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Location-based print authorization for three-dimensional printers

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20120287459 patent thumbnailZoom

Location-based print authorization for three-dimensional printers


Three-dimensional fabrication resources are improved by adding networking capabilities to three-dimensional printers and providing a variety of tools for networked use of three-dimensional printers. Web-based servers or the like can provide a single point of access for remote users to manage access to distributed content on one hand, and to manage use of distributed fabrication resources on the other.
Related Terms: Printers

Inventor: Nathaniel B. Pettis
USPTO Applicaton #: #20120287459 - Class: 358 114 (USPTO) - 11/15/12 - Class 358 


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The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20120287459, Location-based print authorization for three-dimensional printers.

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RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/314,337 filed Dec. 8, 2011, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/858,622, filed on Aug. 18, 2010, the entire content of each of these applications is hereby incorporated by reference.

BACKGROUND

The invention relates to three-dimensional fabrication using networked resources.

A variety of three-dimensional fabrication techniques have been devised to support rapid prototyping from computer models. These techniques have been refined over the years to increase accuracy, working volume, and the variety of build materials available in a rapid prototyping environment. While these increasingly sophisticated and expensive machines appear regularly in commercial design and engineering settings, a more recent trend has emerged toward low-cost three-dimensional prototyping devices suitable for hobbyists and home users. As these resources become more readily and widely available, a need has emerged for networking capabilities and network management for three-dimensional printers.

SUMMARY

Three-dimensional fabrication resources are improved by adding networking capabilities to three-dimensional printers and providing a variety of tools for networked use of three-dimensional printers. Web-based servers or the like can provide a single point of access for remote users to manage access to distributed content on one hand, and to manage use of distributed fabrication resources on the other.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The foregoing and other objects, features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following description of particular embodiments thereof, as illustrated in the accompanying drawings. The drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead being placed upon illustrating the principles of the invention.

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a three-dimensional printer.

FIG. 2 is an isometric view of a conveyer for an automated build process.

FIG. 3 depicts a networked three-dimensional printing environment.

FIG. 4 is a flowchart of a method for using a three-dimensional printer, such as any of the three-dimensional printers described above, when coupled to a data network.

FIG. 5 depicts a user interface for management of networked printing.

FIG. 6 is a flowchart of a method for operating a three-dimensional printer coupled to a network.

FIG. 7 is a flowchart of a method for operating a three-dimensional printer coupled to a network.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Described herein are devices and methods for using networked three-dimensional printers. It will be understood that while the exemplary embodiments below emphasize fabrication techniques using extrusion, the principles of the invention may be adapted to a wide variety of three-dimensional fabrication processes, and in particular additive fabrication processes including without limitation selective laser sintering, fused deposition modeling, three-dimensional printing, and the like. All such variations that can be adapted to use with a networked fabrication resource as described herein are intended to fall within the scope of this disclosure. It should also be understood that any reference herein to a fabrication process such as printing or three-dimensional printing is intended to refer to any and all such additive fabrication process unless a different meaning is explicitly stated or otherwise clear from the context. Thus by way of example and not of limitation, a three-dimensional printer (or simply “printer”) is now described that may be used in a networked three-dimensional printing environment.

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a three-dimensional printer. In general, the printer 100 may include a build platform 102, a conveyor 104, an extruder 106, an x-y-z positioning assembly 108, and a controller 110 that cooperate to fabricate an object 112 within a working volume 114 of the printer 100.

The build platform 102 may include a surface 116 that is rigid and substantially planar. The surface 116 may support the conveyer 104 in order to provide a fixed, dimensionally and positionally stable platform on which to build the object 112.

The build platform 102 may include a thermal element 130 that controls the temperature of the build platform 102 through one or more active devices 132 such as resistive elements that convert electrical current into heat, Peltier effect devices that can create a heating or cooling effect, or any other thermoelectric heating and/or cooling devices. Thus the thermal element 130 may be a heating element that provides active heating to the build platform 102, a cooling element that provides active cooling to the build platform 102, or a combination of these. The heating element 130 may be coupled in a communicating relationship with the controller 110 in order for the controller 110 to controllably impart heat to or remove heat from the surface 116 of the build platform 102. Thus the thermal element 130 may include an active cooling element positioned within or adjacent to the build platform 102 to controllably cool the build platform 102.

It will be understood that a variety of other techniques may be employed to control a temperature of the build platform 102. For example, the build platform 102 may use a gas cooling or gas heating device such as a vacuum chamber or the like in an interior thereof, which may be quickly pressurized to heat the build platform 102 or vacated to cool the build platform 102 as desired. As another example, a stream of heated or cooled gas may be applied directly to the build platform 102 before, during, and/or after a build process. Any device or combination of devices suitable for controlling a temperature of the build platform 102 may be adapted to use as the thermal element 130 described herein.

The conveyer 104 may be formed of a sheet 118 of material that moves in a path 120 through the working volume 114. Within the working volume 114, the path 120 may pass proximal to the surface 116 of the build platform 102—that is, resting directly on or otherwise supported by the surface 116—in order to provide a rigid, positionally stable working surface for a build. It will be understood that while the path 120 is depicted as a unidirectional arrow, the path 120 may be bidirectional, such that the conveyer 104 can move in either of two opposing directions through the working volume 114. It will also be understood that the path 120 may curve in any of a variety of ways, such as by looping underneath and around the build platform 102, over and/or under rollers, or around delivery and take up spools for the sheet 118 of material. Thus, while the path 120 may be generally (but not necessarily) uniform through the working volume 114, the conveyer 104 may move in any direction suitable for moving completed items from the working volume 114. The conveyor may include a motor or other similar drive mechanism (not shown) coupled to the controller 110 to control movement of the sheet 118 of material along the path 120. Various drive mechanisms are shown and described in further detail below.

In general, the sheet 118 may be formed of a flexible material such as a mesh material, a polyamide, a polyethylene terephthalate (commercially available in bi-axial form as MYLAR), a polyimide film (commercially available as KAPTON), or any other suitably strong polymer or other material. The sheet 118 may have a thickness of about three to seven thousandths of an inch, or any other thickness that permits the sheet 118 to follow the path 120 of the conveyer 104. For example, with sufficiently strong material, the sheet 118 may have a thickness of one to three thousandths of an inch. The sheet 118 may instead be formed of sections of rigid material joined by flexible links.

A working surface of the sheet 118 (e.g., an area on the top surface of the sheet 118 within the working volume 114) may be treated in a variety of manners to assist with adhesion of build material to the surface 118 and/or removal of completed objects from the surface 118. For example, the working surface may be abraded or otherwise textured (e.g., with grooves, protrusions, and the like) to improve adhesion between the working surface and the build material.

A variety of chemical treatments may be used on the working surface of the sheet 118 of material to further facilitate build processes as described herein. For example, the chemical treatment may include a deposition of material that can be chemically removed from the conveyer 104 by use of water, solvents, or the like. This may facilitate separation of a completed object from the conveyer by dissolving the layer of chemical treatment between the object 112 and the conveyor 104. The chemical treatments may include deposition of a material that easily separates from the conveyer such as a wax, mild adhesive, or the like. The chemical treatment may include a detachable surface such as an adhesive that is sprayed on to the conveyer 104 prior to fabrication of the object 112.

In one aspect, the conveyer 104 may be formed of a sheet of disposable, one-use material that is fed from a dispenser and consumed with each successive build.

In one aspect, the conveyer 104 may include a number of different working areas with different surface treatments adapted for different build materials or processes. For example, different areas may have different textures (smooth, abraded, grooved, etc.). Different areas may be formed of different materials. Different areas may also have or receive different chemical treatments. Thus a single conveyer 104 may be used in a variety of different build processes by selecting the various working areas as needed or desired.

The extruder 106 may include a chamber 122 in an interior thereof to receive a build material. The build material may, for example, include acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (“ABS”), high-density polyethylene (“HDPL”), polylactic acid, or any other suitable plastic, thermoplastic, or other material that can usefully be extruded to form a three-dimensional object. The extruder 106 may include an extrusion tip 124 or other opening that includes an exit port with a circular, oval, slotted or other cross-sectional profile that extrudes build material in a desired cross-sectional shape.

The extruder 106 may include a heater 126 to melt thermoplastic or other meltable build materials within the chamber 122 for extrusion through an extrusion tip 124 in liquid form. While illustrated in block form, it will be understood that the heater 124 may include, e.g., coils of resistive wire wrapped about the extruder 106, one or more heating blocks with resistive elements to heat the extruder 106 with applied current, an inductive heater, or any other arrangement of heating elements suitable for creating heat within the chamber 122 to melt the build material for extrusion. The extruder 106 may also or instead include a motor 128 or the like to push the build material into the chamber 122 and/or through the extrusion tip 126.

In general operation (and by way of example rather than limitation), a build material such as ABS plastic in filament form may be fed into the chamber 122 from a spool or the like by the motor 128, melted by the heater 126, and extruded from the extrusion tip 124. By controlling a rate of the motor 128, the temperature of the heater 126, and/or other process parameters, the build material may be extruded at a controlled volumetric rate. It will be understood that a variety of techniques may also or instead be employed to deliver build material at a controlled volumetric rate, which may depend upon the type of build material, the volumetric rate desired, and any other factors. All such techniques that might be suitably adapted to delivery of build material for fabrication of a three-dimensional object are intended to fall within the scope of this disclosure. As noted above, other techniques may be employed for three-dimensional printing, including extrusion-based techniques using a build material that is curable and/or a build material of sufficient viscosity to retain shape after extrusion.

The x-y-z positioning assembly 108 may generally be adapted to three-dimensionally position the extruder 106 and the extrusion tip 124 within the working volume 114. Thus by controlling the volumetric rate of delivery for the build material and the x, y, z position of the extrusion tip 124, the object 112 may be fabricated in three dimensions by depositing successive layers of material in two-dimensional patterns derived, for example, from cross-sections of a computer model or other computerized representation of the object 112. A variety of arrangements and techniques are known in the art to achieve controlled linear movement along one or more axes. The x-y-z positioning assembly 108 may, for example, include a number of stepper motors 109 to independently control a position of the extruder within the working volume along each of an x-axis, a y-axis, and a z-axis. More generally, the x-y-z positioning assembly 108 may include without limitation various combinations of stepper motors, encoded DC motors, gears, belts, pulleys, worm gears, threads, and so forth. Any such arrangement suitable for controllably positioning the extruder 106 within the working volume 114 may be adapted to use with the printer 100 described herein.

By way of example and not limitation, the conveyor 104 may be affixed to a bed that provides x-y positioning within the plane of the conveyor 104, while the extruder 106 can be independently moved along a z-axis. As another example, the extruder 106 may be stationary while the conveyor 104 is x, y, and z positionable. As another example, the extruder 106 may be x, y, and z positionable while the conveyer 104 remains fixed (relative to the working volume 114). In yet another example, the conveyer 104 may, by movement of the sheet 118 of material, control movement in one axis (e.g., the y-axis), while the extruder 106 moves in the z-axis as well as one axis in the plane of the sheet 118. Thus in one aspect, the conveyor 104 may be attached to and move with at least one of an x-axis stage (that controls movement along the x-axis), a y-axis stage (that controls movement along a y-axis), and a z-axis stage (that controls movement along a z-axis) of the x-y-z positioning assembly 108. More generally, any arrangement of motors and other hardware controllable by the controller 110 may serve as the x-y-z positioning assembly 108 in the printer 100 described herein. Still more generally, while an x, y, z coordinate system serves as a convenient basis for positioning within three dimensions, any other coordinate system or combination of coordinate systems may also or instead be employed, such as a positional controller and assembly that operates according to cylindrical or spherical coordinates.

The controller 110 may be electrically coupled in a communicating relationship with the build platform 102, the conveyer 104, the x-y-z positioning assembly 108, and the other various components of the printer 100. In general, the controller 110 is operable to control the components of the printer 100, such as the build platform 102, the conveyer 104, the x-y-z positioning assembly 108, and any other components of the printer 100 described herein to fabricate the object 112 from the build material. The controller 110 may include any combination of software and/or processing circuitry suitable for controlling the various components of the printer 100 described herein including without limitation microprocessors, microcontrollers, application-specific integrated circuits, programmable gate arrays, and any other digital and/or analog components, as well as combinations of the foregoing, along with inputs and outputs for transceiving control signals, drive signals, power signals, sensor signals, and so forth. In one aspect, the controller 110 may include a microprocessor or other processing circuitry with sufficient computational power to provide related functions such as executing an operating system, providing a graphical user interface (e.g., to a display coupled to the controller 110 or printer 100), convert three-dimensional models into tool instructions, and operate a web server or otherwise host remote users and/or activity through the network interface 136 described below.

A variety of additional sensors may be usefully incorporated into the printer 100 described above. These are generically depicted as sensor 134 in FIG. 1, for which the positioning and mechanical/electrical interconnections with other elements of the printer 100 will depend upon the type and purpose of the sensor 134 and will be readily understood and appreciated by one of ordinary skill in the art. The sensor 134 may include a temperature sensor positioned to sense a temperature of the surface of the build platform 102. This may, for example, include a thermistor or the like embedded within or attached below the surface of the build platform 102. This may also or instead include an infrared detector or the like directed at the surface 116 of the build platform 102 or the sheet 118 of material of the conveyer 104. Other sensors that may be usefully incorporated into the printer 100 as the sensor 134 include a heat sensor, a volume flow rate sensor, a weight sensor, a sound sensor, and a light sensor. Certain more specific examples are provided below by way of example and not of limitation.

The sensor 134 may include a sensor to detect a presence (or absence) of the object 112 at a predetermined location on the conveyer 104. This may include an optical detector arranged in a beam-breaking configuration to sense the presence of the object 112 at a location such as an end of the conveyer 104. This may also or instead include an imaging device and image processing circuitry to capture an image of the working volume 114 and analyze the image to evaluate a position of the object 112. This sensor 134 may be used for example to ensure that the object 112 is removed from the conveyor 104 prior to beginning a new build at that location on the working surface such as the surface 116 of the build platform 102. Thus the sensor 134 may be used to determine whether an object is present that should not be, or to detect when an object is absent. The feedback from this sensor 134 may be used by the controller 110 to issue processing interrupts or otherwise control operation of the printer 100.

The sensor 134 may include a sensor that detects a position of the conveyer 104 along the path. This information may be obtained from an encoder in a motor that drives the conveyer 104, or using any other suitable technique such as a visual sensor and corresponding fiducials (e.g., visible patterns, holes, or areas with opaque, specular, transparent, or otherwise detectable marking) on the sheet 118.

The sensor 134 may include a heater (instead of or in addition to the thermal element 130) to heat the working volume 114 such as a radiant heater or forced hot air to maintain the object 112 at a fixed, elevated temperature throughout a build. The sensor 134 may also or instead include a cooling element to maintain the object 112 at a predetermined sub-ambient temperature throughout a build.

The sensor 134 may also or instead include at least one video camera. The video camera may generally capture images of the working volume 114, the object 112, or any other hardware associated with the printer 100. The video camera may provide a remote video feed through the network interface 136, which feed may be available to remote users through a user interface maintained by, e.g., remote hardware such as the print servers described below with reference to FIG. 3, or within a web page provided by a web server hosted by the three-dimensional printer 100. Thus in one aspect there is disclosed herein a user interface adapted to present a video feed from at least one video camera of a three-dimensional printer to a remote user through a user interface.

The sensor 134 may include may also include more complex sensing and processing systems or subsystems, such as a three-dimensional scanner using optical techniques (e.g., stereoscopic imaging, or shape from motion imaging), structured light techniques, or any other suitable sensing and processing hardware that might extract three-dimensional information from the working volume 114. In another aspect, the sensor 134 may include a machine vision system that captures images and analyzes image content to obtain information about the status of a job, working volume 114, or an object 112 therein. The machine vision system may support a variety of imaging-based automatic inspection, process control, and/or robotic guidance functions for the three-dimensional printer 100 including without limitation pass/fail decisions, error detection (and corresponding audible or visual alerts), shape detection, position detection, orientation detection, collision avoidance, and so forth.

Other components, generically depicted as other hardware 135, may also be included, such as input devices including a keyboard, touchpad, mouse, switches, dials, buttons, motion sensors, and the like, as well as output devices such as a display, a speaker or other audio transducer, light emitting diodes, and so forth. Other hardware 135 may also or instead include a variety of cable connections and/or hardware adapters for connecting to, e.g., external computers, external hardware, external instrumentation or data acquisition systems, and so forth.

The printer 100 may include, or be connected in a communicating relationship with, a network interface 136. The network interface 136 may include any combination of hardware and software suitable for coupling the controller 110 and other components of the printer 100 to a remote computer in a communicating relationship through a data network. By way of example and not limitation, this may include electronics for a wired or wireless Ethernet connection operating according to the IEEE 802.11 standard (or any variation thereof), or any other short or long range wireless networking components or the like. This may include hardware for short range data communications such as BlueTooth or an infrared transceiver, which may be used to couple into a local area network or the like that is in turn coupled to a data network such as the Internet. This may also or instead include hardware/software for a WiMax connection or a cellular network connection (using, e.g., CDMA, GSM, LTE, or any other suitable protocol or combination of protocols). Consistently, the controller 110 may be configured to control participation by the printer 100 in any network to which the network interface 136 is connected, such as by autonomously connecting to the network to retrieve printable content, or responding to a remote request for status or availability. Networked uses of the printer 100 are discussed in greater detail below.

FIG. 2 is an isometric view of a conveyer for an automated build process. The conveyer 200 may include a sheet 202 of material that provides a working surface 204 for three-dimensional fabrication. As depicted, the conveyer may form a continuous path 206 about a build platform 208 by arranging the sheet 202 as a belt or the like. Thus for example, the path 206 may move parallel to the surface of the build platform 208 along the top of the build platform 208 (from left to right in FIG. 2). The sheet 202 may then curve downward and around a roller 210 and reverse direction underneath the build platform 208, returning again at an opposing roller 212 to form a loop about the build platform 208.

The roller 210 may be coupled by gears 214 or the like to a motor (not shown) to move the sheet 202 of material. The motor may be controlled by a controller (such as the controller 110 described above) to control movement of the sheet 202 of material in a build process.

The conveyer 200 may include a scraper 216 to physically separate a completed object from the conveyer 200 based upon a relative movement of the sheet 202 of material of the conveyor 200 to the scraper 216. In general, adhesion of an object to a working surface maintains the object within the coordinate system of the printer during a build in order to facilitate the build process. Where good adhesion is achieved during a build, dislodging the completed object from the working surface may require significant force. Thus in order to ensure the availability of a continuous working surface, the conveyer 200 may enforce physical separation of the object from the working surface by passing the sheet 202 of material by the scraper 216 to dislodge the object. While the scraper 216 is depicted below the working surface of the sheet 202, it will be readily understood that a variety of positions and orientations of the scraper 216 may achieve similar results. Thus for example, the scraper 216 may extend vertically above or below the sheet 202, horizontally from the sheet 202, or in any other suitable orientation. It will also be appreciated that while the scraper 216 is depicted in an orientation perpendicular to the path 206, the scraper 216 may be angled in order to also urge a completed object off the sheet 202 in any desired direction, such as to a side of the working surface where a chute or receptacle may be provided to catch and store the completed object. In some embodiments, the conveyor 200 may transport the object to a side of the printer 100, or alternatively the entire conveyor 200 assembly may be moved outside the printer, so that urging the completed object off the sheet 202 also causes the competed object to depart the printer 100. The term ‘scraper’ should be understood as referring in a non-limiting sense to any physical fixture that might be employed to remove an object from the sheet 202, and that many other shapes, sizes, orientations, and the like may also or instead be employed as the scraper 216 described herein without departing from the scope of this disclosure.

In one aspect, the conveyer 200 may support networked use of the printer 100 by permitting fabrication of multiple, consecutive parts under control by a remote computer without user intervention.

FIG. 3 depicts a networked three-dimensional printing environment. In general, the environment 300 may include a data network 302 interconnecting a plurality of participating devices in a communicating relationship. The participating devices may, for example, include any number of three-dimensional printers 304 (also referred to interchangeably herein as “printers”), client devices 306, print servers 308, content sources 310, mobile devices 314, and other resources 316.

The data network 302 may be any network(s) or internetwork(s) suitable for communicating data and control information among participants in the environment 300. This may include public networks such as the Internet, private networks, telecommunications networks such as the Public Switched Telephone Network or cellular networks using third generation (e.g., 3G or IMT-2000), fourth generation (e.g., LTE (E-UTRA) or WiMax-Advanced (IEEE 802.16m), as well as any of a variety of corporate area or local area networks and other switches, routers, hubs, gateways, and the like that might be used to carry data among participants in the environment 300.

The three-dimensional printers 304 may be any computer-controlled devices for three-dimensional fabrication, including without limitation any of the three-dimensional printers or other fabrication or prototyping devices described above. In general, each such device may include a network interface comprising, e.g., a network interface card, which term is used broadly herein to include any hardware (along with software, firmware, or the like to control operation of same) suitable for establishing and maintaining wired and/or wireless communications. The network interface card may include without limitation wired Ethernet network interface cards (“NICs”), wireless 802.11 networking cards, wireless 802.11 USB devices, or other hardware for wireless local area networking. The network interface may also or instead include cellular network hardware, wide area wireless network hardware or any other hardware for centralized, ad hoc, peer-to-peer, or other radio communications that might be used to carry data. In another aspect, the network interface may include a serial or USB port used to directly connect to a computing device such as a desktop computer that, in turn, provides more general network connectivity to the data network 302.

Client devices 306 may in general be devices within the environment 300 operated by users to initiate and monitor print jobs at the three-dimensional printers 304. This may include desktop computers, laptop computers, network computers, tablets, or any other computing device that can participate in the environment 300 as contemplated herein. Each client device 306 generally provides a user interface, which may include a graphical user interface and/or text or command line interface to control operation of remote three-dimensional printers 304. The user interface may be maintained by a locally executing application on one of the client devices 306 that receives data and status information from, e.g., the printers 304 and print servers 308 concerning pending or executing print jobs, and creates a suitable display on the client device 306 for user interaction. In other embodiments, the user interface may be remotely served and presented on one of the client devices 306, such as where a print server 308 or one of the three-dimensional printers 304 includes a web server that provides information through one or more web pages or the like that can be displayed within a web browser or similar client executing on one of the client devices 306.



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stats Patent Info
Application #
US 20120287459 A1
Publish Date
11/15/2012
Document #
13556698
File Date
07/24/2012
USPTO Class
358/114
Other USPTO Classes
358/115
International Class
06K15/02
Drawings
7


Printers


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