Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Keywords: Grippers, Feeders, Vacuum
Applicant: ABB Flexible Automation Inc. (US)Patent number: US5984623Publication date: 16 November 1999Title: Carrier feed vacuum gripper
The present invention relates to devices for transferring generally flattened articles from a shipping container to a desired location. More particularly, it relates to a robot end effector capable of: manipulating shipping containers which hold generally flattened articles; and removing the articles from the containers so that the articles may be delivered to a desired location. In bottling, canning, and other industries large amounts of packaging material such as folded, flat, paperboard containers must be handled. Typically, packaging material arrives in shipping containers such as corrugated cardboard boxes. The boxes are shipped on pallets and it is necessary to remove the packaging material from the corrugated boxes on the pallets to automated processing lines where, for example, folded paperboard containers are opened, filled with beverage cans, and then sealed. It is an object of the present invention to provide a device which may be used to handle stacks of shipping containers, cases, or boxes filled with relatively flat articles. A further object is to provide an end effector for use with a robot where the end effector is capable of picking a full case of relatively flat articles from a tightly-packed pallet of cases and moving the selected case to an unloading or emptying station. These and other objects and advantages are achieved in an end effector including a main body designed to be coupled to an industrial robot. A case gripper is mounted on the bottom of the main body. The case gripper includes a mount, a first suction assembly pivotably coupled to the mount, a linear slide or thruster, and a second suction assembly coupled to the linear slide. The first suction assembly of the case gripper includes two arms pivotably coupled to the mount. Each arm has first and second ends and a biasing mechanism coupled to its first end and a suction device coupled to its second end. Each arm is biased so that it remains in a substantially vertical position, even when the end effector is tilted or moved to an inclined position. One or both of the arms may have a proximity sensor mounted on their second ends. The end effector also includes a vacuum source mounted on the top of the main body and two other grippers: a flattened articles gripper and a dunnage gripper. The flattened articles gripper is mounted to the top of the main body and coupled in fluid communication to the vacuum source. The flattened articles gripper includes a vacuum chamber with two grooved blades, one of which is adjustable by means of a linear thruster. The dunnage gripper is mounted on one side of the main body. In operation, the case gripper picks a full case from a pallet of cases and moves the selected case to an unloading station. There, the case is released and the end effector is rotated so that the blades of the flattened articles gripper can be inserted into the case. With the blades inserted into the case, vacuum is supplied to the flattened articles gripper to hold the articles against the gripper. The end effector holding the articles may then be moved to a desired location, such as an automated processing line, where the articles are released.