(19)
(11)EP 3 763 502 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
13.01.2021 Bulletin 2021/02

(21)Application number: 20185246.4

(22)Date of filing:  10.07.2020
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
B29C 44/42(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
Designated Extension States:
BA ME
Designated Validation States:
KH MA MD TN

(30)Priority: 12.07.2019 IT 201900011679

(71)Applicant: Cannon Ergos S.P.A.
20121 Milan (IT)

(72)Inventors:
  • Volpato, Marco
    20121 Milan (IT)
  • Orlandini, Andrea
    20121 Milano (IT)
  • De Rossi, Claudio
    20121 Milan (IT)

(74)Representative: Candito, Rocco et al
Luppi Intellectual Property Srl Via De Amicis, 25
20123 Milano
20123 Milano (IT)

  


(54)APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR FOAMING REFRIGERATOR CABINETS


(57) An apparatus for foaming a refrigerator cabinet (2) by a polyurethane reactive mixture, comprises a structure (4) defining a foaming station (FS) with one or more mixing heads (50), and a conveyor plane (5) that extends from a loading/unloading zone (Zl) for the refrigerator cabinets (2), up to the inside of the structure (4) for positioning the refrigerator cabinet (2) in the foaming station (FS); a support table (6), that is movable by the conveyor plane (5) and shaped to support the refrigerator cabinet (2) with the inlet cavity facing downwards; on the support table (6) at least one male counteracting element is positionable and two opposite first walls (7) are movably mounted to counteract the thrust of the expanding mixture on the refrigerator cabinet (2); a pair of opposite second contrast walls (8), mounted on the structure (4) and shaped to exert from the outside on the refrigerator cabinet (2), from two further opposite sides, a respective counteracting action against the expanding mixture; a lifting device (9) configured to lift the support table (6) with the refrigerator cabinet (2) from the conveyor plane (5) and bring the support table (6) to abut on lower surfaces (10) of the second contrast walls (8) and reciprocally abut the first contrast walls (7) with a top contrast panel (11), defining a foaming jig that encloses the refrigerator cabinet (2); the lifting device (9) translates the support table (6) along a lifting/lowering stroke (S) that is considerably reduced compared to the height (H) of the first contrast walls (7) and second contrast walls (8), with a consequent very limited translation time. The corresponding foaming method is also disclosed.




Description

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION



[0001] The present invention relates to an apparatus and method for foaming refrigerator cabinets, freezers and the like by using a polyurethane reactive mixture.

STATE OF THE ART



[0002] Different systems are known for foaming refrigerator cabinets. Generally, the refrigerator cabinet comprises an outer shell and an inner shell that together define the hollow walls of the cabinet, inside which a polyurethane reactive mixture has to be injected. The mixture, composed by a polyol and an isocyanate, expands and polymerizes to generate stiff foam that insulates the refrigerator cabinet thermally.

[0003] In order to enable the mixture to be injected and ensure correct expansion and polymerization thereof inside the aforesaid hollow walls, it is necessary to place the refrigerator cabinet inside a so-called "foaming jig", which is defined by pairs of contrast walls configured to come to rest on and conform to the respective walls of the refrigerator cabinet. The contrast walls of the "foaming jig" have the function of counteracting the thrust generated by the reactive mixture, in order to maintain the correct geometry of the cabinet. Similarly, the thrust acting on the inner shell of the cabinet is counteracted by a suitable male contrasting element that is geometrically shaped to engage with, and fill, the inner cavities of the refrigerator cabinet.

[0004] In many known apparatuses, the foaming jig generally comprises a lower support portion for the refrigerator cabinet, permanently fixed to a lifting device, and an upper portion is provided that bears the male contrasting element and is permanently fixed to the structure of the foaming plant. In this type of plant, thus, the refrigerator cabinet is positioned with the inlet of the cavity thereof facing upwards, or "face-up", and the reactive mixture is injected by a horizontally arranged mixing head that penetrates, from the side intended to house the compressor, through a suitable through injection hole that traverses the respective contrast wall and continues, correspondingly on the lower zone of the affected hollow wall of the refrigerator cabinet. For "face-up" foaming, which is very widely used in Europe and the United States, where there are no particular constraints on the dimensional standards of refrigerators, it is necessary to use mixtures with reaction speeds that are not too high, otherwise it is difficult to obtain correct and total filling of the gap between the outer shell and inner shell of the cabinet.

[0005] Examples of an apparatus for foaming refrigerator cabinets are known from WO2010/094715, WO2006/13002, US4.664.614, US8.894.402.

[0006] Other apparatuses are known from EP3278949, KR20120083194, and RU182592U1.

[0007] In other geographical areas of the world, like for example in Japan, where the dimensional requirements and volume-saving are more felt, it is fundamental to maximize the insulating power of the foam inside the refrigerator cabinets, by adopting mixtures having chemical formulations with high reaction speeds (e.g. a gel time of 20-30 sec.. in order to obtain, in polymerization, cells of reduced dimensions, with a high degree of thermal insulation). Owing to the high reaction speed of the mixture, using just one mixing head is not sufficient to ensure correct filling of the gap in the required time, this thus makes it necessary to use several mixing heads simultaneously, in order to minimize the distances that the various injection flows have to cover. For this purpose, the only concrete possibility to ensure an even distribution of the injection flows is to inject the various mixture flows into the rear wall of the refrigerator cabinet, i.e. the wall that, during normal use of the refrigerator, acts as a backrest, thus opposite the door side. Multiple and simultaneous injection is thus practicable by arranging the refrigerator cabinet in the "face-down" position, i.e. with the cavity facing downwards.

[0008] Different apparatuses are known for "face-down" foaming of refrigerator cabinets but none of them has proved to be satisfactory from the point of view of performance, in particular in terms of production speed, cycle times, flexibility, etc... More precisely, a first type of apparatus, of the drum type, provides for the refrigerator cabinet, initially in the "face-up" position, being taken to a zone placed below the drum, where it is rested on a table constrained to the structure that supports the drum and is movable only in a vertical direction between a lower loading/unloading position and an upper position in which the refrigerator cabinet is enclosed in the respective foaming jig.

[0009] Once the foaming jig is closed, the drum is rotated so as to take the jig, containing the cabinet to be foamed, to the upper angular position in which the latter reaches the "face- down" position. Only at this point can the mixture be injected.

[0010] The inevitable expenditure of time is clear to load the cabinet into the foaming jig, rotate the drum by 180° to be able to start injecting and at the end of foaming rotate again the drum to return the jig to the unloading position. Further, the stroke for lifting/lowering the aforesaid table is rather long, because it is necessary, during the unloading step, to ensure the total disengagement of the refrigerator cabinet from the contrast walls that are supported from above on the structure of the apparatus, this further increasing productive cycle time. In other words, the lifting/lowering stroke has to be greater than the height of the contrast walls, which extend vertically, to enable the refrigerator cabinet to engage completely with and disengage completely from the foaming jig.

[0011] Another limit of known foaming apparatuses, both of the first type and of the second type disclosed above, is due to the fact that they do not enable an operator to access easily the various parts that make up the foaming jig, for example for adjusting, setting, cleaning interventions or other tasks.

[0012] In the light of what has been set out above, there is ample room for improvements to refrigerator cabinet foaming plants.

OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION



[0013] One object of the present invention is to improve current systems for foaming refrigerator cabinets.

[0014] Another object is to provide a new and different solution that enables the entire process of foaming refrigerator cabinets and the like to be made easier and faster, including both the operations of insertion and removal and the operation of filling with the mixture that constitutes the foam, significantly reducing the cycle times, thus achieving a general improvement of productivity.

[0015] Another object is to provide a technical solution that makes the adjustment of a foaming jig easier to adapt to refrigerator cabinet sizes and geometries that are different each time.

[0016] Another object is to provide an apparatus that enables the various parts of the foaming jig to be reached and accessed easily to permit various operations of maintenance, adjustment, model changing, cleaning, etc.

[0017] A further object is to provide a system that enables the reactive mixture to be poured and the cavity to be foamed according to programmable positions or paths in a flexible manner to optimize filling and distribution of the insulating foam.

SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION



[0018] These objects and other advantages of the invention are achievable by an apparatus and a method for foaming refrigerator cabinets and freezers according to what is defined in the attached claims.

[0019] Further features and advantages will be clear from the following description with the help of the attached drawings that show an exemplary and non-limiting form of implementation of the foaming apparatus according to the invention.

SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



[0020] 

Fig. 1 is a perspective view of the foaming apparatus according to the invention, with a refrigerator cabinet placed on a support table outside the foaming station;

Fig. 1bis is an enlarged view of a portion of the apparatus in Fig. 1, in which the support table with the refrigerator cabinet is more visible;

Fig. 1ter is an enlarged view of a portion in Fig. 1, in which mixing heads included in the apparatus are more visible;

Fig. 2 is a side view of the foaming apparatus of Figure 1, in which two contrast walls are visible, mounted on the support table, in a position disengaged from the refrigerator cabinet;

Fig. 3 is a side view of the foaming apparatus with the aforesaid two contrast walls coupled with the refrigerator cabinet;

Fig. 4 is a perspective view of the foaming apparatus with the refrigerator cabinet, supported by the support table, positioned in the foaming station, and with a contrast panel (backrest side) of the foaming jig separated and moved outside the foaming station;

Fig. 4bis is an enlarged view of a portion of apparatus in Fig. 4 where the possible positions of the mixing heads are shown schematically by dashed parallelpipedons;

Figs 5 and 6 are respectively a side view and a top view of the foaming apparatus with the refrigerator cabinet enclosed in the foaming station;

Fig. 6bis is an enlarged view of a portion of apparatus in Fig. 6;

Fig. 7 is an enlarged view of a portion of apparatus in Fig. 5;

Fig. 8 is a fragmentary section view taken along the plane VIII-VIII in Fig. 6;

Fig. 9 is a cross section of the foaming apparatus;

Fig. 10 is a frontal view of the foaming apparatus;

Fig. 11 is a different perspective view of the apparatus in the operating position shown in Fig.1, i.e. with the refrigerator cabinet placed on the support table outside the foaming station;

Fig. 12 shows, according to the perspective view of Fig. 11, the foaming apparatus with the refrigerator cabinet, supported by the support table, transferred to the foaming station, and with the contrast panel of the foaming jig transferred outside the foaming station;

Fig. 13 shows, according to a further perspective view, the foaming apparatus with the refrigerator cabinet outside the foaming station;

Fig. 14 is a diagram of a possible operation of the apparatus;

Figures 15A to 15D show various operating positions of the apparatus according to the operating mode schematized in Figure 14.


DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS OF THE INVENTION



[0021] With reference to the attached figures, an apparatus 1 is disclosed for foaming a refrigerator cabinet 2 by using a polyurethane reactive mixture that is injected into the hollow walls 3 thereof.

[0022] The apparatus 1 comprises a structure 4 defining internally a foaming station FS, and a conveyor unit 5, for example a conveyor plane 5 that extends from a loading/unloading zone Z1 for the refrigerator cabinets 2 up to the inside of the aforesaid structure 4.

[0023] The conveyor plane 5 is used to move, along an advancing direction A, the refrigerator cabinet 2 that has to be positioned in the foaming station FS.

[0024] The apparatus 1 comprises a support table 6 that is movable by the conveyor plane 5, between the loading/unloading zone Z1 and the foaming station FS.

[0025] The conveyor plane 5 is of the type comprising belt or chain means or equivalent means, drivable by a motor 40, in particular an electric motor, and engaging with the support table 6 to move the table 6 from the loading/unloading zone Z1 to the foaming station FS and vice versa.

[0026] The support table 6 is shaped to support the refrigerator cabinet 2 with the inlet of the cavity facing downwards, i.e. in "face down" position.

[0027] One or more male elements are positionable on the support table 6 to counteract internally the thrust of the mixture that expands once it has been dispensed.

[0028] The refrigerator cabinet 2 is thus couplable with and uncouplable from, the male element when the support table 6 is in the loading/unloading zone Z1 outside the foaming station FS.

[0029] A pair of opposite first contrast walls 7 is mounted on the support table 6 that are rotationally movable, shaped to exert from the outside on the refrigerator cabinet 2, from two opposite sides, a counteracting action against the expanding mixture.

[0030] As more visible in Fig. 1b, the first contrast walls 7 are rotatably connected to the support table 6 by hinge elements 36 the position of which on the support table 6 can be adjusted to adapt to the dimensions of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0031] On the support table 6, actuator means 37, for example of hydraulic, or pneumatic or equivalent type, are provided that is configured to rotate the first contrast walls 7 from a disengaged position to an engaged position with the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0032] The apparatus 1 comprises a pair of opposite second contrast walls 8 that, unlike the first contrast walls 7, are mounted on the structure 4, i.e. in the foaming station FS.

[0033] The second contrast walls 8, similarly to the first contrast walls 7, are shaped to exert from the outside on the refrigerator cabinet 2, from two further opposite sides, a respective counteracting action against the thrust of the expanding mixture.

[0034] The second contrast walls 8 are supported by vertical uprights 38 connected above to the structure 4 and projecting downwards. The second contrast walls 8 are connected to the aforesaid vertical uprights 38 by connecting rods 39 (fig. 10) that permit a small displacement in a horizontal and vertical direction of the second contrast walls 8. This configuration enables the second contrast walls 8, in the foaming jig opening step, to move by a small amount downwards through the effect of the weight thereof, and simultaneously, to move away (i.e. in a transverse direction) from the refrigerator cabinet 2, facilitating the disengagement thereof.

[0035] The apparatus 1 comprises, for at least one, precisely for both the second contrast walls 8, an adjustment device 20 configured to vary the reciprocal distance of the second contrast walls 8 to adapt to different widths L of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0036] The adjustment device 20 comprises a screw-nut transmission mechanism 21, which is drivable by an electric motor 22, to vary the position of a respective second contrast wall 8. As more visible in Fig. 4b, the adjustment device 20 comprises a drive shaft 23 drivable by the electric motor 22; the transmission mechanism 21 comprises screw means 25 connected to a respective contrast wall 8 and on the drive shaft 23 first conical toothed wheels 24 are keyed configured to mesh with, and rotate, second conical toothed wheels 26 keyed on the aforesaid screw means 25.

[0037] The screw means 25 engages with one or more stationary nut screw blocks 27, fixed to the structure 4.

[0038] The rotation of the screw means 25 - through the work of the drive shaft 23 - causes a displacement of the respective contrast wall 8 along a direction T that is transverse to an advancing direction A of said conveyor plane 5.

[0039] In this manner the adaptation of the contrast walls 8 to the width dimension of the refrigerator cabinet 2 is simple and immediate.

[0040] The apparatus 1 comprises a lifting device 9 configured to lift the support table 6, and thus the refrigerator cabinet 2 placed thereupon, from the conveyor plane 5, so as to abut reciprocally the support table 6 with lower surfaces 10 of the second contrast walls 8 and abut reciprocally the first contrast walls 7 with an upper contrast panel 11 that is mounted on the structure 4. In this manner, a foaming jig is defined inside which the refrigerator cabinet 2 to be foamed is enclosed.

[0041] The second contrast walls 8 and the top contrast panel 11 define together, in the foaming station FS, a tunnel chamber inside which the refrigerator cabinet 2 is introducible by advancing of the support table 6.

[0042] The lifting device 9, more precisely, is configured to translate the support table 6 along a very limited lifting/lowering stroke S, and that is considerably reduced compared to the height H of the first contrast walls 7 and of the second contrast walls 8. As a result, the translation time is very reduced for taking the support table 6 (and thus the refrigerator cabinet 2) from a raised position RP to a lowered position LP and vice versa.

[0043] The lifting/lowering stroke S has a much reduced length but is sufficient to enable the support table 6 and the second contrast walls 8 to be coupled/uncoupled reciprocally by suitable abutting and holding means 34.

[0044] For example, to give an example of how limited the stroke S is compared with known systems, if the height H of the contrast walls 7 and 8 varies between 60 cm and 100 cm, the stroke S can vary from about 5 cm to about 15 cm.

[0045] The lifting device 9 comprises bar means 12A, 12B or horizontal beam means, which are vertically movable, remaining parallel to themselves and mutually connected by a connecting-rods-articulated mechanism 13 drivable by actuator means 14.

[0046] The connecting-rods-articulated mechanism comprises pairs of distributed connecting rods 13 and each pair of connecting rods comprises a first connecting rod 13A and a second connecting rod 13B mutually hinged on one articulated connection end 15.

[0047] The lower end 16 of each first connecting rod 13A is hinged on a fixed part 17 of the structure 4, whereas an upper end 18 of each second connecting rod 13B is hinged on upper bars 12A included in the lifting device 9.

[0048] The lifting device 9 comprises movement transfer bars 12B to which the articulated connection ends 15 of the pairs of connecting rods 13 are rotatably connected; the aforesaid movement transfer bars 12B are movable horizontally and vertically under the action of the actuator means 14 to vary the tilt of the connecting rods 13 and cause lifting/lowering of said upper bars 12A.

[0049] To the upper bars 12A, tip elements 19, projecting upwards, are fixed that are formed to emerge above the surface of the conveyor plane 5 to come into contact with and lift, along the aforesaid stroke S, the support table 6.

[0050] The connecting rod articulated mechanism is so configured that the connecting rods 13 of each pair are movable from a first oriented position, corresponding to the lowered position LP of the support table 6, in which the connecting rods 13 are mutually tilted, to a second oriented position, corresponding to the raised position RP of the support table 6, in which the connecting rods 13 of each pair are mutually axially aligned and arranged parallel to the lifting/lowering direction DRL, i.e. orthogonally with respect to the plane along which said support table 6 extends. From the kinematic point of view, the connecting rods 13 are so arranged as to slow down the upward movement of the support table 6 before the final closing contact of the foaming jig; owing to the thus configured lever mechanism, slowing down of the movement in the final instants of lifting is obtained, preventing in this manner undesired shocks between the parts that come into reciprocal contact.

[0051] In the raised position RP, the connecting rods 13 of each pair are arranged with the axes thereof substantially aligned or parallel, extending in a vertical direction. In this configuration, the connecting rods 13 thus behave as struts, acting in fact as a security block. In other words, the connecting rods 13, acting as struts, perform an arrest or security block function, to secure the support table 6 in this raised position RP; in this manner, the locking function being determined intrinsically by the specific configuration and orientation of the connecting rods 13, it is not necessary to keep the actuator means 14 supplied for all the time in which the foaming jig should remain closed.

[0052] The apparatus 1 further comprises abutting and holding means 34 for reciprocal coupling of the support table 6 with the second contrast walls 8.

[0053] Precisely, the abutting and holding means comprises seat elements 34A, mounted on the support table 6, and insertion portions 34B provided on the vertical uprights 38 and shaped for being received in and engaged with the seat elements 34A.

[0054] The position of the seat elements 34A is adjustable to adapt to the position of the second contrast walls 8 according to the width of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0055] Along the perimeter edges of the first 7 and second 8 contrast walls, seals are applied shaped to enable, in the closed condition of the foaming jig, the generation, by suitable pump vacuum means, of a certain vacuum degree inside the foaming jig, to make possible a vacuum-foaming operation of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0056] The apparatus 1 comprises a removal device 28 configured to remove and transfer the top contrast panel 11 from the foaming station FS to an outer zone Z2 to facilitate access to, and allow possible adjustments/replacements on the top contrast panel 11.

[0057] In particular, the outer zone Z2 is located on the opposite side to the loading/unloading zone Z1 with respect to the foaming station FS.

[0058] As shown better in figures 4bis, 6 and 6 bis, the removal device 28 comprises rack means 29 coupled with the top contrast panel 11 and meshing with toothed wheel means 30 that is drivable by an electric motor 31.

[0059] From the structure 4, guide rail means 33 projects horizontally shaped to guide the top contrast panel 11 in the movement thereof from the foaming station FS to the aforesaid outer zone Z2.

[0060] The apparatus 1 is provided with gripping means 32 configured to grasp and separate a part that makes up the refrigerator cabinet 2, in particular the outer shell portion intended to act as a rear backrest for the refrigerator in its normal use. The gripping means 32 can be provided on the top contrast panel 11, and is then movable, by the aforesaid removal device 28, to transfer the aforesaid (rear) portion of outer shell to the outer zone Z2, leaving the remaining part of refrigerator cabinet 2 in the foaming station FS.

[0061] The gripping means 32 can be magnet means and/or suction cup means and/or grasping means through air sucking and/or equivalent means.

[0062] Owing to the removal device 28 and to the gripping means 32, in addition to making interventions on the top contrast panel 11 easier, it is also possible to perform interventions on the aforesaid (rear) portion of the refrigerator cabinet, or facilitate the access - by possible processing equipment or devices - to the refrigerator cabinet 2 that remains open behind (above).

[0063] The apparatus 1 comprises one or more mixing heads 50, positioned and movable in a synchronized and programmable manner in an upper region of the foaming station FS and configured for face-down foaming of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0064] The position and the movement of the mixing heads 50 are suitably programmed, synchronized and distributed so as to minimize the distances that the various injection flows have to cover.

[0065] The apparatus 1 enables face-down foaming to be performed by the aforesaid mixing heads 50, both in the closed mould configuration, i.e. if the refrigerator cabinet 2 is provided with the outer shell portion that acts as a rear backrest 51, and in the open mould mode, i.e. if the aforesaid rear backrest 51 has been previously removed from the refrigerator cabinet 2 by the gripping means 32 and the removal device 28 disclosed above.

[0066] In order to perform closed mould face-down foaming, the top contrast panel 11 is provided with through injection openings through which the dispensing ducts of the mixing heads can intercept and be inserted into corresponding injection holes made in the rear backrest 51 of the refrigerator cabinet 2, so as to permit the reactive mixture to be injected inside the latter. The mixing head/s 50 are pre-positioned along directions X, Y and also moved vertically (direction Z) so as to reach the aforesaid openings and holes and thus start injecting of the reactive mixture.

[0067] The mixing head/s 50 are supported by movement devices that can be of the carriage type that is movable along horizontal and vertical X-Y axes or directions (Z axis or direction) or of the anthropomorphic robot type that is movable in space or other equivalent movement means.

[0068] For the purposes of the foaming process in open mould mode, the apparatus 1 is further provided with a control unit UC to program, control and move, by the aforesaid carriage-moving devices or anthropomorphic robot, the mixing head/s 50 in a programmed manner by interpolation at least according to two horizontal directions or axes (X) and (Y).

[0069] By the control unit UC, it is possible to program, for each mixing head 50, the corresponding positions and interpolated speeds that the control unit UC has to reach in the course of the foaming cycle so as to cover the entire upper surface of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0070] The control unit UC thus intervenes to control and synchronize the start and stop dispensing steps and the dispensing flow rates of the reactive mixture for each mixing head 50, in function of the specific positions progressively reached by the latter. Further, with reference to Figures 14 to 15D, the control unit UC, which is operationally connected also to the removal device 28, in the open mould foaming configuration, is also able to control the advance of the mixing head/s 50, during dispensing, to the inlet section of the foaming station Fs, while, simultaneously, it controls the removal device 28 so that the refrigerator cabinet 2 is progressively reclosed by the backrest 51 supported by the upper contrast panel 11; by so doing, the backrest 51 (in this case devoid of injection holes), in a synchronized manner, performs a movement that is synchronized with that of the mixing head/s 50, following the latter and progressively covering the zones that have been gradually reached by the dispensing reactive mixture. In this manner, the risk of leaks of progressively and rapidly reactive mixture outside the refrigerator cabinet 2 and foaming cycle time are also reduced.

[0071] The operation of the apparatus 1, thus the corresponding foaming method is disclosed briefly below.

[0072] Initially, the refrigerator cabinet 2 is positioned, in the loading/unloading zone Z1, on a support table 6 with the inlet of the cavity facing downwards.

[0073] The actuator means 37 is driven to rotate the first contrast walls 7 to abut against the refrigerator cabinet 2. The second contrast walls 8, which are placed in the foaming station FS, are adjusted in position according to the width of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0074] The conveyor plane 5 is driven on which the support table 6 bearing the refrigerator cabinet 2 rests so as to transfer the latter from the loading/unloading zone Z1 to the inside of the foaming station FS.

[0075] The lifting device 9 is driven that lifts, by the tip elements 19, the support table 6 along the stroke S. At this point, the second contrast walls 8 are abutted on the sides of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0076] The refrigerator cabinet 2 is closed laterally by the contrast wall 7, 8, below by the support table 6, and above by the top contrast panel 11.

[0077] Once the refrigerator cabinet 2 has been closed inside the foaming jig, it is possible to start dispensing and injecting of the reactive mixture to perform closed mould face-down foaming.

[0078] It is possible to generate in the foaming jig, in the closed condition, a certain vacuum degree generated by air suction to perform vacuum-foaming of the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0079] If, before starting the foaming operation, it is necessary to perform interventions on the top contrast panel 11 (or also simply to perform a cleaning operation thereupon), it is possible to drive the removal device 28 that transfers the top contrast panel 11 from the foaming station FS to the outer zone Z2, making the operations easier for an operator.

[0080] Once the refrigerator cabinet 2 is enclosed in the foaming jig, the one or more mixing heads 50 are so moved vertically as to insert the dispensing ducts into the through openings of the upper contrast panel 11 and corresponding injection holes made in the backrest 51 of the refrigerator cabinet 2. At this point, dispensing of the reactive mixture can occur.

[0081] If it is desired to proceed with open mould face-down foaming, it will be sufficient, before moulding, to drive the removal device 28 and the gripping means 32 to grasp the rear backrest 51 of the refrigerator cabinet and transfer the rear backrest 51 to the outer zone Z2, leaving the refrigerator cabinet 2 open above that in this manner is freely accessible to the mixing head/s 50.

[0082] The mixing heads 50 can be moved in a programmed manner (owing to the control unit UC) by interpolation according to two horizontal directions (X) and (Y).

[0083] More precisely, for each head 50, the positions and interpolated speeds are programmed to cover with foam (reactive mixture) the entire upper surface of the refrigerator cabinet 2. The positions and speeds that each mixing head 50 has to reach, and the corresponding flow rate values, are arranged so as to take account of the local geometry of the refrigerator cabinet 2 (obstacles, greater or lesser local thickness of the gap, etc.). The start and end of dispensing are synchronized with the kinematic values (position and speed) that have been programmed in the control unit UC for each mixing head 50. Once dispensing has finished and the mixing heads 50 are removed, the removal device 28 returns the backrest 51 to the position coupled with the refrigerator cabinet 2.

[0084] According to another possible open mould operating mode, schematized conceptually in Figure 14 and with reference to Figures 15A to 15D, the foaming cycle is programmed, in the control unit UC, so as to position and move the mixing head/s 50, during the first step of dispensing, to the inlet section in the foaming station FS (i.e. the end of the foaming station FS through which the refrigerator cabinet 2 is introduced/extracted that is near the loading/unloading zone Z1 and opposite the outer zone Z2); subsequently, the mixing head/s 50 are moved and positioned during programmed dispensing to the inlet section near the zone Z1 while, simultaneously, the removal device 28 is programmed to reclose progressively the refrigerator cabinet 2 with the backrest 51, in a synchronized manner, following the movement of said one or more mixing heads 50; the backrest 51 is then translated progressively so as to cover the zones that have been progressively reached by the dispensing of reactive mixture. In this manner, an undesired possible overflow of reactive mixture in progressive and rapid expansion is prevented and at the same time still greater optimation of production time is achieved.

[0085] From what has been disclosed with the help of the attached drawings, it is clear that all the above stated objects have been achieved. In particular, a new and different solution has been provided that enables foaming of refrigerator cabinets and the like to be facilitated and speeded up, significantly reducing cycle times, thus achieving a general improvement of productivity. The apparatus 1 according to the invention makes adjustment of the foaming jig easier to adapt to refrigerator cabinet sizes and geometries that are different each time.

[0086] The apparatus 1 further enables the various parts of the foaming jig to be accessed and reached more easily, in particular the top contrast panel 11, to permit various operations of maintenance, adjustment, model changing, cleaning, etc.

[0087] It is possible to configure and size the apparatus 1 and adopt materials for making the parts that make up the apparatus 1, according to specific needs.

[0088] It is understood that what has been said and shown in the attached drawings has been provided merely by way of illustration of the apparatus 1 and of the general features and of a preferential embodiment thereof according to the present invention. Other modifications can accordingly be made to the entire foaming apparatus 1 or to single parts thereof without thereby falling outside the scope of the claims.


Claims

1. Apparatus for foaming a refrigerator cabinet (2) by means of a polyurethane reactive mixture which is injected into hollow walls (3) of said refrigerator cabinet (2), said apparatus (1) comprising:

- a structure (4) defining a foaming station (FS) and provided with a top contrast panel (11) for counteracting the thrust of the expanding mixture for said refrigerator cabinet (2),

- one or more mixing heads (50) configured to dispense the polyurethane reactive mixture into said refrigerator cabinet (2), said one or more mixing heads (50) being distributed, positionable and movable in a programmed manner in an upper region of said foaming station (FS),

- a conveyor unit (5) that extends from a loading/unloading zone (Z1) for the refrigerator cabinets (2), to as far as inside said structure (4) for positioning the refrigerator cabinet (2) in said foaming station (FS).

- a support table (6), that is movable by said conveyor unit (5) between said loading/unloading zone (Z1) and said foaming station (FS) and shaped to support said refrigerator cabinet (2) with the cavity facing downwards, on said support table (6) at least one male element being positionable for counteracting from the inside the thrust of said expanding mixture, said male element being movable together with said support table (6) and being engageable with and disengageable from, said refrigerator cabinet (2) in said loading/unloading zone (Z1) outside said foaming station (FS),

- on said support table (6) a pair of opposite first contrast walls (7) being mounted to counteract the thrust of the expanding mixture, rotatably movable by hinge elements (36), and shaped to exert from the outside on said refrigerator cabinet (2) from two opposite sides a counteracting action on the expanding mixture;

- a pair of opposite second contrast walls (8) being mounted on said structure (4) and shaped to exert from the outside on said refrigerator cabinet (2), from two further opposite sides, a respective counteracting action for counteracting the thrust of said expanding mixture, wherein said opposite second contrast walls (8) define, in said foaming station (FS), together with said top contrast panel (11), a tunnel chamber into which said refrigerator cabinet (2) is introducible by advancing said support table (6),

- abutting and holding means (34) for mutual coupling of said support table (6) with said second contrast walls (8) and

- a lifting device (9) configured to lift said support table (6) with said refrigerator cabinet (2) from said conveyor unit (5) to bring said support table (6) to abut reciprocally on lower surfaces (10) of said second contrast walls (8) and to bring said first contrast walls (7) to abut reciprocally with said top contrast panel (11), so as to define a foaming jig inside which said refrigerator cabinet (2) is enclosed, wherein

- said lifting device (9) is configured to translate said support table (6) along a lifting/lowering stroke (S) that is considerably reduced compared to the height (H) of said first contrast walls (7) and said second contrast walls (8), with a consequent very limited translation time,

- said lifting/lowering stroke (S) being of reduced length but sufficient to enable said support table (6) and said second contrast walls (8) to reciprocally couple/uncouple by said abutting and holding means (34).


 
2. Apparatus according to claim 1, wherein said lifting device (9) comprises bar means (12A, 12B) or horizontal beam means, vertically movable, remaining parallel to themselves and mutually connected by an articulated connecting rod mechanism (13) drivable by actuator means (14).
 
3. Apparatus according to claim 2, wherein said articulated connecting rod mechanism comprises pairs of distributed connecting rods (13), each pair of connecting rods comprising a first connecting rod (13A) and a second connecting rod (13B) mutually hinged at an articulated connection end (15), so as to be connected together in a connecting joint by pins to a central bar (12B) for synchronization thereof, wherein one lower end (16) of said first connecting rod (13A) is hinged on a fixed part (17) of said structure (4), and wherein an upper end (18) of said second connecting rod (13B) is hinged on upper bars (12A) that are movable vertically and included in said lifting device (9).
 
4. Apparatus according to claim 3, wherein said articulated connecting rod mechanism is so configured that the connecting rods (13) of each pair are movable from a first oriented position, corresponding to a lowered position (LP) of said support table (6), in which these connecting rods (13) are mutually tilted, to a second oriented position, corresponding to a raised position (RP) of said support table (6), in which the connecting rods (13) of each pair are mutually axially aligned and arranged parallel to the lifting/lowering direction (DRL), i.e. orthogonally with respect to the plane along which said support table (6) extends, the connecting rods (13) being kinematically arranged to slow down the upward movement of said support table (6) before the final closing contact of the foaming jig, these connecting rods (13) being such as to act as a strut and perform a stop function to secure said support table (6) in said raised position (RP).
 
5. Apparatus according to claim 3 or 4, wherein said bar means comprises movement transfer bars (12B) to which the articulated connection ends (15) of said pairs of connecting rods (13) are pivotally connected, said movement transfer bars (12B) being horizontally and vertically movable under the action of said actuator means (14) to vary the tilt of said connecting rods (13) and cause a lifting/lowering of said upper bars (12A), wherein tip elements (19), projecting upwards, are fixed to said upper bars (12A), shaped so as to emerge above said conveyor unit (5) to come into contact and lift said support table (6) along said stroke (S), and wherein an adjustment device (20) is provided that is configured to vary the reciprocal distance of said second contrast walls (8) to adapt to different widths (L) of a refrigerator cabinet (2), said adjustment device (20) being provided with a screw-nut transmission mechanism (21) that is drivable by an electric motor (22), to vary the position of a respective second contrast wall (8), and wherein said adjustment device (20) comprises a drive shaft (23) that is drivable by said electric motor (22), and wherein said transmission mechanism (21) comprises screw means (25) connected to a respective contrast wall (8), on said drive shaft (23) first conical toothed wheels (24) being keyed that are configured to mesh with, and rotate, second conical toothed wheels (26) keyed onto said screw means (25), said screw means (25) engaging with one or more stationary nut screw blocks (27), fixed to said structure (4), the rotation of said screw means (25) operated by said drive shaft (23) determining a displacement of the contrast wall (8) along a direction (T) that is transverse to an advancing direction (A) of said conveyor unit (5).
 
6. Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, comprising a removal device (28) configured to remove and transfer said top contrast panel (11) from said foaming station (FS) to an outer zone (Z2) to facilitate access to, and allow possible adjustments/replacements on said top contrast panel (11).
 
7. Apparatus according to any preceding claim, further comprising gripping means (32) configured to separate from said refrigerator cabinet (2) an outer shell portion intended to act as a rear backrest (51) for the refrigerator in normal use thereof, wherein said gripping means (32) is movable, by said removal device (28), from said foaming station (FS) to said outer zone (Z2).
 
8. Apparatus according to the preceding claim, wherein said gripping means (32) is mounted on said top contrast panel (11) and is of the type comprising magnet means and/or suction cup means and/or grasping means through air sucking and/or equivalent means.
 
9. Apparatus according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein said outer zone (Z2) is located on the opposite side to said loading/unloading zone (Z1) with respect to said foaming station (FS).
 
10. Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said second contrast walls (8) are supported by vertical uprights (38) connected above to said structure (4) and projecting downwards, said second contrast walls (8) being connected to said vertical uprights (38) by tiny connecting rods (39) which allow a small displacement in the horizontal and vertical direction of said second contrast walls (8), and wherein said abutting and holding means comprises seat elements 34A, mounted on said support table 6, and insertion portions 34B provided on the vertical uprights 38 and shaped to be received in and engage with, said seat elements (34A), the position of said seat elements (34A) being adjustable to adapt to the position of said second contrast walls (8) according to the width of the refrigerator cabinet (2).
 
11. Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said first contrast walls (7) are connected to said support table (6) by a connection that permits a position adjustment to adapt to different dimensions of the refrigerator cabinet (2), hydraulic or pneumatic actuator means (37) being provided that are configured to rotate said first contrast walls (7) from a disengaged position to an engaged position with the refrigerator cabinet (2).
 
12. Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, comprising seal means arranged along the peripheral edges of said first (7) and second contrast walls (8), configured to allow, in the closed condition of said foaming jig, the generation of a certain vacuum degree therein, to perform vacuum-foaming of said refrigerator cabinet (2).
 
13. Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said one or more mixing heads (50) are installed on supports that are movable and positionable in a programmed manner for face-down foaming of the refrigerator cabinet (2) both in the closed mould configuration in which said refrigerator cabinet (2) is provided with the outer shell portion that acts as a rear backrest (51) for the refrigerator, and in the open mould configuration in which said outer shell portion that acts as a rear backrest (51) has been previously removed from said refrigerator cabinet (2).
 
14. Apparatus according to claim 13, wherein in said top contrast panel (11) through injection openings are obtained through which the dispensing duct/s of said one or more mixing heads (50) can intercept and insert into corresponding injection holes made on the outer shell portion that acts as the rear backrest (51) for the refrigerator, so as to allow the dispensing and/or injection of the reactive mixture inside the refrigerator cabinet (2).
 
15. Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, further comprising a control unit (UC) for controlling and moving, by means of carriage-moving devices according to two horizontal axes (X) and (Y) by interpolation and a vertical axis (Z) or by anthropomorphic robot, said one or more mixing heads (50) in a manner programmed by interpolation in space, wherein said control unit (UC) is configured to program, control and synchronize the start and stop dispensing steps and the dispensing rates of the reactive mixture according to the specific positions reached by said one or more mixing heads (50) the interpolated positions and speeds of which are programmable by said control unit (UC) and are such as to cover, with the movement of the heads (50), the entire upper surface or the rear side of the section of said refrigerator cabinet (2).
 
16. Apparatus according to the preceding claim, wherein said control unit (UC), in the open mould foaming mode, is configured to program positioning and moving said one or more mixing heads (50), during dispensing, to start a first dispensing step nearer the outer section (Z2) (opposite the inlet section Z1) and to continue and complete the dispensing by moving said head (s) towards the inlet section in said foaming station (FS) for said refrigerator cabinet (2) while, simultaneously, said removal device (28) is programmed, controlled and operated by said control unit (UC) so as to progressively reclose said refrigerator cabinet (2) with the backrest (51) supported by said upper contrast panel (11) in a synchronized manner, following the movement of said one or more mixing heads (50), said backrest (51) being moved to cover the zones as the zones have been reached by the dispensing of a progressively expanding reactive mixture.
 
17. Method for foaming a refrigerator cabinet (2) by means of a polyurethane reactive mixture which is injected into hollow walls (3) of said refrigerator cabinet, comprising the steps of:

- positioning, in a loading/unloading zone (Z1), said refrigerator cabinet (2) with the inlet of the cavity facing downwards, on a support table (6) bearing at least one male element that is suitable for counteracting internally the thrust of the expanding mixture,

- rotating a pair of first contrast walls (7) against said refrigerator cabinet (2) to exert from the outside on said refrigerator cabinet (2) from two opposite sides a counteracting action against the thrust of the expanding mixture;

- arranging, inside a foaming station (FS), a pair of second contrast walls (8) supported above by a structure (4), said second contrast walls (8) being shaped to exert from the outside on said refrigerator cabinet (2), from two further opposite sides, a respective counteracting action against the thrust of the expanding mixture;

- transferring, by a conveyor unit (5), said support table (6) bearing said refrigerator cabinet (2) from said loading/unloading zone (Z1) to said foaming station (Fs),

- translating upwards, by a lifting device (9), said support table (6) bearing said refrigerator cabinet (2) by a stroke (S) that is considerably reduced compared to the height (H) of said first contrast walls (7) and of said second contrast walls (8), so as to

- reciprocally abut said support table (6) with lower surfaces (10) of said second contrast walls (8) and to reciprocally abut said first contrast walls (7) with a top contrast panel (11), so as to define a foaming jig inside which said refrigerator cabinet (2) to be foamed is enclosed.

- dispensing the reactive mixture inside the hollow walls (3) of said refrigerator cabinet (2) by one or more mixing heads (50) that are positionable and movable in a programmed manner.


 
18. Method according to the preceding claim, wherein, before dispensing of the reactive mixture, the position of said first (7) contrast walls on said support table (6) is adjusted, and the reciprocal distance of said second contrast walls (8) is adjusted, to adapt to the dimensions of said refrigerator cabinet (2), and wherein, by a removal device (28), said top contrast panel (11) is removed and transferred from said foaming station (FS) to an outer zone (Z2) to facilitate access to, and allow possible adjustments/replacements on said top contrast panel (11).
 
19. Method according to the preceding claim, wherein by gripping means (32) provided on said top contrast panel (11) and by said removal device (28), an outer shell portion of said refrigerator cabinet (2) is grasped that acts as the rear backrest (51) for the refrigerator and is separated from said refrigerator cabinet (2) to be taken to said outer zone (Z2), so as to leave said refrigerator cabinet (2) open at the top.
 
20. Method according to the preceding claim, wherein after removal of said rear backrest (51) from said refrigerator cabinet (2), there is provided - by said one or more mixing heads (50) positioned and moved in a programmed manner in an upper region of said foaming station (FS) - dispensing above in a synchronized manner one or more flows of reactive mixture inside the refrigerator cabinet (2) arranged in the face-down position so as to perform open mould foaming in the face-down configuration, and wherein, by a control unit (UC), said one or more mixing heads (50) are moved, supported by carriage-moving devices according to two horizontal axes (X) and (Y) by interpolation and a vertical axis (Z) or by anthropomorphic robot, in a programmed manner by interpolation in space.
 
21. Method according to claim 20, wherein, for said one or more mixing heads (50) the relative positions and interpolated speeds are programmed by said control unit (UC) so as to cover with the movement of said heads (50) the entire upper surface or the rear side of said refrigerator cabinet (2) and control and synchronize the start and stop dispensing steps and the dispensing flow rates of the reactive mixture according to the specific positions progressively reached by said one or more mixing heads (50).
 
22. Method according to claim 20 or 21, wherein the position and movement of said one or more mixing heads (50) are programmed to start a first dispensing step nearer the outer section (Z2) (opposite the inlet section Z1) and continue and complete the dispensing by moving said mixing head/s (50) to the inlet section in said foaming station (FS) for said refrigerator cabinet (2) while the programmed driving of said removal device (28) is simultaneously provided so as to progressively reclose said refrigerator cabinet (2) with the backrest (51) supported by said upper contrast panel (11) in a synchronized manner, following the movement of said one or more mixing heads (50), progressively moving said backrest (51) to cover the zones that have already been reached by the dispensing of reactive mixture in the expansion step.
 
23. Method according to claim 17 or 18, wherein, by said one or more mixing heads (50) installed on supports that are movable and positionable in a programmed manner above in said foaming station (FS), an injecting step is performed of injecting reactive mixture for face-down foaming of the refrigerator cabinet (2), wherein said injecting step occurs in closed mould configuration and there is provided for introducing the dispensing duct/s of said one or more mixing heads (50) in through injection openings obtained on said top contrast panel (11) and in corresponding injection holes made on the outer shell portion that acts as the rear backrest (51) for the refrigerator, so as to enable the closed mould reactive mixture to be dispensed or injected inside the refrigerator cabinet (2) placed in face down position.
 
24. Method according to the preceding claim, wherein for closed mould foaming, in said foaming jig, in the closed condition, a certain vacuum degree is generated by air suction to perform vacuum-foaming of said refrigerator cabinet (2).
 




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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