Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
CUTTING ARRANGEMENT, AND ASSOCIATED DEVICES, SYSTEMS AND METHODS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2013/026169
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An apparatus and associated system and method are provided for producing stem segments of a plant material. A cutter includes a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven at a first end thereof such that the cutter arm is capable of rotating about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of a plant material positioned for cutting. A cutting arrangement is engaged with the cutter arm and includes at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm and substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis thereof. The cutting arrangement includes a bridge engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween. The cutting blades are configured to interact with the plant material so as to sever the plant material into stem segments. The apparatus and associated system and method for producing stem segments includes a control system in electronic communication with the transport system and cutting assembly.

Inventors:
NICHOLSON, Ken (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
MUNROE, Phil (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
HEIKAMP, Bill (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
Application Number:
CA2012/050587
Publication Date:
February 28, 2013
Filing Date:
August 24, 2012
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
TRANSFORMIX ENGINEERING, INC. (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
NICHOLSON, Ken (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
MUNROE, Phil (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
HEIKAMP, Bill (70 Railway St, Kingston, Ontario K7K 2L8, CA)
International Classes:
A01F29/09; B26D1/26; B26D5/20; B26D7/32
Domestic Patent References:
WO2009100917A12009-08-20
Foreign References:
GB2157548A1985-10-30
US20040259611A12004-12-23
EP0374006A11990-06-20
IT1234609B1992-05-25
FR2498417A11982-07-30
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
RIDOUT & MAYBEE LLP (225 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5V 3M2, CA)
Download PDF:
Claims:
THAT WHICH IS CLAIMED:

1. A cutter for producing stem segments of a plant material, the cutter comprising:

a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven at a first end thereof such that the cutter arm is capable of rotating about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of a plant material positioned for cutting; and a cutting arrangement operably engaged with the cutter arm, the cutting

arrangement comprising at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm, opposite the first end, and substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis thereof, the cutting arrangement further comprising a bridge operably engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween, the cutting blades being configured to interact with the plant material so as to sever the plant material into stem segments.

2. The cutter according to Claim 1, wherein the cutting arrangement is configured to transport the stem segments to a collection site. 3. The cutter according to Claim 1, wherein each cutting blade has a proximal end disposed proximate to the second end of the cutter arm and a distal end extending away from the proximal end and the second end of the cutter arm, the bridge extending between the cutting blades at the distal ends thereof. 4. The cutter according to Claim 1, wherein each cutting blade includes a cutting edge extending substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis of the cutter arm, the bridge operably engaging the cutting edges and extending therebetween so as to provide support thereto. 5. The cutter according to Claim 4, wherein the cutting edges of the cutting blades are opposingly tapered with respect to each other.

6. The cutter according to Claim 1, wherein the cutter arm comprises a structural support arrangement disposed between the first and second ends thereof for providing structural support to the cutter arm 7. The cutter according to Claim 1, wherein the cutter arm is configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting blades with the plant material.

8. A system for producing stem segments of a plant material, the system comprising:

a transport system for transporting a plant material to a cutting position;

a cutter in communication with the transport system and configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position for severing the plant material into stem segments, the cutter comprising:

a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven at a first end thereof such that the cutter arm is capable of rotating about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of the plant material in the cutting position; and

a cutting arrangement operably engaged with the cutter arm, the cutting arrangement comprising at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm, opposite the first end, and substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis thereof, the cutting arrangement further comprising a bridge operably engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween, the cutting blades being configured to interact with the plant material so as to sever the plant material into the stem segments; and

an actuator assembly operably engaged with the cutter arm and configured to rotatably drive the cutter arm about the rotational axis.

9. The cutting system according to Claim 8, wherein the cutting arrangement is configured to transport a portion of the stem segments to a collection site.

10. The cutting system according to Claim 8, wherein each cutting blade has a proximal end disposed proximate to the second end of the cutter arm and a distal end extending away from the proximal end and the second end of the cutter arm, the bridge extending between the cutting blades at the distal ends thereof.

11. The cutting system according to Claim 8, wherein each cutting blade includes a cutting edge extending substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis of the cutter arm, the bridge operably engaging the cutting edges and extending therebetween so as to provide support thereto.

12. The cutting system according to Claim 11, wherein the cutting edges of the cutting blades are opposingly tapered with respect to each other.

13. The cutting system according to Claim 8, wherein the cutter arm comprises a structural support arrangement disposed between the first and second ends thereof for providing structural support to the cutter arm.

14. The cutting system according to Claim 8, wherein the transport system comprises an endless conveyor assembly.

15. The cutting system according to Claim 8, wherein the cutter arm is configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting blades with the plant material. 16. A method of cutting a plant material into stem segments, the method comprising:

transporting a plant material to a cutting position using a transport system, rotating a cutter in communication with the transport system about a rotational axis; and

cutting the plant material using the cutter configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position to sever the plant material into stem segments, the cutter comprising a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of the plant material positioned at the cutting position, and the cutter further comprising a cutting arrangement operably engaged with the cutter arm, the cutting arrangement comprising at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm, opposite the first end, the cutting arrangement further comprising a bridge operably engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween.

17. The method according to Claim 16, further comprising separating the plant material into stem segments having a node and stem segments having an internode using the cutting arrangement, wherein the cutting arrangement transports the stem segments having the node to a collection site.

18. The method according to Claim 16, wherein each cutting blade has a proximal end disposed proximate to the second end of the cutter arm and a distal end extending away from the proximal end and the second end of the cutter arm, the bridge extending between the cutting blades at the distal ends thereof.

19. The method according to Claim 16, wherein each cutting blade includes a cutting edge extending substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis of the cutter arm, the bridge operably engaging the cutting edges and extending therebetween so as to provide support thereto.

20. The method according to Claim 19, wherein the cutting edges of the cutting blades are opposingly tapered with respect to each other. 21. The method according to Claim 16, wherein the cutter arm comprises a structural support arrangement disposed between the first and second ends thereof for providing structural support to the cutter arm

22. The method according to Claim 16, wherein transporting a plant material to a cutting position using a transport system further comprises transporting a plant material to a cutting position using a transport system comprising an endless conveyor assembly.

23. The method according to Claim 16, wherein rotating a cutter further comprises rotating a cutter at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting blades with the plant material. 24. The method according to Claim 23, wherein the cutter velocity is at least

600 rotations per minute.

25. A cutter for producing stem segments of a plant material, the cutter comprising a rotatable cutter arm and a cutting arrangement operably engaged therewith, the rotatable cutter arm being configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting arrangement with a plant material, so as to sever the plant material into first and second stem segments, wherein one of the first and second segments has a desired characteristic. 26. The cutter according to Claim 25, wherein the plant material is a graminaceous plant material selected from the Gramineae / Poaceae family.

27. The cutter according to Claim 26, wherein the graminaceous plant material is sugar cane, and the stem segments having the desired characteristic are nodes and the stem segments not having the desired characteristic are internodes.

28. A system for producing stem segments of a plant material, the system comprising:

a transport system for transporting a plant material to a cutting position; and a cutter in communication with the transport system and configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position for severing the plant material into first and second stem segments, one of the first and second stem segments having a desired characteristic, the cutter comprising a rotatable cutter arm and a cutting arrangement operably engaged therewith, the rotatable cutter arm being configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting arrangement with a plant material, so as to sever the plant material into the first and second stem segments.

29. The system according to Claim 28, wherein the graminaceous plant material is a graminaceous plant material selected from the Gramineae / Poaceae family. 30. The system according to Claim 29, wherein the graminaceous plant material is sugar cane, and the stem segments having the desired characteristic are nodes and the stem segments not having the desired characteristic are internodes.

31. The system according to Claim 28, further comprising a sensor system in communication with the cutter, the sensor system being configured to detect one of the first and second stem segments of the plant material such that the cutter is directed to timely interact with the plant material for severing into the first and second stem segments. 32. A method of cutting a plant material into stem segments, the method comprising:

transporting a plant material to a cutting position using a transport system, and rotating a cutter in communication with the transport system about a rotational axis, the cutter being configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position to sever the plant material into first and second stem segments, one of the first and second stem segments having a desired characteristic, the cutter comprising a rotatable cutter arm and a cutting arrangement operably engaged therewith, the rotatable cutter arm being configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting arrangement with the plant material, so as to sever the plant material into the first and second stem segments.

33. The method according to Claim 32, wherein the graminaceous plant material is a graminaceous plant material selected from the Gramineae / Poaceae family.

34. The method according to Claim 33, wherein the graminaceous plant material is sugar cane, and the stem segments having the desired characteristic are nodes and the stem segments not having the desired characteristic are internodes.

35. The method according to Claim 33, further comprising detecting one of the first and second stem segments of the plant material using a sensor system in

communication with the cutter, and directing the cutter, via the sensor system, to timely interact with the plant material for severing into the first and second stem segments.

36. A system, method and apparatus for producing stem segments as shown and described herein.

37. A control system for producing stem segments as shown and described herein.

Description:
CUTTING ARRANGEMENT, AND ASSOCIATED DEVICES, SYSTEMS AND

METHODS

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application 61/527,492 filed on August 25, 2011, and entitled "Cutting Arrangement, and Associated Devices, Systems, and Methods," which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE DISCLOSURE

Field of the Disclosure

The present disclosure relates to cutting arrangements and, more particularly, to a cutting arrangement capable of selectively cutting stem segments of graminaceous plants having desired characteristics, and an associated system and method.

Description of Related Art

Graminaceous plants (of the Gramineae/Poaceae family), are usually formed by a stem which comprises several nodes and internodes along its length. The node comprises the bud (or gemma) of the plant, that may be used to yield a new plant for a crop.

Examples of graminaceous plants include bamboos (Bambusoideae, such as

Phyllostachys spp, and Arundinaria spp), sugar cane (Saccharum spp), and grasses (such as elephant-grass, Pennisetum purpureum).

The seed of sugar cane is a dry one-seeded fruit or caryopsis formed from a single carpel, the ovary wall (pericarp) united with the seed-coat (testa). The seeds are ovate, yellowish brown and very small, about 1 mm long. However, the seed of sugar cane only germinates under specific environmental characteristics, such as a constant warm and humid climate conditions. Such climatic conditions are not found everywhere that sugar cane is grown, and therefore germination of sugar cane seed is not always guaranteed. For commercial agriculture, the seed of a sugar cane is not sown, but rather the cane is propagated vegetatively by planting a stem segment (or part of a stalk or culm or seedling). As mentioned above, the stem of sugar cane, as well as the stem of graminaceous plants, comprises several nodes, from which new plants grow.

The traditional planting process of sugar cane involves reserving an area of the crop for use as a source of plants for re-planting, since the nodes are comprised in the stem. The plants used for replanting are harvested and then cut in segments so that at least one node is present in each cut portion. Cutting the stems is needed to break apical dominance that otherwise causes poor germination when using full length (uncut) stems. In some instances, the segments may be cut to have at least 2 buds to assure germination, because not every bud germinates. After cutting, the setts are disposed horizontally, over one another in furrows of the ploughed soil, which are generally wide at ground level and deep, and then lightly covered with soil.

Although cutting the stem to provide nodes without damage could be done manually, the productivity would be small and/or it would be necessary to employ a large number of people just to cut the stems, naturally increasing the plantation process costs.

As such, it would be desirable to provide an automated and controlled method and apparatus to cut the stems into segments with desired characteristics, and

particularly to cut a stem segment comprising a single node without damaging the bud.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE DISCLOSURE

The above and other needs are met by the present disclosure which, according to one aspect, provides a cutter for producing stem segments of a plant material. The cutter comprises a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven at a first end thereof such that the cutter arm is capable of rotating about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of a plant material positioned for cutting. The cutter further comprises a cutting arrangement operably engaged with the cutter arm. Optionally, the cutting arrangement comprises at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm, opposite the first end, and substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis thereof. Optionally, the cutting arrangement further comprises a bridge operably engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween. The cutting blades are configured to interact with the plant material so as to sever the plant material into stem segments.

Another aspect of the present disclosure provides a system for producing stem segments of a plant material. The system comprises a transport system for transporting a plant material to a cutting position. The system further comprises a cutter in communication with the transport system and configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position for severing the plant material into stem segments. The cutter comprises a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven at a first end thereof such that the cutter arm is capable of rotating about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of the plant material in the cutting position. The cutter further comprises a cutting arrangement operably engaged with the cutter arm. Optionally, the cutting arrangement comprises at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm, opposite the first end, and substantially perpendicular to the rotational axis thereof. Optionally, the cutting arrangement further comprises a bridge operably engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween. The cutting blades are configured to interact with the plant material so as to sever the plant material into the stem segments. The system further includes an actuator assembly operably engaged with the cutter arm and configured to rotatably drive the cutter arm about the rotational axis.

Another aspect of the present disclosure provides a method of cutting a plant material into stem segments. The method comprises transporting a plant material to a cutting position using a transport system, and rotating a cutter in communication with the transport system about a rotational axis. The method further comprises cutting the plant material using the cutter configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position to sever the plant material into stem segments. The cutter comprises a cutter arm configured to be rotatably driven about a rotational axis substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of the plant material positioned at the cutting position. The cutter further comprises a cutting arrangement operably engaged with the cutter arm, and the cutting arrangement comprises at least two spaced-apart cutting blades extending from a second end of the cutter arm, opposite the first end. Optionally, the cutting arrangement further comprises a bridge operably engaged with the cutting blades and extending perpendicularly therebetween.

Yet another aspect of the present disclosure provides a cutter for producing stem segments of a plant material. The cutter comprises a rotatable cutter arm and a cutting arrangement operably engaged therewith. The rotatable cutter arm is configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting arrangement with a plant material, so as to sever the plant material into first and second stem segments, wherein one of the first and second segments has a desired characteristic. Still another aspect of the present disclosure provides a system for producing stem segments of a plant material. The system comprises a transport system for transporting a plant material to a cutting position. The system further comprises a cutter in

communication with the transport system and configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position for severing the plant material into first and second stem segments, wherein one of the first and second stem segments has a desired characteristic. The cutter comprises a rotatable cutter arm and a cutting arrangement operably engaged therewith. The rotatable cutter arm is configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting arrangement with a plant material, so as to sever the plant material into the first and second stem segments.

Another aspect of the present disclosure provides a method of cutting a plant material into stem segments. The method comprises transporting a plant material to a cutting position using a transport system. The method further comprises rotating a cutter in communication with the transport system about a rotational axis. The cutter is configured to interact with the plant material at the cutting position to sever the plant material into first and second stem segments, wherein one of the first and second stem segments has a desired characteristic. The cutter comprises a rotatable cutter arm and a cutting arrangement operably engaged therewith. The rotatable cutter arm is configured to rotate at a velocity of at least about 100 rotations per minute during interaction of the cutting arrangement with the plant material, so as to sever the plant material into the first and second stem segments.

Another aspect of the present disclosure provides a control system for use in a system for cutting stem segments that includes transport system and cutting assembly. The control system comprises at least one sensor and at least one controller each of which are in electronic communication with one or more drive arrangements operably linked to the transport system and the cutting assembly. The sensor can detect a characteristic of the plant material and relay information regarding the characteristic of the plant material to the controller. The controller can adjust the drive arrangements of the transport system to present the plant material to the cutting assembly at a desired speed and position.

Aspects of the present disclosure thus provide advantages as otherwise detailed herein and shown and/or described in appendices attached thereto. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWING(S) Having thus described the disclosure in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:

FIGS. 1 and 2 are schematic perspective views of a cutting system capable of cutting a graminaceous plant material into segments, according to one aspect of the present disclosure;

FIG. 3 is a schematic partial perspective view of a cutting assembly of a cutting system capable of cutting a graminaceous plant material into segments, according to one aspect of the present disclosure;

FIG. 4 is a schematic perspective view of a cutter capable of being implemented in a cutting system for cutting a graminaceous plant material, according to one aspect of the present disclosure;

FIG. 5 is a schematic perspective view of another cutter capable of being implemented in a cutting system for cutting a graminaceous plant material, according to another aspect of the present disclosure;

FIG. 6 is a schematic perspective view of yet another cutter capable of being implemented in a cutting system for cutting a graminaceous plant material, according to another aspect of the present disclosure;

FIG. 7 illustrates a graphical representation of the relationship between components of a cutting system for cutting a graminaceous plant material, and particularly the relationship between a blade velocity of a cutter and a conveyor velocity of a transport system, according to one aspect of the present disclosure;

FIGS. 8A, 8B, 8C, and 8D are schematic top, top perspective, side elevation, rear elevation views, respectively, of a transport system of a cutting system capable of cutting a graminaceous plant material into segments, according to one aspect of the present disclosure;

FIGS. 9A, 9B, 9C, and 9D are schematic top, top perspective, side elevation, rear elevation views, respectively, of a cutting assembly of a cutting system capable of cutting a graminaceous plant material into segments, according to one aspect of the present disclosure;

FIG. 10 is an exemplary diagram of a cutting system according to the present disclosure;

FIG. 11 is an exemplary diagram of a cutting system having a remainder collector according to the present disclosure; and FIG. 12 is an exemplary diagram of a cutting system having a diverter and a plurality of cutters according to the present disclosure.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DISCLOSURE

The present disclosure now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which some, but not all aspects of the disclosure are shown. Indeed, this disclosure may be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the aspects set forth herein; rather, these aspects are provided so that this disclosure will satisfy applicable legal requirements. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.

Definitions

For the specification and attached claims, the current definitions are used:

Stem: the caulis or stalk of the culm part of a graminaceous plant, i.e. the main trunk of a plant, specifically a primary plant axis that develops buds and shoots.

Sett: a stem segment, section or cutting having one or more nodes.

Internodal Sett: a stem segment cut between adjacent nodes, and shown as 56 in

FIG. 1

Node: the location in the stem where the bud or gemma is formed in a graminaceous plant.

Internodal Distance: the distance between adjacent nodes.

Bud or gemma: the embryo, spore or germ of a graminaceous plant.

Germinate / germination: the emergence of a new plant from a bud.

Aspects of the present disclosure address concerns in which a stem segment is non- manually removed from a stem of a graminaceous plant in a rapid and efficient manner, such that the stem segment can be used for further planting and agricultural harvesting of the graminaceous plant, as previously described. In this regard, aspects of the present disclosure provide automated and controlled removal of desired portion (e.g., the node) of the stem of the graminaceous plant such that the desired portion can be processed in a high-throughput manner to accommodate large-scale agricultural endeavors. As such, aspects of the present disclosure provide apparatuses, systems and methods for cutting a graminaceous plant material into stem segments in such a manner. FIGS. 1 and 2 schematically illustrate a cutting system 1 in accordance with aspects of the present disclosure. In particular, FIGS. 1 and 2 disclose an exemplary embodiment of the cutting system 1 of the present disclosure, which is used to cut stem segments of sugar cane. In this regard, the cutting system 1 of the present disclosure is directed to cutting stem segments comprising a desired characteristic, by controlled and automated means. The cutting system 1 of the present disclosure is useful to cut stem segments of graminaceous plants, particularly Saccharum spp, such as sugar cane. A desired characteristic of the stem segment is, for instance, a node comprising a bud.

As mentioned, when a segment comprising one node is treated with certain compounds and/or fertilizers, it may be planted to grow a new plant. The stem segments may be cut to contain at least one node. As described herein, it may be desirable to cut the stems in segments comprising only one node in order to improve the efficiency of the planting technique, particular sugar cane planting. Suitably, the stem is cut so that each stem segment only has one node. In some graminaceous plants, the internodal distance can vary along the length of the stem. The cutting system may maintain high throughput while severing stem segments despite the different internodal distances along the length of the stem. In other embodiments, where more than one node is desired, the system as described herein can be modified to accommodate the desired number of nodes.

However, in some instances, some characteristics may not be desired to be comprised in the stem or stem segments to plant, such as the presence of damage, disease, pests, or rotten segments. In such instances, the stem segment will not be used, but rather discarded. That is, in some instances, the cutting system 1 may be used to remove undesirable portions of the stem, rather than being used for harvesting, for example, the nodes. In further embodiments, one or more cutting systems 1 may be used to process plant stems as described herein.

According to some aspects of the present disclosure, the cutting system may include a transport system 10, a cutting assembly 100, and a control system in electronic communication with the transport system 10 and the cutting assembly 100. The transport system 10 supports and transports a stem of the graminaceous plant to be cut. For example, the transport system 10 may be used to transport a stem 50 having a plurality of nodes 55 spaced-apart along a longitudinal length thereof. The transport system 10 may transport the stem 50 to a cutting assembly 100 in communication therewith such that the stem 50 can be received at a cutting position. In this regard, the stem 50 may be transported in a transport direction 60 corresponding to a longitudinal axis of the stem 50. In some instances, the transport system 10 may comprise a conveyor system or other endless belt assembly. A support structure 70 may be provided for supporting the cutting assembly 100 and an end of the transport system 10. In an embodiment, the transport system 10 may be an endless belt conveyor formed from a natural rubber, e.g., Linatex available from the Wier Group PLC.

The transport system 10 may transport the stem 50 at various velocities, as desired. As shown in FIGS. 1-3, the transport system 10 may include a drive arrangement 700 with a draft shaft (not shown) and a drive motor 760 that cause the transport system 10 to advance the stem at desired velocities. For example, the stem 50 may be conveyed at a velocity of between about 300 mm/s to about 2000 mm/s. Furthermore, the transport system 10 may be configured to operate at variable speeds such that the speed at which the stem is transported is reduced during the cutting of the stem 50. For example, the transport system 10 may be operated at about 750 mm/s to about 2000 mm/s when the stem 50 is not being cut, wherein the transport system 10 is adjusted to about 300 mm/s to about 1000 mm/s when the stem 50 is being cut. In one exemplary embodiment, the transport system 10 may be variably operated at about 1500 mm/s when the stem 50 is not being cut and at about 750 mm/s when the stem 50 is being cut. In other aspects, the transport system 10 velocity may be associated with the cutter velocity, or vice versa. For example, the cutter can be operated between about 100 rotations per minute (RPM) and about 1200 RPM. In at least one embodiment the range can be between about 300 RPM to about 1200 RPM. In another embodiment, the range can be between about 500 RPM to about 1000 RPM. In yet another embodiment, the range can be between about 600 RPM to about 900 RPM. When operating the cutter for extended periods of time it can be desirable to limit the speed to about 500 RPM. However, other embodiments, the speed can be limited to about 600 RPM, 700RPM, 800 RPM, or 900 RPM. The selection of the desired RPM can be based on the length of the cutter, the average diameter of stem 50, or the hardness of the stem 50. The length of the cutter can also change the desired speed of the transport system 10 as the rotation of the cutter along with its length determines the desired speed of the transportation system 10. An example of the relationship of the blade velocity in RPM and conveyor velocity in mm/s is presented in FIG. 7, as will be described below.

Continuing with FIGS. 1-3 and 8A-8D, the transport system 10 may include a first roller 20 and a second roller 30 positioned near the transport system 10 to receive and advance the stem 50 toward the cutter assembly 100. The elevation of rollers 20 and 30 above the transport system 10 may be adjusted to hold the stem 50 in position as it is presented to the cutter assembly 100. In one aspect, the elevation of the rollers 20 and 30 may be adjusted via pneumatic controls connected to each roller axis. As shown in FIG. 3, a sensor, such as, for example, a camera 80, is positioned at the transport system 10 below and between the first 20 and second 30 rollers. In other embodiments, other types of optical sensors can be used. The optical sensing can sense the general outline of the stem 50 or can be a more detailed sensing such as with a camera 80. FIGS. 8A-8D show a stem tunnel 90 for guiding the stem 50 on the transport system 10 toward the first and second rollers 20 and 30 (not numbered in FIGS. 8A-8D).

In an embodiment, the transport system 10 is in electronic communication with the cutter assembly 100 via the control system. The control system is designed to control the position of the stem and speed relative the cutting assembly, and the speed of the cutter in order to sever the stem 50 and form a sett and/or an internodal sett. For example, the control system configured to control the timing of the cutting of the stem 50. In this regard, if only a portion of the stem 50 is desired, such as, for example, the nodes 55, the control system may be configured to identify the nodes 55 and relay information to that may cause the cutting assembly 100 to cut the stem 50 and to preserve the nodes 55. In some instances, the control system may include a controller configured to control the cutting process. In other instances, the controller may be discrete with respect to the control system such that the control system communicates with the controller device, which, in turn, controls operation of the cutting process. Details of the control system will described below.

In an embodiment, the control system includes a sensor in electronic

communication with a motion controller, and one or more drives arrangements. FIGS. 10- 12 illustrate diagrams how the transport system 10, cutters 200 and controller 404 components can interact. For example, the controller 404 may be in electronic communication with the cutter assembly drive arrangement 800 and the transport system drive arrangement 700. As discussed further below, each drive arrangement can include a drive shaft and drive motor, e.g., a servo motor. Additionally one or more sensors 402 can be configured to communicate with the controller 404. The at least one sensor 402 can be configured to identify at least one characteristic of a plant material to be cut. The at least one sensor 402 may be in communication with the transport system 10 and a controller 404 so as to position the appropriate portion of the stem 50 having the characteristic for cutting. In some instances, the characteristic may be a node in the stem of a graminaceous plant. The at least one sensor 404 may be, for example, a pressure transducer sensor, an optical sensor, a camera, a capacitive sensor, an ultrasound sensor, an x-ray sensor, a microwave sensor or a magnetic sensor (e.g., an electromagnetic sensor), or other such sensor. The controller 404 may cause the transportation system 10 to accelerate or decelerate the cutter 200. The controller 404 may cause the speed of the cutter 200 to change based on position of the stem 50 and node 55.

In the embodiment shown in the FIGS. 1-3, the at least one sensor 404 may be a camera 80, such as a CCD camera. The camera 80 acquires an image of stem 50 as it passes through the detection window 85. The detection window is a space through which the stem passes wherein a node can be detected therein. A backlight (not shown) proximate to the detection window 85 and opposing the camera 80 produces a shadow silhouette of the stem 50 as it passes through the field of view of the camera 80. From the captured image, a "best fit" line is calculated to represent the contrast of the stem 50 against the backlight. The sensor then samples numerous vertical distances along the axis of the stem 50 against the best line fit. A weighted average is taken of all the vertical distances and is compared against a threshold to determine the presence of a "bump" along the axis of the best fit line. This "bump" can represent the position of a node 55 on the stem 50. The sensor identifies the presence of the node 55, and the location of the node 55 within the field of view on transport system 10 is determined.

In some instances, image acquisition is asynchronous in relation to the transport system 10 motion. The node may appear at various random positions within the field of view of the camera, e.g., a nodal segment can appear at the beginning of the field of view or very late in the field of view as it passed therethrough. The difference between these possibilities may exceed the cutting tolerance that is required to yield a sett. An algorithm to compensate for the position of the node is used, wherein if the camera detects a node, a measurement is taken from a fixed mechanical reference (e.g.

somewhere near the cutter assembly 100 on the transport system). This information is then fed to the motion controller via a binary coded number. The camera 80 then relays information regarding the node 55 to the controller 404, which causes the controller 404 to begin tracking the position of the node 55 as it approaches the cutter 200. An exemplary camera is a CCD camera, Part No. IS5600-00, available from Cognex Corporation. A 16-mm camera lens may be used, such as Part No. 16LTF available from Tamron Co. Ltd. The backlight (not shown in the FIGS.) is available from Banner Engineering. The controller 404 may include a processor, four-axis sever modules, and one or more digital input modules. In an exemplary embodiment, the motion controller includes two (2) four axis servo modules, and three (3) digital input modules. Such a controller 404 may be, for instance, a programmable logic circuit (PLC) or a computer number control (CNC) system. The controller 404 receives a digital signal with specific digital data, that can cause actuation of the cutting assembly 100 and, in some instances, the transport system 10 as described below.

The controller 404 may dynamically adjust the drive motors, and thus the transportation system 10 and cutter assembly 100, to compensate for any load disturbances in the system 1, in response to data received from the sensor 402 (such as a camera 80), and the general sequencing of the cutting system 1.

The controller 404 can control the transport drive arrangements 700 and cutter system drive arrangements 800. The controller processor may receive data from the sensor 402 as described above. The processor then executes instructions according to an algorithm that causes the transport system 10, via the drive motors, to present the stem 50 to the cutter assembly 100 at the appropriate speed and position. Such a controller may be, for instance, a programmable logic circuit (PLC) or a computer number control (CNC) system. The controller receives a digital signal with specific digital data, that can cause actuation of the cutting assembly 100 and, in some instances, the transport system 10.

The servo axis modules can form closed loop control of the various drive motors linked to the transport system 10 and cutter assembly 100 by issuing an analogue torque reference to the motor drive amplifier and reads back the motor position via an encoder. The digital Input/Output modules perform the task of activating devices such as lights, horns, relays etc. An exemplary processer used in the control system is Part # 3-3766C0- 2014-ROOOOO available from Delta Tau Data Systems, Inc. An exemplary servo axis card is Part# 3-3398A-00-0008-R200, available from Delta Tau Data Systems, Inc. An exemplary Digital I/O Card is Part No. 3-3575A-00-0000-R200 available from Delta Tau Data Systems, Inc. An exemplary power supply and rack is Part No. 5-4269-00-1215- 00100 also available from Delta Tau Data Systems, Inc.

The drive arrangements can 700 and 800 receive the analog signal from the axis controller and provides the appropriate voltage and current to operate the drive motor. Local diagnostic features in the servo drive protect the motor from unsustainable operating conditions. An exemplary servo drive is Part. No. 2098-DSD-HV150 available from Rockwell Automation, Inc. The control system in a preferred embodiment controls both the transportation system drive motor 760 and the cutter drive motor 820 to position the stem 50 and node 55 at the cutter 200. In other embodiments, however, the control system may be configured so that the cutter drive motor 820 and the transportation system drive motor 760 independently control the position of the stem 50 at the cutter 200.

Additional exemplary control systems are described, for example, in International Publications WO 2009/100916 to Evaristo et al. and WO 2009/100917 to Evaristo et al., which are both hereby incorporated by reference herein in their entirety.

The cut stem segments 58 are collected in a stem segment collector 103 after being processed by the cutter 200 as illustrated in FIG. 10. Another illustrative example is shown in FIG. 11, wherein the cutter is replaced by a cutter and separator 101. The cutter and separator 101 cuts the stem segments 58 and separates other portions 53 for collection by the remainder collector 107.

FIG. 12 illustrates a system that includes a plurality of cutters, sensors, and stem segment collectors. The stems 50 are received by a diverter 406 which diverts the stems 50 to one of three conveyors 420, 430, 440. The diverter 406 is controlled by a controller 408. The conveyors 420, 430, 440 have corresponding sensors 422, 432, 442 and cutters 424, 434, 444. The cutters 4242, 434, 444 each cut the stem into stem segments 58. The stem segments 58 are collected into the stem segment collector 103. As shown there are three stem segments collectors 103, but in another embodiment the stem segment collector can be the same collector. While not shown the cutters 424, 434, 444 could be replaced by the cutter and separator of FIG. 11 and include the additional remainder collector as well.

In some instances, the cutting assembly 100 may include an outer wall 110 defining an exit 120 through which the stem 50 extends as the stem 50 is transported by the transport system 10 through the cutting assembly 100. As such, the portion of the stem 50 extending from the outer wall 110 is positioned at the cutting position for interaction with a cutter 200. The cutter 200 may be coupled to an actuator assembly having, for example, a motor (e.g, a servomotor), a pneumatic cylinder, or a hydraulic cylinder, configured to actuate the cutter 200. In some instances, the cutter 200 may be rotatably coupled to the actuation device. According to some aspects, the cutter 200 may be configured to rotate about an axis of rotation 210 parallel to the transport direction 60 and longitudinal axis of the stem 50, wherein the cutter 200 is rotatably driven by a drive arrangement 800, for example, having a drive shaft 810 and a drive motor 820. In this regard, the cutter 200 may be configured to perpendicularly intersect the stem 50 when the stem 50 is positioned in the cutting position so as to sever the stem 50 into a stem segment 58 having, for example, a single node. In some instances, however, the cutter 200 may be configured for rotation so as to angularly intersect the stem 50 such that an angled cut is performed. The cutter 200 may be formed of strong, lightweight material to minimize inertia in the cutting mechanism.

As shown in FIGS. 4-6 and 9A-9D, the cutter 200 may include a cutting arrangement 250 coupled to or otherwise engaged with a cutter arm 300. In some instances, the cutting arrangement 250 and the cutter arm 300 may be integrally formed as a single workpiece. In other instances, the cutting arrangement 250 and the cutter arm 300 may be separate and discrete components joined by appropriate fasteners or fastening/jointing techniques. A portion of the cutter arm 300, such as, for example, a first end 302, may be coupled to the drive arrangement 800. For example, and as shown in FIGS. 4 and 5, the first end 302 may define a plurality of splines 309, which, in some instances, have an involute profile. That is, the splines 309 may have a profile where a tip portion 306 is narrower than a base portion 308 thereof so as to provide optimum torque- transmitting capacity and optimum contact and pressure distribution during engagement with a corresponding portion of a gear member coupled to the drive shaft 810, or otherwise a corresponding portion of the drive shaft 810 itself. In this regard, the drive shaft 810 may have corresponding splines disposed about the exterior surface thereof, or, in other instances, the drive shaft 810 may have a gear member coupled thereto having splines configured to correspond to the splines of the cutter arm 300. For example, the drive shaft 810 may include a plurality of the projections portions or ridges which mesh with splines 309, thereby maintaining the correspondence with the cutter arm 300 so as to transfer torque. For example, in one embodiment, the cutter arm 300 may be mounted on the drive shaft 810 having a male spline that matches a female spline on the cutter arm 300.

In some instances, as shown in FIG. 5, the cutter arm 300 may include a support structure 310 including an annular body 312 defining a central orifice 314 and defining the splines 309 for coupling the cutter 200 to the drive arrangement 800 or other appropriate actuation device. In such instances, one of the cutter arm 300 and the support structure 310 may define a channel 316 (i.e., key way) for receiving a correspondingly shaped projection portion (i.e., key) of the other of the cutter arm 300 and the support structure 310. In this regard, the projection portion is received within the channel 316 in a manner that rotatably couples the cutter arm 300 to the drive shaft 810 or other component of the drive arrangement 800. However, the cutter arm 300 or the cutter 200 may be rotatably coupled to the drive arrangement 800 in any suitable manner.

In some instances, the cutter arm 300 may include support structures 310 for providing rigidity and structural integrity to the cutter 200 during interaction with the stem 50. The support structures 310 may be typically integrally formed on the cutter arm 300 using, for example, molding techniques or other suitable processes.

The cutting arrangement 250 may be engaged, fastened or otherwise joined with the cutter arm 300 at a second end 304 thereof such that rotation thereof also causes the cutting arrangement 250 to rotate about the rotational axis 210, thereby guiding the cutting arrangement through an arcuate path extending through the cutting position for severing a portion of the stem 50 positioned at the cutting position. For example, a plurality of fasteners 350 may be used to couple the cutting arrangement 250 to the cutter arm 300. The cutting arrangement 250 may include a pair of spaced-apart cutting blades 260 longitudinally extending from the cutter arm 300 in a direction substantially perpendicular to the transport direction 60. By providing a pair of blades 260, the cutting arrangement 250 can remove a stem segment having a node e.g. a sett or internodal sett, with a single cut, without the need to make additional individual cuts with a single blade. That is, the cutting blades 260 may facilitate removal and separation of the node segments of the stem 50 from the internode segments with a single cut using the paired cutting blades 260 acting concomitantly (i.e., in tandem). According to some aspects, the cutting blades 260 may be spaced-apart, for example, at about 100 mm to about 150 mm.

Each cutting blade 260 may include a cutting edge 265 configured to interact with the stem 50 for cutting or otherwise severing the stem 50 into individual stem segments. In some instances, the cutting edges 265 may be serrated or otherwise configured to improve the cutting ability thereof. Furthermore, the cutting edges 265 may be tapered to provide a fine cutting edge to ensure complete severance of the stem 50 during a cut. In this regard, the cutting edges 265 of the cutting blade 260 may be opposingly tapered with respect to one another, such that the cutting edges 265 of the cutting blades 260 taper towards the other cutting blade member 260. In some aspects, the cutting edges 265 may be linearly configured to extend along a length of the cutting blade 260 (see FIGS. 4 and 5), while in other instances the cutting edges 265 may be arcuately shaped so as to provide a rounded contour to the cutting blade 265 (see FIG. 6). While illustrated aspects of the present disclosure show two-blade configurations, more than two blades may be provided on the cutting arrangement 250, wherein such configurations may facilitate even further increases in throughput. Furthermore, in some instances, the cutting blades 260 may be independently driven such that each blade can be operated independently, such as, for example, at various rotational speeds.

Extending between and engaging at least a portion of the cutting blades 260 may be a bridge 270 configured to provide support to the cutting blades 260 during interaction with the stem 50. The bridge 270 may be engaged with or otherwise fastened to the cutting blades 260 in any suitable manner, including using appropriate fasteners 350. The bridge 270 may be constructed from a rigid material capable of providing structural integrity to the cutting arrangement 250, and particularly to the cutting blades 260 for maintaining the spacing therebetween. In some instances, the bridge 270 may extend therebetween proximate to the cutting edges 265. That is, the bridge 270 may be configured to span the gap of the cutting blades 260 in such a manner that supports the cutting blades 260 at the cutting edges 265 such that the cutting edges 265 maintain the spacing therebetween during the cutting action. In this regard, the bridge 270 may be fastened or otherwise joined to the cutting blades 260 proximate to the cutting edges 265.

At least a portion of the bridge 270 may extend perpendicularly between the cutting blades 260 to provide lateral support therebetween. Other portions of the bridge 270 (e.g., extension portion 275) may extend along a plane of the cutting blade 260 so as to provide further support to the cutting blades 260. That is, bridge 270 may extend perpendicular to the cutting edge 265 along an outer surface 295 of the cutting blade 260. In this regard, the bridge 270 may essentially act as an "end cap" at an end of the cutting arrangement 250. According to some aspects, as shown in FIGS. 4 and 5, the bridge 270 may be positioned at a distal end 280 of the cutting blade 260, wherein the distal end 280 extends away from a proximal end 290 of the cutting blade 260 and a second end 304 of the cutter arm 300. In other instances, as shown in FIG. 6, the bridge 270 may be positioned anywhere between the distal end 280 and the proximal end 290 of the cutting blades 260 so as to extend therebetween.

A further support member 500 may be provided to extend between the cutting blades 260. In some instances, the support member 500 may be formed as a portion of the arm member 300 (see FIG. 5) or as a portion of the cutter 200 (see FIG. 4). The support member 500 may be provided to further support the cutting blades 260. In some instances, the support member 500 may substantially perpendicularly extend between the cutting blades 260 about the ends thereof opposite the cutting edges 265. According to some aspects of the present disclosure, the cutter 200 may be configured to transport the cut stem segments to a collection site or a collection bin. As shown in FIGS. 1-3, the cutting assembly 100 includes guide system 140 for directing the path of the cut stem segment 58 toward a collection bin (not shown). The guide system 140 includes a first guide wire 141 spaced parallel to a second guide wire 142. Securing plates 143 extending from the surface 110 connect each guide wire 141 and 142 together. The guide system 140 forms an arcuate path A (shown in FIG. 1) that can diverge from the arcuate path B (shown in FIG. 1) of the cutter 200, as shown in FIG. 1. Rotation of the cutter 200 severs the stem segment 58 and then causes the cut stem segment 58 to travel along the guide system 140 toward the collection site. In alternate embodiments, the stem segments 58 may be collected using other arrangements. For example, a chute system can be used to separate the various types of stem segments cut. In other embodiments,for example, as shown in FIG. 6, the cutting arrangement 250 may include a transport arrangement such as, for example, a pair of rod members 400 arranged to trail the cutting blades 260 during cutting of the stem 50. In this regard, the rod members 400 follow the same arcuate path B of the cutting blades 260 during rotation thereof such that the rod members 400 interact with the cut stem segment 58 to transport the cut stem segment 58 in the direction of rotation of the cutting device 200 along the guide system 140 as discussed above. In some instances, the rod members 400 are spaced-apart in such a manner that the spacing therebetween is less than the spacing between the cutting blades 260. In such an arrangement, the cut stem segments 58 cannot pass between the rod members 400 since the length of the cut stem segments is substantially equal to the width of the spacing between the cutting blades 260. As such, the rod members 400 catch the cut stem segment at the ends thereof and essentially carry or otherwise project the cut stem segment in an arcuate path along guide system 140 to a collection site or bin. The other cut stem segments that are spaced between the cut stem segments collected using the transport arrangement (i.e., typically the internodes) may be allowed to fall from the cutting system 1 such that the nodes and internodes are effectively separated.

Further aspects of the present disclosure relate to velocity at which the cutter 200 operates to efficiently provide a high throughput of cut stem segments. Of course, such throughput may be directly related to the speed at which the transport system 10 must be operated to accommodate the high velocities of the cutter 200. An example of this relationship is illustrated in FIG. 7. According to some aspects, the cutter 200 may be operated within the range of about 300 and about 1200 rotations per minute during interaction with the stem 50, and particularly at about 750 rotations per minute.

Additionally, other exemplarily speeds have been indicated above. The illustrated example is not a limiting example and other relationships and speeds as described herein can be substituted.

FIG. 7 illustrates the relationship between the velocity of the blade and conveyor. Four nodes are illustrated: node 1 942, node 2 944, node 3 946, and node 4 948. The blade velocity is illustrated by line 910 and the conveyor velocity is indicated by line 920. The spacing between node 1 and node 2 is denoted by line 932 and is 120 mm, the spacing between node 2 and node 3 is denoted by line 934 and is 102 mm, the spacing between node 3 and node 4 is denoted by line 936 and is 130 mm.

As shown in FIG. 7, the cutter 200 may be operated at variable speeds such that the cutting device slows when not interacting with the stem 50. That is, the cutter 200 may be operated at a first speed during when interacting with the stem 50 and at a second speed, lower than the first speed, when not interacting with the stem 50. In this regard, the cutter 200 may be variably rotated in a range between about 300 and about 1200 rotations per minute, but typically consistently reaching a maximum velocity at the time of interaction with the stem 50. In some instances, the cutter 200 and transport system 10 may be operated so as to cut between about 5 and about 15 nodes per second.

As shown in FIG. 7, the velocity at which the transport system 10 transports the stem 50 may be adjusted to correspond with the operation of the cutter 200. That is, the transport system 10 may also be operated at variable speeds, such as, for example, a first and second speed that corresponds with the first and second speeds of the cutter 200. For example, the transport system 10 may slow the transportation of the stem 50 during the cutting phase thereof, such as, for example, to less than about 800 millimeters per second, and then increase the speed of transportation to more than about 1400 millimeters per second between cuts. In this regard, in some instances, there may be an inverse relationship between the velocity of the transport system 10 and the velocity of the cutter 200 during cutting of the stem 50. In any instance, the cutter 200 may be operated at high velocities to provide a throughput of stem segments sufficient for large-scale production thereof for use in large agricultural enterprises.

Many modifications and other aspects of the disclosure set forth herein will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which this disclosure pertains having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the disclosure is not to be limited to the specific aspects disclosed and that modifications and other aspects are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.