DALLAS – Sanden Vendo America Inc. has been awarded Patent 7,904,199 for a vending machine product retrieval and delivery system that can accommodate a very wide range of product package sizes and shapes.
Co-inventors are Daniel S Carter (Fresno, CA), Christopher R. Craven, (Fresno, CA), Walid H. El-Aouar (Clovis, CA), Craig R Greiner (Fresno, CA), Larry E Hieb (Fresno, CA), Dean W James (Clovis, CA), Sandra L Southard (Clovis, CA) and Rolando S. Williams (Madera, CA).
The abstract of the patent, as published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describes "...a vending machine and component parts that include a sophisticated positioning system, gripper and trays for improved efficiency in product retrieval and delivery.
"A unique initialization and calibration system is implemented at startup to determine the positions of shelves and trays of product containers in the machine, and may be implemented at other times if trays or shelves are added or removed, or if tray or shelf positions change.
"These positions are then used by the positioning and gripping systems to accurately and efficiently retrieve products from the trays. Related methods are also disclosed."
The more detailed description in the body of the patent explains, "Changes and improvements in product container configurations have led to increased performance demands upon vending machines. In the past, a given vending machine was generally relegated to the delivery of a single type of product container of uniform dimension and/or shape -- only bottled beverages, only canned beverages, only beverages in cartons, and so on.
"Such vending machines could not simultaneously store, retrieve or deliver containers having different sizes, shapes or weights," the inventors noted. "While some improvements have allowed certain vending machines to handle multiple containers (e.g., a single machine may be adapted to handle beverages in both aluminum cans and plastic bottles), these machines require the containers to have similar characteristics, i.e., all of them having a generally cylindrical body." Other machines require kits to adapt them for different sizes and shapes of containers, including cylindrical packages of different sizes, the description continues.
"The ever-increasing number of different container configurations necessitates the development of a single vending machine that can store, retrieve and deliver substantially different product packages quickly and smoothly," the inventors assert. For example, beverages are not only provided in aluminum cans and glass or plastic bottles, but also in rectangular cartons, hourglass-shaped containers and flexible film or foil containers, to mention only a few. "One need only imagine the many different children's characters whose shapes may be adapted into beverage containers to appreciate the challenge to the vending machine industry presented by such containers," the description adds.
Moreover, manufacturers continue to develop new sizes and shapes of beverage containers and other packages, for advertising or other reasons. These pose new problems for storage, retrieval and delivery of all those different containers by a single vending machine, the inventors observed.
The patent application was filed on Oct. 30, 2007.
The full-text of the patent can be found at the USPTO website.