Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
AN APPARATUS FOR AND METHOD OF APPLYING ADHESIVE TAPE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2009/120096
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An apparatus for applying adhesive tape to a carton, including: a tape carrier; a loading mechanism for loading a predetermined length of adhesive tape onto the tape carrier; a head assembly configured to carry the tape carrier; and a transport mechanism configured to create relative movement between the head assembly and a carton for application of the predetermined length of tape from the tape carrier onto the carton; wherein the transport mechanism includes an arrangement of linear tracks configured for positioning of the head assembly.

Inventors:
BRADLEY, John Darcey (15 Cullinane Avenue, Feilding, NZ)
EASTON, Campbell Bryce (20 Waterloo Street, Dannevirke, NZ)
Application Number:
NZ2009/000040
Publication Date:
October 01, 2009
Filing Date:
March 25, 2009
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
AGRIMACH HOLDINGS LIMITED (Cooper Rapley Lawyers, 17-19 Manchester Street, Feilding, NZ)
BRADLEY, John Darcey (15 Cullinane Avenue, Feilding, NZ)
EASTON, Campbell Bryce (20 Waterloo Street, Dannevirke, NZ)
International Classes:
B65B51/06; B65H35/07
Domestic Patent References:
WO2006016823A1
Foreign References:
US3238081A
US3421963A
US3069981A
US3834970A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ELLIS | VERBOEKET | TERRY et al. (PO Box 10 932, The TerraceWellington, 6143, NZ)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS:

1 . An apparatus for applying adhesive tape to a carton, including: a tape carrier; a loading mechanism for loading a predetermined length of adhesive tape onto the tape carrier; a head assembly configured to carry the tape carrier; and a transport mechanism configured to create relative movement between the head assembly and a carton for application of the predetermined length of tape from the tape carrier onto the carton; wherein the transport mechanism includes an arrangement of linear tracks configured for positioning of the head assembly.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the transport mechanism is capable of positioning the head assembly accurately in three dimensions.

3. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the transport mechanism includes one or more carriages riding on the linear tracks.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the tape carrier is a cylindrical tape carrier on which the predetermined length of tape is wound.

5. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus includes a tape carrier drive mechanism configured to rotate the tape carrier so as to wind tape onto the tape carrier.

6. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus includes a plurality of tape carriers, such that a tape carrier can be loaded with tape while another tape carrier is coupled to the head assembly for application of tape to a carton.

7. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus includes one or more tape storage units for receiving bulk storage tape spools, tape being loaded from the spools onto the tape carrier.

8. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus includes a tape cutting mechanism configured to cut tape to a predetermined length.

9. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the apparatus includes a carton identification module configured to identify carton characteristics of a carton entering the apparatus.

10. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein the carton identification module includes a barcode reader configured to read a barcode on a carton entering the apparatus.

11. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein the carton characteristics include one or more of: carton type and carton dimensions.

12. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein the apparatus includes a controller configured to receive information from the carton identification module, control the loading mechanism to load a predetermined length of tape onto the tape carrier in accordance with the carton characteristics and control the transport mechanism to move the head assembly in accordance with the carton characteristics.

13. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the apparatus includes a controller configured to control the loading mechanism to load a predetermined length of tape onto the tape carrier and to control the transport mechanism to move the head assembly for application of the tape onto a carton.

14. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the head assembly is configured to rotate relative to the transport mechanism.

15. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the head assembly includes a tape applicator configured to conform to contours on the surface of a carton to which tape is to be applied.

16. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein the applicator includes a pair of applicator shoes configured to move relative to each other so as to form a step corresponding to a step on the surface of a carton to which tape is to be applied.

17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein the shoes are linked together through a linkage such that movement of one shoe is reflected in movement of the other shoe.

18. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus includes a printer configured to print onto tape before application to a carton.

19. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus includes a conveyor configured to move cartons through the apparatus.

20. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the apparatus includes one or more flap positioning member in order to position one or more of the flaps of the carton for taping.

21. The apparatus of claim 1 , wherein the apparatus is configured to apply tape in either the horizontal or vertical orientation to different cartons with a range of carton characteristics.

22. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the apparatus includes a further tape head assembly arranged to apply tape across a carton in a direction substantially perpendicular to the tape applied by the head assembly.

22. A method of applying adhesive tape to a carton, including: loading a predetermined length of tape from a bulk storage spool onto a tape carrier;

presenting a head assembly carrying the tape carrier to a carton; and using a transport mechanism, causing relative movement between the tape carrier and the carton so as to apply the tape from the tape carrier to the carton wherein the transport mechanism includes an arrangement of linear tracks configured for positioning of the head assembly.

Description:

AN APPARATUS FOR AND METHOD OF APPLYING ADHESIVE TAPE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to an apparatus for and method of applying adhesive tape.

BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION

Equipment for mechanically applying adhesive tape to an article such as a carton is known.

Most machines able to mechanically apply tape to a carton for sealed closure of the carton sliffer from a number of drawbacks. For one thing they can generally only apply tape horizontally or vertically and are thus only suited either for cartons of the type where the closure is overlapping or abutting flaps on the top of the carton, or for cartons where the flaps overlap on a side wall of the carton.

Another drawback is an inability to achieve a desired rate of throughput. In many installations in which such taping machines are required to operate, the throughput must be commensurate with the operating speed of the plant or able to achieve a throughput which the plant operators consider to be commercially necessary.

A problem which is typical in packaging operations such as packing of meat is overfilling of the carton or, in gas flushing operations, excess application of gas. These result in the closure flaps/walls not being in a consistent position or, in the case of uneven overfill, not in the correct alignment. Machines hitherto have not been able to adequately handle such situations.

A further requirement in many plants in which such machines are required to operate is the actual footprint or physical size of the machines. Not only does the machine need to be able to occupy the minimum amount of floor space but it also needs to be

able to be manoeuvred into the required position in the plant. This latter requirement is especially important in older plants where access is often a problem.

An object of the present invention is to provide apparatus for mechanical application of adhesive tape to cartons which overcomes or goes some way to overcoming one or more of the aforementioned drawbacks associated with known apparatus.

A further object of the present overview is to provide an apparatus for the mechanical application of adhesive tape to a carton which can automatically adjust to accommodate underfilled/overfilled cartons.

A further object of the present invention is to provide a method of applying adhesive tape to a carton which overcomes, or goes someway to overcoming, one or more of the aforementioned drawbacks associated with known taping methods.

Each object is to be read disjunctively with the object of at least providing the public with a useful choice.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In a first broad aspect the invention provides an apparatus for applying adhesive tape to a carton, including: a tape carrier; a loading mechanism for loading a predetermined length of adhesive tape onto the tape carrier; a head assembly configured to carry the tape carrier; and a transport mechanism configured to create relative movement between the head assembly and a carton for application of the predetermined length of tape from the tape carrier onto the carton; wherein the transport mechanism includes an arrangement of linear tracks configured for positioning of the head assembly.

Preferably the transport mechanism is capable of positioning the head assembly accurately in three dimensions.

Preferably the transport mechanism includes one or more carriages riding on the linear tracks.

Preferably the tape carrier is a cylindrical tape carrier on which the predetermined length of tape is wound.

Preferably the apparatus includes a tape carrier drive mechanism configured to rotate the tape carrier so as to wind tape onto the tape carrier.

Preferably the apparatus includes a plurality of tape carriers, such that a tape carrier can be loaded with tape while another tape carrier is coupled to the head assembly for application of tape to a carton.

Preferably the apparatus includes one or more tape storage units for receiving bulk storage tape spools, tape being loaded from the spools onto the tape carrier.

Preferably the apparatus includes a tape cutting mechanism configured to cut tape to a predetermined length.

Preferably the apparatus includes a carton identification module configured to identify carton characteristics of a carton entering the apparatus.

Preferably the carton identification module includes a barcode reader configured to read a barcode on a carton entering the apparatus.

Preferably the carton characteristics include one or more of: carton type and carton dimensions.

Preferably the apparatus includes a controller configured to receive information from the carton identification module, control the loading mechanism to load a predetermined length of tape onto the tape carrier in accordance with the carton characteristics and control the transport mechanism to move the head assembly in accordance with the carton characteristics.

Preferably the apparatus includes a controller configured to control the loading mechanism to load a predetermined length of tape onto the tape carrier and to control the transport mechanism to move the head assembly for application of the tape onto a carton.

Preferably the head assembly is configured to rotate relative to the transport mechanism.

Preferably the head assembly includes a tape applicator configured to conform to contours on the surface of a carton to which tape is to be applied.

Preferably the applicator includes a pair of applicator shoes configured to move relative to each other so as to form a step corresponding to a step on the surface of a carton to which tape is to be applied.

Preferably the shoes are linked together through a linkage such that movement of one shoe is reflected in movement of the other shoe.

Preferably the apparatus includes a printer configured to print onto tape before application to a carton.

Preferably the apparatus includes a conveyor configured to move cartons through the apparatus.

Preferably the apparatus includes one or more flap positioning member in order to position one or more of the flaps of the carton for taping.

Preferably the apparatus is configured to apply tape in either the horizontal or vertical orientation to different cartons with a range of carton characteristics.

In a second aspect the invention provides a method of applying adhesive tape to a carton, including: loading a predetermined length of tape from a bulk storage spool onto a tape carrier; presenting a head assembly carrying the tape carrier to a carton; and using a transport mechanism, causing relative movement between the tape carrier and the carton so as to apply the tape from the tape carrier to the carton wherein the transport mechanism includes an arrangement of linear tracks configured for positioning of the head assembly.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention will now be described by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

Figure 1 is an isometric view of the apparatus,

Figure 2 is a side elevation view of the apparatus,

Figure 3 is an elevation view of the adhesive tape storage, loading and cutting assembly of the apparatus,

Figure 4 is a plan view of the arrangement shown in Figure 3,

Figure 5 is a perspective view of the assembly shown in Figures 3 and 4,

Figure 6 is an isometric view of the head assembly of the apparatus when located aligned with the tape capstan in the assembly of Figure 5,

Figure 7 is a view similar to Figure 6 but from a different angle and showing the tape capstan installed on the head assembly,

Figure 8 is a further view of the head assembly but with the rotating head assembly rotated into a position for applying tape overlapping top flap carton,

Figure 9 is a view similar to Figure 8 but viewing the head assembly from a different direction,

Figure 10 shows a conceptual side view of the apparatus according to an embodiment of the present invention,

Figure 11 is a conceptual plan view of the apparatus shown in Figure 10, and

Figure 12 shows the use of a further tape head according to a further embodiment of the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring firstly to Figures 1 and 2 the apparatus 10 is illustrated devoid of its covers in order to illustrate the relative positions of the operative components of the apparatus.

The apparatus 10 includes a suitable support frame 1 1 through which extends a conveyor 1 2 along which cartons C to be taped (or for labels to be applied as described hereinafter) can travel. A carton C can thus travel from an inlet end 13 of the conveyor 12 to an outlet end 14. The inlet end 13 will be, in a typical installation, located adjacent an input conveyor (not shown).

The frame structure 1 1 provides a suitable mounting for a transport mechanism, which in the embodiment shown is a proprietary robotic arm assembly (herein "robot 1 5").

Any suitable transport mechanism may be used, including an arrangement of linear tracks, with carriages suitably arranged for movement of the head assembly (described below). Preferably the transport mechanism is configured to accurately position the head assembly in three dimensions. Also, the transport mechanism is required to create relative movement between the carton and the head assembly.

This can be achieved by transporting the head assembly, the carton, or both the head assembly and the carton.

The robot 15 is, as shown in Figures 1 and 2, suspended by the support frame 1 1 above the conveyor 12. As the robot 15 and its associated computer control is of a proprietary type further description thereof will not be required for the purposes of describing the present invention.

Mounted to the robot 15 is a head assembly 16 which will hereinafter be described in more detail. This head assembly 16 includes a rotating head 1 7. A tape carrier in the preferred form of a capstan 28 (described hereafter) can be uplifted by the head assembly 16 and manipulated by the robot 1 5 to enable tape to be correctly positioned relative to the carton and applied thereto by applicator shoes 45.

The conveyor 12 is located toward one side of the frame structure 1 1. Beneath this but positioned more toward the other side of the frame structure 1 1 is a tape storage/dispensing, loading and cutting assembly 18. This is shown in more detail in Figures 3, 4 and 5. As will hereinafter be described this assembly 18 enables a length of adhesive tape T to be drawn from a bulk storage spool and applied to capstan 28, the tape then being cut by cutting means so that the capstan can be picked up by the

head assembly 16 (more particularly the rotating head 17) and then manipulated so as to apply the tape to a carton C located on the conveyor 12.

The robot 15 under computer control is thus able to manipulate the head assembly so as to move the head assembly relative to the carton C and thereby apply the pre measured length of adhesive tape to the carton C so as to seal the carton closed. As will also hereinafter be described the apparatus can preferably include means for printing on the adhesive tape a security seal so that when the tape is applied to the carton C the seal is simultaneously applied.

In the preferred embodiment of the invention the security seal is applied to the adhesive side of the tape in a manner described in international patent specification WO2005/035263.

The apparatus 10 further includes a control position which includes a screen 19 and a keyboard which is generally covered by a cover 20. In the preferred form of the invention the screen 19 is a touch screen and is useable by an operator to operate the machine. The keyboard 20 is used for more complex adjustments, programming etc of the apparatus 10 and would not normally be used or indeed accessible to the operator of the machine.

The apparatus includes a carton identification module. In the embodiment shown, this module includes a bar code reader 20 which is preferably located adjacent the inlet end 13 and is above the conveyor 12. The bar code reader is thus positioned so that it can read a bar code which has been applied to the leading end of the carton C next to be taped. Thus as carton C (as shown in Figures 1 and 2) has tape applied thereto the bar code reader R reads the bar code of the next carton such that suitable data can be derived by the computer control of the apparatus so as to identify physical characteristics of the carton and control the tape assembly 18 to measure and install on the capstan 28 the correct length of adhesive tape. The reading by the bar code reader R also determines the manner in which the robot 15 will control the

head assembly 16 in order to correctly apply the tape to the particular type of carton to be taped.

The barcode may encode such characteristics as carton type (e.g. three-flap carton, bliss carton, Box & Lid carton, Top Sealing Medium (TSM) and Lidded cartons) and/or carton dimensions (e.g. height, length, width) or a single identifier which identifies both carton type and dimensions.

It will be appreciated that various other means of encoding data may be used, including other optical systems or RFlD tags.

It will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that the support structure 11 supports other ancillary equipment such as pneumatic control valves, the central computer control unit and like ancillary equipment which, to the skilled person, will form part of an apparatus of this type. As such ancillary equipment is well within the scope of the skilled addressee a detailed description thereof will not be required for the purposes of describing the present invention.

Referring now to Figures 3, 4 and 5 there is shown the tape assembly 18. This preferably includes two tape storage units 21 into each of which can be loaded a spool 22 of adhesive tape. As is more clearly shown in Figure 5 one (in this case the lowermost) tape storage unit 21 will be in operation while the other remains loaded and ready to move into an operating position upon the tape storage unit, then in operation, running out of tape. As is clear from Figure 5 each tape storage unit 21 is based on a sliding drawer 23 which enables the empty unit 21 to be pulled out and a new spool 21 loaded thereon. With such an arrangement continuous operation of the machine is possible.

In operation tape T is drawn from the spool 22 to pass a cutting station 24 (which will hereinafter be described) to pass over rollers 26 and 27 such that the leading end of the tape T is engaged with a vacuum pad 29 which is located adjacent a capstan 28

onto which tape T is to be loaded. The leading end of the tape T is held under vacuum onto the vacuum pad 29 the non adhesive side of the tape T being in contact with the pad 29.

At commencement of the tape being loaded onto the capstan 28 the pad 29 is moved under the control of a mechanism (not clearly shown in the drawings) so that the adhesive side of the tape engages with the capstan 28. The capstan 28 can thus be rotated via a capstan drive assembly 30 (described in more detail hereafter) to wind tape T thereon. The whole tape assembly 18 is controlled so that the required length of tape T is wound onto the capstan 28. Upon the required length being loaded a cutting mechanism 31 operates to cut the tape as will hereinafter be described.

Adjacent the cutting mechanism 31 is a printer 32 for printing onto the adhesive side of the tape T a security seal as described in WO2005/035263.

Adjacent the printer 32 is a mechanism 70 which applies a series of punctures across the width of the tape T. These punctures are timed to be applied so that they extend across the security seal. The punctures therefore form a tear line such that once the tape T has been applied to the carton any attempt to remove the tape will result in tearing of the security seal. This thereby provides a visual indication of the sealed carton having been tampered with.

The first cutting mechanism 24 is only operative when changing to a new spool 22. In the storage unit 21 currently not being used the leading end of the tape is applied to a roller 33 on a pivoting arm 34. In both storage units 21 there is provided sensing means for sensing a spool 22 becoming empty. In the preferred form of the invention as illustrated a retro reflective sensor is used and comprises an emitter 35 and a reflector 36 which are located at opposite sides of the spool 22 as can be more clearly seen in Figure 4. Thus upon the retro reflective sensor sensing that the spool 22 in use is nearing empty, the procedure for changing over to a new spool 22 will be initiated.

Adjacent the cutter mechanism 24 is a vacuum pad 37 which will apply a vacuum pressure to the tail of the tape T and hold the tail so that the cutting mechanism 24 can be operated to cut the tape T. The stack of spool storage units 21 can thus be indexed to bring the full storage unit into alignment with the path of the tape T whereupon the arm 34 can be activated so as to extend. This will result in the roller

33 with the leading end of the new tape supply attached thereto to move to the position shown in Figures 4 and 5. This causes the non adhesive surface of the leading end of the new tape to come into contact and adhere to the adhesive side of the tail of the tape held by the vacuum pad 37.

The capstan drive 30 includes a platform 39 which has a pair of diametrically opposed capstan drives 40 in the form of a plurality of upstanding prongs. Onto each of these capstan drives 40 a capstan 28 can be installed.

The platform 39 is coupled to a central guide and drive unit 41 which permits the platform 39 to be moved from the lowered position (as illustrated in Figure 5) to a raised position. In this raised position the prongs of the capstan drive 40 will be inserted into the capstan 28. In Figure 5 the capstan 28 is shown (for illustrative purposes) in the position where it will be engaged on the head assembly 16 as hereinafter described. However, during the winding of tape onto the capstan 28 the platform 39 will be raised and the capstan drive 40 rotated so as to rotate the capstan 28 to carry out the winding on of the tape.

Upon completion of applying tape to the carton C on the conveyor 12 the robot 15 will move the head assembly 16 to a position where the now empty capstan 28 on the head assembly 16 can be lowered onto the empty capstan drive 40. The head assembly then moves to a position, which is shown in Figure 6, whereby a shaft 41 is aligned with a bore 42 of the capstan 28. Thus upon lowering of the head assembly 16 the shaft 41 enters into the bore 42 and under vacuum the capstan 28 is sucked onto the shaft 41. Upon the capstan 28 being installed onto the head assembly 16

the platform 39 is retracted thereby leaving the capstan 28 clear of the prongs of the capstan drive 40.

When the head assembly 16 is lowered onto the capstan 28 the vacuum pad 29 will have been retracted and, as a consequence, the tape T extending from the capstan 28 will engage between the tape rollers 43 and 44 which form part of the rotating head 17.

The head assembly 16 is then rotated so as to draw the tape T around into contact with shoes 45 of a tape applicator assembly. The shoes 45 include a plurality of openings (see Figure 9) through which a vacuum is applied to hold the tape onto the shoes 45. The rotation of the head assembly 16 is such that upon the tape T coming into contact with the shoes 45 the shoes are located adjacent the cutting mechanism 31 which then operates so as to cut the tape. This completes loading of tape onto the capstan 28, the attachment of the capstan 28 to the head assembly 16 and the final cutting to length of the tape T. The amount of tape T on the capstan 28 together with the length of tape extending through the tape rollers 43 and 44 and around into contact with the shoes 45 is the length of tape required for the taping operation to be completed for the particular carton which is next in line to be taped.

The head assembly 16 can then be lifted away from the tape assembly 18 by the robot 15 so that the tape T and the taping shoes 45 are located in the correct position relative to the carton C so that the taping operation can take place. If the tape is to be applied to a three flap carton then the shoes 45 will remain in the orientation shown in Figure 6. If, however, the tape is to be applied to overlapping flaps on the top side of the carton the rotating head assembly 17 will be rotated by motor 46 into the position shown in Figures 8 and 9. This repositioning of the taping shoes 45 can occur during movement of the head assembly 16 from the tape assembly 18 to the carton C.

The conveyor 12 includes a plurality of "gates" which essentially are stop members which,, under control of the central control unit, are able to project up through the conveyor 12. The projection and retraction of the gates thus control movement of cartons along the conveyor. Thus the carton C to be taped is moved by the conveyor 12 into contact with gate Ga which stops the forward progress of the carton C. The carton is furthermore pushed laterally on the conveyor 12 by a pusher 47 (see Figure 1) so as to push the carton into contact with an abutment 48 (see Figure 2) on the opposite side of the conveyor 12. The position of the carton C is thus always known.

Gate Gb is used to retain on conveyor 12 the carton which is next to be taped. Gate

Gc is used to restrict the next carton from entering into conveyor 12.

During this positioning of the carton lid sequencers (not shown) contact the carton from each side so as to push on the flaps of the carton. Thus, with an overlapping top flap type carton, as shown in Figure 1 , one lid sequencer will operate to push down from the vertical side of the carton the flap which is intended to be under the other flap. This will be followed by a lid sequencer operating on the other side to push down the overlapping flap.

In a preferred construction the sequencer includes an arm which runs up the side of the carton then pivots when beyond the side of the carton to contact over the flap and push down on the flap. It will be appreciated that the lid sequencers will operate near the hinged sides of the flaps so as to leave a clear path for the taping shoes 45 to move along the top of the carton as hereafter described.

With a three flap carton only one lid sequencer will operate to push against the flap on the side of the carton which is against the abutment 48.

To further describe the construction and operation of the apparatus the following will describe a taping operation for an overlapping top flap carton C of the type shown in

Figure 1. The rotating head 17 will thus, as mentioned above, have rotated into the

position shown in Figures 8 and 9. The shoes 45 will thus be in a substantially horizontal disposition with the capstan 28 there above and tape T from the capstan 28 extending down between the tape rollers 43 and 44 and held under vacuum onto the shoes 45.

It will be observed (more particularly from Figures 6 and 9) that tape roller 43 is cylindrical with a straight side whereas the tape roller 44 angles upwardly from each end to therefore take on a cross sectional shape of a substantially shallow V. The roller 44 therefore applies a "set" longitudinally along the middle of the tape T. This produces more length in the centre of the tape and hence gives more material to achieve the "joggle" in the gutter G of the overlapping flaps (or in the case of a three flap carton the gutter formed by overlapping of the flap with the side/end of the carton). The tape therefore takes a path which is longer in the middle and the edges and hence a good even distribution of tape and consistent adhering of the tape is achieved even in the gutter G.

The robot 15 will lift the head assembly 16 into a position where it is adjacent the top of the carton toward the trailing end thereof (the trailing end being that end furtherest from the outlet 14). The robot 15 will then lower the head assembly 16 so that the tape T on the shoes 45 comes into contact with the flaps of the carton C. In this position the upturned ends 45a of the shoes 45 will be facing toward the leading end of the carton C. The robot will then move the head assembly so that the rollers 43/44 and shoes 45 move over the edge of the carton and apply a length of the tape to the carton end. The rotating head 17 will then be manipulated so as to retrace the tape T over onto the top of the carton C and then proceed along the top of the carton until it reaches the other end whereupon it will be rotated to apply the remaining length of the tape down the opposite end of the carton. This rotation of the shoes 45 and tape rollers 43/44 is achieved under the control of pneumatic motor 49.

It will be appreciated that the tape T is drawn off capstan 28 and positioned by the movement of the head assembly along the carton. The shoes 45 immediately

following contact of the tape on the carton apply the application pressure which ensures the tape is fully adhered to the carton. As explained above the tape follows the contours of the gutter.

As the robot moves the head back to the tape assembly 18 the motor 46 operates to move the rotating head back to the position shown in Figure 6 so that the head assembly is orientated for depositing the empty capstan 28 onto the empty capstan drive 40 and then pick up the capstan 28 (which has been loaded during the aforementioned taping operation) for taping of the next carton.

As can be seen in Figure 6 the shoes 45 are mounted in such a way that they can take positions relative to one another to ensure they always remain in contact with the surface of each of the flaps (i.e. the surfaces either side of the gutter). Therefore a "step" is formed between the shoes 45 which accommodates the gutter G of the carton C. The shoes 45 are able to accommodate and follow contours in the surface of the carton. In particular, a parallelogram type linkage mounts the shoes 45 to the rotating heads 17, allowing the shoes to accommodate the gutter G. This is seen in Figure 6 where a centrally pivoted link 50 is mounted via a pivot shaft 51 to a bifurcated part 52 of the rotating head assembly 17. Pivotally coupled to each end of link 50 are links 53 which, in turn, are coupled to an interconnecting link 54. This link 54 is also mounted by a pivot shaft 55 to the bifurcated portion 52.

As is evident from Figure 6 the links 53 each form part of an element which extends through to a duplicate linkage arrangement to the other side of the bifurcated portion 52. Thus the leading and trailing ends of the shoes 45 are mounted by this common linkage. As a result movement of one shoe 45 is reflected in a corresponding movement by the other shoe.

The link units 53 are preferably attached to the respective shoes 45 by a rubber mount 56. In this way one shoe 45 can also tilt relative to the other shoe. This tilting action enables the shoes to follow the contour of the overlapping flaps of a top

flapped carton due to the carton being either underfilled or overfilled. Either an underfill or overfill situation will result in a change in the shape of the gutter G away from the ideal situation where the gutter is substantially of a right angle in cross- section.

The head assembly 16 is preferably coupled to the robot 15 by a breakaway mounting 57. The breakaway mounting 57 is a coupling which is under pneumatic pressure set at a level commensurate with a pressure that would be experienced by the breakaway during normal operation. However, if this said pressure is exceeded the breakaway mounting releases so as to allow relative movement between the robot

15 and the head assembly 16. This thereby protects the robot 15 against damage.

The breakaway 57 is coupled to the head assembly via a sliding mount 58 and associated pneumatic ram 59. The head assembly 16 is thus able to move laterally against the back pressure of the hydraulic ram 59. This gives the head assembly the ability to follow the contours of a three flap carton as will hereinafter be described.

To this part of the head assembly is coupled the rotatable head assembly 17 and this is also achieved by way of a mounting which enables the rotatable head assembly 1 7 to move up and down against the back pressure of a vertical ram 60 to thereby enable the shoes 45 to follow the contours of the carton in a situation of underfill/overfill or just normal contours associated with a substantially normally filled carton. Consequently with this up and down movement against the back pressure of vertical ram 60 the ability of the shoes 45 to tilt and to move relative to each other via the parallelogram linkage, the shoes are able to follow the contours of the carton as they traverse over the carton. In this way a consistent application pressure is applied to the tape T to not only ensure that the tape is fully adhered to the flaps but also follows as close as possible the contours of the gutter G.

With a three flap carton it is necessary to determine the position of the gutter and also to make allowance for an overfill situation which might not necessarily be consistent

throughout the length of the carton. Consequently according to the present invention the position of the gutter G is determined by using the hinge point of the flap to the top of the carton as a datum point. By following this hinge line and knowing the length between the hinge line and the edge of the flap the position of the gutter is known. Therefore, even if the hinge line varies in position relative to the base of the carton, this has no effect on the application of the tape over the gutter because the apparatus, as will hereinafter become apparent, follows the position of the gutter on the side and ends of the carton.

The head assembly 16 therefore includes a follower 61 which is mounted to a linear bearing which is moved up and down by a ball screw assembly 62. An electric pulse motor 63 drives the ball screw to thereby move the gutter height shoe 61 to the correct distance between the interface between the shoes 45 and the gutter height shoes 61 which is commensurate with the distance between the hinge line of the flap and the edge of the flap. Thus the gutter height shoe 61 rides on the top of the box to set the distance between the top of the box and the gutter i.e. the interface between the edges of the shoes 45. Consequently the shoes 45 traverse over the gutter G in the correct position even in an over pack situation and still further in an inconsistent over pack situation.

With a three flap carton the rotating head 1 7 will be in the position shown in Figures 6 and 7. The robot 15 will manipulate the head assembly 16 into a position where the lead end of the tape is applied to the back of the container and then move around onto the first of the side flaps.

Adjacent the gutter height shoe 61 is a precloser arm and roller assembly 64. This is controlled by a pneumatic motor 65. The motor 65 is thus able to move the precloser arm and roller assembly 64 so as to apply a pressure to the flap prior to the shoes 45 moving into contact with the flap. Still further the compression roller 66 is operable by the motor 49 to move into contact with the flap to ensure that the flap is correctly against the end of the carton prior to the shoes 45 applying tape thereto.

This operation of the precloser assembly 64 and the compression roller 66 is repeated at each corner so as to ensure that the flap to be taped is correctly positioned before taping takes place.

Once again at the completion of the taping operation the robot returns the head assembly back to the tape assembly for depositing of the empty capstan and engagement of the loaded capstan in preparation for taping of the next carton.

The apparatus and method of taping as described herein is one which can accommodate both horizontal and vertically applied tape. The apparatus is able to work on three flap cartons and top closed cartons as well as tube cartons. Therefore, with suitable pre-programming of the computer control unit and identification of oncoming cartons by the barcode reader, the apparatus can automatically operate on different carton configurations and physical dimensions. The ability to select the correct length of tape and preload this onto a capstan (including pre-printing) means that the carton irrespective of configuration can be correctly taped and a security seal automatically applied.

The machine is also capable of applying a short length of tape onto a carton. This might be required simply to apply a certification or security seal to the carton.

Therefore the apparatus does not need to be used for a full sealed closing of the carton but could be used for applying one or more discreet lengths of tape carrying security/certification seals.

Unlike other automatic taping machines the compression unit/flap closure mechanisms and height regulation as well as accommodation of variations as a result of underfilling/overfilling of cartons is all carried out on the head assembly. Therefore not only is consistent and effective taping able to be carried out but there is great flexibility as to the size and shape of cartons. The cycle time is quicker than known machines, this being dictated solely by the robot speed and the speed of tape application. Also the machine is relatively compact and has a favourable footprint.

While the invention has been described mainly with respect to a robotic arm embodiment, embodiments in which the head assembly rides on tracks can also be contemplated. Such a system relies on linear movement and may therefore provide superior operating speed and may provide a more robust system. In such a system, the head assembly will ride on an arrangement of linear tracks which allows accurate positioning of the head assembly with respect to the carton, preferably in three dimensions. Movement of the head assembly also allows vertical and horizontal taping due to free movement similar to that provided by the robotic arm.

The action -of the linear rail system may be one of two variants, in an X, Y, Z, configuration. The carton can be either stationary or the carton can be continuously moving.

The head assembly may have two docking stations to accept the tape carriers. The head assembly ejects one (empty) tape carrier from one docking station onto the prongs of a capstan drive 40 and a second tape carrier is simultaneously loaded onto the second docking station and is rotated into the taping position. As with the robotic arm, this process preferably occurs while the carton is in transition.

Where the carton is stationary, the head assembly then moves along linear tracks to a position in three dimensions at which the taping operation begins, before moving along the linear tracks to perform the taping operation.

Where the carton moves, the head assembly moves along linear tracks to a position in three dimensions at which the taping operation begins. Movement of the head assembly then takes into account movement of the carton.

For example, when taping the end surfaces the head assembly moves parallel to the movement of the carton, at the same speed as the carton, while also moving up or across the end wall to apply tape to the vertical plane.

To apply tape along the top or side of the carton, the head assembly could simply remain stationary, allowing the carton to move relative to the head assembly.

Alternatively, the head assembly could also move relative to the carton in order to provide a greater (or lesser) relative speed between the two.

Referring to Figures 10 and 1 1 , an example of the linear track apparatus in use is provided.

In Figures 10 and 1 1 various positions, A to E, of the carton 1001 along a conveyor

1003 are indicated as the carton is processed by the apparatus.

At a first position, A, the carton 1001 approaches the tape head assembly 1005 along the conveyor 1003. The tape head assembly is located at a first distal end of a longitudinal arm 1007 that is arranged to move up and down in a vertical plane. The tape head assembly has attached thereto a portion of tape to be applied to the carton as described above. The opposite distal end of the longitudinal arm is in mechanical communication with a set of linear tracks 1009. The liner tracks are arranged to lie in a horizontal plane above the conveyor, and are also arranged to align with the centre seam of the cartons to which the tape is being applied.

Once the system has detected that the carton has reached the position shown in A, e.g. that the first side portion of the carton has made contact with the tape head assembly through the detection of movement of the tape head, the longitudinal arm is operated so that it moves upwards to apply the tape from the tape head assembly onto the carton. It will be understood that the liner tracks may be arranged at this point to move the tape head assembly with the longitudinal arm in the same direction as the flow of the carton on the conveyor so that the longitudinal arm remains vertically orientated and parallel with the side of the carton.

Alternatively, the conveyor may temporally be stopped to allow the tape to be applied to the side of the carton in an upward direction. In a further alternative, the longitudinal arm may be provided with a degree of pivotal movement relative to the linear tracks to allow the tape head to apply the tape while being "pushed" by the carton as it moves over the conveyor.

In the case of full box and lid or three flap cartons extra tape (approximately 75mm) is left free (unattached) below the base of the carton. The same amount is left at the rear of the carton. The front surplus tape is forced under the front bottom corner of the carton by the forward motion of the carton against the conveyor rollers - the rear extended length of tape is forced by means of a following pneumatic powered roller. These actions secure the bottom of the end flaps of the carton to the carton base.

As shown in position B, the longitudinal arm 1007 is controlled by the control system such that the arm may also be moved along the linear tracks in the horizontal plane as shown by arrow 1011, in a direction opposite to that of the movement of the carton on the conveyor. The longitudinal arm is thus at a fixed height relative to the carton, and the conveyor upon which the carton is travelling. This allows the tape head to apply the tape to the upper portion of the carton. As both the carton and the tape head are moving in opposite directions, the speed of tape transfer is much faster than conventional apparatus where only one of the carton of tape application units are moving.

As shown in position C, the tape head on the longitudinal arm reaches the edge of the top portion of the carton and starts to move in a downwards direction due to the control system operating the longitudinal arm in that direction. As in position A, the arm may be arranged at this point to move the tape head assembly with the longitudinal arm in the same direction as the flow of the carton on the conveyor so that the longitudinal arm remains vertically orientated and parallel with the side of the carton.

Alternatively, the conveyor may temporally be stopped to allow the tape to be applied to the side of the carton in a downward direction.

Once the tape seal has been applied to the carton, the tape head assembly replenishes the tape in order for it to apply tape to the next incoming carton. As shown in position E, the tape head assembly 1005 is rotated or pivoted via the longitudinal arm 1007 to a horizontal position so that the tape may be replaced from the tape feeding unit 1013 (shown as an enlarged view) as described above. The tape head assembly and arm then revert back to the original start position as shown in position A so that the next carton may be processed.

Alternatively, the application head mechanism may contain two separate docking stations to house the tape capstans. One station may be used on the carton currently being processed, while the second station is available to receive the tape destined for the following carton. The first capstan is wound with the predetermined tape requirement.

This capstan is then loaded to the application head as previously described. As the head is transited from the first taped carton to the following carton the second capstan is indexed into place. The first capstan is ejected and loaded for use on the subsequent carton. The loading of the second capstan can occur at a point where the XY axis changes.

Referring to Figure 12, an example of the use of a further taping head is provided.

According to a further embodiment, the addition of one or more taping heads 1201 may be provided that are mounted upside down at the exit of the conveyor (not shown) that moves the carton 1203 in the direction 1205 of the conveyor travel. Any form of suitable taping head may be provided. The head, or pair of heads for example, may be mounted on servo driven linear rails to apply tape (cross tape) 1207 across the bottom and up the lower sides of a carton. The carton may be of any suitable type, and includes a three flap configuration or Box & Lid (shoe box) style carton. The tape is arranged to hold the side flaps securely against the base.

The cross tape is in addition to the vertical (top) closure tape 1209 and may be of

lesser specification than that of the vertical closure tape. It may not be necessary to consider this portion of the tape as part of the main security seal closure, and so display of a suitable security seal may not be required.

Therefore, the cross tape may be applied to secure the front flap of a three flap carton, or secure both side flaps of a box and lid configuration

Therefore, the tape head(s) are driven upwards 121 1 towards the underside of the carton, and then moved across the carton from side to side to apply the tape in a direction that is substantially perpendicular to the tape applied previously. The arm may be arranged at this point to move the tape head assembly with the longitudinal arm in the same direction as the flow of the carton on the conveyor so that the longitudinal arm of the additional tape head remains vertically orientated and parallel with the side of the carton. That is, the tape head assembly is attached to a servo driven linear rail in a similar manner as described above so that the further tape head assembly can travel in the direction of the carton as it moves along the conveyor. It will be understood that gaps in the conveyor mechanism may be provided to allow the tape head to apply the cross tape to the underside of the carton.

Alternatively, the conveyor may temporally be stopped to allow the tape to be applied to the underside of the carton perpendicularly to the flow of the carton along the conveyor.

Therefore, the apparatus as described is capable of tape / seal closures of cartons which comply with any of the following parameters:

• Three flap cartons with full depth front flap. End flaps can be half depth.

• TSM Carton Box & Lid cartons

• Carton sizes limits

The apparatus is also arranged to be capable of closing cartons of the following dimensions:

• Maximum: Length .580mm x Width .400mm x Height.200mm

• Min Length .400mm x Width 280mm x Height 85mm

The apparatus therefore has numerous advantages including: • The concept allows for a narrow machine and increased through-put.

• A production speed of approx. 12 cartons per minute.

• The carton moves through machine while taping takes place.

• Manual tape changing between rolls of tape.

• Bar code reading of product label (Raster Bar code reader). • Scanner for product bar code of the carton to be sealed.

• Dispensing tape to the required length.

• Printing of a security seal in the correct position required for that carton.

• Spooling of the tape onto one or two capstans.

• Leaving (start end of the tape) to be held in position by the vacuum shoes. • Application of the tape in the correct orientation to the specific requirements of the carton being processed.

While the present invention has been illustrated by the description of the embodiments thereof, and while the embodiments have been described in detail, it is not the intention of the Applicant to restrict or in any way limit the scope of the invention to such detail. Additional advantages and modifications will readily appear to those skilled in the art. Therefore, the invention in its broader aspects is not limited to the specific details, representative apparatus and methods, and illustrative examples shown and described. Accordingly, departures may be made from such details without departure from the spirit or scope of the Applicant's general inventive concept.