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Title:
COMPACTING UNIT AND METHOD FOR THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/116196
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A compacting unit (1) for the tobacco industry comprises a conveyor drum (2) configured to convey groups of segments (100) disposed perpendicularly to the feed direction. A first compactor (6) and a second compactor have a first contact portion (9) and a second contact portion (11), respectively. The first contact portion (9) and the second contact portion (11) are respectively adapted to be placed in contact with a first axial end (100A) and a second axial end (100B) of a group of segments (100) in transit in the compacting station (5). The first contact portion (9) is compliant, preferably elastically compliant, along a longitudinal direction of extension (X) of the groups of segments (100) upon interaction with the first axial end (100A). The second contact portion (11) defines a rigid abutment along the longitudinal direction of extension (X) of the groups of segments (100) suitable for setting a predetermined position for the second axial end (100B).

Inventors:
GAMBERINI, Giuliano (Via Panerazzi, 151, Crevalcore, 40014, IT)
ESPOSTI, Marco (Via Michelangelo 3, Casalecchio Di Reno, 40033, IT)
SARTONI, Massimo (Via Leandro Alberti 79, Bologna, 40139, IT)
FEDERICI, Luca (Via Lippo di Dalmasio 13, Bologna, 40135, IT)
Application Number:
IB2018/059825
Publication Date:
June 20, 2019
Filing Date:
December 10, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
G.D S.P.A. (Via Battindarno 91, Bologna, 40133, IT)
International Classes:
A24C5/47
Domestic Patent References:
WO2005046366A12005-05-26
Foreign References:
GB902448A1962-08-01
US2821201A1958-01-28
EP2965639A12016-01-13
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BIANCIARDI, Ezio (Via di Corticella 87, Bologna, 40128, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A compacting unit (1 ) for the tobacco industry, configured to axially compact groups of rod-shaped segments (100) intended to form rod- shaped smoking articles, wherein each group, of segments (100) comprises at least two segments (101 , 102; 104) which are disposed in axial alignment with each other and axially end to end, the compacting unit comprising:

a conveyor configured to convey the groups of segments (100) along a feed path which extends in a feed direction and which meets a compacting station (5) for compacting the groups of segments, wherein the conveyor is provided with a plurality of housing grooves (4), each housing groove being configured to receive and retain a group of segments disposed perpendicularly to the feed direction,

a first compactor (6) having a first contact portion (9) adapted to be placed in contact with a first axial end (100A) of at least one group of segments (100) in transit in the compacting station (5),

a second compactor (7) having a second contact portion (11 ) adapted to be placed in contact with a second axial end (100B) of at least one group of segments (100) in transit in the compacting station (5),

wherein the first compactor (6) and the second compactor (7) are configured to act in conjunction with each other at least at the compacting station (5) in such a way as to apply an axial compacting action on the groups of segments (100) by means of the first contact portion (9) and second contact portion (11 ),

characterized in that the first contact portion (9) is compliant, preferably elastically compliant, along a longitudinal direction of extension (X) of the groups of segments (100) upon interaction with the first axial end (100A) of the groups of segments themselves and in that the second contact portion (11 ) defines a rigid abutment along the longitudinal direction of extension (X) of the groups of segments (100) suitable for setting a predetermined position for the second axial end (100B) of the groups of segments (100).

2. The compacting unit according to claim 1 , characterized in that the first compactor (6) comprises a compacting member (8) provided with the first contact portion (9), wherein the first contact portion (9) is inherently compliant and/or wherein the first contact portion (9) is mounted compliantly on the compacting member, and in that the second compactor (7) comprises a compacting member (10) defining the second contact portion (11 ).

3. The compacting unit according to claim 1 or 2, characterized in that at least one between the first compactor (6) and the second compactor (7) comprises a compacting member (8, 10) which is movable in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion (9) or of the second contact portion (11 ) in succession to the compacting station (5).

4. The compacting unit according to claim 3, characterized in that the compacting member (8, 10) is rotatable about a compacting axis (Y) and in that the first contact portion (9) or the second contact portion (11 ) is disposed circumferentially around the compacting axis (Y).

5. The compacting unit according to claim 4, characterized in that the conveyor comprises at least one rotary member rotating about a feed axis (Z) and configured to move the housing grooves (4) along the feed path, and in that the compacting member (8, 10) is disposed around the feed axis (Z) and has a respective compacting axis (Y) which is inclined to the feed axis (Z) in such a way that the first contact portion (9) or the second contact portion (11 ) can be placed in contact with the respective axial end (100A, 100B) of at least one group of segments (100) passing through the compacting station (5).

6. The compacting unit according to claim 5, characterized in that the rotary member is a conveyor drum (2) provided with the housing grooves (4) disposed parallel to the feed axis (Z) at an outer mantle of the conveyor drum itself, wherein the first contact portion (9) or the second contact portion (11 ) is disposed at a minimum distance from the conveyor drum (2) at the compacting station (5) and at a maximum distance from the conveyor drum (2) at a position diametrically opposite to the compacting station (5).

7. The compacting unit according to one or more of claims 3 to 6, characterized in that the position of the compacting member (8, 10) is adjustable towards or away from the compacting station (5) as a function of the length of the groups of segments (100).

8. The compacting unit according to claim 7 when dependent on claim 5 or 6, characterized in that at least one between the first compactor (6) and the second compactor (7) comprises a slide (8a, 10a) which is slidable in a direction parallel to the feed axis (Z) and which supports the compacting member (8, 10).

9. The compacting unit according to one or more of claims 3 to 8, characterized in that the compacting member (8, 10) is moved by the conveyor in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion (9) or of the second contact portion (11 ) in succession to the compacting station (5).

10. A compacting method applicable in the tobacco industry for axially compacting groups of rod-shaped segments (100) intended to form rod- shaped smoking articles, wherein each group, of segments (100) comprises at least two segments (101 , 102; 104) which are disposed in axial alignment with each other and axially end to end, the compacting method comprising the following steps:

conveying the groups of segments (100) along a feed path which extends in a feed direction and which meets a compacting station (5) for compacting the groups of segments (100), wherein the groups of segments (100) are disposed perpendicularly to the feed direction, applying an axial compacting action on the groups of segments (100) in transit in the compacting station (5) by placing a first contact portion (9) in contact with a first axial end (100A) of at least one group of segments (100) in transit in the compacting station (5) and a second contact portion (11 ) in contact with a second axial end (100B) of the at least one group of segments (100) in transit in the compacting station (5),

characterized in that the first contact portion (9) is compliant, preferably elastically compliant, along a longitudinal direction of extension (X) of the groups of segments (100) upon interaction with the first axial end (100A) of the groups of segments (100) and in that it comprises setting a predetermined position for the second axial end (100B) of the groups of segments (100) along the longitudinal direction of extension (X) of the groups of segments themselves by means of the second contact portion (100B) defining a rigid abutment.

11. The compacting method according to claim 10, characterized in that it comprises bringing a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion (9) or of the second contact portion (11 ) in succession to the compacting station (5).

12. The compacting method according to claim 10 or 11 , characterized in that it comprises adjusting the position of the first contact portion (9) and/or of the second contact portion (11 ) towards and away from the compacting station (5) as a function of the length of the groups of segments (100).

Description:
DESCRIPTION

COMPACTING UNIT AND METHOD FOR THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY Technical field

This invention relates to a compacting unit and method for the tobacco industry.

More specifically, this invention can be used in the production of a semi- finished product for the tobacco industry, made from two or more rod- shaped segments, generally having different properties and/or functions, and disposed in axial alignment with each other and axially end to end to form a group of segments. After disposing the segments in axial alignment with each other, the group is wrapped in a web of wrapping material or in a connecting strip to make the semi-finished product used to make rod- shaped smoking articles.

Background art

The term "rod-shaped smoking article" is used to denote a plurality of products or smoking articles such as, for example, cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, including electronic cigarettes, and the like, extending mainly in a longitudinal or axial direction.

According to a first example of application, this invention can be used in a machine and a method for making up composite filters. In effect, it is known that composite filters are obtained by juxtaposing two or more filter segments having different properties - in particular different filtering properties. For this purpose, combining units are known in which individual segments, coming from respective tanks, are transferred in a direction transverse to their longitudinal axis, for example by respective successions of grooved rollers, to a single receiving conveyor provided with peripheral grooves. The segments are placed in each peripheral groove of the conveyor according to a predetermined axial sequence to form a group of segments at the exit of the conveyor. The groups are then transferred, for example by rotary transfer means, to a forming beam along which they advance in a direction parallel to their longitudinal axis and are wrapped in a web of wrapping material to form a continuous filter rod.

The continuous filter rod is then cut into single or double composite filters by a cutting unit located downstream of the forming beam.

According to a second example of application, this invention can be used in a machine known as filter tip attachment machine and in a method for making a semi-finished product, defined by a double cigarette, from cigarette segments and double filters. In prior art filter tip attachment machines, two axially aligned cigarette segments - obtained, for example, by cutting a double cigarette segment transversely in half - are spaced axially apart in such a way that a double filter can be placed between them as they move along in a direction transverse to their longitudinal axis. The set of two cigarette segments with the double filter interposed therebetween defines a group of segments to which a connecting strip of gummed paper is then applied by rolling in order to form the semi-finished product - that is to say, the double cigarette. Once the double cigarettes have been formed, they are made to advance in succession through a cutting station where they are cut in half transversely to obtain two rows of oppositely oriented single cigarettes.

In both of the prior art applications, each group of segments is preferably compacted in an axial direction to eliminate any empty spaces between two adjacent segments. In effect, such empty spaces can negatively affect the quality of the finished product.

Compacting devices are known which are disposed along the transfer path of the groups of segments between the zone where the formation of the group itself is completed and the zone where the formation of the semi- finished product begins. In the case of the machine for making up composite filters, the compacting device may be located downstream of the combining unit - at a transfer drum, for example. In the case of the filter tip attachment machine, the compacting device may be located at a transfer drum upstream of the device which applies the connecting strip and of the rolling device.

Compacting devices are known which comprise two rigid plates disposed at opposite ends of the group of segments in such a way as to compress them slightly in the axial direction. More specifically, the two rigid plates are disposed at a distance from each other which is less than the theoretical length of the group of segments so that if the length of the group on segments is less than the theoretical length, no empty spaces remain between the segments even downstream of the compacting device.

In the case of filter tip attachment machines, such compression can be absorbed by the cigarette segment, which is longer and more compliant than the double filter. In any case, the compression causes deformation of the cigarette segment which may negatively affect the quality of the end product.

In the machines for making up composite filters, however, there might not be a segment capable of absorbing the compression produced by the compacting device. Being unable to absorb the compression, the segments are displaced towards the outside of the groove which contains them, thus creating cusps in the part of the group of segments where the connecting strip will be applied. The Applicant has found that applying the connecting strip over the cusps leads to wrinkling during subsequent rolling.

Document WO2017/068479 describes a device for centring rod-shaped articles and provided with pushers which operate axially on the article in such a way as to modify its position along the groove which contains it. Both of the pushers oscillate and are kept in contact with the article by a spring.

Document WO2017085658 describes a device for centring rod-shaped articles and provided with plates mounted on an arm which is held elastically in contact with the article in transit on a transfer drum. These centring devices are not capable of guaranteeing the repeatability of the position of the group of segments relative to the subsequent processing stations, reflecting negatively on the quality of the end product.

Disclosure of the invention

This invention therefore has for an aim to provide a compacting unit and method for the tobacco industry to overcome the disadvantages described above with reference to the prior art.

More specifically, the aim of this invention is to provide a compacting unit and method capable of eliminating the negative effects of excessive compression on the segments while guaranteeing an end product of high quality.

The invention also has for an aim to provide a compacting unit operating in-line and at high speeds for rod-shaped smoking articles without interfering with the rest of the production line. Lastly, this invention has for an aim to provide a compacting method used for operation at high speeds and thus applicable in the tobacco industry.

The above aims are achieved by a compacting unit and method for the tobacco industry having the features set out in one or more of the appended claims.

In particular, according to a first aspect of it, this invention relates to a compacting unit for the tobacco industry according to claim 1 and, according to a second aspect of it, to a compacting method applicable in the tobacco industry, according to claim 10, for axially compacting groups of rod-shaped segments.

Advantageously, thanks to the presence of a first contact portion that is compliant, preferably elastically compliant, along the axial direction of the groups of segments, it is possible to minimize, or even totally eliminate, the risks of excessively compressing or radially misaligning the segments. Further, the fact that the second contact portion defines a rigid abutment along the axial direction of the groups of segments ensures that each group of segments is correctly positioned in the subsequent processing stations.

In one or more of the aforesaid aspects, this invention may comprise one or more of the features described below.

Preferably, the conveyor comprises at least one rotary member rotating about a feed axis and configured to move the housing grooves along the feed path. Still more preferably, the rotary member is a conveyor drum provided with housing grooves running parallel to the feed axis on an outer mantle of the conveyor drum itself. Alternatively, the rotary member is a return and/or drive element of a belt conveyor: for example, a pulley or a return roller.

Preferably, the first compactor comprises a compacting member on which the first contact portion is mounted or formed. Still more preferably, the compacting member of the first compactor has the shape of a cup with a circumferential edge, where the first contact portion is circumferentially disposed.

Preferably, the first contact portion is inherently compliant. Alternatively or in addition, the first contact portion is mounted compliantly on the compacting member of the first compactor. Preferably, the first contact portion is defined by a laminated spring mounted on the compacting member of the first compactor by connecting means - for example, threaded elements - in such a way as to have a first arm mounted on the compacting member and a second arm which oscillates relative to the first arm as a result of interaction with the first axial end of the first group in transit in the compacting station. Alternatively, the first contact portion is defined by one or more of the following: a pad - for example, made of rubber or other compliant material; a plug which is movable in opposition to an elastic force; a plug which is movable in opposition to a pneumatic or hydraulic force.

Preferably, a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion is brought in succession to the compacting station. For example, the first compactor comprises a compacting member which is movable in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion in succession to the compacting station. Still more preferably, the compacting member of the first compactor rotates about a compacting axis and the first contact portion is disposed circumferentially around the compacting axis.

Preferably, the compacting member of the first compactor is disposed around the feed axis of the conveyor. Still more preferably, the compacting axis of the compacting member of the first compactor is inclined to the feed axis of the conveyor so that the respective first contact portion can be positioned in contact with the first axial end of at least one group of segments passing through the compacting station.

Preferably, the first contact portion is disposed at a minimum distance from the conveyor, preferably from the conveyor drum, at the compacting station and at a maximum distance from the conveyor, preferably from the conveyor drum, at a position diametrically opposite to the compacting station.

Preferably, the position of the compacting member of the first compactor is adjustable towards or away from the compacting station as a function of the length of the groups of segments. The position of the first contact portion is therefore adjustable towards and away from the compacting station as a function of the length of the groups of segments. Still more preferably, the first compactor comprises a slide which is slidable in a direction parallel to the feed axis of the conveyor and which supports the compacting member of the first compactor.

Preferably, the compacting member of the first compactor is driven by the conveyor, in particular by the conveyor drum, in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion in succession to the compacting station.

Preferably, the second compactor comprises a compacting member on which the second contact portion, preferably the compacting member of the second compactor, is mounted or formed. Still more preferably, the compacting member of the second compactor has the shape of a cup with a circumferential edge, where the second contact portion is circumferentially disposed.

Preferably, a sequence of contact surfaces of the second contact portion is brought in succession to the compacting station. For example, the second compactor comprises a compacting member which is movable in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the second contact portion in succession to the compacting station. Still more preferably, the compacting member of the second compactor rotates about a compacting axis and the second contact portion is disposed circumferentially around the compacting axis.

Preferably, the compacting member of the second compactor is disposed around the feed axis of the conveyor. Still more preferably, the compacting axis of the compacting member of the second compactor is inclined to the feed axis of the conveyor so that the respective second contact portion can be positioned in contact with the second axial end of at least one group of segments passing through the compacting station.

Preferably, the second contact portion is disposed at a minimum distance from the conveyor, preferably from the conveyor drum, at the compacting station and at a maximum distance from the conveyor, preferably from the conveyor drum, at a position diametrically opposite to the compacting station.

Preferably, the position of the compacting member of the second compactor is adjustable towards or away from the compacting station as a function of the length of the groups of segments. The position of the first contact portion is therefore adjustable towards and away from the compacting station as a function of the length of the groups of segments. Still more preferably, the second compactor comprises a slide which is slidable in a direction parallel to the feed axis of the conveyor and which supports the compacting member of the second compactor. Preferably, the compacting member of the second compactor is driven by the conveyor, in particular by the conveyor drum, in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the second contact portion in succession to the compacting station.

Preferably, the compacting unit comprises two compacting members, forming part of the first and second compactor, respectively, and rotating about respective compacting axes which are inclined at equal and opposite angles to the feed axis of the conveyor, in particular of the conveyor drum. Brief description of the drawings

The invention is described below with reference to the accompanying drawings, which illustrate a non-limiting embodiment of it and in which:

- Figure 1 is a schematic view of a first embodiment of a machine for making composite filters and to which a compacting unit and method according to this invention can be applied;

- Figure 2 is a schematic view of a second embodiment of a machine for making composite filters and to which a compacting unit and method according to this invention can be applied;

- Figure 3 is a schematic view of an embodiment of a filter tip attachment machine to which a compacting unit and method according to this invention can be applied;

- Figure 4 schematically shows a cross-sectional view of a compacting unit according to this invention;

- Figure 5 schematically illustrates a semi-finished product of the tobacco industry, specifically a double cigarette, used to make a rod-shaped smoking article;

- Figure 6 schematically illustrates a semi-finished product of the tobacco industry, specifically a double composite filter, used to make a rod- shaped smoking article. Detailed description of preferred embodiments of the invention

With reference to Figures 5 and 6, the numeral 100 denotes a group of rod-shaped segments. The group 100 comprises at least two segments disposed in axial alignment with each other and axially end to end. The letter“X” denotes a longitudinal or axial direction of extension of the group 100.

With reference to Figure 5, the group 100 comprises two cigarette segments 101 with a double filter 102 interposed therebetween. The semi- finished product comprising the group 100 of segments wrapped in a connecting strip 103 defines a double cigarette.

With reference to Figure 6, the group 100 comprises a plurality of filter segments 104 having different filtering properties. The semi-finished product comprising the group 100 of segments wrapped in a web of wrapping material 105 defines a double composite filter.

In both cases, the groups 100 are used to make up rod-shaped smoking articles; for example, cigarettes or cigarettes with composite filter.

With reference to Figures 1 -4, the numeral 1 denotes a compacting unit for the tobacco industry, configured to axially compact the groups 100 of rod- shaped segments.

In the example illustrated in Figures 1 and 2, the compacting unit 1 is mounted in a machine for making composite filters 200 comprising a combining unit 201 in which individual segments from respective tanks, not illustrated, are transferred in a direction transverse to their longitudinal direction of extension to a single receiving conveyor 202 provided with peripheral grooves. The segments are placed in each peripheral groove of the conveyor according to an axial sequence to form a group 100 of segments at the exit of the conveyor. The groups are then transferred, for example by rotary transfer means, to a forming beam 203 along which they advance in a direction parallel to their longitudinal direction of extension and are wrapped in a web of wrapping material to form a continuous filter rod 204. The continuous filter rod 204 is then cut into single or double composite filters 205 by a cutting unit 206 located downstream of the forming beam 203.

The machine 200 of Figure 1 is an example embodiment of an inline machine, whilst the machine 200 of Figure 2 is an example embodiment of a machine disposed at 90°.

In both cases, the compacting unit 1 may advantageously be disposed between the combining unit 201 and the forming beam 203, for example by mounting a specific conveyor or conveyor drum in the connecting stretches between these two parts of the machine. Alternatively, the compacting unit 1 might operate directly on the receiving conveyor and thus comprise it therein.

In the example illustrated in Figure 3, the compacting unit 1 is part of a machine known as filter tip attachment machine 300 and a method for making a semi-finished product defined by a double cigarette comprising cigarette segments and double filters. The filter tip attachment machine 300 is of known type and is described summarily only in the aspects of it which are relevant to this invention. More specifically, double cigarette segments 301 are transported by a sequence of rollers“R” and made to pass by a cutting device“T” which divides them transversely in half into two cigarette segments 302. The two cigarette segments 302 are spaced axially apart in such a way that a double filter 303 can be placed between them. The set of two cigarette segments with the double filter interposed therebetween defines a group of segments 100 to which a connecting strip of gummed paper 304 is then applied by rolling in order to form the semi- finished product - that is to say, the double cigarette 305. Once the double cigarettes 305 have been formed, they are made to advance in succession through a cutting station where they are cut in half transversely to obtain two rows of oppositely oriented single cigarettes.

In this case, the compacting unit 1 may be advantageously disposed upstream of the point where the connecting strip 304 is applied, by mounting a specific conveyor or conveyor drum or using a roller of the sequence of rollers“R” as conveyor drum of the compacting unit 1.

In a possible embodiment, illustrated for example in Figure 4, the compacting unit 1 comprises a conveyor drum 2 defining a rotary member rotating about a feed axis "Z" of a conveyor.

Preferably, the conveyor drum 2 comprises a drive shaft 3 which extends along the feed axis "Z" and which is configured to be driven in rotation by motor means not illustrated.

The conveyor drum 2 is provided with housing grooves 4 formed in the outer mantle of the conveyor drum itself and running parallel to the feed axis "Z".

Each housing groove 4 is configured to receive and hold a group 100 of segments disposed in such a way that the longitudinal direction of extension“X” of the group 100 of segments is parallel to the feed axis "Z". Preferably, the housing grooves 4 are placed in communication with a suction system not illustrated enabling the groups 100 of segments to be held by suction.

Rotation of the conveyor drum 2 causes the housing grooves 4 to move along a feed path extending in a feed direction and the groups 100 of segments housed in the grooves 4 are transported along that feed path disposed with their respective longitudinal directions of extension “X” perpendicular to the feed direction of the groups themselves.

Along the feed path there is a compacting station 5 through which the groups 100 of segments pass. The compacting unit 1 operates at the compacting station 5 and comprises a first compactor 6 and a second compactor 7 disposed at opposite axial ends of the groups 100, at the sides of the feed path.

The first compactor 6 comprises a compacting member 8 which rotates about a compacting axis Ύ” and having a first contact portion 9 disposed circumferentially around the compacting axis Ύ”. The first contact portion 9 is adapted to be placed in contact with a first axial end 100A of at least one group of segments 100 in transit in the compacting station 5.

The first contact portion 9 is compliant, preferably elastically compliant, along the longitudinal direction of extension“X” of the groups of segments 100 upon interaction with the first axial end 100A of the groups.

Preferably, the first contact portion 9 is defined by a laminated spring mounted on the compacting member by connecting means - for example, threaded elements 9A - in such a way as to have a first arm mounted on the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 and a second arm which oscillates relative to the first arm as a result of interaction with the first axial end 100A of the first group 100 in transit in the compacting station 5.

Generally speaking, the first contact portion 9 may be inherently compliant. Alternatively or in addition, the first contact portion 9 is mounted compliantly on the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6.

In a possible embodiment, the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 is driven in rotation by the conveyor drum 2, in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion 9 in succession to the compacting station 5. The reference label 6A denotes drive means interposed between the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 and the conveyor drum 2.

Preferably, the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 is disposed around the feed axis "Z" of the conveyor drum 2 and the drive shaft 3, if present. Still more preferably, the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 has the shape of a cup with a circumferential edge, where the first contact portion 9 is circumferentially disposed.

In a possible embodiment, the compacting axis Ύ” of the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 is inclined to the feed axis "Z" of the conveyor drum 2 so that the first contact portion 9 can be positioned in contact with the first axial end 100A of the group of segments 100 passing through the compacting station 5.

In a possible embodiment, of which the accompanying drawings constitute a non-limiting example, the position of the compacting member 8 of the first compactor 6 may be adjustable towards or away from the compacting station 5 as a function of the length of the groups of segments. For example, the first compactor 6 may comprise a slide 8A which is slidable in a direction parallel to the feed axis“Z” of the conveyor drum 2 and which supports the compacting member 8. Motor means “M” are operatively associated with the slide 8A, for example by a lead nut and screw mechanism 8B to move it towards and away from the compacting station 5.

Described below is the second compactor 7 comprising a compacting member 10 which rotates about a compacting axis Ύ” and having a second contact portion 11 disposed circumferentially around the compacting axis Ύ”. Preferably, the compacting member 10 defines the second contact portion 11.

The second contact portion 11 is adapted to be placed in contact with a second axial end 100B of the group 100 of segments in transit in the compacting station 5.

Advantageously, the second contact portion 11 defines a rigid abutment along the longitudinal direction of extension“X” of the groups of segments 100 suitable for setting a predetermined position for the second axial end

100B of the groups of segments 100 in transit in the compacting station 5. In a possible embodiment, the compacting member 10 of the second compactor 7 is driven in rotation by the conveyor drum 2, in such a way as to bring a sequence of contact surfaces of the second contact portion 11 in succession to the compacting station 5. The reference label 7A denotes drive means interposed between the compacting member 10 of the second compactor 7 and the conveyor drum 2.

Preferably, the compacting member 10 of the second compactor 7 is disposed around the feed axis "Z" of the conveyor drum 2 and the drive shaft 3, if present. Still more preferably, the compacting member 10 of the second compactor 7 has the shape of a cup with a circumferential edge, where the second contact portion 11 is circumferentially disposed.

In a possible embodiment, the compacting axis Ύ” of the compacting member 10 of the second compactor 7 is inclined to the feed axis "Z" of the conveyor drum 2 so that the second contact portion 11 can be positioned in contact with the second axial end 100B of the group of segments 100 passing through the compacting station.

In a possible embodiment, of which the accompanying drawings constitute a non-limiting example, the position of the compacting member 10 of the second compactor 7 may be adjustable towards or away from the compacting station 5 as a function of the length of the groups of segments. For example, the second compactor 7 may comprise a slide 10A which is slidable in a direction parallel to the feed axis“Z” of the conveyor drum 2 and which supports the compacting member 10. Motor means“M” are operatively associated with the slide 10A, for example by a lead nut and screw mechanism 10B to move it towards and away from the compacting station 5.

In a possible embodiment, of which the accompanying drawings constitute a non-limiting example, the compacting unit 1 comprises two compacting members 8, 10, forming part of the first and second compactors 6, 7, respectively. Preferably, both of the compacting members 8, 10 rotate about respective compacting axes Ύ” which are inclined at equal and opposite angles to the feed axis“Z” of the conveyor drum 2.

Still more preferably, the first contact portion 9 of the first compactor 6 and the second contact portion 11 of the second compactor 7 are each disposed at a minimum distance from the conveyor, preferably from the conveyor drum 2, at the compacting station 5 and at a maximum distance from the conveyor drum 2, at a position diametrically opposite to the compacting station 5.

Generally speaking, the first compactor 6 and the second compactor 7 are configured to act in conjunction with each other at least at the compacting station 5 in such a way as to apply an axial compacting action on the groups of segments 100 by means of the first and second contact portions 9, 11. At the compacting station 5, the distance between the first contact portion 9 and the second contact portion 11 is slightly less than the theoretical length of the group of segments 100 in transit in the compacting station.

In use, the compacting unit 1 allows implementing a compacting method applicable in the tobacco industry for axially compacting groups of rod- shaped segments intended to form rod-shaped smoking articles.

According to the method, the groups of segments 100 are conveyed along a feed path which extends in a feed direction and which meets a compacting station 5 for compacting the groups of segments. During transport, the groups of segments 100 are disposed perpendicularly to the feed direction.

The groups of segments 100 in transit in the compacting station 5 are subjected to an axial compacting action applied between a first contact portion 9 in contact with the first axial end 100A of the group of segments 100 and a second contact portion 11 in contact with the second axial end 100B of the group of segments 100.

In applying this axial compacting action, the first contact portion 9 is compliant, preferably elastically compliant, along the longitudinal direction of extension“X” of the groups of segments 100 upon interaction with the first axial end 100A.

Furthermore, in applying this axial compacting action, a predetermined position of the second axial end 100B of the groups of segments 100 along the longitudinal direction of extension“X” of the groups of segments is set by the second contact portion 11 , which defines a rigid abutment. Preferably, a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion 9 or of the second contact portion 11 is brought in succession to the compacting station 5.

The method also advantageously comprises adjusting the position of the first contact portion 9 and/or of the second contact portion 11 towards and away from the compacting station 5 as a function of the length of the groups of segments.

With reference to the specific example illustrated in Figure 4, the conveyor drum 2 is set in rotation about its feed axis“Z”, thereby making the groups of segments 100 move along the feed path. The rotation of the conveyor drum 2 drives the compacting members 8, 10 in rotation about the respective inclined compacting axis. Rotating the compacting members brings a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion 9 or of the second contact portion 11 in succession to the compacting station 5, which is also the point of minimum distance from the conveyor drum 2 and between the two contact portions.

The compliance of the first contact portion 9 ensures that the axial compacting action is applied correctly on the groups of segments 100, whilst the rigidity of the second contact portion 11 ensures that the groups of segments 100 - specifically the second axial ends 100B thereof - are correctly positioned relative to the subsequent processing stations.

In the event of changeovers, in particular regarding the length of the groups of segments 100, the compacting members 8, 10 can move translationally relative to the feed axis“Z” in order to adjust the position of the first contact portion 9 and of the second contact portion 11.

The invention as described and illustrated above can be varied in several ways.

In a possible embodiment, one or more compacting members are provided which are generically movable in such a way that a sequence of contact surfaces of the first contact portion 9 or of the second contact portion 11 is brought in succession to the compacting station.

In a possible embodiment, the conveyor may generically comprise at least one rotary member rotating about a feed axis and configured to move the housing grooves along the feed path. The rotary element previously described as a conveyor drum might be embodied in the form of a drive or return element of the conveyor, such as a pulley or return roller, for example. In this case, the compacting member of the first and/or of the second compactor may be disposed around the feed axis of that rotary element and, if necessary, with its compacting axis inclined to the feed axis of the conveyor so that the first contact portion or the second contact portion can be positioned in contact with the respective axial end of at least one group of segments passing through the compacting station.

In a further possible embodiment, the first contact portion previously described as a portion of a laminated spring might be defined by one or more of the following: a pad - for example, made of rubber or other compliant material; a plug which is movable in opposition to an elastic force; a plug which is movable in opposition to a pneumatic or hydraulic force.