Method and apparatus for a product cooler

A container system allows a user to register a bulk product unit at a predetermined elevation by engaging a stop disposed at a deepest point of an engagement slot. The engagement slot is disposed in a wall of a container containing a chamber having an inlet for receiving a product vessel. The neck of the product unit may be lowered into the slot, thereby moving the product vessel through the inlet of the chamber, and positioning the dispensing valve outside of the container. The first embodiment further comprises a retrofit system for adapting an existing product cooler to contain a saddle to support the neck of a bulk product unit. In a second embodiment, the container system is designed to receive and dispense gravity fed flexible packages, such as bulk wine. In a third embodiment, the container system comprises a product unit that is refillable, sealable, and separable for cleansing.

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Description
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to dispensing product at a remote location, and, more particularly, but not by way of limitation, to methods and an apparatus for creating a container system capable of delivering a variety of products from a variety of product containers disposed within a chamber of the container system.

2. Description of the Related Art

Ice chest manufacturers provide coolers for storage of most single-serve products, such as cans, bottles, ice, and the like. Product coolers are available in virtually any size, shape or color, and the thermal efficiencies of the product coolers are always getting better, however, a same basic shape is almost always utilized. Namely, a rectangular shape having a cavity or chamber for storing product units is utilized. An exterior layer is often formed from two separate pieces that are joined together to protect an interior foam. A glued joint does not allow any spills, condensate, or drips to contact the interior foam. Alternatively, a foamed is injected into an interior void of the joined shell components. The cavity of the product cooler is then leak proof, and may house single serve products and thermal aids for thermal state preservation. The product cooler may further include a lid to close out the chamber.

While single-serve product units fit into the product coolers without issue, “bulk” versions do not easily fit into coolers. In fact, problems arise when a product unit having a dispense valve requires cooling, because on gravity fed products, a dispense valve is disposed at a lowest end of the product unit. When a product unit such as a bulk wine is in a cooler, the dispense valve is disposed near a floor of the chamber and, ultimately, will be under water when the ice melts.

Still further, product units for dispensing beer are of a large size, and, therefore, require a still larger ice-chest. Still yet further, product units for dispensing beer are designed for dispensing from a shelf in an electric refrigerator. On the beer units, the dispensing valve is disposed near a midpoint of the beer product vessel, and the dispensing valve, extends from a neck of a product unit. If the product unit is placed into the chamber of a product cooler, the neck may experience increased loading if a user must place a drinking receptacle beneath a dispense point if the beer product unit is disposed within an ice-chest, because the dispense point is very close to the floor of the chamber.

Additionally, a spacing between support flanges on a product unit is typically thin when compared to a wall of an ice-chest. Ice-chests designs are not conducive to a retrofit operations that require breaching a wall, because a breached wall will allow water to contact the foam, and then mold will start to grow in the foam area.

Accordingly, a container system that is adapted to easily accept a product unit having a dispensing valve, without overstressing the neck, and is adaptable to the ice-chest without exposing foam to moisture or drips would be beneficial to consumers that desire to drink from bulk containers, bulk product manufacturers, and product cooler manufacturers.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In accordance with the present invention, a container system for receiving a product unit provides the user with the ability to store a product vessel inside of a chamber, apply thermal effects to the chamber, and dispense from a dispense point of the product unit without removing the product vessel from the chamber. In a first embodiment, the container system includes a container having a first wall defining a chamber. The chamber includes an inlet for receiving a product vessel. The at least one wall includes at least one engagement slot, whereby a slot width is complementary in size to a neck width of a neck of the product unit. In this first embodiment, a wall thickness is complementary in size to a spacing between a flange and the product vessel. Accordingly, the neck of the product unit may be lowered into the slot, thereby moving the product vessel through the inlet of the chamber, and positioning the dispensing valve outside of the container. The neck moves downward until it contacts a stop of the engagement slot, thereby placing the product unit in a registered position. In the registered position, the product unit is disposed within the chamber and the dispensing valve is disposed outside of the container for access by a user.

In a first extension of the first embodiment, the stop is complementary in shape to the neck to minimize thermal losses.

In a second extension of the first embodiment, the engagement slot further includes a lead-in angle to provide a wider engagement area.

In a third extension of the first embodiment, the container system further includes a plug that closes out the engagement slot after the product unit contacts the stop. The plug includes two opposing grooves to capture and cover the first and second engagement faces. The plug may further include a first end adaptable to an upper portion of the neck, whereby the first end of the plug mates with the upper portion of the neck to minimize thermal losses between the two components. The opposite end of the plug may be adaptable to a lid for the chamber, thereby closing out the engagement slot.

In a forth extension, the container system may comprise a lid to close out the chamber.

In a fifth extension, the container system includes a container having multiple layers, such as an insulating layer.

In a sixth extension, the container system includes an engagement plate that houses the engagement slot. The engagement plate may be secured to the product cooler to provide a more precise engagement slot tolerances, and may be disposed within the chamber or outside of the product cooler. In an extension of the sixth embodiment, the container system may further include a closeout panel adaptable to the engagement plate, whereby the closeout panel and the engagement plate may be bonded together to form a saddle that fits over the exposed edges of a clearance cutout in the wall of the product cooler.

In a seventh extension of the first embodiment, the container system include a load support disposed within the chamber to support an end of the product unit that is disposed within the chamber.

In a second embodiment, the container system is designed to receive and dispense gravity fed flexible packages, such as bulk wine.

In an extension of the second embodiment, the container system further includes a take-up hoop disposed within the chamber to elevate loose packaging, thereby forcing remnant fluids to move toward an inlet of the dispensing valve. In a second extension, the take-up hoops are hinged to ease removal of the product package.

In a third embodiment, the container system includes a product unit that is refillable, sealable, separable for cleansing, and may dispense from the container.

Still other objects, features, and advantages of the present invention will become evident to those of ordinary skill in the art in light of the following. Also, it should be understood that the scope of this invention is intended to be broad, and any combination of any subset of the features, elements, or steps described herein is part of the intended scope of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1a provides an isometric view of a container according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1b provides a detail view of a slot in the container according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1c provides a left view of a product unit according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1d provides a detail view of the product unit according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1e provides a section view of the product unit disposed within the container according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1f provides a top detail view of the product unit according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1g provides a plan view of a first and a second extension of the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1h provides an isometric view of a plug according to a third extension of the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1i provides a section view of the product unit disposed in a chamber according to a fourth extension of the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1j provides a detail view of the container having multiple layers according to a fifth extension of the first embodiment.

FIG. 1k provides a detail view of the container having an engagement plate according to sixth extension of the first embodiment.

FIG. 1l provides a detail view of the container having an engagement plate disposed within the wall according to a second extension of the sixth extension of the first embodiment.

FIG. 1m provides a detail view of the container having an engagement plate and a closeout panel according to the second extension of the sixth extension of the first embodiment.

FIG. 1n provides a section view of the container having a saddle according to the extension the second extension of the sixth extension of the first embodiment.

FIG. 1o provides a section view of the container having an additional support according to a seventh extension of the first embodiment.

FIG. 1p provides a method flowchart for utilizing the container system according to the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 1q provides a method flowchart for retrofitting a container according to the sixth extension of the preferred embodiment.

FIG. 2a provides an isometric view of a container according to a second embodiment.

FIG. 2b provides a detail view of a slot in the container according to the second embodiment.

FIG. 2c provides a left view of a product unit according to the second embodiment.

FIG. 2d provides a top view of the product unit according to the second embodiment.

FIG. 2e provides an isometric view of the container system according to a first extension of the second embodiment.

FIG. 2f provides a left view of a retracting restraint hoop according to a first extension of the first extension of the second embodiment.

FIG. 3a provides an isometric view of a container according to a third embodiment.

FIG. 3b provides an isometric view of a product unit according to the third embodiment.

FIG. 3c provides a top view of the product unit according to the third embodiment.

FIG. 3d provides an isometric view of the product unit according to the third embodiment.

FIG. 3e provides an isometric view of the container system according to the third embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

As required, detailed embodiments of the present invention are disclosed herein; however, it is to be understood that the disclosed embodiments are merely exemplary of the invention, which may be embodied in various forms. It is further to be understood that the figures are not necessarily to scale, and some features may be exaggerated to show details of particular components or steps.

A product cooler provides the ability to place a product unit normally designed for a refrigerated unit into a portable ice chest for use at a remote location. The product cooler includes a slot in a wall for receiving a neck of the product unit. The slot includes a stop for accurately registering the neck at a desired elevation, and a closeout plug that fills a portion of the slot disposed above the neck to eliminate any air gaps in the wall of the product cooler. In the registered position, a product vessel of the product unit is disposed within the chamber of the product cooler, and a dispensing portion is disposed outside of the product cooler walls for dispensing. The product cooler may also include a lid to close out an inlet of the chamber. In alternative embodiments, the product cooler is adapted to receive pressurized product containers, gravity fed products, and a reusable container that may be filled, dispensed from, cleansed, and refilled.

In a simplest embodiment, a container system 100 includes a container 101 for receiving a product unit 120. The container 101 includes first through fourth walls 102-105, respectively, a floor 107, and a chamber 106 having an inlet 116. The first through fourth walls 102-105 and the floor 107 may be formed as a single layer, such that the walls are contiguous and a liquid may be stored within the chamber 106. Alternatively, the walls and floor may be joined together utilizing a solvent bond or an adhesive bond, such as silicone, to contain a product or liquid inside of the chamber 106. Illustratively, the container 101 may be formed from a plastic, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene, or any plastic of sufficient rigidity to bear a load. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that product coolers are intended to maintain a product at an acceptable temperature, and, therefore, should be made from materials with lower thermal conductivities, such as plastics or foams. One of ordinary skill in the art will further recognize that containers may be formed from virtually any material, dependent upon the use, desired insulatory characteristics, and structural requirements. One of ordinary skill in the art will still further recognize that different solvent bonding agents are required for different material, such as methyl ethyl ketone for acrylonitirile butadiene styrene, pvc glue for polyvinyl chloride. Additionally, in the case of adhering agents, silicone may be utilized for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polyvinyl chloride, and a urethane based adhesive may be utilized with polyethylene.

In this particular example, the first wall 102 includes a slot 108 extending from the inlet 116. The slot 108 includes a first engagement face 111 disposed on a first side 109, a second engagement face 112 disposed on a second side 110, and a stop 113 disposed between the first engagement face 111 and the second engagement face 112. In this particular example, the first wall 102 is of a thickness 114, and the slot 108 is of a width 115. In this first embodiment, the stop 113 is disposed a distance 119 from the inlet 116 of the chamber 106. The distance 119 represents a distance from a top edge of a product unit to a lowermost portion of a minor diameter of the product unit to ensure that a product vessel of the product unit is disposed within the chamber 106 when the minor diameter engages the stop 113.

In this first embodiment, the product unit 120 is a commonly available pressurized dispensing container, and is often utilized to dispense beer while sitting on a shelf in a refrigerator. In this first embodiment, the product unit 120 includes a dispensing valve 121 connected to a product vessel 122 containing a product 125. The product vessel 122 includes a neck 126 having a width 134 and a minor diameter 127. The product vessel 122 further includes a support 131, and a flange 128 having a major diameter 129. The dispensing valve 121 further includes an actuator 123 and a dispense point 124 for delivering the product 125.

In this first embodiment, the support 131 is at least one foot molded into the product vessel 122. The support 131 is in alignment with the dispense point 124, such that when the support 131 rests on a shelf or support the aligned dispense point 124 faces downward.

In this first embodiment, the neck 126 is a diameter, and, accordingly, the width 134 is equivalent to the minor diameter 127 of the product unit 120. The width 134 is substantially equivalent to the width 115 of the slot 108, and a clearance 132 disposed between the flange 128 and the product vessel 122 is substantially equivalent to the thickness 114. As shown in FIG. 1c, a depth 130 is defined as a distance from a highest point of the product vessel 122 to a lowest point of the minor diameter 127 when the product unit 120 is disposed in a dispensing position. In this particular example, the depth 130 is substantially equivalent to the distance 119 of the slot 108 to allow the product vessel 122 to fit within the chamber 106 when the product unit 120 is in a registered position 148. In this invention, the registered position is defined as fully inserted into the slot 108, such that the minor diameter 127 contacts the stop 113.

On assembly, the product unit 120 is oriented such that the support 131 and the dispense point 124 are pointing downward. Next, the product unit 120 is raised over the first through fourth walls 102-105, and the minor diameter 127 of the neck 126 is lowered into the slot 108, such that the flange 128 is disposed outside of the container 100, and the product vessel 122 is disposed within the chamber 106 of the container 100. The product unit 120 moves downward until a lowest point of the minor diameter 127 contacts the stop 113, thereby placing the product unit 120 into the registered position 148. In the registered position 148, the flange 128 is disposed adjacent to the first wall 102; the minor diameter 127 has contacted the stop 113; the support 131 contacts the floor 107 in the chamber 106; the weight of the product unit 120 holds it in the slot 108, and the major diameter 129 of the flange 128 is greater than the width 115 of the slot 113, thereby preventing the product unit 120 from moving axially through the slot 108 in the first wall 102.

In use, a user prepares the product unit 120 for use by removing a clip and opening a valve. Next, the user raises the product unit 120 over the container 100, aligns the neck 126 with the slot 108 and the product vessel 122 with the inlet 116 of the chamber 106. The user then lowers the product unit 120 to orient the minor diameter 127 of the neck 126 in the slot 108, whereby the flange 128 is disposed outside of the first wall 102. Upon engaging the stop 113, the support 131 contacts the floor 107 to support the product unit 120. Upon reaching the registered position 148, the product unit 120 is ready for the dispensing.

As shown in FIG. 1p, the process commences with step 10. Step 10 consists of providing a container 101 having a chamber 106 and a slot 108 comprising a first engagement face 111, a second engagement face 112, and a stop 113 disposed between the engagement faces 111-112. The process continues with step 12, providing a product unit 120 comprising a neck 126 disposed between a product vessel 122 and a dispensing valve 121. In step 14, a user inserts the neck 126 of the product unit 120 between the first engagement face 111 and the second engagement face 112 to move the product vessel 122 through an inlet 116 of the chamber 106, thereby placing the dispensing valve 121 outside of the container 101. In step 16 the user inserts the product unit 120 until it contacts the stop 113, thereby registering the product unit 120 at a predetermined elevation. In step 18, the user dispenses a portion of a product disposed within the product vessel 122 through the dispensing valve 121 located outside of the container 101.

Once disposed in the registered position 148, thermal aids may be added, such as ice, frozen packs, heated media, and the like, to move a temperature of the product vessel 122 and the chamber 106 to a predetermined temperature. Once at the predetermined temperature, the user may dispense a portion of the product 125 into a drinking receptacle by placing the drinking receptacle under the dispense point 124 and moving the actuator 123 to from a first position to a second position, whereby the pressurized product 125 moves through the dispensing valve 121. Upon receiving a desired amount, the user then moves the actuator 123 from the second position to the first position to cease the flow of the product 125 through dispensing valve 121.

While this product unit has been shown with a neck having a circular cross-section, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that virtually any shape of neck cross-section may be utilized, provided that the planes of the cross-section are substantially perpendicular to the floor, because the neck must travel along the same perpendicular plane to easily mate with the stop. Similarly, a plug for closing out the slot would include geometry complementary to an upper portion of the neck. Illustratively, a circular neck may include a first flat and a second flat disposed parallel to the first engagement face and the second engagement face, whereby a neck width would be measured from the first flat to the second flat.

While this embodiment has been shown with the distance 119 and the depth 130 to be substantially equivalent, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that it is possible to have embodiments that do not have distance 119 and the depth 130 as being equivalent. Accordingly, a system having a concave lid may be utilized to house any part of the product vessel extending above the inlet 116. Alternatively, a slot length 119 may be longer than the depth 130, thereby registering the product unit 120 deeper in the chamber 106, and, therefore, should be construed as being within the scope of this invention.

In an extension of the simplest embodiment, the stop 113 may be complementary in shape to the minor diameter 127, whereby the stop 113 provides a good thermal seal between the minor diameter 127 and the stop 113, thereby better isolating the chamber 106, and ultimately the product vessel 122. As shown in FIG. 1g, the stop 113 is circular in shape. The assembly and use of the container system 100 and product unit 120 are identical to the first embodiment, and, therefore, will not be further described.

In a second extension of the simplest embodiment, the slot 108 may include a lead-in 118 for installation ease. As shown in FIG. 1g, the lead-in 118 is a chamfer on each side of the slot 108 at the interface of the slot 108 and the inlet 116 of the chamber 106. The lead-in 118 provides an increased slot receiving width, thereby aiding the user in locating the neck 126 within the slot 108. The assembly and use of the container system 100 including the lead-in 118 are identical to the first embodiment, and, therefore, will not be further described.

In a third extension of the first embodiment, the container system 100 includes a plug 135 to close out the slot 108 when the product unit 120 is in the registered position 148. The plug 135 includes a body 136 having a first groove 137 and a second groove 138. The first and second grooves 137-138 are disposed on opposing sides of the body 136, and include a first engagement face 146 and a second engagement face 147 disposed at a deepest part of the grooves 137-138. The grooves 137-138 are of a width 139, and extend from a first end 140 to a second end 141 of the body 136. In this particular example, the first end 140 includes a planar face 142, and the second end 141 includes an end treatment 143 for adapting to the minor diameter 127 of the product unit 120. The end treatment 143 may include multiple features that are complementary to at least the minor diameter 127 of the receiving product unit 120, as well as surrounding features to provide an acceptable thermal seal. In this third extension of the first embodiment, the plug 135 may be formed from materials having lower thermal conductivity, such as plastics, foams, elastomers, or the like.

The distance 144 between the first engagement face 146 and the second engagement face 147 is complementary to the slot width 115, such that the portion of the body 136 disposed between the first and second engagement faces 146 and 147 slides between the first and second engagement faces 111-112 of the slot 108. The width 139 of the first and second grooves 137-138 is of a size complementary to the thickness 114 of the first wall 102, such that the portion of the first wall 102 that terminates at the first engagement face 111 will fit into one of the grooves 137 or 138, and the portion of the first wall 102 that terminates at the second engagement face 112 fits into the other groove 137 or 138. While this third extension of the first embodiment has been shown with the width 139 of the grooves to be complementary to the thickness 114 of the first wall 102, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that variable dimensions may be utilized to produce tight fits or loosened to provide easily removable components, and, therefore, should be construed as being within the scope of this invention.

Use of this third extension of the first embodiment occurs after the installation of the product unit 120 into the container 101. After the user moves the product unit 120 into the registered position 148, the user inserts the second end 143 into the slot 108, such that the first and second engagement faces 111 and 112 of the slot 108 fit into the first and second grooves 137 and 138. The plug 135 moves into the slot 108 until the end treatment 143 of the second end 141 mates with at least the minor diameter 127 of the product unit 120. Upon full insertion, the planar face 142 of the first end 140 aligns with the inlet 116 of the chamber 106, thereby reducing thermal losses through the slot 108.

In a fourth extension of the first embodiment, the container system 100 may further include a lid 117 to close out the inlet 116 of the container 101. As shown in FIG. 1i, the lid 117 is of construction identical construction as the first through fourth walls 102-105, and is complementary in size to the inlet 116, thereby completely isolating the chamber 106 from the ambient environment. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the lid 117 may be rotatably attached to at least one wall or may be a separate component.

On assembly, the lid 117 is placed over the inlet 116 after the product unit 120 is placed into the registered position and after installation of the plug 135. Once in place, the lid 117 must be removed to access the chamber 106 or remove the product unit 120.

Use of the container system 100 and lid 117 is substantially identical to the first embodiment and further includes the placement of the lid 117 over the inlet 116 to improve the thermal efficiency of the container system 100.

In a fifth extension of the first embodiment, a container includes multiple layers. Illustratively, a container system 150 includes a container 151 having a wall layer and an insulating layer. As shown in FIG. 1j, a wall layer 152 includes a slot 157, and an insulating layer 153 is designed to increase the thermal efficiency of the container 151. In this fifth extension of the first embodiment, the insulating layer 153 is formed from a urethane foam. The slot 157 is identical to the slot 108 of the first embodiment, and, therefore, includes a first engagement face 154, a second engagement face 155, and a stop 156 as described in the first embodiment. In this configuration, operation of the container system 150 and the installation of the product unit 120 is identical to the first embodiment. Accordingly, use and assembly of the container system 150 will not be further described.

While the container system 150 has been shown with an insulating layer 153 disposed on an inside of the wall layer 152, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the insulating layer 153 may be disposed on the outside of the wall layer 152. Additionally, the container 151 may include multiple wall layers to reduce the quantity of exposed foam. One of ordinary skill in the art will further recognize that the slot 157 for receiving the neck 126 may be placed in any layer of the walls.

While the container 151 has been shown to be formed from a urethane foam, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that any type of foam may be utilized, and therefore, should be construed as part of this invention.

In a sixth extension of the first embodiment, a container system 160 includes a container 161 having an engagement plate 166 attached to a front wall 164. As shown in FIG. 1k, the engagement plate 166 includes an engagement slot 162 as described in the first embodiment, and a clearance cut-out 163. The clearance cut-out 163 is desirable to eliminate interferences between the thicker walls of the container 161 and the product vessel 122. The clearance cut-out 163 is slightly wider than the width 165 of the engagement slot 162, and extends slightly beyond a stop 168. The engagement plate 166 may be formed from any material of sufficient strength to support the product unit 120, such as plastics, sheet-metal, or the like. In this particular example, the engagement plate 166 is formed from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and is solvent bonded to the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene container utilizing a solvent bond and fasteners. While this sixth extension of the first embodiment has been shown with an engagement plate 166 disposed on an outside of the container 161, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the engagement plate 166 may be placed on the inside of the chamber 106 of the container 161, as well. Additionally, the engagement plate 166 may be foamed in place during the manufacturing process. As shown in FIG. 11, an engagement plate 166 is positioned before foaming, and then foam is injected into a cavity 165, thereby permanently securing the engagement plate 166 in place.

Illustratively, a commonly available ice-chest could be utilized as a container. In an ice-chest retro-fit arrangement, the clearance cut-out 163 is created by cutting into the ice-chest. Next, the engagement plate 166 is located over the clearance cut-out 163, and the engagement plate 166 is secured in place with fasteners through mounting holes. The retro-fit arrangement may also include a sealant between the engagement plate 166 and the front wall 164. In this particular example, the fasteners are stainless steel screws, and the sealant is a silicone sealant.

Use of the container system 160 is identical to the first embodiment, wherein a product unit 120 is inserted into a slot disposed within the engagement plate to reach a registered position. In the registered position, the product vessel 122 is located within the chamber 106 and the dispense point 124 is disposed outside of the container 160, and, therefore, will not be further described.

In an extension of the container system 160, the retro-fit arrangement may further include a foam closeout 167 to minimize exposure of exposed foam to fluids. As shown in FIG. 1m, the foam closeout 167 is welded to the engagement plate 166 to form a saddle 169. The saddle 169 fits over the cut foam, and is secured in place, thereby sealing the interface along the cut foam disposed within the clearance cutout 163. In this particular embodiment, the engagement plate 166 and the closeout 167 are formed from ultraviolet resistant acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, and may be solvent bonded together utilizing methyl ethyl ketone. In other embodiments, the engagement plate and the foam closeout may be formed from stainless steel sheet-metal, and may be welded or glued together, or ultraviolent resistant poly vinyl chloride, and solvent bonded together.

Assembly of the container system 160 with the saddle 169 requires the welding of the two components to form the saddle 169 prior to installation onto the front wall 164, but would utilize the same fasteners and adhesives. Once secured, the interface between the saddle 169 and the container 161 would be sealed with adhesive. Accordingly, the cut portions of the foam would be protected from drips, moisture, and the like, as shown in FIGS. 1m through 1n. While the saddle 169 has been shown to be formed from two separate pieces, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the saddle 169 may be formed as a single component utilizing thermoforming or injection molding processes, and therefore should be construed as being within the scope of this invention.

As shown in FIG. 1q, the method of retro-fitting an ice chest commences with step 30, providing a container 161 defining a chamber 106 having an inlet 116. In step 32, an operator would cut a clearance cutout 163 in a wall of the container 161. Step 34 includes, providing a saddle 169 comprising a slot 108 comprising a first engagement face 111, a second engagement face 112, and a stop 113. In step 36, the operator places the saddle 169 over the edges of the clearance cutout 163, whereby the slot 108 extends toward the inlet 116 of the chamber 106. Step 38 provides for securing the saddle 169 in place. In step 40, the operator seals the interface seams between the saddle 169 and the wall of the container 101 to close out the interface. In step 42, the operator provides a product unit 120 having a neck 126 disposed between a product vessel 122 and a dispensing valve 121. In step 44, a user inserts the neck 126 of the product unit 120 between the first engagement face 111 and the second engagement face 112. In step 46, the user continues the insertion of the neck 126 into the slot 108 until contacting the stop 113, thereby registering the product vessel 122 at a predetermined level in the chamber 106.

Use of the container system 160 with a foam closeout 167 is identical to the first embodiment, however, dripping fluids are now forced to drain along an outer surface 168 of the foam closeout 167 and into the chamber 106 or the exterior of the container 161 if the engagement plate 166 is disposed within the chamber 106. All other aspects of the container with the foam closeout 167 are substantially identical to the first embodiment, wherein a product unit 120 is installed into a registered position having the product vessel 122 located within the chamber 106, and, therefore, will not be further described.

In a seventh extension of the first embodiment, a container system 170 includes a container 171 having a load support 172 to hold the product vessel 122 at a desired height, thereby opening up the height of the container 171 to be virtually any height desired. Accordingly, the container system 170 includes the load support 172 of a height complementary to a distance between a floor 178 and the support 131 of the product unit 120. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the load support 172 may come in a variety of forms including sheet-metal brackets, plastic supports, and the like.

On assembly, the container system 170 would further include the installation of the load support 172 into the chamber 106 through the use of glue, registration slots in the chamber walls, or any other form of securing to ensure the load support 172 is able to handle a load applied by the product unit 120.

While this first embodiment has been shown with a product container 120 having a pressurized product vessel 122, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that this invention is adaptable to unpressurized product vessels and gravity fed product containers.

In a second embodiment, a container system 200 is adapted to receive and deliver gravity fed products, such as, bulk wines, products in plastic bags, and the like. As shown in FIG. 2a, the container system 200 includes a container 201 that receives at least one product unit 220. In this second embodiment, the container 201 is similar to the container 101 of the first embodiment, and includes at least one wall 202 defining a chamber 206, an inlet 216 to the chamber 206, and a slot 208 disposed in the at least one the wall 202. In this second embodiment, the slot 208 is similar in construction to the slot 108 and extends from the inlet 216. However, the slot 208 extends further than the first embodiment to place a dispensing valve of the product unit 220 at a lowest point when the product unit 220 is in a registered position. As shown in FIG. 2b, the at least one wall 202 is of a thickness 214. The slot 208 is of a width 215 and of a depth 219, thereby placing the stop 213 at the depth 219.

The product unit 220 may be any form of gravity fed product unit designed to deliver a product disposed within a flexible vessel. In most embodiments, the bulk product packaging includes a dispensing valve attached to the flexible vessel, and are often considered disposable. Illustratively, a bulk wine is packaged in a polyethylene bag having a dispensing valve.

In this second embodiment, the product unit 220 includes a product vessel 222 for storing a product 225, a dispensing valve 221 having an actuator 223 and a dispense point 224. The product vessel 222 includes a first end 233 and a second end 234. The dispensing valve 221 is disposed biased to the first end 233 of the product vessel 222 to provide gravitational head when dispensing, provided the second end 234 is disposed above the first end 233. The dispensing valve 221 further includes a first flange 228 having a first major diameter 231; a second flange 229 having a second major diameter 232; a neck 226 including a minor diameter 227 disposed between the first and second flanges 228 and 229. In this particular example, the neck 226 is of a width 235 that is complementary in size to the slot width 215. In this particular example, the first and second flanges 228 and 229 are disposed a distance 230 apart, wherein the thickness 214 of the wall 202 is complementary to the distance 230, such that the wall 202 fits between the first and second flanges 228 and 229, as described in the first embodiment.

In use, an operator lowers the first end 233 of the product unit 220 into the chamber 206 and aligns the neck 226 between the first and second flanges 228 and 229 with the slot 206 in the wall 202, as described in the first embodiment. In this configuration, the first flange 228 and the second flange 229 straddle the wall 202. The operator pushes the dispensing valve 221 into the slot 206 until the minor diameter 227 hits the stop 213. At this point, the product unit 220 is at a registered position, and the product vessel 222 is disposed within the chamber 206. The product vessel 222 will then settle to a lowest gravitational level dependent upon the package shape, size and construction when released in the chamber 206.

In this registered position, the user may then add thermal effects, such as ice, frozen packs, and the like. Finally, the user may dispense a portion of the product 225 by actuating the actuator 223 in the dispensing valve 221. When a portion of the product 225 has been dispensed, the remainder of the product 225 moves downward due to gravity. Once the product vessel 222 is emptied, the product unit 220 may be removed and replaced with a new product unit 220.

While this second embodiment has been shown in a simplest form, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that any of the extensions of the first embodiment may be utilized with the second embodiment, such as the lead-in, the lid, the plug, the complementarily shaped stop, the engagement plate, multiple wall containers, the saddle, the support, and, therefore, should be considered within the scope of this invention.

In an extension of the second embodiment, a container system 210 further includes a take-up hoop 236 for removing slack from the product vessel 222. The take-up hoop 236 includes a mounting face 237, and a cantilevered face 238 having a restraint slit 239. The cantilevered face 238, preferably is parallel to the floor of the chamber 206, and is disposed at an elevation near to the inlet 216 to lift any loose ends of the product vessel 222. The restraint slit 239 is of a width slightly larger than the thickness of four plys of the product vessel 222 material, such that the material that has been inserted through the restraint slit 239 does not easily come out of the restraint slit 239.

In this specific example, take-up hoop 236 includes mounting holes for securing the mounting face 237 to an inner wall of the chamber 206 with fasteners. On assembly, the mounting face 237 is positioned such that the cantilevered face 238 is disposed substantially parallel to the floor and at an elevation in proximity to the inlet 216 of the chamber 206, and then secured in place with fasteners or adhesive. Alternatively, the take-up hoop 236 may be secured to an outer face of the wall of the container 201 to minimize penetrations of the chamber 206. Still further, the take-up hoop 236 may be suspended from part of the container system, such as a lid hinge, or the like.

The take-up hoop 236 may be formed from sheet-metal or plastics, wherein the take-up hoop 236 does not contain sharp edges that could possibly cut or tear the product vessel 222.

In use, a user slides a corner or loose portion of the second end 234 of the product vessel 222 through the restraint slit 239 and pulls upward until all loose portions of the product vessel 222 have passed through the restraint slit 239, thereby forcing the any remaining product to move downward and towards an inlet of the dispensing valve 221. Once the slack has been removed from the product vessel 222, the user may once again dispense a portion of the remaining product 225. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the films utilized in product vessels 222 may be folded to reduce a width requirement for fitting through the restraint slit 239, and, accordingly, a restraint slit width 244 may be less than a product vessel 222 width. Should slack reappear after continued dispensing, the user may retighten the product vessel 222 by repeating the process. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the take-up hoop 236 may be utilized with virtually all forms of this invention having a soft package.

In an extension of this first extension of the second embodiment, a take-up hoop 240 includes a hinged joint 241 between the mounting face 237 and the cantilevered face 238, whereby the cantilevered face 238 moves through approximately ninety degrees, and is rotated downward to a horizontal position 243 during use, and to a vertical position 242 to provide clearance during removal of the product unit 220. While the take-up hoop 240 has been shown with the hinged portion rotating downward, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the take-up hoops 236 and 240 may be positioned such that they positioned opposite and fold downward.

In a third embodiment, a container system 300 is adapted to house a refillable, rigid container that may be sanitized. As shown in FIG. 3a, the container system 300 includes a container 301 that receives at least one product unit 320. In this third embodiment, the container 301 is identical to the container 201 of the second embodiment, and includes at least one wall 302 defining a chamber 306, an inlet 316 to the chamber 306, and a slot 308 disposed in the at least one of the wall 302. In this third embodiment, the slot 308 is similar in construction to the slot 208 and extends from the inlet 316. Slot 308 extends further than the first embodiment to place a dispensing valve of the product unit 320 at a lowest point when the product unit 320 is in a registered position. In this third embodiment, the at least one wall 302 is of a thickness 314. The slot 308 is of a width 315 and of a depth 319, thereby placing a stop 313 at the depth 319.

The product unit 320 is a refillable product unit, and includes a product vessel 322 having a fill port 323, a discharge port 324, a dispensing valve 321 connected to the discharge port 324, and a cap 329. In this third embodiment, the dispensing valve 321 is similar in function to the dispensing valve 221 in the product unit 220, whereby the dispensing valve 321 delivers a product 325 from a filled chamber disposed within the product vessel 322 to a dispense point 326. In this third embodiment, the dispensing valve 321 may be any form of flow control known in the art, such as a toggle valve, a rotary valve, a plunger valve, or the like, whereby the dispensing valve 321 has at least two positions for delivering and not delivering a fluid. Accordingly, a first position 344 denotes a closed position that does not allow the fluid to pass through the dispensing valve 321, and a second position 345 that allows the fluid to move through the dispensing valve 321 and to the dispense point 326.

In similar fashion to the second embodiment, the product vessel 322 includes a first end 333 and a second end 334. The dispensing valve 321 is disposed biased to the first end 333 of the product vessel 322 to provide gravitational head when dispensing, provided the second end 334 is disposed above the first end 333. In this third embodiment, the product vessel 322 is a blow-molded and trimmed at the port 323 to position at least one sealing feature 327 relative to the port 323. In this particular example, the sealing feature 327 is at least one thread that is molded into the product vessel 322. The product vessel 322 is of a size complementary to the chamber 306 of the container 301. In this particular example, the product vessel 322 holds at least one-gallon of fluid, and may be available in different sizes. The discharge port 324 includes a neck 328 of a width 337 having a minor diameter 335 that is complementary to the width 315 of the slot 308. The discharge port 324 further includes a major diameter 336 that is larger than the width 315, and, accordingly will not pass through the slot 308. The discharge port 324 further includes an inner connection diameter 340 that is complementary to an outer housing diameter 341 of the dispensing valve 321. In this particular example of the third embodiment, the outer housing diameter 341 further includes an o-ring groove 339 for receiving an o-ring 342, whereby the o-ring 342 fits into the o-ring groove 339 for sealing.

The o-ring 342 may be a commercially available o-ring, and is of a size complementary to the groove diameter and may be formed from an elastomer, such as epdm.

The cap 329 may be any type of closeout device known in the industry, and may include a thread 347 that is complementary to the thread disposed around the inlet port 323 of the product vessel 322. The cap 329 may further include an elastomeric seal 348 that fits along an inner face 349 of the cap 329. The seal 348 is of a size complementary to an outer end of the fill port 323 and an inner cavity of the cap 329. The cap 329 may be injection molded from any suitable plastic, such as ABS.

On assembly, the o-ring 342 is inserted into the o-ring groove 339, and the dispensing valve 321 is inserted into the inner connection diameter 340, such that a fluid seal is created between the inner connection diameter 340, the o-ring 342, and a bottom of the o-ring groove 339. Next, the seal 348 is inserted into the cavity of the cap 329, and the cap 329 is placed over the fill port 323. Upon further assembly, the user inserts the first end 333 of the product unit 320 into the chamber 306 while aligning the minor diameter 335 of the product unit 320 with the slot 308, thereby placing the product vessel 322 into the chamber 306 and the dispense point 326 outside of the container 301.

In use, the operator may remove the cap 329 for filling, fill the product vessel 322, replace the cap 329, and then dispense the product 325. Upon emptying, the user may repeat the process to add additional product, or may remove the product unit 320 for cleansing. In this configuration, the product unit 320 may be disassembled for cleansing. Cleansing will require the placement of the product unit 320 components into a sanitizing chamber, such as a dishwasher.

One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that thermal enhancement may be added into the chamber 306 to help cool or heat the product vessel 322.

While this third embodiment has been shown with a product unit 320 that may be broken down to be sanitized, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that it is possible to permanently join a dispensing valve to the product vessel if the product vessel is formed from polyvinyl chloride or acetyl butyl styrene. In the case of a permanent joint, the sanitizing process would require the passage of detergents through the product path to sanitize the internal components.

While this third embodiment has been shown in a simplest form, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that all of the extensions of the first and second embodiments may be utilized in the third embodiment, and, therefore, should be considered to be part of the third embodiment.

Although the present invention has been described in terms of the foregoing preferred embodiment, such description has been for exemplary purposes only and, as will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art, many alternatives, equivalents, and variations of varying degrees will fall within the scope of the present invention. That scope, accordingly, is not to be limited in any respect by the foregoing detailed description; rather, it is defined only by the claims that follow.

Claims

1. A container system, comprising:

a product unit, comprising: a product vessel containing a pressurized product; a dispense portion including a dispense point, wherein the product disposed in the product vessel is in fluid communication with the dispense point to regulate a flow therefrom;
a container, comprising: at least one wall defining a chamber for receiving the product vessel of the product unit, wherein the at least one wall comprises a slot in communication with an inlet of the chamber; a first engagement face disposed on a first side of the slot; a second engagement face disposed on a second side of the slot; and a stop disposed between the first engagement face and the second engagement face, wherein a neck of the product unit slides between the first engagement face and the second engagement face until engaging the stop, thereby placing the product unit in a registered position, and further wherein the product vessel is disposed within the chamber and a dispense point of the product unit is disposed outside of the container in the registered position.

2. The container system according to claim 1, wherein a neck width is complementary is size to a width of the slot.

3. The container system according to claim 2, further comprising at least one flange disposed adjacent to the neck to limit axial translation of the neck through the at least one wall.

4. The container system according to claim 3, wherein the pressure in the product vessel moves the product to the dispense point of the product unit when a dispense valve is in an open position.

5-9. (canceled)

10. The container system according to claim 1, wherein the stop is complementary in shape to the neck to minimize thermal losses.

11. The container system according to claim 2, wherein the neck is round in shape and the neck width equivalent to the diameter.

12. The container system according to claim 1, wherein the neck includes a first flat and a second flat, and the neck width is equivalent to a distance between the first flat and the second flat.

13. The container system according to claim 1, further comprising:

a plug adaptable to the slot, wherein the plug comprises: a body including a first end and a second end: a first groove disposed on the body and extending from the first end to the second end, and a second groove disposed on an opposing side of the body, wherein the second groove extends from the first end to the second end, and further wherein the body slides between the first engagement face and the second engagement face, thereby moving the first engagement face and the second engagement face into the first and second grooves to close out the slot.

14. The container system according to claim 13, wherein the first end of the plug is of a shape complementary to the neck of the product unit to minimize thermal losses.

15. The container system according to claim 13, wherein the second end of the plug is complementary in shape to a lid to minimize thermal losses.

16. The container system according to claim 1, further comprising:

an insulating layer disposed adjacent to the at least one wall to minimize thermal losses.

17. The container system according to claim 13, further comprising a lid adaptable to the inlet of the chamber, wherein the lid closes out the chamber to minimize thermal losses.

18-20. (canceled)

21. The container system according to claim 1, wherein the product unit is a bulk beer unit.

22. The container system according to claim 1, wherein the product vessel includes at least one support in alignment with the dispense point.

23. The container system according to claim 22, wherein the at least one support contacts a floor of the chamber when the product unit is in the registered position.

24. The container system according to claim 22, further comprising a load support in communication with the floor of the chamber and the at least one support of the product vessel, whereby the product vessel is level in the registered position.

25. The container system according to claim 1, wherein a distance from the inlet of the chamber to the stop is equivalent to a depth from the top of the product unit to a lowermost portion of a minor diameter of the product unit, thereby ensuring that the product unit is disposed within the chamber.

26. The container system according to claim 1, wherein a distance from the inlet of the chamber to the stop is not equivalent to a depth from the top of the product unit to a lowermost portion of a minor diameter of the product unit.

27. The container system according to claim 26, further comprising a load support in communication with the at least one support of the product vessel and the floor of the chamber, wherein the load support is complementary to a distance between the floor and the supports of the product vessel to support the product unit in a level position when the product unit is in the registered position.

Patent History
Publication number: 20140069941
Type: Application
Filed: Sep 11, 2012
Publication Date: Mar 13, 2014
Inventors: Gilbert F. Guerrero, JR. (Luling, TX), John Vira (Lockhart, TX)
Application Number: 13/573,329
Classifications
Current U.S. Class: Having An Outlet Or Inlet Opening (e.g., Bunghole, Etc.) (220/661)
International Classification: B65D 6/40 (20060101);