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Publication numberUS3884010 A
Publication typeGrant
Publication dateMay 20, 1975
Filing dateJun 28, 1974
Priority dateJun 28, 1974
Publication numberUS 3884010 A, US 3884010A, US-A-3884010, US3884010 A, US3884010A
InventorsGerald Blaine Bardo, Leonard John Zalepa
Original AssigneeIbm
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Apparatus and method for opening and emptying envelopes of various thicknesses
US 3884010 A
Abstract
At an entry station, envelopes are extracted from a hopper by a pivoted hopper vacuum head which tilts up to engage a bottom envelope, then tilts down to align the leading edge of the envelope with a reciprocating feed trolley. The reciprocating feed trolley advances the envelope to a shearing station where a pair of blades shear the ends of the envelope. Finally, the envelope is advanced to an exit station where it is loaded on a rotatable drum with vee pockets integral thereto on four sides thereof. A concave flexible vacuum head retracts forcing the envelope into the drum vee pockets. Subsequently, the rotatable drum, envelope and concave flexible vacuum head rotate clockwise 90 DEG , so that the envelope is now in a vertical position. Then the concave flexible vacuum head extends from the rotatable drum vee pockets causing the envelope to fully buckle open allowing the documents, therein, by gravity, to fall into a document stacker. At this point, the concave flexible vacuum head rotates 90 DEG in the reverse direction in order to process the next envelope in sequence. In the meantime, if the prior envelope was not emptied, as sensed by a document sensor, the envelope and documents therein are rejected into a reject receptacle. In the alternative, if as sensed by the document sensor, the envelope has been emptied, the emptied envelope will be rejected into a scrap receptacle.
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Description  (OCR text may contain errors)

United States Patent [191 Bardo et al.

[ APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR OPENING AND EMPTYING ENVELOPES OF VARIOUS THICKNESSES [75] Inventors: Gerald Blaine Bardo, Nichols;

Leonard John Zalepa, Apalachin, both of NY.

[73] Assignee: International Business Machines Corporation, Armonk, NY.

[22] Filed: June 28, 1974 [21] Appl. No.: 484,362

[52] US. Cl 53/3; 53/53; 53/381 R; 83/912; 214/305 [51] Int. Cl. B65b 9/00 [58] Field of Search 53/3, 381 R; 83/912; 214/305 [56] References Cited UNITED STATES PATENTS 3,590,548 7/1971 Pierce et al 53/3 3,691,726 9/1972 Stephens et a1 H 53/381 R Primary Examiner-Travis S, McGehee Attorney, Agent, or Firm-John G. Wynn [57] ABSTRACT At an entry station, envelopes are extracted from a [451 May 20, 1975 hopper by a pivoted hopper vacuum head which tilts up to engage a bottom envelope, then tilts down to align the leading edge of the envelope with a reciproeating feed trolley. The reciprocating feed trolley advances the envelope to a shearing station where a pair of blades shear the ends of the envelope. Finally, the envelope is advanced to an exit station where it is loaded on a rotatable drum with vee pockets integral thereto on four sides thereof. A concave flexible vacuum head retracts forcing the envelope into the drum vee pockets. Subsequently, the rotatable drum, envelope and concave flexible vacuum head rotate clockwise 90, so that the envelope is now in a vertical position. Then the concave flexible vacuum head extends from the rotatable drum vee pockets causing the envelope to fully buckle open allowing the documents, therein, by gravity, to fall into a document stacker. At this point, the concave flexible vacuum head rotates 90 in the reverse direction in order to process the next envelope in sequence. In the meantime, if the prior envelope was not emptied, as sensed by a document sensor, the envelope and documents therein are rejected into a reject receptacle. In the alternative, if as sensed by the document sensor, the envelope has been emptied, the emptied envelope will be rejected into a scrap receptacle.

12 Claims, 10 Drawing Figures PMENTED wzmsrs 3,884,010

SHEARING STATION 18 ks 4 M in" I b l P EJECT posmon 50 k PATENIED 5 SHEET 2 OF 5 24a LOAD POSITION ENVELOPES FIG. 2

PIJENTED W2 0 75 SHEET 3 BF 5 FIG; 3b

LOAD POSITION FIG. 3d

EMPTY POSITION 1 APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR OPENING AND EMPTYING ENVELOPES OF VARIOUS TI-IICKNESSES BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION 1. Field of the Invention This invention relates to improvements in methods and apparatus for envelope document emptying, and more particularly, to the automatic sorting of documents of an envelope, a completely emptied envelope, and an envelope still containing documents after processing.

2. Description of the Prior Art In recent years, an increasing number of consumers have been paying their bills at a central office, rather than at a plurality of local offices that might be located near the consumers place of residence. For example, credit card companies and nationwide retail outlets, just to name a few, mail out bills, including an envelope and a stub, which the consumer has to return along with his check to a central office. Many times the consumer, in addition to the aforementioned items, will insert a letter in the return envelope to complain about the correctness of the bill or for various other reasons. Accordingly, in addition to the tremedous volume of mail arriving at the central office, the mail in question will vary in size, condition and mixture of content. At any rate, since the received mail can number in the thousands per day, it is a time consuming and costly op eration to handle this mail manually at the central offree.

The problem of mail handling of the type herein described has been around for a long time. Several prior art machines are known in the art that attempt to extract mail automatically. These prior art machines have not been satisfactory in all respects, in that some of them cannot handle mail of various thicknesses and are somewhat unreliable in their operation, and in addition, there is no means for checking whether an envelope has been completely emptied. Other machines extract the mail in a manner which will not insure reliability, but these machines do have a method of checking whether the envelope has been emptied. Then there are those machines which are highly reliable but only do a part of the total job leaving the remainder to be done manually by personnel at the central office. Herein below, some of these prior art machines will be described in more detail.

One such prior art machine automatically removes the contents of the envelope and assembles them alternately with their respective empty envelopes so that the contents of each particular envelope are immediately followed by the empty envelope. The envelope is slitted edgewise and is subjected to distention of its opposite sides by a vacuum to cause the contents to drop out by gravity followed immediately by the dropping of the empty envelope, also by gravity, into position. In this prior art machine, no mention is made of the problem of handling the documents. In addition, in this prior an machine, there is no means to determine whether or not an envelope has been completely emptied. Due to the distention means used in the aforementioned machine, it is highly possible that a document will stick or be sucked by the vacuum of distention means against the envelope sides.

There are other prior art machines, while having a means for checking or sensing whether an envelope has been emptied, i.e., thickness checking these machines still have not addressed the problem of handling various thicknesses, condition and mixture of mail as aforementioned. These machines use suction means for opening the sides of the envelopes and an extracting means to extract the documents therefrom. It is readily apparent that if a check or document is sucked by the sucking means against the envelope sides, that the extracting means might not extract this check or document. Also, thickness checking is a very expensive method to improve reliability and costs considerably more than an emptying machine without this feature. In addition, this prior art machine, in the presence of an envelope which has not been emptied, will stop operation, thereby slowing down the mail processing operation.

Machines are known in the art that will handle automatically special types of mail, i,e., envelopes of the type having a perforated tear flap. These machines, while being simple in construction and reliable in operation are only for opening envelopes with no document extracting being performed. Consequently, manual handling of the mail is not eliminated with this type of machine.

OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION Accordingly, it is an important object of this invention to provide an improved apparatus and method which will automatically remove the contents of an envelope with a degree of reliability that has hitherto not been achieved.

It is another object of the present invention to provide an improved apparatus and method which would automatically process mail of various thicknesses, condition and mixture of contents.

It is still another object of the present invention to provide an improved apparatus and method wherein envelopes which have not been emptied, or completely emptied, will be rejected automatically without disturbing the operation of the apparatus.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide an improved apparatus and method which will automatically sort the contents of an envelope, an envelope that has not been emptied or completely emptied, and a completely emptied envelope in separate receptacles, with a degree of reliability, and in a manner that has hitherto not been achieved.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION In accordance with these and other objects, a method and apparatus is disclosed herein to remove the contents of an envelope automatically by extracting the envelope from an entry station, shearing the ends of the envelope at a shearing station, utilizing a unique drum and vacuum means at an exit station to separate the sides of the envelope while the envelope is in a vertical position, allowing the contents of the envelope to fall into a stacker, sensing the document fall-out at the stacker, rejecting an envelope that has been completely emptied and ejecting to a scrap receptacle a completely emptied envelope.

Summarizing in slightly more detail the instant invention, a hopper, with envelopes contained therein is positioned at an entry station. A pivoted vacuum head tilts to engage a bottom envelope from the hopper. The vacuum head then tilts downward aligning the leading edge of the envelope with an exit gate. The bottom envelope is subsequently carried forward on a reciprocating feed trolley, which advances envelopes in a forward direction on a forward stroke where the envelopes are supported by anti-back pawls. Conversely, feed dogs pivot under the envelopes on a reverse stroke of reciprocating feed trolley. Accordingly, an envelope is advanced forward to a shearing station, where the envelope is positioned under a pair of blades which shear off the ends of the envelope while it is in a stationary position. The envelope is then fed under a concave flexible vacuum head, which is in an extended position, and located over the vee pockets of a rotatable drum. All of the aforementioned elements, inter alia, part of the exit station. The vacuum head then retracts forcing the envelope down into the vee pockets.

Rigidly attached to the reciprocating feed trolley is a guide means which rides a helical cam attached to an oscillating shaft. Accordingly, a forward stroke of the trolley will rotate the oscillating shaft counterclockwise 90. Conversely, a reverse stroke of the trolley will rotate the oscillating shaft clockwise 90. The rotatable drum is mounted on the shaft by bearings and only rotates with the shaft when the concave flexible vacuum head is in the retracted position, i.e., when forcing an envelope into the vee pockets. Consequently, a reverse trolley stroke rotates the envelope, drum and vacuum head clockwise 90 to an empty position. When the 90 rotation is completed, the vacuum head moves away from the drum buckling the envelope open. Since the envelope is now in a vertical position, the contents will fall out by gravity into a document stacker which senses whether or not documents have been emptied. On a forward stroke of the trolley, the oscillating shaft rotates the concave flexible vacuum head counterclockwise 90 back to the load position, while the drum is stationary.

On the next 90 drum rotation, the first envelope is carried to the reject position. If no documents were sensed in the previous position, a reject kicker is activated to remove the envelope from the drum into a reject receptacle. If documents had been sensed, the emptied envelope stays on the drum, which rotates on the next cycle 90 to an eject position, where the emptied envelope by means of an eject kicker is ejected into an eject receptacle.

The foregoing and other objects, novel features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following more particular description of the preferred embodiment as illustrated in the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the apparatus according to the invention showing the principal elements thereof.

FIG. 1a is a partial sectional view showing the relationship of the concave flexible vacuum head, the rotatable drum and oscillating shaft when the concave flexible vacuum head is in a retracted position.

FIG. 2 is an end view of the apparatus to primarily show the elements of the exit station.

FIGS. 3a-e show the method of opening and emptying an envelope with documents contained therein according to the invention.

FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram of the pneumatics employed in the operation of the invention.

FIG. 5 is a timing diagram showing the interrelationship of the various elements of the invention during the processing of an envelope.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT The following is a brief description of the apparatus of the instant invention. A more detailed description and operation of the apparatus according to the invention is described hereinafter under the heading Statement of the Operation.

Referring first to FIG. 1, a plurality of envelopes 10, containing documents to be extracted, are retained in hopper 12. The following will describe one envelope and follow it through the machine cycles. At the beginning of a cycle, reciprocating feed trolley 18 is in the reverse position, i.e., to the left as shown in the figure. When the start button 74 is depressed (see FIG. 4) hopper vacuum head 14, which is pivotally attached to reciprocating feed trolley 18, tilts counterclockwise so that hopper vacuum head 14 engages the front edge of a first bottom envelope contained in hopper 12. With vacuum applied, hopper vacuum head 14 pulls the front edge of the first envelope down below hopper gate 15 by pivoting clockwise, thereby allowing only one envelope at a time to be extracted. Hopper vacuum head air cylinder 14a is the means by which hopper vacuum head 14 is tilted. In the Statement of the Operation this operation will be explained in some detail.

As aforementioned, hopper vacuum head 14 is pivotally attached to reciprocating feed trolley 18; therefore the first envelope is carried forward as reciprocating trolley 18 moves forward, i.e., to the right. The first envelope is carried to the point where it passes under the first of a plurality of anti-back pawls 20. Since the antiback pawls are pivotally attached to feed guides 26, at the point where the first envelope engages the antiback pawls, it passes under the anti-back pawls which pivot counterclockwise allowing the first envelope to pass under them. Accordingly, after the first envelope has passed, the antiback pawls pivot clockwise. Consequently, when reciprocating feed trolley 18 reverses on a subsequent cycle, the anti-back pawls will fall (by gravity) behind the trailing edge of the first envelope thereby restraining the first envelope from being pulled backwards. Concurrently, hopper vacuum is turned off (as will be discussed in the Statement of the Operation) so that the first envelope is released. Also, since hopper vacuum head 14 is attached to reciprocating feed trolley 18, hopper vacuum head 14 moves with reciprocat' ing trolley 18 back to its initial position to repeat the cycle and extract a second envelope.

After hopper vacuum head 14 engages a second envelope, it tilts down to clear the front edge of the envelope at which time reciprocating feed trolley 18 again reciprocates in the forward direction. At it does, the first envelope which is sitting in front of feed dogs 22 is pushed forward by the feed dogs from its immediate position out to the next position.

Feed dogs 22 normally remain in the position as shown in FIG. 1. These feed dogs are pivotally mounted, so that when reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves in a forward direction, the toe or front of the dogs will push against the back edge of the first envelope and move it along with reciprocating feed trolley 18. When the reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves in a reverse direction, the toe of feed dogs 22 strike the envelope back behind, and because the feed dogs are pivoted, and only depend on the weight of their tails to hold them in their upright position, they just pivot to a horizontal position, thereby passing underneath the envelope. After the feed dogs have passed under the envelope, they pivot back to their normal position ready to push an envelope forward on the next cycle.

Consequently, the first feed dogs 22 push the first envelope forward as reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves forward so that the first envelope is positioned directly under shearing blades 24. The envelopes l0, and particularly, the first envelope are kept aligned and in position by a means of feed guides 26 which are attached to main frame support 27. At the shearing station, there is another set of anti-back pawls 20 and a set of feed dogs 22 so that when reciprocating feed trolley 18 pulls the feed dogs backwards, they pivot down and under the first envelope, and accordingly, the first envelope is held in position by the anti-back pawls aforementioned. Now, when reciprocating feed trolley 18 makes areverse stroke, the first envelope is stationary (held by anti-back pawls) and at that point in time, shearing blades 24 are pushed downward and shear the ends from this envelope.

At this point in time, the reciprocating feed trolley 18 continues its leftmost or reverse direction, and hopper vacuum head 14 is now ready to pivot up and engage a third envelope. On the next forward motion of reciprocating feed trolley 18, the first, second and third envelopes all move forward to the next position. At this next position, there is another set of anti-back pawls and feed dogs. The cyclic actionis repeated once more, this time, of course, as reciprocating feed trolley 18 reverses to the left, shearing blades 24 shear the edges of I the second envelope. Also, hopper vacuum head 14 engages a fourth envelope, and then as reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves forward again, thefirst, second, third and fourth envelopes all move forward in unison. During the prior forward motion of reciprocating feed trolley, the first envelope has been pushed forward onto loading platform feed guide 28, which is positioned over rotatable drum 40. This position of rotatable drum 40 is the load position.

Now that the first envelope is on loading platform feed guide 28, it is important to describe another function of reciprocating feed trolley 18 other than transporting a plurality of envelopes to the load position aforementioned.

Still referring to FIG. 1, rigidly attached to reciprocating feed trolley 18 in a helical guide support 30 having fixed thereto, a pair followers 31 and helical guide 32. Followers 31 and helical guide 32 ride on helical cam 34 which is integral with oscillating shaft 36. Reciprocating feed air cyclinder 18a is attached to guide support 30 by means of clevis 33. Accordingly, the linear motion of reciprocating feed trolley 18 is transformed into a rotational motion of oscillating shaft 36. Helical cam 34 is spiralled over 90 along the length of oscillating shaft 36; therefore, as reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves forward, oscillating shaft 36 rotates counterclockwise 90, and of course, as reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves backwards, oscillating shaft 36 rotates clockwise 90. Accordingly, oscillating shaft 36 continually oscillates in synchronism with the reciprocating motion of reciprocating feed trolley 18.

Referring now to FIG. 1a, rotatable drum 40 is mounted on oscillating shaft 36 by means of rotatable drum bearings 42 and main frame bearing 43. Consequently, rotatable drum 40 is not rigidly attached to oscillating shaft 36, thereby permitting free rotation of oscillating shaft 36 within rotatable drum bearing 42. But at the end of oscillating shaft 36, vacuum head support mechanism 44 is rigidly attached to oscillating shaft 36 by means of taper pin 45. Accordingly, as oscillating shaft 36 rotates, vacuum head mechanism 44 will oscillate in synchronism therewith. As will be described hereinbelow, rotatable drum 40 only rotates when engaged by vacuum head 46 when it is in a retracted position as shown.

Referring again to FIG. 1, concave flexible vacuum head 46, an integral part of vacuum head support mechanism 44, is shown in the extended position (disengaged from rotatable drum 40). As shown in FIG. 1, and in better detail in FIGS. 3a through 3e, vacuum head 46 is concave and preferably of a flexible material. (More detail on this aspect of the invention will be discussed in connection with a description of FIGS. 3a-3e.) Associated with vacuum head support mechanism 44 is vacuum head air cylinder 46a which allows vacuum head support mechanism 44 and concave flexible vacuum head 46, which is integral therewith, to be in an extended position or a retracted position depending on the operation to be performed. (For more detail of the operation of vacuum head air cylinder 46a, see Statement of the Operation.)

Rotatable drum 40 comprises a plurality of vee pockets 50 and a plurality of envelope backer supports 52. Each vee pocket contains two pairs of vee pocket arms 51. As discussed hereinbefore, the first envelope is now in the load position retained by loading platform feed guide 28 over rotatable drum 40. As reciprocating feed trolley 18 completes a forward motion and dwells before a reverse motion begins, vacuum head 46 (as shown in FIG. 1a) is retracted forcing the first envelope down into vee pockets 50, the bottom side of the first envelope being restrained by envelope backer supports 52. As aforementioned, in the retracted position, vacuum head 46 engages to rotatable drum 40 by means of vacuum head support mechanism 44 being wedged between the pairs of vee pockets arms 51 (see FIG. 1a). On the next cycle, reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves in a reverse direction rotating oscillating shaft 36 clockwise, thereby rotating the first envelope, concave flexible vacuum head 46 and rotatable drum 40 clockwise to the empty position.

Referring to FIG. 2', rotatable drum 40 is shown as having reached the empty position. Vacuum head 46, while in the empty position, once again extends, thus buckling open the first envelope allowing the documents contained therein to drop (by gravity) into document chute 54 (FIG. 2). (The method of buckling open envelopes 10 will be discussed hereinafter in conjunction with FIGS. 3a-3e.) Document sensor 56 is integral with document chute 54 to sense whether or not documents have fallen into document stacker 58.

Referring to FIGS. 1 and 2, concave flexible vacuum head 46 is still in the extended position and therefore free of rotatable drum 40. Accordingly, as reciproc ating feed trolley 18 starts a forward motion, oscillating shaft 36 rotates counterclockwise carrying concave flexible vacuum head 46 and its mechanism 44 back up over rotatable drum 40 as shown. The second envelope is now in the load position, ready to be forced into rotatable drum 40 on the next cycle.

Referring to FIG. 2, if documents dropped out of the first envelope in the correct time frame, the documents are sensed by document sensor 56 and sensing logic housed in pneumatic control box 70. The sensed information is stored by the sensing logic to be used for succeeding cycles. On the next cycle, the first envelope is rotated to the reject position. The first envelope is not rejected because documents were sensed by document sensor 56 detecting that the first envelope is empty. Finally, the first envelope is rotated from the reject position to the eject position. Since the first envelope is empty, the system logic activates eject kicker 60 which will strip it from vee pockets 50 and onto eject chute 62, where it falls into scrap receptacle 64.

In the alternative, if documents do not fall out of the first envelope, when it is in the empty position, accordingly, no documents are sensed by document sensor 56. This information will be stored by the sensing logic housed in pneumatic control box 70. Since the first envelope is now suspect, i.e., contain documents or documents did not fall out in the proper time frame, the first envelope is rejected, after being rotated to the reject position, by means of reject kicker 66 into reject receptacle 68.

Also depicted in FIG. 2 is shearing air cylinder 24a which will be explained in the Statement of the Operation.

The key elements, according to the invention, have been described in conjunction with FIGS. 1, 1a and 2. Still to be discussed in conjunction with FIGS. 3a through 3e, is an important feature of the invention, i.e., the method of buckling opening an envelope containing documents. The shape of concave flexible vacuum head 46 and the constraining and buckling open of an envelope are important features which improve the reliability of the instant invention.

Referring to FIG. 3a, an envelope is shown in the load position. Concave flexible vacuum head 46, previously described, as being concave and made of a flexible material, e.g., rubber, plastic, metal, etc., is in the extended position directly above envelope 10. In FIG. 3b, concave flexible vacuum head 46 is shown starting its retractive motion. Since vacuum has been applied and vacuum head 46 is concave and flexible, envelope 10 is held in a flexed position, as shown. The retraction of vacuum 46 is continued as shown in FIG. 3c. as shown, the edges of envelope 10 are reverse flexed by virtue of contact with the top edges of vee pocket arms 51. As aforementioned, rotatable drum 40 is in the load position. Finally, as shown in FIG. 3d, while rotatable drum 40 is still in the load position, concave flexible vacuum head 46 continues to retract forcing the bottom side of envelope 10 against envelope backer supports 52. When fully inserted into vee pockets 50, concave flexible vacuum head 46, being flexible, allows the topside of envelope 10 to break free and assume a natural curve contiguous with concave flexible vacuum head 46 as shownjAs was described hereinbefore, rotatable drum 40, concave flexible vacuum head 46 and envelope 10 rotates to the empty position as shown in FIGS. 3d-e. Now, in FIG. 3e, concave flexible vacuum head 46 is extended from vee pockets 50. The bottom side of envelope 10 will have a natural bend giving it strength to remain bowed while the concave shape of vacuum head 46 will cause the topside of envelope 10 to reverse bend until envelope 10 is fully buckled open as shown. The size of vee pockets 50 is such that envelope 10 will remain opened and the documents contained therein are free to drop out. Envelope 10 is pulled slightly out of vee pockets 50 by the extraction of concave flexible vacuum head 46 while vacuum is still being applied. At this point, the vacuum is released. Thus envelope 10 snaps back into vee pockets 50, thereby vibrating the documents therein overcoming any static attraction of the documents to the sides of envelopes 10. This vibrating or jarring effect frees the documents from the sides of envelope 10 and improves the reliability of the total operation.

STATEMENT OF THE OPERATION Details of the operation, according to the invention, are now described in connection with FIGS. 4 and 5. The essential elements of the apparatus shown in FIGS. 1 through 3 correspond to those in the schematic representation of the apparatus as shown in FIG. 4, and accordingly, are represented by the same reference numbers depicted in FIGS. 1 through 3. Those elements, not previously described, are indicated by the designations as shown in the schematic representation of the invention as depicted in FIG. 4.

The instant invention utilizes pneumatic technology and logic in order to simplify the logic requirements and also allow logic functions to be mechanically automated.

The several elements of the invention, as shown in FIGS. 1 through 3, are components well known in the art, except for concave flexible vacuum head 46 and rotatable drum 40 having a plurality of vee pockets 50 (see FIG. 1). The significant aspects of the invention involve the shape of the concave flexible vacuum head 46 and the timing and release of an envelope to be processed. This timing and the logic involved therewith will be further explained hereinbelow in the operation of the invention.

Referring now to the schematic representation depicted in FIG. 4, start valve 72 is shown in the deactivated position and accordingly, the apparatus of the instant invention is at rest or stationary. As shown, there is an exhaust to the atmosphere through start valve 72 from interlock valve 76. The exhaust point on each valve in FIG. 4 is represented by EX. The source of external air pressure, i.e., working pressure, is depicted in FIG. 4 by P. The source of vacuum is represented by VAC. The dotted lines in the schematic are pilot lines and are utilized solely to active another valve, e.g., the line between start valve 72 and interlock valve 76. The solid lines in the schematic representation are internal working air pressure lines or vacuum lines. Accordingly, the air pressure or vacuum on these lines is used to accomplish mechanical work, e.g., moving an air cylinder.

When start button 74 is pressed and activates start valve 72, external pressure is transferred through the valve, activating interlock valve 76. Interlock valve 76, being in an activated state, causes internal working air pressure to flow to reverse sense valve 78. At this point Consequently, working air pressure flows through reverse sense valve 78 through the working air pressure line to hopper vacuum head air cylinder 14a. Accordingly, this cylinder extends, tilting or pivoting hopper vacuum head 14 in a position to engage an envelope as hereinbefore explained in the Description of the Preferred Embodiment. Vacuum to hopper vacuum head 14 is applied via hopper head vacuum valve 80, which is shown deactivated in FIG. 4. But at the same time, working air pressure, depicted by the solid line from reverse sense valve 78, is applied to hopper vacuum head air cylinder 14a, also, pilot air pressure from the same line activates hopper head vacuum valve 80, thereby allowing vacuum to be applied to hopper vacuum head 14. Now hopper vacuum head 14 engages a first bottom envelope.

Referring again to FIG. 5, at a time slightly after T the first significant operation is that hopper vacuum head 14 moves from its up position to its down position. This operation is completed at T For a further explanation of the aforementioned operation, refer again to FIG. 4.

As shown, a pilot line connected to the same pilot line that activated hopper head vacuum valve 80 is connected to vacuum head control valve 82. Valve 82 becomes activated, thereby activating reciprocating feed control valve 84. (Other operations occur when vacuum head control valve 82 is activated, which will be discussed hereinbelow.) Now, reciprocating feed control valve 84 has been activated allowing external source air pressure to flow to reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a, starting a forward motion of reciprocating feed trolley 18 (see FIG. 5). At this point in time, a working air pressure line, i.e., solid line, off of reciprocating feed control valve 84 allows working air pressure to flow to hopper vacuum head air cylinder 14a thereby forcing hopper vacuum head 14 in a down position, as previously mentioned hereinabove.

Referring again to FIG. 5, it can be seen that the time for hopper vacuum head 14 to travel to a down position is short compared to the time for reciprocating feed trolley 18 to reach its forward position. This is due to the construction and design of the air cylinders involved, i.e., hopper vacuum head air cylinder 14a and reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a. (The construction and design of the air cylinders are well known in the art and will not be further explained herein.) To continue, at T reciprocating feed trolley 18 has barely started its forward motion. A summary of the operations that have occurred or will occur are depicted on the horizontal axis of FIG. 5. So, at the time T recriprocating feed trolley 18 is moving forward finally reaching its end position at time T Referring again to FIG. 4, concurrent with activation or reciprocating feed control valve 84, pilot air pressure is applied to forward sense valve 86. This valve is activated by cam actuated mechanical means due to the full-forward position of reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a. The aforementioned pilot air pressure is routed through forward sense valve 86 to vacuum head control valve 82, reversing or deactivating this valve. In turn, reciprocating feed control valve 84 is deactivated. At the sametime, pilot air pressure from forward sense valve 86 flows to hopper head vacuum valve 80 deactivating this valve, thereby turning off the vacuum from hopper vacuum head 14. This operation is necessary to release the'first envelope which has been moving forward with reciprocating feed trolley 18 (see FIG. 1). As hereinbefore described, on the first cycle of reciprocating feed trolley 18, the first envelope is carried forward by means of hopper vacuum head 14 being attached to reciprocating feed trolley 18. Now since reciprocating feed trolley 18 is about to begin a reverse cycle, the first envelope is maintained at its forward position by the release vacuum from hopper vacuum head 14. An explanation of this operation follows hereinbelow.

Reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a is moving to the left or the reverse direction (FIG. 4). As hereinbefore described, working air pressure has been applied to reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a. This air pressure is tapped and a pilot line is routed to shearing sense valve 88. This valve is shown schematically at a position which corresponds to the middle of the stroke of reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a in FIG. 4. Shearing sense valve 88 is activated on the reverse and forward stroke of reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a by cam actuated mechanical means. But pilot air pressure is applied to this valve only on a reverse stroke of reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a. Accordingly, pilot air pressure is transferred through shearing sense valve 88 only on a reverse stroke of reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a. Also, the first envelope is now stationary, as previously mentioned, at the shearing station. When shearing sense valve 88 is activated, pilot air pressure flows to shearing valve 90, thereby activating this valve allowing external source air pressure to flow to shearing air cylinder 24a. This air pressure causes shearing blades 24 to move downward shearing the end of the first envelope. In the meantime, reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a continues its rearward movement passing by shearing sense valve 88 which, again, becomes deactivated. Accordingly, pilot air pressure to shearing valve 90 is removed and due to shearing valve spring 92, returns to a deactivated condition. This operation allows external air pressure to be applied to shearing air cylinder 24a, thereby retracting shearing blades 24.

Describing the above with respect to the timing diagram of FIG. 5, it will beseen that reciprocating feed trolley 18 has reached its forward position at time T Forward sense valve 86 is activated and stays activated during a dwell period of reciprocating feed trolley 18. At time T reciprocating feed trolley 18 starts its reverse motion, and slightly thereafter, forward sense valve 86 is deactivated at a time slightly before T At time T shearing blades 24 move from a dwell position to a shearing position, as aforementioned. Slightly prior to reaching its reverse position, reciprocating feed trolley 18, by cam actuated mechanical means, activates reverse sense valve 78. Reciprocating feed trolley 18 continues its reverse movement which is completed at time T During the period slightly after time T shearing blades 24 shear the ends of the first envelope. There is a slight dwell period, and after pilot air pressure is removed from shearing valve 90, this valve returns to a deactivated state by means of shearing valve spring 92 (see FIG. 4). Accordingly, shearing blades 24 return to a dwell or up position by time T When reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a reaches its full reverse position, the operations herein described before, are repeated, i.e., a second envelope starts its forward progression and will follow the same sequence as did the first envelope. Accordingly, it will suffice to follow the progress of the first envelope to fully understand the system logic and timing employed in the instant invention as depicted in FIGS. 4 and 5.

Consequently, reciprocating feed trolley 18, after a dwell period, moves forward at a time T as shown in FIG. 5. The first envelope, as depicted in FIG. 5, and described hereinbefore in the detailed description is carried forward and positioned over rotatable drum 40.

At a time slightly before T forward sense valve 86 is activated in response'to the cam mechanism on reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a. As shown in FIG. 4, a pilot air line from forward sense valve 86 activates vacuum head control valve 82 which allows external working air pressure to be applied to vacuum head air cylinder 46a. Accordingly, the aforementioned working air pressure causes concave flexible vacuum head 46 to retract, thereby, forcing the first envelope into vee pockets 50 which are integral with rotatable drum 40 (see FIGS. 1 and 2).

Now describing this operation with respect to the timing diagram, the first envelope has moved forward with the forward motion of reciprocating feed trolley 18 to a load position over rotatable drum 40. As shown in FIG. 5, this operation occurs between times T and T At T concave flexible vacuum head 46 is in an extended position. There is a dwell period and as described hereinbefore, concave flexible vacuum head 46 is retracted, thereby forcing the first envelope into vee pockets 50 at a time T As seen from FIG. 5, slightly before concave flexible vacuum head 46 starts retracting, vacuum is applied at a time slightly before T Referring to FIGS. 4 and 5 concurrently, it can be seen that slightly before T forward sense valve 86 is activated. Accordingly, pilot air pressure from that valve flows also to concave flexible vacuum head valve 94. This valve is activated causing vacuum to be applied to concave flexible vacuum head 46 as previously indicated.

After the above operations have taken place, up to a time T as depicted in FIG. 5, rotatable drum 40 is in a dwell state. Slightly after time T,;, as reciprocating feed trolley 18 moves in a reverse direction, oscillating shaft 36 is rotated thereby, (see also Description of the Preferred Embodiment) during the time period T to T Consequently, rotatable drum 40 is rotated to an empty position during the period T to T Accordingly, rotatable drum 40, the first envelope and concave flexible vacuum head 46 with vacuum applied, are rotated to the empty position.

The next operation is to buckle the sides of the first envelope open. This operation commences slightly after time T and is completed at time T as shown in FIG. 5. Also, reciprocating feed trolley 18 is in a reverse position, and as aforementioned, reverse sense valve 78 is activated by mechanical cam means, thereby applying pilot air pressure to vacuum head control valve 82. Consequently, vacuum head control valve 82 is activated, thereby extending concave flexible vacuum head 46 by means of applying working air pressure to vacuum head air cylinder 46a. As concave flexible vacuum head 46 is being extended, at time T vacuum shut-off sense valve 96 is activated by mechanical means, thereby deactivating vacuum head valve 94, thus, releasing vacuum from concave flexible vacuum head 46. As can be seen from FIG. 5, vacuum shut-off sense valve 96 is activated for a short time, slightly after T The time is such that as concave flexible vacuum head 46 is being extended, the first envelope is pulled slightly out of vee pockets 50 (see FIG. 3). Now, when vacuum is released, the first envelope snaps back fully into vee pockets 50, causing a vibrating action. The documents in the first envelope will normally fall by gravity. If for such reasons, as creased documents, static forces between the first envelope and the documents therein, the documents do not fall, the vibrating action will tend to release the documents restrained, thus, improving the reliability of document fallout. The document fallout takes place within a time period T to T as shown in FIG. 5.

Refer to FIGS. 4 and 5 concurrently for an understanding of the operations occurring just prior to T and during the period T to T First, if the documents have fallen out of the first envelope, then, as shown in FIG. 4, document sense valve 98, by means of document sensor 56, is activated. External source pilot air then flows to document sense interlock valve 100. Document sense interlock valve is activated only during a period of time at which an envelope is in the empty position. So, from FIGS. 4 and 5, during the reverse dwell period of reciprocating feed trolley 18, and at time T document sense interlock valve 100 is in the activated or enabling state. Consequently, since documents have been sensed, pilot air pressure from document sense valve 98 is transferred through document interlock valve 100. Therefore, any time a docu ment is sensed, document sense memory valve is activated. There is no external air pressure to document sense memory valve 110. Accordingly, this valve is'conditioned to the fact that it has been activated and that documents have been sensed but no information is transferred through the valve at this point in time.

Referring to FIG. 5, at time T reciprocating feed trolley 18 is in a forward dwell position about to start a reverse cycle. As aforementioned, shearing valve 90 is activated at T and as shown in FIG. 4, pilot air pressure flows to document sense memory valve 110. This pilot air pressure is transferred through document sense memory valve 110 to reject memory valve 112, thereby activating this valve. At this point in time, reject memory valve 112 simply stores the information that documents have fallen out of the first envelope. The activating of reject memory valve 112 disables reject kicker 66 in order that the first envelope will not be rejected on the next cycle. Referring again to FIG. 5, after a forward dwell period, reciprocating feed trolley 18 starts a reverse cycle. Accordingly, rotatable drum 40 with the first envelope attached, rotates to the reject position, concurrent with times T to T,., Since the first envelope contains no documents, reject kicker 66 is disabled or in a dwell state. Therefore, the reject operation, which would ordinarily occur during the period T through T does not occur. So at T reciprocating feed trolley 18 reaches its reverse position, dwells, and then starts a forward motion at T When this occurs, forward sense valve 86 is activated. Referring to FIG. 4, it can be seen that pilot air pressure flows to reject memory valve 112, deactivating this valve, thus destroying the memory therein. The information stored, i.e., documents have fallen, is not needed since the point where the first envelope could have been rejected has been passed.

Between the period T to T rotatable drum 40 rotates the first envelope to the eject position. Reciprocating feed trolley 18 has just started a reverse cycle and as aforementioned vacuum head control valve 82 is activated at the end of this cycle, (see FIG. 4). Accordingly, working air pressure flows to eject kicker 60, thereby ejecting the first envelope. This operation occurs during a reverse dwell period of reciprocating feed trolley 18 during the time interval T to T as shown in FIG. 5. Eject kicker 60 is reset or returned to a dwell state on a forward cycle of reciprocating feed trolley 18 as shown in FIGS. 4 and 5.

In the alternative, if documents have not been sensed during the period T to T (see FIG. 5). As aforementioned, the first envelope, now containing documents, is rotated to the reject position during the period T to T As herinbefore noted at this point in time, reject memory valve 112 has not been activated, reciprocating feed trolley 18 is in a reverse dwell position, and vacuum head control valve 82 has been activated. As depicted in FIG. 4, working air pressure flows through reject memory valve 112 while it is in a deactivated state, thereby extending reject kicker 66 and rejecting the first envelope. This operation is shown in FIG. 5 by the dash-dot line during the period T through T When reciprocating feed trolley 18 is in a forward dwell position (prior to T reject kicker 66 is reset or changed to a dwell state by working air pressure from vacuum head control valve 82 when this valve is in a deactivated state.

Referring again to FIG. 4, as document information is being transferred from document sensed memory valve 110 to reject memory valve 112, during a shearing cycle, as previously explained, the same pilot line from shearing valve 90 that fed document sense memory valve 110, also resets document sense interlock valve 100 by means of reset delay variable orifice 114. The previous reset operation is necessary in order to ready the apparatus for the second envelope which is following in sequence. The delay of the pilot air pressure to document sense interlock valve 100, by means of reset delay variable orifice 114, is necessary in order not to deactivate or reset document sense interlock valve 100 at the same time that information is being transferred to document sense memory valve 110. So by delaying the deactivation of document sense interlock valve 100, slightly, it allows time for the transfer of the aforementioned information to take place.

Finally, to turn the apparatus off, stop button 116 is depressed activating stop valve 118. This action deactivates interlock valve 76 by means of external source pilot air pressure thereby eliminating working air pressure to reverse sense valve 78. Accordingly, when reciprocating feed trolley air cylinder 18a moves to a reverse position, the apparatus ceases to operate since there is no air pressure to start the next sequence.

While the invention has been shown and described with reference to preferred embodiments thereof, it will be appreciated by those of skill in the art that variations in form may be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.

What is claimed is:

I. An apparatus for opening and emptying envelopes of various thicknesses comprising:

an entry station including means for retaining a plurality of envelopes containing documents to be emptied, and means for extracting a single envelope from said retaining means;

a shearing station including means for shearing the ends of an envelope while said envelope is in a stationary position;

an exit station including rotatable drum means having a plurality of vee pocket arms thereon and concave flexible vacuum means, said vacuum means cooperating with said drum means to force an envelope into the vee pockets of said vee pocket arms while said drum means is in a load position, said envelope, said drum and said vacuum means being movable from said load position to an empty position to properly position said envelope whereupon said vacuum means buckles open the sides of said envelope allowing documents contained therein to fall by gravity; and

means for transporting said envelopes, containing documents to be emptied, from said entry station to said shearing station and from said shearing station to said exit station.

2. The apparatus according to claim 1 further including as part of said exit station a document chute having a document stacker integral therewith for accumulating said documents while said drum is in said empty position.

3. The apparatus according to claim 2 further including a document sensor integral with said document chute for sensing whether or not said documents have entered said document chute within a certain time interval.

4. The apparatus according to claim 1 further including as part of said exit station a reject receptacle for receiving by means of a reject kicker envelopes still containing documents, or a high probability thereof, as determined by said document sensor, said reject kicker being operable while said drum is in a reject position.

5. The apparatus according to claim 1 further including as part of said exit station a scrap receptacle for receiving by means of an eject kicker envelopes that have been emptied as determined by said document sensor, said eject kicker being operable while said drum is in an eject position.

6. The apparatus according to claim 1 further including an oscillating shaft having a helical cam rigidly attached thereto, said helical cam being operable by means of a helical guide rigidly attached to said transport means and followers causing said oscillating shaft to rotate counterclockwise as said transport means move in a forward direction and causing said oscillating shaft to rotate clockwise as said transport means move in a reverse direction.

7. The apparatus according to claim 6 in which said oscillating shaft is rigidly attached to said concave flexible vacuum head and rotatably mounted in said rotatable drum by bearing means, while in an extended position, said concave flexible vacuum head being rotatable in synchronism with said oscillating shaft with said drum remaining stationary.

8. The apparatus according to claim 7 in which said rotatable drum, oscillating shaft and concave flexible vacuum head rotate together when said concave flexible vacuum head is in a retracted position.

9. The apparatus according to claim 1 in which said transporting means comprises:

a main frame support having feed guides integral therewith;

a reciprocating feed trolley attached to said main frame support;

a plurality of anti-back pawls pivotally attached to said feed guides, said anti-back pawls allowing forward motion of said envelopes on a forward stroke of said reciprocating feed trolley and preventing reverse motion of said envelopes on a reverse stroke of said reciprocating feed trolley; and

a plurality of feed dogs pivotally attached to said reciprocating feed trolley, said feed dogs on a forward stroke of said reciprocating feed trolley pushposition over said load position of said rotatable drum, said concave flexible vacuum head when in a retracting position, forcing said envelope into said rotatable drum vee pockets and triggering a reverse trolley stroke which rotates said envelope, said rotatable drum and said concave flexible vacuum head to an empty position whereupon said concave flexible vacuum head extends from said rotatable drum thereby buckling said envelope open allowing documents contained therein to fall by gravity into a document chute; 55 head;

a document sensor integral with said document chute f i th b t id f id envelope against a for sensing whether or not said documents have enconstraining means to f ll insert id envelope tered said document chute within a certain time ini t vee k t f id vee k t arms, id terval; 60 uum head being flexible to allow the topside of said a reject receptacle for receiving by means of a reject envelope to break free and assume a natural curve kicker envelopes still containing documents, or a contiguous with said concave flexible vacuum high probability thereof, as determined by said head; document sensor, said reject kicker being operable rotating said envelope, said vee pocket arms and said while said drum is in a reject position; and 65 concave flexible vacuum head to a vertical posia scrap receptacle for receiving by means of an eject kicker envelopes that have been emptied as determined by said document sensor, said eject kicker being operable while said drum is in an eject position.

1 1. A method of opening and emptying envelopes of various thicknesses wherein a completely emptied envelope and the documents contained therein are sorted from an envelope with a high probability of not being completely emptied comprising the steps of:

extracting a bottom envelope with documents contained therein from a hopper by means of a hopper ing against the back edge of said envelopes thereby Vacuun} l located at an entry station; moving said envelopes forward with said reciprotransporting Sald envelope y mean? of a reclprocat' cating feed trolley, and on reverse stroke of said relngfeed tVolley to a s'hearmg ciprocating feed trolley, said feed dogs pivoting to Shearmg F of Said f f p enve a horizontal position passing under an envelope fol- 91 m a Stationary Posltlon at said Shear lowing in sequence. u

10. Apparatus for automatically opening envelopes transPomng 531d envelope by j of Sand f of various thicknesses wherein a completely emptied Catmg feed trolley to a loajmlg platform s'tuated envelope and the documents thereof are sorted from an over a rotatable drum havmg a plurahty f vee envelope with a high probability of not being compocket arms wlth pockets mtegral pletely emptied comprising: therewith, said loading platform and said rotatable a hopper for retaining a plurality of envelopes con- P belng located an anon;

mining documents to be extracted. forcing said envelope into said rotatable drum vee a hopper vacuum head which engages a bottom enve- Pocket by means, of a retractmg Pockets fl l lope pulling the leading edge of said envelope g l 311th f f applied whlle sald below a hopper exit gate, said exit gate being intei 3 0a gral with the front of said hopper and cooperating P Sald envelope Sald drum and ii concave with said vacuum head so that only a single enveflexlifle vacfuum head to empty 'posmon; lope is extracted from Said hopper, extending said concave flexible vacuum head bucka reciprocating feed trolley being attached to said 1mg O.pen said einvelope wher.eby.smd documents pp vacuum head so that a forward reciprocaw contained therein fall by gravity into a document ing motion of said reciprocating feed trolley ad- P b f vances said envelope in a forward direction" sensmg t 6 or a i Sal documents by a shearing means positioned in the path of said ad- -Z mltegralbwlth Sald document chute; re ecting sat enve ope y means of a reject kicker vancin envelo e so that when said envelo e is stationary at said s liearing means said shearin g means a reject receptacle aim-Er Said rc-natzible dn-lm being activated to shear the ends of said envelope" has rotated posmon only If Sald sensing means etecte t e absence of said documents in a rotatable drum having a plurality of vee pocket Said document chute and arms integral therewith with vee pockets thereon ejecting Said envelope means of an eject kicker g P l I zi Yf n' Sald :9 40 into a scrap receptacle after said drum has been rog a 1 t sf? d tated to an e ect position only if said sensing means If f a L i g a? denve ope 0 0a p051 detected the presence of documents in said docuion 0 sm ro a a e rum; mem chute a concave flexible vacuum head being in an extended 12. A method of reliably emptying documents of van ious thicknesses from an envelope from which the ends have been sheared comprising the steps of:

retracting a concave flexible vacuum head, with vacuum being applied, into contact with said envelope whereupon said envelope is held in a concave flexed position; flexing the edges of said envelope in a reverse direction by moving said envelope into contact with vee pocket arms, said contact being due to the continued retraction of said concave flexible vacuum tion; extending said concave flexible vacuum head there by pulling said envelope slightly out of said vee vibrating said envelope by releasing said vacuum at the instant of extension of said concave flexible vacuum head at which point said envelope snaps back fully into said vee pockets thereby overcoming any static attraction between said documents and said envelope.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification53/492, 414/412, 53/381.6, 53/381.3, 83/912, 53/53
International ClassificationB43M7/02
Cooperative ClassificationB43M7/02, Y10S83/912
European ClassificationB43M7/02