A packaging module is provided that is comprised of a porous deformable membrane, such as a net bag, and a mass of loose fill elements. The mesh openings in the bag are smaller than a loose fill element to retain the elements in place. The bag is deformable in three dimensions to allow the bag to be manipulated to accommodate the shape of an item to be packaged. A single module may be used to envelop an item to be packaged, for example, in a shipping container. A pair of modules may be used to sandwich an item therebetween for packaging in a shipping container. A shipping unit may also be formed by a pair of modules that are self-adherent to each other. Also, the module may be fabricated into a pre-form with a pocket.
This application is a Continuation of pending application Ser. No. 10/133,776, filed Apr. 26, 2002.
This invention relates to a packaging module. More particularly, this invention relates to a packaging module using loose fill packaging elements,
As is known, various types of materials have been used for shipping fragile items in containers of various types. In some cases, loose fill elements of foamed plastic are poured into a container to form a cushioning layer and then the item to be transported is placed on top of the loose fill elements. This is followed by pouring additional loose fill elements into the container to completely surround the item being packaged. Upon arrival at the ultimate destination, a user opens the container in order to remove the item. In doing so, the loose fill elements are usually first separated so that the item can be exposed and then the item is removed from the container. This generally creates at least two problems.
First, upon opening of the container and separation of the loose fill elements to access the packaged item, the loose fill elements generally spill over and out of the container. These loose fill elements must then be collected, generally, manually and placed back into the container for disposal purposes. This can be bothersome and time consuming.
Second, the loose fill elements usually have static electricity that causes the elements to stick to the hands and clothing of the user as well as to other surfaces outside the container. Thus, these elements also have to be manually removed and placed back into the container.
In other cases, foamed-in-place materials have been used. In these cases, an item is placed in a shipping carton and then a foamable material is directed into the container about the item so that upon foaming, the material molds to the shape of the item. However, this type of packaging technique is cumbersome and relatively expensive.
Accordingly, it is an object of the invention to provide a relatively simple technique for packaging an item with loose fill elements without the inconvenience of having the elements scatter upon opening of a container to remove the item.
It is another object of the invention to provide loose fill elements in prepackaged modules.
It is another object of the invention to provide loose fill elements in prepackaged modules sized to fit containers for the packaging of items in the containers.
It is another object of the invention to provide a module of free flowing loose fill elements that can be made into a packaging pre-form with a pocket to receive an item in mating relation,
Briefly, the invention provides a packaging module comprised of a porous deformable membrane defining an enclosed space and a mass of loose fill elements disposed within the membrane and occupying an amount of space sufficient to permit the membrane to be shaped about an item of three dimensional shape to be packaged and to permit the elements to move within the membrane to accommodate the three dimensional shape of the item.
In one embodiment, the membrane is in the form of a net bag, for example made of plastic. In this respect, the membrane is characterized in being deformable in three dimensions. That is to say, the bag may be deformed from a cylindrical shape into a spherical shape, a three-dimensional shape having a pocket, or a shape to envelop an item, such as a sphere, cube, or other regular or random shape.
A single module may be used for packaging an item. In this respect, the item to be packaged is placed on the module and the module shaped about the item. The enveloped item may then be placed in a box or carton in a snug fit manner. After closing, the box or carton may then be transported.
Multiple modules may also be used for packaging an item. For example, an item may be placed between two modules in sandwich-like manner. This unit may then be placed in a shipping container for shipping purposes. Alternatively, the unit may be wrapped with a shrink wrap material so that the unit is completely sealed. A shipping label may then be placed on the outside of the wrapped package for shipping purposes. Also, the unit may be held together by strips or bands of adhesive tape and shipped in that condition.
In another embodiment, a module may be placed on the bottom of a container with the item to be packaged simply placed in the center of the module in an upstanding manner. A second module may then be placed over the top of the item and the container closed over the upper module so as to slightly compress the modules within the container. In this embodiment, the two ends of the item are held by the two modules while the middle of the item is spaced from the side walls of the container. In such embodiment, there is no need for any loose fill elements to surround the middle of the item. This results in a savings of loose fill elements for packaging purposes.
In another embodiment, the packaging module is formed into a pre-form with a pocket to receive an item of three-dimensional shape. In this embodiment, the membrane is a net bag and the loose fill elements are made of starch. In order to make the pre-form, a three dimensional forming blank sized and shaped to the item to be packaged is placed on a support surface. Next, the module is placed over the blank and pressed down and around the sides of the blank. While in this state, moisture in the form of a spray of steam is introduced into the module to cause the loose fill elements of starch to bond together and form an agglomerated one-piece pre-form of stable shape with a pocket. The pre-form is then removed from the blank and additional pre-forms made in the same fashion. The resulting pre-form may then be placed, for example, in the bottom of a carton to receive a suitably sized and shaped three dimensional item in the pocket in mating relation. A second pre-form or a second unprocessed packaging module may then be placed over the item and the carton closed.
When processing a packaging module into a pre-form as above, the space about the forming blank may be limited by a box-like construction so that the pre-form takes on a rectangular shape suitable for fitting into a carton of rectangular shape.
Alternatively, instead of using loose fill elements of starch, the elements may be made of a foamed plastic, such as expanded polystyrene, and may be coated with a suitable heat sensitive adhesive, latex or similar material so that upon heating or spraying on of a solvent, the elements become bonded to each other to form an agglomerated one-piece pre-form of stable shape with a pocket.
These and other objects and advantages of the invention will become more apparent from the following detailed description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings wherein:
Pie. 4 illustrates an exploded view of a modified embodiment employing a pair of modules constructed in accordance with the invention;
The membrane 11 is made of a net bag, for example of plastic, that is characterized in being deformable in three dimensions. That is to say, the bag may be deformed from a cylindrical shape into a spherical shape, a three-dimensional shape having a pocket, or a shape to envelop an item, such as a sphere, cube, or other regular or random shape. The net bag is formed with mesh openings that are sized to be smaller than the individual loose fill elements 12 in order to retain the elements 12 in place while allowing the bag to be deformed in a three-dimensional manner. Typically, the net bag is formed with criss-crossing fibers that define a rectangular mesh opening. However, the bag may be formed with mesh openings of diamond shape or any other suitable shape. Likewise, the net bag may be made of any other suitable material than plastic.
The membrane 11 is typically formed as a hollow tube in any conventional manner. One end of the tube is then closed, for example by a staple 13, or by heat seal crimping and the tube 12 from the opposite end. The remaining end of the tube is then closed in a similar manner, for example by a second staple 14.
By way of example, a machine constructed in a manner as described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,035,606 but to a smaller scale may be used for forming a plurality of modules 10.
Typically, the loose fill elements 12 do not completely fill the membrane II. For example, the loose fill elements 12 need only occupy approximately 80 to 90 percent of the volume of the membrane 11. However, in some cases, the entire membrane 11 may be filled with the elements 12.
The loose fill elements 12 are made of starch or a foamed plastic, for example of expanded polystyrene, polyethylene, polyurethane or polypropylene. However, other suitable loose fill materials may be used such as, chopped blocks of rubber, scrap polymer materials, wood chips, shredded paper, popcorn and the like.
Once a pocket 16 is formed, the ball 15 is placed in the pocket 16 and the module 10 further manipulated about the ball 15 into a condition, for example as shown in
The closed container may then be shipped to an ultimate user in any suitable manner. Upon arrival, the ultimate user would simply open the container 17 and remove the module 10 and enveloped ball 15. The module 10 would then be unwrapped from the ball 15 and the ball retrieved. The module 10 of loose fill elements 12 and then be replaced in the container 17 for disposal purposes. Also, the module 10 of loose fill elements 12 may be reused for packaging purposes by the user.
Since the loose fill elements 12 are contained within the net bag 11, there is little or no risk of the elements 12 spilling out of the container 17 when the container is opened or clinging to the hands and clothing of the user.
In another embodiment, each module 10 may have a self-adherent surface for adhering to the other module 10 in order to retain the item 20 therebetween. In this case, there is no need for any additional wrapping bands or films to form a package.
After the container 17 is opened, the uppermost module 10 is removed to expose the item 24. This item 24 may then be removed and the module 10 returned to the container 17.
Once the carton 25 arrives at a final destination, the recipient simply opens the carton 25 and removes the top layer of modules 10 to expose the uppermost layer of items 27 for removal. In like manner, the middle layer of modules 10 is removed to expose the lowermost layer of items 26 for removal. Thereafter, of the packaging modules 10 may be reused by the recipient for similar or other purposes. Since the loose fill materials 12 are contained within the membrane 11, there is little or no risk of the loose fill materials 12 clinging to the recipient or spilling out of the carton 25 uncontrollably.
The packaging module 10 may also be made into a pre-form for packaging purposes. To this end, the packaging module 10 formed of the net bag 11 and containing a free-flowing mass of loose fill elements 12 made of starch is placed about a three dimensional forming blank (not shown) of a shape and size corresponding to the item to be packaged. For example, for packaging a bottle, the forming blank is of the size and shape of a longitudinal half of the bottle.
Typically, the forming blank is placed on a flat support within a surrounding box-like structure corresponding to the carton into which the bottle is to be placed.
Thereafter, moisture is applied to the elements 12 within the net bag 11 to effect bonding of the elements 12 together to form an agglomerated one-piece pre-form (not shown) of stable shape with a pocket corresponding to the shape of the blank. The moisture may be applied in the form of a spray of steam to ensure uniformity of application or in the form of a water spray.
Alternatively, where the packaging module 10 contains a free-flowing mass of loose fill elements made of foamed plastic, the elements are coated with an adhesive coating and the adhesive is activated by a spray of solvent or heated depending on the type of adhesive used. For example, the adhesive may be solvent-activated, or heat sensitive, or other.
In either embodiment, the otherwise free flowing mass of loose fill elements 12 are bonded together while disposed about the forming blank (not shown) to form an agglomerated one-piece pre-form of stable shape with a pocket. The net bag 11 remains to contain the agglomerated mass and is also shaped to the contour of the agglomerated mass.
Several pre-forms may be made in the same manner on the forming blank.
In use, a pre-form would be placed in the bottom of a carton with the pocket exposed to receive the item to be packaged in mating relation within the pocket. Next, a second like pre-form would be placed over the remainder of the item and the carton closed for shipping or storage purposes. Alternatively, a pre-form may be used to receive an item while a module 10 with free flowing elements 12 is placed over the item and pressed against the item upon closing of the carton.
The invention thus provides a packaging module that which adapts to all sizes of items to be packaged. The module may be used to package an individual item or a plurality of modules may be used to package one or more items of the same or different sizes and three-dimensional shapes.
The invention also provides a deformable membrane which is able to deform in three dimensions in order to the three-dimensional shape of a packaged item while allowing the loose fill elements to shift about within the membrane.
The invention thus provides a packaging module that contains a plurality of loose fill elements in a captured state so that the loose fill elements do not spill out of the container upon opening of the container and do not cling to the body of the user or other surfaces.
The invention also provides a packaging module of loose fill elements that can be fabricated in various sizes to accommodate the items to be packaged.
The invention also provides a packaging module that stops sliding and migration of the packaged item or items.
The invention further provides a packaging module that is easily removable from a shipping container, that is reuseable, and that provides excellent cushioning.
1. A packaging module for an item of three-dimensional shape comprising
- a porous deformable membrane defining an enclosed space and characterized in being deformable in three dimensions to envelop the item of three-dimensional shape therein; and
- a mass of loose fill elements disposed within said membrane and occupying an amount of said space sufficient to permit said membrane to be shaped about the item of three dimensional shape and to permit said elements to move within said membrane to accommodate the three-dimensional shape of the item and to envelop the item therein.
2. A packaging module as set forth in claim 1 wherein said membrane is a net bag.
3. A packaging module as set forth in claim 2 wherein bag is made of plastic.
4. A packaging module as set forth in claim 1 wherein said elements are made of starch.
5. A packaging module as set forth in claim 1 wherein said elements are made of a foamed plastic selected from the group consisting of expanded polystyrene, expanded polyethylene and expanded polypropylene.
6. A packaging module as set forth in claim 1 wherein said membrane is of elongated cylindrical shape with closed ends.
7. A packaging module as set forth in claim 1 wherein said membrane is of cubic shape.
8. A packaging module for an item of three-dimensional shape comprising a deformable net bag defining an enclosed space and characterized in being deformable in three dimensions to envelop the item of three-dimensional shape therein; and
- a mass of loose fill elements disposed within said bag and occupying an amount of said space sufficient to permit said bag to be shaped about the item of three dimensional shape and to permit said elements to move within said bag to accommodate the deformed shape of said bag and to envelop the item therein.
9. A packaging module as set forth in claim 8 wherein said elements occupy up to 90% of said space within said bag.
10. A packaging module as set forth in claim 8 wherein said bag has a plurality of openings therein, each said opening being of a size smaller than any one of said elements to retain said elements therein.
11. A packaging module as set forth in claim 8 wherein said net bag is made of a material having self-adherent characteristics.