PatentDe  


Dokumentenidentifikation EP0759854 19.12.2002
EP-Veröffentlichungsnummer 0759854
Titel AUTOMATISCHE GRAVIERVORRICHTUNG UND VERFAHREN
Anmelder Quick-Tag, Inc., Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., US
Erfinder GOLDMAN, E., Mark, San Rafael, US;
AUBERT, A., Michel, San Rafael, US;
SHENDEROVICH, M., Alexander, San Francisco, US;
ACHARYA, R., Jagat, Livermore, US
Vertreter derzeit kein Vertreter bestellt
DE-Aktenzeichen 69528826
Vertragsstaaten AT, BE, CH, DE, DK, ES, FR, GB, GR, IE, IT, LI, LU, MC, NL, PT, SE
Sprache des Dokument EN
EP-Anmeldetag 12.05.1995
EP-Aktenzeichen 959198052
WO-Anmeldetag 12.05.1995
PCT-Aktenzeichen PCT/US95/05928
WO-Veröffentlichungsnummer 0095031342
WO-Veröffentlichungsdatum 23.11.1995
EP-Offenlegungsdatum 05.03.1997
EP date of grant 13.11.2002
Veröffentlichungstag im Patentblatt 19.12.2002
IPC-Hauptklasse B43L 13/00
IPC-Nebenklasse B65G 59/00   B65G 1/07   G05B 19/4097   

Beschreibung[en]

The present invention relates to the field of engraving methods and devices and, particularly, to an automated apparatus and method for performing engraving functions.

Many single engraving applications have been hampered by the need for and general lack of skilled engraving machine operators. Prior to 1980 and the advent of computerised engraving machines this was even more pronounced because many of the skills required to use a manual engraving machine involved manual dexterity. Computerised engraving machines, such as those described in US Patent Nos. 4,437,150 , 4,439,834, and 4,561,814, each to Dahlgren, Jr. et al, eliminated or simplified many of the thought processes associated with engraving. A number of these early machines also simplified much of the material handling aspects of the trade as well.

From that time until now little has changed. For a wide variety of applications the computerised engraving machine is still, by far, the best solution. However, relatively skilled operators are still required to deal with many aspects of the engraving process, such as material selection, cutting tool selection, layout details, workpiece fixturing and cutting speeds and feeds. The present challenge is to limit or eliminate the high skill levels usually associated with engraving so that the process becomes practical for more and more businesses or users.

WO 93/20522 describes an engraving system in which a number of customer or shop terminals can communicate through a telephone system with a display station which, from a scanner, can transmit to the customer or shop terminals display data relating to articles which can be engraved. The system includes an engraving station which has control units for utilising signals, transmitted by the customer or shop terminals, as engraving signals for controlling the engraving of an article located in an engraving machine at the engraving station.

According to the present invention there is provided an automated engraving system as defined hereinafter by claim 1, to which reference should now be made.

A preferred embodiment of the invention provides a combination of an automatic three axis engraving system and an automatic material handling system and interfaces them with a user friendly font end software system thereby supplanting the need for a skilled operator to produce an engraved workpiece.

The front end software system receives user-supplied selections of indicia (i.e. the text, designs, pictures etc. to be engraved onto the workpiece) and workpiece type, and a controller uses the user-supplied information to manage the physical operation of the engraving system. The controller performs three general functions: (1) workpiece handling, or the movement of a workpiece of the selected type into an engraving location and dispensing the workpiece to the user following engraving; (2) X-, Y-, and Z-axis engraving tool movement, which includes movement of the engraving tool as needed to engrave the text or other indicia onto the workpiece (by X- and Y- axis movement) and adjustment of engraving tool pressure on the workpiece (Z-axis adjustment); and (3) accessory dispensing, which is the selection and dispensing of an accessory corresponding to the selected workpiece.

The workpiece handling system is preferably a stepper motor driven system which moves the workpiece from a self actuated delivery location, transports it to an engraving location where it is automatically clamped in place, and then releases the workpiece into an exit chute after engraving is complete. Workpieces are stacked vertically and stored in a plurality of columns, with each column storing a different type of workpiece.

Each column is equipped with a spring-driven positive feed mechanism which pushes the stack of workpieces vertically upwards such that the top workpiece in the stack is pushed into a relief formed in the bottom surface of a clamping/transport plate. The relief is shaped, within close tolerances, to match the shape of the workpiece. Uniform workpiece movement within the columns is assured by maintaining the spring within a substantially linear operating range and preventing the spring from binding.

At the start of the engraving operation, the clamping/transport plate corresponding to the selected workpiece is engaged by the workpiece handling system and advanced until the workpiece captured in its relief is positioned over upwardly biased rollers. The rollers positively clamp the workpiece inside the relief and also facilitate travel of the clamping/transport plate.

A cutout is formed in the top of the clamping/transport device which provides a window through which the engraving tool may engrave the workpiece. After the workpiece is engraved, the workpiece handling system advances the clamping/transport plate to a dispensing location, wherein the workpiece drops from the relief in the clamping/transport plate and into a dispensing chute.

A stepper motor driven, three axis engraving unit is moveable between the engraving locations associated with each column. The engraving unit is preferably provided with a spring loaded diamond top for drag (or scratch) engraving of materials. Stroke width, which is determined by diamond geometry, may be adjusted by varying the amount of Z-axis pressure exerted on the tool. The pressure on the diamond tip is variable and can be pre-programmed in the system, thus allowing for uniform engraving results over a range of materials and thicknesses. Adjustments to tip pressure are preferably carried out by raising or lowering the tip height using a Z-axis stepper motor. This engraving unit design is also compatible with air driven rotary spindles and direct drive rotary spindles.

The workpiece remains motionless during the engraving process while the cutting tool moves in combinations of linear, step sequences along the X and Y axes, respectively, thereby effectively producing both linear and arcing motion as needed to engrave the various characters of the text. Computerised engraving using stepper-driven X- and Y- axis movement is described in U.S. Patent No. 4,437,150.

In the preferred embodiment, Y-axis motion of the engraving tool is achieved by means of a stepper driven Y-axis carriage which supports the engraving tool. The Y-axis carriage is itself mounted to an X-axis carriage assembly which travels along a bridge extending along the X-axis. This dual carriage system facilitates increased engraving speed, as compared with existing computerised engraving systems, by allowing for engraving tool movement in the Y direction. Existing devices require movement of the actual workpiece in the Y axis direction and thus have slower engraving speeds because of the relatively high total mass in motion.

A "place and pick" accessory dispenser is provided which is instructed by the controller to dispense an accessory (e.g. luggage tag strap, pet tag hook, medical tag bracelet) which corresponds to the chosen workpiece. Accessories are stored in a plurality of vertical column, each of which stores a different accessory type.

Accessory dispensing is carried out by a picker arm which, when positioned beneath the column holding the appropriate accessory, rotates through a slot in the column to eject an accessory package through a second slot in the column side and into a dispensing chute. The dispensing operation is accomplished by two stepper motors: a "place" motor which moves the picker arm into alignment with the appropriate column; and a "picker" motor which rotates the picker arm after it is placed in proper picking position by the "place" motor.

Brief Description of the Drawings

  • Fig. 1A is a simplified schematic representation of an automated vending unit according to the present invention, showing the components mounted in a vending booth.
  • Fig. 1B is a front view of the workpiece dispensing unit of the vending unit of Fig. 1A.
  • Fig. 2 is a perspective view of an engraving unit and a workpiece positioning unit of the vending unit of Fig. 1A.
  • Fig. 3A is a side view of the workpiece positioning unit of the vending unit of Fig. 1A engaged with a clamping plate associated with a workpiece delivery column.
  • Fig. 3B is partial side section view of an anvil of the workpiece positioning unit of Fig. 2.
  • Fig. 3C is a front view of a workpiece column.
  • Fig. 3D is an exploded view of an anvil, with the clamping plate guides not shown.
  • Fig. 3E is a partial top view of the workpiece columns.
  • Fig. 3F is a perspective view of an extrusion from a workpiece column as it appears when the column walls and plates are in place.
  • Fig. 4 is a perspective view showing a portion of a carriage, the workpiece positioning unit mounted to it, and a pair of clamping plates.
  • Fig. 5A is a top view of an anvil and a clamping plate.
  • Fig. 5B-5E are cross-sectional side views of the anvil and clamping plate taken along the plane designated 5B-5B in Fig. 5A. The alignment of cut out in the clamping plate relative to the through hole in the anvil for the workpiece delivery, workpiece engraving and workpiece receiving positions respectively.
  • Fig. 6 is a side view of the carriage, engraving unit, and workpiece positioning unit, showing the X-axis bridge in cross-section.
  • Fig. 7 is a front view of the engraving unit of the present invention.
  • Figs. 8A and 8B are top and bottom views, respectively of the Y-axis carriage of the present invention.
  • Fig. 9 is a side view of the engraving unit according to the present invention.
  • Fig. 10 is a perspective view of an accessory dispensing unit according to the present invention, showing the dispensing unit as viewed from the front.
  • Fig. 11 is a perspective view of the accessory dispensing unit of Fig. 9 showing the dispensing unit as viewed from the back.
  • Fig. 12 is a side view of the place and pick components of the accessory dispensing unit.
  • Fig. 13 is a front view of the place and pick components of the accessory dispensing unit.
  • Fig. 14 is a rear view of the place and pick components of the accessory dispensing unit.
  • Fig. 15 is a simplified block diagram showing the system of the present invention.
  • Fig. 16 is a simplified flow diagram showing the functions of the front end computer of the present invention.
  • Fig. 17 is a simplified flow diagram showing the functions of the controller in workpiece selection and dispensing.
  • Fig. 18 is a simplified flow diagram showing the functions of the controller in accessory dispensing.
  • Fig. 19 is a simplified flow diagram showing the functions of the controller in the managing of the engraving operation.

Detailed Description of the Preferred Embodiment

The engraving machine of the present invention is comprised generally of a user interface device 10, which prompts for and receives engraving instructions from a user, and a controller (not shown) which manages the engraving functions and the dispensing of accessories.

Controlled by the controller are an engraving unit 12, a workpiece positioning unit 14 (see Figs. 3 and 4) which receives workpieces from a workpiece delivery system 16, and a pair of accessory dispensing units 18. As will be discussed in detail, the controller provides drive signals to stepper motors that drive the workpiece delivery, engraving, and accessory dispensing functions. Conventional drivers (micro-stepping for the X-axis and Y-axis control and half-stepping for the workpiece handling, accessory dispensing, and Z-axis control) may be used in connection with the present invention. One such controller, including its use in connection with stepper motors, is described in U.S. Patent No. 4,437,150. In the preferred embodiment, the Dahlgren Control Systems Part No. 39-89028 micro-stepping driver and the Dahlgren Control Systems Part No. R60-0001 half-stepping driver are used.

The user interface device 10 is preferably a personal computer ("PC") having a video monitor 24 which prompts the user to select a workpiece type (e.g., luggage tag, medical tag, key ring, or pet tag), and the text to be printed on the desired workpiece. A conventional video touch screen 26 overlays the video monitor 24 and is interfaced with the personal computer. The personal computer prompts for and receives the user information necessary to begin a job, and also may receive and process payment information. For example, a credit card reader, a modem for use in verifying credit information, and a receipt printer may be interfaced with and controlled by the personal computer. As will be described below, the user input from the user interface device 10 is passed to the controller 20, processed, and used by the controller in retrieving the relevant engraving format and engraving tool pressure from its memory, managing the workpiece retrieval and engraving operations, and dispensing the appropriate accessory (i.e. luggage tag strap, medical tag bracelet, etc.) to be dispensed along with the engraved workpiece after engraving is complete. To facilitate an understanding of these features, reference will be made to X-, Y-, and Z-axes, each of which is designated in Fig. 2.

In the preferred embodiment, each component of the engraving system is incorporated into a vending machine style housing 22.

Workpiece Delivery and Handling Units

Referring to Figs. 2-5, the workpiece delivery unit 16 of the present invention is configured to offer the user a variety of workpiece types from which to choose from. The workpiece delivery unit 16 provides a number of positive feed columns 28 which use spring pressure to feed workpieces into a position from which they can be retrieved by the workpiece handling unit 14 (Fig. 4) and carried to an engraving location.

A number of workpiece columns 28 are provided, each corresponding to one of the workpiece types offered to the user. Referring to Figs. 3A and 3C, each workpiece column 28 is preferably one or more elongate extrusions 29a, 29b of precision-machined material, such as aluminum, each having a throughbore 30a, 30b in the shape of the workpiece which is contained in the workpiece column. Stored in each column 28 is a stack 31 of workpieces (Fig. 3A).

Coupled to each workpiece column 28, and contiguous with the throughbores 30a, 30b in each column, is a hollow, cylindrical tube 44 (Figs. 1A and 3A). In the preferred embodiment, the workpiece column 28 and the cylindrical tube 44 are proportioned such that approximately 150 to 300 workpieces, depending on workpiece mass, may be stored in each column. The large capacity of the columns allows many engraving operations to be performed before restocking of workpieces is needed.

Referring to Fig. 3A, disposed within each tube 44 is a spring 42 which provides the feeding force to push the stack 31 of workpieces upwardly through the extrusions 29a, 29b and that therefore pushes the topmost workpiece (not shown) of each column into a relief formed in a corresponding clamping plate 46 (Fig. 3B). The clamping plate 46 is preferably precision-machined and, as detailed below, it is the structure that holds the workpiece in place during engraving.

Each spring 42 should be individually sized to accommodate the shape, mass and quantity of the workpieces in its respective column. Proper functioning of the workpiece delivery unit 16 involves use of a matured spring operating within ±30% of its overall operating length. In other words, spring length is chosen such that the spring is compressed to no less than 30% of its mature length when the column is full of workpieces and such that the spring is at no greater than 70% of its mature length when the column is empty. Maintaining this operating range insures a substantially linear spring force, within the limits of the spring. Consequently, proportionally greater spring force is obtained when the column is full verses nearly empty. This keeps the upward pressure of the workpiece at the clamping plate 46 within an acceptable range over the entire delivery range of the column 28. A mature spring is obtained by placing a new spring under compression for approximately 10-12 hours.

The springs 42 are managed inside the columns 28 to insure they do not bind. This is achieved by guiding the springs and by encouraging them to rotate as they expand and compress. Without this, there is a tendency to bind and affect feeding pressure.

In the preferred embodiment, two steps are taken to prevent binding of the springs 42. First, a rod 15 (Fig. 3A) is disposed within each spring 42 and is held in place by a cap 17 resting on the upper end 19 of the spring. The rod 15 helps prevent the spring 42 from bowing, which in turn prevents the spring from binding against the inside walls of the extrusions 29a, 29b. Second, the spring is left unsecured within the tube 44 and can therefore freely rotate.

At the top of each column 28 is an anvil 32 (Figs. 2, 3C and 3D) which is preferably precision machined. Each anvil is connected to its neighboring anvils by joining plates 34, which help to optimize the rigidity of the overall system. Each anvil has a hole 36 in the shape of the related workpiece (Fig. 5B). The hole 36 is chamfered at the top side 38 of the anvil to facilitate movement and greater tolerance of the workpiece. On the bottom side of the anvil, the hole 36 matches up to the throughbore 30a of its respective upper extruded column 29a.

The holes 36 in the anvils 32 are machined to tighter tolerances than are the throughbores 30 in their corresponding extrusions so as to guide workpieces into the corresponding clamping plates 46. Preferably, the inside diameter of the extrusion throughbores 30a, 30b is nominally 0.051mm (.020 inches) larger than its respective anvil hole 36. In addition to the chamfer, the anvil hole has a 5° top to bottom relief angle on its inside diameter. Consequently, the extruded column and the anvil provide for an economical yet precise feeding mechanism.

Four stationary guides 48 are fixed to the top of each anvil. The guides 48 are preferably made of nylon, turcite, or teflon and each is individually adjustable. Each guide 48 has a notch 52 along its circumference to accommodate the clamping plate 46 as it moves from the receiving, to the engraving, to the dispensing positions. (See Fig. 7)

Embedded in each anvil 32, at the engraving position of the workpiece, is one or more elongate rollers 56 (see Fig. 3D). Each roller 56 is mounted for rotation about its elongate axis. The rollers are spring biased in a direction normal to the top surface 38 of the anvil.

As illustrated in Figs. 2, 3C and 4, 5A-5E corresponding to each anvil 32 is a clamping plate 46 which is slidable within the notches 52 in the guides 48. Since each guide 48 is adjustable, the centering and squareness of the clamping plate 46 relative to the column 28 and the engraving position may be fine-tuned. The clamping plate 46 is an elongate rectangular member which has a relief 54 formed in its underside, near its distal end. (See Fig. 3B) Preferably, the relief 54 is in the shape of the corresponding workpiece. The relief is oversized to the workpiece preferably by a nominal 0.089mm (.0035 inches) all around the sidewalls of the relief looking at the bottom of the clamps, preferably having relief angles themselves of 7° down to a depth of 0.81mm (.032 inch) (based on a nominal 1mm (.040 inch) workpiece). The relief depth is nominally sized to the workpiece thickness, in this case 1mm (.040 inches). The design allows for tolerances of up to 0.064mm (± .0025 inches) through the use of leading and trailing edge chamfers in the anvil.

Centered around the relief is a cutout 55 in the shape of the workpiece. During engraving, the cutout 55 provides access to the workpiece by the engraving tool while relief 54 keeps the workpiece secure beneath the clamping plate 46.

The relative diameters of the cutout 55 and relief 54 are shown in Fig. SE. The outer diameter of the relief tapers from a first diameter, designated d3, to a second diameter designated d2. The inner diameter d1 of the cutout 55 is smaller than the second diameter d2 of the relief such that a shoulder is formed between them. The workpiece is in abutment with this shoulder when it is captured within the relief 54.

The clamping plate 46 is preferably plated to minimize wear and contamination in the slide and bearing areas.

Attached to the proximal end 60 of the clamping plate is a receiving component 62 which has a chamfered slot 64 formed in its underside. (See Fig. 3A)

In the material receiving stage (Fig. 5D), the upward spring force from the workpiece delivery system 16 causes the topmost workpiece in each workpiece stack 31 to pass through the through hole 36 in the anvil and to rest in the relief 54 in the corresponding clamping plate 46. During the material positioning phase (Fig. 5C), the clamping plate 46 (and the workpiece situated within its relief) is slidably advanced over the top surface of the anvil, between the guides 48, until the workpiece rests on the rollers 56 as shown in Fig. 3B. This is the engraving location, wherein the rollers are immediately beneath the workpiece (designated 500 in Fig. 3B, and 55B in Fig. 5A) and thereby provide upward pressure which holds the workpiece in place during engraving. Because the cutout 55 is slightly smaller than the workpiece, the workpiece cannot pass through the cutout but instead remains captured beneath the clamping plate 46.

From Figs. 3A and 4 it can be seen that the workpiece handling unit 14 includes a stepper motor 66 mounted to a carriage 80 and coupled to a leadscrew 68. A limit switch 76 is mounted to the carriage 80 near the proximal end of the leadscrew 68. Fastened to the leadscrew is a self-adjusting leadscrew nut 70.

The leadscrew nut 70 is attached to a workpiece selector block 72 which has a chamfered slot 74. A pair of throughbores 75 (Fig. 4) pass through the workpiece selector block 72. Rods 77 are slidably received in each throughbore 75. A triggering plate 78 (Fig. 3A) is fixed to the workpiece selector block 72 so as to close the limit switch when the workpiece selector block 72 reaches the proximal end of its travel.

Activation of stepper motor 66 results in rotary motion of the leadscrew 68 and corresponding linear movement of the leadscrew nut 70 and the workpiece selector block 72 attached thereto. The selector block 72 slides over rods 77, which help to maintain stability of the workpiece positioning unit during movement of the selector block 72.

When selector block 72 is engaged with a receiving component 62 as shown in Fig. 3A, linear movement of the workpiece selector block 72 along the leadscrew 68 results in linear movement of the receiving component 62 and its associated clamping plate 46. In this fashion, the workpiece handling unit 14 moves the clamping plate between three positions. Each of the three positions is predetermined and is arrived at by stepping the stepper motor through a predetermined number of incremental steps in the desired direction.

The first position is the workpiece retrieval position (Fig. 2 & Fig. 5D), in which the clamping plate 46 is positioned such that the relief 54 in the clamping plate is aligned with the hole 36 in the anvil 32. When the clamping plate is in the workpiece retrieval position, the top workpiece in the associated column becomes captured in the relief 54 due to the upward force of the spring 42.

The second clamping plate position is the engraving position (Figs. 3A, 3B and 5C), in which the clamping plate is moved away from the carriage 80 such that the workpiece captured by the clamping plate 46 is resting on anvil rollers 56. The third position is the dispensing position (Fig. 5B), in which the clamping plate 46 is advanced still further from the carriage 80 (not shown in Fig. 3C) such that the relief 54 is away from the anvil and such that the workpiece can drop from the relief into a dispensing chute (designated 230 in Fig. 11). For purposes of comparison, Fig. 5A shows the location of the cut out 55 and relief 54 in the material receiving position (designated 55a) and the material engraving position (designated 55b) in dotted lines.

After an engraving operation is completed, the clamping plate 46 returns to the material receiving position such that its receiving component 62 is aligned with the receiving components 62 of all the other clamping plates.

Proper functioning of the engraving unit requires that the extruded columns 28 and the anvils 32 be precisely aligned with each other and with the clamping plate 46. Rigidity of alignment of these components is achieved using a number of supports. Referring to Figs. 3C through 3E, it can be seen that each anvil 32 is secured to its adjacent anvils by joining plates 34. The joining plates 34 are positioned in slots 33 formed in the adjacent sides of the anvils, such that each joining plate 34 is disposed within two slots, one in each of two adjacent anvils 32.

Each joining plate 34 is provided with a pair of bores 35 (Fig. 3D). The bores 35 are aligned with second bores 37 formed in elongate vertical supports 41. A bolt 39 is passed through each joining plate 34 at bore 35 and throughbore 37 in the corresponding vertical support member 41. As bolt 39 is tightened, joining plate 34 clamps its associated anvils 32 to the elongate vertical support.

Referring to Fig. 3E, each vertical support member 41 has a first slot 43 which receives a dividing wall 45 that separates each column 28. Second slots 47, also formed in vertical support members 41 receive panels 49 which comprise the back wall of the workpiece dispensing unit. Slots 47a receive panels 49a to form a front wall on the workpiece dispensing unit. The dividing walls 45 and panels 49, 49a therefore bound the extrusion 29a, 29b on four sides and are in abutment with the corresponding four sides of the plates 57a, 57b attached to the ends of the extrusions 29a, 29b. These panels thus hold the extrusion 29a, 29b in place by virtue of the precision machined relationship between the plates 57a, 57b and the walls 45 and panels 49, 49a.

Referring to Fig. 1B rigidity of the overall workpiece delivery unit 16 is provided by a pair of precision machined steel side supports 51 which are held together by a rear support and alignment bar 53, which is also preferably precision-machined. Column base support 67, which is also connected between the steel side supports 51, supports the aluminum extrusions 29a, 29b and the vertical support members 41. Referring to Fig. 3C, each column may be provided with more than one aluminum extrusion 29 in order to facilitate loading of workpieces during maintenance of the engraving unit. Each aluminum extrusion 29 has end plates 57a, 57b bolted to each end. Each end plate 57a, 57b has a cut-out (not shown) in the shape of the associated workpiece and aligned with the throughbore 30a, 30b. Slots 59 (see Fig. 3A) in each end plate provide a port through which an L-shaped tool 61 may be inserted during maintenance to retain spring 42 in a particular compressed condition.

When a column 28 is running low on workpieces, the spring 42 will be expanded above the end plates 57 of the lower aluminum extrusion 29 shown in Fig. 3A. To re-stock the workpieces, a rod (not shown) can be inserted through the hole in the anvil 32, and through the throughbore 30a in the upper aluminum extrusion 29a until the spring 42 and any remaining workpieces are depressed below the end plate 57a at the bottom end of the upper aluminum extrusion 29a. The L-shaped tool 61 may then be inserted between the plates 57a, 57b and the rod removed from the throughbore 30a. Once the spring 42 is contained in this way, workpieces may be added to the upper aluminum extrusion 29a. After loading, the L-shaped tool 61 is removed from the column 28 and the spring allowed to expand.

The columns 28 are designed for easy interchangeability. The type of workpiece stored in any column can be changed simply by substituting extrusions and anvils. Moreover, a single large extrusion may be easily substituted for two extrusions of the standard size in order to accommodate a large workpiece type. Consequently, machines can be reconfigured in the field by low skilled service personnel.

X-Axis Travel

The workpiece handling unit 14 is fixed to carriage 80, which also supports the engraving unit 12, and which transports the workpiece handling unit 14 and the engraving unit 12 along the X-axis.

Referring to Figs. 2 and 6, X-axis travel occurs along a bridge 82, which is preferably precision machined from extruded aluminum. The bridge 82 has a substantially symmetrical cross-section, including a pair of upper flanges 84 and a pair of shorter, lower flanges 86. A web 88 connects the upper and lower flanges on one side of the bridge to those on the opposite side. Connected to each lower flange 86 is an elongate v-rail 90 which extends along the lower flange 86, parallel to the X-axis. These v-rails, which are preferably precision-machined, increase the stability of the bridge and they also provide a track which facilitates X-axis travel.

An X-axis leadscrew 92 extends along the X-axis, just below the web 88 of the bridge 82. An X-axis stepper motor 94 (Fig. 2) is coupled to one end of the X-axis leadscrew 92, such that activation of the motor 94 produces rotation of the X-axis leadscrew 92.

The carriage 80 is formed in two tiers, one which extends above the bridge 82 and one which extends below it. The carriage 80 is comprised of a pair of columns 96 having a plate 98 extending between them. Extending normally of the plate 98, below the bridge 82, is shelf member 100. Shelf member 100 is a rectangular plate having a distal end, designated 102, and a proximal end, designated 104.

Mounted to the shelf member 100 is mount 120 which supports X-axis leadscrew nut 122. The X-axis leadscrew nut is preferably a spring-loaded, adjustable, self-adjusting leadscrew nut. Also mounted to the shelf member 100 are a pair of v-wheels 124 mounted for rotation about their respective axes. Each v-wheel 124 has a "V" shaped groove 126 along its perimeter. The grooves are proportioned to allow the v-wheels 124 to roll along the v-rails 90 mounted to the bridge 82. When the X-axis stepper motor 94 is activated to rotate X-axis leadscrew 92, X-axis leadscrew nut 122 causes the carriage 80 to travel along leadscrew 92, with v-wheels 124 rolling along v-rails 90.

X-axis travel serves two functions. Its first function is to position the carriage 80 in alignment with the column 28 that contains the workpiece type selected by the user. Prior to an engraving operation, all clamping plates 46 are in their first position, with each receiving component 62 of each clamping plate 46 aligned along an axis parallel to the X-axis with all of the other receiving components 62. As the carriage 80 carries workpiece selector block 72 in the X-direction, slot 74 of the workpiece selector block 72 passes over tab 63 of each receiving component 62. Rotating the X-axis stepper motor 94 through a predetermined number of incremental steps in the desired direction positions slot 74 of workpiece selector block 72 into engagement with tab 63 of the receiving component 62 associated with the selected workpiece column. Activation of the workpiece positioning stepper motor 62 at this point causes movement of clamp 46 and hence movement of the workpiece into the engraving and dispensing positions as described above.

The second function of X-axis travel is to move the engraving tool in the X-direction as needed to engrave the desired text. This X-axis movement is also step-controlled and, because fine movement of the engraving tool is needed, a micro-stepping driver is used in connection with the X-axis motor.

Engraving requires movement of the engraving tool in both the X- and Y- directions. The components used for effecting Y-axis movement will next be described.

Y-Axis Travel

In Fig. 6, the tier of the carriage 80 located above the bridge 82 facilitates Y-axis travel of the engraving unit. Extending normally of the distal end 102 of shelf member 100 are a pair of vertical support members 106 (see also Fig. 7), and extending normally of proximal end 104 of the shelf member 100 are a second pair of vertical support members 108. As shown in Fig. 2, each support member 108 is secured to one of the columns 96. Extending cantilever-style from each of the vertical supports 108, above the bridge 82, is a beam member 110. The beam members are parallel to each other in the X-axis direction and are also parallel to the shelf member 100 in the Z-direction.

Beam members 110 are supported by vertical support members 106, but the beam members 110 extend beyond support members 106 in the Y-direction. Member 114 bridges the distal ends of beam members 110, such that a rectangular frame is formed by plate 98, beam members 110 and member 114.

Elongate v-rails 116 line beam members 110 at the inside of the rectangular frame. A Y-axis carriage 118 travels along these rails during Y-axis motion of the engraving tool.

A Y-axis leadscrew 130 extends through plate 98 of carriage 80 and couples with Y-axis stepper motor 132. The Y-axis carriage 118 is coupled to leadscrew 130 by means of an adjustable, self-adjusting leadscrew nut 136 (Fig. 8B) that is preferably made of turcite.

Referring to Figs. 2 and 6-8, the Y-axis carriage 118 is a rectangular carriage having a pair of long sides 138, a proximal end 140 which is coupled to the leadscrew nut 136, and a distal end 142. V-shaped grooves 144 (Fig. 7) are formed in the long-sides 138 of the carriage 118. As shown in Fig. 8B, four v-wheels 146 are mounted to the underside of the Y-axis carriage 118. Like the X-axis v-wheels 124, each Y-axis v-wheel 146 has a groove formed along its perimeter.

These v-wheels 146 are mounted to the carriage 118 such that their grooves are substantially contiguous with the v-grooves 144 in the carriage 134. The wheels 146 roll along v-rails 116 (Fig. 2) during Y-axis movement of the carriage 118, with the v-rails 116 extending into the grooves in the v-wheels and also into the v-grooves 144 in the carriage 118. The v-rail and v-wheel design is preferred over a rounded or flat rail design because it optimizes contact between the wheel and the rail.

Y-axis travel is step controlled using a micro-stepping driver. The Y-axis carriage preferably returns to a home location and resets the counting sequence by means of a limit switch (not shown) in order to prevent error due to cumulative step loss. Step errors are also avoided in the preferred embodiment by constructing the carriage 80 and the carriage 118 using precision-machined components.

Z-Axis Control

As shown in Fig. 8B, a bore 148 passes through the Y-axis carriage 118 in the Z-direction. Secured within bore 148 is engraving tool shaft 150 (Figs. 7 and 9) which itself has a throughbore (not shown) extending its longitudinal length. An engraving tool 152, which supports the diamond tip 154 used for engraving, is slidably received in the throughbore in the shaft 150. The engraving tool holder is vertically biased with respect to the shaft 150 by a spring (not shown). Mounted to the Y-axis carriage 118 is a mounting device 162 which supports Z-axis stepper motor 164. Mounting device 162 is comprised of a plate 166 extending normally of Y-axis carriage 118 and motor platform 168 which is substantially perpendicular to plate 166 and parallel to Y-axis carriage 134. A pair of rods 163 (Fig. 7) extend from the motor platform 168 in the Z-direction and are slidably received in a pair of bores 165 formed in a brass holder 158.

Plate 166 has a slot 170 for receiving a proximal portion of brass holder 158. Proximalmost portion 172 of brass holder 158 passes through the slot 170 and serves as a trip for Z-axis limit switch 174 which is connected to mounting device 162.

A Z-axis leadscrew 176 is coupled to Z-axis stepper 164 and extends through motor platform 168. The end of the leadscrew 176 opposite the stepper 164 is unsecured to eliminate vibration and wear. Z-axis leadscrew nut 178 which may be non-adjustable and which is preferably made from turcite, is mounted to brass holder 158 and receives the Z-axis leadscrew 176. The leadscrew 176 is solid-coupled by coupling 180 to the Z-axis stepper motor 164.

Activation of Z-axis stepper motor 164 results in linear upward or downward motion (depending on the direction of rotation produced by the motor) of the brass holder 158 by virtue of the leadscrew nut 178. As the brass holder moves, it slides along rods 163 that are disposed within its bores 165. These rods 163 help to maintain the stability of the engraving tool.

Upward or downward movement of the brass holder 158 causes resultant upward or downward movement of the diamond tip holder 152 against the biasing spring and corresponding Z-axis movement of the diamond tip 154. The distance by which the diamond tip is moved is determined by the number of step increments traveled by the stepper motor, which is driven by a half-stepping driver (not shown). After an engraving job is complete, the engraving tool is returned to a Z-axis home position, thus triggering the limit switch 174 to reset the step counter.

Z-axis movement serves two purposes: it moves the diamond tip onto and off of the workpiece during the engraving process (e.g. to begin engraving or to lift the diamond tip when moving from one character in a word to the next); it also provides a means for adjusting the width of the strokes made on the workpiece during engraving. Thicker strokes are formed when relatively high pressure is applied to the diamond tip, while thin strokes require relatively light pressure on the diamond tip.

By spring loading the diamond tip and using a stepper driven Z-axis positioning system, the amount of diamond tip pressure can be varied within the limits of the selected spring. Spring selection becomes a function of the material selected for the workpieces to be engraved by this machine. Generally it is envisioned that any material which is amenable to diamond engraving can be engraved using the initial spring selection and some combination of pre-set spring compression (affecting the lightest setting) and Z axis stroke (affecting the strongest setting). The spring in this case is 5.08cm (2.0 inches) in overall length with a spring rate of 36.03N (8.1 pounds) and a wire diameter of 1.07mm (.042 inches). The outside diameter of the spring is 10.7mm (.420 inches) and the solid height is 1.42cm (.558 inches). These characteristics provide for operating motion within an acceptable range of the spring allowing as close to linear change in force with compression as possible.

The design described above, coupled with the system software and diamond tip selection, allows each job to be programmed for specific output characteristics. In particular, diamond tip geometry, spring pressure and material hardness combine to affect actual engraved stroke width. Consequently, when jobs are laid out and material and diamond tip geometry selected, the particular stroke width can be adjusted within the job by varying Z axis position. The significance of this is that each column may have a different workpiece, each having its own font styles and stroke widths and thus its own style or look.

Accessory Dispensing Unit

As shown in Fig. 1, the preferred embodiment has two identical accessory dispensing units 18 mounted in the engraving booth. These units operate using combined concepts of gravity feed and positive dispensing using a pair of stepper motors.

Referring to the dispensing unit shown in Figs. 10 and 11, each accessory dispensing unit is comprised of a plurality of accessory storage columns 180 positioned adjacent to one another. The accessories are held in small packages, preferably rectangular boxes (not shown), and are stacked vertically within the storage columns 180. The preferred unit holds approximately 100 units per column, for a total per column weight of approximately 5 pounds.

The unit is designed such that each column can hold a different accessory type. During use, the controller instructs the dispensing unit to dispense whichever of the various accessory types corresponds to the workpiece type selected by the user.

The dispensing unit 18 has a front side designated 182 in Fig. 10, and a back side designated 184 in Fig. 11. A plurality of dividing walls 186 separate the storage columns 180. A front wall 188 covers the front side 182 of the dispensing unit, although the dividing walls 186 extend below the lower edge of the front wall 188.

A windowed plate 190 extends across the back side 184 of the dispensing unit, near the bottom. Extending from the windowed plate 190 towards the front side 182 of the dispensing unit is a bottom plate 192 (Fig. 12). The bottom plate 192 has a slight downward angle (preferably approximately 5°), and preferably has a smooth, low friction surface to facilitate the dispensing of accessory packages. An angular picking window 194 is formed in the windowed plate 190 and the bottom plate 192. The width of the picking window 194 is smaller than the width of the accessory boxes (not shown) which are placed in the storage columns 180. Thus, accessory boxes in the columns 180 are supported by base plate 192 but they are partially exposed by window 194. A viewing window 195 is also formed in plate 190 to allow the number of accessory boxes in each column to be monitored.

A mounting plate 196 extends laterally from the back side 184 of the dispensing unit. Secured to the mounting plate 196 is a block 198 which supports a rail 200. The rail extends behind the dispensing unit as shown in Figs. 11 and 14 and is secured to wall 202 by block 204.

Extending normally of mounting plate 196 is plate 206. Plate 206 supports pulley 208 and place motor 212 (preferably a 3.8 amp, 1.3 V DC stepper motor) which, when activated, causes rotation of the pulley 208. A second pulley 214 is mounted to an L-shaped plate 216 that is attached to windowed plate 190. Belt 210 forms a loop which revolves around the pulleys 208, 214. Movement of the belt 210 around the pulleys 208, 214 is propelled by rotation of pulley 208 by stepper motor 212.

The picker mechanism, designated generally as 218, is movable between the columns 180 so that it can eject accessory packages from any column 180. The picker mechanism 218 is comprised of a carriage 220 slidably mounted on the rail 200 and secured to belt 210 at member 222. A bearing 221 provides a smooth surface between the carriage 220 and the rail 200 to facilitate sliding. A limit switch (not shown) is mounted to the dispensing unit at one end of the carriage travel, and a corresponding triggering device (not shown) is mounted to the carriage 220.

The carriage 220 carries a picker motor 224, which is preferably a 2.9 amp, 3.4 V DC triple stack stepper motor, that rotates a picker arm 226 when activated. The picker arm is proportioned to rotate through one of the picking windows 194, thereby pushing an accessory package out the front side 182 of the accessory dispenser. A chute 228 (Fig. 1) is formed in the engraving booth which allows the accessory package to slide to a dispensing location 230 once it has been picked by the picker arm 226 from the storage column 180.

The picker motor 224 can be software driven to affect a motion profile. This allows a wide range of accessory mass to be accommodated as well as speed of picking. In order to insure no cumulative speed loss occurs, a detente 232 is provided in the stepper motor 224 is positioned at zero degrees with enough tolerance to force or hold the unpowered picker arm 226 into a true zero position. A photoelectric limit switch may be used in place of the detente 232. This may be preferable in order to compensate for variations in stepper motor windings.

The picker arm 226 has a tapered end which helps minimize damage to the accessory package during the dispensing operation. The length of the picker arm is chosen to ensure positive dispensing by maximizing contact between the picker arm and accessory package during picker arm travel. The distance to the package, the moment arm during picker arm rotation, and the required motor power must be taken into account when selecting the drive components for the picker arm.

Oftentimes an accessory contained in an accessory package will be shifted to one side of the package, causing uneven distribution of weight in the package. When package contents are shifted towards the front side 182 of the dispenser, multiple packages may accidentally be dispensed from one column during a single picker arm rotation.

To overcome this problem, a rear weighted block (not shown) may be placed on top of the stack of accessory packages in each column. The preferred weight block is 0.23kg (.5 pounds); it is rear weighted to insure that the packages remain horizontal regardless of the number of packages remaining in the column or the location of the center of mass of each package. This effectively prevents multiple packages from being "picked" from a column in weight-forward conditions.

The weight block is designed such that if a transaction is attempted when only the weight block is left in the column (i.e. because of an inventory mis-count), the picker arm will neither eject the weight block nor collide with it. This is accomplished by slotting the rear of the weight block such that the picker arm misses it entirely and shaping the block such that it cannot inadvertently pass through the picking window 194 opening on the opposite side of the dispenser base.

The place motor 212 and the pick motor 224 are operated using half-stepping drivers. To prevent cumulative step loss error, the step counting sequences are re-set between dispensing jobs.

User Interface and Control

The method and apparatus of the present invention is directed to the control of an engraving system, including the selection of the workpiece, positioning of the workpiece in an engraving location, engraving, and dispensing the workpiece along with the appropriate accessory for the workpiece type. A simplified schematic representation of the present system is shown in Fig. 15. A user interface 300, which is preferably a personal computer ("PC") prompts for and processes data supplied by a user and passes the processed data to a controller 302. The controller 302 converts the data to drive signals which control operation of the workpiece handling unit 304, the engraving unit 306, and the accessory dispensing unit 308. When necessary, the controller also delivers error signals to the user interface which then result in the termination of a job.

A simplified flow diagram showing the function of the user interface 300 is shown in Fig. 16. First, at step 310, the user is prompted to select a workpiece type. For example, the user may be prompted to chose between a pet tag, medical bracelet, luggage tag, etc. In the preferred embodiment, the prompt appears on a video screen equipped with a video touch screen and prompts the user to touch the area of the screen designating the chosen workpiece.

After the workpiece type selection is entered, step 312, the user interface terminal prompts the user to enter the text to be engraved onto the selected workpiece, step 314. At step 316, the user inputs the text using the touch screen or other input device.

The user may also be prompted for additional information, such as font type or payment information (e.g., credit card information). If the system is equipped to take and process (see payment card slot 23 and receipt printer 21 at Fig. 1) credit or debit card information, the PC also performs credit verification procedures with the assistance of a modem and communication software.

The preferred embodiment is also equipped to communicate with an off-site central registry which, using a serial number engraved on the workpiece, maintains records relevant to the workpiece type. For example, when a pet tag is purchased, the purchaser is prompted for the name and address of the pet owner. A serial number is engraved on the tag, and the information about the owner is stored at the central registry under that serial number. Should the pet become lost, a finder of the pet will be able to contact the pet owner through the central registry. The information to be maintained at the central registry is normally stored temporarily in the PC installed in each engraving unit. A computer at the central registry periodically polls each engraving unit tied into the registry network to retrieve information obtained by the individual engraving units during recent transactions.

Once the necessary input has been received from the user, the PC retrieves from its memory the column location for the accessory which is to be distributed with the engraved workpiece, and the column location for the selected workpiece, steps 318 - 319. At step 320, the column locations for the accessory box and workpiece and also the text to be engraved onto the workpiece are transferred to the controller in the form of a data string. Job information, specifying the selected workpiece type, is also passed to the controller at step 320 to allow the controller to retrieve formatting information from its memory. Control for the job is passed to the controller at step 322.

The PC, via the video screen, next asks the user whether additional engraved workpieces are desired, step 324. If additional jobs are requested by the user, the PC again prompts the user for workpiece type, step 310, etc.

Upon receiving control from the PC, step 322, the controller begins the workpiece selection step of the process. Referring to Fig. 17, the controller first extracts the column location for the selected workpiece from the data string supplied by the PC, step 326. Next, at step 328, the controller activates the X-axis stepper motor (designated 94 in Fig. 2) such that the carriage 80 travels along the X-axis until it reaches the designated column location. At this point the workpiece selector block 72 will be engaged with the receiving component 62 associated with the column containing the selected workpiece (see Figs. 3A and 4).

At step 330, the selected workpiece is moved into the engraving location. During this step, the controller instructs workpiece positioning stepper 66 to move through the appropriate number of steps to move the workpiece already captured in the clamping plate 46 to the engraving location (i.e. on top of the rollers 56). The engraving operation is next performed, step 332, using X-, Y-, Z-axis movement of the engraving tool as will be described below.

After engraving is complete but before the workpiece is dispensed at step 344, the accessory corresponding to the selected workpiece is dispensed, step 333. Referring to Fig. 18, during the accessory dispensing operation the controller activates the place motor 212 and causes it to travel until the picker arm 226 is in alignment with the column location provided to the controller by the PC. After the place motor 212 is turned off, picker motor 224 is activated to rotate picker arm 226, causing it to knock an accessory package from the column 180.

Returning to Fig. 17, once the accessory is dispensed, the workpiece is ejected from the workpiece handling unit 14, step 334. During this step, the controller activates the workpiece positioning stepper motor 66 to move the clamping plate 46 into the workpiece dispensing location such that the workpiece falls from the clamping plate 46 and into a dispensing chute. At this point, Z-axis movement is also initiated to move the engraving tool to the workpiece dispensing location. This ensures that the workpiece drops from the clamping plate by pressing the workpiece out of the clamping plate if it has not already fallen from it. Finally, the workpiece positioning unit 14 is returned to the workpiece capturing position, step 336.

The engraving operation will next be described with reference to Fig. 19. Using the workpiece type information received from the PC, the controller next retrieves the layout and font information for that selected workpiece, step 342. In the preferred embodiment, this information is predetermined for each workpiece type and stored in the controller. A table showing an example of the arrangement and selection of variables for the controller is shown below: workpiece type Z-axis pressure layout luggage tag 13.3-17.8N (3-4 lbs) 4 lines, single font pet tag 17.8N (4lbs) 3 lines, single font medical tag 11.1N (2Slbs) 4 lines, multiple fonts

However, the font may be chosen by the user and the layout may be calculated using the number of the letters in the desired text, the size of the workpiece, the size of the font, and other predetermined values such as the percentage of white space and the length of each line. An engraving system performing calculations of this type is described in U.S. Patent No. 4,437,150 to Dahlgren et al.

At step 344, the controller instructs X- and Y-axis movement of the engraving tool to the position on the selected workpiece where engraving will begin. At this point in the process, the engraving tool will already be close to the X-axis position necessary to begin the engraving process. This is because the carriage 80 which carries both the engraving tool and the workpiece positioning unit 14 will have already moved into alignment with the column containing the selected workpiece during the step of delivering the selected workpiece to the engraving position (Fig. 17, steps 328 and 330). However, the X-axis position of the engraving tool is fine-tuned in step 344 to position the engraving tool for engraving. Y-axis movement of the Y-axis carriage 118 is likewise needed during step 344 to place the engraving tool in the proper starting Position.

At step 346, the Z-axis pressure for the selected workpiece is set by the controller. The Z-axis pressure is predetermined and stored in the controller, although it also may be calculated by the PC or controller if font size is to be calculated by the system rather than predetermined for each workpiece. The Z-axis pressure is set by activating the Z-axis stepper 164 to lower (if pressure is to be increased to provide a greater stroke width) or raise (to decrease Z-axis pressure and stroke width) the engraving tool to the position predetermined for the desired stroke width. Finally, in step 348, the text is engraved onto the workpiece. Engraving is carried out by starting and stopping the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis stepper motors as necessary to move the engraving tool to engrave the letters of the desired text onto the workpiece. A method of combining X- and Y-axis movement in order to engrave characters onto a workpiece is described in detail in U.S. Patent No. 4,437,150.

If additional jobs have been sent to the controller by the PC, the controller next begins with workpiece selection, positioning, and dispensing (Fig. 15, step 304 and Fig. 17) of the next selected workpiece.

while one embodiment of the present invention have been described, many others are possible within the scope of the invention. The scope of the invention is not intended to be limited to the specific embodiment described above, but is limited only in terms of the appended claims.


Anspruch[de]
  1. Automatisiertes Graviersystem, in dem ein vorbestimmtes Werkstück gemäß von einem Benutzer gelieferten Daten graviert wird, wobei die vom Benutzer gelieferten Daten einen ausgewählten Werkstücktyp und auf dem Werkstück einzugravierende Zeichen bezeichnen, umfassend:
    • eine auf die vom Benutzer gelieferten Daten reagierende Steuereinrichtung (302) zum Erzeugen von Werkstücktransportbefehlen und Gravierbefehlen und zum Umsetzen der genannten Befehle in Steuersignale;
    • eine Werkstücktransporteinrichtung (14, 16) zum Zubringen des vom Benutzer ausgewählten Werkstücks (500) und zu seinem Platzieren in der Gravierposition in Reaktion auf von der Steuereinrichtung (302) in Reaktion auf die vom Benutzer gelieferten Daten erzeugten Werkstücktransportsteuersignale; und
    • eine Graviereinrichtung (12) zum Gravieren des vom Benutzer ausgewählten Werkstücks (500) gemäß den Gravierungssteuersignalen, wenn das vom Benutzer ausgewählte Werkstück (500) in einer Gravierposition angeordnet ist.
  2. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 1, gekennzeichnet durch

       Benutzeroberflächeneinrichtung (300) zum Auffordern des Benutzers zur Auswahl eines Werkstücks aus einer Gruppe möglicher Werkstücke und zum Liefern von Informationen über auf dem Werkstück einzugravierende Zeichen und zum Identifizieren einer Position eines vom Benutzer ausgewählten Werkstücks und Bereitstellen der vom Benutzer gelieferten Zeicheninformationen; und dadurch, dass

       die Steuereinrichtung (302) auf die gelieferten Zeicheninformationen und die identifizierte Position des ausgewählten Werkstücks zum Erzeugen von Werkstücktransportsteuersignalen und Graviersteuersignalen reagiert; und

       dass die Werkstücktransportvorrichtung (14, 16) für das Zubringen des vom Benutzer ausgewählten Werkstücks und das Platzieren von ihm in einer Gravierposition in Vorbereitung auf einen Graviervorgang auf die Werkstücktransportsteuersignale reagiert.
  3. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 2, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Werkstücktransporteinrichtung (14, 16) zum Liefern des Werkstücks an den Benutzer nach Abschluss des Graviervorgangs ausgeführt ist.
  4. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 1, dadurch gekennzeichnet,

       dass die Steuereinrichtung (302) zum Erhalten von vom Benutzer gelieferten Daten, die einen ausgewählten Werkstücktyp und auf dem Werkstück einzugravierende Zeichen bezeichnen, und zum Erzeugen von Formatierungsbefehlen, Werkstücktransportbefehlen und Gravierbefehlen entsprechend den vom Benutzer gelieferten Daten in Reaktion darauf und zum Umsetzen der genannten Befehle in Steuersignale ausgeführt ist; dass die Werkstücktransporteinrichtung (14, 16) auf von der Steuereinrichtung erzeugte Steuersignale reagierende Mittel (94, 82, 92, 120, 100, 66, 72) zum Zubringen eines Werkstücks des ausgewählten Typs aus seinem betreffenden Lagerplatz und zum Bewegen des Werkstücks zu einer Gravierposition hat; und

       Einspannmittel (46, 56) zum Festspannen des Werkstücks in der Gravierposition.
  5. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 2, gekennzeichnet durch eine Werkstücklagerkammer, die Folgendes umfasst:
    • eine Mehrzahl von Werkstücksäulen (28), die jeweils eine Werkstückübergabestelle haben; und
    • eine Liefereinrichtung (15, 17, 42, 44) zum Liefern und Vorspannen eines Werkstücks aus jeder Säule (28) in seine betreffende Übergabestelle.
  6. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 5, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass

       jede Werkstücksäule (28) einen Stapel (31) Werkstücke enthält und die Liefereinrichtung eine Mehrzahl von teilweise zusammengedrückten Federn (42) umfasst, die jeweils im Inneren einer der Werkstücksäulen (28) angeordnet sind, um gegen den assoziierten Stapel (31) Werkstücke zu drücken.
  7. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 5, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass

       die Zubringeinrichtung eine Mehrzahl von Platten (46) umfasst, die jeweils eine Öffnung (55) haben, wobei jede Platte (46) mit ihrer Öffnung (55) die Übergabestelle (36) ihrer assoziierten Säule (28) überdeckend positionierbar ist und ferner auf eine Gravierposition positionierbar ist.
  8. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 7, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass jedes Werkstück eine Form hat und jede Säule (28) eine Durchgangsbohrung mit einer Form hat, die der Form ihres assoziierten Werkstücktyps ähnlich ist.
  9. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 7, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass jeder Werkstücktyp eine Form hat und dass sich um die Öffnung (55) in jeder Platte (46) herum eine Aussparung (54) befindet, wobei die Aussparung (54) zu ihrer assoziierten Säule (28) weist und eine Form entsprechend der Form ihres assoziierten Werkstücktyps hat, wobei die Aussparung (54) ferner einen Durchmesser hat, der größer als der des assoziierten Werkstücktyps ist,

       wobei eine Rolle (56) an jeder Werkstücksäule (28) montiert ist zum Rolleingriff mit der entsprechenden Platte (46), wobei die Rolle zur Platte (46) hin vorgespannt wird und zum Anliegen am Werkstück (500) positioniert ist, wenn sich ein Werkstück (500) in der Aussparung (54) befindet und die Platte (46) in der Gravierposition positioniert wurde.
  10. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 2, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Graviereinrichtung (12) Folgendes umfasst:
    • ein Gravierwerkzeug (152) mit einer Gravierspitze (154);
    • erste Manipuliereinrichtung zum Manipulieren des Werkzeugs in einer X-Richtung und einer Y-Richtung; und
    • zweite Manipuliereinrichtung (164) zum Manipulieren des Werkzeugs in einer Z-Richtung zum Heben und Senken der Gravierspitze (154) von einer Oberfläche eines Werkstücks in der Gravierposition und zum Einstellen von Druck auf die Gravierspitze (154).
  11. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 2, gekennzeichnet durch eine Werkstückausgabeeinrichtung zum Ausgeben des Werkstücks an den Benutzer, nachdem es graviert worden ist.
  12. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 2, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Steuereinrichtung (302) zum Erzeugen von Zubehörausgabebefehlen und zum Umsetzen der genannten Befehle in Zubehörausgabesteuersignale ausgeführt ist, und dass das System ferner Folgendes umfasst:
    • eine auf die Zubehörausgabesteuersignale reagierende Zubehörausgabeeinrichtung (18, 228) zum Ausgeben eines Zubehörs eines mit dem vom Benutzer ausgewählten Werkstücktyp vorassoziierten Typs.
  13. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 10, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die zweite Manipuliereinrichtung (164) Folgendes umfasst:
    • einen federvorbelasteten Schrittmotor zum Drängen des Werkzeugs gegen das Werkstück.
  14. Automatisiertes Graviersystem nach Anspruch 4, gekennzeichnet durch eine Werkstücklagerkammer (16, 28) und dadurch, dass jede betreffende Lagerstelle innerhalb der Werkstücklagerkammer (16, 28) liegt.
  15. Verfahren zum Steuern eines Graviersystems (14, 16) mit einer Werkstücklagereinheit (16), einem Werkstücktransportsystem (14, 16) zum Bewegen eines ausgewählten Werkstücks aus der Werkstücklagereinheit (16), wobei es während des Gravierens an einer Gravierstelle befestigt wird, und ein Gravierwerkzeug (152) zum Gravieren des ausgewählten Werkstücks, wobei das Verfahren Folgendes umfasst :
    • (a) Erhalten von Benutzerbefehlen (312, 316) von einem Benutzer, wobei die Benutzerbefehle einen ausgewählten Werkstücktyp und die auf ein Werkstück zu gravierenden Zeichen spezifizieren;
    • (b) Erzeugen von Gravierbefehlen entsprechend den Zeichen in den Benutzerbefehlen;
    • (c) Umsetzen der Gravierbefehle in Graviersteuersignale;
    • (d) Erzeugen von Werkstückzubringungsbefehlen (326) entsprechend einer Position, die den ausgewählten Werkstücktyp ïn der Werkstücklagereinheit (16) des vom Benutzer spezifizierten Typs enthält;
    • (e) Umsetzen der Werkstückzubringungsbefehle in Werkstückzubringungssteuersignale;
    • (f) Übertragen der Werkstückzubringungssteuersignale zum Werkstücktransportsystem (14, 16);
    • (g) Bewegen eines ausgewählten Werkstücks von der Werkstücklagerstelle zu einer Gravierstelle in Reaktion auf die Werkstückzubringungssteuersignale;
    • (h) Übertragen der Graviersteuersignale zu einem Graviersystem;
    • (i) Gravieren einer Oberfläche des ausgewählten Werkstücks gemäß den Graviersteuersignalen zum Produzieren eines gravierten Werkstücks.
  16. Verfahren nach Anspruch 15, gekennzeichnet durch die folgenden Schritte:
    • (j) Erzeugen von Werkstückausgabebefehlen;
    • (k) Umsetzen der Werkstückausgabebefehle in Werkstückausgabesteuersignale;
    • (1) Übertragen der Werkstückausgabesteuersignale zum Werkstücktransportsystem; und,
    • (m) nach Schritt (i), Ausgeben des gravierten Werkstücks.
  17. Verfahren nach Anspruch 16, bei dem das Graviersystem eine Zubehörausgabeeinheit (18) hat, die Zubehör entsprechend dem ausgewählten Werkstücktyp ausgibt, wobei das Verfahren durch die folgenden Schritte gekennzeichnet ist:
    • Erzeugen von Zubehörausgabebefehlen, die eine Stelle eines zutreffenden Zubehörs in der Zubehörausgabeeinheit (18) identifizieren,
    • Umsetzen der Zubehörausgabebefehle in Zubehörausgabesteuersignale;
    • Übertragen der Zubehörausgabesteuersignale zum Werkstücktransportsystem (14, 16) und
    • Ausgeben des zutreffenden Zubehörs.
  18. Verfahren nach Anspruch 15, dadurch gekennzeichnet, das Schritt (b) die folgenden Schritte umfasst:
    • Erzeugen von Schriftartbefehlen für den ausgewählten Werkstücktyp und die vom Benutzer gelieferten Zeichen und
    • Erzeugen von Formatierungsbefehlen für den ausgewählten Werkstücktyp und die vom Benutzer gelieferten Zeichen.
  19. Verfahren nach Anspruch 18, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass der Schritt des Erzeugens von Schriftartbefehlen den Schritt des Erzeugens von Gravierwerkzeugdruckbefehlen beinhaltet.
Anspruch[en]
  1. An automated engraving system in which a predetermined workpiece is engraved in accordance with data supplied by a user, the user-supplied data indicating a selected workpiece type and indicia to be engraved on the workpiece, comprising

       control means (302) responsive to the data supplied by the user for generating workpiece handling instructions and engraving instructions, and for converting said instructions into control signals;

       workpiece handling means (14, 16) for retrieving the user-selected workpiece (500) and placing it in the engraving position in response to workpiece handling control signals generated by the control means (302) in response to the user-supplied data; and

       engraving means (12) for engraving the user-selected workpiece (500) in accordance with the engraving control signals when the user-selected workpiece (500) is located in an engraving position.
  2. An automated engraving system according to claim 1, characterised by

       user interface means (300) for prompting the user to select a workpiece from a group of possible workpieces and to supply information about indicia to be engraved on the workpiece, and for identifying a location of a workpiece selected by the user and providing the user supplied indicia information; and in that

       the control means (302) is responsive to the supplied indicia information and the identified location of the selected workpiece for generating workpiece handling control signals and engraving control signals; and

       that the workpiece handling means (14, 16) is responsive to the workpiece handling control signals for retrieving the user selected workpiece and placing it in an engraving position in preparation for an engraving operation.
  3. An automated engraving system according to claim 2, characterised in that the workpiece handling means (14, 16) is adapted to deliver the workpiece to the user upon completion of the engraving operation.
  4. An automated engraving system according to claim 1, characterised in that

       the control means (302) is adapted to receive user-supplied data indicating a selected type of workpiece and indicia to be engraved on the workpiece, and to generate in response thereto formatting instructions, workpiece handling instructions, and engraving instructions corresponding to the user-supplied data, and to convert said instructions into control signals; in that the workpiece handling means (14, 16) comprises means (94, 82, 92, 120, 100, 66, 72) responsive to control signals generated by the control means, for retrieving a workpiece of the selected type from its respective storage location and for moving the workpiece to an engraving position; and

       clamping means (46, 56) for clamping the workpiece in the engraving position.
  5. An automated engraving system according to claim 2, characterised by a workpiece storage chamber comprising :

       a plurality of workpiece columns (28), each having a workpiece delivery location; and

       delivery means (15, 17, 42, 44) for delivery and biasing a workpiece from each column (28) into its respective delivery location.
  6. An automated engraving system according to claim 5, characterised in that

       each workpiece column (28) houses a stack (31) of workpieces; and the delivery means comprises a plurality of partially compressed springs (42), each positioned inside one of the workpiece columns (28) to apply force against the associated stack (31) of workpieces.
  7. An automated engraving system according to claim 5, characterised in that

       the retrieving means comprises a plurality of plates (46) each having an opening (55), each plate (46) positionable with its opening (55) in registration with the delivery location (36) of its associated column (28) and further positionable to an engraving position.
  8. An automated engraving system according to claim 7, characterised in that each workpiece has a shape and each column (28) has a throughbore having a shape similar to the shape of its associated workpiece type.
  9. An automated engraving system according to claim 7, characterised in that each workpiece type has a shape, and in that a relief (54) is provided around the opening (55) in each plate (46), the relief (54) facing its associated column (28) and having a shape corresponding to the shape of its associated workpiece type, the relief (54) further having a diameter that is larger than that of the associated workpiece type,

       a roller (56) mounted to each workpiece column (28) for rolling engagement with the corresponding plate (46), the roller biased towards the plate (46) and positioned for abutment with a workpiece (500) when a workpiece (500) is situated in the relief (54) and the plate (46) has been positioned to the engraving position.
  10. An automated engraving system according to claim 2, characterised in that the engraving means (12) comprises:
    • an engraving tool (152) having an engraving tip (154);
    • first manipulating means (94, 132) for manipulating the tool in an X direction and a Y direction; and
    • second manipulating means (164) for manipulating the tool in a Z direction to raise and lower the engraving tip (154) from a surface of a workpiece in the engraving position and to adjust pressure on the engraving tip (154).
  11. An automated engraving system according to claim 2, characterised by workpiece dispensing means for dispensing the workpiece to the user after it has been engraved.
  12. An automated engraving system according to claim 2, characterised in that the control means (302) is adapted to generate accessory dispensing instructions and to convert said instructions into accessory dispensing control signals, and in that the system further comprises:
    • accessory dispensing means (18, 228) responsive to the accessory dispensing control signals, for dispensing an accessory of a type pre-associated with the workpiece type selected by the user.
  13. An automated engraving system according to claim 10, characterised in that the second manipulating means (164) comprises:
    • a spring biased stepper motor for urging the tool against the workpiece.
  14. An automated engraving system according to claim 4, characterised by a workpiece storage chamber (16, 28), and in that each respective storage location is within the workpiece storage chamber (16, 28).
  15. A method of controlling an engraving system (14, 16) having a workpiece storage unit (16), a workpiece handling system (14, 16) for moving a selected workpiece from the workpiece storage unit (16), securing it in an engraving location during engraving, and an engraving tool (152) for engraving the selected workpiece, the method comprising:
    • (a) receiving user instructions (312, 316) from a user, the user instructions specifying a selected workpiece type and the indicia to be engraved onto a workpiece;
    • (b) generating engraving instructions corresponding to the indicia in the user instructions;
    • (c) converting the engraving instructions into the engraving control signals;
    • (d) generating workpiece retrieval instructions (326) corresponding to a position containing the selected workpiece type in the workpiece storage unit (16) of the workpiece type specified by the user;
    • (e) converting the workpiece retrieval instructions to workpiece retrieval control signals;
    • (f) transferring the workpiece retrieval control signals to the workpiece handling system (14, 16);
    • (g) moving a selected workpiece from the workpiece storage location to an engraving location in response to the workpiece retrieval control signals;
    • (h) transferring the engraving control signals to an engraving system;
    • (i) engraving a surface of the selected workpiece in accordance with the engraving control signals to produce an engraved workpiece.
  16. A method according to claim 15, characterised by the steps of:
    • (j) generating workpiece dispensing instructions;
    • (k) converting the workpiece dispensing instructions to workpiece dispensing control signals;
    • (1) transferring the workpiece dispensing control signals to the workpiece handling system; and
    • (m) after step (i), dispensing the engraved workpiece.
  17. A method according to claim 16, wherein the engraving system has an accessory dispensing unit (18) which dispenses an accessory corresponding to the selected workpiece type, the method being characterised by the steps of:
    • generating accessory dispensing instructions identifying a location of an appropriate accessory in the accessory dispensing unit (18),
    • converting the accessory dispensing instructions to accessory dispensing control signals;
    • transferring the accessory dispensing control signals to the workpiece handling system (14, 16); and
    • dispensing the appropriate accessory.
  18. A method according to claim 15, characterised in that step (b) comprises the steps of

       generating font instructions for the selected workpiece type and user-supplied indicia; and

       generating formatting instructions for the selected workpiece type and user-supplied indicia.
  19. A method according to claim 18, characterised in that the step of generating font instructions includes the step of generating engraving tool pressure instructions.
Anspruch[fr]
  1. Système de gravure automatisé dans lequel un article prédéterminé est gravé conformément à des données fournies par un utilisateur, les données fournies par l'utilisateur indiquant un type d'article sélectionné et des marques à graver sur l'article, comprenant

       un moyen de commande (302) sensible aux données fournies par l'utilisateur pour générer des instructions de manutention et des instructions de gravure d'article, et pour convertir lesdites instructions en signaux de commande ;

       un moyen de manutention d'article (14, 16) pour extraire l'article sélectionné par l'utilisateur (500) et le placer dans la position de gravure en réponse à des signaux de commande de manutention d'article générés par le moyen de commande (302) en réponse aux données fournies par l'utilisateur ; et

       un moyen de gravure (12) pour graver l'article sélectionné par l'utilisateur (500) conformément aux signaux de commande de gravure quand l'article sélectionné par l'utilisateur (500) est placé à une position de gravure.
  2. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 1, caractérisé par

       un moyen d'interface utilisateur (300) pour demander à l'utilisateur de sélectionner un article parmi un groupe d'articles possibles et de fournir des informations sur les marques à graver sur l'article, et pour identifier un emplacement d'un article sélectionné par l'utilisateur et fournir les informations de marques fournies par l'utilisateur ; et en ce que

       le moyen de commande (302) est sensible aux informations de marques fournies et à l'emplacement identifié de l'article sélectionné pour générer des signaux de commande de manutention et des signaux de commande de gravure d'article ; et

       en ce que le moyen de manutention d'article (14, 16) est sensible aux signaux de commande de manutention d'article pour extraire l'article sélectionné par l'utilisateur et le placer à une position de gravure en préparation à une opération de gravure.
  3. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 2, caractérisé en ce que le moyen de manutention d'article (14, 16) est adapté pour livrer l'article à l'utilisateur à l'issue de l'opération de gravure.
  4. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 1, caractérisé en ce que

       le moyen de commande (302) est adapté pour recevoir des données fournies par l'utilisateur indiquant un type sélectionné d'article et des marques à graver sur l'article, et pour générer en réponse à cela des instructions de formatage, des instructions de manutention d'article, et des instructions de gravure correspondant aux données fournies par l'utilisateur, et pour convertir lesdites instructions en signaux de commande ; en ce que le moyen de manutention d'article (14, 16) comprend un moyen (94, 82, 92, 120, 100, 66, 72) sensible aux signaux de commande générés par le moyen de commande, pour extraire un article du type sélectionné depuis son emplacement de stockage respectif et pour déplacer l'article jusqu'à une position de gravure ; et

       un moyen de fixation (46, 56) pour fixer l'article à la position de gravure.
  5. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 2, caractérisé par une chambre de stockage d'articles comprenant
    • une pluralité de colonnes d'articles (28), ayant chacune un emplacement de délivrance d'article ; et
    • un moyen de délivrance (15, 17, 42, 44) pour délivrer et charger préliminairement un article à partir de chaque colonne (28) dans son emplacement de délivrance respectif.
  6. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 5, caractérisé en ce que

       chaque colonne d'articles (28) abrite une pile (31) d'articles ; et le moyen de délivrance comprend une pluralité de ressorts partiellement comprimés (42), chacun positionné à l'intérieur de l'une des colonnes d'articles (28) afin d'appliquer une force contre la pile associée (31) d'articles.
  7. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 5, caractérisé en ce que

       le moyen d'extraction comprend une pluralité de plaques (46) ayant chacune une ouverture (55), chaque plaque (46) pouvant être positionnée avec son ouverture (55) en alignement avec l'emplacement de délivrance (36) de sa colonne associée (28) et pouvant être en outre positionnée à une position de gravure.
  8. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 7, caractérisé en ce que chaque article a une forme et chaque colonne (28) a un alésage ayant une forme semblable à la forme de son type d'article associé.
  9. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 7, caractérisé en ce que chaque type d'article a une forme, et en ce qu'un évidement (54) est aménagé tout autour de l'ouverture (55) dans chaque plaque (46), l'évidement (54) faisant face à sa colonne associée (28) et ayant une forme correspondant à la forme de son type d'article associé, l'évidement (54) ayant en outre un diamètre qui est plus grand que celui du type d'article associé,

       un rouleau (56) monté sur chaque colonne d'article (28) pour un engagement par roulement avec la plaque correspondante (46), le rouleau étant chargé préliminairement vers la plaque (46) et positionné pour buter contre un article (500) quand un article (500) est situé dans l'évidement (54) et la plaque (46) a été positionnée à la position de gravure.
  10. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 2, caractérisé en ce que le moyen de gravure (12) comprend :
    • un outil de gravure (152) ayant une pointe de gravure (154) ;
    • un premier moyen de manipulation (94, 132) pour manipuler l'outil dans un sens X et un sens Y ; et
    • un deuxième moyen de manipulation (164) pour manipuler l'outil dans un sens Z pour relever et abaisser la pointe de gravure (154) depuis une surface d'un article dans la position de gravure et pour régler la pression sur la pointe de gravure (154).
  11. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 2, caractérisé par un moyen de distribution d'article pour distribuer l'article à l'utilisateur après qu'il a été gravé.
  12. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 2, caractérisé en ce que le moyen de commande (302) est adapté pour générer des instructions de distribution d'accessoire et convertir lesdites instructions en signaux de commande de distribution d'accessoire, et en ce que le système comprend en outre :
    • un moyen de distribution d'accessoire (18, 228) sensible aux signaux de commande de distribution d'accessoire, pour distribuer un accessoire d'un type pré-associé au type d'article sélectionné par l'utilisateur.
  13. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 10, caractérisé en ce que le deuxième moyen de manipulation (164) comprend

       un moteur pas-à-pas chargé préliminairement par ressort pour pousser l'outil contre l'article.
  14. Système de gravure automatisé selon la revendication 4, caractérisé par une chambre de stockage d'articles (16, 28), et en ce que chaque emplacement de stockage d'article se trouve dans la chambre de stockage d'articles (16, 28).
  15. Procédé de commande d'un système de gravure (14, 16) ayant une unité de stockage d'articles (16), un système de manutention d'articles (14, 16) pour déplacer un article sélectionné depuis l'unité de stockage d'articles (16), le fixer à un emplacement de gravure durant la gravure, et un outil de gravure (152) pour graver l'article sélectionné, le procédé comprenant :
    • (a) la réception d'instructions d'utilisateur (312, 316) depuis un utilisateur, les instructions d'utilisateur spécifiant un type d'article sélectionné et les marques à graver sur un article ;
    • (b) la génération d'instructions de gravure correspondant aux marques dans les instructions d'utilisateur ;
    • (c) la conversion des instructions de gravure en les signaux de commande de gravure ;
    • (d) la génération d'instructions d'extraction d'article (326) correspondant à une position contenant le type d'article sélectionné dans l'unité de stockage d'articles (16) du type d'article spécifié par l'utilisateur ;
    • (e) la conversion des instructions d'extraction d'article en signaux de commande d'extraction d'article ;
    • (f) le transfert des signaux de commande d'extraction d'article au système de manutention d'article (14, 16) ;
    • (g) le déplacement d'un article sélectionné depuis l'emplacement de stockage d'article jusqu'à un emplacement de gravure en réponse aux signaux de commande d'extraction d'article ;
    • (h) le transfert des signaux de commande de gravure à un système de gravure ;
    • (i) la gravure d'une surface de l'article sélectionné conformément aux signaux de commande de gravure afin de produire un article gravé.
  16. Procédé selon la revendication 15, caractérisé par les étapes de :
    • (j) génération d'instructions de distribution d'article ;
    • (k) conversion des instructions de distribution d'article en signaux de commande de distribution d'article ;
    • (1) transfert des signaux de commande de distribution d'article au système de manutention d'article ; et
    • (m) après l'étape (i), distribution de l'article gravé.
  17. Procédé selon la revendication 16, dans lequel le système de gravure a une unité de distribution d'accessoire (18) qui distribue un accessoire correspondant au type d'article sélectionné, le procédé étant caractérisé par les étapes de :
    • génération d'instructions de distribution d'accessoire identifiant un emplacement d'un accessoire approprié dans l'unité de distribution d'accessoire (18),
    • conversion des instructions de distribution d'accessoire en signaux de commande de distribution d'accessoire ;
    • transfert des signaux de commande de distribution d'accessoire au système de manutention d'article (14, 16) ; et
    • distribution de l'accessoire approprié.
  18. Procédé selon la revendication 15, caractérisé en ce que l'étape (b) comprend les étapes de

       génération d'instructions de police pour le type d'article sélectionné et les marques fournies par l'utilisateur ; et

       génération d'instructions de formatage pour le type d'article sélectionné et les marques fournies par l'utilisateur.
  19. Procédé selon la revendication 18, caractérisé en ce que l'étape de génération d'instructions de police comporte l'étape de génération d'instructions de pression d'outil de gravure.






IPC
A Täglicher Lebensbedarf
B Arbeitsverfahren; Transportieren
C Chemie; Hüttenwesen
D Textilien; Papier
E Bauwesen; Erdbohren; Bergbau
F Maschinenbau; Beleuchtung; Heizung; Waffen; Sprengen
G Physik
H Elektrotechnik

Anmelder
Datum

Patentrecherche

Patent Zeichnungen (PDF)

Copyright © 2008 Patent-De Alle Rechte vorbehalten. eMail: info@patent-de.com