(19)
(11)EP 2 957 505 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
23.12.2015 Bulletin 2015/52

(21)Application number: 15176598.9

(22)Date of filing:  15.11.2010
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
B65B 11/06(2006.01)
B65B 11/54(2006.01)
B65B 41/00(2006.01)
B65B 59/00(2006.01)
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 18.11.2009 IT BO20090750

(62)Application number of the earlier application in accordance with Art. 76 EPC:
10776739.4 / 2501618

(71)Applicant: Gruppo Fabbri Vignola S.p.A.
41058 Vignola (IT)

(72)Inventor:
  • VACCARI, Massimiliano
    42123 Reggio Emilia (IT)

(74)Representative: Porsia, Attilio 
Via Caffaro 3/2
16124 Genova
16124 Genova (IT)

 
Remarks:
This application was filed on 14-07-2015 as a divisional application to the application mentioned under INID code 62.
 


(54)MACHINE FOR THE AUTOMATIC PACKAGING OF LOOSE PRODUCTS OR PRODUCTS PLACED IN TRAYS, WITH A USUALLY HEAT-WELDABLE STRETCH FILM


(57) A machine for the automatic packaging of loose products or products placed in trays, with a usually heat-weldable stretch film, comprises means for unrolling sections of stretch film from a supply reel, separating said sections of film (F) into lengths appropriate for the dimensions of the product to be packaged, by transverse cutting, and positioning the sheet of film thus obtained, horizontally, in a packaging station (C), holding said sheet by the opposite longitudinal sides by means of parallel pairs (G1, G2) of superposed, synchronized belts (1, 3). One, for example the upper, of the parallel sections of the film-positioning and -conveyor belts runs on a fixed support surface (12, 13) while the other, lower one, runs on the jaws (112, 14) of clamps (P1-P5) connected to lifting or lowering means, for pushing the lower belt (1) against the upper belt (3) when required, so as to grasp the film and hold it as necessary both while it is carried along and while the film is being folded under the tray containing the product further comprising a rear pusher (28) that pushes the tray containing the product out of the packaging station, making it interact with the fixed folder (29) that stretches the last edge of the film, previously held by said static set of belts (G1), over the bottom of the tray.




Description


[0001] The invention relates to a packaging machine comprising means for unrolling sections of stretch film from a supply reel, separating said sections of film into lengths appropriate for the dimensions and the features of the product to be packaged, by transverse cutting, and positioning the sheet of film thus obtained, horizontally, in a packaging station, holding said sheet by the opposite longitudinal sides by means of parallel pairs of superposed, synchronized belts, one of the pairs being static while the other can move parallel thereto, so as to be able to hold films of different widths and to prestretch and apply the sheet of film during the packaging cycle. The product to be packaged is usually a fresh foodstuff, placed in a tray made of polystyrene or other suitable material. It will be referred to below simply as "product", this term also covering a group of such articles. The product to be packaged is raised against an intermediate zone of said sheet of stretch film, and in due course lateral folders take the edges of the film from one part of said pair of positioning belts and stretch them over the bottom of the tray. A rear folder is also activated in due course, to fold the rear edge of the sheet of film over or under said side edges, removing it completely from the pair of movable belts. Also in due course, a horizontal pusher above said rear folder comes into play and, as the product is held down by a presser, carries said product out of the packaging station, while the front edge of the packaging film is taken completely off the pair of static belts and stretched under the other edges by a front folder, which is usually fixed. The product leaving the packaging station lastly is conveyed by a conveyor that welds the lower, overlapped edges of the packaging film together, to secure the packaging.

[0002] These packaging machines are small, usually have means for controlling not only the size of the product to be packaged but also the weight thereof, and include, in the zone where the packaged product is discharged, a labeling unit for attaching one or more adhesive labels to the packaged product, providing information on the type of product, weight, price, date of packaging and/or expiry and/or other characteristics. Packaging machines of this type, described for example in patent US 5 157 903 of 27 October 1992 and in the corresponding Japanese priority document, have drawbacks particularly as regards the means that control how the longitudinal sides of the film are held by said pair of parallel conveyor belts and that, in the final cycle, weld the lower, overlapped edges of the packaging film. The first such drawback concerns the parallel, superposed sections of the pairs of film-positioning and -conveyor belts, specifically the fact that one of them, usually the upper one, runs under a fixed support surface while the lower one runs on the jaws of clamps connected to lifting or lowering means, for pushing the lower belt against the upper belt so as to grasp the film and hold it both while it is carried along and while the film is being folded under the tray containing the product. The jaws of the clamps are for example mounted on articulated-parallelogram oscillating means, connected via rods to the movable electromagnet apparatus. With this solution the clamps are activated non-selectively, with ON-OFF logic, so that the pressure for holding the film is either present or not, and when it is present it is equal and constant for all the clamps. This mode of operation is not satisfactory in that it has become apparent that it would be better if said opposing clamps exerted a moderate clamping action on the superposed belts as they convey the film to the packaging station, so as not to excessively force the motor driving these belts, among other reasons. However, said clamps must also tightly grip the film in the subsequent prestretching step in which the pair of movable belts is moved away from the pair of static belts, to prestretch the film transversely to the desired entity, by 100% or more, while during the final operation by the folders to stretch and overlap the edges of the film over the bottom of the tray, they need to release said film progressively, starting with the end clamps and ending with the central clamp, which should be the last to let go, at the end of each packaging cycle. The second drawback arises from the fact that, to limit the footprint of the machine, welding of the overlapped lower edges of the packaging film actually takes place while the package is moving, as it is about to be discharged from the packaging station, and therefore very quickly and unsatisfactorily, or with the packaged product at a standstill but after it has been conveyed at ninety degrees with respect to the movement out of the packaging station, with the result that the overlapped lower edges of the wrapping film may come apart before reaching the welding station.

[0003] A packaging machine that wrapps trays with foodstuff is e.g. known from US 5595042.

[0004] The invention aims to overcome the above named drawbacks of the known prior art, with the solutions described in the attached claim 1 and the subsequent dependent claims, the features and advantages of which will be evident from the following description of a preferred embodiment thereof, illustrated purely by way of non-limiting example in the figures of the attached plates of drawings, in which:
  • Figure 1 is a schematic plan view of the main parts of the machine that operate in the packaging station and the areas around it;
  • Figure 2 is a perspective view of the two parallel pairs of superposed belts that supply the sheets of film in the packaging station;
  • Figure 3 is a view in side elevation of one of the parallel pairs of superposed belts of Figure 2, showing in particular the upstream means for supplying a sheet of film to said belts;
  • Figure 4 is a schematic plan view from the top of the parallel pairs of superposed belts that convey a sheet of film in the packaging station, showing in particular the modulated-action clamps that act on said belts;
  • Figure 5 is a perspective view from below of one of the sets of clamps that acts on a pair of superposed belts shown in the previous figures;
  • Figure 6 shows the device of Figure 5 in greater detail, with a cross section on the line VI-VI.


[0005] Figure 1 shows the two parallel sets of pairs of horizontal superposed belts (referenced G1 and G2) that carry, in the direction marked by the arrow X, a sheet of film in the packaging station C of the machine. The set of belts G1 is parallel to and underlies the fixed front folder 29, and is also static, in the sense that its position on the machine is fixed, whereas the set of belts G2 is parallel to and underlies the movable rear folder 26 and is supported by known means (not shown). Said means can modify, on command, the distance between the set G2 and the set G1, while keeping the former parallel to the latter, according to the width of film supplied by the supply reel, as well as for the purposes of a step of transverse prestretching of the film (as applicable) and during the subsequent step of application of said film to the product to be packaged (see below). Each set of belts G1, G2 (Figures 1-3, 6) comprises a toothed lower belt 1 running around toothed end pulleys 2, 102 and controlled by at least one lower tensioner 302, and a toothed upper belt 3, longer than the belt 1 and running around toothed end pulleys 4, 104, in such a way that the lower section of said belt 3 is tensioned and in contact with the corresponding upper section of the lower belt 1. Intermeshing toothed wheels 5, 105 of equal diameter are fitted on the shafts bearing the end pulleys 2 and 4, and a positive drive transmission 6, for example with a belt and toothed pulleys, is connected to one of said shafts, said transmission being placed end to end with a drive unit 7 via which the superposed sections of the toothed belts 1 and 3 travel at equal speed in the direction X of advancement of the sheet of film F which, via the longitudinal sides thereof, is held between said superposed sections of the belts 1 and 3 of the parallel sets G1 and G2. The external surface of the toothed belts 1 and 3 is made of a material and has a degree of roughness such as to ensure an adequate grip on the film to be conveyed, while at the same time enabling said film to be extracted from said belts without being damaged during the final steps of the packaging cycle of the machine (see below).

[0006] Unlike the known solutions, whereby the belts 1 and 3 have an initial section inclined downwards, for receiving the sheet of film from the known unrolling and cutting means upstream, according to the invention said initial inclined section (Figures 2 and 3) is preferably formed by special belts, with a stronger grip than the belts 1 and 3, located on the inner face of the sets G1 and G2 and comprising a toothed belt 8 running around a pulley 9 and around an extension of the toothed pulley 102 and comprising, bearing on the upper section of said belt 8, a portion of the lower section of a belt 10 running around pulleys 11, 111 and around an extension of the toothed pulley 104.

[0007] Referring now to the details of Figures 5 and 6, it can be seen that the straight lower section of the upper belt 3 runs in a plurality of grooved guides 12 made of a material with a low friction coefficient, for example polyzene, aligned and fixed to the underside of a plate 13 secured to the frame supporting the set G1 or G2. In the example in question, there are five guides 12, one after the other with an appropriate distance between them, but it is understood that these guides may be in any number or may be replaced with a single continuous guide. Opposite the guides 12, from which the belt 3 duly protrudes so as to cooperate with the upper section of the lower belt 1, are similar guides 112, also made of polyzene, in which said upper section of the belt 1 runs and from which it partly protrudes, in such a way that the film F placed between the belts 1 and 3 can be conveyed by the latter without interfering with said running guides 12 and 112. The lower guides 112 are secured to the sprung jaws of corresponding clamps P1-P5 arranged in single file and controlled by means that can modify the thrust thereof towards the belt 1 and therefore vary the pressure with which the lower belt 1 is pushed against the upper belt 3. Each clamp P1 to P5 comprises a jaw 14, for example made of metal, with an upside-down U profile, contained and guided within a box-like body 15, also made of metal, with, on the end walls thereof, pairs of vertical slots 115 in which corresponding end projections 114 of said jaws 14 are guided and slide, said jaws being pushed upwards by springs 16 with the appropriate properties, suitably located and centred between the parts 14 and 15 in question. Each jaw-holder 15 is supported, with the possibility of oscillation about its own longitudinal axis, by the end pins 117 (Figure 5) of a pair of parallel levers 17 that pivot on a common support shaft 18 and are connected at the other end by means of a crossbar 19 which, in the middle, bears an adjustable tappet 20 made of a material with a low friction coefficient, for example brass, that interacts with a cam 21 also made of a material with a low friction coefficient, for example a suitable plastic, fitted on a common drive shaft 22 supported, with the possibility of rotation, for example by an extension of the same projecting part 113 that holds said pivot shaft 18. One end of the shaft 22 with the cams 21 is connected by means of a positive transmission 23 to a drive unit 24 with a brake, fixed to the same frame as the set G1 or G2, the actuation of which may be controlled electronically via any suitable type of encoder 25, it being possible for this movable piece of equipment to be secured to the end of the shaft 22 opposite the end bearing the drive unit 23, 24 (Figure 4). As can be seen from Figure 6, when the cam 21 is rotated, the belt 1 (which, unlike shown in Figure 6, is still touching the upper belt 3) can be pushed with variable pressure against said belt 3, via corresponding variations in the load of the springs 16. According to the invention, the cams 21 of all the clamps of each set G1 or G2 are the same but are fitted to the rotation shaft 22 with a suitable reciprocal offset, it being envisaged in particular that the cams 21 of the end clamps P1 and P5 will be mutually aligned, the cams 21 of the intermediate clamps P2 and P4 also mutually aligned but offset with respect to the cams of the clamps P1, P5, and the cam of the central clamp P3 in turn offset with respect to the others. During a complete rotation of the shaft 22 bearing the cams 21, the clamps P1-P5 of each set G1 and G2 behave in the following five ways:
  • As the film is conveyed and positioned in the packaging station C, all the clamps push the upper section of the belt 1 with moderate force, so that the belts 1 and 3 convey the sheet of packaging film F correctly from said belts to the centre of the station C, above the product to be packaged;
  • Once the film has been supplied to and positioned in the station C, all the clamps P1-P5 are pushed to the maximum as the set of belts G2 are usually then moved away from the set G1 so as to prestretch the sheet of film transversely as necessary, for which purpose the longitudinal sides of said sheet must be held firmly by the belts 1 and 3;
  • As the packaging cycle begins, while the movable set of belts G2 can move closer to the static set G1 as necessary, depending on the type of product to be packaged, the outer clamps P1 and P5 slacken the pushing force to release the portions of film held between the sections of belts 1 and 3 controlled by said outer clamps, while all the other clamps (P2-P4) remain pushed to the maximum to keep hold of the portion of film controlled by them;
  • Half-way through the packaging cycle, the intermediate clamps P2 and P4 also move into the position where they release the film, while the central clamp P3 stays in the raised holding position;
  • At the end of the packaging cycle, all the clamps P1-P5 are in the position in which the belts 1 and 3 ungrip and release the film.


[0008] When a sheet of film F is in position in the packaging station C, a product to be packaged is positioned underneath said sheet by known means, the size and weight of said product having been measured also by known means, so that the various steps of packaging and labeling can be tailored to these parameters. The product sits on a lift of variable geometry, also known and therefore not shown, which is commanded during lifting to take the tray with the product from the internal supply belts and lift it until it reaches the waiting prestretched sheet of film, lifting coming to an end when the lower plane of the tray has slightly exceeded the ideal plane of the belts 1, 3 with the relative clamps P1-P5 in the closed position. At this level, the film is stretched over the upper surface of the product and, if said product sticks out of the tray, the film substantially hugs the shape of it.

[0009] Once the product has been lifted, the rear folder 26 (of known type, Figure 1) is activated and advances horizontally under said product in the direction marked by the arrow Y and, in due course, according to the programmed procedure, the lateral folders (also known) 27, 127 are moved closer together, with a horizontal and symmetrical movement under said tray containing the product, and as these folders operate to fold, in a known manner, the film under the tray containing the product, the clamps P1-P5 are opened as programmed, from the outside towards the centre, the clamps of the static set G1 opening with an appropriate time lag with respect to the clamps of the movable set G2, so as to keep the film stretched as it is about to be folded and adhered by suitably overlapping the edges on the underside of the tray containing the product. Next, the command is issued for the rear pusher 28 (also known) to move in the direction of the arrow Y of Figure 1, said pusher pushing the tray containing the product so that it exits above the fixed folder 29, while all the clamps P1-P5 of the static set G1 are opened in due course so that the last edge of the film can also be stretched over the bottom of the tray and under the other edges previously stretched, and then the tray containing the product thus packaged and pushed downwards by a known presser, usually with rolling action (not shown), is transferred onto a welding conveyor belt 30 that also runs in the direction Y, at the same speed as the pusher 28 which, once the product has been discharged and transferred, returns to the rest position together with all the other components of the machine, ready to repeat a new cycle of operation. While it is on the conveyor 30, the edges of the packaging film, stretched and overlapped over the bottom of the tray containing the product, are welded together to secure the packaging by said film. During this pause, labels may be applied to the packaged product by appropriate means, in a programmable position. The packaged tray stays on the conveyor 30 for as long as required for the edges of the film to be welded, before being discharged onto co-planar downstream rollers 31 by said conveyor 30 which is normally activated in phase with the operational path of the pusher 28, as the latter completes the packaging of a subsequent product. The rollers 31 are associated with up-and-down means (not shown), such that after a packaged product is received and discharged by the welding conveyor, said rollers 31 lower to place the product on the underlying parallel belts of a motorized conveyor 32 that offloads said product onto means for carrying it away in the direction XR or XL, which is at 90° to the direction of supply of the trays containing the product to be packaged, first on the weighing conveyor and then on the abovementioned lift, all these means being known and therefore not shown.

[0010] Figure 1 shows how the cyclical movement of the welding conveyor 30 can be taken from the belt 33 activated alternately by the drive unit 133, to which belt the pusher 28, sliding on guide and slide means 228 parallel to the direction Y, is connected via a projecting part 128. The drive transmission 34 that takes the rotation from an end pulley 233 of said belt 33 and drives a roller 130 around which the welding conveyor 30 runs, comprises a freewheel or equivalent means, whereby the upper section of said conveyor 30 is driven in the direction Y when the pusher 28 is driven in the same direction, while when the pusher stops, the conveyor 30 disengages from said kinematic chain and remains stationary.


Claims

1. Machine for the automatic packaging of loose products or products placed in trays, with a usually heat-weldable stretch film, which comprises means for unrolling sections of stretch film from a supply reel, separating said sections of film (F) into lengths appropriate for the dimensions of the product to be packaged, by transverse cutting and/or tearing, and positioning the sheet of film thus obtained, horizontally, in a packaging station (C), holding said sheet by the opposite longitudinal sides by means of pairs (G1, G2) of superposed, synchronized parallel belts (1, 3), one (G1) of the pairs being static while the other (G2) can move parallel thereto, so as to be able to hold films of different widths and to prestretch and apply the sheet of film placed in the packaging station, and in which one, for example the upper, of the parallel sections of the film-positioning and -conveyor belts runs on a fixed support surface (12, 13) while the other, lower, one runs on the jaws (112, 14) of clamps (P1-P5) connected to lifting or lowering means, for pushing the lower belt (1) against the upper belt (3) when required, so as to grasp the film and hold it as necessary both while it is carried along and while the film is being folded under the tray containing the product, further comprising a rear pusher (28) that pushes the tray containing the product out of the packaging station, making it interact with the fixed folder (29) that stretches the last edge of the film, previously held by said static set of belts (G1), over the bottom of the tray characterized in that it comprises means whereby the tray containing the packaged product, discharged by said pusher (28) and pushed downwards by an upper presser is transferred onto a welding conveyor belt (30) that also runs in the direction of and at the same speed as said pusher (28) which, once the packaged product has been discharged and transferred, returns to the rest position together with all the other components of the machine, ready to repeat a new cycle of operation.
 
2. Machine according to claim 1, characterized in that while it is on said welding conveyor (30), as the lower edges of the packaging film, stretched and overlapped over the bottom of the tray containing the product, are welded together to secure the packaging, labels may be applied to said packaged product, in a position that may be programmable.
 
3. Machine according to claim 1, characterized in that it comprises means for ensuring that the packaged tray stays on said conveyor (30) for as long as required for the edges of the film to be welded, before being discharged by said conveyor (30), which is normally activated in phase with the operational path of said rear pusher (28), which is completing the packaging of a subsequent product, while the packaged product is discharged onto downstream means (31, 32) that carry it away in a direction (XR or XL) perpendicular to the previous discharge direction.
 
4. Machine according to claim 3, characterized in that the cyclical movement of the welding conveyor (30) is taken from the means (32) for driving said rear pusher (28) via a drive transmission (34) that comprises a freewheel, whereby the upper section of said conveyor (30) is driven simultaneously in the same direction and at the same speed as the pusher (28) during the active travel of the latter, whereas it disengages from the kinematic chain and remains stationary during the passive travel of said pusher (28) as it returns to the rest position.
 




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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