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Title:
SCALE-BASED CUSTOMER QUEUEING SYSTEM
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/044666
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A scale-based customer queueing system includes a ticket dispense machine with an associated controller, and a plurality of scales within a store department. Each of the scales includes a weigh station for receiving items to be weighed, an operator interface configured to display information associated with scale operations, a customer facing interface for displaying information to customers and a controller operatively coupled to the operator interface to effect display of information thereon and to the customer interface to effect display of information thereon. The controller of a first scale of the plurality of scales is configured to operate the first scale as a master queuing scale that communicates with both the ticket dispense machine and the remaining scales of the plurality of scales to carry out a customer queueing system.

Inventors:
DAVIS, Robert, S. (155 Harlem AvenueGlenview, IL, 60025, US)
BLANKLEY, Randy, L. (155 Harlem AvenueGlenview, IL, 60025, US)
JACKSON, David, K. (155 Harlem AvenueGlenview, IL, 60025, US)
SWIFT, Aaron, T. (155 Harlem AvenueGlenview, IL, 60025, US)
DAVIS, Ian, C. (155 Harlem AvenueGlenview, IL, 60025, US)
Application Number:
US2017/048323
Publication Date:
March 08, 2018
Filing Date:
August 24, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ILLINOIS TOOL WORKS INC. (155 Harlem Avenue, Glenview, IL, 60025, US)
International Classes:
G01G19/414; G07C11/00
Domestic Patent References:
WO2004061783A12004-07-22
Foreign References:
GB2300509A1996-11-06
US7041915B22006-05-09
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
NIEBERDING, Michael J. et al. (Thompson Hine LLP, 10050 Innovation DriveSuite 40, Dayton OH, 45342-4934, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A scale-based customer queueing system, comprising:

a ticket dispense machine with an associated controller;

a plurality of scales within a store department, each of the scales including a weigh station for receiving items to be weighed, an operator interface configured to display information associated with scale operations, a customer facing interface for displaying information to customers and a controller operatively coupled to the operator interface to effect display of information thereon and to the customer interface to effect display of information thereon;

wherein the controller of a first scale of the plurality of scales is configured to operate the first scale as a master queuing scale that communicates with both the ticket dispense machine and the remaining scales of the plurality of scales to carry out a customer queueing system.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein:

each of the scales and the ticket dispense machine are connected to a store communications network and the first scale communicates with the remaining scales and the ticket dispense machine over the store communications network.

3. The system of claim 1, wherein:

the controller of the first scale is configured to (i) send queue numbers to the ticket dispense machine for dispensing and (ii) send queue numbers to each of the remaining scales for display on the customer interface of each of the remaining scales.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein:

the controller of the first scale is configured to (i) maintain a running list of queue numbers dispensed by the ticket dispense machine and (ii) assign queue numbers from the running list among the scales in a mutually exclusive manner such that, at any given time, each scale has an assigned queue number that is different than that of any of the other scales.

5. The system of claim 4, wherein:

the controller of the first scale is configured to (iii) update the assigned queue number for each of the remaining scales based upon receipt of a next queue number request from the given scale.

6. The system of claim 5, wherein:

the controller of each of the remaining scales controls the operator interface of the remaining scale to display a triggerable queue number request button that, when triggered by an operator, causes the controller of the remaining scale to send the next queue number request to the first scale.

7. The system of claim 1, further comprising:

a stand-alone display device, including a display screen, in the store department; wherein the controller of the first scale is configured to communicate queue data to the stand-alone display device for display on the display screen.

8. The system of claim 7, wherein the queue data communicated from the first scale to the stand-alone display device includes a highest queue number assigned to one of the scales and a current queue size.

9. The system of claim 8, wherein the queue data communicated from the first scale to the stand-alone device includes an expected wait time in the queue.

10. The system of claim 1, wherein the ticket dispense machine includes a display screen and the controller of the first scale is configured to communicate queue data to the ticket dispense machine for display on the display screen, and the queue data

communicated to the ticket dispense machine includes a highest queue number assigned to one of the scales and a current queue size.

11. A weighing and pricing scale adapted to enable a customer queueing system, comprising:

a weigh station for receiving items to be weighed, an operator interface for displaying information associated with scale operations, a customer facing interface for displaying information to customers and a controller operatively coupled to the operator interface to effect display of information thereon and to the customer interface to effect display of information thereon,

wherein the controller is configured with an enablable customer queuing mode, where the enablable customer queuing mode includes both a master queuing sub-mode and slave queuing sub-mode and the master queuing sub-mode and the slave queuing sub-mode are mutually exclusive.

12. The scale of claim 11 wherein:

in the master queuing sub-mode the controller operates to (i) maintain a running list of queue numbers that have been provided to customers, (ii) assign queue numbers from the running list to one or more devices upon receipt of a queue number request from each of the one or more devices and (iii) assign queue numbers from the running list to itself according to queue number requests made via the operator interface and effect display of its currently assigned queue number on the customer interface;

in the slave queuing sub-mode the controller operates to request queue numbers from another device and display its currently assigned queue number on the customer interface.

13. A scale-based customer queueing system, comprising:

a first scale according to claim 11, the controller of the first scale having its queuing mode enabled and its master queuing sub-mode enabled;

a second scale according to claim 11, the controller of the second scale having its queuing mode enabled and its slave queuing sub-mode enabled; and

a third scale according to claim 11, the controller of the third scale having its queuing mode enabled and its slave queuing sub-mode enabled.

14. The system of claim 13, wherein the first scale operates to (i) maintain a running list of queue numbers provided to customers and (ii) assign queue numbers from the running list between at least the first, second and third scales such that, at any given time, each of the first, second, third scales has an assigned queue number that is different than that of the others of the first, second and third scales.

15. A method of carrying out a scale-based customer queuing system in a perishable food department of a store that includes a plurality of scales within the perishable food department, each of the scales including a weigh station for receiving items to be weighed, an operator interface configured to display information associated with scale operations, a customer facing interface for displaying information to customers and a controller operatively coupled to the operator interface to effect display of information thereon and to the customer interface to effect display of information thereon, the method comprising: configuring one scale of the plurality of scales as a master queuing scale;

configuring remaining scales of the plurality of scales as slave queuing scales; the master queuing scale operating to maintain a running list of queue numbers provided to customers and assign queue numbers from the running list to itself and the slave queuing scales according to queue number requests in a mutually exclusive manner such that, at any given time, the master queuing scale and the slave queuing scales each have an assigned queue number that is different than that of an of the other scales;

each of the master queuing scale and the slave queuing scales operating to display its respective assigned queue number on its customer interface.

16. The method of claim 15, further comprising:

the master queuing scale operating to provide queue numbers to a ticket dispense machine and, upon dispense by the ticket dispense machine of a ticket with a given queue number, to add the given queue number to the running list.

17. The method of claim 15, further comprising:

the master queuing scale operating to provide queue data to a stand-alone display device in the perishable food department, wherein the queue data includes a highest queue number assigned to one of the scales and a queue size; and

the stand-alone display device displaying both the highest queue number and the queue size.

Description:
SCALE-BASED CUSTOMER QUEUEING SYSTEM

CROSS-REFERENCES

[0001] The present application claims the benefit of U.S. Application Serial No.

62/381,747, filed August 31, 2016, which is incorporated herein by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0002] This application relates generally to scales used for weighing food products in supermarkets, groceries and other stores, and, more particularly, to a scale-based customer queueing system.

BACKGROUND

[0003] In typical commercial food product scale applications the scale is used to weigh food products and determines prices for the food products, and an associated printer prints a label for application to the food product. An operator enters a product number, such as a PLU (price look-up) number, for the product being weighed and the scale accesses its database, or accesses a remote database, for pricing information on the product. The total price for the item is then determined based upon its weight.

[0004] In a typical supermarket or grocer, multiple scales are often placed in a given perishables department (e.g., deli, meat, fish, bakery and/or prepared foods departments) to enable service of multiple customers at any given time by multiple store department personnel. Typical stores including a ticket dispenser that dispenses to customers a ticket with a number, and a customer number display is located in the department to enable personnel to attempt to sequentially serve customers in order. The customer number display is typically a simple display that is manually sequenced by personnel by a simple button press. More sophisticated queueing systems have been attempted, but often require purchase of separate systems.

[0005] It would be desirable to provide a queueing system that more readily integrates with scales that are already being used by store personnel.

SUMMARY

[0006] In one aspect, in a scale-based queueing system the scales in a perishables department of a store efficiently queue customers in the department. The system utilizes a kiosk system to dispense a printed ticket for the next customer in line to be serviced. The customers are serviced by each scale that is online in the department by load balancing the users across all of the department scales with operators. [0007] In another aspect, a weighing and pricing scale is adapted to enable a customer queueing system, and includes a weigh station for receiving items to be weighed, an operator interface for displaying information associated with scale operations, a customer facing interface for displaying information to customers and a controller operatively coupled to the operator interface to effect display of information thereon and to the customer interface to effect display of information thereon. The controller is configured with an enablable customer queuing mode, where the enablable customer queuing mode includes both a master queuing sub-mode and slave queuing sub-mode and the master queuing sub-mode and the slave queuing sub-mode are mutually exclusive.

[0008] In a further aspect, a scale-based customer queueing system includes a ticket dispense machine with an associated controller, and a plurality of scales within a store department. Each of the scales includes a weigh station for receiving items to be weighed, an operator interface configured to display information associated with scale operations, a customer facing interface for displaying information to customers and a controller operatively coupled to the operator interface to effect display of information thereon and to the customer interface to effect display of information thereon. The controller of a first scale of the plurality of scales is configured to operate the first scale as a master queuing scale that communicates with both the ticket dispense machine and the remaining scales of the plurality of scales to carry out a customer queueing system.

[0009] In yet another aspect, a method of carrying out a scale-based customer queuing system in a perishable food department of a store is also provided, where the department includes a plurality of scales within the perishable food department. The method involves configuring one scale of the plurality of scales as a master queuing scale and configuring remaining scales of the plurality of scales as slave queuing scales. The master queuing scale operates to maintain a running list of queue numbers provided to customers and assign queue numbers from the running list to itself and the slave queuing scales according to queue number requests in a mutually exclusive manner such that, at any given time, the master queuing scale and the slave queuing scales each have an assigned queue number that is different than that of an of the other scales. Each of the master queuing scale and the slave queuing scales operate to display its respective assigned queue number on its customer interface.

[0010] The details of one or more embodiments are set forth in the accompanying drawings and the description below. Other features, objects, and advantages will be apparent from the description and drawings, and from the claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0011] Fig. 1 is a front perspective view of one embodiment of a scale;

[0012] Fig. 2 shows a customer facing scale view;

[0013] Fig. 3 shows an exemplary scale system within a store;

[0014] Fig. 4 shows a basic scale control diagram; and

[0015] Fig. 5 shows a customer queueing system including multiple scales

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0016] Referring to Figs. 1 and 2, an exemplary scale configuration is shown. The scale 10 includes a weighing station 12, which in some embodiments may be formed by a weighing platter 13 that can be removed (e.g., for cleaning) from atop the scale housing 14, and having an associated mechanism such as a load cell located internal of the scale housing 14, for producing weight indicative signals when items are placed on the weighing station. An operator interface side 16 of the scale includes an operator interface 18 configured to display information associated with scale operations. By way of example, the operator interface 18 may be formed by a touch-screen display. A customer interface side 20 of the scale includes a customer interface 22, which in certain embodiments may be formed by any suitable display screen technology. It is contemplated that the customer interface 22 need not include touch-screen capabilities, but it is recognized that in certain embodiments touch-screen capability could be incorporated into the customer interface as well. A side portion 24 of the scale housing includes a label exit slot 26 and incorporates a label printer therein along with a label supply station. The label printer may use any suitable printing technology. A removable side panel 28 is provided to access the label supply station for replacement of the labels and to access the label printer and the label path for maintenance etc. Alternatively, member 28 may take the form of a removable cassette.

[0017] Referring to FIG. 3, an exemplary scale system 30 is shown (e.g., located in a store perishables department such as a deli department, meat and fish department or baked goods department) having a counter 32 with a customer side 34 and a service person side 36. The scale system includes a scale 10 located atop the counter 32 and adapted for weighing and pricing food items. In the illustrated embodiment a single scale 10 is shown, but many departments will include multiple scales. Likewise, while a single counter is shown, many departments will include multiple counters arranged adjacent each other to effectively form one continuous counter. In an alternative embodiment, the scale may be a hanging scale located above the counter 32. As shown, in certain embodiments the scale counter may be located in front of a food preparation or packaging area such as a meat slicing station 38 that includes one or more food product slicers 40.

[0018] In one example of a typical item pricing operation an operator enters an item identifier (e.g., a price look-up number or PLU) via the operator interface, and the scale retrieves price and other product information associated with the PLU and displays product information. The operator places the item (e.g., just sliced by the operator or selected from a container within the deli counter or elsewhere, or in the case of self service selected from a food display or stand) on the weighing station, and the scale prices the item based upon weight and displays that price on both the operator interface and the customer interface. When the desired amount of the product is achieved, the operator presses a print button on the operator interface and the scale prints a label with item details (e.g., item name, item weight, item price) that is then applied to a package in which the item is placed before the package is handed to a customer. In another example, which is more common in a bakery department, the scale 10 may price an item by an item count entered by the operator (e.g., in the case of an item with a PLU that indicates a price based upon item count).

[0019] Referring now to Fig. 4, a high level schematic depiction of the scale 10 is shown, including a controller 50 interconnected with each of the operator interface 18, customer interface 22, weighing station 12, label printer 52 and a communications interface 54, and having associated memory 56. The controller 50 may, for example, be any suitable processor-based controller, including one or more processors, such as a dual-core processor, with associated hardware, software and firmware to achieve desired

functionality. As used herein, the term controller is intended to broadly encompass any circuit (e.g., solid state, application specific integrated circuit (ASIC), an electronic circuit, a combinational logic circuit, a field programmable gate array (FPGA)), processor(s) (e.g., shared, dedicated, or group - including hardware or software that executes code), software, firmware and/or other components, or a combination of some or all of the above, that carries out the control and/or processing functions of the scale or the control and/or processing functions of any component thereof. The operator interface 18 may include both a display device 58 and touch-screen panel 60 as shown. The weight station platter 13 is operatively connected to a load cell 62, which produces weight indicative signals. The communication interface 54 may be any suitable type (e.g., as a hardware link, such as a standard network connector, or may be formed by a wireless device such as an RF or infrared transceiver), and it is recognized that multiple communications interfaces may be provided. Memory 56 may, by way of example, take the form of one or more of nonvolatile flash memory and/or random access memory, or disk on module or micro-SD. As explained above, the controller 50 is operable to establish a price for a weighed item based in part upon a weight indicative signal produced for that item. In this regard, the scale controller may include its own database of product price information (e.g., price per pound) that it retrieves when the operator inputs the PLU number or other product identifier of an item being weighed. Alternatively, in certain embodiments, the controller may utilize the communication interface 54 to access a remote computer system having the database of product price information on other product information. Although not shown in Fig. 4, in certain embodiments the scale may also include an RF operator identification system in which operators utilize RF identification units (e.g., in the form of wrist-band type units, or other structures) that are worn proximate to the hands of the operator. Such a system is described in U.S. Patent No. 7,041,915.

[0020] Referring now to Fig. 5, an exemplary implementation of a scale-based queuing system 100 is shown. The system enables scales to efficiently queue customers in a store department. The system 100 includes a ticket dispense machine 102 (e.g., in the form of a kiosk) to dispense printed tickets for customers, where each printed ticket includes a queue number. The system also includes a plurality of scales (e.g., three illustrated, but the number could be less or more). The controller of each scale is configured with an enablable customer queuing mode so that the inclusion or non-inclusion of the scale in the queueing system 100 is selectable. In this regard, a store computer 104 (e.g., desktop, mobile or other) includes scale management software that enables store personnel to access and configure each scale (e.g., enable or disable the customer queuing mode of each scale). In this regard, the enablable customer queuing mode of each scale includes both a master queuing sub-mode and slave queuing sub-mode, and the master queuing sub-mode and the slave queuing sub-mode are mutually exclusive. Here, scale Ml is configured with its queuing mode and master queuing sub-modes enabled, and scales SI and S2 are configured with queuing mode and slave queuing sub-modes enabled. Also included in the illustrated system 100 is a stand-alone display device 106 (e.g., hanging on a wall of the store department or mounted on a stand) that includes a digital set top box 108 and digital display screen 110. Here, the ticket dispense machine 102 includes a ticket dispenser 112, internal printer (not shown) to print numbers on the tickets for dispense and a display screen 114. The ticket dispense machine 102 may typically be placed anywhere in the customer entry or waiting area or the store department. All devices are connected in a store communications network 120 (e.g., any suitable wireless, wired or combination network), and each device has an associated address on the network 120 (e.g., an IP address).

[0021] As mentioned above, the store computer 104 is used to configure the queueing system 100 via the scale management application. When scale Ml is configured as the master queueing scale, scale Ml is informed of the IP address of each other scale (e.g., SI and S2) that is on the network and that will participate in the queuing system, the IP address of the ticket dispense machine 102 and whether and what queue data to send to the ticket dispense machine for display, and the IP address of the digital display device 106 and what queue data to send to the display device for display. Scale Ml will therefore operate to communicate with each of the devices to carry out the queuing process (as will be described in more detail below). When scales SI and S2 are configured as slave queuing scales, the scales SI and S2 are informed of the IP address of the master queuing scale Ml . The store computer 104 and scale management application is also used to configure the ticket dispense machine 102 and the digital display device for operation in the system (e.g., by informing both machine 102 and device 106 of the IP address of the master scale Ml and defining what information will be displayed by machine 102 and device 106).

[0022] Generally, the master queueing scale Ml is configured to send queue numbers to the ticket dispense machine 102 for dispensing and send queue numbers to each of the slave queueing scales SI and S2 for display on the customer interface of such scales. In this regard, scale Ml operates to maintain a running list of queue numbers dispensed by the ticket dispense machine. In this regard, the ticket dispense machine 102 may send queue number requests to scale Ml (e.g., each time a ticket is pulled from the ticket machine the machine controller sends a request to scale Ml for the next number, which also informs scale Ml that the prior number has been dispensed). Each time a queue number is dispensed by the machine 102, the controller of scale Ml adds the dispensed queue number to the sequential, running list. If the machine 102 is configured to display queue data, scale Ml also operates to send the queue data to machine 102. For example, the queue data sent for display may include the highest queue number assigned to any scale (e.g., 39 in Fig. 5) and the total size of the queue (e.g., based upon the queue numbers that are assigned to the scales (e.g., three queue numbers in Fig. 5) and those remaining on the running list that have yet to be assigned (e.g., in this case seven queue numbers, for a total queue size of 10 in Fig. 5).

[0023] Scale Ml also operates to assign queue numbers from the running list among the scales in a mutually exclusive manner such that, at any given time, each scale has an assigned queue number that is different than that of any of the other scales (e.g., scale S2 displaying queue number 37, scale S2 displaying queue number 38 and scale Ml displaying queue number 39 per Fig. 5). The slave queuing scales SI and S2 send queue number requests to scale Ml (e.g., when the scale operator presses a displayed "Next Customer In Queue" or similar button displayed on the operator interface when the operator is finished with one customer and ready to move onto the next). The queue number assigned to the slave queueing scale (received from master queueing scale Ml) is then displayed on the customer interface for customers to see (and typically also displayed on the operator interface so that the operator can vocally seek the customer with the ticketed queue number). Scale Ml similarly assigns itself a queue number, and updates its own assigned queue number, when an operator of scale Ml presses a displayed "Next Customer In Queue" or similar button displayed on its own operator interface.

[0024] Scale Ml also operates to send queue data to display device 106 for display.

For example, the queue data sent for display may include the highest queue number assigned to any scale (e.g., 39 in Fig. 5) and the total size of the queue (e.g., based upon the queue numbers that are assigned to the scales (e.g., three queue numbers in Fig. 5) and those remaining on the running list that have yet to be assigned (e.g., in this case seven queue numbers, for a total queue size of 10 in Fig. 5). The display device 106 may simultaneously display other information as well, such as product data, advertisements or other messages. Scale Ml operates to update the queue data sent to display device 106 as changes are needed. In some case, the queue data sent to display device 106 for display may also include an expected wait time for the queue (e.g., calculated by scale Ml based upon a known, running average weight time for customers in the queue and the queue size).

[0025] Thus, a method of carrying out a scale-based customer queuing system in a perishable food department of a store is also provided, where the department includes a plurality of scales within the perishable food department. The method involves configuring one scale of the plurality of scales as a master queuing scale (e.g., Ml) and configuring remaining scales of the plurality of scales as slave queuing scales (e.g., SI and S2). The master queuing scale operates to maintain a running list of queue numbers provided to customers and assign queue numbers from the running list to itself and the slave queuing scales according to queue number requests in a mutually exclusive manner such that, at any given time, the master queuing scale and the slave queuing scales each have an assigned queue number that is different than that of an of the other scales. Each of the master queuing scale and the slave queuing scales operate to display its respective assigned queue number on its customer interface. The master queuing scale also operates to provide queue numbers to a ticket dispense machine (e.g., 102) and, upon dispense by the ticket dispense machine of a ticket with a given queue number, to add the given queue number to the running list. The master queuing scale also operates to provide queue data to a stand-alone display device (e.g., 106) in the perishable food department, wherein the queue data includes a highest queue number assigned to one of the scales and a queue size, and the stand-alone display device displays both the highest queue number and the queue size.

[0026] It is to be clearly understood that the above description is intended by way of illustration and example only, is not intended to be taken by way of limitation, and that other changes and modifications are possible.