(19)
(11)EP 2 334 780 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
29.04.2020 Bulletin 2020/18

(21)Application number: 09789051.1

(22)Date of filing:  30.07.2009
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
C12M 1/00(2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/US2009/004429
(87)International publication number:
WO 2010/030318 (18.03.2010 Gazette  2010/11)

(54)

INCUBATION SYSTEM WITH LOW TEMPERATURE ENCLOSURE

INKUBATIONSSYSTEM MIT NIEDRIGTEMPERATURBEREICH

SYSTÈME D INCUBATION AVEC ENCEINTE À BASSE TEMPÉRATURE


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 09.09.2008 US 283191

(43)Date of publication of application:
22.06.2011 Bulletin 2011/25

(73)Proprietor: Biomerieux, Inc
Durham, NC 27712 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • FANNING, Mark, J.
    Florissant MO 63031 (US)
  • YAM, Jacky
    St. Louis MO 63146 (US)
  • ROBBINS, David, M.
    Lake Saint Louis MO 63367 (US)
  • KETSENBURG, Kevin, G.
    O'fallon MO 63366 (US)
  • BISHOP, James, C.
    Columbia MO 65203 (US)

(74)Representative: Dehns 
St. Bride's House 10 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JD
London EC4Y 8JD (GB)


(56)References cited: : 
EP-A1- 1 900 804
EP-A2- 1 897 935
DE-A1- 19 925 453
US-A1- 2002 047 311
EP-A2- 0 290 923
DE-A1- 4 406 145
US-A- 5 360 741
US-A1- 2005 084 956
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    BACKGROUND


    Field



    [0001] This invention relates to the field of incubators, and more particularly to an incubator that is designed to maintain an incubation temperature that is close to room temperature, e.g., between 20 and 25°C.

    Description of Related Art



    [0002] Incubators for incubating biological samples, such as human blood samples placed in a bottle or like container, are known in the art. Figure 1 shows one such incubator 10, marketed by the applicants' assignee bioMérieux, Inc. as the BacT/Alert 3D™ incubation system. The incubator 10 is designed to incubate blood collection bottles 12 which contain a culture medium. The incubator has drawers 14 which pull out from the rest of the incubator to allow the user to insert and remove the bottles 12 from the incubator 10.

    [0003] The incubator further includes optical sensors (not shown) which read the bottles 12 to determine whether a reaction has occurred between the sample in the bottles and a growth medium in the bottle. The sensors and their method of operation are described in the patent literature, see U.S. Patent 5,164,796. The incubator has an electronics unit 18 positioned at the top of the incubator which receives signals from the optical sensors and which regulates the heater system (not shown) of the incubator which in turn regulates the internal temperature of the incubator. The incubator 10 is typically installed in a biological testing laboratory, e.g., located in a hospital, clinic or other site, and placed on the laboratory bench 20. US 2005/084956 discloses an incubation system providing an incubator provided with an interior and at least one access feature represented as a door. The temperature of the air is maintained based on the present heating system.

    [0004] In the microbiology testing industry, there are generally two distinct market segments: biopharma and food. These two segments have unique microbiological testing and incubation needs. In particular, the biopharma segment closely follows worldwide Pharmacopoeia methods, which includes microbiological testing and incubation of samples at two temperature ranges: 30-35°C and 20-25°C. In comparison, the food and other clinical users primarily set their incubators at 36 or 37°C.

    [0005] The current BacT/ALERT 3D incubator 10 of Figure 1 is designed to perform at an incubation temperature of 7°C above ambient to 45°C. When placed in a normal lab environment (ambient temperature approximately 20-22°C), the temperature differential is sufficiently large that the incubator can reliably incubate within the 30-35°C incubation range. However, under normal laboratory working conditions in which the laboratory and incubator is maintained in a room temperature (20-22°C) ambient environment, some incubators are not capable of maintaining a stable incubation range of 20-25°C. Simply leaving the specimen to be incubated out on the laboratory bench at "room temperature" is of course not acceptable, as the environment is not reliably temperature controlled (e.g., a window may be left open, the air conditioning system may not work properly, the heating system may be turned down at night or over the weekend to save energy, etc.).

    [0006] In order for some incubators to work properly and maintain the 20-25°C (nominal 22.5°C) incubation range, in the past the entire incubator is moved to a walk-in environmental chamber which maintains an ambient environment of approximately 13°C or less. However, this approach does not provide an efficient work environment, because the walk-in environmental chamber is typically not conveniently located, e.g., it is down the hall or on another floor. Moreover, many larger facilities have many incubators such as the incubator 10 of Figure 1. The walk-in environmental chamber is typically in a separate location away from the other incubators, thus making use of the incubators in the environmental chamber more inconvenient and inefficient.

    [0007] An alternative approach that has been considered is to cool the entire laboratory space where the incubators are located down to say 10-13 °C However, this is not a comfortable work environment for laboratory technicians, as they have to bundle up to stay warm and contend with working with cold hands.

    [0008] Organon Teknika, the company which originally designed the incubator module 10 shown in Figure 1, at one time developed an incubation instrument known as the "Kool Boy" to satisfy the need for incubation at cooler temperature than 30° C. The design included a cooling unit placed in a custom cart with an incubator on top. The cooling unit was a window air conditioner. The air was drawn in from the front of the cart and the cool air exited out duct work along the back edge of the cart. The incubator rear panel was removed and replaced with duct work that attached to the top rear of the cart. The cool air from the cooling unit blew directly into the incubator. Firmware within the incubator controlled the temperature of the airflow. This unit was considered to be too noisy for the laboratory environment due to the high blower RPMs. The 220 VAC power supply the unit required was not easily adaptable to most laboratories either. The product was a commercial failure for these and other reasons, and supposedly only 1 or 2 instruments were ever sold.

    [0009] The incubation system and apparatus of this invention solves this problem of providing incubators which can properly and reliably maintain an incubation temperature at or near room temperature (20-25°C), while allowing laboratory workers to work in a normal laboratory environment at room temperature and allow all the incubators to be maintained in the same vicinity by avoiding the use of special environmental chambers and resulting inefficiencies. This invention also overcomes the many deficiencies that the Kool Boy instrument suffered from.

    [0010] DE19925453, DE4406145, and US5601143 describe temperature controlled incubator cabinets. DE19925453 uses a low heat flux density between the working space and the cooling area to achieve minimal desiccation of samples within the incubator. US5601143 describes a laboratory refrigerator in which air from the storage volume is circulated via a chamber formed between an inner basin and an outer basin and re-enters the storage volume via apertures in the side walls of the inner basin. US 2005/084956 discloses an incubator comprising an adiabatic box with an adiabatic door and a transparent door. US 2002/047311 discloses a controlled atmosphere incubator comprising an interior chamber surrounded by a heated water jacket. US 5360741 discloses a hybridization incubator comprising a housing surrounding an interior volume in which a rotational carousel is mounted.

    SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION



    [0011] In a first aspect, an incubation system is disclosed. The system is designed for incubating samples, such as biological samples, agar plates streaked with a bacterial culture, blood collection bottles, etc. in a controlled temperature environment. This temperature environment is approximately room temperature, between 20 and 25°C. The nature of the sample or the device containing the sample to be incubated is not important. The example of blood collection bottles herein is offered only by way of explanation and not limitation.

    [0012] The system includes an incubator having an exterior and an interior and one or more access features on the exterior providing access to the interior of the incubator for loading sample containers into the incubator and removing the sample containers. The access features may take the form of doors, drawers or other format. The incubator includes a heating system for maintaining the temperature of the interior of the incubator at a nominal desired temperature, e.g., 22.5°C.

    [0013] The system includes a machine (refrigeration unit) for generating a supply of cold air. The machine is incorporated into a cart or base structure upon which the incubator sits. The temperature of the air produced by the refrigeration unit is typically below the temperature of the incubator, such as 10°C.

    [0014] The system further includes an enclosure external from and substantially enveloping the incubator. The enclosure is configured and constructed so as to define a space or region to exist between the exterior of the incubator and the enclosure. This space or region between the enclosure and the incubator receives cold air from the machine generating the supply of cold air. Thus, relatively cool air is provided to the exterior of the incubator. The enclosure in preferred embodiments is insulated, e.g., made of an insulative material or made from a non-insulative material (sheet metal) and insulated such as foam added to the material. The enclosure is sized and shaped so as to substantially surround the exterior of the incubator in order to maintain an ambient environment on the exterior of the incubator. The enclosure provides an ambient environment for the incubator which is sufficiently cooler from the nominal temperature of the incubator such that the incubator can reliably incubate at a temperature in the 20-25°C range, thereby allowing the incubation system to be placed in a room temperature environment.

    [0015] The enclosure includes a void or opening exposing the one or more access features on the exterior of the incubator, wherein a user may directly access the contents stored in the incubator while the rest of the incubator is substantially enveloped by the enclosure. It is also possible to provide an enclosure that completely envelops the incubator but which has an access feature such as a door to allow the user to gain access to the incubator drawers or doors and thus the sample containers inside the incubator.

    [0016] The machine supplying cold air is incorporated into a base, which may take the form of a cart or like device which may or may not be mobile (i.e., have wheels). The insulated enclosure and incubator are placed on the base. In one configuration, the base and the insulated enclosure are constructed and arranged as a retrofit assembly for a pre-existing incubator, and shipped as a kit to the site of the incubator. The base includes a first opening for egress of cold air from the base and a second opening for return of air from region between the enclosure and the incubator, whereby air is circulated in a closed loop from the base, to the space between the enclosure and the incubator, and back to the base.

    [0017] In a preferred configuration, the enclosure includes seals making a substantially air-tight seal between the enclosure and the base and between the enclosure and the incubator in the area surrounding the void in the enclosure. The seals prevent introduction of ambient air into the region between the enclosure and the incubator. This design allows for closed loop circulation of cool air to and from the incubation enclosure and minimizes formation of condensation inside the incubation enclosure.

    [0018] In another possible configuration, the incubator includes a top portion and an electronics module positioned in the top portion of the incubator. The insulated enclosure is constructed and arranged into a first or lower compartment surrounding the incubator and a second or upper compartment surrounding the top portion of the incubator. The two compartments are separated from each other (e.g., using baffles), such that air from the system supplying cold air does not enter the upper compartment. This design prevents any possible damage to the electronics due to condensation as the cool air is not circulated to the upper compartment.

    [0019] In another aspect, an incubation apparatus is provided comprising, in combination:
    (a) an incubator, the incubator having an exterior and an interior and one or more access features on the exterior providing access to the interior of the incubator, the incubator further comprising a source of heat for maintaining the interior of the incubator at a nominal temperature; and (b) an insulated enclosure enveloping the incubator, the enclosure having an interior region receiving cold air from a source, wherein the insulated enclosure is sized and shaped so as to substantially surround the exterior of the incubator, the interior region defining a region wherein air from the source at a temperature below the nominal temperature may circulate over the exterior of the incubator.

    [0020] In one possible configuration, the incubator incubates sample containers containing samples collected from human patients. Preferably, the incubator further includes a sensor for obtaining sensor readings from the sample containers.

    [0021] In another aspect, the present invention may take the form of a cool chamber apparatus for installation around an incubator. The incubator has a front side having one or more access feature of obtaining access to the interior of the incubator. The cool chamber apparatus includes an insulated enclosure sized and shaped so as to substantially envelop the incubator and has a top panel and first, second and third side panels for covering the first, second and third side panels of the incubator and fourth side having an void or opening exposing the access features of the incubator.

    [0022] In still another aspect, we have invented a method of modifying an incubator, comprising the steps of:
    1. a) obtaining a retrofit kit, comprising (a) a base containing a source of cold air and (b) an enclosure, preferably but not necessarily insulated, at a site where the incubator is located, the base having a first opening for egress of cold air and a second opening for return of air to the base;
    2. b) placing the incubator on the base;
    3. c) placing the enclosure on the base in a manner such that the enclosure surrounds the incubator and the first and second openings in the base are peripheral to the incubator but internal to the enclosure such that cold air may circulate on the exterior of the incubator and return to the base in a closed loop.


    [0023] In a preferred configuration embodiment, the enclosure includes a void exposing an access feature of the incubator enabling direct access to the contents of the incubator while the incubator is substantially enveloped by the enclosure. Alternatively, the enclosure can completely envelop the incubator and the enclosure includes a strategically placed or like access feature permitting access to the door or drawers of the incubator.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0024] 

    Figure 1 is an illustration of a prior art incubator designed to incubate blood collection bottles, which is shown placed in a laboratory on the lab bench.

    Figure 2 is a perspective view of an incubation system according to one embodiment of this invention. The system includes an incubator (such as for example the incubator of Figure 1), a base containing a machine generating cold air, and an enclosure (typically but not necessarily insulated or made from an material having intrinsic insulation properties) surrounding the incubator. The enclosure includes a void (opening in the front wall of the incubator) which exposes the drawers of the incubator and allows direct access to the contents of the incubator.

    Figure 3 is a front view of the incubation system of Figure 2.

    Figure 4 is a rear view of the incubation system of Figure 3 but with the enclosure removed, showing the incubator sitting on top of the base and the apertures for egress of cold air from the base and return of air to the base.

    Figure 5 is a perspective, rear view of the incubation system of Figure 2 with the enclosure installed on the base and surrounding the incubator.

    Figure 6 is a cross-sectional view of the incubation system of Figures 2, 3 and 5 taken long the lines 6-6 of Figure 3.

    Figure 7 is a cross-sectional view of the incubation system of Figures 2, 3 and 5 taken along the lines 7-7 of Figure 5, showing the flow path of air circulated in a closed loop between the refrigeration machine in the base and the space between the inner walls of the enclosure and the exterior wall of the incubator.

    Figure 8 is a perspective view of the enclosure shown isolated.

    Figure 9 is an illustration of a retrofit kit that can be furnished to a site such as a laboratory which already has an existing incubator. The kit includes the base and enclosure of Figure 2, and optionally a temperature sensor for placement in the space between the exterior of the incubator and the interior walls of the enclosure to monitor the temperature in this space. The temperature sensor can be used in a temperature feedback system to regulate operation of the refrigeration machine located in the base.


    DETAILED DESCRIPTION


    Overview



    [0025] Referring now to the Figures, Figure 2 is a perspective view of an incubation system 200 according to one embodiment of this invention. The system 200 includes an incubator 10 (such as for example the incubator of Figure 1), a base or cart 202 containing a machine generating a supply of cold air, and an enclosure 204 surrounding the incubator 10. The enclosure 204 is typically, but not necessarily, insulated. That is, the enclosure has insulation added to the shell or skin forming the enclosure 204 and/or the enclosure 204 is made from a material and/or thickness such that it has intrinsic insulation properties without addition of extra insulation.

    [0026] The incubator 10 and enclosure 204 are placed on the top of the base 202. The base 202 serves as a mobile base for the enclosure 204 and incubator 10 to sit on, while also housing a refrigeration machine 700 (shown in Figure 7) generating cold air, and the power supply for the refrigeration machine. The power supply adjusts the input voltage from most world wide power sources to provide power to the refrigeration unit. In the illustrated embodiment, the refrigeration machine 700 (Figure 7) in the base 202 produces a 10°C airflow. This temperature setting is offered by way of example only and may vary depending on the nominal temperature maintained by the incubator, the amount of insulation present in the enclosure 204, the ambient temperature environment, and whether the system uses a feedback temperature control system including a temperature sensor for the enclosure, described below.

    [0027] The incubator 10 includes a heating system (conventional, not shown) which provides the nominal temperature incubation environment for the bottles 12 of Figure 1 contained within the incubator. This temperature in the illustrated embodiment is in the range of 20-25°C, such as 22.5°C.

    [0028] The enclosure 202 in the preferred embodiment is an insulated cabinet that substantially surrounds and envelops the incubator 10 and thus provides a relatively cool ambient environment for the incubator 10 to work in. Preferred embodiments provide for the void or opening 206 in the front wall 208 of the enclosure 204 to give the lab technician direct access to the drawers 14 of the incubator 10.

    [0029] In operation, cold air from the refrigeration machine in the base 202 is blown out of the base 202 via holes 406 (Figures 4, 6) formed in the top surface 402 of the base 202 into a space or region 600 (Figure 6, 7) that exists between the exterior surface 410 (Figure 4) of the incubator 10 and the inner walls 214 (Figures 6, 7 and 8) of the enclosure 204. The cold air circulates around the sides and back of the incubator 10 as shown in Figures 6 and 7, and back into the base 202 via an air return opening 404 (Figure 4) in the top 402 of the base 202. The air flows in a closed loop as indicated by the arrows 740 in Figure 7, thus maintaining a relatively cool immediate ambient environment (e.g., 10-13°C) for the incubator 10. The entire system of Figure 2 can be placed in a room temperature environment.

    [0030] The enclosure 204 includes seals (best shown in Figure 8 at 800) between the enclosure 204 and the base 202 and seals 802 between the enclosure 204 and the incubator 10 in the location of the void 206. The seals, which may take the form of weather-stripping or similar elastomeric, resilient product, preferably make a substantially air-tight seal between the enclosure 204 and the base 202 and between the enclosure 204 and the incubator 10 in the area of the void 206. The seals 800 and 802 thus prevent ambient air from entering the space or region 600 (best shown in Figures 6 and 7) between the enclosure 204 and the incubator 10. This allows for a closed loop air flow system for the refrigeration machine in the base 202 and avoids introduction of humidity and associated condensation issues that might otherwise occur.

    [0031] The system shown in Figure 2 allows the incubator 10 to incubate samples at a nominal temperature of 20-25°C, while having the incubation system installed a normal lab environment at room temperature. The use of an external walk-in environmental chamber is not required. The laboratory need not be cooled below room temperature for the incubator 10 to work properly.

    [0032] The enclosure 204 is specifically constructed so as to substantially envelop the incubator 10, as best shown in the Figures 2, 3 and 5. The enclosure 204 will typically be constructed with dimensions to fit around and substantially or even completely envelop a particular make and model of incubator, while providing a void or opening in the proper location to thereby expose the access drawers or doors of the incubator 10. As will be seen from Figures 6 and 8, the enclosure 204 is oversized relative to the dimensions of the incubator 10, such that a space (600, Figures 6 and 7) is defined between the exterior 410 (Figure 4) of the incubator 10 and the interior walls 214 (Figures 6, 7, 8) of the enclosure 204 so as to permit circulation of cold air from the refrigeration machine in this space.

    Base 202 (Figures 2, 3, 4, 7, 9) and Refrigeration Machine 700



    [0033] The base 202 in the illustrated embodiment takes the form of a cart or cabinet having wheels as shown in Figure 2. The base provides a housing or enclosure for the refrigeration machine 700 (Figure 7) which generates the supply of cold air. With reference to Figure 4, the base includes a flat top surface 402 which has one or more apertures 406 for egress of cold air from the refrigeration machine and an opening 404 for return of air to the base 202. The incubator is placed on the top surface 402 as shown in Figure 4 such that the apertures 404 and 406 are positioned external to the periphery of the incubator 10. The incubator 10 is anchored to the top surface 402 by means of brackets 408 connecting the base of the walls of the incubator 10 with the top surface 402. An additional anchor bracket 407 extends across the back of the instrument.

    [0034] The insulated enclosure 204 is also placed on top of the base 202 as shown in Figures 2 and 3. The enclosure 204 is anchored to the top of the incubator and pinned into position with the base 202. The enclosure 204 is positioned on the base 202 such that the inner walls 214 (Figure 8) of the enclosure 204 are positioned peripheral to the openings 404 and 406 in the top of the base, as shown in Figures 6 and 7.

    [0035] Referring now to Figure 7, the refrigeration machine 700 includes an evaporator heat exchanger 732 having passages (not shown) for flow of air through the evaporator and one or more fans 730 blowing cold air out of the base 202 into the space 600 between the incubator 10 and the enclosure 202. The refrigeration machine includes conventional refrigeration machinery 734 including a condenser, compressor, and tubing conveying liquid refrigerant to the evaporator 732 and returning gas-phase refrigerant from the evaporator back to the machinery 734. These details are conventional in the refrigeration art. The refrigeration machine 734 may take the form of a standard ice-cream cart refrigeration unit, with the evaporator size or configuration, duty cycle, and/or fans modified to produce temperature at say 10°C, instead of a sub-freezing temperature as would be used in an ice cream application of the refrigeration machine.

    [0036] Figure 7 also shows the power supply module 736 which provides power to the refrigeration machine 700. In the event that the incubation system includes a temperature feedback control system, the system will also include a temperature sensor 720 (Figure 7) placed in the cool chamber space 600 which generates a temperature signal. This signal is provided to a control module contained in the cart 202 (e.g. located in the power supply module 736) which controls the operation of the refrigeration machine 700. Depending on the temperature changes sensed by the sensor 720, the refrigeration machine 700 changes it operational characteristics to either produce cooler or warmer air, or more or less volume of cold air, so as to produce the desired ambient temperature for the incubator 10 in the space 600.

    [0037] In the illustrated embodiment, the refrigeration machine 700 runs constantly to produce 10°C air, the enclosure 204 is insulated, and there is no feedback temperature sensor 720. Providing the temperature sensor 720 and a feedback temperature regulation regime may result in a more energy-efficient system.

    Incubator 10



    [0038] The incubator 10 can be any incubator for incubating samples, and the details, form factor, configuration, size, or type of sample incubated is not particularly important. The incubator 10 shown in the drawings, designed for blood collection bottles, is offered by way of example only and not limitation.

    [0039] Typically, the incubator 10 will have its own electronics module (18 in the drawings), heater and temperature regulation system for controlling the nominal incubation temperature of the incubator. In the embodiment of Figures 1-4, the incubator is a box-like structure having an exterior surface 410 defined by vertical walls of a heat conductive material such as sheet metal, but this configuration and choice of materials is not necessary and may vary. Additionally, different types of access devices besides drawers 14 are possible and the particular arrangement of the access device for the incubator is not particularly important. In preferred embodiments, the enclosure 204 is constructed such that it substantially envelops the incubator 10 (as shown in Figures 2, 3, 6 and 7) while exposing the access drawers 14 of the incubator 10.

    [0040] It will be noted in the embodiment of Figures 2 and 3 that the front face of the incubator 10 and the drawers 14 are exposed to the ambient conditions (room temperature), while the remaining three sides of the incubator (and the bottom of the incubator) are subject to the cool environment provided by the space 600 of Figures 6 and 7 and the relatively cold top surface 402 of the cart 202. Testing has demonstrated that the exposure of the front of the incubator to ambient temperatures is not likely to affect the ability of the incubator to maintain a stable 20-25°C temperature profile. This is because there is little or no heat transfer from the ambient environment into or out of the interior of the incubator since both the ambient environment and the incubator are maintained at 20-25°C. However, the cool environment present on the sides, back and bottom of the incubator 10 due to cooled space 600 and cold top surface 402 of the cart, and the heat transfer from the walls of the incubator 10 into the air circulating in the space 600 and top of the cart 202, provides a sufficient temperature differential and heat loss from the incubator 10 such that the heating system in the incubator must work steadily to maintain a steady 20-25°C nominal temperature for the incubator 10. This demand for steady work on the incubator temperature control system allows the incubator temperature control system to reliably maintain the 20-25°C nominal temperature for the incubator 10.

    Enclosure 204



    [0041] With reference to Figures 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8, the enclosure 204 is preferably an insulated structure having a front wall 208, side walls 210A, 210B, 210C and a top panel or wall 210D. The insulation is shown at 602 in Figures 6 and 7. The enclosure is shown isolated in a perspective view in Figure 8. The enclosure 204 has no bottom wall or panel in the illustrated embodiment. The enclosure 204 is fastened to the top of the incubator and pinned into position with the base 202. The enclosure 204 substantially surrounds and envelops the incubator 10. Walls 208, 210A, 210B, and 210C are preferably insulated. For example, 1 to 2 inches of R5 value foam insulation is applied to the shell or skin forming the enclosure 204. The top panel 210D of the enclosure may also be insulated.

    [0042] Referring to Figure 7, the enclosure includes baffles 710 that extend inwardly from the walls 214 of the enclosure and which abut the exterior of the incubator 10 immediately below the electronics module 18. The baffles serve to separate the space between the incubator 10 and the enclosure 204 into two compartments, a first compartment 702 below the baffles comprising the cooled space 600 between the incubator and the enclosure 204, and a second compartment 704 located above the baffles and surrounding the electronics module 18 in the incubator. Preferably, cool air from the refrigeration system 700 does not enter the second compartment 704 due to the baffles 710. This prevents condensation from forming in the compartment 704, which could accumulate and lead to problems with the electronics module 18 of the incubator. As shown in the rear view of Figure 5, there is an opening in the top of the rear side panel 210B to expose the vent openings for the electronics of the incubator and allow the cooling system for the electronics module 18 to operate properly.

    [0043] The enclosure 204 could be made of a material with intrinsic insulative properties and of sufficient thickness such that additional insulation, e.g., R5 insulation foam, does not need to be added.

    Retrofit Kit



    [0044] In one possible embodiment of this invention, the incubator 10 is a preexisting incubator and the enclosure 204 and base 202 including refrigeration machine 700 (Figure 7) are provided or sold as a kit 900 (Figure 9) to the owner of the incubator for the purpose of retrofitting to the preexisting incubator. The enclosure 204 and the base 202 are shipped to the laboratory where the incubator 10 is located, and the base and enclosure are configured as shown in the drawings and described herein to form an incubation system ideally suited for incubation of specimens at room temperature. The enclosure 204 will typically be shipped in a disassembled state and assembled on site by a technician.

    [0045] Thus, in one possible embodiment of this invention, a method is provided for modifying an incubator. The method includes the steps of a) obtaining a retrofit kit 900 (Figure 9) comprising (1) a base (202) containing a machine (700, Figure 7) generating cold air and (2) an insulated enclosure (204) at a site where the incubator 10 is located, the base having a first opening 406 for egress of cold air and a second opening 404 for return of air to the base 202;

    b) placing the incubator 10 on the base 202 such that the first opening 406 and the second opening 404 are positioned external to the incubator (see Figure 4);

    c) placing the insulated enclosure 204 on the base 202 (Figures 2, 3, 5-7) in a manner such that the insulated enclosure 204 substantially surrounds the incubator 10. The insulated enclosure 204 is sized and shaped so as to define a space (600) between the exterior of the incubator 10 and the enclosure 204. The enclosure 204 is placed on the base 202 such that the first and second openings 406, 404 in the base are positioned within the insulated enclosure in communication with the space 600 (as shown in Figure 6). Cold air emanates from the base, circulates on the exterior of the incubator, and returns to the base in a closed loop (see Figure 7). The air flows around the backside of the incubator to the left side where it returns to the refrigeration unit. The air flow within the enclosure 204 flows past the incubator back panel. This cools the back panel, which in turn cools the return air to the incubator heating element. The heating element in the incubator is then forced to turn on in order to maintain the correct incubator temperature.



    [0046] Optionally, the insulated enclosure includes a void 206 (Figures 2, 8) exposing an access feature 14 of the incubator enabling direct access to the contents of the incubator while the incubator is substantially enveloped by the insulated enclosure. As another option, the enclosure 204 completely envelops the incubator 10 and a door (not shown) is provided in the enclosure 204 which is opened to gain access to the access feature 14 of the incubator 10.

    [0047] In a preferred implementation, the method includes the step of installing seals 800 between the insulated enclosure 202 and the base 202 and seals 802 between the enclosure 204 and the incubator 210 to prevent introduction of ambient air into the space 600 defined between the interior walls 214 of the enclosure 204 and the exterior walls 410 (Figure 4) of the incubator 10.

    [0048] As shown in Figure 9, the retrofit kit 900 may also include a temperature sensor 720 which is placed in the space 600 to monitor the temperature in the space. The temperature sensor is placed into electrical communication with a control system for the refrigeration machine 700 to provide for a feedback temperature regulation system.

    [0049] From the foregoing, it will be appreciated that we have described an incubation system (Figures 2-8), comprising in combination:
    1. a) a machine 700 for generating a supply of cold air,
    2. b) an incubator 10 having an exterior 410 and an interior and one or more access features 41 on the exterior providing access to the interior of the incubator, the incubator having a system for maintaining the temperature of the interior of the incubator at a nominal desired temperature; and
    3. c) an enclosure 204 external from and enveloping the incubator 10 to define a space 600 between the exterior of the incubator and the enclosure (Figures 2, 3, 6, 7),
    wherein the space 600 receives cold air from the refrigeration machine 700 generating the supply of cold air (Figure 7), and wherein the enclosure 204 is sized and shaped so as to substantially surround the exterior of the incubator, the space 600 defining a region where cold air circulates about the exterior of the incubator (Figures 6, 7), and wherein the enclosure further includes a void 206 exposing the one or more access features 14 on the exterior of the incubator 10 wherein a user may directly access contents stored in the incubator while the incubator is enveloped by the insulated enclosure (Figure 2).

    [0050] As noted, in a preferred embodiment the incubator temperature control system operates to maintain the interior of the incubator at a nominal desired temperature of between 20 and 25 degrees C. In a preferred embodiment the temperature of the cold air supplied to the enclosure 204 is at least 7°C cooler than the nominal desired temperature of the incubator.

    [0051] As shown in Figures 2 and 7, the machine for supplying cold air is incorporated into base 202, the enclosure 204 is an insulated enclosure, and enclosure and incubator are placed on the base as shown in Figures 4 and 5, and wherein the base and the insulated enclosure are constructed and arranged as a retrofit assembly or kit (Figure 9) for a pre-existing incubator.

    [0052] It will be noted that in the illustrated embodiment the source of the cold air is a refrigeration system in the base 202. This is not essential, and the refrigeration system could be located to the side, back or above the incubator, or even remotely and cold air ducted into the space 600 between the enclosure and the incubator, e.g., in the situation where there are multiple incubators and a single, common refrigeration system supplies cold air to each incubator and associated enclosure. Thus, the invention can also be characterized as an incubation apparatus made up of (a) an incubator 10, the incubator having an exterior and an interior and one or more access features on the exterior providing access to the interior of the incubator, the incubator further comprising a source of heat for maintaining the interior of the incubator at a nominal temperature; and (b) an insulated enclosure 204 enveloping the incubator, the enclosure having an interior space or region 600 receiving cold air from a source (which may or not be located in a base for the incubator), wherein the insulated enclosure is sized and shaped so as to substantially surround the exterior of the incubator, the interior space defining a region wherein air from the source at a temperature below the nominal temperature may circulate over the exterior of the incubator.

    [0053] In preferred embodiments, the incubator 10 incubates sample containers containing samples collected from human patients, e.g., blood. Preferably, the incubator further includes a sensor for obtaining sensor readings from the sample containers, and wherein the nominal temperature of the incubator is in the range of between 20-25°C. An example of the sensor for blood collection bottles is described in U.S. Patent 5,1 64,796. Other sensors are known in the art and may be interchanged with the sensor of the '796 patent.

    [0054] In still another form of the invention, the invention can be characterized as a cool chamber apparatus for installation around an incubator 10, the incubator having a front side (shown in Figure 1, 2, and 3) and one or more access features 14 of obtaining access to the interior of the incubator placed on the front side of the incubator, the cool chamber apparatus comprising: an insulated enclosure 204 specifically sized and shaped so as to substantially envelop the incubator 10 and having a top panel 210D and first, second and third side panels (210A, B, C) for covering the first, second and third side panels of the incubator and a fourth side 208 having an opening 206, wherein the opening in the enclosure 204 exposes the access features of the incubator.

    Further configurations



    [0055] A further variation on the disclosed embodiments is contemplated in which the enclosure 204 is not provided with any insulation per se. In this embodiment, there is a feedback system in the form of a temperature sensor 720 (Figure 7) that monitors the air temperature in the space 600 between the enclosure 202 and the incubator 10. The temperature sensor sends a temperature signal to the source of cold air (machine 700) and the source is regulated (e.g., to blow air with greater or lesser velocity or to generate colder or warmer air) to maintain a certain desired temperature (e.g., 10°C) in the space between the enclosure and the incubator as ambient conditions outside of the enclosure change.

    [0056] As a variation on this approach, the enclosure is insulated (as in the illustrated preferred embodiment), but a temperature sensor is placed in the space between the enclosure and the incubator, and the source of cold air is regulated to maintain the temperature in the space between the enclosure and the incubator to a desired temperature. This approach may result in a system which has maximum energy efficiency, but may be a more costly implementation.

    [0057] Thus, in an alternative embodiment, an incubation system is contemplated, comprising in combination:
    1. a) a machine 700 for generating a supply of cold air;
    2. b) an incubator 10 having an exterior and an interior and one or more access features on the exterior providing access to the interior of the incubator, the incubator having a system for maintaining the temperature of the interior of the incubator at a nominal desired temperature;
    3. c) an enclosure 204 external from and substantially enveloping the incubator to define a space 600 between the exterior of the incubator and the insulated enclosure, wherein the space receives cold air from the machine 700 generating the supply of cold air; and
    4. d) a temperature sensor 720 monitoring the temperature in the space 600 between the exterior of the incubator 10 and the enclosure 204 and generating a temperature signal;
    wherein the machine 700 operates to regulate the temperature in the space 600 between the exterior of the incubator and the insulated enclosure to a desired set point lower than the nominal desired temperature of the incubator in response to the temperature signal from the temperature sensor.

    [0058] In one embodiment, the enclosure 204 is substantially uninsulated, i.e., having no additional insulation added and made from material which does not have a substantial intrinsic insulation property, such as plain sheet metal. Alternatively, the enclosure is insulated as shown in Figures 6 and 7.

    [0059] A further method of modifying an incubator 10 is also contemplated, comprising the steps of:
    1. a) obtaining a retrofit kit 900 (Figure 9) at a site where the incubator 10 is located, the retrofit kit comprising (1) a base 202 containing a machine generating cold air, and (2) an enclosure 204 for the incubator, and (3) a temperature sensor 720, the base 202 having a first opening for egress of cold air and a second opening for return of air to the base;
    2. b) placing the incubator on the base (Figure 4);
    3. c) placing the insulated enclosure on the base in a manner such that the insulated enclosure surrounds the incubator and defines a space between the exterior of the incubator and the incubator, the insulated enclosure placed on the base such that the first and second openings in the base are peripheral to the incubator and are in communication with the space such that cold air may emanate from the base, circulate on the exterior of the incubator, and return to the base in a closed loop (Figures 5-7); and
    4. d) placing the temperature sensor 720 in the space 600 between the enclosure and the incubator and communicatively coupling the temperature sensor and the machine generating the cold air (Figure 7).


    [0060] Variation from the physical configuration or form factor of the insulated enclosure and cart from that shown in the drawings is possible and indeed likely, and such variation is considered to be within the scope of the invention. The specific embodiment of the enclosure 204 that has been disclosed was designed for a particular incubator 10 (a commercial product of the applicants' assignee), but for different sizes or shapes of incubators the size and shape of the insulated enclosure (and the base) will of course be different. Thus, the embodiments that are disclosed in particularity are offered by way of example and not limitation. Persons skilled in the art will be readily able to adapt the teachings of this document regarding the source of cold air, the cart or base and the enclosure to suit different incubators and such variations are considered within the scope of this invention.

    [0061] In the appended claims, the term "insulated enclosure" is intended to encompass (a) an enclosure which has a skin or surface of a material which does not have substantial insulation properties but which has insulation specifically added to it (e.g., foam), as well as (b) an enclosure which is made from a material and/or thickness such that it has substantial intrinsic insulation characteristics but does not have any additional insulation material added to it, or (c) a combination of (a) and (b). Additionally, the term "cold air" is intended to refer to air which has been cooled, e.g., by a refrigeration unit. Such air will typically be a temperature that is below the nominal temperature of the incubator, such as 10°C.

    [0062] These and still other variations from the particular embodiments disclosed are intended to be encompassed by the invention. All questions concerning scope of the invention are to be answered by reference to the appended claims.


    Claims

    1. An incubation system, comprising in combination:

    a) a base having a machine generating a supply of cold air,

    b) an incubator placed on the base, the incubator having an exterior and an interior and one or more access features on the exterior providing access to the interior of the incubator, the incubator having a heating system for maintaining the temperature of the interior of the incubator at a nominal incubation temperature; and

    c) an enclosure external from and substantially enveloping the incubator to define a space between the exterior of the incubator and the enclosure,

    wherein the space is arranged to receive cold air from the machine generating the supply of cold air and provide an environment for cold air to circulate about the exterior of the incubator in a closed loop from the base, to the space between the enclosure and the incubator, and back to the base,
    wherein the enclosure further includes a void exposing the one or more access features on the exterior of the incubator wherein a user may directly access contents stored in the incubator while the incubator is substantially enveloped by the enclosure, and
    wherein the heating system, the machine generating the supply of cold air and the space between the enclosure and the incubator for circulating the cold air are operable to maintain the interior of the incubator at a nominal incubation temperature of between 20 and 25 °C.
     
    2. The system of claim 1, wherein the temperature of the cold air supplied to the enclosure is at least 7 °C cooler than the nominal incubation temperature.
     
    3. The system of claim 1, wherein the enclosure comprises an insulated enclosure.
     
    4. The system of claim 1, wherein the insulated enclosure further comprises seals for making an substantially air-tight seal between the insulated enclosure and the base and between the insulated enclosure and the incubator in the area surrounding the void in the insulated enclosure, the seals preventing introduction of ambient air into the region between the insulated enclosure and the incubator.
     
    5. The system of claim 1, wherein the incubator further comprises a top portion housing an electronics module and wherein the enclosure comprises an insulated enclosure, wherein the insulated enclosure is constructed and arranged into a first compartment surrounding first second and third side walls of the incubator and a second compartment surrounding the top portion of the incubator, the first and second compartments separated from each other such that air from the system supplying cold air does not enter the second compartment.
     
    6. The system of claim 1, wherein the base includes a first opening for egress of cold air from the base and a second opening for return of air from the space between the insulated enclosure and the incubator, whereby air is circulated in a closed loop from the base, to the space between the insulated enclosure and the incubator and back to the base.
     
    7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the incubator is arranged to incubate sample containers containing samples collected from human patients and wherein the incubator further includes a sensor for obtaining sensor readings from the sample containers.
     
    8. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a seal for sealing the insulated enclosure to the base.
     
    9. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the base houses a fan blowing cold air into a space defined between the exterior of the incubator and the insulated enclosure.
     
    10. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the temperature of the cold air is at least 7 °C cooler than the nominal temperature of the incubator.
     
    11. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising:

    d) a temperature sensor monitoring the temperature in the space between the exterior of the incubator and the insulated enclosure and generating a temperature signal;

    wherein the machine operates to regulate the temperature in the space between the exterior of the incubator and the enclosure to a desired set point lower than the nominal incubation temperature of the incubator in response to the temperature signal from the temperature sensor.
     
    12. A method of modifying an incubator, the incubator having a heating element for maintaining the interior temperature of the incubator within a temperature range of 20-25 °C and an electronics module for controlling the heating element in a top portion of the incubator, the method comprising the steps of:

    a) obtaining a kit comprising:

    an insulated enclosure having a first compartment surrounding the incubator and a second compartment surrounding the top portion of the incubator, the first compartment and the second compartment being separated from each other using a baffle in contact with the incubator;

    a base containing a machine generating a supply of cold air, the base having a first opening for egress of cold air and a second opening for return of air to the base into the first compartment;

    b) placing the incubator on the base such that the first opening and the second opening are positioned external to the incubator;

    c) placing the insulated enclosure on the base in a manner such that the insulated enclosure substantially surrounds the incubator, the insulated enclosure constructed so as to define a space between the exterior of the incubator and the enclosure, the insulated enclosure placed on the base such that the first and second openings in the base are positioned within the insulated enclosure in communication with the space such that cold air may emanate from the base, circulate on the exterior of the incubator within the first compartment, and return to the base in a closed loop.


     
    13. The method of claim 12, wherein the insulated enclosure includes a void exposing an access feature of the incubator enabling direct access to the contents of the incubator while the incubator is substantially enveloped by the insulated enclosure.
     
    14. The method of claim 12, wherein the method further comprises:

    d) installing seals between the insulated enclosure and the base and between the insulated enclosure and the incubator to prevent introduction of ambient air into the space between the interior of the insulated enclosure and the exterior of the incubator.


     
    15. The method of claim 12, wherein the kit further comprises a temperature sensor; and the method further comprising the step of:

    d) placing the temperature sensor in the space between the enclosure and the incubator and communicatively coupling the temperature sensor and the machine generating the cold air so as to permit temperature feedback regulation of the operation of the machine generating the cold air.


     


    Ansprüche

    1. Inkubationssystem, umfassend in Kombination:

    a) eine Basis aufweisend eine Maschine, die eine Kaltluftzufuhr erzeugt,

    b) einen auf der Basis angeordneten Inkubator, wobei der Inkubator eine Außenseite und eine Innenseite und ein oder mehrere Zugangsmerkmale auf der Außenseite aufweist, die Zugang zur Innenseite des Inkubators ermöglichen, wobei der Inkubator ein Heizsystem zur Aufrechterhaltung der Temperatur der Innenseite des Inkubators auf einer nominalen Inkubationstemperatur aufweist; und

    c) ein Gehäuse, das außerhalb des Inkubators liegt und diesen im Wesentlichen umhüllt, um einen Raum zwischen der Außenseite des Inkubators und dem Gehäuse zu definieren,

    wobei der Raum so angeordnet ist, dass er Kaltluft von der Maschine, die die Kaltluftzufuhr erzeugt, empfängt und eine Umgebung für Kaltluft bereitstellt, die um die Außenseite des Inkubators in einem geschlossenen Kreislauf von der Basis zum Raum zwischen dem Gehäuse und dem Inkubator und zurück zur Basis zirkuliert,
    wobei das Gehäuse weiter einen Hohlraum beinhaltet, der ein oder mehrere Zugangsmerkmale an der Außenseite des Inkubators freilegt, wobei ein Benutzer direkt auf den im Inkubator gespeicherten Inhalt zugreifen kann, während der Inkubator im Wesentlichen von dem Gehäuse umgeben ist, und
    wobei das Heizsystem, die Maschine, die die Kaltluftzufuhr erzeugt, und der Raum zwischen dem Gehäuse und dem Inkubator zur Zirkulation der Kaltluft so betrieben werden können, dass die Innenseite des Inkubators auf einer nominalen Inkubationstemperatur zwischen 20 und 25 °C gehalten wird.
     
    2. System nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Temperatur der dem Gehäuse zugeführten Kaltluft mindestens 7 °C kälter als die nominale Inkubationstemperatur ist.
     
    3. System nach Anspruch 1, wobei das Gehäuse ein isoliertes Gehäuse umfasst.
     
    4. System nach Anspruch 1, wobei das isolierte Gehäuse weiter Abdichtungen zur Herstellung einer im Wesentlichen luftdichten Abdichtung zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und der Basis und zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und dem Inkubator in dem Bereich, der den Hohlraum in dem isolierten Gehäuse umgibt, umfasst, wobei die Abdichtungen das Einführen von Umgebungsluft in die Region zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und dem Inkubator verhindern.
     
    5. System nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Inkubator weiter einen oberen Abschnitt umfasst, der ein Elektronikmodul aufnimmt, und wobei das Gehäuse ein isoliertes Gehäuse umfasst, wobei das isolierte Gehäuse in ein erstes Abteil, das eine erste, zweite und dritte Seitenwand des Inkubators umgibt, und ein zweites Abteil, das den oberen Abschnitt des Inkubators umgibt, konstruiert und angeordnet ist, wobei das erste und zweite Abteil voneinander getrennt sind, so dass Luft aus dem System, das Kaltluft zuführt, nicht in das zweite Abteil eintritt.
     
    6. System nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Basis eine erste Öffnung für den Austritt von Kaltluft aus der Basis und eine zweite Öffnung für die Rückführung von Luft aus dem Raum zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und dem Inkubator beinhaltet, wodurch Luft in einem geschlossenen Kreislauf von der Basis zu dem Raum zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und dem Inkubator und zurück zur Basis zirkuliert wird.
     
    7. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Inkubator so angeordnet ist, dass er die Probenbehälter inkubiert, die von menschlichen Patienten gesammelte Proben enthalten, und wobei der Inkubator weiter einen Sensor zum Erhalten von Sensormesswerten aus den Probenbehältern beinhaltet.
     
    8. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, die weiter eine Abdichtung zum Abdichten des isolierten Gehäuses gegen die Basis umfasst.
     
    9. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Basis ein Gebläse aufnimmt, das Kaltluft in einen Raum bläst, der zwischen der Außenseite des Inkubators und dem isolierten Gehäuse definiert ist.
     
    10. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Temperatur der Kaltluft mindestens 7 °C kälter als die nominale Temperatur des Inkubators ist.
     
    11. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, weiter umfassend:

    d) einen Temperatursensor, der die Temperatur in dem Raum zwischen der Außenseite des Inkubators und dem isolierten Gehäuse überwacht und ein Temperatursignal erzeugt;

    wobei die Maschine arbeitet, um die Temperatur in dem Raum zwischen der Außenseite des Inkubators und dem Gehäuse auf einen gewünschten Sollwert, der niedriger als die nominale Inkubationstemperatur des Inkubators ist, als Reaktion auf das Temperatursignal von dem Temperatursensor zu regulieren.
     
    12. Verfahren zum Modifizieren eines Inkubators, wobei der Inkubator ein Heizelement zum Aufrechterhalten der Innentemperatur des Inkubators innerhalb eines Temperaturbereichs von 20-25 °C und ein elektronisches Modul zum Steuern des Heizelements in einem oberen Abschnitt des Inkubators aufweist, wobei das Verfahren die Schritte umfasst:

    a) Erhalten eines Kits, umfassend:

    ein isoliertes Gehäuse mit einem ersten Abteil, das den Inkubator umgibt, und einem zweiten Abteil, das den oberen Abschnitt des Inkubators umgibt, wobei das erste Abteil und das zweite Abteil unter Verwendung einer mit dem Inkubator in Kontakt stehenden Ablenkplatte voneinander getrennt sind;

    eine Basis, die eine Maschine enthält, die eine Kaltluftzufuhr erzeugt, wobei die Basis eine erste Öffnung für den Austritt von Kaltluft und eine zweite Öffnung für die Rückführung von Luft zur Basis in das erste Abteil aufweist;

    b) Anordnen des Inkubators auf der Basis, so dass die erste Öffnung und die zweite Öffnung außerhalb des Inkubators positioniert sind;

    c) Anordnen des isolierten Gehäuses auf der Basis in einer solchen Weise, dass das isolierte Gehäuse den Inkubator im Wesentlichen umgibt, wobei das isolierte Gehäuse so konstruiert ist, dass es einen Raum zwischen der Außenseite des Inkubators und dem Gehäuse definiert, wobei das isolierte Gehäuse auf der Basis so angeordnet ist, dass die erste und die zweite Öffnung in der Basis innerhalb des isolierten Gehäuses in Verbindung mit dem Raum positioniert sind, so dass Kaltluft aus der Basis austreten, auf der Außenseite des Inkubators innerhalb der ersten Abteilung zirkulieren und in einem geschlossenen Kreislauf zur Basis zurückkehren kann.


     
    13. Verfahren nach Anspruch 12, wobei das isolierte Gehäuse einen Hohlraum beinhaltet, der ein Zugangsmerkmal des Inkubators freilegt, das einen direkten Zugang zum Inhalt des Inkubators ermöglicht, während der Inkubator im Wesentlichen von dem isolierten Gehäuse umgeben ist.
     
    14. Verfahren nach Anspruch 12, wobei das Verfahren weiter umfasst:

    d) Anbringen von Abdichtungen zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und der Basis und zwischen dem isolierten Gehäuse und dem Inkubator, um das Eindringen von Umgebungsluft in den Raum zwischen der Innenseite des isolierten Gehäuses und der Außenseite des Inkubators zu verhindern.


     
    15. Verfahren nach Anspruch 12, wobei das Kit weiter einen Temperatursensor umfasst; und das Verfahren weiter den folgenden Schritt umfasst:

    d) Anordnen des Temperatursensors in dem Raum zwischen dem Gehäuse und dem Inkubator und kommunikatives Koppeln des Temperatursensors und der die Kaltluft erzeugenden Maschine, um eine Temperaturrückkopplungsregelung des Betriebs der die Kaltluft erzeugenden Maschine zu ermöglichen.


     


    Revendications

    1. Système d'incubation, comprenant en association :

    a) une base présentant une machine générant une alimentation en air froid,

    b) un incubateur placé sur la base, l'incubateur présentant une partie externe et une partie interne et une ou plusieurs caractéristiques d'accès sur la partie externe donnant accès à la partie interne de l'incubateur, l'incubateur présentant un système de chauffage permettant de maintenir la température de la partie interne de l'incubateur à une température d'incubation nominale ; et

    c) une enceinte externe à et enveloppant sensiblement l'incubateur permettant de définir un espace compris entre la partie externe de l'incubateur et l'enceinte,

    dans lequel l'espace est agencé pour recevoir de l'air froid de la machine générant l'alimentation en air froid et fournir un environnement permettant à l'air froid de circuler autour de la partie externe de l'incubateur dans un circuit fermé à partir de la base, vers l'espace entre l'enceinte et l'incubateur, et retourner vers la base,
    dans lequel l'enceinte inclut en outre un vide exposant l'une ou les caractéristiques d'accès sur la partie externe de l'incubateur dans lequel un utilisateur peut directement accéder au contenu conservé dans l'incubateur pendant que l'incubateur est enveloppé sensiblement par l'enceinte, et
    dans lequel le système de chauffage, la machine générant l'alimentation en air froid et l'espace compris entre l'enceinte et l'incubateur destiné à faire circuler l'air froid peuvent être utilisés pour maintenir la partie interne de l'incubateur à une température d'incubation nominale entre 20 et 25 °C.
     
    2. Système selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la température de l'air froid fourni à l'enceinte est au moins 7 °C plus froide que la température d'incubation nominale.
     
    3. Système selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'enceinte comprend une enceinte isolée.
     
    4. Système selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'enceinte isolée comprend en outre des joints d'étanchéité permettant de former un joint sensiblement étanche à l'air entre l'enceinte isolée et la base et entre l'enceinte isolée et l'incubateur dans la zone entourant le vide dans l'enceinte isolée, les joints d'étanchéité empêchant l'introduction d'air ambiant dans la zone comprise entre l'enceinte isolée et l'incubateur.
     
    5. Système selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'incubateur comprend en outre une partie supérieure logeant un module électronique et dans lequel l'enceinte comprend une enceinte isolée, dans lequel l'enceinte isolée est construite et agencée dans un premier compartiment entourant les première, deuxième et troisième parois latérales de l'incubateur et un second compartiment entourant la partie supérieure de l'incubateur, les premier et second compartiments étant distincts l'un de l'autre de sorte que l'air du système d'alimentation en air froid ne pénètre pas dans le second compartiment.
     
    6. Système selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la base inclut une première ouverture destinée à évacuer l'air froid de la base et une seconde ouverture permettant un retour de l'air de l'espace compris entre l'enceinte isolée et l'incubateur, par lequel l'air circule dans un circuit fermé de la base vers l'espace situé entre l'enceinte isolée et l'incubateur et retourne à la base.
     
    7. Appareil selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'incubateur est agencé de manière à incuber des récipients d'échantillons contenant des échantillons prélevés sur des patients humains et dans lequel l'incubateur inclut en outre un capteur permettant d'obtenir des relevés de capteurs à partir des récipients d'échantillons.
     
    8. Appareil selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre un joint d'étanchéité permettant de sceller l'enceinte isolée sur la base.
     
    9. Appareil selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la base renferme un ventilateur soufflant de l'air froid dans un espace défini entre la partie externe de l'incubateur et l'enceinte isolée.
     
    10. Appareil selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la température de l'air froid est au moins 7 °C plus froide que la température nominale de l'incubateur.
     
    11. Appareil selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre :

    d) un capteur de température régulant la température dans l'espace compris entre la partie externe de l'incubateur et l'enceinte isolée et générant un signal de température ;

    dans lequel la machine permet de réguler la température dans l'espace compris entre la partie externe de l'incubateur et l'enceinte à une valeur de consigne souhaitée inférieure à la température d'incubation nominale de l'incubateur en réponse au signal de température émis par le capteur de température.
     
    12. Procédé de modification d'un incubateur, l'incubateur présentant un élément de chauffage permettant de maintenir la température de la partie interne de l'incubateur dans une plage de température allant de 20 à 25 °C et un module électronique permettant de commander l'élément de chauffage dans une partie supérieure de l'incubateur, le procédé comprenant les étapes consistant à :

    a) obtenir un kit comprenant :

    une enceinte isolée dotée d'un premier compartiment entourant l'incubateur et d'un second compartiment entourant la partie supérieure de l'incubateur, le premier compartiment et le second compartiment étant séparés l'un de l'autre en utilisant un déflecteur en contact avec l'incubateur ;

    une base contenant une machine générant une alimentation en air froid, la base présentant une première ouverture permettant d'évacuer l'air froid et d'une seconde ouverture permettant le retour de l'air vers la base dans le premier compartiment ;

    b) placer l'incubateur sur la base de sorte que la première ouverture et la seconde ouverture sont positionnées à l'extérieur de l'incubateur ;

    c) placer l'enceinte isolée sur la base de sorte que l'enceinte isolée entoure sensiblement l'incubateur, l'enceinte isolée étant construite de manière à définir un espace compris entre la partie externe de l'incubateur et l'enceinte, l'enceinte isolée étant placée sur la base de sorte que les première et seconde ouvertures dans la base sont positionnées dans l'enceinte isolée en communication avec l'espace de sorte que l'air froid peut émaner de la base, circuler sur la partie externe de l'incubateur dans le premier compartiment, et retourner vers la base dans un circuit fermé.


     
    13. Procédé selon la revendication 12, dans lequel l'enceinte isolée inclut un vide exposant une caractéristique d'accès de l'incubateur permettant l'accès direct au contenu de l'incubateur pendant que l'incubateur est enveloppé sensiblement par l'enceinte isolée.
     
    14. Procédé selon la revendication 12, dans lequel le procédé comprend en outre :

    d) le montage de joints d'étanchéité entre l'enceinte isolée et la base et entre l'enceinte isolée et l'incubateur de manière à empêcher l'introduction d'air ambiant dans l'espace compris entre la partie interne de l'enceinte isolée et la partie externe de l'incubateur.


     
    15. Procédé selon la revendication 12, dans lequel le kit comprend en outre un capteur de température ; et le procédé comprenant en outre l'étape consistant à :

    d) placer le capteur de température dans l'espace compris entre l'enceinte et l'incubateur et coupler en communication le capteur de température et la machine générant l'air froid de manière à permettre la rétrorégulation de la température de fonctionnement de la machine générant l'air froid.


     




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    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



    This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

    Patent documents cited in the description