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Title:
AN APPARATUS FOR INSERTING FOOD PRODUCTS INTO TRAYS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/148910
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
This invention relates to an apparatus (100) for inserting food products (103) into trays, comprising: an infeed conveyor (101) configured to convey food products from an infeed position (113) to a free end (105) of the infeed conveyor; means (115) for detecting positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor, a tray feeding conveyor (102) configured to convey empty trays (104) to a tray filling position (117) where food products are released from the free-end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays, means (116) for detecting positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor, wherein the apparatus further comprises: a moving means (118) configured to adjust the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor, and a control unit for controlling the moving means where the controlling includes utilizing the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays.

Inventors:
VAN DER STEEN, Franciscus, Theodorus, Henricus, Johannes (Elzenstraat 45, 5366 CA Megen, 5366 CA, NL)
WILLEMS, Sjaak (Im Thomasfeld 5, Goch, 47574, DE)
VAN HAPPEN, Frank (Pieter Breughelstraat 51, 5854 EB Nieuw-Bergen, 5854 EB, NL)
Application Number:
EP2017/054589
Publication Date:
September 08, 2017
Filing Date:
February 28, 2017
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
MAREL MEAT PROCESSING B.V. (Handelstraat 3, 5831 AV Boxmeer, 5831 AV, NL)
International Classes:
A22C17/00; B65B5/00; B65B5/04
Foreign References:
GB1137827A1968-12-27
US20030196871A12003-10-23
US5095684A1992-03-17
EP1321393A12003-06-25
Other References:
None
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
INSPICOS P/S (Kogle Allé 2, 2970 Hørsholm, 2970, DK)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. An apparatus (100) for inserting food products (103) into trays, comprising:

• an infeed conveyor (101) configured to convey food products (103) from an infeed

position (113) to a free end (105) of the infeed conveyor;

· a food product position detection means (115) for detecting positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor,

• a tray feeding conveyor (102) configured to convey empty trays (104) to a tray filling position (117), where the tray filling position (117) is positioned below the free end (105), and where the tray filling position is the position where the food products are released from the free-end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays,

• a tray position detection means (116) for detecting positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor (102),

wherein the apparatus further comprises:

• a moving means (118) configured to adjust the position of the free end of the infeed

conveyor (101), and

• a control unit (111) for controlling the moving means where the controlling includes utilizing the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays.

2. The apparatus according to claim 1, wherein adjusting the position of the free end (105) of the infeed conveyor (101) comprises adjusting the length of the infeed conveyor by means of moving the free end in a back or forth direction parallel to a conveying direction of the infeed conveyor.

3. The apparatus according to claim 1 or 2, wherein the conveying direction (107) of the infeed conveyor (101) is essentially opposite to the conveying direction (106) of the tray feeding conveyor (102).

4. The apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, wherein the means (115) for detecting positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor (101) comprises a sensor for detecting an initial position of the food products, where a subsequent detection comprises tracking the food products.

5. The apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, wherein the means (116) for detecting positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor (102) comprises a sensor for detecting an initial position of the empty trays, where a subsequent detection comprises tracking the trays.

6. A method of inserting food products (103) into trays, comprising:

• conveying food products, by an infeed conveyor (101), from an infeed position (113) to a free end (105) of the infeed conveyor;

• detecting, by a a food product position detection detection means (115), the positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor,

• conveying empty trays (104), by a tray feeding conveyor (102), to a tray filling position (117), where the tray filling position is positioned below the free end, and where food products are released from the free-end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays,

• detecting, by a tray position detection detection means (116), the positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor,

wherein the method further comprises:

• adjusting, by a moving means (118), the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor, and

• controlling the moving means, by a control unit (11 1), where the controlling includes utilizing the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays.

7. The method according to claim 6, where the food products in the trays fulfil at least one target criterion, where the at least one target criterion is used as an additional operation parameter by the control unit in adjusting the position of the free end.

8. The method according to claim 7, wherein the at least one target criterion is selected from one or more of:

• the number of food products in the trays,

· the weight of the food products in the trays,

• the loading pattern in the trays.

9. The method according to any of the claims 8, wherein the controlling step dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays comprises:

i) releasing at least one food product into a first tray,

ii) releasing at least one food product into at least one second tray,

iii) continue steps i) and ii) until the at least one target criterion is fulfilled.

Description:
AN APPARATUS FOR INSERTING FOOD PRODUCTS INTO TRAYS

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to an apparatus is provided for inserting food products into trays, and to a method of doing the same.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Different apparatuses exist for inserting food products into trays, e.g. chicken fillets, exist. An example of such a solution is where one or more robotic arms are used for picking up food products that typically has been weighed from an infeed conveyor and placing the picked up food products into trays. Typically, the trays must fulfil a pre-defined target such as weight target and/or number of food products in the trays. One way of increasing the throughput of such systems is to increase the number of robotic arms.

However, such apparatuses are not only very complex but also are expensive, especially if more than one robotic arm is needed to increase the throughput.

Other types of apparatuses exist such as so-called drop conveyors and shuttle conveyors that are based that are based on fixed loading position.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

On the above background it is an object of embodiments of the present invention to provide a simple and low cost apparatus for inserting food products into trays with high throughput.

In general, the invention preferably seeks to mitigate, alleviate or eliminate one or more of the above mentioned disadvantages of the prior art singly or in any combination. In particular, it may be seen as an object of embodiments of the present invention to provide an apparatus that solves the above mentioned problems, or other problems.

To better address one or more of these concerns, in a first aspect of the invention an apparatus is provided for inserting food products into trays, comprising:

• an infeed conveyor configured to convey food products from an infeed position to a free end of the infeed conveyor;

• a food product position detection means for detecting positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor, • a tray feeding conveyor configured to convey empty trays to a tray filling or traject position, where the tray filling position is positioned below the free end, and where food products are released from the free-end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays,

• a tray position detection means for detecting positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor,

wherein the apparatus further comprises:

• a moving means configured to adjust the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor, and

• a control unit for controlling the moving means where the controlling includes utilizing the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays.

Accordingly, an apparatus is provided that is not only low cost compared to e.g.

commonly used apparatuses where robotic arms are used to pick and place the food products into e.g. trays, but that is also greatly simplified and has high throughput. The infeed conveyor or at least the free end thereof is obviously positioned at a higher position than the infeed conveyor or at least the tray filling position at the tray filling conveyor so as to allow the releasing of the food products dynamically from the free end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays.

The throughput may even further be enhanced by means of arranging the infeed conveyor and the tray feeding conveyor such that the conveying direction of the infeed conveyor is essentially opposite to the conveying direction of the tray feeding conveyor.

The moving direction between the tray feeding conveyor and the infeed conveyor may of course also be different, e.g. may be in the same direction or form or form any angle in relation to each other.

The term tray filling position, as already stated, is the position where the food products are released into the trays, where due to the dynamical loading these positions are obviously at different positions depending on where the free end of the infeed conveyor is.

An example of an implementation of the present invention is, where after detecting the position of the food products and the positions of empty trays, the food products and the empty trays may be tracked, e.g. via the speed of the conveyors, meaning that one time position registration is needed for the food items and the trays, respectively, to calculate the position.

The utilization of the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays may accordingly be done in a highly accurate way. Such a dynamic adjustment of the free end may comprise releasing at least one food product into a first tray, subsequently releasing at least one food product into at another one or more second trays without having completed a fixed target in the first tray. As an example, if the target is a weight target, this may be preferred to minimize the overweight in the first tray. Such steps are repeated until the target in the trays is achieved. In that way, a filling into two or more trays at the same time, i.e. without completing the filling, is possible.

The food product position detection means and the tray position detection means may in one embodiment be incorporated into one and the same detection device, e.g. any kind of a vision system that captures images of both the food products on the infeed conveyor and the empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor.

The apparatus according to the present invention may accordingly be used for grading and/or batching of food products where grading and/or batching may be performed on two or more trays simultaneously meaning that the e.g. the target weight of neither of these two or more trays is completed. In that way, it is possible to e.g. minimize the overweight as already stated, or it may be possible to grade the food product in the two or more trays based on their size, shape, colour etc..

In one embodiment, the step of adjusting the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor comprises adjusting the length of the infeed conveyor by means of moving the free end in a back or forth direction parallel to a conveying direction of the infeed conveyor. Thus, the opposite end of the infeed conveyor that may be considered as being the infeed end is fixed while only the free end is being moved back and forth in a controlled way. The infeed conveyor may further comprise belt stretching mechanism which is well known to a person skilled in the art for maintaining the stretch of the belt constant during the back and forth adjustment. Another alternative of moving the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor may also comprise moving the whole infeed conveyor and thus the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor.

In one embodiment, the food products in the trays fulfil at least one target criterion, where the at least one target criterion is used as an additional operation parameter by the control unit in adjusting the position of the free end. In one embodiment, the at least one target criterion is selected from, but is not limited to, one or more of:

• the number of food products in the trays,

• the weight of the food products in the trays. Other target criterion may also include the size, shape, color, loading pattern in the trays, type or texture of the food products etc. Accordingly, the placing of the food products into the trays may be based on one or several additional criterion meaning that the flexibility of the apparatus may be greatly increased and meat different customer requirements.

In one embodiment, the apparatus further comprises:

· rotating conveyor means configured to receive the trays with food products from the tray feeding conveyor and rotatably convey the received trays from a first angular position to a second angular position,

• a vertical conveyor means positioned at least partly above and adjacent the rotating

conveyor means, the vertical conveyor means having a side extending radially away from a rotation axis of the rotating conveyor means at said second angular position, where the side is adapted to interact with said received trays with food products and advance the trays radially away from the rotating conveyor means to a take-away conveyor.

In one embodiment, an alternative to the rotating conveyor is a curved outfeed conveyor. In one embodiment, the rotating conveyor means comprises a rotating disc configured to receive the trays with food products. The rotating conveyor means may be position at a downstream end or a free end of the tray feeding conveyor such that it extends partly above and adjacent to the rotating disc such that the trays with food products at the loading position will automatically be received by the rotating conveyor means and their angular position will be changed via the rotational movement of the vertical conveyor means from said first angular position to said second angular position, where this difference in angular positions may be, but is not limited to, 180°. Accordingly, it is now possible to make the apparatus less spacious where the trays with food items may be conveyed in a direction being e.g. opposite to the convey direction of the empty trays. This difference in angular positions may of course be different, and e.g. be adapted to customer need, e.g. adapted to the space where the apparatus is.

In one embodiment, the internal arrangement between the tray feeding conveyor and the rotating conveyor means is such that a conveying direction of the trays with food products at the loading position is substantially parallel to the initial tangent conveying direction on the rotating conveyor means. In that way, the step of receiving the trays filled with food products is facilitated.

In one embodiment, the rotating conveyor means and the vertical conveyor means rotate around a vertical rotation axis in the same rotational direction, where the vertical conveyor means preferably comprises an endless conveyor belt, where at said side of the vertical conveyor means the moving direction of the endless conveyor belt points radially away from the rotation axis of the rotating conveyor means. In that way, when the trays with food products come into contact with said side of the vertical conveyor the endless belt will immediately advance the tray with food items radially away from the rotating conveyor means and onto e.g. a take-away conveyor. To further facilitate this the endless conveyor belt of the rotating conveyor means has a friction coefficient being larger than the friction coefficient of the trays. The side interacting with the food products on the rotating conveyor means is preferably straight.

In one embodiment, the trays have a dimension where the width of opposite ends is different from the width of opposite sides, where the speed of the vertical conveyor means is adjustable by means of either accelerating or decelerating the vertical conveyor means as the received trays with food products interact with the side of the vertical conveyor means, thereby selectively positioning the received trays prior to be received by the take-away conveyor such that the trays either have short edge leading or a long edge leading on the takeaway conveyor. This may e.g. be the case of the position of the trays on the rotating conveyor means is not as expected to be, where this may e.g. be monitored by any type of monitoring means such as, but not limited to, a digital camera that may be placed above the rotating conveyor means.

In a second aspect of the invention the present invention relates to a method of inserting food products into trays, comprising: • conveying food products, by an infeed conveyor, from an infeed position to a free end of the infeed conveyor;

• detecting, by a food product position detection means, the positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor,

· conveying empty trays, by a tray feeding conveyor, to a tray filling or traject position, the tray filling or traject position being positioned below the free end, and where food products are released from the free-end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays,

• detecting, by a tray position detection means, the positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor,

wherein the method further comprises:

• adjusting, by a moving means, the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor, and

• controlling the moving means, by a control unit, where the controlling includes utilizing the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays.

In one embodiment, the trays fulfil at one criterion selected from, but not limited to:

• the number of food products in the trays,

• the target weight of the food products in the trays,

• the size or shape or color characteristics of the food products in the trays,

wherein the at least one target criterion is used as an additional operation parameter by the control unit in adjusting the position of the free end. Other targets may include the size/shape, texture of the food products.

In one embodiment, the controlling step dynamically adjusting the position of the free end when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays comprises:

i) releasing at least one food product into a first tray,

ii) releasing at least one food product into at least one second tray,

iii) continue steps i) and ii) until the at least one target criterion is fulfilled.

Accordingly, the method may be implemented for batching and/or grading where two or more trays may simultaneously be prepared without having to complete one tray at a time. As an example, if the target is 500g per tray, and e.g. one tray has 420 g and the next food product to be released into a tray is 120g, whereas the subsequent food product is 90g, it will be feasible to put the 120gto put it into another tray that may need this weight or has sufficient buffer for such a weight (e.g. empty or half empty tray), and the 90g product into the this particular, where the overweight of lOg may be acceptable. Accordingly, the position of the free end is adjusted accordingly.

It should be noted that via tracking, the current status of all the trays, e.g. the weight or numbers of food items etc. is known at all times, and also the exact position of the trays.

In general the various aspects of the invention may be combined and coupled in way possible within the scope of the invention. These and other aspects, features and/or advantages of the invention will be apparent from and elucidated with reference to the embodiments described hereinafter.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Embodiments of the invention will be described, by way of example only, with reference to the drawings, in which

figures 1 to 3 shows one embodiment of apparatus for inserting food products into trays.

DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS

Figured 1 shows a perspective view of one embodiment of an apparatus 100 according to the present invention for inserting food products 103 into trays 104.

The apparatus comprises an infeed conveyor 101 configured to convey the food products 103 in a conveying direction indicated by arrow 107 from an infeed position 113 to a free end 105 of the infeed conveyor 101 and means for detecting the positions of the food products on the infeed conveyor 101, which may also be considered as food product position detection means. The food product position detection means for detecting may comprise any type of sensor 115 that may arranged at a side of the infeed conveyor such that when a food product overlap a light beam emitted by the sensor 1 15 a signal is triggered indicating the exact position of the food product. Subsequent tracking may be utilized to know the exact position of the food product while it is on the infeed conveyor.

The apparatus further comprises a tray feeding conveyor 102 positioned below the infeed conveyor 101 configured to convey empty trays in a conveying direction as indicated by arrow 106 to a tray filling position 117 where food products are released from the free-end 105 of the infeed conveyor 101 and into the trays, and means 116 for detecting positions of empty trays on the tray feeding conveyor, which may also be considered as tray position detection means. The tray position detection means 116 may be similar to the means for detecting the position of the food products on the infeed conveyor 101, i.e. any type of sensor that initially senses the exact position of the empty trays and subsequently tracks the position of the empty trays.

The apparatus 100 further comprises a moving means 118 configured to adjust the position of the free end of the infeed conveyor, and a control unit 111 which may comprise any type of a computer system for controlling the moving means, where the controlling includes utilizing the detected positions of the food products and the detected positions of the empty trays as operation parameters in adjusting the position of the free end, and thus the position of the tray filling position, when releasing the food products from the releasing end of the infeed conveyor and into the trays. This will be discussed in more details in relation to figures 2 and 3.

As shown in this embodiment, the apparatus 100 further comprises rotating conveyor means 110, which as here comprises a rotation disc, configured to receive the trays with food products 130 from the tray feeding conveyor 102 and rotatably convey the received trays from a first angular position to a second angular position, which as shown here is 180°.

The apparatus further comprises a vertical conveyor means 180 positioned at least partly above and adjacent the rotating conveyor means 110, where the vertical conveyor means has a side 121 extending radially away from a rotation axis 119 of the rotating conveyor means at said second angular position, where the side is adapted to interact with said received trays with food products and advance the trays radially away from the rotating conveyor means to a take-away conveyor. As shown here, the rotating conveyor means 110 rotates in a clock- wise direction as indicated by arrow 120.

The loading position of the trays with food products is a downstream end of the tray feeding conveyor 102 which extends partly above the rotating disc 110 such that the trays with food products will automatically be received by the rotating conveyor means 110 and their angular position will be changed via the rotational movement of the vertical conveyor means. As shown here, the fact that a receiving conveyor 122 has a conveying direction as indicated by arrow 123 in opposite direction to the conveying direction 106 of the tray feed conveyor 102 it is now possible to make the apparatus more compact. This difference in angular positions may of course be different, and e.g. be adapted to customer need.

The rotating conveyor means 108 shown here comprises an endless conveyor belt 124, where at the side of the vertical conveyor means the moving direction of the endless conveyor belt is pointing radially away as indicated by arrow 125, i.e. the rotational direction of the rotating conveyor means 108 and the rotating conveyor means 110 is the same. In that way, when the trays with food products come into contact with said side of the vertical conveyor it will immediately advance the tray with food items radially away from the rotating conveyor means and onto the conveyor, which may also be referred to as a take-away conveyor 122. To further facilitate this the endless conveyor belt of the rotating conveyor means has a friction coefficient being larger than the friction coefficient of the trays. The side interacting with the food products on the rotating conveyor means is preferably straight.

As shown here, the trays have a dimension where the width of opposite ends is different from the width of opposite sides, where the speed of the vertical conveyor means 108 may be adjustable by means of either accelerating or decelerating the vertical conveyor means as the received trays with food products interact with the side of the vertical conveyor means, thereby selectively positioning the received trays prior to be received by the take-away conveyor 122 such that the trays either have short edge leading or a long edge leading on the take-away conveyor. The size and shape of the trays should however not be construed as being limited to the size/shape shown here, i.e. square trays. The trays could just as well be circular or elliptical shaped or have any other type of shapes.

As shown here, the food products in the trays may fulfil at least one target criterion, e.g. three pieces of food products in each tray, where such a criterion may be used as an additional operation parameter by the control unit in adjusting the position of the free end. Other criterion are of course possible, such as the target weight in the trays, size/shape, color etc..

Figures 2 and 3 depict a top view of the apparatus in figure 1 , showing how the free end is adjusted in back and forth direction while placing the food products into the trays, where said position of the food products on the food products and the position of the empty trays is used as operation parameters in moving the free end such that the food products are released from the free end of the infeed conveyor and into the correct trays.

It should be noted that placing the food products into the trays comprises generating bathes in two or more trays simultaneously without having completed the target in the trays, i.e. so as to e.g. avoid overweight of the food items in the trays in case the trays have to fulfil some pre-defined target weight. In that way, the apparatus 100 according to the present invention acts as a kind of a batching and/or grader apparatus. While the invention has been illustrated and described in detail in the drawings and foregoing description, such illustration and description are to be considered illustrative or exemplary and not restrictive; the invention is not limited to the disclosed embodiments. Other variations to the disclosed embodiments can be understood and effected by those skilled in the art in practicing the claimed invention, from a study of the drawings, the disclosure, and the appended claims. In the claims, the word "comprising" does not exclude other elements or steps, and the indefinite article "a" or "an" does not exclude a plurality. The mere fact that certain measures are recited in mutually different dependent claims does not indicate that a combination of these measures cannot be used to advantage.