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United States Patent Application 20160273145
Kind Code A1
Zimmerman; Mark W. ;   et al. September 22, 2016

Automated Step for Industrial Washer

Abstract

An industrial washer/extractor with an automated step, components thereof, and applications thereof. The industrial washer/extractor can include at least one opening within which goods are loaded to be washed, and an automated step positioned underneath the at least one opening. The automated step can be structured, configured, or programmed to: automatically move from a first retracted position to a second extended position upon a first predetermined interval; and automatically move from the second extended position to the first retracted position upon a second predetermined interval.


Inventors: Zimmerman; Mark W.; (Syracuse, NY) ; Blair; Ryan J.; (Camillus, NY) ; Willers; Diedrich D.; (Syracuse, NY)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

G.A. Braun, Inc.

North Syracuse

NY

US
Assignee: G.A. Braun, Inc.
North Syracuse
NY

Family ID: 1000001796093
Appl. No.: 15/058634
Filed: March 2, 2016


Related U.S. Patent Documents

Application NumberFiling DatePatent Number
62134776Mar 18, 2015

Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: D06F 33/02 20130101
International Class: D06F 33/02 20060101 D06F033/02

Claims



1. An industrial washer/extractor comprising: at least one opening within which goods are loaded to be washed; an automated step positioned underneath the at least one opening, the automated step being structured, configured, or programmed to: automatically move from a first retracted position to a second extended position upon a first predetermined interval; and automatically move from the second extended position to the first retracted position upon a second predetermined interval.

2. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 1, further comprising an actuator connected to the automated step, wherein the actuator is structured, configured, programmed or positioned to move the automated step from the first retracted position to the second extended position.

3. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 2, wherein the actuator is a pneumatic circuit comprising a pneumatic cylinder and a tank of compressed air.

4. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 2, wherein the actuator is a hydraulic circuit comprising a hydraulic pump operatively connected to drive a hydraulic cylinder.

5. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 2, wherein the actuator is an electric circuit comprising an electric motor.

6. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 3, further comprising a host computer, having a non-transitory computer-readable storage medium having program code for: transmitting a data stream to the actuator, wherein the data stream includes at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval.

7. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 4, wherein the actuator is configured or programmed to: receive in the data stream at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval; move the automated step from the first retracted position to the second extended position upon receipt of the first predetermined interval in the data stream; and move the automated step from the second extended position to the first retracted position upon receipt of the second predetermined interval in the data stream.

8. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 5, wherein at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval is reception of a command.

9. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 5, wherein at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval is the passage of a period of time.

10. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 5, wherein the first predetermined interval is a period of time when the industrial washer/extractor is initially ready to be loaded with goods to be washed and the at least one opening is not closed.

11. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 5, wherein the second predetermined interval is a period of time when the industrial washer/extractor begins a wash cycle.

12. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 1, wherein the movement between the first retracted position and the second extended position is in the horizontal direction.

13. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 1, wherein the industrial washer/extractor is a tilting side loader comprising four openings.

14. The industrial washer/extractor of claim 1, further comprising a plurality of base legs over which the automated step is configured to move from the first retracted position to the second extended position and from the second extended position to the first retracted position.
Description



CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 62/134,776, filed on Mar. 18, 2015 and entitled "Automated Step for Industrial Washer," the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0002] The present disclosure is directed generally to industrial washers/extractors, and more particularly, to an automated step for an industrial washer/extractor that is configured to automatically deploy upon the occurrence of a predetermined interval.

BACKGROUND

[0003] Industrial washers/extractors are known. Industrial washers/extractors can include an open pocket washer/extractor, a top side loading washer/extractor, a tilting side loading washer/extractor, and an end loader washer extractor, as should be appreciated by those of skill in the art.

[0004] The open pocket washers/extractors are a typical choice for the commercial laundry industry, processing larger batches of various goods types (clothing etc.). They are front loading machines and are used in manual and semi/fully automated wash alleys. In a manual wash alley, the clothing can be loaded into the machine either directly from a laundry cart or more commonly with a sling system using bags hung from a rail. The operator first positions the bag over the open door, and then pushes the bag fully into the opening while pulling the draw string allowing the goods to fall into the spinning cylinder. This manual loading process is still in use in many laundries today and is an area that has magnified the need for a safer and more ergonomic solution. The second step in the manual wash alley is unloading the washer/extractor and getting the goods transferred to the dryers. The open pocket washer/extractor allows for a forward tilt angle of between 15-20 degrees providing optimal positioning to unload into a cart. During the manual unload process, the operator spins the basket manually allowing the clothes to exit the washer into a cart. Again, this process requires the cart to be held close to the machine and typically takes at least two carts depending on the size of the washer. In many cases a sling bag lines the cart and when full is attached to a hoist. The sling bag is then raised back up into the rail system allowing movement over to the dryer. These systems are typically labor intensive and do not provide the best ergonomic environment for the operators. In a semi-automated wash alley, the open pocket washed/extractor is still manually loaded, however, the unloaded process is fully automated. In a fully automated wash alley, the loading and unloading of the machine are fully automated.

[0005] The top side loader (TSL) is loaded from the side of the cylinder versus the front. Unlike the open pocket washer/extractors, the side loader comes in a splitpocket configuration. Most offer either a two or three pocket solution. This split-pocket configuration allows for smaller batch sizes of like goods to be washed simultaneously. These machines allow for distinct batch separation in each pocket of the washer/extractor. TSLs can be loaded by hand or can be loaded using sling bags; however, the cylinder is not spun during the loading process taking the dangers associated with a spinning cylinder out of play. Some TSLs also allow for a gravity assist unloading process. This is done by positioning the cylinder at a downward angle on each pocket allowing the operator to easily unload the goods from each pocket into separate carts. Top side loaders come in three different configurations. These are a standard configuration allowing loading and unloading from the same side. The other configurations are a Medicare or Cleanroom configuration allowing the operator to load from one side and unload from the opposite side of the washer/extractor. In the Medicare and Cleanroom options, the load and unload side is separated by a barrier wall keeping the soiled side isolated from the clean unload side of the machine.

[0006] The tilting side loader is an open pocket side loader utilizing up to four pockets. Loading is done either by hand or by sling bag, as discussed above with respect to the open pocket washer/extractor. The tilting side loader also allows for distinct batch separation. The advantage of this machine is that when the load is complete, the operator tilts the entire cylinder forward allowing all the pockets to be unloaded simultaneously into separate carts. This speeds up the load and unload process, as the operator does not have to jog the basket to each individual pocket during the loading and unloading phase.

[0007] Like the top side loader, the end loader is also a split pocket machine. However, the end loader provides a distinct advantage over the open pocket and top side loader in the height of the machine per stated capacity. The end loaders are a low profile washer/extractor allowing them to be utilized in areas with very low ceiling height such as on large cruise liners. They are also utilized in small areas with low ceiling heights like hotels and small on-premise laundries (OPLs). These machines are typically loaded by hand and not from sling bags as the machine does not tilt nor provide an upward angled cylinder opening conducive to loading with a sling bag.

[0008] Like the open end washer/extractor, each of the other washer/extractors briefly described above face the same issues related to ergonomics and safety in manual and semi-automated wash alleys.

[0009] Accordingly, there is a need in the art for an industrial washer/extractor or components thereof to provide a safer and more ergonomic solution to the problems addressed above.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0010] The present disclosure is directed to an inventive structure, configuration, and resulting function of an industrial washer/extractor with an automated step. Various embodiments and implementations herein are directed to an industrial washer/extractor that can include at least one opening within which goods are loaded to be washed, and an automated step positioned underneath the at least one opening. The automated step can be structured, configured, or programmed to: automatically move from a first retracted position to a second extended position upon a first predetermined interval; and automatically move from the second extended position to the first retracted position upon a second predetermined interval.

[0011] Using the various embodiments and implementations herein, the automated step can provide a safer and better ergonomic environment for the operators of industrial washer/extractors. Additionally, the automated step can replace any unstable manually operated separate steps, step ladders, or other separate step like devices.

[0012] Generally in one aspect, an industrial washer/extractor is provided and includes, but is not limited to: at least one opening within which goods are loaded to be washed; an automated step positioned underneath the at least one opening, the automated step being structured, configured, or programmed to: automatically move from a first retracted position to a second extended position upon a first predetermined interval; and automatically move from the second extended position to the first retracted position upon a second predetermined interval.

[0013] In accordance with an embodiment, the industrial washer/extractor further includes an actuator connected to the automated step, wherein the actuator is structured, configured, programmed or positioned to move the automated step from the first retracted position to the second extended position.

[0014] In accordance with an embodiment, the actuator is a pneumatic circuit comprising a pneumatic cylinder and a tank of compressed air.

[0015] In accordance with an embodiment, the actuator is a hydraulic circuit comprising a hydraulic pump operatively connected to drive a hydraulic cylinder.

[0016] In accordance with an embodiment, the actuator is an electric circuit comprising an electric motor.

[0017] In accordance with an embodiment, the industrial washer/extractor further includes a host computer, having a non-transitory computer-readable storage medium having program code for: transmitting a data stream to the actuator, wherein the data stream includes at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval.

[0018] In accordance with an embodiment, the actuator is configured or programmed to: receive in the data stream at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval; move the automated step from the first retracted position to the second extended position upon receipt of the first predetermined interval in the data stream; and move the automated step from the second extended position to the first retracted position upon receipt of the second predetermined interval in the data stream.

[0019] In accordance with an embodiment, at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval is reception of a command.

[0020] In accordance with an embodiment, at least one of the first predetermined interval and the second predetermined interval is the passage of a period of time.

[0021] In accordance with an embodiment, the first predetermined interval is a period of time when the industrial washer/extractor is initially ready to be loaded with goods to be washed and the at least one opening is not closed.

[0022] In accordance with an embodiment, the second predetermined interval is a period of time when the industrial washer/extractor begins a wash cycle.

[0023] In accordance with an embodiment, the movement between the first retracted position and the second extended position is in the horizontal direction.

[0024] In accordance with an embodiment, the industrial washer/extractor is a tilting side loader comprising four openings.

[0025] In accordance with an embodiment, the industrial washer/extractor further includes a plurality of base legs over which the automated step is configured to move from the first retracted position to the second extended position and from the second extended position to the first retracted position.

[0026] The data transmission, communication, and any control signals between the host computer and the automated step, actuator or pneumatic circuit described herein can be sent and received pursuant to wired or wireless communication. The wireless communication/transmission can be over a network, which can be any suitable wired or wireless network capable of transmitting communication, including but not limited to a telephone network, Internet, Intranet, local area network, Ethernet, online communication, offline communications, wireless communications and/or similar communications means. The wireless transmission can be accomplished through any wireless protocol/technology, including, but not limited to, ZigBee standards-based protocol, Bluetooth technology, and/or Wi-Fi technology. The devices can be located in the same room, in a different room in the same building, and/or in a completely different building and location from each other. A user using a host computer (or a different computer) can send data transmission, control or communication signals to the automated step, actuator, or pneumatic circuit to perform any of the functionalities described herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0027] In the drawings, like reference characters generally refer to the same parts throughout the different views. Also, the drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead generally being placed upon illustrating the principles of the invention.

[0028] FIG. 1 is a perspective view schematic representation of an industrial washer/extractor in accordance with an embodiment.

[0029] FIG. 2 is a perspective view schematic representation of an industrial washer/extractor in accordance with an embodiment.

[0030] FIG. 3 is a perspective bottom view schematic representation of an industrial washer/extractor in accordance with an embodiment.

[0031] FIG. 4 is a perspective top view schematic representation of an automated step in accordance with an embodiment.

[0032] FIG. 5 is a system architecture diagram of an actuator with various communication links to a computer in accordance with an embodiment.

[0033] FIG. 6 is a more detailed system architecture diagram of the actuator and computer shown in FIG. 5 in accordance with an embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS

[0034] The present disclosure describes various embodiments of an improved industrial washer/extractor with an automated step. More generally, Applicants have recognized and appreciated that industrial washers/extractors can be structured, configured, and programmed to provide a safer and better ergonomic environment for the operators of industrial washer/extractors with the addition of an automated step as described herein.

[0035] The present invention will be more fully understood and appreciated by reading the following Detailed Description in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein like reference numerals refer to like components. Even though a tilting side washer/extractor is specifically referenced and described in certain embodiments herein, other industrial washers/extractors are contemplated to be part of the systems and methods described herein.

[0036] Referring to FIGS. 1-2, in one embodiment, a perspective view schematic representation of an industrial washer/extractor 100 is provided. More particularly, the industrial washer/extractor 100 can include, but is not limited to, four openings or pockets 3 (shown in FIG. 2), within which goods (e.g., clothing or other material) can be deposited to be washed. Each of the pockets is shown covered by a separate door 5 in FIG. 1. An automated step 200 is also shown with two actuators 201 (the automated step 200 can include one actuator or more than one actuator). The actuator 201 can be structured, configured, programmed or positioned to move the automated step 200 (preferably in a horizontal direction) from the retracted position shown in FIG. 1 to the extended position shown in FIG. 2 based upon a first predetermined interval. The actuator 201 can also be structured, configured, programmed or positioned to move the automated step 200 from the extended position shown in FIG. 2 to the retracted position shown in FIG. 1 based upon a second predetermined interval. Three base legs 203 (it is contemplated that more than three or less than three base legs 203 can be implemented), over which the step can slide back and forth from a retracted position to an extended position, are also shown.

[0037] Referring to FIG. 3, in one embodiment, a perspective bottom view schematic representation of an industrial washer/extractor 100 is shown. The underside of the automated step 200 is shown, providing a better view of the actuators 201 and base legs 203. Additionally, each base leg 203 includes a track 205 on which a grove portion 209 of the automated step can slide from a retracted position to an extended position and back again.

[0038] Referring to FIG. 4, in one embodiment, a perspective top view schematic representation of an automated step 200 is shown. FIG. 4 shows the actuators 201, base legs 203, and tracks 205. One or more of the tracks can also include notches 207, each of which extends a different length away from the industrial washer/extractor 100. The notches can assist with maintaining the automated step in non-fully or fully extended position. Stated differently, the automated step can be programmed and/or receive instructions to move to a non-fully extended position to in a situation where the industrial washer/extractor is in a facility where the amount of space is an issue, for example.

[0039] In accordance with an embodiment, the actuator 201 can be a pneumatic circuit comprising a number of components (as should be appreciated by those of skill in the art in conjunction with a review of this disclosure) including a pneumatic cylinder, a tank of compressed air, valves, and a control unit (which can include firmware or another mechanism programed or configured to receive and implement commands from another source such as a computer, to move from a retracted position to an extended position and vice versa). In an alternate embodiment, the actuator may be a hydraulic circuit. The hydraulic circuit may, for example, comprise a hydraulic pump operatively configured to drive a hydraulic cylinder. Like the pneumatic circuit described above, the hydraulic circuit may include a control unit to receive and implement commands. In yet another embodiment, the actuator may be an electric circuit, comprising, for example, an electric motor and a control unit.

[0040] In accordance with an embodiment, movement of the automated step can be implemented or triggered at predetermined intervals, including, but not limited to, a predetermined period of time. For example, movement of the automated step can be implemented every hour, hour, half-hour, or every fifteen minutes in view of an industrial washer/extractor wash cycle time, non-functioning time (e.g., off, stand-by mode), or an event (e.g., beginning of a shift). In this embodiment, the time interval may be selected by the user, or may be selected by a host computer 302 (see FIGS. 5-6) connected to the industrial washer/extractor 100 and/or actuator 201 (randomly or otherwise by programming) and transmitted to the industrial washer/extractor 100 and/or actuator 201 or selected by the industrial washer/extractor 100 and/or actuator 201 (randomly or otherwise by programming). In order to determine passage of a time interval, the industrial washer/extractor 100 and/or actuator 201 may have an internal clock, or counter. Alternatively, the industrial washer/extractor 100 and/or actuator 201 may access an external clock or timer, such as over the internet. The interval of the movement of the automated step 201 may not be periodic, but may vary. For example, movement from a retracted position to an extended position can occur after a ten minute interval, then at a five minute interval, then at a thirteen minute interval etc. (which can depend on, for example, particular washing cycle times). The timing of the movement of the automated step 200 may be capped beneath a certain time limit. For example, the movement of the automated step 200 can take place at varying times, each time being shorter than one hour.

[0041] In accordance with an embodiment, the predetermined interval may be determined by one or more of a user, programming of the industrial washer/extractor 100, programming of the actuator 201 (or control mechanism connected to the actuator), or programming of a host computer 302 (see FIGS. 5-6) connected (wired or wirelessly) to the industrial washer/extractor 100 and/or actuator 201. The predetermined interval may also be determined, in part, by the type of goods to be washed or deadline to complete the wash of particular goods.

[0042] Referring to FIG. 5, in one embodiment, a system architecture diagram of an actuator 201 with various communication links to a computer 302 is shown. Communication connections between the computer 302 and the actuator 201, including a wired connection 106 and a wireless connection 108, are shown. A network 116 is also shown. A user 112 using the computer 302 (which can have a user interface with a touch screen etc. as should be understood by those of skill in the art in conjunction with a review of this disclosure) can instruct the actuator 201 to move the automated step 200 in a particular manner, at a particular time and/or in response to a particular predetermined interval.

[0043] FIG. 6 shows a more detailed system architecture diagram of the actuator and computer shown in FIG. 5, according to an embodiment. The actuator 201 (or a control mechanism connected to the actuator 201) can include a (1) memory 112 that can store at least one predetermined interval and preferably, a plurality of predetermined intervals, and (2) firmware 110 that can be programmed to perform the functionalities of the actuator 201 described herein. The firmware 110 and memory 112 can have wired 106/wireless 108 communication connections to the computer 102.

[0044] In accordance with an embodiment, a host computer 302 can be programmed, configured, connected, and/or structured to provide in a data stream including a predetermined interval and/or other instructions/commands regarding control of the movement of the automated step 200 from a retracted position to an extended positon and back again, which can be stored in the computer's memory 103, the memory 112 of a control mechanism (not shown) connected to the actuator 201, or in the actuator 201, for example. The actuator 201 can be programmed, configured, structured, and/or connected to receive in the data stream the predetermined interval and/or other instructions regarding control of the movement of the automated step 200 and to move the automated step 200 accordingly.

[0045] The firmware 110 can contain a non-transitory computer-readable storage medium having program code for performing the functionality described herein. The firmware can be updated by a host computer 302 or server computer that is in wired or wireless communication with the firmware within the computer.

[0046] In accordance with an embodiment, the host computer 302 can contain an application, which can contain a non-transitory computer-readable storage medium having program code for performing the functionality described herein (which can be updated by a user or by another computer such as a server computer).

[0047] In accordance with an embodiment, a method for carrying out the functionalities of the system described herein is provided, which can include the implementation of the firmware stored on the actuator 201 and implementation of the application stored on the host computer 302 or server computer (not shown), and one or more algorithms that can be programmed into the firmware or applications.

[0048] The flowcharts/block diagrams in the Figures illustrate the architecture, functionality, and operation of possible implementations of systems, methods, and computer program products according to various embodiments of the present invention. In this regard, each block in the flowcharts/block diagrams may represent a module, segment, or portion of code, which comprises instructions for implementing the specified logical function(s). It should also be noted that, in some alternative implementations, the functions noted in the block may occur out of the order noted in the figures. For example, two blocks shown in succession may, in fact, be performed substantially concurrently, or the blocks may sometimes be performed in the reverse order, depending upon the functionality involved. It will also be noted that each block of the block diagrams and/or flowchart illustration, and combinations of blocks in the block diagrams and/or flowchart illustration, can be implemented by special purpose hardware-based systems that perform the specified functions or acts, or combinations of special purpose hardware and computer instructions.

[0049] While several embodiments of the invention have been discussed, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that various modifications and variations of the present invention are possible. Such modifications do not depart from the spirit and scope of the present invention.

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