(19)
(11)EP 2 719 368 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
26.06.2019 Bulletin 2019/26

(21)Application number: 13193893.8

(22)Date of filing:  22.12.2004
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
G07F 17/00(2006.01)

(54)

DRUG FEEDER AND ASSEMBLY THEREOF

ARZNEIMITTELSPENDER UND ANORDNUNG DAFÜR

DOSEUR DE MÉDICAMENT ET ASSEMBLAGE CORRESPONDANT


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU MC NL PL PT RO SE SI SK TR

(30)Priority: 05.01.2004 JP 2004000408
03.03.2004 JP 2004059186
01.06.2004 JP 2004163791
01.06.2004 JP 2004163796
02.09.2004 JP 2004255100

(43)Date of publication of application:
16.04.2014 Bulletin 2014/16

(62)Application number of the earlier application in accordance with Art. 76 EPC:
04807593.1 / 1704844

(73)Proprietor: Tosho Inc.
Tokyo 144-0033 (JP)

(72)Inventors:
  • Ohmura, Yoshihito
    Tokyo, Tokyo 144-0033 (JP)
  • Ohgaya, Syunji
    Tokyo, Tokyo 144-0033 (JP)
  • Fujiwara, Hiroo
    Tokyo, Tokyo 144-0033 (JP)
  • Ohmura, Shiro
    Tokyo, Tokyo 144-0033 (JP)

(74)Representative: Schröer, Gernot H. 
Meissner Bolte Patentanwälte Rechtsanwälte Partnerschaft mbB Bankgasse 3
90402 Nürnberg
90402 Nürnberg (DE)


(56)References cited: : 
EP-A1- 0 761 197
JP-A- 2003 175 901
EP-A2- 0 850 633
US-A- 5 752 368
  
      
    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 OF THE INVENTION


    1. Field of the Invention



    [0001] The present invention relates to a drug feeder and an assembly thereof.

    2. Description of the Related Art



    [0002] In an automatic drug dispenser such as a tablet packing machine and an injection dispensing machine, drugs are accommodated in drug cassettes such as tablet feeders according to their categories. A desired amount of drug is taken out in accordance with a prescription or an instruction for dispensing based on the prescription. In a majority of types of dispensers, drug cassettes are detachable to facilitate refilling of drug cassettes with drugs. Means are provided to ensure that drug containers are attached only to their counterparts so as to prevent a container from being attached to an improper destination.

    [0003] Such means may be a mechanical one that takes advantage of alignment between a key (projection) and a slot (hole). The following approach of reading identification information has been in the mainstream from the perspectives of cost, flexibility, expandability and miniaturization. In this approach, different drug cassettes are assigned different identification numbers. The number is read electronically or magnetically so that the result of reading is checked against preset check data. An alarm is issued in the event of a matching failure. Some drug dispensing systems are so arranged as to further ensure that the drug cassettes are properly positioned, while employing the aforementioned approach of reading identification information. This is achieved by conducting multiple checks that differ in the range of checking (see, for example, patent document JP 2002-272812A).

    [0004] Further relevant prior-art documents are: JP2002-153541 A, JP2002-154637, JP06-080103, JP11-206855, JP2003-31871.

    [0005] As the number of drug types is increased, the number of drug feeders stored is also increased. When there are as many as several hundred or more feeders, initial setting and preparation of check data are not easy.

    [0006] It is ensured in the related-art (see e.g. EP0761197) that the total length of the gutter of the aligner is at least twice the total length of a drug of an elongated configuration, and the preparatory aligning unit with a gutter length greater than the total length of the drug is provided. Further, container main bodies with the aligner housing units of a variety of heights are formed to adapt to the total length of the gutter of the aligner.

    [0007] Thus, various types of aligners and container main bodies with different dimensions adapted to a variety of total lengths of drugs are prepared and are appropriately combined to adapt to the total lengths of drugs. In this way, drug feeders corresponding to a variety of dimensions of capsules and tablets are produced.

    [0008] The inventors of the present invention studied the structure of the related-art drug feeder as described above and found that there are two problems (A) and (B) to be resoled.
    1. (A) The first problem is that the height of the aligner housing unit 120 would become excessively large in order to deliver a relatively elongated drug such as that of Japanese pharmacopoeia #000 (total length=about 22mm), preventing formation of a compact feeder. This is because the structure of the related-art drug feeder requires that the total length of the gutter of the aligner and the height of the aligner housing unit be twice or larger than the total length of a drug so as to secure a space for the preparatory aligning unit.
    2. (B) The second problem is that a wide variety of components constituting drug feeders (particularly, container main bodies) adapted to a variety of total lengths of drugs should be prepared because the total length of drug differs significantly from one drug type to another.


    [0009] For example, in the case of #000 capsules (for illustrative purpose, the total length of 20mm is assumed), the height of the aligner housing unit of the container main body should be 40mm, twice the total length of the capsule. In the case of a #5 capsule (for illustrative purposes, the total length of 10mm is assumed), the required height of the aligner containing unit would be 20mm, twice the total length of the capsule.

    [0010] Thus, the height of the aligner housing unit would be 40mm or 20mm depending on the capsule accommodated, the size at one extreme being twice that of the other. If tablets with a diameter of, for example, 5mm are also to be fed, the size range of the aligner housing unit will further be increased. For example, it is possible to enforce diversion in which a container main body having an aligner housing unit adapted to relatively large-sized #000 is used to accommodate relatively small-sized #5 capsules. As shown in Fig. 7, such diversion, characterized by large size mismatch, results in the top end of the aligner housing unit 120 for #000 capsules (reference symbol P000) facing the wall being approximately 20mm above the top end of the gutter of the aligner for #5 capsules (reference symbol P5). Since the cell opens upward at the top end of the aligner housing unit, this results in drug accommodating space being wasted.

    SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION



    [0011] The embodiment of the invention, which will be described below, relates to a drug feeder in which the aforementioned problem is solved and in which the container main body is made more compact in the height direction than in the related art. The present embodiment also relates to a method of providing an assembly of drug feeders in which it is possible to use a uniformly-sized container main body even if the total length differs from drug to drug.

    [0012] A summary of the embodiment will be given.

    [0013] While the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is ensured to be at least equal to the total length of a drug in the related art, we have found that the function of preparatory aligning unit is fully served even if the gutter length is reduced to a size shorter than the total length of a drug.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0014] Embodiments will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings which are meant to be exemplary, not limiting, and wherein like elements are numbered alike in several Figures, in which:
    Fig. 1
    shows the structure of a drug feeder according to a present embodiment of the present invention, where a container main body is illustrated using a sectional view and an aligner is illustrated using an outline drawing;
    Fig. 2A
    shows the appearance of an elongated drug in which the total length L is at least twice the larger of the total width W and the total thickness T (in the illustrated example, the width W is larger than the thickness T);
    Fig. 2B
    shows the appearance of a drug in which a dimension indicated by L is longer than the other two dimensions T and W, where T is equal to W, and in which the total length L is at least twice the total width W (=the total thickness T);
    Fig. 3
    schematically shows the relationship between selected dimensions occurring in the drug feeder according to the present embodiment;
    Fig. 4
    is a sectional view showing an example of structure for changing the position of a partition in the drug feeder according to the present embodiment;
    Fig. 5A
    shows a structure for changing the position of a partition with respect to the container main body;
    Fig. 5B
    shows the structure of a positioning pin for positioning the partition plate;
    Fig. 6
    relates to the present embodiment and shows the structure of the related-art drug feeder;
    Fig. 7
    relates to the present embodiment and illustrates a problem with the related-art drug feeder;

    DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION



    [0015] A description of the present invention will be given by highlighting an illustrative embodiment.

    (Present embodiment)



    [0016] The present embodiment relates to an apparatus wherein a drug product of a dosage form (for example, tablet and capsule) that allows piece-by-piece handling (in this specification, such a drug product is referred to as a "drug") is contained in a container. The apparatus feeds a prescribed number of drugs outside the container in accordance with a control signal.

    [0017] In a hospital dispensary or a prescription pharmacy outside a hospital, prescribed types and quantity (dose at a time, dosing interval, dosing period in number of days, etc.) of drugs are given to a patient in accordance with a prescription prepared by a doctor. In a dispensary or a pharmacy dispensing drugs such as tablets and capsules, a drug feeder (also referred to as a "tablet feeder") is used as an apparatus for automatically selecting drugs designated in each prescription from a large stock of drugs (see, for example, patent documents 2-5).

    [0018] The drug feeder 13 is provided with a container for containing drugs and is a mechanism designed to feed contained drugs piece by piece in accordance with a control signal consistent with a prescription.

    [0019] As shown in Fig. 7 of patent document No. 3, a drug feeder (reference numeral 13 in the figure) is an assembly comprising parallel-arranged units each capable of feeding one type of drug, the number of units being commensurate with the number of types of drugs to be stocked. The assembly is configured such that an arbitrary drug feeder is selectively operated by a controller. Drugs ejected from the drug feeder are collected by a chute (the duct 14 and the collecting member 15 in the figure) in one location. This enables a desired combination of drugs to be retrieved in accordance with a prescription. Below the chute is provided a packaging apparatus (reference numeral 17 in the figure) for individual packaging of drugs in a serial film package. The large number of drug feeders and the packaging apparatus integrally form a drug packing apparatus (tablet packing machine 10 in the figure).

    [0020] In a hospital dispensary or the like, this drug packing apparatus enables a required amount of drugs to be fed from corresponding drug feeders only by inputting prescription data. It is possible to film-pack each one tablet or to automatically package and serve a multiple types of drugs to be taken at a time.

    [0021] As shown in Fig. 10 of patent document No. 3, each drug feeder is provided with a feed mechanism for feeding contained drugs one by one. Fig. 6 shows a main part of a typical, favorable feed mechanism in a related-art drug feeder adapted to capsules.

    [0022] As shown in Fig. 6, the related-art drug feeder is comprised of a container main body 100 and an aligner 200. The container main body 100 comprises a cell unit 110 for containing drugs and an aligner housing unit 120 adjacent to the bottom of the cell unit 110. Normally, the container 100 is formed of a semitransparent plastic so that the amount of drugs remaining in the container is visually observable.

    [0023] In the illustrated example, the aligner housing unit 120 is of a cylindrical configuration with a vertical axis of rotation. The aligner 200 (particularly, a main body 210) is rotatably contained in the aligner housing unit 120. In the illustrated example, the main body 210 of the aligner 200 is of a cylinder configuration rotatably engageable with the aligner housing unit 120. The main body 210 is axially arranged to be aligned with the aligner housing unit 120. The top of the main body of the aligner is formed as a spirally projecting agitator unit 240. The agitator 240 projects into the cell unit 110 and operates to agitate capsules and guide them into gutters described later.

    [0024] The underside of the aligner 200 is connected to an external driving apparatus (not shown) so as to be rotated, a rotation angle in each step of rotation being defined by a single gutter described later.

    [0025] At least one gutter 220 is provided at the periphery of the aligner 200 so that the drug enters the gutter 220 via the cell unit 110. A partition 230 between the gutters is referred to in patent document No. 3 as a blade-like projection 13d. The gutter 220 extends in a direction having a vertical component. As shown in Fig. 6, the depth and width of the gutter are determined such that the longest dimension (total length) L10 of a capsule is aligned with the direction of extension of the gutter, i.e. such that the capsule falls in a longitudinal direction. The aligner housing unit 120 of the container main body is configured to have a height H10, which is greater than the total length of the gutter 220. With this, the gutter 220 is covered over its entire length by the wall of the aligner housing unit, producing a tubular passage surrounded on all sides, and properly functions as a gutter.

    [0026] The total length of the gutter 220 is at least twice as large as the total length L10 of the capsule contained. At a position spaced apart from the bottom of the gutter 220 by the total length of the capsule, a partition plate 300 projects from selected locations on the interior wall of the aligner housing unit 120. The partition plate 300 partitions the gutter 220 into a preparatory aligning unit 221 in the top half and an aligning unit 222 in the bottom half.

    [0027] More specifically, as shown in Fig. 6, the gutter 220 is designed to be of a length in which two successive capsules are completely entrenched therein. It is ensured that the lower aligning unit 222 is of a gutter length equal to the total length L10 of a capsule and the upper preparatory aligning unit 221 is of a gutter length equal to or greater than the total length L10 of a capsule. In the example of Fig. 6, the total length of the gutter 220 is twice the total length of a capsule. In a case where the gutter 220 is adapted to accommodate a small capsule, however, the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit 221 may be greater than the total length of a capsule.

    [0028] The significance of having the preparatory aligning unit 221 preceding the aligning unit will be described later.

    [0029] A notch is provided in the center of all partitions at the periphery of the aligning unit so that the partition plate 300 can reach the neighborhood of the bottom of the gutter. With this, the aligner 200 can be rotated without being interfered by the partition plate 300.

    [0030] Immediately beneath the gutter provided with a partition plate, a drug outlet 400 is provided at the bottom of the aligner housing unit. By providing a partition plate, it is ensured that the cell space, the gutter in the aligning unit and the drug outlet are not aligned to communicate with each other. Only those capsules in the aligning unit 221 that are introduced into a space immediately above the drug outlet (=immediately below the partition plate) fall under their own weight to the drug outlet 400 so as to fall to the external chute. Without the partition plate, the drug can freely fall into the aligning unit immediately above the drug outlet, there being no limit to the number of drugs ejected from the drug outlet. The preparatory aligning unit is located between the cell unit of the container main body, the agitator unit of the aligner projecting into the cell unit, and the aligning unit which includes the drug outlet. The guiding action of the agitator enables the preparatory aligning unit to receive drugs from the cell unit properly and feed the drugs to the aligning unit. That is, the preparatory aligning unit is a standby aligning unit preceding the aligning unit.

    [0031] As mentioned with reference to the partition plate, the top end of the gutter should be closed by the partition plate when the drug is introduced into a space immediately above the drug outlet. Accordingly, in an embodiment provided only with the aligning unit (i.e., an embodiment in which the preparatory aligning unit is absent), the chance of drugs in the cell falling into the gutter is reduced due to blockage by the partition plate. In contrast, by providing the preparatory aligning unit, drugs in the cell can fall into all gutters over the entire periphery of the aligner. As such, the chance of drugs in the cell falling into the gutters is not reduced. It is also for a probabilistic reason as mentioned above that the structure with the preparatory aligning unit is favorable in properly guiding drugs in the cell into the gutters.

    [0032] For the purpose of feeding drugs in the cell to the preparatory aligning unit, the gutter width and/or gutter depth are designed such the minimum of the three dimensions (total length, total width and total thickness) of the associated drug can pass through the gutter. With this dimension control, it is ensured that the drug enters the gutter only in such a manner that the direction of the longest dimension (normally, the direction of the total length) is aligned with the longitudinal direction of the gutter. Like the aligning unit, the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit may suitably be formed in accordance with the size of one of the dimensions (total length, total width and total thickness) of the drug 1 with an intermediate size. The gutter width of the preparatory aligning unit is determined in accordance with the intermediate dimension. That is, if the gutter width is too large with respect to the intermediate dimension of the drug 1, the drug 1 will not be settled in the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit in a stable manner. Conversely, when the gutter width is too small with respect to the intermediate dimension of the drug 1, the drug 1 is prevented from entering the preparatory aligning unit properly.

    [0033] Conventionally, the preparatory aligning unit is provided in a case where the drug is of an elongated configuration (for example, a capsule) in which the intermediate dimension is generally smaller than 1/2 of the maximum dimension. As mentioned above, it is ensured in the related-art drug feeder that the total length of the gutter of the aligner is at least twice the total length of a drug of an elongated configuration, and the preparatory aligning unit with a gutter length greater than the total length of the drug is provided. Further, container main bodies with the aligner housing units of a variety of heights are formed to adapt to the total length of the gutter of the aligner.

    [0034] Thus, various types of aligners and container main bodies with different dimensions adapted to a variety of total lengths of drugs are prepared and are appropriately combined to adapt to the total lengths of drugs. In this way, drug feeders corresponding to a variety of dimensions of capsules and tablets are produced.

    [0035] The inventors of the present invention studied the structure of the related-art drug feeder as described above and found that there are two problems (A) and (B) to be resoled.
    1. (A) The first problem is that the height of the aligner housing unit 120 would become excessively large in order to deliver a relatively elongated drug such as that of Japanese pharmacopoeia #000 (total length=about 22mm), preventing formation of a compact feeder. This is because the structure of the related-art drug feeder requires that the total length of the gutter of the aligner and the height of the aligner housing unit be twice or larger than the total length of a drug so as to secure a space for the preparatory aligning unit.
    2. (B) The second problem is that a wide variety of components constituting drug feeders (particularly, container main bodies) adapted to a variety of total lengths of drugs should be prepared because the total length of drug differs significantly from one drug type to another.


    [0036] For example, in the case of #000 capsules (for illustrative purpose, the total length of 20mm is assumed), the height of the aligner housing unit of the container main body should be 40mm, twice the total length of the capsule. In the case of a #5 capsule (for illustrative purposes, the total length of 10mm is assumed), the required height of the aligner containing unit would be 20mm, twice the total length of the capsule.

    [0037] Thus, the height of the aligner housing unit would be 40mm or 20mm depending on the capsule accommodated, the size at one extreme being twice that of the other. If tablets with a diameter of, for example, 5mm are also to be fed, the size range of the aligner housing unit will further be increased.

    [0038] For example, it is possible to enforce diversion in which a container main body having an aligner housing unit adapted to relatively large-sized #000 is used to accommodate relatively small-sized #5 capsules. As shown in Fig. 7, such diversion, characterized by large size mismatch, results in the top end of the aligner housing unit 120 for #000 capsules (reference symbol P000) facing the wall being approximately 20mm above the top end of the gutter of the aligner for #5 capsules (reference symbol P5). Since the cell opens upward at the top end of the aligner housing unit, this results in drug accommodating space being wasted. The present embodiment, which will be described below, relates to a method of providing a drug feeder in which the aforementioned problem is solved and in which the container main body is made more compact in the height direction than in the related art. The present embodiment also relates to a method of providing an assembly of drug feeders in which it is possible to use a uniformly-sized container main body even if the total length differs from drug to drug. A summary of the present embodiment will be given.

    [0039] While the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is ensured to be at least equal to the total length of a drug in the related art, we have found that the function of preparatory aligning unit is fully served even if the gutter length is reduced to a size shorter than the total length of a drug.

    [0040] The following features characterize an illustrative embodiment of the invention.
    1. (1) A drug feeder for containing and feeding a drug, comprising: a container main body and an aligner, wherein
      the container main body comprises: a cell unit which contains a drug; and an aligner housing unit which is adjacent to the bottom of the cell unit and which rotatably accommodates a main body of the aligner,
      at least one gutter into which a drug enters via the cell unit is provided at the periphery of the aligner, the gutter extends in a direction having a vertical component, and the depth and width of the gutter are determined such that the longest dimension of a drug is aligned with the direction of extension of the gutter,
      a partition plate projects from the interior wall of the aligner housing unit so as to partition the gutter into a preparatory aligning unit in the top half and an aligning unit in the bottom half, a drug outlet is provided in the aligner housing unit at a position below the partition plate so as to allow a drug in the aligning unit to fall,
      designating the longest dimension of a drug as its total length L, the gutter length of the aligning unit is substantially equal to the total length L, and the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is smaller than the total length L.
    2. (2) The drug feeder as described in (1) above, in which the aligner is generally of a cylindrical forms and a space inside the aligner housing unit is of a cylindrical form having an inner diameter sufficiently large to rotatably accommodate the aligner.
    3. (3) The drug feeder as described in (1) above, in which the drug is as described later in (A) or (B).
    4. (4) An assembly of drug feeders which contain and feed a drug, wherein
      each drug feeder comprises a container main body and an aligner, each drug feeder is dedicated to a particular one of drug types that differ in dimensions so that each feeder contains and feeds only one type of drug,
      the container main body comprises: a cell unit which contains a drug; and an aligner housing unit which is adjacent to the bottom of the cell unit and which rotatably accommodates a main body of the aligner,
      at least one gutter into which a drug enter via the cell unit is provided at the periphery of the aligner, the gutter extends in a direction having a vertical component, and the depth and width of the gutter are determined such that the longest dimension of a drug is aligned with the direction of extension of the gutter,
      a partition plate projects from the interior wall of the aligner housing unit so as to partition the gutter into a preparatory aligning unit in the top half and an aligning unit in the bottom half, a drug outlet is provided in the aligner housing unit at a position below the partition plate so as to allow a drug in the aligning unit to fall,
      designating the longest dimension of a drug as its total length L, and given a drug Px having a total length Lx, which is equal to a maximum total length L of drugs of a variety of dimensions, the gutter of the aligning unit is of a length Ax, which is practically equal to the total length Lx, and the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit is of a length Bx, which is smaller than the total length Lx, and
      given a drug P other than the drug Px, the gutter of the aligning unit is of a length which is practically equal to the total length L of the drug P, and the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit is equal to or smaller than (Ax+Bx-L).
    5. (5) The assembly of drug feeders as described in (4) above, in which the aligner is generally of a cylindrical form, and a space inside the aligner housing unit is of a cylindrical form having an inner diameter sufficiently large to rotatably accommodate the aligner.
    6. (6) The assembly of drug feeders as described in (5) above, in which the container main body of the same form is used for drugs with different dimensions, and the height H of the cylinder of the aligner housing unit is less than twice the total length Lx of the drug Px.
    7. (7) The assembly of drug feeders as described in (4) above, in which the drug Px is as described later in (A) or (B).
    8. (8) The assembly of drug feeders as described in (4) above, in which the partition plate is formed as a component separate from the container main body and inserted into the cylindrical space from outside the container main body so as to be detachably secured in the container main body.
      1. (A) A drug of a form with different dimensions in all three mutually perpendicular directions (x, y, z), in which, designating the largest dimension as a total length L and the remaining two dimensions as a total width W and a total thickness T, the total length L is at least twice the larger of the total width W and total thickness T.
      2. (B) A drug of a form in which one of the dimensions in the three mutually perpendicular directions (x, y, z) is longer than the other two dimensions and the remaining two dimensions are equal to each other, and in which, designating the longest dimension as a total length L and the remaining two dimensions as a total width W and a total thickness T, the total length L is at least twice the total width W.


    [0041] Hereinafter, a design feature adapted to a relatively large total length of drug (for example, Japanese pharmacopoeia #000-#0 capsules) will be referred to by a term "large-length" (for example, "large-length aligner"). A design feature adapted to a relatively small total length of drug (for example, #3-#5 capsules) will be referred to by a term "short-length".

    [0042] The gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit provided in the aligner of the related-art drug feeder is such that [gutter length of preparatory aligning unit=total length of drug]. In the present embodiment, however, [gutter length of preparatory aligning unit<total length of drug]. This is based on our finding that the function of guiding drugs is properly served even if the gutter length of a preparatory aligning unit is shorter than the total length of a drug.

    [0043] Broadly speaking, reduction in the gutter length of a preparatory aligning unit produces the following two effects.

    [0044] Firstly, by enabling the height of an aligner and the height of an associated aligner housing unit of a container main body to be reduced, the total height of the container main body, i.e., the height of a drug feeder as a component is reduced accordingly. Alternatively, by maintaining the total height of the container main body unchanged from that of the related art while reducing the height of the aligner and aligner housing unit, the capacity of the cell is enlarged accordingly.

    [0045] Secondly, by reducing the height of a large-length aligner and aligner housing unit and not reducing the height of a small-length aligner (i.e., not reducing the height of a preparatory aligning unit), size difference between the height of a large-length aligner housing unit and the height of a small-length aligner is reduced. As a result of this, the waste of accommodating space due to size difference as described in (B) above is reduced in scale even if a large-length container main body is used as a small-length container main body. In other words, a large-length container main body can also serve the purpose of a small-length container main body. By using a large-length container main body also as a small-length container main body, it is not necessary to prepare a stock of a large variety of container main bodies in the process of fabricating a drug packing apparatus, which is an assembly of drug feeders. This allows the use of only one kind of die to produce of a container main body and is favorable in that the cost of fabricating a drug packing apparatus is reduced.

    [0046] The drug feeder according to the embodiment (1) described above and the assembly according to the embodiment (4) described above will be sequentially described by citing preferred embodiments of a drug feeder and an assembly thereof. In the following description, the longest dimension of a drug will be referred to as a total length L.

    [0047] As shown in Fig. 1, the drug feeder according to the embodiment (1) comprises a container main body 70 and an aligner 80. Reference symbol P indicates a drug handled by the drug feeder (a capsule is illustrated as an example).

    [0048] For the basic structure of the drug feeder (for example, the structure described in (a)-(f) below and the materials of feeder components) and for the workings and effects described in (g) below and obtained by such structures, the related-art structure described above using Fig. 6 or the description in patent documents 2-5 may be referred to.
    1. (a) The container main body 70 comprises a cell unit 70 and an aligner housing unit 72 adjacent to the bottom thereof.
    2. (b) At least a main body 81 of the aligner 80 is rotatably accommodated in the aligner housing unit 72.
    3. (c) Gutters 82 are provided at the periphery of the aligner 80 to sandwich partition walls 83. The gutter 82 extends in a direction having a vertical component. In the example shown in Fig. 1, the gutter 82 extends in the vertical direction.
    4. (d) The top of the aligner is formed as an agitator spirally projecting upwards. A connecting hole or a connecting shaft is provided on the underside of the aligner for connection to an external driving apparatus.
    5. (e) A partition plate 90 projects from selected locations on the interior wall of the aligner housing unit 72 so as to partition the gutter 82 into a preparatory aligning unit 82a and an aligning unit 82b.
    6. (f) A drug outlet 101 is provided in the aligner housing unit below the position of the partition plate so as to ensure that drugs in the aligning unit fall under their own weight.
    7. (g) The workings and effects of the drug feeder provided by the basic structure in (a)-(f) are as follows: a large number of drugs randomly accommodated in the cell unit 71 descend to the gutter 82 of the aligner 80 and reach the aligning unit.


    [0049] As the aligner is rotated, only those drugs guided to positions immediately below the partition plate fall to an external chute via the drug outlet 101 under their own weight.

    [0050] As described before, an important feature of the drug feeder according to this embodiment consists in the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit.

    [0051] As shown in Fig. 1, the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit 62a according to the present embodiment is shorter than the total length L of the drug P. That is, the drug P entering the preparatory aligning unit 82a is not completely accommodated in the preparatory aligning unit as shown in Fig. 1, if there is a drug in the aligning unit below. A portion of the drug projects above the top of the gutter into the cell unit. The preparatory aligning unit such as this is not found in the related art but provides the function equivalent to that of the related-art preparatory aligning unit, if the gutter length is properly limited.

    [0052] The gutter length of the aligning unit 82b is practically the same as the total length L of the drug P, as in the related art. The term "practically the same" refers to a requirement that the gutter length be practically equal to the length L such that a difference is within a range of error permitted to achieve the purpose of the drug feeder according to the present embodiment. The total length of a finished drug is not strictly as designed and the actual gutter length of the aligning unit 82b also has a manufacturing error.

    [0053] As described earlier, our finding in the present embodiment is that the function of a preparatory aligning unit is properly served even if the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is configured to be shorter than the total length of a drug as described above. By configuring the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit to be shorter as described above, the height of the aligner housing unit 72 is reduced accordingly, resulting in a drug feeder which is compact in height. Accordingly, the problem described above in (a) is solved. An added advantage is that the capacity of accommodating drugs is increased. Described above are the features of the embodiment (1).

    [0054] The embodiment (1) requires that the gutter length of a preparatory aligning unit be smaller than the total length L of a drug. To achieve highly compact size of a drug feeder as a whole and to enable the configuration of a container main body to be shared as much as possible as described in the embodiment (4), it is preferable that the gutter length of a preparatory aligning unit be 80% or smaller, and preferably, 60& or smaller, than the total length L of a drug.

    [0055] The minimum gutter length of a preparatory aligning unit is preferably 40% or greater and, more preferably, 45% or greater than the total length L of a drug handled, to ensure that the gutter provides the function as a preparatory aligning unit.

    [0056] Drugs handled by the drug feeder according to the present embodiment, i.e. drugs contained in the cell unit for feeding may be of any type of solid drug product that can be fed one by one. For example, capsules, tablets (including uncoated tablets and sugar-coated tablets), pills and troches may be handled.

    [0057] Drugs handled may not necessarily be pharmaceuticals but may be what is categorized as food such as nutritional supplements.

    [0058] Of all drugs, drugs having an elongated form as described in (A) and (B) above are most suitable to appreciate the feature of the drug feeder according to the present embodiment.

    [0059] As shown in Fig. 2A, the drug described in (A) above is an elongated drug in which the total length L is at least twice the larger of the total width W and the total thickness T (in the illustrated example, the width W is larger than the thickness T).

    [0060] The form of drug shown in Fig. 2A is merely by way of example. The cross section indicated by shading is of a form having flat side edges and swollen toward the center. Alternatively, the cross section may be elliptical, rectangular, etc.

    [0061] As shown in Fig. 2B, the drug described in (B) above is a drug in which a dimension indicated by L is longer than the other two dimensions T and W, where T is equal to W, and in which the total length L is at least twice the total width W (=the total thickness T).

    [0062] Capsules are typical examples of the drug of this type. The embodiment is not restricted to specific cross section or dimensions of a capsule. Capsules used for general-purposes include Japanese pharmacopoeia #000 capsules, #00 capsules and #0-#5 capsules. For example, a #000 capsule has a total length of about 22.02mm, and a #5 capsule has a total length of about 9.40mm.

    [0063] The gutter 82 provided at the periphery of the aligner may be formed by machining a base material of the aligner or by joining ridged projection to the aligner to form a partition.

    [0064] The requirement for the gutter 82 is that it extends in a direction having a vertical component so that drugs fall under their own weight. As shown in Fig. 1, the depth and width of the gutter 82 are determined such that the longest portion of a drug (in the case of a capsule, the total length L and, in the case of a disk-shaped drug, a diameter) is oriented in the direction of the extension of the gutter.

    [0065] The basic form of the aligner is a body of revolution. Preferably, the aligner is of a cylindrical form in which the axis of rotation extends in a vertical direction.

    [0066] Alternatively, the aligner may be of a conical form with its vertex facing downward (see patent documents 4 and 5) or a conical form with its vertex facing upward. The direction of the axis of rotation preferably extends in a vertical direction. Alternatively, the direction may be changed as appropriate so long as drugs can fall to the drug outlet. As a result of employing the above-identified form, it is ensured that the gutter extends in a direction having a vertical component so that drugs fall under their own weight.

    [0067] It is preferable that the space inside the aligner housing unit match the basic form of the aligner and the inner diameter of the space be sufficiently large to allow the aligner to be rotated. The posture of falling drugs may be determined in accordance with a distance between the interior wall surface of the aligner housing unit and the interior bottom surface of the gutter.

    [0068] In the embodiment (1) described above, dimensions may be determined as required apart from the reduction in the size of the preparatory aligning unit. For example, the height of the aligner and the height of the aligner housing unit of the container main body may be determined as required so as to be most suitable for drugs.

    [0069] If the need for standardization of the dimensions of components is disregarded and consideration is given only to the ideal form of a drug feeder as an isolated component, it is preferable the height of the aligner housing unit in the container main body (dimension H of Fig. 1) be practically equal to the total length of the gutter of the aligner (gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit 82a+gutter length of the aligning unit 82b of Fig. 1). More preferably, the dimension H is longer than the total length of the gutter of the aligner by 0mm-5mm, as shown in Fig. 1.

    [0070] That is, an ideal relation between dimensions is such that H≥82a+82b.

    [0071] A description will now be given of the embodiment (4) described above.

    [0072] This embodiment requires that an assembly comprising multiple drug feeders according to the second example includes at least one drug feeder of the embodiment (1) above. From the perspective of standardization of the dimensions of the container main body, it is preferable that the aligner of the drug feeder of the embodiment (1) above be used for large-length drugs and the related-art aligner be used for small-length drugs. The basic mechanism and structure of each of the drug feeders required for feeding drugs are the same as those described with reference to the drug feeder of the embodiment (1) above.

    [0073] Fig. 3 schematically shows the relationship between selected dimensions in aligners 80a, 80b and 80c of the drug feeder according to the embodiment (4), by taking examples of largest-length, medium-length and smallest-length drugs. As shown in Fig. 3, each of the drug feeders is dedicated to a particular one of drug types that differ in dimensions so that each feeder contains and feeds only one type of drug.

    [0074] In forming an assembly comprising a multiple drug feeders according to the embodiment (4) above, the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit of the aligner for largest-length drugs is reduced and the height of the aligner housing unit of the container main body is reduced accordingly. The gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit of the aligner for drugs shorter than a certain length is not reduced. A container main body for large-length drugs is also used in this case. With this, the size of the container main body is advantageously standardized and the problem of (B) is resolved.

    [0075] More specifically, as shown in Fig. 3, the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit of the aligner 80a adapted for a drug Px having a total length Lx, which is a maximum total length L of drugs that differ in dimensions, is configured to have a length Bx, which is smaller than the total length Lx of the drug. The gutter of the aligning unit is of a length Ax, which is practically equal to the total length Lx of the drug, with the result that the gutter length of the largest-length aligner is such that Ax+Bx(=Lx+Bx)<2Lx.

    [0076] The feature described above is the same as the feature of the drug feeder according to the embodiment (1) above. The amount of reduction of the gutter length of the largest-length preparatory aligning unit is as described in the embodiment (1) above.

    [0077] The height Hx of the largest-length aligner housing unit is similarly reduced. The height Hx may be less than twice the total length Lx of the drug Px. Preferably, the height Hx is practically equal to Ax+Bx (=Lx+Bx), the total gutter length of the aligner or larger than the sum by about 0mm-5mm.

    [0078] It is most preferable according to this embodiment that the reduced height Hx of the largest-length aligner housing unit be applied to other feeders so that the height Hx=Ax+Bx (=Lx+Bx) is uniformly used as the height of the aligner housing units of other container main bodies.

    [0079] The total gutter length of the aligners for drugs (P1 and P2 of Fig. 3) shorter than the drug Px may preferably be designed as described (i) and (ii) below.
    1. (i) In the case of drugs like the drug P1 of Fig. 3, which is slightly shorter than the largest-length drug Px (i.e. drugs in which twice the total length L1 of the drug is equal to or larger than the total length Ax+Bx of the largest-length gutter), the total length of the gutter of the aligner is designed to be Ax+Bx. In this case, the length B1 of the preparatory aligning unit is shorter than the total length L1 of the drug so that the resultant drug feeder is encompassed by the embodiment (1) above.
    2. (ii) In the case of drugs like the drug P2 of Fig. 3, which is sufficiently shorter than the largest-length drug Px (i.e. drugs in which twice the total length L2 of the drug is smaller than the total length of the largest-length gutter Ax+Bx (=Lx+Bx)), the total length of the gutter of the aligner is made shorter than Ax+Bx but the size of the preparatory aligning unit is not reduced, the total length thereof remaining twice the length L2. In this structure, a difference between the height H (=Ax+Bx) of the aligner housing unit 72 of the container main body and the total length (=2xL2) of the gutter of the aligner 80c is not as large as in the related art. Thereby, the space of the cell unit is less wasted.


    [0080] The total length of the gutter of the aligner 80b shown in Fig.3 employed in the case of (i) above is Ax+Bx (=Lx+Bx), the same length as that of the aligner 80a. Unlike the aligner 80a, however, the gutter length of the aligning unit is L1 and the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is Bx+Lx-L1 (subtraction of the gutter length L1 of the aligning unit from the total length of Lx+Bx), to be more specific. That is, the level of reduction in the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is relatively small, with the result that the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is close to the total length L1 of the associated drug P1. As mentioned in (i) and (ii) above, in a preferable embodiment, the total length of the gutter of the aligner associated with the drug shorter than the drug Px is equal to or smaller than Ax+Bx (=Lx+Bx). In that case, the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is equal to or smaller than (Ax+Bx-L), given that the total length of the drug is L.

    [0081] If the total length of the drug is shorter than half the length (Ax+Bx) as in the case of drugs like the drug P2 shown in Fig. 3 (that is, in the case of a drug in which twice the total length of the drug is smaller than Ax+Bx), the total length of the gutter may be extended to Ax+Bx, if it is intended, for example, to standardize the size of a material worked to fabricate an aligner. In that case, the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is larger than the total length of the drug.

    [0082] If the total length of a drug is sufficiently small as in the case of the drug P2 shown in Fig. 3 (for example, Japanese pharmacopoeia #5 capsules), collective behavior (such as manner in which the drugs fall into the aligner, resistance to movable components inside the container) of small-sized, lightweight drugs, occurring when the cell unit is filled with a large number of drugs, is different from that of the largest-length drug Px. As a result, the drugs may completely fall into the gutter even if only the aligning unit is provided. That is, the preparatory aligning unit may not be necessary. In such a case, the preparatory aligning unit may be omitted so that an aligner provided only with an aligning unit (a so-called single-tier blade) may be used. The aligner provided only with an aligning unit is favorable in that it is easy to machine and provides a larger space for accommodating drugs inside the container.

    [0083] In order to achieve the structure according to embodiment (4) above, the preparatory aligning unit for drugs with the largest length of all types of drugs handled by the assembly is preferably designed to have the smallest possible gutter length. The total length of the gutter of the aligner as determined by the gutter length is given as (Ax+Bx), as described before. The height of the aligner housing unit is made to match the length (Ax+Bx). The dimensions of the container main bodies for other drug types are also determined according to the same sizing requirement.

    [0084] For example, a Japanese pharmacopoeia #000 capsule (total length=about 22mm) may be given as an example of the drug Px with the largest length Lx of all types of differently-sized drugs. When #000 capsules are handled, the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is preferably in the range of 40%-60% and, more preferably, 40%-50% of the total length of the capsule. By reducing the height of the aligner housing unit of the container main body accordingly, the container main body with the same dimensions is suitably used for drug feeders adapted for drugs shorter than the largest-length capsule.

    [0085] As described above, the embodiment (4) above enables the use of a uniformly-sized container main body for an assembly of drug feeders. However, the specific detail of the total length of the gutter of the aligner (gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit/the gutter length of the aligning unit) differs depending on the total length of the drug. Therefore, the height of the partition plate provided in each container main body differs from feeder to feeder. Thus, even when the dimensions of the container main body are standardized, the height of the partition plate should be adjusted for each container main body. By introducing a structure in which the position of the partition plate is changeable with a single operation, the container main body with uniform dimensions is suitably used for drugs with different total lengths.

    [0086] One possible structure that enables changing the position of the partition plate with a single operation is illustrated in Fig. 4. Parts 91a and 91b that include tongue-like partition plates 90a and 90b, respectively, are formed as parts separate from the container main body 70. The parts 91a and 91b are detachably secured in plug-in holes in the container main body 70. Each of the parts 91a and 91b is inserted from outside of the container main body 70 at a height commensurate with the total length of drug. With this, the partition plate is made to project into a space inside the aligner housing unit. The length of the partition plate may appropriately be determined in accordance with the depth of the gutter (size of the drug in a cross section).

    [0087] Fig. 5A schematically shows essential parts of a structure that enables changing the height of the partition plate in a given container main body. Multiple pairs each comprising a plug-in hole 72f and an associated positioning hole 72h are provided at appropriate positions on the outer wall of the aligner housing unit 72 of the container main body (the other portions of the container main body are omitted from illustration). The position of insertion of a partition plate 90 and a positioning pin 92 provided in the part 91 is variable. In this way, the partition plate is easily positioned and the position thereof is easily changed.

    [0088] In the example shown in Fig. 5A, an assembly 72e that includes the plug-in hole 72f and the positioning hole 72h is also a separate component detachable from the aligner housing unit 72 of the container main body.

    [0089] In the illustrated example, the plug-in hole 72 is provided at three levels but there is no restriction to the number of levels. Not all of the plug-in holes 72f need remain open. Only those plug-in holes that are necessary may be opened in a casting process, keeping the other holes being blocked.

    [0090] In the example shown in Fig. 5A, the top and middle plug-in holes are blocked. As shown in Fig. 5B, by configuring the positioning pin 92a as a split pin, the pin is secured merely by pressing it in a direction indicated by the arrow with a finger. As such, positioning and detachment are achieved in a single operation without using any tools.

    [0091] The thickness of the partition plate may be changed depending on the drug type and a material for forming the partition plate may be appropriately selected from materials such as resin and metal (particularly, stainless steel).

    [0092] For example, in the case of drugs other than capsules, i.e. in the case of drugs such as tablets (uncoated tablets and the like), which are characterized by a disk shape and a uniform thickness, the partition plate should be relatively accurately inserted into a space between two drugs successively introduced into the gutter of the aligner, without encountering any resistance, in order to isolate the two drugs vertically to respectively place them in the preparatory aligning unit and the aligning unit. Accordingly, the partition plate adapted for such a purpose should be light, thin and flexible and should be of high mechanical strength and resistance to fracture. A stainless plate with a thickness of about 0.3mm-0.5mm would be favorable for such a purpose.

    [0093] Usually, capsules are cylindrical and the ends thereof are hemispherical. Therefore, a partition plate with a thickness of about 0.5mm-1.0mm can be introduced into a space between drugs relatively easily. Therefore, the partition plate for capsules may be a molded product formed of a resin material such as polypropylene (PP) or flexible polyethylene (PE).

    [0094] An example will be given below of an assembly of drug feeders adapted for three types of capsules that differ in total length (large-length, medium-length and small-length), the assembly comprising three types of drug feeders (large-length, medium-length and small-length) for feeding respective capsules, and the uniformly-sized container main body being shared by the feeders.

    [0095] The specification of each of the three types of capsules is as follows.

    [0096] Large-length capsule (Japanese pharmacopoeia #000): total length=about 22.02mm, trunk diameter=about 9.53mm).

    [0097] Medium-length capsule (Japanese pharmacopoeia #1): total length=about 16.71mm, trunk diameter=about 6.61mm).

    [0098] Small-length capsule (Japanese pharmacopoeia #5): total length=about 9.40mm, trunk diameter=about 4.66mm).

    [0099] The dimensions of the major portions of the aligners fabricated to adapt to the three types of capsules are as follows. (Large-length aligner)

    [0100] As shown in Fig. 1, a cylindrical ingot member (outer trunk diameter=61mm) having an agitator unit spirally projecting upward is formed of an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) resin. The underside of the ingot member is provided with a hole for connecting with an output rotary shaft of an AC synchronous motor (external driving apparatus).

    [0101] A total of ten vertical gutters (preparatory aligning unit+aligning unit) are formed by machining at regular intervals around the entire periphery of the trunk of the ingot member such that a partition wall and a gutter alternate. The gutter width is 10.5mm and the total length of the gutter is 32mm. Between the aligning unit and the aligning unit lies a partition gutter with a width of 5mm crossing the gutter in a circumferential direction.

    [0102] The specific detail of the total length 32mm of the gutter as designed is such that the gutter length of the aligning unit that should accommodate the total length of the capsule is about 22mm and the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is 10mm, the remainder of the total length. Accordingly, when two #000 capsules enter the gutter of the aligner, one of the capsules sticks out from the top end of the gutter by about 12mm, a situation unique to the embodiment.

    [Middle-length aligner]



    [0103] A cylindrical ingot member like that of the large-length aligner is formed. A total of fifteen vertical gutters are formed by machining at regular intervals around the entire periphery of the trunk of the ingot member such that a partition wall and a gutter alternate. The gutter width is 8.0mm and the total length of the gutter is 32mm.

    [0104] The specific detail of the total length 32mm of the gutter as designed is such that the gutter length of the aligning unit that should accommodate the total length of the capsule is about 17mm and the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is 15mm, the remainder of the total length. Accordingly, when two #1 capsules enter the gutter of the aligner, one of the capsules sticks out from the top end of the gutter by about 2mm.

    [0105] In this embodiment, the preparatory aligning unit and the aligning unit are provided. In the case of Japanese pharmacopoeia #1 capsules, drug feeding performance that presents no real problem is achieved even if the preparatory aligning unit is omitted.

    [Small-length aligner]



    [0106] A cylindrical ingot member like that of the large-length aligner is formed. A total of seventeen vertical gutters are formed by machining at regular intervals around the entire periphery of the trunk of the ingot member such that a partition wall and a gutter alternate. The gutter width is 6.0mm and the total length of the gutter is 32mm.

    [0107] The specific detail of the total length of the gutter as designed is such that the gutter length of the aligning unit that should accommodate the total length of the capsule is about 10mm and the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit is 22mm, the remainder of the total length. Accordingly, three #5 capsules can enter the gutter of the aligner and the top end of one of the capsules is receded from the top end of the gutter by about 2mm.

    [0108] In this embodiment, the total length of the gutter is set at 32mm and the preparatory aligning unit and the aligning unit are provided. The dimensions are such that #5 three capsules can successively enter the aligner. In the case of small-sized, lightweight drugs such as #5 capsules, drug feeding performance that presents no problem in actual use is often achieved even when the preparatory aligning unit is omitted.

    [Container main body]



    [0109] The container main body is formed of an acrylonitrile styrene (AS) resin. The configuration and dimensions of the container main body are adapted to the large-length aligner.

    [0110] The space inside the aligner housing unit is designed as a cylinder with an inner diameter ϕ of 62mm so as to ensure that the aligner is rotatable and appropriate gap is secured between the aligner housing unit and the aligner. The height of the aligner housing unit is designed to be 32mm to adapt to the large-length aligner. As shown in Fig. 1, the container main body is designed such that the partition plate is inserted straight above the drug outlet from outside the container, at a height commensurate with the total length of the drug from the underside of the aligner. In this way, the gutter of the aligner is separable into the aligning unit and the preparatory aligning unit. The underside of the aligner serves as a reference to measure the dimensions of the aligner. As shown in Figs. 9 and 10, the structure including the positioning pin and the positioning hole is attached to the outside of the aligner housing unit so that the position of the partition plate member can be changed in a single operation to adapt to the total length of the capsule.

    [0111] The cell unit above the aligner housing unit and a seat unit below are integrally formed with the container main body. A detailed description of the configuration and dimensions of the cell unit and the seat unit as well as other minor details will be omitted.

    [0112] The container main body as described above, provided with the aligner housing unit adapted to the large-length aligner, is also formed in drug feeders for the other drug types.

    [0113] Three types of drug feeders are built by combining the uniformly-sized container main body with the large-length aligner, the medium-length aligner and the small-length aligner. The partition plate is set at appropriate positions and the external driving apparatus is fitted to the underside of the drug feeder.

    [0114] Observation of the function of the preparatory aligning unit and drug feeding performance, made while the cell unit of the drug feeder is being filled with associated capsules and the external driving apparatus is being operated, revealed that the preparatory aligning unit of the large-length drug feeder, with a gutter length shorter than the total length of the drug by 12mm, functioned properly by successfully guiding the capsules. The capsules entering the preparatory aligning unit fall into the aligning unit without being stuck at the entrance of the gutter. Situations such as failure of drugs to be ejected out of the drug feeder did not occur at all in an experiment in which one thousand drugs are successively fed.

    [0115] In drug feeders for medium-length drugs and for small-length drugs, it is ensured that the top end of the aligner housing unit of the container main body and the top end of the preparatory aligning unit are at practically the same height. It is also found that these drug feeders are not significantly inferior in its capacity to accommodate drugs in comparison with feeders with a short-sized aligner housing unit adapted to the aligner provided only with the aligning unit to accommodate small-length drugs (note that a short-sized aligner housing unit creates an accordingly larger cell unit).

    [0116] An advantage of the present embodiment is that the container main body is made more compact in height than in the related art. Further, the present embodiment allows the use of a uniformly-sized container main body to build an assembly of drug feeders even if drugs may vary in total length. Accordingly, the cost of fabricating a drug packing apparatus is reduced.


    Claims

    1. A drug feeder for containing and feeding a drug, comprising: a container main body (70) and an aligner (80), wherein
    the container main body (70) comprises: a cell unit (71) which contains a drug; and an aligner housing unit (72) which is adjacent to the bottom of the cell unit (71) and which rotatably accommodates a main body (81) of the aligner (80),
    at least one gutter (82) into which a drug enters via the cell unit (71) is provided at the periphery of the aligner (80), the gutter (82) extends in a direction having a vertical component, and the depth and width of the gutter (82) are determined such that the longest dimension of a drug is aligned with the direction of extension of the gutter (82),
    a partition plate (90) projects from the interior wall of the aligner housing unit (72) so as to partition the gutter (82) into a preparatory aligning unit (82a) in the top half and an aligning unit (82b) in the bottom half, wherein the drug feeder includes a structure in which the position of the partition plate (90) is changeable with a single operation,
    a drug outlet (100) is provided in the aligner housing unit (72) at a position below the partition plate (90) so as to allow a drug in the aligning unit (82b) to fall, and
    designating the longest dimension of a drug as its total length L, the gutter length of the aligning unit (82b) is substantially equal to the total length L, and the gutter length of the preparatory aligning unit (82a) is in the range from 40% to 80% of the total length L of the drug handled.
     
    2. The drug feeder as described in claim 1, in which the aligner (80) is generally of a cylindrical form, and a space inside the aligner housing unit (72) is of a cylindrical form having an inner diameter sufficiently large to rotatably accommodate the aligner (80).
     
    3. The drug feeder as described in claim 1 or 2, in which the drug is as described below in (A) or (B).

    (A) A drug of a form with different dimensions in all three mutually perpendicular directions (x, y, z), in which, designating the largest dimension as a total length L and the remaining two dimensions as a total width W and a total thickness T, the total length L is at least twice the larger of the total width W and total thickness T.

    (B) A drug of a form in which one of the dimensions in the three mutually perpendicular directions (x, y, z) is longer than the other two dimensions and the remaining two dimensions are equal to each other, and in which, designating the longest dimension as a total length L and the remaining two dimensions as a total width W and a total thickness T, the total length L is at least twice the total width W.


     
    4. An assembly of drug feeders including a drug feeder according to claim 1, wherein
    each drug feeder comprises a container main body (70) and an aligner (80), each drug feeder is dedicated to a particular one of drug types that differ in dimensions so that each feeder contains and feeds only one type of drug,
    the container main body (70) comprises: a cell unit (71) which contains a drug; and an aligner housing unit (72) which is adjacent to the bottom of the cell unit (71) and which rotatably accommodates a main body (81) of the aligner (80),
    at least one gutter (82) into which a drug enters via the cell unit (71) is provided at the periphery of the aligner (80), the gutter (82) extends in a direction having a vertical component, and the depth and width of the gutter (82) are determined such that the longest dimension of a drug to be contained is aligned with the direction of extension of the gutter (82),
    a partition plate (90) projects from the interior wall of the aligner housing unit (72) so as to partition the gutter (82) into a preparatory aligning unit (82a) in the top half and an aligning unit (82b) in the bottom half, a drug outlet (100) is provided in the aligner housing unit (72) at a position below the partition plate (90) so as to allow a drug in the aligning unit (82b) to fall, and
    designating the longest dimension of a drug as its total length L, and given a drug Px having a total length Lx, which is equal to a maximum total length L of drugs of a variety of dimensions, the gutter of the aligning unit (82b) is of a length Ax, which is practically equal to the total length Lx, and the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit (82a) is of a length Bx, which is smaller than the total length Lx, and
    given a drug P other than the drug Px, the gutter of the aligning unit (82b) is of a length which is practically equal to the total length L of the drug P, and the gutter of the preparatory aligning unit (82a) is equal to or smaller than (Ax+Bx-L).
     
    5. The assembly of drug feeders as described in claim 4, in which the aligner (80) is generally of a cylindrical form, and a space inside the aligner housing unit (72) is of a cylindrical form having an inner diameter sufficiently large to rotatably accommodate the aligner (80).
     
    6. The assembly of drug feeders as described in claim 4 or 5, in which the container main body (70) of the same form is used for drugs with different dimensions, and the height H of the cylinder of the aligner housing unit (72) is less than twice the total length Lx of the drug Px.
     
    7. The assembly of drug feeders as described in any one of claims 4 through 6, in which the drug Px is as described below in (A) or (B).

    (A) A drug of a form with different dimensions in all three mutually perpendicular directions (x, y, z), in which, designating the largest dimension as a total length L and the remaining two dimensions as a total width W and a total thickness T, the total length L is at least twice the larger of the total width W and total thickness T.

    (B) A drug of a form in which one of the dimensions in the three mutually perpendicular directions (x, y, z) is longer than the other two dimensions and the remaining two dimensions are equal to each other, and in which, designating the longest dimension as a total length L and the remaining two dimensions as a total width W and a total thickness T, the total length L is at least twice the total width W.


     
    8. The assembly of drug feeders as described in any one of claims 4 through 7, in which the partition plate (90) is formed as a component separate from the container main body (70) and inserted into the cylindrical space from outside the container main body (70) so as to be detachably secured in the container main body (70).
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Arzneimittelspender zu Enthalten und Spenden eines Arzneimittels, umfassend: einen Behälterhauptkörper (70) und einen Ausrichter (80), wobei der Behälterhauptkörper (70) umfasst: eine Zelleneinheit (71), die ein Arzneimittel enthält; und eine Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72), die zu dem Boden der Zelleneinheit (71) benachbart ist und die drehbar einen Hauptkörper (81) des Ausrichters (80) beherbergt,
    mindestens eine Rinne (82), in die ein Arzneimittel über die Zelleneinheit (71) eintritt, an der Peripherie des Ausrichters (80) vorgesehen ist, wobei sich die Rinne (82) in eine Richtung mit einer vertikalen Komponente erstreckt und die Tiefe und Breite der Rinne (82) derart bestimmt sind, dass die längste Abmessung eines Arzneimittels auf die Richtung der Erstreckung der Rinne (82) ausgerichtet ist,
    eine Teilungsplatte (90) von der Innenwand der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) vorsteht, um die Rinne (82) in eine vorbereitende Ausrichteinheit (82a) in der oberen Hälfte und eine Ausrichteinheit (82b) in der unteren Hälfe zu teilen, wobei der Arzneimittelspender einen Aufbau aufweist, bei dem die Position der Teilungsplatte (90) mit einem einzelnen Vorgang änderbar ist,
    ein Arzneimittelauslass (100) in der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) an einer Position unter der Teilungsplatte (90) vorgesehen ist, um einem Arzneimittel in der Ausrichteinheit (82b) ein Fallen zu ermöglichen, und
    die längste Abmessung eines Arzneimittels als dessen Gesamtlänge L bezeichnet wird, die Rinnenlänge der Ausrichteinheit (82b) im Wesentlichen gleich der Gesamtlänge L ist und die Rinnenlänge der vorbereitenden Ausrichteinheit (82a) im Bereich von 40 % bis 80 % der Gesamtlänge L des gehandhabten Arzneimittels liegt.
     
    2. Arzneimittelspender nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Ausrichter (80) im Allgemeinen eine zylindrische Form aufweist und ein Raum innerhalb der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) eine zylindrische Form mit einem ausreichend großen Innendurchmesser aufweist, um den Ausrichter (80) drehbar zu beherbergen.
     
    3. Arzneimittelspender nach Anspruch 1 oder 2, wobei das Arzneimittel wie unten in (A) oder (B) beschrieben ist.

    (A) Ein Arzneimittel einer Form mit unterschiedlichen Abmessungen in allen drei zueinander rechtwinkeligen Richtungen (x, y, z), wobei, wenn die größte Abmessung als eine Gesamtlänge L und die übrigen zwei Abmessungen als eine Gesamtbreite W und eine Gesamtdicke T bezeichnet werden, die Gesamtlänge L mindestens das Zweifache der größeren aus der Gesamtbreite W und der Gesamtdicke T ist.

    (B) Ein Arzneimittel einer Form, bei der eine der Abmessungen in den drei zueinander rechtwinkeligen Richtungen (x, y, z) länger als die anderen zwei Abmessungen ist und die übrigen zwei Abmessungen einander gleich sind, und wobei, wenn die längste Abmessung als eine Gesamtlänge L und die übrigen zwei Abmessungen als eine Gesamtbreite W und eine Gesamtdicke T bezeichnet werden, die Gesamtlänge L mindestens das Zweifache der Gesamtbreite W ist.


     
    4. Anordnung von Arzneimittelspendern, aufweisend einen Arzneimittelspender nach Anspruch 1, wobei
    jeder Arzneimittelspender einen Behälterhauptkörper (70) und einen Ausrichter (80) umfasst, wobei jeder Arzneimittelspender für einen bestimmten Arzneimitteltyp ausgelegt ist, deren Abmessungen sich unterscheiden, sodass jeder Spender nur einen Typ von Arzneimittel enthält und spendet,
    der Behälterhauptkörper (70) umfasst: eine Zelleneinheit (71), die ein Arzneimittel enthält; und eine Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72), die zu dem Boden der Zelleneinheit (71) benachbart ist und die drehbar einen Hauptkörper (81) des Ausrichters (80) beherbergt,
    mindestens eine Rinne (82), in die ein Arzneimittel über die Zelleneinheit (71) eintritt, an der Peripherie des Ausrichters (80) vorgesehen ist, wobei sich die Rinne (82) in eine Richtung mit einer vertikalen Komponente erstreckt und die Tiefe und Breite der Rinne (82) derart bestimmt sind, dass die längste Abmessung eines zu enthaltenden Arzneimittels auf die Richtung der Erstreckung der Rinne (82) ausgerichtet ist,
    eine Teilungsplatte (90) von der Innenwand der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) vorsteht, um die Rinne (82) in eine vorbereitende Ausrichteinheit (82a) in der oberen Hälfte und eine Ausrichteinheit (82b) in der unteren Hälfe zu teilen, wobei ein Arzneimittelauslass (100) in der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) an einer Position unter der Teilungsplatte (90) vorgesehen ist, um einem Arzneimittel in der Ausrichteinheit (82b) ein Fallen zu ermöglichen, und
    die längste Abmessung eines Arzneimittels als dessen Gesamtlänge L bezeichnet wird, und bei einem Arzneimittel Px mit einer Gesamtlänge Lx, die gleich einer maximalen Gesamtlänge L von Arzneimitteln mit einer Vielzahl von Abmessungen ist, die Rinne der Ausrichteinheit (82b) eine Länge Ax aufweist, die praktisch gleich der Gesamtlänge Lx ist, und die Rinne der vorbereitenden Ausrichteinheit (82a) eine Länge Bx aufweist, die kleiner als die Gesamtlänge Lx ist, und bei einem Arzneimittel P, das von dem Arzneimittel Px unterschiedlich ist, die Rinne der Ausrichteinheit (82b) eine Länge aufweist, die praktisch gleich der Gesamtlänge L der Arzneimittels P ist, und die Rinne der vorbereitenden Ausrichteinheit (82a) gleich oder kleiner als (Ax + Bx - L) ist.
     
    5. Anordnung von Arzneimittelspendern nach Anspruch 4, wobei der Ausrichter (80) im Allgemeinen eine zylindrische Form aufweist und ein Raum innerhalb der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) eine zylindrische Form mit einem ausreichend großen Innendurchmesser aufweist, um den Ausrichter (80) drehbar zu beherbergen.
     
    6. Anordnung von Arzneimittelspendern nach Anspruch 4 oder 5, wobei der Behälterhauptkörper (70) derselben Form für Arzneimittel mit unterschiedlichen Abmessungen verwendet wird und die Höhe H des Zylinders der Ausrichtergehäuseeinheit (72) kleiner als das Zweifache der Gesamtlänge Lx des Arzneimittels Px ist.
     
    7. Anordnung von Arzneimittelspendern nach einem der Ansprüche 4 bis 6, wobei das Arzneimittel Px wie unten in (A) oder (B) beschrieben ist.

    (A) Ein Arzneimittel einer Form mit unterschiedlichen Abmessungen in allen drei zueinander rechtwinkeligen Richtungen (x, y, z), wobei, wenn die größte Abmessung als eine Gesamtlänge L und die übrigen zwei Abmessungen als eine Gesamtbreite W und eine Gesamtdicke T bezeichnet werden, die Gesamtlänge L mindestens das Zweifache der größeren aus der Gesamtbreite W und der Gesamtdicke T ist.

    (B) Ein Arzneimittel einer Form, bei der eine der Abmessungen in den drei zueinander rechtwinkeligen Richtungen (x, y, z) länger als die anderen zwei Abmessungen ist und die übrigen zwei Abmessungen einander gleich sind, und wobei, wenn die längste Abmessung als eine Gesamtlänge L und die übrigen zwei Abmessungen als eine Gesamtbreite W und eine Gesamtdicke T bezeichnet werden, die Gesamtlänge L mindestens das Zweifache der Gesamtbreite W ist.


     
    8. Anordnung von Arzneimittelspendern nach einem der Ansprüche 4 bis 7, wobei die Teilungsplatte (90) als eine von dem Behälterhauptkörper (70) separate Komponente gebildet ist und von außerhalb des Behälterhauptkörpers (70) in den zylindrischen Raum eingesetzt wird, um lösbar in dem Behälterhauptkörper (70) gesichert zu sein.
     


    Revendications

    1. Distributeur de médicament pour contenir et distribuer un médicament, comprenant: un corps principal de contenant (70) et un aligneur (80), dans lequel
    le corps principal de contenant (70) comprend: une unité de cellule (71) qui contient un médicament; et une unité de réception d'aligneur (72) qui est adjacente à la partie inférieure de l'unité de cellule (71) et qui reçoit de manière rotative un corps principal (81) de l'aligneur (80),
    au moins une gouttière (82) dans laquelle un médicament entre par l'intermédiaire de l'unité de cellule (71) est prévue à la périphérie de l'aligneur (80), la gouttière (82) s'étend dans une direction ayant une composante verticale, et la profondeur et la largeur de la gouttière (82) sont déterminées de telle sorte que la dimension la plus longue d'un médicament est alignée avec la direction d'extension de la gouttière (82),
    une plaque de séparation (90) se projette à partir de la paroi intérieure de l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) de façon à séparer la gouttière (82) en une unité d'alignement préparatoire (82a) dans la moitié supérieure et une unité d'alignement (82b) dans la moitié inférieure, le distributeur de médicament comprenant une structure dans laquelle la position de la plaque de séparation (90) est apte à être changée avec une unique opération,
    une sortie de médicament (100) est prévue dans l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) à une position au-dessous de la plaque de séparation (90) de façon à permettre à un médicament dans l'unité d'alignement (82b) de tomber, et
    en désignant la dimension la plus longue d'un médicament comme étant sa longueur totale L, la longueur de gouttière de l'unité d'alignement (82b) est sensiblement égale à la longueur totale L, et la longueur de gouttière de l'unité d'alignement préparatoire (82a) est dans la plage allant de 40 % à 80 % de la longueur totale L du médicament manipulé.
     
    2. Distributeur de médicament selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'aligneur (80) est généralement d'une forme cylindrique, et un espace à l'intérieur de l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) est d'une forme cylindrique ayant un diamètre interne suffisamment grand pour recevoir de manière rotative l'aligneur (80).
     
    3. Distributeur de médicament selon la revendication 1 ou 2, dans lequel le médicament est comme décrit ci-dessous en (A) ou (B).

    (A) Un médicament d'une forme avec des dimensions différentes dans toutes les trois directions mutuellement perpendiculaires (x, y, z), dans lequel, en désignant la dimension la plus grande en tant que longueur totale L et les deux dimensions restantes en tant que largeur totale W et épaisseur totale T, la longueur totale L est au moins deux fois plus grande que la largeur totale W et l'épaisseur totale T.

    (B) Un médicament d'une forme dans laquelle une des dimensions dans les trois directions mutuellement perpendiculaires (x, y, z) est plus longue que les deux autres dimensions et les deux dimensions restantes sont égales l'une à l'autre, et dans lequel, en désignant la dimension la plus longue en tant que longueur totale L et les deux dimensions restantes en tant que largeur totale W et épaisseur totale T, la longueur totale L est au moins deux fois la largeur totale W.


     
    4. Ensemble de distributeurs de médicament comprenant un distributeur de médicament selon la revendication 1, dans lequel
    chaque distributeur de médicament comprend un corps principal de contenant (70) et un aligneur (80), chaque distributeur de médicament est dédié à un, particulier, de types de médicament qui diffèrent en dimensions de telle sorte que chaque distributeur contient et distribue uniquement un type de médicament,
    le corps principal de contenant (70) comprend: une unité de cellule (71) qui contient un médicament; et une unité de réception d'aligneur (72) qui est adjacente à la partie inférieure de l'unité de cellule (71) et qui reçoit de manière rotative un corps principal (81) de l'aligneur (80),
    au moins une gouttière (82) dans laquelle un médicament entre par l'intermédiaire de l'unité de cellule (71) est prévue à la périphérie de l'aligneur (80), la gouttière (82) s'étend dans une direction ayant une composante verticale, et la profondeur et la largeur de la gouttière (82) sont déterminées de telle sorte que la dimension la plus longue d'un médicament devant être contenu est alignée avec la direction d'extension de la gouttière (82),
    une plaque de séparation (90) se projette à partir de la paroi intérieure de l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) de façon à séparer la gouttière (82) en une unité d'alignement préparatoire (82a) dans la moitié supérieure et une unité d'alignement (82b) dans la moitié inférieure, une sortie de médicament (100) est prévue dans l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) à une position au-dessous de la plaque de séparation (90) de façon à permettre à un médicament dans l'unité d'alignement (82b) de tomber, et
    en désignant la dimension la plus longue d'un médicament en tant que sa longueur totale L, et étant donné un médicament Px ayant une longueur totale Lx, qui est égale à une longueur totale maximale L de médicaments d'une diversité de dimensions, la gouttière de l'unité d'alignement (82b) est d'une longueur Ax, qui est pratiquement égale à la longueur totale Lx, et la gouttière de l'unité d'alignement préparatoire (82a) est d'une longueur Bx, qui est plus petite que la longueur totale Lx, et
    étant donné un médicament P autre que le médicament Px, la gouttière de l'unité d'alignement (82b) est d'une longueur qui est pratiquement égale à la longueur totale L du médicament P, et la gouttière de l'unité d'alignement préparatoire (82a) est égale ou inférieure à (Ax+Bx-L).
     
    5. Ensemble de distributeurs de médicament selon la revendication 4, dans lequel l'aligneur (80) est généralement d'une forme cylindrique, et un espace à l'intérieur de l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) est d'une forme cylindrique ayant un diamètre interne suffisamment grand pour recevoir de manière rotative l'aligneur (80).
     
    6. Ensemble de distributeurs de médicament selon la revendication 4 ou 5, dans lequel le corps principal de contenant (70) de la même forme est utilisé pour des médicaments avec des dimensions différentes, et la hauteur H du cylindre de l'unité de réception d'aligneur (72) est moins de deux fois la longueur totale Lx du médicament Px.
     
    7. Ensemble de distributeurs de médicament selon l'une quelconque des revendications 4 à 6, dans lequel le médicament Px est comme décrit ci-dessous en (A) ou (B).

    (A) Un médicament d'une forme avec des dimensions différentes dans toutes les trois directions mutuellement perpendiculaires (x, y, z), dans lequel, en désignant la dimension la plus grande en tant que longueur totale L et les deux dimensions restantes en tant que largeur totale W et épaisseur totale T, la longueur totale L est au moins deux fois plus grande que la largeur totale W et l'épaisseur totale T.

    (B) Un médicament d'une forme dans laquelle une des dimensions dans les trois directions mutuellement perpendiculaires (x, y, z) est plus longue que les deux autres dimensions et les deux dimensions restantes sont égales l'une à l'autre, et dans lequel, en désignant la dimension la plus longue en tant que longueur totale L et les deux dimensions restantes en tant que largeur totale W et épaisseur totale T, la longueur totale L est au moins deux fois la largeur totale W.


     
    8. Ensemble de distributeurs de médicament selon l'une quelconque des revendications 4 à 7, dans lequel la plaque de séparation (90) est réalisée sous la forme d'un composant distinct du corps principal de contenant (70) et introduite dans l'espace cylindrique depuis l'extérieur du corps principal de contenant (70) de façon à être fixée de manière détachable dans le corps principal de contenant (70).
     




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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