TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to the field of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and, more particularly, to apparatus and methods for dispensing cleanroom wipers in an efficient and economical manner.
In recent years, the availability and diversity of disposable cleaning products have increased dramatically. Among such products, disposable cloths (e.g., towelettes and wipes) are particularly popular. Within the spectrum of disposable cloth products available, there are a number of products that have been developed for specialized applications. One such specialized product is the cleanroom wiper.
Cleanroom wipers have been developed to provide the convenience of a disposable wipe within semiconductor manufacturing environments. The complex and unique nature of a semiconductor manufacturing environment requires a disposable cleaning wipe that meets a number of criteria. Because such products are often used in cleaning up accidental spills of chemicals and liquids, they must be particularly absorbent and sturdy. Where possible, cleanroom wipers must be provided such that use of a wiper introduces minimal contaminants or particulate matter into the sensitive semiconductor manufacturing environment. To aid in absorbency, most cleanroom wipers are provided dry. Furthermore, cleanroom wipers are often fabricated from unique blends of material that increase the durability of the wipers while reducing their susceptibility to transmitting contaminant and particulate matter. Depending upon the specific environment a wiper is used in, it may be fabricated to have special or specific material properties (e.g., tensile strength, chemical composition, absorbency level). The result is convenient and useful cleanroom wipers that are often, on a per-piece basis, relatively expensive. Typically, standard cleanroom wipers can have a per-piece cost of about 30 to 50 cents each, and specialized cleanroom wipers can cost significantly more. Thus, when used in high volumes throughout large-scale manufacturing facilities, the cost associated with such a convenience product adds up quickly.
Despite the cost and contaminant concerns, conventional dispensing systems for cleanroom wipers have typically relied on placement of stacks of wipers in open-air or partially-enclosed bins. When an individual needs a wiper, they must reach into the bin and retrieve it by hand. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, users often retrieve more, and in some cases many more, wipers than they actually need or intend to use. This results in a high level of waste. Over time, due to the relatively costly nature of cleanroom wipers, this waste can significantly impact the costs and profitability of a manufacturing facility. Furthermore, repeated manual contact with the stack of wipers, as users thumb through or hold the stack while retrieving wipers, exposes the wipers to an increased level of contaminant and particulate matter. Depending upon the location and use of the wipers, collateral contaminant and particulate matter could be introduced into sensitive manufacturing processes and have a negative impact on device yields and reliability.
These issues are illustrated briefly now in reference to FIG. 1, which depicts a prior art cleanroom wiper dispensing system 100. In system 100, a dispenser 102 houses a stack 104 of wipers. A user 106 reaches through an opening in dispenser 102 to access the wiper stack 104. In most cases, even when user 106 wants only a single wiper, the user actually retrieves a plurality of wipers 108. This is a result of several factors.
In most cases, the wipers are manufactured and finished to optimize their usefulness for cleaning, not for being stacked. Often; wipers are manufactured from materials (e.g., polyester, cellulose) and finished with certain features (e.g., a knap) to enhance their absorbency. Unfortunately, these characteristics tend to increase mutual attraction between wipers (or “stiction”)—causing multiple wipers to stick together and making it difficult for users to retrieve only one wiper at a time. Furthermore, such wipers are, typically, of a relatively fine gauge. Even when a user intends only to retrieve the top wiper, the user's grasp may actually take hold of a plurality of wipers. This is especially likely where the user is wearing some sort of cleanroom glove, reducing their dexterity and tactile sense. A user must either take the plurality of wipers, or manually separate the desired wiper from the stack (e.g., by thumbing through, by holding the stack down). This manual manipulation of the stack 104 introduces undesirable collateral contaminant and particulate matter into the wipers remaining in stack 104.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
As a result, there is a need for a wiper dispensing system that dispenses cleanroom wipers, one at a time, in an easy, efficient and cost-effective manner.
The present invention provides a versatile system for dispensing disposable cloths, particularly cleanroom wipers, in an easy, efficient and cost-effective manner. The present invention provides a system that dispenses wipers one at a time from an ergonomically efficient dispenser assembly. The dispenser assembly is designed to minimize, during the dispensing process, the introduction of collateral contaminant and particulate matter into wipers stored within the dispenser. The present invention provides an ergonomic retrieval system designed to retrieve only a single wiper from a stack of wipers, thereafter presenting the single wiper to a user in an access port having of limited form factor. The present invention thus dispenses wipers efficiently and cleanly—significantly reducing the waste and contamination opportunities associated with many conventional systems.
More specifically, the present invention provides a device for dispensing disposable cloths. The device includes a housing and a loading assembly disposed within the housing. An access portal is disposed within the housing. A retrieval assembly is also disposed within the housing. The retrieval assembly is adapted to grasp a single cloth, stored within the housing, and to move the single cloth into proximity with the access portal.
The present invention also provides a method for providing, in a singular manner, dispensing of cleanroom wipers. The present invention provides a housing and a loading assembly disposed within the housing. A supply of cleanroom wipers is loaded into the housing via the loading assembly. An access portal, disposed within the housing, is provided. The present invention provides a retrieval assembly disposed within the housing, operable to grasp a single cleanroom wiper from the supply and to move the single cleanroom wiper into proximity with the access portal. The retrieval assembly is actuated to retrieve a single cleanroom wiper, and the single cleanroom wiper is removed from the housing through the access portal.
The present invention further provides a cleanroom wiper dispenser, for dispensing cleanroom wipers one at a time. The dispenser comprises a box-shaped housing, having a bottom wall upon which a supply of cleanroom wipers is stored. The dispenser comprises a hinged door assembly, disposed on or within one wall of the housing, and operable for loading the supply of cleanroom wipers into the housing. An access aperture is disposed within a first sidewall of the housing. A spring-loaded actuating lever is also disposed, in vertical orientation, on or within the first sidewall and adjacent to the access aperture. A substantially rigid retrieval arm is disposed within the housing. The retrieval arm has a first end, having a grasping feature disposed upon a lower surface thereof. The retrieval arm is formed or coupled to the actuating lever such that, as the actuating lever is depressed and released, the grasping feature descends, engages and grasps a single cleanroom wiper from the supply of cleanroom wipers, and moves that single cleanroom wiper into immediate proximity with the access aperture.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Other features and advantages of the present invention will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art upon reference to the following detailed description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.
For a better understanding of the invention, and to show by way of example how the ay be carried into effect, reference is now made to the detailed description of the on along with the accompanying figures in which corresponding numerals in the nt figures refer to corresponding parts and in which:
FIG. 1 is an illustration of a PRIOR ART dispensing system; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 2 is an illustration of one embodiment of a dispensing system according to sent invention.
While the making and using of various embodiments of the present invention are discussed in detail below, it should be appreciated that the present invention provides many applicable inventive concepts, which can be embodied in a wide variety of specific contexts. The invention will now be described in conjunction with dispensing disposable cleanroom wipers. The specific embodiments discussed herein are merely illustrative of specific ways to make and use the invention and do not limit the scope of the invention.
The present invention provides a versatile system that dispenses disposable cleanroom wipers, one at a time, from an ergonomically efficient dispenser assembly. The present invention thus eliminates waste that often occurred with conventional dispensers. Furthermore, the present invention minimizes, during the dispensing process, opportunities for the unintentional introduction of contaminant and particulate matter into wipers stored within.
More specifically, the present invention provides a dispenser assembly. The dispenser assembly may be formed in a variety of form factors, and from a variety of materials, based on its intended use. The dispenser assembly comprises a housing, within which a supply of wipers is enclosed and stored. The supply of wipers is loaded into the housing through a loading assembly. A retrieval assembly is disposed on the housing. The retrieval assembly comprises an actuating member and a retrieval member. The retrieval assembly is operable, upon user demand communicated through the actuating member, to move the retrieval member into contact with the supply of wipers. The retrieval member is provided with a grasping feature to securely engage only the wiper with which it makes immediate contact. The retrieval assembly then moves the single wiper, still attached to the grasping feature, into close proximity with an access port. The access port is disposed in convenient location along the housing, and has a form factor sufficient to provide manual access to only the retrieved single wiper. When a user needs a wiper, the user activates the actuating member—moving the retrieval member into contact with the supply of wipers. The grasping feature is then brought into proximity with the access port. The user then manually retrieves the wiper through the access port—making contact only with the wiper so retrieved. If a user desires more than one wiper, they may repeat the process a desired number of times.
Illustrative embodiments of the present invention are now described in greater detail with reference to FIG. 2. FIG. 2 depicts one embodiment of a dispenser assembly 200 according to the present invention. Assembly 200 comprises a housing 202, within which a supply of wipers 204 is enclosed and stored. The material composition and physical form factor of housing 202 may be varied greatly, depending on a variety of end-use factors (e.g., size and composition of the wipers, intended location of dispenser). Housing 202 is generally formed of a rigid and durable, yet cost-effective, material. The material may be transparent, partially transparent or opaque, as desired. A material such as polycarbonate proves useful for most applications, although other materials such as metal, plastic, ceramic or combinations thereof may be utilized. The relative size and shape of housing 202 is also widely variable, depending upon intended usage. Since many cleanroom wipers are square in shape, a box-shaped housing is useful. For round wipers, a cylindrical housing is useful. The height of housing 202 can be varied to produce shelf-top dispensers, tabletop dispensers or freestanding floor dispensers. A number of other variations are comprehended hereby.
<Supply 204 is loaded into housing 202 through a loading assembly 206. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2, assembly 206 is depicted as a hinged lid, disposed atop housing 202. In alternative embodiments, a hinged door may be located on or within one sidewall of housing 202. In still other alternative embodiments, other loading assemblies (e.g., a sliding drawer or a rotating cassette), disposed on or within one wall of housing 202, may be used to load supply 204 into housing 202. Similar to housing 202, the material composition and form factor of assembly 206 may be varied greatly to accommodate many different end-use applications. Assembly 206 and housing 202 are generally formed or configured to fit or close together securely when assembly 206 is not in use, minimizing open spaces or gaps therebetween that could allow stray particulate matter or other contaminants to settle on supply 204. In some embodiments, an airtight or waterproof seal may be desirable, and the formation or configuration of assembly 206 and housing 202 is altered to incorporate a sealing mechanism accordingly. For example, a flexible gasket may be disposed to rest between the lower surface of assembly 206 and the upper rim of housing 202, providing a secure seal when assembly 206 is closed. Other variations are comprehended hereby.
Assembly 200 further comprises a retrieval assembly 208 disposed on housing 202. The retrieval assembly comprises an actuating member 210 and a retrieval member 212. As depicted in FIG. 2, member 210 comprises a spring-loaded assembly, disposed along a sidewall of housing 202, wherein actuating lever 214 slides transversely within vertical track 216. An inner portion of lever 214 is secured to member 212 and, as a user applies downward force to lever 214, it moves down along track 216 bringing member 212 into contact with supply 204. Member 210 is spring-tensioned such that as a user releases downward pressure from lever 214, the lever moves upwardly along track 216 returning member 212 to its starting position. In alternative embodiments, member 210 may be completely manual—requiring the application of both downward and upward force to move lever 214 through its full range—or may be automated by, for example, a motorized or computerized assembly. In other alternative embodiments, the physical configuration and relative position of member 210 are altered according to specific needs. For example, space constraints may require member 210 to be configured as a vertical plunger-type assembly disposed upon the upper wall of housing 202. Other combinations and variations are hereby comprehended.
As depicted in FIG. 2, member 212 comprises a substantially rigid retrieval arm 218. Arm 218 is securely coupled to lever 214, and is flexible enough to withstand a range of pressures applied but rigid enough to grasp and lift a single wiper 220 in accordance with the present invention. In alternative embodiments, arm 218 may be provided as completely rigid or substantially flexible, depending again upon end-use requirements. As depicted in FIG. 2, arm 218 is formed of stainless steel. The composition and form factor of arm 218 may be varied greatly depending on performance requirements and cost constraints. Disposed along a portion of the lower surface of arm 218 is grasping feature 222. Grasping feature 222 is provided to securely grasp or otherwise engage only the top most single wiper 220 from supply 204. As depicted in FIG. 2, feature 222 comprises a small field of Velcro, disposed in an alternating pattern along the lower surface of arm 218 at one end. Only the hook portion of Velcro fabric is used. The field of Velcro comprises a plurality of sub-fields, each having the Velcro hooks oriented in a single direction. The plurality of sub-fields are then disposed such that their individual hook orientations are at 90° with respect to one another. This configuration is provided to ensure optimum engagement between feature 222 and the knap of wiper 220, regardless of the relative orientation of wiper 220. In order to further facilitate this, the free end of arm 218 is slightly curved or dished in a convex manner, with respect to supply 204. In other embodiments, alternative grasping features 222 are provided. For example, feature 222 may comprise an adhesive material (e.g., tape or glue strip), or some articulating mechanism (e.g., a mechanical pincer). Other combinations and variations are hereby comprehended.
Once a user actuates assembly 208, it operates in accordance with the above-described principles to retrieve wiper 220 and to bring it into proximity with access port 224. Access port 224 and assembly 208 are collocated upon the same wall of housing 202. Alternatively, access port 224 and assembly 208 may be disposed upon or within adjoining or opposing walls of housing 202, so long as assembly 208 is operable to move wiper 220 into proximity with access port 224. As depicted in FIG. 2, access port 224 comprises an aperture formed in the sidewall of housing 202, proximal to the starting position of arm 218. Once assembly 208 has secured and retrieved wiper 220, a user may simply reach through port 224 to retrieve only wiper 220. Port 224 is formed of a size and form factor sufficient to allow the user access only to wiper 220 (e.g., only large enough to allow fingertip access). User contact with and manipulation of supply 204 is thus eliminated. In further embodiments, assembly 208 may be designed or modified to move wiper 220 outside of housing 202, through portal 224 (e.g., by electromechanical displacement of arm 218). In other embodiments, port 224 may be modified or supplemented with features (e.g., a sliding window or hinged door) to securely seal port 224 when not in use. Again, the material composition and form factor of port 224 may be varied greatly to accommodate many different end-use applications. Other variations and combination are comprehended hereby.
As previously alluded to, a number of embodiments may be provided-addressing the specific needs or concerns of a particular end-use application. For example, a number of mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic components may be provided to implement or enhance the appearance or performance of the various constituent members of assembly 200. Furthermore, additional convenience features (e.g., an electronic wipe counter) may also be provided. Thus, the embodiments and examples set forth herein are presented to best explain the present invention and its practical application and to thereby enable those skilled in the art to make and utilize the invention. However, those skilled in the art will recognize that the foregoing description and examples have been presented for the purpose of illustration and example only. The description as set forth is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise form disclosed. Many modifications and variations are possible in light of the above teaching without departing from the spirit and scope of the following claims.