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This application claims priority benefit under 35 U.S.C. § 119 of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/736,717, which was filed on Nov. 15, 2005, and the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference.
1. Field of the Disclosure
The present disclosure is generally directed to components for organizer and storage systems, and more particularly to components for such systems formed from hard temper or full hard steel.
2. Description of Related Art
Organizer and storage systems that employ shelves are widely known for use in closets, kitchen pantries, garages, laundry rooms, and the like. Conventional organizer and storage systems typically employ one or more shelves supported by a support structure in an in-use position and orientation. Shelving systems can be employed in a number of different arrangements. Free-standing shelving units are known and typically have vertical legs that interconnect and support a series of spaced apart shelves. Wall mounted shelves are also known to mount directly to a wall surface with braces to support the shelf or are also known to employ mounting brackets suspended from vertical risers or uprights that are mounted to a wall surface. In this type of system, the uprights can also sometimes be suspended from or supported by one or more horizontal mounting rails that are mounted directly to the wall surface.
The various bracket and support components are typically formed and configured from formable or ductile steel materials. These materials include hot rolled, pickled and oiled sheet metal or cold rolled annealed sheet metal. These ductile or formable steels are particularly suited for being bent and formed to desired shapes. As an alternative, manufacturers can use high strength, low alloy steel materials to produce the mounting hardware for these types of storage and organizer systems.
These soft steels have considerably lower strength than hard temper steel, otherwise known as full hard or strain hardened steel. These soft steels, without adding alloying materials, have lower strength as a result of undergoing annealing or other processes. However, soft steels typically do not fracture when subjected to severe stamping and bending operations during manufacture of components. In contrast, hard temper steel, though much stronger, has been considered too brittle to withstand even nominal stamping and bending operations. High strength, low alloy steel can also be produced that is capable of withstanding severe stamping and bending operations. However, steel alloy materials are significantly more costly to produce, resulting in cost prohibitive parts.
Because of the material's superior formability, the soft hot rolled, pickled and oiled sheet metal and cold rolled, annealed sheet metal materials have been and continue to be considered the only commercially viable metal materials for forming storage and organizer hardware components. Hardware components including the vertical legs, risers, mounting brackets, uprights, and top rails for organizer and storage systems typically require significant forming resulting in multi-contoured shapes when formed as a suitable component. Hot rolled steel is cheaper than cold rolled steel and can be formed by casting a steel slab, reheating the slab, and hot rolling it down to a formable sheet metal. However, hot rolled sheet metal lacks strength and can only be rolled down to a relatively thick gage, on the order of about 0.060 inches. Cold rolled steel is hot rolled steel that is cold rolled to a thinner gage and to a full hard temper state, and then annealed to render the steel formable. Cold rolled steel can be produced to a thinner gage, on the order of between about 0.040 down to about 0.010 inches. Cold rolled annealed steel is also formable, but also lacks strength. The annealing process also increases the cost of producing the material.
Thus, there are a number of drawbacks to using these softer steels and steel alloys to form storage organizer system components. One drawback to using the softer steel materials is that the material loses some of its strength when annealed or hot rolled. These materials typically have a much lower strength and lower yield than hard temper sheet steel. Accordingly, the material gage must be thicker for the softer steels in order to compensate for the lower material strength to insure the product or component has adequate load strength. The high strength, low alloy steels are significantly cost prohibitive.
Objects, features, and advantages of the present invention will become apparent upon reading the following description in conjunction with the drawing figures.
FIG. 1 is a rear and bottom perspective view of a shelf mounting bracket constructed in accordance with the teachings of the disclosure.
FIG. 2 is a side view of the shelf mounting bracket shown in FIG. 1.
FIG. 3 is a top perspective view of the shelf mounting bracket shown in FIG. 1.
FIG. 4 is a bottom plan view of the shelf mounting bracket shown in FIG. 1.
FIG. 5 is a cross section taken along line V-V of FIG. 4.
FIG. 6 is a front view of a shelf riser or upright constructed in accordance with the teachings of the disclosure.
FIG. 7 is a side view of the upright shown in FIG. 6.
FIG. 8 is an end view of the upright shown in FIG. 6.
FIG. 9 is a front view of a top rail for an organizer system and constructed in accordance with the teachings of the disclosure.
FIG. 10 is an end view of the top rail shown in FIG. 9.
FIG. 11 is a perspective view of one example of a prior art shelf mounting bracket construction.
FIG. 12 is a side view of the bracket shown in FIG. 11.
FIG. 13 is a front view of the bracket shown in FIG. 11.
FIG. 14 is a perspective view of another example of a shelf mounting bracket, similar to the bracket shown in FIGS. 11-13, but a modified to accommodate formation in accordance with the teachings of the disclosure.
FIG. 15 is a side view of the bracket shown in FIG. 14.
FIG. 16 is a front view of the bracket shown in FIG. 14.
FIG. 17 is a cross section taken along line XVII-XVII in FIG. 15.
FIG. 18 is a perspective view of another example of a storage and organizer system constructed in accordance with the teachings of the present invention and in the form of a direct-to-wall mounted shelf and bracket arrangement.
FIG. 19 is a perspective view of another example of a storage and organizer system constructed in accordance with the teachings of the present invention and in the form of a free-standing shelving unit.
The hardware components described herein can be generally used in organizer and storage systems and can be constructed from hard temper or full hard steel in accordance with the teachings of the present invention. Performance and material composition characteristics for full hard or hard temper steel material is defined in the American and Asian standards ASTM A 109 Temper No. 1 (Hard) or JIS G3141 SPCC-1D, respectively. Steel specifications that meet these standards are considered to be hard temper or full hard. Full hard steel is typically known for having very high yield and ultimate strength, but also for being particularly brittle and suitable mostly for flat sheet usage. Full hard steel can be nearly twice as strong as softer, formable steel material of the same gage, but is typically known to fracture when attempts are made to form the sheet steel into complex shapes. Full hard steel is also cheaper and stronger than the softer steel materials noted above because it does not undergo any processes to render the material more formable and, thus, requires fewer finishing and process treatment steps to manufacture.
Because hard temper or full hard steel is so much stronger than traditionally formable soft steel materials, a significantly thinner gage material can be used to create a component having comparable strength. This results in lower cost, lighter weight components of adequate or even superior strength. Use of full hard steel permits significant reduction in the stock sheet thickness because of the material's superior strength. The inventors have discovered that, by significantly reducing the material gage, full hard steel sheet has increased formability and, when formed, can produce a component with sufficient if not superior strength in comparison to components formed of much thicker gage, softer or more ductile steel. For some components with more severe forming requirements, slight design changes can be employed so the part can be formed successfully.
The invention generally involves employing full hard steel to form metal hardware components for organizer systems. Such components made from hard temper or full hard steel have previously not been commercially available and not recognized within the industry as suitable possible replacements for conventional components fabricated from traditional thicker gage, softer steels or expensive high strength, low alloy steels. The disclosed invention offers a superior combination of low cost, high strength, and minimum necessary formability to create components. The industry has previously not recognized, and thus not taken advantage of, this combination of material characteristics.
Turning now to the drawings, FIGS. 1-4 illustrate one example of a shelf mounting bracket 10 constructed in accordance with the teachings of the present disclosure. In this example, the bracket 10 is fabricated using a relatively thin gage, hard temper or full hard steel sheet material and formed to a configuration providing substantial structural strength. The disclosed bracket 10 is made from sheet stock full hard steel, die cut to a configuration including all bracket contours, features, and apertures, and then formed into the bracket as shown. In this example, the bracket 10 is constructed for use in an organizer or shelving system and to mount to vertical risers of the system.
In this example, the bracket 10 includes a pair of elongate, vertically oriented, and generally parallel sidewalls 12. The sidewalls 12 are connected to one another by a bottom interconnecting wall 14 that is integral with each of the sidewalls 12. As best depicted in FIG. 1, the bottom interconnecting wall 14 is generally flat in the middle 16 and is connected along each of its edges 18 to the respective sidewalls 12 at a shallow or gradual curve having a shallow or generous radius. Such a gradual transition between the sidewalls 12 and the bottom wall 14 eliminates or avoids any sharp angle bends in the stock material.
Each sidewall 12 of the bracket includes a shelf support finger or blade 20 projecting forward from the front end 22 of the bracket 10. Each sidewall 12 also has both a hook 24 and a tab 26 projecting rearward from the rear end 28 of the bracket 10. When in use, the hooks 24 and tabs 26 are received in selected slots 30 of an upright or riser 32 to mount the bracket 10 to the riser 32 (see FIGS. 6-8 below) and the blades 20 support a shelf (not shown) resting on their top surfaces 34. Each of the hooks 34, tabs 36, and blades 20 lies in the same plane of its respective sidewall 12. Thus, the majority of the bracket structure is flat, other than the transitional curves between the bottom wall 14 and the two sidewalls 12. The inventors have recognized that, by fabricating the disclosed brackets 10 using a sufficiently thin gage, full hard steel stock material, the bracket 10 can withstand the process of adding formations in the steel, such as the gradual bends between the bottom and sidewalls 14, 12 in this example, as depicted in FIG. 1.
The material thickness or gage of the disclosed bracket example can vary and yet fall within the spirit and scope of the present disclosure. For example, depending on the degree of draw, bend, or curvature desired for a particular component, the thickness could vary to accommodate it. Further, depending on the strength requirements of a particular component, the thickness of the material can also vary. In this example, a substantially strong bracket can be produced using a material having a thickness, for example, of approximately 0.031 inches (0.8 mm). The material thickness or gage of the disclosed bracket can be about 20% to about 50% thinner than a similar bracket made from the conventional soft steel materials noted above, while providing the same, or even significantly greater, strength characteristics.
The bracket 10 depicted in FIGS. 1-4 includes a number of apertures 36a, 36b. In this example, one aperture 36a is formed in each of the sidewalls 12 and a pair of apertures 36b is formed in the bottom wall 14. These apertures 36a, 36b can be easily formed in the hard temper of full hard steel material by conventional punching steps during the manufacture of the bracket 10, and particularly before the bracket material is bent to form the shape as illustrated. As will be evident to those having ordinary skill in the art, the bracket 10 can include any number of apertures 36a, 36b or other such formations in and extending from any of its walls 12, 14 as needed for a particular application. Apertures 36a, 36b can be provided for any number of purposes, such as to add accessories to the bracket 10 or to suspend accessories from the bracket 10.
Utilizing full hard steel to form a mounting bracket 10 as shown in FIGS. 1-4 allows for significant reduction in the required gage or thickness of the steel stock, while still achieving similar or even improved strength characteristics over conventional components formed from soft steel materials, as noted above. Full hard steel is in many instances twice as strong as the softer, formable steel materials. Further, significant weight reduction is also achieved because of the reduced material thickness rendered possible by using the full hard steel. In addition, the cost of the bracket 10 is significantly reduced because substantially less steel material is used and because full hard steel is cheaper, having undergone fewer process steps.
FIG. 5 shows a cross section of the bracket 10 and shows in phantom the difference in thickness of the bracket if manufactured from a conventional softer steel material. The inventors have determined that the lighter or thinner gage of the full hard steel bracket 10 permits much better formability in the material than expected. In other words, 3-dimensional geometric shapes and significant bends, curves, and angles can be achieved. This is because, as a result of the thinner gage, the material will see less strain through the bend or curve. The same bend geometry can have a smaller bend radius and the distance from the inner surface to the outer surface of the material at the bend is significantly less as a result of the thinner gage material.
It is well known that full hard steel can be painted so that the finished brackets and/or other components will look essentially the same as any other bracket constructed from conventional annealed steel material. The disclosed bracket 10 for a shelf organizer system will be significantly cheaper, and can be approximately 20-50% cheaper utilizing full hard steel material. Material cost for components of this type can be about 80% to about 90% of the bare formed part cost; so material savings results in direct cost savings. The disclosed bracket 10 can also be significantly lighter than and just as strong as, if not stronger than, the conventional more ductile, thicker gage steel brackets.
FIGS. 6-8 illustrate one example of a shelf riser or upright 32 for an organizer or storage system and that is constructed in accordance with the teachings of this disclosure. Again, the riser 32 in this example is formed from hard temper or full hard steel and has a generally U-shaped configuration in cross section. The riser 32 is narrow and significantly lengthy in its longitudinal direction and has a front wall 38 and a pair of parallel spaced apart sidewalls 40. Each of the walls 38, 40 extends lengthwise in a longitudinal direction of the riser 32 and the riser 32 has an open back 42 opposite the front wall 38. The sidewalls 40 transition integrally into the front wall 38 as shown in FIG. 8. The transition is a gradually curved bend achieving a 90° angle between each sidewall 40 and the front wall 38. Similar to the bracket in FIGS. 1-4, the inventors have recognized that using a sufficiently thin gage, full hard steel stock material, in combination with shallower, gradual, or larger radii curves, permits fabricating such a riser 32 configuration. In one example, the material thickness of the full hard steel stock material for the riser can be approximately 0.055 inches (1.4 mm). This gage is again significantly less than the thickness of the metal used for such a riser fabricated from the conventional softer steel materials, and can be approximately 20-50% thinner.
The front wall 38 of the riser as shown herein includes a plurality of elongate, longitudinally oriented slots 30 arranged in adjacent spaced apart pairs along the front wall 38. A plurality of fastener openings 44 are also shown punched through the front wall 38 within the array of slots 30. These slots 30 and fastener openings 44 can be easily punched in the full hard steel material before or after the riser walls 38, 40 are bent.
The riser 32 disclosed in this example is formed from a full hard thin gage steel and results in a component that is equally strong or stronger than a conventional riser formed from the conventional softer steel materials noted previously. The disclosed riser 32 is also lighter in weight because of the reduced material thickness, and significantly less expensive than conventional components. The significant expense or cost reduction results from the much thinner gage material permissible using full hard steel and the fact that full hard steel is cheaper than annealed steel sheet because it requires fewer process steps to manufacture.
FIGS. 9 and 10 illustrate one example of a top rail 50 from which the risers 32 shown in FIGS. 6-8 can be suspended. In this example, the top rail 50 is a simple flat steel strip with two flat sections lying in different planes and made from hard temper or full hard steel material. Because of the shape of the rail and its gradual obtuse bend angles, the rail configuration can be essentially identical in shape to a rail made from conventional soft steel materials. The thinner gage full hard material will result in less strain at the bends, permitting the same shape but formed from the hard temper steel stock.
In this example, the top rail 50 has a mounting section 52 and a forwardly projecting hanger section 54. The mounting section 52 and the hanger section 54 are each a generally planar strip of steel in this example having a length much greater than height. The two sections 52, 54 are generally parallel to one another in this example, but are not in the same plane. A top edge 56 of the mounting section 52 transitions gradually at a first bend 58 into an upward and forward extending step section 60. The step section 60 in turn transitions gradually at a second bend 62 into the vertically oriented forward positioned hanger section 54. The back or rear side 64 of the mounting section 52 defines a mounting surface that will lie against a wall when in use. The plane of the hanger section 54 is spaced forward of the mounting plane creating a gap between a wall surface (not shown) and the hanger section 54 when in use. The orientation of the step section 60 in this example is such that it is neither parallel nor perpendicular to the vertical planes of the mounting and hanger sections 52, 54 and a horizontal plane. However, the step section 60 transitions between both of these portions at gradual bends 58, 62 of significantly less than 90° and again using shallow or relatively large radii.
In this example, the top rail shown in FIGS. 9 and 10 is also manufactured from full hard steel, which can have a significantly reduced material thickness when compared to a conventional annealed steel top rail. In one example, the full hard steel strip used to manufacture the top rail 50 has a thickness or gage that can be approximately 0.055 inches (1.4 mm), similar to the risers 32 discussed above. Again, the top rail 50 disclosed herein can be manufactured using a much thinner stock material, which can again be about 20-50% thinner. Thus the top rail 50 can be much cheaper to manufacture than a conventional annealed steel rail because the disclosed top rail 50 is made from full hard steel. The steel. can have a thinner wall thickness because it is much stronger than annealed steel. The disclosed top rail 50 will also be much lighter than a conventional rail because of the thinner gage steel.
In the disclosed example, the top rail 50 has a number of fastener openings 66 shown as being formed through the mounting section 52 of the top rail 50. When mounted to a wall surface, the riser or upright 32 as illustrated in FIGS. 6-8 can be suspended from the hanger section 54. As shown in FIG. 7, the riser 32 includes a cut out region that forms a hook 68 which is received over and mirrors a contour of the hanger section 54 of the top rail 50. The risers 32 can simply hang from the top rail 50 and then be secured using the fastener openings 44 in the riser 32 to a wall surface (not shown). The brackets 10 shown in FIGS. 1-4 can then be mounted by installing the hooks 24 and tabs 26 in a selected group of the mounting slots 30 formed in the front wall 38 of the riser.
FIGS. 11-13 illustrate an example of a known configuration of a shelf mounting bracket 100 that is typically formed of cold rolled annealed steel stock or hot rolled pickled and oiled steel stock. The bracket 100 has a nose or forward end 110 with a somewhat semi-spherical shape and contour that requires a fairly deep draw in the forming process. Full hard steel may not be able to accommodate such a deep draw, depending upon the material gage, because the nose 110 has a complex contoured bend and relatively tight radius of curvature. FIGS. 14-17 illustrate an alternative shelf mounting bracket 200 that can readily be fabricated from full hard steel with only a slight modification to the nose configuration. The nose 210 is modified to reduce the formed or drawn complexity and to reduce the curvature radii. The bracket 200 of FIGS. 14-17 can be made from thinner gage full hard steel and thus will be lighter in weight, less expensive to produce, and have equivalent or improved strength in comparison to the softer steel conventional bracket 100 of FIGS. 11-13.
FIGS. 18 and 19 are provided to illustrate alternative examples of storage and organizer system components that can be fabricated from hard temper or full hard steel. FIG. 18 shows another example of a shelf mounting bracket or brace 300 that can be fabricated in accordance with the teachings of the present invention. In this example, the bracket 300 is used in a direct-to-wall, wire shelf mounting arrangement. The bracket 300.in this example is configured to mount a wire shelf 302 directly to a wall surface 304 without the use of either vertical risers/uprights or a top rail as in an earlier example. In this example, the bracket 300 has a mounting end 306 with a flat pad 308. A fastener opening 310 is provided in the flat pad 308. The pad 308 is oriented at an angle to an elongate body 312 of the bracket. When positioned against a wall surface, a fastener can be driven through the fastener opening 310 to secure the bracket to the wall. The pad angle results in the bracket body extending forward and upward away from the wall in this example. The elongate body 312 in this example has a V-shaped or L-shaped cross section to add significant strength and resistance to bending.
The bracket or brace 300 also has a shelf support end 314 at the other end of the body 312. The shelf support end 314 has a wire receptacle 316 that is open facing downward and forward. In this example, the receptacle 316 has a semi-cylindrical shape to match that of a cylindrical wire of the wire shelf. The axis of the receptacle is oriented horizontally and generally perpendicular to the elongate body 312 of the bracket 300. When in use, a rear end of the wire shelf is attached to a wall surface above the flat pad 308. A forward end of the shelf 302 has a horizontal wire 318 that is received in and retained and supported by the receptacle 316. The bracket 300 is one of many different examples of storage and organizer component configurations and constructions that can be fabricated using full hard steel material to achieve the cost reduction, weight, reduction, and strength benefits disclosed and described herein.
Bracket structures and arrangements other than the example of the bracket 300, as well as other system components, can also be fabricated from full hard or hard temper steel and yet fall within the spirit and scope of the present invention. In one example, the shelf can be a sheet metal shelf and formed from full hard steel material. Such a sheet metal shelf can be drawn, bent, and/or formed to include particular desired shapes, contours and formations in the metal sheet to add rigidity and strength to the finished part. In another example, the direct-to-wall mount bracket can support the shelf from below, and not from above as in the example of FIG. 18.
FIG. 19 shows another example of a storage and organizer system in the form of a free-standing shelving unit 400. In this example, the unit 400 has a plurality of shelves 402 horizontally oriented and spaced vertically apart from one another. The unit 400 also has a plurality of vertical legs 404 positioned at the four corners of the shelves 402. Each shelf is connected to and supported by the legs 404 as is known in the art. Though not shown herein, the shelves 402 can be secured to the legs 404 using separate brackets or other parts. In this example, the shelves are secured directly to the legs using fasteners 406. The legs in this example have a V-shaped or L-shaped cross section and can be formed from hard temper or full hard material in accordance with the previous examples disclosed herein. The shelves can also be formed from full hard steel. In these examples, the legs and/or the sheet metal shelves can be drawn, bent, and/or formed to add rigidity and strength to the finished parts. Such formations can include drawn dimples, ribs, ridges, and the like, and/or formed bends, curves, creases, and the like. As in the previous examples, the material stock can be of a substantially thinner gage, cost significantly less, and yet be formed or configured to provide equivalent or even superior strength in comparison to similar parts made from conventional soft steel materials.
The disclosed examples of storage and organizer systems and components are provided to illustrate that many different components and component configurations can be constructed in accordance with the teachings of the present invention. In each of the examples herein, the full hard steel component has a 3-dimensional formation. Parts of each component are formed out of plane with respect to other parts of the component. Such parts for use in substantial load bearing applications, such as shelving support and mounting structures, were previously believed not suitable for manufacture using hard temper or full hard steel stock. The material was believed not capable of being formed into structurally adequate 3-dimensional shapes. The inventors have discovered that the higher strength provided by the full hard steel material permits suitable parts to be formed using thinner gage full hard material. The inventors have also discovered that, by using the stronger thinner gage full hard steel stock, the material has satisfactory formability to create load bearing storage and organizer components.
Storage and organizer system components have not previously been manufactured using full hard steel. This is in part because manufacturers have believed full hard steel to be too brittle to withstand any substantial 3-dimensional forming. The inventors have recognized that, by using a thinner gage full hard steel sheet material, the full hard material can be formed without fracturing the metal. In many instances, a component can be fabricated that has the same 3-dimensional drawn and/or bent geometry as a conventional part made from softer, weaker, but more formable steel materials. Once formed, even with the substantially thinner wall thicknesses, the components are more than strong enough to perform satisfactorily during use. The thin gage metal reduces the overall material usage, cost, and weight of the various components, while not sacrificing strength. The thinner gage also reduces strain in the formed materials, thus permitting greater formability. One may sacrifice some degree of formability (see FIGS. 11-13 and 14-17 as one potential example), but the other advantages far outweigh this one disadvantage.
The composition of the full hard steel can vary considerably and yet fall within the spirit and scope of the present disclosure. In one example, the steel for each of the above example components can be manufactured to meet the American or Asian steel material standards noted above. However, different compositions of hard temper or full hard steel can be utilized to produce the various components disclosed herein.
Again, those in the industry of making these kinds of components traditionally have looked to use and develop either more expensive but stronger steel alloys, or softer, formable steel materials in the finished products. Those in the industry have traditionally not looked to use the strength advantages of semi-finished full hard steel material to solve problems in the industry. The inventors have recognized the many advantages that full hard or hard temper steel offers and have overcome the previously known drawbacks and disadvantages. Use of full hard steel to fabricate the types of components disclosed as examples herein offers a superior combination of low cost, high strength, and satisfactory formability. These advantages are magnified for manufacturers, distributor, and retailers. Because each component can be significantly lighter in weight, the weight per unit volume of product is substantially less. Shipping and handling costs can be reduced for manufacturers and distributors. Handling complexity and difficulty can also be reduced for manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers because the components will be significantly lighter.
Although certain mounting hardware components for organizer and storage systems have been described herein in accordance with the teachings of the present disclosure, the scope of coverage of this patent is not limited thereto. On the contrary, this patent covers all embodiments of the teachings of the disclosure that fairly fall within the scope of permissible equivalents.