STANZANI, Rino (Via Togliatti 15, San Cesario Sul Panaro, I-41018, IT)
1. An apparatus (1) for processing containers (2), comprising at least one station (16) for processing the containers (2) and means for transporting the containers (2), characterized in that it comprises a base (5) laid out horizontally and forming a guide (8), the transporting means comprising a conveyor (7) for transporting the containers (2), operatively coupled to said guide (8) and forming a closed path.
2. The apparatus (1) according to claim 1, comprising a frame (6), said base (5) being connected to the frame (6) in such a way as to be mounted at a predetermined height (d) from the floor.
3. The apparatus (1) according to claim 1 or 2, wherein the station (16) for processing the containers (2) is positioned on the base (5).
4. The apparatus (1) according to claim 3, comprising a labelling station (16a), a rinsing station (16b), a filling station (16c) and a stoppering station (16d) for the containers (2), said stations (16) being positioned on the base (5).
5. The apparatus (1) according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the conveyor (7) comprises a chain (9) fitted in the guide (8) formed by the base (5).
6. The apparatus (1) according to claim 5, wherein the conveyor (7) comprises an upper portion constituting a top surface (10) for supporting the containers (2) and a lower portion constituting the chain (9).
7. The apparatus (1) according to claim 5 or 6, wherein the base (5) comprises at least a first portion (12a) and a second portion (12b) that can be moved apart in order to tension the chain (9).
8. The apparatus (1) according to any of the foregoing claims, comprising a plurality of nozzles mounted under the base (5) in order to clean the apparatus (1).
9. The apparatus (1) according to any of the foregoing claims comprising a toothed wheel (11) having a vertical axis of rotation, operatively connected to the conveyor (7) in order to drive the latter and removably housed in a compartment made in the base (5). 10. The apparatus (1) according to any of the foregoing claims, comprising an infeed section (3) for the containers (2) to be processed and an outfeed section (4) for the containers (2) that have been processed, the infeed section (3) and the outfeed section (4) being positioned close to one another along the closed path.
11. The apparatus (1) according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the conveyor (7) comprises a top surface (10) for supporting the containers (2).
12. The apparatus (1) according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the base (5) is made of plastic material.
13. A system (20) for processing containers (2), comprising: at least two apparatuses (1) according to any of the foregoing claims; an infeed buffer (21) connected to the infeed section (3) of each apparatus (1) in order to feed the containers (2) to the at least two apparatuses (1); an outfeed buffer (22) connected to the outfeed section (4) of each apparatus (1) in order to receive the containers (2) feeding out of the at least two apparatuses (1); the at least two apparatuses (1) being thus connected to each other in parallel.
Apparatus and system for processing containers
This invention relates to an apparatus for processing containers, in particular for use in the sector of primary packaging and bottling of beverages and food liquids (such as milk, wine and oil).
As is known, the market-place currently offers container processing apparatuses capable of performing a plurality of processes, such as labelling, rinsing, filling, stoppering and applying capsules to the containers. Once these operations have been completed, the containers are ready for further packaging operations (usually referred to collectively by the term "secondary packaging") which are outside the scope of this invention.
Apparatuses currently available on the market are obtained by linking up different machines, each designed to perform one or more of the above mentioned processes. Typically, these machines are placed on respective bases mounted on massive frames. The machines are linked by longitudinal members located at heights above the machine bases. These longitudinal members are used to transport the containers feeding out of one machine and into another. The main disadvantage of the prior art is due to the fact the containers move on endless chains mounted on the longitudinal members or are transported by transfer carousels or screw feeders (worm screws). Each chain, positioned vertically in space, consists of an upper section (commonly referred to as the "outbound" section) which carries the containers, and a lower section under the longitudinal member (commonly referred to as the "return" section). The upper section of the chain can be considered as playing an active role in that it transports the containers, whilst the lower section is used simply to guarantee continuity of flow. This chain conveyor setup with outbound and return sections involves the use of pulleys for driving the chain, further increasing the constructional complexity, overall dimensions and costs of the apparatus.
Each transfer carousel captures the containers in suitably shaped pockets made according to the size of the containers and transports them circumferentially through a predetermined angle and then delivers each container to a conveyor belt, a screw feeder or another carousel. The screw feeders are used for transporting the containers along straight sections while imparting a predetermined spacing to, or varying the existing spacing of, the containers. In order to describe a closed loop, both transfer carousels and screw feeders must be combined with complex systems.
These characteristics make cleaning and maintenance difficult and time consuming.
In a first type of apparatus, the machines are assembled in line. The main disadvantage of apparatuses of this kind is the large amount of space they occupy (for example, 20 m and over).
Another disadvantage of the prior art apparatus is the weight of the massive frames which may be as much as 300 Kg, creating considerable problems when they have to be moved.
Yet another disadvantage of the type of apparatus described above is that container infeed and outfeed must be supervised by at least two operators simultaneously. In effect, the in-line arrangement of the machines means that container infeed and outfeed are at the two opposite ends of the line at a distance of 5 to 7 metres from each other.
A further disadvantage of the prior art is due to the need to design the links between all the machines. As a result, the apparatus has an extremely complex structure.
In a second type of prior art apparatus, there is an endless chain equipped with flexible toothed elements and positioned horizontally in space. The chain, equipped with two pulleys, is composed of an active section, acting in conjunction with a chute alongside it, and an inactive section. More specifically, the toothed elements of the active section move the containers located on the chute from the outfeed of one machine to the infeed of another.
In prior art apparatuses of the second type, too, the inactive section of the chain serves only to confer continuity of flow and increases overall size, and costs.
Another disadvantage of the prior art is the asynchrony between the different stretches of the container conveyors.. In effect, the container chain conveyors are driven by several different motors. The containers therefore move along the different stretches at different speeds. Yet another drawback of the prior art is due to the fact that the apparatus is easily exposed to contamination by the surrounding environment, due for example to build up of dust or condensation residues, and is difficult to clean and sanitize. Aim of the Invention
In this context, Hie basic purpose of this invention is to provide an apparatus for processing containers that overcomes the above mentioned disadvantages of the prior art.
In particular, this invention has for an aim to provide a container processing apparatus having a simple structure such as to reduce the overall weight, size and cost of the apparatus.
Another aim of the invention is to provide a container processing apparatus that allows cleaning and maintenance to be made quicker and easier.
Another aim of the invention is to provide a container processing apparatus that is compact and easy to supervise during operation (even by a single operator), especially as regards manual loading and unloading and start-up and testing procedures. A further aim of the invention is to provide a container processing apparatus where the containers move at a substantially constant speed along the full path of the process cycle.
A further aim of the invention is to provide a container processing apparatus that minimizes external contamination. A further aim of the invention is to provide a method for optimizing the path followed by the containers in the processing apparatus in order to make the process cycle simpler and more economical.
A yet further aim of the invention is provide a container processing system with a high productivity, meaning by productivity the number of containers processed per unit time.
The technical purpose and aims specified are achieved by a container processing apparatus comprising the technical characteristics described in one or more of the accompanying claims.
Brief Description of the Drawings
Further characteristics and advantages of the invention are more apparent in the detailed description below, with reference to a preferred but non-limiting embodiment of a container processing apparatus illustrated in the accompanying drawings, in which: - Figure 1 is a top view of the container processing apparatus according to this invention;
- Figure 2 is a side view of the apparatus of Figure 1; - Figure 3 is a front view of the apparatus of Figure 1;
- Figure 4 is a top view of the apparatus of Figure 1, with some parts cut away to better illustrate others;
- Figure 5 is a front cutaway view of the apparatus of Figure 1 ; - Figure 6 illustrates a detail from Figure 1 ;
- Figure 7 is schematic top view illustrating a plurality of apparatuses according to the invention, like that of Figure 1, connected in parallel.
Detailed Description of the Preferred Embodiments of the Invention With reference to the accompanying drawings, the numeral 1 denotes an apparatus for processing containers 2, used in particular in the sector of packaging and bottling of beverages or food liquids. In particular, the shape of the containers 2 is linked to the physical and organoleptic properties of the liquid they contain (wine, oil, milk, etc). The containers 2 may be made from any of a variety of materials, depending on the liquid contained, on the destination of the products and the reference market. In particular, the containers 2 are cylindrical or otherwise shaped and preferably have a variable capacity of between approximately 150 ml and 5 1.
The apparatus 1 has an infeed section 3 for the containers 2 to be processed and an outfeed section 4 for the containers 2 already processed. Advantageously, the apparatus 1 comprises a base 5 laid out horizontally. Preferably, the base 5 has a planar extension. Preferably, the base 5 is made of a plastic material. More preferably, the base 5 is made of polyethylene. The base 5 is mounted on a frame 6 which keeps it at a predetermined height d from the floor. The frame 6 is made preferably of stainless steel, for example, and its weight is limited because it has a hollow structure. For example the frame 6 weighs approximately 180 Kg.
The apparatus 1 is equipped with means for transporting the containers 2. In a novel way, the transporting means comprise a conveyor 7 for transporting the containers 2 and forming a closed path. The conveyor 7 comprises an upper portion constituting a top surface 10 for supporting the containers 2 and a lower portion constituting the chain 9. The upper surface 10 of the containers 2 extends round the full perimeter of the conveyor 7 along the closed path. That way, the containers 2 resting on the surface 10 are transported by the conveyor 7 along the entire closed path. Advantageously, the closed path is laid out horizontally. In a novel way, the infeed section 3 and the outfeed section 4 of the apparatus 1 are positioned on the closed path and close to one another. Preferably, the infeed section 3 and the outfeed section 4 are adjacent to each other. Advantageously, the conveyor 7 is operatively coupled to a guide 8 formed on the base 5. In particular, the guide 8 is in the form of a groove in the base 5. The conveyor 7 comprises a chain 9 fitted in the guide 8.
In a preferred embodiment, the chain 9 is made as a single part. Preferably, the chain 9 has a cross section in the shape of a T or of the Greek letter pi. More preferably, the chain 9 is made of a plastic material. More specifically, the chain 9 runs in the guide 8 along the closed path. The containers 2 being transported rest on the upper, supporting surface 10 of the conveyor 7. In particular, the upper surface 10 that supports the containers 2 is a top face of the chain 9. The chain 9 meshes with a toothed wheel (or sprocket) 11 housed in a compartment in the base 5. Advantageously, the toothed wheel 11 has a vertical axis of rotation. In particular, the axis of rotation of the toothed wheel 11 is at right angles to the base 5. Preferably, the toothed wheel 11 can be removed from its housing compartment to enable the chain 9 to be removed for maintenance. Preferably, the apparatus 1 is equipped with protective side rails 15 located laterally of the guide 8, that is, of the chain 9, in order to prevent the containers 2 from falling over. Preferably, the rails 15 are anchored to the base 5 at a height of a approximately 10 cm. The rails 15 are made, for example, of soft plastic (such as polyethylene, with circular cross section) to absorb the shock if a container 2 strikes the rails 15. The rails 15 preferably run alongside the guide 8 for the full length of the latter. In particular, one of the rails 15 forms a first circuit inside the closed path while the other rail 15 forms a second circuit outside the closed path. Alternatively, the rails 15 run alongside the guide 8 only for certain predetermined stretches of its path. For example, the predetermined stretches comprise curves along the guide 8 or other parts where there is a high risk of the containers 2 falling over.
The apparatus 1 comprises at least one container 2 processing station 16 located on the base 5. The apparatus 1 preferably comprises at least four container 2 processing stations 16 located on the base 5. For example, at a labelling station 16a, labels are applied to the containers 2. hi particular, the labels show parameters relating to the packaging of the containers 2, such as best before date and batch number. Alternatively or additionally, the information appearing on the labels relate to the beverage or liquid inside the containers 2. In some embodiments of it, the apparatus 1 has two labelling stations 16a. Preferably, at a rinsing station 16b, there is a rinsing machine mounted on the base 5. At the rinsing station 16b, the containers 2 are rinsed with water, with the addition of sanitizing agents, if necessary, in order to remove contaminants that may have accumulated inside the containers 2.
Preferably, at a filling station 16c, the containers 2 are filled with the liquid product. Filling might, for example, be performed by a filling carousel of known type. Preferably, at a stoppering station 16d, the containers 2 are sealed by protective stoppers. In some cases, for example in the wine industry, there is a capsule applicator station 16e for applying capsules over the stoppers.
Preferably, the frame 6 is composed of tubular elements or beams 17 connected to each other in such a way as to support the apparatus 1 at predetermined zones. For example, the predetermined zones comprise a first zone under the base 5 at the labelling station 16a and a second zone under the base 5 at the stoppering station 16b. Preferably, the frame 6 is equipped with means of locomotion (for example, wheels) to facilitate movement of the apparatus 1. Alternatively, the frame 6 is equipped with feet 18 for supporting it on the floor. In a novel way, the base 5 is divided into portions 12. hi particular, the base
5 comprises at least a first portion 12a and a second portion 12b that can be moved apart in order to tension the chain 9. More preferably, the base 5 also comprises a third portion 12c connected to the second portion l ib. In particular, the first portion 12a accommodates the "dry" processes performed on the containers 2, for example the labelling station 16a. The second portion 12b preferably houses the "semi-dry" processes on the containers 2, for example the rinsing station 16b. The third portion 12c preferably houses the "wet" processes on the containers 2, for example the filling station 16c.
In another embodiment, not illustrated, the apparatus 1 forms a sealed environment 19. More preferably, the apparatus 1 is equipped with sterilizing means operating on the sealed environment 19 to make it aseptic. In particular, the sealed environment 19 is divided into chambers that follow the subdivision of the base 5 into the portions 12. For example, a first chamber is formed at the first portion 12a and at the portion 12b, and a second chamber is formed at the third portion 12c. Preferably, a laminar air flow is maintained in the second chamber so that filling of the containers is performed in a controlled atmosphere.
Preferably, the apparatus 1 comprises a plurality of nozzles for nebulizing the water or sanitizing liquid. Advantageously, the nozzles are located under the base 5 in such a way that the nebulized liquid is directed at the underside of the chain 9 to clean it.
As a whole, the apparatus 1 occupies a space of less than 6 m 2 (for example approximately 5.4 m in the embodiment described) and can process approximately 1000 containers 2 per hour.
Advantageously, the conveyor 7 is driven by a single motor.
It should be noted that this invention provides a container 2 processing apparatus 1 having an infeed section 3 for the containers 2 to be processed and an outfeed section 4 for the containers 2 that have been processed. The apparatus 1 according to the invention comprises a conveyor 7 for transporting the containers 2 and forming a closed path laid out horizontally, the infeed section 3 and the outfeed section 4 being positioned close to one another along the closed path.
The operation of the container processing apparatus according to the invention is described below. The containers 2 to be processed are fed into the apparatus 1 serially through the infeed section 3. Each container 2 is processed individually with respect to the other containers 2. The containers 2 are placed on the chain 9 in such a way that they can slide on the supporting surface 10 along the closed path. In particular, the containers 2 move through the labelling statin 16a, the rinsing station 16b, the filling station 16c, the stoppering station 16d and the capsule applicator station 16e. Lastly, the containers 2 are conveyed serially towards the outfeed section 4. Preferably, the apparatus 1 operates in continuous cycle (excluding stops due, for example, to maintenance).
The apparatuses 1 can be easily connected in parallel to form a system 20 for processing containers 2. The system 20 comprises an infeed buffer 21 connected to the infeed section 3 of each apparatus 1. That way, the containers 2 to be processed are sent to the infeed buffer 21 which divides them between the respective infeed sections 3.
The system 20 comprises an outfeed buffer 22 connected to the outfeed section 4 of each apparatus 1. That way, the processed containers 2 are fed out through the respective outfeed sections 4 and are conveyed to the outfeed buffer 22.
The advantages of the container processing apparatus according to the invention may be clearly inferred from the foregoing description of its characteristics.
In particular, thanks to the presence of a single base for mounting the entire system by which the containers are moved on the conveyor and associated guide, the structure of the apparatus is considerably simplified compared to the prior solutions. Also, the fact that the guide follows the closed path makes it possible to reduce the amount of material used to make the chain since there is no need for the conveyor to have an active (outbound) stretch and a passive (return) stretch, as occurs in the prior art apparatuses.
Also, since the infeed and outfeed sections are located close to one another, the operation of the apparatus can easily be supervised by a single operator responsible for both loading and unloading the containers. This characteristic, combined with the fact that the conveyor forms a closed path, enables the overall size of the apparatus to be reduced considerably.
Also, the tubular elements or beams from which the frame is make it possible to reduce the overall weight and cost of the apparatus.
Also, since the chain is positioned on the guide and thus lies at substantially the same level as the base, chain cleaning operations can be performed directly by the nozzles located under the base and are thus quick and easy.
Also, the base is of plastic material, making the apparatus as a whole lighter in weight and more economical. In the embodiments equipped with means of locomotion, the apparatus is easy to move. Also, since the base is divided into portions, cleaning and maintenance of the apparatus is much easier. Further, the first and second portions can be moved apart in order to tension the chain. Further still, the subdivision into portions allows thermal expansion of the plastic to be kept effectively under control.
Also, since the chain can be driven by a single motor, the containers move at substantially the same speed at all points along the closed path.
Also, maintenance and adjustment of the conveyor are greatly simplified by the fact that the chain can simply be meshed/unmeshed with/from the sprocket.
Also, the apparatus according to the invention (in an embodiment not illustrated) comprises a sealed, aseptic environment allowing contamination from the outside to be reduced. This advantage is enhanced by the division of the sealed environment into chambers in which the flow of air is kept under control.
Lastly, the modular structure of the apparatuses enables them to be easily connected in parallel in such a way as to increase productivity in terms of the number of containers processed per unit time.