GB2561826A - Improvements to packaging machines - Google Patents

Improvements to packaging machines Download PDF

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Publication number
GB2561826A
GB2561826A GB1706214.2A GB201706214A GB2561826A GB 2561826 A GB2561826 A GB 2561826A GB 201706214 A GB201706214 A GB 201706214A GB 2561826 A GB2561826 A GB 2561826A
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United Kingdom
Prior art keywords
conveyor
along
pockets
pocket
packaging machine
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Granted
Application number
GB1706214.2A
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GB2561826B (en
GB201706214D0 (en
Inventor
Marlee John
Rapp Robert
Veater Robert
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Bradman Lake Ltd
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Bradman Lake Ltd
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Classifications

    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B35/00Supplying, feeding, arranging or orientating articles to be packaged
    • B65B35/30Arranging and feeding articles in groups
    • B65B35/44Arranging and feeding articles in groups by endless belts or chains
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B35/00Supplying, feeding, arranging or orientating articles to be packaged
    • B65B35/10Feeding, e.g. conveying, single articles
    • B65B35/20Feeding, e.g. conveying, single articles by reciprocating or oscillatory pushers
    • B65B35/205Feeding, e.g. conveying, single articles by reciprocating or oscillatory pushers linked to endless conveyors
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B35/00Supplying, feeding, arranging or orientating articles to be packaged
    • B65B35/30Arranging and feeding articles in groups
    • B65B35/40Arranging and feeding articles in groups by reciprocating or oscillatory pushers
    • B65B35/405Arranging and feeding articles in groups by reciprocating or oscillatory pushers linked to endless conveyors
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B43/00Forming, feeding, opening or setting-up containers or receptacles in association with packaging
    • B65B43/42Feeding or positioning bags, boxes, or cartons in the distended, opened, or set-up state; Feeding preformed rigid containers, e.g. tins, capsules, glass tubes, glasses, to the packaging position; Locating containers or receptacles at the filling position; Supporting containers or receptacles during the filling operation
    • B65B43/52Feeding or positioning bags, boxes, or cartons in the distended, opened, or set-up state; Feeding preformed rigid containers, e.g. tins, capsules, glass tubes, glasses, to the packaging position; Locating containers or receptacles at the filling position; Supporting containers or receptacles during the filling operation using roller-ways or endless conveyors
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B5/00Packaging individual articles in containers or receptacles, e.g. bags, sacks, boxes, cartons, cans, jars
    • B65B5/04Packaging single articles
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B5/00Packaging individual articles in containers or receptacles, e.g. bags, sacks, boxes, cartons, cans, jars
    • B65B5/06Packaging groups of articles, the groups being treated as single articles
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/02Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors
    • B65G47/04Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles
    • B65G47/06Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles from a single group of articles arranged in orderly pattern, e.g. workpieces in magazines
    • B65G47/08Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles from a single group of articles arranged in orderly pattern, e.g. workpieces in magazines spacing or grouping the articles during feeding
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G54/00Non-mechanical conveyors not otherwise provided for
    • B65G54/02Non-mechanical conveyors not otherwise provided for electrostatic, electric, or magnetic

Abstract

A packaging machine comprising: a first conveyor 103; a plurality of pockets 104; a means for urging pockets across the conveyor; and a means for urging the pockets along the conveyor which allows the speed of each pocket to be individually controlled. Secondary containers are carried on a second conveyor, which are movable at a variable speed and are synchronised with the pockets on the first conveyor. The pockets are carried pocket carriage 105 and are movable with respect to the carriage, and are guided by a cam track 107 towards second conveyor. Preferably, the cam track has a transitional portion extending between two portions extending along the X axis. The packages 101 are pushed from the first conveyor to the second conveyor by a pusher beam mounted on an overhead gantry which can be independently controlled in the X and Y axis and is synchronised with the first conveyor.

Description

(54) Title of the Invention: Improvements to packaging machines

Abstract Title: Packing machine with individually controllable pockets (57) A packaging machine comprising: a first conveyor 103; a plurality of pockets 104; a means for urging pockets across the conveyor; and a means for urging the pockets along the conveyor which allows the speed of each pocket to be individually controlled. Secondary containers are carried on a second conveyor, which are movable at a variable speed and are synchronised with the pockets on the first conveyor. The pockets are carried pocket carriage 105 and are movable with respect to the carriage, and are guided by a cam track 107 towards second conveyor. Preferably, the cam track has a transitional portion extending between two portions extending along the X axis. The packages 101 are pushed from the first conveyor to the second conveyor by a pusher beam mounted on an overhead gantry which can be independently controlled in the X and Y axis and is synchronised with the first conveyor.

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-1IMPROVEMENTS TO PACKAGING MACHINES

Field of the Invention [0001] The present invention relates to packaging machines.

Background of the Invention [0002] The present disclosure relates to packaging machines and particularly but not exclusively to automated packaging machines for packaging high volume consumer items such as food items or other consumer products.

[0003] Typically items to be packaged may comprise single or multiple items to be packaged into a single container such as a carton or box. The product items may be pre - wrapped, or may be loose.

[0004] A known carton or box type package may have six sides, and prior to filling with a product and being sealed, the open end or mouth of the carton has open flaps. Products can snag on the open flaps when being pushed into the carton using prior art packaging machines.

[0005] It is an ongoing objective of packaging machinery to increase the speed and throughput, prevent stoppages due to snagging or mis - feeds, and to to improve flexibility of packaging machines to deal with multiple different types of product, to reduce downtime during reconfiguration of the packaging machine when changing the type of product to be packaged.

[0006] In US 6,854,244 there is disclosed a carton filling apparatus having a primary conveyor section for transporting cartons along the length of the apparatus, and a secondary conveyor section for conveying objects to be inserted into the cartons in parallel with the carton. Each object is aligned with an open mouth of a carton and a pushing mechanism incorporates an overhead gantry arm arranged above the conveyors, which is moved along the conveyors in the longitudinal direction. A pusher bar is arranged to be moved along the gantry arm

-2over the conveyors synchronously with the primary conveyor section and pushes the objects into the cartons whilst the conveyor keeps moving.

[0007] In prior art conveyor systems, on an end load carton system there is a fixed pitch in feed at the position of filling the pockets, with the pockets travelling with the same pitch as the cartons or containers along a whole length of the conveyor. It requires significant downtime to reconfigure a prior art packaging machine to run with a different carton size, since the distance between the cartons on the carton conveyor needs to be mechanically adjusted.

[0008] In intermittent motion type prior art packaging machines capable of a collation of product items into a single carton, both pockets and cartons move along a longitudinal X axis only, and a sweep arm sweeps products from the pockets into the cartons along a Y axis. In known intermittent motion packing machines, the cartons are stationary during the loading process. The machine cycles over for example four cartons at a time, pauses, loads product from the pockets into the empty cartons, and then cycles over to a next four pockets and then loads a second batch of product items into the same 4 cartons, which have been held stationary. With a prior art intermittent motion packing machine, Y axis movement of the product items is provided by movement of a gantry arm, whilst the pockets and cartons are held stationary at a position along an orthogonal X axis.

[0009] All cartons on the carton conveyor are held stationary for a period, whilst a first set of pockets are moved adjacent the cartons, and a first set of product items are swept into the cartons. A second set of pockets are then moved adjacent the set of stationary cartons containing a second batch of product items, which are then swept into the cartons, pushing the first batch of items further into the cartons.

[0010] However, this carton filling process requires the cartons to be kept stationary whilst being filled, which therefore limits the throughput rate of packing, which the packing machine can achieve. Neither the pockets nor the cartons

-3move continuously along the packing machine, but rather the motion of both pockets and containers is intermittent. In prior art intermittent machines, the pockets and cartons are stationary whilst products items are transferred from the pockets to cartons.

Summary of the Invention [0011] According to a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a packaging machine comprising:

a first conveyor;

a plurality of receptacles moveable along a length of said first conveyor;

means for urging said receptacles to move along said first conveyor;

a second conveyor for carrying a plurality of containers; and means for moving said receptacle across a length axis of said first conveyor;

wherein said means for urging said receptacles along said first conveyor is controllable to move each individual said receptacle separately at a speed corresponding to said individual receptacle.

[0012] The receptacles may be movable in a direction across a main longitudinal axis of said first conveyor towards or away from a second conveyor running alongside said first conveyor.

[0013] According to a second aspect there is provided a packaging machine comprising:

a plurality of pockets;

-4a primary conveyor for transporting said plurality of pockets along first and second axes, said first axis being coincident with a main direction of travel along said first conveyor and said second axis being transverse to said first axis;

a secondary conveyor for transporting a plurality of containers;

said secondary conveyor being positioned alongside said primary conveyor;

a pusher mechanism for pushing products from said plurality of pockets into said plurality of containers, said pusher mechanism capable of moving in said first and second axes;

means for controlling said plurality of pockets for movement in said first and second axes; and means for controlling said pusher mechanism for movement in said first and second axes.

[0014] According to a third aspect, there is provided a method of packing items into a carton using a packaging machine, said method comprising:

positioning a receptacle to recive at least one item from a stream of said items;

keeping said receptacle adjacent said stream of items, until a predetermined number of said items are received by said receptacle;

moving said receptacle along a longitudinal axis of a first conveyor;

synchronising a speed of travel of said receptacle to match a speed of travel of a secondary conveyor;

-5synchronising a position of said receptacle along said longitudinal axis to be adjacent a position of a carton carried on a second conveyor;

moving said receptacle in a direction across said longitudinal axis of said first conveyor towards said second conveyor; and urging said items carried by said receptacle out of said receptacle into said carton.

[0015] According to a fourth aspect there is provided a packaging machine comprising:

a first conveyor;

a plurality of carriages movable along said first conveyor;

a plurality of containers, each said container being movably mounted on a corresponding respective said carriage; and each said carriage being independently movable along said first conveyor;

wherein each said container is movable in a direction across a longitudinal direction of said conveyor.

[0016] According to a fifth aspect there is provided a method of packing one or a plurality of items into a container using a packaging machine, said method comprising:

positioning a receptacle to receive at least one item from a stream of said items;

-6keeping said receptacle adjacent said stream of items, until a predetermined number of said items are received by said receptacle;

moving said receptacle along a longitudinal axis of a first conveyor;

synchronising a speed of travel of said receptacle to match a speed of travel of a secondary conveyor;

synchronising a position of said receptacle along said longitudinal axis to be adjacent a position of a container carried on a second conveyor;

moving said receptacle in a direction across said longitudinal axis of said first conveyor towards said second conveyor; and urging said items carried by said receptacle out of said receptacle into said container.

[0017] According to a sixth aspect there is provided a packaging machine comprising a first conveyor;

a plurality of pockets moveable along a length of said first conveyor;

means for urging said first pockets to move along said first conveyor;

wherein said means for urging said pockets along said first conveyor are controllable to move each individual said first pocket separately and at a variable speed corresponding to said individual first pocket;

a second conveyor;

a plurality of carriers moveable along a length of said second conveyor; and

-7means for urging said carriers to move along said second conveyor;

wherein said means for urging said carriers along said second conveyor is controllable to move each individual said carrier separately at a variable speed, corresponding to said individual carrier.

[0018] According to a seventh aspect there is provided a method of packing one or a plurality of items into one or a plurality of containers using an automated packaging machine, said method comprising:

carrying a plurality of receptacles on first conveyor;

carrying a plurality of containers on the second conveyor;

moving each of said plurality of receptacles along said first conveyor at a variable speed;

moving each of said plurality of containers along said second conveyor at a variable speed; and synchronising a speed of said plurality of receptacles to match a speed of said plurality of containers through a transfer region of said packaging machine.

[0019] According to an eigth aspect there is provided a method of operating a packaging machine having first and second conveyors, comprising:

moving a plurality of receptacles at a variable speed along a first length of said first conveyor;

moving a plurality of containers along at a variable speed along a first length of said second conveyor; and

-8synchronising movement of said plurality of receptacles with said plurality of containers over a second region of said first conveyor, and over a second region of said second conveyor.

[0020] According to a ninth aspect there is provided a packaging machine comprising a conveyor;

a plurality of carriers moveable along a length of said conveyor;

means for urging said first pockets to move along said conveyor;

wherein said means for urging said carriers along said conveyor are controllable to move each individual said carrier independently and with variable speed;

each said carrier comprising carton engagement means to engage one end of a carton such that said carton is carried between first and second said carriers along a length of said conveyor.

[0021] The embodiments disclosed herein may transfer a stream of products into a stream of cartons using an overhead gantry which can move on an X axis, being an axis coincident with the main direction of movement of the cartons, and which can move in a Y axis, being an axis orthogonal to the X axis. Additionally, a plurality of pockets which hold the products prior to insertion into the cartons may also move in two directions, both along the X axis and along the Y axis. Both the overhead gantry which holds a pusher arm to push the products into the cartons, and the pockets are each capable of independent movement along to orthogonal axes, X and Y. The gantry has independent control in the X and Y axes. Similarly, the position of the pockets are controled in the X and Y axes.

-9[0022] The primary conveyor carries a plurality of pockets into which products may be temporarily carried between an inlet feed conveyor and the stream of cartons carried along the secondary conveyor. Movement of the stream of pockets on the primary conveyor is synchronised in the X direction with the stream of cartons on the secondary conveyor, so that the plurality of pockets travel alongside the plurality of cartons in the same direction along the X axis. The plurality of pockets move over along the Y axis, towards the plurality of adjacent cartons so that the open outlet ends of the pockets are located close to and adjacent the open ends of the cartons, thereby transferring the products from the pockets to the cartons.

[0023] The pockets are queued on the first conveyor, and are arranged in batches which have a pitch (the distance between successive pockets). These can then be independently controlled to synchronise with the pitch between successive cartons on the secondary conveyor as both the pockets and the cartons move along their respective conveyors. The pitch also matches the distance between a plurality of pusher arms suspended by the gantry, so that a plurality of pockets in a batch are emptied into a plurality of adjacent containers by a single sweep of the pusher arm. After making a sweep, the pusher arm then returns in the X longitudinal axis upstream to synchronise with a next batch of pockets travelling along the first conveyor and to empty those pockets into a successive next batch of cartons on the adjacent secondary conveyor.

[0024] The pusher mechanism follows and synchronises with the movement of the pockets along the X axis so that the movement of the pusher mechanism, the plurality of pockets, and the plurality of cartons are synchronised along the X axis in a transfer region where products are transferred from the pockets to the cartons. The pusher mechanism operates to push the products along the length of the pockets towards the outlet end of the pockets and into the open ends of the cartons. The products which are in the guiding pockets, are taken to the openings of the cartons by the guiding pockets, and the overhead gantry is the mechanism which then pushes the products into the cartons.

-10[0025] Prior art machines do not provide for a combination of independent movement of pockets in both an X and Y axis, in which the rate of movement along an X axis is variable for each individual pocket, such that the rate of movement of any one pocket is fully independent of the rate of movement of any other pocket in the same pocket stream, so long as the individual pockets maintain their same position within the queue or sequence of pockets.

[0026] In the embodiments disclosed herein, an overhead gantry pusher mechanism can follow the pockets synchronously to push product from the pockets into the cartons or containers, whilst at the same time the variable speed control of the pockets allows for an asynchronous operation of the pockets at the in feed position where the pockets are filled, at which feed position the movement of the pockets is not synchronised with movement of the cartons or containers.

[0027] The ability to hold a pocket waiting at a feed position means that a pocket can be used for collation of a plurality products delivered from a feed conveyor at irregular rates, prior to insertion into a carton container. A single pocket can contain a single packet of one or more products, or a collation of multiple packets each containing one or more products.

[0028] Other aspects are as set out in the claims herein.

Brief Description of the Drawings [0029] For a better understanding of the invention and to show how the same may be carried into effect, there will now be described by way of example only, specific embodiments, methods and processes according to the present invention with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 herein illustrates schematically in plan view components of a first packaging machine according to a first specific embodiment;

Figure 2 herein illustrates schematically in view from one side components of the first packaging machine of figure 1 herein;

-11Figure 3 herein illustrates schematically in view from above an overhead gantry and pusher mechanism of the first packaging machine of figure 1 herein;

Figure 4 herein illustrates schematically in plan view operation of the first packaging machine showing cooperation of the pusher mechanism with a plurality of individual pockets moved over to be positioned adjacent to a corresponding plurality of containers, for filling the containers with products;

Figure 5 herein illustrates schematically in plan view, a further stage of operation of the first packaging machine, in which the pusher arm has pushed a plurality products from the pockets into a corresponding batch of containers;

Figure 6 herein illustrates schematically a section of the primary conveyor, secondary conveyor and cam track, illustrating part of a cam groove used to move the pockets in a Y axis as they travel generally along a longitudinal X axis;

Figure 7 herein illustrates schematically in perspective view from above and one side, part of the packaging machine upstream of the product inlet feed, at which a plurality of pockets move along a length of the primary conveyor in synchronisation and at a same pitch as a plurality of carton locating flights on an adjacent secondary conveyor;

Figure 8 herein illustrates schematically part of an inlet end of the packaging machine, illustrating an inlet feed conveyor, the primary conveyor, the cam track, and said secondary conveyor;

Figure 9 herein illustrates schematically an example of a pocket mounted on a pocket carrier, the pocket carrier mounted on said primary conveyor, and located near a distal end of said primary conveyor, with said pocket moved over in a direction towards said secondary conveyor;

-12Figure 10 herein illustrates schematically a pocket containing a single product item in a wrapper;

Figure 11 herein illustrates schematically a pocket containing a pair of packet items, arranged in a column along a length of said pocket;

Figure 12 herein illustrates schematically a pocket containing 4 individual packets arranged in a single column along a length of the pocket, and stacked two packet items high;

Figure 13 herein illustrates schematically a pocket containing 4 individual packet items arranged in 4 columns of 1 row, wherein the individual packet items are arranged upright on their narrowest sides;

Figure 14 herein illustrates schematically, a fill position at which a pocket is held with its floor at an angle to horizontal for filling the pocket with packetized pre - wrapped product items delivered in a single stream by a feed conveyor;

Figure 15 herein illustrates schematically an orientation of a pocket at an angle to horizontal, in which said pocket may be filled with a plurality of rows and columns of pre - wrapped packet items, in which the packet items are stacked on the floor of the pocket upright on their narrowest sides;

Figure 16 herein illustrates schematically in perspective view an inlet end of the packaging machine, showing a first end of the endless loop of the primary conveyor, at which end, a pocket may be held at an angle to the horizontal, for filling with packetised product items stacked in rows and columns within said pocket;

Figure 17 herein illustrates schematically a carton carrier, configured for carrying a carton or container, the carrier being fitted to a carriage;

-13Figure 18 herein illustrates schematically a carton or container fitted between opposing flights of the carrier shown in figure 16 herein;

Figure 19 herein illustrates schematically a pair of carton carriers on a magnetically operated conveyor transporting a first carton of a first size; and

Figure 20 herein illustrates schematically the pair of carton carriers of figure 19 carrying a second carton of a second size.

Detailed Description of the Embodiments [0030] There will now be described by way of example a specific mode contemplated by the inventors. In the following description numerous specific details are set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding. It will be apparent however, to one skilled in the art, that the present invention may be practiced without limitation to these specific details. In other instances, well known methods and structures have not been described in detail so as not to unnecessarily obscure the description.

[0031] In this specification the embodiments are referred to in a coordinate space comprising three spatial lines X,Y and Z. The three lines are orthogonal to each other, each line comprising two directions being 180° opposite to each other. In the general case the X and Y lines need not be horizontal and the Z line need not be vertical, but preferably where a direction of travel is referred to as being in an X or Y direction then such direction will lie in a horizontal plane. Similarly where a movement is referred to in a Z direction, such direction of movement will be in a substantially vertical plane.

[0032] In this specification the term “pocket” is used to denote a container, carrier or receptacle which is used to transport one or more product packages from an inlet position, for example at the end of an inlet feed conveyor to a packaging position where the product packets I packages are inserted into a carton or packaging container into which the product is to be packaged. The

-14pocket containers may also be called “buckets”. The pockets may be in the form of a tray, dish, bowl, open top box, or like receptacle.

[0033] In the specification, the term “container” is used to describe a container into which one or more items or product items are to be packaged. Examples of containers include card or plastics cartons, liquid containers, bags or like containers in which product items are conventionally contained. The term “container” may include a secondary wrapper, for example a flexible bag type of wrapper which is used to over wrap a plurality of pre - wrapped product items. Such secondary wrappers are used for example as flexible wrappers, perhaps containing a cardboard insert, to wrap a plurality of individually wrapped biscuits in a multipack of biscuits.

[0034] In this specification, the terms “carrier”, “carton carrier” or “container carrier” is used to describe a container, receptacle, frame, or other structure used to carry a carton or a container.

[0035] In the specification, the term “product item” or “item” is used to describe a discrete individual item to be filled into a container or carton. A product item may comprise a single packet packet containing one or more products, for example biscuits, sweets, or powdered products, or may comprise a loose individual product item, for example unwrapped food products, a consumer electronics device, a book, stationery item, household consumer item or the like.

[0036] In this specification, the term “pitch” when used to refer to pockets, receptacles or containers means the spacing distance between adjacent pockets, receptacles or containers along a length of a conveyor.

Overview [0037] Referring to Figures 1 to 3 herein, there is illustrated schematically a packaging machine 100 of the linear inserter type which inserts a stream of product items 101 arriving at the machine into a moving stream of cartons or containers 102 on a substantially continuous batch basis.

-15[0038] The packaging machine comprises a magnetically operated primary conveyor track 103 having one or more guide rails at one or both sides along which a pocket carriage runs; one or a plurality of pockets 104 for carrying product items to be packaged into a carton or container; a corresponding one or plurality of pocket carriages 105 for carrying one or a plurality of said pockets; a secondary conveyor 106 for carrying a plurality of cartons or containers; a pocket guide track 107 for guiding the pockets in a direction transverse to the main direction of movement of the pockets along the primary conveyor; a pusher mechanism 108 for pushing product items from the one or plurality of pockets into one or a plurality of cartons or containers on the secondary conveyor; and an overhead gantry 109 for supporting said pusher mechanism.

[0039] Cartons or containers are fed onto the secondary carton track 106 from a carton feed 111 into which are stacked a supply of individual carton packages.

[0040] The magnetically operated primary conveyor track 103 has a plurality of electromagnetics embedded therein, underneath the outer surface of the track. Each pocket carriage 105 has a block of magnetic material adjacent the first conveyor track so that operation of the electromagnets in the first conveyor track enables movement of a pocket carriage at any place along the track, and at any speed, with the position and speed being able to be controlled electronically.

[0041] Referring to figure 1 herein, there is illustrated schematically in plan view a main bed of the first packaging machine, omitting the overhead gantry and pusher mechanism for clarity. The inlet conveyor 110 delivers product items to a waiting pocket on the first conveyor. In the central region, the first and second conveyors lie substantially parallel to each other underneath a region of operation of the overhead gantry. In this region, product items are transferred from the pockets into the containers.

[0042] Although the product items are shown delivered to the first conveyor at right angles in figure 1 herein, the product feed conveyor 110 may run parallel

-16to the first conveyor, or in the general case, may run at any angle relative to the first conveyor. If the product feed conveyor runs parallel to the first conveyor, then it may be necessary to independently rotate each one of the pockets through 90° so as to align the pockets on the first conveyor with the product item output of the feed conveyor.

[0043] Referring to figure 2 herein, there is illustrated schematically in view from one side part of the packaging machine, and showing the first conveyor 103 carrying a plurality of pockets 104 on their individual pocket carriages 105. At a feed end, an inlet conveyor 110 delivers individual product items to the pockets carried on the first conveyor 103. At the end of the inlet conveyor, an individual pocket aligns with the output of the inlet conveyor to receive one or a plurality of product items The one or plurality of product items may transfer or drop from the inlet conveyor into the individual pocket. The individual pocket can be held static on the first conveyor 103 whilst it is loaded with product items.

[0044] Once the correct amount of product items have been loaded into the pocket 104 by the inlet conveyor, the pocket is moved along the first conveyor so that a subsequent next pocket can align with the output of the inlet conveyor and receive further product items from the product feed conveyor.

[0045] The pocket carriages 105 are moved along the first conveyor in sequence but with controllable and variable speeds. In general, the individual speed of progress of each pocket carriage along the first conveyor can be individually controlled. Any individual pocket carriage on the first conveyor need not necessarily be moving at the same rate as other individual pocket carriages on the same first conveyor, except when they are aligned to travel side-by-side along a corresponding batch of containers, in which case the pocket carriages match the speed of the individual containers carried on the secondary conveyor 106.

[0046] Referring to figure 3 herein, the overhead gantry 109 comprises first and second static overhead tracks 300, 301 and a movable beam 302 which extends along a Y axis and is movable in a direction perpendicular to the main

-17lengths of the first and second static overhead tracks. The cross beam 302 carries a pusher beam 303 to which are attached one or a plurality of individual pusher arms 304 -307, in the embodiment shown, there being four individual pusher arms. The pusher arms extend downwardly from the pusher beam. The pusher beam 303 extends having its main length direction along the X axis and can move in 3 dimensions.

[0047] Each of the static overhead tracks 300, 301 contains a linear drive mechanism to which the crossbeam 302 is attached, which allows the crossbeam 302 to move along an X axis forwards and backwards, so that the crossbeam 302 can carry the pusher beam 303 to track a batch of a plurality (in this case four) underlying pockets as they move along the first conveyor, and then as the pusher beam 303 retracts or is lifted, to return the pusher arms to a position further upstream ready to track a further batch of pockets as they move along the first conveyor.

[0048] The crossbeam 302 contains a linear drive mechanism to which the pusher beam 303 is attached which allows the pusher beam 303 to be moved along a Y axis so that the pusher arm can sweep across the first conveyor towards the second conveyor in order to push product items contained in the pockets out of the pockets through the distal outlet ends of the pockets and into a plurality of cartons or containers moving alongside the pockets at the same speed as the crossbeam 302 traverses along the X axis. When the pusher arms 304 have pushed the product items into the containers, the pusher beam 303 reverses direction, and moves away from the second conveyor towards the first conveyor. At the same time, the crossbeam 302 may reverse direction and move back towards the inlet end of the first conveyor in order to align with a next batch of cartons or containers carried on the secondary carton conveyor 106.

[0049] There is provided two control cabinets one on either side of the machine 112 and ancilliary items such as a main power supply, control electronics for the gantry mechanism, and control electronics for the primary and secondary conveyors. Each of the primary and secondary conveyors is provided with

-18electronic position and motion sensors for sensing the positions of the conveyors and any items passing along the conveyors such as the individual pockets, pocket carriages, cartons I containers, and product items.

[0050] In the best mode embodiment, the secondary conveyor carton track 106 comprises a pair of spaced apart chains running parallel to each other. Each chain is provided with a plurality of upstanding projecting flights. Individual containers or cartons are held between the successive pairs of flights across the pair of chains, so that the containers are moved along the secondary conveyor at the speed of the conveyor. The secondary conveyor may be provided with a set of intermediate flights, on each chain, the intermediate flights alternating with the primary flights so that the containers are located between the primary and secondary flights on each chain. The distance between the primary and secondary flights may be adaptable so that the same packaging machine can be reconfigured for use with different size cartons or containers by adjusting the spacing between primary and secondary flights on the secondary conveyor.

[0051] The carton filling apparatus has a primary conveyor section conveying objects to be inserted into the cartons in parallel with the cartons along the length of the apparatus, and a secondary conveyor section for transporting cartons. Each object is aligned with an open mouth of a carton and a pushing mechanism incorporates an overhead gantry arm arranged above the conveyors, which is moved along the conveyors in the longitudinal direction. A pusher bar is arranged to be moved along the gantry arm over the conveyors synchronously with the primary conveyor section and pushes the objects into the cartons whilst the conveyor keeps moving.

[0052] The layout of the packaging machine is designed to take up as little floor space as possible, with the pusher mechanism being mounted on an overhead gantry such that the overhead gantry and pusher mechanism lie above and overhead of the footprint area occupied by the guide track and carton track. The whole machine may be encased in a cabinet for safety.

-19[0053] Figure 4 shows schematically in plan view operation of the packaging machine showing cooperation of the pusher mechanism with a plurality of individual pockets moved over to be positioned adjacent to a corresponding plurality of containers, for filling the containers with product items. Individual product items 101 arrive on the inlet feed conveyor 110 which transfers the product items into a waiting pocket receptacle 104 at a filling position on the first conveyor 103. If there is a gap in the product item stream, the pocket receptacle 104 can be held waiting at the inlet position whilst other pockets queue up behind the pocket being filled. Previous pockets which have already been filled can still travel along the conveyor towards the product transfer region in which the overhead gantry 401 operates and are not held up by the waiting pocket.

[0054] In the product transfer region, the individual pockets are synchronised to have the same pitch, that is the same distance between pockets, as the pitch of the adjacent containers 402 travelling on the secondary conveyor 106, so that in continuous operation of the secondary conveyor, the speed and pitch of a batch of a plurality of (in this case four) pockets is matched with the speed and pitch of a corresponding batch of a plurality of cartons travelling on the secondary conveyor. At the same time, a speed of the overhead gantry 401 in the longitudinal direction along the X axis is matched with the speed of the pockets so that the pusher beam 303 sweeps across and downwards in the Y and application specific Z axes (the Χ, Y axes being horizontal, and the Z axis being vertical in this example), so as to push the product items along the lengths of the pockets and into the open mouth of the containers.

[0055] In figure 4 herein, the pusher beam 303 is shown at the start of its sweep in the Y, Z axes whilst travelling along the X axis.

[0056] Figure 5 herein shows schematically in plan view, a further stage of operation of the packaging machine, in which the pusher arm has pushed a plurality product items from the pockets into a corresponding batch of containers. The pusher beam 303 has moved across along the Y axis towards the row of cartons on the second conveyor, whilst at the same time the gantry has moved

-20forward slightly in along the X axis as the pockets and cartons move forward along the first and second conveyors respectively. The pusher beam moves across a sufficient distance that the pusher arms can push the product items all the way into the mouths of the cartons, with the ends of the pusher arms being within a few millimetres of the open mouths of the cartons, thereby ensuring reliable and accurate transfer of the product items from the pockets into the open cartons.

[0057] Further upstream the open mouth of the cartons are closed by a separate mechanism (not shown in figure 4 or 5) which folds the flaps of the cartons closed, and applies a portion of glue to seal the cartons.

[0058] Figure 6 herein shows schematically a section of the primary conveyor 103, secondary conveyor 106 and cam track 107, illustrating part of a cam groove 600 used to move the pockets in a Y axis as they travel generally along a longitudinal X axis.

[0059] The cam groove 600 on an upper surface of the cam track comprises a first longitudinal straight portion 601 extending along an X axis in a main length direction of the first conveyor; a second longitudinal straight portion 602 extending along an X axis in the main length direction of the first conveyor, but displaced from the first longitudinal straight portion 601 along the transverse Y axis, the second longitudinal straight portion being closer to the second conveyor than the first longitudinal straight portion; and a diagonal transitional portion 603 extending between the first and second longitudinal portions 601, 602. At a distal end of the cam track, the cam groove 600 transitions back from the second conveyor, towards the first conveyor in a fourth portion of the cam groove, as the cam track drops away in a downward direction (not shown in figure 6). As a pocket travels along the first conveyor 103 the pocket carriage 105 continues along the path of the first conveyor, whilst the pocket 104 which is movable relative to the pocket carriage 105 in the lateral or Y axis moves across towards the secondary conveyor as shown in figure 6, and retains its lateral position adjacent the secondary conveyor as the pocket traverses the carton filling region, and then follows the cam track to be returned towards the first conveyor at the

-21distal end of the conveyor, as the endless loop of the conveyor turns downwards. The pockets are returned on the underside of the endless loop first conveyor 103, back to the inlet end ready for refilling with a further product item.

General operation [0060] Product items arrive at the packaging machine via a feed conveyor. The items 101 to be packaged may be spaced apart on the feed conveyor at either regular or irregular spatial intervals, so that in the general case, with constant feed conveyor speed, the items may arrive at the end of the conveyor at random times being either regular substantially constant or irregular variable times, depending on how the items were originally placed on the conveyor to start with.

[0061] At the end of the conveyor, the items are fed into pockets which carry the items to the containers into which they are to be packaged. In the general case each pocket may carry one item at a time, or multiple items at a time to a container, depending on whether the container is to contain one single item or multiple items.

[0062] The pockets travel along the first conveyor track which in a best mode embodiment is arranged having its main length across or perpendicular to the main length direction of the product feed conveyor, so that the items are fed into successive pockets, each pocket being replaced by a successive next pocket as the preceding pocket is filled and moved on along the first conveyor track.

[0063] The magnetically operated first conveyor track has the ability to move the pockets on their pocket carriages along the conveyor track at variable speeds so that any pocket on the track can speed up or slow down relative to the pocket in front of it or behind it on the track. The speed of each pocket along the track is independently controlled subject to the constraint that pockets must retian their same order on the track. Pockets may bunch up or spread out relative to each other whilst retaining their sequence on the track.

-22[0064] After leaving the feed position, as the pocket carriages traverse forward along the magnetic track, their positions are synchronized with the cartons or containers on the adjacent container track which are spaced apart substantially equidistantly between successive containers. The regular spatial interval or pitch between the containers is replicated by a regular spatial interval of the same pitch between the pocket carriages as the pocket carriages and containers run alongside each other, so that each pocket aligns with a corresponding respective adjacent container. An open second end of the pocket aligns with and open end of a container so that a product item carried by the pocket can be pushed over in along the Y axis from the pocket and into the open mouth of the container.

[0065] The packaging machine is capable of being operated in a continuous mode, where the products are transferred from the feed conveyor in to pockets, the pockets then stream out to match the pitch of the containers, the movement of the pockets is tracked by the X and Y movement of the gantry and whilst both the pockets and containers are moving, the product is swept out of the pockets into the containers by the sweep mechanism on the gantry. Movement of the pockets and containers is continuous.

[0066] The presently disclosed packaging machine is also capable of being operated in an intermittent motion mode with collation of products occurring in the container or carton. In such an intermittent mode operation, the pockets are still loaded in the same way as for continuous operation, and the pockets then move down to the carton loading area, in parallel to the cartons. The cartons may then stop in the product transfer region and instead of the gantry tracking the X axis movement of the cartons, because the cartons are now stationary, the pusher sweeps product out of the pockets into the stationary cartons in Y axis only movement and in combination with Z axis if required. The emptied pockets are then moved along the first conveyor. The carton track may be held stationary whilst a further set of pockets arrive on the first conveyor, and product items from the further set of pockets are then swept into the containers, allowing collation of product items within the cartons or containers from single product item per pocket.

-23ln this mode of operation, the novel packaging machine is controlled to effectively operate similarly to a prior art intermittent motion machine where collation occurs in containers or cartons.

[0067] In yet a further mode of operation, the presently disclosed packaging machine may be operated in a continuous mode, and with collation of products occurring in the pockets rather than in the containers. In this mode of operation, multiple product items are loaded into each pocket at the product in feed position, pockets are transported along the first conveyor to match the pitch and speed of the corresponding stream of containers carried along the second conveyor and in the product transfer region, the pusher arm carried on the gantry tracks the streams of pockets and containers moving in parallel and aligned along the X axis and in matched in pitch, and the pusher sweeps across travelling along both the X and Y axes to sweep a collation of products from each pocket into a corresponding respective container or carton. In this mode of operation, where collation occurs in the pockets, a substantially improved rate of packing may be achieved compared to the prior art intermittent mode packing machines where collation occurs in the containers and the containers need to be held stationary to achieve packing of multiple product items collected into a container.

Primary conveyor [0068] The primary conveyor 103 forms an endless loop conveyor comprising a magnetic track having a plurality of electromagnetic coils embedded in the track and arranged in line adjacent a substantially flat surface over which the pocket carriages travel. The line of electromagnetic coils is formed into a loop arranged in a substantially vertical plane, so that the pocket carriages can travel along the line of electromagnets, passing over one electromagnetic coil to the next. The loop path of the track has an upper section which is substantially horizontal and level; a first end section which follows a substantially semicircular path, leading to a lower section which is located underneath the upper section. The other end of the lower section also follows a semicircular path connecting to

-24an end of the upper section so that the the pocket carriages can travel around the whole of the loop.

[0069] Adjacent the line of electromagnetic coils, there is provided one or more rails, and in the best mode there being two such rails, to which the pocket carriages are movably attached and along which the pocket carriages travel. Each pocket carriage is movably attached to the rails so that the pocket carriage can move either backwards or forwards along the rail. The carriages are attached to the rails by a set of wheels which allows movement of the carriages around the loop whilst restricting their movement in a upright plane, so that in motion, each part of the pocket carriage moves around a loop in an upright preferably substantially vertical plane and closely follows the magnetic track.

[0070] Motive force to move the pocket carriages along the track is provided by the electromagnetic coils. The electromagnetic coils determine the position and speed of movement of the pocket carriages and their attached pockets along the length of the track, whilst the rail guides the pocket carriages [0071] On the upper section, the pocket carriages move in a substantially straight line parallel to the line of movement of the flights on the adjacent carton track. The pockets are moveable relative to the pocket carriages and the magnetic track in a direction across and preferably perpendicular to the direction of travel of the pocket carriages along the magnetic track.

Pockets [0072] In the embodiments disclosed herein, each pocket 104 comprises a substantially flat platform having first and second upright sides walls either side of said substantially flat platform. At a first end of said pocket there may be no upright wall, so that product items leaving an input feed conveyor can be slid onto the platform at the first end, either one at a time or contained in a pre package, such as a paper, plastics or metal foil wrapper.

-25[0073] The sidewalls of the pocket preferably converge towards the outlet end of the pocket, being spaced apart further at the inlet end than at the outlet end, in order to guide product items in the pocket into the open mouth of a carton or container.

[0074] The floor of each pocket may be shaped and designed to suit a particular product package type which is to be contained in the pocket for transport from the inlet feed conveyor to the carton or container into which the package is to be inserted. In the example shown herein the pocket floor is flat and planar. Where an individual pocket is to be used for product item collation, that is, accumulation of a plurality of packages each containing one or more product, so that a plurality of packages can be inserted into a single carton container, the pocket may comprise a plurality of internal barriers extending along its length, or partitions to allow sequential filling of the pocket and/or placement of the individual packages within the pockets in a manner which permits reliable stacking of the product items in the pocket prior to the product packets being pushed into their final destination container or carton.

Pocket carriages [0075] Each pocket 104 is carried on its own corresponding respective pocket carriage 105. The pocket carriages each comprise an elongate carriage body, onto which an individual pocket is movably attached, at a first end, the pocket carriage has a first set of rollers, which follow a first guide track immediately adjacent and following the first conveyor, and at a second end, each pocket carriage has a second set of rollers which engage and run along a second guide track running parallel to and alongside the first conveyor, so that the pocket carriages can run freely along the length axis of the first conveyor, and are retained to the first conveyor by the sets of rollers engaging with the first and second guide tracks.

[0076] In the absence of any motive force provided by the first conveyor, the pocket carriages may run freely around the first conveyor. Motive force and positioning of the pocket carriages is provided by the electromagnetic force

-26provided by the plurality of electromagnets within the first conveyor, which acts upon a piece of magnetic material embedded in or carried by the pocket carriage, to allow for movement of the pocket carriages around the endless loop of the first conveyor enabling each pocket carriage to be positioned anywhere around the first conveyor loop, and to be moved at a variable speed under electromagnetic control.

[0077] In the best mode embodiment, each pocket carriage has an upper portion comprising a track extending along the length of the carriage, onto which the pocket engages such that the pocket is slidable along the pocket carriage track. The pocket carriage track may comprise a set of rollers, in a substantially “U” or “C” shaped track in similar manner to a conventional sliding drawer mechanism, having stops at either end of the pocket, to prevent the pocket sliding off either end of the pocket carriage. In the best mode embodiment, movement of the pocket in the Y - axis is controlled by the pocket control track 107, comprising a cam groove. Each pocket is provided with a protruding pin or stud which runs along the cam groove acting as a cam follower and thereby determines the position of the pocket along the Y axis at any position along the endless loop of the first conveyor. That is to say, location of the pockets in the Y -axis is determined by mechanical means.

[0078] In alternative embodiments, rather than being mechanically controlled along the Y - axis, the individual pockets may each be individually powered by, for example a servo motor or a linear motor mounted on the pocket carriage or on the pocket itself, so that each pocket can adopt any one of a range of positions along the Y axis, with each pocket being individually controllable and each pocket being controllable as to its Y axis position independently of any other pocket.

[0079] Alternative designs of pocket and pocket carrying carriage are possible, and in the general case the embodiments and methods disclosed herein include the use of other variant pockets to achieve the same results as disclosed herein.

-27Pocket control cam track [0080] The cam track is located between the primary conveyor track and the secondary conveyor track, and has the function of moving the pockets over between the primary conveyor track and the secondary conveyor track in a translational movement once the pockets have been filled with product items by the feed conveyor, and back again from the secondary conveyor track to the primary conveyor track in a second translational movement when the product items have been transferred from the pockets to the stream of containers.

[0081] The cam track comprises a substantially flat upper surface having formed therein a groove track 600 which acts as a cam. Each pocket has a cam follower, for example in the form of a downwardly protruding cylindrical bar which engages in the track and follows along the groove as the pocket carrier moves along the longitudinal X axis. A first part of the cam groove is substantially in a straight line following the direction of the X axis and the general direction of movement of the pockets and cartons. A second portion of the cam groove has a diagonal portion connected to the first straight portion, the diagonal portion extending across and along the cam track between the primary and secondary conveyors so as to move the pockets across from the primary conveyor to the secondary conveyor so that the distal open ends of pockets moves nearer to the open ends of the containers. A third portion of the cam groove comprises a further longitudinal portion, located nearer to the second conveyor than to the first conveyor, and which which causes the pockets to travel alongside the containers in the longitudinal X axis, allowing the open output ends of the pockets to be closely placed near the open ends of corresponding open containers over a longitudinal distance of the cam track. At the distal end of the cam track there is a fourth groove portion which extends both along a length of the cam track and across a width of the contract to move the pockets back in a direction towards this primary conveyor track, after the product items have been emptied from the pockets. At the distal end of the cam track, the cam track has a substantially cylindrical outer facing surface, substantially following the end of the first conveyor as it loops round 180° to send the pockets on the lower part of the conveyor in the

-28opposite direction, returning the pockets to the input end of the first conveyor. The fourth part of the cam groove is substantially helical in form, as it follows the curved distal end of the cam track. The first, second, third and fourth parts of the cam groove form a continuous groove on the cam track with which the cam follower parts of the pockets engage as the pockets travel along the first conveyor, thereby moving the pockets across from the first conveyor towards the second conveyor, the pockets following the containers on the second conveyor over a distance along the second conveyor, and then returning to the first conveyor at the distal end of the first conveyor.

Product stream [0082] The product stream arriving at the packaging machine may comprise product items which have been pre- batched and pre-wrapped, for example in a clear plastics material into individual packages containing one or more individual product items. For example, the product stream may comprise a stream of individually wrapped single biscuits, each biscuit wrapped in its own individual pouch of plastics, paper or like material. Alternatively, the products may be unwrapped, comprise pouches or packets including a plurality of product items in a single pouch or packet, for example two or four biscuits wrapped in an individual pouch. In principle, any type of product may be either unwrapped or pre - wrapped and comprise the product stream. Typically, products may include food products such as biscuits, burgers, pies, pasties, sausages, sachets of powdered or granular products such as porridge, cake mix ingredients or like products.

[0083] Referring to figure 7 herein, there is shown in perspective view from one side and above a section of the packaging machine in which the pockets travel synchronously with the flights on the second conveyor and therefore, synchronously with containers carried on the secondary conveyor, and in which the pusher mechanism is in a position ready to push across the pockets so as to push product items on the pockets into one or a plurality of containers aligned with the respective pockets.

-29[0084] As shown in figure 7, there may be gaps in the sequence of pockets, caused for example where there has been a delay upstream at the product feed end. In figure 7, there are a batch of three pockets aligned with the four pusher arms attached to the pusher beam.

[0085] Referring to figure 8 herein, there is illustrated schematically in perspective view, one end of the novel packaging machine showing the inlet feed conveyor, the primary conveyor; the secondary conveyor; and the pocket guidance track. In figure 8, there are currently no pockets or pocket carriers on the section of first conveyor shown.

[0086] Referring to figure 9 herein, there is illustrated schematically in perspective view, a second end of the primary conveyor and a second end of the pocket guidance track showing an individual pocket carried on an individual pocket carrier.

Pocket indexing and product collation [0087] At the product in feed, the pocket carriages and the pockets which they carry have the ability to index, that is to move forwards or backwards in incremental steps along a longitudinal axis of the first conveyor 103. When filling a pocket at the product input conveyor, product items can be filled either a single packetized product item per pocket, or by keeping the first conveyor held waiting whilst further product items are delivered from the in feed conveyor, a pocket can be filled with a collation comprising a plurality of packets each containing one or more product items may be carried in a single pocket. The packets may be arranged in rows and columns. The packets may also be stacked or layered one on top of the other in the pocket. The pocket may be incrementally moved or indexed by a distance which is less than a pocket width along an X axis in order to fill the pocket with a collation of product items. Similarly, in some embodiments, the pocket may be indexed along the Y axis for filling the pocket with one or more individual packetized product items / one or more individual packets of product.

Single packet item per container operation

-30[0088] Referring to figure 10 herein, there is illustrated schematically a single packet of product in a pocket tray 1000. The pocket tray comprises a floor 1001, the underside of which is configured to fit onto the pocket carriage, and slide along the pocket carriage, and a pair of laterally spaced apart upright walls 1001, 1002 on opposite sides of the pocket.

[0089] In the example shown in figure 10, a single packet containing multiple products is carried in a single pocket. As the pocket travels along the primary conveyor and is moved over towards the secondary conveyor, a pusher arm may push the product item along the main length of the pocket, so as to push the product into an open mouth of an adjacent carton or container. The sides of the pocket 1001, 1002 can be angled in a funnel or wedge shape so as to guide the product packet into the mouth of the container.

Collation of product items in a pocket [0090] Referring to figure 11 herein, there is illustrated schematically two product packets carried in a single pocket. At the feed conveyor, the pocket is held in the same position long enough for two individual packets of product to fill the pocket. Two individual packets are held in the pocket in this case, in line side-byside along the longitudinal X axis, and in line in the transverse Y - axis. This type of packaging is within the capabilities of the embodiments described herein, but are less likely/less common in practice.

[0091] At the point of emptying the pocket, a pusher arm pushes the product items one after the other into the open mouth of an adjacent carton or container, thereby placing two product items into the same final carton or container.

Referring to figure 12 herein, there is illustrated schematically a collation of four product packages carried in a single pocket between an inlet position and a packaging position into which the plurality of packages are inserted into a carton or like container. For loading of the pocket from a single stream of product packages on a single inlet feed conveyor the pocket may be moved nearer to the

-31end of the inlet feed conveyor along the Y axis, so that the first product package drops from the end container into the distal lower location on the floor of the pocket. Keeping the pocket in the same position, a next and subsequent second product package on the in feed conveyor may drop off the end of the feed conveyor and on to the top of the existing product packet at the distal end of the pocket.

[0092] The pocket may then be moved further away from the end of the conveyor, whilst maintaining its same position along the longitudinal X axis, so that the next (third) product package dropping of the conveyor falls at a proximal end of the pocket. Keeping the pocket in the same position along the X axis and at the same position along the Y axis, a subsequent, fourth product packet may drop on top of the third product packet, so that the pocket has filled with four individual product packets stacked two packets across and two packets high.

[0093] At the packing position, or transfer region, upstream of the inlet position, all four product packages may be pushed into the open mouth of a carton at the same time by a pusher arm. In this example, the pocket remains static in a first position X1, Y1 during filling with a stack comprising the first and second product packages, before being moved over laterally to a second position X1, Y2 to enable filling of the third and fourth product packages.

[0094] Referring to figure 13 herein, there is illustrated schematically in perspective view a collation of four product packages in an 4 x 1 array in a pocket, in which the product packages are stacked on their relatively narrower edges. In order to fill the pocket with product packages stacked on their narrow edges, the pocket may need to be filled by the inlet conveyor when the pocket is oriented such that its flat base is tilted at an angle to horizontal, for example on the tangent of the rounded end of the first conveyor.

[0095] To fill the pocket with a plurality of items arranged in a column along the X axis on the floor of the pocket, involves keeping the pocket adjacent a stream of items supplied by a product feed, and incrementally moving the pocket

-32along a longitudinal axis of the primary conveyor in discrete steps, each step comprising a distance shorter than a width of the pocket, so as to fill the pocket items positioned side-by-side across a width of the pocket between the two side walls of the pocket.

[0096] With a collation of products in a pocket comprising a plurality of products arranged along the X axis, with the product stacked on their shorter sides, it is more likely in practice that the products would be arranged in a single row.

[0097] Referring to figure 14 herein, there is shown schematically a feed end of the first conveyor 103 showing an alternative position for holding a pocket for filling the pocket with a plurality of pre - wrapped packetised items, where the items are to be stacked in the pocket on their narrowest sides. The pocket may be held such that its floor is in a plane angled to horizontal, to allow items dropped into the pocket receptacle to stack on each other whilst the pocket is held at an angle, and such that when the pocket traverses to the horizontal part of the first conveyor, the wrapped items are then arranged on their narrowest sides. At this fill position, the pocket may also be moved either towards or further away from the end of the feed conveyor, for placement of product items either at the far end of the pocket receptacle, or the near end of the pocket receptacle so as to arrange a plurality of prewrapped product items in the pocket in an N χ Μ χ P array, where N, M and P are integers.

[0098] Referring to figure 15 herein, there is illustrated schematically a pocket receptacle oriented with its floor in a plane which is angled to the horizontal, as the receptacle would be oriented at the alternative fill position as described with reference to figure 14 herein.

[0099] Referring to figure 16 herein, there is illustrated an input end of the first conveyor showing an input product feed conveyor 1600 arranged to drop product items at a first pocket fill position. To fill pockets at the alternative fill position would require placement of the product feed conveyor to deliver products to the semicylindrical part 1601 of the first conveyor track. As mentioned herein

-33the product feed conveyor may extend either perpendicularly or in line with the main length direction of the first conveyor.

Product collation using multiple pockets [0100] In a further specific method, a single carton can be packaged with multiple products delivered alongside the carton from more than one pocket in sequence. As the speed of pocket carriages along the first conveyor is controllable independently of the speed of pocket carriages along the second conveyor, the second conveyor can be set at a slow rate, slow enough that two pockets can be transferred into a single container, whilst still keeping the first and second conveyors moving.

[0101] In yet a further specific method of operation, a container which is wide enough to accept products from two pockets queued one after the other one in front of the other immediately adjacent to each other in the longitudinal X axis, in the product transfer area may accept a collation of products by pushing the contents of two pockets into the container in a single sweep of the pusher assembly. In this case, whilst there may be either no collation in a pocket, or a sub collation in a pocket, the final collation may be achieved in the container itself.

Changing product size / changing product [0102] In order to reconfigure the machine for a different product of a different size, the individual pockets can be slid off their respective pocket carriages and each pocket substituted for a different pocket of a different size suitable for a different product. This allows quick reconfiguration of the machine to set the packaging machine up for packaging a different product.

Swapping pusher arms [0103] When reconfiguring the packaging machine for a different product stream of different product items the container size may change, which means that the pockets may also be changed. As well as the pocket width changing, the pitch between containers and pockets in the transfer region may change. This

-34requires changing of the pusher arms to deal with the different pocket width and/or pitch.

[0104] In the best mode, the whole pusher beam 303 is removable and replaceable with an alternative pusher beam. Different pusher beams may carry a different number of pusher arms, with a different pitch between arms to match the pitch of the containers for a particular product item type. The whole pusher beam assembly including the arms is attached to the crossbeam 302 using a quick release mechanism which preferably is operable without the use of tools.

[0105] For example, a first pusher beam 303 may comprise four pusher arms 303-307 as shown in figure 3 herein having a pitch between arms of for example 25cm. The pusher beam may be replaced with an alternative pusher beam having for example 3 pusher arms at a pitch of for example 33cm to accommodate a different product item type.

[0106] In the example shown in figure 3 herein, there are four downwardly extending pusher arms 304-307. If the product is changed requiring a wider pocket and/or greater pitch between pockets and containers, the four pusher arms may be replaced with for example three pusher arms, with each replacement pusher arm having a wider face at its lower end, being the portion of the pusher arm which pushes the product item, to suit a wider pocket.

[0107] In the general case, the number of pusher arms on the pusher beam 303 is variable within a range, to suit the pitch between the pockets. For example, there could be three, four, five or six pusher arms on a single pusher beam 303. In the general case, a variety of different pusher beam and pusher arm arrangements each having a different number of pusher arms, different widths of pusher faces on the end pusher arms, and a different pitch between pusher arms may be provided to correspond with a plurality of different pocket types and/or carton sizes.

Variations and alternative embodiments

-35[0108] In a further alternative embodiment, individual pocket carriages may be provided with powered linear mechanisms for linear movement of an associated individual pocket carried on the pocket carriage, such that the pocket may be moved along a Y axis as the pocket carriage travels along an X axis, along with individual position and motion sensors to detect the position and motion of the pocket relative to the pocket carriage. Such modification may replace the mechanical cam track of the first embodiment, between the primary conveyor and second conveyor to control the motion of the pockets along the Y axis.

[0109] In yet a further alternative embodiment, the pusher bar assembly and overhead gantry may be replaced by a conventional barrel loader.

[0110] In yet another variation, rather than having a second conveyor carrying a plurality of cartons or containers, the second conveyor may be replaced by an in feed to a secondary packaging machine. Such secondary packaging machines are used to package items such as biscuits where each biscuit is individually wrapped, and a row of individually wrapped biscuits are wrapped in a secondary wrapper, which is effectively a flexible container. Each pocket may align with an in feed of the secondary packaging machine. The individual in feeds of the secondary packaging machine move along in sequence and opposite the moving pockets, so that filling of the secondary packaging machine in feeds from the stream of pockets on the first conveyor acts as a continuous operation.

[0111] In this manner, a collation of product items can be made in each pocket, and the contents of the pocket can be transferred to an in feed of a secondary packaging machine. This may allow a plurality of pre-wrapped product items to be wrapped up in a secondary wrapper as the overall final product container. A collation of product items can be built up, and the pockets may track an in feed of a multipack flow wrapper, for example, and the product items can be pushed into the in feed off the flow wrapper which over wrap the product items accordingly into a multipack item.

[0112] The in feed inlet to the secondary wrapper moves along with the pockets on the first conveyor, the pitch and speed of the pockets matching a pitch

-36and speed of the inlets of the secondary flow wrapper machine so that the secondary wrapping operation can be performed in continuous motion operation. The whole front end of packaging machine embodiments disclosed herein, which deal with collation of product items in the pockets comprising the product inlet feed, and first conveyor may be used together with the overhead gantry and pusher assembly which linearly tracks the forward moving pockets on the first conveyor, and sweeps the products from the moving pockets into the inlets of the secondary packaging machine which makes an over wrap around each collation of product items to create a secondarily wrapped collation of pre-wrapped product items.

Multiple Variable Speed and Variable Pitch Conveyors [0113] Further advantages of a variable pitch, variable speed carton conveyor include slowing down for carton loading and erecting, the ability to buffer empty cartons, and the ability to change speed profiles through different operations, i.e. slow for gluing and sealing compression, or fast for transferring cartons.

[0114] In the best mode herein, there has been described a packaging machine in which the first conveyor carrying products in pockets to be packaged into a set of cartons or containers carried on a second conveyor can move the pockets at a speed independently and variably with respect to the speed of the second conveyor. In the best mode described herein, the second conveyor moves at a selected rate, preferably a constant speed, and at a constant fixed pitch, whilst pockets on the first conveyor entering the transfer region underneath the gantry are synchronised in speed to match the speed of the second conveyor.

[0115] In a second embodiment packaging machine, the machine is substantially the same as the first embodiment described herein, except that the second conveyor may be configured such that the pitch between the containers can be changed automatically. In such an arrangement, the chains which carry the flights, between which the cartons are located, may be automatically extended or retracted in the upright direction, for example by having each flight mounted on

-37a mechanical two - position (up or down) mounting, where a changing position between up or down is effected by passing the chain over a mechanical switching mechanism, which may be activated for example by a set of electromagnets to set individual flights to the up or down position as appropriate in order to reconfigure the second conveyor to a different pitch of cartons.

[0116] In the second embodiment, the cartons/containers can be reconfigured to adopt a range of different pitches, but once the pitch between the containers is set, the containers all travel along the second conveyor at the same speed as each other. As with the first embodiment, the pocket may be moved over in the Y axis towards or away from the containers to allow filling in the product transfer region of the machine. As with the first embodiment, the first conveyor has fully variable pitch and fully variable speed per pocket each within predetermined ranges.

[0117] In a third embodiment package filling machine both the first conveyor and the second conveyor may each comprise electromagnetically driven conveyors each of which have fully variable pitch and variable speed facility. Each of the first and second conveyors having a corresponding respective plurality of carriages, whereby on each conveyor, the carriages on that conveyor are each capable of being driven and controlled independently, and at variable speed. Other components of the second embodiment packaging machine are similar to the first embodiment, including one or more inlet feed conveyors; one or more carton feeders; a mechanical means for moving the carriers in a lateral direction between the first and second conveyors; and ancillary items such as power supplies, control electronics safety guards and a safety casing or cabinet.

[0118] In such an embodiment, there is the ability to hold a carton or a batch of cartons within the packing region underneath the pusher gantry such that a first batch of product carriers carrying a first batch of product items can be aligned with the batch of cartons, and the first batch of product items pushed into the cartons. In the second embodiment, a first conveyor may comprise an electromagnetically driven conveyor upon which a first plurality of pocket carriages

-38travel along a main longitudinal length of the first conveyor; a second conveyor which is electromagnetically driven, there being a second plurality of carriages which travel longitudinally along a length of the second conveyor. Each of the first plurality of carriages is independently controlled as to their speed and position on the first conveyor. Each of the second plurality of carriages is controlled as to their speed and position on the second conveyor. Each first pocket carriage can adopt any position along the endless loop first conveyor, and can adopt any speed within a variable range of speeds along the first conveyor, subject to the pocket carriages remaining same order or sequence on the first conveyor. Similarly, each second carriage can adopt any position along the second conveyor, and can adopt any position along the second conveyor, and any speed within a range of speeds subject to the second carriages remaining in sequence in the same order a same order or sequence on the second conveyor.

[0119] Independent and variable control of each of the first plurality of pocket carriages on the first conveyor, and each of the second plurality of carriages on the second conveyor allow a stream or batch of one or a plurality of first pockets to be synchronised in speed to travel along the first conveyor lined up opposite to, up and at a same pitch as a second batch or stream of one or a plurality of second carton carriers so that the second packaging machine can operate in synchronous operation over the packing region, similarly as described herein above with reference to the first packing machine, whilst enabling asynchronous operation at a product feed region on the first conveyor.

[0120] Alternatively, in another mode of operation the third packaging machine can operate such that a batch of second carton carriers on the second conveyor are held in a product transfer region of the machine whilst a first stream of pockets on the first conveyor are aligned with the batch of carton carriers, and moved over towards the second conveyor to allow a pusher mechanism to push products from the first pockets into a batch of cartons held by the plurality of carton carriers. Then moving the first batch of pockets on along the first conveyor, whilst keeping the batch of carton carriers in the carton filling / product transfer

-39region and on along the second conveyor, a further batch of first pockets may be moved adjacent the batch of carton carriers, and the pusher mechanism may push a plurality of second product items from the further batch of first pockets into the batch of containers held on the set of carton carriers. In this manner, a first set of first pockets can be used to carry a first set of product items, which are held adjacent to the cartons on the second conveyor, before being pushed into the cartons, the first batch of first pockets may be moved on along the first conveyor, and be replaced by a second batch of first pockets containing a second batch of product items. The pusher mechanism may push the second batch of product items from the second batch of first pockets into the batch of cartons or containers. The batch of cartons now having been filled, the batch of cartons can be moved on, and the cycle repeated as a further set of pockets are moved into the carton filling region of the machine.

[0121] As with the first embodiment described herein above, the first pockets are carried on the first conveyor on a corresponding respective plurality of pocket carriages. Each pocket carriage comprises a carriage body, having a track and/or roller mechanism extending along a length of the carriage body which cooperates with a corresponding track and/or roller mechanism on an underside of a said first pocket, allowing the first pocket to slide or roll along the length of the pocket carriage, so that the first pocket can move laterally in the Y-axis along or along an axis across a main direction of travel of the pocket carriage.

[0122] Similarly, on the second conveyor, the carton carriers are carried on a corresponding respective plurality of second carriages. Each second carriage comprises a carriage body having a track or set of rollers. Each second carriage comprises a carriage body, having a track and/or a set of one or more rollers extending along a length of the carriage body. Each carton carrier comprises a corresponding track and/or set of rollers which engages with the track and/or set of rollers on the second carriage to allow the carton carriers to move along a length of the carriage body of the second carriage, allowing the carton carrier to move in a direction across a main longitudinal direction of travel of the carton carriers along the second conveyor, thereby allowing both X and Y axis movement

-40of the carton carriers on the second conveyor. In the best mode embodiments, the pockets are moved along the Y axis, whilst the cartons travel along the X axis and are substantially fixed along the Y axis.

[0123] The product items can be fed into the pockets at the product in feed position in stepwise manner, as the pockets can be moved either in continuous manner or in intermittent manner along the first conveyor. Similarly, on the second conveyor the cartons or containers can be fed into the carriers in intermittent or continuous operation. The carriers can be held waiting for a carton to be placed on the carrier, and then the carriers can be moved forward along the second conveyor into the product packaging region of the machine, at which region, the carton carriers can be synchronised in speed, pitch and alignment with the pockets, to allow transfer of product items from the pockets into the cartons. Transfer of product items from the pockets into the cartons can take place as the cartons and pockets move in the same direction along a longitudinal axis of the first and/or second container.

[0124] With the cartons being loaded onto the second conveyor, the carton carriers can be moved around the second conveyor either in continuous steady speed, or asynchronously such that the carton carriers wait for an incoming carton at a carton in feed position and then move on along the second conveyor, once loaded with a carton. Both the first and second conveyors are capable of producing a fully variable pitch for their respective pockets and carriers.

[0125] In the general case the first conveyor allows longitudinal movement along an X1 axis along a length of the first conveyor, and the second conveyor allows longitudinal movement along an X2 axis along a length of the second conveyor. The first pockets can move along an Y1 axis, being an axis extending across the X1 axis. Similarly, the carton carriers can move along an Y2 axis extending across the X2 axis. In the general case, the X1 and Y1 axes need not be orthogonal, but can cross each other, but in preferred embodiments, the X1 and Y1 axes are orthogonal. Similarly, in the general case, the X2 and Y2 axes need not be orthogonal, but may cross each other, but in preferred embodiments,

-41the X2 and Y2 axes are orthogonal. In the general case, the X1 and X2 axes need not be parallel to each other, but in preferred embodiments the X1 and X2 axes are parallel to each other, meaning the first and second conveyors run substantially parallel to each other. In the general case, the Y1 and Y2 axes need not be parallel to each other, but in specific embodiments, they may be parallel to each other.

[0126] In a further mode of operation of the third embodiment packaging machine, a single carton on the carton conveyor can be filled from the contents of a plurality of different pockets moving along the product carrying conveyor as follows. A first batch of containers is moved into the transfer region, and a first batch of pockets carrying a first batch of product items are moved adjacent to the first batch of containers. The first batch of product items are transferred into first batch of containers by the pusher assembly swinging down and the pusher arms pushing product items along the pockets and into the open mouths of the containers. The first batch of pockets and moved on along the first conveyor, whilst keeping the first batch of containers in the transfer region. A second batch of pockets containing a second batch of product items are moved into the transfer region, and are aligned with and moved over towards the first batch of containers. The pusher assembly makes a second sweep to push the second batch of product items from the second batch of pockets into the open mouths of the first batch of containers, thereby filling the containers with first and second product items delivered on first and second batches of pockets.

[0127] Where it is desired to fill a single container with 3 different product items, the method can be repeated using a third batch of pockets carrying a third batch of product items. In principle, a container can be filled with a plurality of product items, each product item being delivered by a corresponding respective pocket, by keeping the container in the transfer region of the packaging machine, whilst successive pockets are aligned with and moved close to the container, and the contents of those pockets are pushed into the open mouth of the container. When the container is filled with the appropriate number of product items, the first

-42batch of containers can be moved along the second conveyor and a new batch of containers moved into the transfer region.

[0128] As both the first and second conveyors each variable speed and each have variable pitch, this means that as long as each pocket lines up with a corresponding respective container in the transfer region so that product items can be transferred from the pocket to the container, then neither the containers nor the pockets are restricted to any fixed pitch (with exception of the minimum pitch as the width of the carrier), but in the general case the pitch between successive containers in a sequence of containers can be random or variable, even when traversing the transfer region in the case of a single pusher arm, and the minimum pitch between containers is restricted only by the width of the container, and similarly with the width of the pockets being dictated by the width of the containers.

[0129] Referring to figure 17 herein, there is illustrated schematically in perspective view a carton carrier 1700 for carrying a carton. The carton carrier comprises a pocket upper body 1701 having one or more first upstanding flights 1702 on one side of the body, and one or more second flights 1703 on another side of the body. The carton carrier body 1701 slides backwards or forwards along its length on a carriage 1703. The second carriage itself is capable of moving along the second conveyor track, and carries the carton carrier. The first and second flights are adjustable across a width of the carton carrier, so as to secure a container there - between.

[0130] Referring to figure 18 herein, there is illustrated schematically a carton carried by the carton carrier having opened flaps. The carton is carried between the first and second flights.

[0131] The distance between the first and second flights may be adjustable across the width of the carton carrier, to allow the carrier to carry different carton sizes, so that when the packaging machine is reconfigured to package a different set of items into a different set of cartons, the new carton size can be

-43accommodated without using a different carrier. However in other embodiments, a completely different set of pockets having differently sized pockets retainers may be used, in which case reconfiguration of the packaging machine to operate with a different carton size would involve swapping the carton carriers for a different set of carton carriers designed for a different carton size.

[0132] Referring to figure 19 herein, there is illustrated a further mode of operation in which first and second carton carriers 1900, 1901 each have a plurality of upright flights 1902, 1903 and 1904, 1905 respectively and are spaced apart on a second conveyor 1906 holding a first sized carton therebetween. The pitch between the first and second carriers 1900, 1901 is electronically controlled. In the general case, each carrier 1900, 1901 is independently controllable and independently movable along the length of the second carriage 1906 and in this case, the first and second carriers are electronically controlled to move along the second conveyor 1906 with a fixed distance (pitch) therebetween, the electronic control and the electromagnets within the second conveyor track to position the carriers to move in a formation a fixed distance apart along the longitudinal X axis of the second conveyor.

[0133] In the embodiment shown in figure 19 herein, the carriers are onepiece and are not movable in the Y - axis, although in principle in a modification of the carriers, whereby the carriers are mounted on carriages which move along the X axis and the carriers are movable in a Y axis, relative to their carriages both X and Y axis movement of the carton could be achieved. Each pair of carriers is controlled electronically to move in unison along the conveyor with a fixed pitch therebetween, where the pitch is electronically set to match the width of a carton or container which is carried on the pair of carriers. Because the position and speed of each carrier along the second conveyor can be electronically controlled, the pitch distance between the carriers can be varied electronically to suit different carton sizes.

[0134] Whilst each pair of carriers may be electronically controlled to move in unison along the second conveyor maintaining a fixed pitch therebetween, each

-44carrier pair may be moved independently of each other carrier pair, subject to the carriers maintaining a same sequence along the second conveyor, meaning that one pair of carriers can be held waiting or moved at one speed,, whilst a pair of carriers forward along the conveyor may be moving at a second, different speed.

[0135] Referring to figure 20 herein, there is illustrated the embodiment packaging machine shown in figure 19 herein carrying a carton of a second width. In this mode of operation, the pitch distance between the first and second carriages along the second conveyor 1906 is set by electronic control to suit the width of the second carton 2000. In this example, the second carton 2000 is wider than the first carton, and therefore the pitch between the first and second carriers 1900, 1901 is set to a greater distance than for the same second conveyor and carriers when carrying the first carton of smaller width than the second.

[0136] In the embodiment of fig is 19 and 20, when changing carton size there is no mechanical or manual reconfiguration required of the second conveyor or the carriers on the second conveyor. For a simple pitch change, this can be done fully electronically. A first electromagnetic carrier controls the front of the carton, and a second electromagnetic carrier controls the rear of the carton, the first and second electromagnetic carriers moving in unison with each other along the second conveyor.

[0137] Concerning the flights or fingers on the carriers which engage with the cartons, in order to maximise pitch, on a forward carrier the flights or fingers may be at the forward part of the carrier, and on a rear carrier, the flights or fingers may be at the rear carrier. In the general case, with a forward set of flights/fingers on a forward carriage, and a rear set of flights/fingers on a rear carriage, this permits in principle an infinitely variable pitch and as each carton is independent from the next provides the benefit of different speed profiles at different points of the carton transfer process, within the limits of the longitudinal dimensions of the conveyor by changing electronically the distance between the forward and rear flights/fingers. This permits a tool-free facility to change the pitch of the cartons on the second conveyor.

-45Advantages [0138] An advantage of the X, Y motion of the pocket is that previously, on a prior art end load carton system, there is no variable in feed pitch and the pitch of the conveyor was always fixed. In the prior art systems, the master pitch would be reduced or expanded in order to fit the individual product.

[0139] The packaging machines disclosed herein are not restricted by a master in feed pitch, as are prior art packaging machines. In the embodiments disclosed herein, there is now the ability to move away from a fixed pitch to a random variable pitch which means that the pockets on the conveyor can now be made in a size specific to the product size. Because each pocket is independently variable, with independent movement on an X and a Y axis, it is now possible to control the product item, align the product item to the overhead pusher and to transfer the product item directly from the pocket into the carton, without the product item having to pass over an intermediate gap (or transfer system to manage carton flaps) between the primary conveyor in the secondary conveyor.

[0140] The open cartons have flaps either side of their open mouths when it is ready to be filled. Because the pockets can be moved along a Y axis, transverse to a main direction of movement of the pocket, the pockets can be moved over immediately adjacent to the mouths of the open carton reducing the incidence of mis feed into the carton. The pusher can push the product directly from the outlet end of the pocket into the open end of the container. The overhead gantry can be used to the final pushing of the product all the way into the carton or container.

[0141] Further, by providing movement of the product items in the pockets both along an X axis in a main direction of travel of the product, and on a Y axis, the Y axis being orthogonal to the X axis, this means that different sizes of pockets can be used and therefore the machine can be configured for different product sizes with the benefit of reconfiguration of the machine being a quickchange feature implemented by changing the pockets and changing the

-46arrangement of pusher arms on the pusher beam of the overhead gantry mechanism.

[0142] The various embodiments disclosed herein may be capable of automatically packing a plurality of product items from a product in feed stream into a plurality of cartons received from a carton in feed stream in continuous mode in which both the product feed and carton feed operate continuously and regularly delivering product items and cartons at a regular rate, or in an intermittent mode, in which the products arrive on a product in feed conveyor at random spacings or intervals, and in/or in which cartons arrive at a carton in feed position at random spacings or intervals. In the third embodiment herein, a randomly arriving series of product items may be packaged into a randomly arriving series of cartons, with the packaging machine synchronising the product items with the cartons, before pushing the product items into the cartons.

[0143] Use of the variable speed conveyor, with the ability to hold a pocket at an in feed position or step - move the pocket incremental indexed distances allows for collation of product items within a pocket, prior to transfer to a carton.

[0144] Further, the use of a variable speed conveyor with the ability to speed up or slow down pockets, or to hold pockets at a particular position permits filling of a single carton from the contents of a plurality of successive pockets.

[0145] Use of a reliable quick release mechanism used to attach the pusher arms to the pusher beam may allow faster swapping of pusher arms without the use of tools and thereby allow faster reconfiguration of the packaging machine to accommodate different product item types.

[0146] Use of first and/or second electromagnetically controlled conveyors may allow quick reconfiguration of the packaging machine for a different pitch distance between cartons or containers, to suit different product items. Changing the pitch between the pockets is done electronically and there is minimal mechanical reconfiguration of the packaging machine.

-47[0147] The embodiments may have the advantage of an infinitely variable pitch on the carton track by use of two separate carriages each independently electronically controllable.

Claims (45)

  1. Claims
    1. A packaging machine comprising:
    a first conveyor;
    a plurality of pockets moveable along a length of said first conveyor;
    means for urging said pockets to move along said first conveyor; and means for moving said pockets in a direction across a length axis of said first conveyor;
    wherein said means for urging said pockets along said first conveyor is controllable to move each individual said pocket separately at a speed corresponding to said individual pocket.
  2. 2. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 1, wherein said means for moving said pockets in a direction across a length axis of said first conveyor are operable for moving said pockets across, whilst said pockets are moving along said length of said conveyor.
  3. 3. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, comprising a second conveyor for carrying a plurality of containers.
  4. 4. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 3, wherein said pockets are carried on a corresponding respective one or plurality of pocket carriages, each said pocket being moveable relative to its corresponding pocket carriage.
  5. 5. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, wherein each said pocket moves in a direction across a main axis of travel of said first conveyor, whilst said pocket carriages each follow a path of said first conveyor.
    -496. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, wherein the pockets each have independent speed control in a direction along said first conveyor.
  6. 7. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, wherein the pockets are each moveable in the X and Y axes, where the X axis is coincident with a main length direction fo said first conveyor, and said Y axis lies across said X axis.
  7. 8. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, comprising an overhead gantry having a pusher mechanism for emptying said pockets, said pusher mechanisim being arranged above and over said first conveyor.
  8. 9. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 8, wherein said pusher mechanism comprises a pusher beam having a plurality of pusher arms, said pusher beam being attached to said gantry by a quick release mechanism.
  9. 10. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 8 or 9, wherein the overhead gantry has independent control in the X and Y axes.
  10. 11. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 8 to 10, wherein movement of the overhead pusher in an X axis along a length of said first conveyor, is synchronised with movement of said first conveyor in the X axis over at least part of the operation of said pusher mechanism.
  11. 12. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 8 to 10, wherein the overhead gantry is controlled such that movement of the overhead gantry synchronises with the movement of a stream of said pockets in a direction along a length of said first conveyor.
    -5013. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, wherein said means for moving said pockets towards or away from said container track comprises a cam track.
  12. 14. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 13, wherein said cam track comprises a substantially flat upper surface having a longitudinal groove formed therein, said groove having a first portion extending along a longitudinal X axis of said first conveyor; a second portion extending along said X axis, and a transitional portion extending between said first and second portions.
  13. 15. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 13 or 14, wherein said cam track comprises at one end a curved surface falling away in a downward direction.
  14. 16. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 15, wherein said curved surface follows substantially parallel to a path of a distal end of said primary conveyor.
  15. 17. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 15 or 16, wherein said cam track comprises a substantially helical groove at said distal end.
  16. 18. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, operable to incrementally index a position of a said pocket at a product in feed location, for filling said pocket with a plurality of individual product items.
  17. 19. A packaging machine comprising:
    a plurality of pockets;
    a primary conveyor for transporting said plurality of pockets along first and second axes, said first axis being coincident with a main direction of travel along said first conveyor and said second axis being transverse to said first axis;
    a secondary conveyor for transporting a plurality of containers;
    -51said secondary conveyor being positioned alongside said primary conveyor;
    a pusher mechanism for pushing product items from said plurality of pockets into said plurality of containers, said pusher mechanism capable of moving in said first and second axes;
    means for controlling said plurality of pockets for movement in said first and second axes; and means for controlling said pusher mechanism for movement in said first and second axes.
  18. 20. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 19, wherein movement of a plurality of said pockets in a longitudinal direction along a length of said primary conveyor is synchronised with the movement of a plurality of said containers over a region where said pockets are moved over towards said secondary conveyor pockets.
  19. 21. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 19 or 20, wherein said secondary conveyor transports said plurality of containers along a direction in said first axis.
  20. 22. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 19 to 21, wherein said pockets are independently movable in each of said first and second axes.
  21. 23. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 19 to 22, wherein said pusher mechanism is independently movable in each of said first and second axes.
  22. 24. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 19 to 23, wherein said pusher mechanism is synchronised with said plurality of pockets for movement along said first axis, over part of a length of said first conveyor.
    -5225. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 19 to 24, wherein said pockets each have variable speed control along said primary conveyor such that said pockets can move at different speeds at different positions along said first conveyor.
  23. 26. A packaging machine comprising:
    a first conveyor;
    a plurality of carriages movable along said first conveyor;
    a plurality of containers, each said container being movably mounted on a corresponding respective said carriage; and each said carriage being independently movable along said first conveyor;
    wherein each said container is movable in a direction across a longitudinal direction of said conveyor.
  24. 27. A method of packing one or a plurality of items into a container using a packaging machine, said method comprising:
    positioning a receptacle to receive at least one item from a stream of said items;
    keeping said receptacle adjacent said stream of items, until a predetermined number of said items are received by said receptacle;
    moving said receptacle along a longitudinal axis of a first conveyor;
    synchronising a speed of travel of said receptacle to match a speed of travel of a secondary conveyor;
    -53synchronising a position of said receptacle along said longitudinal axis to be adjacent a position of a container carried on a second conveyor;
    moving said receptacle in a direction across said longitudinal axis of said first conveyor towards said second conveyor; and urging said items carried by said receptacle out of said receptacle into said container.
  25. 28. The method as claimed in claim 27, in which a speed of travel of said receptacle along said first conveyor is controllably variable.
  26. 29. The method as claimed in claim 27 or 28, further comprising moving said receptacle in a direction away from said secondary conveyor after said items have been transferred from said receptacle to said container.
  27. 30. The method as claimed in any one of claims 27 to 29, wherein said stage of keeping said receptacle adjacent said stream of items comprises incrementally moving said receptacle along a longitudinal axis of said first conveyor in steps, each step comprising a distance shorter than a width of said receptacle, so as to fill said receptacle with items positioned side-by-side across a width of said receptacle.
  28. 31. The method as claimed in any one of claims 27 to 30, wherein said stage of keeping said receptacle adjacent said stream items comprises maintaining said receptacle in a same position along a longitudinal axis of said first conveyor, whilst moving said receptacle in a direction along a main length axis of said receptacle.
  29. 32. The method as claimed in any one of claims 27 to 31, comprising incrementally indexing a position of a said pocket at a product in feed location, to fill said pocket with a plurality of individual product items.
    -5433. A packaging machine comprising a first conveyor;
    a plurality of pockets moveable along a length of said first conveyor;
    means for urging said first pockets to move along said first conveyor;
    wherein said means for urging said pockets along said first conveyor are controllable to move each individual said first pocket separately and at a variable speed corresponding to said individual first pocket;
    a second conveyor;
    a plurality of carriers moveable along a length of said second conveyor; and means for urging said carriers to move along said second conveyor;
    wherein said means for urging said carriers along said second conveyor is controllable to move each individual said carrier separately at a variable speed, corresponding to said individual carrier.
  30. 34. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 33, further comprising means for moving a said pocket in a direction across a longitudinal axis of a said conveyor.
  31. 35. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 33 to 34, wherein a said means for moving a said pocket in a direction across a longitudinal axis of said conveyor comprises a first carriage which is movable along a longitudinal axis of said conveyor, said carriage adapted for carrying a said pocket.
    -5536. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 33 to 34, wherein a said first carriage comprises:
    a carriage body;
    means for movably attaching said carriage body to said first conveyor.
  32. 37. The packaging machine as claimed in any one of claims 33 to 36, further comprising means for moving a said carrier in a direction across a longitudinal axis of a said conveyor.
  33. 38. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 37, wherein said means for moving a said carrier in a direction across a longitudinal axis of said conveyor comprises a second carriage which is movable along a longitudinal axis of said conveyor, said carriage adapted for carrying said carrier.
  34. 39. A method of packing one or a plurality of items into one or a plurality of containers using an automated packaging machine, said method comprising:
    carrying a plurality of receptacles on first conveyor;
    carrying a plurality of containers on the second conveyor;
    moving each of said plurality of receptacles along said first conveyor at a variable speed;
    moving each of said plurality of containers along said second conveyor at a variable speed; and synchronising a speed of said plurality of receptacles to match a speed of said plurality of containers through a transfer region of said packaging machine.
    -5640. The method as claimed in claim 39, comprising matching a pitch distance between said plurality of receptacles to a pitch distance between said plurality of containers in said transfer region; and wherein a pitch between said receptacles is variable when said receptacles are at positions outside said transfer region.
  35. 41. The method as claimed in claim 39 or 40, comprising matching a pitch distance between said plurality of receptacles to a pitch distance between said plurality of containers in said transfer region; and wherein a pitch between said containers is variable when said containers s are at positions outside said transfer region.
  36. 42. The method as claimed in any one of claims 39 to 41, wherein a speed of a said receptacle is variable over a length of said first conveyor.
  37. 43. The method as claimed in any one of claims 39 to 42, wherein a speed of a said container is variable over a length of said second conveyor.
  38. 44. A method of operating a packaging machine having first and second conveyors, comprising:
    moving a plurality of receptacles at a variable speed along a first length of said first conveyor;
    moving a plurality of containers along at a variable speed along a first length of said second conveyor;
    synchronising movement of said plurality of receptacles with said plurality of containers over a second region of said first conveyor, and over a second region of said second conveyor.
    -5745. The method as claimed in claim 44, wherein a pitch of said receptacles is matched to a pitch of said containers over said second region is of said first and second conveyors; and a pitch of said receptacles over said first length of said first conveyor is variable relative to a pitch of said containers.
  39. 46. The method as claimed in claim 44 or 45, wherein a pitch of said plurality of containers can be controllably varied along a length of said second conveyor.
  40. 47. The method as claimed in any one fo claims 44 to 46 wherein both the receptacles and carriers on the first and second conveyors respectively each have fully variable pitch .
  41. 48. A packaging machine comprising a conveyor;
    a plurality of carriers moveable along a length of said conveyor;
    means for urging said first pockets to move along said conveyor;
    wherein said means for urging said carriers along said conveyor are controllable to move each individual said carrier independently and with variable speed;
    each said carrier comprising carton engagement means to engage one end of a carton such that said carton is carried between first and second said carriers along a length of said conveyor.
  42. 49. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 48, wherein a pitch distance between said first and second carriages is electronically controllable so
    -58as to provide a range of possible pitch distances between said first and second carriers.
  43. 50. The packaging machine as claimed in claim 48 or 49, wherein said first and second carriers are movable along a length of said conveyor whilst electronically maintaining a same pitch distance between said first and second carriers.
  44. 51. A method of operating a packaging machine comprising a conveyor;
    a plurality of carriers moveable along a length of said conveyor; and means for urging said first pockets to move along said conveyor;
    wherein said means for urging said carriers along said conveyor are controllable to move each individual said carrier independently and with variable speed;
    said method comprising electronically controlling individual pairs of adjacent said carriers to move in unison along said conveyor with a fixed pitch therebetween, each said pair of carriers carrying an individual container therebetween.
  45. 52. The method as claimed in claim 51, wherein said pitch between individual carriers of a said pair of carriers is electronically variable, so as to accommodate a different size container.
    Intellectual
    Property
    Office
    Application No: GB1706214.2 Examiner: Mr Peter Banks
GB1706214.2A 2017-04-19 2017-04-19 Packing machine with individually controllable pockets Active GB2561826B (en)

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GB1706214.2A GB2561826B (en) 2017-04-19 2017-04-19 Packing machine with individually controllable pockets
PCT/EP2018/059546 WO2018192856A2 (en) 2017-04-19 2018-04-13 Improvements to packaging machines

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GB2561826B GB2561826B (en) 2019-11-20

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Citations (7)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US5388389A (en) * 1990-01-12 1995-02-14 Tisma; Stevan Automatic packaging equipment
US5457941A (en) * 1992-09-18 1995-10-17 Longford Equipment International Limited Envelope stuffing machine
US20030136086A1 (en) * 2001-12-05 2003-07-24 Kalany Robert M. Packaging apparatus and methods
US20030163974A1 (en) * 2002-01-29 2003-09-04 Pike Brian Charles Carton filling apparatus
US20150158611A1 (en) * 2013-12-06 2015-06-11 R. A Jones & Co. Variable pitch packaging apparatus and methods
US20150321857A1 (en) * 2012-12-12 2015-11-12 Tetra Laval Holdings & Finance S.A. A unit for sequencing and guiding items
US20160176560A1 (en) * 2014-12-19 2016-06-23 Uhlmann Pac-Systeme Gmbh & Co. Kg Method for transferring items to be packaged into containers and for transporting the filled containers onward

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Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
DE102014116232A1 (en) * 2014-11-07 2016-05-12 Weber Maschinenbau Gmbh Breidenbach Individual transport of food portions
US9540127B2 (en) * 2015-06-09 2017-01-10 The Procter & Gamble Company Drive mechanism and methods of grouping articles

Patent Citations (7)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US5388389A (en) * 1990-01-12 1995-02-14 Tisma; Stevan Automatic packaging equipment
US5457941A (en) * 1992-09-18 1995-10-17 Longford Equipment International Limited Envelope stuffing machine
US20030136086A1 (en) * 2001-12-05 2003-07-24 Kalany Robert M. Packaging apparatus and methods
US20030163974A1 (en) * 2002-01-29 2003-09-04 Pike Brian Charles Carton filling apparatus
US20150321857A1 (en) * 2012-12-12 2015-11-12 Tetra Laval Holdings & Finance S.A. A unit for sequencing and guiding items
US20150158611A1 (en) * 2013-12-06 2015-06-11 R. A Jones & Co. Variable pitch packaging apparatus and methods
US20160176560A1 (en) * 2014-12-19 2016-06-23 Uhlmann Pac-Systeme Gmbh & Co. Kg Method for transferring items to be packaged into containers and for transporting the filled containers onward

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GB201706214D0 (en) 2017-05-31
WO2018192856A3 (en) 2018-12-13
WO2018192856A2 (en) 2018-10-25
GB2561826B (en) 2019-11-20

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