Patent application title: SHIPPING CONTAINER, SYSTEM AND PACKING METHOD, ALONG WITH REUSABLE PACKING ACCESSORY FOR USE THEREWITH
Kent H. Dickinson (Covington, GA, US)
Eggs Overnight, Inc.
IPC8 Class: AB65D8800FI
Class name: Receptacles freight containers
Publication date: 2008-08-28
Patent application number: 20080203090
A reusable shipping system comprises a closable shipping container and a
packing ensemble disposed in the container's interior which includes an
expandable cushioning assembly and at least one reusable packing
accessory. The expandable cushioning assembly may be a layered
arrangement having at least one foam layer and an inflatable bladder,
while the packing accessory may be one or more cushioned bags or the
like. Methods are also described for preparing a shipping container
having a padded interior and a layered cushioning assembly. One or more
items are inserted into the shipping container, and its cushioning
assembly is thereafter expanded, for example by inflating a bladder, to
compress the container's padded interior against the item(s).
1. A reusable shipping system for shipping one or more items,
comprising:a. A shipping container including:i. A shell including a base
and a plurality of sidewalls surrounding said base; andii. A lid movably
attached to said shell between open and closed positions;b. A packing
ensemble disposed in said shipping container, said packing ensemble
includingi. A layered cushioning assembly disposed above said base;
andii. A least one reusable packing accessory for positioning on top of
said one or more items when placed in said container, each reusable
packing accessory comprising a sealed bag and a plurality of cushioning
elements contained within said bag.
The present application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/665,762 which is the U.S. National Stage Application under 35 U.S.C. 371 of International Application No. PCT/US2005/009400, which is the non provisional of U.S. Patent Application Ser. No. 60/554,559 filed Mar. 18, 2004, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is broadly directed to containers. Particularly, the present invention is directed to shipping containers useful for transporting parcels between senders and recipients. More specifically, the present invention is directed to reusable shipping containers suitable for shipping expensive or fragile item(s) that may comprise separate parts or components.
There are a wide variety of containers useful for holding, storing, and shipping goods. Such containers include a large variety of tote containers, cartons, and boxes, all of which are known in the art and each having particular features that make the container suitable for desired applications. Containers are commonly used, for example, in the shipping industry. Indeed, there is a fundamental need for containers in commerce-based societies so that goods may be shipped from merchant to customer.
Perhaps the most common type of container employed by the shipping industry is a one-time use only carton constructed, for example, of paperboard. The item to be shipped is placed within the interior of the carton that is filled with cushioning materials, such as styrofoam "peanuts", shredded paper or other paper based filler, to name a few Thereafter, the carton is sealed with packaging tape, staples, twine or similar mechanism. Once the carton reaches its shipping destination, the recipient typically discards both the container and the cushioning materials.
There are several noteworthy deficiencies associated with the shipping industry's use of one-time use only cartons. First, since the cartons are not constructed of a rigid material, such as corrugated plastic or sheet metal, shippers have been conditioned to excessively cushion items to protect them during shipping. Such excessive packaging leads to increased packing costs and an inefficient use of the parcel carrier's space. Wasted space reduces the volume of shipping capacity of carriers, be it air transport or land-based transport, such as trucks. Second, there is a substantial time investment in packaging that results from the need to carefully pack and seal the paperboard carton and prepare the shipping documents for the same. Third, in addition to the problem of cost, packing waste is one of the leading contributors to landfill waste today. The detriment to the environment is only expected to worsen with the continued rise in internet-driven commerce.
One possible solution that the shipping industry could employ to remedy the deficiencies created by the use of cardboard cartons is to adopt a more highly durable container that is reusable and makes efficient use of the carrier's available space. One such container having both of these characteristics and that is being used for limited shipping needs is commonly referred to as a tote box.
Generally, tote boxes are substantially rigid containers that provide for the safe transportation and storage of goods. Typically, tote boxes are designed to have tapered sides so that the tote boxes can be stacked or mounted in a nested relationship with other tote boxes of the same construction. The ability to stack multiple tote boxes on top of each other makes efficient use of space during the transportation and storage of goods. As a result, many tote boxes are constructed of a rigid material, usually corrugated plastic or sheet metal, to support the weight of a plurality of tote boxes. In addition, many tote boxes are further constructed to include a top rail or rim that is adapted to receive the bottom of another tote box.
Unfortunately, the use of conventional tote boxes, with few exceptions, has not easily translated into a viable use for the shipping industry, due perhaps to various drawbacks associated with their construction. For example, tote boxes are typically constructed as open-top, thin-like containers and therefore usually lack a closure or lid. In addition, tote boxes are typically constructed so as to have two (2) handle hold openings to facilitate lifting and carrying the tote. Depending upon their construction, the hand hold opening may permit intrusion of dirt, dust or even water into the interior of the tote box, which may harm or otherwise destroy the shipping item. Yet another deficiency inherent in the design of the conventional tote box is its inability to efficiently adapt for use with items of varying sizes and dimensions. For example, conventional tote boxes used to package items with conventional cushioning materials, such as those identified above, may result in excessive use of cushioning materials for relatively small items or, perhaps even worse, an insufficient amount of cushioning materials resulting in empty space. Empty space within a rigid container would permit the item to shift therein possibly resulting in damage to the item or its loss altogether.
There has long been a need for strong, relatively inexpensive, reusable shipping containers that provide for the safe transit of items and that also provide for efficient use of the carrier's available space. Such a need is somewhat met by use of conventional tote containers, and only then, for very limited shipping needs. Accordingly, a need remains for a versatile, reusable shipping container that overcomes the deficiencies of a conventional tote box. More particularly, a need remains for a shipping container that is space efficient, provides an effective cushioning environment for the item(s) inside, regardless of their size and dimension, and which is capable of widespread use for a variety of shipping needs. It is, therefore, desirable to provide a new and improved shipping container and shipping system which eliminates shifting of contents during transit, is quicker to pack versus traditional boxing and taping, avoids the risk of components contacting one another during shipment, and is recyclable. A container which is constructed to address one or more, or a combination, of such needs would be beneficial. Of particular benefit also would be a shipping container which is suitably adapted for the packaging and shipment of high value and/or fragile item(s). Further, a need remains for an alternative type of packing material which can be used in a reusable shipping container, wherein the packing material itself is reusable and constructed to facilitate the filling of void spaces within the shipping container to provide a more secure packing environment for the shipped item(s).
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
To address the above needs, provided is a reusable shipping container adapted to receive one or more items for shipment from a sender to an intended recipient. The reusable shipping container is capable of withstanding the rigors associated with shipping parcels in commerce, particularly when the shipping items are fragile or expensive. Advantageously, the shipping container may be packed with usable cushioning materials to accommodate the contents of varying configurations. The ability to manipulate the reusable cushioning materials to conform, as needed, to the dimensions of the selected contents permits the size of the shipping container to be standardized, if the industry so desires. Further, if desired, customized packing solutions, which are beginning to be used with some frequency, can be modified as described herein so as to be used with the reusable cushioning materials to ensure that the items are packed in a manner to reduce the risk of damage or loss of the product.
From the description to follow it will be appreciated that the present invention is also directed to a shipping container ensemble for use in the shipping industry, as well as an improvement to a shipping container which incorporates one or more packing accessories. Also described is a method for preparing a container for shipment.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1a is a perspective view of a first exemplary embodiment of a reusable packing accessory for use with a shipping container;
FIG. 1b is a perspective view of a second exemplary embodiment of a packing accessory;
FIG. 2 is a perspective view of an exemplary embodiment of a shipping container in an unpacked, or pre-shipment, state, and showing some of its packing material in cross-section;
FIGS. 3a-f collectively illustrate a representative sequence for packing a plurality of shipping items into the container of FIG. 2 in preparation for shipment, wherein the lid is not shown in FIGS. 3a-d; and
FIG. 4 is a partial diagrammatic front view, in elevation and partial cross section, of the shipping container in a semi-prepared state; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS
With initial reference, then, to FIGS. 1a and 1b, two exemplary embodiments of packing accessories are illustrated. A first exemplary embodiment of a packing accessory 10 is introduced in FIG. 1a and is form of a reusable cushioning bag or pillow. To this end, packing accessory 10 includes a sealed bag 12 which contains cushioning material in the form of a plurality of packing styrofoam "peanuts" as commonly available in the industry. Oftentimes, these peanuts are distributed loosely within a shipping container to surround the contents, and disposed of when the container is opened by the recipient. Because they are loosely dispersed throughout the container, typically a cardboard box, they often become lodged in crevices or spilled as the contents within the box shift or are removed by the recipient. This can be somewhat frustrating to clean up. By containing the styrofoam peanuts within a sealed bag as shown in FIG. 1a, these drawbacks are eliminated. At the same time, however, a packing accessory is provided which can be reused, yet which still has the advantages of providing a cushioning effect. Packing accessory 10 has a generally square configuration and its bag 12 is preferably formed by two layers 16,18 of plastic (e.g. 3 mil each) which are heat sealed along their surrounding peripheral edge margins. Layers 16 and 18 could be either clear plastic or opaque. A polypropylene plastic material could also be employed.
A second exemplary embodiment of a packing accessory 20 is shown in FIG. 1b. Here, packing accessory 20 includes cushioning material/elements in the form of scrap foam that is cut to size in lieu of styrofoam peanuts. Of course, the ordinarily skilled artisan will appreciate that these cushioning pillows can assume a variety of sizes and configurations depending on the packing needs of a shipper and that insert material other than styrofoam peanuts and foam pieces could be used to provide the desired cushioning effect. Representative substitutes could include, for example, shredded paper, suitable sealed gel substances and the like.
With reference to FIG. 2, a shipping container 30 according to an exemplary embodiment is shown. Shipping container 30 has a shell construction similar to that described in commonly owned U.S. Patent Application Ser. No. 60/554,559, filed Mar. 18, 2004, with particular reference to FIG. 11 thereof. The disclosure of this earlier, pending application is incorporated by reference in its entirety. Accordingly, the particular construction of shipping container 30 need not be described in great detail as the ordinarily skilled artisan would appreciate that it could vary without departing from the inventive concepts herein.
With the above in mind and with continued reference to FIG. 2, shipping container 30 has some notable differences in its construction vis-a-vis the shipping container described in my earlier application. For example, while they each have foam inserts in confronting relationship to the side walls, it may be seen that shipping container 30 according to the present invention has its interior surrounded by foam inserts, such that there is a respective foam insert 32(1)-32(4) is secured to each side wall 34(1)-34(4), respectively. As such, the interior 36 of the container is surrounded by inserts. To this end, foam inserts 32(1)-32(4) can assume in a variety of types, such as polyethylene foam or polyurethane foam, to name a few. Side walls 34(1)-34(4), preferably, are each a multi-layered construction of pressure fit or glued corrugated plastic pieces, each preferably 6 mil thickness to form a composite sidewall thickness of 12 mil.
Left and right handles 36(1) and 36(2), respectively, are provided to facilitate lifting and transport, and container includes a hinged lid 38 having egg crate polyurethane foam 39 adhered thereto. Associated with lid 38 is a closure mechanism designed to be a flush mounted closure utilizing left and right 1/4 turn bolts 31(1) &31(2) and associated left and right keepers 33(1) & 33(2), as available from Southco Inc. of Condordville, Pa. It is preferred to have a recessed design as shown to eliminate snag hazards. This design is a preferred replacement to the buckles & strap design described in co-pending application Ser. No. 60/554,559 because the buckle/strap is a surface mounted arrangement and both items can become catch hazards when the container travels through the sort equipment in the parcel hubs.
To best appreciate how shipping container 30 can be suitably packed with one or more items for shipment, reference is now made to FIGS. 2, 3a-3f and 4. For representative purposes only, the example items which are shipped include a projector, a conferencing phone and a power strip. Since these items are relatively expensive, have varying sizes and shapes and are fragile, they will provide a good illustration for how the construct of the shipping container can be suitably employed to provide a safe shipping environment. With initial reference to FIG. 2, then, it may also be seen that shipping container 30 has a layered bottom construction, generally 40. Layered bottom construction 40 is a cushioning assembly with, along with one or more of the packing accessories, forms a packing ensemble to provide an adjustable cushioning environment for items. More particularly, layered bottom construction 40 includes a lowermost inflatable bladder of rectangular shape which is preferably secured in facing relationship to the bottom side wall 34(5) of container 30. Bladder 42 is similar to that described in my earlier application Ser. No. 60/554,559 and has an inflation valve (not shown) which is fixedly positioned to communicate with an inflation tube 44 via an intake port 43 formed through side wall 34(4). Disposed above and in facing relationship to bladder 42 is a layer of 4 mil corrugated plastic 50. Above this is a layer 52 of egg crate polyurethane foam (FIGS. 2 and 4).
As shown in FIG. 3f, a hand pump 46 is employed to inject air into the bladder via inflation tube 44. A protective grommet device 45 is mounted to the sidewall 34(4) to register the inflation tube 44 with the bladder's inflation valve. Hand pump 46 and its associated inflation tube 44 are available under the part name "Faster Blaster II" from NOA International Inc., Of course, other inflation means could be provided, such as through the use of a squeeze bulb or the like.
In order to prepare container 30 for shipment, initially the protector 60 may be placed within shipping container 30 so that it rests on upper layer 52, as shown in FIG. 3a. One or more of the pillow-shaped packing accessories, such as packing accessory 20 discussed above in FIG. 1a, can then be placed over projector 60 (FIG. 3b). Thereafter, as shown in FIG. 3c, the remaining items, namely conferencing phone 62 and power strip 64, may be placed on top of pillows 20(1) and 20(2) (FIG. 3c). Additional pillows 20(3) and 20(4) may be placed above these items 62, 64 as shown in FIG. 3d. Of course, any suitable number of pillows of various shapes and sizes could be employed to help fill in the voids. It can be appreciated then that the bladder and the packing accessories provided for the ability to cushion the contents with cushioning accessories of different types and/or configurations, thereby providing a shipping ensemble for the container 30. At this point, the lid 38 is closed as shown in FIG. 3e, and air can be pumped into the container interior via hand pump 46 as shown in FIG. 3f. By inflating the bladder, the shipping items are elevated into a snug compressed state within the interior of the container. Thus, the layered bottom rises to snug up compress the shipping items into a compacted state between the different types of cushioning materials. Also, upon inflation of the bladder, the packing accessories are compressed against the interior of the lid relative to the lid's egg crate foam layer 38. Void areas are filled by the pillows and the air system, resulting in a safe shipping environment for the contents which effectively eliminates shifting of the components during transit. At this point, container 30 is in a prepared or packed state in preparation for shipment to a recipient.
Accordingly, the present invention has been described with some degree of particularity directed to the exemplary embodiments thereof. It should be appreciated, though, that the present invention is defined by the following claims construed in light of the prior art so that modifications or changes may be made to the exemplary embodiments of the present invention without departing from the inventive concepts contained herein.
Patent applications by Kent H. Dickinson, Covington, GA US
Patent applications by Eggs Overnight, Inc.
Patent applications in class FREIGHT CONTAINERS
Patent applications in all subclasses FREIGHT CONTAINERS