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This application claims benefit of and priority from provisional application 60/497,636 filed Aug. 25, 2003, the contents of which are incorporated by reference herein in their entirety. This application is a continuation-in-part of copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/367,634 in the name of Owens Jr. et al. having a filing date of Feb. 14, 2003, the contents of which are incorporated by reference herein in their entirety.
The present invention relates generally to lightweight, rigid construction materials and articles formed therefrom. More particularly, the invention relates to stabilized rigid construction panels formed from nonwoven fibrous materials having substantial stability, strength, flame resistance and resistance to degradation over time.
In a number of applications it is desirable to utilize construction materials having substantial rigidity and strength while nonetheless providing ease of assembly and aesthetically pleasing surface character. Such exemplary applications include bathroom vanities, counter tops, shelving, cabinetry and the like. In the past, such structures have typically been formed from materials such as wood, particle board, and high density plastics. While such materials provide the required rigid stability, they also tend to be relatively heavy. Moreover, the wood based materials require the harvesting of a substantial number of trees which may be environmentally undesirable.
This invention provides advantages and alternatives over the prior art by providing construction materials for utilization in place of high weight board stock materials in various applications such as bathroom vanities, furniture, cabinetry, shelving, counters, and the like. Such material may also be used in place of wood and metal in the construction of exterior storm shutters and the like. More particularly, the present invention provides for materials of nonwoven fibrous construction having suitable rigidity for utilization in such applications. The nonwoven fibrous material is adapted to provide adequate strength to permit construction of three-dimensional structures by use of standard joining techniques such as screws, nails, glue, and the like if desired. The nonwoven fibrous material is also adaptable to accept various decorative surface treatments such as coatings, veneers, laminates and the like as may be desired to provide a decorative aesthetic appearance as well as water resistance. The weight of the fibrous nonwoven material is substantially less than that of current board stock materials. Moreover, the polymeric fibers forming the nonwoven fibrous materials are highly resistant to degradation over time.
The present invention will now be described by way of example only with reference to the accompanying drawings which constitute a portion of the specification herein and in which:
FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate an exemplary practice for formation of fibrous nonwoven precursor construction material;
FIG. 3 is a schematic illustration of a fibrous precursor construction material formed by the practice illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2;
FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary practice for formation of a multi-layer fibrous precursor construction material;
FIG. 5 illustrates schematically the heat fusion of fibrous construction material;
FIG. 6 is a schematic illustration of the multi-layer fibrous construction material formed by the exemplary practice illustrated in FIG. 4;
FIGS. 7A and 7B illustrate embodiments of construction materials incorporating a surface covering layer;
FIGS. 8A and 8B illustrate embodiments of construction materials incorporating a surface covering layer with a stabilizing sheet;
FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary article of furniture incorporating construction materials according to the present invention; and
FIG. 10 illustrates a dwelling incorporating storm shutters formed from construction materials according to the present invention.
While the present invention has been illustrated and generally described above and will hereinafter be described in connection with certain potentially preferred embodiments, procedures, and practices, it is to be understood that in no case is the invention to be limited to such illustrated and described embodiments, procedures, and practices. On the contrary, it is intended that the present invention shall extend to all alternatives, modifications, and equivalents as may embrace the principals of the present invention within the true scope and spirit thereof.
Reference will now be made to the drawings, wherein to the extent possible, like reference numerals are utilized to designate like components throughout the various views.
As will be appreciated, decorative and functional interior items such as bathroom vanities, furniture, cabinetry, shelving, counters, and the like formed from wood, particle board and similar construction materials are well known. In such constructions the wood or particle board may be provided with a surface treatment such as a resin coating, laminate or veneer to provide desired decorative and/or structural character.
The present invention contemplates that one or more structural layers in such constructions may be replaced with a material of fibrous construction adapted to provide structural integrity with substantially reduced weight. Various topical surface treatments may be provided to yield further rigidity as well as a moisture barrier. Surprisingly, it has been found that fibrous materials such as needlepunched felts may be constructed and treated to provide strength and stiffness suitable for use as a replacement for wood or particle board in these applications.
One exemplary practice for the production of a fibrous material suitable for formation into dimensionally stable construction materials for home interior components is illustrated schematically in FIGS. 1 and 2. According to the illustrated practice, a blend of discrete length staple fibers 40 is passed through a carding unit 42 to yield a carded web material 48 which is taken up on an “A” frame 50 or other collection device. The carded web material 48 is preferably a relatively light weight material having sufficient internal coherency to undergo further processing.
The blend of fibers 40 may include some percentage of a relatively low melting point constituent so as to permit the heat activated point bonding of fibers to one another at later processing stages. However, it is also contemplated that such low melting point constituent may be eliminated if desired. According to one contemplated practice, the blend of fibers 40 is made up of substantially entirely of polyester. By way of example only, one standard PET polyester staple fiber which is believed to be suitable is characterized by an average length of about 3 inches and a denier per filament rating of about 6 dpf. However, other staple fibers may likewise be utilized if desired.
In the event that a low melting point constituent is to be used, it is contemplated that about 10 percent to about 90 percent or more of the fibers 40 may be bi-component polyester fibers incorporating a sheath of low melting point CO-PET polyester around a standard PET polyester core. One exemplary core/sheath bi-component polyester fiber has a denier per filament rating of about 2.5 to about 5.5 dpf. As will be appreciated, upon the application of heat, the sheath material undergoes preferential flow and bonding to surrounding fiber constituents. Of course, other forms of low melting point material such as discrete fibers of low melting point material may also be utilized. Likewise, at least some percentage of the fibers 40 may be materials other than polyester. By way of example, it is contemplated that such materials may include nylon, polypropylene and the like.
As illustrated in FIG. 2, following formation of the rolls of carded web material 48, according to a potentially preferred practice of the invention a plurality of such rolls of carded web material 48 may thereafter be conveyed through a combining and densification station 60. At the combining and densification station 60, the carded web material 48 is conveyed in layered orientation through a series of needle looms 62, 63, 64 to combine the layers of carded web material into a cohesive structure. According to one practice, the first needle loom 62 utilizes about fifty-two needles per inch in the machine direction in a thirty-two gauge regular barb spacing arrangement. The second needle loom 63 preferably has a greater needle density than the first needle loom 62. By way of example only, in one contemplated practice the second needle loom 63 utilizes one hundred twenty five needles per inch in the machine direction in a thirty-six gauge regular barb spacing arrangement. The third needle loom 64 preferably utilizes about fifty-two needles per inch in the machine direction in a thirty-six gauge regular barb spacing arrangement.
In one contemplated practice, needles in each of the needle looms 62, 63, 64 are generally triangular in shape with nine barbs per needle although other needle arrangements and designs may likewise be utilized if desired. The resultant product leaving the combining and densification station 60 is an enhanced density batting material 66. According to one contemplated practice, the enhanced density batting has a thickness in the range of about 0.45 to about 0.5 inches with a mass per unit area in the range of about 48.3 to about 51.2 ounces per square yard. Of course, it is to be understood that this enhanced density batting material 66 is exemplary only and that greater or lower thicknesses and/or different densities may likewise be utilized. In one contemplated practice, this enhanced density batting material is conveyed as a single layer to a heating press for compression and heat activation of any low melting point fiber constituents (if used) in a manner as will be described further hereinafter.
In the event that substantial thickness is desired in the article to be formed, it is contemplated that following formation of the enhanced density batting material 66, a plurality of rolls of such enhanced density batting material 66 may be conveyed to a laminate formation station 70 as illustrated schematically in FIG. 4. At the laminate formation station, the enhanced density batting material 66 is preferably conveyed in overlying and underlying relation to an intermediate layer of adhesive material 72 thereby forming a multi-layer sandwich structure 76 in which the adhesive material 72 is disposed between layers of enhanced density batting material 66. As will be appreciated, while the schematic processing line illustrated in FIG. 5 incorporates only two layers of enhanced density batting material 66, a larger number of layers of enhanced batting material 66 may likewise be used to form a sandwich structure with three or more layers as illustrated in FIG. 6.
According to the practice illustrated in FIG. 4, the juxtaposed layers of adhesive material 72 and enhanced batting material 66 are conveyed through an entangling needle loom 74 which serves to mechanically intermingle a portion of the fibers 40 from one or more layers of enhanced density batting material 66 with the adhesive material 72 and with the adjacent layer of batting or other material as may be incorporated within the sandwich structure 76 thereby mechanically binding fibers from the adjacent layers of the sandwich structure 76 together and increasing overall strength. Such a mechanical joining operation preferably results in a portion of the fibers 40 extending substantially across the boundary between two or more layers of the layered sandwich structure 76.
While the adhesive material 72 may be any wet or dry adhesive as may be suitable to bind the adjacent layers of material together, it is contemplated that the adhesive material 72 will preferably be a dry adhesive in web form so as to promote ease of use of the adhesive in roll form and to further permit the relatively easy mechanical entangling to be carried out across the adhesive by the needle loom 74. The adhesive material is preferably of a nature such that it can be activated upon demand through application of a predetermined driving force such as heat, hot gas, chemical interaction, ultrasonic energy, radio frequency radiation waves and the like. Further, it is contemplated that the adhesive should provide necessary resistance to heat, humidity and chemical interaction so as to avoid any premature delamination. One such heat activated adhesive fabric is believed to be available under the trade designation SPUNFAB® adhesive fabric from Dry Adhesive Technologies Inc. having a place of business at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA. According to a potentially preferred embodiment, the adhesive is SPUNFAB® type PA 1001 polyamide spunbonded adhesive fabric. However, other such adhesive fabrics of polyester, polyolefin, and ternary systems are also contemplated.
Regardless of whether a single layer structure or multi-layer structure is desired, it is contemplated that either a single layer of the enhanced density batting material 66 or the multi-layer sandwich structure 76 as previously described will preferably be conveyed through a press 80 (FIG. 5) to enhance the density. In the event that a low melting point constituent is used, the temperature within the press should be adequate to activate the low melting point fiber constituent as well as any heat activated adhesive layers. According to one contemplated practice, the enhanced density batting material 66 or the multi-layer sandwich structure 76 is heated to a temperature of approximately 340 degrees Fahrenheit for a period sufficient to activate the low melting point fiber constituent. By way of example only, for a single layer structure having a starting thickness of about 0.5 inches, the period of heating will normally be about 6 minutes. The resultant nonwoven fibrous material 82 in either single layer or multi-layer form is preferably characterized by a thickness in the range of about 0.04 inches to about 2 inches or greater with a mass per unit area in the range of about 6 ounces per square yard to about 400 ounces per square yard or greater and a density of about 0.065 ounces per cubic inch to about 0.210 ounces per cubic inch or greater. Multiple layer constructions may have similar densities although the mass per unit area may be greater. Of course, other density levels may likewise be utilized if desired.
As will be appreciated, techniques other than needling may be used to form the nonwoven fibrous material. By way of example only, and not limitation it is contemplated that virtually any technique for forming nonwovens including spunbonding and the like as may be known to those of skill in the art may be utilized if desired.
If desired, localized bending may be provided by the incorporation of score lines extending partially but not completely through the material at locations where bending is desired. Preferably such score lines are generally “V” shaped with the apex projecting into the nonwoven fibrous material. However, other cross-sectional geometries may likewise be utilized if desired.
As indicated, it is contemplated that the nonwoven fibrous material 82 may be useful over a wide range of thicknesses. In this regard it is to be noted that if the panel is to have a thickness substantially greater than about ½ inch, the use of a multi-layer construction with an intermediate adhesive layer may be desirable.
According to one contemplated practice, the nonwoven fibrous material 82 (of either single layer or multi-layer construction) may be used alone or with an applied outer surface layer 85 which may be applied across one side (FIG. 7A) or both sides (FIG. 7B) of the nonwoven fibrous material 82. In such a construction the outer surface layer 85 may be formed from a wide range of materials so as to impart desired functional and aesthetic characteristics. By way of example only, and not limitation, various contemplated outer layer materials include cured resins such as acrylics, fiberglass and the like as well as veneers and laminates such as FORMICA and the like which may be preformed and applied by adhesive or other attachment practices. Of course, combinations of such materials may likewise be used in layered or intermixed manner and different materials may be used across each side. The resulting exterior surface may be used in its “as formed” state or may be subject to painting or other further topical decorative treatment as may be desired. By way of example only, if the outer surface layer 85 is a cured resin, it is contemplated that a decorative topical treatment such as paint or a veneer sheet may be applied to define the exterior show surface.
In addition to providing desirable aesthetic character, the outer surface layers also provide enhanced rigidity thereby further facilitating use in applications where wood products have previously been used. In this regard, it is contemplated that resins or laminates may provide a controlled degree of stiffness depending on their thickness with thicker layers providing greater stiffness. Surface materials such as cured resins may also provide enhanced water resistance as may be desirable in many environments of use.
It is also contemplated that enhanced stiffness and dimensional stability may be provided by incorporating a sheet of woven or non-woven stabilizing material such as fiber or glass scrim or the like within at least one outer surface layer as previously described. By way of example only, FIG. 8A illustrates a construction in which a stabilizing layer 87 is supported above one side of the nonwoven fibrous material 82 within a resin outer surface layer 85. Likewise FIG. 8B illustrates a construction in which stabilizing layers 87 are supported across both sides of the nonwoven fibrous material 82 within resin outer surface layers 85. As will be appreciated, in such constructions the resin tends to at least partially permeate the stabilizing layer thereby bonding the stabilizing layers in place. Of course, additional layers such as veneers, paint and the like may also be applied across one or both surfaces to provide the desired exterior appearance.
Importantly, the construction materials of the present invention are highly versatile and are much lighter in weight than prior construction materials for interior applications. In addition, unlike wood, the fibrous core material is highly resistant to degradation due to moisture damage and the like thereby potentially enhancing the useful life of the formed articles.
By way of example only, a cabinet structure 90 such as may be used in a kitchen or as a bathroom vanity is illustrated in FIG. 9. In such a structure it is contemplated that any of the structural elements may be formed from panels of the nonwoven fibrous material 82 either with or without stabilizing layers 87 and outer surface layers 85. In particular, it is contemplated that any of the side walls 92, top 93 and/or back (not shown) may be formed from one or more panels of the nonwoven fibrous material 82 with outer surface layers 85 defining an exterior show surface. These panels may be joined together by standard construction techniques such as screws, nails, adhesives and the like. Of course, outer surface layers of different constructions may be used at different portions of the cabinet structure 90 as desired to satisfy aesthetic and functional requirements. Likewise, it is also contemplated that dynamic elements such as drawers 94 and/or doors 96 may also be formed from one or more panels of such materials. Doors 96 are preferably formed from a single panel while drawers 94 may be formed from multiple panels. Of course, it is contemplated that the nonwoven fibrous material 82 may be used selectively at locations within the cabinet structure 90 in combination with wood or other construction materials at other locations. In this regard it is contemplated that panels of the different materials may be joined together by standard construction techniques such as screws, nails, adhesives and the like.
It has also been found that the fibrous material 82 may be used in the construction of impact resistant exterior protective structures such as storm shutters and the like for use at exterior locations of a fixed or mobile dwelling structure. By way of example only, at FIG. 10 a fixed-location dwelling 100 such as a house, office building or the like is illustrated. The dwelling 100 includes windows 103 as will be well known to those of skill in the art. Disposed across the windows 103 are storm shutters 105 formed from the nonwoven fibrous material 82 either with or without stabilizing layers 87 and/or outer surface layers 85. In this regard the storm shutters 105 are shaped exactly as prior known shutters of materials such as metal, wood and the like but are much lighter due to their base construction of nonwoven fibrous material 82. Moreover, it has been found that such materials exhibit substantial resistance to damage due to impact by flying objects such as may take place in a high velocity wind environment.
Unlike wood which tends to splinter on impact and metal which may become dented, the storm shutters 105 formed with cross-sections of nonwoven fibrous material 82 either with or without stabilizing layers 87 and/or outer surface layers 85 tend to absorb impacts with minimal damage even when the impacting object is traveling at a substantial velocity such as may take place in a hurricane or other similar storm condition. It is believed that this benefit derives at least in part from the ability to dissipate force over the wide surface area formed by nonwoven fibrous material 82. Moreover, if the storm shutters 105 become dislodged from the dwelling 100, it is contemplated that their lighter weight may reduce the potential for secondary damage to other structures as they are conveyed by the wind.
It is to be understood that while the present invention has been illustrated and described in relation to several potentially preferred embodiments, constructions, and procedures that such embodiments, constructions, and procedures are illustrative and exemplary only and that the present invention is in no event to be limited thereto. Rather it is contemplated that modifications and variations embodying the principles of the present invention will no doubt occur to those of ordinary skill in the art. It is therefore contemplated and intended that the present invention shall extend to all such modifications and variations as may incorporate the broad aspects of the present invention within the true scope and spirit thereof.