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Title:
A PUMPING SYSTEM AND METHOD
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/235940
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The invention broadly relates to a pneumatic pumping system to pump at least one fluid from one location to another and, in some forms, to mix fluids together. The system comprises a programmable electronic controller, a data source, a pneumatic controller connectable to a gas supply and configured to be activated and deactivated by the electronic controller, and at least one pump connectable to the pneumatic controller and to one or more fluid reservoirs for holding fluid to be pumped through the system. The pump is configured to operate in a pressure phase and in a vacuum phase. The electronic controller is configured to receive input data from the data source and use the input data to control and adjust the timing of the pump phases. The invention also relates to the pneumatic controller of the system and the method of using the system.

Inventors:
ROGERS LINCOLN ROLAND (NZ)
Application Number:
NZ2019/050064
Publication Date:
December 12, 2019
Filing Date:
June 05, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ROGERS LINCOLN ROLAND (NZ)
INFLEX INTERNATIONAL LTD (NZ)
International Classes:
F15B21/08; F04B43/073; F04B49/22; F15B13/04; F16K11/07; F16K31/06; G05D11/13
Domestic Patent References:
WO2009012083A22009-01-22
WO2019028267A12019-02-07
Foreign References:
US20040136843A12004-07-15
US20150164690A12015-06-18
US20030095870A12003-05-22
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CATALYST INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (NZ)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A pneumatic pumping system to pump at least one fluid from one location to another and comprising :

a programmable electronic controller;

a data source;

a pneumatic controller connectable to a gas supply and configured to be activated and deactivated by the electronic controller; and

at least one pump connectable to the pneumatic controller and to one or more fluid reservoirs for holding fluid to be pumped through the system, the pump being configured to operate in a pressure phase and in a vacuum phase;

wherein the electronic controller is configured to:

receive input data from the data source; and

use the input data to control and adjust the timing of the pump phases.

2. The pumping system according to claim 1, and further comprising a pressurised gas supply.

3. The pumping system according to claim 1, wherein each pump is a pneumatically controlled diaphragm pump having a discrete volume.

4. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the data source comprises a user interface electrically connected to the electronic controller.

5. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the input data pertains to parameters of the system, the fluid(s) to be pumped through the system, or both.

6. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the input data pertains to the viscosity of fluid to be pumped through the system and the electronic controller is configured to, upon receiving input data pertaining to the fluid viscosity, increase or decrease the duration of the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both.

7. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the pneumatic controller comprises at least one pneumatic control unit connected to each pump, wherein each pneumatic control unit comprises a pair of first and second solenoid valves, a venturi, and a check valve connected by gas circuits connected to a gas inlet port for receiving gas from the gas supply, an exhaust port for exhausting used gas from the control unit, and a gas chamber of the pump.

8. The pumping system according to claim 7, wherein the gas is air.

9. The pumping system according to claim 7 or 8, wherein each solenoid valve is a three stage valve.

10. The pumping system according to any one of claims 7 to 9, wherein the check valve is a unidirectional poppet valve.

11. The pumping system according to any one of claims 7 to 10, wherein the pneumatic control unit comprises:

a. a pressure mode, during which the pneumatic control unit provides pressurised gas to an gas chamber of the pump;

b. an exhaust mode, during which used gas is exhausted from the control unit; c. a vacuum mode, during which the control unit sucks gas from the gas chamber of the pump; and

d. a vacuum hold mode, during which the system retains a vacuum in the gas chamber of the pump.

12. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims wherein the system comprises at least two fluid reservoirs containing two different fluids and further comprises a mixing chamber in fluid connection with the at least one pump, wherein the mixing chamber comprises at least one inlet for receiving fluid(s) from the at least one pump and at least one outlet through which the fluids blended in the mixing chamber are provided to a product receptacle.

13. The pumping system according to claim 12, further comprising an accumulator reservoir in fluid connection with the mixing chamber, and a pressure sensor configured to sense the pressure of the accumulator reservoir or mixing chamber or both.

14. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the system comprises four pumps and at least two fluid reservoirs.

15. The pumping system according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the system is connected to at least one fluid reservoir comprising a chemical.

16. An electronic controller for use with the pumping system of any one of claims 1 to 15, wherein the electronic controller is programmed to receive input data from the data source and use the input data to control and adjust the timing of the pump phases.

17. A pneumatic control unit for use with the pumping system of any one of claims 1 to 15, wherein the pneumatic control unit comprises a pair of first and second solenoid valves, a venturi, and a check valve connected by gas circuits connected to a gas inlet port for receiving gas from the gas supply, an exhaust port for exhausting used gas from the control unit, and a gas chamber of the pump.

18. The pumping system according to claim 17, wherein each solenoid valve is a three stage valve.

19. The pumping system according to claim 17 or 18, wherein the check valve is a unidirectional poppet valve.

20. The pumping system according to any one of claims 17 to 19, wherein the pneumatic control unit comprises:

a. a pressure mode, during which the pneumatic control unit provides pressurised gas to a gas chamber of the pump;

b. an exhaust mode, during which used gas is exhausted from the control unit; c. a vacuum mode, during which the control unit sucks gas from the gas chamber of the pump; and

d. a vacuum hold mode, during which the system retains a vacuum in the gas chamber of the pump.

21. A method of using the pumping system of any one of claims 1 to 15and comprising the steps of:

a. entering input data into the data source, the input data pertaining to parameters of the system or fluid to be pumped through the system;

b. communicating the input data to the electronic controller;

c. processing the input data at the electronic controller to determine the timing of the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both of the at least one pump; and

d. activating the pneumatic controller to control the operation of the at least one pump.

22. The method according to claim 21, wherein the electronic controller calculates the length of time in which the pump should remain in the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both and holds the pump in that phase for the calculated length of time until causing the pump to move to the next phase.

Description:
A PUMPING SYSTEM AND METHOD

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the disclosure broadly relate to an electronically controlled pumping system configured to adjust and control the timing of pressure phases and vacuum phases of one or more pumps in the system. Embodiments of the disclosure also relate to a method of using the system.

BACKGROUND

Pumps provide efficient mechanisms to move fluids from one location to another. Generally, pumps are used to push fluid along a flow path, such between vessels. Sometimes, pumps are used to suck fluid along a flow path. When fluids are particularly viscous or heavy, it can be difficult for a pump to move the fluid. Often, many more strokes of a pump may be needed to pump a highly viscous fluid from point A to point B than to pump a non-viscous fluid.

Viscous fluids may come in many different forms. In one form, a viscous fluid may be a sludge or a fluid that contains a high proportion of heavy particles such as effluent. In another form, a viscous fluid may be a viscous chemical. For example, some chemical heavy fluids may include up to 45% solids.

Chemical fluids may also be difficult to pump between locations due to the regulatory requirements surrounding chemical handling. For example, it is preferred that toxic chemicals are handled as little as possible by people. It is also a common requirement that chemicals are stored in a designated area that is separate and well away from other business operations. In some situations, chemicals may be stored many metres from where they will be used. Because of the distance between the location of chemical storage and the location of use, because of the viscous nature of some chemicals, and because it is preferable that chemicals are moved with minimal human handling, it is becoming increasingly difficult to safely and effectively move chemicals.

Difficulties are also presented when mixing different fluids, such as chemicals, which is typically an additional step after moving fluids from one location to another.

It would therefore be useful to provide a pumping system that is configured to: (a) control the rate at which one or more pumps in the pumping system alternate between a pressure phase and a vacuum phase; or (b) at least provide the public with a useful alternative to existing pumping systems. SUMMARY

In a first aspect, the invention provides a pneumatic pumping system to pump at least one fluid from one location to another and comprising : a programmable electronic controller; a data source; a pneumatic controller connectable to a gas supply and configured to be activated and deactivated by the electronic controller; and at least one pump connectable to the pneumatic controller and to one or more fluid reservoirs for holding fluid to be pumped through the system. The pump is configured to operate in a pressure phase and in a vacuum phase. The electronic controller is configured to: receive input data from the data source and use the input data to control and adjust the timing of the pump phases.

In some forms, the system further comprises a pressurised gas supply. The gas supply may be a pressurised air supply.

In some forms, each pump is a pneumatically controlled diaphragm pump having a discrete volume.

In one form, the data source comprises a user interface electrically connected to the electronic controller.

In one form, the input data pertains to parameters of the system, the fluid(s) to be pumped through the system, or both.

In some forms, the input parameter pertains to the viscosity of fluid to be pumped through the system and the electronic controller is configured to, upon receiving input data pertaining to the fluid viscosity, increase or decrease the duration of the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both.

In one form, the pneumatic controller comprises at least one pneumatic control unit connected to each pump, wherein each pneumatic control unit comprises a pair of first and second solenoid valves, a venturi, and a check valve connected by gas circuits connected to a gas inlet port for receiving gas from the gas supply, an exhaust port for exhausting used gas from the control unit, and a gas chamber of the pump.

In one form, the first solenoid valve is a two stage valve and the second solenoid valve is a three stage valve.

In another form, each solenoid valve is a three stage valve.

In one form, the check valve is a unidirectional poppet valve.

In some forms, the pneumatic control unit comprises:

a. a pressure mode, during which the pneumatic control unit provides pressurised gas to the gas chamber of the pump;

b. an exhaust mode, during which used gas is exhausted from the control unit; c. a vacuum mode, during which the control unit sucks gas from the gas chamber of the pump; and

d. a vacuum hold mode, during which the system retains a vacuum in the gas chamber of the pump.

In some forms, the system comprises at least two fluid reservoirs containing two different fluids and further comprises a mixing chamber in fluid connection with the at least one pump, wherein the mixing chamber comprises at least one inlet for receiving fluid(s) from the at least one pump and at least one outlet through which the fluids blended in the mixing chamber are provided to a product receptacle.

In one form, the system further comprises an accumulator reservoir in fluid connection with the mixing chamber, and a pressure sensor configured to sense the pressure of the accumulator reservoir or mixing chamber or both.

Optionally, the system comprises four pumps and at least two fluid reservoirs.

In one form, the system is connected to at least one fluid reservoir comprising a chemical.

In a second aspect, the invention comprises an electronic controller for use with the pumping system of the invention, wherein the electronic controller is programmed to receive input data from the data source and use the input data to control and adjust the timing of the pump phases.

In a third aspect, the invention provides a pneumatic control unit for use with the pumping system of the invention, wherein the pneumatic control unit comprises a pair of first and second solenoid valves, a venturi, and a check valve connected by gas circuits connected to a gas inlet port for receiving gas from the gas supply, an exhaust port for exhausting used gas from the control unit, and a gas chamber of the pump.

In some forms, each solenoid valve is a three stage valve.

Optionally, the check valve is a unidirectional poppet valve.

In a fourth aspect, the invention provides a method of using the pumping system of the first aspect of the invention and comprises the steps of:

e. entering input data into the data source, the input data pertaining to parameters of the system or fluid to be pumped through the system;

f. communicating the input data to the electronic controller;

g. processing the input data at the electronic controller to determine the timing of the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both of the at least one pump; and h. activating the pneumatic controller to control the operation of the at least one pump.

Optionally, the electronic controller calculates the length of time in which the pump should remain in the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both and holds the pump in that phase for the calculated length of time until causing the pump to move to the next phase.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Preferred embodiments of the invention will now be described in relation to the drawings, in which:

Figure 1 is a schematic drawing of one form of pumping system according to the invention;

Figure 2 is a schematic top view of the fluid chamber of one form of diaphragm pump that may be used in the pumping system of the invention;

Figure 3 is a schematic top view of one form of diaphragm comprising a flexible membrane to be used with the diaphragm pump of Figure 2;

Figure 4 is a schematic end view of one form of diaphragm pump, comprising a fluid chamber and gas chamber separated by a flexible membrane diaphragm, suitable for use with the pumping system of the invention;

Figure 5a is a side view showing hidden detail of one form of pneumatic control unit configured for use with a single pump;

Figure 5b is an isometric view showing hidden detail of the pneumatic control unit of Figure 5a;

Figure 5c is another side view showing hidden detail of the pneumatic control unit of Figure 5a;

Figure 6a is a top view showing hidden detail of one form of pneumatic controller configured for use with four pumps and comprising four pneumatic control units - totalling eight solenoid valves;

Figure 6b is a side view of the pneumatic controller of Figure 5a and also shows hidden detail;

Figure 6c is another side view of the pneumatic controller of Figure 5a and also shows hidden detail;

Figure 6d is an isometric view of the pneumatic controller of Figure 5a and also shows hidden detail; Figure 7 is another isometric view of one form of pneumatic controller according to the invention;

Figure 8 is a diagram showing one possible gas circuit for a pneumatic control unit of the invention;

Figure 9 is a side view of one form of unidirectional valve that may be used with a pneumatic control unit of the present invention;

Figure 10a is a side view of one form of venturi that may be used with a pneumatic control unit of the present invention;

Figure 10b is a cross-sectional view of the venturi shown in Figure 8a, taken along line

P-P;

Figure 11 is a diagram showing gas flow through one form of pneumatic control unit when in pressure mode;

Figure 12 is a diagram showing gas flow through one form of pneumatic control unit when in exhaust mode;

Figure 13 is a diagram showing gas flow through one form of pneumatic control unit when in vacuum mode;

Figure 14is a diagram showing gas flow through one form of pneumatic control unit when in vacuum hold mode;

Figure 15 shows a graph of experimental results using the pumping system of the invention;

Figure 16 shows a table of raw data from experimental tests using the pumping system of the invention; and

Figure 17 shows another table of raw data from experimental tests using the pumping system of the invention; and

Figure 18 shows yet another table of raw data from experimental tests using the pumping system of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

As shown in Figures 1 to 14, the invention broadly relates to an electronically controlled pumping system configured to control the rate at which fluid is pumped from one location to another. For example, the system may be configured to control the timing that one or more pumps within the system alternate between a pressure phase (where fluid is pushed from the pump) and a vacuum phase (where fluid is sucked into the pump) . In one embodiment, the pumping system may further be configured to blend two or more fluids together as the fluids are moved between locations. By controlling the timing of the pressure phase and vacuum phase, it is also possible for the system to control the rate at which the fluids are blended together.

The pumping system may be configured to allow the timing of pressure and vacuum phases of the pump to be adjusted and controlled to move fluid efficiently through the system. For example, depending on parameters pertaining to the fluid, the system may be configured to increase or decrease the length of the pressure phase and/or vacuum phase of the pump. Where the fluid has a high viscosity and is therefore thick and slow moving, the system may be configured to adjust the length of the pressure and vacuum phases of the pump to allow sufficient time for the fluid to fill and then evacuate from a fluid chamber of the pump. In a preferred form, the pumping system is configured to make the necessary timing adjustment automatically after receiving input data pertaining to parameters of the fluid(s) to be pumped by the system.

Generally, as shown in Figure 1, the pumping system 10 comprises a programmable electronic controller 100, comprising a processor and a clock. The electronic controller is optionally connected to a user interface 200 through a wired or wireless connection. The pumping system also comprises at least one pump 300 in fluid connection with at least one fluid reservoir 400 or configured to be connectable to at least one fluid reservoir 400, such as a first vessel or a storage vessel that holds fluid to be pumped through the system 10. At least one inlet tube 310 may connect the fluid reservoir 400 to a fluid inlet of the pump 300. Each pump 300 is also in fluid connection with, or configured to be connectable to, a product receptacle/destination member, such as a second vessel or sprayer (not shown) that receives fluid pumped through the system 10. At least one discharge tube 20 may connect the product receptacle to a fluid outlet of the pump 300.

The programmable electronic controller 100 is configured to receive input data from a data source 200. In one form, the data source comprises the user interface 200. Alternatively or additionally, the system may comprise a remote data source, such as a sensor, or a computerised device, such as a smartphone or personal computer, that provides input data to the electronic controller 100.

The system 10 may be configured to allow the timing/rate of operation of each pump (that is, the duration of the inlet and outlet phase) to be set by an operator via the user interface or remote data source and/or the system may be configured to allow the rate of operation to be set by the programmable electronic controller 100 after receiving input data pertaining to parameters of the fluid.

In some forms, the input data may be input by an operator via the user interface 200 or remote data source, or the input data may comprise signals from a sensor that are received by the controller and converted to data to allow the controller to set the rate of operation of the pump(s). The input data pertains to parameters of the system and/or fluid(s) to be moved through the system and may include any parameters that effect the ease at which fluid can be pumped through the system.

Where the system 10 comprises a single pump 300 for pumping a single type of fluid from a single fluid reservoir, the electronic controller 100 is configured to receive input data relating to that fluid, which is used by the controller 100 to control the timing of the pressure phase and vacuum phase of the pump 300 when moving that fluid through the system 10. Where the system 10 comprises two or more pumps 300 for moving two or more types of fluid through the system 10 from two or more fluid reservoirs 400, the electronic controller 100 may receive input data relating to each type of fluid. The controller 100 uses the input data to calculate the optimum timing of the pressure phase and/or vacuum phase of each individual pump 300 and to individually control the timing of the pressure phase and/or vacuum phase of each pump 300. For example, where fluid pumped by a first pump is thicker than fluid pumped by a second pump, the controller may increase the length of each phase of the first pump to help ensure that the first pump is filled with fluid during the vacuum phase and fully emptied of fluid during the pressure phase.

In embodiments where the system 10 is configured to pump fluid from two or more separate fluid reservoirs, a separate pump may be used for each fluid reservoir and one or more separate tubes 310 may be used to connect each pump to a respective fluid reservoir 400. Alternatively, two or more pumps may be connected to one fluid reservoir and separate pumps may be connected to other fluid reservoirs. For example, in the embodiment shown in Figure 1, the pumping system 10 comprises four pumps 300. The fluid inlet of each of pumps 1 and 2 is connected to a respective inlet tube 310a, 310b, both of which are connected with a first fluid reservoir 400a containing water. The fluid inlet of pump 3 is connected to an inlet tube 310c, which is connected to a second fluid reservoir 400b, containing chemical fluid 1. Similarly, the fluid inlet of pump 4 is connected to an inlet tube 310d, which is connected to a third fluid reservoir 400c, containing chemical fluid 2. In some forms, the pumps may be configured to pump the fluids to a mixing chamber 500 where the fluids can be mixed together. This arrangement allows fluid (which may include different types of fluid) from different fluid reservoirs/sources to be simultaneously blended together to form a mixture as it is pumped through the system 10.

In some embodiments, as shown in Figure 1, the system may comprise a mixing chamber 500 that receives fluid pumped from the fluid reservoir(s) 400 and mixes the fluid together. In this embodiment, the fluid outlets of each pump are connected to one or more fluid inlets of the mixing chamber 500. The mixing chamber 500 also comprises at least one fluid outlet connected to the outlet/discharge tube 20. In a preferred form, as shown in Figure 1, the mixing chamber 500 is a cylindrical manifold that connects the fluid components of the system 10 together. In some forms, the pumps 300 are preferably connected in a regular array and may optionally be arranged along the bottom of the mixing chamber 500.

Where the pumping system 10 comprises a mixing chamber 500, the system 10 may also comprise an accumulator/pressure reservoir 550, to receive fluid overflow from the mixing chamber 500. At least one pressure sensor 150 may be connected to or located within the mixing chamber and may be configured to measure pressure of the mixing chamber 500 and provide pressure readings to the electronic controller 100. In a preferred form, the accumulator reservoir 550 and fluid pressure sensor 150 may be connected to the top of the mixing chamber 500. Optionally, the accumulator reservoir 550 and the fluid pressure sensor 150 are located substantially centrally on the mixing chamber 500, relative to the array of pumps, to aid consistent blending of the fluids.

An outlet valve 510 may be located between the mixing chamber 500 and the product receptacle. For example, an outlet valve may be located at the fluid outlet of the mixing chamber 500, along the outlet tube 20, or at the product receptacle.

When pumps dispense fluid into the mixing chamber 500 when the outlet valve is closed, the fluid pressure within the mixing chamber increases and fluid is pushed into the overflow reservoir 550, causing an increase in both fluid pressure and air pressure within the reservoir 550. Pressure sensor(s) 150 provide pressure data to the electronic controller. Once the system reaches its target pressure, the electronic controller stops the pressure phase of the pumps until the pressure sensor(s) 150 in the accumulator reservoir 550 has dropped below the target pressure.

The pump(s) 300 used in the pumping system 10 may be any suitable form of pump, such as a positive displacement pump. Preferably, each pump 300 is a pneumatically controlled diaphragm pump comprising a body 301having an interior that is divided into two chambers of substantially equal volume, as shown in Figures 2 to 4. One of the two chambers forms a gas/air chamber 302, for receiving gas such as air or any other suitable gas, and the other chamber forms a fluid chamber 303. The fluid chamber may be configured to hold a discrete volume of fluid within a channel 303a. The gas chamber 302 and fluid chamber 303 are separated by a diaphragm 305, such as a flexible membrane, as shown in Figures 3 and 4. The diaphragm may be attached to the gas chamber 302, the fluid chamber 303, or both by any suitable arrangement, such as by using connectors 306. In one form, the pump body 301and interior may be substantially cylindrical and each chamber 302, 303 may form a longitudinal hemisphere extending substantially along the length of the pump, as shown in Figure 4.

In a preferred form, the fluid chamber 303 comprises two check valves (not shown). The first check valve forms a fluid inlet valve that allows fluid to flow into the fluid chamber 303, such as into the channel 303a at pump inlet 303b. The second check valve forms a fluid outlet valve that allows fluid to flow out of the fluid chamber 303, such as out of the channel 303a at pump outlet 303c. In a preferred form, each check valve is a poppet valve.

The gas chamber 302 comprises a gas connection port (such as an air connection port where the gas is air) through which gas may pass into and out of the gas chamber 302. Gas, such as air, flows into the gas chamber 302 when the pump is in a pressure phase and gas, such as air, flows out of the gas chamber 302 when the pump is in a vacuum phase.

When gas flows into the gas chamber 302 under the pressure phase, the gas pressure pushes the diaphragm 305 into at least a portion of the fluid chamber 303, which temporarily decreases the volume of the fluid chamber 303 and pushes fluid from the fluid chamber through the fluid chamber outlet valve and out of the pump 300. Conversely, when gas flows out of the gas chamber 302 under the vacuum phase, the gas pressure in the gas chamber 302 lowers, which sucks the diaphragm into at least a portion of the gas chamber 302. This movement of the diaphragm 305 temporarily increases the volume of the fluid chamber 303 and creates a vacuum, which sucks fluid from the fluid reservoir 400 and into the fluid chamber of the pump 300, ready for the next pressure phase.

In preferred embodiments, gas supply to and from each pump 300 is controlled by a pneumatic controller. For example, returning to the embodiment shown in Figure 1, the pumping system 10 may comprise a pressurised gas/air supply 600, such as a gas compressor/ air compressor, connected to a pneumatic controller 700. A regulator 800 may be used to regulate gas supply between the compressor 600 and the pneumatic controller 700.

The pneumatic controller 700 is electrically connected to the electronic controller 100. The pneumatic controller 700 is also connected to each pump 300 by gas/air supply lines 710 so that the pneumatic controller 700 comprises one or more gas/air circuits.

The pneumatic controller 700 may comprise a pneumatic control block/unit 701 for each pump in the system 10. For example, where the system 10 comprises one pump 300, the pneumatic controller 700 may comprise one pneumatic control block/unit 701, as shown in Figures 5a to 5c. Similarly, where the system 10 comprises four pumps 300, the pneumatic controller 700 may comprise four control blocks/units 701, each control unit 701 being connected to a respective pump 300 via a gas supply line 710, as shown in Figures 6a to 6d and Figure 7to form a control unit and pump pair. The electronic controller 100 may comprise one or more processors to activate and control one or more control units 701 of the pneumatic controller 700. For example, a single processor may be used to control all control units 701 or the electronic controller 100 may comprise multiple processors, where each processor is configured to activate and control one or more control units 701. Each pneumatic control unit 701 comprises valves connected by a gas circuit and also comprises an exhaust 720 through which return gas from the gas circuit can be emitted from the system 10, preferably to atmosphere.

Figure 8 shows one form of gas circuit that may be used with a pneumatic control unit.

The pneumatic control units 701 may be located within a first housing, forming the pneumatic controller 700. In some forms, the pneumatic controller 700 and electronic controller 100 may both be located within a second housing 30. Optionally, the regulator 800, accumulator reservoir 550 and pressure sensor 150 may also be located in the second housing 30. In one form, the user interface 200 may be mounted on the second housing 30. In this form, the user interface 200 may be electrically connected to the electronic controller 100.

The pneumatic controller 700 is used to control gas supply to and from each pneumatic pump 300 individually.

In one embodiment, as shown in Figures 5a to 6d and Figure 7, each pneumatic control unit 701 comprises at least two solenoid valves 730 that are controlled by the electronic controller 100 and that effect movement of the pump(s) 300. In one form, the first solenoid valve is a two way/stage valve and the second solenoid valve is a three way/stage valve. Preferably, each solenoid valve 730 is a three way valve, comprising three stages: 731, 732, and 733. In the embodiment illustrated, stage one 731 is the upper stage; stage two 732 is the middle stage; and stage three 733 is the lower stage of the solenoid valve. The pneumatic control unit 701 also comprises a venturi 740 and a third valve. The third valve is a unidirectional valve/check valve. Preferably, the third valve is a biased, unidirectional poppet valve 750, as shown in Figure 9, although other suitable unidirectional valves may be used instead. Similarly, any suitable type of venturi may be used with the control unit 701. One form of suitable venturi is shown in 10a and 10b.

The pneumatic control unit 701further comprises one or more pump connection ports 760 that are each configured to connect the gas chamber 302 of a respective pump 300 to the gas supply circuits of the pneumatic control unit 701. In one form, each pump connection port 760 connects to the gas connection port of the respective pump 300. Each pump connection port 760 is configured to alternately suck gas from the gas chamber 302 of the respective pump 300 during a vacuum phase and push gas into the gas chamber 302 of the respective pump 300 during a pressure phase.

A preferred configuration of a pneumatic control unit will now be described.

Stage one 731a of the first solenoid valve 730a is in fluid communication with the first end 751 of the poppet valve 750 via gas flow path 51. Stage two 732a of the first solenoid valve 730a connects to the pump connection port 760 that connects to the gas connection port of a respective pump 300. Stage three 733a of the first solenoid valve 730a connects to stage one 731b of the second solenoid valve 730b via a gas flow path 52.

Stage two 732b of the second solenoid valve730b is connected to a gas inlet 770 that receives gas from the gas supply/gas compressor 600. Stage three 733b of the second solenoid valve 730b is connected to a first venturi inlet 741 of the venturi 740 via a gas flow path 53.

The venturi 740 directs gas flow through a gas flow path 744 in its hollow body and through an outlet 743 of the venturi 740 to create suction. The venturi outlet 743 is connected to the pneumatic controller exhaust port780, which optionally runs parallel with the gas inlet 770.

The unidirectional poppet valve 750 comprises a first end 751 and a second end 752, as shown in Figures 5b, 5c and 9. The poppet valve 750 is configured to move between an open position and a closed position. A biasing member 753, such as a spring, tension member, or the like, at least partially encases a portion of the poppet valve 750. At a first end, the spring 753 presses against a collar 754 of the poppet valve. At a second end, the biasing member or spring 753 presses against a base member 755 inserted into the base of the first housing 701 to bias the valve closed, so that it will only open when a pressure is applied to it in the direction of gas flow. The poppet valve 750 is connected to a second venturi inlet 742 to direct gas flow from the poppet valve 750 to the venturi 740.

The direction of gas flowing through the pneumatic control unit 701 varies depending on the state of the first solenoid valve and second solenoid valve. By controlling the direction of gas flowing through the gas circuits in the system 10, the system 10 controls the timing of the pressure and vacuum phases of the pump(s).

The gas circuits have four modes of operation :

• Pressure mode;

• Exhaust mode;

• Vacuum mode; and

• Vacuum hold mode.

Each of these modes will be discussed in turn in relation to the operation of a single pump for the sake of simplicity. However, it should be appreciated that the same process applies when the system includes two or more pumps. In such embodiments, for each pump 300, the pneumatic control unit 701comprises a first solenoid valve 730a, a second solenoid valve 730b, a venturi 740 and a check valve or poppet valve 750 connected together along gas flow paths 51, 52, 53 (as described above) and connected to the respective pump 300 via a respective pump connection port 760. Referring back to Figures 5a to 5c, the process of converting between modes will now be described in relation to a pneumatic control unit for connection to and operation of a single pump. The same process may be followed for each pneumatic control unit 701 in the pneumatic controller 700. In this arrangement, in pressure mode, the second solenoid valve 730b is deactivated. The electronic controller 100 activates the first solenoid valve 730a to cause pressurised gas to flow from the gas supply 600, through the inlet 770 and into the second stage 732b of the second solenoid valve 730b. Gas then flows to the first stage 731b of the second solenoid valve, along a first gas flow path 52 to the third stage 733a of the first solenoid valve 730a. The gas flows from the third stage 733a to the second stage 732a and into the gas chamber 302 of the pump 300 via pump connection port 760. The direction of gas flow is indicated in Figure 11.

As above, the increased gas pressure in the gas chamber 302 pushes the diaphragm of the pump at least partially into the adjacent fluid chamber 303. This reduces the volume of the fluid chamber 303, thereby pushing fluid out of the fluid chamber 303 and out of the pump 300. In effect, during pressure mode, gas is taken from the gas supply 600 and pushed into the gas chamber 302 of the pump to eject fluid from the fluid chamber 303 of the pump 300 and through the system, such as into the mixing chamber 500.Therefore, when the pneumatic control unit is in pressure mode, the pump is in a pressure phase.

Pressure mode is followed by exhaust mode.

In exhaust mode, as shown in Figure 12, the first solenoid valve 730a is deactivated by the electronic controller 100 and the second solenoid valve 730b remains deactivated. In this mode, remaining gas in the gas chamber 302 of the pump is able to flow through the pneumatic control unit and exhaust through the exhaust port 780. For example, gas flows from the gas chamber 302 of the pump 300, through the pump connection port 760 to which the pump is connected, through the second stage 732a of the first solenoid valve 730a to the first stage 731a and then through the poppet valve 750 to the venturi 740 via the second gas flow path 51 and the second venturi inlet. Gas then flows through the venturi 740 and out of the exhaust port 780 to the atmosphere. In this way, the gas chamber 302 of the pump 300 is depressurised. When the pneumatic control unit is in exhaust mode, the pump is in a transition phase, as it transitions between a pressure phase and a vacuum phase.

Exhaust mode is followed by vacuum mode.

In vacuum mode, as shown in Figure 13, the first solenoid valve 730a remains deactivated and the electronic controller 100 activates the second solenoid valve 730b. This allows pressurised gas from the gas supply 600 to flow through the inlet 770, through the second solenoid valve from the second stage 732b to the third stage 733b and into the venturi 740 via the first venturi inlet 741 that is connected to the third stage 733b. The gas flows through the venturi 740 from the inlet 741 to the exhaust 780 via venturi outlet 743, creating a vacuum at the second venturi inlet 742. The vacuum sucks gas from the gas chamber 302 of the pump, through the pump connection port 760, through the first solenoid valve 730a, through the unidirectional poppet valve 750 and into the venturi 740 via the second venturi inlet 742, until the system 10 is balanced in a vacuum equilibrium. In equilibrium, the gas flows along the gas flow path until the vacuum pressure in the pump gas chamber is equal to the vacuum pressure created at the venturi. Once this point of equal pressure is reached, the gas pressure along the gas flow path is balanced and the gas no longer flows. The system is now in a static state of equilibrium. Gas flowing through the venturi is ejected from a venturi outlet 743 and then from the system 10 via the exhaust port 780. When the pneumatic control unit is in vacuum mode, the pump is in a vacuum phase.

Vacuum mode is optionally followed by vacuum hold mode. Although the system may switch between vacuum mode and pressure mode instantly, without using the vacuum hold mode, it is generally more efficient for the system to transition to pressure mode via the vacuum hold mode. This is because the venturi 740 uses a significant volume of compressed gas to generate a vacuum. One the vacuum is generated, the venturi 740 can be stopped so that it no longer consumes gas from the gas inlet. The vacuum in the pump 300 will be retained by the poppet valve 750 for a period of time sufficient to allow the pump fluid chamber to fill.

In vacuum hold mode, as shown in Figure 14, the first solenoid valve 730a remains deactivated and the second solenoid valve 730b is deactivated. The gas chamber 302 of the pump 300 remains in a state of vacuum because it is prevented from sucking gas from the gas supply 600 by the unidirectional check valve/poppet valve 750. In effect, gas ceases to flow in the gas circuits of the pneumatic control unit 701. When the pneumatic control unit is in vacuum hold mode, the pump 300 remains in a vacuum phase.

The electronic controller 100 controls operation of the solenoid valves 730 of the pneumatic controller 700 to adjust and control the timing of the pressure phase and vacuum phase of each pump 300 in the pumping system 10.

The electronic controller is configured to receive input data, which includes data relating to system parameters and/or fluid parameters.

System parameters may include, but are not limited to: target pressure of fluid within the system fluid outlet or within the mixing chamber; fluid ratio for creating fluid mixtures in the mixing chamber; and individual pump parameters, including, but are not limited to: gas chamber volume; fluid chamber volume; fluid inlet tube length (i.e. the length of the tube between the reservoir and fluid chamber inlet); fluid outlet tube length (i.e. the length of the tube between the fluid chamber outlet, or between the mixing chamber, and the product receptacle; the length of tube between the gas supply and the gas chamber; the diameter of the tube between the gas supply and the gas chamber; the length of tube between the gas chamber and the gas exhaust port; and the diameter of the tube between the gas chamber and the gas exhaust port.

Fluid parameters may include, but are not limited to: the type of fluid; the viscosity of fluid; and the temperature of fluid.

The electronic controller 100 may be configured to receive any or all of the system parameters and fluid parameters.

In the method of using the system 10, the electronic controller 100 receives input data from a data source, such as by an operator entering data into the data source, where the data pertains to the system parameters and/or fluid parameters. The electronic controller 100 is programmed to use that data to adjust and control each pneumatic control unit 701 and therefore to control the operation of each pump 300 individually within the system 10.

For example, the method of using the system 10 of the invention may include entering input data into the data source, where the input data pertains to parameters of the system or fluid to be pumped through the system. The input data is then communicated to the electronic controller either through a wired electrical connection or wirelessly through remote communication, such as Bluetooth or radio waves, for example. The electronic controller comprises a processor that may comprise a timer, such as a clock. The processor processes the input data to determine the timing of the pressure phase, the vacuum phase, or both of each pump individually. Where the system comprises more than one pump, the electronic controller may comprise a designated processor for each pump and pneumatic control unit pair. The electronic controller may use the timer or clock to control the timed operations. For example, the electronic controller may increase the length of one or both phases or may increase the transition time between phases. The electronic controller may achieve this by adjusting the timing of any one or more of the: pressure mode, exhaust mode, vacuum mode, and vacuum hold mode of the pneumatic control units. In effect, the electronic controller activates the pneumatic controller (and therefore the pneumatic control unit(s) within the pneumatic controller) to control the operation of each pump. For example, the processor for each pump 300 receives the input data and calculates the optimum length of time for each pressure phase, or vacuum phase, or both of the pump 300 and may also calculate the optimum length of time for each transition phase between the consecutive pressure phases and vacuum phases. Based on these calculations, the pump 300 may be placed in the pressure phase for n milliseconds, where n is any number greater than zero and may be pre- programmed into the processor or may be calculated by the processor based on the received input data. To place the pump 300 in the pressure phase, the processor activates the first solenoid valve 730a, while the second solenoid valve 730b is deactivated, until the timer or clock determines that n milliseconds have been reached and signals to the processor that the time is complete. While the first solenoid valve 730a is activated and the second solenoid valve 730b is deactivated, the pneumatic control unit is placed in pressure mode to thereby place the pump 300 in the pressure phase.

Next, the processor causes the pneumatic control unit to enter into the exhaust phase for o milliseconds, where o is any number greater than zero and may be pre-programmed into the processor or may be calculated by the processor based on the received input data. The processor causes the control unit to enter into the exhaust phase by deactivating the first solenoid valve 730a, so that both the first and second solenoid valves 730a, 730b are deactivated for o milliseconds. The timer or clock signals to the processor when the time is complete.

The processor then causes the pneumatic control unit to enter into the vacuum phase for p milliseconds, where p is any number greater than zero and may be pre-programmed into the processor or may be calculated by the processor based on the received input data. To place the pump 300 in the vacuum stage, the processor activates the second solenoid valve 730b, while the first solenoid valve 730a remains deactivated, until the timer or clock determines that p milliseconds have been reached and signals to the processor that the time is complete. While the second solenoid valve 730b is activated and the first solenoid valve 730a is deactivated, the pneumatic control unit is placed in vacuum mode to thereby place the pump 300 in the vacuum phase.

The processor may then cause the pneumatic control unit to enter into the vacuum hold phase for q milliseconds, where q is any number equal to or greater than zero and may be pre-programmed into the processor or may be calculated by the processor based on the received input data. Where q = 0, the processor will cause the pump 300 to immediately switch from the vacuum phase to the pressure phase. To place the control unit in the vacuum hold mode, the processor deactivates both the first and second solenoid valves 730a, 730b, until the timer or clock determines that q milliseconds have been reached and signals to the processor that the time is complete. While the solenoid valves 730a, 730b are deactivated and the pneumatic control unit is placed in vacuum hold mode, the pump 300 remains in the vacuum phase.

After q milliseconds have been reached, the cycle continues and the processor causes the control unit to enter into the pressure mode to thereby cause the pump 300 to enter into the pressure phase.

In one example, as shown in Figure 1, the system 10 includes four pumps 300 connected to three fluid reservoirs 400a, 400b, 400c and four pneumatic control units 701. The electronic controller 1 may be programmed to identify that pumps 1 and 2 connect to the first fluid reservoir 400a and pneumatic control units 1 and 2; pump 3 connects to the second fluid reservoir 400b and pneumatic control unit 3; and pump 4 connects to the third fluid reservoir 400c and pneumatic control unit 4. The system also includes a user interface 200. An operator uses the user interface 200 to select each reservoir 400 and to enter the type of fluid in each reservoir 400 and/or the viscosity of fluid in each reservoir. Where the type of fluid is entered without its viscosity, the electronic controller 100 may retrieve viscosity data relating to that type of fluid from a library stored within or connected to and accessible by the controller 100. In some embodiments, the operator may input data that identifies which pump 300 is connected to which fluid reservoir 400.

Based on the system parameters and fluid parameters, the electronic controller 100 uses an algorithm, that has been programmed into the controller 100, to adjust and control the time of each mode of operation of the pneumatic control units within the pneumatic controller 700, which in turn controls the timing of the pressure and vacuum phases of each pump 300 individually.

The same method of use applies where the system 10 includes a single pump 300 and a single fluid reservoir 400.

Where the system of the invention comprises a mixing chamber to blend two or more fluids from two or more fluid reservoirs, the electronic controller can be used to control the timing of each pump 300 in order to create a mixture having predetermined ratio of each fluid.

In this embodiment, the electronic controller 100 monitors the pressure of fluid in the mixing chamber 500 using the pressure sensor 150. When the fluid pressure drops below a predetermined threshold, the electronic controller activates the pneumatic control units 701 to cause the pumps 300 to dispense discrete, controlled volumes of fluid into the mixing chamber until the predetermined target fluid pressure is reached. As the fluid pressure in the mixing chamber increases during this process, fluid may overflow into the fluid pressure/accumulator reservoir. The pressurised fluid within the mixing chamber 500 blends together and is then supplied to the product receptacle via the outlet/discharge tube by opening the outlet valve.

The system and method of the invention also allow for two or more fluids to be mixed together in a controlled manner to provide a mixture having a desired fluid ratio.

In some forms, the processor may be configured to control the duration of the mixing of fluids in the system, so that the system may be used for batch mixing and for continuous mixing, depending on selection by the user.

In some forms, the processor may be configured to time the sequencing of the pumps so that two or more pumps perform the same operations simultaneously or so that at least one pump is configured to begin a pumping operation at a predetermined time period after another of the pumps begins a pumping operation. In some embodiments, the processor is programmed to control the timing of the output phases of the pumps to sequence the output phases so that the output phase of one pump follows the output phase of the other pump and avoids the scenario where the output phases of the pumps are simultaneous.

In some forms, one or more of the fluid reservoirs may comprise a level sensor to sense the fluid level within the reservoir 400. The level sensor may be configured to send sensed data to the electronic controller 100, which may be programmed to generate an alert if the sensed fluid level is below a predetermined level. The alert indicates to a user that the fluid reservoir needs to be refilled or replaced. The alert may be a visual alert, such as a light or image that is displayed on the user interface or on the reservoir or elsewhere in the system, and/or the alert may be an audio alert. In another form, the electronic controller may be programmed to generate a visual and/or audio alert, to alert a user that a reservoir needs to be refilled or replaced, based on the swept volume of the pump(s) and the duration and speed of operation of the pump(s) connected to that reservoir. For example, if pump A is connected to reservoir B and has been operating at speed x for y minutes, such that it is expected that only 10% of fluid remains in reservoir B then the controller may generate an alert to a user to refill or replace reservoir B.

In some forms, the electronic controller may be configured to stop operation of the pumps if pressure readings within the system fall below a predetermined threshold, so as to indicate a leak.

In some forms, the system may be configured to be calibrated.

The following experimental data provides test results taken from experiments conducted by operating the system of the invention using different parameters.

Experimental Aim

To test the effect that inlet and outlet parameters have on the volume of fluid dispensed for fluids of different viscosity by pneumatically operated diaphragm pumps. Parameters to test are:

• Fluid inlet tube length and diameter

• Fluid outlet tube length and diameter

• Fluid viscosity

• Inlet and outlet phase timing

Setup a pump with the pump fluid inlet connected to a length of inlet tube and the pump fluid outlet connected to a length of outlet tube. The inlet tube should draw from a vessel of sample fluid that is of a known viscosity. The outlet should dispense into a measuring flask, or along a linear tube that can be measured. Data is to be collected for differing lengths of inlet and outlet tubes. For each tube combination, collect measurements of the volume dispensed under different timing parameters.

The pump is to be operated by a device which allows the inlet and outlet phases to be adjusted.

To test the effect of gas tube length, pump performance will be measured using gas tubes of different lengths. A sensor will be used to graph the pressure at the connection point of the pump so that the pump performance results can be analysed in a time-pressure graph. This should make it possible to create a computer model of gas pressure in systems with different tube lengths.

Results

Inlet Tube Experiment with a 5ml Fluid Chamber Pump

Measure the inlet phase cycle volume based on length of fluid travel, for different tube lengths with a thin fluid (Water), medium fluid (Alkali), and a thick fluid (Acid concentrate). The results are graphed in Figure 15.

The raw data is outlined in Table 1 shown in Figure 16.

Outlet Tube Experiment with a 5ml Fluid Chamber Pump

Measure the outlet phase cycle volume based on length of fluid travel, for different tube lengths with a thin fluid (Water), medium fluid (Alkali), and a thick fluid (Acid concentrate).

The raw data is provided in Table 2 shown in Figure 17.

Air Tube Experiment with a 5ml Fluid Chamber Pump

Measure the air tube period required to achieve equilibrium for different lengths of tube. Compare results to values calculated by the computer model.

The raw data is provided in Table 3 shown in Figure 18.

Discussion

Phase Timing for inlet and outlet

It was determined that the phase timing for inlet and outlet phases are generally distinct values that do not significantly interact with each other. The inlet phase determines the amount of time that is allowed for fluid to flow into the fluid chamber of the pump. The time that the process takes is generally directly related to the vacuum pressure applied, inlet tube length and diameter, and fluid viscosity. Similarly, the time that the fluid outlet process takes is generally directly related to the pressure applied, outlet tube length and diameter, and fluid viscosity. The results also found that the air tube length between the controlled pressurised air supply and the fluid chamber of the pump affects the inlet and outlet phases only as a function of pressure applied. If sufficient time is allowed, the air pressure in the system reaches an equilibrium. Similarly, the air tube length does not affect inlet and outlet timing. If sufficient time is not allowed for the air pressure system to reach equilibrium then the pressure and vacuum applied to the pump will be reduced and that will increase the time taken by the fluid inlet and fluid outlet processes.

The results found that these systems can be accurately modelled using the Hagen- Poiseuille equation for calculating a pressure drop through a long cylindrical pipe of constant cross-section. The time taken for the controlled air pressure system to reach equilibrium can be calculated through the integration of this equation. Similarly, the time period of the inlet and outlet processes can also be calculated by the integration of this equation along with an experimentally derived pressure-flow model of the pump.

The system and method of the invention allow for efficient and controlled movement of fluid through the system, regardless of parameters that may otherwise effect the ease with which it is possible to pump fluid from one location to another.

The foregoing description of the invention includes preferred forms thereof. Modifications may be made thereto without departing from the scope of the invention.

The term 'comprising' as used in this specification means 'consisting at least in part of'. When interpreting each statement in this specification that includes the term 'comprising', features other than that or those prefaced by the term may also be present. Related terms such as 'comprise' and 'comprises' are to be interpreted in the same manner.

Where, in the foregoing description reference has been made to integers or components having known equivalents thereof, those integers or components are herein incorporated as if individually set forth.

The disclosed methods, apparatus and systems may also be said broadly to comprise the parts, elements and features referred to or indicated in the disclosure, individually or collectively, in any or all combinations of two or more of said parts, elements or features.

Recitation of ranges herein is merely intended to serve as a shorthand method of referring individually to each separate sub-range or value falling within the range, unless otherwise indicated herein, and each separate sub-range or value is incorporated into the specification as if it were individually recited herein.

Reference to any prior art in this specification is not, and should not be taken as, an acknowledgement or any form of suggestion that that prior art forms part of the common general knowledge in the field of endeavour in any country in the world. Certain features, aspects and advantages of some configurations of the present disclosure have been described with reference to use of the pumping system and controller to move chemicals from one location to another. However, certain features, aspects and advantages of the use of the pumping system and controller as described may be advantageously be used with other fluids that need to be moved between different locations.

Although the present disclosure has been described in terms of certain embodiments, other embodiments apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art also are within the scope of this disclosure. Thus, various changes and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the disclosure. For instance, various components may be repositioned as desired. Moreover, not all of the features, aspects and advantages are necessarily required to practice the present disclosure. Accordingly, the scope of the present disclosure is intended to be defined only by the claims that follow.