US 3926323 A
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Description (OCR text may contain errors)
United States Patent Frank et al.
[ Dec. 16, 1975 METHOD OF AND APPARATUS FOR VIAL TRANSFERRING AND CHANGING Inventors: Edmund Frank, Chicago; Edward F.
Polic, Lisle, both of I11.
Packard Instrument Company, Inc., Downers Grove, 111.
Filed: Apr. 10, 1970 Appl. No.: 27,406
US. Cl. 214/310; 250/106 SC Int. C1. B65G 65/04 Field of Search 198/32; 250/106 SC;
References Cited UNITED STATES PATENTS 8/1954 Hirsch et a1. 198/24 6/1962 Kern 214/l6.4
Flynn 214/310 Frank et al. .l 214/164 Primary ExaminerRobert J. Spar Assistant Examiner-Lawrence J. Oresky Attorney, Agent, or FirmWolfe, Hubbard, Leydig, Voit & Osann, Ltd.
[5 7] ABSTRACT An automatic changing apparatus for sample vials and like regularized objects is provided, wherein a rectilinear array of vials is indexed along an X-axis, rows of the array are indexed seriatim along a Z-axis, and individual vials of the Z-axis indexed rows are indexed seriatim past a counting station along a Y-axis. Photoelectric sensors are provided to override portions of the indexing mechanism if no sample vials are present in array rows or individual compartments.
14 Claims, 21 Drawing Figures US. Patent Dec. 16, 1975 Sheet 1of9 3,926,323
US. Patent Dec. 16, 1975 Sheet 3 of9 3,926,323
US. Patent Dec. 16, 1975 Sheet40f9 3,926,323
US. Patent Dec. 16,1975 Sheet50f9 3,926,323
US. Patent Dec. 16, 1975 Sheet 7 of9 3,926,323
US. Patent Dec. 16, 1975 Sheet8of9 3,926,323
US. Patent Dec. 16, 1975 Sheet9of9 3,926,323
Z M MM 1 METHOD OF AND APPARATUS FOR VIAL TRANSFERRING AND CHANGING RELATED APPLICATIONS This case is related to application Ser. No. 27,411 filed by Frank (sole) as follows: Frank et al. (Ser. No. 27,406) made the generic invention which Frank (sole, Ser. No. 27,411) perfected. The perfected Frank embodiment is disclosed as the best mode and only mode in both applications (27,406 and 27,411). Frank et al. (Ser. No. 27,406) who had the generic concept, have included generic claims in their application, while Frank (Ser. No. 27,41 1) has claims only to the embodiment that he invented.
DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION This invention relates generally to changing and transfer methods and mechanisms for sample vials and the like and, more particularly, concerns methods and mechanisms for unloading sample vials and like objects from trays or other regularized containers and for transporting the sample vials to and from a counting or other operation station.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION Liquid scintillation spectrometers, or apparatus designed to provide spectral analysis of test samples containing one or more radioactive isotopes disposed in a liquid scintillator contained in a sample vial, have been successfully employed in medical research and allied laboratories for several years. In such apparatus, trays holding an array of sample vials which contain the scintillator and isotope are loaded into the apparatus, and the vials are thereafter manipulated seriatim into and out of a detector mechanism. To this end, annular trays such as that disclosed in US. Pat. No. 3,257,561 to Packard et. al. have heretofore been provided, together with the sample vial transfer mechanisms therein disclosed. The wide acceptance of this type of scintillation spectrometer and its associated vial-handling mechanism has led to the development of still other types of vialhandling and changing apparatus capable of accommodating a large number of sample vials.
It is, therefore, the general object of this invention to provide sample changing methods and apparatus wherein large numbers of sample vials or like objects may be handled and manipulated with ease and rapidity.
Another important object of the invention is the provision of a sample changing apparatus wherein compact arrays of sample vials may be easily and quickly inserted into and removed from the sample changing apparatus. More specifically, it is an object to provide a sample changing apparatus wherein the arrays of the sample vials may be inserted into and removed from the apparatus without halting the operation of the apparatus.
It is yet another object to provide a sample changing apparatus which will quickly and efficiently manipulate the sample vials without engaging in useless motion when an empty container compartment is encountered by the apparatus.
It is yet another object to provide a sample changing apparatus which is relatively simple in design, and yet rugged and reliable in operation.
Other objects and advantages of the invention will become apparent upon reading the following detailed description and upon reference to the drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is a top plan view showing the overall arrangement of the sample changing apparatus and the associated detecting and counting mechanism;
FIG. 2 is a fragmentary front elevational view of an exemplary apparatus, here depicting several samplecontaining tray arrays;
FIG. 3 is an end elevational view of the exemplary sample changing apparatus shown in FIGS. 1 and 2;
FIG. 4 is an enlarged perspective view, partially exploded, showing an exemplary tray-supporting carriage used in the apparatus;
FIG. 5 is a perspective view in partial section showing a typical sample tray used in connection with the sample changing apparatus disclosed;
FIG. 6 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 66 of FIG. 2 showing in detail an exemplary rear support and carriage drive mechanism used in the illustrated apparatus;
FIG. 7 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 77 in FIG. 4 showing in detail the from support of the illustrated apparatus;
FIG. 8 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 88 of FIG. 2 showing in greater detail the sample vial-elevating comb and its associated driving apparatus;
FIG. 9 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 99 in FIG. 8 illustrating in detail apparatus for guiding the motion of the sample vialelevating comb;
FIG. 10 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 1010 in FIG. 8 illustrating in detail the lower comb guide;
FIG. 11 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 11-11 in FIG. 8 showing in detail the mechanism by which the sample vial-elevating and lowering comb is manipulated;
FIG. 12 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 1212 in FIG. 8 showing in detail the X-conveyor alinement switch and associated apparatus;
FIG. 13 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 13-13 in FIG. 11, showing a typical embodiment of the comb elevating drive, with the comb illustrated in its upwardmost position;
FIG. 14 is an enlarged partial top plan view, showing in further detail the Y-axis conveyor;
FIG. 15 is a partial side elevational view of the Y conveyor, showing in further detail a number of the parts associated therewith;
FIG. 16 is an enlarged perspective view showing in further detail the sample vial positioning or pilot mechanism used in association with the elevator mechanism of the detector mechanism;
FIG. 17 is a perspective view showing further the details of the Y-axis carriage;
FIG. 18 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line 18-48 of FIG. 14, and showing yet further details of the Y-axis carriage;
FIG. 19 is an enlarged sectional view taken substantially along the line l919 in FIG. 14, and showing yet other details of the Y-axis carriage mechanism;
FIG. 20 is a partial elevational view showing in further detail portions of the carriage movement control mechanism; and,
FIG. 21 is a perspective view showing in somewhat stylized or schematic form certain of the electrical wiring and connections used in the present embodiment of the invention.
While the invention will be described in connection with a preferred embodiment, it will be understood that it is not intended to limit the invention to that embodiment. On the contrary, it is intended to cover all alternatives, modifications, and equivalents as may be included within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.
Turning first to FIG. 1, there is shown a liquid scintillation apparatus cabinet 31 housing a scintillation detector mechanism 32. A top opening 33 is provided in the scintillation detector mechanism 32 for the insertion of sample vials 35 into the sample detector mechanism 32. Rectangular arrays of the sample vials 35 spaced in columns and rows along respective X and Y Cartesian coordinates of the arrays are normally carried in trays 36 (see FIG. In the practice of the present invention, such trays are preferably constructed in the manner described in greater detail in the aforesaid copending Frank application, Ser. No. 27,405, assigned to the assignee of the present invention. In turn, arrays of the trays 36 may be loaded onto the sample changing apparatus and manipulated as hereinafter described. In the illustrated embodiment of the invention, it is contemplated that the sample vials 35 will carry a radioactive isotope-containing substance dissolved, suspended, or otherwise mixed in a liquid scintillation medium comprising a solvent and one or more of numerous commercially available scintillators or fluorescent materials, the sample vial having light-transmissive walls. Scintillations or light flashes may then be counted by means of appropriate photomultipliers and other apparatus carried within the liquid scintillation detector mechanism, at a counting station provided for that purpose.
In accordance with the invention and for alining successive Y-axis rows of the sample vial array with a transfer station 38, first indexing apparatus is provided including a carriage 40 (best illustrated in FIG. 4), upon which the trays 36 may be manually placed, and which supports and moves the trays 36 along the X- axis. For supporting the carriage 40 and for allowing motion of the carriage 40 along the X-axis in the illustrated embodiment, guide brackets 41 having front support rollers 42 mounted thereupon are secured, by any convenient means, to the bottom front of the carriage 40, as best seen in FIG. 7. For supporting the rear of the carriage 40, rollers 43 are provided which engage a track 44 mounted upon the vertical rear wall 45 of the apparatus.
The carriage 40 may be driven in either direction along the X-axis by a carriage drive mechanism. As best seen in FIG. 2, an endless belt 47 is passed around an idler 48 and a drive pulley 49. The pulley 49 is rotated by a small servomotor 49:! mounted on the vertical rear wall 45 of the apparatus. As best seen in FIG. 6, a top portion 50 of the belt 47 is secured to a belt connecting bracket 51, which bracket is, in turn, connected to a carriage positioning switch 52. When the belt 47 is driven by the servomotor 49a, the belt connecting bracket 51 and position switch 52 are moved in a direction parallel to the X-axis, and the carriage 40, which is secured to the carriage position switch 52, is moved in unison therewith.
Precise alinement of the carriage 40 with the transfer station 38 is accomplished by means of an X-axis positioning mechanism 54, best seen in FIGS. 12 and 13. In the embodiment illustrated, a small contact roller 55 is pivotally mounted on a roller plate 56, the plate itself being pivoted about a fixed bearing 57. The plate 56 and roller 55 are urged into light contact with the carriage position witch 52. As will be more fully explained below, a strike lever 60 may be caused to contact the roller plate 56, and to urge the plate 56 and roller 55 to the right, as shown in FIG. 12, thus forcing the roller 55 to center within one of the notches 61 provided in the carriage position switch 52. Such action of the roller 55 removes and slight misalinement of the carriage switch 52 and attached carriage 40 with the transfer station 38. Thus, the position of any given row of containers 35 may be accurately alined with the transfer station 38.
Indexing apparatus is also included, in accordance with another aspect of the invention, for indexing a row of containers along the Z-axis between the transfer station 38 and additional transfer means. In the illustrated embodiments, and as best seen in FIGS. 8 through 15, this indexing apparatus includes an elevating comb structure 65 having a plurality of teeth 66, which teeth 66 are adapted for insertion into and out of holes 67 and 68 formed for that purpose in the bottom of the carriage 40 and sample vial-containing trays 36, respectively. By moving the comb 65 upwardly when a row of sample vials 35 is alined with the transfer station 38, the vials 35 may be ejected upwardly from the tray 36. In the illustrated embodiment, the comb 65 is elevated by means of a Z-drive motor 75, the output shaft 69 of which is constructed to and drives a cam arm 70, the latter being connected to the slide 71 of a scotch gear arrangement 72. As the motor 75 rotates the cam arm 70, the slide 71 moves between two horizontally disposed slide rails 73 and 74.
Pursuant to the invention, the cam arm 70 is formed with an extension 76 having a cam surface 77 thereupon. A cam follower 78 is mounted upon the strike lever 60 described above. As seen in FIG. 13, rotation of the cam arm 70 simultaneously pivots the strike lever 60 by the action of the cam surface 77 and cam follower 78 which is mounted on the strike lever 60. As described above, the strike lever is positioned for engagement with the pivot plate 56 which carries the carriage positioning roller 55. Thus, as the comb teeth 66 are elevated through the carriage holes 67 and tray holes 68 to eject the vials 35 from the tray 36, the cam surface 77 and follower 78 cause the strike lever 60 to force the roller 55 into positioning engagement with the carriage position switch 52. A row of vials 35 is resultantly positioned accurately at the transfer station 38 immediately prior to the rejection of the vials 35 from the tray 36 by the comb tines 66.
In the illustrated embodiment of the device, the Z- axis, or vertical, motion of the comb 65, is guided by comb-mounted rollers 80 which operate in Z-axis oriented tracks 81 and 82, conveniently mounted on the apparatus structure, and by rollers 83 mounted between the tines 66 as best seen in FIGS. 9, l0 and 13.
In further accordance with the invention, indexing apparatus is provided for indexing a row of containers along the Y-axis so that the containers move past a loading station 99 in seriatim order for alining the containers with the station. In the present embodiment, a Y-axis carriage 86 is disposed generally above the elevating comb 65 for motion along the Y-axis. As can be best seen in FIGS. 14-20, the carriage includes a partitioned mobile conveyor 87 which contains a plurality of bottomless compartments 88 for receiving the Z-axis indexed vials 35. Skirts 89, 90 (FIG. 18) are provided for guiding the upwardly thrust vials 35 into the appropriate compartments 88.
When the vials 35 are introduced into the compartments 88, the conveyor 87 is moved along the Y'-axis by an endless belt 91 driven by a Y-axis drive motor 92. The belt, as illustrated (FIG. 17), is secured to the conveyor 87 by a belt clamp 93. As best seen in FIGS. 11 and 18, the conveyor rides upon grooved rollers 94 which engage a corresponding track 95 on one side, and further ride upon smooth-surfaced rollers 96 which engage a C-shaped channel track 97 on the other side.
Y-axis indexing motion of the conveyor 87 is thus caused by activation of the Y-axis motor 92 (FIG. 14). When set in motion, the conveyor 87 drags the vials 35 which have been inserted into the compartments 88 across the tips of the comb tines 66 and, one after another, past a loading station 99 (FIGS. 1, 14 and 19). A vial-supporting track 100 is provided for those portions of the Y-axis not occupied by tines 66 or the comb 65. To assist in positioning the compartments 88 over the loading station 99, notches 101 are formed in one skirt 90 for engagement by a positioning roller 102. This roller 102, as best seen in FIGS. 19 and 20, is mounted on a pivotable ann 103 which is biased, as by a spring 104, into one of the notches 101. The conveyor 87 is urged into an accurately located position over the' loading station 99 by motion of this roller.
When a vial 35 is positioned at the loading station, as best illustrated'in FIGS. 3, 16, 19 and it rests upon an elevator 106 which is operated by mechanisms (not shown) located inside the liquidscintillator detector mechanism 32. The elevator may be lowered into the detector mechanism 32, drawing with it the vial35, and positioning the latter in a counting station (not shown). Guides 107, 108 are provided for centering the vial 35 on the elevator 106 during its downward and upward motion; the guides 107, 108 and track 100 are tapered at their respective ends to assist in this guidance.
Once the via] 35 is drawn into the detector mechanism, the scintillations or light flashes occurring therein may be counted, as generally known in the art, over measured time or until a present count is reached. Thereafter, the sample vial is again thrust up into its Y- axis carriage compartment 88 by the elevator 106, and the Y-axis drive motor is actuated to draw a succeeding vial over the elevator.
Embodiments of the switches and circuitry used to operate the mechanism in accordance with the invention are illustrated in FIG. 21 and elsewhere. When the indexing mechanism is activated by the operator, the X-axis drive motor 49a is activated, and draws the vialsupporting carriage 40 along the X-axis as described above. A limit switch 150 actuated by a switch finger 151 halts the X-drive motor 49a and X-axis motion of the carriage when the first row of vial compartments are positioned at the transfer station 38.
The activation of switch 150 also activates the Z-axis motor 75, raising the comb 65 and thrusting the vials located in the transfer station upward along the Z-axis, until detent 152 located appropriately upon the comb 65 engages switch 153, thereby halting the Z-axis drive motor 75 and the upward motion of the comb 65. Switch 153 additionally activates the Yaxis drive motor 92 to move the indexing vials along the Y-axis as above described.
When biased roller 102 engages the first notch 101 on the skirt 90, the pivotable arm 103 upon which the roller 102 is mounted activates switch 154 halting the Y-axis motor and motion. Mechanism (not shown) within the detector mechanism 32 then lowers and later raises the sample vial upon the elevator. Completion of the upward motion of the elevator serves to reactivate the Y-axis drive motor by appropriate circuitry (not shown), thus indexing the next vial compartment over the counting station, whereupon the roller 102, arm
103, and switch 154 again halt Y-axis motion.
When all Y-axis carriage compartments have been indexed past the loading station, switch 155 is engaged by the Y-axis carriage, the Y-axis motor is reversely driven and, when the carriage 40 is in its original location over the comb 65, the Y-axis motion is halted by switch 156. Switch 156 also actuates the Z-axis drive motor 75, which lowers the comb 65 and vials located thereupon until a detent 157 engages switch 153, whereupon the Z-axis motion is halted and the X-axis drive motor 49a is reactivated to bring the next row of sample vials to the transfer station 38. By appropriate circuitry, this operational cycle is continued until the X-axis carriage engages switch 158, whereupon the X- axismotor 49a is reversely and continuously driven until the X-axis carriage is returned to its original position, the reverse motion being halted by switch 159.
In accordance with yet another aspect of the invention, the apparatus is further designed to manipulate the sample vials without engaging in useless motion where an empty compartment is encountered. To this end, several optical switches are provided, the switches comprising a light source and a photo-sensitive cell. When an opaque object, such as the cap upon a sample vial, interrupts the light beam falling upon the cell, the cell-associated switch devices are actuated.
As illustrated here, an optical switch 160 and associated light source 161 are positioned so as to sense, by the interruption of the light beam, the presence or absence of sample vials in any row of containers located at the transfer station 38. If no sample vial is sensed in the row, appropriate circuitry causes the X-axis motor 49a to continue the indexing motion without the activation of the Z-axis motor 75 or the Y-axis motor 92. Similarly, the optical switch 163 and associated light source 164, together with appropriate circuitry, cause continued Y-axis indexing of the Y-axis carriage if no sample vial is sensed within a Y-axis carriage compartment as the compartment passes the loading station 99.
Means are further provided for indicating to a control station (not shown), the designation for a sample vial located at the counting station. For this purpose, an X-axis position readout switch 165 is included for sensing and indicating the sample vial row which is located at the transfer station 38 for indexing along the Y-axis. Similarly, a Y-axis position readout switch 166 is included for sensing and indicating the Y-axis carriage compartment which is located at the loading station 99. By means of such switches, identification can be automatically made of the source of the scintillations being counted within the detector mechanism.
I claim as my invention:
1. A method of indexing sample vials to a predetermined point from a rectangular array of vials disposed in columns and rows along respective X and Y cartesian coordinates, comprising the steps of:
A. indexing the entire array along the X-axis to position one of the rows of vials at a transfer station disposed on a Y-axis coordinate aligned with said point;
B. indexing each row of vials along a Z-axis to shift said row out of the plane of said array;
C. incrementally indexing each row of vials received in said transfer station from said station along the Y-axis coordinate aligned with said point to successively position, in seriatim order, each vial in said row at said point; and thereafter D. again indexing the entire array along the X-axis to position successive rows of the vials in said array in the transfer station in seriatim order after all of the vials in the preceding row have been indexed along the Y-axis to said point.
2. The method according to claim 1 further characterized by scanning each Y-axis coordinate of said array to determine whether each said coordinate contains at least one vial and automatically indexing the entire array along the X-axis past any Y-axis coordinate devoid of at least one vial to the next Y-axis coordinate containing at least one vial.
3. The method according to claim 1 further characterized by scanning each X-axis coordinate of the row of vials being indexed along the Y-axis to determine the presence or absence of a vial at each such X-axis coordinate and automatically indexing any X-axis coordinate in said row devoid of a vial past said point along said Y-axis coordinate.
4. The method according to claim 1 further characterized in that each vial positioned at said point is transferred from said point to a counting station and back to said point before the next succeeding vial is indexed to said point.-
5. The method according to claim 4 further characterized in that the vial is transferred between said point and said counting station along a Z-axis.
6. A test sample changing apparatus for use with at least one rectangular array of sample vials disposed in columns and rows along respective X and Y cartesian coordinates of said array and for transferring all of said vials one at a time to a predetermined point, said apparatus comprising, an apparatus frame, means on said frame defining said point, a transfer station on said frame spaced from said point along a Y-axis coordinate, and means for holding at least one rectangular array of vials on said frame at a location spaced from said station, characterized in that first indexing means are provided for incrementally indexing an entire one of said arrays along the X-axis for sequentially aligning each Y-oriented row of vials with said station, second indexing means are provided for shifting each row of vials aligned with said transfer station along a Z-axis tr shift said row of vials out of the plane of said array third indexing means are provided for incrementally indexing each row of vials aligned with said statior along said Y-axis coordinate to sequentially positior each vial contained in each said row at said predetermined point in seriatim order.
7. Apparatus as set forth in claim 6 further charac terized in that said second indexing means is rendered operative after said first indexing means and prior to said third indexing means.
-8. Apparatus as-set forth in claim 6 further characterized in that said first, second and third indexing means are repetitively cycled in the following order:
a. said firstmeans;
b. said second means;
c. said third means;
d.. said third means, reversely driven; and
e. said second means, reversely driven; until all of said vials in said rectangular array have been transferred from said array to said point and back to said array.
9. Apparatus as set forth in claim 6 further characterized in that sensing means are provided for determining the presence of at least one vial in each Y-oriented row of said array and for causing said first indexing means to automatically index said array through multiple increments so that Yoriented rows devoid of vials are indexed past said,station.
10. Apparatus as set forth in claim 6 further characterized in that sensing means are provided for determining-thepresence or absence of a vial at each X- coordinate in the row of vials being indexed from said station to said point and for causing said third indexing means to automatically index said row through multiple incrementsso that each X-coordinate in said row devoid of a vial is indexed past said point.
1 1. Apparatus as set forth in claim 6 characterized in that means are provided for transferring each vial positioned at said point from said point to a sample proce ssing station and back to said point.
12. Apparatus as set forth in claim 1 1 further characterizedin that said processing station comprises a lighttight chamber and means are provided for counting light scintillations occurring in each said sample vial while the latter is positioned in said chamber.
13. Apparatus as set forth in claim 1 1 further characterized in that said point and said processing station are spaced apart on a Z-oriented axis.
14. Apparatus set forth in claim 6 further characterized in that said third indexing means is operative only while said row of vials is out of the plane of said array.