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United States Patent Application 20180142947
Kind Code A1
BATES; Martyn Lee ;   et al. May 24, 2018

STORAGE CONTAINERS AND BINS

Abstract

A container for use in a robotic storage and picking system is described. The container includes a base and four sides, at least two of the sides being provided with apertures therein to enable fluids to flow therethrough.


Inventors: BATES; Martyn Lee; (Hertfordshire, GB) ; INGRAM-TEDD; Andrew John; (Hertfordshire, GB) ; SHIELDS; Jennifer Jane; (Hertfordshire, GB)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

Ocado Innovation Limited

Hertfordshire

GB
Assignee: Ocado Innovation Limited
Hertfordshire
GB

Family ID: 1000003146765
Appl. No.: 15/579172
Filed: June 3, 2016
PCT Filed: June 3, 2016
PCT NO: PCT/EP2016/062631
371 Date: December 1, 2017


Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: F25D 25/005 20130101; B65D 21/0209 20130101; B65D 25/14 20130101; F25D 13/02 20130101; B65G 1/0464 20130101; B65D 2205/02 20130101; F25D 25/04 20130101
International Class: F25D 25/00 20060101 F25D025/00; B65D 21/02 20060101 B65D021/02; B65D 25/14 20060101 B65D025/14; F25D 13/02 20060101 F25D013/02; B65G 1/04 20060101 B65G001/04

Foreign Application Data

DateCodeApplication Number
Jun 3, 2015GB1509661.3
Mar 10, 2016GB1604096.6

Claims



1. A storage system in combination with a container configured for storing at least one item within in a storage system, the storage system comprising: a first set of parallel rails or tracks and a second set of parallel rails or tracks extending substantially perpendicularly to the first set in a substantially horizontal plane to form a grid pattern having a plurality of grid spaces; a set of uprights, the uprights supporting the tracks, the uprights and tracks together defining a framework; and one or more containers being located beneath the tracks and within the framework, at least one of said containers occupying a space below a grid space; wherein container includes four sides and a base, at least two of the sides of the container having a series of apertures.

2. A storage system and container according to claim 1, in which a portion of the at least two sides of the container adjacent the base comprises: material free from apertures.

3. A storage system and container according to claim 1, in which the portion of the at least two sides of the container which are free from apertures comprises: more than 50% of a height of the container.

4. A container according to claim 3, in which the portion of the at least two sides of the container which are free from apertures comprises more than 60% of the height of the container.

5. A storage system and container according to claim 1, in which the container comprises plastics material such as polypropylene, or HDPE or PET or any other suitable plastics material.

6. A storage system and container according to claim 1, in which the container comprises: a further container located therein, the further container having four sides and a base, at least two of the sides of the further container having apertures, the apertures in the at least two sides of the container and the further container aligning so as to provide a channel through the at least two sides of the container and further container.

7. A storage system and container according claim 7, in which the further container comprises: a number of bags located therein, the bags being disposed in the further container so as to retain items placed therein for delivery to a user.

8. A storage system and container according to claim 1, wherein the container is configured a container-based greenhouse or in a parcel sortation system.

9. A storage system and container comprising: a plurality of containers according to claim 1.

10. A storage system and container according to claim 1, the storage system comprising: a cooling system requiring air flow through the containers within the storage system.
Description



[0001] The present invention relates to storage containers, bins and devices. More specifically but not exclusively, it relates to storage containers and bins used in robotic picking systems for picking objects from storage systems having storage bins in stacks, the stacks being located within a grid structure.

[0002] This application claims priority from UK Patent Application Nos. GB1509661.3 filed on 3 Jun. 2015 and GB1604096.6 filed on 10 Mar. 2016 the content of all these applications hereby being incorporated by reference.

[0003] Some commercial and industrial activities require systems that enable the storage and retrieval of a large number of different products. One known type of system for the storage and retrieval of items in multiple product lines involves arranging storage bins or containers in stacks on top of one another, the stacks being arranged in rows. The storage bins or containers are removed from the stacks and accessed from above by load handling devices, removing the need for aisles between the rows and thereby allowing a large number of bins or containers to be stored in a given space.

[0004] Methods of handling containers or bins stacked in rows are well known in the art. PCT Publication No. WO2015/185628A (Ocado) describes a storage and fulfillment system in which stacks of bins or containers are arranged within a frame structure. The bins or containers are accessed by load handling devices operative on tracks located on the top of the frame structure. The load handling devices lift bins or containers out from the stacks, multiple load handling devices co-operating to access bins or containers located in the lowest positions of the stack. One form of robotic load handling device is described in PCT Patent Publication No. WO2015/019055 (Ocado) where each robotic load handler only covers one grid space of the frame work structure, thus allowing higher density of load handlers and thus higher throughput of a given size system.

[0005] In some implementations of such container or bin handling systems, there can be a very large number of robotic load handling devices running on a single grid, the grid containing a large number of bins or containers in stacks. The significant number of containers used within the system can lead to overheating at the centre of the system. Additionally, it may be advantageous to cool the containers and their contents whilst stored within the system.

[0006] According to the invention there is provided a container for storing at least one item within in a storage system, the storage system comprising: a first set of parallel rails or tracks and a second set of parallel rails or tracks extending substantially perpendicularly to the first set in a substantially horizontal plane to form a grid pattern comprising a plurality of grid spaces; a set of uprights, the uprights supporting the tracks, the uprights and tracks together defining a framework; and a plurality of said containers being located beneath the tracks and within the framework, a portion of said containers occupying a space below a grid space; characterised in that the container comprises four sides and a base, at least two of the sides of the container comprising a series of apertures.

[0007] Preferred features of the invention are defined in the claims.

[0008] In this way, the present invention overcomes the problems of the prior art and provides a container arrangement providing structural integrity whilst allowing fluids to pass therethrough as required.

[0009] FIG. 1 is a schematic perspective view of a frame structure for housing a plurality of stacks of bins in a known storage system;

[0010] FIG. 2 is a schematic plan view of part of the frame structure of FIG. 1;

[0011] FIGS. 3a and 3b are schematic perspective views, from the rear and front respectively, of one form of robotic load handling device for use with the frame structure of FIGS. 1 and 2, and FIG. 3(c) is a schematic perspective view of the known load handler device in use lifting a bin;

[0012] FIG. 4 is a schematic perspective view of a known storage system comprising a plurality of load handler devices of the type shown in FIGS. 3(a), 3(b) and 3(c), installed on the frame structure of FIGS. 1 and 2, together with a robotic service device in accordance with one form of the invention;

[0013] FIG. 5 is a schematic perspective view of one form of bin or container for use within the storage system of FIGS. 1 to 4, the container or bin comprising a substantially box type structure having an open top, a base and four sides;

[0014] FIG. 6a shows a schematic perspective view of one form of bin or container in accordance with the invention, in which two sides of the container or bin comprise slots;

[0015] FIG. 6b shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin or container in accordance with the invention, in which four sides of the container or bin comprise slots;

[0016] FIG. 7a shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin or container in accordance with a second embodiment of the invention, in which two sides of the container or bin comprise holes;

[0017] FIG. 7b shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin or container in accordance with the second embodiment of the invention, in which four sides of the container or bin comprise holes;

[0018] FIG. 8 shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin or container in accordance with the third embodiment of the invention, in which four sides and the base of the bin or container comprise holes;

[0019] FIG. 9 is a schematic perspective view of a fourth embodiment of the invention in which the base of the bin or container comprises holes;

[0020] FIG. 10a is a schematic perspective view of a stack of bins or containers of FIGS. 7a and 7b; and

[0021] FIG. 10b is a schematic perspective view of nine stacks of bins or containers in accordance with the invention, showing the alignment of the holes in the bins or containers of FIGS. 7a and 7b.

[0022] As shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, stackable storage containers, known as bins 10, are stacked on top of one another to form stacks 12. The stacks 12 are arranged in a frame structure 14 in a warehousing or manufacturing environment. FIG. 1 is a schematic perspective view of the frame structure 14, and FIG. 2 is a top-down view showing a single stack 12 of bins 10 arranged within the frame structure 14. Each bin 10 typically holds a plurality of product or inventory items 28, and the inventory items within a bin 10 may be identical, or may be of different product types depending on the application. Furthermore, the bins 10 may be physically subdivided to accommodate a plurality of different inventory items 28.

[0023] In the description below, bins 10 will be used to denote containers intended for the storage of inventory items 28, whilst delivery containers DT will be used to denote containers filled or intended to be filled to fulfil customer orders placed by customers. It will be appreciated that this terminology is used for ease of reference and explanation within this document. However, it should be noted that the bins 10 and the containers DT may be of the same shape and configuration. Furthermore, delivery containers DT may be stored in bins 10 within the storage system or any part thereof.

[0024] The frame structure 14 comprises a plurality of upright members 16 that support horizontal members 18, 20. A first set of parallel horizontal members 18 is arranged perpendicularly to a second set of parallel horizontal members 20 to form a plurality of horizontal grid structures supported by the upright members 16. The members 16, 18, 20 are typically manufactured from metal. The bins 10 are stacked between the members 16, 18, 20 of the frame structure 14, so that the frame structure 14 guards against horizontal movement of the stacks 12 of bins 10, and guides vertical movement of the bins 10.

[0025] The top level of the frame structure 14 includes rails 22 arranged in a grid pattern across the top of the stacks 12. Referring additionally to FIGS. 3 and 4, the rails 22 support a plurality of robotic load handling devices 30. A first set 22a of parallel rails 22 guide movement of the load handling devices 30 in a first direction (X) across the top of the frame structure 14, and a second set 22b of parallel rails 22, arranged perpendicular to the first set 22a, guide movement of the load handling devices 30 in a second direction (Y), perpendicular to the first direction. In this way, the rails 22 allow movement of the load handling devices 30 in two dimensions in the X-Y plane, so that a load handling device 30 can be moved into position above any of the stacks 12.

[0026] Each load handling device 30 comprises a vehicle 32 which is arranged to travel in the X and Y directions on the rails 22 of the frame structure 14, above the stacks 12. A first set of wheels 34, consisting of a pair of wheels 34 on the front of the vehicle 32 and a pair of wheels 34 on the back of the vehicle 32, are arranged to engage with two adjacent rails of the first set 22a of rails 22. Similarly, a second set of wheels 36, consisting of a pair of wheels 36 on each side of the vehicle 32, are arranged to engage with two adjacent rails of the second set 22b of rails 22. Each set of wheels 34, 36 can be lifted and lowered, so that either the first set of wheels 34 or the second set of wheels 36 is engaged with the respective set of rails 22a, 22b at any one time.

[0027] When the first set of wheels 34 is engaged with the first set of rails 22a and the second set of wheels 36 are lifted clear from the rails 22, the wheels 34 can be driven, by way of a drive mechanism (not shown) housed in the vehicle 32, to move the load handling device 30 in the X direction. To move the load handling device 30 in the Y direction, the first set of wheels 34 are lifted clear of the rails 22, and the second set of wheels 36 are lowered into engagement with the second set of rails 22a. The drive mechanism can then be used to drive the second set of wheels 36 to achieve movement in the Y direction.

[0028] In this way, one or more robotic load handling devices 30 can move around the top surface of the stacks 12 on the frame structure 14, as shown in FIG. 4 under the control of a centralised control utility (not shown). Each robotic load handling device 30 is provided with lifting means 38 for lifting one or more bins 10 from the stack 12 to access the required products.

[0029] The body of the vehicle 32 comprises a cavity 40, the cavity 40 being of a size capable of holding a bin 10. The lifting means 38 comprises winch means and a bin gripper assembly 39. The lifting means lifts a bin 10 from the stack 12 to within the cavity 40 within the body of the vehicle 32.

[0030] In this way, multiple products can be accessed from multiple locations in the grid and stacks at any one time.

[0031] The robotic load handling devices 30 remove bins 10 containing inventory items 28 (not shown) therein and transport the bins 10 to picking stations (not shown) where the required inventory items 28 are removed from the bins 10 and placed into bins 10 comprising delivery containers DT. It is important to note that a delivery container DT may fit within a bin 10. The bins 10 may comprise inventory items 28 or may comprise delivery containers DT. Furthermore, the delivery containers DT may comprise at least one bag 52, the inventory items 28 being picked directly in to a bag 52 at a pick station (not shown).

[0032] The empty bins 10 or the bins comprising delivery containers DT or the bins comprising delivery containers DT and bags 52 may all be stored within the stacks 12. It will be appreciated that all the bins 10 have substantially the same external shape and configuration.

[0033] FIG. 4 shows a typical storage system as described above, the system having a plurality of load handling devices 30 active on the grid above the stacks 12.

[0034] FIGS. 1 and 4 show the bins 10 in stacks 12 within the storage system. It will be appreciated that there may be a large number of bins 10 in any given storage system and that many different items 28 may be stored in the bins 10 in the stacks 12, each bin 10 may contain different categories of inventory items 28 within a single stack 12.

[0035] In one system described above and further in UK Patent Application Number GB1410441.8--Ocado Innovation Limited, hereby incorporated by reference, the storage system comprises a series of bins 10 that may further comprise delivery containers DT with customer orders contained therein or may further comprise bins 10 with inventory items 28 awaiting picking contained therein. These different bins 10 and combinations thereof may be contained in the storage system and be accessed by the robotic load handling devices 30 as described above.

[0036] FIG. 5 shows one form of bin 10 for use within the storage system of FIGS. 1 to 4. The bin 10 comprises a substantially box type structure having an open top, a base and four sides. A plurality of the bins 10 of FIG. 5 may be stacked in a self-supporting stack 12, a plurality of stacks 12 being disposed within the framework 14 as described above.

[0037] In storage facilities of the type described with reference to FIGS. 1 to 4, it will be appreciated that there may be a large number of bins 10, in some cases hundreds of thousands.

[0038] In a first embodiment of the invention, as shown in FIG. 6a, a bin 110 comprises a box-type structure as shown in FIG. 5 having an open top and slots disposed in two opposite side walls of the bin 110.

[0039] The slots in the bin 110 enable the same amount of storage volume to be utilised, whilst maintaining the structural integrity of the bin 110 yet reducing the weight of the bin 110 in comparison with the container 10 of FIG. 5. Advantageously, providing apertures in the containers DT or bins 10 also reduces the cost of each container DT or bin. In a storage system comprising hundreds of thousands of containers and bins this can represent a significant saving.

[0040] FIG. 7a shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin 210 in accordance with a second embodiment of the invention, in which two sides of the container or bin comprise holes 50 and FIG. 7b shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin 210 in accordance with the second embodiment of the invention, in which four sides of the bin 210 comprise holes 50.

[0041] As with the first embodiment of the invention, using holes 50 or other suitably shaped cut outs in the sides of the bin 210 maintains structural integrity whilst reducing the weight of the bin 210 in comparison to the bin 10 of FIG. 5.

[0042] FIG. 8 shows a schematic perspective view of a further form of bin 310 accordance with the third embodiment of the invention, in which four sides and the base of the bin 310 comprise holes 50. Again this reduces further the weight of the bin 310 compared with that of the bin 10 of FIG. 5.

[0043] FIG. 9 is a schematic perspective view of a fourth embodiment of the invention in which the base of the bin 410 comprises holes.

[0044] FIG. 10a is a schematic perspective view of a stack 112 of bins 110 of FIGS. 7a and 7b, the self-stacking nature of the bins 110 being demonstrated. It will be appreciated that the top edges of all of the bins described above may comprise a shaped portion arranged to co-operate with the base of the bin stacked above.

[0045] FIG. 10b is a schematic perspective view of nine stacks 12 of bins 110, showing the alignment of the holes in the bins 110 of FIGS. 7a and 7b. It will be appreciated that when in stacks 12, the bins 110 of FIG. 10a are arranged so to be substantially separated by a predetermined amount. The framework 14 will be disposed between the stacks 12 as shown with reference to the known storage system of FIGS. 1 to 4, accordingly a separation is required between the stacks 12.

[0046] The framework 14 disposed between the stacks 12 of bins 110 may be formed from a solid metallic structure such as aluminium or steel. Alternatively any other form of framework may be utilised. The framework 14 may be solid or may be formed from a contoured extrusion.

[0047] It will be appreciated that in a storage system comprising a large number of bins 10 cooling, or air flow may be required or there is the potential of damage or overheating to goods or items stored in bins 10 the centre of the storage system. Cooling systems such as that described in UK Patent Application No GB1509661.3 (Ocado Innovation Limited) require air to flow within the storage system and through the bins 10 and stacks 12 of bins 10. The system described in this UK Patent Application is hereby incorporated by reference and discloses a storage system comprising one or more heater and/or one or more chiller for generating temperature controlled gas, one or more fan for circulating the temperature controlled gas through the storage system; and a plenum for receiving the temperature controlled gas.

[0048] Furthermore, should a portion of the storage system require cooling to a lower temperature, for example to enable storage of items requiring chilling, such as fruit and vegetables, it is more important that the air flow through the system cools the items to be stored. Whilst the embodiments herein are described with reference to cooling the storage system, it will be appreciated that, using the same method described, the items stored in the storage system may be heated in a similar manner. Furthermore, whilst the description above refers to air flow, it will be appreciated that any suitable gas may be circulated to heat or cool the system as required.

[0049] It will further be appreciated that the provision of holes 50 or apertures in the bins 10 combined with the air flow through the storage system, enables the temperature of the items in the bins 10 to be maintained at a uniform temperature across the storage system. Furthermore, it will be appreciated that the holes 50 and apertures enabling improved air flow through the system may additionally enable better control of humidity within the storage system.

[0050] Each of the bins 10 described in the embodiments described above advantageously allows air to flow through the bins 10 when stacked in stacks 12 within the framework 14. Furthermore, the holes 50, slots 40 or other form of apertures in the bins 10 are arranged so as to be aligned between bins 10 when the stacks 12 are arranged within the framework 14.

[0051] When the stacks 12 of bins 10 are arranged within the framework 14 as shown in FIG. 10b, any air flow through the storage system will take the path of least resistance. Therefore, in order to ensure that cooled air flows through the bins 10 to cool the contents the uprights of the framework 14 must be solid so the air can only flow through the bins 10.

[0052] With regard to the bins 10 shown in FIGS. 7a, 7b, 10a and 10b, it will be noted that the holes 50 are arranged on the sides of the bins 10 such that they are positioned such that a predetermined amount each side of each bin 10 comprises of solid material having no holes disposed therein. By arranging the holes 50 or other apertures in each bin 210 in such a manner, should a spillage occur within a given bin 210, no liquid will escape in to bins 210 positioned at lower points in the stack 12.

[0053] Furthermore, storage systems such as those described above require sprinkler systems to be disposed above the system and in the event of a fire, the sprinkler system will deploy. The use of apertures or holes 50 within the totes ensures that bins 210 do not completely fill with water or other material deployed by the sprinkler. It will be appreciated that should the bins 10 not comprise holes 50 or apertures, the weight of each bin 10 may significantly increase which could lead to a failure of the bins 10 or more catastrophically, any structure on which the storage system is positioned.

[0054] Given these two conflicting requirements, it will be appreciated that a bottom portion of each bin 10 should remain solid to prevent leakage of fluids from within each bin 10 but the sides of each bin 10 should be provided with suitably positioned apertures to allow fluid to flow therethrough in the event of a fluid deployment.

[0055] In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 7a and 7b, the distance 60 from the bottom of the bin 10 to the bottom of the lowest hole 50 or aperture is 195 mm. It will be appreciated that this distance has been calculated for a specific storage system of the type described above and that this distance may be different for different storage systems having differently sized bins 10 or for differently sized storage systems of the type in FIGS. 1 to 4.

[0056] In a further embodiment similar to that shown in FIGS. 7a and 7b, the distance 60 from the bottom of the bin 10 to the bottom of the lowest hole 50 or aperture is 190 mm, the total height of the bin 10 being 360 mm. Accordingly, the ratio of the portion of the sides of the bin 10 having no holes or apertures to the total height of the bin 10 is 190:360 or 0.53. Preferably, the bottom 190 mm of any side of a bin 10 is free from apertures or holes 50.

[0057] It will be appreciated that should bins 10 of an overall height greater than 360 mm be used, the distance 60 from the bottom of the bin 10 to the bottom of the lowest hole 50 may be increased in accordance with this ratio. For example, a bin 10 of height 400 mm must have at least 212 mm of hole 50 or aperture free structure forming the sides of the bin 10.

[0058] It will be appreciated that the dimensions of bins in such storage systems may be defined by the specific purpose of the storage system. Accordingly, it is advantageous to be able to calculate the absolute position above the base of the bin 10 of the lowest hole 50 or aperture 60. Using the above ratio this can be easily calculated.

[0059] It will be appreciated that tooling and manufacturing issues and tolerances may prevent the exact ratio being used. Therefore, a ratio of 1:2 may be used. Furthermore, the arrangement of the holes 50 or apertures in the side of the bin 10 may be of any design as long as the bottom half of the bin 10 is free from any form of hole 50 or aperture.

[0060] It will be appreciated that the above embodiments have been described in terms of bins 10 comprising holes, slots or apertures. However, delivery containers DT may also comprise holes, slots or apertures. Preferably, the holes, slots or apertures positioned in the delivery container DT are arranged so as to align with the holes, slots or apertures in the bins 10 when the delivery container DT is located within a bin 10. In this way, the air flow through the system is still enabled.

[0061] It should be noted that the delivery container DT may be an actual delivery container for onward transmission to the customer or be a bin 10 with "post pick" items destined for delivery to somewhere else, for instance to an alternative fulfillment centre. The term delivery container DT is used to distinguish bins 10 for storing goods or items for picking from delivery containers DT. However, it will be appreciated that bins 10 and containers DT may be of a similar or substantially the same shape and configuration, the function of the bin or container defining the category of container or bin rather than any change in the actual shape or size.

[0062] It will also be appreciated that the delivery container DT may be contained within a bin 10 to ensure that the robotic load handling devices can handle the movement of all bins whether in the stacks 12 of the main storage system or in a nominal robotic picking area.

[0063] Moreover, it will be appreciated that a portion of the bins 10 in the storage system may comprise delivery containers DT preloaded with empty bags in preparation for use items to be placed therein.

[0064] Whilst the containers DT and bins 10 are represented in the appended Figures as simple box-shaped structures it will be appreciated that the surfaces of the sides of the bins 10 and containers DT may comprise structural webs and guidance ribs. The webs ensure the structural integrity of the container DT or bin 10, the guidance ribs enable the container or bin to interact with the framework 14.

[0065] It will further be appreciated that whilst many of the above embodiments are described with reference to a remote or separate robotic picking area, it is possible that the main storage system be used as a robotic picking area at the same time as functioning as a conventional picking and storage system.

[0066] Whilst the foregoing embodiments are described with reference to bins 10 and containers used in storage systems such as those used as part of an online retail enterprise, it will be appreciated that such storage systems may be used for alternative applications such as parcel sortation and storage, vertical mechanised greenhouses, and other applications. In these applications it may be advantageous to have apertures and holes 50 within the containers or bins 10 used. In these cases, as sprinkler systems are likely to be in use in the systems, a similar positioning of holes 50 or apertures is envisaged. In the case of greenhouse applications, it has been shown that airflow directed across plants being grown may be advantageous to the strength and growth characteristics of the plant. Therefore, selective positioning of holes 50 or apertures in such bins 10 in the manner described above may be advantageous.

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