Modular vending machine

This invention refers to a modular vending machine, of the type dispensing cold or not cold packaged edible items. The machine is made up of a central module integrating a controller, touch screen interface, cash and/or electronic payment components, Internet connection and dispensed product collection tray, this module being provided with side openings through which the dispensed products access the collection tray from several side modules having superimposed trays with product placement channels. Each channel has a transverse product conveyor belt and an anti-blockage ram. Each module has a single reversible regulated stepper motor. The collection tray of the central module incorporates an electrically locking gate that unlocks only at the time of product collection.

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Description

OBJECT OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a modular vending machine.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Vending machines, i.e. machines that dispense edible or consumable goods chosen by the user after paying, are currently known, having a vertical monolithic constitution integrating both payment means and the product and their dispensing mechanisms, refrigeration if required and electronic control in a cupboard that can be made from support panels.

These machines frequently incorporate frontal glass in order to be able to see and choose the available products.

These machines have several drawbacks among which the following are included:

First, their monolithic constitution does not allow them to be easily adapted to grow in a scaled manner, according to product needs, or to make them for a certain available space. The machine has a certain size and capacity and the surrounding area must be adapted to the machine, being impossible for the opposite to occur.

On the other hand, since the panels forming the cupboard are support panels, the machine is not able to be customized for a specific purveyor. It is necessary to silk-screen print or paint the support panels during assembly, which all the more obstructs changing the customization in the event that the product purveyor changes.

All packaged product vending machines require dispensing mechanism adjustment according to product size. This adjustment in current machines requires the in situ action of a technician, with the subsequent costs and lack of agility.

A technician must also travel, with the subsequent costs, in the event of technical problems.

In the case of refrigerated machines, the vertical format and frequent incorporation of frontal glass to facilitation choosing the product requires the use of more expensive and bulkier refrigerators having a higher consumption. Insulation can furthermore be carried out with plates injected in insulation, with a higher cost.

Finally, these machines incorporate complex dispensing mechanisms with multiple motors.

These drawbacks are corrected with the modular machine of the invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The machine of the invention has an optimal makeup that allows its modular adaptation and scaled growth according to available space and product requirements, in a simple manner and with low energy consumption and maintenance costs.

According to the invention, the machine is made up of different modules that can be reconcilably coupled to one another, with a central-type module integrating a controller or control unit with Internet connection, touch-screen user interface, cash and/or electronic payment components and a dispensed product collection tray which is provided with an electrically lockable gate that can only be unlocked when the product is collected, protecting the rest of the machine from vandalism and from loosing cold air.

Side, top and bottom modules, according to needs, storing products and their dispensing mechanisms, can be usefully coupled on one or both sides of the central module.

Each module is made up of a support frame having welded profiles to which covers and/or doors are interchangeably coupled, which facilitates customizing the machine.

The side modules have superimposed trays with parallel channels for arranging the products. Several channels are arranged on each tray and a single product is arranged in each channel.

Each channel is provided with a conveyor belt and, optionally, an anti-blocking ram, selectably actuated by means of a single motor for the entire module which, through a vertical worm screw, actuates a shaft arranged for each tray, to which gear-toothed belts moving each tray or ram are coupled or decoupled by means of electromechanical actuation clutches.

The arrangement of the channels is parallel to the front of the machine, such that product release is done on a side, adjacent to the central module where there is a flue through which the product falls to a platform located at the same height as the product collection tray of the central module, a side shifter then acting which, through the corresponding opening, positions the product on the collection tray.

When this side shifter is at rest, it closes said opening, protecting the module from vandalism or losing cold air.

When a product is chosen, the tray moves forward a configured number of steps so that the particular product falls through the flue. Sensors are arranged to detect this fall, and if the fall does not occur the controller will order the corresponding ram to act if there is a ram, and/or will order an alternative product supply from the other channel. Should there be no product in another channel or should there be a similar blockage problem, the user will be informed to choose another product or his or her money will be returned.

The falling of the product in the lower modules will be carried out after the platform of a lift drops down, which will collect the product and position it at the height of the side shifter actuation. When the platform of this lift is at rest, it is at the height of this shifter, forming the platform also collecting the products that fall from the top module. If there is no top bottom module, a fixed platform will be arranged for this purpose to replace the platform of the lift.

If the machine is going to supply cooled products, the refrigeration will be implemented in a bottom module, generating a cooled container effect due to the natural accumulation of the cold air in the bottom part that will allow implementing smaller and less expensive refrigerator equipment that consumes less energy. Furthermore since the platform of the lift when it is at rest is raised and closing the flue of the bottom module at the top part, the cold air is preserved even better.

The trays are superimposed in the module and can be frontally extracted so as to facilitate product replacement, having been provided with a retractable, rotating support so that it can support its front overhang or projection.

Finally, and by means of the Internet connection any anomaly or product replacement need can be communicated with a remote control center, and machine operating parameters can even be configured.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIGS. 1, 2, 3 and 4 show views of different configurations of the machine of the invention.

FIG. 5 shows a view of the inside of a top side module of the machine of the invention.

FIG. 6 shows a perspective view of one of the trays of the machine of the invention.

FIG. 7 shows a perspective view of the belt advance mechanism and ram of a channel of a tray of the machine of the invention.

DESCRIPTION OF A PRACTICAL EMBODIMENT OF THE INVENTION

The machine 1 of the invention is made up of a series of usefully reconcilable modules according to product supply needs and/or available space.

Each module is made up of a frame 3 having welded profiles and great rigidity on which the covers 4 and doors 5 are fixed. In this sense the covers and doors do not have supporting ability and can be easily changed in order to customize the machine to different purveyors. The doors are preferably electric doors.

The typical modules are three in number: a top type module 2a, a bottom type module 2b and a central type module 2c.

The modules 2a and 2b store the products to be dispensed. Module 2a is especially designed for non-refrigerated products, while module 2b can either be refrigerated or not. Module 2c is intended for dispensing, payment and interface with the user and remote control center and for this purpose integrates a controller 6, electronic payment components 7, touch screen RFID 7a and Internet connection by means of which, among other functions, payment card credit is checked and all the sales are stored for central processing.

Since module 2b is located at the bottom and is susceptible to incorporating a gate or small door in its product dispensing or release opening, is very suitable for cooled products, creating a cooled container or bin since it is the top product release. Considerable energy savings is thus achieved due to the natural accumulation of the bottom cool air since the gate only opens at the precise time of product release, minimizing the loss of cool air. As a result the machine may have much smaller and more economical cooling equipment 9 that is less bulky than other vertical format refrigerated vending machines, and more so if the machines incorporate glass for choosing the product.

In the case of choosing a cooled bottom module, insulation is carried out based on insulating panels, not shown, and not by plate pieces injected with polyurethane as in current machines, with the subsequent cost savings.

The product is arranged in trays 10 with transverse channels 11 inside modules 2a and 2b, its side release being towards a fall flue 11a. Each channel is provided with a motorized belt 12 for this purpose, a ram 13 cooperating if an anomaly in dispensing is detected.

The operation of all the mechanisms in the same module (belts, rams) is produced by a single regulated stepper motor, not shown, with reversible advance control, such that the implementation of micros or run stops in the trays is not required.

The motor is provided with a vertical worm screw transmission, for example, not shown, which is coupled to the end pinion 15 of a shaft 16 provided for each tray, and to which shaft the belts or rams of the different channels are selectably coupled by means of electrically operated clutches 17.

When the dispensing of a product is selected, the worm screw actuates all the shafts which, when they operate with no load, do not create a significant mechanical output, only clutching the belt of one channel storing the requested product due to the electrical operation of the clutch controlled by the control unit. The belt advances the programmed number of steps for the product to fall through the flue 11a of the module. This fall is detected by preferably optical sensors 18, there being one per tray. Should this fall not be detected, the corresponding ram 13 will be clutched, which will produce a small thrust or oscillation until the product falls. Should this not occur either when the ram is actuated, the machine will attempt to supply the product form another channel if it is available and will send an anomaly notice by means of Internet. If it is finally not able to supply the product from another channel either, it will inform the user to choose another product or it will return his or her money.

The product falls through the flue until reaching a platform 18a at the height of a dispensing tray 19 provided in module 2c, then a side shifter 20 acts which, when at rest blocks the opening 21 communicating with the tray 19, and will place the product thereon, such that the user can collect it with his or her hand by opening a small gate 22, provided with an electrical closure that will only open precisely for manual collection of the product. The collection height is ideally located at about 90 cm with respect to the ground.

Should it be required, the machine can implement the cooling unit 9 which is located under the module 2c, which standardizes the design of the side modules and allows increasing their useful volume.

Given that the height at which the collection tray is located is higher than that of the trays and channels of the bottom side modules 2b, a lift 23 operates in the flue of the latter which goes down before the expected falling of the product, collecting it and raising it to the height of the collection tray where, as previously stated, the side shifter 20 will act. In the case that the bottom module is refrigerated, this lift acts as a small door when at rest blocking the opening 24 of the module through where the product exits, preserving the cool air inside.

The product placement trays are superimposed inside the modules so that, in order to facilitate product replacement, they can be frontally extracted through guides, not shown, providing a third front support to their projection by means of a retractable rotating support 25.

Finally, the front of each module of the machine is made up of a methacrylate plate where recesses 26 are made for the interchangeable placement of photographs with the contained products. It is therefore not necessary to place glass, which would cause the loss of cold air, at the same time providing the machine with a more pleasant appearance.

Having sufficiently described the nature of the invention as well as a manner of carrying it out to practice, it is stated that the arrangements previously indicated and shown in the attached drawings are susceptible to modifications in detail as long as they do not alter the main principle.

Claims

1. A modular vending machine, of the type that dispense cold or not cold packaged edible items, characterized in that it is made up of a central module integrating a controller, a touch screen interface, cash and/or electronic payment components, Internet connection and dispensed product collection tray, this module being provided with side openings through which the dispensed products access the tray from different top and/or bottom side modules fixed to the central module in a modular and versatile manner; the side modules have superimposed trays provided with product placement channels, a flue being defined on the side adjacent to the central module for the falling of the product to an adjacent platform at the same height as the central module collection tray, where a side shifter acts which places the product on said tray, and which when in the rest position laterally closes the collection tray; each channel is provided with a transverse conveyor belt taking the products to the flue, and an anti-blockage ram; each module is provided with a single reversible regulated stepper motor for operating the belts and rams, the movement of which in predetermined steps according to the size of the product to be dispensed is transmitted by means of a transmission for the movement of a shaft provided for each tray, to which geared belts are mechanically and selectively coupled which actuate the corresponding belts and rams; the corresponding ram acts if sensors arranged in the product fall area do not detect the falling of the product when the belt advances the expected number of steps; the collection tray of the central module incorporates an electrically locking gate which is unlocked only at the time of product collection.

2. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that each module is made up of a support frame carried out in welded profiles and to which customized covers and/or doors are flexibly and interchangeably fixed.

3. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that the different modules are fixed together by means of bolts.

4. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that the trays can be frontally extracted in order to facilitate product replacement, a third front support having been provided for its projection by means of a retractable rotating support.

5. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that each bottom side module is provided with a lift operating in its flue and collecting the dispensed product to raise it up to the level of the collection tray and be pushed and placed on the tray by the side shifter.

6. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that the bottom side module optionally incorporates insulating panels making up a refrigerated container, and an automatic closure being provided in the opening for communicating its flue with the rest of the machine.

7. A machine according to claims 1, 5 and 6, characterized in that the lift is made up of the closure of the container since it positions itself at the height of the collection tray when at rest.

8. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that each tray has a single sensor for detecting product release as the tray advances the expected number of steps.

9. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that each module at its front closure is provided with a transparent panel with cavities intended for interchangeably receiving images of the contained products.

10. A machine according to claim 1, characterized in that the operating parameters, such as prices and advance of the steps of the motor for certain products, are updated through the Internet connection, and failure or replacement notices are also sent to a remote monitoring center.

Patent History

Publication number: 20060042193
Type: Application
Filed: Aug 22, 2005
Publication Date: Mar 2, 2006
Applicant: Desarrollo y Servicios de Vending de Navarra, S.L., a Spanish Limited Liability Company (Navarra)
Inventor: Pedro Elustondo (Navarra)
Application Number: 11/208,946

Classifications

Current U.S. Class: 53/442.000; 53/557.000
International Classification: B65B 53/02 (20060101);