Dispensing Apparatus and Method for Semi-Solid Product
Dispensing apparatus is primarily intended for dispensing product from product containers by extrusion. In controlling discharge of product a flexible tube is connected to the container outlet and the tube is engageable with drive means for deforming the tube and controlling product discharged along the tube to an outlet nozzle. Usually there will be valves towards the entry and exit of the flexible tube and the drive means engages the tube between the spaced positions.
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This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/683,116, filed Jan. 6, 2010, pending; which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/479,894, filed Apr. 14, 2005, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,665,630; which is the U.S. national phase of International Application No. PCT/GB02/02772 filed Jun. 17, 2002 which designated the U.S. and claims priority to Great Britain Patent Application No. 0114685.1 filed Jun. 15, 2001, the entire contents of each of which are hereby incorporated by reference.STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT
(NOT APPLICABLE)BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates to a method and apparatus for dispensing products from containers, in particular the dispensing of products by extrusion, the product having a consistency suited to extrusion.
It has been proposed to dispense food products, such as ice cream, from containers by extrusion and several kinds of containers have been proposed for this purpose including a large multi-portion container and containers which are suited to dispensing a single portion of product.
In dispensing product from multi-portion containers, problems have arisen in arranging for portions to be dispensed without manual intervention, that is the delivery of portions has usually had to be achieved by manual operation of a valve.BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
An object of the invention is to provide a dispensing system and method in which the dispensing of portions may be more easily controlled and, if necessary, without manual operation of the outlet valve.
According to one aspect, the invention provides a method of dispensing semi-solid product by extrusion wherein a container of product is pressurised to cause the product to be discharged by extrusion through an outlet from the container into a flexible tube, controlling the flow of product from the outlet through the tube to an outlet nozzle and drive means for causing the flexible tube to be compressed to express product from the tube towards the nozzle.
Preferably the flow of product is controlled by a first inlet valve between the container outlet and the flexible tube and a second outlet valve between the flexible tube and the nozzle.
The first valve may be opened to admit product into the tube with the second valve closed, the first valve may then be closed and the second valve opened, and then the drive means may then be operated to compress the tube and express product in the tube through said nozzle which is located downstream of the second valve.
Conveniently, operation of the drive means is controlled to express a predetermined portion of the product in the tube through the nozzle, the size of the portion ranging between all said product in the tube and a proportion of said product.
The drive means may include tube engagement means which is moveable reciprocally towards and away from tube to compress the tube.
Preferably the first and second valves are spaced apart along the tube to open and close the tube by reciprocal movement to engage, deform and close the tube at said spaced positions.
The container outlet may be releasably connected to the tube, which tube extends downwards towards the outlet nozzle which is shaped to shape product discharged therethrough and which may be releasably attached to the tube.
In one arrangement the drive means include tube engagement means moveable along the tube towards the outlet nozzle to discharge the tube contents.
The tube engagement means may include a roller which engages the tube at one end thereof and moves towards the outlet nozzle after said engagement.
The flow of product from the container may be controlled by an outlet valve between the tube and the nozzle, and by the drive means. Preferably the container and flexible tube are contained within a refrigerated environment, the nozzle projecting outwards from said environment.
According to another feature of the invention there is provided apparatus for dispensing semi-solid product, comprising a container of product, the container having an outlet, pressurising means for putting product in the container under pressure to thereby extrude product from the outlet, flexible tube means communicating with the outlet at one end and with an outlet nozzle at the other end, drive means for engaging the flexible tube to deform the tube and cause product in the tube to be discharged through said nozzle, and valve means for controlling the flow of product from the nozzle.
Preferably, the valve means includes a valve adjacent the nozzle, which valve controls the flow of product from the tube to the nozzle.
The valve means may include a further valve between the container outlet and the tube to control flow of product to the tube.
The drive means conveniently includes a reciprocal drive member arranged to engage the flexible tube to deform and flatten the tube whereby to cause product in the tube to be discharged from said nozzle.
In one arrangement the reciprocal member is moveable along the tube towards said nozzle after engaging the tube.
The container outlet and the flexible tube may be releasably connected to one another, and the tube is removable from the apparatus for replacement and/or sanitising.
Preferably the container and the flexible tube are located in a refrigerated housing whereby to keep product frozen, the nozzle projecting outwardly from the housing.
Further features of the invention will appear from the following description of an embodiment of the invention given by way of example only and with reference to the drawings, in which:
Referring to the drawings and firstly to
The container 12 is formed with a base portion 14 and a closure 15 which has an upwardly directed deformable portion which, during dispensing of product from within the container, is deformed by being inverted until it adopts the contours of the inner surface of the base 14 by which time the container contents are fully discharged. In this case, the outlet on the container is formed with a nozzle 39 which tapers inwardly away from the container 12. The closure 15 is usually located over the base 14 when the base has been filled with product to thereby seal the container, the closure 15 fitting over the upper edges of the base 14.
The base 14 and closure 15 are preferably heat-sealed to one another when filled. In some cases the container 12 is formed as a sealed assembly before product is introduced into the container in which case the container is filled through the nozzle 39. Heat sealing prevents re-use of the container.
The container 12 is located on the seating 14 which has an opening in its base through which the nozzle 39 is directed. There is also provided an abutment plate 18 to resist the pressure exerted on the container during dispensing. Dispensing is caused by a drive arrangement 20 which consists of a plunger 21 mounted on a rod 22 and driven by a linear drive arrangement 23, the linear drive arrangement usually taking the form of an electric motor, rotation of which is converted into a linear reciprocating movement of the plunger 21. The drive arrangement is mounted on the housing pivotable about a pivot axis 24.
The plunger 21 is arranged to engage the deformable portion of the container 12 whereby to deform that portion downwardly towards the base 14 and thereby discharging, by extrusion, ice cream from the container through the nozzle 39, which has a smaller cross-section than the container.
The nozzle 39 is releasably, sealingly connected to a flexible tube 25 which extends downward from the outlet nozzle 39 and the tube 25 is integral with or connected to a discharge nozzle 26 at its opposite end.
The tube 25 is sufficiently flexible to be deformed so that it is substantially flat with one inner side wall of the tube engaging the opposite side wall. Alternatively, the tube 25 is deformable so that the tube retains a part circular shape over the portion into which the other portion deforms, the tube being supported by a part circular support.
Associated with the flexible tube 25 are upper and lower valves 27 and 28. The valves 27 and 28 are reciprocally moveable towards and away from the tube 25 whereby to pinch the tube and act to prevent product from passing along the tube beyond the associated valve. For this purpose the head of the valve is formed with a tapered end which extends across the width of the tube 25, in each case. Alternatively the heads of the valves are shaped according to the shape of the tube support.
In addition to the valves 27 and 28 there is provided a reciprocally moveable tube discharge plate 29 comprising a flat plate which is arranged to engage the tube 25 and cause the contents to pass downwardly and out of the nozzle 26 when the valve 28 is open. Alternatively, the plate 29 is formed with a portion engaging the tube which is shaped according to the shape of the tube support, for example, part circular.
The valve 28 has drive means 30 to move the valve backwards and forwards between a closed and an open position. Similarly the valve 27 has drive means 31 which causes movement of the valve head towards and away from the tube 25. As illustrated in
There will now be described the sequence by which discharge of containers 12 is achieved with particular reference to
The valve 27 is now closed to restrict further passage of product into the tube 25 and valve 28 is opened. When the valve 27 has closed the upper end of the tube 25, the discharge member 29 begins to engage the tube 25, as shown in
More particularly the apparatus may be arranged to dispense any preselected amount of product between complete discharge of the tube and minimum discharge. The user may be able to select the amount dispensed by the use of controls or buttons on the apparatus, for example, for 120 ml, 180 ml or 250 ml, or by the amount of payment made by, for example, coin or note insertion, credit card or the like and one payment may enable several portions of different sizes to be dispensed. The control on the apparatus may include audible information to the user, for example, by electronic voice information. The preselected amounts to be dispensed are transmitted to the dispensing means which moves to dispense the selected amounts.
After the required amount has been discharged from the tube 25, the valve 28 is moved to a closed position, as shown in
In determining the quantity discharged, account is taken of a small quantity discharged by operation of the valves.
It is usually not desirable for product in the container 12 to be pressurised for extended periods when not in use as this can affect the quality of the product in the container. Accordingly, control means may be provided to automatically back off the plunger 21 from the container after a predetermined lapse of time since the apparatus was last operated. Backing off may move the plunger back a small distance from the container.
It will be appreciated that the drive 23 for the plunger 21 operates at a fixed speed which permits ready control of dispensing quantities from the container 12 by time and/or distance.
As shown in
Product discharging from the nozzle 26 is directed downwardly so that the product descends under gravity into the receptacle and there is provided a drip tray 36 to receive any product falling from the nozzle 26, there being defined a recess 37 in which the receptacle is held by the operator.
The container 12 is formed with a tapering nozzle 39 which defines the outlet from the container 12 and the nozzle is arranged to sealingly engage into the upper end of the tube 25, the tube 25 being readily releasable from the nozzle 39 for replacement and/or cleaning. The member 29 is conveniently attachable to the side of the tube 25 which it engages. After a dispensing action the member 29 may be moved rearwards drawing the tube with it which acts to draw back into the tube product which is below the member 29 and in the nozzle 26.
In order to readily release the tube 25 and associated nozzle for cleaning or replacement, the abutment plate 35 may be hinged to move it out of the way and access through a door into the housing permits removal of the tube, preferably without the use of tools. The tube 25 may be washable or may be replaced.
Referring now to
Thus as member 29 moves to pressurise the tube 25 the valve 28 moves rearwards to permit passage of product to the nozzle 26. A reverse movement has the opposite action and the valve 28 closes the bottom end of the tube 25.
In the arrangement of
It will be appreciated that the nozzle 26 is shaped to shape product being discharged, usually in a star shape to give an attractive appearance to the product.
It will also be appreciated that with the use of the roller arrangement 40, the roller can pass along the tube a predetermined amount to discharge a predetermined quantity of the product which may be less than the total product contained within the tube 25. After the roller 40 has moved a predetermined amount, the valve 28 is closed to prevent further discharge. The full sequence of emptying the tube 25 is shown in
The tube 25 may have at each end flanges 25A by which the ends of the tube are located and locked in the apparatus. The nozzle 26 is arranged to be slideable into the housing and the abutment plate 35 is hinged so that upon opening the front door of the housing 10 and moving the plate away, the nozzle is removeable.
Instead of the tube 25 being engageable with the plate 35 it may be locatable inside a rigid housing and may be made fixed to the housing so that the tube is removeable for cleaning. It may also be arranged that the tube 25, nozzle 26 and plate 35 are integral and removeable as a unit and made of material suitable for sanitising, such as steel or plastics.
The container 12 may be located on a support which, when the plunger is moved upwards clear of the container, is slideable forwards on guides (not shown) to access the container support and replace the container in its support. Alternatively the support 13 for the container 12 may be hinged to allow the support to be pivoted forwards to remove and replace the container with support 13.
Turning now to
The cylinder 52 is pivotable about a pivot 60 by operation of a drive 62 which moves the end of the cylinder remote from the outlet up and down whereby to expose the container 50 (
Referring now to
Other shapes of container can also be employed, for example, rectangular with radiused corners.
The container of
Sauces or other additional product can be dispensed at the outlet area, for example, using a liquid pump, with the possibility of a different sauce for each outlet.
Referring now to
In the arrangement with one discharge path there is provided a three way manifold valve 69 by which supply may be switched from one or other of the containers 12, when one becomes empty, and the operation may be automatic. The front of the housing 10 is provided with doors 68 one for each side of the housing to access one or other of the individual dispensers. Dispensing may continue when the container at one side is being changed. A central division is provided between the two dispensers to prevent access to the working parts of the operational dispenser during refilling.
Referring now to
Referring now to
Referring now to
Thus, on extension of the drive 82 in one direction with a force sufficient to exceed a predetermined pressure, the spring 85 will compress and cause the switch 90 to be operated. In the other direction, the spring 86 will be compressed and cause the switch 89 to be operated. This arrangement is for particular application to the apparatus of
Referring now to
The overload arrangement functions to tell the operator when a container has emptied or when product within the container is too hard to be discharged. It can be confirmed whether the container is empty by linking the signal to the main drive to determine ‘empty’ as opposed to ‘too hard’. A light signal can then be used as an indication.
Instead of using linear or mechanical drives for the discharge of the container contents and operation of the valve and tube discharge other drive means may be employed, for example, pneumatically hydraulically on other drive media. The use of linear drives which operate at constant speeds enables the apparatus to be controlled by the position of the moveable terms and in accordance with the time for which the drives have been operating which eases the control of the apparatus. However, proximity switches can be used to detect when various operations can be performed.
The housing 10 is refrigerated to retain product in the container at the desired dispensing temperature. However if containers are stored in the housing and introduced at lower than dispensing temperature this will have the effect of lowering the temperature in the housing. Accordingly, the housing may have heater means as well as cooling means to heat up the internal space as well as to keep the product and the air within the housing at the required low temperature. Alternatively stored containers may be held in a compartment separate from the main body of the housing in which compartment heating can take place to raise the temperature of the product to a dispensing temperature. It is also helpful to have ventilation/circulating air within the housing. It may also be helpful to be able to select the temperature within the housing or part thereof according to the product to be dispensed when different products have different dispensing temperatures.
While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiments, but on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.
1. A method of dispensing semi solid product by extrusion, the method including the steps of pressurising a multi-portion container of product to be dispensed to cause product to be discharged by extrusion through an outlet of the container, wherein an outlet valve is operable to control a flow of product from the container, so that, when open, the valve permits discharge of product through a nozzle and, when closed, the valve prevents discharge of product from the container.
2. A method according to claim 1, the method including the steps of providing a multi-portion container of ice cream, the container having an outlet, mounting the container in a dispensing apparatus, pressurising the container to express product from the container by extrusion via the outlet, and dispensing a portion of said ice cream, wherein the method includes the further step of controlling the time the outlet valve is operated thereby controlling the amount of product dispensed.
3. A method according to claim 2 wherein the user makes a preselection of the amount of product to be dispensed and the outlet valve is controlled accordingly.
4. A method according to claim 2 wherein a preselected amount of product is dispensed from the container dependent upon an amount of payment made to the apparatus.
5. A method according to claim 4 wherein the payment is made to the apparatus by one or more of coin or note insertion, credit card or like payment means.
6. A method according to claim 3 wherein a preselected amount of product is dispensed from the container dependent upon an amount of payment made to the apparatus.
7. A method according to claim 6 wherein the payment is made to the apparatus by one or more of coin or note insertion, credit card or like payment means.
8. A method according to claim 1 wherein the valve controls the flow from the container on an off/on basis.
9. A method according to claim 8 wherein the time the valve is operated is controlled, thereby controlling the amount of product dispensed.
10. A method according to claim 1 wherein the amount of product dispensed is controlled by preselection.
11. A method according to claim 1 wherein the container is mounted in a dispensing apparatus and the user selects the amount of product to be dispensed by the use of controls or buttons on the apparatus.
12. A method according to claim 1 wherein the container is mounted in a dispensing apparatus and the user selects the amount of product to be dispensed by an amount of payment made to the apparatus.
13. A method according to claim 11 wherein the payment is made to the apparatus by one or more of coin or note insertion, credit card or like payment means.
14. A method according to claim 13 wherein one payment enables several portions of different sizes to be dispensed.
15. A method according to claim 1 wherein the product is expressed from the container into a flexible or deformable tube, and the outlet valve is operable to control the flow of product from the outlet of the container through the tube to an outlet nozzle.
16. A method according to claim 15 wherein the container and the flexible tube are contained within a refrigerated environment, the nozzle projecting outwards from said environment.
17. A method according to claim 15 wherein the tube is integral or connected to the nozzle.
18. A method according to claim 15 wherein the tube is releasably, sealingly connected to the container outlet.
19. A method according to claim 1 wherein the semi-solid product is ice cream.
20. Apparatus for dispensing semi solid product, the apparatus including a container of product to be dispensed, means to cause product to be discharged by extrusion through an outlet of the container, and an outlet valve operable to control the flow of product from the container, so that, when open, the valve permits discharge of product and, when closed, the valve prevents discharge of product, the apparatus including means to control the time the valve is operated thereby controlling the amount of product dispensed, and further including preselection means, by means of which a user is able to select the amount of product to be dispensed.
21. Apparatus according to claim 20 wherein the preselection means comprises means for receiving a payment made to the apparatus.
22. Apparatus according to claim 21 wherein the means for receiving a payment made to the apparatus includes one or more of coin or note insertion, credit card or the like.
23. Apparatus according to claim 20 wherein the preselection means comprises controls or buttons on the apparatus.