This invention relates to a dispenser, particularly for the dispensing of one of a plurality of items. The invention is especially relevant to the dispensing of items, especially solid items, particularly non-extrudable solid items, featuring recesses or voids, including annular items. Some embodiments of the invention may be hand-held and used to dispense small annular items, such as certain types of confectionary. Other embodiments, such as those used as part of an industrial process, may be powered (for example electrically) and used to dispense substantially larger objects. Also described are holistically-designed product items for use with the dispenser.
Tube-based dispensers incorporating screw threads and twist actions are known. However, these are usually concerned with the dispensing of extrudable solids, such as lipstick, glue, creams and skincare products. Such dispensers typically comprise a twin-tube mechanism in which the solid material is contained within an inner tube mounted within a surrounding outer tube. This results in a dispenser which may be relatively complicated and therefore both difficult and expensive to manufacture. Further expense results from such dispensers being inefficient - both in terms of the amount of material required for manufacture and in their use of space; only a small proportion of the volume of such dispensers is taken up by their contents.
Weaknesses of existing types of packaging can include:
• Contents within paper, foil or thin plastic/cellophane-type packaging are easily chipped, fractured or broken.
• Awkward extraction of tightly packaged items using fingers, especially for children and the elderly or those with arthritic conditions.
· Unhygienic extraction process.
• Poor aesthetics of part-used packs made of paper, foil or thin plastic-type materials.
• Limited recycling potential of packaging made of more than one material, e.g. paper and foil, or plasticised foil, or plastic with metal springs.
• Especially after opening, contamination of items by moisture or other potential airborne impairments, including dust, bacteria, plus the absorption of foul scents; also the items may themselves contaminate objects external to the dispenser.
Dispensers for confectionary such as Pez and Kraft Lifesavers, the US equivalent of Polo mints, typically use a spring mechanism to raise the products within a tube. Such dispensers suffer from some of the same drawbacks as the twist- action extrudable solids dispensers as well as being difficult to recycle.
The development of confectionary dispensers has recently tended to concentrate almost exclusively on aesthetics. Confectionary dispensers - especially if they are easily-recognisable and have a tactile quality - may, as in the case of the Pez dispensers, in time acquire iconic status, strengthening brand awareness and becoming collectible.
There are however technological drawbacks with present dispensers. Simple tube-like containers or dispensers allow the contents to spill when tilted or inverted. Such dispensers may also allow contamination of the contents, particularly where fingers or hands are inserted to pick and remove an item. They may also fail to provide effective airtight or semi-airtight seals.
There is therefore a need for a new type of dispenser which is distinctive in its operation and also which addresses at least some of the problems with existing dispensers outlined above.
According to an aspect of the invention there is provided a dispenser for dispensing a plurality of items, comprising: a tube, for containing the plurality of items; a threaded shaft, rotatably mounted within the tube; a pusher, for pushing items along the tube, threadably engaged with the shaft; the tube, shaft and pusher being arranged such that rotation of the shaft relative to the tube advances the pusher within the tube; and wherein the dispenser is adapted such that in use the shaft penetrates a recess of an - or the - item (of the plurality of items) to be dispensed.
By arranging the shaft in this way, the dispenser may be made compact and efficient while maintaining precision dispensing.
The term "penetrates" may be understood to refer generally to arrangements wherein the major axis of the shaft is orientated or aligned substantially parallel to, not necessarily co-axial with, the major axis of the item and/or of the recess and positioned such that at least a portion of the shaft falls within the area described by and within the perimeter of the recess. Preferably, the recess comprises a void or a hole.
Preferably, the thread of the shaft is adapted such that a turn of 360° or less of the shaft within the tube advances the pusher by an amount sufficient to result in the dispensing of one of the plurality of items.
By providing such a dispenser, the storing of items and the dispensing of items individually can be achieved efficiently - and, where relevant, hygienically.
The arrangement whereby items are dispensed by means of the advance of a pusher threadably engaged with a shaft may allow for the dispenser to be self- contained and of fixed exterior dimensions.
Preferably, the turn or partial rotation is of less than 10°, 20°, 30°, 45°, 90°, 120°, 180°, 240° or 270°. This may allow for ease of use; the user of a hand-held variant of the dispenser may be able to dispense an item in a single action. Alternatively, larger variants of the dispenser, particular powered variants used in industrial processes to dispense large items may necessitate rotations in excess of 270°, especially if gearing or a re-calibrated thread depth is needed to propel items of substantial mass, or which require a 'finely-tuned' or low-tolerance expulsion from the dispenser.
Preferably, the pusher comprises a thread of complementary pitch or calibration to that of the shaft.
Preferably, the dispenser further comprises means for restraining rotation of the pusher within the tube as the shaft is turned. The means for restraining may comprise a restraining feature of the pusher adapted to interact with a complementary restraining feature of the tube.
Preventing rotation of the pusher may prevent otherwise concomitant rotation of the pusher and the items being dispensed as the shaft is turned.
Preferably, the restraining feature of the pusher comprises at least one fin arranged about the pusher axis. Preferably, the restraining feature of the pusher comprises an arrangement of fins about the pusher axis. . The use of fins may save weight and reduce material use. The arrangement of fins about the pusher axis may be equiangular; an equiangular distribution of fins may reduce the amount of rotation required before the pusher is prevented from rotating further. Alternatively, the arrangement of fins about the pusher axis may be only partially regular (eg. a Y-shape featuring two obtuse and one acute angle), or alternatively entirely irregular.
Preferably, the restraining feature of the tube comprises a longitudinal rail arranged parallel to the axis of and along the inner surface of the tube. The rail may be integral to the tube. Alternatively, the rail may protrude from the wall, for example forming a longitudinal ratchet-like ridge, adapted to prevent movement of the pusher nut in one direction of rotation.
The rail may be a recessed channel within the tube wall, for example adapted to act as a trough-like conduit for one fin of the pusher nut.
Preferably, the dispenser further comprises means for providing rotation feedback to a user of the dispenser. These may be formations located on at least one of the tube, the rail (for example, integral to the rail), shaft or pusher, adapted to interact with adjacent features of at least one of the tube, rail, shaft, pusher or items to be dispensed. The rotation feedback may comprise an audible click. The formations may comprise at least one of: i) bumps or resistance points located between the tube and the spine; and ii) tangs integral to the tube or spine. The rotation feedback may comprise a momentary increase friction/resistance during rotation.
Preferably, the means for providing rotation feedback is calibrated to provide information to a user of the dispenser. The information provided comprises an indication of at least one of: i) the state of dispensing of the product; ii) whether items remain to be dispensed; and iii) whether there is a fault with the dispenser or the dispensing mechanism. The feedback feature may provide the user with information and facilitate a controlled/ measured dispensing action.
Preferably, the dispenser further comprises a plurality of resistance grips - or "tangs" - adapted to provide a resistance force to items being dispensed from the tube. The resistance grips may be adapted to provide a supportive force sufficient to maintain items in the tube irrespective of the orientation of the tube. This may prevent spillage of the items from the dispenser. The resistance grips may comprise resilient flaps, prongs or other form of projecting feature. Generally, the resistance grips may act to control dispensing.
The resistance grips may be located at the dispensing end of the dispenser tube. In some embodiments the resistance grips protrude beyond the end of the dispenser tube and may be adapted to "grab and present" or support at least one item to be dispensed at a position beyond the end of the dispenser tube, for example to present an item to be dispensed for receipt by a user of the dispenser; the resistance grips may be adapted to enable a user of the dispenser to dispense an item without needing to touch a subsequent item to be dispensed.
The resistance grips may be connected to the dispenser tube, preferably being adapted to engage with at least one outer surface, edge, perimeter or circumferential feature of an item to be dispensed. Alternatively, the resistance grips may be connected to the threaded shaft, preferably being adapted to engage with a feature of an item to be dispensed, the feature comprising at least one of: i) the overall shape of the item; ii) an outer surface, edge, perimeter or circumferential feature of the item; iii) a grip-shaped recess or indentation in the surface of the item; and iv) an inner surface, edge, perimeter or circumferential feature of a void or recess of the item.
In other embodiments the resistance grips are recessed within the end of the dispenser tube.
Preferably, the dispenser further comprises a twist grip connected to the threaded shaft. The twist grip may be detachable from the threaded shaft. In some embodiments the twist grip is connected to the threaded shaft by means of one of a snap-fit, screw-fit or locking connection. In other embodiments the twist grip and threaded shaft are integral.
Preferably, the twist grip further comprises a gripping element around its circumference. This gripping element may comprise at least one of a knurled, roughened or angular surface. The twist grip may be representative of the items to be dispensed.
Preferably, the dispenser further comprises a cap adapted to seal the dispensing end of the dispenser tube. The cap may comprise a chuck key adapted to engage with the shaft.
Preferably, the dispenser is adapted to be substantially airtight. This may allow for the storage in the dispenser of items which might otherwise contaminate their surroundings by smell and/or other emissions. This may also allow for the storage of items which might otherwise become contaminated by their surroundings.
Preferably, the shaft has a hollow centre; more preferably, the shaft comprises an open-ended tube. Preferably, at least two of the tube, shaft or pusher are manufactured from the same material. The material may be biodegradable and/or edible.
Preferably, the dispenser is adapted to dispense items of a depth (or height) of less than 10 mm, between 3 mm and 8 mm, preferably between 4 mm and 6 mm, more preferably approximately 5 mm.
Preferably, part of the tube is adapted to allow the fill level of the tube to be determined. Part of the tube may be made of a translucent or transparent material.
Preferably, the items to be dispensed feature recesses or voids, or are annular.
The items to be dispensed may be foodstuffs, preferably confectionary. Alternatively, the items to be dispensed may comprise one or more of: pharmaceuticals (such as tablets), medical supplies (such as bandage rolls), construction materials (such as nuts or washers), and manufacturing assembly components (such as induction coils and ferrite rings).
Preferably, the dispenser is adapted such that the threaded shaft is rotatable by means of a motor. The dispenser may be adapted to connect to a motor external to the dispenser. Alternatively, the motor is integrated into the body of the dispenser. Preferably, the motor is an electric motor.
According to another aspect of the invention there is provided a loaded dispenser comprising: a dispenser as described herein; and a plurality of items to be dispensed; wherein the items are annular and arranged in a stack on the threaded shaft.
According to a further aspect of the invention there is provided a device for loading the dispenser described herein with a plurality of items for dispensing, the device comprising: means for displacing the resistance grips; means for returning the pusher to its starting position on the threaded shaft; and means for loading the plurality of items into the tube.
According to a further aspect of the invention there is provided a dispenser for dispensing a plurality of items, comprising: a threaded shaft; a pusher, for pushing the items, threadably engaged with the shaft; the shaft and pusher being arranged such that relative rotation by 360° or less of the shaft and pusher advances the pusher by an amount sufficient to result in the dispensing of one of the plurality of items.
According to a further aspect of the invention there is provided an item or object to be dispensed, the item or object comprising at least one recess, void or hole adapted for use with a dispenser as herein described. The item may be a foodstuff, a pharmaceutical drug or for use in industry.
Preferably, the item comprises at least one feature adapted to engage with a resistance grip of the dispenser. Preferably, this item comprises at least one of: i) the overall shape of the item; ii) an outer surface, edge, perimeter or circumferential feature of the item; iii) a grip-shaped recess or indentation in the surface of the item; and iv) an inner surface, edge, perimeter or circumferential feature of a void or recess of the item.
Generally, the dispenser is a hand-powered mechanical or larger, powered device for dispensing solid, preferably non-extrudable objects featuring cross- sectional internal voids, and embodiments have some or all of the following features:
• A threaded shaft or spine utilising and occupying the cross-sectional voids of the products being dispensed
· A threaded shaft or spine incorporating a hollow axial tube
• Caps or twist grips or other components designed as analogues of the products being dispensed.
• The dispensing mechanism makes efficient use of product volume by occupying and utilising the void integral to the contents
· The cap and twist grip are shaped to mimic the dispenser's contents (facilitating strong branding)
• Resistance grips control the release of each dispensed item (preventing spillages, improving hygiene and enabling easy removal of each item by the user)
· An integral 'hole' is visible through the central axis of the mechanism (facilitating strong branding)
• A single material is used for all components (enabling easy recycling)
• Airtight or semi-airtight seals are used throughout (ensuring the longevity of perishable goods)
At least of the above features (and others) may be found in larger versions of the dispenser such as may be used in industry. Any of these dispensers may be powered, for example by an electric motor.
Typically, the dispenser offers at least some of the following advantages:
• Ease of use
• Aesthetically pleasing
• 'Smelltight' / substantially or semi-airtight
• Easily recyclable
• Inexpensive to manufacture
The dispenser of some embodiments is ideally suited to solid products featuring cross-sectional voids, for example confectionary such as Rowntree's Polo mints or Kraft or Wrigley's Lifesavers (generally, mint flavoured compressed confectionery); foodstuffs such as baked bagels or ring doughnuts; but also other embodiments may be suitable for dispensing larger (annular or otherwise) items, for example, threaded nuts, washers, induction coils, solenoids and ferrite rings as used in construction or manufacturing, pharmaceuticals (such as tablets), medical supplies (such as bandage rolls) and many other items. Existing product items may also be re-developed (for example, by the incorporation of voids or recesses) for use with embodiments of the described dispenser.
A 'smell-tight' or substantially airtight dispenser as herein described may overcome a disadvantage of, for example, traditional foil-wrappings (as used, for example, for mint packets) - namely that once opened, the contents (eg. mints) may impair the smell and/or flavour of adjacent objects, or may absorb unwanted smells from adjacent objects. Generally, dispensers of the type herein described may prevent (or at least reduce) contamination of items by moisture or other potential airborne impairments, including dust, bacteria, plus the absorption of foul scents; also the items may themselves contaminate objects external to the dispenser.
The dispenser may be tailored and branded for use with particular products, such as Polos, for example by means of variations in colour, component shapes, reliefs, textures or transparency/translucence..
In order to facilitate recycling, reduce waste and to enable efficient packaging, transportation and storage, the following should also be minimised:
• The range of materials used for components (typically a single material may be used)
• Unit mass
• Unit volume
The invention extends to methods and/or apparatus substantially as herein described with reference to the accompanying drawings.
Any apparatus feature as described herein may also be provided as a method feature, and vice versa. As used herein, means plus function features may be expressed alternatively in terms of their corresponding structure.
Any feature in one aspect of the invention may be applied to other aspects of the invention, in any appropriate combination. In particular, method aspects may be applied to apparatus aspects, and vice versa. These and other aspects of the present invention will become apparent from the following exemplary embodiments that are described with reference to the following figures in which:
Figure 1 shows an exterior view of a dispenser;
Figure 2 shows a cutaway view of the dispenser of Figure 1 ;
Figure 3 shows the dispenser in side elevation and cross-section;
Figure 4 shows the cap of the dispenser;
Figure 5 shows the threaded shaft or spine and twist grip of the dispenser;
Figure 6 shows the pusher or pusher nut;
Figure 7 shows detail of the loaded dispenser;
Figure 8 shows the resistance grips; and
Figure 9 shows a further variant of the resistance grips.
Figure 1 shows a dispenser 1 comprising a tube 10 with a sealing cap 20 at one end and a twist-action grip 30 at the other end. The dispenser comprises a central threaded spine 40 which in this embodiment has a hollow core which results in a central void 80 extending along the length of the main or longitudinal axis of the tube 10.
Figure 2 shows a cutaway view of the dispenser; Figure 3 shows the dispenser in side elevation and cross-section. The dispenser typically contains five main components:
• Tube 10
• Cap 20
• Twist grip 30
• Threaded shaft or spine 40
· Pusher or pusher nut 70
A plurality of items 50 are shown loaded in the dispenser. Items 50 are annular and arranged in a stack 51 on the spine 40, resting on the pusher nut 70. In this embodiment, spine 40 is hollow and exhibits a void 80 along its length and thereby through the main axis of dispenser 1.
In a production version of the dispenser 1 , several of the above components are preferably made to have a substantially or semi-airtight (or 'smelltight') fit.
The tube 10 incorporates an external feature (such as a ridge or thread) enabling the user to 'snap' or screw the cap 20 securely into place. Alternatively, the cap 20 may be secured by friction. Once secured, the cap 20 should form a 'smelltight' / substantially or semi-airtight seal.
The lower (or non-dispensing) end of the tube 10 incorporates features to secure the threaded spine 40 during assembly (e.g. a 'snap fit'). - Cap
Figure 4 shows the cap 20 in more detail.
The cap 20 may be designed as an item 'analogue', resembling the object being dispensed e.g. a Polo mint (potentially also featuring the traditional embossed lettering), and may retain the same proportions as those of an actual mint. This analogue also serves as a grip for removing the cap 20 from the tube 10.
The cap 20 uses an external snap-fit or screw-fit to fit to the tube 10. The cap 20 incorporates a hole 25 which mates with the upper end of the threaded spine 40 to create a 'smelltightV semi-airtight seal. This hole 25 is intended to resemble the centre of the item to be dispensed, for example a mint, although its dimensions may not be directly proportional. - Twist grip
Figure 5 shows the twist grip 30 in more detail.
Twist grip 30 is located at the lower (non-dispensing) end of the tube 10 and allows the user of the dispenser 1 to rotate the spine 40 thereby propelling the nut 70 along the spine 40.
This grip 40 resembles one of the tube's contents (e.g. a Polo mint). This item analogue also features a fine grip around its circumference, similar to that on the cap of a plastic drinks bottle. This grip should be clearly visible to the eye because it 'informs' the user which end of the dispenser 1 to grip and rotate (because cap and grip may be similar).
Like the cap, the twist grip also features a hole, which mates with the hole at the base of the threaded spine. This hole is intended to resemble the centre of one of the items being dispensed, although its dimensions will not be directly proportional. There is no requirement for this mating to be 'smelltight' / airtight.
In order to reduce the number of components in the dispenser (from 5 to 4), it would be preferable for the twist grip to be incorporated within the threaded spine component.
- Threaded spine
Figure 5 shows the threaded shaft or spine 40 in more detail. The maximum diameter of the threaded spine 40 must not exceed the minimum internal diameter of the void (or hole) within the item to be dispensed.
In some embodiments, the centre of the spine 40 incorporates a parallel internal tube 80 from base to tip. This feature may pose a significant challenge for some high volume moulding machinery and is not, therefore, incorporated in all dispenser models.
The upper end of the spine 40 mates with the cap 20, providing a semi-airtight (or 'smelltight') fit.
The thread on the spine 40 is calibrated to dispense one item 50 per 120° (degree) rotation clockwise (i.e. one natural twist of the thumb and forefinger). If this calibration is not technically feasible, a 180° or 240° rotation may be adopted (i.e. two twists per dispensed item). Other calibrations may also be used.
In some embodiments, each dispensing rotation of the spine 40 provides tactile feedback to the user by means of a 'click' (which might also be audible).
In order to mate the spine 40 with the tube 10, a feature towards the axial base of the spine 40 should 'snap-fit' into place. This fitting will require a semi-airtight (or 'smelltight') fit in production models.
The very base of the spine 40 has a feature enabling the twist grip 30 to be mated during assembly (e.g. by 'snapping', screwing or locking into place). The twist grip 30 is listed as a separate component, because high volume moulding restrictions may prevent the inclusion of such a feature on the threaded spine component 40.
- Pusher nut
Figure 6 shows the pusher or pusher nut 70 in more detail.
The nut 70 is threaded onto the spine 40 during assembly.
The central void of the nut 70 uses the same calibration of thread as the spine 40.
The nut 70 is prevented from rotating within the tube 40 by the longitudinal rail 100 (see Figure 8), which is integral to the tube's interior wall. A feature on the nut (such as fins 72) abuts or otherwise interacts with the rail in order to prevent rotation. A number of fins 72 are shown arranged equiangularly about the pusher axis.
Rotation of the threaded spine - according to the thread characteristics either clockwise or anticlockwise about its axis - therefore causes the nut to travel towards the dispensing end of the tube, releasing the contents of the tube in a controlled fashion.
The nut occupies valuable internal space within the tube which might otherwise be used to hold the tube contents. Therefore the design of the pusher nut should aim to minimise its longitudinal depth.
- Integral longitudinal 'rail'
Internally, the tube walls feature an integral longitudinal 'rail' 100. This rail prevents rotation of the pusher nut 70 within the tube 10 by interacting with fins 72 on the pusher 70, while guiding the nut 'upwards' (i.e. towards the open end of the tube) during the dispensing process.
- Twist action 'feedback'
In order to improve the sensory experience of using the dispenser, feedback is optionally provided to the user in the form of a (possibly audible) 'click' for each dispensing rotation (or partial rotation) of the twist grip 30.
This tactile feature may be achieved by the addition of formations such as bumps or resistance points at angular intervals corresponding to the dispensing of a single item e.g. at 120° intervals. This may involve rigid bumps or resistance points between the tube 10 and spine 40, to provide a sensory 'bump' or
momentary, tangible increased friction/resistance during rotation. An alternative configuration uses 'tangs' integral to the tube 10 or spine 40 which audibly 'flick' each passing item 50 in the stack 51 as they are dispensed. The feedback mechanism may be calibrated to provide the user with an indication of the state of dispensing of the product. For example, a predetermined number of 'clicks' (or other feedback) may be 'required' for an item to be fully dispensed, different clicks may indicate whether items remain to be dispensed or a fault with the dispensing mechanism.
- 'Resistance grips'
Figure 8 shows the resistance grips 90 in more detail.
The upper/dispensing end of the tube 10 also features three integral 'resistance grips' 90. These control the release of the tube's contents as they emerge. The length and resistance of the grips 90 is determined by their ability to grip each item 50 firmly in the 'dispensing position' (enabling easy removal using the thumb and forefinger, ideally without needing the operator of the dispenser to touch the item - say when offering an item to another party).
The resistance offered by the grips 90 may provide some of the feedback for the dispensing twist action, including, for example, the (possibly audible) 'click' feature in certain configurations. In some embodiments the resistance grips 90 may be sufficiently resilient to support the weight of the entire stack 51 of items 50 in a fully-loaded dispenser 1 even when the dispenser is completely inverted.
Generally, the resistance grips perform the following multiplicity of functions:
• Preventing spillage from partially or wholly inverted dispensers;
• Providing resistance feedback to users and controlling the dispensing action, particularly with low friction components;
• Grabbing and presenting items expelled from the dispenser.
Figure 9 shows a further variant of the resistance grips, wherein resistance grips 90-1 may be seen to be broader and more flexible than those in the preceding embodiment, potentially enhancing their effectiveness. Figure 9(a) shows the pre-dispensing position; Figure 9(b) shows the grips performing their 'grab and present' function.
The resistance grips 90, 90-1 may be curved pieces of flexible plastic, attached to the inner wall of the tube 10. Alternatively, they may be moulded with the tube 10 (possibly via two-shot moulding), or they may be affixed using sonic welding, even glue.
- exemplary dimensions
Clearly the dimensions of the dispenser and its various constituent parts will be largely determined by the item to be dispensed.
For a hand-operated dispenser suitable for dispensing confectionary, for example Polo mints, typical dimensions are as follows:
The dimensions of a single Polo mint are approximately as follows:
The designs of both the cap 20 and twist grip 30 incorporate mint 'analogues'. The size of these analogues should (in some embodiments, could) be directly proportional to the mints dispensed from the tube. Therefore, the ratios to be used in creating the analogues are as follows:
Typically, a production dispenser 1 will be the same length as a standard 23-mint retail pack of Polos, i.e. 1 17 mm, but wider than a standard retail pack (by approximately 4 mm) due to the thickness of the tube 10 walls and the inclusion of internal guide rails 100.
More precise dimensions and tolerances would be used for the exacting design and assembly standards associated with modern high volume manufacturing.
- product to be dispensed
As indicated above, the dispenser and the items to be dispensed may be designed to work together as part of an holistic dispensing solution. In this way, the shaping of the items may be directly related to the design and functionality of the dispenser itself. Generally, the products may be designed to integrate with the dispensing mechanism (e.g. featuring voids, holes or recesses intended to interact in some way with the device).
For example, the items may incorporate a hole, void or recess to facilitate penetration by the threaded shaft. Non-voidal designs may be retrofitted with voids or recesses to enable usage with the dispenser, e.g. the incorporation of voids or recesses in pharmaceutical tablets. This new design may improve upon 'solid' versions of product items as follows: · a penetrable void or recess increases the surface area of a product, enabling quicker solution in liquids;
• an increased surface-area-to-volume ratio also increases heat transfer rates to and from the product (e.g. more rapid cooling or heating of items within the dispenser, or after dispensing).
· where used in industrial applications, the adjacent dispenser components
(threaded shaft or tube wall) could feature heat sources or heat absorption devices (e.g. refrigeration).
The products may also be shaped to facilitate a secure 'grab and present' by the resistance grips, e.g. by means of grip-shaped recesses/indentations in the surface of the product. Variations & modifications
In alternative embodiments, threaded shaft or spine 40 is solid.
Alternatively, the threaded shaft or spine 40 is closed at one or both end ends - or at one or points in between - thereby providing a material saving without necessarily creating a central void 80 extending along the length of the main or longitudinal axis of the tube 10.
In some embodiments, the cap 20 may feature a (preferably axial) 'chuck key'. This could be used in addition to or to entirely eliminate the need for a twist grip 30 at the lower end of the tube 10. Upon removing the cap 20, the user would insert the chuck key of the cap 20 into the hole at the underside of the tube 10, engaging with the shaft 40, and thereby enabling the shaft 40 to be rotated by means of rotating the cap / chuck key - and also providing a housing for the otherwise loose cap 20.
Thus the chuck key solution may enable rotation of the shaft from either end, potentially would avoiding the need for a twist grip because, if the chuck mating was sited at the non-dispensing end of the shaft, the cap would provide the finger grip.
In alternative embodiments, the shaft or spine 40 is not necessarily co-axial with the tube 10, or in some embodiments is adjacent to or forms part of the tube wall. In some embodiments, the dispenser comprises a pusher threadably engaged with a threaded shaft. The dispenser may effectively be 'tubeless'.
Alternatively, the tube may act as the shaft, for example, the thread being along the inner wall of the tube, optionally with rails housed on the spine.
In other variants, the threaded shaft may be hollow and act as the tube.
Various alternative rail arrangements are possible. For example, the rail may be recessed within the tube wall as a trough-like conduit for one fin of the pusher nut. Alternatively, it may protrude from the wall (i.e. in relief). Another form of rail comprises a longitudinal ratchet-like ridge integral to the tube wall, preventing movement of the pusher nut in one direction of rotation (the tube wall being thicker/deeper on one side of the ridge than the other).
The tube may be made of 'biodegradable' material. One or more of the components may be edible.
In some embodiments, the tube (or some other part of the dispenser) is made - at least in part - of translucent or transparent material to allow the fill level of the tube to be determined. For example, the tube wall may comprise a window to allow viewing of the items contained therein. The window may feature numerals to indicate the quantity of items dispensed, or currently remaining in the tube, e.g. a 14-day course of tablets featuring numbers 1 to 14 calibrated to match the remaining items visible within the tube.
The items 50 to be dispensed may have one or more of the following characteristics: items may be of non-circular or irregular shape eg. triangular, hexagonal, irregular polygon
items may be of different shapes
items may be annular or generally have a aperture through which they may be loaded onto the threaded spine
items may have aperture which is non-central or non-axial
items may have an internal thread
items may comprise a recess-type void eg. U-shaped
Generally, the items may feature recesses or voids (through which the threaded shaft passes). They may be annular, but considerable variability and irregularity of shape is feasible, e.g. U-shaped, hexagonal or other equilateral, regular or irregular, partially- or entirely a-symmetrical. This irregularity could apply equally
to the shape of the void/recess and to the external surfaces of the items being dispensed.
Where the items 50 have an internal thread, this may eliminate the need for a pusher nut. The products would travel along the tube when the shaft is rotated (providing some form or rotational restraint is incorporated in their shape/design, e.g. triangular confections in a triangular tube could not rotate and would therefore travel towards the dispensing end of the tube when the shaft is rotated. The tube 10 is shown as having a circular cross-section in the above examples; tubes with a non-circular cross-section may also be used eg. it may be elliptical, hexagonal, trapezoid, irregular or otherwise non-symmetrical.. The pusher nut 70 may in such alternative embodiments also be non-circular and consequently may be prevented from rotating in the tube when the shaft or spine 40 is rotated by means of the twist grip 30 due to direct interaction of the pusher nut with the side walls of the tube, rather than, say, by the interaction of fins located on the pusher nut with a longitudinal 'rail' integral to and located on the inner wall of the tube.
In many of the described embodiments the main purpose of the pusher 70 is to advance a series of independent solid or rigid items 50 along the dispensing tube 10. This allows for a wide variety of alternative pusher forms and pusher/thread arrangements compared to those embodiments for the dispensing of non-rigid and/or continuous product which may require the pusher to also have the characteristics of a container or receptacle to contain or support the product being dispensed.
Alternative embodiments have resistance grips 90 which are wider and/or thicker than those shown in the accompanying figures; the number of resistance grips 90 may differ and/or they may be differently distributed about the axis of tube 10.
The tube-based resistance grips 90 described previously grip the item 50 by its outer features about its (outer) circumference or outer surface. In some alternative embodiments, the resistance grips 90 may (subject to moulding technology capabilities) be located protruding from the end of the rotatable shaft 40. These alternative shaft-based grips would resist or grab the item 50 around
the circumference of its internal void (for example, at the inner surface of the void or recess).
Early prototype designs have been influenced by concerns about the practicalities of loading the dispenser with its contents. The existence of the resistance grips at the open end of the tube may hinder the insertion of solid contents from that direction. Consequently, the assembly and loading of early prototypes have involved first stacking the contents onto the threaded spine. The spine is then inserted within the tube from below (i.e. the non-dispensing end) and clicked into place.
It is currently assumed that the dispenser will be disposed of after the consumption or distribution of its contents. For this reason, recycling and sustainability characteristics (e.g. single material, low mass) have informed the design. However, a re-usable / refillable version of the dispenser is feasible. This would need to be marketed in conjunction with bespoke devices capable of dispensing the products directly into an empty tube (while simultaneously returning the pusher nut to its starting position). In an automated manufacturing environment, it may be assumed that bespoke machinery will be designed to facilitate 'top loading' of the tube, using some method to by-pass the resistance grips. It is therefore assumed that such machinery will eliminate the need for a separate twist grip component due to reconfiguration of the non-dispensing end of the tube and the method of fitting the spine to the tube.
Alternative embodiments may be adapted for dispensing other types of item, such as nuts and washers and other construction materials. Variations may also be adapted for dispensing liquids or powders.
In summary, an aspect of the invention comprises providing a dispenser with resistance grips which provide sensory feedback and grab each dispensed item for presentation to the user.
• In general, the device is a compact and efficient method for dispensing stored, solid objects by mechanical means.
• The items to be dispensed are solids featuring integral, cross-sectional voids or recesses which envelop, either wholly or partly (e.g. U-shaped), a threaded shaft. The threaded shaft penetrates the void or recess throughout the product stack.
• The dispensing of individual items is controlled in part by dispensing grips which perform three functions: i) offering resistance to the rotation of the thread, avoiding a run-away spin or uncontrolled over-rotation of the thread; ii) preventing spillage of contents when inverted; iii) grabbing and presenting the items being dispensed, enabling easy removal.
• The device may feature calibrated tactile/sensory feedback events indicating single dispensing actions.
• Products may be designed specifically to enable dispensing with this type of device, i.e. they may purposely incorporate voids or recesses in order to envelop the threaded shaft; they may also feature surfaces shaped to facilitate a secure 'grab and present' by the resistance grips, e.g. via shallow recesses or indentations.
Key features may include one or more of:
• Device for dispensing solid objects characterised by cross-sectional voids or recesses which envelop, either wholly or in part, a threaded shaft. The threaded shaft penetrates the void or recess throughout the product stack.
• Device featuring 'resistance grips' which perform multiple functions: i) offering resistance to the rotation of the thread, avoiding a run-away spin or uncontrolled over-rotation of the thread; ii) preventing spillage of contents when inverted; iii) grabbing and presenting the items being dispensed, enabling easy removal.
• Device featuring calibrated tactile/sensory feedback events indicating single dispensing actions.
• Dispensed items may be designed specifically to work with this type of device, i.e. they purposely incorporate voids or recesses in order to envelop the threaded shaft; they may also feature surfaces shaped to facilitate a secure 'grab and present' by the resistance grips, e.g. via shallow recesses or indentations.
• Hollow mechanism extending from the cap through the threaded shaft
• Dispenser components, such as cap and base, designed as analogues of the dispenser contents.
It will be understood that the present invention has been described above purely by way of example, and modifications of detail can be made within the scope of the invention.
Each feature disclosed in the description, and (where appropriate) the claims and drawings may be provided independently or in any appropriate combination.
Reference numerals appearing in the claims are by way of illustration only and shall have no limiting effect on the scope of the claims.