WO2012126124A1 - Automatic fluid flow shut-off system and method using optical sensors - Google Patents

Automatic fluid flow shut-off system and method using optical sensors Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2012126124A1
WO2012126124A1 PCT/CA2012/050185 CA2012050185W WO2012126124A1 WO 2012126124 A1 WO2012126124 A1 WO 2012126124A1 CA 2012050185 W CA2012050185 W CA 2012050185W WO 2012126124 A1 WO2012126124 A1 WO 2012126124A1
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
valve
fluid flow
optical detector
control module
optical
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/CA2012/050185
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Peter Van De Velde
Gordon Esplin
Original Assignee
Peter Van De Velde
Gordon Esplin
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US201161467117P priority Critical
Priority to US61/467,117 priority
Application filed by Peter Van De Velde, Gordon Esplin filed Critical Peter Van De Velde
Publication of WO2012126124A1 publication Critical patent/WO2012126124A1/en

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Classifications

    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F16ENGINEERING ELEMENTS AND UNITS; GENERAL MEASURES FOR PRODUCING AND MAINTAINING EFFECTIVE FUNCTIONING OF MACHINES OR INSTALLATIONS; THERMAL INSULATION IN GENERAL
    • F16KVALVES; TAPS; COCKS; ACTUATING-FLOATS; DEVICES FOR VENTING OR AERATING
    • F16K37/00Special means in or on valves or other cut-off apparatus for indicating or recording operation thereof, or for enabling an alarm to be given
    • F16K37/0025Electrical or magnetic means
    • F16K37/0041Electrical or magnetic means for measuring valve parameters
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03BINSTALLATIONS OR METHODS FOR OBTAINING, COLLECTING, OR DISTRIBUTING WATER
    • E03B7/00Water main or service pipe systems
    • E03B7/07Arrangement of devices, e.g. filters, flow controls, measuring devices, siphons, valves, in the pipe systems
    • E03B7/071Arrangement of safety devices in domestic pipe systems, e.g. devices for automatic shut-off
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F16ENGINEERING ELEMENTS AND UNITS; GENERAL MEASURES FOR PRODUCING AND MAINTAINING EFFECTIVE FUNCTIONING OF MACHINES OR INSTALLATIONS; THERMAL INSULATION IN GENERAL
    • F16KVALVES; TAPS; COCKS; ACTUATING-FLOATS; DEVICES FOR VENTING OR AERATING
    • F16K15/00Check valves
    • F16K15/18Check valves with actuating mechanism; Combined check valves and actuated valves
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F16ENGINEERING ELEMENTS AND UNITS; GENERAL MEASURES FOR PRODUCING AND MAINTAINING EFFECTIVE FUNCTIONING OF MACHINES OR INSTALLATIONS; THERMAL INSULATION IN GENERAL
    • F16KVALVES; TAPS; COCKS; ACTUATING-FLOATS; DEVICES FOR VENTING OR AERATING
    • F16K31/00Actuating devices; Operating means; Releasing devices
    • F16K31/02Actuating devices; Operating means; Releasing devices electric; magnetic
    • F16K31/06Actuating devices; Operating means; Releasing devices electric; magnetic using a magnet, e.g. diaphragm valves, cutting off by means of a liquid
    • F16K31/0644One-way valve
    • F16K31/0655Lift valves
    • YGENERAL TAGGING OF NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS; GENERAL TAGGING OF CROSS-SECTIONAL TECHNOLOGIES SPANNING OVER SEVERAL SECTIONS OF THE IPC; TECHNICAL SUBJECTS COVERED BY FORMER USPC CROSS-REFERENCE ART COLLECTIONS [XRACs] AND DIGESTS
    • Y02TECHNOLOGIES OR APPLICATIONS FOR MITIGATION OR ADAPTATION AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
    • Y02ATECHNOLOGIES FOR ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
    • Y02A20/00Water conservation; Efficient water supply; Efficient water use
    • Y02A20/10Relating to general water supply, e.g. municipal or domestic water supply
    • Y02A20/15Leakage reduction or detection in water storage or distribution

Abstract

A one way valve is disclosed. The one way valve includes a housing having a valve seat; a valve stem configured to reciprocate within said housing between an open and a closed position; and optical sensor pair(s) disposed within the housing. Each of the optical sensor pairs has an optical transmitter and an optical detector. The optical transmitter is configured to transmit optical beam(s) across the valve seat. The light beams are detectable by the optical detector when the valve stem is biased in the open position. An automatic fluid flow shut-off system and a method of automatically shutting off fluid flow through a one way valve are also disclosed.

Description

AUTOMATIC FLUID FLOW SHUT-OFF SYSTEM AND METHOD USING

OPTICAL SENSORS

1. TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates generally to automatic fluid flow shut-off systems, and more particularly, to automatic fluid flow shut-off systems using optical sensors.

2. BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

A large water leak in a water supply system, such as a residential water supply system in a residential structure, could result in significant damage and expensive repair bills. Therefore it is desirable to place a limit on the amount of water that can leak from an open valve or from a ruptured pipe. This is especially important for apartment buildings and condominiums, where the water damage can potentially extend down to many units below the one where the leak occurs.

Numerous efforts have been attempted to stop water flow in case of a valve leak. However, prior art solutions often include complex and costly components, which render them unsuitable for domestic use. More specifically, prior art automatic water valve shut- off designs typically require the use of a rotating paddle with either a magnetic or an optical pickup. These designs tend to be expensive because of the special housing and robust bearings that are required for long-term reliable operation.

A need therefore exists to address the valve leakage problem unmet by prior art designs. 3. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Certain features, aspects and examples disclosed herein are directed to one-way valves and automatic fluid flow shut-off systems and methods employing the one-way valves, which may be adapted for applications where fluid flow rate/duration monitoring, and/or automatic fluid leak detection and valve shut off may be required. Additional features, aspects and examples are discussed in more detail herein.

In accordance with a first aspect, an automatic fluid flow shut-off system is disclosed. The system includes a one way valve, an optical sensor pair disposed within said housing, an externally controllable valve in fluid communication with the one way valve, and a control module. The one way valve includes a housing having a valve seat; a valve stem configured to reciprocate within the housing of the one way valve between an open and a closed position; and an optical sensor pair disposed within the housing. The optical sensor pair includes an optical transmitter and an optical detector. The optical transmitter is configured to transmit across the valve seat one or more light beams, which are detectable by the optical detector when the valve stem is biased in the open position. The control module is configured to receive one or more signals from the optical detector

corresponding to the light beams detected by the optical detector. The control module is further configured to cause the externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through the one way valve based on the signals received from the optical detector.

Embodiments of the automatic fluid flow shut-off system of the present invention may include one or more of the following features. In one embodiment, the externally controllable valve may be disposed upstream from the one way valve.

In one embodiment, the externally controllable valve may be integrated with the one way valve within a common housing. The externally controllable valve may be operable to bias the valve stem in the closed position, thereby overriding the operation of the valve stem.

In certain embodiments, the control module may be configured to determine whether the valve stem is in the closed position based on the signals received from the optical detector. The control module may include a timer for registering a time period during which the valve stem is in the open position. The control module may be configured to cause the externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through the one way valve when the time period during which the valve stem is in the open position exceeds a predetermined allowable time period. The control module may be additionally or alternatively configured to cause the externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through the one way valve when a flow rate of a fluid flowing through the valve seat is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable flow rate. The flow rate of the fluid flowing through the valve seat may correspond to an intensity of the light beams transmitted by the optical transmitter that is detected by the optical detector.

In accordance with an additional aspect, a method of automatically shutting off fluid flow through a one way valve is disclosed. The method includes transmitting one or more light beams across a valve seat of the one way valve using an optical transmitter, and detecting the transmitted light beams with an optical detector. The transmitted light beams are detectable by the optical detector when a valve stem of the one way valve, moveable with respect to the valve seat, is biased in an open position away from the valve seat. The method also includes receiving one or more signals from the optical detector in a control module, wherein the signals correspond to the transmitted light beams detected by the optical detector, and operating an externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through the one way valve based on the signals received from said optical detector.

Embodiments of the method of the present invention may include one or more of the following features. In one embodiment, the method may further include registering a time period during which the valve stem is opened in the control module, and operating the externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through the one way valve when the time period exceeds a predetermined allowable time period. In another embodiment, the method may further include determining a flow rate of a fluid flowing through the valve seat using the control module, and operating the externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through the one way valve when the flow rate is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable flow rate. The flow rate of the fluid flowing through the valve seat may correspond to an intensity of the light beams transmitted by the optical transmitter that is detected by the optical detector.

In accordance with a further aspect, a one way valve is disclosed. The one way valve includes a housing having a valve seat, a valve stem configured to reciprocate within the housing of the one way valve between an open position and a closed position, and one or more optical sensor pairs disposed within the housing. Each of the optical sensor pairs has an optical transmitter and an optical detector. The optical transmitter is configured to transmit one or more light beams across the valve seat. The light beams are detectable by the optical detector when said valve stem is biased in said open position.

Further advantages of the invention will become apparent when considering the drawings in conjunction with the detailed description.

4. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention will now be described with reference to the accompanying drawing figures, in which:

FIG. 1 illustrates a schematic view of an automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to an exemplary embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a cut-away view of an integrated shut-off valve assembly according to an exemplary embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 3 illustrates a cross-sectional view of the integrated valve assembly of FIG. 2 cut through the center of the valve in a plane parallel to the drawing sheet.

FIG. 4 illustrates a cross-sectional view of the integrated valve assembly shown in FIG. 2 taken about section line D-D.

FIG. 5 illustrates a flow diagram of a method of automatically controlling fluid flow through a one way shut-off valve according to an embodiment of the invention.

Similar reference numerals refer to corresponding parts throughout the several views of the drawings.

5. DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

FIG. 1 shows a schematic view of an automatic fluid flow shut-off system 100 according to an embodiment of the invention. The system 100 includes an externally controllable valve (e.g. a solenoid-actuated valve 120), a one way valve (e.g. a check valve 130), a control module 150, and at least one optical sensor pair comprising an optical transmitter 140 and an optical detector 142. The optical transmitter 140 is configured to emit one or more light beams detectable by the optical detector 142 when the check valve 130 is opened. Hereinafter the term "light beam" refers to any suitable electromagnetic beam which may be detected by an optical sensor, such as visible, ultraviolent, and infrared light beams, for example. The intensity of light beams detected by the optical detector 142 is indicative of the degree of opening or aperture dimension of the check valve 130, and/or also the flow rate of a fluid flowing through the opened check valve 130 at a given pressure, for example. The control module 150 is configured to control the operation of the solenoid-actuated valve 1 0 based on the light beams detected by the optical detector 142, thereby shutting off fluid flow through the check valve 130 when the check valve 130 is determined to be opened for longer than a predetermined, allowable threshold duration, or when the check valve 130 is open beyond a certain aperture or gap corresponding to a flow rate of a fluid flowing through the check valve 130 exceeds a predetermined allowable flow rate. Therefore, system 100 advantageously allows a fluid leak through the check valve 130 to be detected by a duration or valve opening/flow rate parameter, and to automatically shut off the water flow, thereby reducing any potential damage to a fluid supply system (e.g. water supply system) that may result from otherwise leaving the fluid leak

unaddressed.

Referring to FIG. 1 , the check valve 130 is disposed in line with a upstream 170 flow path of a fluid source, such as water main 110, for permitting the uni-directional, forward flow of a fluid in the direction of the arrow of the flow path 170 from the fluid source, such as water main 110 to a location that demands fluid supply downstream 180, such as a house or an apartment or another fluid using system, for example. The check valve 130 includes a valve seat (not shown) housed therein that defines a valve opening or aperture that can be closed to inhibit (or opened to permit) fluid flow through the check valve 130. Exemplary check valves 130 may include ball check valves, diaphragm check valves, swing check valves, lift-check valves, stop-check valves, duckbill valves, or any other suitable one way valves that permit only forward fluid flow.

The optical transmitter 140 and optical detector 142 are preferably housed within the check valve 130. The optical transmitter 140 is configured to transmit one or more light beams across the opening of the valve seat of the check valve 130 which are in turn detectable by the optical detector 142 when the check valve 130 is opened, or when the opening or aperture in the valve seat of the check valve 130 is opened or unsealed. The optical detector 142 is in turn configured to detect one or more optical properties of the light beams transmitted by the optical transmitter 140. For example, the optical detector 142 may be configured to detect the intensity of the transmitted light beams and produce a corresponding signal (e.g. current and/or voltage signals) for output to the control module 150. Optical transmitters 140 may include any suitable known source of light or other electromagnetic energy, such as light emitting diodes ("LEDs") and laser diodes, for example. Optical detectors 142 may include any suitable known sensors of light or other electromagnetic energy, such as photodiodes, phototransistors, and photoresistors, for example.

The solenoid-actuated valve 120 is in fluid communication with the check valve

130, and in the embodiment as shown in FIG. 1 , is a discrete element from the check valve 130 and disposed upstream therefrom. In another embodiment, the solenoid-actuated valve 120 may be located downstream of the check valve 130. The solenoid-actuated valve 120 is "externally controllable" in the sense that the solenoid-actuated valve 120 may be controllably actuated, preferably electromagnetically and/or electromechanically, by a signal received from the control module 150 to permit or shut off the fluid flow through the solenoid-actuated valve 120, and by extension, to permit or shut off the fluid flow through the check valve 130. In one embodiment, the solenoid-actuated valve 120 operates through means of its solenoid (not shown) converting electrical energy into mechanical energy which, in turn, opens or closes its valve mechanically. Preferably, the solenoid-actuated valve 120 is powered by an alternating current (A/C) supplied by and/or controlled by the control module 150.

In one embodiment, the control module 150 is configured to output signals to the optical transmitter 140 to cause the same to transmit one or more light beams across the opening in the valve seat of the check valve 130, and to receive one or more signals from the optical detector 142 corresponding to the transmitted light beams detected by the optical detector 142. The control module 150 is further configured to shut off the solenoid-actuated valve 120 to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 when water or other fluid is detected to leak through the check valve 130, such as by terminating the flow of an electrical current for powering the solenoid-actuated valve 120. The control module 150 may determine whether a fluid leak is occurring in the check valve 130 with the aid of the optical transmitter 140 and optical detector 142 through one or more methods, including determining whether the period during which the check valve 130 remains opened exceeds a predetermined time period of use (defined as a "first mode"), and whether the flow rate of the fluid flowing through the opened check valve 130 or valve opening or aperture exceeds a predetermined allowable flow rate or dimension (defined as a "second mode"). The functionalities of the control module 150 may be implemented with a computer processing unit ("CPU") such as a microprocessor, for example.

To operate under the first mode, the optical detector 142 may be configured to output a signal (e.g. current) to the control module 150 when the light beams transmitted by the optical transmitter 140 have been detected, thereby indicating that the check valve 150 has been opened at least to some degree. In response, the control module 150 may, through a timer (not shown), begin registering the time period during which the check valve 150 remains opened, and may further determine periodically whether the registered time period exceeds a predetermined time period. The predetermined time period may represent the maximum time usage of continuously running water by a user to perform routine, daily activities in one setting, such as showering. For example, a user downstream from the check valve 130 may determine that his maximum usage of continuously running water in one sitting to be no more than 15 minutes. This predetermined time period may therefore be preconfigured in the control module 150, which in turn operates to shut off the solenoid- actuated valve 120 to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 when the time period during which the check valve 150 remains opened exceeds this 15 minute predetermined time period, thereby suggesting an undesirable water leak exists downstream of the check valve 130.

To operate under the second mode, the optical detector 142 may be configured to detect one or more optical properties of the light beams (e.g. intensity) transmitted by the optical transmitter 140, and to output a corresponding signal (e.g. electrical current and/or voltage) to the control module 150. As the flow rate of a fluid may typically be

proportional to at least one optical property of a light beam (e.g. intensity) passing through an opening or aperture of the check valve 130, the control module 150 may therefore compute a flow rate of the fluid flowing through the check valve 130 at a given pressure based on the intensity of the light beams detected by the optical detector 14 . If the computed flow rate exceeds a predetermined allowable flow rate, the control module 150 is then able to determine that a water leakage downstream of the check valve 130 is occurring, and operable to transmit a signal to shut off the solenoid-actuated valve 120 in order to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130. In one embodiment, the predetermined allowable flow rate may similarly be configured to represent the maximum flow rate of continuously running water by a user to perform routine, daily activities in one setting.

The control module 150 may further include a control input interface (e.g. a dial 152 or other adjustment means) that allows a user to manually input or vary the predetermined allowable flow rate and/or the predetermined allowable time period of water use before triggering an automatic solenoid-actuated valve 120 to shut off fluid flow through the check valve 130. For example, in the embodiment as shown in FIG. 1 where the dial 152 is adapted to allow a user to set a time limit on the water use, the user may rotate the dial 152 to the desired allowable time setting (e.g. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes) in order to input the desired predetermined allowable time period of water use. In an optional embodiment, the dial 152 may include an "OFF" position to allow a user to manually cause the solenoid-actuated valve 120 to be shut off such as by rotating the dial 152 to the "OFF" position.

The control module 150 may additionally include status indicators (e.g. "ON" indicator 156 and "OFF" indicator 158) to allow a user to determine if the solenoid- actuated valve 120 and/or the control module 150 is turned currently on or off. Exemplary status indicators may include visual indicators such as LEDs, incandescent or fluorescent elements, liquid crystal displays, for example; and audio indicators such as audible beeps, for example. In one embodiment, "ON" indicator 156 is a green LED, and "OFF" indicator 158 is a red LED. Illumination of the green LED 156 indicates that the solenoid-actuated valve 120 is opened and fluid flow can commence upon demand, and illumination of the red LED 158 indicates that the solenoid-actuated valve 120 has been shut off. The control module 150 may further include a reset button 154 depressible by a user to allow re- activation of the solenoid-actuated valve 120 to resume fluid flow therethrough after a previous shut off event. Accordingly, upon observing illumination of the red LED 158, a user would realize that the solenoid-actuated valve 1 0 has been shut off, from which he may proceed to examine the check valve 130 and downstream water system to determine any abnormalities and repair any leak if necessary, and subsequently depress the reset button 154 to cause the solenoid-actuated valve 120 to be turned on so fluid flow may resume upon water demand (e.g. turning on a faucet in an apartment) by a user located downstream.

In one embodiment, the control module 150 may further provide water consumption metering based on the computed flow rate of the fluid flowing through the check valve 130, which may be advantageously used for fluid consumption monitoring and/or billing purposes. For example, water consumption of each unit of an apartment downstream from the check valve 130 may be measured, so that water consumption charges for the entire apartment building can be equitably distributed among the occupants of the individual apartment units based on individual unit consumption.

To source electrical power, the control module 150 is connected to a power source

160, such as by connection to household electrical current supply as shown in FIG. 1. In other embodiments however, power source 160 may comprise batteries housed within the control module 150, or another suitable power source.

In one embodiment, the solenoid-actuated valve 120 and check valve 130 are integrated into a single integrated valve assembly 200 within one housing, as best shown in FIGs. 2-4. FIG. 2 shows a cut away view of the integrated valve assembly 200 according to an exemplary embodiment is shown. FIG. 3 shows a cross-sectional view of the integrated valve assembly 200 of FIG. 2 cut through the center of the valve 200 in a plane parallel to the drawing sheet. FIG. 4 shows a cross-sectional view of the integrated valve assembly 200 shown in FIG. 2 taken about section line D-D. Referring now to FIGs. 2 and 3, the integrated valve assembly 200 includes a solenoid-actuated valve and a check valve generally indicated by reference numerals 23 and 24, respectively. The solenoid-actuated valve 23 and the check valve 24 are in communication with each other and both are accommodated within a housing 218. The housing 218 includes an inlet port 216 in fluid communication with an upstream fluid delivery tube 212 and an outlet port 230 in fluid communication with a downstream fluid delivery tube 236. The solenoid-actuated valve 23 generally includes a solenoid can body 219 mounted within the housing 218, a plunger spring 220, a solenoid coil 222, and a solenoid plunger 224. The check valve 24 generally includes a valve stem 210 and a stem spring 228.

The plunger spring 220 and the solenoid plunger 224 of the solenoid-actuated valve

23 are provided within the solenoid can body 210. One end of the plunger spring 220 is mounted to a cap 227 of the solenoid can body 210, and another end of the plunger spring 220 is mounted to the solenoid plunger 224. The plunger spring 220 biases the solenoid plunger 224 towards its closed position indicated by dotted line 21 at which the bottom 225 of the solenoid plunger 224 is sealed against the top 211 of the valve stem 210 of the check valve 24. The solenoid coil 222 is concentrically disposed about the outer surface of the solenoid can body 219, and is electrically connected to a control module 250 (similar to the control module 150 as shown in FIG. 1) through wires 240. The solenoid coil 222 can be selectively energized by the control module 250 to drive the solenoid plunger 224 against the bias of the plunger spring 220, such that the bottom 225 of the solenoid plunger 224 is retracted to its open position as indicated by dotted line 20 and away from the valve stem 210. Accordingly, the solenoid plunger 224 is operable to reciprocate within the solenoid can body 210 between its open position (indicated by dotted line 20) when the solenoid coil 222 is energized and its closed position (indicated by dotted line 21) when the solenoid coil 222 is de-energized.

The valve stem 210 of the check valve 24 is dimensioned to be axially aligned with a center line 22 of the solenoid plunger 224, and is receivable within a recess 226 defined in the solenoid plunger 224. The valve stem 210 is configured to reciprocate within the recess 226. The stem spring 228 of the check valve 24 is mounted to the valve stem 210 and extending along the axis of the valve stem 210. The stem spring 228 biases the valve stem 210 towards its closed position, at which the top of the valve stem 210 is at the location indicated by dotted line 21 and the bottom 213 of the valve stem 210 is sealed against a valve seat 234 of the housing 218, so as to inhibit fluid flow through an opening 214 defined by the valve seat 234. The valve stem 210 may be lifted off and away from the valve seat 234 and towards it open position, such that the valve stem 210 is retracted within the recess 226 and the bottom 213 of the valve stem 210 is moved to the location indicated by dotted line 20. Lifting the valve stem 210 away from the valve seat 234 towards its open position may be accomplished when a pressure differential between a upstream fluid pressure in the upstream tube 212 and a downstream fluid pressure in the downstream tube 236 is greater than the opposing bias of the stem spring 228, thereby permitting a fluid to flow through the unsealed opening 214 in the one-way, downstream direction from the upstream tube 212 to the downstream tube 236.

Referring now to FIGs. 2 and 4, the integrated valve assembly 200 further includes at least one optical sensor pair comprising an optical transmitter 405 (e.g. an LED), similar to optical transmitter 140 as shown in FIG. 1 , and an optical detector 407 (e.g. a

photodiode). The optical transmitter 405 and the optical detector 403 are disposed within a well 406 and a well 404 formed within the housing 218, respectively. The optical transmitter 405 is disposed relative to the valve seat 234 and the optical detector 403 such that one or more light beams generated by the optical transmitter 405 are transmitted across the valve seat 234 and detectable by the optical detector 403 when the check valve 24 is opened, i.e. when the valve stem 210 is in its open position. In the embodiment as shown in FIGs 2 and 4, optical detector 403 is disposed upstream from the optical transmitter 405. In another embodiment, the transmitter 405 may be disposed upstream from the detector 403.

The optical detector 403 is configured to detect one or more optical properties of the light beams transmitted by the optical transmitter 405, similar to the optical transmitter 140 and optical detector 142 as discussed with reference to FIG. 1. For example, the optical detector 403 may be configured to detect the intensity of the transmitted light beams and produce a corresponding signal (e.g. current) for output to the control module 250.

Similar to the control module 150 as shown in FIG. 1 , the control module 250 is configured to output signals to the optical transmitter 405 to cause the same to transmit one or more light beams across the opening 214 of the valve seat 234 of the check valve 24, and to receive one or more signals from the optical detector 405 corresponding to the transmitted light beams detected by the optical detector 405. Similar to the control module 150 as shown in FIG. 1 , the control module 250 is further configured to shut off the solenoid-actuated valve 23 to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 24 when water or other fluid is determined to be unacceptably leaking through the check valve 24, i.e. through the opening 214, such as by terminating the flow of an electrical current for energizing the solenoid coil 222 of the solenoid-actuated valve 23. More specifically, when the solenoid coil 222 is de-energized, the plunger spring 220 biases the solenoid plunger 224 to move downward towards its closed position, such that the bottom 225 of the solenoid plunger 224 moves from the location indicated by arrow 20 to the location indicated by arrow 21. The resulting force exerted by the downward moving solenoid plunger 224 against the top 21 lof the valve stem 210 is greater than the opposing biasing force exerted against the bottom 213 of the valve stem 210 by the forward flow of the fluid in the upstream tube 212 used to lift the valve stem 210 away from the valve seat 234. Accordingly, regardless of the pressure differential between the upstream tube 212 and the downstream tube 236, the shut-off of the solenoid-actuated valve 23 by the control module 250 is effective to override the operation of the check valve 24 such that fluid flow through the opening 214 of the check valve 24 is desirably prevented, such as in case of an undesirable leak downstream of the valve assembly 200.

Similar to the control module 150 as shown in FIG. 1 , the control module 250 may determine whether a fluid leak is occurring through the check valve 24 with the aid of the optical transmitter 405 and optical detector 403 through one or more methods, including determining whether the period during which the check valve 24 remains opened exceeds a predetermined time period of use (defined as a "first mode") , and whether the flow rate of the fluid flowing through the opened check valve 210 exceeds a predetermined allowable flow rate (defined as a "second mode"). The control module 250, and the cooperating optical transmitter 405 and optical detector 403 and may be configured to operate under the first and second modes similar to the that of the corresponding control module 150, optical transmitter 140, and optical detector 142, the descriptions of which are therefore omitted herein for brevity.

Referring to FIG. 4, in an optional embodiment, the integrated valve assembly 200 may further include a second optical sensor pair comprising a second optical transmitter 401 (e.g. an LED) and a second optical detector 407 (e.g. a photodiode) disposed within a well 402 and a well 408 formed within the housing 218, respectively, in order to provide redundancy and/or enhance sensitivity in the detection of water flow/leak in the check valve 24. In the embodiment particularly shown in FIG. 4, the optical detector 407 is disposed diagonally with respect to the cooperating optical transmitter 401 across the valve seat 234 from each other, and the optical transmitter 403 is disposed upstream from the optical detector 401. In an alternative embodiment, optical transmitter 405 may cooperate with optical detector 407 located on the same side of the valve assembly, and optical transmitter 401 may cooperate with optical detector 403, accordingly.

FIG. 5 illustrates a flow diagram of a method 500 of automatically shutting off fluid flow through a one way valve according to an embodiment of the invention. The method 500 may be applied using the exemplary automatic fluid flow shut-off system 100 as shown in FIGs. 1-4. The method 500 begins by transmitting at least one light beam by an optical transmitter (e.g. optical transmitter 140) across a valve seat of the one way valve (e.g. check valve 130) , as indicated at operation 510. Next, the method 500 proceeds to operation 520 to detect the transmitted light beams using an optical detector (e.g. optical detector 142). The transmitted light beam is detectable by the optical detector 142 when a valve stem of the check valve 130, moveable with respect to its valve seat, is biased in an open position away from the valve seat. Following operation 520, the method 500 proceeds to operation 530 to receive, in a control module (e.g. control module 150) , one or more signals from the optical detector 142 corresponding to the transmitted light beams detected by the optical detector 142. The method 500 next proceeds to operate an externally controllable valve (e.g. solenoid-actuated valve 120) to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 based on the signals received from the optical detector 142, as shown at operation 540.

Having generally described the main embodiment of the method 500 of the present invention, specific embodiments of the method 500 are now described. In one

embodiment, the method 500 is operable to shut off fluid flow through the check valve 130 when a time period during which the valve stem of the check valve 130 is opened exceeds a predetermined limit. In such an embodiment, the method 500 further includes registering a time period during which the valve stem is opened in the control module 150, and operating the solenoid-actuated valve 1 0 to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 when the time period exceeds a predetermined time period. As the time period during which the transmitted light beam is detectable by the optical detector 142 may correspond to the period during which the valve stem is opened, the prolonged opening of the check valve 130 beyond a predetermined allowable limit may be indicative of a water leak downstream of the valve 130, and the method 500 may therefore be effective to further shut off the solenoid-actuated valve 120 accordingly.

In another embodiment, the method 500 is performed to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 when a flow rate of a fluid flowing through the check valve 130 exceeds a predetermined allowable limit. In such an embodiment, the method 500 further comprises determining by the control module 150 a flow rate of a fluid flowing through the check valve 130 seat, and operating the solenoid-actuated valve 120 to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 when the flow rate is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable flow rate. As the flow rate of a fluid may typically be proportional to at least one optical property of a light beam (e.g. intensity) passing through an opening or aperture of the check valve 130, the method 500 may therefore proceed to compute the flow rate of the fluid flowing through the check valve 130 at a given fluid pressure using the control module 150 based on the intensity of the light beam detected by the optical detector 142. If the computed flow rate is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable flow rate, indicative of a potential water leakage downstream the check valve 130, the method 500 may further proceed to shut off the solenoid-actuated valve 120 in order to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130.

In a further embodiment, the method 500 is performed to inhibit fluid flow through the check valve 130 when a volume of fluid flowing through the check valve 130 exceeds a predetermined allowable limit for metered consumption, such as a volume of fluid over a particular block of time, such as a day, week or month, for example, which may provide for desirable control or limitation of water consumption. In such an embodiment, control module 150 may further provide a water consumption metering function based on the computed flow rate of the fluid flowing through the check valve 130 (the flow rate of the fluid flowing through the check valve 130 at a given fluid pressure may be calculated using the control module 150 based on the intensity of the light beam detected by the optical detector 142) integrated over the time during which the fluid flow occurs. Such water metering functionality may be used to compute a volume of water consumed or used downstream of the check valve 130, which may be advantageously used for fluid consumption monitoring and/or billing purposes. For example, water consumption of each unit of an apartment downstream from the check valve 130 may be calculated and monitored/recorded using the control module 150, so that water consumption charges for the entire apartment building can be equitably distributed among the occupants of the individual apartment units based on individual unit consumption.

Accordingly, as discussed herein, the check valve and the automatic fluid flow shut off system/method of the present invention may advantageously be used to place a limit on the maximum time that a fluid can flow through the valve, and/or the maximum flow rate at which the fluid can flow through the valve, such that a valve leak or a ruptured pipe downstream of the valve may be detected, and the valve automatically shut off, thereby limiting the amount of damage caused by the leak.

The exemplary embodiments herein described are not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the scope of the invention to the precise forms disclosed. They are chosen and described to explain the principles of the invention and its application and practical use to allow others skilled in the art to comprehend its teachings.

As will be apparent to those skilled in the art in light of the foregoing disclosure, many alterations and modifications are possible in the practice of this invention without departing from the spirit or scope thereof. Accordingly, the scope of the invention is to be construed in accordance with the substance defined by the following claims.

Claims

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1. An automatic fluid flow shut-off system comprising:
a one way valve comprising:
a housing having a valve seat;
a valve stem configured to reciprocate within said housing of said one way valve between an open and a closed position; and
an optical sensor pair disposed within said housing, said optical sensor pair comprising an optical transmitter and an optical detector, said optical transmitter configured to transmit one or more light beams across said valve seat, said light beams detectable by said optical detector when said valve stem is biased in said open position;
an externally controllable valve in fluid communication with said one way valve; and
a control module configured to receive one or more signals from said optical detector corresponding to said light beams detected by said optical detector, said control module further configured to cause said externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve based on said signals received from said optical detector.
2. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 1 , wherein said externally controllable valve is disposed upstream from said one way valve.
3. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 1 , wherein said externally controllable valve is integrated with said one way valve within a common housing.
4. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 3, wherein said externally controllable valve is operable to bias said valve stem in said closed position, thereby overriding the operation of said valve stem.
5. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 1 , wherein said control module is configured to determine whether said valve stem is in said closed position based on said signals received from said optical detector. 6. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 1 , wherein said control module comprises a timer for registering a time period during which said valve stem is in said open position.
7. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 6, wherein said control module is configured to cause said externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve when said time period during which said valve stem is in said open position exceeds a predetermined allowable time period.
8. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 1 , wherein said control module is configured to cause said externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve when a flow rate of a fluid flowing through said valve seat is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable flow rate.
9. The automatic fluid flow shut-off system according to claim 8, wherein said flow rate of said fluid flowing through said valve seat corresponds to an intensity of said light beams transmitted by said optical transmitter that is detected by said optical detector.
10. A method of automatically shutting off fluid flow through a one way valve, comprising:
transmitting one or more light beams across a valve seat of said one way valve using an optical transmitter;
detecting said transmitted light beams with an optical detector, said transmitted light beams detectable by said optical detector when a valve stem of said one way valve, moveable with respect to said valve seat, is biased in an open position away from said valve seat; receiving one or more signals from said optical detector in a control module, said signals corresponding to said transmitted light beams detected by said optical detector; and operating an externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve based on said signals received from said optical detector.
11. The method according to claim 10 further comprising:
registering a time period during which said valve stem is opened in said control module; and
operating said externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve when said time period exceeds a predetermined allowable time period.
1 . The method according to claim 10 further comprising:
determining a flow rate of a fluid flowing through said valve seat using said control module; and
operating said externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve when said flow rate is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable flow rate.
13. The method according to claim 10 further comprising:
determining a volume of fluid flowing through said valve seat over a period of time using said control module; and
recording said volume of fluid flowing through said valve seat to provide a fluid metering function.
14. The method according to claim 13 further comprising:
operating said externally controllable valve to inhibit fluid flow through said one way valve when said volume of fluid is determined to exceed a predetermined allowable fluid volume.
15. The method according to claim 12, wherein said flow rate of of said fluid flowing through said valve seat corresponds to an intensity of said light beams transmitted by said optical transmitter that is detected by said optical detector.
16. A one way valve comprising:
a housing having a valve seat;
a valve stem configured to reciprocate within said housing of said one way valve between an open position and a closed position; and
one or more optical sensor pairs disposed within said housing, each of said optical sensor pairs having an optical transmitter and an optical detector, said optical transmitter configured to transmit one or more light beams across said valve seat, said light beams detectable by said optical detector when said valve stem is biased in said open position.
PCT/CA2012/050185 2011-03-24 2012-03-26 Automatic fluid flow shut-off system and method using optical sensors WO2012126124A1 (en)

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US61/467,117 2011-03-24

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US20150065956A1 (en) * 2013-08-30 2015-03-05 Covidien Lp Systems and methods for monitoring an injection procedure
EP3517813A1 (en) * 2018-01-29 2019-07-31 Airbus Operations Limited Valve apparatus

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US6895130B1 (en) * 2002-02-12 2005-05-17 Tobi Mengle True position sensor for diaphragm valves using reflected light property variation
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US4180088A (en) * 1977-12-05 1979-12-25 Mallett Raymond H Water shutoff system
JPS6069375A (en) * 1983-09-27 1985-04-20 Hazama Gumi Ltd Opening controller for flow regulating valve
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JP2010112412A (en) * 2008-11-05 2010-05-20 Tokyo Gas Co Ltd Shut-off valve with opening and closing determination function

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US20150065956A1 (en) * 2013-08-30 2015-03-05 Covidien Lp Systems and methods for monitoring an injection procedure
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