(19)
(11)EP 2 388 082 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
20.06.2018 Bulletin 2018/25

(21)Application number: 11178031.8

(22)Date of filing:  30.03.2007
(51)Int. Cl.: 
B21D 51/26  (2006.01)
B65G 21/20  (2006.01)

(54)

Method and Apparatus for Container Recirculation

Verfahren und Vorrichtung zur Behälterrückführung

Procédé et appareil pour la recirculation de conteneurs


(84)Designated Contracting States:
DE GB IT

(30)Priority: 31.03.2006 US 787502
28.03.2007 US 692584

(43)Date of publication of application:
23.11.2011 Bulletin 2011/47

(62)Application number of the earlier application in accordance with Art. 76 EPC:
07754474.0 / 2001617

(73)Proprietor: Belvac Production Machinery, Inc.
Lynchburg, VA 24502 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • Schill, Joseph, G.
    Lynchburg, VA Virginia 24502 (US)
  • Marshall, Harold James
    Forest, VA Virginia 24551 (US)

(74)Representative: Worthington, Richard Easton 
Withers & Rogers LLP 4 More London Riverside
London SE1 2AU
London SE1 2AU (GB)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A-94/12412
FR-A1- 2 310 404
US-A1- 2005 193 796
WO-A1-00/17073
JP-A- 2002 102 968
  
      
    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

    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED PATENT APPLICATIONS



    [0001] This application claims the benefit of priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/787502, filed March 31, 2006, and to U.S. Patent Application No. 11/692,584 filed March 28. This application is a Divisional of European Patent Application No. 07754474.0 (National Stage of PCT/US2007/007958), filed March 30.

    BACKGROUND



    [0002] The present invention relates generally to the field of machine arrangements for processing articles, such as bottles. More specifically, the invention relates to a machine arrangement that is configured to recirculate articles so that the articles may undergo additional operations without the need for a long and space consuming machine arrangement.

    [0003] Conventional machine arrangements are strictly linear and are generally referred to as machine lines. That is, the machine lines, with each and every processing and/or forming machine, extend in a single line such that articles operated on in the machine line only move through the machine arrangement in a single pass. Such a set up may take up a large amount of space in a warehouse, factory, or other location. Occasionally, buildings are not sufficiently large or long to house complex and long machine arrangements. For example, in bottle or can operations, many different types of processes need to be performed on the bottle or can, such as necking, curling, expansion, trimming, etc. Each type of process may also require a plurality of machines in order to sufficiently perform the necessary process. For instance, necking operations may require multiple operations with multiple machines in order to properly neck a bottle or can that is of a certain length or size.

    [0004] Furthermore, the conventional straight and single pass machine lines may be more costly. The conventional machine lines may need to include duplicate or additional machines in order to perform the desired function(s).
    JP 2002 102968 A teaches manufacturing equipment for a can barrel having a refeeding mechanism and lubricant application. WO 94/12412 A teaches an arrangement for a conveyor track for mutually identical objects of variable sizes. US 2005/193796 A1 teaches an apparatus for necking a can body and having a plurality of necking stations. FR 2 310 404 A1 teaches a method of using lubricant and cooling medium to manufacture wall-ironed tinplate cans using a series of coaxial wall-ironing dies to reduce the wall thickness of its tinplate cans. WO 00/17073 A1 teaches an adjustable guide rail system for transporting products.

    SUMMARY



    [0005] In an embodiment of the invention, a machine arrangement according to claim 1 which operates on a plurality of articles is provided.

    [0006] Another embodiment provides an article processing arrangement. The arrangement comprises a plurality of article processing machines. The machines each comprise an upstream machine and a down stream machine in the article processing arrangement. The arrangement comprises: an operation star wheel for holding articles, each star wheel including a number of pockets for receiving and holding the articles during processing operations, the pockets being divided into first and second pockets and arranged so that each first pocket is arranged between two second pockets; a transfer star wheel associated with the operation star wheel, the transfer star wheel having a plurality of pockets equal in number to the total of the first and second pockets formed in the operation star wheel, the pockets being arranged in a manner so that articles in the first and second pockets of the operation star wheel are respectively transferred into first and second pockets of the transfer star wheel; an infeed supply for supplying articles only into the first pockets of the operation star wheel; a recirculation supply for recirculating articles which have been introduced into the first pockets and transferred to the transfer star wheel back to the operation star wheel, the recirculation supply configured to introduce the articles into the second pockets on the operation star wheel; a discharge for discharging articles from the second pockets of the transfer star wheel; and an article guide track which transfers the articles from the downstream to the upstream one of the machines to transfer the articles to the recirculation supply. The article guide track comprising a track width adjusting arrangement that adjusts the track width of the article guide track to accommodate varying article sizes.

    [0007] According to another embodiment of the invention, a method of recirculating articles according to claim 3 is provided.

    [0008] It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description are exemplary and explanatory only, and are not restrictive of the invention as claimed.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0009] These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description, appended claims, and the accompanying exemplary embodiments shown in the drawings, which are briefly described below.

    Fig. 1 is a schematic view of a machine arrangement with a recirculation conveyor system according to an embodiment of the invention.

    Fig. 2 is a detailed schematic view of the machine arrangement of Fig. 1.

    Fig. 3 is a front schematic view of the machine arrangement of Fig. 1 showing support structure.

    Fig. 4 is a front schematic view of the machine arrangement of Fig. 1 showing additional support structure.

    Fig. 5 is a side view of the recirculation conveyor system according to an embodiment of the invention.

    Fig. 6 is a front perspective view of the recirculation conveyor system in which turn wheels and guide track are illustrated.

    Fig. 7 is a front perspective view of the recirculation conveyor system in which the turn wheels and the guide track are illustrated.

    Fig. 8 is a side view of the recirculation conveyor system in which a recirculation infeed is illustrated.

    Fig. 9 is a detail side view of the recirculation infeed of Fig. 8 illustrating a conveyor belt and position of an article on the belt.

    Fig. 10 is a detail side perspective view of the conveyor belt in which vacuum openings are shown.

    Fig. 11 is a rear perspective view of an article guide track of the recirculation conveyor system at a recirculation discharge.

    Fig. 12 illustrates a front elevation view of an article infeed and recirculation discharge according to an embodiment of the recirculation conveyor system in which a waxer assembly is shown.

    Fig. 13 is a side perspective view of a waxer assembly according to an embodiment of the invention.

    Fig. 14 is a detail side view of rack and pinion arrangement on a cantilever beam support of a track width adjustment mechanism of the recirculation conveyor system according to an embodiment of the invention.

    Fig. 15 is a detail side perspective view of the rack and pinion arrangement of the track width adjustment mechanism of Fig. 14.

    Fig. 16 is a detail perspective view of a track width adjustment mechanism according to another embodiment.

    Fig. 17 is a detail perspective view of the track width adjustment mechanism of Fig. 16.


    DETAILED DESCRIPTION



    [0010] An embodiment of the invention relates to a machine arrangement according to claim 1 which operates on a plurality of articles.

    [0011] In another embodiment, the recirculation mechanism comprises an article guide track which transfers the articles from the downstream to the upstream one of the machines.

    [0012] In another embodiment, the article guide track comprises a track width adjusting arrangement that uniformly (or, in other words, at the same time) adjusts the width of the article guide track to accommodate varying sizes and/or shapes of articles.

    [0013] The track width adjusting arrangement, in another embodiment, comprises a rack and pinion arrangement which, upon the turning of a line shaft via a crank wheel, the pinions simultaneously rotate to move the corresponding racks forwards and/or backwards to vary the width of the article guide track. In an embodiment, the pinions are operatively connected to the line shaft and the racks are operatively connected to cantilevered beams of the article guide track.

    [0014] The track width adjusting arrangement, in another embodiment, comprises a chain and sprocket arrangement which simultaneously rotates threaded members in a manner which varies the width of the article guide track.

    [0015] In another embodiment, the article guide track includes a vacuum grip to carry the articles through the recirculation path. The vacuum grip is configured to release the articles at a recirculation discharge (supply chute).

    [0016] According to another embodiment a machine arrangement which operates on a plurality of articles, comprises a plurality of machines arranged to cooperate with each other in a manner to form a machine arrangement. At least one of the machines comprises an apparatus configured to modify articles by operating at least one of moving, holding, manipulating, and shaping the articles as they pass from an article infeed to an article discharge of the machine arrangement and move along a path having a predetermined configuration. A recirculation mechanism moves articles from a downstream machine after a first pass and recirculates the articles back to an upstream machine in a recirculation path so that the articles which are recirculated through the second pass are again subjected to the at least one machine modifying operations in a selected number of machines that the articles have previously passed through in the first pass. The machine arrangement further includes a lubrication mechanism configured to apply lubricant over an exterior portion of each article after each article passes through the article infeed and/or a recirculation infeed.

    [0017] In another embodiment, the machine arrangement includes a lubrication mechanism that is operably connected to a first star wheel located at an end of a recirculation supply chute (sometimes referred to herein as a "recirculation discharge").

    [0018] In an embodiment, the first star wheel includes a plurality of pockets; at least one pocket includes a roller configured to rotate and apply lubricant to the article in the corresponding pocket.

    [0019] In another embodiment, an article processing arrangement is provided. The article processing arrangement comprises an article processing machine including an operation star wheel for holding articles. Each star wheel includes a number of pockets for receiving and holding the articles during processing operations. The pockets are divided into alternating first and second pockets and arranged so that each first pocket is arranged between two second pockets. The arrangement further includes a transfer star wheel associated with the operation star wheel. The transfer star wheel includes a plurality of pockets equal in number to the total of the first and second pockets formed in the operation star wheel. The pockets are arranged in a manner so that articles in the first and second pockets of the operation star wheel are respectively transferred into first and second pockets of the transfer star wheel. The arrangement also includes an infeed supply for supplying articles only into the first pockets of the operation star wheel and a recirculation supply for recirculating articles which have been introduced into the first pockets and transferred to the transfer star wheel back to the operation star wheel. The recirculation supply is configured to introduce the articles into the second pockets on the operation star wheel. The arrangement further includes an outfeed for discharging articles from the second pockets of the transfer star wheel. The operation and transfer star wheels are continuously rotatable.

    [0020] In an embodiment, the arrangement includes a vacuum grip to carry the articles through the recirculation path. The vacuum grip is configured to release the articles at a recirculation supply.

    [0021] In an embodiment of the arrangement, a lubrication mechanism is operably connected to a first star wheel located at an end of a recirculation supply chute (recirculation discharge).

    [0022] In one embodiment, the first star wheel includes a plurality of pockets. At least one pocket includes a roller configured to rotate and apply lubricant to the article in the corresponding pocket.

    [0023] In an embodiment, the arrangement comprises a lubrication mechanism configured to lubricate an exterior portion of each article after each articles passes through the recirculation supply chute.

    [0024] In another embodiment of the invention, a method of recirculating articles according to claim 3 is provided.

    [0025] A machine or machine arrangement with multiple stations on turrets that perform substantially similar processes in stages may be reduced in size or number of components by having alternating processes performed on each station of the turret. Each turret includes at least one star wheel, whether an operation star wheel or a transfer star wheel. In order to return the partially processed product back to a processing turret (operation star wheel) or series of turrets, a method of recirculation is required.

    [0026] The articles (or sometimes referred to herein as a "product") are first fed into a machine in a machine arrangement to fill alternating pockets (or sometimes referred to as a "station") of a star wheel in a turret. The articles are then processed though any number of stages, which can include forming, transferring, or any other suitable type of process stage, which can be performed in any number of turrets or machines. The articles are then discharged to a conveyor, or other suitable discharge mechanism, to be delivered, via a recirculation infeed, to a recirculation supply chute (recirculation discharge) that places each article in the pockets that were not filled by the first infeed operation. The next set of process stages is then performed. When all process stages are complete for an article, that article is discharged from the machine arrangement or directed to other processes in the machine arrangement that are positioned downstream of the recirculation infeed.

    [0027] According to one embodiment the process may include the following: (1) a transfer star wheel, with half the number of pockets as an operation star wheel, feeds articles into a first set of pockets onto a first operation star wheel (sometimes referred to as a "processing star wheel") ; (2) a process is performed in alternating pockets on the articles for a number of stages in operation star wheels; (3) the articles arrive at a "divider" star wheel that recirculates the articles that have been through the first series of processes and transfers a first set of articles into a recirculation infeed; (4) a conveyor transports the first set of articles that are to be recirculated to a recirculation supply chute; (5) the recirculation supply chute transfers the articles into a second set of pockets which are opposite from the first set of pockets; (6) the process is continued, such that the articles in the second set of pockets pass through a number of stages on the alternate (second) set of pockets; and (7) the fully circulated articles arrive at the "divider" turret and pass through to be discharged or directed to other processes that are downstream of the recirculation infeed.

    [0028] According to another embodiment, the process may comprise: (1) an infeed star wheel, with a vacuum mechanism to retain bottles for part of the rotation, feeds bottles onto another star wheel (directly or through an intermediate star wheel as shown); (2) the unprocessed bottles are combined (after some bottles have been partially processed and recirculated) in alternating fashion with partially processed bottles. Vacuum is supplied through passages in the star wheels and timed as necessary to retain or release bottles. The star wheel on which the unprocessed and partially processed bottles are combined may have different timing on alternating pockets. (3) The bottles are then transferred to a processing turret with alternating process tooling in every other station. The bottles may continue for a number of process stages. (4) After the desired number of stages has been completed, the bottles are recirculated. Vacuum is supplied through passages in a "divider" star wheel and timed as necessary to retain or release bottles. Alternating pockets of the "divider" star wheel have different timing. A second star wheel, located above the "divider" star wheel, has vacuum supplied to every other pocket and sends the partially processed bottles onto the recirculating conveyor. (5) The recirculating conveyor retains the bottles with vacuum to lift the bottles up to a track work that conveys the bottles to the second infeed. (6) A star wheel, similar to the first infeed star wheel, places the bottles in the stations not filled by the first infeed, and the bottles are transported and processed in a similar manner as they were in the first set of processes. (7) After the stages of processing are complete, the bottles arrive at the "divider" star wheel, where they continue without being recirculated.

    [0029] Embodiments will now be described with reference to the figures.

    [0030] Figures 1-17 illustrate a recirculation conveyor system with a recirculating machine arrangement 102. An article 50 may be a can, any suitable food or beverage container, jar, bottle or any other suitable article. The article 50 has an open end, opposite closed end, and a sidewall extending from the closed end. Alternatively, the article 50 may be open at both ends. A top, lid, or other closure may be added to the article 50 during an operation in the machine arrangement 102, or at a later stage.

    [0031] For exemplary purposes only, the below description will describe the recirculation conveyor system and method for use on a container 50. It will be recognized that any other type of article 50 (such as that described above) may be used.

    [0032] Containers 50 are fed into a continuously rotating forming turret (such as turret 210 shown in Figure 2) either from an infeed track 130 or from a preceding transfer star wheel 140 (sometimes referred to as a "transfer turret"), which may be part of a machine arrangement 102. Fig. 1 illustrates an infeed transfer star wheel 140 passing a container 50 to the continuously rotating forming turret 210 (sometimes referred to herein as an "operation turret" or a "forming turret" or a "forming star wheel") of a bottle forming process. The forming turret 210 may perform any suitable type of forming operation or process on the containers 50. For example, the forming turret 210 may perform a necking, curling, trimming, threading, or any other type of operation.

    [0033] While the forming turret 210 is rotating with the container 50 loaded into a forming station (sometimes referred to as a "pocket") therein, the container 50 will be inserted into a forming head (not shown) on the forming turret 210 where an open end of the container 50 will be subjected to a forming process and then withdrawn. The container 50 is then transferred from the forming turret 210 onto another transfer star wheel 140 or a discharge track 146, in the direction illustrated by the arrows in Fig. 2. It will be noted that the direction may vary in alternative embodiments.

    [0034] The transfer star wheels 140, whether preceding a forming turret 210 and/or following a forming turret 210, have similar designs and functions. The preceding star wheel 140 loads the container 50 into the forming turret 210, and the following star wheel 140 unloads the container 50 from the forming turret 210. The container 50 may then be recirculated back to the preceding transfer wheel 140.

    [0035] According to another embodiment, the machine arrangement and machine sequence 102 can include a recirculation mechanism 103 configured to move the containers 50 from a downstream one of the plurality of modules 110 after a first run (or pass) in the machine arrangement 102 and recirculates the bottles back to an upstream one of the plurality of modules 110 in a recirculation path (on a recirculation conveyor/article guide track 104) so that the containers 50, which are recirculated, pass through a second run (or pass) in the machine arrangement 102 to subject the containers 50 through the operations of the forming turret machines 210 an additional time. When the containers 50 pass through the second run, the containers 50 do not pass through forming operations that are identical to the first run. Rather, the containers 50 in the second pass are in different pockets 131 for different operations. For example, the containers 50 in the second pass are positioned in dies with smaller necking diameters. Alternatively, the containers 50 in the second pass can undergo completely different operations than in the first pass. For example, in the first pass, the containers 50 could undergo necking operations, followed by threading operations in the second pass. In an embodiment, the different operations may be accomplished in the same forming turret machines 210 or in different forming turret machines 210. Alternatively, the containers 50 may undergo a modifying operation in the first pass and, in the second pass, the containers 50 may undergo only a slight variation of the first modifying operation.

    [0036] It will also be recognized that the machine arrangement 102 could include any suitable number of passes (or runs), such as two, three, four, five, or any other suitable amount. With each additional pass, the forming turrets 210 and transfer star wheels 140 will contain the appropriate number of varying pockets 131. For example, if the machine arrangement 102 includes three passes, then each forming turret 210 and transfer star wheel 140 will have three different pockets: a first set for the first pass, a second set for the second pass, and a third set for the third pass. The sets will alternate as appropriate in the forming turrets 210 and transfer star wheels 140. For example, the pockets 131 will alternate as set one, set two, set three, set one, set two, set three, etc.

    [0037] The recirculation mechanism 103 includes a recirculation discharge 111 located on an upstream portion of the machine arrangement 102, a recirculation infeed 112 located on a downstream portion of the machine arrangement 102, and a guide track/conveyor 104. Alternatively, the recirculation discharge 111 and recirculation infeed 112 could be located in any suitable location in the machine arrangement.

    [0038] In one embodiment, the containers 50 are held in position on a first transfer star wheel 140' (and other star wheels or turrets 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145) using a pneumatic pressure differential or "suction" by a recirculation mechanism 103.

    [0039] In an embodiment, the star wheels 140 may be composed of two segments, which are connected to a drive shaft by way of a timing plate. Each timing plate is individually adjustable with respect to the respective turret drive shaft in a manner which allows their angular rotational position with respect to the turret drive shaft to be adjusted and then fixed to the degree that the two segments of the forming turret star wheel 210 which are mounted thereon, are positioned/timed with respect to the transfer star wheels on either side thereof, so that a smooth, continuous, incident-free transfer of bottles between the turret star wheels and the respective transfer star wheels, can take place.

    [0040] As noted above, in one embodiment the transfer star wheels 140 are arranged to hold the containers 50 in position using suction. The star wheels 140 may have a vacuum port (not shown), formed in a channel portion, fluidly communicating with a source of vacuum (negative pneumatic pressure) via a suitable manifold. The vacuum is delivered to the vacuum ports and the surface area of the containers 50, which are exposed to the suction, is increased to a degree that the containers 50 are stably held in position as each container 50 passes below the transfer star wheel axis of rotation.

    [0041] In the embodiment shown in Figure 3, the machine arrangement 102 comprises an infeed track 130 to feed the containers 50 into the machine arrangement 102 and a first transfer star wheel 140'. The first transfer star wheel 140' includes half as many pockets 131 as the forming star wheels 210 and other transfer star wheels 140 that are located between a recirculation discharge 111 and a recirculation entry 112. The first transfer star wheel 140' can have, for example, 4, 5, or 6 pockets 131 such that the corresponding forming star wheels 210 and other transfer star wheels 140 have 8, 10, or 12 pockets 131, respectively. Of course, any other suitable number of pockets 131 may be utilized.

    [0042] Following the primary infeed, the containers 50 pass through various transfer star wheels 140 and forming turrets 210 so that the bottles undergo predetermined forming operations. As the containers 50 approach the end of the first "pass" of the machine arrangement 102, the containers 50 enter into a divider star wheel 142. The divider star wheel 142 separates the containers 50 into either a discharge path or a recirculation path depending on which set of alternating pockets 131 in which each container 50 is positioned. If the containers 50, for example only, are in odd numbered pockets 131, then the bottles pass to the discharge path via a discharge transfer star wheel 141 and then a discharge track 146. The discharge star wheel 141, like the first infeed transfer star wheel 140' may have half as many pockets 131 as the forming turret 210. If the containers 50, for example, are in even numbered pockets 131, then the containers 50 pass to the recirculation path via a recirculation restacking star wheel 143 and into the recirculation mechanism 103.

    [0043] In the restacking star wheel 143, the containers 50 are loaded into an article guide track 104. As can be seen in Figure 3, the containers 50 are initially stacked vertically on the track 103. The arrows illustrate the direction in which the containers 50 move. The containers 50 pass up and back towards an upstream portion of the machine arrangement 102 and enter a recirculation supply tunnel or chute 111C in the recirculation discharge 111. An embodiment of the recirculation discharge 111 are shown in Figure 11.

    [0044] In the recirculation discharge 111, the containers 50 in the recirculation path are discharged back into the forming path. From the chute 111C, the containers 50 enter a recirculation discharge transfer star wheel 144 that places the containers 50 into another different set of alternating pockets 131 in a reentry star wheel 145. Following this, the containers 50 pass into the forming turrets 210 and transfer star wheels 140 in another different set of pockets that alternate ever other one, or every third one, or in any other suitable alternating manner. In other words, the containers 50 are now in the set of pockets 131 different from the first pass. When the containers 50 now enter the divider star wheel 142, the containers 50 in the other set of alternating pockets 131 (for example, odd numbered pockets 131) will be divided into the discharge transfer wheel 141 and into the discharge track 146. Following the discharge track 146, the containers 50 may enter a collection container, additional forming machines, or any other suitable path.

    [0045] Figure 4 illustrates the machine arrangement 102 with the frame 310 that supports the article guide track 104 and other machines or components of the machine arrangement 102. Figure 5 illustrates a side view of the machine apparatus with the frame 310. Figures 9 and 10 illustrate the article guide track 104 and the vacuum ports 104V in the track 104 to move the containers 50 in the recirculation mechanism 103.

    [0046] The guide track 104 includes a belt 104B that moves the containers 50 from a downstream end towards an upstream end of the machine arrangement 102. In one embodiment, the guide track 104 utilizes two turn wheels 108, 109, for example (which are shown in Fig. 7) to move the belt 104B. The track 104 may be positioned such that a closed end of each container 50 is attached to the belt 104B in a vertical manner. As the belt 104B approaches the turn wheels 108, 109, the belt 104B bends around a first turn wheel 108 so that the containers 50 are now in a horizontal line. The containers 50 are moved to an upstream end and are dropped into the recirculation chute 111C to be reentered into the machine arrangement 102 via a reentry transfer wheel 145. The belt 104B is looped around such that it forms a continuous belt. The belt 104B returns to the restacking transfer wheel 143 via the second turn wheel 109.

    [0047] As shown in Figs. 9-10, the guide track 104 comprises a belt 104B that, through a vacuum, moves the containers 50 along the guide track 104 and to the recirculation discharge 111. The containers 50 are transferred from the restacking star wheel 143 to the belt 104B via a vacuum. The belt 104B contains openings 104V over which the closed end of the container 50 rests. A vacuum, via openings 104V, holds the container 50 onto the belt 104B.

    [0048] In an embodiment, the belt 104B runs along a recirculation path up and over a first turn wheel. The first turn wheel 108 rotates in a first direction to move the belt 104B in a recirculation direction (towards recirculation discharge 111). The second turn wheel 109 rotates in an opposite direction to bring the belt 104B back to the recirculation infeed 112.

    [0049] Alternatively, the guide track 104 could comprise an air tunnel that moves the containers 50 via air blowing the containers 50 up and along the recirculation path.

    [0050] In an embodiment, the overhead recirculation mechanism 103 is movable to adjust for bottle height (length). According to an embodiment, the article guide track/conveyor 104 is capable of a quick change for varying container 50 height. The track 104 moves with respect to the frame 310.

    [0051] The guide track 104 is adjustable to account for varying sizes of containers 50. For example, Figs. 14-15 illustrate a track adjustment mechanism 160 according to an embodiment of the invention. The track adjustment mechanism 160 includes a line (main) shaft 161 operably connected to one or more pinions 162. Each of one or more cantilevered beam supports 164 in the recirculation mechanism includes a pinion 162 and a rack 163. When the main shaft 161 is rotated, the shaft 161 rotates the pinion(s) 162 over the rack 163.

    [0052] For example, when the shaft 161 rotates the pinion 162 in a clockwise direction CR (in Figure 15), the pinion 162 pulls the rack 163 in a direction D to pull a first side 167 of the article guide track/conveyor 104 towards a second side 168 to shorten the width of the conveyor 104. In other words, the distance between the first and second sides 167, 168 is shortened. The side 167 of the article guide track 104 pulled in is the side 167 in the far right of Fig. 14 (on the front of the machine arrangement). By shortening or lengthening the width of the article guide track conveyor 104, the conveyor 104 is capable of moving shorter or longer containers 50.

    [0053] Alternatively, the shaft 161 may be rotated in a counter-clockwise direction to allow longer containers 50 in the article guide track conveyor 104. Guide rollers may be utilized to move the article guide track 104. A hand crank may be manually moved to rotate the main shaft 161. Alternatively, a crank wheel or any other suitable mechanism may be used to rotate the main shaft 161.

    [0054] Figs. 4, 6, 16, 17 illustrate a track adjustment mechanism 170 according to another embodiment of the invention. The track adjustment mechanism 170 comprises a series of chains 171 and sprockets 172 operably connected to a crank wheel 173. By turning the crank wheel 173, a first sprocket 172' turns (shown in Fig. 4), which in turn moves the chains 171 and remaining sprockets 172. As the remaining sprockets 172 turn, a corresponding shaft 174 rotates to move a slide block arrangement 175. The slide block arrangement moves and extends the height (length) of the article guide track/conveyor 104. The crank wheel 173 may rotate in any direction to make the article guide track longer 104 or shorter depending upon the size of the containers 50.

    [0055] The recirculation discharge 111, according to an embodiment, includes a container stop 205 shown in Fig. 4. The container stop 205 holds the containers 50 in the recirculation supply tunnel (chute) 111C until the recirculation supply tunnel (holding pen) 111C is full. Once the recirculation supply tunnel 111C is full, the containers 50 are discharged and fed back into the machine arrangement 102 by passing the containers 50 from a recirculation discharge transfer star wheel 144 to a reentry transfer star wheel 145. The container stop 205 may comprise a sensor that determines the number of containers 50 in the recirculation supply tunnel 111C that is operably linked to an arm or other mechanism that prevents the containers 50 from entering the recirculation discharge star wheel 144. When the sensor determines that the tunnel 111C is adequately full, the sensor sends a signal to release the arm or other mechanism to allow the containers 50 to enter the recirculation discharge star wheel 144. Of course, any other suitable container stop 205 may be utilized.

    [0056] According to an embodiment the machine arrangement with recirculation may include one, two, or more waxing stations. A plurality of waxing stations each having at least one lubrication mechanism 150 (shown in Fig. 12) are useful due to reduced diameter on returning bottles. In an embodiment, a first waxing station with a lubrication mechanism 150 may be located at the first transfer star wheel 140' and a second waxing station with a lubrication mechanism 150 may be located at the recirculation discharge star wheel 144. Without the second waxing or lubrication station, the smaller diameter on the returning bottles (second loop) may be difficult to lubricate.

    [0057] For example, a waxing station may be positioned on the reentry transfer star wheel 145, primary transfer star wheel 140', an upstream portion star wheel 140, a downstream portion star wheel 140, or any other suitable star wheel.

    [0058] The lubrication mechanism 150 (such as shown in Fig. 13) may lubricate containers 50 in the first set of pockets, second set of pockets or both sets of pockets. Further, the machine arrangement 102 may include two lubricating star wheels; a first lubricating star wheel located after the primary infeed 130 and upstream of the reentry transfer star wheel 145, and a second lubricating star wheel at or downstream of the reentry transfer star wheel 145. The recirculation discharge star wheel 144 may also be a lubricating star wheel.

    [0059] In one embodiment, the lubrication mechanism 150 comprises a plurality of pinion gears 151 that rotate along a sun gear 152 on a main shaft of the star wheel. As the star wheel turns, the pinion gears rotate, causing a set of rollers 153 to rotate. The rotation of the rollers 153 rotates the container 50. The star wheel turns, the rollers 153 turn, and the container 50 turns, thus moving a portion of the outer container 50 surface against a wick 154. The wick 154, via capillary action, is lubricated with a lubricant, such as mineral oil, wax, or any other suitable material. A reservoir can be filled with the lubricant and the wick 154 is directly or operably connected to the reservoir. The wick 154 may be a sponge or any other suitable material. The rollers 153 may be urethane coated rubber.

    [0060] The lubrication mechanism 150 may also include a heater to heat the lubricant. For example, if wax is used, the wax should be melted prior to application to the containers 50. Thus, the heater melts the wax in the reservoir to a liquid state.

    [0061] In an embodiment, a top portion of the open end of the container 50 is lubricated. The inside of the container 50 does not receive lubricant. Alternatively, additional portions of the container 50 may be lubricated.

    [0062] A lubrication mechanism 150 may be part of two star wheels: the primary infeed transfer star wheel 140' and the recirculation discharge transfer star wheel 144. In an embodiment, two lubrication mechanisms 150 are provided such that the containers 50 receive lubrication when initially entering the machine arrangement 102, and the containers 50 receive a second application of lubrication prior to entering the machine arrangement 102 for a second time following recirculation. The lubrication mechanism 150 does not need to be on the primary star wheel 140' and the recirculation discharge star wheel 144, but any other suitable star wheels 140 or turrets.

    [0063] In an embodiment, the lubrication mechanism 150 at the recirculation infeed (recirculation discharge star wheel 144) may be different than the lubrication mechanism 150 at the article infeed (primary star wheel 140') in order for the lubrication mechanism 150 of the recirculation infeed to process a modified surface of a can 50. For example, in one embodiment, the rollers 153 of the recirculation infeed lubrication mechanism 150 may have a different diameter than rollers 153 of the article infeed lubrication mechanism 150. The different size roller 153 diameter can correspond to the modified surface of the cans 50.

    [0064] In another embodiment, the lubrication mechanism 150 may utilize movable brushes, lubrication drip system, or any other mechanism to lubricate the cans 50 as appropriate.

    [0065] According to one embodiment, the recirculation apparatus may include a strobe light to trouble shoot the recirculation and processing of the bottles. The light can be timed with the movement of the bottles.

    [0066] According to an embodiment, the recirculation apparatus may include vibration isolators 301, such as shown in Figure 5.

    [0067] In an embodiment, the recirculation apparatus may include a cover or doors 302 (shown in Figure 6) that may be moved over the modules 110 during operation of the apparatus and when the apparatus is not in use.

    [0068] While the invention is not so limited, embodiments of the invention are such that forming turrets or machines 210 may be constructed as modules. The use of bottle forming modules allows for the machine arrangement 102 to be assembled and/or changed to provide as many bottle forming stages as is required and to allow for the addition of additional stages such as flanging, necking, trimming, expansion, threading, curling, and/or base reforming/ reprofiling, which may be added/removed as desired.


    Claims

    1. A machine arrangement (102) which operates on a plurality of articles (50) comprising:

    a plurality of machines arranged to cooperate with each other in a manner to form a machine arrangement, the plurality of machines including an upstream machine and a downstream machine, at least one of the machines comprising a means (210) for modifying the articles by at least one of moving, holding, manipulating, and shaping the articles as they pass from an article infeed (130) to an article discharge (146) of the machine arrangement and move along a path having a predetermined configuration; and

    a means (103) for recirculating articles (50) within the machine arrangement, the means for recirculating articles being configured to move articles from the downstream machine after a first pass and recirculate the articles back to the upstream machine in a recirculation path so that the articles which are recirculated through the recirculation pass are subjected to a variation of the at least one machine with means for modifying the articles that the articles have previously passed through in the first pass;

    characterised in that:

    the machine arrangement further comprises a_means for applying lubrication to the articles entering the machine arrangement at the article infeed and means for applying lubrication to the articles in the recirculation pass,

    wherein the recirculation means includes a means for transferring articles from the downstream to the upstream one of the machines,wherein the means for transferring articles includes a means (160,170) for adjusting size such that the arrangement accommodates articles of varying heights,

    wherein the means for adjusting size comprises a rack and pinion arrangement (162,163), and

    wherein the rack and pinion arrangement includes at least one crank wheel (173) operably connected to a line shaft (161) and a plurality of racks (163) and pinions (162), and wherein upon the turning of the line shaft (161) via the crank wheel (173), the pinions (162) simultaneously rotate to move the corresponding racks (163) forwards and/or backwards to vary a width of an article guide track (104).


     
    2. The machine arrangement (102) of claim 1, wherein the pinions (162) are operably connected to the line shaft (161) and the racks (163) are operably connected to cantilevered beams (164) of the article guide track (104).
     
    3. A method of recirculating articles in a machine arrangement (102) comprising :

    feeding a plurality of articles (50) to a processing turret (210) into alternating pockets (131) via a primary infeed (130) in the machine arrangement (102);

    performing a process on the articles (50);

    moving the articles (50) to a second turret or transfer star wheel (140) in the machine arrangement (102) and keeping the articles in corresponding alternating pockets (131);

    transferring the articles (50) to a recirculation conveyor (104);

    adjusting a track width of the recirculation conveyor (104) using a rack and pinion arrangement such that the recirculation conveyor accommodates articles (50) of varying heights,

    wherein the rack and pinion arrangement includes at least one crank wheel (173) operably connected to a line shaft (161) and a plurality of racks (163) and pinions (162);

    conveying the articles (50) to a recirculation chute (111C);

    feeding the articles (50) via a secondary infeed to the machine arrangement (102) to alternating pockets (131) opposite from the primary infeed pockets;

    performing a different process on the articles (50) in the opposite pockets (131);

    dividing the articles (50) in opposite pockets to send to a discharge (111) and dividing the articles in primary infeed pockets to send to the recirculation conveyor (104);

    applying a lubricant to the articles (50) in the primary infeed pockets (131); and

    applying a lubricant to the articles (50) in the opposite pockets (131),

    wherein adjusting the track width of the recirculation conveyor (104) further includes:

    turning the line shaft (161) via the crank wheel (173), and then

    simultaneously rotating the pinions (162) to move the corresponding racks (163) forward and/or backwards to vary the track width of the recirculation conveyor (104).


     
    4. The machine arrangement (102) of claim 2, wherein the article guide track (104) has a first side and an opposing second side (167, 168), the first side being generally adjacent to a top of the articles (50) and the second side being generally adjacent to the bottom of the articles (50).
     
    5. The machine arrangement (102) of claim 4, wherein at least one of the first side or the second side (167, 168) is operably connected to one of the cantilevered beams (164).
     
    6. The machine arrangement (102) of claim 4, wherein the article guide track includes vacuum ports (104V) having a vacuum applied therethrough, the vacuum being configured to hold the articles (50) thereon.
     
    7. The method of claim 3, wherein the recirculation conveyor (104) includes a first side and an opposing second side (167, 168), the first side being generally adjacent to a top of the articles (50) and the second side being generally adjacent to the bottom of the articles (50).
     
    8. The method of claim 7, wherein at least one of the first side or the second side (167, 168) is operably connected to one of the plurality of racks (163).
     
    9. The method of claim 7, wherein the article guide track includes vacuum ports (104V) having a vacuum applied therethrough, the vacuum being configured to hold the articles (50) thereon.
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Maschinenanordnung (102), die auf eine Vielzahl von Gegenständen (50) arbeitet und aufweist:

    eine Vielzahl von Maschinen, die unter Bildung einer Maschinenanordnung zusammenarbeitend angeordnet sind, wobei die Vielzahl Maschinen eine stromauf- und eine stromabwärtige Maschine aufweist und mindestens eine der Maschinen eine Einrichtung (210) zum Bearbeiten der Gegenstände durch Bewegen oder Halten oder Manipulieren oder Formen - jeweils einzeln oder in Kombination - der Gegenstände aufweist, während sie von einem Gegenstand-Zulauf (130) zu einem Gegenstand-Ablauf (146) der Anordnung und entlang einer Weges vorbestimmter Konfiguration laufen; und

    eine Einrichtung (103) zum Im-Umlauf- und Rückführen von Gegenständen (50) in der Maschinenanordnung, welche Einrichtung ausgeführt ist, Gegenstände von der stromabwärtigen Maschine nach einem ersten Durchgang und auf einem Rückführweg zur stromaufwärtigen Maschine zurück zu führen, so dass die auf dem Rückführweg rückgeführten Gegenstände einer Variation der mindestens einen Maschine mit Einrichtungen zum Bearbeiten der Gegenstände ausgesetzt werden, die zuvor den ersten Durchgang durchlaufen haben;

    dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass

    die Maschinenanordnung weiterhin eine Einrichtung zum Auftragen von Gleitmittel auf die am Zulauf in die Maschinenanordnung einlaufenden Gegenstände und Einrichtungen zum Auftragen von Gleitmittel auf die auf dem Rückführweg befindlichen Gegenstände aufweist,

    wobei die Rückführeinrichtung Einrichtungen zum Überführen von Gegenständen von der stromabwärtigen zur stromaufwärtigen der Maschinen aufweist und die Einrichtung zum Überführen von Gegenständen Mittel (160, 170) zur Größeneinstellung aufweist derart, dass die Anordnung Gegenstände unterschiedlicher Höhe aufnehmen kann,

    wobei die Größeneinstelleinrichtung eine Zahnstangenmechanik (162, 163) aufweist und

    wobei die Zahnstangenmechanik mindestens ein Kurbelrad (173), das betrieblich mit einer Linienwelle (161) verbunden ist, und eine Vielzahl Zahnstangen (163) und Ritzel (162) aufweist und beim Drehen der Linienwelle (161) über das Kurbelrad (173) die Ritzel (162) gleichzeitig drehen, um die entsprechenden Zahnstangen (163) vor- und/oder rückwärts zu bewegen und so einen Abstand zwischen Gegenstand-Führungsschienen (104) zu variieren.


     
    2. Maschinenanordnung (102) nach Anspruch 1, bei der die Ritzel (162) mit der Linienwelle (161) und die Zahnstangen (163) mit auskragenden Trägern (164) der Gegenstandführung (104) betrieblich verbunden sind.
     
    3. Verfahren zum Im-Umlauf- und Rückführen von Gegenständen in einer Maschinenanordnung (102), das beinhaltet:

    Zuführen einer Vielzahl von Gegenständen (50) zu einem Arbeitsrevolver (102) und Einführen derselben in abwechselnde Taschen (13) über einen primären Zulauf (130) in der Maschinenanordnung (102);

    Ausführen eines Prozesses auf die Gegenstände (50);

    Bewegen der Gegenstände (50) zu einem zweiten Revolver- oder Transfer-Sternrad (140) in der Maschinenanordnung (102) und Vorhalten der Gegenstände in entsprechenden abwechselnden Taschen (131);

    Überführen der Gegenstände (50) an einen Rückführförderer (104);

    Einstellen der Schienenbreite des Rückführförderers (104) unter Anwendung der Zahnstangenanordnung derart, dass der Rückführförderer Gegenstände (50) unterschiedlicher Höhen aufnimmt;

    wobei die Zahnstangenanordnung mindestens ein Kurbelrad (173) aufweist, dass mit einer Linienwelle (161) und einer Vielzahl von Zahnstangen (163) und Ritzeln (162) betrieblich verbunden ist;

    Zuführen der Gegenstände (50) zu einer Rückführrutsche (111C);

    Zuführen der Gegenstände (50) über einen sekundären Zulauf der Maschinenanordnung (102) zu abwechselnden Taschen (131), die den Taschen des primären Zulaufs gegenüber liegen;

    Ausführen eines anderen Prozesses auf die Gegenstände (50) in den gegenüber liegenden Taschen (131);

    Abtrennen der Gegenstände (50) in gegenüber liegenden Taschen zwecks Zufuhr zu einem Ablauf (111) und Abtrennen der Gegenstände in primären Zulauftaschen zwecks Zufuhr zum Rückführförderer (104);

    Auftragen eines Gleitmittels auf die Gegenstände (50) in den primären Zulauftaschen (131) und

    Auftragen eines Gleitmittels auf die Gegenstände (50) in den gegenüber liegenden Taschen (131);

    wobei das Einstellen der Breite der Führungsschiene des Rückführförderers (104) weiterhin beinhaltet:

    Drehen der Linienwelle (161) über das Kurbelrad (173) und dann

    gleichzeitiges Drehen der Ritzel (162), um die entsprechenden Ritzel (163) vor- und/oder rückwärts zu bewegen und so die Breite der Führungsschiene des Rückführförderers (104) zu variieren.


     
    4. Maschinenanordnung (102) nach Anspruch 2, bei der die Führungsschiene (104) eine erste und eine gegenüber liegende zweite Seite (167, 168) aufweist, wobei die erste und die zweite Seite allgemein angrenzend an ein oberes bzw. das untere Ende der Gegenstände (50) verlaufen.
     
    5. Maschinenanordnung (102) nach Anspruch 4, bei der die erste oder die zweite Seite (167, 168) oder beide betrieblich mit einem der auskragenden Träger (164) verbunden ist.
     
    6. Maschinenanordnung (102) nach Anspruch 4, bei der die Führungsschiene Saugluftöffnungen (104V) aufweist, über die ein Unterdruck angelegt ist, der bemessen ist, die Gegenstände (50) auf der Führung zu halten.
     
    7. Verfahren nach Anspruch 3, bei dem der Rückführförderer (104) eine erste und eine zweite Seite (167, 168) aufweist, wobei die erste und die zweite Seite allgemein angrenzend an ein oberes bzw. das untere Ende der Gegenstände (50) verlaufen.
     
    8. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, bei dem mindestens die erste oder die zweite Seite (167, 168) oder beide betrieblich mit einer der Vielzahl von Zahnstangen (163) verbunden ist.
     
    9. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, bei dem die Führungsschiene Saugluftöffnungen (104V) enthält, über die ein Unterdruck angelegt ist, der bemessen ist, die Gegenstände (50) auf der Führung zu halten.
     


    Revendications

    1. Agencement de machines (102) qui opère sur une pluralité d'articles (50) comprenant :

    une pluralité de machines agencées pour coopérer l'une avec l'autre de manière à former un agencement de machines, la pluralité de machines comprenant une machine amont et une machine aval, au moins l'une des machines comprenant un moyen (210) pour modifier les articles par au moins une opération de déplacement, de maintien, de manipulation et de façonnage des articles à mesure qu'ils passent d'une entrée d'articles (130) à une décharge d'articles (146) de l'agencement de machines et se déplacent le long d'un trajet ayant une configuration prédéterminée ; et

    un moyen (103) pour la recirculation d'articles (50) dans l'agencement de machines, le moyen de recirculation d'articles étant configuré pour déplacer les articles depuis la machine aval après un premier passage et remettre en circulation les articles vers la machine amont dans un trajet de recirculation de sorte que les articles qui sont remis en circulation à travers le passage de recirculation soient soumis à une variation de la au moins une machine par un moyen de modification des articles par lequel les articles sont passés précédemment lors du premier passage ;

    caractérisé en ce que :

    l'agencement de machines comprend en outre un moyen d'application d'une lubrification aux articles entrant dans l'agencement de machines à l'entrée des articles et un moyen pour appliquer une lubrification aux articles dans le passage de recirculation,

    dans lequel le moyen de recirculation comprend un moyen de transfert d'articles de la machines aval à la machine amont, dans lequel le moyen de transfert d'articles comprend un moyen (160, 170) pour ajuster la taille de sorte que l'agencement accepte des articles de diverses hauteurs,

    dans lequel le moyen d'ajustement de la taille comprend un agencement à crémaillères et pignons (162, 163) et

    dans lequel l'agencement à crémaillères et pignons comprend au moins une roue à manivelle (173) raccordée en service à un arbre de renvoi (161) et une pluralité de crémaillères (163) et de pignons (162) et dans lequel, lors de la rotation de l'arbre de renvoi (161) via la roue à manivelle (173), les pignons (162) tournent simultanément pour déplacer les crémaillères correspondantes (163) vers l'avant et/ou vers l'arrière pour modifier une largeur d'une piste de guidage d'articles (104).


     
    2. Agencement de machines (102) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel les pignons (162) sont raccordés en service à un arbre de renvoi (161) et les crémaillères (163) sont raccordées en service à des poutres en porte-à-faux (164) de la piste de guidage d'articles (104).
     
    3. Procédé de recirculation d'articles dans un agencement de machines (102) comprenant :

    l'acheminement d'une pluralité d'articles (50) à une tourelle de traitement (210) dans des poches alternées (131) via une entrée primaire (130) dans l'agencement de machines (102) ;

    la réalisation d'un procédé sur l'article (50) ;

    le déplacement des articles (50) à une seconde tourelle ou roue en étoile de transfert (140) dans l'agencement de machines (102) et le maintien des articles dans des poches alternées correspondantes (131) ;

    le transfert des articles (50) à un transporteur de recirculation (104) ;

    l'ajustement d'une largeur de piste du transporteur de recirculation (104) en utilisant un agencement à crémaillères et pignons de sorte que le transporteur de recirculation accepte des articles (50) de diverses hauteurs,

    dans lequel l'agencement à crémaillères et pignons comprend au moins une roue à manivelle (173) raccordée en service à un arbre de renvoi (161) et à une pluralité de crémaillères (163) et de pignons (162) ;

    le transport des articles (50) à une goulotte de recirculation (111C) ;

    l'acheminement des articles (50) via une entrée secondaire à l'agencement de machines (102) dans des poches alternées (131) opposées aux poches d'entrée primaire ;

    la réalisation d'un procédé différent sur les articles (50) dans les poches opposées (131) ;

    la division des articles (50) dans des poches opposées pour les envoyer à une décharge (111) et diviser les articles dans des poches d'entrée primaire afin de les envoyer au transporteur de recirculation (104) ;

    l'application d'un lubrifiant aux articles (50) dans les poches d'entrée primaire (131) ; et

    l'application d'un lubrifiant aux articles (50) dans les poches opposées (131),

    dans lequel l'ajustement de la largeur de piste du transporteur de recirculation (104) comprend en outre :

    la rotation de l'arbre de renvoi (161) via la roue à manivelle (173), puis

    la rotation simultanée des pignons (162) pour déplacer les crémaillères correspondantes (163) vers l'avant et/ou vers l'arrière pour modifier la largeur de piste du transporteur de recirculation (104).


     
    4. Agencement de machines (102) selon la revendication 2, dans lequel la piste de guidage d'articles (104) a un premier côté et un second côté opposé (167, 168), le premier côté étant de manière générale adjacent à un sommet des articles (50) et le second côté étant de manière générale adjacent au fond des articles (50).
     
    5. Agencement de machines (102) selon la revendication 4, dans lequel au moins l'un du premier côté ou du second côté (167, 168) est raccordé en service à l'une des poutres en porte-à-faux (164).
     
    6. Agencement de machines (102) selon la revendication 4, dans lequel la piste de guidage d'articles comprend des orifices à vide (104V) ayant un vide qui leur est appliqué, le vide étant configuré pour y maintenir les articles (50).
     
    7. Procédé selon la revendication 3, dans lequel le transporteur de recirculation (104) comprend un premier côté et un second côté opposé (167, 168), le premier côté étant de manière générale adjacent à un sommet des articles (50) et le second côté étant de manière générale adjacent au fond des articles (50).
     
    8. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel au moins l'un du premier côté ou du second côté (167, 168) est raccordé en service à l'une de la pluralité de crémaillères (163).
     
    9. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel la piste de guidage d'articles comprend des orifices à vide (104V) ayant un vide qui leur est appliqué, le vide étant configuré pour y maintenir les articles (50).
     




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    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