding individual mail pieces to an outflow conveyor.-In FIG. 1, the mail pieces E are fed in a horizontal stack and the endmost piece is disposed against a power-driven conveyor belt 12 which, cooperates with a feed mechanism 12 which is powered together with the belt 13 by a controlled electric motor 14 which operates intermittently to feed individual mail pieces or cards onto a conveyor 15 leading to a conveyor 19 at the coding station 20. Conveyor 15 is intermittently driven by a controlled electric motor 16, which like motor 14, is preferably a gear motor and has respective start and stop controls designated F and S which may comprise the inputs to a pulse-operated bistable switch feeding electrical energy to the input of said motor. Motor 14 may be similarly operated, although in FIG. I, is illustrated as having a single control line input thereto for pulsing the motor control comprising part of the unit 14, which control is operative when so energized to cause the motor and the mechanism driven thereby to operate in a single cycle for releasingjust one card or mail piece E from bin 11 to the conveyor 15 as provided, for example, in the Recordak 300 Stock-Reader for feeding cards to a reader.
The conveyor is operative, as illustrated in greater detail in FIG. 2, to convey the lower edge 73 of a card or envelope along a predetermined path or line so that said lower edge will be properly disposed for applying a code recording or marking therealong or on the border area adjacent said edge as will be hereafter described. Thus, regardless of the height and length of the envelope, all envelopes will contain a code sorting or destination recording along their lower edges or borders which may be easily read for sorting purposes by predeterminately positioning and conveying each piece with the lower edge thereof travelling along the same path as the lower edges of all other pieces.
A photoelectric detector 17 is disposed immediately adjacent conveyor 15 and is operative to detect the leading edge 731 of a piece E travelling along conveyor 15. The photoelectric controller 18 for the cell or scanning system 17 is opera tive to generate an output pulse upon detecting said leading edge which pulse is fed to the stop control S of motor 16 which temporarily stops conveyor 15 positioning the piece to be coded thereon while awaiting release of the piece downstream thereof which is being scanned and coded.
Monitor station 20 includes a monitor screen which provides an enlarged image of the address 75 on the face of the card or envelope E when the latter is disposed in the scanning field of a television camera 33 having its picture signal output 34 connected to the 'video receiver containing the monitor screen 30. Thus the operator of the station may easily view the state and city destination printed or written as part of the address 75 of the card, permitting him to properly code the lower edge of the card.
The monitor station 20 includes a console 20C having, in addition to the monitor screen 30, a single pushbutton cycle control switch 29 and a panel 26 containing a plurality of pushbutton coding switches 265. By properly depressing the banks of coding switches 26S, parallel destination codes are generated on the outputs 27 thereof which extend to a shift register 28 for converting the parallel codes to a series code which is held therein until an input 32' to the shift register is energized after which the series code is fed to activate a recording device 24 which records the series code along the lower border or edge of the piece E.
Upon activating cycle control switch 29, a control signal is generated on a plurality of circuits including a circuit extend ing to the control of the motor-operated device 14 for releasing the next piece from the bin 11, the start control F of motor 16 for driving the piece held upon conveyor 15 to conveyor 19, the start control F of motor 25 for driving conveyor 19 to remove the previously coded piece therefrom onto continuously driven conveyor 35 and a delay relay 32 in the line 32' leading to the trigger input of the shift register 28. A delay in the operation of the shift register'is so provided to permit the leading edge of the piece E to be coded to pass the recording transducer 24. After recording is effected, the piece is transferred from conveyor 19 to conveyor 35 which leads to a plurality of branch conveyors, designated 40, 41, etc. onto one of which the piece is conveyed or deflected by means to be described.
Edge or border coding of each piece on the conveyor 19 may be effected in one of a number of manners depending upon the marking or recording system provided. in FIG. 1, an automatic, motor-operated applicator 21 for recording material has its output closely disposed to the predetermined path along which each piece is conveyed on conveyor 19 and is operated by a signal generated by a time delay relay 31 which is activated when the cycle start control switch 29 is activated. in other words, at some time after the piece E has been started in movement towards conveyor 19 from conveyor 15, the applicator device 21 dispenses a recording material by spraying or rolling same along the lower edge or border of the mail piece as it passes said applicator. In one form of the invention, the recording material may comprise magnetic oxide which is roller or spray coated along said edge or border or is otherwise applied thereto as the piece is fed past the applicator on conveyor 19.
A photoelectric detector 22 detects the leading edge of the piece E and its control 23 generates a pulse output to the stop control S of motor 25 which predeterminately positions the piece in the scanning field of the video camera 33. The operator of the station 20 reads the address 75 on the face of the piece E and, either mentally or by reference to a chart, sets up the necessary address or selection code by properly depressing the switches 265 on the control panel 26. Thereafter, the cycle is repeated when the operator depresses start cycle control switch 29 after which the recording transducer 24, which may comprise a magnetic recording head, is engaged or rolled against the roller edge or border of the piece E containing the recording material provided by device 21. The motor 25 is operated to remove the piece E from conveyor 19 onto conveyor 35 until the photoelectric detector 22 detects the leading edge of the next card whereupon motor 25 is stopped by pulsing the stop input S thereof.
The piece E may be stored downstream of conveyor 19 in the event that it is a card to be edge coded or, if it is a mail piece it may be conveyed on conveyor 35 past a magnetic reproduction transducer 36 operative to engage the magnetic recording material disposed along the lower edge or border thereof and to reproduce the code provided as a recorded pulse train along said lower portion of the piece. The output of reproduction transducer 36 is passed to an amplifier 37 which generates a series code on its output which extends to a logical switching circuit controller 38 which controls a servo 39 operating a gate or deflection means 39' for properly gating the piece to one ofa plurality of branch conveyors 40, 41, etc. for properly routing the piece E along that path which is indicated by the code provided on its lower edge and reproduced by reproduction transducer 36.
In FIG. 1, notation ps refers to a power supply for electrically powering the switches, controls and motor device 30 associated with the monitor and coding switch controller 20C for generating the described control and code signals on the outputs thereof. It is assumed that suitable power supplies are provided on the proper sides of all switches, controls and motors illustrated in FIG. 1, such not having been illustrated therein for the purpose of simplifying the drawings.
lt is noted that the recording material device 21 may be subject to a number of variations depending on the coding, recording and scanning apparatus used in the system. For example, device 21 may adhesively apply coded or uncoded tape such as magnetic recording tape along a selected band area such as near or parallel to the lower edge of member E. Printed or other optically scannable tapes or recording material may be applied by suitable roller means comprising part of device 21 which may also contain recording means for the code operatively connected to the code generating means described herein. Device 21 may also comprise a printing wheel for magnetic material or ink for applying machine readable characters or codes along the piece E as it is driven therepast. Device 21 or the transducer 22 may also comprise means for burning a code along or parallel to the lower edge of members E or containers fed therepast.
lt is also noted that reading device 36 may be a photoelectric reading system such as employing a light reflected off an electrooptically readable code applied by one of the means defined herein.
While the monitor and coding station 20 is provided with manual coding and envelope transfer control means in the form of the switches 26S and 29, it may also be operative in an automatic mode whereby the routing codes are generated by electrooptically scanning the address lines 75 printed on the mail pieces and generating a code by operating suitable character recognition means. In this connection, the video camera 33 or a suitable auxiliary electro-optical scanner may be provided to scan the face of the mail piece containing the alphanumeric representation of the address destination on lines 75 thereof and to generate a video picture signal output on line 34 which is passed to suitable computing circuits including character recognition means defined by notation 43. A switch 42 in the output line 34 of the video camera 33 may switch the video picture signal from the monitor screen 30 to the computer 43 in the event that, for example, all mail pieces E are provided with easily recognized characters such as typewritten or printed addresses which are predeterminately positioned along the face of the mail piece. Parallel outputs 44 of the computer 43 extend to the inputs to the shift register 28 for transferring a parallel destination code as computed by the circuits of computer 43 or a single output may extend from 43 directly to the coding transducer 24. Another output 45 of the computer circuits 43 may extend directly to the output of switch 29 for effecting the described operational cycle. However, since the video camera or optical scanning device 33 operates at relatively high speed to scan the face of the mail piece, containing the address thereon, such scanning device may be effected on-the-fly without the need to stop individual pieces in the scanning field of the camera as described and the apparatus of the camera may be operated in a manner to present mail pieces one behind the other and in constant motion of the described conveyors.
The automatic scanning means for identifying the document, envelope or package and/or determining its destination so as to provide a coded electrical signal for controlling recording as described, may comprise a conventional electrooptical character reader adapted to read all lines of the address or label 75 and, by logical or other means, determine the destination and/or other characteristics of the document for coding purposes. In a preferred form, means may be provided for the reader to read just the last line of characters and preferably the last portion 75Z thereof which may comprise the zip code. Suitable optical scanning means may be provided such as an electron beam scanning means adapted to scan laterally from or near the bottom edge of the envelope upwardly until the last line of characters is identified and to generate a pulse output upon selecting said last line to control positioning of the line-scanning means to scan said last line only. If the envelope is fed lateral to its longitudinal edge 73 with said edge leading same, by means such as provided in my US Pat. No. 3,309,669 then the activation of any one of a plurality of photoelectric detectors, scanning the face of the envelope and disposed in a line parallel to edge 73, may generate a signal when the last line 75Z of characters passes said cells and said control signal may be employed to stop the driving of the envelope and initiate the movement of the scanning disc or beam to scan said last line which may comprise the town and city or just the mail zip code per se. If the last line is just the zip code, the code output of the scanner may be a series of binary codes indicative of the zip code which may be recorded as described along the recording area of the envelope or may be electronically converted to a single binary series code indicative of the zip code number prior to being used to modulate the recording transducer. A suitable time delay relay may be employed to initiate the motor driving the envelope from the reader onto, for example, a conveyor of the type described such as edge travelling conveyor 35.
If an electron beam scanning means is provided to read the zip code 752, suitable logical switching circuitry may be provided to detect the last line or zip code portion of the address 75 and cause the read beam ofthe cathode ray tube scanner or other scanning means to read just said last line or zip code or operate a gate to pass the modulated analog signal output of the read beam thereof derived in scanning said line or code to a suitable memory-computing means or means for converting said analog signal to the suitable coded signal form used to modulate the described magnetic or optical recording means. If the zip code comprises the last line of characters it may be read per se and the results applied to the recording transducer. If it comprises just the last part of the last line, beam scanning from the right edge of the line until a gap appears between the zip code and edge of the state address portion of the last line, will determine the longitudinal limits of the zip code number and may be used to generate signals indicative ofjust said zip code number.
Thus, it is seen that the apparatus defined in FIG. 1 may be operated either by a human being scanning individual mail pieces when said mail pieces contain a variety of addresses in printed or handwritten forms of various configurations and locations or may be automatically operated if the mail pieces and their printed addresses are relatively uniform and capable of electro-optical scanning. Switch 42 in the output line 34 may be manually operated to define automatic or manual operation of the scanning and coding station.
The automatic scanning system defined by scanner 33 and computing circuitry 43 may be operated in accordance with known address scanning and recognition equipment or that provided in my copending application Ser. No. 622,650 which provides a reading disc for reading a predetermined line of a document or card driven past the scanner or by moving the scanner past the document.
FIG. 2 illustrates a preferred form of conveyor for edgewise conveying thin oblong members E such as cards and envelopes to be coded. The features shown in FIG. 2 may be applied to any or all of the conveyors l5, l9 and 35 of FIG. 1, The oblong card of mail piece E is disposed in the channellike guideway defined by longitudinally aligned conveyor wheels 54 having outer surfaces which taper sharply inwardly as illustrated to provide wedgelike wells for the cards or envelopes resting on the upper surfaces thereof. The plurality oflongitudinally lined wheels 54 are rotationally supported in spacedapart relationship by a channellike member 50 the sidewalls 51 and 53 of which contain ball bearings B which rotationally support the shafts 545 of the wheels 54.
The single concave, wedge-shaped roller 54 of FIG. 2 may also be replaced or supplemented by a plurality of cylindrical rollers disposed with their peripheral surfaces properly angled to the horizontal with alternate rollers of a line array of said rollers angled oppositely and power rotated to provide the same lower edge aligning, guiding and driving effect as the single rollers 54 illustrated in FIG. 2.
Other conveying means may also be provided to predeterminately align and guide the lower longitudinal edges of each envelope or card along a predetermined path for coding and reading same as described. For example, the horizontally angled surfaces defined by the inwardly tapering conical portions of the rollers 54 of FIG. 2 may be replaced by a pair of power driven flexible belts each angled properly upwardly and driven in the same direction at the same speed with their lower edges close to each other or the lower edge of one abutting the upper surface of the other, to provide a guideway for the lower edge of each mail piece. A single belt or pulley of resilient material, folded or having a V-shaped upper surface may also be utilized.
Turning again to FIG. 2, it is noted that said wheel shaft 545 extends outwardly through the bearings from the wall 51 and contains pulleys 58 on the ends thereof which are rotated by a chain or belt 58' driven by a pulley or sprocket on the shaft of motor 16 so that all wheels 54 rotate simultaneously to drive the piece Etherealong.
Cantilevered on the sidewalls 51 and 53 of the channel 50 and extending upwardly therefrom are a plurality of pairs of leaf spring members designated 55 and 55' each ofwhich supports a pillow block designated 56 and 56 which rotationally support respective wheels 57 and 57', the peripheries ofwhich are spaced apart a degree greater than the thickness of the average piece E, although possibly less than the thickness of wh may be the heaviest gauge or thickest mail piece. Thus, while some degree of lateral movement of the mail piece E may be effected between the rollers 57 and 57' said mail piece will be guided thereby and, if said wheels are power rotated by means such as that rotating wheels 54, further means will be provided for power driving the member E along its predetermined path.
Since the lower edge of all pieces E is determined by the path defined by the low point of the groove or recess in the wheels 54, various devices such as the described magnetic recording and reproduction transducers, recording material application means and edge detection means may be provided between adjacent wheels 54 as illustrated in FIG. 2 by the device 59 which is Supported by the bottom wall 52 of the channel 50 and is re'movably secured thereto by means of adjusting nuts 59' holding member 59 in a hole extending vertically through the bottom wall 52. If the exterior wall of member 59 is threaded, the end of the transducer 59T secured thereby may be vertically adjusted by proper adjustment and tightening of the adjustments nuts 59' against the wall 52 of the channel. The transducer head 59T illustrated in FIG. 2 is operative to scan or record on the lower edge of the piece E although it may be so shaped to scan or record along either or both the border areas ofE adjacent said lower edge. Similarly, the transducer, photoelectric detector or recording material application means may be adjustably supported by either or both of the sidewalls 51 and S3 of the channel 50 for properly functioning as described.
FIG. 3 shows details ofa modified form of feeding bin 60 for individually feeding mail pieces or cards to a conveyor leading to a monitor and coding station as described. Whereas in FIG. 1 the feeding bin 11 is operative to stack the mail pieces or cards E so that they may be fed in a vertical attitude therefrom, the bin apparatus 60 of FIG. 3 may be operated with the cards disposed in either a vertical or horizontal stack or at an angle to the horizontal for coding with the card vertically disposed as in FIG. 1 or lying on its side. The feeding means 60 of FIG. 3 includes a bin 61, the sidewalls of which are preferably made of tubed metal sheet containing a plurality of tube formations 62 each with a passageway 63 interconnected with the passageways of the other tube formations or feeding pressurized air from an inlet 67 through a plurality of holes 64 which are angularly drilled in the walls of bin 61 so as to direct a plurality of airstreams against the uppermost piece of the stack of pieces to force said stack against the lower or far end wall 66 of the bin so that the lowermost or endmost piece E is directed against a controlled belt conveyor 68 driven by motor 14. Thus, whenever motor 14 is energized for a predetermined period of time, piece E will be carried thereby between the power-operated conveyor belts 69 and 70 which comprise conveyor corresponding to the first output conveyor 15 of FIG. 1. Notation 71 refers to a deflection plate for aligning and guiding one edge of each mail piece fed to the conveyor 15'. Each piece E may be forced by gravity or wheels (not shown) rotated thereon, against the plate 71 as it is driven onto 15 to align all edges thereagainst for coding purposes. From conveyor 15' the pieces are fed to the conveyor 19' corresponding to conveyor 19 of FIG. 1 and comprising a pair of power-operated endless belts 72 and 72 between which the aligned piece E is driven. Disposed adjacent the edges of belts 72 and 72' are devices 21, 22' and 24 corresponding in function to the recording material applicator 21, the photoelectric detector 22 and the recording transducer 24 of FIG. 1, each of which is so mounted to align its output with the edge or border of the card driven therepast as the conveyor 19' operates. The conveyors 68, 15 and 19 are intermittently and sequentially operated as described in the description of the apparatus of FIG. 1.
In FIG. 3, notation 65 refers to holes provided in the sidewalls of the bin 61 for laterally exhausting air injected downwardly through said bin against the stack of mail pieces or cards through the holes 64.
FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrate mail piece or card structures employing different types of recordings along the edge or lower border portions of the pieces. In FIG. 4, the piece E is illustrated as an envelope or card having multiple address lines 75 containing written or printed name and destination characters and return address lines 75' disposed near the upper left-hand corner thereof. Disposed adjacent to the lower edge 73 of the piece E along the margin or border portion 74 thereof is a strip, tape or coating of magnetic recording material which may be applied when the card or envelope is first fabricated, when it is addressed or by the means provided in FIG. 1 which may comprise a spray nozzle, roller coating wheel or applicator for a short length of magnetic tape; the magnetic recording material being generally defined by the notation 76 and illustrated as extending from the leading edge 73 of the piece E a sufficient distance along the lower marginal border 74 to permit the longest serial code to be recorded thereon.
In FIG. 5 is shown an oblong thin member 75 such as an envelope or card containing address lines 75 of characters on one face thereof and a code 77 in the form of a plurality of spaced-apart, optically scannable marks 78 of predetermined length and separated by nonmarked spaces 79 which, when scanned, also define a portion of said code. The marks 78 along the border portion 74 of the piece E" of FIG. 5 may be provided along said lower margin and/or across the the lower edge 73 thereof by one or more selective recording means including a selectively operable array of rotary mark printing devices such as selectively projectable and retractable printing cuts disposed at the ends of the spokes of a wheel the periphery ofwhich rides against the edge 73 or border portion 74 of the member to be coated. The marks 78 may also be applied in the form of a code by the selective pulsing of a solenoid which projects and retracts a printing cut or wheel against and away from said lower edge 73 or margin or by the selectively operation ofa valve in the line ofa small spray nozzle operative to spray apply printing ink or magnetic recording material to selected areas of the members E" such as the areas defined by marks 78. The recording transducer may also take on other forms and may include (c) a variable mask which is set up by bistable solenoids connected directly to the outputs 27 of the pushbutton panel 26 which mask may receive mark printing material from a spray head or roller coating means rolled thereagainst to provide the necessary coded array or marks; (d) modulated intense beam radiation means such as an electron gun or laser generating an intense beam, may also be employed to either burn selected portions of the border or margin 74 of the envelope or selected portions of a recording material such as 76 disposed therealong to provide the necessary scannable code recording. The latter described beam recording means may be controlled, for example, by the series output code generated by shift register 28 of FIG. 1 to provide a series optically scannable or otherwise readable code of the type illustrated in FIG. 5.
The coding and sorting apparatus hereinabove described and illustrated in the accompanying drawings may be modified to code and sort articles of manufacture such as boxes or containers of rectangular parallelepiped configuration or a configuration having at least one straight edge which may be predeterminately disposed with respect to both the code marking or recording means and the code scanning or reproduction means. In FIG. 6, is shown a container 80 of rectangular configuration having a sidewall 81 preferably, although not necessarily, containing an address label 75'. The member 80 may comprise, for example, a boxed mail piece, product container or pallet. Means, such as illustrated in my copending application Ser. No. 468,418, may be provided for conveying the container 80 with its lower surface 83 disposed on a flight conveyor and the sidewall 81 moving along a predetermined vertical plane so that the edge defined by the intersection of walls 81 and 83 will travel a predetermined lineal path. By such means, all containers having such rectangular parallelepiped configurations, regardless of the height, width and depth of said containers, may be disposed on a conveyor so that the edges or corners of each container corresponding to edge 84 of FIG. 6 may all travel the same line path thus predeterminately positioning the marginal lower borders of either or both the side and bottom walls of the container with respect to a coating or marking means. Said coating or marking means may comprise anyone of the hereinabove described magnetic recording, printing, spray-applying or modulated beam burning means. In FIG. 6 is shown a wheel 88 which is rotationally supported at the side of the belt conveyor 87 carrying the container 80 and in a position such that the periphery of said wheel rides against a striplike portion 85 of the sidewall 81 adjacent the edge 84 of said container. Radially movable within the wheel 88 are a plurality of printing cuts or mark-applicating devices 89 each of which is operated by a separate bistable solenoid disposed within the wheel. Each of said solenoids is operatively connected to a respective of the outputs 27 of the bank of code switches 26s of FIG. I so that the printing cuts may be selectively projected and retracted to apply marks in a coded array along the recording area 86 of the border 85 as the wheel 88 is rotated and either moves longitudinally along the wall of the container or rotates as the container is conveyed therepast.
Further downstream of the station having the code-applying wheel 88, may be provided a magnetic or optical scanning transducer positioned closely adjacent the conveyor 87 to scan the series or parallel code applied to the margin 85 adjacent edge 84 of the container 80. The output of such transducer may be connected to means for deflecting the container 80 onto a selected of a plurality of branch conveyors such as the means provided in FIG. 1 for routing envelopes or cards. The code wheel 88 of FIG. 6 may also be replaced by a codemodulated radiation beam generating means foperative to discolor or burn portions of the wall or recording material 86 disposed adjacent the edge 84.
Further details of the code-applying wheel 88 of FIG. 6 are illustrated in FIG.' 7 which is a side view thereof with parts broken away and sectioned for clarity. The printing wheel 88 comprises a disc-shaped hollow housing have upper and lower disc-shaped walls 96 and 97 separated by a spacer ring 98 having a plurality of holes 98H extending radially therethrough. The printing devices 89 comprise a plurality of bistable solenoids 90 which are mounted on the bottom plate 97 inwardly of the ring 98 and have their shafts 91 extending radially to holes 98H. Secured to each shaft 91 of each solenoid 90 is a retainer 92 for a printing material 93 which printing material may be retracted so that its outermost surface is below the peripheral surface 88 of the wheel 88 when the solenoid 90 is retracted in one of its two bistable states. When the solenoid is pulsed or switched to its other bistable state, the printing material 93 protrudes outwardly from the peripheral surface 88' of the wheel 88 and provides means for applying a code mark to a surface against which the peripheral surface 88' of the wheel is rolled. Each of the solenoids 90 has an input wire pair 94 extending inwardly towards the axis of rotation of the wheel 88 and through a hollow shaft 95 on which the wheel is mounted, said shaft extending to a drive means such as a rotary solenoid or motor operative to roll said wheel against a surface such as any of the band areas 76, 78 or 86 of an envelope, card or container as illustrated in FIGS. 4, and 6. The wires 94 may extend to an array of commutator and brush elements located on the shaft 95 or directly to respective code signal generating output means such as the outputs 27 of the binary code generating pushbutton switches 268' of the bank.
the leading edge of the card assuming that the conveyor alongwhich the card is driven is operated thereafter for a sufficient time interval to permit the wheel 88 to effect a cycle of operation against the member being coded. In an alternate form of the invention, the wheel 88 may be translated and rotated relative to the envelope, card or container while the latter is-' held stationary during a coding cycle.
The printing material 93 located at the end of the solenoid shaft may comprise a self-inking printing cut or other suitable material which either contains it own ink supply or is fed a supply of ink from a source located within the retainer 92, shaft 91 or the housing of the solenoid 90. A suitable material which contains sufficient ink to provide thousands of printed impressions is a microporous plastic containing ink or magnetic recording material in the cells thereof. U.S. Pat. No. 2,777,824 describes a flexible plastic material may be formulated to encapsulate a variety of liquids such as inks which may be dispensed upon compression of the material against the surface and such material may be utilized for the printing material 93 of FIG. 7 as defined in my Pat. application Ser. No. 391,882 entitled Printing Device.
It is noted that any suitable fast-drying printing ink or magnetic recording ink or magnetic recording ink may be dispensed from the periphery of the wheel 88 along the edge or border area of a card, mail piece, or container as described herein and illustrated in FIGS. 4 to 6. The solenoids 90 may also be of the monostable type whereby electrical energy applied to selected of said solenoids will be operative to project the printing devices of each solenoid outwardly from the peripheral surface 88' of the wheel a suitable degree to permit spot marks to be applied to a flat mail piece or container in a coded array as described depending on which of those solenoids are energized.
The arrangement illustrated in FIG. 7 may also be operative to magnetically record a code on a strip of magnetic recording material such as 76 of FIG. 4 by replacing the printing material 93 with a respective permanent of electromagnet which, when the shaft 91 of the solenoid is projected, projects the magnet so that it will orient or disorient the magnetic domains of the magnetic recording material as the peripheral surface 88 of the wheel is rolled thereagainst or will not affect same when retracted into the openings 98H.
Further improvements to the described and illustrated apparatus may include the following. The freewheeling wheels 57 and 57 of FIG. 2 may be replaced by a plurality of opposed jets of air operative to support the mail piece E in a substantially vertical attitude as it is driven along the wheels 54 or to drive or assist in the driving of said mail piece therealong.
The wheels 57 and 57' of FIG. 2 may also be replaced by a plurality of endless, power-operated belts which are mounted on pivotted and spring-loaded arms equivalent to the cantilevered spring members 55 and 55' of FIG. 2 for driving the mail piece E therebetween.
In FIG. 3 if the mail pieces E are fed vertically in horizontal attitudes in the bin 61 as illustrated in FIG. 3, they may be upended to attain the vertical position illustrated in FIG. 2 after they are fed onto the conveyor 68 by suitably designing conveyor 15 to receive the single mail pieces from 68 and eventually guide same to a vertical attitude. This may be effected by providing suitable pulleys and guides for the belts 69 and 70 to direct said belts from a substantially horizontal attitude at the end of the conveyor which receives pieces from conveyor 68 to a substantially vertical attitude at or near the end thereof so that the envelopes or cards may be fed therefrom vertically along conveyor 19 to preposition their lower edges and permit coding and reading as described. Accordingly, conveyor 15 may be used to upend and feed envelopes and cards to an aligned array of powered conveying wheels such as 54 either with the lower edge of each piece aligned with the bottom of the wheel indentation or smallest diameter or at different heights thereabove so that gravity may be utilized to cause the pieces to drop into the center of the receiving wheels to align the lower edges of said mail pieces. Depending on the maximum thickness of pieces to be conveyed, the slopes of the sidewalls of the depression in the wheels 54 may be greater or less than that illustrated. In fact, by providing wheels 54 with very steep wall portions and sufficient difference between maximum and minimum diameters, the support means for the upper walls of the envelopes or cards may be eliminated whereby each mail piece is supported in a vertical or near vertical attitude, as it is driven or conveyed, by the wheel per se.
Stationery intense radiation beam means such as a modulated light beam generated by a laser, an electron beam or other suitable beam generated by means fixedly mounted with respect to the described conveyors may be used for recording ii i and/or reading codes disposed along or parallel to the lower edge of each mail piece or carton as the piece is driven therepast. Writing or recording codes or characters along said recording area may be effect by modulating the beam intensity to (a) burn and discolor the material such as paper comprising the piece, (b) discoloring or sensitizing a material applied as a spray or roller coating thereon, (c) discoloring or sensitizing a recording material applied as a tape which has been disposed along a predetermined band area of the piece as described, (d) demagnetizing by heat selected areas of a domain oriented magnetic recording material applied as a tape or coating rolled or sprayed onto the selected area of the piece, (e) burning one or more holes completely through the card, envelope or article fed past the beam-generating means to permit light to pass therethru for optical reading purposes or to permit switch contact means or switch arm moving means to become activated as the piece passes the reading station, (f) burning selected areas of an opaque coating material such as a polymer disposed as a film over a reflecting material or a metal tape or film applied to the recording area of the piece to permit electro-optical or electrical reading means to read said uncovered areas by fixed transducers or scanners operative to scan said piece as it is driven therepast, (g) burning selected areas from an opaque coating in the form of a code or character area array uncovering a reflex reflecting material disposed beneath said opaque coating to permit clectro-optical reading by photoelectric cell means receiving light from a light beam directed against said uncovered reflex reflecting material, (h) burning away of selected areas or the desensitizing of selected areas of luminescent material which is roller printed, stray applied or otherwise provided on the face of the piece such as on one or more postage stamps. With respect to the latter described means for recording destination codes, it is noted that postage stamps or lables may be affixed to the surface of the piece which may have luminescent or sensitized material coating the entire area thereof as a printing ink or applied along a border thereof and operative to be burned off or desensitized as a series or parallel bit code along spot areas thereof the described intense recording radiation beam.
Such sensitive materials such as luminescent inks, magnetic ink, photosensitive heat developable material or the like, in addition to being applicable as a printed or sprayed stripe along the piece to be coded, the lable or stamp therefore, may also be applied to selected spot areas of same in the form of a code by means such as hereinbefore described and utilized per se for energizing suitable reading means therefore disposed and operative to read said code as described or otherwise. The means provided in FIGS. 6 and 7 may be utilized for the selective application of such sensitized or sensitizable materials to selected areas of the pieces being coded. if the material so applied is a magnetic recording ink, it may be sensitized or domain oriented for reading purposes by providing a suitable magnetizing transducer adjacent the conveying means for the piece.
The term edgewise" as defined herein and used in the accompanying claims is meant to include the area along the edge of a flat mail piece or corner or edge of a container as well as a bandlike area extending parallel to said edge and immediately adjacent and parallel thereto. in other words, said term is meant to encompass either the immediate edge area of the piece and/or an area parallel thereto preferably, although not necessarily including said edge area. As an important feature of the current invention is the provision of means for predeterminately aligning the lower edge of the mail piece for predeterminately recording information therealong, the term edgewise may also define a bandlike area of each mail piece extending parallel to but spaced a distance away from said lower edge on one face ofthe piece.
Further with respect to the device of FIG. 7, it is noted that the radially disposed solenoids '90 used for projecting and retracting the code-applying means 93 may be replaced by respective piezoelectric transducers, which when energized by a respective input signal applied to each, expands the piezoelectric element and causes the code-applying element connected thereto to project a sufficient degree to bring it to bear against the surface of the member adapted to receive the code mark thereof while operative to prevent said mark application when the signal is not present at said transducer. Conversely, such transducers may also be operative when electrically energized, to retract its code mark applying means. Such an array of piezoelectric transducers may also be operative to project and retract permanent magnets into and out of operative range with a magnetic recording material applied as described for effecting pulse code recording thereon as the material and array of said transducers and magnets move relative to each other. Said transducers and magnets may be provided in circular array of other arrangement such as side-byside as a bank adapted to record a parallel binary code along a band area of the recording member engaged simultaneously by all projected transducers. The duration the energizing code signals are applied to the piezoelectric elements will determine the duration the recording elements are extended or retracted by the transducers and said signal may be applied for as much as l-second periods or more or period of between a microsecond and a millisecond or a millisecond and a second depending on the type of code signals desired to be recorded on the recording member and the relative speed of the recording member and the recording means.
1. Coding apparatus for articles having flat sidewalls such as mail pieces and the like comprising:
a. conveying means for feeding individual articles to be coded including means operative to predeterminately position each article as it is fed,
b. selective recording means disposed adjacent said conveying means for providing a digital code along the sidewall of an article presented to said recording means,
c. code-generating means having an output means operatively connected to said recording means for providing said codes on said article,
d. control means for said code-generating means operative upon becoming energized to activate said recording means,
e. means for sensing a predetermined portion of an article as it is fed along said guiding means,
f. said sensing means being operatively connected to said control means and operative to activate said control means upon sensing the article for generating and effecting the recording of said code along a selected area of said flat sidewall ofsaid article.
2. Coding apparatus for oblong flat mail pieces with claim 1, including means for individually feeding said mail pieces to be coded, one at a time to said conveying means and for feeding coded mail pieces from said conveying means and means for prepositioning a longitudinal edge of each mail piece as it is fed adjacent said recording means, means for presetting said recording means to generate codes in sequence, input means for said presetting means, sensing means operative to detect a mail piece as it is fed, said presetting means including a code storage means connected to said code-generating means, said code-generating means being connected to said recording means, and control means for controlling said code-generating means upon sensing the leading edge of a mail piece to present said code at said recording means for recording same along said longitudinal edge after said sensing means senses a mail piece.
3. Mail piece recording and routing apparatus in accordance with claim 1, said conveying means including means for predeterminately aligning individual envelopes in substantially vertical attitudes so as to preposition the lower edges of each envelope and guide same along a predetermined path, said recording means being operative to record a destination code along a marginal area near the lower edge of each envelope prepositioned by said conveying means, means for generating said destination codes in sequence, means for presenting individual envelopes in sequence to said recording means and means for recording a specific code edgewise along each envelope after it is prepositioned with respect to said recording means. v v
4. Apparatus in accordance with claim 3 whereby said recording means is operative to record a destination code directly along the edge of each envelop as it is fed therepast.
5. Apparatus in accordance with claim 3 including means for magnetically recording a code edgewise along mail pieces and magnetic pickup means operative to read said magnetically recorded code, routing means for predeterminately routing mail pieces along a selected of a plurality of paths, said routing means operatively connected to said magnetic pickup means and responsive to the code signals generated thereby in reading the magnetic'recordings for predeterminately routing envelopes along selected ofa plurality of different paths.
6. Apparatus in accordance with claim 5 including means for applying magnetic recording material edgewise along each mail piece as it is fed along said conveying means.
7. Apparatus in accordance with claim 6 in which said means for providing magnetic recording material includes said recording means and said recording material is deposited parallel to the edge ofeach mail piece in the form ofa code.
8. Apparatus in accordance with claim 1, said recording means including printing means operative to deposit printing material in the form ofa series code edgewise along each mail piece.
9. Apparatus in accordance with claim 8, said printing means comprising a printing wheel operative to roll its peripheral surface along the edge of an envelope, and means for providing fluid printing material along the peripheral surface of said printing wheel in the form of a coded array of depositable marking means.
10. Apparatus in accordance with claim 9, said printing wheel having a plurality of radially disposed printing cuts and means for selectively projecting and retracting each of said printing cuts so as to selectively present certain of said cuts at the peripheral face of said wheel whereby imprint marks thereof may be deposited on a surface as the wheel rotates and selectively retracting others of said cuts below the surface of said wheel so as to prevent the marking thereof and provide marks in a coded array along a surface swept by the periphery of said wheel.
11. Apparatus in accordance with claim 1, said recording means including spraying means for spray applicating coding material along a predetermined area of the surface ofsaid mail pieces.
12. Apparatus in accordance with claim 1 whereby said mail pieces include a plurality of boxlike containers with each container having at least one longitudinal substantially straight edge, means for aligning said containers whereby said straight line edge of each is disposed along a predetermined linepath and means predeterminately positioned with respect to said straight lined path for recording a scannable routing code parallel to said aligned edge of each container.
13. Coding apparatus in accordance with claim 1, said codegenerating means comprising a plurality of manually operable key switches for setting up said code, means for storing the code set up by hand, and means operative in response to a signal from said sensing means for reading out said code and energizing said recording means to record said code along a selected area of the article sensed.
14. An apparatus in accordance with claim 13, said articles having respective straight edges and means for prepositioning and guiding an article with a straight edge thereof prepositioned by said conveying means with respect to said recording means, whereby said recording means scans a strip area ofthe flat wall of said article which area extends parallel to said straight edge.
15. An apparatus in accordance with claim 14, whereby said predetermined strip area of said article contains magnetic recording material and said recording means is a transducer operative to effect digital recordings on said magnetic recording material.
l6. Coding apparatus for mail pieces, such as envelopes, and the like comprising:
conveying means for guiding and feeding envelopes along a predetermined path and including a plurality of aligned rollers disposed and shaped to receive the lower longitudinal edge of each envelope and to guide the envelope with said lower edge travelling a predetermined path, means for power rotating said rollers,
selective recording means disposed adjacent said conveying means for providing a digital code along the sidewall of an envelope presented to said recording means, code-generating means having an output means operatively connected to said recording means for providing said codes on said envelope,
control means for said code-generating means operative upon becoming energized to activate said recording means,
means for sensing a predetermined portion of an envelope as it is fed along said guiding means,
said sensing means being operatively connected to said control means and operative to activate said control means upon sensing an envelope for generating and effecting the recording ofa code along a selected area of a wall of said envelope, I
17. An apparatus for applying codes to mail pieces, such as envelopes and the like, comprising:
first conveying means operative to align, guide and feed individual envelopes along a predetermined path with a straight edge portion of said enve'lopedisposed parallel to said predetermined path,
said conveying means including a plurality of aligned rollers disposed and shaped to receive the lower longitudinal edge of each envelope and to guide said envelope from roller to roller, power means for driving said rollers, code-generating means disposed adjacent said conveying means for applying an identifying code to an area ofeach envelope which area is predeterminately located with respect to said straight edge portion of said envelope,
means for sensing the leading edge of each envelope as it is fed along said conveying means,
means for generating signals for controlling said coderecording means, control means for said code-generating means, said sensing means being operatively connected to said control means for activating same after sensing the leading edge of an envelope to generate a code for energizing said recording means to effect the recording of said code on an area of the envelope which is predeterminately located with respect to said straight edge portion thereof, and
further conveying means operative to feed and guide the same straight edge portion of an envelope fed along said aligned rollers of said first conveying means,
reading means including a reading transducer disposed adjacent said further conveying means for scanning said predeterminately located area of each envelope containing said identifying code so as to read said code and generate routing signals,
said further conveying means having a plurality of paths located beyond said reading means, and
routing means operative in response to the codes read by said reading means to predeterminately route each piece as determined by the code read from the recording on said predetermined area thereof.
18. An apparatus in accordance with claim 17 wherein said signal recording means is disposed between two of said aligned rollers and comprises at least one rotationally supported power operated roller means including at least one code applying roll having a surface operative to engage the predetermined area of each piece as it is moved relative thereto, a plurality of projectable and retractable code mark applicators disposed within said code-applying roll, selectively operable means for projecting and retracing each applicator so as to said pieces, said selectively operable means being responsive to signals generated by said reading means to condition said applicators in proper coded array prior to applying code marks to a piece