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Publication numberUS20050040123 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/924,665
Publication date24 Feb 2005
Filing date23 Aug 2004
Priority date22 Aug 2003
Also published asWO2006023954A2, WO2006023954A3
Publication number10924665, 924665, US 2005/0040123 A1, US 2005/040123 A1, US 20050040123 A1, US 20050040123A1, US 2005040123 A1, US 2005040123A1, US-A1-20050040123, US-A1-2005040123, US2005/0040123A1, US2005/040123A1, US20050040123 A1, US20050040123A1, US2005040123 A1, US2005040123A1
InventorsAla Ali
Original AssigneeAla Ali
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Inventory control system
US 20050040123 A1
Abstract
The present invention relates to an inventory control system where the most updated number of products displayed on a display space is electronically determined and communicated to a computer for remote users, and electronically displayed along with other relevant information about the products.
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Claims(19)
1. An inventory control system comprising:
a containment structure for containing a plurality of products, said containment structure configured to allow one of more of the products to be removed from or added to the containment structure;
a detection system configured to detect the removal or the addition of at least one product from the containment structure and to provide information relating to the removal or the addition; and
a processing system configured to report on the number of products that are contained in or that have been removed from or added to the containment structure based on information from the detection system.
2. The inventory control system of claim 1 further comprising a display system configured to receive from the processing system and display information relating to the products.
3. The inventory control system of claim 2 wherein the information displayed in the display system is the information relating to the removal or the addition.
4. The inventory control system of claim 1 wherein the containment structure includes a removal access area from which a product may be removed and a spring-loaded pusher configured to urge at least one of the products towards the removal access area.
5. The inventory control system of claim 1 wherein the detection system includes at least one photocell.
6. The inventory control system of claim 4 wherein the detection system includes at least two photocells configured to provide information indicative of when a product has been added to the containment structure and distinguishable information indicative of when a product has been removed from the containment structure.
7. The inventory control system of claim 1 wherein the detection system include at least one computer mouse.
8. The inventory control system of claim 1 wherein the detection system includes an electronic tape measure.
9. The inventory control system of claim 8 wherein the electronic tape measure is an electronic laser measuring device.
10. An inventory control system comprising:
a detection system configured to detect the removal or the addition of at least one product from a containment structure and to provide information relating to the removal or the addition; and
a processing system configured to report on the number of products that are contained in or that have been removed from or added to the containment structure based on information from the detection system.
11. The inventory control system of claim 10 further comprising a containment structure for containing a plurality of products, said containment structure configured to allow one of more of the products to be removed from or added to the containment structure.
12. The inventory control system of claim 10 further comprising a display system configured to receive from the processing system and display information relating to the products.
13. The inventory control system of claim 12 wherein the information is the information relating to the removal or the addition.
14. The inventory control system of claim 10 wherein the containment structure includes a removal access area from which a product may be removed and a spring-loaded pusher configured to urge at least one of the products towards the removal access area.
15. The inventory control system of claim 10 wherein the detection system includes at least one photocell.
16. The inventory control system of claim 15 wherein the detection system includes at least two photocells configured to provide information indicative of when a product has been added to the containment structure and distinguishable information indicative of when a product has been removed from or added to the containment structure.
17. The inventory control system of claim 10 wherein the detection system include at least one computer mouse.
18. The inventory control system of claim 10 wherein the detection system includes an electronic tape measure.
19. The inventory control system of claim 18 wherein the electronic tape measure is an electronic laser measuring device.
Description
RELATED APPLICATION

This application is related to and claims the benefit of the filing date of U.S. provisional application Ser. No. 60/497,437 filed on Aug. 22, 2003 entitled “Inventory Control Systems,” the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The invention relates to monitoring inventory items on a display shelf or a storage space and communicating and displaying the counting results and other relevant information concerning the inventory items.

2. General Background and State of the Art

Grocery stores and general merchandising stores, such as Wal-martŪ and TargetŪ, commonly place and display products on a shelf. In an effort to organize products in a more cost-effective and time-efficient manner, and display them in an esthetically pleasing way, stores began placing dividers and pusher paddles on shelves. Dividers may vary in length and height to facilitate better organization of products on a shelf. They allow a pusher paddle to be placed in between them to move products forward as products are retrieved from the front of the shelf.

A commonly known product display mechanism is called Shelf-facing System, available from FFr's of Cleveland, Ohio. Self-facing System provides a pusher paddle that is spring-powered, wherein a flat spring is coiled into a circular form inside the push paddle. At least one spring manufacturer has offered a service of painting numerical orders along the spring affixed to a push paddle so that the number of inventory items remaining can be indicated. This process requires measuring the depth of a subject product and painting numerical orders on the springs indicating the measurement. However, this service limits the use of a spring to products having an identical depth. Further, the service requires an employee to manually look at each spring to determine the number of inventory products remaining on the display space, which translates to more time. Further, painting numerical orders is a tedious process that requires hours of man power and typically diminishes the esthetic value of the display.

What is required is an improved inventory monitoring system that determines and communicates the most updated counts of inventory products remaining on a display space at the time when a change is made to the counts, so that stores can immediately react to changing inventory of products displayed in the stores. Further, the present invention allows stores to immediately display most updated information about the products, such as the number of the products remaining on the display area, the price, the name, etc.

SUMMARY

The present invention provides an improved inventory monitoring system that allows users to keep their existing organization and display mechanism of products, yet monitors and communicates the most updated inventory of the products almost at the same time a change is made to the inventory. At the very moment a customer picks up a product and removes it from a product display space, the present inventory monitoring system would determine the number of the products remaining on the display space and transmits that information to a computer to be viewed by any user whoever has access to the computer, e.g., the manager of the store, an employee of the store, or the supplier of the products. The manager or any other employee of the store can react to the information by immediately replenishing the display space with a new set of the products. The supplier of the products may alert the store to order more supplies of the products.

Further, the present invention can be used to prevent theft. Knowing the most updated count of products displayed on the display space alert the store of a potential shoplifting. Because most shoplifters steal more than one item at a time, the significant decrease of the number of products in a short period of time will alert the store whether a potential shoplifting has taken place. Before the perpetrator leaves the store, the store security, acting based upon the most updated information, can locate and capture the perpetrator.

Such information can also be displayed near the display space to alert the employees of the number of the products remaining on the display space along with any other relevant information about the products, such as the price, the name and the sale status, the bar code number, etc. The employees walking by the display space then can react immediately and replenish the display space with a new set of the products on the display space before the products completely run out.

The present invention uses an electronic detection system within a product display space to detect a movement of the inventory products. The product display space comprises a push paddle which indicates the position of the product placed farthest from the front of the product display space. By knowing the depth of the product and detecting the movement of the inventory products displayed on the display space, the present invention calculates the number of products remaining on the display space.

These and other aspects, advantages, and novel features of the present invention will be readily apparent upon consideration of the following drawings and detailed description of various embodiments.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1A illustrates an exemplary shelf.

FIG. 1B illustrates an exemplary shelf with products placed thereon.

FIG. 1C illustrates an exemplary shelf with products organized by dividers.

FIG. 1D illustrates an exemplary shelf with products organized by dividers with some products missing from the front of the shelf.

FIG. 1E illustrates an exemplary shelf with products organized by dividers with a push plate pushing the products from the back of the shelf toward the front of the shelf as products are retrieved from the front.

FIG. 1F illustrates an exemplary shelf illustrated in FIG. 1F, wherein a monitoring device determines the number of products remaining on the shelf and communicates the information through a computer system to an electronic display.

FIG. 2A illustrates an exemplary pushing mechanism having a push plate.

FIG. 2B illustrates an exemplary computer mouse.

FIG. 2C illustrates an exemplary computer mouse attached to the pushing mechanism behind the push plate.

FIG. 2D illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C, wherein a moment of the mouse corresponds the movement of the push plate.

FIG. 2E illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C, wherein the mouse moves further backward to correspond the movement of the push plate.

FIG. 2F illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C that has moved backwards to the end of the pushing mechanism to correspond the movement of the push plate.

FIG. 2G illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C with products on the system. The mouse has moved relative to the push plate.

FIG. 2H illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C with products on the system that has moved forward the same distance as the depth of a product as a product has been removed from the front. The mouse has moved relative to the push plate.

FIG. 2I illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C with products on the system that has moved forward the same distance as the depth of a product as another product has been removed. The mouse has moved relative to the push plate.

FIG. 2J illustrates an exemplary computer mouse according to FIG. 2C that has moved forward as all of the products have been removed from the front of the shelf. The mouse has moved relative to the push plate.

FIG. 3A illustrates an exemplary hub that is used to receive connections from a plurality of the computer mice attached to the pushing mechanism and communicate the information to a computer system.

FIG. 3B illustrates an exemplary computer.

FIG. 3C illustrates an embodiment of the invention where a plurality of computer mice attached to the pushing mechanism transfers information concerning inventory products through a hub to a computer.

FIG. 4A illustrates an exemplary electronic tape measure.

FIG. 4B illustrates another embodiment of the invention using an exemplary electronic tape measure (or components from it) instead of a computer mouse.

FIG. 4C illustrates an exemplary electronic laser measuring device.

FIG. 4D illustrates another embodiment of the invention using an electronic laser measuring device (or components from it) instead of a computer mouse.

FIG. 4E illustrates an example of how the multiple electronic measuring tape or electronic laser measuring device is used to detect the number of inventory products on a shelf and communication the information through a hub to a computer system.

FIG. 5A illustrates an exemplary photo cell.

FIG. 5B illustrates an exemplary light emitting diode (LED).

FIG. 5C illustrates an encoder with holes evenly placed.

FIG. 5D illustrates an encoder with holes evenly placed moving between a photo cell and a LED.

FIG. 5E illustrates another embodiment of the invention where an encoder moves between a LED and a photo cell to determine the presence or removal of the inventory products remaining on a display area.

FIG. 5F illustrates another embodiment of the invention where an encoder moves between a LED and a photo cell to determine the presence or removal of the inventory products remaining on each display area and communicate the information through a hub to a computer system.

FIG. 5G illustrates another embodiment of the invention where an encoder moves between a LED and a photo cell to determine the presence or removal of the inventory products remaining on each display area and communicate the information through a hub to a computer system which is displayed near the corresponding display area.

FIG. 5H illustrates another embodiment of the invention as illustrated in FIG. 5H, except that the invention operates wireless.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS

FIGS. 1A-2A illustrates an exemplary inventory display using a shelf 1 upon which products 2 are placed. Using dividers 3, the products 2 can be displayed more efficiently and consumers can locate products more easily. At the same time, they are esthetically pleasing to consumers. To further increase the efficiency of product display, stores typically place a plurality of the same products 2 together in a row, and thus the products 2 in a row will share the same depth. To further increase the efficiency of product display, stores use a push paddle 7 to move the remaining products toward the front of the display space 4. The push paddle 7 may be spring-powered. The spring in the spring-powered push paddle 7 may be flat and coiled within the push paddle 7. The push paddle 7 determines the position of the product placed farthest from the front of the display space 4.

After having determine the depth of the products 2, a user can use any of the following embodiments to detect the movement of the push paddle 7 and ultimately determine the most updated count of the products 2 remaining on the display space 4.

As illustrated in FIG. 2C through 2J, one embodiment of the invention uses a computer mouse 8 to track the movement of the push paddle 7. The computer mouse 8 is configured to detect the movement of the push paddle 7 and travel the identical distance that the push paddle 7 travels.

The computer mouse 8 will sense any movement of the push paddle 7 and communicate the movement to a computer 10 which is in connection with the computer mouse 8.

For example, in FIG. 2G, the push paddle 7 is placed behind three products 2 and the computer mouse 8 is placed behind the push paddle 7. As illustrated in FIG. 2H, after a customer has removed the product 2 placed closest to the front of the display space 4, the push paddle 7 travels toward the front of the display space 4 the distance identical to the depth of the product 2. Behind the push paddle 7 is the computer mouse 8 which has traveled the same distance as the push paddle 7. FIG. 2I further illustrates the further movements of the product 2, the push paddle 7, and the computer mouse 8, leaving only one product 2 on the display space 4. FIG. 2J further illustrates the further movement of the product 2, the push paddle 7, and the computer mouse 8, leaving the display space 4 empty.

As illustrated in FIG. 3C, the computer mouse 8 is in connection with a computer 10 to communicate the measurement of the distance that the push paddle 7 has traveled. Such communication will translate into a number of the products 2 remaining on the display space 4 using the pre-determined depth of the products 2. Such communication can take place through a hub 9. Also, such communication can be done wireless. The computer 10 then communicate the resulting number of the products 2 remaining on the display space 4 to any other computer in connection with the computer 10. The communication between the computer 10 and another computer can be wireless. Further, the computer 10 may communicate the resulting information to an electronic display near the display space 4, along with other relevant information about the products, such as the price, the name, the sale status, the bar code number, etc. The communication between the computer 10 and the electronic display can be wireless.

FIGS. 4A through 4E illustrates another embodiment of the invention using an electronic tape measure 12. The electronic tape measure 12 is configured to determine the distance that the push paddle 7 travels. The electronic tape measure 12 may be an electronic laser measuring device 13 as well. The electronic tape measure 12 is in connection with a computer 10 so that any movement of the push paddle 7, once determined, will be communicated to the computer 10 for users to view. The communication between the electronic tape measure 12 and the computer 10 can be wireless. The computer 10 may also be in connection with an electronic display placed near the display space so that the most updated count of the products 2 remaining on the display space 4 can be displayed, along with other relevant information about the products, such as the price, the name, the sale status, the bar code number, etc. The communication between the computer 10 and the electronic display can be wireless. The computer 10 may also be in connection with another computer so that the most updated count of the products 2 can be communicated to a remote user. The communication between the computer 10 and another computer can be wireless.

FIGS. 5A through 5I illustrates another embodiment of the invention using at least one light emitting diode (LED) 101 and at least one photocell 102 to detect the movement of an encoder 103 which is configured to correspond the movement of the push paddle 107. The encoder 103 is further configured to pass between the LED 101 and the photocell 102 so that a beam of light emitted from the LED 101 can be received through the encoder 103 by the photocell 102. The encoder 103 may be made of a strip of various materials, such as plastic, rubber, metal, etc. having a plurality of holes equally spaced along the length of the encoder 103. The encoder 103 may be made into various sizes and assume various shapes, such as rectangle, square, circle, or disk.

The encoder 103 may slideably configured along the length of the display space 104 to cover at least the combined depths of all the products displayed on the display space 104. The encoder 103 may have one end of the encoder 103 substantially in connection with the push paddle 107 so that the encoder 103 can move as the push paddle 107 moves along the length of the display space 104.

In one embodiment, the encoder 103 may have one end of the encoder 103 substantially in connection with one end of the spring within the push paddle 107 and have the other end of the encoder 103 substantially in connection with the other end of the spring within the push paddle 107 so that the encoder 103 can move as the push paddle 107 moves along the length of the displace space 104.

The encoder 103 that is in substantially connection with the push paddle 107 may loop around the display space 104. As the push paddle 107 moves towards the back end of the display space 104, the encoder 103 moves towards the back end of the display space 104. As the push paddle 107 moves towards the front of the display space 104, the encoder 103 moves towards the front of the display space 104.

As illustrated in FIG. 5E, the LED 101 emits a beam of light toward the encoder 103. The holes in the encoder 103 break the beam of light from the LED 101 so that the photocell 102 sees pulses of light, instead of a continuous beam of light. With one photocell 102, the system can detect whether the push paddle 107 has traveled. With two photocells 102, the system can detect to which direction the push paddle 107 has traveled.

The rate of the pulsing is directly related to the speed of the encoder 103 which is directly related to the speed of the push paddle 107. Similarly, the rate of the pulsing is directly related to the distance that the encoder 103 has traveled which is directly related to the distance that the push paddle 107 has traveled. The pulses of light that have been received by the photocell 102 will be converted to the exact distance that the push paddle 107 has traveled, which will then be converted to the number of products remaining on the display space 104. Specifically, the distance that the push paddle 107 has traveled will be calculated by counting the pulses of lights being received and blocked through the encoder 103. The number of light pulses being received and blocked correlates to the number of the holes evenly spaced in the encoder 103 that the light has traveled through. Thus, using the number of light pulses being received and blocked can be translated to the distance that the encoder 103 has traveled, which is the distance that the push paddle 107 has traveled.

In another embodiment, two photocells 102 are used so that the present invention can detect both addition and deletion of a product to the display space 104. As illustrated in FIG. 5E, the LED 101 emits a beam of light toward the encoder 103. The holes in the encoder 103 break the beam of light from the LED 101 so that the photocells detect that the light has been blocked, instead of a receiving a continuous beam of light. There are two photocells encased in one container. The photocells may be arranged vertically or horizontally. In vertical fashion, one photocell is on top of the other photocell. In horizontal the two are substantially side by side. Either arrangement is operable for the present inventory control system.

As the encoder 103 moves in one direction the pulses of light are detected by one photocell before the other photocell. For example, if on an X-Y axis the encoder 103 moves from 0 to 100 (positive and to the right) and one photocell is at point (1,0) and the other photocell is at (2,0), a light pulse will be first detected by the photocell at (1,0) and then by the photocell at (2,0). If the encoder 103 is moving in the opposite direction, a light pulse will be first detected by the photocell at (2,0) and they by the photocell at (1,0).

When the push paddle 107 moves, the encoder 103 moves along with the push paddle 107, changing the light being traveled though the holes in the encoder 103. Because of their horizontal alignment along the encoder 103, one photo cell will detect the change in the light being traveled through the encoder 103 before the other photocell. If the first photocell has been receiving a beam of light through one of the holes in the encoder 103, it will now detect the light being blocked by the filled-in portion of the encoder 103. If the first photocell has not being receiving light, it will now detect a beam of light traveling through one of the holes on the encoder 103. detect that the light is now being blocked before the other photocell detects such change. The distance that the push paddle 107 has traveled will be calculated by counting the number of light pulses being received and blocked through the encoder 103. The number of light pulses being received and blocked correlates to the number of the holes evenly spaced in the encoder 103. Thus, using the number of light pulses being received and blocked can be translated to the distance that the encoder 103 has traveled, which is the distance that the push paddle 107 has traveled. the system can detect the change of direction which translates to either addition or removal of products from the display space 104.

The photocell 102 is in connection with a computer 110 so that any movement of the push paddle 107 is determined and communicated to the computer 110 for users to view and stored in a database to be used at a later time. The computer may also be in connection with an electronic display 112 placed near the display space 104 so that the most updated count of the products remaining on the display space 4 can be displayed, along with other relevant information about the products, such as the price, the name, the sale status, the bar code number, etc. The computer 110 may also be in connection with another computer so that the most updated count of the products can be communicated to a remote user.

INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE

Applicant incorporates herein by reference any and all U.S. patents, U.S. patent applications, and other documents and printed matter cited or referenced to in this application.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification211/59.3
International ClassificationA47F10/00
Cooperative ClassificationA47F1/126, A47F10/00
European ClassificationA47F1/12D1, A47F10/00