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1. WO2014023683 - APPAREIL D'ENCAPSULATION ET DE DÉSENCAPSULATION DE TUBES À ESSAI

Note: Texte fondé sur des processus automatiques de reconnaissance optique de caractères. Seule la version PDF a une valeur juridique

[ EN ]

CLAIMS:

1. A capping and de-capping apparatus (100) for capping and de-capping capable tubes (112) disposed in a rack (111) with a two dimensional array of apertures for holding said tubes, said apparatus (100) comprising:

- a rack support (110) for supporting said rack

(111),

- a head unit (120) supporting a two-dimensional array (121) of capping and de-capping grippers

(122), each capping and de-capping gripper (122) including a capping and de-capping socket unit

(123) configured for engaging and retaining a cap (113), said capping and de-capping grippers (122) being aligned with tube apertures defined by the array in said rack (111),

- a drive mechanism (130) for moving the rack

support (110) and head unit (120) relatively towards and away from one another, to cause engagement or disengagement of at least one capping and de-capping socket unit (123) with or from a cap (113) of at least one tube (112); and

- a drive system (140) for rotating at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) and the capping and de-capping socket unit (123) attached thereto, wherein rotation of the capping and de- capping socket unit (123), after engagement of the at least one capping and de-capping socket unit (123) with at least one cap (113), causes

attachment of the at least one cap (113) to the at least one tube (112) within the rack (111) when the at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) rotates in one direction and causes

detachment of the at least one cap (113) from the at least one tube (112) when the at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) rotates in the opposite direction,

characterized in that

- the at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) has a through going passage (221) extending through the at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) and the capping and de-capping socket unit (123) attached thereto,

- an ejector pin (230) moveably arranged within said through going passage (221);

- and wherein said ejector pin (230) is configured to perform a translational movement relative to the at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) and capping and de-capping socket unit (123) attached to said gripper (122) thereby effecting a release of a cap (113) retained within the capping and de-capping socket unit (123).

2. A capping and de-capping apparatus (100) according to claim 1 comprising a plurality of capping and de- capping grippers (122) each with a capping and de- capping socket unit (123) attached thereto so configured that each capping and de-capping gripper (122) may engage and/or disengage a cap (113) independently.

3. A capping and de-capping apparatus (100) according to claim 1 or 2, configured such that each tube

(112) received in said rack (111) can be capped and/or de-capped independently.

4. A capping and de-capping apparatus (100) according to any one of the claims 1 to 3 wherein said apparatus further comprises a control unit (160) configured to control the operation of each of said capping and de-capping grippers (122) and each of said ejector pins (230) independently from one another.

5. A capping and de-capping apparatus (100) according to any one of the claims 1 to 4 wherein the said cap

(113) is a screw cap.

6. The capping and de-capping apparatus (100) according to any one of the claims 1 to 5 further comprising a user interface associated with said control unit (160) and configured to permit a user to decide which capping and de-capping gripper (122) shall engage and/or disengage a said tube (112) configured to receive and/or dispose of a cap (113) placed within said rack (111) at a position corresponding to the position of said capping and de-capping gripper (122) within said head unit (120).

7.7 A capping and de-capping gripper (122) comprising - a capping and de-capping socket unit (123) capable of engaging and retaining a cap (113), having a through going passage (221),

- an ejector pin guide (220) also having a

through going passage (221), and

- an ejector pin (230);

and wherein said socket unit (123) and said ejector pin guide (220) are so aligned that when said socket unit (123) is attached to said guide (220), said ejector pin (230) can perform a translational movement within the said guide (220) and said socket unit (123).

8. A capping and de-capping gripper (122) according to claim 7 wherein the said socket unit (123) is attachable and detachable to the said ejector pin guide (220).

9. A capping and de-capping gripper (122) according to either claim 7 or claim 8 further comprising

- an actuator unit (240) configured to induce a

rotational movement in said ejector pin (230) upon actuation,

said actuator unit (240) comprising an actuator (250), preferably an electro motor, and optionally, a gear (260), and

said actuator unit (240) attached to said ejector pin (230), and

- a means 231 for transferring a rotational movement of said ejector pin (230) to said ejector pin guide (220) or to said capping and de-capping socket unit (123).

10. The capping and de-capping gripper of claim 9 further comprising a sensor configured to detect the torque on said actuator unit 240 and internal or external means for halting the rotational movement of said actuator unit 240 if a predetermined threshold value of torque acting on said actuator unit 240 is exceeded.

11. A plurality of capping and de-capping grippers (123) according to any of the claims 7 to 10 so arranged within said capper and de-capper apparatus (100) that each capping and de-capping gripper 123 is individually rotationally actuated and

controlled.

12. A capping and de-capping socket unit (123)

capable of engaging and retaining a cap for use with a capping and de-capping gripper (122) according to any of the claims 7 to 11 comprising

- a gripper connector (310),

- a socket (320), and optionally

- a mechanical connection (330) between said

gripper connector (310) and said socket (320);

each of said gripper connector (310), said socket (320), and said optional mechanical connection (330) having a through going passage (221)

characterized in that:

when the gripper connector (310), the socket (320), and the optional mechanical connection (330) are assembled to form said socket unit (123) the through going passages (221) are so aligned that when said capping and de-capping socket unit (123) is attached to said guide (220), said ejector pin (230) can perform a translational movement within the said guide (220) and said socket unit (123).

13. A capping and de-capping socket according to claim 12 further comprising a biasing means (223), preferably a coil spring, external to the said mechanical connection (330).

14. A capping and de-capping socket (320) for use in a capping and de-capping socket unit (132) according to any of the claims 12 or 13 comprising

- a through going passage (221), and

- at least one friction pin (321) oriented

towards, away, or both towards and away, at right angles from the center line of said through going passage (221),

characterized in that

the said at least one friction pin (321) is oriented to either grab around a cap (113) or to be inserted into a cavity within said cap (113) or both to grab around and to be inserted into said cap (113).

15. A capping and de-capping socket (320) according to claim 14 further comprising an external spring (340) encircling said capping and de-capping socket (320), preferably the external spring (340) is an CD- ring manufactured from an elastomeric material.

16. A capping and de-capping socket unit (123) or a capping and de-capping socket (320) according to any the claims 12 to 15 made from plastics, preferably PEEK or POM.

17. A capping and de-capping socket unit (123) or a capping and de-capping socket (320) according to claim 16 having been injection molded.

18. An apparatus (100) according to any of the

claims 1 to 6 comprising at least one capping and de-capping gripper (122) according to any of the claims 7 to 11 and at least one capping and de- capping socket unit (123) according to any of the claims 12 to 17.

19. Use of an apparatus (100) according to any of the claims 1 to 6 or 18.

20. A method of operating an apparatus (100) according to any one of claim 1 to 6 or 18, to attach or detach at least on cap, said method comprising:

- moving the head unit 120 towards the rack support 110 by the drive system 130,

- a capping and de-capping gripper 122 engages an opposing cap 113 on an opposing test tube 112 via the socket 320 on the socket unit 123, and

- disengagement of the cap 113 from the test tube 112 is brought about by the concerted movement of the drive system 130 moving the head unit 120 away from the rack support 110 and a simultaneous rotational movement of at least one gripper unit 122 caused by the at least one actuator unit 240 connected to said at least one capping and de-capping gripper 122 in contact with said cap 113, whereby

- caps in contact with a capping and de-capping gripper 122 but not undergoing a rotation by the actuator unit 240 forming part of such a capping and de-capping gripper 122 are not removed from their respective test tubes 112; and

- to attach a removed cap, the above steps are reversed and stopped when the means 270 for sensing the torque on the ejector pin registers that a certain threshold torque is exceeded; and

- to eject the tube 112 now having a cap by moving said tube 112 towards the ejector pin 230 by the drive mechanism 150, whereby the socket unit 123 and ejector pin guide 220 are moved past that end of the ejector pin 230 that is in contact with the cap 113 thereby releasing the said tube 112, freeing the capping and de-capping apparatus 100 to perform a new cycle of capping and de-capping.