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Title:
PRODUCT DISPENSER AND LIFT UNIT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/040924
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
A modified product dispenser unit and a batch product lift or elevator unit adjacent to an automatic fryer. Fries (or other forms of batch product) are dispensed into an angled chute, and thence into the lift or elevator batch product holder at the bottom or loading position in a batch product elevator in the batch product elevator unit. The holder is raised by motorized chains, cables, or the like to a top or release position in the batch product lift or elevator, where the fries are then delivered to an exit chute which drops the fries into the automatic fryer. The batch product lift or elevator unit may comprise a pair of holders and corresponding lifting mechanism and exit chutes, corresponding to the pair of hoppers.

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Inventors:
ALLEGRA MARK (US)
CHMAYSSANI KHALIL (US)
Application Number:
US2018/048035
Publication Date:
February 28, 2019
Filing Date:
August 25, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
FRANKE FOODSERVICE SYSTEMS INC (US)
ALLEGRA MARK (US)
International Classes:
A47J37/12
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
RAMAGE, W., Edward (US)
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Claims:
CLAIMS

What is claimed is:

1. A bulk product dispensing apparatus, comprising:

a first bulk product holder comprising a bottom, a receiving end, and a release end;

a first vertical lift, configured to move the first holder from a loading position to a release position;

wherein the first holder is adapted to receive bulk product in the loading position, move vertically upwards to the release position, and release said bulk product when in the release position.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein bottom of the first holder is sloped downwards from the receiving end to the release end.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the release end of the first holder comprises a flap or gate, wherein said flap or gate is closed when the first holder is in the loading position, and opens when the second holder is in the release position. 4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first holder is fixedly attached to the first vertical lift.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, where the first holder is pivotally or rotatably attached to the first vertical lift.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising an exit chute configured to receive the bulk product from the first holder in the release position.

7. The apparatus of claim 6, wherein the exit chute is configured to deliver the bulk product directly into an automatic fryer.

8. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the release position is directly above the loading position.

9. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a second bulk product holder attached to a second vertical lift.

10. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a cabinet housing the first vertical lift and first holder.

11. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein the cabinet further contains a bulk product dispensing unit.

12. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein the dispensing unit comprises a freezer box with a self-contained refrigeration unit.

13. The apparatus of claim 11, further comprising a dispensing chute configured to deliver a predetermined amount of bulk product to the first holder. 14. The apparatus of claim 11, further comprising a first conveyor belt configured to deliver a predetermined amount of bulk product to the first holder.

15. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising an adjunct conveying unit. 16. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the bulk product comprise bulk frozen food.

Description:
PRODUCT DISPENSER AND LIFT UNIT

This application claims benefit of and priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/549,988, filed Aug. 25, 2017. The specification, drawings and complete disclosure of U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/549,988 are incorporated herein in their entireties by specific reference for all purposes.

FIELD OF INVENTION

This invention relates to an apparatus and method for dispensing of items or products. More particularly, this invention relates to an apparatus and method for automatically dispensing pre-determined portions of bulk food items, such as frozen food items, directly into an automatic fryer. BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

In restaurants, especially quick service (fast food and fast casual) restaurants, fast, consistent, efficient and safe food preparation is essential for a successful operation. One important task frequently required in the preparation of fast food is the portioning of bulk food items supplied in bulk food containers. Bulk food items are typically supplied in containers weighing several pounds or more. Each container holds a large number of individual food items such as firench fries, cheese sticks, chicken nuggets or the like. The use of bulk containers is efficient because it minimizes the number of individual containers which must be transported to, handled and stored at a restaurant. Because it is typically unnecessary, undesirable or impossible to prepare the entire contents of a given container at one time, the bulk food items must be portioned before cooking, heating or serving. Portioning a bulk food product involves many of the efficiency, speed, safety and consistency considerations involved in fast food preparation generally. For example, consistent food preparation requires that portions be of a uniform size because over- or under-sized portions may yield an under- or over-prepared food product when the portion is cooked, heated or otherwise processed. Additionally, portioning should be performed quickly to minimize food preparation delays which may dissatisfy customers. Furthermore, portioning operations should be non-labor intensive so as to efficiently utilize restaurant labor, particularly when such workers are in high demand and difficult to procure. Finally, portioning operations should minimize the manual manipulation of food products by restaurant workers, thereby minimizing safety concerns related to food handling generally.

Although quick service restaurants have existed for many years and now number in the tens of thousands, these establishments typically continue to utilize labor intensive, manual processes to portion the contents of containerized bulk food products. While portioning devices and systems are known in the prior art, these devices and systems still require substantial handling or other manual processes to dispense and deliver the apportioned food products to the cooking machinery. An example of a prior art apparatus is disclosed in Rudesill, et al., "Multi-Product Dispenser and Method of Using Same," U.S. Patent Application No. 11/288,478, filed Nov. 29, 2015, which is incorporated herein by specific reference in its entirety for all purposes.

Accordingly, what is needed is a commercially suitable portioning and delivery apparatus for containerized bulk food items that minimizes manual food handling, requires little operator attention, and quickly, automatically, consistently, and accurately portions bulk food items and delivers said portions to the cooking machinery, such as an automatic batch fryer, while maximizing quality, efficiency, flexibility and yield of the bulk food items, for serving or further preparation.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In various exemplary embodiments, the present invention comprises a modified product dispenser unit and a batch product vertical lift (or elevator) unit adjacent to an automatic fryer. Fries (or other forms of batch product) are dispensed into an angled chute, and thence into the lift or elevator batch product holder at the bottom or loading position in a batch product lift or elevator in the batch product lift or elevator unit. The holder is raised by motorized chains, cables, or the like to a top position in the batch product lift or elevator, where the fries are then delivered to an exit chute which drops the fries into the automatic fryer. The batch product lift or elevator unit may comprise a pair of holders and corresponding lifting mechanism and exit chutes, corresponding to the pair of hoppers, although, in alternative embodiments, the number of hoppers and lifts or elevators may vary, and, in some embodiments, multiple hoppers may feed a single lift or elevator.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Figure 1 shows a view of a prior art dispenser system.

Figure 2 shows a side cutaway view of a modified dispenser unit and a batch product elevator unit adjacent to an automatic fryer. Figures 3-7 show views of another embodiment of a modified dispenser unit with a batch product elevator unit.

Figures 8-9 show views of a modified dispenser unit with a batch product elevator unit in use with an adjunct conveying unit.

Figure 10 shows a view of another embodiment of a modified dispenser unit positioned above an automatic fryer.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

In the following description and accompanying drawings, like reference numbers, as used in the various figures, refer to like features or elements. For purposes of the description hereinafter, the terms "upper," "lower," "right," "left," "vertical," "horizontal," "top, " "bottom," and derivatives thereof shall relate to the invention, as it is oriented in the drawing figures. However, it is to be understood that the invention may assume various alternative variations and step sequences that the specific devices and process illustrated in the attached drawings and described in the following text are simply exemplary embodiments of the invention. Hence, specific dimensions and other physical characteristics related to the embodiments disclosed hereinafter are not to be considered limiting.

While embodiments are discussed herein in terms of dispensing firench fries, the product may be any dispensable item, including for example, frozen food such as patties or nuggets or a vegetable food item other than french fries, any of which might require portioning to a predetermined weight and dispensing them on demand into a receptacle prior to cooking, heating or other processing. Figure 1 shows an example of a prior art dispensing apparatus, as disclosed in Rudesill, U.S. Patent Application No. 11/288,478. The dispenser unit 10 includes a control panel 12, a cabinet 14, a dispense assembly 16 and a self-contained refrigerator system 18. Cabinet 14 having cabinet door 20 provides access to a drum/hopper storage area 22. Hopper storage area 22 supports a first hopper 24 and an optional second hopper 26. Hoppers 24 and 26 are located adjacent to each other. Hopper storage area 22 may also support an additional number of hoppers. Hoppers 24 and 26 are designed to receive a plurality or bulk amount of frozen food, such as french fries. The french fries in hoppers 24 and 26 are portioned to a predetermined weight (typically through some form of gating mechanism, such as a rotating metering drum) and dispensed into one or more fry receiving baskets 28 and 30, respectively. Proximity sensors detected the presence of the fry receiving baskets, which are manually placed in the respective dispense lane guides 58, 60, causing dispensing doors to open and drop fries into the basket. Fry baskets are then manually removed and lowered into a fry vat for cooking.

Figure 2 shows a modified dispenser unit 100 and a batch product vertical lift (or elevator) unit 110 adjacent to an automatic fryer 120, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention. Fries are dispensed into an angled chute 102, and thence into the lift or elevator batch product holder (e.g., "elevator car") 112 at the bottom or loading or receiving position in a batch product lift or elevator in the batch product lift or elevator unit 110. The holder is raised by motorized chains, cables, or the like 114 to a top or release or upper position in the batch product lift or elevator, where the fries are then delivered to an exit chute 116 which drops the fries into the automatic fryer 120. The release position may be directly vertically above the loading position, or may be laterally/horizontally displaced to some extent (i.e., the lift is at an angle). The batch product lift or elevator unit may comprise a pair of holders and corresponding lifting mechanism and exit chutes, corresponding to the pair of hoppers 24, 26, although, in alternative embodiments, the number of hoppers and lifts/elevators may vary, and, in some embodiments, multiple hoppers may feed a single lift or elevator.

Figures 3-7 show an alternative embodiment of the present invention where fries are dispensed onto a conveyor belt 106, which transports the fries to the corresponding holder 112. Each hopper dispenses fries onto a separate conveyor belt, and feeds a separate holder. The dispensing doors of the dispensing units may be offset.

In the embodiment shown, the holders 112 are attached to the corresponding lifting mechanism on each side. The left (or receiving) side or end (when viewed from the orientation shown in Fig. 5) of the holder is open to receive fries from the dispenser unit. The bottom is sloped to the right (or release) side or end, causing the fries to aggregate near the right/release end. When the holder is filled, the left or receiving end may remain open, or may be closed (such as by a flap or gate). The right side or end comprises a flap or gate 118 that is closed to hold the fries in the holder during loading and lifting, but opens when the holder reaches the top or upper release position of the respective lift or elevator, releasing fries to the exit chute 116. The holder may be fixedly attached to the lift mechanism (so that the slope of the bottom of the holder and the exit chute cause the fries to move from the holder), although in alternative embodiments other release mechanisms may be used. For example, the holder may be pivotably or rotatably attached to the lift mechanism, so that the holder may rotate or pivot with respect to the lift mechanism at the release position, thereby assisting the fries to be released to the exit chute. This may be used in conjunction with the flap or gate 118, although in some embodiments, the rotation or pivoting motion may be substantial enough to allow fries to be released through the top of holder. In several of these embodiments, the holder may have a flat or flatter bottom that is not sloped as described above.

While the exit chutes can deliver fries directly into a fryer, as seen in Figure 2, Figures 8-9 show the elevator unit delivering fries to an adjunct conveying unit 130. Each conveyor (where there are multiple conveyor lines) in the adjunct conveying unit delivers the fries to a frying unit. The adjunct conveying unit may be on a wheeled frame or cart, and may be adjusted in height or length, thus allowing the dispenser and lift/elevator unit to be positioned at a distance from the frying unit, or to accommodate a different in height between the exit chutes and the frying unit. In yet another exemplary embodiment, as seen in Figure 10, the dispensing unit can be positioned above the fryer.

The modified dispenser unit and batch product lift or elevator unit can be separate, or integrated into a single structure. As seen in the figures, the dispenser and lift/elevator units may each have separate doors or access points. The present invention is advantageous and may be utilized in any commercial or institutional food service facility such as restaurants, universities, hospitals, catering/banquet/convention halls, and the like. Additionally, the invention provides advantages of automatically portioning a predetermined amount of bulk food efficiently in a time effective manner, and automatic delivery to an automatic frying unit. In particular, the present invention improves the quality and yield of the bulk food item, increases speed, as well as allows for flexibility in the design of the dispenser unit. Additionally, the simple, one-handed operation, and ergonomic controls, as well as the removable parts, provide other advantages. These and other advantages will be recognized by the user.

Thus, it should be understood that the embodiments and examples described herein have been chosen and described in order to best illustrate the principles of the invention and its practical applications to thereby enable one of ordinary skill in the art to best utilize the invention in various embodiments and with various modifications as are suited for particular uses contemplated. Even though specific embodiments of this invention have been described, they are not to be taken as exhaustive. There are several variations that will be apparent to those skilled in the art.