The present invention relates to an apparatus for making frozen edible
products, typically ice cream produce. Ice cream is marketed in a large variety
of grades and shapes, such as cones, flat-bottomed troughs, rectangular sandwich
and various cup shapes. Most of the products, in addition to the ice cream proper,
also contain various fillings and top decoration.
The products are formed more or less automatically, such as by filling
ice cream into containers in the form of cornets, cups or the like; then moving
the filled products into a freezing or hardening compartment, and finally picking
up the frozen products ready for packing. In the simplest production systems no
particular means are provided to hold the products upright during the freezing
process. As a result the decoration tends to creep downwards and outwards when
the products are laying down during the freezing process, leaving a diffuse and
less attractive appearance. There are more advanced machines on the market, in
which the products are held upright also during the freezing/hardening process.
However, up til now, all such types of machines have been encumbered with low
capacity and/or limited flexibility. The machines are generally built for producing
either cone or cup shaped ice cream and rarely both kinds. Machines capable of
producing both have a low capacity, from 4000 to 8000 items per hour. Also, such
machines are very expensive, and shifting from one product to another takes considerable
time and tends to cause running-in problems.
Today there are three main machine varieties available for producing
cup or cone shaped ice cream products with the products standing upright. According
to one such variety the products are filled by a traditional filling machine such
as a so-called "Fornaroli" or "Viking" in 4 or 6 rows. After the products have
been filled and provided with a lid they are lifted up from the machine by means
of vacuum or tongues and placed in plastics or steel cages formed with holes to
accomodate the products. The filled cages are then moved into a traditional freezing
tunnel or cabinet, e.g. of the spiral type. When frozen the products are picked
up from the cages and packed. The empty cages then return to the filling machine
to be filled with products again.
This prior system has a large capacity but very low flexibility.
The diameter of the cage holes must match the associated filling machine equipment
and consequently a such production system is normally not feasible for more than
two different products. If more than two variants are required then a completely
new set of cages must be provided and in addition all of the filling machine product
dispensers must be replaced. Also, the largest product diameter should not exceed
the maximum diameter for which the filling machine is designed. In addition this
system is limited to a certain product taper angle, with a corresponding limitation
of possible variants. Therefore machines of this type very seldom allow for more
than two or three different product variants. As a result only the very largest
ice cream makers use such equipment, since the investments are high and require
continuous production. Furthermore cleaning of the cages represents a considerable
problem and the cages occupy a considerable space when not in use.
A second wellknown type of machine is sold in several variants such
as the socalled Straight Line, Glacier, Gram and Cattabrigamachines. These mainly
consist of a long continuous chain provided with squared steel trays. Holes are
formed in the trays to receive the product to be run on the machine. Usually there
are up to six products per tray. The capacity of this machine is low and large
expenses are required i.a. for replacing trays etc, if high flexibility is to be
There is also a third machine variant exemplified by US patent No.
3 580 188. This is a 6-row type of machine in which the products are filled and
frozen in a traditional manner. After dwelling for about 15 minutes in the freezing
tunnel the products are turned upside-down and emerge depending with their tops
down. This prior machine requires a very long freezing tunnel in order to ensure
sufficient hardening of the products before upsetting them. The machine construction
is useful for conical products only.
Swedish patent No. 127 370 describes an endless conveyor machine
specifically designed for producing ice lollies. Trays carried by the conveyor
are lifted and rotated horizontally a quarter turn by cylinder means below the
conveyor upper run to permit insertion of sticks in the ice body formed on the
The main object of the present invention is to combine large capacity
with flexibility, thus making it possible to produce a wide range of products at
high speed on the same machine without large investments in rebuild adjustments
and corresponding long adjustment periods. Also, the machine should keep the products
in an upright position throughout the production process, to obtain an optimum
top decoration having sharp and clear contours.
According to the invention these objects are obtained through an
apparatus as defined in the accompanying patent claims.
The invention and its advantages will clearly appear from the following
detailed description thereof, with reference to the rather schematic drawings in
- Fig. 1 is a partial elevational view of a machine primarily for ice cream produce
and incorporating the apparatus according to the invention,
- Fig. 2 is a perspective view showing parts of the machine of fig. 1,
- Figs. 3 and 4 are perspective and cross-sectional views respectively of a machine
- Figs. 5 - 8 illustrate various steps during the product filling process,
- Fig. 9 is a diagrammatic elevational view of a freezing cabinet usable in the
- Fig. 10 illustrates various shapes of ice cream products capable of being be
produced by the machine.
- Figs. 11 and 12 illustrate a lid application step.
- Fig. 13 illustrates a modified machine detail.
In fig. 1 numeral 2 refers to an endless conveyor for conveying preforms
which, by means of a filling assembly 4 located above the conveyor 2, are filled
with ice cream and possibly taste and coloured additives, and furnished with top
decorations before advancing to further processing stations or sections such as
freezing or hardening section 26 (fig. 2) and pick-up station (not shown). By "preform"
in this context is meant any top open container or substrat made of any convenient
material such as cardboard, plastics, pastry etc and of any shape such as cone
or cornet, cup etc.
The conveyor 2 as shown is generally of a conventional type comprised
of a plurality of rectangular carrier plates or trays 6 mounted between two parallel
spaced conveyor chains 8, as illustrated in fig. 2, for moving along an upper and
lower run, 3 and 5. A such tray 6 can generally be of a form as shown in fig.
3, for example, with a plurality of apertures or holes 10 arranged in a transverse
row and each adapted to receive a preform standing upright therein. In the example
shown there are ten holes in a row, i.e. there are ten product lines accross the
width of the conveyor 2.
The trays 6 are pivotally supported between the conveyor chains 8
by means of a pivot 9 at each end along the central axis of the tray, such that
the tray in a conventional manner, by means of guide members not shown, retain
their horizontal position when moving around the conveyor chain turn sprockets
(not shown) as indicated at the right hand side of fig. 2. In fig. 4 a longitudinal
section through a portion of a conveyor tray 6 is shown to a larger scale and in
more detail. The holes 10 are defined by a circumferential, frustoconical support
surface or socket 11 generally matching the shape of conical products to be carried
therein. The socket 11 extends downward e.g. 5 - 6 mm, to form a support rim 16
on the tray bottom side, in a per se known manner. The mean diameter of the holes
10 is practically selected to keep all current cone-shaped products standing upright
therein owing to their weight distribution. A suitable hole diameter would be about
According to the invention, as a new and specific feature of the
tray 6, there is a raised wall portion 12 surrounding, in a radially spaced relationship,
each of the holes 10 of a conveyor tray 6, leaving a support or land portion 13
between such wall portion 12 and the edge of hole 10, for supporting flat-bottomed
preforms that do not fit into the circular holes 10 in the trays 6. The wall portions
12 serve to keep such flat bottomed preforms in place on the trays as explained
more fully below. By "raised wall portion" is meant raised relative to the holes
10, i.e. to the plane of the land portion 13.
If desirable, instead of single row trays such as tray 6 illustrated
in the drawings, trays having several parallel rows of holes symmetrically disposed
on each side of the center axis of the tray may be used.
Like the product conveyor 2 the filler assembly 4 schematically illustrated
in fig. 1 may be of a conventional type comprising a plurality of stations, generally
denoted by reference numeral 14, such as preform dispenser, one or more stations
for ice cream filling, nut vibrator, jam applicator, top decoration applicator,
lid dispenser and pleating means. Thus, the stations 14 of the filler assembly
4 each comprises a transverse row of ten identical dispensers, filler nozzles
etc, i.e. one for each of the ten product lines of the conveyor 2. The filler assembly
4 is reciprocally arranged in the longitudinal direction of the product conveyor
2 as indicated by arrows 15 in fig. 1, such that all of the stations intermittently
follow the movement of the conveyor during each filling operation. Conveniently
this may be implemented by arranging the filler assembly 4 in a sliding carrier
or the like, for example, which, like the remaining details of the filler assembly
4, is not further illustrated or described since it is merely a matter of ordinary
prior art known to any skilled person.
The skilled person will also realize the importance of accurate positioning
of the preforms advanced on the product conveyor relative to the various stations
of the filler assembly. Therefore, in prior machines, the frustoconical sockets
of the holes in the conveyor trays have to be accurately conformed to the shape
of the preforms of the type of product to be received therein, and such products
must necessarily be conical in order to be stably supported in their holes. Whenever
a product is to be run having a shape different from that for which the conveyor
trays are made, prior machines have to have all trays of the conveyor replaced,
which is a relatively time-consuming operation since a such conveyor normally is
of a considerable length.
In a preferred version of the apparatus according to the present
invention a second endless conveyor 18 is disposed between the upper and lower
conveyor runs 3, 5 of the product conveyor 2 directly below the filler assembly
4, and adapted to move synchronically with the product conveyor 2. The conveyor
18 carries a plurality of liftable and lowerable suction cups 20 mounted on rods
19 arranged in transverse rows corresponding to the rows of holes 10 in the product
conveyor trays 6 located thereabove, such that when the machine is operated there
will always be a row of holes 10 directly above the rows of suction cups 20 in
the area at the filler assembly 4.
The construction of the suction cup conveyor 18 is not shown and
described in detail, since it is within the competance of the skilled artisan to
implement a such conveyor in a useful manner. For example, like the product conveyor
2, it may be comprised of two parallelly extending chains in which the suction
cup rods 19 with their not shown lifting means are arranged in transverse members
disposed between the chains and secured thereto for moving along an upper and lower
run 21 and 22 respectively. Also the vacuum system for the suction cups and the
design of the latter is conventional technique which a skilled person will be able
to carry out without a detailed description.
The machine as shown and described so far functions essentially as
Each time a tray 6 passes under the preform dispenser station of
the filler assembly 4, the underlaying row of suction cups 20 on the upper run
21 of the conveyor 18 is lifted up through the row of tray holes 10, until they
each contact the bottom of a respective lowermost preform 23 of a stack of preforms
in the dispenser row, thereby suctionally engaging such preform (fig. 5). Then
the suction cups 20 are lowered down to a bottom position bringing the engaged
preforms with them until the latter are landed in their predetermined position
on the tray 6 (fig. 6). When the row of preforms 23 has been positioned into or
onto the product conveyor 2 as explained above, the respective remaining stations
14 of the filler assembly 4 are successively operated as the preforms passes under
them. During each operation the filler assembly follows the movement of the product
conveyor 2 until the operation has been completed, after which it rapidly returns
to its initial position ready to serve the next row of preforms in the product
conveyor 2. Fig. 7 and 8 illustrate the operation when filling a cone-shaped and
a cup-shaped preform 23 respectively.
Thus, since the preforms 23 are held stably by the suction cups 20
during the filling operation, the cone angle of the sockets 10' of the tray holes
10 is not critical, i.e. it need not exactly match the preform cone angle such
as in prior machines. Consequently, according to the present invention, products
of varying cone angle can be stably accommodated in the tray holes 10 of the machine
according to the invention.
When the last one of the successive operations of the filler assembly
4 has been completed for the row of products in a tray, the vacuum in the corresponding
row of suction cups is released, allowing the latter to release their engaged
product and return along the lower run 22 of the suction cup conveyor 18, back
to their initial positions, means 24 preferably being provided at said lower conveyor
run for automatically cleaning the depending suction cups, e.g. by means of pressurized
air, to remove any debris that may have deposited therein. Conveniently the pressurized
air is blown down through bores in the cup rods 19 and out from within the suction
cups 20. The valves of the various stations 14 of the filler assembly 4 for ice
cream filling, choclate filling etc are preferably provided with a bypass valve
(not shown) which is activated in case a photocell, sensor or the like detects
the absence of a preform on a tray below that filler station, such that the ice
cream etc escapes through the bypass valve rather than through the station 14 filler
nozzle, thereby avoiding flooding and clogging of the suction cups.
The products on the conveyor 2 are then conveyed to the next processing
step which normally will be freezing (hardening) in a multifloor freezing cabinet
25, for example, as indicated in fig. 11.
In the freezing cabinet the products are exposed to refrigeration
air streams that would displace them on the trays were they not kept in place.
Conical products extending down into the tray holes 10 are kept in place by the
latter, in contrast to products having bottom dimensions larger than the tray
hole diameter, such as the cup of fig. 8, for example.
This is where the importance of the raised wall portion 12 around
the holes 10 on the upper surface of the trays 6 becomes clear. Thus, such wall
portion 12 prevents also such products which rest on the land portion 13 rather
than extending down into the tray holes 10 from substantial displacement on the
trays during the freezing process. As a result the same trays 6 can be used in
the conveyor 2, not only for conical products of varying sizes, but also for flat-bottomed
cup products of highly deviating shape, such as indicated in fig. 12. (It should
be noted that although, for simplicity, the various products in the latter figure
are shown as being placed together in one and the same tray row, normally, in
operation of the machine, only one type of products at a time will be produced,
i.e. the same product in all ten product lines of the conveyor).
In the example illustrated in figs. 4 - 12 of the drawings the raised
wall portion 12 is shown as an annular ridge protruding above the general upper
surface of the tray 6. It should be understood, however, that such wall portion
may take many different forms. Thus, rather than annular (circular) it could have
any other suitable configuration, e.g. rectangular such as square or other polygon
shapes. Further, they could extend intermittently rather than continuously around
their holes 10. As indicated in fig. 13 a such raised wall portion 12' would also
result by lowering or recessing each land portion 13' with its hole 10 relative
to the tray 6 top surface. The dimensions of the wall portion 12, 12' are selected
to accomodate all current products. Thus, in case of an annular wall portion, a
suitable diameter would be about 8 - 12 cm, preferably about 10 cm. A suitable
height of the wall portion 12, 12' would be about 5 - 10 mm, but of course it
may be lower or higher if desirable.
Although, as explained above the suction cups 18 keep the preforms
stably in exact position during the entire filling process, during lid application
and pleating, which normally will be the last operation of the filling process,
an accuracy beyond that achieved by the suction cups 18 may be required. This
may be achieved in a manner known per se by using aligning means in the form of
a pair of arms or jaws 26 having semicircular recesses 27 adapted to the product
shape as indicated in fig. 9. The jaws 26 clamp each preform 23 and keep it in
exactly desired position during application of a lid 28, as shown in fig. 10.
When the products emerge from the freezing cabinet 26 and move along
the bottom run 5 of the conveyor 2 they will meet a pick-up means (not shown) of
known type, e.g. a pick-up robot for automatic packaging. At such pick-up means
there may conveniently be provided an aligning means of the same type as the jaw
means 26 at the lid applicator station of the filler assembly, such that those
products which may be slightly disaligned in the hole 10 or slightly displaced
within the raised wall portion 12, 12' are aligned before pick-up.
As appearing from fig. 6 the various preforms will be of different
heights relative to the trays 6. Therefore the height of the filler assembly 4
and suction cup conveyor 18 may be adjusted as indicated by arrows 29 in fig. 1,
enabling their level to be preset for the product to be produced. The construction
of a such height levelling means is also within the competence of the skilled person,
e.g. based on wellknown hydraulic principles.
As noted above the suction cups 20 carried by the conveyor 18 is
a preferred means for keeping the preforms 23 in exact aligned position during
the filling operation. However, any other suitable gripping means may be used to
perform this function. For example, a set of jaws like the aligning jaws 26 described
above in connection with lid application could be used. In that case the preforms
23 would be dropped rather than drawn from their dispenser stack in the filler
From the above description it will be clear that the machine as shown
and described will be able to produce ice cream products of very varying shapes,
with a minimum of interventions when shifting from one product to another. Generally
nothing more than preform and lid dispensers have to be replaced, which is a relatively
simple and rapid operation.
Although the apparatus according to the invention has been described
and illustrated in connection with a machine for making ice cream produce, it is
of course not limited to such produce. Thus, any other edible material than ice
cream, e.g. youghurt, sufflé etc, could be filled from the filler assembly 4 into
the various preforms 23, for subsequent freezing, cooling or a heat/cool process.