|Publication number||USRE38478 E1|
|Application number||US 10/092,514|
|Publication date||Mar 30, 2004|
|Filing date||Mar 7, 2002|
|Priority date||Feb 18, 1998|
|Publication number||092514, 10092514, US RE38478 E1, US RE38478E1, US-E1-RE38478, USRE38478 E1, USRE38478E1|
|Inventors||Clifford E. Fitch, Jr., James N. Egan|
|Original Assignee||Clifford E. Fitch, Jr.|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (46), Non-Patent Citations (5), Referenced by (8), Classifications (22), Legal Events (7)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
The present invention relates generally to automated dispensing devices, and, more particularly to an apparatus for applying cheese to individual pizza shells, such as at a high volume producer of frozen pizzas.
Pizza making is generally a labor intensive undertaking. Pizza crusts or shells are produced from a dough substance, seasoned tomato sauce is added and spread evenly over the shell, and other toppings such as cheese, meats, and vegetables are added according to personal taste. In many situations, it is advantageous to produce pizzas as fast as possible. This is the case in the manufacture of frozen pizzas.
It is simply not cost effective to manually produce individual frozen pizzas. In order for the manufacturer to achieve a suitable profit margin, frozen pizzas must be produced rapidly with as little human intervention as possible. Manufacturers have incorporated many different devices in the pizza making operation to automate certain tasks. Chief among these tasks is the addition of toppings. For instance, U.S. Pat. No. 3,525,374 described an automated pizza meat dispenser; U.S. Pat. No. 4,771,726 describes a an automated device for adding a flowable material, such as pizza sauce, to a food target; U.S. Pat. No. 4,801,097 describes a food ingredient dispensing device; U.S. Pat. No. 5,171,367 describes an apparatus for applying pizza sauce to a pizza; and, U.S.
Pat. No. 5,523,101 describes a multi-purpose applicator.
It is also important for the different automated dispensers to operate as efficiently and quickly as possible. Therefore, it is advantageous to design a dispenser which functions continuously or does not pause to add during addition of the toppings to the shell.
Furthermore, it is important to spread the toppings evenly over the shell. If the toppings are not spread evenly over the shell, the pizza will become unbalanced, and it will have an awkward appearance and perhaps cook unevenly. Therefore, an automated dispenser must spread the toppings uniformly over the shell.
Therefore, there is a need for a continuous apparatus for adding a food material to a shell for use in the pizza making industry described herein.
The present invention is directed toward a food material dispensing apparatus and method for adding a topping to a target food. The apparatus comprises in one aspect a first hopper and a first food material distributing system. The first hopper is adapted for receiving a predetermined amount of the food material at an inlet and delivering the food material through an outlet toward a target location. The inlet generally has a larger cross-sectional area than the outlet so that the hopper has a funnel-like structure for directing the food material toward a concentrated area.
The first food distributing system is for spreading or distributing the food material over the a target food. The food distributing system includes a motor, a curved conduit and a flexible, rotary shaft. The motor is positioned near the inlet of the hopper and at a horizontal distance from the hopper. A proximal end of the curved conduit is releaseably connected to the motor. The curved conduit is adapted to enter the interior of the hopper near the inlet so that and to have a distal end of the curved conduit that is positioned near the hopper's outlet.
The flexible, rotary shaft has a first end and a second end. The first end is operatively connected to the motor so that the motor transfers a rotary motion to the flexible, rotary shaft. The flexible, rotary shaft passes through the curved conduit so that the second end is positioned near the distal end of the curved conduit.
In another aspect, the invention achieves an apparatus and a method for dispensing food material in an accurate and precise manner upon individual target foods that are sequentially arranged upon a continuously moving conveyor belt that does not stop. In this aspect, the food material is first dispensed upon a stationary transfer belt. The transfer belt is then advanced and synchronized with an individual target food on the conveyor belt. The individual target food becomes vertically aligned with the dispensed food material on the transfer belt and the dispensed food material is transferred progressively and gravitationally to the target food.
Other features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following specification taken in conjunction with the following drawing drawings.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an embodiment of apparatus for dispensing a quantity of material on upon a shell or like target food, the mask member and some other parts being removed;
FIG. 2 is a side elevational view of an the apparatus for dispensing a quantity of material on a shell. embodiment of FIG. 1, the conveyor belt being shown in schematic vertical section, the mask member being in place, and some parts being removed;
FIG. 3 is a perspective view of an another emboeiment of apparatus for dispensing a quantity of material on upon a shell or like target food, the mask members and some other parts being removed;
FIG. 4 is a front view of an the apparatus for dispensing a quantity of material on a shell embodiment of FIG. 3, the conveyor belt being shown with opposite ends shortened, the mask members being in place, and some parts being removed;
FIG. 5 is a side elevational view of an the apparatus for dispensing a quantity of material on a shell embodiment of FIG. 3, the conveyor belt and one transfer belt each being shown in schematic vertical section, the mask members being in place, and some parts being removed; and
FIG. 6 is a side elevational view of a the food distributing system employed in the apparatus embodiments of FIGS. 1 and 2 and of FIGS. 3-5, some parts thereof being shown in section and some parts thereof being shown in phantom.
While this invention is susceptible of embodiments in many different forms, there is shown in the drawings and will herein be described in detail a preferred embodiment of the invention with the understanding that the present disclosure is to be considered as an exemplification of the principles of the invention and is not intended to limit the broad aspect of the invention to the embodiment illustrated.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a food material dispensing apparatus 10 of the present invention. The food material dispensing apparatus dispenses a food material to a plurality of sequenced target locations. The target locations can each be a target food of a type that requires additional toppings. In the preferred embodiment, the target foods are pizza shells or crusts used in the frozen pizza field and the food material is a cheese topping. The dispensing apparatus comprises includes a hopper 12 and a food distributing system 14.
In the preferred embodiment shown in FIG. 4FIGS. 3, 4 and 5, the food material dispensing apparatus 10 delivers food material to a sequenced plurality of continuously moving food targets. The food material dispensing apparatus 10 of FIG. 3FIGS. 3, 4 and 5comprises a plurality of hoppers 12. In this preferred embodiment, there are first and second hoppers 12, 12a. The first and second hoppers 12, 12a are linearly aligned.
The first and second hoppers 12, 12a are substantially identical. Each hopper 12 is supported by a beam member 16 within a frame 18 so that the hoppers 12, 12a are suspended and vertically displaced above supporting portions 20 of the frame 18. The hoppers 12, 12a have inlets 22, 22a for accepting a predetermined amount of topping and outlets 24,24a through which the topping passes toward the target location. The inlets 22, 22a have a larger cross-sectional area than that of the outlets 24, 24a so that the hoppers 12, 12a have a funnel-like shape for directing the topping to a concentrated area.
Each hopper 12 is illustratively shown equipped with a food distributing system 14. Referring to FIG. 6, the food distributing systems 14each comprise a motor 26, a curved conduit 28, and a flexible, rotary shaft 30. The motors 26 are positioned at approximately the same height as the inlet 22 of each hopper 12. Rather than being positioned directly above the hoppers 12, the motors 26 are displaced at a horizontal distance from the inlets 22 of the hoppers 12. Each motor 26 is supported on the frame 18 by a platform 32 to which the motors 26 are fixedly attached by a plurality of bolts 34 or other suitable attaching means. (See FIG. 3).
Each curved conduit 28 is attached to one of the motors 26. The curved conduits 28 are preferably produced from stainless steel tubing. A proximal end 36 of each curved conduit 28 is attached to the motor 26. A distal end 38 of each curved conduit 28 is inserted into the hopper 12. Thus, the curved conduits 28 extend from the motors 26 to the inlets 22, enter an interior portion 40 of the hoppers 12, and extend downwardly toward the hopper outlets 24. At the proximal ends 36, the curved conduits 28 are designed to be detachable from the motors 26 for easy cleaning and maintenance.
The flexible, rotary shafts 30each extend from thea motor 26 through the a curved conduit 28 into the a hoppers 12. The flexible, rotary shafts 30 are operatively connected at first ends 42 to the motors 26. Second ends 44 of the flexible, rotary shafts 30 are positioned substantially adjacent the distal ends 38 of the curved conduits 28. First and second stirring shafts 46 are operatively connected to each of the second ends 44 of the respective flexible, rotary shafts 30. The stirring shafts 46 are produced from a rigid material and adapted for stirring and/or mixing the food material.
Collars 48 are fitted around the distal ends 38 of the curved conduits 28 for preventing the food material from entering the curved conduits 28. Each collar 48 has first and second interlocking parts 50, 52. The first part 50 engages the curved conduit 28. The second part 52 extends down the a length of the stirring shaft 46 and engages an abutment 56 on the stirring shaft 46 to form a seal 58 which prevents the food material from entering the curved conduit 28.
First and second distributing blades 60illustratively are operatively connected to the first and second stirring shafts 46, respectively. The motors Each blade 60 is located below and adjacent to a different one of outlets 24, 24a and the blades 60 are rotatably driven. Hence, each motor 26turn theturns a different subassembly of flexible, rotary shaftsshaft 30, the stirring shafts shaft 46, and the distributing blades blade 60cooperatingcooperatively to mix the food material issuing from the outlets 24, 24a and evenly distribute a predetermined amount of the food material over the target locations.
In one embodiment the target locations, are top portions of the food targets. This embodiment is illustrated in FIG. 1FIGS. 1 and 2. In FIG. 1FIGS. 1 and 2, a conveyor belt 62with an associated conventional power head (not shown) transports the target foods under the hopper 12. The conveyor belt 62 passes over the supporting portions 20 of the frame 18 and are is routed through this region by angle iron guides 64 which are fastened to the supporting portions 20 of the frame 18. In operation, the conveyor belt 62 of this embodiment comes to a stop under the hopper 12 where the food material is distributed over the top of the target food by the food distributing system 14.
Although removed from the apparatus 10 views shown in FIGS. 1 and 3 for purposes of showing apparatus 10 details more fully, a mask member 54 is shown in place in FIG. 2 and in FIGS. 4 and 5. The mask member 54 is located in circumferentially outwardly and horizontally spaced relationship about the outlet 24 of each hopper 12, and also in vertically spaced relationship to either the conveyor belt 62 in the apparatus 10 of FIGS. 1 and 2, or to the transfer belts 66 and 66a in the apparatus 10 of FIGS. 3, 4 and 5, as the case may be. As those skilled in the art will appreciate, a mask member 54 functions to define the perimeter within which food material that exits an outlet 24, and that is distributed by passage through the associated rotating distributing blade 60, is dispensed, and the configuration of a mask member 54 may be selected so that a mask member 54 defines a desired area over which food material is distributed upon a target food.
As illustrated in FIG. 4FIGS. 3, 4 and 5, in the preferred embodiment, the food material dispensing apparatus 10 further comprises a plurality of transfer belts 66. Most preferably, there are first and second transfer belts 66, 66a. Each transfer belt 66, 66a is associated with a separate electric motor 67, 67a for advancing the respective associated transfer belt 66, 66a in a stop-and-go manner. The transfer belts 66, 66a operate as the target locations for receiving the food material from the first and second hoppers 12, 12a. Accordingly, the transfer belts 66, 66a are positioned below the outlets 24, 24a of the hoppers 12, 12a. The transfer belts 66, 66a have a shorter length than the conventionally powered (powerhead not shown) conveyor belt 62.
In operation, the first hopper 12 delivers the predetermined amount of food material to the first transfer belt 66. The first transfer belt 66 is stationary as it receives food material from the first hopper 12. The first transfer belt 66 then begins to traverse in the same direction as the conveyor belt 62. The first transfer belt 66 carries the food material toward a first delivery end 68. The speed of the first transfer belt 66 is synchronized with the speed of the conveyor belt 62. As the food material reaches the first delivery end 68, the food material on the advancing transfer belt 66 is in vertical alignment with a particular food target on the advancing conveyor belt 62, and, as the synchronized speed of the transfer belt 66 continues, the food material is gravitationally delivered to the target food positioned on the conveyor belt 62 below. The first and second hoppers 12, 12a act in conjunction with the first and second transfer belts 66 to delivery food material successively to each of a plurality of continuously moving target foods. In other words, as the separate target foods enter the apparatus 10 the first separate target food receives food material from the first transfer belt 66 and the second separate target food receives food material from the second transfer belt 66a, and, although the transfer belts 66, 66a stop to receive food material from the hoppers 12, 12a, the conveyor belt 62 does not need to stop.
The food dispensing apparatus 10 further comprises a means for determining the location of the target food on the conveyor belt 62 and a means for synchronizing the relative positions of the hopper 12 and the target location so that the food material is delivered in an accurate and precise manner to the target food. It is contemplated that a first photoeye 72 is used to determine the actual size of the target food. The information gathered by the first photoeye 72 is communicated to a controller. A second photoeye 76 senses the leading edge of each target food, so that the controller, using the size information from the first photoeye, can regulate how far the conveyor belt 62 needs to traverse to place the target food directly under the outlet 24 of the hopper 12, as in the apparatus of FIGS. 1 and 2.
In the preferred embodiment, the second photoeye 76 senses the leading edge of the each target food. The controller, using the size information from the first photoeye 72, and the location information from the second photoeye 76, can synchronize the speed of one of the transfer belts 66, 66a with the speed of conveyor belt 62, so that the food material on each transfer belt is delivered approximately to the center central area of the target food when the food material is gravitationally delivered to the target food from such transfer belt.
While specific embodiments have been illustrated and described, numerous modifications are possible without departing from the spirit of the invention, and the scope of protection is only limited by the scope of the accompanying claims.
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|U.S. Classification||118/13, 118/324, 118/16, 426/292, 99/494, 118/314, 99/450.1, 426/289, 118/24, 99/450.7|
|International Classification||A21C9/04, A23G3/20, A23G3/22, A23G3/02|
|Cooperative Classification||A23G3/22, A23G3/203, A21C9/04, A23G3/0252|
|European Classification||A23G3/20F8D, A23G3/22, A23G3/02M8, A21C9/04|
|Sep 17, 2007||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|Nov 7, 2007||SULP||Surcharge for late payment|
Year of fee payment: 7
|Nov 7, 2007||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 8
|Oct 17, 2011||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|Mar 6, 2012||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 12
|Mar 6, 2012||SULP||Surcharge for late payment|
Year of fee payment: 11
|Aug 27, 2015||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: J.E. GROTE COMPANY, INC., OHIO
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:FITCH, CLIFFORD E., JR.;EGAN, JAMES N.;REEL/FRAME:036439/0837
Effective date: 20150630