Apparatus for repeatable staging and holding objects in a 3-D printer using an array of pins
1. A universal apparatus for staging objects and precisely holding the objects prior to removal therefrom by a gripper, comprising:
- an upper support frame;
a datum plate connected to said upper support frame;
an array of contour pins positioned to extend above said datum plate;
biasing members for biasing said array of contour pins against the weight of objects placed upon said datum plate; and
a clamping plate through which said array of contour pins extend, said clamping plate including compliant fingers, and wherein said compliant fingers include elongated portions that allow the clamping plate to deflect while applying force to said array of contour pins.
A universal staging platen for many types of objects in Direct to Object printing has a datum surface which is configured to represent the plane of optimal print head distance. The universal staging platen has an array of small pins protruding from it that conform under spring load to an object placed on the datum surface. Once in a conformed state, an operator can lock the pin position so that the object is precisely positioned for acquisition by a gripper mechanism. An added benefit of locking the pin position is that subsequent copies of the object may be loaded without any additional alignment or setup. The distance the contour pins protrude through the datum surface may be adjusted so that the pin ends are sufficiently far away from the gripper mechanism being used.
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Patent #US 5,941,700 A
Current AssigneeTheo Fuchs
Sponsoring EntityTheo Fuchs
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Current AssigneePLEXUS PROPERTY HOLDING CORP.
Sponsoring EntityMCMS INC.
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Sponsoring EntityGian P. Barozzi
- 1. A universal apparatus for staging objects and precisely holding the objects prior to removal therefrom by a gripper, comprising:
an upper support frame; a datum plate connected to said upper support frame; an array of contour pins positioned to extend above said datum plate; biasing members for biasing said array of contour pins against the weight of objects placed upon said datum plate; and a clamping plate through which said array of contour pins extend, said clamping plate including compliant fingers, and wherein said compliant fingers include elongated portions that allow the clamping plate to deflect while applying force to said array of contour pins.
- View Dependent Claims (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Cross-referenced is commonly assigned U.S. application Ser. No. 15/477,125, filed Apr. 3, 2017, and entitled VACUUM TUBE OBJECT CLAMPING ARRAY WITH CONFORMABLE PADS by Timothy P. Foley et al, US Publication No. 2018-0281316, now allowed; U.S. application Ser. No. 15/477,127, filed Apr. 3, 2017, and entitled APPARATUS FOR HOLDING DURING THREE-DIMENSIONAL (3D) OBJECTS DURING PRINTING THEREON by Jeffrey J. Bradway et al, now U.S. Pat. No. 9,925,726; U.S. Publication No. 2018-0282086, and entitled UNIVERSAL PART GRIPPER WITH CONFORMABLE TUBE GRIPPERS by Linn C. Hoover et al; U.S. Publication No. 2018-0281305 and entitled SPRING LOADED SUCTION CUP ARRAY GRIPPER by Paul M. Fromm et al, now U.S. Pat. No. 10,279,456; U.S. Application Ser. No. 62/480,563, filed Apr. 3, 2017, and entitled UNIVERSAL OBJECT HOLDER FOR 3-D PRINTING USING A CONFORMABLE GRIPPER BALL by Erwin Ruiz et al, expired and refiled as Ser. No. 15/626,200, now issued as U.S. Pat. No. 10,087,020; U.S. Publication No. 2018-0281306, and entitled UNIVERSAL PART GRIPPER USING 3-D PRINTED MOUNTING PLATE by Linn C. Hoover et al; U.S. Publication No. 2018-0281199, and entitled APPARATUS FOR GENERAL OBJECT HOLDING DURING PRINTING USING MULTIPLE CONFORMABLE BALLS by Jeffrey J. Bradway et al; U.S. Pat. No. 9,925,799, issued Mar. 27, 2018, and entitled AIR PRESSURE LOADED MEMBRANE AND PIN ARRAY GRIPPER by Paul M. Fromm et al; and U.S. Pat. No. 10,086,518, issued Oct. 2, 2018, and entitled SPRING LOADED IRIS MECHANISM STACK GRIPPER by Paul M. Fromm et al; all of which are included in their entirety herein by reference.
This disclosure relates generally to a system for printing on three-dimensional (3-D) objects, and more particularly, to an apparatus adapted for general object holding in a non-production environment.
Commercial article printing typically occurs during the production of the article. For example, ball skins are printed with patterns or logos prior to the ball being completed and inflated. Consequently, a non-production establishment, such as a distribution site, which customizes products, for example, in region in which potential product customers support multiple professional or collegiate teams, needs to keep an inventory of products bearing the logos of the various teams. Ordering the correct number of products for each different logo to maintain the inventory can be problematic.
One way to address these issues in non-production outlets would be to keep unprinted versions of the products, and print the patterns or logos on them at the distribution site. Adapting known printing techniques, such as two-dimensional (2-D) media printing technology, to apply image content onto 3-D objects would be difficult. Since the surfaces to be printed must be presented to the print heads as relatively flat, 2-D surfaces, the objects have to be maneuvered carefully to present portions of the articles as parallel planes to the print heads.
One Direct to Object printing system that accomplishes this is disclosed in copending and commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 15/163,880, filed on May 25, 2016, now U.S. Pat. No. 9,827,784, issued Nov. 28, 2017 and entitled SYSTEM FOR PRINTING ON THREE-DIMENSIONAL (3D) OBJECTS by Wayne A. Buchar et al. This printing system includes a plurality of print heads arranged in a 2-D array, each printhead being configured to eject marking material, a support member positioned to be parallel to a plane formed by the 2-D array of print heads, a member movably mounted to the support member, an actuator operatively connected to the movably mounted member to enable the actuator to move the moveably mounted member along the support member, an object holder configured to mount to the movably mounted member to enable the object holder to pass the array of print heads as the moveably mounted member moves along the support member, and a controller operatively connected to the plurality of print heads and the actuator, the controller being configured to operate the actuator to move the object holder past the array of print heads and to operate the plurality of print heads to eject marking material onto objects held by the object holder as the object holder passes the array of print heads. This application is included herein by reference to the extent necessary to the practice the present disclosure and in its entirety.
A problem with this approach is that Direct to Object digital printers capable of printing on three-dimensional products require a unique part holder for each part to be printed in order to maintain repeatable part placement. The part holders are currently machined metal brackets with dedicated locating and fastening features machined into each holder. This limits the ability of an operator to print onto general objects brought by an end user. Other more general methods for holding objects lack ease of setup for repeated instances of a part.
In answer to this shortcoming, disclosed is a universal staging platen that facilitates repeatable reloading and rapid acquisition of new parts. The staging platen includes an array of pins for supporting parts for acquisition by a gripper for movement past print heads of a 3-D printer. Once an object is put in place on the staging platen, the pins conform to the shape of the object under preload from either springs or elastic bands. The pins are then locked into place using a clamping plate. The object is then picked up by a gripper and moved into position for printing.
The foregoing aspects and other features of a printing system that prints images on 3-D objects are explained in the following description, taken in connection with the accompanying drawings.
For a general understanding of the present embodiments, reference is made to the drawings. In the drawings, like reference numerals have been used throughout to designate like elements.
The support member 108 is positioned to be parallel to a plane formed by the array of print heads and, as shown in the figure, is oriented so one end of the support member 108 is at a higher gravitational potential than the other end of the support member. This orientation enables the printing system 100 to have a smaller footprint than an alternative embodiment that horizontally orients the array of print heads and configures the support member, movably mounted member, and object holder to enable the object holder to pass objects past the horizontally arranged print heads so the print heads can eject marking material downwardly on the objects.
The member 112 is movably mounted to the support member 108 to enable the member to slide bi-directionally along the support member. In
In accordance with the present disclosure, universal staging platen 130 for many types of objects in a Direct to Object printer in
Height adjustment and stabilizing of pins 132 above datum plate 135 are shown in
In recapitulation, a universal staging platen is disclosed for precise and repeat positioning of a variety of 3-D object sizes for gripping and presenting to print heads of a 3-D printer includes an array of contour pins biased to protrude a predetermined distance through a datum plate onto which an object is placed. In use, an operator places an object onto the array of pins extending through the datum plate and the object displaces those contour pins that contact the object. Once the object is in place, the array of pins are locked into place by toggle clamps shifting a locking plate and guide plate laterally to hold the object on the datum plate. Thus, another and all other objects of the same type can now be set in place for acquisition by a gripper mechanism without any additional setup or alignment of the objects or image. The object is then picked up by the gripper and moved into position for printing.
It will be appreciated that variations of the above-disclosed apparatus and other features, and functions, or alternatives thereof, may be desirably combined into many other different systems or applications. Various presently unforeseen or unanticipated alternatives, modifications, variations, or improvements therein may be subsequently made by those skilled in the art, which are also intended to be encompassed by the following claims.