US 3645690 A
A system employing individual sample capsules, each of inexpensive hollow body, open bottom construction with end tabs and cups formed in the body, a pair of horizontal rails on which the capsules are conveyed side-by-side past processing stations in stop and go fashion by the up-and-down action of the rails and to-and-fro movement of a pair of racks having teeth-engaging within the capsule body and moving the capsule in one direction when the rails are down, the teeth being free of the capsule to move in the opposite direction when the rails are up, with automatic means for dropping a capsule onto the rails, transferring a sample from a container to one of the cups in the capsule, adding reagents, filtering the reacted sample, transferring fluid from one cup to another, incubating the sample, performing a colorimetric reading and removing fluid from all cups prior to discard of the capsule, the system being essentially pneumatically operated using pneumatic logic controlled by triggers associated with the various components of the system.
Description (OCR text may contain errors)
United States Patent Rochte et al. 1 Feb. 29, 1972 [541 AUTOMATED CHEMICAL ANALYZER 3,52s,591 8/1970 .lungner et al. ..23/253  inventors: Jerry E. Rochte seal Beach; Donald N 3,533,744 10/1970 Unger ..23/230 Martin, Whittier; Jack L, Hoffa, Brea; George V. Moore, La Habra, all of Calif. f Examufer joseph Assistant ExammerR. E. Serwin  Assignee: Beckman Instruments, Inc. Attorney-Robert]. Steinmeyer and Thomas L. Peterson  Filed: Jan. 22, 1968  ABSTRACT [211 6996l8 A system employing individual sample capsules, each of inexpensive hollow body, open bottom construction with end tabs  U.S.C|. ..23/230 R, 23/253 R, 23/259, and cups formed in the body, a pair of horizontal rails on 3/ 254 R, 73/ 56, 4 l 30 which the capsules are conveyed side-by-side past processing  llll. Cl. ..G0lll 33/16, G01" l/lO, GOln l/i8 tations in stop and g0 fashion by the up-and-down action of 0 Search A, A; the rails and to and-f -o movement of a pair of racks having 141/130 teeth-engaging within the capsule body and moving the capsule in one direction when the rails are down, the teeth being  References and free of the capsule to move in the opposite direction when the UNITED STATES PATENTS I rails are up, with automatic means for dropping a capsule onto the rails, transfemng a sample from a container to one of the 3,036,893 5/ 1962 Natelson ..23/253 X cups in the capsule, adding reagents, filtering the reacted sam- 3,098,719 7/ 1963 Skeggs 23/253 ple, transferring fluid from one cup to another, incubating the 3,143,393 8/ 1964 D s guin d H ns .23/259 X sample, performing a colorimetric reading and removing fluid 3,193,359 7/1965 Baruch et al ..23/259 from all cups prior to discard of the capsule, the system being 3,3275 35 6/1967 q t essentially pneumatically operated using pneumatic logic con- 3,476,515 11/1969 Johnson et 23/253 X trolled by triggers associated with the various components of 3,497,320 2/1970 Blackburn et al.. ....23/292 X the System 3,504,376 3/1970 Bednar et al ..23/230 3,508,879 4/1970 Findl et a1 ..23/259 X 39 Claims, 20 Drawing Figures PAIENTEUFEBEQ m2 SHEET 01 0F 11 JACK 1. HOFFA DONALD N MARTIN GEORGE v MOORE JERRY E ROCHTE INVENTORS BY ATTORNEY omsEOhEwm amhm 20. HEM
PAIENTEUFEB 29 m2 FIG 5 JACK L. HOF FA DONALD N. MARTIN GEORGE V. MOORE JERRY E. ROCHTE INVENTORS ATTORNEY Pmummze m2 3, 645.690
SHEET OSOF 11 M V 4 m H I f a j BWJ L d nnnnun K 8 d H 8 O M o I. Q Q f 4 7.\/ c 2 m m m f m K a b 5 b 8 8 H l 7 8 l 9 M G G G [I]! a H F Ti F DONALD N. MARTIN .GEORGE v. MO E F l G 10 JERRY E. ROCHTE INVENTORS 7am ATTORNEY PATENTEDFEB29 1972 SHEET UBUF 11 FIG-l2 FIG I! FIG l3 JACK L.HOFFA DONALD N. MARTlN GEORGE V. MOORE JERRY E. ROCHTE WXM AT TO RNE Y PATENTED'FEB 2 9 I972 SHEET 070F 11 BY /MV ATTORNEY PATENIEDreaze m2 SHEET 09 0F 11 JACK L.HOFFA DONALD N. MARTIN GEORGE V. MOORE JERRY E. ROCHTE INVENTORS z/g/w ATTORNEY PAIENTEDFEB29 I972 SHEET MIN 11 w. GE
JACK L. HOFFA DONALD N. MARTIN G EORGE V. MOORE JERRY E. ROCHTE ATTORNEY PATENTEDFEBZQ I972 SHEET 110F 11 AUTOMATED CHEMICAL ANALYZER CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS Related to the present application are the following applications, filed concurrently herewith, all assigned to the same assignee as this application: Ser. No. 699,682 now U.S. Pat. No. 3,540,858, for SAMPLE HOLDER WITH FILTER MEANS by Hugh 0. Brown et al.; Ser. No. 699,486, now US. Pat. No. 3,532,470 for SAMPLE HOLDER WITH CENTRIFUGA- TION MEANS by Jerry E. Rochte; Ser. No. 699,520, now US. Pat. No. 3,540,857, for SAMPLE CAPSULE AND FIL- TERING MECHANISM by Donald N. Martin; Ser. No. 699,617, now US. Pat. No. 3,578,412, for AUTOMATED TRANSPORT SYSTEM by Donald N. Martin; Ser. No. 699,619, now US. Pat. No. 3,540,856, for SAMPLE CAP- SULE AND FILTERING MECHANISM by Jack L. Hoffa et al.; Ser. No. 699,526, now US. Pat. No. 3,487,696, for PROBE TRANSFER MECHANISM by Jack L. Hoffa; Ser.
-No. 699,569, now US. Pat. No. 3,556,731, for AUTO- MATED INCUBATION APPARATUS by Donald N. Martin.
The present invention relates to automated chemical analyzers and more particularly to a system for analyzing wet chemicals or clinical fluids which employs an inexpensive individual capsule for each sample, the capsule being of hollow body, open bottom construction and advanced past processing stations automatically in a stop and go fashion, automatic means being provided for dropping a capsule, transferring a sample to it, adding reagents, filtering the reacted sample, incubating it, taking a colorimetric reading thereof and finally removing all liquids from the capsule prior to discard.
Efforts to speed the analysis of biological fluids and clinical samples has led to various attempts and approaches in the development of devices and apparatus for performing automatically the analytical or processing steps ordinarily done by hand by the laboratory technician.
It is, therefore, an object of the present invention to provide a new and improved automated chemical analyzer in which the various processing steps are performed automatically in a rapid and facile manner.
Another object is the provision of an automated chemical analyzer which is of simple construction and is reliable in its operation.
A further object is to provide an automated chemical analyzer which employs an inexpensive, individual capsule for analyzing a sample from a source in a manner inhibiting crosscontamination between samples, which capsule is discarded or otherwise disposed of after use.
Still another object is the provision of an automated chemical analyzer in which the capsule is transported past the processing stations in stop and go fashion.
A still further object is to provide an automated chemical analyzer in which the components thereof are essentially operated by pneumatic mechanisms governed by pneumatic logic and triggered by the capsule in the transport thereof.
These and other objects and advantages are achieved by an automated chemical analyzer embodying the principles of the present invention which contemplates and is concerned with an automated chemical analyzer employing individual sample capsules, each of inexpensive hollow body, open bottom construction with cups and end tabs supported on a pair of horizontal rails on which the capsules are conveyed side-byside past processing stations in stop and go fashion by the up and down action of the rails and the to-and-fro movement of a pair of racks having teeth engaging the capsule for moving it along when the rails are down, and free of the capsule when the rails are up, with automatic means for dropping a capsule onto the rails, transferring a sample from a container to one of the cups in a capsule, adding reagents, filtering the reacted sample, transferring fluid from one cup to another, incubating the sample, performing a reading by a colorimeter or other end point detector, such as flame photometer, fiowmeter, or the like, and removing fluid from all the cups prior to discard of the capsule, most functions being carried out by pneumatic mechanisms governed by pneumatic logic controlled by triggers associated with the various components.
Other novel features and details of construction of the present invention will become better understood by reference to the following detailed description when considered in connection with the accompanying drawing wherein:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view, somewhat schematic, of an automated chemical analyzer embodying the principles of the present invention.
FIG. 2 is a chart listing the processing steps which the analyzer of the present invention may be set to perform in the analysis of a sample.
FIG. 3 is a fragmentary front elevation of the analyzer of the present invention, with parts omitted and in section.
FIG. 4 is a fragmentary left hand end elevation of the analyzer of FIG. 3 with parts omitted and the capsule support rails in the down position.
FIG. 5 is a fragmentary right hand end elevation of the analyzer of FIG. 3 with parts omitted and the rails in the up position.
FIG. 6 is a schematic diagram illustrating a portion of the path of movement of a capsule during transport thereof in the analyzer.
FIG. 7 is a plan view of the sample capsule employed by the analyzer of the present invention.
FIG. 8 is a longitudinal sectional view of the sample capsule of FIG. 7.
FIG. 9 is a front elevational view, partly in section, of a filter cup employed with the sample capsule of FIG. 7, but on a larger scale compared thereto.
FIG. 10 is a side elevational view, partly in section, of the reagent addition probe and its support.
FIG. 11 is a fragmentary vertical section of the filter cup dispenser and vacuum application device of the filtering apparatus employed in the analyzer of the present invention.
FIG. 12 is a plan view of the feed gate of the filter cup dispenser of FIG. 11.
FIG. 13 is a fragmentary side elevation of the capsule dispenser, with parts broken away.
FIG. 14 is a bottom plan view of the capsule dispenser, on a larger scale.
FIG. 15 is a top plan view of the sample transfer apparatus showing the relationship of the probe transfer and sample turntable.
FIGS. 16a and 16b illustrate parts of the sample transfer apparatus, FIG. 16a being a fragmentary sectional view of the probe transfer mechanism and FIG. 16b a vertical sectional view of the sample turntable.
FIG. 17 is a side elevational view of the filtrate transfer apparatus, with parts broken away.
FIG. 18 is a side elevational view, with parts broken away, of the colorimetry pick up probe mechanism and fluid removal apparatus, the operative connection thereof to the colorimeter apparatus illustrated schematically.
FIG. 19 is a schematic diagram illustrating the interlocking working relationship of the components of the analyzer of the present invention.
Referring now to the drawings, there is shown in FIG. I a perspective view illustrating an automated chemical analyzer embodying the principles of the present invention which includes a support structure or body 20 suitably supporting a pair of rails 22, only one of which is seen, the other being masked by the front cover 21 of the body. Sample capsules 24 are adapted to be supported and conveyed or transported on the rails by means of a pair of serrated members or racks 26, in intermittent stop and go fashion, past a series of processing stations where various analytical steps may be performed. For example, the analyzer will be described in connection with the steps listed for purposes of illustration only and not limited thereto, since the parts are adjustable so the nature and order of the steps may be varied, as desired. Thus, the analyzer has a capsule dispenser or loader 28 at Station A for automatically dropping a capsule onto the rails, a probe transfer mechanism 30 at Station B for transferring a sample froma test tube or other sample container on a sample turntable 32 to a capsule under the probe transfer, a filter cup dispenser or loader 34 at Station D, a device 36 for applying vacuum to a filter cup at Station D; a filtrate transfer mechanism 38 at Station E, reagent addition devices 40ac, at Stations C, F and H, each connected to one of several pumps 42a-c, respectively, pumps 44a and b which are connected to the transfer mechanisms 30 and 38, respectively, and an incubator apparatus 46 at Station G. Reference numeral 48 designates a mechanism at Station I for picking up a sample from the capsule, which sample is routed through a colorimeter apparatus 50 and its colorimetric value read and recorded. At Station .1, there is a pickup mechanism 52 which is also connected to a vacuum supply and removes all the fluid remaining in the cups of the capsule, delivering it to a drain or a container for other disposition, as necessary, after which the used capsule drops off the ends of rails 22, at Station K, into a container for appropriate disposition, as by burning, for example, or merely discarded, depending upon the characteristics of the sample. If desired, body 20 and turntable 32 may be mounted on a wheeled vehicle (not shown) to provide portability.
Substantially all functions of the automated chemical analyzer of the present invention are controlled by pneumatic logic control systems and logic elements of the types disclosed in US Pat. Nos. 3,296,941, and 3,322,148. The various components of the analyzer are provided with pneumatic logic elements or flip-flops and valves interconnected by flexible conduits for initiating or triggering action of the components, or causing the flip-flops thereof to change state, all more specifically described in the description of the overall operation of the analyzer, later appearing. It is to be understood, therefore, unless otherwise indicated, that the term trigger means a normally closed pneumatic valve which is opened to vent to the atmosphere or ambient pressure the conduit or line to which it is connected.
It will be appreciated that the capsules could be conveyed along rails 22 in any suitable manner, for example, by endless chains provided with projections or teeth engaging the capsules. However, the transport system illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 3-5 (shown and described in the aforementioned application Ser. No. 699,617 is preferred because it obviates positional tolerances of belt or chain drives, thereby eliminating the eumulative errors inherent therein, and the vertical movement of the capsules provides a manner of initiating the action of components of the analyzer and effecting relative movement between the capsules and the components, thereby obviating the need for vertically movable parts at some of the processing stations.
As seen in FIGS. 4 and 5, racks 26 are secured to the sides of a pair of broad-base, generally U-shaped brackets 54a and 54b, one at the left-hand ends of the racks (FIG. 4), the other at the right-hand ends thereof (FIG. Bracket 54a is mounted for linear horizontal movement on a box column 56a by means of ball slides 58, bracket 54b being mounted likewise on a box column 56b which is similar to box column 56a but is shown partly broken away in FIG. 5. Ball slides 58 include a generally rectangular outer plate 60, connected to a box beamand having bent up arcuate sides which constitute ball races 62, and an inner generally rectangular plate 64, connected to the bottom of a U-shaped bracket and having bent arcuate sides constituting ball races 66, ball bearings 68 being retained between the ball races 62 and 66, thereby providing for easy sliding of brackets 54a, 54b relative to the box columns 56a, 56b, respectively.
Box columns 56a and 56b are anchored to a base 70 which forms part of body structure 20. Also forming part of body and mounted on base 70 is a structural member 72 which may take the shape of an I-beam having an upper and lower horizontal members 74 and 76, respectively. Secured at the ends of I-beam 72, in notches 75 in the ends of members 74 and 76 which are nearer the rails 22, is a pair of vertically disposed plates 60 which are similar in purpose and function to plates 60 of ball slides 58 and cooperate with plates 64' by means of ball bearings therebetween, in a manner similar to the cooperation between plates 60 and 64 of ball slides 58. Attached to plates 64 for vertical sliding movement therewith is an elongated, horizontally disposed channel member 78, about midway of which is'a vertically disposed air cylinder 80 secured to member 76 and conveniently coupled to the channel member by means of a suitable connector 82.
Secured to the left-hand end of member 78 is a generally triangular, cantilever beam bracket 84 on which the left-hand ends of rails 22 and a trigger plate 85 are supported (FIG. 4), the right-hand ends of the rails being supported on a plate horizontal 86 and a cantilever plate girder 88 mounted on member 78 (FIG. 5). Provision is thus made for vertical reciprocal movement of the rails and the trigger plate for reasons later appearing.
Horizontal reciprocal movement is imparted to the racks 26 by a horizontally disposed air cylinder 90 mounted on box column 56a and connected to bracket 54a by an angle bracket 92 (FIG. 3). A pair of triggers 90a and 90b are mounted on column 56a, the latter adapted to be actuated by bracket 92, the former by a finger 93 attached to one of the racks 26 and movable therewith.
As hereinbefore stated, rails 22 are adapted to support capsules 24 which are advanced along the rails by the racks 26. To this end, the capsules 24, later described in greater detail, are provided of hollow body construction with end tabs 94 which rest on the rails and are held down by strips 96 of flexible material, for example, silicone rubber, one on each rail, which strips are retained in place by elongated angular retainers 98 screwed or otherwise suitable secured to the respective rails (FIG. 5).
The operation of the rails and racks for advancing or transporting the capsules will now be generally described. Air cylinder 80 for moving the rails 22 vertically is suitably connected to an air supply for periodically lowering the rails, say once every 60 seconds. Viewing FIG. 5, it will be noted that in the up position of the rails 22, the capsule 24 is clear of the racks 26, whereas in the down position of the rails, as shown in FIG. 4, teeth 27, forming part of the racks 26, are disposed with portions thereof above the rails '22 so as to enter into the hollow body of a capsule 24 as shown in phantom. After a capsule has dropped onto the rails, downward movement of the rails places the capsule in engagement with a pair of teeth 27 and actuates the trigger 85a (FIG. 19) for operation of the air cylinder 90, to the right as viewed in FIG. 3, sliding the capsule along the rails a distance substantially equal to the width of a capsule and actuating a trigger 90a. by finger 93, after which the air cylinder 80 is operated toraise the rails and actuate a trigger 85g (FIG. 19) for return of the racks to the left and actuation of trigger 90b by bracket 92 for a purpose later appearing. With each cycled downward movement of the rails the procedure is repeated but the capsule is engaged by the next downstream pair of teeth 27 during each succeeding cycle. Thus, as seen inthe schematic diagram of FIG. 6, the movement of each capsule during operation of the transport system is as follows: down, arrow 100, over teeth 27; over, arrow 102, a distance the width of the capsule; up, half-arrow 104, clear of teeth 27; a dwell constituting the major portion of the periodic cycle until the rails are triggered; then down, half-arrow 106, over teeth 27', over, arrow 108, one capsule width; etc.
It will be appreciated that capsule 24 could be of any suitable shape having a plurality of wells or cups formed therein and having parts engageable by the teeth 27 for sliding the capsule on the rails 22. Any of the unitary capsules disclosed in the aforementioned applications Ser. No. 699,682, Ser. No. 699,486, and Ser. No. 699,520, could-be adapted to serve the purpose very well. However, the form of sample capsule illustrated in FIGS. 7 and 8 is preferred because of the manner of triggering the occurrence of events and the type of filtering process, with its novel equipment, employed in the automated chemical analyzer of the present invention.
Capsule 24 may be fabricated of any suitable material in a facile and economical manner as it is intended to be disposable and destroyed or discarded after use. For example it may be molded of readily available plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and the like, which are resistant to the samples and the chemicals used in the analysis and provide an amount of flexibility as well as being of sufficient rigidity for the purpose at hand. As seen in FIGS. 7 and 8, capsule 24 is of hollow, open bottom, body construction with sides 110 and end walls 112 of trapezoidal shape, joined at the upper edges thereof by a top 114, which has formed therein wells or cups 116 and 118 a-d depending into the space between the sides and end walls. A narrow stiffening rib 120 extends along the lower edge of each of the sides and merges at its ends into the end-tabs 94. Within the hollow body structure at the juncture of each of the end walls 112 and top 114, there is an additional thickness of material for providing a pair of ledges or shoulders 122 facing downwardly so that the capsules may be nested or stacked without binding or sticking; a pair of the teeth 27 having dimensions slightly less than the distance between the sides being receivable in the spaces between the end walls and cups 116 and 118d.
FIG. 9 illustrates a filter cup 130 which is adapted to be used with the capsule 24 for filtering material contained in cup 116, the scale of cup 130 being greater than the scale of the capsule. Cup 130 may be fabricated by utilizing methods and materials similar to those used for manufacture of the capsule 24 except that bottom 132 of the cup is of filter paper or other appropriate porous material. The cup is formed with a tapered or frustoconical portion 134, to which the filter paper bottom 132 is bonded or sealed, a cylindrical portion 136 having a downwardly facing ledge or shoulder 138 and a flat annular rim 140. The cup is sized so that portions 134 and 136 fit into well 116 in the capsule 24.
Shoulder 138 provides for nesting or stacking of the filter cups without sticking or binding and the ring 140 is adapted to engage the top 114 of the capsule during the filtering process, later described.
The essence of the apparatus for automatically performing filtering will be briefly described and is illustrated in FIG. 11 which is a fragmentary vertical section of the filter cup dispenser or loader 34 and vacuum application device 36, showing the relation thereof to the capsules 24 on rails 22. For a fuller description of the filtering apparatus, reference may be had to the aforementioned application Ser. No. 699,619.
The loader 34 includes a filter cup magazine 144 of cylindrical form in alignment with a circular structural opening or aperture 146 and a filter cup feed gate 148 movable horizontally therebetween. As seen in FIG. 12, gate 148 is connected for movement by a horizontal air cylinder 149 and is provided with an elongated opening 150 and a pair of vertically displaced U-shaped supporting surfaces, one of such surfaces, lower supporting surface 151, being located at one'end of the opening and engaging under the rim 140 of the lowermost filter cup 130, the other such surface being defined by a generally U-shaped ejector 152 at the other end of the opening and a pair of tabs or projections 154, flanking the opening 150. Ejector 152 is mounted for pivotal 'movement about a horizontal axis and is normally disposed in the horizontal plane of the projections 154 but is shown in FIG. 11 in the down or ejecting position. During movement of feed gate 148 from its normal position, supporting surface 151 slides out from under the rim 140 of the lowermost filter cup while the ejector 152 and the projections 154 engage under the rim of the next higher filter cup, the ejector near the end of such movement pivoting downwardly to insure dropping of the lowermost filter cup through aperture 146. The filter cup 130 crops into cup 116 of a sample capsule 24, where it floats on the surface of fluid 156 therein. Upon return movement of the gate 148, the ejector 152 returns to its normal horizontal position, projections 154 slide out from under the rim of the next filter cup resting thereon, dropping it onto the lower U-shaped supporting surface 151, and the loader 34 is conditioned for feeding another filter cup.
The device or mechanism 36 for applying vacuum to the filter cup in the capsule includes a vacuum head 158 of noncircular horizontal cross section, spaced one capsule width from loader 34 and mounted for vertical movement in a'sleeve 160, the lower end of which is suitably slotted, as at 161, to accommodate the vacuum head. Head 158 is coupled to a vertical air cylinder 162 and is formed with a depending portion 164 and a shoulder 166 therearound to which a gasket 168, of foam rubber or like material, is sealed. A continuous vacuum supply (not shown) is adapted to be connected to the vacuum head by means of a pipe 170 and a pipe fitting 172 disposed in a bore or passageway 174. Actuation of the vertical air cylinder 162 is tied in with the raising of rails 22 by vertical air cylinder so that when the capsule under the vacuum head 158 is lifted, the head 158 moves downwardly and presses gasket 168 against the rim of the filter cup effecting a seal to the end that the suction of the continuous vacuum lowers the pressure within the filter cup, causing clear filtrate to be drawn into the filter cup through the porous bottom thereof. Upon retraction of the vacuum head 158, the lower end of sleeve to the sides of slots 161 engages the filter cup rim for holding it down and breaking the seal.
Referring to FIGS. 3, 4, 13 and 14, the capsule dispenser or loader 28 at Station A will now be described. The capsule loader 28 includes a capsule magazine mounted on a mounting plate 182 adapted to be adjustable secured to member 74 of I-beam 72. For ease in loading the magazine 180 with capsules, it may be halved vertically, with one half hinged to plate 182 and latched to the fixed half by a magnetic latch 183, or the like (FIGS. 3 and 13). Plate 182 has a rectangular aperture 184 with which the magazine 180 and a bottomless trough or capsule chute 186 are aligned for directing a stack of capsules to a feed mechanism mounted on the underside of the plate. The feed mechanism includes a pair of slider supporting brackets 188, 188 flanking the ends of aperture 184, each bracket being formed of a block of material having a U-shaped mouth or slot 190, the open ends of which face inwardly toward each other. Supported in the slot 190 of bracket 188 is a lower slider 192 which has a flat top surface and an inverted U-shaped bottom surface engaging the lower surface of the slot and adjacent side edges, and is provided with a pair of extensions or fingers 194 (FIG. 14). A lower slider 192', substantially similar to slider 192, is related in like manner to bracket 188' and has projections or fingers 194 which cooperate with fingers 194 to support the stack of capsules, as will later appear. Adjustable set screws 195, each with a locknut, extend into slots 190 and limit the extent of movement of sliders 192, 192'.
Disposed above lower slider 192 is an upper slider block 196 which has a wide finger or lip 198, disposed above and transversely of the fingers 194, and a U-shaped top surface engaging the upper surface of slot 190 in bracket 188, the block being slidable on the flat top surface of the lower slider. Block 196 is a hollow construction and pivotally mounted therewithin is an ejector 200 urged to the position shown in FIG. 13 by a coil spring 202, lip or finger 198 being suitably apertured, as at 204 (FIG. 14), to accommodate pivotal movement of the ejector. An upper slider block 196' is similarly supported in slot 190 of bracket 188' and is provided with a wide lip 198', an ejector 200' (and a spring therefor, not shown) and an aperture 204'.
Sliders 192, 192' and blocks 196, 196' are interconnected for coordinated sliding in order to dispense the capsules one at a time. For such purpose, a rigid link 206 has one end thereof affixed to slider block 196', the other end of the link being formed with a narrower, vertically offset portion 208 affixed to lower slider 192. A rigid link 206' of like configuration, overlapping but reversed relative to link 206, is affixed to slider block 196 and has a narrow portion 208' affixed to slider 192. Thus, as a result of such linkage, when sliders 192, 192' move inwardly toward each other, slider blocks 196, 196' move outwardly away from each other, and vice versa.
For effecting movement of the links and the components fixed thereto, a horizontal air cylinder 210 is mounted on link 206' by a bracket 212 and is connected to a bracket 214 fixed to link 206 (FIG. 4).
For coordination of the movement of the sliders and slider blocks, slider 192' is provided with a pin or stud 216 and block 196' with a pin or stud 218, pins 216 and 218 projecting into cam slots 220 and 222, respectively, formed in a segmental plate or sector 224. Sector 224 has a bearing sleeve 226 (FIG. 14) journaled on a pivot shaft 228 anchored in bracket 188'.
It will be appreciated that in FIGS. 4, 13 and 14 the sliders 192, 192 and slider blocks 196, 196 are in intermediate positions and that normally the air cylinder 210 is in an extended condition, wherein fingers 194 and 194' are in their closest or innermost positionsand lips 198 and 198 are farthest apart, whereby the stack of capsules in the magazine is supported by fingers 194 and 194 with the end tabs of the lowermost capsule 24 resting thereon and the end tabs of the next higher capsule being above lips I98 and 198, the capsules being outlined only to avoid confusion with other lines. Retraction of the air cylinder 210 causes fingers 194 and 194 to draw apart and lips 198 and 198' to come closer together and at an intermediate phase of such movement the fingers are in the positions shown in FIG. 13, in which fingers 194 and 194' are al; most withdrawn from under the end tabs of the lowermost capsule and lips 198 and 198 have entered into the spaced under the end tabs of the next higher capsule. With continued movement of the sliders and slider blocks, fingers 194, 194' slide out from under the lowennost capsule allowing it to drop and the next higher capsule is caught by lips 198, 198.
To insure separation of the lowermost capsule from the one above, ejectors 200, 200' are pivoted downwardly during the terminal portion of the inward movement of slider blocks 196, 196'. This is accomplished by means of projections 230, such as adjustable set screws or the like, disposed in the paths of the ejectors and carried by supports 232 secured to slider brackets 188 and 188, respectively, (FIG. 13).
Upon return of the air cylinder 210 to normal position, lips or fingers 198, 198' slide out from under the end tabs of the capsule, the stack of capsules drops and is caught by fingers 194, 194, which inthe meantime have moved into supporting position; and the loader 28 is in condition to dispense another capsule.
FIGS. 15 and 16a and b illustrate, in greater detail, the sample transfer means at Station B which includes the probe transfer mechanism 30 and sample turntable 32. As seen in FIGS. 15 and 16a, probe transfer 30 is mounted on member 74 of l-beam 72 by members 241 transversely of rails 22 and adjacent to the capsule loader 28. It includes an elongated U- shaped bracket or support 240, of strap metal or other suitable material, within which are suitably mounted a block 242 capable of reciprocal horizontal movement and an air cylinder 244 for imparting such movement thereto. Block 242 carries a vertically disposed elongated probe 243 of plastic tubing or the like. Support 240 also carries a plurality of pneumatic triggers 246a-e, for reasons later appearing, triggers 246a and b being adjustably positioned by means of a slot 247 in bracket 240, triggers 246a and d being mounted on a pivotally connected bracket 248 adapted to be held in a vertical or a folded-up position by means of a spring-pressed detent 250 received in either of a pair of notches 252 and trigger 246e being supported on the lower end of a support 253 (FIG. 16a). It will be appreciated that cylinder 244 may also be adjustably mounted so that probe 243 may be positioned over any desired cup in capsule 24.
Located below bracket 248 is the sample turntable 32 which is formed with a circular row of equangularly spaced openings 260 and is so related that when air cylinder 244 is extended, probe 243 is disposed vertically over one of the openings. Each opening 260 is adapted to receive a sample test tube 262 and has associated therewith a plurality of pliant tabs or fingers 264, of plastic or the like, for frictionally holding the test tube with the level of the sample therein at the same level as the top of the turntable in order that the levels of the samples be identical (FIG. 16b).
As shown in FIG. 16b, table 32 is supported on an inverted cuplike structure or housing 266 which, in turn, is supported on a vertically movable piston. rod 268 projecting from an air cylinder 270 and having a spindle 268 received in a centrally located hub 271 of the table. Cylinder 270 is mounted on a base 272 and has an annular rib or lip 274 on which rests a ringlike portion 276 of an arm or lever 278 (FIG. 15) apertured to fit the casing snugly. Portion 276 of lever 278 is provided with a pin or stud 280 adapted to be received in any one of a circular row of perforations 282 in a centrally apertured circular plate or disc 284 secured to the lower end of housing 266. If desired, a similar pin 280 may be located on portion 276 diametrically opposite to pin 280. Perforations 282 are spaced equiangularly the same as opening 260 and are in radial alignment therewith, as are notches 286 formed in the inner periphery of the disc 284 to receive a vertical spline or key 288 fixed to cylinder 270.
Conveniently coupled to arm 278 is a horizontally acting air cylinder 290 suitably mounted on base 272 and energizable for swinging the arm and turning the table 32 through a small arc equal to the angular distance between openings 260, after which the arm is returned to starting position. Positioning of the arm 278 serves to actuate pneumatic triggers 292a-d for initiating automatic functions more specifically described in the description later of the overall operation of the automated chemical analyzer of the present invention.
Suffice to say, at this point, that when a capsule 24 is raised up under the probe transfer mechanism 30, it actuates trigger 246e which causes probe 243 to move out over table 32 as shown in phantom in FIG. 16a, after which air cylinder 290 swings arm 278 and turns the table slightly to dispose the next test tube 262 directly under the probe and engages trigger 292d for raising of the table. This brings the sample in the test tube up around the lower end of the probe 243, as shown in phantom in FIGS. 16a and b, disc 284 is disengaged from pin 280 on arm 278 and spline or key 288 enters the notch 286 which is radially aligned with the pin. In the raised position of the Table 32, triggers 246s and d are actuated, initiating action which draws a predetermined amount of sample into the probe and causes arm 278, which is disengaged from disc 284, to return. Table 32 then lowers and engages pneumatic trigger 294 (FIG. 16b) for return of the probe 242 which, after it is properly in place over the capsule, engages trigger 24611 for pumping out the amount of sample picked up plus a volume of water to wash the probe and dilute the sample, mixing thereof being affected by the pumping rate of the water. The probe transfer mechanism is then again ready for being triggered by the next capsule.
In FIG. 17 there is illustrated another form of probe transfer 300 which may be employed at Station E for the transfer of the clear filtrate from the filter cup to a different cup in the capsule. Probe transfer 300 includes an elongated U-shaped support or bracket 302 of strap metal secured to a mounting block 304 which is adapted to be adjustably secured to member 74. A horizontal rod 306 is mounted on bracket 302 and slidably supports a probe carriage 308 to which a probe support 310 of generally angular form is pivoted as at 312, a tension spring'3l4 connected between the carriage and'the probe support biasing the latter upwardly. Abutments 316 and 318 limit the extent of travel of the probe support 310 and are adjustably secured in an elongated slot 320 in support 302, abutment 316 having an adjustable set screw 322 disposed above the pivot 312 and adapted to engage the probe support 310 at one end of its travel and pivot the same downwardly, a set screw 324 in abutment 318 disposed below pivot 312 performs the same function at the other end of the probe support travelpMovement is imparted to the probe carriage 308 by a horizontally acting air cylinder 326. Thus, probe support 310 at one end of its travel is pivoted downwardly and a probe 328 carried thereby is dipped into the filter cup, pump 44b being simultaneously triggered by engagement of the carriage 308 with a trigger 330 carried by abutment 316, movement of the probe support away from abutment 316 permitting the probe support to rise because of the bias spring 314. At the other end of its travel, probe support 310 is again pivoted downwardly but this time the probe 328 goes into another cup in the capsule and a trigger 332 is engaged by the carriage 308 for causing the pump 44b to expel the clear filtrate that had been picked up from the filter cup. Initial movement of the probe carriage 308 is triggered by engagement of the capsule with a trigger 334 on the support 302. The interaction of the triggers will become more clear when the overall operation of the automated clinical analyzer is later described. For a more detailed description of the probe transfer 300 and other forms of probe transfers that could be utilized, reference may be had to the aforementioned application Ser. No. 699,526.
FIG. 18 illustrates still another form of probe mechanism 340, this form being employed at the colorimetry station, Station I, for picking up the colorimeter sample. It also includes an elongated U-shaped support 342 and a mounting block 344 adjustably connected to member 74, the support having an elongated slot 346 in which is adjustably secured a mounting block 348 supporting a vertical air cylinder 350 which carries a probe support 352 with a probe 354. Pickup action is initiated by the engagement of a capsule with the lower end of a spring pressed plunger 355 which closes a normally open microswitch 356 for completing the circuit to a colorimeter solution metering pump 358 powered by an electric motor 360 driving a cam 362 which intermittently pivots a lever 363 for actuating triggers 364a and b for triggering a flip-flop 366 and causing the air cylinder 350, which is spring biased upwardly, to operate the probe support 352 for dipping the probe 354 carried thereby to pick up discrete portions of the sample for routing through the colorimeter apparatus 50. Motor 360 is controlled by a complete cycle switch 368 which, in turn, is controlled by a timer 500 (FIG. 19).
Support 342 also has mounted thereon a plastic block 370 which is suitably bored as at 372 to receive stationary probes 374 up to which the capsule is raised at the fluid removal station, Station .I, the probes being located one capsule width beyond the probe support 352. All of the bores 372 communicate with a passageway 376 which is connected by a pipe 378 to a low vacuum supply for sucking up the fluid remaining in the cups when the capsule is raised up to the probes 374.
FIG; illustrates the type of support present at each of the reagent addition stations C, F and H, the support including a bracket 380 which is of elongated U-shaped strap form with a mounting block 382 for adjustable connection to member 74. Disposed within the bracket is a probe support block 384 through which a probe 386 in the form of a plastic tube or duct passes and projects from the lower end thereof. Block 384 may be made of plastic or other suitable material and is provided with a pair of depending flexible elements 388, one on each side, which frictionally engage the inner side of the bracket for adjustably positioning the block therealong. A trigger 390 mounted on the bracket is actuated by raising of the capsule 24 to initiate discharge of the reagent.
Block 384 also supports a mixing or agitating means in the form of an air duct 392 carried by a support element 394 which has a tapered portion frictionally fitted in a tapered opening in the block for adjustably positioning the duct relative to the probe and the cup over which it is disposed. A source of air under pressure is connected to the duct 392 and the air jet issuing therefrom serves to agitate the contents of the cup for mixing the same.
It is often necessary in the processing of samples that the samples be heated in order to develop the particular phase of the analysis. For this purpose, there has been provided an incubator apparatus 400 which is particularly adaptable to the automated chemical analyzer of the present invention. Returning to FIGS. 3 and 5, the incubator 400 is essentially a massive block 402 of aluminum or other suitable material, having a serrated configuration, each serration or tooth 404 machined to pass up into the hollow body of the capsule and hollowed out to provide a recess 406 which fits snugly around the outside of one of the individual cups in the sample capsule and constitutes a heat exchange station. The incubator block 400 is supported on an elongated frame 408 mounted for easy vertical sliding by means of a pair of ball slides 58, the respective rectangular plates 60" and 64" of which are appropriately attached to the ends of frame 408 and to the ends of an elongated support frame 410 adjustably connected to the frame 70. Frame 410 also supports a vertical air cylinder 412 conveniently coupled to the vertically movable frame 408, as at 414, the operation of the air cylinder being tied in with the operation of vertical transport air cylinder for the rails 22. Adjustment of the frame 410 provides for positioning the incubator to incubate the sample in the desired one of the individual cups. To provide access to all of the cups, frames 408 and 410 may be reversed together in order to place the incubator in desired relation to the other cups. Of course, if desired, several incubator blocks could be placed side by side in order to incubate the samples in several of the cups simultaneously. For a more detailed description of the incubator apparatus, reference may be had to the aforementioned application Ser. No. 699,569.
OPERATION Having described the various components of the automated chemical analyzer, the overall operation thereof will now be described in connection with the schedule of steps listed in FIG. 2. However, it is to be understood that this is by way of example only, and not by way of limitation, since the analyzer of the present invention is capable of adjustment to arrange the components and steps in any desired order for the performance of various analyses and tests. It is also further to be understood that the several stations may be spaced as desired in order to provide the time necessary between steps. For example, after a sample has had a reagent added thereto, the next station may be spaced so as to require several cyclings of the transport system for the sample to arrive there, thus providing sufficient time for the action of the reagent. Thus, in the description of the operation of the analyzer that follows, when the capsule is stated as having moved, advanced or transported to a station, the number of cyclings of the transport system necessary to bring the capsule to the station is understood. And, of course, the cycling interval may be varied to obtain desired timing.
Referring to FIG. 19, which schematically illustrates the pneumatic logic controls between the various components at the different stations, it is to be noted that there is employed a four-digit code number in accordance with Table I, hereinafter appearing, to indicate the function or action of a conduit or line extending between any two elements, the first and second digits of the code number indicating the component involved (the reference numeral of the component appearing in parentheses after the identification thereof in the Table, the third digit indicating whether the line is a trigger, a memory or a powerline, and the fourth digit indicating whether the component is to extend or retract. As an example, code number 1132 means that the line is caused to carry pressurized air for powering the vertical cylinder 80 to retract and lower the rails 22 of the transport system.
TABLE I Function Component (Ref. No.) of Line Action (Ist 84 2nd Digits) (3rd Digit) (4th Digit) ll-Transport-Vertical Cylinder (B0) l-Trigger l-Extend l2-Transport Horizontal Cyl. l-Mcmory Z-Retract 13-Capsule Dispenser Cyl. (210) 3-Power l4-Filter Cup Dispenser Cyl. (I49) I5AND Logic Flip-Flop (508) I6Sample Transfer Cyl. 244 I7Sample Table Rotate Cyl. 290) 18Sample Table Lift Cyl. (270) l9-Colorimeter Pickup Cyl. (350) 22- lncubation Apparatus Cyl. (412) 24-Filter Vacuum Head Cyl. (162) 25-Filtrate Transfer Pump (427 Filtrate Transfer Cyl. (326) 28- Reagent Addition Pumps Inviting attention to the lower right-hand corner of FIG. 19,
, there is shown a timer 500 which periodically opens a pneumatic valve 501 for triggering a line 1112 connected to a vertical transport flip-flop 502 in a logic manifold 504 and powering line 1132 for causing vertical transport air cylinder 80 to retract and pull the rails 22 and the trigger plate 85 down. The trigger plate 85 extends into an appropriate aperture 505 in the logic manifold 504. In its down position, trigger plate 85 actuates triggers 85a-f connected to the ends of lines 1,211, 1,311,1,412, 1,512, 1,621 and 1,721, respectively. Line 1,211 is connected to a horizontal transport flip-flop 506 and triggers power to the horizontal transport cylinder 90 by way of powerline 1,231, causing the cylinder to extend and move the racks 26 one capsule width. This causes finger 93 to engage and actuate trigger 900 at the end of the line 1,111 which is connected to the vertical transport flip-flop 502 causing power to be applied via line 1,131 to the vertical transport air cylinder 80 to raise the rails 22 and trigger plate 85 to their original positions, in which plate 85 actuates a trigger 85g at the end of a line 1,212 connected to the horizontal transport flip-flop 506, causing power to be applied via line 1,232 to retract the horizontal transport air cylinder 90. At the end of return travel of cylinder 90 bracket 92 actuates trigger 90b at the end of a line 1,511, thereby providing an input into an AND-logic element or flip-flop 508.
Returning to the down position of trigger plate 85, line 1,311 is connected to a capsule dispenser flip-flop 510 and triggers power via line 1,331 to the capsule loader cylinder 210 for the extension thereof which causes fingers 194 and 194' to draw together to their closest and lips 198 and 198' to draw apart, whereby the lowermost capsule in the capsule loader magazine is supported on the fingers 194 and 194, which is the normal position of the parts of the capsule dispenser or loader 28, at Station A. The action of line 1,412 will be discussed later in connection with the operation of the filter cup dispenser or loader 34. Actuation of trigger 85d at the end of line 1,512 provides an input signal into the AND- logic flip-flop 508 which causes depressurization of a line 1,532 connected between the flipfl'op 508 and a pneumatic AND-gate 511. Actuation of triggers 85c and f, at the ends of lines 1,621 and 1,721, respectively, provides memory inputs to a sample pickup probe flip-flop 512 and a sample Table rotate flip-flop 514, respectively.
Inviting attention to the lower left-hand portion of FIG. 19, it will be noted that trigger 292b is connected to a line 1,312 through a valve 516 and a trigger 518. Line 1,312 is connected to the capsule dispenser flip-flop 510, trigger 292b being actuated by the extension of the sample Table rotate air cylinder 290. To initiate operation of the analyzer, with valve 516 open, trigger 518 is actuated to trigger power to line 1,332 via line 1,312 and flip-flop 510 for retracting the capsule dispenser air cylinder 210, thereby withdrawing fingers 194 and 194' and dropping the lowermost capsule onto the rails 22 at Station A. The capsule is then slid along the rails by the horizontal transport cylinder 90 in response to the actuation of trigger 85a at the end of line 1,211 which powers the line 1,231 to the horizontal transport cylinder 90, as previously described. The cylinder 90 imparts movement to the capsule and moves it to Station B where it is positioned under the flip-flop 512, actuation of the trigger-powering a line 1, 631 connected to the sample probe transfer air cylinder 244 for causing it to extend and dispose the probe 243 over the sample turntable 32. The extension of air cylinder 244 actuates trigger 246b at the end of a line 1,711 which is connected to the AND-gate 511, the latter being enabled due to the prior signal on line 1,512 transmitted thereto via flip-flop 508 and line 1,532, so that the signal generated by the actuation of trigger 246b can be transmitted through the AND gate and into the sample Table rotate flip-flop 514. This powers line 1,731 and causes the sample table rotate air cylinder 290 to extend, turning the sample turntable 32 through a small arc and disposing one of the test tubes carried thereby directly under the probe 243 and actuating triggers 292b, c and d at the ends of lines 1,312, 1,722 and 1,811, respectively, thereby causing a capsule to be dropped, the sample Table rotate flipflop 514 to receive a memory input, and a sample Table lift flip-flop 520 to be triggered to powerline- 1,831 and extend the sample turntable vertical air cylinder 270 for bringing the test tube directly under probe 243 up around the probe (FIG. 16a). At the end of its upward travel, the sample Table 32 actuates triggers 246c and d connected to the ends of lines 2,512 and 1,622, respectively, the former leading to a flip-flop 522 associated with pump 44a, the latter to the sample pickup drive flip-flop 512 and providing a memory input thereinto. Triggering line 2,512 powers the pump 44a to retract and pick up a sample from the test tube by sucking some of it into a plastic duct connected to the probe 243 and also drawing in some wash water from a reservoir (not shown). At the end of its retraction, the pump triggers a pneumatic valve 524at the end of a line 1,712 which is connected to a pneumatic pilot valve 526 associated with the sample Table rotate flip-flop 514, the triggering of line 1,712 providing a signal which, in conjunction with the memory input via line 1,722, causes line 1,732 to be powered for retracting the sample Table rotate air cylinder 290. At the end of travel of cylinder 290, arm 278 actuates trigger 292a connected to the end of a line 1,812 which connects with the sample Table lift flip-flop 520 and powers line 1,832 to cause the sample turntable vertical air cylinder 270 to retract. In its down position, the turntable 32 actuates trigger 294 at the end of a line 1,612 which is connected to the sample pickup probe flip-flop 512, this signal, in conjunction with the memory input via line 1,622, powering line 1,632 and causing the sample probe transfer air cylinder 244 to retract and return the probe 243 to a position over a cup in the capsule 24. At the end of its return travel, the air cylinder 244 actuates trigger 246a at the end of a line 2,511 connected to the flip-flop 522 of pump 44a causing the flip-flop to power the pump to extend and pump out the sample picked up, followed by the wash water that was drawn in, into the cup in the capsule after which the probe is ready for being triggered by the next capsule. The extension of pump 440 permits valve 524 to close, and line 1,712 to become pressurized, whereby the signal to flip-flop 514 via line 1,712 is removed.
The capsule is then advanced to Station C, a reagent addition station. Inviting attention to the right-hand portion of FIG. 19, raising the capsule 24 actuates the trigger 390 which is connected to the end of a line 2,811, providing a signal to an AND-gate 528, which signal, coupled with an output from the AND-logic flip-flop 508 delivered thereto via line 1,531 and manifold 530, causes pump 42a to deliver a predetermined amount of precipitating reagent to the sample in the capsule for reacting therewith.
It will be appreciated that any number of reagent stations may be provided to meet the requirements of the analyses being performed, the output in line 1,531 being delivered through the medium of manifold 530 of sufficient capacity to any desired number of pumps, and reagents will be delivered to all capsules which actuate triggers at the reagent addition stations. It is therefore to be understood that reference to a reagent addition station at each of stations C, F and 11 does not necessarily restrict to one the number of reagent addition devices that could be located generally at each of the stations C, F and H, and that the operation of the pump 42a is representative of all the reagent addition pumps and, accordingly, in FIG. 19 such representation has been referenced as 42a-n and the reagent addition mechanisms as 40a-n.
After movement to the next station, station D, a filter cup is dropped onto the reacted sample, which action is brought about by the capsule being raised at this station and actuating a trigger 532 at the end of a line 1,411 (top portion, FIG. 19) which is connected to a filter cup dispenser flip-flop 534 and triggers powering of a powerline 1,431 to extend the filter cup dispenser air cylinder 149 and drop a filter cup onto the reacted sample. Downward movement of the rails lowers the capsule and triggers line 1,412 connected to flip-flop 534 for powering line 1,432 to retract cylinder 149. Advancement to station D' places the capsule under the mechanism 36 for applying a vacuum to the filter cup, the mechanism being powered by the vertically acting vacuum head cylinder 162 which is tied into the lines 1,131 and 1,132 by lines 2,431 and 2,432, respectively, so that its movement is coordinated with that of the vertical transport air cylinder 80. However, since cylinder 162 is oppositely mounted, when air cylinder 80 extends to raise the rails 22, air cylinder 162 extends to lower the vacuum head 158 by power through line 2,431, and vice versa by power through line 2,432.
The capsule is then transported to Station E, the filtrate transfer station, where probe 310 transfer filtrate from the filter cup to another cup in the capsule. This results from the capsule actuating the trigger 334 at the end of a line 2,711, providing a signal to an AND-gate 536, which signal, in conjunction with the AND logic output via line 1,531 and manifold 530, triggers a probe transfer flip-flop 538 to power a line 2,731 and extend the probe transfer air cylinder 326. At the end of travel imparted to the probe 310, it is pivoted downwardly and dips into the filtrate in the filter cup and at the same time actuates the trigger 330 at the end of a line 2,612 which triggers a flip-flop 540 associated with pump 44b, causing it to retract and draw in a specific volume of the filtrate plus a specific volume of water wash from a reservoir (not shown). When pump 44b has retracted, it actuates a pneumatic valve trigger 542 at the end of a line 2,712 and triggers the flip-flop 538 powering a line 2,732 to retract the air cylinder 326 which disposes the probe 310 over one of the cups in the capsule and actuates the tripper 332 at the end of a line 2,611 for triggering the flip-flop S40 and causing the pump 44b to extend and pump out the volume of filtrate followed by the volume of wash water.
The capsule would then be transported to the next station, Station F, a color reagent addition station. Upon arrival at this station a fourth pump, pump 42!: would be triggered to deliver a specific volume of reagent to the diluted filtrate in the same manner that pump 42a delivered a reagent. Depending upon the chemical analysis, more reagents may be added,'it being understood, of course, that the number of pumps 42a-n and reagent addition stations 40a-rr needed would be provided. The object at this point is to produce a developing color which can be read by a colorimeter.
Again, depending upon the particular analysis, the capsule may have applied thereto at Station G, the incubator apparatus 46 powered by the vertical air cylinder 412 which is tied in, by means of lines 2,231 and 2,232, with the powerlines 1,131 and 1,132 for the vertical transport cylinder 80 and extends and retracts in unison therewith, but may have a greater stroke or extend of travel. Thus, upon powering of lines 1,131 and 1,132, lines 2,231 and 2,232 are also powered to extend and retract the incubator air cylinder 412 to bring a heat exchange station up and around the cup containing the sample to be incubated, the cup progressing from one heat exchange station to the next during transport of the capsule. During the dwell time that the capsule is in the raised position, heat transfer through the material of the capsule incubates the liquid contained in the sample cup, this occurring at each heat exchange station as the capsule is transported down the rails. By a combination of the number of heat exchange stations and the temperature at which the incubator is maintained, an incubation period is provided sufficient for color development of the sample.
Following incubation of the sample, the capsule is advanced to Station H where one of the pumps 42a-n (42c) delivers a specific volume of a color arrest reagent which stops the development of color in the sample, the pump being operated in the same manner as pump 42a, previously described.
The sample is now ready to have the color thereof read which is performed at the next station, Station 1, the colorimetry station, after movement thereto by the transport system. The raising of the capsule at this station closes microswitch 356 which starts an electrical pump motor in pump 358 for intermittently triggering the flip-flop 366 by way of lines 1,911 and 1,912 to power line 1,931 periodically for causing spring pressed air cylinder 350 to extend the probe support 352 and dip the colorimeter pickup probe into the colorimeter sample for pumping discrete portions or slugs of the sample through the colorimeter.
After advancement by the transport system to the fluid removal station, Station .1, the capsule is raised up under the plastic block 370, the probes 374 going to the bottoms of the cups in the capsule and the low vacuum connected to the probes removing any liquid remaining therein.
With continued operation of the transport system, the capsule moves off the end of the rails into a container at Station K for discard or other suitable disposal.
While the operation of the automated analyzer of the present invention has been described essentially with respect to the processing of a single capsule, it is to be understood, of course, that after a number of capsules have been dropped onto the rails, action takes place simultaneously at the several stations at which the capsules are present.
When it is desired to terminate the operation of the analyzer, valve 516 is closed so that line 1,312 is not vented by actuation of trigger 29211 and there is thus no triggering signal to the capsule dispenser flip-flop 510 with the result that no more capsules are dropped. In the absence of capsules at the stations requiring their presence to trigger action, the processing mechanisms thereat are not triggered and remain inactive.
There has thus been provided an automated analyzer by which the analysis of a sample is performed automatically in a rapid, facile and reliable manner with substantially no danger of cross-contamination and various analytical steps may be performed on different samples simultaneously whereby a considerable number of samples may be analyzed in a given length of time.
While the present invention has been described in detail in connection with an illustrative embodiment of the automated chemical analyzer it should be understood that the novelty of this invention is not limited to the specific embodiment illustrated and described but is defined only by the scope of the appended claims.
What is claimed is:
1. An automated chemical analyzer having a plurality of processing stations and employing a plurality of discrete capsules each formed with at least one cup to hold a sample being processed, said analyzer comprising, in combination:
transport means for automatically conveying said capsules past said processing stations in intermittent stop and go fashion without removing said capsules from said transport means;
dispensing means for automatically feeding said capsules to said transport means;
sample containing means for holding a plurality of samples;
sample transfer means for automatically transferring sample from said sample containing means to a cup in each capsule subsequent to the feeding of the capsule to said transport means and while said capsule is stationary on said transport means.
2. The combination of claim 1 wherein:
said transport means comprise generally horizontally disposed support means for supporting said capsules and vertically movable for placing said capsules in operative relation to said processing stations; and
movement imparting means engageable with said capsules for imparting generally horizontal movement thereto and moving the same along said capsule support means.
3. The combination of claim 1 wherein:
said sample transfer means comprises a horizontally movable probe positionable in either of two positions, and
said sample containing means comprises a turntable for holding a plurality of sample containers, said turntable being indexable to sequentially locate each sample container directly below said probe in one of its said two positions, and raisable to move said sample container up around said probe for immersing the probe in the sample contained therein.
4. The combination of claim 3 wherein:
said turntable has a plurality of openings spaced equally around its periphery, and
each opening is provided with a plurality of pliant tabs for frictionally holding a sample container therein at any desired height;
whereby each of said sample containers may be supported by said turntable with the level of the sample therein even with the level of the turntable in order that the sample transfer probe is immersed to the same depth when the turntable is raised to its uppermost position.
5. The combination of claim 3 wherein:
said sample transfer means further comprise means triggered by the presence of a capsule to cause said probe to be positioned over said turntable,
means triggered by such positioning of the probe causing the turntable to turn through a small arc and be indexed so as to dispose a sample container directly below the probe and initiate raising of the turntable,
said, raising of said turntable in turn triggering means-causing said probe to pick up some of said sample,
means for thereafter lowering said turntable,
means triggered by the lowering of said turntable to initiate return of said probe over the capsule, and
return of saidprobe triggering means causing discharge of said picked-up sample into a cup of said capsule.
6. The combination of claim I, said analyzer further comprising:
reagent addition means adjacent to said transport means and triggered into operation by a capsule on said transport means for automatically adding a reagent from a source outside of said capsule to the sample in said cup for reaction therewith; 7. The combination of claim 6 wherein:
said reagent addition means includes an air duct directed filtering means adjacent to said transport means for automatically filtering reacted sample in said capsule.
9. An automated chemical analyzer having a plurality of processing stations and employing a plurality of discrete 'capsules each formed with at least one cup to hold a sample being processed, said analyzer comprising, in combination:
transport means for automatically conveying said capsules past said processing stations; dispensing means for automatically feeding said capsules to said transport means; I
said capsule dispensing means comprising capsule-supporting means which are withdrawn for dropping acapsule onto said transport means;
said capsule-supporting means of said capsule dispensing means comprising fingers mounted for reciprocal movement between positions in which the fingers engage under the lowermost capsule of a stack of capsules for supporting the same and in which the fingers are withdrawn therefrom for dropping the lowermost capsule; and
said capsule dispensing means further comprising lips above said fingers mounted for reciprocal movement between positions in which the lips engage under the next higher capsule of the stack for supporting the same and in which the lips are withdrawn therefrom for dropping the next higher capsule onto said fingers.
10. The combination of claim 9 wherein:
said capsule dispensing means further comprises a pair of rigid links, each interconnecting a finger and a lip, and means for moving said links so that movement of said links in one direction withdraws said fingers from said lowermost capsule and brings said lips into engagement with next higher capsule, and movement in the other direction withdraws said lips from engagement with said last-named capsule and brings said fingers under said last-named capsule.
An automated chemical analyzer having a plurality of processing stations and employing capsules each formed with at least one cup to hold a sample being processed, said analyzer comprising, in combination:
transport means for automatically conveying said capsules past said processing stations;
dispensing means for automatically feeding said capsules to said transport means;
sample transfer means for automatically transferring a sample from sample containing means to a cup in each capsule;
reagent addition means for automatically adding a precipitating reagent to the sample in said cup for reaction therewith;
processing means for automatically processing said reacted sample in said cup and 1 said processing means comprising filtering means including a filter cup dispenser triggered by said capsule for dropping a filter cup atop said precipitated sample and means for applying a vacuum to said filter cup and drawing clear filtrate thereinto.
12. The combination of claim 11 wherein:
said processing means also include filtrate transfer means for automatically transferring a predetermined amount of said filtrate to another cup in said capsule.
13. The combination of claim 12 wherein:
' said processing means also include means for adding a color reagent to said transferred amount of filtrate in said other cup for developing color therein; and
said processing means further include means for adding a color development arrest reagent to said transferred amount of filtrate after addition of said color reagent thereto for arresting the development of color therein.
14. The combination of claim 13, said analyzer further comprising:
colorimetry means for automatically picking up said sample and sampling the color thereof. 15. The combination of claim 14, said analyzer further comprising:
means for removal of fluid from all the cups of said capsule after sample is picked up from the capsule by said colorimetry means. 16. The combination of claim 13, said analyzer further comprising:
incubation means for incubating said transferred amount of filtrate with color reagent added thereto prior to addition of said color development arrest reagent. 17. The combination of claim 12 wherein:
, said filtrate transfer means comprise a probe movable between said cup containing said filtrate and at least one of the other of said cupsof said capsule, and