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Title:
PRINT SURFACE POSITIONING MECHANISMS FOR PRINTER
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2021/041808
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A system 10 and method for positioning a food product 12 with respect to a print head 16 for printing on a surface thereof. The system is incorporated into a printer 14. The system has a movable support surface for supporting the food product thereon, the support surface being vertically and horizontally moveable with respect to the print head. A sensor 110 is provided for detecting a position of a surface of the food product positioned on the moveable support surface with respect to the print head. The sensor provides a signal to the printer indicative of a position of the surface of the food product and wherein the moveable supportsurface is adjustable in response thereto. The sensor is a position sensor configured to detect the position of a top surface of the food product.

Inventors:
NORDHUS BRENT (US)
CUMMINS ROBERT (US)
BRITZ TODD (US)
HAGSTROM ERICK (US)
Application Number:
PCT/US2020/048404
Publication Date:
March 04, 2021
Filing Date:
August 28, 2020
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
PRIMERA TECH INC (US)
International Classes:
A23P10/00; A23P20/20; B41J3/407
Domestic Patent References:
WO2001029748A12001-04-26
WO1997027759A11997-08-07
Foreign References:
US5795395A1998-08-18
US5505775A1996-04-09
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PROSE, Amanda et al. (US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS:

1. A system for positioning a food product with respect to a print head for printing on a surface thereof, the system comprising: a printer supporting; a movable support surface for supporting the food product thereon, the support surface being vertically and horizontally moveable with respect to the print head; and a sensor for detecting a position of a surface of the food product positioned on the moveable support surface with respect to the print head, wherein the sensor provides a signal to the printer indicative of a position of the surface of the food product and wherein the moveable support surface is adjustable in response thereto.

2. The system of claim 1 wherein the sensor is a position sensor configured to detect the position of a top surface of the food product.

3. The system of claim 1 wherein the sensor comprises an emitter and a receiver spaced apart within the printer with the print head therebetween.

4. The system of claim 3 wherein the emitter provides a beam light across a print area below the print head for detecting a vertical position of the surface of the food product with respect to a nozzle of the print head.

5. The system of claim 1 wherein the support surface is selectively and automatically positionable below the print head, the positioning of the support surface based at least in part on a thickness of the food product supported thereon, a selected distance between the print surface and a print nozzle for printing, or combinations thereof.

6. The system of claim 1 wherein the printer is an inkjet printer configured for use with edible ink.

7. The system of claim 1 wherein the support surface is constructed from a food grade material comprising a metal such as stainless steel, or a plastic material.

8. The system of claim 7 wherein the support surface is textured to provide a co-efficient of friction sufficient to securely retain the food product thereon during movement and printing.

9. The system of claim 1, wherein the food product is an edible element having a substantially flat surface, a pastry, cookie, frosting sheet, rice paper, or a combination thereof.

10. A sensor system for positioning a food product with respect to a print head for printing on a surface thereof, the system comprising: an emitter comprising a plurality of light sources arranged in a linear array; a sensor for receiving at least a portion of light emitter from the plurality of light sources; and a filter positioned between the emitter and sensor and configured to filter out ambient light, selected wavelengths of light, or a combination thereof; wherein the sensor system is configured for detecting a position of a surface of the food product positioned on a moveable support surface with respect to the print head and wherein the sensor provides a signal to the printer indicative of a position of the surface of the food product and wherein the moveable support surface is adjustable in response thereto.

11. The sensor system of claim 10 wherein the emitter comprises a plurality of LED light sources arranged vertically in the linear array.

12. The sensor system of claim 10 wherein the sensor is an LED sensor and the filter is positioned in front of the LED sensor.

13. The sensor system of claim 10 wherein the emitter and the sensor are positioned within the printer system and on opposing sides of a moveable food delivery support surface.

14. A method of detecting and adjusting a position of a print surface of a food product for printing content thereon, the method comprising retracting a support surface holding a food product thereon into a printer for positioning the food product below a print head of the printer; detecting a position of a print surface of the food product below the print head of the printer; and printing content directly on a surface of the food product.

15. The method of claim 14 and further comprising: comparing the detected position of the print surface to a pre-determined position of the print surface for printing; and adjusting a position of the support surface below the print head when the detecting position is outside of the pre-determined position.

16. The method of claim 14 wherein adjusting a position comprises adjusting a vertical position of the support surface to adjust the vertical position of the print surface of the food product with respect to the print head.

17. A food product platform for supporting a food product thereon, the platform comprising: a first surface for supporting the food product thereon, the first surface having a surface topography configured to securely support the food product thereon; and a second surface supporting an attachment mechanism for removably coupling to a reciprocal attachment mechanism on a receiving arm of a printer, wherein the attachment mechanism prevents movement of the platform with respect to the receiving arm when coupled to the receiving arm.

18. The platform of claim 17 wherein the respective attachment mechanisms are configured to engage and disengage with one another to couple the platform to the receiving arm manually.

19. The platform of claim 17 wherein the attachment mechanism comprises one or more tabs extending outwardly from the second surface and a wall opposite the one or more tabs providing a space therebetween for receiving the reciprocal attachment mechanism on the receiving arm.

20. The platform of claim 19 wherein the wall extending outwardly from the bottom surface of the platform terminates in a lip extending into the space between the wall and the one or more tabs.

21. The platform of claim 19 wherein the one or more tabs extend a first distance outwardly from the bottom surface of the platform and the wall extends a second distance outwardly from the bottom surface and wherein the second distance is greater than the first distance.

22. The platform of claim 17 wherein the surface topography of the first surface comprises a plurality of protrusions positioned along at least a portion of the first surface.

23. The platform of claim 18 wherein the attachment mechanism comprises a plurality of protrusions spaced apart on the wall.

24. The platform of claim 17 wherein the attachment mechanism further comprises a support wall having a plurality of raised sections spaced apart on a surface of the support wall, the support wall further comprising one or more tabs for guiding and securing the platform to the receiving arm and the support wall terminating in a lip portion wherein the plurality of raised sections, one or more tabs, the lip portion, or a combination thereof secure the platform to the receiving arm.

25. The platform of claim 17 further comprising a protrusion located on a rear portion of the second surface and configured to couple to a corresponding notch in the receiving arm for coupling the platform to the receiving arm.

26. The platform of claim 17 wherein the platform is comprised of a food grade plastic or metal material.

27. A system for printing on a surface of a plurality of food products, the system comprising: a printer configured to print on a food product surface; a receiving arm supported by the printer and extendable and retractable across a path of a print head of the printer and positioned to extend from the printer and retract into the printer to receive one of the plurality of food products and deliver one of the plurality of food products to a position below the print head and to return the one of the plurality of food products after the food product has been printed on; and one or more platforms removably connectable with the receiving arm and the one or more platforms each having a food product support surface such that the one or more platforms provide interchangeable food product support surfaces and where more than one platform is provided the platforms have the same or different dimensions, surface topographies, or combinations thereof.

28. The system of claim 27 wherein the one or more platforms comprise an attachment mechanism configured to prevent movement of the platform with respect to the receiving arm when connected to the receiving arm and as the receiving arm extends and retracts with respect to the printer to retain the food product supported on the platform.

29. The system of claim 27 wherein the one or more platforms are removably secured to the receiving by way of a clip mechanism such that the platforms are removably secured without the use of tools.

30. The system of claim 27 wherein the one or more platforms each comprise one or more tabs and a wall opposite the one or more tabs with a space between the one or more tabs and the wall, the space having dimensions sufficient to receive the receiving arm therein and wherein the one or more tabs and the wall securely support the platform on the receiving arm such that the platform is movable with the receiving arm movement.

31. The system of claim 27 wherein the food product support surface comprises a substantially non-smooth surface on at least a portion of the food product support surface for holding food product thereon during extension and retraction of the platform when connected to the receiving arm.

32. The system of claim 27, wherein the food product support surface is constructed from a food grade material comprising a metal such as stainless steel, or a plastic material.

33. The system of claim 27, wherein the plurality of food products are edible elements having a substantially flat surface for printing thereon, cookies, frosting sheets, rice paper, or combinations thereof.

34. A method of automatically printing on a selected plurality of food products, the method comprising: selecting a food product platform for supporting at least one food product thereon; removably coupling the food product platform to a moveable receiving arm such that the food product platform is movable with the receiving arm but stationary with respect its connection with the receiving arm; extending the receiving arm supported by a printer towards a delivery tray for removing at least one food product from a first support surface of the delivery tray; retracting the receiving arm into the printer for positioning the food product below a print head of the printer; printing content directly on a surface of the food product; extending the receiving arm supported by the printer towards the delivery tray for returning at least one food product to the delivery tray after printing; and advancing the delivery tray to a second support surface of the delivery tray supporting a second food product.

35. The method of claim 34, wherein the food product platform is a first food product platform and further comprising: selecting a second food product platform having at least one of different dimensions or surface topography from the first food product platform; removing the first food product platform from connection with the receiving arm; removably coupling the second food product platform to the moveable receiving arm such that the second food product platform is movable with the receiving arm but stationary with respect its connection with the receiving arm; and extending the receiving arm towards the delivery tray for removing a subsequent at least one food product from the delivery tray wherein the subsequent at least one food product is different in size, type, construction or combination thereof from the previous at least one food product; retracting the receiving arm into the printer for positioning the subsequent at least one food product below a print head of the printer; printing content directly on a surface of the subsequent at least one food product.

36. The method of claim 34 and removably coupling the food product platform to the moveable receiving arm manually and without the assistance of tools.

Description:
PRINT SURFACE POSITIONING MECHANISMS FOR PRINTER

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS [0001] The present application is based on and claims the benefit of U.S. provisional patent application Serial No. 62/894,323, filed August 30, 2019; U.S. nonprovisional patent application Serial No. 16/985,830, filed August 5, 2020; U.S. nonprovisional patent application Serial No. 17/003,324, filed August 26, 2020 and U.S. nonprovisional patent application Serial No. 17/004,674, filed August 27, 2020, the contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety.

BACKGROUND

[0002] Printing with edible ink on food products is done for purposes of identifying, marking, decorating or personalizing the food product. For example, food products such as cookies can be passed under a print head ejecting edible ink on the top surface of the cookie, whether iced or plain, can be printed with a selected design.

[0003] Currently, a conveyor belt system or tray is used where one or more cookies are spaced apart in an array on the conveyor belt or tray and passed below the print head of the printer. Alternatively, labels comprised of edible paper can be printed with edible ink and applied to a food item with an edible adhesive such as frosting or icing.

[0004] Systems of the prior art that are able to print images on an array of food products supported on a conveyor belt or a tray with two or more columns of food products requires a larger and more expensive printer on the scale of a commercial printer. Such systems also usually require sophisticated sensing systems to locate the position of each food item for printing.

[0005] In the prior art systems, the loading and unloading of a food product on a tray or conveyor during printing is generally impractical. The conveyor or tray are often not accessible while products are being printed. It is also difficult to accurately load a food product on a moving conveyor or tray. It is also difficult to load a food product on a moving conveyor or tray without adversely affecting the print quality of the image currently being printed.

SUMMARY

[0006] An aspect of the present disclosure relates to a system for positioning a food product with respect to a print head for printing on a surface thereof. The system is incorporated into a printer. The system has a movable support surface for supporting the food product thereon, the support surface being vertically and horizontally moveable with respect to the print head. A sensor is provided for detecting a position of a surface of the food product positioned on the moveable support surface with respect to the print head. The sensor provides a signal to the printer indicative of a position of the surface of the food product and wherein the moveable support surface is adjustable in response thereto.

[0007] The sensor is a position sensor configured to detect the position of a top surface of the food product.

[0008] The sensor comprises an emitter and a receiver spaced apart within the printer with the print head therebetween.

[0009] The emitter provides a beam light across a print area below the print head for detecting a vertical position of the surface of the food product with respect to a nozzle of the print head.

[0010] The support surface is selectively and automatically positionable below the print head, the positioning of the support surface based at least in part on a thickness of the food product supported thereon, a selected distance between the print surface and a print nozzle for printing, or combinations thereof.

[0011] The printer is an inkjet printer configured for use with edible ink.

[0012] The support surface is constructed from a food grade material comprising a metal such as stainless steel, or a plastic material.

[0013] The support surface is textured to provide a co-efficient of friction sufficient to securely retain the food product thereon during movement and printing.

[0014] The food product is an edible element having a substantially flat surface, a pastry, cookie, frosting sheet, rice paper, or a combination thereof.

[0015] Yet another aspect of the present disclosure is a method of detecting and adjusting a position of a print surface of a food product for printing content thereon. A support surface holding a food product thereon is retracted into a printer for positioning the food product below a print head of the printer and a position of a print surface of the food product below the print head of the printer is detected with a sensor. Content is then printed directly on a surface of the food product.

[0016] The detected position of the print surface is compared to a pre-determined position of the print surface for printing and a position of the support surface below the print head is adjusted when the detected position is outside of the pre-determined position. [0017] A vertical position of the support surface is adjusted to match the pre determined position to adjust the vertical position of the print surface of the food product with respect to the print head.

[0018] An aspect of the present disclosure relates to a printing system for printing images or content with edible ink on a surface of an edible food product, the system configured for use with an interchangeable food product platform.

[0019] In one or more embodiments, an interchangeable food product platform supports a food product thereon. The platform has a first surface for supporting the food product thereon, the first surface having a surface topography configured to securely support the food product thereon. A second surface has an attachment mechanism for removably coupling to a reciprocal attachment mechanism on a receiving arm of a printer. The attachment mechanism prevents movement of the platform with respect to the receiving arm when coupled to the receiving arm.

[0020] The respective attachment mechanisms are configured to engage and disengage with one another to couple the platform to the arm manually.

[0021] In one or more embodiments, the attachment mechanism has one or more tabs extending outwardly from the second surface and a support wall opposite the one or more tabs providing a space therebetween for receiving the reciprocal attachment mechanism on the receiving arm. The wall extending outwardly from the bottom surface of the platform terminates in a lip extending into the space between the wall and the one or more tabs. The one or more tabs extend a first distance outwardly from the bottom surface of the platform and the wall extends a second distance outwardly from the bottom surface and wherein the second distance is greater than the first distance.

[0022] The platform further comprises a support wall having a plurality of raised sections spaced apart on a surface of the support wall, the support wall further comprising one or more tabs for guiding and securing the platform to the receiving arm and the support wall terminating in a lip portion wherein the plurality of raised sections, one or more tabs, the lip portion, or a combination thereof secure the platform to the receiving arm.

[0023] The platform also has a protrusion located on a rear portion of the second surface which corresponds to a notch in the receiving arm and the protrusion is configured to secure the platform to the receiving arm.

[0024] In one or more embodiments, the platform is comprised of a food grade plastic or metal material. [0025] In one or more embodiments, the surface topography of the first surface comprises a plurality of protrusions positioned along at least a portion of the first surface. [0026] Another aspect of the present disclosure relates to a system for printing on a surface of a plurality of food products. The system includes a printer configured to print on a food product surface and a receiving arm supported by the printer and extendable and retractable across a path of a print head of the printer and positioned to extend from the printer and retract into the printer to receive one of the plurality of food products and deliver one of the plurality of food products to a position below the print head and to return the one of the plurality of food products after the food product has been printed on. One or more interchangeable platforms are removably connectable with the receiving arm and the one or more platforms each have a food product support surface such that the one or more platforms provide interchangeable food product support surfaces to the printer. Where more than one platform is provided the platforms have the same or different dimensions, surface topographies, or combinations thereof.

[0027] The one or more platforms have an attachment mechanism configured to prevent movement of the platform with respect to the receiving arm when connected to the receiving arm and as the receiving arm extends and retracts laterally with respect to the printer to retain the food product supported on the platform.

[0028] In one or more embodiments, the one or more platforms are removably secured to the receiving by way of a clip mechanism.

[0029] In one or more embodiments, the one or more platforms each have one or more tabs and a wall opposite the one or more tabs with a space between the one or more tabs and the wall, the space having dimensions sufficient to receive the receiving arm therein and wherein the one or more tabs and the wall securely support the platform on the receiving arm such that the platform moves with the receiving arm.

[0030] In one or more embodiments, the food product support surface comprises a substantially non-smooth surface on at least a portion of the food product support surface for holding food product thereon during extension and retraction of the platform when connected to the receiving arm.

[0031] In one or more embodiments, the food product support surface is constructed from a food grade material comprising a metal such as stainless steel, or a plastic material. [0032] In one or more embodiments, the plurality of food products are edible elements having a substantially flat surface, cookies, frosting sheets, rice paper, or combinations thereof. [0033] Yet another aspect of the present disclosure relates to a method of automatically printing on a selected plurality of food products by selecting a food product platform for supporting at least one food product thereon and removably coupling the food product platform to a moveable receiving arm such that the food product platform is movable with the receiving arm but stationary with respect to its connection with the receiving arm. Printing includes extending the receiving arm supported by a printer towards a delivery tray for removing at least one food product from a first support surface of the delivery tray and retracting the receiving arm into the printer for positioning the food product below a print head of the printer. Content is then printed directly on a surface of the food product. Extending the receiving arm supported by the printer towards the delivery tray returns the at least one food product to the delivery tray after printing and advancing the delivery tray to a second support surface of the delivery tray supporting a second food product.

[0034] In one or more embodiments, the food product platform is a first food product platform and printing on a variety of food products includes selecting a second food product platform having at least one of different dimensions or surface topography from the first food product platform. The first food product platform is removed from connection with the receiving arm and the second food product platform removably coupled to the moveable receiving arm such that the second food product platform is movable with the receiving arm but stationary with respect to its connection with the receiving arm. Then the receiving arm is extended towards the delivery tray for removing a subsequent at least one food product from the delivery tray wherein the subsequent at least one food product is different in size, type, construction or combination thereof from the previous at least one food product. The receiving arm is then retracted into the printer for positioning the subsequent at least one food product below a print head of the printer and content printed directly on a surface of the subsequent at least one food product.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS [0035] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a food product printing system.

[0036] FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a food product printing system with a cover portion opened for exposing interior portions of a printer portion of the system.

[0037] FIG. 3 is a top perspective view of the food product printing system having an automatic delivery tray component removed and a cover of a printer removed.

[0038] FIG. 4 is a side view of the food product printing system with the automatic delivery tray component removable secured to a tray base portion. [0039] FIG. 5A is a side perspective view of the printer system without a housing or cover.

[0040] FIG. 5B is an additional side perspective view of the printer system without a housing or cover.

[0041] FIG. 6 is an exploded view of a sensor system of the printer system.

[0042] FIG. 7A is a top view of a removable food product platform for a receiving arm.

[0043] FIG. 7B is a front side perspective view of the removable food product platform.

[0044] FIG. 7C is a bottom side perspective view of the removable food product platform.

[0045] FIG. 8A is a top view of the removable food product platform coupled to the receiving arm.

[0046] FIG. 8B is a side view of the removable food product platform coupled to the receiving arm.

[0047] FIG. 8C is a front view of the of the removable food product platform coupled to the receiving arm.

[0048] FIG. 8D is a side view of the receiving arm.

[0049] FIG. 9 is a top view of the food product printing system with food product for printing loaded thereon.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0050] A print surface detecting system described herein may be incorporated into a food product printing system where the printing system includes a printer for printing an image on a surface of the food product according to any one or more of the embodiments described herein. The print surface may be an actual surface of the food product itself. As the position of the print surface may vary between food products during printing, the print surface detecting system detects the position of the print surface within the printer to initiate printing on a selected area of the print surface. The printer surface detecting system comprises a receiving arm and may further comprise a sensor that may be incorporated into a printer system in one or more embodiments. For example, the printer surface detecting system is provided in a printer system also having a delivery tray for providing food products for printing thereon. The delivery tray is configured for continuous delivery of a varied number of food products, and/or for food products of different or specific dimensions to the receiving arm. The receiving arm then delivers the food product to the printer. The print surface detecting system then detects the position of the print surface of the food product and printing is initiated and adjusted accordingly.

[0051] More specifically, the print surface detecting system includes a receiving arm that moves horizontally and vertically to deliver the food product for printing and one or more sensors for detecting a horizontal and vertical position of the print surface with respect to a print head of the printer.

[0052] The print surface detecting system allows the food product to be transferred from the delivery tray to the print head or print area of the printer without movement of the delivery tray. This simplifies the delivery of food products from the delivery tray to the receiving arm. The system also allows the receiving arm to be positioned vertically so that an upper surface of the food product or the print surface, is positioned at an ideal distance from the print head and print nozzles, regardless of the thickness or height of the individual food product. The print surface detecting system detects the vertical position of the top surface of the food product so the printer can automatically position each food product at an ideal level for printing. The system also sends a signal to indicate the actual presence of the food product within the print area for printing when the food product is present.

[0053] In further detail, the receiving arm is configured for receiving a food product from the delivery tray and moving the food product from the delivery tray into the printer and into a printing position. The printing position is substantially below a print head of the printer such that the surface to be printed on is in the path of the print head. The sensors detect the position of this surface such that the position of the receiving arm can be adjusted to place the print surface in a selected print position. For example, the receiving arm can be raised or lowered to ensure the print surface is a selected distance from the print nozzles. Once the food product is printed, the receiving arm then returns the printed food product to the delivery tray. The delivery tray is also configured to move in one or more directions in order to continuously and automatically deliver a plurality of food items sequentially to the receiving arm. Sequential food products may have varying thicknesses for example and the position of the receiving arm during printing can then be adjusted “on the fly” during printing a plurality of food items to ensure each product is printed with a high quality image or text, regardless of food product thickness or other dimension.

[0054] One embodiment of the printing system 10 is illustrated generally in FIGS. 1-

9. The printing system 10 is configured to receive a food product 12 from a delivery tray 22, to print on a surface of the food product 12 and return the food product 12 to the delivery tray 22. The system is also configured to do so automatically and continuously for a pre- determined number of food products 12. The system 10 comprises a printer 14 having a print head 16 and nozzles (not shown) wherein the print head 16 and nozzle are configured for printing with edible ink. The print head 16 can be a carriage for an ink cartridge where the ink cartridge may be filled with edible printer ink. The printer 14 also supports an extendable and retractable receiving arm 20 therein.

[0055] The receiving arm 20 is operably connected to a power source within the printer 14. The receiving arm 20 is extendable and retractable with respect to the position of the path of the print head 16. The receiving arm 20 has a first end and a second opposing end and a substantially flat receiving surface extending therebetween. The first end is operably connected to a mechanism for retracting and extending the arm 20. The second end and at least a portion of the receiving surface of the receiving arm 20 are configured for extending outwardly from the printer 14. When extended, the receiving arm 20 may receive a food product, hold a food product, and/or return a printed food product to the delivery tray 22. The receiving arm also holds or supports the food product within the printer 14 and during printing on the surface of the food product 12.

[0056] With respect to the printer 14, the print head 16 moves linearly back and forth along a gantry in the manner of a standard inkjet printer for ejecting (edible) ink towards the print surface and thus printing pre-selected content on a print surface positioned below the path of the print head 16. The printer 14 is in communication with a controller 50 wherein software may be used to control printing of the content on one or a plurality of food products 12.

[0057] In further detail, the receiving arm 20 moves in a direction perpendicular to the print head path such that the receiving arm 20 extends and retracts across or through the path of the print head 16. In one embodiment, the receiving arm 20 is a substantially flat, rectangular support plate which extends towards a holder 26 of the delivery tray 22 in order to engage with and remove the food product 12 from the delivery tray 22 as well as to return printed food products to the delivery tray. A top surface of the receiving arm 20 is a receiving surface for food product and may be textured or otherwise provided with a surface to increase a co-efficient of friction between the receiving arm 20 and the food product for retaining the food product 12 on the arm 20.

[0058] The receiving arm extends to receive or return the food product 12 and retracts from the tray 22 into the printer 14 and into a position below the print head 16 for printing. Once content is printed on a food product, the receiving arm 20 then extends to return the food product 12 back to the delivery tray 22. The delivery tray 22 then advances to provide a second unprinted food product 12 to the receiving arm 20. A base 40 for providing power and controlling advancement and vertical positioning of the delivery tray 22 in synchronization with the receiving arm 20 and a sensor system 110. The base 40 is spaced apart from the printer 14 and may be removably connected to the printer 14 via a stabilization arm 50 that extends from a housing of the base 40 to removable connection or coupling to a housing of the printer 14.

[0059] The receiving arm 20 is also configured for vertical movement such that the receiving surface of the receiving arm 20 is movable between two positions, a raised and a lowered position, where these positions allow the receiving arm 20 to retrieve and return food products 12 with respect to the delivery tray 22, and may allow for advancing of the delivery tray 22 when the receiving arm 20 is extended. The vertical movement of the receiving arm 20 also allows for selective positioning of the receiving arm and thus a vertical position of the food product positioned thereon for printing.

[0060] As illustrated in FIGS. 5A-6, the sensor system 110 is positioned within the printer 10 near the print area and are configured to detect the position of the print surface within the print area for initiating printing when the print surface is at a selected position. The sensors system 110 may comprise a position or proximity sensor of any type. For example, a photoelectric or laser sensor is used. An emitter 112 is positioned within the printer and on a first side of the print area 114 and a receiver 116 is then positioned within the printer 14 on a second, opposing side of the print area 114 such that the sensing area includes the print area 114 and the print positions between the receiving arm 20 and below the print head 16. One or more sensor systems 110 may be incorporated into the printer 14 in order to detect the vertical position of the print surface. The emitter 112 provides a beam of light across the print area 114 and as a food product 12 and print surface are positioned within the beam of light, the receiver 116 records the light transmitted or blocked and sends a signal to the controller indicative of a position of the print surface and indicative of vertical adjustment if needed. [0061] In any one or more embodiments, an array of sensors may be used. By way of non- limiting example, FIG. 6 illustrates the sensor system 110 that may comprise an emitter 210 and a receiver or sensor 212 where the emitter 210 comprises a linear, vertical array of LED lights 214 and an LED sensor 212. The emitter 210 may comprise a plate supporting the array of LED lights 214 and a sensing envelope 218. Thus, as illustrated by the arrows 220 and 222 respectively, light is emitted from the array 214 and received by the sensor 212 and a signal is provided by the sensor 212 to the envelope 218. The emitter 210 and sensor 212 are spaced apart and are positionable within the printer system 10 as described previously above. The sensor system 110 is configured to provide an accurate and improved indication as to where a top surface of the food product 12 is located or positioned as the receiving arm 20 is moving the food product 12 with respect to the printer system 10. A filter 216 may also be provided in front of the sensor 212 to filter and thus allow emission of a selected wavelength of light which the system is configured to sense or detect. The filter 216 allows for the reduction of errors in determining position of the print surface by reducing ambient, external light errors due to external light sources interfering with the sensor system.

[0062] In the illustrated embodiment the food product 12 is a dessert item such as a cookie. However, while examples of food items include various shapes, sizes, and types of cookies, the food items that can be printed with this system are not so limited. Frosting sheets, rice paper, bakery goods having at least one substantially flat surface for printing an image thereon, and other food items may be printed using this system.

[0063] The system is further configured with one or more control boards in communication with a computer or controller for configuring and initiating the printing process. The one or more sensors are in communication with the controller and configured to send signals readable by the computer or controller for adjusting the vertical height of the print surface for example. The system also allows for loading of unprinted food products and unloading of printed food products during printing or otherwise “on the fly.” The control board or boards allow for the delivery of a first food product, detecting the position of the print surface with respect to the print head and print nozzles, adjusting the position of the print surface with respect to the print head when the position detected does not match the selected position, and printing of the first food product, as well as return of the first food product to the delivery tray, advancing of the delivery tray to provide a second food product for delivery, delivery of the second food product, detecting of the position of the print surface with respect to the print head, adjusting the vertical position of the print surface with respect to the print head if needed, and printing of the second food product, return of the second food product to the delivery tray and advancing for delivery of one or more subsequent food products for printing and return in the same manner. Thus, the system allows for the automatic delivery, printing on and return of a plurality of food products wherein the products may have varying thicknesses.

[0064] Referring to FIGS. 7A-8D, in one embodiment, the receiving arm includes a food product platform 120 that is configured to operably couple to or otherwise securely attach to the receiving arm 20. In the embodiment illustrated, the support length 25 of the receiving arm 20 comprises a vertical wall to which the food product platform 120 is connected and supported by. A bottom surface 122 of the food product platform 120 comprises a connection mechanism 124 for coupling to the support length 25. The connection mechanism 124 may comprise a plurality of downwardly protruding tabs or walls 126 that are spaced apart along a length of the platform 120 and a support wall 128 terminating in lower lip 130 extending from the support wall 128.

[0065] In the embodiment illustrated herein, tab or wall 126 holds or supports the platform 120 on and in connection with the receiving arm 20 and tab or wall 127 provides a mounting guide for installation of the platform 120 on to the receiving arm 20. The tab or wall 127 is a guide 127 which allows a user to easily position and install the platform 120 onto the arm 20. For example, without the guide tab or wall 127, it would be easy to begin sliding the platform 120 onto the arm 20 with the lower lip 130 riding on the side of the arm 20 instead of the bottom. The tab or wall 127 prevents the platform 120 from being installed insecurely and/or at the wrong elevation and/or with a significant cant. Such incorrect or insecure installation would flex the lone securing tab 126 too far and damage it. As such, the guide tab 127 essentially forms a rectangle that is placed over the end of the receiving arm 20 to begin installing the platform 120 thereon. This guarantees the platform 120 begins sliding onto the receiving arm 20 in the correct position.

[0066] A surface of the support wall 128 may also be provided with a plurality of raised sections 129 such as pads 129. There may be four pads 129 positioned on the surface of the support wall 128 facing the one or more tabs 126 and guide tab 127. For example, the pads 129 may be provided on upper and lower sections on the forward and rear ends of the wall 128. These pads 129 are configured and positioned to directly contact a side of the receiving arm 20 when mounted thereon. These plurality of pads 129 combine with the securing tab 126, the bottom surface 122, and the lower lip 130 to secure the platform 120 to the receiving arm 20. The securing tab 126 presses into the receiving arm 20 roughly in a middle area of the plurality of pads 129, for example in a middle area of four pads 129 when viewed from the side. This locates the platform 120 on the receiving arm 20 in the X- direction (cartesian coordinate system) and makes the receiving arm 20 rotationally stable around two axes of potential motion and accounts for any minor warping of the platform 120 resulting from construction and/or use of the platform 120 for example, when the platform 120 is constructed of molded plastic. The bottom surface 122 and the lower lip 130 thus contain the platform in the Y-direction, but it is friction between the securing tab 126, the four support pads 129, and the receiving arm 20 that keep the platform from moving in the Y- direction or Z- directions, or rotating around the third potential axis of rotation during printing.

[0067] Referring to FIG. 8D, the support length 25 provides lateral and vertical support to the platform 120 and is configured for operably supporting the food product platform 120 thereon. For example, the support length 25 has a width W and a height H, where the width W of the support surface is less than the height H of the support length 25. The width of the support length 25 is sufficiently thick to provide stability to the receiving arm and to provide support for the product platform 120 installed thereon but is sufficiently thin enough to provide a friction fit with the connection mechanism 124 of the product platform 120 as described in further detail above. The support length 25 may be oriented as a lateral tab where the support length 25 is then manually slidable, without the use of tools, into connection with the platform 120 in the manner described above in further detail. The receiving arm 20 may be comprised of a food grade metal such as stainless steel or a molded plastic.

[0068] There may also be a notch 133 at an upper section of the receiving arm 20 near a back end of the support length 25 or behind the support length 25 on the receiving arm 20 that connects with or otherwise receives a corresponding protrusion 131 on the platform 120 to locate and position the platform 120 on the arm 20 in the Z-direction. The connection of the protrusion 131 into the notch 131 further stabilizes and secures the platform 120 to the receiving arm 20, in addition to the securing tab 126 described above. When the platform 120 is installed on the receiving arm 20, the protrusion 131 on the underside of the platform 120 must be flexed upward as the platform 120 is slid onto the receiving arm 20. The protrusion 131 then drops into the notch 133 and then prevents the platform 120 from sliding back off of the receiving arm 20. The end of the platform 120 butting into a rear or back side of the notch 133 stops the platform from sliding in the opposite direction. A snap action of the protrusion 131 dropping into the notch 133 also alerts to user that the platform 120 is fully installed on the receiving arm 20. As such, these features locate the platform in the Z- direction in a macro sense, and in addition to the friction fit described above, movement in Z- direct is substantially eliminated when the platform 120 is installed on the receiving arm 20. When the protrusion 131 is connected with the notch 133 and the platform 120 connected to the receiving arm 20, the platform is prevented from moving out of place inadvertently, for example, if bumped or dropped during transport.

[0069] A top surface 132 of the food product platform 120 may be textured on a portion of the surface 134 which supports a food product 12 thereon or substantially the entire surface 134. As illustrated, spikes may be provided on the top surface 134 to provide traction or grip to the food product platform 120 for holding the food product 12 thereon. [0070] While the receiving arm 20 illustrated herein can include a removable food product platform 120 for coupling to the receiving arm 20, in additional or alternative embodiments, the receiving arm 20 may otherwise have a permanent food support structure incorporated therein. However, the receiving arm 20 of any such embodiments comprises a substantially flat, rectangular support surface which extends towards a holder 26 of the delivery tray 22 in order to engage with and remove the food product 12 from the delivery tray 22 as well as to return printed food products to the delivery tray. The support surface, such as a top surface 132 of the product platform 120, may be substantially flat and having a substantially smooth, textured, or other surface topography. The support surface may also have a geometric shape other than rectangular and which may vary in accordance with selected food product types and dimensions.

[0071] The receiving arm 20 extends to receive or return the food product 12 and retracts from the tray 22 into the printer 14 and into a position below the print head 16 for printing. As the food product platform 120 is removably coupled to the receiving arm 20, the food product platform 120 is movable with the receiving arm 20. That is, the food product platform 120 coupled to the receiving arm 20 extends and retracts, as well as raises and lowers with the receiving arm 20. The attachment mechanism 124 for coupling the food product platform 120 to the receiving arm 20 prevents pivoting or other unintentional movement, such as a lateral and vertical movement of the platform 120 with respect to the receiving arm 20. Thus, the attachment is secure and retains the platform 120 in an installation position with respect to the receiving arm 20 in an easily removable manner. [0072] Once content is printed on a food product 12 in any one of the embodiments herein, the receiving arm 20 then extends to return the food product 12 back to the delivery tray 22. The delivery tray 22 then advances to provide a second unprinted food product 12 to the receiving arm 20. The receiving arm 20 is also configured for vertical movement such that the receiving surface of the receiving arm 20 is movable between two positions, a raised and a lowered position, where these positions allow the receiving arm 20 to retrieve and return food products 12 with respect to the delivery tray 22, and may allow for advancing of the delivery tray 22 when the receiving arm 20 is extended. Once loaded, the receiving arm 20, and the food product platform 120, are then retracted to the printing position with the food product 12 thereon. This process continues on continuously and automatically until a pre-determined amount of food products are printed. It is also contemplated that the delivery tray may also be raised or lowered in order to allow for the delivery tray 22 to advance to a subsequent holder 26 or opening 28 on the delivery tray 22 for automatically delivering, receiving and thus printing on a plurality of food items.

[0073] Although the present disclosure has been described with reference to preferred embodiments, workers skilled in the art will recognize that changes may be made in form and detail without departing from the spirit and scope of the disclosure.