Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
MULTIPLE FLUID DISPENSER FOLLOWING STORED FORMULA
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2007/011830
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
An improved multi fluid dispenser for simultaneous dispensing of a plurality of fluids is shown and described. The dispenser (40) includes a controller (66) that is linked to a coordinator board (65). The controller has a memory with a plurality of recipes stored in the memory. A coordinator board is linked to a first module (45). The first module may include one or two pumps (74), each connected to a fluid reservoir (69). The module is then linked in series to a plurality of other modules as well as a manifold module (46). Each module includes a module board (67) for controlling the pump or pumps of that module. The controller, coordinator board and module boards are all programmed for the simultaneous or sequential pumping of multiple fluids from the reservoirs through outlet nozzles of the manifold in accordance with a recipe selected by the user and retrieved from the memory of the controller.

Inventors:
MILLER WILLIAM A (US)
HOGAN TIM (US)
KHOO CHRISTOPHER (US)
CLEVELAND JAMES R (US)
OBRECHT ANTON
Application Number:
US2006/027588
Publication Date:
January 25, 2007
Filing Date:
July 17, 2006
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
FLUID MANAGEMENT INC (US)
MILLER WILLIAM A (US)
HOGAN TIM (US)
KHOO CHRISTOPHER (US)
CLEVELAND JAMES R (US)
OBRECHT ANTON
International Classes:
B44D3/08; B67D1/00; B01F13/10
Domestic Patent References:
WO1986002320A11986-04-24
WO1986003235A11986-06-05
Foreign References:
US6749402B22004-06-15
EP1125643A22001-08-22
EP0427497A11991-05-15
US5690252A1997-11-25
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HULL, Michael, R. (Miller, Matthias & Hull One North Franklin Street, Suite 235, Chicago IL, 60606, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:

What is Claimed is:

1. A dispenser for dispensing a plurality of fluids, the dispenser comprising: a controller, the controller linked to a coordinator board, the controller having a memory with a plurality of recipes stored therein, the coordinator board linked to a first module, the first module linked in series to a plurality of other modules, each module comprising a module board, each module board linked to at least one pump, each pump linked between its own reservoir and its own outlet nozzle, the controller, coordinator board and module boards being programmed for the simultaneous or sequential pumping of multiple fluids from the reservoirs and through the outlet nozzles in accordance with a selected recipe.

2. The dispenser of claim 1 wherein each module further comprises: a module frame for supporting its respective module board, each module board being linked to a pair of pumps that are both supported by the module frame, the module frame also supporting each of a pair of reservoirs linked to the pumps, wherein the module board at least partially controls operation of both of said pair of pumps.

3. The dispenser of claim 2 further comprising a cabinet for housing the plurality of modules and wherein each module frame is detachably connected to the cabinet so that each module may be exchanged or replaced.

4. The dispenser of claim 2 further comprising from 6 to 16 modules for the simultaneous dispensing of from 12 to 32 different fluids.

5. The dispenser of claim 1 wherein each pump is connected to its respective outlet nozzle by a flexible hose, each outlet nozzle being mounted to a manifold block.

6. This dispenser of claim 3 wherein each pump is connected to its respective outlet nozzle by a flexible hose, each outlet nozzle being mounted to a manifold block, the manifold block being supported within a manifold housing, the manifold housing being detachably connected to the cabinet.

7. The dispenser of claim 6 wherein each outlet nozzle is connected to an inlet end of the manifold block, the manifold block further comprising an outlet end, the outlet end facing downward, the manifold housing being connected to a closure mechanism for the outlet end of the manifold block, the closure mechanism comprising a motor linked to a manifold board, the manifold board being linked in series to the modules.

8. The dispenser of claim 8 wherein the closure mechanism comprises: a supporting frame, the supporting frame being connected to a motor, the motor being connected to a threaded drive shaft, the drive shaft being directed towards the outlet end of the manifold block, the drive shaft being threadably coupled to a slide block, the slide block being slidably supported by the supporting frame, the slide block being pivotally connected to a bracket, the bracket being connected to an upwardly facing drip catcher, the bracket comprising a catch for engaging an abutment that pivots the bracket and drip catcher upward and towards the outlet end of the manifold block as the drip catcher and bracket approach the manifold block when the drive shaft is rotated to move the slide block, bracket and drip catcher towards the manifold block.

9. The dispenser of claim 8 wherein the abutment is disposed on an underside of the supporting frame.

10. The dispenser of claim 8 wherein the drip catcher comprises an upwardly facing rim that can sealingly engage the outlet end of the manifold block.

11. The dispenser of claim 1 wherein the reservoir of at least one module comprises a vertical canister and the reservoir of at least one other module comprises a flexible bag.

12. The dispenser of claim 2 wherein the pair of reservoirs of at least one module is a pair of vertical canisters and the pair of reservoirs of at least one other module is a pair of flexible bags.

13. The dispenser of claim 1 wherein the pumps of the modules are selected from the group consisting of nutating pumps, gear pumps, piston pumps and combinations thereof as the pump of one module can be different from the pump of another module.

14. The dispenser of claim 2 wherein the pumps of the modules are selected from the group consisting of nutating pumps, gear pumps, and piston pumps and the pumps of one module can be different from the pumps of another module.

15. The dispenser of claim 1 wherein the reservoir of at least one module extends vertically upward from its respective pump and has a round cross section at a lower end of the reservoir near said pump and a rectangular cross section and an upper end of the reservoir.

16. The dispenser of claim 2 wherein the reservoirs of at least one module extends vertically upward from their respective pump and have a round cross section at a lower end of the reservoir and a rectangular cross section and an upper end of the reservoir.

17. A closure system for a fluid dispenser, the closure system comprising: a supporting frame, the supporting frame being connected to a motor, the supporting frame also being connected to a manifold block, the motor being connected to a threaded drive shaft, the drive shaft being directed towards the manifold block, the drive shaft being threadably coupled to a slide block, the slide block being slidably supported by the supporting frame, the slide block being pivotally connected to a bracket, the bracket being connected to an upwardly facing drip catcher, the bracket comprising a catch for engaging an abutment that pivots the bracket and drip catcher upward and towards the outlet end of the manifold block as the drip catcher and bracket approach the manifold block when the drive shaft is rotated to move the slide block, bracket and drip catcher towards the manifold block.

18. The closure system of claim 17 wherein the abutment is disposed on an underside of the supporting frame.

19. The closure system of claim 17 wherein the drip catcher comprises an upwardly facing rim that can sealingly engage the manifold block.

20. A dispenser for simultaneously dispensing a plurality of fluids, the dispenser comprising: a central controller, the controller linked to a coordinator board, the controller having a memory with a plurality of recipes stored therein, a user interface for selecting a recipe; the coordinator board linked to a first module, the first module linked in series to a plurality of other modules, each module comprising a module board, a pair of pumps and pair of reservoirs, each module board linked to the pair of pumps of its respective module, each pump linked between its own reservoir and its own outlet nozzle, the controller, coordinator board and module boards being programmed for the simultaneous or sequential pumping of multiple fluids from the reservoirs through the outlet nozzles in accordance with a selected recipe, each module further comprising a module frame for supporting its respective module board, pair of pumps and pair of reservoirs, the dispenser further comprising a cabinet for housing the modules, the module frame being detachably connected to the cabinet so that the modules may be easily replaced or changed.

Description:

MULTIPLE FLUID DISPENSER BACKGROUND

Technical Field

[0001] An apparatus is disclosed for dispensing a plurality of fluids according to one of the plurality of formulas stored in a controller. The controller is linked to a coordinating board which, in turn, is linked in series to a plurality of pump modules and a manifold module. Each pump module includes its own module board which controls the operation of two pumps associated with that module. The modules, which include the module board, two pumps and two reservoirs as well as motors for driving the pumps, are all mounted on a module frame which is detachably connected to the system so that the modules may be easily changed or replaced. Further, the manifold module may also be easily replaced. The manifold module also includes a motorized closure system.

Description of the Related Art

[0002] Systems for dispensing a plurality of different fluids into a container have been known and used for many years. For example, systems for dispensing paint base materials and colorants into a paint container are known. These paint systems may use twenty or more different colorants to formulate a paint mixture. Each colorant is contained in a separate canister or package and may include its own dispensing pump, e.g., see U.S. Patent No. 6,273,298, which is commonly assigned with the present application. The colorants and the respective pumps may be disposed on a turntable or along one or more horizontal rows. In a turntable system, the turntable is rotated so that the colorant to be dispensed is moved to a position above the container being filled. In designs using one or more horizontal rows, the container may be moved laterally to the appropriate colorant/pump.

[0003] Some currently available paint colorant dispensers utilize nutating pumps and a computer control system to control the nutating pumps. Nutating pumps have a piston which is positioned inside of a housing having a fluid inlet and a fluid outlet. The piston simultaneously slides axially and rotates inside the housing. The dispense stroke or cycle can be broken down into a number of discreet steps or segments for extremely accurate volumetric dispenses. For example, a minimum dispense can be as little as 1/256 of a fluid ounce as illustrated in U.S. Patent Nos. 6,749,402,

6,540,486 and 6,398,515, all commonly assigned with the present application. These patents all disclose improved nutating pump technologies that are applicable to paint colorant dispensing as well as the dispensing of hair dyes, other cosmetics applications and other fluids.

[0004] However, as disclosed in the above patents, the software or algorithms used to accurately dispense fluids volumetrically using nutating pumps is complicated and may require frequent calibration. Further, volumetric dispensing can be slow and inaccurate if a fluid drip is retained at the end of a nozzle or manifold instead of dropping down into the container reservoir or if some of the fluid is lost to splatter. Therefore, for at least some applications, dispensing by weight or gravimetric dispensing may be preferred because the amount of fluid that actually makes it into the container is recorded as opposed to the fluid that is dispensed from the pump, some of which may be lost.

[0005] Systems for dispensing large varieties of different fluids are not limited to paints, but also include systems for dispensing pharmaceutical products, hair dye formulas, cosmetics or all kinds, nail polish, etc. Smaller systems for use in preparing products at a point of sale may use a stationary manifold through which a plurality of nozzles extend. Each fluid to be dispensed is then pumped through its individual nozzle. Depending upon the size of the container and the quantity of the fluids to be dispensed, manifolds must be designed in a space efficient manner so that a single manifold can accommodate twenty or more different nozzles. The nozzles are connected to the various ingredients by flexible hoses and the ingredients are contained in stationary canisters or containers.

[0006] For example, EP 0 443 741 discloses a formulation machine for preparing cosmetically functional products. The machine includes a plurality of containers for storing various cosmetic ingredients. An input mechanism is provided for entering into a computer specific criteria representative of a customer's needs. A series of instruction sets are then sent from the computer in response to the specific input criteria to a dispensing mechanism.

[0007] U.S. Patent No. 4,871,262 describes an automatic cosmetic dispensing system for blending selected additives into a cosmetic base. A similar system is described in German Patent No. 41 10 299 with the further element of a facial sensor.

[0008] Other systems involve a skin analyzer for reading skin properties, a programmable device receiving the reading and correlating same with a foundation formula, and a formulation machine. Components of the formula held in a series of reservoirs within the machine are dosed into a receiving bottle and blended therein. These systems are described in U.S. Patent Nos. 5,622,692 and 5,785,960. Because the systems disclosed in the '692 and '960 patents suffer from relatively poor precision, nutating pump technology was applied to improve the precision of the system as set forth in U.S. Patent No. 6,510,366.

[0009] In such multiple fluid dispensing applications, both precision and speed are essential. Precision is essential as many formulations require the addition of precise amounts of ingredients. This is true in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and paint industries as the addition of more or less of a key ingredient can result in a visible change in the color or product or the efficacy of a product.

[0010] Speed is important as many products are prepared at a point-of-sale for a customer. For example, paint formulations, cosmetic formulations, hair dyes and various nutritional products are all being prepared in retail environments while the consumer waits. Typically, such systems include the customer selecting a formulation from a list and that has been stored in a computer memory and an automated machine is used to prepare the formulation. Dispensing one ingredient at a time is a slow process and when more than a few consumers are waiting to use a machine, they may be discouraged and wish to take their business elsewhere.

[0011] One way in which the precision of dispensing systems is compromised is "dripping." Specifically, a "leftover" drip may be hanging from a nozzle that was intended to be added to a previous formulation and, with a new container in place under the nozzle, the drop of liquid intended for a previous formulation may be erroneously added to a new formulation. Thus, the previous container may not receive the desired amount of the liquid ingredient and the next container may receive too much.

[0012] To solve the drip problem, various scraper and wiper designs have been proposed. However, these designs often require one or more different motors to operate the wiper element and are limited to use on dispensing systems where the nozzles are separated or not bundled together in a manifold. Use of a wiper or

scraping function would not be practical in a multiple nozzle manifold design as the ingredients from the different nozzles will be co-mingled by the wiper or scraper which would then also contribute to the lack of precision of subsequently produced formulations.

[0013] Another problem associated with dispensing systems that make use of nozzles lies in the dispensing of relatively viscous liquids such as tints, colorants, base materials for cosmetic products, certain pharmaceutical ingredients or other fluid materials having relatively high viscosities. Specifically, the viscous fluids have a tendency to dry and cake onto the end of the nozzles, thereby requiring frequent cleaning in order for the nozzles to operate effectively. While some mechanical wiping or scrapping devices are available, these devices are not practical for multiple nozzle manifold systems and the scraper or wiper element must be manually cleaned anyway.

[0014] One solution would be to find a way to provide an enclosing seal around the nozzle or manifold after the dispensing operation is complete. In this manner, the viscous materials being dispensed through the nozzles would have less exposure to air thereby requiring a lower frequency of cleaning operations. To date, applicants are not aware of any attempts to provide any sort of nozzle or manifold closure or sealing element that would protect against drips as well as reducing the frequency in which the nozzle or manifolds must be cleaned.

[0015] Another problem associated with the machines described above, is the relative inflexibility of their design. Specifically, machines are either designed for dispensing fluids contained in cylindrical canisters or flexible bags. While some machines may dispense smaller amounts of materials such as tints or colorants from flexible bags and larger quantities of base material or solvent from rigid containers, no currently available machine is able to be easily adapted in the event the packaging for a raw material or an ingredient changes from a bag to a rigid container or vice versa. In short, currently available systems are not easy to modify or adapt to different uses or for dispensing different materials. What is needed is an improved multiple fluid dispensing whereby the pumps, reservoirs containing the fluids to be dispensed, motors and manifolds may be easily changed or replaced so that the machine may be adapted for changing consumer demands.

[0016] Accordingly, with the above problems in mind, there is a need for an improved multiple fluid dispensing system that is fast, efficient, that may be easily adapted or modified and that provides an improved cover or drip catcher for the manifold or fluid outlets.

SUMMARY OF THE DISCLOSURE

[0017] In satisfaction of the aforenoted needs, an improved dispenser for dispensing a plurality of different fluids is shown and described. One disclosed dispenser comprises a controller that is linked to a coordinator board. The controller has a memory with a plurality of recipes stored therein. The controller board is linked to a first module. The first module is linked in a series to a plurality of other modules. Each module comprises a module board. Each module board is linked to at least one pump. Each pump is then linked between its own reservoir fluid to be dispensed and its own outlet nozzle. The controller, controller board and module boards are all programmed for the simultaneous or sequential pumping of multiple fluids from the reservoirs and through the outlet nozzles in accordance with a recipe selected by the user and retrieved from the memory of the controller.

[0018] In a refinement, each module further comprises a module frame for supporting its respective module board. Each module board is linked to a pair of pumps that are both supported by the module frame. The module frame also supports each pair of reservoirs linked to the pumps and it is the module board that at least partially controls the operation of the pumps as opposed to the controller or coordinator board. Thus, the disclosed dispenser has a decentralized and modular control system.

[0019] In another refinement, the disclosed system comprises housing cabinetry designed in such a way that each module is detachably connected to the cabinetry so that each module may be easily exchanged or replaced. Further, the cabinetry is also preferably designed so that additional modules may be added easily.

[0020] In a further refinement of this concept, the disclosed dispenser comprises from 6 to 16 modules for simultaneous dispensing of from 12 to 32 different fluids. In other embodiments, less than 12 different fluids may be dispensed and more than 32 fluids may be dispensed.

[0021] In another refinement, each pump is connected to its respective outlet nozzle by a flexible hose and each outlet nozzle is mounted within a manifold block. In a further refinement, the manifold block is supported within a manifold housing which is also modular in design and which may be detachably connected to the cabinetry.

[0022] In a further refinement of this concept, each outlet nozzle is connected to an inlet end of the manifold block which further comprises an outlet end. The outlet end faces downward. In a further refinement, the manifold housing also is connected to a closure mechanism for the outlet end of the manifold block. The closure mechanism comprises a motor linked to a manifold board which, in turn, is linked in series to the various modules.

[0023] In a further refinement, the closure mechanism comprises a supporting frame connected to a motor. The motor is connected to a threaded drive shaft. The drive shaft is directed towards the outlet end of the manifold block. The drive shaft is threadably coupled to a slide block. The slide block is slidably supported by the supporting frame. The slide block is also pivotally connected to a bracket. The bracket is connected to an upwardly facing drip catcher. The bracket comprises a catch for engaging an abutment that pivots the bracket and drip catcher upward towards the outlet end of the manifold block as the drip catcher and bracket approach the manifold block when the drive shaft is rotated to move the slide block, bracket and drip catcher towards the manifold block.

[0024] In a further refinement of this concept, the abutment is disposed on the underside of the supporting frame.

[0025] In another refinement, the drip catcher comprises an upwardly facing rim that can sealingly engage the outlet end of the manifold block.

[0026] In a different refinement, in the reservoir at least one module comprises a vertical canister while the reservoir at least one other module comprises a flexible bag. In a further refinement, one module may include a pair of vertical canisters and another module may include a pair of flexible bags.

[0027] Because of the modular design, the pumps of the various modules may be different from that of the other modules. Therefore, the pumps of the various modules may be selected from the group consisting of nutating pumps, gear pumps, piston pumps and combinations thereof as the pump of one module may be different from

the pump of another module. Or, for modules designed with a pair of pumps, the pair of pumps of one module may be different from the pair of pumps of another module. In still a further, albeit less preferred refinement, a single module may include two different types of pumps and two different types of reservoirs.

[0028] In a different refinement, when a vertical hard-shell reservoir is utilized, such a reservoir may be designed so that an upper portion of the vertical reservoir has a square cross-section and a lower portion of the reservoir has a round cross-section. The upper square cross-section provides larger volumes when two reservoirs are supported next to each other and the lower round cross-section enables the reservoir to be more efficiently drained so that less fluid is wasted.

[0029] The closure system described above may also be utilized on different fluid dispensers.

[0030] The disclosed dispenser can be designed for simultaneously dispensing a plurality of fluids for a faster dispense.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0031] For a more completer understanding of this disclosure, reference should now be made to the embodiments illustrated in greater detail in the accompanying drawings, wherein:

[0032] Fig. 1 is perspective view of a disclosed fluid dispensing apparatus; [0033] Fig. 2 is a front plan view of the fluid dispensing apparatus shown in Fig. 1 ;

[0034] Fig. 3 is a right side elevation view of the fluid dispensing apparatus shown in Figs. 1 and 2;

[0035] Fig. 4 is a schematic perspective view of sixteen two-pump, two-reservoir modules linked together in series with a coordinator board, controller and manifold in accordance with this disclosure;

[0036] Fig. 5 is a perspective view of a module with two disclosed vertical canisters;

[0037] Fig. 6 is a left side plan view of the module shown in Fig. 5;

[0038] Fig. 7 is a perspective view of a module with two flexible bag reservoirs made in accordance with this disclosure;

[0039] Fig. 8 is a right side elevational view of the module shown in Fig. 7;

[0040] Fig. 9 is a side plan view of the closure mechanism for the manifold illustrated in part in Figs. 1-3;

[0041] Fig. 10 is a side sectional view of the closure mechanism taken along line 10-10 of Fig. 12;

[0042] Fig. 11 is a perspective view of the closure mechanism shown in Figs. 9 and 10;

[0043] Fig. 12 is a top plan view of the closure mechanism shown in Figs. 9-11; [0044] Fig. 13 is a front plan view of the closure mechanism shown in Figs. 9-12;

[0045] Fig. 14 is a perspective view of an alternative embodiment of a closure mechanism;

[0046] Fig. 15 is a side plan view of the closure mechanism shown in Fig. 14;

[0047] Fig. 16 is a top plan view of the closure mechanism shown in Figs. 14 and 15;

[0048] Fig. 17 is a perspective view of a manifold for use in the disclosed fluid dispenser;

[0049] Fig. 18 is a bottom plan view of the manifold shown in Fig. 17;

[0050] Fig. 19 is a sectional view taken substantially along the line 19-19 of Fig. 18;

[0051] Fig. 20 is a perspective view of a vertical canister shown above in connection with Figs. 4-6;

[0052] Fig. 21 is a sectional view of the canister shown in Fig. 20;

[0053] Fig. 22 is an enlarged partial view of the mounting tab for connecting the canister shown in Figs. 20 and 21 to the module frame illustrated in Figs. 5 and 6;

[0054] Fig. 23 is a perspective view of a top lid for the canister shown in Figs. 20 and 21;

[0055] Fig. 24 is a plan view of an agitator paddle used in the vertical canister disclosed in Figs. 20-23;

[0056] Fig. 25 is another side plan view of the agitator paddle shown in Fig. 24;

[0057] Fig. 26 is an elevation view of a nozzle used to connect a flexible bag to a pump as illustrated in Figs. 7 and 8 above;

[0058] Fig. 27 is a perspective view of a nutating pump that can be used with the disclosed dispensing system;

[0059] Fig. 28 is a top plan view of the pump shown in Fig. 27;

[0060] Fig. 29 is a sectional view taken substantially along the line 29-29 of Fig. 28; and

[0061] Fig. 30 is an enlarged partial view of the pump as shown in Fig. 29, particularly illustrating the drive shaft seal.

[0062] It should be understood that the drawings are not necessarily to scale and that the embodiments are often illustrated by graphic symbols, phantom lines, diagrammatic representations and fragmentary views. In certain instances, details have been omitted which are not necessary for an understanding of the disclosed embodiments or which render other details difficult to perceive. It should be understood, of course, that this disclosure is not limited to the particular embodiments illustrated herein.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PRESENTLY PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0063] Fig. 1 discloses a dispensing apparatus 40 which includes a lower base portion 41 connected to a front cabinet 42 which, in turn, is disposed beneath in support a middle cabinet shown at 43. The middle cabinet 43 may also include a scale or weighing function (not shown). Any one of the cabinets 41 through 43 may house a controller and other electronic equipment (not shown). The cabinet 41 supports an upper cabinet 44 which, in turn, houses a plurality of modules which are represented by pairs of canisters shown generally at 45. In the examples shown in Fig. 1, six modules that each dispense two different fluids are shown for a total dispending of 12 different fluids. Fig. 1 also illustrates a manifold module 46 which will be described below. The sequential or, preferably simultaneous dispensing of one or more fluids from the 12 difference fluids provided in Fig. 1 is made through the manifold module 46 and down into the container 47. A manifold closure system is shown at 48a.

[0064] Turning to Figs. 2 and 3, the upper cabinet 44 includes a cover 49 as well as side panels 51, 52. The cabinetry 44 also includes separate front panels 53, 54 which serve as esthetic covers for the modules shown in Fig. 1. Lower panels 55, 56 provide access to the module brackets and related components shown at 58 in Fig. 1. The cabinet 44 is designed so that the manifold module 46 may be easily removed and replaced. The manifold module 46 includes a housing 47 and side supporting brackets as shown in Fig. 3. Also shown in Fig. 3 is the manifold closure mechanism 48 which will be described in greater detail below. However, it will be noted that the mechanism 48 includes a threaded drive shaft 58a, slide lock 59a, a bracket 61a and a drip catcher 62a. The drip catcher 62a may include a resilient ring 63 for sealingly engaging the manifold block 64a. The intricacies of the closure mechanism 48a will be described in greater detail below in connection with Figs. 9-13 and an alternative embodiment 48b will be described in connection with Figs. 14-16.

[0065] Figure 4 is a schematic illustration of the dispense system 40 showing 16 different modules 45 with two pumps and two reservoirs each along with a manifold module 46, all connected in series to a coordinator board 65 and a controller 66. In the modular design shown in Fig. 4, three different boards are utilized; the coordinator board 65, the module boards 67 and the manifold board 68. The main function of the manifold board 68 is to operate the manifold closure mechanism 48 (see Figs. 1-3). The coordinator board 65 is the link between the PC or controller 66 and the module boards 67. The module boards 67, in the embodiment shown in Fig. 4, control two motors for pumping fluids from the pair of reservoirs of each module. Thus, each module 45 includes two reservoirs 69 and two pumps (not shown in Fig. 4) with each pump being assigned to its own reservoir 69.

[0066] The boards 65, 67 and 68 are preferably designed to share a certain common features. Such common features include the use of a common microchip series processor (e.g., a PIC 18F processor), an on board power supply, a silicon serial number chip, and SIM (subscriber identify module) card socket, a stepper motor driver chip, an encoder, a DAC (digital to analog converter) chip, a CAN (controller area network) bus (preferably with RJl 2 connectors), indicator LEDs (light emitting diodes), a serial debug connector and a reset switch with remote reset capability.

[0067] More specifically, one example of a coordinator board 65 includes a microchip PIC18LF8680 clocked at 20 MHz, a four quart USB (universal serial bus) hub with one port dedicated to the coordinator and three ports for general usage, an USB power control chip, high power ports, VDC converters, a single CAN port with termination resistor and additional separate CAN port with termination resistor in the form of microchip MCP2515, a FTDI FT245B USB chip, an external flash memory, preferably AMD AM29LV800DT chip, an external RAM (random access memory), preferably in the form of an ALLIANCE AS7C4O98A chip, a SIM card socket, a silicon serial number chip, preferably in the form of DALLAS DS2436 chip, indicator light admitting diodes, a reset switch with an optically isolated external input, an optically isolated abort switch input, a connector for a microchip ICD2 in-circuit debugger, and a serial port for program development usage. These exemplary parts, of course, may be modified or substituted for.

[0068] The module board 67, in a preferred embodiment, controls two bipolar stepping motors which will be described in greater detail below. One preferred module board 67 includes a PIC18F6680 microchip clocked at 40 MHz, VDC switching regulators, a CAN transceiver with dual CAN connectors, a SIM card socket, a silicon serial number chip, preferably in the form of DALLAS DS2436 with provisions for additional chips, two 8-bit DACs for setting the drive/run current for the stepper drives, two ALLEGRO microstepping driver chips, two quadrature encoder chips, two index interface circuits, two counters for quadrature encoder chips, indicator light admitting diodes, a reset switch with optically isolated external input, a connector for a ICD2 microchip in dash circuit debugger, a serial port for program development usage and two optically isolated motor driver circuits with an over current fuse. These exemplary parts, of course, may be modified or substituted for.

[0069] The module board 68 controls a single bipolar stepping motor and other features needed to control the nozzle closure mechanism 48. One exemplary manifold board 68 includes a PIC18F6680 microchip clocked at 40 MHz, VDC switching regulators, a CAN transceiver dual CAN connectors, a SIM card socket, a silicon serial number chip, preferably in the form of DALLAS DS2436 with provisions for additional chips, one or more 8-bit DACs for setting drive/run current for the stepper drive, and ALLEGRO microstepping driver chip, a quadrature encoder

chip, an index interfacing circuit, counters for the quadrature encoder chip, indicator light admitting diodes, a reset switch with an optically isolated external input, a connector for a ICD2 microchip in dash circuit debugger, a serial port for development usage, dual mechanical or optical limit switch interface circuits, an optically isolated CAN sensor interface circuit and a pulsed high current LED located control. These exemplary parts, of course, may be modified or substituted for.

[0070] As shown in Fig. 4, the controller, coordinator board 65 and module board 67 of the various modules, along with the manifold board 68 of the manifold module 46 are all connected in series, using easy-to-obtain phone lines or patch cables 70.

[0071] The controller 66 includes a graphical user interface (GUI) that enables a user to select a recipe or formula and a quantity for dispensing. The controller 66 also includes an application program interface (API), an encoding/decoding program referred to as a machine control driver (MCD) which is preferably a DVX application, an interface controller (IFC)for packing commands and a communications driver for sending serial commands to the coordinator board 65, preferably through a USB port.

[0072] The coordinator board 65 receives commands from the controller 66 through a complimentary USB port. The coordinator board 65 includes its own communications driver for receiving the commands, its own EFC for unpacking the commands received from the controller 66 and its own real time operating system (RTOS) and API. Hardware devices of the coordinator board 65 also preferably include a general purpose timer, a serial number chip, a subscriber identification module (SIM), an electrically erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM), a debug port, LED pins, a debug LED pin, and a control area network (CAN) port.

[0073] To begin dispensing, the coordinator board 65 will preferably send a message down the line of module boards 67 to stop agitating. The multiple fluid and quantity dispense message received from the PC 66 will then be parsed into individual messages, i.e. separate messages for each ingredient, and sent, preferably one at a time, down the line of modules boards 67 (and manifold board 68) as shown in Fig. 4. The individual ingredient dispense messages sent by the coordinator board 65 to the module board 67 linked to the coordinator board 65 are packaged by a protocol packaging driver as a part of a control area network (CAN), then sent by a

communication driver out a CAN port to a complimentary CAN port on the module board 67.

[0074] Each module board 67 receives messages either directly from the coordinator board 65 if the module board 67 is linked to the coordinator board 65, or more often, from the preceding module board 67 in the chain, through its own CAN port. Like the coordinator board 65, module boards 67 and manifold board 68 include a general purpose timer, a serial number chip, a subscriber identification module (SIM), an electrically erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM), a debug port, LED pins, a debug LED pin, and a control area network (CAN) port. Each board 67 also includes one or more digital to analog converter chips (DAC), stepper drive chips, sensor pins, agitation pins and other LED pins.

[0075] Each module board 67 has its own communication driver for receiving each message, a protocol packaging driver for unpacking the message and a RTOS. The identification hardware and applications of each board 67, 68 enable the board 67 or 68 to identify if the message is intended for one of its pumps or, in the case of the manifold board 68, the motor used to open or close the closure mechanism 48. When the message is intended for another board 67 or 68 down the line, the message is sent out through the CAN port.

[0076] When a message needs to be acted on by a board 67, the a message from the protocol packaging driver is sent by the RTOS and API of the board 67 through pump logical device application to a stepper drive driver. The stepper drive driver sends and on/off signal through a digital to analog converter (DAC) to the DAC chip, a forward signal to the stepper drive chip, and a signal indicative of the number of steps or pulses need to a discrete I/O driver. Signals are send back to the coordinator board 65 that the operation has been completed or not completed. Agitation is preferably stopped before a dispense is commenced. The manifold board 68 is somewhat similar but simplified because it includes a stepper motor to open or close the mechanism 48a as described below in connection with Figures 9-13.

[0077] Turning to Figs. 5 and 6, a module 45a is shown which includes vertical hard-shell canister 69a which will be further described in connection with Figs. 20-23 below. The canisters 69a are supported by a module frame 71a which includes a lower base 72a that is slidably received into the upper portion of the cabinet 44 as

shown in Fig. 1. The frame 71a also includes an upper portion 73a that supports the canisters 69a and also supports two pumps shown at 74a in Figs. 5 and 6.

[0078] Each pump 74a is linked to one canister 69a. The pumps 74a, in turn, are linked to the manifold block 64 (see Fig. 3) and, the operation of each motor 74 is controlled by the module board shown at 67. The module board 67 may also control the motors shown at 75 which rotate the agitator paddles 76 shown in Figs. 24 and 25. The use of the agitator paddles 76 are often needed as the fluid being dispensed from the canisters 69a can be very viscous and undue waste would result if the agitator paddles 76 were not utilized on a periodic or timed basis. As shown in Figs. 5 and 6, the agitator motor 75 is linked to a drive shaft 77 which, in turn, rotates the paddle 76 (see also Figs. 24 and 25). Figs. 5 and 6 also illustrate an outlet 78 of a fluid pump 74a and an elbow nozzle 79 for connecting the outlet 78 to a hose leading to the manifold 46.

[0079] The module 45a shown in Figs. 5 and 6 are particularly suitable for upright hard-shell vertical canisters such as those shown at 69a in Figs. 5 and 6. In contrast, Figs. 6 and 7 illustrate a module 45b whereby the hard-shell vertical canister 69a has been replaced with flexible bags shown at 69b. The bags 69b are supported in sleeves 81 which, in turn, are pivotally connected to the module bracket 71b. The upper portion 73 of the bracket 71b also supports two motors 74b which, in turn, are controlled by the module board 67b. The pumps 74b are connected to the bags 69b by specially designed nozzles 82 which are further illustrated below in connection with Fig. 26. The module frame 71b can be easily slide in and out of the cabinetry 44 of the fluid dispenser 40, in a manner similar to the module frame 71 illustrated in Figs. 5 and 6. Thus, the modules 45a and 45b are interchangeable and one dispensing system 40 may include vertical canister modules 45 a and flexible bag modules 45b. The module boards 67, 67b all communicate with each other and with the coordinator board 65.

[0080] Turning to Figs. 9-13, the manifold closure mechanism 48a is shown and described. The closure mechanism 48a includes a motor 83a which rotates the drive shaft 58a. The drive shaft 58a, in turn, is threadably coupled to the slide block 59a. The slide block 59a is slidably supported within a track 84a formed in the supporting frame 85a. Rotation of the drive shaft 58a by the motor 83a results in movement of the slide block 59a along the track 84a. The slide block 59a is pivotally connected to

the bracket 61a which, in turn, is connected to and supports the drip catcher 62a. Referring to Fig. 9, when the catch 86a of the bracket 61a engages the abutment 87a disposed on the underside 88 of the supporting bracket 85a as shown in Fig. 9, the bracket 61a and drip catcher 62a are pivoted upward to the position in shown in solid lines in Fig. 9. When the slide block 59a, bracket 61a and drip catcher 62s are retracted to the left in Fig. 9, the drip catcher 62a and bracket 61a pivot downward and to the left as shown in phantom lines in Fig. 9 due to the pivotal connection between the bracket 61a and the slide block 59a at the pin 89a. Thus, in the position shown in solid lines in Fig. 9 and in Figs. 10 and 11, the motor 83a has rotated the drive shaft 58a so that the slide block 59a has traversed to the right along the track as shown in Fig. 9 so that the catch 86a of the bracket 61a has engaged the abutment 87a thereby pivoting the bracket 61a and drip catcher 62a upward to the position shown in solid lines in Fig. 9 as well as in Figs. 10 and 11. The tab 92 of the bracket 61a serves as a stop for limiting the upward pivotal movement of the bracket 61a and drip catcher 62a as the tab 92 engages the underside 88 of the supporting bracket 85a.

[0081] As shown in Fig. 12, the bracket 85a includes an opening 93a for accommodating the manifold block 64a discussed below in connection with Figs. 17- 19. The drip catcher 62a is also threadably connected to the underside 94 of the bracket 59a by way of the threaded fastener 95 which enables the drip catcher 62a to be easily removed and cleaned. Further, the drip catcher 62a includes a resilient ring 96 for sealingly engage the manifold block 64a (see Fig. 3) and Figs. 17-19.

[0082] An alternative manifold closure mechanism 48b is illustrated in Figs. 14-16. The mechanism 48b includes a bracket 97 for mounting to the manifold module 46. An alternative embodiment of a manifold block is shown at 64b. A motor 83b rotates a drive shaft 58b which, in turn, moves a slide block 59b towards the manifold 64b. The slide block 59b is pivotally connected to the drip catcher 62b by way of the bracket 61b. The bracket 61b includes a rounded catch 86b that engages the rear wall 87b of the manifold 64b and pivots the drip catcher 62b upward in a manner similar to that of the closure mechanism 48a illustrated in Figs. 9-13 above.

[0083] Turning to Figs. 17-19, the manifold block 64a is described in greater detail. The block 64a includes an input end 101 and an output end 102 at a right angle thereto. The input end 101 includes a plurality of nozzles 103 that are connected to one of the pumps 74a or 74b (Figs. 5-8). Each inlet nozzle 103 is in communication

with an outlet nozzle 104 as shown in Fig. 19. Further, the outlet nozzles 104 are protected by a ring 105. The ring 105 is preferably sealingly engaged by a complementary sealing ring 96 of the closure mechanism 48a. Communication between the inlet nozzles 103 and outlet nozzles 104 are easily obtained by drilling two passages which are joined at a right angle as shown in Fig. 19.

[0084] Turning to Figs. 20-23, the vertical canisters 69a are shown and described. The canisters 69 include an upper section 111 with a square or rectangular cross- section, a transition section 112 and a lower section 113 with a round cross-section. The upper portion 111 holds a greater amount of fluid as it can be stacked more closely to an adjacent canister as shown in Fig. 5 and therefore the upper sections with a rectangular or square cross-section provide a more efficient use of space. The lower section 113 with a round cross-section is required to more completely dispense all fluid contained within the canister 69a and therefore provides a more efficient use of the fluid provided in the canister 69a. The tab shown at 114 is used to secure the canister 69a to the upper portion 73a of the bracket 71a as shown in Figs. 5 and 6. The lid 115 shown in Fig. 23 prevents the contents of the canister 69a from drying out.

[0085] Turning to Figs. 24 and 25, the agitator paddles 76 are shown in greater detail. Suitably placed fins 107 are mounted to a central shaft portion 108 and a lower fitting 109 secures the agitator paddle 76 to its respective drive shaft 77 as shown in Figs. 5 and 6.

[0086] Turning to Fig. 26, the nozzle 82 for connecting a pump 74b to a flexible bag 69b as illustrated in Fig. 7 is shown and described. The nozzle 82 includes an upper plunger 111 that penetrates a seal on a lower portion of the bag. Diametrically opposed inlet ports are shown at 112 which enables fluid to be drawn down through the passageway shown at 113. The passageway 113 includes a ball (not shown) and also serves as a check valve to prevent fluid from being pumped upward into the bag thereby providing one-way flow to the pump 73b. Lock-fitting slots are shown at 114 to connect the nozzle 82 to the pump 74b.

[0087] Turning to Figs. 27-30, the pumps 74a are illustrated in greater detail. The pump 74a includes a motor 117 which rotates a drive shaft 118. The drive shaft 118 (see Fig. 29) is connected to a coupling 119 which, in turn, is connected to a piston

121. The piston 121 includes a recess 122 and its rotation causes fluid to be drawn through the inlet 123 and out the outlet 78. One novel feature of the pump 74a shown in Figs. 27-29 is the seal shown at 125 and illustrated in greater detail in Fig. 30. Specifically, the seal 125 provides a unique seal between the piston 121, casing 126 and the housing 127.

[0088] While only certain embodiments have been set forth, alternative embodiments and various modifications will be apparent from the above description to those skilled in the art. These and other alternatives are considered equivalents and within the spirit and scope of this disclosure.