Container Having Dunnage With Integral Stabilizing Members
This invention provides a container for holding product therein during shipment and being returned for reuse that has a body including at least two side structures with support members attached thereto. Dunnage is suspended from the support members. The dunnage comprises a plurality of flexible members, at least some of the flexible members having stabilizers attached to the flexible member for stabilizing and protecting product being shipped. In one embodiment, tracks may be attached to opposite sides of the body, and support member assemblies extend between the tracks. Dunnage is suspended from the support member assemblies. Portions of the support member assemblies move in the tracks to move products suspended by the dunnage to a more ergonomically friendly position for loading or unloading.
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CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/459,493, filed Jul. 24, 2006 entitled “Collapsible Container Having Collapsible Dunnage With Integral Stabilizing Members” which is fully incorporated herein.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to containers for use in shipping, and more particularly, to containers which are returnable in an empty state for reuse.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
A large number of different container structures are utilized by manufacturers to ship a variety of different products to end users, which may be, for example, assembly plants. In the automobile industry for example, an assembly plant assembling a particular automobile might utilize a number of different parts from different manufacturers. These manufacturers ship their respective parts to the assembly plant in reusable container structures where the parts are then removed from dunnage or support members inside the container structure and assembled into a finished automobile.
The return and reuse of empty containers results in a substantial cost savings for the supplier and/or the end manufacturer or assembler because reuse reduces the number of new containers which must be purchased. Furthermore, the returned containers alleviate the assembly plant's task and associated costs with storing, destroying, or otherwise disposing of the containers.
While returnable and reusable containers reduce costs by eliminating the need to constantly purchase new containers and reduce disposal costs, it may still be relatively costly to provide for their return shipment. The shipping rate for return shipment of empty containers is typically based upon the volume of the container and upon the number of containers which might be situated in a return vehicle. Historically, there was a one-to-one (1:1) return-to-shipment ratio because an empty container occupied the same shipping space or volume as a full container. Therefore, there was not much of a shipping cost savings when returning empty reusable containers even though empty containers weighed less.
Furthermore, the cost of storing conventional reusable containers may further reduce the other economic benefits they offer because empty containers also require the same warehouse or storage space as full containers. Container storage may be necessary at the plant before a return shipment can be arranged. Similarly, the supplier will store containers on site so as to have them ready for shipment. Storage space is valuable and may be limited, and it is usually desirable to utilize the space for something other than bulky, empty containers waiting to be shipped or returned. Therefore, the economic benefits provided by some currently available reusable containers is reduced by the cost, both to the end user assembly plant and supplier, of return shipment and pre-return or post-return storage space requirements.
Some currently available reusable containers have addressed such problems by being collapsible into a smaller size or volume to thereby require less space when returned or stored. For example, some available reusable containers are collapsible into a volume essentially one-third (⅓) or one-fourth (¼) of their volume when shipped full of product. This provides a three-to-one (3:1) or four-to-one (4:1) return-to-shipment ratio, and thus, provides a substantial savings in return shipment costs. That is, a truck returning the containers to the originating site can carry three or four times the number of empty, collapsed containers as full containers. Additionally, collapsed, stored containers require substantially less storage space.
While some such containers address the issue of return shipment and storage costs, they still have certain drawbacks. For example, for the containers to be collapsible, it may be necessary to utilize separate removable dunnage elements, such as partitions or separating structures, in the container during shipment. Dunnage elements are used for separating and protecting the products shipped in the container. The dunnage elements must be handled separately from the container during shipment and return. That is, when the container has been assembled into an erected form for shipment and dunnage elements are to be utilized, the dunnage must be separately inserted and secured within the container. Subsequently, prior to return shipment, any dunnage elements utilized within the container must be detached and removed therefrom before the container can be collapsed into the smaller, returnable shape. The dunnage elements are then discarded or otherwise disposed of by the assembly plant, further adding to the plant's overall cost for the shipment.
Furthermore, the supplier incurs additional costs by constructing or acquiring new dunnage elements each time the returned container is reused. Additionally, the labor costs associated with constructing and installing dunnage elements in a container, and the additional labor for collapsing, removing and disposing of the dunnage elements after shipment, further increases the overall cost of shipping product utilizing conventional containers. Therefore, even with existing collapsible, returnable containers, high shipping costs may be incurred on both ends, i.e., by the supplier who constantly acquires new dunnage elements and by the assembly plant which constantly must dispose of the old dunnage elements or pay to have those dunnage elements returned with the container.
Moreover, dunnage elements, depending on the size of the container, may be heavy, and as such, the assembly of the dunnage elements to accept a product can be physically stressful for the worker and may lead to job related injuries. Job related injuries increase costs. Additionally, because someone must physically assemble the dunnage, the dunnage elements and the containers have been limited in size and weight in accordance with what an average worker can physically and safely erect.
Access to the product in the containers is of particular concern. Specifically, in the automotive industry, the containers full of product are positioned on an assembly line adjacent to a work area which is associated with a particular product to be installed on a manufactured vehicle. For example, a container full of interior door panels is usually positioned next to a particular station on an assembly line where interior door panels are installed so that a line worker may easily access the door panels inside the container. The product or part is taken directly from the container and used on the line. Some existing containers are difficult to access which makes removal of the parts therein difficult and time consuming. For example, some containers are configured so that a line worker must walk around the container to remove parts or products from opposite ends of the container. As may be appreciated, a line worker only has a certain amount of time to install a part. Any delay in access and removal of the part from the container is undesirable.
In many containers, a line worker or employee must insert or remove parts from a distal or rear part of the container. The size and/or weight of the parts or work pieces may cause stress or strain on the line worker, and more particularly on the back of the worker when inserting or removing parts from such a container. Such ergonomically unfriendly movements may cause physical trauma, pain, and other injuries that may lead to lost production time.
In some situations, in order to alleviate such stress and/or strain on his or her body, the line worker may move to the rear or opposite end of the container to remove parts from inside the container. This requires space around the container which may not be available, depending on the physical layout of the plant or facility. The length (front to back) of certain containers may be limited because the container manufacturer needs to eliminate the need for a line worker to walk around the container to remove product from inside the container. Such containers having a reduced length reduce the number of parts or products which may be shipped and/or stored in the container. The more containers needed to ship a predetermined number of parts the greater the cost to the shipper.
In other containers, such as containers having multiple layers or level of parts, a line worker or employee must lean forward and bend down into the container to insert or remove a part or work piece from the bottom of the container This movement by the line worker is ergonomically unfriendly because the line worker must lean forward and bend down into the container to insert or remove a part or work piece from the bottom of the container. This movement is necessary with many top loading containers.
Depending upon the number of times the line worker repeats this unnatural motion into the interior of the container, strain in the back, legs and arms may result. The size and/or weight of the parts or work pieces may increase the strain on the line worker. Thus, simply removing multiple parts during a work day may cause physical trauma, pain, and other injuries that may lead to lost production time.
One of the difficulties encountered with existing dunnage is that the dunnage may not adequately protect the parts placed therein during shipment. One known type of dunnage comprises a plurality of intersecting flexible members which define a plurality of cells. Often the parts rest on the bottom of the cell, thereby straining the connection or joint between this member of the cell and the vertically oriented side portions or members of the cell. Another known type of dunnage comprises a plurality of pouches. Again, the parts may rest on the bottom of the pouches, thereby creating stress or strain on the pouches which may cause one or more pouches to tear or otherwise be damaged. Additionally, parts or products residing in the dunnage may become damaged if they shift or move during shipment.
Accordingly, there is a need for a container having dunnage which may more safely and adequately support one or more parts above the bottom of the cells of the dunnage than presently known.
There is further a need for an economic shipping container which may be used to transport parts or products more safely, i.e. with less damage to the products, than heretofore known shipping containers.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention provides a reusable and returnable container for holding product therein during shipment. The container has a body having at least two opposed side structures or walls. These side structures or any portion therefore may be secured to a base or bottom of the container. The container is typically filled or at least partially filled with products when shipped and devoid of products when returned.
According to one aspect of the present invention, dunnage supports are attached to at least two opposed walls or side structures of the container for suspending and/or supporting dunnage. These dunnage supports may be any number of items including linear rods having a circular cross-sectional configuration which reside in eye bolts secured in the walls or side structures of the container. Any device or structure other than eye bolts may be used to secure the dunnage supports to opposed side structures.
The dunnage of the present invention may be incorporated into a side loading container or a top loading container. In select embodiments, the container has an open side for horizontal or side loading of product into the dunnage inside the container. The open side is in alignment with the dunnage for providing access to the dunnage and products within the dunnage from one side of the container. The products in a container may thus be transferred into and out of the container easily and efficiently in a process known in the art as horizontal loading. The present invention is particularly useful for assembly line use as products in a container may be removed and transferred to an assembly line in one smooth movement. Unnecessary lifting of the products is reduced and/or eliminated to further assist an assembly line worker or other person using the shipped products.
For retaining products within the container, dunnage spans between opposed dunnage supports and is suspended from them. The dunnage, which may assume numerous forms as described below, may be movable relative to the container body. The dunnage remains with the container when the container is returned. In that way, the dunnage in the container is reusable, reducing dunnage replacement costs, and also reducing and/or eliminating labor costs associated with handling and discarding used dunnage from a container and assembling new dunnage prior to the container being loaded with product and shipped.
In accordance with the invention, the dunnage may comprise a plurality of flexible pouches which are generally U-shaped. Each pouch may be made from a single piece of material or alternatively, multiple pouches may be made from one piece of material. The flexible material from which the pouches are made may be polyvinylchloride or any other suitable material Each pouch comprises a pair of flexible sidewalls or side portions which are generally vertically oriented when the pouches are in the container. The upper corner of each sidewall of each pouch may have a grommet surrounding an opening in the pouch sized and adapted to receive one of the dunnage supports. This arrangement enables the pouches to move horizontally within the container, guided by the dunnage supports. In accordance with the present invention, the pouches may be attached to two opposed side structures in any other desired manner.
Another form of dunnage which may be used comprises a plurality of generally rectangular flexible webs or sheets. The flexible material from which the webs are made may be polyvinylchloride or any other suitable material. Each web is generally vertically oriented when the dunnage is in the container. The upper corner of each web may have a grommet surrounding an opening in the web sized and adapted to receive one of the dunnage supports described above. This arrangement enables the webs to move horizontally within the container, guided by the dunnage supports. The webs may be attached to two opposed side structures in any other desired manner.
Regardless of whether the flexible dunnage comprises pouches or individual webs, substantially rigid, substantially non-flexible stabilizers are attached to at least some of the dunnage members to provide support and protection for the parts or products being shipped in a container. One or more stabilizers may be secured to one or more flexible members of dunnage at any desired location or locations.
The stabilizers may be made of polyolefin foam or any other suitable material. If desired two or more stabilizers may be parent bonded or welded (welded or bonded using only heat without any additional material) to each other on opposite sides of a flexible piece or portion of dunnage.
According to another aspect of the invention, tracks or retainers may be supported by the body, and more particularly secured to opposed walls or side structures of the container. A plurality of support member assemblies are supported by the tracks or retainers and movable relative to the tracks or retainers. For purposes of the present invention, the term “support member assembly” may include a unitary member or multiple components secured together.
The present invention is not intended to be limited to the tracks like those illustrated and described below. For example, a “track” may comprise a groove in one or more walls of a container or a linear rod secured to one or more walls of a container. The terms “tracks” and “retainers” are intended to include any number of objects along which support member assemblies as defined or illustrated in the present document may slide or move.
The tracks may have openings therein and removable caps for covering and/or closing the openings. If one or more of the support member assemblies needs to be removed for repair or for any other reason, a person may remove the support member assembly or assemblies via the openings in opposed tracks.
Each support member assembly comprises a pair of end members engaged with and movable along the tracks and a middle member extending between and secured to the end members. The end members may be rollers or plastic members known in the art as sliders or any other member which may engage and move along one of the tracks or retainers.
In embodiments having tracks and support member assemblies, dunnage may be suspended from any number of support member assemblies in any number of ways known in the art. For example, a single piece of material may be sewn or otherwise secured to itself to provide a plurality of pouches for receiving and retaining products to be shipped, the support member assemblies passing through and residing in pockets formed at the tops of the pouch sidewalls.
Such embodiments of container may be used so that an operator located at the front of a container may pull dunnage holding product to be emptied forwardly in the container to a more ergonomically friendly position after products suspended by the more forward dunnage have been unloaded or removed from the container. Thus, a person unloading the container from the front of the container will not have to stretch or reach to the back of the container to unload remaining product.
Similarly, a person loading a container from the front of the container need not stretch or reach to the back of the container to insert or load products into the container. The loader of the container may push the support member assemblies and dunnage hanging therefrom already loaded with product rearwardly and load additional product in a more ergonomically friendly position or manner at the front of the container. Thus, products may be more efficiently and safely removed from these containers or inserted therein reducing stress or strain on the unloader or loader.
The above and other objects and advantages of the present invention shall be made apparent from the accompanying drawings and the brief description thereof.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the invention and, together with a general description of the invention given above and the detailed description of the embodiments given below, serve to explain the principles of the invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
The reusable and returnable collapsible container 10, as shown, comprises a body 12 having a base 13 comprising a bottom portion 14 and three fixed, upstanding vertically oriented wall portions 16a, 16b and 16c extending upwardly from the perimeter of the bottom portion 14 of the base 13. A rear wall 18b and side walls 18a,18c are hingedly connected to the vertically oriented wall portions 16b and 16a, 16c of the base 13, respectively. Side wall 18a is hingedly or pivotally joined to the wall portion 16a of the base 13 with a hinge pin 20a so that the side wall 18a may move or pivot from a collapsed position shown in
The combination of the wall portion 16a of the base 13 and the side wall 18a make up a side or wall structure 22a. Similarly, the wall portion 16c of the base 13 and the side wall 18c make up another side or wall structure 22c on the opposite side of the collapsible container 10. Lastly, the rear or back wall portion 16b of the base 13 and the rear wall 18b make up a rear wall or side structure 22b. A fourth side structure 22d comprises a frame 28 as described below.
The container 10 may also have a front or side cover (not shown) in addition to the frame 28 shown and described below opposite rear side or wall structure 22b. The base 13 may be a pallet-type base having a plurality of slots or grooves 15 formed therein for receiving the forks of a lift truck or any other configuration. Although one configuration of base 13 is illustrated, other types or configurations of bases may be used in accordance with the present invention.
The base 13 and walls 18a-18c of the container 10, are typically made of a suitably rugged material, such as a strong, durable plastic or the like but may be made of any desired material. Containers which may be adapted or configured to include various invention features in accordance with the aspects of the present invention, are available from Ropak Corporation of Georgetown, Ky. A Ropak collapsible container may be retrofitted in accordance with the principles of the present invention to yield the inventive container having the various benefits discussed herein. Other collapsible containers may be adapted in accordance with the present invention.
Although one type of container is illustrated, the present invention may be used with any type or configuration of box or container. For example, the present invention may be used in other styles of container in which one or more of the walls or sides of the container is hinged for the container to be more easily erected and/or compacted for storage. The present invention may also be used in a rack type of container which has four corner posts extending upwardly from a base. A cover (not shown) may also be included to enclose the container 10 and further protect and secure products 26 during shipment. See
The walls or side structures 18a-18c of the container 10 are configured for being selectively moved, hinged or pivoted between an erected position and a collapsed position. In the erected position, as shown in
Therefore, each wall or side structure 22a-22c essentially has a movable top or upper portion 18a-18c, respectively, and a stationary bottom or lower portion 16a-16c, respectively. The top portion 18a-18c is hinged inwardly (see
Container 10 further comprises a front wall or side structure 22d which comprises a frame 28 in combination with the bottom portion 14 of the base 13. The frame 28 and bottom portion 14 of the base 13 define an open side or front 23 which allows side access to product 26 (See
In the container 10 illustrated, the base 13, walls 18a-18c and frame 28 make up the body 12 of the container 10. Therefore, the embodiment of the container illustrated in
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Similarly, as shown in
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Although not illustrated, other forms of collapsible dunnage having stabilizers attached thereto such as the collapsible dunnage shown in
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Dunnage 24e in the form of a plurality of collapsible members or webs 89 are suspended by and supported by a plurality of support member assemblies 100. Although the dunnage 24e shown comprises collapsible members or webs 89, the dunnage may assume other shapes or configurations. A generally rectangular piece of fabric 89 shown in
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Although one configuration of collapsible support member assembly 100 is illustrated, the present invention may be used with any type or configuration of support member assembly for supporting dunnage so the dunnage may slide or move inside the container.
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The reusable and returnable container 10′, as shown, comprises a body 12′ having a base 13′ comprising a bottom portion 14′ and three fixed, upstanding vertically oriented side structures 22a′, 22b′ and 22c′ extending upwardly from the perimeter of the bottom portion 14′ of the base 13′. A fourth side structure 22d′ comprises a frame 28′.
The container 10′ may also have a front or side cover (not shown) in addition to the frame 28′ shown and described below opposite rear side or wall structure 22b′. The base 13′ may be a pallet-type base having a plurality of slots or grooves 15′ formed therein for receiving the forks of a lift truck or any other configuration. Although one configuration of body is illustrated, other types or configurations of bodies may be used in accordance with the present invention.
The base 13′ and side structures 22a′-22c′ of the container 10′, are typically made of a suitably rugged material, such as a strong, durable plastic or the like but may be made of any desired material. Containers which may be adapted or configured to include various invention features in accordance with the aspects of the present invention, are available from Ropak Corporation of Georgetown, Ky. A Ropak container may be retrofitted in accordance with the principles of the present invention to yield the inventive container having the various benefits discussed herein. Other containers may be adapted in accordance with the present invention.
Although one type of container is illustrated, the present invention may be used with any type or configuration of box or container. For example, the present invention may be used in a rack type of container which has four corner posts extending upwardly from a base. A cover (not shown) may also be included to enclose the container 10′ and further protect and secure products 26 during shipment. See
Container 10′ further comprises a front wall or side structure 22d′ which comprises a frame 28′ in combination with the bottom portion 14′ of the base 13′. The frame 28′ and bottom portion 14′ of the base 13′ define an open side or front 23′ which allows side access to product 26 (See
In the container 10′ illustrated, the base 13′, side structures 22a′-22c′ and frame 28′ make up the body 12′ of the container 10′. Therefore, the embodiment of the container illustrated in
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While various embodiments of the present invention have been illustrated and described in considerable detail, it is not the intention of the applicant to restrict or in any way limit the scope of the claims to such detail. For example, the dunnage of the present invention may be used in any container. Additional advantages and modifications will readily appear to those skilled in the art. The invention in its broader aspect is, therefore, not limited to the specific details, representative system, apparatus, and method, and illustrative example shown and described. Accordingly, departures may be made from such details without departing from the spirit or scope of the applicant's general inventive concept.
1. A reusable and returnable container for holding product therein: during shipment, the container comprising:
- a body having at least two opposed side structures;
- dunnage supports attached to at least two of the side structures; and
- dunnage suspended from said dunnage supports, said dunnage comprising a plurality of flexible members, at least some of said flexible members having stabilizers attached to the flexible member.
2. The container of claim 1 wherein said dunnage comprises pouches.
3. The container of claim 1 wherein said flexible members are made of polyvinylchloride.
4. The container of claim 1 wherein the dunnage supports are rods.
5. The container of claim 1 wherein stabilizers are made of foam.
6. The container of claim 5 wherein said stabilizers are made of polyolefin foam.
7. The container of claim 1 wherein said dunnage is movable relative to said support members.
8. The container of claim 1 wherein adjacent stabilizers are welded to each other.
9. A reusable and returnable container for holding product therein during shipment, the container comprising:
- a body having at least two opposed side structures;
- at least one dunnage support secured to each of the opposed side structures of said container for supporting dunnage; and
- dunnage including at least some stabilizers attached to the dunnage for supporting and protecting products during shipment.
10. The container of claim 9 wherein the stabilizers are generally rigid.
11. The container of claim 9 wherein stabilizers are made of foam.
12. The container of claim 9 wherein said stabilizers are made of polyolefin foam.
13. The container of claim 9 wherein adjacent stabilizers are welded to each other.
14. The container of claim 8 wherein said dunnage comprises pouches.
15. A container for holding product therein during shipment, the container comprising:
- a body having at least two walls extending upwardly from a base;
- tracks secured to opposed walls of the container; and
- support member assemblies inside the container, each of the support member assemblies comprising a pair of end members engaged with and movable along the tracks and a middle member extending between the end members; and
- dunnage supported by the support member assemblies, the dunnage comprising a plurality of flexible members, at least some of the flexible members having stabilizers secured thereto to aid in supporting and protecting products during shipment.
16. The container of claim 15 wherein said stabilizers are made of foam.
17. The container of claim 15 wherein said stabilizers are made of polyolefin foam.
18. The container of claim 15 wherein some of the stabilizers are bonded to each other.
19. The container of claim 15 wherein said flexible members are part of pouches.
20. A container for holding product therein during shipment, the container comprising:
- a body;
- a plurality of tracks supported by the body; and
- a plurality of movable support member assemblies engaged with the tracks each of said slidable support member assemblies comprising a member extending between two end members engaged with the tracks, the end members being adapted to move in the tracks; and
- dunnage suspended by the movable support member assemblies, said dunnage including a plurality of flexible webs and stabilizers secured to the flexible webs.
21. The container of claim 20 wherein the flexible webs are made of plastic.
22. The container of claim 20 wherein the stabilizers are made of foam.
23. The container of claim 20 wherein the dunnage hangs from the support member assemblies.
24. The container of claim 20 wherein at least some of the tracks have openings for removal of at least some of the support member assemblies.
International Classification: B65D 88/52 (20060101);