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Title:
TRANSPORT APPARATUS AND MACHINE COMPRISING SAID APPARATUS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/207612
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Transport apparatus (10) to transport objects (101) from a first work station (107) to a second work station (108) of an automatic machine (100) for treating the objects (101), in which the apparatus comprises a transport conveyor (102) comprising a plurality of seatings (106) each of which receives one object (101), and a handling device (109) configured to remove the objects (101) from the transport conveyor (102) in order to take them at least into the second work station (108). The transport apparatus comprises a storage space (11) configured for the temporary storage of the objects (101), transfer rolls (12) to transfer the objects (101) from the storage space (11) to respective seatings (106) of the transport conveyor (102), and sensor means (26) configured to detect at least the presence and the position, in the transport conveyor (102), of one or more seatings (106) without any objects (101).

Inventors:
CAPORALE, Antonio (121/A, OZZANO DELL'EMILIA, 40064, IT)
Application Number:
IT2019/050083
Publication Date:
October 31, 2019
Filing Date:
April 29, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
GIMA TT S.P.A. (Via Tolara di Sotto, 121/A, OZZANO DELL'EMILIA, 40064, IT)
International Classes:
B65G43/08; B25J9/00; B65G47/26; B65G47/51
Domestic Patent References:
WO2003065818A12003-08-14
Foreign References:
EP2626305A12013-08-14
EP2657138A22013-10-30
EP3047945A12016-07-27
EP0262247A11988-04-06
EP3009380A12016-04-20
EP2008953A12008-12-31
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PETRAZ, Davide Luigi et al. (GLP SRL, Viale Europa Unita 171, UDINE, 33100, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. Transport apparatus to transport objects (101) from a first work station (107) to a second work station (108) of an automatic machine (100) for treating said objects (101), the apparatus comprising a transport conveyor (102) comprising a plurality of seatings (106) each of which receives one of said objects (101), temporary storage means (11) configured for the temporary storage of said objects (101), transfer means (12) configured to transfer said objects (101) from said temporary storage means (11) to respective seatings (106) of said transport conveyor (102), and sensor means (26) configured to detect at least the presence and the position, in said transport conveyor (102), of one or more seatings (106) without any objects (101), said sensor means (26) being configured to supply, to said temporary storage means (11) and/or to said transfer means (12), a signal corresponding to the detection of one or more seatings (106) without any objects (101) in order to selectively command the transfer of one of said objects (101) into a respective seating (106) without any objects (101), and a handling device (109) configured to remove the objects (101) from said transport conveyor (102) in order to take them at least into said second work station (108) and also configured to supply said temporary storage means (11) with objects (101) removed from said transport conveyor (102); said apparatus being characterized in that said temporary storage means (11) comprise a plurality of channels (16), each configured to receive a plurality of said objects (101) disposed in sequence, said channels (16) developing substantially parallel to a direction of feed (X’) of the objects (101) received in said temporary storage means (11) and in that said temporary storage means (11) comprise a storage zone (17), fixed, and a feed drawer (18), mobile, wherein said plurality of channels (16) extend both on said storage zone (17) and also on said feed drawer (18), wherein at least one channel (16) of said storage zone (17) is aligned with at least a respective channel (16) of said feed drawer (18) so as to define a path for the feed of said objects (101) that develops from said feed drawer (18) to said transfer means (12) parallel to said direction of feed (X’).

2. Apparatus as in claim 1, characterized in that said temporary storage means (1 1) are disposed above said transport conveyor (102) so as to be distanced from a transport plane (T) of said objects (101) by a certain distance (D); wherein said temporary storage means (1 1) are mobile between an operating position (A) and a non-operating position (B), in which respectively said distance (D) is equal to a minimum and maximum value.

3. Apparatus as in claim 1 or 2, characterized in that it comprises pneumatic means operatively connected to a source of compressed air and emerging in correspondence with each of said channels (16) in order to make the objects (101) move in said direction of feed (X’).

4. Apparatus as in any one of the claims 1 to 3, characterized in that it comprises clamping means provided with a plurality of abutment elements (22), each associated with a respective channel (16) of said storage zone (17); wherein said abutment elements (22) are driven independently of each other in order to alternatively allow or prevent the passage of one of said objects (101) received in the respective channel (16) toward said transfer means (12).

5. Apparatus as in any of the claims from 1 to 4, characterized in that said temporary storage means (11) comprise linear guides (19) that extend parallel to a transverse direction (Y) that is substantially perpendicular to said direction of feed (X’); wherein said feed drawer (18) can slide on said linear guides (19) in order to selectively align a desired channel (16) of said feed drawer (18) with a desired channel (16) of said storage zone (17).

6. Apparatus as in any of the claims from 1 to 4, characterized in that it comprises barrier elements (33) configured to prevent the accidental fall of said objects (101) from said channels (16) made in said feed drawer (18).

7. Apparatus as in any claim hereinbefore, characterized in that said transfer means (12) comprise at least a transfer roll (12a, 12b) provided with one or more reception cavities (13) suitable to receive and hold said objects (101) during their transfer from a storage zone (17) comprised in said temporary storage means (11) to said transport conveyor (102).

8. Apparatus as in any claim hereinbefore, characterized in that it comprises one or more other detection means (29) associated with a plurality of channels (16) configured to receive said objects (101) and made in a storage zone (17) comprised in said temporary storage means (11); wherein said other detection means (29) are configured to detect the quantity of objects (101) present in said channels (16).

9. Apparatus as in any claim hereinbefore, characterized in that said transport conveyor (102) defines a transport plane (T) on which the objects (101) are moved from said first work station (107) to said second work station (108); wherein said transport conveyor (102) comprises a conveyor belt provided with a plurality of modular elements (105) disposed adjacent to one another; a plurality of said seatings (106) being made on each modular element (105) and disposed adjacent in a transverse direction (Y) substantially perpendicular to the direction of feed (X) of said objects (101) on said transport conveyor (102).

10. Method to transport objects (101) from a first work station (107) to a second work station (108) of an automatic machine (100) for treating said objects (101), by means of a transport conveyor (102) comprising a plurality of seatings (106) each of which receives one of said objects (101), and a handling device (109) configured to remove the objects (101) from said transport conveyor (102) in order to take them at least into said second work station (108); said method being characterized in that it comprises a step of disposing said objects (101) in temporary storage means (11) comprising a plurality of channels (16), each configured to receive a plurality of said objects (101) disposed in sequence, said channels (16) developing substantially parallel to a direction of feed (X’) of the objects (101) received in said temporary storage means (11), which further comprise a storage zone (17), fixed, and a feed drawer (18), mobile, wherein said plurality of channels (16) extend both on said storage zone (17) and also on said feed drawer (18), in which the objects (101) to be disposed in said temporary storage means (11) are removed from said transport conveyor (102) by means of said handling device (109); a step of transferring said objects (101) from said temporary storage means (11) to said seatings (106) by means of transfer means (12); and a step of detecting at least the presence and position of one or more seatings (106) without any objects (101) in said transport conveyor (102) so that in the detection step a signal corresponding to the detection of one or more seatings (106) without any objects (101) is transmitted to said temporary storage means (1 1) and/or to said transfer means (12) on the basis of which it is provided to activate said transfer step in order to selectively command the transfer of one of said objects (101) into a respective seating (106) without any objects (101) and in that the method comprises a step of moving said feed drawer (18) on linear guides (19) that extend parallel to a transverse direction (Y) that is substantially perpendicular to said direction of feed (X’) in order to move said feed drawer (18) with respect to said storage zone (17) to selectively align a desired channel (16) of said feed drawer (18) with a respective desired channel (16) of said storage zone (17) in which it is necessary to introduce one or more objects (101).

11. Method as in claim 10, characterized in that it comprises a step of feeding said objects (101) in a direction of feed (X’) from a feed drawer (18) comprised in said temporary storage means (11) until they reach said transfer means (12), after the objects (101) have passed through a storage zone (17) of the objects (101) comprised in said temporary storage means (11); said feed step being carried out by pneumatic means connected to a source of compressed air and emerging into a plurality of channels (16) made in said feed drawer (18) and in said storage zone (17) and intended to receive said objects (101) in order to introduce air under pressure therein, which allows to make the objects (101) advance.

12. Method as in claim 11, characterized in that it comprises selectively clamping said objects (101) in said channels (16) of said storage zone (17) by means of clamping means provided with a plurality of end-of-travel elements (22) that are driven independently of each other in order to alternatively allow or prevent the passage of one of said objects (101) toward said transfer means (12).

13. Automatic machine for the treatment of small-sized objects (101), in particular components for an inhaler or vaporizer device defining an electronic cigarette, comprising a first work station (107) disposed upstream, in which one or more operations to make said objects (101) are carried out, a second work station (108) disposed downstream, in which one or more operations to package said objects (101) are carried out; said machine being characterized in that it comprises a transport apparatus (10) for said objects (101) as in any of the claims from 1 to 9.

Description:
“TRANSPORT APPARATUS AND MACHINE COMPRISING SAID APPARATUS”

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention concerns a transport apparatus to transport objects between two work stations of an automatic machine for making and packaging the objects. For example, the objects can comprise tobacco capsules or similar substances which, during use, are used associated with inhaler or vaporizer devices, such as electronic cigarettes for example.

The present invention also concerns a method to feed objects toward a transport conveyor comprised in the apparatus, and also the automatic machine comprising the apparatus.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

As is known, electronic cigarettes consist of a plurality of components, very small in size, which are assembled together to form a product which generally has sizes compatible with those of a traditional cigarette.

Electronic cigarettes comprise a substantially tubular-shaped cartridge, also called cartomizer, inside which an atomizer is disposed which is able to selectively transform a given liquid contained in the cartridge into vapor.

The electrical and electronic parts of the atomizer are disposed in correspondence with one end of the cartridge, while a capsule, which defines a small tank for the liquid to be transformed into vapor, is received at the other end of the cartridge. For example, the capsule can contain tobacco, or another substance suitable to give a specific taste to the vapor inhaled by the user.

The increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes on the market makes it necessary to develop highly automated machines, devices and work lines in order to produce the individual components that make up the electronic cigarette, such as for example the capsule, or the cartomizer itself, to assemble them together, and finally, to package them in specific packages.

Considering the small sizes of the components that make up the electronic cigarette, one of the technical problems that the designers of machines, devices and work lines for making the components have to face and solve is to carry out the various operating steps in a highly precise manner, handling the components with care, without damaging them.

Another technical problem is the high productivity that is to be obtained with the machines, devices and work lines for making the components for electronic cigarettes, assembling and packaging them. Achieving a high productivity is desirable in order for the production cost of each individual component to be sufficiently low, to make the component itself competitive on the market.

A further technical problem is related to the management of waste within the context of a work line that moves the objects in a manner that is orderly and indexed by steps. It is evident that the presence on the line of objects that have to be discarded, considerably complicates the work to be carried out in the work stations disposed downstream, because the fact that in certain positions, randomly disposed on the line, the objects are missing, has to be managed.

At present, the apparatuses of the state of the art are not able to solve the technical problems described and to reach said productivity.

By way of example, some transport apparatuses known from the state of the art are disclosed in patent application nos. EP-A1 -2.626.305 and EP-A2- 2.657.138. These transport apparatuses comprise buffer or“parking” area, where the transported objects can alternatively be fed or removed so as to respectively remove objects to be discarded from the main transport line of the apparatus or to supply objects to said main transport line in order to compensate for the lacking objects thereon.

One purpose of the present invention is therefore to provide an apparatus to transport capsules, and to perfect the corresponding feed method, which, overcoming the shortcomings of the state of the art, is fast and reliable.

Another purpose of the present invention is to provide a transport apparatus and to perfect the corresponding method able to guarantee a high productivity, up to a thousand capsules transported per minute, or even more.

Another purpose of the present invention is to provide a transport apparatus which is filled with the capsules at almost its maximum transport capacity, regardless of the presence of possible capsules that need discarding.

Another purpose of the present invention is to provide an automatic machine for the production and packaging of objects with small sizes, in particular capsules of tobacco for electronic cigarettes, which comprises the transport apparatus mentioned above.

The Applicant has devised, tested and embodied the feeding device, the machine, and perfected the relative method according to the present invention, to overcome the shortcomings of the state of the art and to obtain these and other purposes and advantages.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is set forth and characterized in the independent claims, while the dependent claims describe other characteristics of the invention or variants to the main inventive idea.

Embodiments of the present invention concern a transport apparatus to transport objects from a first work station to a second work station of an automatic machine for the treatment of said objects.

In some embodiments, the apparatus is able to transport components for smoking articles, for example for electronic cigarettes, in particular capsules containing tobacco or similar substances.

According to embodiments described here, the transport apparatus comprises a transport conveyor provided with a plurality of seatings, each of which receives one object, and a handling device configured to remove the objects from the transport conveyor and take them at least into the second work station.

According to a characteristic aspect of the transport apparatus described here, it comprises temporary storage means configured for the temporary storage of the objects, transfer means configured to transfer the objects from the temporary storage means to respective seatings of the transport conveyor, and sensor means configured to detect at least the presence and the position, in the transport conveyor, of one or more seatings without any objects. The sensor means are configured to supply, to the temporary storage means and/or to the transfer means, a signal corresponding to the detection of one or more seatings without any objects, in order to selectively command the transfer of one of the objects into a respective seating without any objects.

According to another characteristic aspect of the transport apparatus described here, it is provided that the handling device is also configured to supply the temporary storage means with objects removed from the transport conveyor.

According to embodiments described here, the temporary storage means comprise a plurality of channels, each configured to receive a plurality of objects disposed in sequence. In a preferred embodiment, the channels develop substantially parallel to a direction of feed of the objects along the temporary storage means.

According to some embodiments, the temporary storage means are disposed above the transport conveyor so as to be distanced from a transport plane of the objects by a certain variable distance. It is in fact provided that the temporary storage means are mobile between an operating position and a non-operating position, in which respectively said distance is equal to a minimum and maximum value.

According to some embodiments, the temporary storage means comprise a storage zone, fixed, and a feed drawer, mobile with respect to the storage zone.

In one embodiment, the temporary storage means comprise linear guides that extend parallel to a transverse direction that is substantially perpendicular to the direction of feed of the objects; wherein the feed drawer can slide on the linear guides in order to selectively align a desired channel of the feed drawer with a desired channel of the storage zone.

In some embodiments, the plurality of channels extends both on the storage zone, and also on the feed drawer, wherein at least one channel of the storage zone is aligned with at least a respective channel of the feed drawer so as to define a path for the feed of the objects that develops from the feed drawer to the transfer means parallel to the direction of feed.

According to some embodiments, the transport apparatus comprises pneumatic means operatively connected to a source of compressed air and emerging in correspondence with each of the channels in order to make the objects move in the channels in the direction of feed.

According to embodiments described here, the transport apparatus comprises clamping means provided with a plurality of abutment elements, each associated with a respective channel of the storage zone; wherein the abutment elements are driven independently of each other in order to alternatively allow or prevent the passage of an object received in the respective channel toward the transfer means.

According to some embodiments, the transport apparatus comprises barrier elements configured to prevent the accidental fall of the objects from the channels that extend on the feed drawer.

In one embodiment described here, the transfer means comprise at least a transfer roll provided with one or more reception cavities suitable to receive and hold the objects during their transfer from a storage zone to the transport conveyor.

According to embodiments provided here, the transport apparatus comprises one or more other detection members associated with the plurality of channels which extend on the storage zone to detect the quantity of objects present in the channels. In some embodiments, on the basis of the information detected by the other detection members, it is provided to slide the feed drawer on the linear guides in order to take it into a position such as to allow the selective alignment between a desired channel of the feed drawer and a desired channel of the storage zone.

According to other aspects of the present invention a method is provided to transport objects from a first work station to a second work station of an automatic machine for the treatment of the objects, and the automatic machine comprising the transport apparatus mentioned above.

Thanks to the embodiments of the transport apparatus and the corresponding method described here, it is possible to ensure that the conveyor to transport the objects is filled to its maximum capacity. In other words, the transport apparatus according to the present invention allows to selectively fill the seatings left without objects on the transport conveyor with the same number of objects stored in the temporary storage means comprised in the apparatus.

Another advantage of the transport apparatus and the method described here is that they operate very effectively. In fact, if one or more seatings are left without objects on the conveyor belt, the apparatus and the method according to the present invention are configured to remove the objects of the rows that are not complete from the transport conveyor, in order to dispose them in the temporary storage means. In this way, the temporary storage means are supplied with objects removed directly from the transport conveyor which are part of incomplete groups of objects, which would in any case not be suitable to be moved toward the work station downstream.

This allows to maintain a high productivity of the machine, substantially equal to the nominal productivity anticipated by the manufacturer, without possible malfunctions of an upstream workstation significantly decreasing productivity.

Furthermore, this advantageously allows to simplify the management and control of the machine. In fact, by preventing groups of objects disposed in rows comprising one or more empty seatings from reaching the second work station, it is easier to manage the subsequent workings so as to prevent inaccuracies or errors in the work cycles. For example, this allows to prevent there being, inside the packages, a lower number of objects than expected.

One advantage of the transport apparatus according to embodiments provided here, is that it allows a plurality of objects, ordered according to a matrix configuration (in rows and columns), to reach the second station without any seating being empty, that is, without the corresponding object. In fact, even if one or more objects are missing from the respective seatings because they have been discarded or due to malfunctions of the first station upstream, they are replaced with the same number of objects coming from the temporary storage means, so that the transport apparatus is completely filled with the objects before it arrives at the second station.

Another advantage of the transport apparatus described here is that it allows to define a“buffer” that defines a storage space for the objects to be disposed in the empty seatings of the transport conveyor.

A further advantage of the transport apparatus described here is that it does not increase the overall bulk of the machine with which it is associated. In fact, disposing the temporary storage means and the transfer means above the transport conveyor allows to optimize the spaces, without the apparatus considerably increasing the bulk of the machine.

Another advantage of the transport apparatus described here is that it can be used in a very flexible manner. In fact, being able to move the feed drawer transversely with respect to the storage zone, allows the objects to be fed exactly where they are needed. Thanks to the apparatus and the method according to the present invention, it is in fact possible to supply other objects to a desired channel of the storage zone which is becoming empty, by aligning the channel with a desired channel of the feed drawer, or several channels of the feed drawer one after the other. A further advantage of the transport apparatus and of the method described here is that they allow to monitor in a reliable manner the filling level of the different channels disposed in the storage zone, that is, the quantity of objects received therein, in order to supply the channels before they empty completely.

It is also an advantage of the transport apparatus and of the method described here that they allow to transfer, in a simple and reliable manner, one object at a time from the storage zone to the transport conveyor, exactly into the desired row and the desired position, in correlation with the row and the position of the empty seating that needs to be filled.

The presence of the clamping means, and the independent drive of the abutment elements comprised therein, allows to hold the rows of objects in the channels in the storage zone, allowing to feed one object at a time toward the transfer means, only in the channel or in the channels corresponding to the row/rows in which the empty seating to be filled is located.

These and other aspects, characteristics and advantages of the present disclosure will be better understood with reference to the following description, drawings and attached claims. The drawings, which are integrated and form part of the present description, show some embodiments of the present invention, and together with the description, are intended to describe the principles of the disclosure.

The various aspects and characteristics described in the present description can be applied individually where possible. These individual aspects, for example aspects and characteristics described in the attached dependent claims, can be the object of divisional applications.

It is understood that any aspect or characteristic that is discovered, during the patenting process, to be already known, shall not be claimed and shall be the object of a disclaimer.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other characteristics of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of some embodiments, and the connected method, given as a non-restrictive example with reference to the attached drawings wherein:

- fig. 1 is a partial perspective view of a transport apparatus according to embodiments described here, in which some elements have been removed to better highlight others;

- fig. 2 is a lateral elevated view of the transport apparatus of fig. 1 ;

- figs. 3 and 4 are partial perspective views of a transport apparatus according to embodiments described here, in which the apparatus is shown in two different operating configurations;

- fig. 5 is a partial and schematic plan view of a portion of the transport apparatus of fig. 1 ;

- fig. 6 is a front elevated view of an enlarged detail comprised in the transport apparatus, according to one embodiment of the present invention;

- figs. 7a and 7b are perspective views of another enlarged detail comprised in embodiments of the transport apparatus according to the present invention, shown in two different operating positions;

- figs. 8a and 8b are plan views from below of the enlarged detail of figs. 7a and 7b, shown in the respective operating positions;

- fig. 8c is a view like that of figs. 8a and 8b, which shows a further operating position;

- fig. 9 is a plan view from above of the transport apparatus according to embodiments of the present invention, and of a portion of automatic machine that comprises the apparatus.

To facilitate comprehension, the same reference numbers have been used, where possible, to identify identical common elements in the drawings. It is understood that elements and characteristics of one embodiment can conveniently be incorporated into other embodiments without further clarifications.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SOME EMBODIMENTS

We will now refer in detail to the various embodiments of the present invention, of which one or more examples are shown in the attached drawings. Each example is supplied by way of illustration of the invention and shall not be understood as a limitation thereof. For example, the characteristics shown or described insomuch as they are part of one embodiment can be adopted on, or in association with, other embodiments to produce another embodiment. It is understood that the present invention shall include all such modifications and variants. Embodiments described here with reference to the drawings, concern a transport apparatus, which is indicated as a whole by the reference number 10.

The transport apparatus 10 is associated with a machine 100, a portion of which can be seen in fig. 9.

The transport apparatus 10 comprises a transport conveyor 102 configured to transport a plurality of objects 101 between two work stations 107, 108 of the machine 100. In particular, the transport conveyor 102 transports the objects 101 from a first work station 107, disposed upstream, toward a second work station 108, disposed downstream, in a direction of feed which is indicated by the arrow X in the drawings.

According to some embodiments, the objects 101 are components of smoking articles, in particular capsules for electronic cigarettes.

In one embodiment, the objects 101 are configured as capsules with a substantially cylindrical shape, comprising a body 103 and a head portion 104.

A tank is defined inside the body 103 for a substance, for example tobacco in the form of powder or similar aromatic substances, which allows to aromatize the vapor that passes through it, before it is inhaled or breathed in by the user.

The head portion 104 integrates a filter, of a known type and not shown, configured to filter the powders during inhalation. It should be noted that the head portion 104 protrudes slightly in a radial direction with respect to the body 103, so as to define an annular step 104a.

It is understood that, in other embodiments, the objects that can be handled by the transport apparatus 10 and by the machine 100 can also be different from the capsules described above. The person skilled in the art will understand without difficulty that the apparatus, the method and the machine according to the present invention can be advantageously used to feed any object, once the necessary structural or functional adaptations have been made, without departing from the field of protection of the present invention.

For example, the objects 101 can comprise other components required to assemble the electronic cigarette, or components with small sizes required to assemble components pertaining to sectors other than that of smoking articles.

In one embodiment, the transport conveyor 102 comprises a conveyor belt.

According to embodiments described here, the conveyor belt comprises a plurality of modular elements 105, of a type known in the state of the art, disposed adjacent to each other.

The transport conveyor 102 comprises a plurality of seatings 106 intended to receive the objects 101.

In one embodiment, the seatings 106 are shaped so as to have a shape that is complementary to that of the objects 101.

According to embodiments described here, each modular element 105 comprises ten seatings 106 in order to receive an equal number of objects 101, the ten seatings 106 being adjacent to each other to form a row, in which the objects 101 are disposed in an orderly manner, in particular all parallel to each other.

In one embodiment, the conveyor belt is configured as a closed ring on at least two rolls, at least one of which is motorized by its own motor means, of a known type and not shown, which allow to move the transport conveyor 102.

As shown in fig. 9, the transport conveyor 102 is configured to transport the objects 101 from a first work station 107 of the machine 100, disposed upstream, in which one or more operations are carried out to produce the objects 101, to a second work station 108 of the machine 100, disposed downstream, in which for example the operations to package the objects 101 into suitable containers are carried out.

The transport apparatus 10 also comprises a handling device 109, for example comprising an articulated arm with several work axes, of a type known in the state of the art. The handling device 109 is configured to remove the objects 101 from the transport conveyor 102, in the manner that will be explained in greater detail below.

The transport conveyor 102 defines a transport plane T (fig. 2) of the objects

101, substantially horizontal. The transport plane T is identified by an outward branch 102a of the conveyor belt, in which most of the seatings 106 are generally filled with the objects 101 to be transported. The conveyor belt also comprises a return branch 102b (fig. 1), in which the seatings 106 are all empty, after the handling device 109 has removed the objects 101 from the transport conveyor

102.

The transport apparatus 10 comprises a storage space 11 which defines temporary storage means for the objects 101.

The transport apparatus 10 also comprises at least a transfer roll 12 configured to remove one or more objects 101 at a time from the storage space 11 and to deposit them in corresponding seatings 106 of the transport conveyor 102.

In the embodiment shown, the transport apparatus 10 comprises a first upper transfer roll 12a, and a second lower transfer roll 12b, counter-rotating with respect to each other, and reciprocally cooperating in order to transfer the objects 101. The two transfer rolls 12a, 12b rotate around axes of rotation K (fig. 2) which are disposed parallel to each other.

Each roll 12a, 12b comprises a plurality of cavities 13, each intended to receive an object 101.

In one embodiment, the cavities 13 are disposed substantially at the periphery of the transfer rolls 12a, 12b oriented in a tangential direction.

In one embodiment, the cavities 13 are substantially similar in shape to the seatings 106, so as to have a shape that is complementary to that of the objects 101 to be transferred.

In a preferred embodiment, each roll 12a, 12b comprises four rows of cavities 13, disposed in a cross-shaped configuration with respect to the axis of rotation K, each row comprising ten cavities 13.

According to embodiments described here, the transport apparatus 10 comprises a drive mechanism 14 (fig. 9), of a type known in the state of the art, which drives in rotation the transfer rolls 12a, 12b.

In some embodiments, only one of the transfer rolls 12a, 12b is motorized, while the other transfer roll 12b, 12a is a driven roll.

In other embodiments, the drive mechanism 14 is configured so that both transfer rolls 12a, l2b are motorized rolls.

According to embodiments described here, the storage space 11 is disposed above the transport plane T at a certain distance D from the latter, and substantially parallel to the transport plane T.

In some embodiments, the first and second transfer roll 12a, 12b are enclosed, at least in part, by a protective casing 34, shown schematically in fig. 2.

The storage space 1 1 and the transfer rolls 12a, 12b are supported by a support structure 15, seen better in figs. 3 and 4. In one embodiment, the support structure 15 is mobile with respect to the transport conveyor 102.

According to preferred embodiments, the support structure 15 is mobile vertically, in the direction indicated by the arrow FI in figs. 2-4, toward or away from, the transport plane T.

In the attached drawings, the support structure 15, and with it the storage space 11 and the transfer rolls 12a, 12b, are disposed in an operating configuration A, lowered, in which the distance D is minimal.

The dotted line in fig. 2 instead shows the profile of an upper portion of the storage space 11 and of the transfer rolls 12, when the support structure 15, and with it the storage space 11 and the transfer rolls 12a, 12b, have been taken into a non-operating configuration B, raised, in which the distance D is such as to allow access to the underlying part of the transport conveyor 102.

During use, the support structure 15 is normally kept in the operating configuration A.

When it is necessary to carry out routine or extraordinary maintenance operations, or periodic cleaning operations, on the transport apparatus 10 and/or on the transport conveyor 102 below, the support structure 15 is taken into the non-operating configuration B. This is advantageous because it facilitates access for the operator to the areas involved in maintenance or cleaning, making these operations faster and more effective.

According to embodiments described here, the storage space 11 comprises a plurality of channels 16, each intended to receive a plurality of objects 101.

In one embodiment, ten channels 16 are provided, adjacent and parallel to each other.

According to embodiments described here, the number of channels 16, the number of cavities 13 on the transfer rolls 12, and the number of seatings 106 disposed adjacent to each other to form a row, are correlated to each other, as will become apparent from the following detailed description of the functioning of the transport apparatus 10. In preferred embodiments, the number of channels 16, of the cavities 13, and of the seatings 106 disposed adjacent to each other to form a row, is the same.

In some embodiments, the channels 16 develop substantially parallel to a direction of feed X’ along which the objects 101 advance in the storage space 11.

According to a preferred embodiment, the directions of feed X, X’, along which the objects 101 advance respectively on the outward branch 102a of the transport conveyor 102, and in the channels 16 of the storage space 11, are parallel and opposite with respect to each other.

According to embodiments described here, the storage space 11 comprises a storage zone 17 and a feed drawer 18.

According to embodiments described here, the channels 16 extend both on the storage zone 17 and also on the feed drawer 18.

In one embodiment, the same number of channels 16 is provided on the storage zone 17 and on the feed drawer 18. For example, ten channels can be provided both on the storage zone 17, and also on the feed drawer 18.

In one embodiment, the storage zone 17 is fixed and supported by the support structure 15.

In one embodiment, the feed drawer 18 is mobile and can move with respect to the storage zone 17.

To allow the movement of the feed drawer 18, the storage space 11 comprises linear guides 19, which extend parallel to a transverse direction Y, which is disposed transversely with respect to the direction of feed X, X’.

In a particular embodiment, the transverse direction Y is substantially perpendicular with respect to the direction of feed X, X’.

The feed drawer 18 is therefore configured as a slider able to slide on the linear guides 19 in the transverse direction Y.

As shown in figs. 3 and 4, the feed drawer 18 can face the storage zone 17 (fig. 3), so that all the channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 are aligned with corresponding homologous channels 16 of the storage zone 17, or it can be displaced with respect to the storage zone 17 (fig. 4). In this case, only some of the channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 are aligned with respective channels of the storage zone 17. By way of example, in fig. 4 the disposition of the feed drawer 18 is such that only one of its channels 16 is aligned with a respective channel of the storage zone 17.

In some embodiments, the transport apparatus 10 comprises barrier elements 33 which are configured to prevent the accidental fall of the objects 101 from the channels 16. In one embodiment, two barrier elements 33 are provided, each projecting from a side of the support structure 15. The barrier elements 33 are kept in a fixed position and allow to prevent the objects 101 from coming out of the respective channels 16 when the feed drawer 18 is not aligned with the storage zone 17, for example as in the disposition shown in fig. 4.

The transport apparatus 10 comprises an electric motor 20, of a known type, which commands the displacement of the feed drawer 18.

The transport apparatus 10 comprises a pneumatic system configured to make the objects 101 move along the channels 16.

The pneumatic system comprises a plurality of pipes (not shown) which connect a source of compressed air to each channel 16, so that each pipe leads into a respective channel.

In embodiments described here, the pneumatic system comprises a plurality of connectors 21, shown in figs. 2-4, which connect the air pipes to the channels 16.

In a particular embodiment, a number of connectors 21 is provided that is equal to the total number of channels 16 (that is, all the channels 16, both those made on the storage zone 17, and also those made on the feed drawer 18), and an equal number of pipes for the air.

According to some embodiments, the transport apparatus 10 comprises members to hold the objects 101 in the storage zone 17, which act as clamping means which selectively hold the objects 101 in the storage zone 17.

In some embodiments, the holding members comprise a plurality of abutment elements 22, each associated with a respective channel 16 of the storage zone 17, in proximity to the end of the channel 16 facing the first transfer roll 12a.

In a preferred embodiment, each abutment element 22 is driven independently from the other abutment elements 22, so as to alternatively allow or prevent the passage of the objects 101 received in the respective channel 16 toward the first transfer roll 12a.

In one embodiment, given by way of example, each abutment element 22 is commanded by a respective pneumatic cylinder 25, of a type known in the state of the art, shown in fig. 1.

According to some embodiments, better shown in the enlargements of figs. 7a, 7b, 8a and 8, each abutment element 22 comprises a body 23, rotatable around its own axis C, from which a fin 24 projects which is configured to contact, and clamp, the objects 101.

During use, each abutment element 22 is alternatively mobile between a clamping position P (figs. 7a, 8a and 8c) and a release position R (figs. 7b and 8b) in which the fin 24 is oriented, respectively, in a manner that obstructs or frees the end of the corresponding channel 16 in order to respectively prevent or allow the passage of the objects 101. Between the clamping position P and the release position R, the abutment element 22 rotates around its own axis C by a certain predetermined angle. When the abutment element 22 is disposed in the release position R, the first object 101 in the row of objects disposed in the respective channel 16 advances in the direction indicated by the arrow F2 to enter a facing cavity 13 of the first transfer roll 12a, as schematically shown in fig. 8c.

According to some embodiments, the transport apparatus 10 according to the present invention comprises optical detection members 26 (fig. 9), which define sensor means able to detect the presence/absence of the objects 101 in the seatings 106 of the transport conveyor 102.

In one embodiment, the optical detection members 26 comprise at least a high- resolution and high-speed digital video camera, of a type known in the state of the art.

In alternative embodiments, not shown, the optical detection members 26 comprise a plurality of optical sensors, of a type known in the state of the art, in particular each sensor being disposed above a respective row of the transport conveyor 102 to detect the presence/absence of the objects 101 in the seatings 106 of that specific row. In these embodiments, ten optical sensors are therefore provided, that is, a number of optical sensors equal to the number of rows present on the transport conveyor 102.

The optical detection members 26 are disposed upstream of the storage space 11 , with reference to the direction of feed X.

The transport apparatus 10 also comprises a plurality of further detection members 29, associated with the storage zone 17.

According to some embodiments, a number of other detection members 29 is provided, equal to the number of channels 16 present on the storage zone 17. For example, ten other detection members 29 are therefore provided. As shown in fig. 6, the other detection members 29 comprise an optical sensor, of a type known in the state of the art, which emits a beam 29a incident on the objects 101 in order to detect their presence.

According to some embodiments, the other detection members 29 are supported by a support element 30, which develops parallel to the transverse direction Y so as to extend above all the channels 16.

In one embodiment, two distinct groups 31, 32 of other detection members 29 are provided, which are schematically shown with a dotted line in fig. 9.

A first group 31 of ten other detection members 29 is disposed downstream, that is, toward the feed drawer 18, while a second group 32 of ten further detection members 29 is disposed upstream, that is, toward the transfer rolls l2a, 12b .

The first group 31 acts as a reference as the upper threshold value of the objects 101 in the channels 16. In other words, if the other detection members 29 of the first group 31 detect the presence of an object 101 below them, it means that the corresponding channel 16 below is full and does not need to receive other objects.

The second group 32 acts instead as a reference as the lower threshold value of the objects 101 in the channels 16. In other words, if the other detection members 29 of the second group 32 do not detect the presence of an object 101 below them, it means that the corresponding channel 16 below is almost empty and needs to receive other objects 101.

According to alternative embodiments, not shown, the other detection members 29 are configured as a high-speed and high-resolution video camera, of a type known in the state of the art, disposed for example above the storage zone 17 so that its field of vision comprises all the channels 16 that extend on this zone.

We will now describe in detail the functioning of a feed device 10 according to the present invention, with reference to figs. 1-9.

During use, the objects 101 pass from the first work station 107 into the seatings 106 of the transport conveyor 102, which moves them in the direction of feed X toward the second work station 108.

The optical detection members 26 detect the presence of the objects 101 in the seatings 106 in order to verify if some of them remain empty, due - for example - to possible malfunctions in the work stations located upstream.

The optical detection members 26 are also configured to detect the position of the seatings 106 which have remained empty. For example, thanks to the optical detection members 26, it is possible to detect both which row/rows the seating/seatings 106 left empty is/are on, among the ten rows of seatings 106 disposed adjacent in the transverse direction Y, and also which modular element/elements 105 the seatings 106 left empty are disposed on.

Consequently, the control and management unit (not shown) commands the functioning of the transport apparatus 10 according to the position of the seatings 106 left empty, which must be filled with other objects 101 stored in the storage space 1 1.

The empty seating 106 is filled when it reaches a predefined transfer position Z disposed below the second transfer roll 12b, indicated by the arrow Z in fig. 2.

The transport apparatus 10 commands the abutment elements 22 and the transfer rolls 12 in the manner explained below, in a manner coordinated with the feed of the transport conveyor 102, so that the object 101 to be disposed in the empty seating 106 arrives in the transfer position Z substantially when the seating 106 to be filled also arrives. For example, as the transport conveyor 102 advances stepwise, the transfer rolls 12 also move in successive steps in a manner coordinated with the transport conveyor 102.

Once it is known in which row the seating 106 to be filled is disposed, the pneumatic cylinder 25 drives the abutment element 22 associated with the channel 16 corresponding to said row, that is, disposed substantially above said row, in order to take it from the clamping position P (shown in figs. 7a and 8a) to the release position R (shown in figs. 8a and 8b).

In the release position R, the first object 101 advances and enters into the cavity 13 of the first transfer roll 12a facing it (fig. 8c). After which the abutment element 22 is returned to the clamping position P to hold the other objects 101 inside the respective channel 16.

Subsequently, the transfer rolls 12a, 12b are driven in rotation to take the object 101 to the transfer position Z, making it follow the path shown in fig. 2, during which the object 101 is initially moved by the first transfer roll 12a, and subsequently, by the second transfer roll 12b.

In this path, the object 101 is released from the cavity 13 of the first transfer roll 12a to a respective cavity 13 of the second transfer roll 12b, from which it is then deposited in the seating 106.

During the movement of the object 101 by the rolls 12a, 12b, the objects 101 are held in the cavities 13 thanks to the presence of the protective casing 34.

According to some embodiments, in addition or as an alternative to the action of the protective casing 34, a pneumatic system to hold the objects 101 in the cavities 13 can be provided, which puts them in connection with a source of air at a pressure lower than atmospheric air, so as to generate a depression which allows to hold the objects 101 in the cavities 13.

Inside each channel 16 of the storage zone 17 there is a plurality of objects 101, disposed so as to form a row in which the objects 101 are all oriented vertically with the head portion 104 facing upward (fig. 2).

As shown in fig. 6, each channel 16 of the storage zone 17 comprises two support edges 27 made in the side walls 28 which delimit the channel laterally. In this way, the annular step 104a rests on the support edges 27.

During use, the objects 101 disposed in the channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 are intended to supply the channels 16 of the storage zone 17.

It is evident that the number of objects 101 contained in the different channels 16 of the storage zone 17 varies from channel to channel, according to the number of objects 101 that have been removed from each channel 16 to fill the empty seatings 106 below.

Fig. 5 shows the case in which one of the channels 16 of the storage zone 17 is empty because all the objects 101 disposed therein have been positioned in an equal number of seatings 106 of the transport system 102. In particular, this is the sixth channel 16 starting from the left end of the storage zone 17.

When the objects 101 disposed in a channel 16 of the storage zone 17 run out, or are about to run out, it is provided to supply other objects 101 to this channel.

At first, it is provided to feed into this channel 16 the objects 101 that are present in the homologous channel 16 of the feed drawer 18, that is, in the example of fig. 5, the two objects 101 disposed in the sixth channel (from the left) of the feed drawer 18. It should be noted, in fact, that normally the feed drawer 18 and the storage zone 17 are disposed in the configuration shown in fig. 3 and in fig. 5, in which homologous channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 and of the storage zone 17 are reciprocally aligned.

Subsequently, if a channel 16 of the storage zone 17 needs other objects 101, in addition to those disposed in its homologous channel of the feed drawer 18, it is provided to move the latter on the linear guides 19 in the transverse direction Y, by a suitable quantity to align another channel of the feed drawer 18 with the channel to be filled in the storage zone 17.

By way of example, in fig. 5 the feed drawer 18 is moved to the left by two steps so that the eighth channel 16 of this drawer is aligned with the sixth channel 16 (empty) of the storage zone 17 so that the two objects 101 disposed in this channel are introduced into the sixth channel, in the direction indicated by the arrows F3. In this drawing, both the position of the feed drawer 18, and also the position of the objects 101 present therein, are shown with a dotted line, after the drawer has been moved to the left.

The number of objects 101 present in the channels 16 of the storage zone 17 is detected by the other detection members 29. These communicate to the control and management system of the transport apparatus 10 whether a channel 16 of the storage zone 17 needs to be supplied with other objects 101, for example when the other detection member 29 of the second group 32 no longer detects the presence of objects 101 in the channel 16 below.

In this case, the control and management unit drives the electric motor 20, which suitably moves the feed drawer 18 in the manner explained above so that other objects 101 contained therein move from one or more channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 to the desired channel 16 of the storage zone 17 which needs to be filled with the objects 101 again.

It should be noted that, thanks to the presence of the barrier elements 33, the objects 101 contained in the channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 cannot accidentally fall, which could occur in particular when the feed drawer 18 is misaligned with respect to the storage zone 17, as shown in fig. 5, or - with dotted lines - in fig. 6.

As they are fed along the channels 16, the objects 101 change their orientation, as shown schematically in fig. 2.

In fact, the objects 101 are initially disposed on the channels 16 of the feed drawer 18 horizontally, parallel to the transport plane T.

Subsequently, thanks to the conformation of the objects 101, they move from a horizontal disposition to a vertical disposition, shown with a dotted line in fig. 2. In fact, the objects 101 tend to be disposed vertically on one side because they have a center of gravity displaced toward the head portion 104, and on the other side because the channels 16 have a conformation such that the objects 101 are not in a position of stable balance if disposed horizontally.

Fig. 9 also shows the manner in which the objects are supplied to the feed drawer 18.

A discharge zone 1 10 is defined in the transport conveyor 102, highlighted with a dotted line in fig. 9.

In the embodiment shown, the discharge zone 110 comprises two adjacent modular elements 105. Consequently, the discharge zone 110 comprises two rows of ten seatings 106, for a total of twenty seatings 106, which are all potentially filled with an equal number of objects 101.

If the discharge zone 110 comprises twenty objects 101, the handling device 109 removes the objects 101 in order to place them in the second work station 108, as shown schematically in the drawings.

It should be noted that this situation can occur both when in the passage from the first work station 107 to the transport conveyor 102, all the seatings 106 of two adjacent modular elements 105 have been filled with the objects 101, and also when another object 101, contained in the storage space 11, has been disposed in some of the seatings 106, initially without an object, by means of the transfer rolls 12a, 12b, as described above.

If, instead, the discharge zone 110 comprises nineteen objects 101, or even fewer, this means that one or more seatings 106 are without objects. In the drawings, by way of example, the discharge zone 110 comprises seventeen objects 101 ; three seatings 106 being without a respective object.

In this situation, the handling device 109 removes all the objects 101 present in the discharge zone 110, and deposits them on the feed drawer 18.

In an alternative embodiment, a temporary deposit element 1 11 can be provided, on which the handling device 109 temporarily deposits all the objects 101 present in the discharge zone 110. Subsequently, the handling device 109 removes the objects from the temporary deposit element 111 and deposits them on the feed drawer 18, as indicated by the arrows F4.

It is clear that modifications and/or additions of parts may be made to the device, to the method, and to the machine as described heretofore, without departing from the field and scope of the present invention.

It is also clear that, although the present invention has been described with reference to some specific examples, a person of skill in the art shall certainly be able to achieve many other equivalent forms of device, method and machine, having the characteristics as set forth in the claims and hence all coming within the field of protection defined thereby.

In the following claims, the sole purpose of the references in brackets is to facilitate reading: they must not be considered as restrictive factors with regard to the field of protection claimed in the specific claims.