Container Having Dunnage With Integral Stabilizing Members

- BRADFORD COMPANY

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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Description

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.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of collapsible container in accordance with the present invention, showing the container erected with a dunnage structure shown in phantom in an erected position for holding product for shipment or storage;

FIG. 1A is a perspective view of one rear corner of the collapsible container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 1B is a cross-sectional view showing the locking mechanism for locking a pivotal front frame of the container of FIG. 1 in an erected position;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the collapsible container of FIG. 1, showing a portion of the frame being collapsed, the dunnage shown in phantom;

FIG. 3 is a side elevational view of the container of FIG. 1 showing the frame collapsed;

FIG. 4 is a side elevational view of the container of FIG. 1 showing the rear wall and frame collapsed;

FIG. 5 is a front elevational view of the container of FIG. 1 showing the side structures being collapsed;

FIG. 6 is a front elevational view of the container of FIG. 1 in a collapsed position;

FIG. 7 is a cross sectional view of the collapsible container of FIG. 1 in accordance with one aspect of the present invention;

FIG. 7A is a cross-sectional view of one type of dunnage which may be used in a collapsible container in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 7B is a cross-sectional view of an another type of dunnage which may be used in a collapsible container in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 7C is a cross-sectional view of an another type of dunnage which may be used in a collapsible container in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional view of another embodiment of collapsible container in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a portion of the collapsible container of FIG. 8 showing one type of dunnage suspended by dunnage supports;

FIG. 10 is a cross-sectional view of another embodiment of collapsible container in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of a portion of the collapsible container of FIG. 10 showing another type of dunnage suspended by dunnage supports;

FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a non-collapsible container, showing the container erected with a dunnage structure shown in phantom in an erected position for holding product for shipment or storage;

FIG. 13 is a cross sectional view of a container like the container of FIG. 12;

FIG. 14 is a cross-sectional view of another embodiment of container in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 15 is a perspective view of a portion of the container of FIG. 14 showing one type of dunnage suspended by dunnage supports; and

FIG. 16 is a cross-sectional view of another embodiment of container in accordance with the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring to FIG. 1, there is illustrated a reusable and returnable collapsible container 10 with interior dunnage 24 shown in phantom for clarity. As explained below, many different forms or types of dunnage in accordance with the present invention may be used in a collapsible container like the one shown in FIG. 1.

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 FIG. 6 to an erected position shown in FIG. 3. Similarly, rear wall 18b is hingedly or pivotally joined to the wall portion 16b of the base 13 with a hinge pin 20b (see FIG. 3) so that the rear wall 18b may move or pivot from a collapsed position shown in FIG. 4 to an erected position shown in FIG. 1. Lastly, side wall 18c is hingedly or pivotally joined to the wall portion 16c of the base 13 with a hinge pin 20c so that the side wall 18c may move or pivot from a collapsed position shown in FIG. 6 to an erected position shown in FIG. 4. Although one type of hinge is illustrated to connect the rear and side walls 18b, 18a, 18c to the base 13, any other type of hinge or connection may be used as desired.

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 FIG. 7.

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 FIG. 1, the container 10 is suitable for containing product for shipment (not shown). In the collapsed position, as shown in FIG. 6, the size of the container 10 is reduced so that the container 10 may be return shipped in a more cost effective manner. To that end, the side structures or walls 18a-18c in the illustrated embodiment are hinged so that the walls 18a-18c may be moved from a locked, erected position to an unlocked, collapsed position. Any conventional locking mechanism may be used to lock them in an erected position.

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 FIG. 6) with respect to the lower portion 16a-16c to generally reduce the size of the container 10 by half when the container 10 is in the collapsed position. The bottom portions 16a-16c of each wall or side structure 22a-22c remain in a vertically upright position, even when the container 10 is in a collapsed position (see FIG. 6).

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 FIG. 7) supported or suspended in dunnage 24 inside the interior of the container 10. Front wall or side structure 22d, like side structures 22a-22c has a movable or hinged top or upper portion and a stationary bottom or lower portion as will be described below, in the illustrated embodiment. For purposes of the present document any of the structures 22a-d may be considered a collapsible side structure.

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 FIG. 1 has a box-like shape with one open side. This type of container is known in the industry as a side loading, front loading or horizontal dispensing container.

As best illustrated in FIG. 1, frame 28 includes a pair of stationary lower frame members 30 and a pivotal upper frame 32 comprising a pair of upper side frame members 33 and a top frame member 34 extending between the upper side frame members 33. The stationary lower frame members 30 are fixed to the wall portions 16a, 16c of the base 13 in any desired manner. See FIGS. 1 and 2. The pivotal upper frame 32 is hingedly coupled to the wall portions 16a, 16c of the base 13 to be selectively pivoted between a collapsed position and erected position about a horizontal pivot axis 35 which is defined by pins 37. See FIGS. 1 and 2.

As best illustrated in FIGS. 1B and 2, generally U-shaped locking brackets 38 are secured to the collapsible side wall structures 18a and 18c in strategic locations to help lock pivotal upper frame 32 in its erected position as shown in FIG. 1. Each locking bracket 38 has a semicircular notch 39 within which end portions 41 of handle 40 rest when upper frame 32 is in an erected, locked position. Each of the frame members 33 of pivotal upper frame 32 has an oval opening or slot 43 inside which rides one of the end portions 41 of handle 40. The length of the slot 43 is such that it allows a user to lift the handle 40 enough so that the end portions 41 of the handle 40 disengage from the notches 39 of the locking brackets 38 and the pivotal upper frame 32 may be collapsed.

As shown in FIG. 1, the handle 40 of the pivotal upper frame 32 may be lifted from a lower locked position shown in FIG. 1 to a raised unlocked position in order to collapse the pivotal upper frame 32 and therefore begin collapsing the container 10. When the pivotal upper frame 32 is locked in its locked position, the end portions 41 of handle 40 reside in the notches 39 of the locking brackets 38. When the handle 40 is raised by an operator, the end portions 41 of handle 40 disengage from the locking brackets 38, thereby allowing the weight of the dunnage 24 to help pivot the pivotal upper frame 32 downwardly and inwardly towards its collapsed position shown in FIG. 2.

As shown in FIG. 1B, a plurality of eye bolts 42 are secured to the top frame member 34 of the pivotal upper frame 32. The purpose of the eye bolts 42 is to receive and retain and thereby secure a dunnage support 44 in the form of a rod to the pivotal upper frame 32 and more particularly to the top frame member 34 of the pivotal upper frame 32. Although the dunnage support 44 is illustrated as a straight rod, it may assume any other form or configurations and may be secured to any portion of the pivotal upper frame 32 in any desired manner.

Similarly, as shown in FIG. 1A, a plurality of eye bolts 42 are secured to the collapsible rear side or wall structure 18b of the container 10. The purpose of these eye bolts 42 is to receive and retain and thereby secure another dunnage support 44 in the form of a rod to the collapsible rear side or wall structure 18b. Although the dunnage support 44 is illustrated as a straight rod, it may assume any other form or configuration and may be secured to the collapsible rear side or wall structure 18b in any desired manner.

Also shown in FIG. 1A is a locking mechanism 46 for maintaining the collapsible portion of the rear wall structure in an erected position. The locking mechanism 46 includes a pull tab 48 attached to an elongated flexible member 50 extending between and joined to two locking pins 52 inside housings 54. The locking pins 52 are sized and adapted to be received inside holes 53 in the collapsible side or wall structures 18a and 18c. See FIG. 1A. The housings 54 are located in a generally U-shaped channel 56 attached to the collapsible rear or side wall structure 18b of the container 10.

As shown in FIGS. 1, 1A, 1B, 2 and 7, dunnage 24 comprises a plurality of collapsible, flexible generally U-shaped pouches 58. Each pouch 58 comprises a pair of flexible sidewalls or wall portions 60 connected by an arcuate bottom portion 62. As shown in FIG. 1A, the upper rear corner of each sidewall 60 of each pouch 58 has a grommet 64 surrounding an opening 66 which is sized and adapted to receive dunnage support 44. Similarly as shown in FIG. 1B, the upper front corner of each sidewall 60 of each pouch 58 has a grommet 64 surrounding an opening 66 which is sized and adapted to receive dunnage support 44. Thus, each of the sidewalls 60 of each pouch 58 is suspended from its upper corners in a manner that enables the pouch 58 to slide or move horizontally in the container 10 to help either insert or remove products 26 therein. See FIG. 7.

As shown in FIG. 7, dunnage 24 and more particularly, one of the sidewalls 60 of each of the pouches 58 has a stabilizer 70 secured thereto. Although FIG. 7 shows dunnage 24 comprising one piece of material formed into a plurality of pouches 58, each pouch 58 may be formed from its own piece of material. The stabilizers 70 are configured and positioned relative to the sidewalls 60 of the pouches 58 such that products 26 may be suspended by the stabilizers 70 in a position which is safe for transport and easy for an operator to load or unload products 26 when the container 10 and associated dunnage 24 are erected. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70 is illustrated in FIG. 7 stabilizing one configuration of product 26, any desired configuration of stabilizers may be used to support and protect any configuration of product 26 during shipment. Likewise, any number of stabilizers 70 may be secured at any desired locations to the dunnage 24, regardless of whether the dunnage comprises pouches or assumes any other form such as flexible partitions. Preferably the stabilizers are placed in locations to best protect the products in the dunnage for transport or shipping.

Referring to FIG. 7, a portion or appendage 72 of the product 26 is specifically received in and/or secured in a product receptacle 74 in stabilizer 70. These product receptacles 74 are particularly machined or sized and located to receive, mate, and/or hold a portion or appendage 72 of the product 26. The product receptacles 74 furthermore are located and sized so that the maximum number of products 26 may fit snugly inside the container 10 without moving or shifting during shipment, thereby maximizing product density. Although one configuration of product 26 is illustrated and described, the present invention may be used to store and ship other configurations of products not shown or described. Similarly, depending on the configuration of the product, the product receptacles formed in the stabilizers 70 may be shaped or configured differently than those shown and described.

FIG. 7A illustrates another variation of collapsible dunnage 24a which may be used in collapsible container 10 or any other collapsible container. Collapsible dunnage 24a comprises one piece of material formed into a plurality of pouches 58a, each having two side walls or wall portions 60a. Each side wall 60a is secured to dunnage supports 44 in any desirable manner like the one described above and illustrated in FIG. 9, for example. However, any other type of dunnage such as individual pouches each made of its own piece of material, may be used in accordance with the present invention and secured to any type of dunnage supports in any desirable manner. The dunnage 24a shown in FIG. 7A has multiple stabilizers 70a parent welded (welded without any additional material using only heat) to each other on opposite sides of one of the flexible sidewalls 60a of one of the pouches 58a. The other sidewall 60a, which is the outermost sidewall of the outermost pouch 58a, has only one stabilizer 70a secured thereto. Each stabilizer 70a has a product receptacle 74a formed therein for receiving and retaining a portion of a product 26a. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70a is shown attached at selected locations to pouches 58a to protect products 26a, any suitable configuration of stabilizers 70a may be secured to any type of dunnage to protect any type or configuration of products. For example, the stabilizers may lack any product receptacles.

FIG. 7B illustrates another variation of collapsible dunnage 24b which may be used in collapsible container 10 or any other collapsible container. In this type of dunnage 24b, one piece of material is formed into a plurality of pouches 58b, each having opposed sidewalls or sidewall portions 60b secured to dunnage supports 44 in any desirable manner like the one described above and illustrated herein. The dunnage 24b shown in FIG. 7B has multiple stabilizers 70b secured to the flexible sidewalls 60b of pouches 58b at locations best suited to protect the individual products 26b being shipped. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70b is shown attached at selected locations to pouches 58b to protect products 26b, any suitable configuration of stabilizers 70b may be secured to any type of dunnage to protect any type or configuration of products.

FIG. 7C illustrates another variation of collapsible dunnage 24c which may be used in collapsible container 10 or any other collapsible container. In this type of dunnage 24c, one piece of material may be formed into pouches 58c, each one of which is secured to dunnage supports 44 in any desirable manner as described above and illustrated in FIG. 9. The collapsible dunnage 24c shown in FIG. 7C has multiple stabilizers 70c parent welded (welded without any additional material using only heat) to each other on opposite sides of one of the flexible sidewalls 60c of pouch 58c. The other sidewall 60c, which is the outermost sidewall of the outermost pouch 58c, has multiple stabilizers 70c secured thereto. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70c is shown attached at selected locations to pouches 58b to protect products 26c, any suitable configuration of stabilizers 70c may be secured to any type of dunnage to protect any type or configuration of products.

Although not illustrated, other forms of collapsible dunnage having stabilizers attached thereto such as the collapsible dunnage shown in FIGS. 8-11 may be used in a collapsible container made in accordance with the present invention.

FIGS. 3-6 illustrate the method of collapsing the container 10 and its associated dunnage 24. FIG. 3 illustrates an erected container 10 with the pivotal upper frame 32 collapsed about horizontal pivot axis 35. The collapsible walls or structures 18a-18c remain erected. The next step after collapsing the pivotal upper frame 32 is to collapse the rear wall 18b of the container 10 in the direction of arrow 52. Rear wall 18b is coupled to another end of the dunnage structure 24. Therefore, when rear wall 18b is collapsed, the dunnage structure 24 is located thereunder. FIG. 4 illustrates the partially collapsed container 10.

FIG. 5 illustrates the side walls or structures 18a, 18c being collapsed inwardly as shown by arrows 54 to provide a completely collapsed structure, as shown in FIG. 6. The hinge lines or hinge structures of the first-collapsing rear wall 18b are generally located below the hinge lines or structures of the latter collapsing side walls 18a, 18c, so that the side walls 18a, 18c overlie rear wall 18b and the collapsed pivotal upper frame 32. When the container 10 is collapsed, along with the collapsible dunnage 24, as shown in FIG. 6, the empty container may be returned in a generally 2:1 volume ratio with respect to an erected, full container. In that way, shipping and storage costs are reduced. As may be appreciated, the figures only illustrate one embodiment of a container in accordance with the aspects of the invention. Other different types of containers might be made to include the inventive features of the present invention.

FIGS. 8 and 9 illustrate another aspect of the present invention. The collapsible reusable and returnable container 10d, as shown in FIGS. 8 and 9, is identical to the container 10 described above, excluding the collapsible dunnage. In this embodiment, the collapsible dunnage 24d inside the container 10d is different than the collapsible dunnage 24 shown in FIGS. 1-7, dunnage 24a shown in FIG. 7A, dunnage 24b shown in FIG. 7B and dunnage 24c shown in FIG. 7C. Instead of pouches, the dunnage 24d comprises a plurality of flexible, collapsible members or webs 76. These members or webs 76 are generally vertically oriented when the container 10d is erected as shown in FIGS. 8 and 9. As shown in FIG. 9, the upper corners of each member or web 76 each has a grommet 78 surrounding an opening 80 which is sized and adapted to receive dunnage support 44. Thus, each member or web 76 is suspended from its upper corners in a manner that enables the member or web 76 to slide or move horizontally in the container 10d relative to dunnage supports 44 to help either insert or remove products 26 therein. See FIG. 9.

As shown in FIGS. 8 and 9, the dunnage 24d and more particularly, each of the webs or members 76 has multiple pairs of opposed stabilizers 70d secured thereto and secured to each other, i.e. parent welded together. The stabilizers 70d are configured and positioned relative to the webs or members 76 such that products 26 may be supported, at least in part, by the stabilizers 70d in a position which is not only safe for transport but easy for an operator to load or unload when the container 10d and associated dunnage 24d are erected. One or more stabilizers 70d may have a recess 86 formed in an upper surface 88 of the stabilizer 70d adapted to receive a portion of a product or part 26d. See FIG. 9. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70d is illustrated in FIGS. 8 and 9 stabilizing one configuration of product 26d, the stabilizers may be any desired configuration to support or protect different configurations or types of product during shipment or storage. Likewise, any number of stabilizers 70d may be secured at any desired locations to the dunnage 24d, regardless of whether the dunnage comprises pouches or assumes any other form such as flexible partitions or webs 76. Preferably the stabilizers 70d are secured in locations to best protect the products 26d in the dunnage 24d for transport or shipping.

As illustrated in FIGS. 8 and 9, a portion or appendage of the product 26d may be specifically received in and/or secured in a product receptacle or recess 86 in one or more stabilizers 70d. These product receptacles or recesses 86 may be particularly machined or sized and located to receive, mate, and/or hold the portion or appendages of one of the products 26d. The product receptacles 86 furthermore are located and sized so that a maximum number of products 26d may fit safely inside the container 10d without moving or shifting during shipment. Although one configuration of product 26d is illustrated and described, the present invention may be used to store and ship other configurations of products not shown or described. Similarly, depending on the configuration of the product, the product receptacles or recesses formed in the stabilizers 70d may be shaped or configured differently than those shown and described.

FIGS. 10 and 11 illustrate a collapsible reusable and returnable container 10e according to another aspect of the present invention. The reusable and returnable container 10e, as shown, is nearly identical to the container 10 described above. However, tracks 82 are secured to opposed side wall 18b and pivotal upper frame 32 of the body 12 of the container 10e in any desired manner. Additionally, the dunnage 24e is different from that described above. Instead of pouches, the dunnage 24e comprises a plurality of flexible, collapsible members or webs 89. These members or webs 89 are generally vertically oriented when the container 10e is erected as shown in FIGS. 10 and 11.

As best illustrated in FIG. 11, each track 82 has an upper wall 90, a lower wall 92 joined to upper wall 90 by a side wall 94 and lips 96 extending downwardly from the upper wall 90 and upwardly from the lower wall 92, thereby defining an interior 98 of the track 82. Although one type of track is illustrated, the tracks may be grooves formed in the side structures or frame or any other configuration of retainer or track.

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 FIG. 11, is supported by one support member assembly 100. The fabric is sewn or otherwise secured together along a seam 102 to make a pocket 104 in which is located a flexible support 106 of the support member assembly 100. See FIG. 11.

As shown in FIG. 11, a collapsible support member assembly 100 includes a pair of end members 108 (only one shown) and a flexible middle support 106 extending therebetween. The end members 108 may be made of injection molded plastic, such as nylon, or any other suitable material. The flexible support 106 is preferably a cable but may be made of nylon or other suitable material. As shown in FIG. 11, the ends of the flexible support 106 may be tied or otherwise secured to the end members 108. As shown in FIG. 11, the fabric of pocket 104 of web 89 may be secured to the end members 108 with fasteners 109.

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.

As shown in FIGS. 10 and 11, the dunnage 24e and more particularly, each of the webs or members 89 has multiple pairs of opposed stabilizers 70e secured thereto and secured to each other, i.e. parent welded together. The stabilizers 70e are configured and positioned relative to the webs or members 89 such that products 26e may be supported, at least in part, by the stabilizers 70e in a position which is not only safe for transport but easy for an operator to load or unload when the container 10e and associated dunnage 24e are erected. One or more stabilizers 70e may have one or more holes 110 therethrough, one or more recesses 112 formed in an upper surface 116 of the stabilizer 70e adapted to receive a portion of a product or part 26e or one or more projections 11 4 formed in an upper surface 116 of the stabilizer 70e adapted to receive hold or retain a portion of a product or part 26e. See FIG. 11. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70e is illustrated in FIGS. 10 and 11 stabilizing one configuration of product 26e, the stabilizers may be any desired configuration or size to support or protect different configurations or types of products.

As shown in FIG. 11, any track of any of the embodiments described herein may have a cutout or opening 116. A pair of threaded holes 118 may be formed in the upper wall 90 of track 82 which are sized and adapted to receive fasteners 120. Although fasteners 120 are illustrated as being screws, they may be any other desirable fastener. A cap 122 is removably secured to the track 82 to cover the opening or cutout 116 formed in the upper wall 90 of track 82. As shown in FIG. 11, cap 122 has a generally inverted L-shaped cross-sectional configuration including a top portion 124 and side portion 126. Holes 128 are formed through the top portion 124 of cap 122 and sized to receive fasteners 120. The fasteners 120 are adapted to pass through the holes 128 in the cap 122 and into the holes 118 in the upper wall 90 of track 82. If any portion of a support member assembly 100 is damaged, it may be removed and repaired quickly and easily through openings 116 in tracks 82.

FIGS. 12-15 illustrate non-collapsible reusable and returnable containers; however, any aspect of any of the embodiments described herein may be used with a collapsible or non-collapsible container. FIG. 12 illustrates a non-collapsible container 10′ with interior dunnage 24 shown in phantom for clarity. As explained below, many different forms or types of dunnage in accordance with the present invention may be used in a container like the one shown in FIG. 12.

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 FIG. 13.

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 FIG. 13) supported or suspended in dunnage 24 inside the interior of the container 10′. For purposes of this document, any of the structures 22a′-d′ may be considered a side structure.

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 FIG. 12 has a box-like shape with one open side. This type of container is known in the industry as a side loading, front loading or horizontal dispensing container.

As best illustrated in FIG. 12, frame 28′ includes a pair of stationary side frame members 30′ and a top frame member 32′ extending between the side frame members 30′. The stationary side frame members 30′ are fixed to the side structures 22a′, 22c′ of the base 13′ in any desired manner. However, any other type of frame may be used.

In this embodiment, like shown in FIG. 1B, a plurality of eye bolts 42 may be secured to the top frame member 32′ extending between the side frame members 30′ of frame 28′. The purpose of the eye bolts 42 is to receive and retain and thereby secure a dunnage support 44 in the form of a rod to the top frame member 32′ extending between the side frame members 30′ like dunnage support 44 is operatively coupled to side structure 22b′. See FIG. 12.

As shown in FIGS. 12 and 13, dunnage 24 comprises a plurality of flexible generally U-shaped pouches 58. Each pouch 58 comprises a pair of flexible sidewalls or wall portions 60 connected by an arcuate bottom portion 62. As shown in FIG. 1A, the upper rear corner of each sidewall 60 of each pouch 58 has a grommet 64 surrounding an opening 66 which is sized and adapted to receive dunnage support 44. Similarly as shown in FIG. 1B, the upper front corner of each sidewall 60 of each pouch 58 has a grommet 64 surrounding an opening 66 which is sized and adapted to receive dunnage support 44. Thus, each of the sidewalls 60 of each pouch 58 is suspended from its upper corners in a manner that enables the pouch 58 to slide or move horizontally in the container 10′ to help either insert or remove products 26 therein. See FIG. 13.

As shown in FIG. 13, dunnage 24 and more particularly, one of the sidewalls 60 of each of the pouches 58 has a stabilizer 70 secured thereto. Although FIG. 13 shows dunnage 24 comprising one piece of material formed into a plurality of pouches 58, each pouch 58 may be formed from its own piece of material. The stabilizers 70 are configured and positioned relative to the sidewalls 60 of the pouches 58 such that products 26 may be suspended by the stabilizers 70 in a position which is safe for transport and easy for an operator to load or unload products 26 when the container 10′ and associated dunnage 24 are erected. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70 is illustrated in FIG. 7 stabilizing one configuration of product 26, any desired configuration of stabilizers may be used to support and protect any configuration of product 26 during shipment. Likewise, any number of stabilizers 70 may be secured at any desired locations to the dunnage 24, regardless of whether the dunnage comprises pouches or assumes any other form such as flexible partitions. Preferably the stabilizers are placed in locations to best protect the products in the dunnage for transport or shipping.

Referring to FIG. 13, a portion or appendage 72 of the product 26 is specifically received in and/or secured in a product receptacle 74 in stabilizer 70. These product receptacles 74 are particularly machined or sized and located to receive, mate, and/or hold a portion or appendage 72 of the product 26. The product receptacles 74 furthermore are located and sized so that the maximum number of products 26 may fit snugly inside the container 10′ without moving or shifting during shipment, thereby maximizing product density. Although one configuration of product 26 is illustrated and described, the present invention may be used to store and ship other configurations of products not shown or described. Similarly, depending on the configuration of the product, the product receptacles formed in the stabilizers 70 may be shaped or configured differently than those shown and described.

FIGS. 14 and 15, like FIGS. 8 and 9, illustrate another aspect of the present invention. The reusable and returnable container 10d′, as shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, is identical to the container 10′ described above, excluding the dunnage. In this embodiment, the dunnage 24d inside the container 10d′ is different than the dunnage 24 shown in FIG. 12 and 13. Instead of pouches, the dunnage 24d comprises a plurality of flexible members or webs 76. These members or webs 76 are generally vertically oriented as shown in FIGS. 14 and 15. As shown in FIG. 15, the upper corners of each member or web 76 each has a grommet 78 surrounding an opening 80 which is sized and adapted to receive dunnage support 44. Thus, each member or web 76 is suspended from its upper corners in a manner that enables the member or web 76 to slide or move horizontally in the container 10d relative to dunnage supports 44 to help either insert or remove products 26 therein. See FIG. 15.

As shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, the dunnage 24d and more particularly, each of the webs or members 76 has multiple pairs of opposed stabilizers 70d secured thereto and secured to each other, i.e. parent welded together. The stabilizers 70d are configured and positioned relative to the webs or members 76 such that products 26 may be supported, at least in part, by the stabilizers 70d in a position which is safe for transport and easy for an operator to load or unload. One or more stabilizers 70d may have a recess 86 formed in an upper surface 88 of the stabilizer 70d adapted to receive a portion of a product or part 26d. See FIG. 15. Although one configuration of stabilizer 70d is illustrated in FIGS. 14 and 15 stabilizing one configuration of product 26d, the stabilizers may be any desired configuration to support or protect different configurations or types of product during shipment or storage. Likewise, any number of stabilizers 70d may be secured at any desired locations to the dunnage 24d, regardless of whether the dunnage comprises pouches or assumes any other form such as flexible partitions or webs 76. Preferably the stabilizers 70d are secured in locations to best protect the products 26d in the dunnage 24d for transport or shipping.

As illustrated in FIGS. 14 and 15, a portion or appendage of the product 26d may be specifically received in and/or secured in a product receptacle or recess 86 in one or more stabilizers 70d. These product receptacles or recesses 86 may be particularly machined or sized and located to receive, mate, and/or hold the portion or appendages of one of the products 26d. The product receptacles 86 furthermore are located and sized so that a maximum number of products 26d may fit safely inside the container 10d without moving or shifting during shipment. Although one configuration of product 26d is illustrated and described, the present invention may be used to store and ship other configurations of products not shown or described Similarly, depending on the configuration of the product, the product receptacles or recesses formed in the stabilizers 70d may be shaped or configured differently than those shown and described.

FIG. 16 illustrates a non-collapsible reusable and returnable container 10e′. The reusable and returnable container 10e′, as shown, is similar to the container 10e described above, but not collapsible. Tracks 82 are secured to opposed side structure 22b′ and frame (not shown) of the body 12e′ of the container 10e′ in any desired manner. Dunnage 24e is identical to the dunnage 24e shown in FIGS. 10 and 11 and described above.

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.

Claims

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.

Patent History

Publication number: 20080023470
Type: Application
Filed: Aug 2, 2007
Publication Date: Jan 31, 2008
Applicant: BRADFORD COMPANY (Holland, MI)
Inventor: Judson Bradford (Holland, MI)
Application Number: 11/832,896

Classifications

Current U.S. Class: 220/1.500
International Classification: B65D 88/52 (20060101);