Title:
LOADING DOCK SEAL
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention relates generally to a loading dock seal. In one aspect it supplements an existing loading dock seal by attaching a flexible sheet vertically along vertical sides of the existing loading dock. The sheet wraps around the rear vertical edges of a truck body to seal any gaps that might exist, for example, between the opened rear door and the truck body wall caused by hinges.



Inventors:
Bernacki, Daniel R. (North Liberty, IA, US)
Guyer, Bruce (North Liberty, IA, US)
Application Number:
11/760232
Publication Date:
12/13/2007
Filing Date:
06/08/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E04D13/18
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
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20090173036BRACKET FOR BUILDING COMPONENTSJuly, 2009Hand
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20060086059Fastening system for desk elementsApril, 2006Cortes-monroy
20040079034Gable end braceApril, 2004Leek
20060010815Roof repair system and methodJanuary, 2006Dixon et al.
20090038252PANEL FOR USE IN A SIDING SYSTEM FOR PROVIDING A DECORATIVE COVERING ON A SUPPORT SURFACEFebruary, 2009King
20100018130Collapsible Buildings And Building ModulesJanuary, 2010Lopez et al.



Primary Examiner:
IHEZIE, JOSHUA K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MCKEE, VOORHEES & SEASE, P.L.C. (801 GRAND AVENUE, SUITE 3200, DES MOINES, IA, 50309-2721, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A seal adapted for sealing between a loading dock seal and a truck or trailer comprising: a. a flexible sheet having a top edge, a bottom edge, a first side edge, a second side edge, a front surface and a back surface; b. the first edge adapted to be attached to a dock seal; and c. the second edge adapted to be attachable to an interior wall of the truck or trailer.

2. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein the dock seal is attached to a dock shelter.

3. The flexible seal of claim 2 wherein the dock seal attached to the dock shelter is a pillow seal.

4. The flexible seal of claim 2 wherein the dock seal attached to the dock shelter is a curtain.

5. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein the flexible seal is removable from the dock seal.

6. The flexible seal of claim 5 wherein the flexible seal is attached to the dock seal via a hook and loop fastener.

7. The flexible seal of claim 6 wherein the hook and loop fastener extends along the entire length of the first edge.

8. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein the truck or trailer has a rear opening defined by a top edge, a bottom edge, a first vertical edge and a second vertical edge; and the flexible seal extends along the first vertical edge from the bottom edge to the top edge.

9. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein the truck or trailer has a rear opening defined by a top edge, a bottom edge, a first vertical edge and a second vertical edge; the first and second vertical edge with hinges that attach to rearward swinging doors that swing back against the truck or trailer thus forming hinge gaps; and the flexible seal able to wrap around the vertical edges of the truck or trailer, sealing the hinge gap.

10. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein there are two flexible sheets attached to each side of the loading dock.

11. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein a bar is attached along the second edge of the flexible seal.

12. The flexible seal of claim 11 wherein the bar is attached to the second edge via a pocket sown along the length of the flexible seal.

13. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein the second edge of the flexible sheet is removably attached to the interior wall of the truck via at least one magnet.

14. The flexible seal of claim 13 wherein at least two or more magnets are spaced along the second edge of the flexible sheet.

15. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein a bar is attached along the entire length of the second edge; and magnets are affixed and spaced along the length of the bar.

16. The flexible seal of claim 1 wherein a Velcro™ hook piece and a Velcro™ pile or loop piece is attached to the back surface of the flexible sheet.

17. The flexible seal of claim 16 wherein the Velcro™ pieces attach to each other when the flexible seal is folded back upon itself.

18. A flexible seal for sealing between a loading dock and a truck or trailer comprising: a rectangular flexible sheet with a top edge, a bottom edge, a first side edge wherein a bar is attached to the second edge and magnets are affixed along the bar; the first edge removably attached to a dock seal b a releasable fastener wherein the dock seal is attached to a dock shelter; the truck or trailer having a cargo box with a rear opening with a top edge, bottom edge, a first vertical edge and a second vertical edge; the truck or trailer vertical edges having hinges that attach to rearward doors that open outward and lie flat against an outer vertical surface of the cargo box; and the flexible seal's second edge attachable to an interior surface of the truck or trailer via the magnets attached to the bar such that the flexible seal extends from the bottom edge to the top edge of the opening.

19. A method of sealing a gap between a loading dock and a trailer or truck using a flexible seal comprising the steps of: attaching a flexible sheet having a top edge, bottom edge, a first side edge, second side edge and a front and back surface to a dock seal; wrapping the flexible seal around a vertical edge of a rear opening of the trailer or truck wherein the rear opening is defined as having a top edge, bottom edge, a first vertical edge and a second vertical edge; and attaching the flexible seal against an interior vertical wall of the trailer or truck.

20. A method of sealing a gap between a loading dock and a trailer or truck using a flexible seal comprising the steps of: attaching a flexible sheet having a top edge, bottom edge, a first side edge, second side edge to a ceiling of a dock shelter; attaching a pad to the ceiling of the dock shelter wherein the pad is mounted relative to the flexible sheet such that when a truck or trailer backs into the loading dock the flexible sheet is drawn back and pinched between the pad and the truck or trailer thus forming a barrier.

21. A seal adapted for sealing between a loading dock opening and a truck or trailer, comprising: a. a flexible sheet having top, bottom, first side, and second side edge, front surface and a back surface; b. the first edge adapted to be removably attachable, detachable, and re-attachable to a dock jamb, dock shelter, or dock seal; and c. the second edge adapted to be releasably attachable, detachable, or re-attachable to an interior wall of the truck or trailer.

22. A seal adapted for sealing between a loading dock seal and a truck or trailer, comprising: a. a flexible sheet having a top, bottom, first side, and second side edge, front surface and back surface; b. the first edge adapted to be attached to a support structure; and c. the second edge adapted to be attachable to an interior wall of a truck or trailer substantially completely along the entire vertical height of the truck or trailer such that substantially complete seal along the vertical height is achieved.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority under 35 U.S.C. § 119 to provisional application Ser. No. 60/812,491 filed Jun. 9, 2006, herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to loading docks and, more particularly, to a seal device for engaging the cargo portion of a truck adjacent a loading dock.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Dock seals are commonly used in association with loading docks and try to provide a seal while loading and off-loading trucks, more particularly tractor/trailer trucks. The dock seal is used to seal between the end of the truck body parked in front of the loading dock and the dock. The seal is of particular importance when the loading operation is being carried out in an environmentally controlled warehouse. Additionally, the dock seal is important in a situation where the truck, or more particularly the trailer, is left in front of the loading dock for an extended period of time while serving as temporary storage for the warehouse or building. U.S. Pat. No. 6,016,637 (incorporated by reference herein) shows generally how dock seal can essentially form an inverted “U” shaped collar around a door jam to a loading dock.

An effective dock seal tries to prevent excessive moisture from entering the building or warehouse at the point that the truck body contacts the structure. Additionally, an effective seal will try to prevent rapid passage of air and light from the exterior of the building into the interior and visa versa. The dock seal can also serve as a barrier to prevent insects and other pests from entering the building. There can be policies or even regulations regarding the presence of insects or debris.

Another issue regarding dock seals is the formation of a proper seal when the truck or trailer has conventionally outward swinging doors. The outward swinging doors of the truck body are swung out to the opened position before backing into and against the loading dock. When the doors are swung open, they swing back and engage the side of the truck or trailer. Where the doors are attached to the trailer via hinges, a gap is created between the truck and the doors when the doors are swung back. Additionally, the hinges can stick out of the rear of the truck bed, preventing or making difficult a clean and complete seal against the loading dock entrance.

Historically, dock seals have been formed by mounting a foam and plastic pad on the exterior of a warehouse along the side of the doorways of the loading dock. See U.S. Pat. No. 5,553,424 (incorporated by reference here). These pads are typically very large and deep to accommodate trucks of various sizes. Additionally, the pads are very large and deep to facilitate creating a seal even when the truck box is not exactly centered on the loading dock or when the truck box is not properly squared to the loading dock opening.

Because the pads are so large and deep, they will typically bulge outward when compressed between the truck box and the walls of the loading dock. When the pads bulge inwardly, they block a portion of the entrance to the truck's cargo area. This blockage can prevent loading and unloading of pallets of goods at or near the rear portion of the truck box. Further, when the pads projected to the truck body, they can be damaged by forklift trucks moving between the dock and the truck bed.

Several U.S. patents address and attempt to solve this issue. U.S. Pat. No. 4,679,362 to Fettig (incorporated by reference herein). U.S. Pat. No. 4,679,362 discloses a dock seal that utilizes a pair of shaped resilient pads mounted to the exterior surface of the building or warehouse. The shaped pads seal against the rear edge of the truck cargo box when compressed between the truck and loading dock. Because of the shape of the pad, the pad does not bulge into the entrance of the truck. Additionally, the shaped portion of the pad seals the gap between the swung back door and the truck body. But because of the design, the truck cannot be off center relative to the entrance to the loading dock very much before the pad is rendered useless. The pad, as designed, has a very limited contact point for the truck to back against.

Another approach to sealing the entrance of a loading dock is to construct a dock shelter about the doorway of the loading dock. See, e.g., U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,185,977, 5,341,613, and 5,394.662 (all incorporated by reference herein). The conventional dock shelter includes a pair of side panels which are mounted on the dock alongside the doorway and are adapted to be moved into contact with the outer sidewalls of the truck body. A dock shelter has the advantage of not encroaching into the interior of the truck body. The main disadvantage of the dock shelter is that it is complicated to operate and expensive to construct.

Additionally, the dock shelter design will not provide a complete seal when the truck body has outward swinging doors, as the dock shelter cannot compensate for the gap created between the door and the outer side of the truck body. U.S. Pat. No. 5,394,662 to Giuliani et al. attempts to correct the hinge gap deficiency of the loading dock shelter. The '662 patent discloses an assembly comprised of a support or panel member which is adapted to attach to the loading dock frame and to support a seal member. This seal member has a substantially hook-shaped cross section adapted to hookedly engage the incoming truck. The hook shaped cross section permits a seal member to automatically seal against the interior of the truck surface while the truck is backing in. But the assembly of the '662 is still very complex and expensive to assemble.

Other patents that disclose devices used with a dock shelter to seal the hinge gap include: U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,939,614 and 4,711,059 (both incorporated by reference herein). Each of these patents show a complex apparatus to be used with a dock shelter to try to seal the gap. Each of the aforementioned patents uses multiple arms and hinge points to create a seal at the rear of the truck box.

Thus there is a need in the art for an inexpensive and effective dock seal that can effectively seal the gap between the truck and a loading dock and that is durable and easy to install. By an effective dock seal, it is meant there is a real need to effectively preclude light, air, insects, dust, animals, debris, and other unwanted things to pass in or out at least along the vertical sides of the rear of the truck or trailer. While it may not be possible to create an absolute seal, by effective seal it is meant that there is a need to substantially, if not completely, block openings that can exist between the vertical sides of the rear of the truck or trailer and an existing loading dock seal such as shown in the above identified patents or other types of dock shelters or seals.

OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the present invention to provide an improved sealing device for a loading dock.

Another object of the present invention is to provide an improved loading dock seal for a loading dock shelter.

An additional object of the present invention is to provide an improved loading dock seal that is simple to manufacture and replace.

It is a further object of the present invention to provide a loading dock seal which is sealable against the interior surface of a truck cargo box.

A related object of the present invention is to provide a loading dock sealing device which closely conforms to the truck's interior surface resulting in minimal obstruction of the cargo bay opening during loading and unloading.

Additionally, it is an object of the present invention to provide a loading dock sealing device which sealably engages the truck regardless of the truck body width, the driveway incline or off-center or skewed position of the truck body relative to the loading dock entrance.

A further object of the present invention is to provide a loading dock sealing device that is economical to use and maintain.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a loading dock sealing device that can be included with the installation of a new loading dock or can be easily retro fit to existing docks.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a sealing device which functions in an efficient and practical manner, is easily and economically fabricated, and is adapted for operation with vehicles of various width and height.

An optional object of the present invention is to provide a loading dock sealing device that seals both vertical seals as well as horizontal seam across the top of the truck.

These and other objects, features, advantages, or aspects of the present invention will become apparent with reference to the accompanying specification and claims.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

A loading dock seal having a flexible seal is provided for forming a substantially air-tight seal between the dock opening and the truck. The seal assembly is attached to each side of the dock opening and adapted for movement manually between the open and sealed positions. In the open position, the seal assembly is curled back upon itself so that it does not interfere with the closure of the loading dock door.

In one aspect of the invention, the loading dock seal is a flexible sheet that has one edge that is affixed to the interior surface of an existing dock seal with a releasable fastener. Essentially, in this aspect of the invention, the invention is a supplemental loading dock seal. To the extent the existing loading dock seal does not provide good seal, the invention supplements it to provide a substantial seal. In this aspect of the invention, the flexible sheet is attached (either permanently or removably) to an existing loading dock seal at a position that can be wrapped around each vertical side of the rear of the truck or trailer to provide better assurance of a seal along the vertical sides, especially where hinged doors are involved.

In another aspect of the invention, flexible sheet supplementary dock seal has one side that is removably attachable to the loading dock or dock seal, in the sense it can be easily detached or attached. Its other side has structure allowing it to be pulled around and removably attached to the inside of the truck or trailer.

In another aspect of the invention, a flexible sheet is sized to extend essentially the entire vertical height of the loading dock on each side so that it can effectively seal the entire vertical height of each side of the loading dock or existing loading dock seal.

In a still further aspect of the invention, a flexible sheet that is essentially air impermeable has one vertical edge that is adapted to be attached along one vertical edge of the loading dock or existing loading dock seal. The opposite edge of the sheet has a built-in rigidity. Magnets are mounted at or near the opposite edge to removeably attach the sheet to an interior surface of the truck that is attracted to the magnet when the seal is in the sealing position. Additionally, there can be releasable fasteners relative the sheet to facilitate holding the seal back when the seal is in the open or stored position. It is possible the flexible sheet can also be opaque or substantially light impermeable and moisture impermeable but it does not have to be.

In another aspect of the invention, a sealing assembly is used in conjunction with a loading dock shelter fitted with a reverse seal. In this embodiment, an initial seal is formed by two curtains attached to the loading dock shelter, bending inward as a truck back towards the loading dock. The two curtains are then held in place via springs or other resilient means such that the curtain remains in contact with the exterior surface of the truck. A flexible sheet attached to the non-hinged edges of the curtains is then wrapped around the end of the truck door to seal the hinge gap. This method seals the gap created by the rear doors that swing outward and rest next to the exterior edge of the truck body.

In another aspect of the invention, the gap sealing device works with a rigid frame shelter. This, like a previous embodiment, can comprise the sheet that is attached to the interior surface of the loading dock wall along the loading dock door frame. When the truck is backed in, the sheet is attached to the interior surface of the truck box, creating an essentially air tight seal.

In another aspect of the invention, a third seal is used in addition to the two seals that attach along the vertical edges of the loading dock. The third seal is attached to the interior surface of the loading dock wall along the upper edge of the loading door. The side of the sealing device not attached is fixed to a stiffening bar or member and fitted with magnets sufficiently strong to seal the sealing device to the interior ceiling of a metal truck box.

In another aspect of the invention, a seal is used for an unloading dock shelter fitted with an upper portion that overhangs the back of the truck when truck is backed against the loading dock. A sheet is hung at or near the front of the shelter's overhang. A resilient pad is mounted behind the sheet between the sheet and the exterior of the loading dock wall. When a truck backs into the loading dock shelter, the sheet is drawn back by the truck. As the sheet is drawn back, it is folded under the pad, which then presses against the upper surface of the truck, thus creating a seal between the sheet and the pad and the roof of the truck box.

These and other features and advantages of the invention will be more readily apparent upon reading the following descriptions of exemplary embodiments of the invention and upon reference to the accompanying drawings and claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS AND PICTURES

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a conventional prior art loading dock opening for a building.

FIG. 2 is a simplified perspective depiction of a loading dock shelter installed in the loading dock opening or opening jamb of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3A is similar to FIG. 2 except it additionally shows, in simplified form, prior art side curtains on opposite lateral sides of the loading dock shelter of FIG. 2.

FIG. 3B shows the loading dock shelter with side curtains of FIG. 3A and side seals 10R and 10L shown removably detached from opposite side curtains of the loading dock, the side seals 10R and 10L being configured according to one aspect of an exemplary embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3C is similar to FIG. 3B but shows the side seals 10R and 10L in attached position to opposite side curtains of the dock shelter.

FIGS. 3D and 3E are enlarged top plan views of side seal 10R of FIGS. 3B and 3C; FIG. 3D showing side seal 10R in what will be called a stored position relative the dock shelter and showing the rear end of a truck with hinged doors adjacent side curtain of the dock shelter; FIG. 3E showing the rear end of the truck backed into abutment with the side curtain and with side seal 10R moved from the stored position to the sealing position around the rear hinge of the truck or trailer.

FIGS. 4A-C are similar to FIGS. 3A-C but show conventional prior art side pads 90 attached to opposite sides of a dock shelter (FIG. 4A), side seals 10R and 10L shown in removed or detached position (FIG. 4B), and side seals 10R and 10L shown in attached positions to the opposite side pads 90.

FIGS. 4D and 4E are similar to FIGS. 3D and 3E except showing side seal 10R in stored (FIG. 4D) and sealing (FIG. 4E) positions relative to a side pad 90 of FIGS. 4A-C and relative to a hinged rear vertical side of a truck.

FIGS. 5A-C are similar to FIGS. 3A-C but show how side seal members 10R and 10L can be removably attached to opposite side pads of a different type of prior art loading dock seal or pad 92.

FIGS. 6A-C are similar to FIGS. 5A-C except show how side seals 10R and 10L can be removably attached to a still further style of loading dock pad seal 94.

FIG. 7 is an enlarge assembled side view of a side seal 10L or 10R in plan view.

FIG. 8 shows side seal 10L or 10R of FIG. 7 in perspective exploded view.

FIG. 9 is a simplified diagrammatic view illustrating side seal 10R in the sealing position relative to the rear of a truck.

FIG. 10A is a simplified perspective view of a dock shelter with a top curtain 88.

FIG. 10B is a side elevation of the prior art dock shelter of FIG. 10A with top curtain 88 including a member 38 in accordance with an optional aspect of the present invention, used to help seal top curtain 88 against the top of truck 100 when backed in.

FIG. 10C is similar to FIG. 10B except showing operation of member 38 when the truck is backed in.

FIG. 11 shows side seals 10R and 10L in a sealing position wrapped around the hinge gaps at the back of truck or trailer backed into the loading dock.

FIG. 12 is an enlarged view of dock seal 10R in sealing position from a side elevation view.

FIG. 13 shows side seal 10L in a stored position from a side elevation view.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

A. Overview

For a better understanding of the invention, several exemplary embodiments will now be described in detail. These are but several examples of forms the invention can take and are not exhaustive or limiting to the invention. The context of the invention will be with respect to conventional loading dock openings, dock shelters, and dock seals with pads or other similar structure, such as are well-known in the art, examples of which are shown in the patents referenced earlier and shown in some of the drawings (e.g., FIGS. 1, 2, 3A, 4A, 5A, and 6A). It can be appreciated that the invention is applicable to analogous uses also. It is not intended that the present invention be limited to the described embodiments. It is intended that the invention will cover all modifications and alternatives, which may be included within the spirit and scope of the invention.

B. Background

FIG. 1 discloses a loading dock. The loading dock is essentially an opening 70 within a wall 30 of a building or warehouse. A truck 100 (e.g., FIG. 9), or more typically a trailer attached to a truck, is backed against the opening 70 and freight is loaded and unloaded from the truck 100. The opening has a floor 72, a first 74 and second 76 vertical edge and an upper horizontal edge 78. Edges 74, 76, and 78 comprise essentially a door jamb for the loading dock opening.

FIG. 2 shows the loading dock with a shelter built about the opening 70. The shelter 79 is comprised of first 80 and second 82 walls and a roof 84. The shelter 79 generally provides shelter to the area at and immediately around the opening to the interior of the warehouse from the elements.

FIG. 3A shows the dock shelter 79 with curtains 86. As a truck 100 backs into the loading dock, the curtains 86 fold back along the sides 102 of the truck 100. When the truck 100 has rear swinging doors 104, the doors 104 fold back along the sides 102 (see FIG. 9) of the truck 100. The curtains 86 then attempt to seal against the doors 104 instead of the sides 102 of the truck 100. This can be seen in FIGS. 3D and 3E.

FIGS. 3B and 3C further show that the side seals 10R and 10L, according to the present invention, are attached to the curtains 86. Each curtain 86 forms an initial partial seal against its corresponding door 104. Each side seal 10 L and R is attached to its corresponding curtain 86 via complementary Velcro™ strips 42 and 44 (e.g., hook strips 44 on curtain 86 and loop strips 42 on side seal 10 L or R). The side seals 10 are then manually stretched around the end of the truck 100 and attached to the interior surface 106 (see FIG. 9). This effectively seals the hinge gaps 108 (also see FIG. 3).

As seen in FIG. 3E, the seal 10 extends along the entire interior surface of the truck wall 106. The seal extends from the floor to ceiling of each side of the track. The seal 10 is wrapped tightly about the end of the truck so as to prevent the formation of a “chimney” that would effectively draw air upwards and into the warehouse. FIGS. 3B and C illustrate that side seals 10R and 10L are removably attachable to side curtains 86 of dock shelter 79 by complementary Velcro™ strips 42/44. Thus, each side seal 10 can be quickly and easily manually installed or removed. Similarly, this allows side seals 10 to be retrofitted to existing dock shelters or included as original equipment. Still further, it allows side seals 10 to be removed if a dock shelter is damaged or replaced and then side seals 10 can be reused economically and efficiently. As can be appreciated, the size and number of Velcro™ strips on side seals 10 and side curtains 86 can vary. It is desirable, of course, that the configuration securely hold edge 16 of each side seal 10 securely to side curtain 86 and it substantially seal that edge 16 to side curtain 86. As can be further appreciated by FIG. 3C, once attached to side curtains 86, side seals 10R and 10L can extend inwardly in dock opening 70 and have distal edges 18 that can extend inwardly into the truck body that is backed up against dock shelter 79. The size of side seals 10R and 10L is selected, in this exemplary embodiment, to extend the entire vertical height of the dock shelter 79 such that side seals 10R and 10L can seal the entire vertical height of at least most normal truck bodies that back into dock shelter 79.

FIGS. 3D and 3E show with more detail precisely how side seal 10 seals around the back vertical opposite sides of a truck. FIG. 3D shows side seal 10R in what is called the stored position. Its edge 16 is attached by complementary Velcro™ pieces along the vertical inside edge of dock shelter curtain 86 as illustrated in FIG. 3C. In the stored position, its distal or free end 18 is folded or moved inside the dock shelter behind side curtain 86. As illustrated in FIG. 3D (see also FIG. 7), its Velcro™ piece 47 could cooperate with a complementary Velcro™ piece 48 on either the side curtain 86 or on side seal 10R itself to hold it in that stored position out of way from the dock opening 70 so that it is not flapping or moveable.

As illustrated in FIG. 3D, side curtains 86 are designed to seal against the side of opened truck doors 104 as the truck backs in. However, as can be seen most clearly in FIG. 3E, if the truck backs in to that position, gap 108 would exist between the opened truck door 104 and the truck wall 102. This would leave openings above and below each of the several hinges 107 through which air, light, insects, and debris could pass. FIGS. 3D and E illustrate that side seal 10R could be moved from its stored position (FIG. 3D) such that its free or distal end 18 is pulled around the adjacent vertical edges of truck door 104, hinges 107, and truck wall 106 of the truck. Magnets 28 (FIG. 7) or other releasably fastening means at or near the distal edge 18 of side seal 10R can be utilized to releasably attach edge 18 to the inside of the truck (assuming it is made of or has on it material to which magnets 28 are magnetically attracted, e.g., ferrous material). Sometimes the walls may be steel. If the walls are aluminum, the frame can be steel. If metal, a steel or other ferrous plate or material could be installed along the opposite inside walls of the trailer to provide material to which the magnets would magnetically attach. Side seal 10R can be pulled or wrapped tightly around those vertical hinged edges of the truck body to provide a bottom-of-the-dock-or-truck-floor-to-top-of-the-roof-of-truck-seal. In particular, it seals the gaps between door 104 and trailer wall 102 by the hinges 107 (see reference numeral 108). It would also seal any gaps or discontinuities between side curtain 86 and the outside of truck door 104.

As can be appreciated, the concept of these side or supplemental seals 10R and 10L can be applied in a variety of different contexts. FIGS. 4A-E show one example. FIG. 4A shows a different type of prior art dock seal. Instead of curtains 86 on opposite sides of dock shelter 79, triangular and cross-section pads 90 are installed. These could be inflatable or foam with vinyl exterior. Such are well-known in the art. Like described in FIGS. 3A-E, Velcro™ strips 44 (e.g., hook material) could be placed along each side pad 90. Complementary Velcro™ strips 42 (e.g., loop material) on side seals 10R and 10L respectively allow side seals 10R and 10L to be removably attached to each pad 90 from top to bottom in a substantially sealing manner (see FIGS. 4B and C). Each side seal 10 could be held in a stored position using complementary Velcro™ strips 47 and 48 (see FIGS. 4D and F). Once truck body 100 is backed against each opposite pad 90, side seals 10R and 10L can be released from the stored position, and distal edges 18 wrapped around the vertical hinged edges of the truck body and releasably attached to the interior of the truck body to create a substantial supplemental seal of light, air, insects, debris, etc., around each side of trailer 100, including covering gaps 108 caused by hinges 107.

FIGS. 5A-C illustrate a still further type of prior art dock seal having opposite resilient pads 92R and 92L. In this case, the pads are flared outwardly. Like previous embodiments, Velcro™ strips on the opposite pads 92R and 92L could removably receive opposite side seals 10R and 10L (see FIG. 5C). Side seals 10R and 10L can then wrap and substantially seal as described regarding the embodiments of FIGS. 3A-E and 4A-E.

FIGS. 6A-C show a still further type of prior art dock seal 94. It is essentially an inverted single piece (or multi-piece) U-shape position around not only opposite sides of the dock opening 70, but across the horizontal top. Velcro™ attachment of edges 16 for each side seal 10R and 10L to opposite vertical sides of dock seal pads 94 and, once in place (FIG. 6C), side seals 10R and 10L can be wrapped and releasably secured to the truck/trailer as previously described. In each instance, by choosing of appropriate dimensions and utilizing Velcro™ along the entire vertical distance of edges 16, and use of appropriate attachment mechanisms along the distal ends 18, a substantially complete seal from top to bottom along each side of the dock opening 70 can be achieved in combination with the pre-existing dock shelter and/or seals.

C. Structure of Side Seal 10

FIGS. 7 and 8 depict one embodiment of the loading dock seal 10 in substantial detail. The loading dock seal 10 consists of a flexible sheet material formed such that it has top 12, bottom 14, first side 16, and second side 18 edges that form a generally rectangular piece. Additionally, the seal 10 has a front 20 and a back 22 surface. In this exemplary embodiment, the seal is constructed of a vinyl sheet. This vinyl sheet can be constructed of various gauges. One example is twenty-two ounce vinyl. Additionally, the seal can be constructed of any material that might serve as a barrier and be formed as a sheet material, including but not limited to: acrylics, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Teflon™, and canvas. Additionally, it is contemplated that any of the aforementioned, including vinyl, could be used in combination with any of the others to form a sheet to be used as a loading dock seal. An example is a plastic coated canvas.

The dimensions of the seal 10 can vary as needed. One embodiment of the seal 10 is generally rectangular and has the width equal to sixteen inches, and a length equal to nine feet six inches. This length typically is equal to the interior height of a truck 100 door opening. Of course, the dimensions can vary according to heed or desire.

In this embodiment of FIGS. 7 and 8, the seal 10 has a vertical row of Velcro™ hooks 42 that are glued and sewn along the backside surface 22 along the first edge 16. This row of Velcro™ hooks facilitates the attachment of the seal 10 to loading dock. A corresponding length of Velcro™ pile or loops 44 is fixed to the loading dock. The seal 10 then is attached along the loading dock via the complementary Velcro™ strips 42 and 44. The Velcro™ strips can be reversed such that the Velcro™ piles or loops are attached to the seal 10 and the Velcro™ hooks are attached to the wall 30. Further, the Velcro™ piece 42 can be attached to the vinyl sheet via simply gluing or sewing and does not need to be attached by both means. As an example, the width of the Velcro™ could be two inches and run along the entire height of the sheet 10. The Velcro™ could be a series of pieces, as shown in FIGS. 7 and 8, or an elongated single strip.

The seal 10 can also be attached to the loading dock via other means than the use of Velcro™. The use of Velcro™ simply assists in the easy removal and replacement of the seal 10 when damage or wear occurs to the seal 10. Examples of additional means of attaching seal 10 to the loading dock (or to wall 30) could include the use button snaps, magnets, and clasps. The seal 10 can also be fitted with grommets and these grommets can then be held in place on the loading dock via hooks or other anchors. Additionally, the seal 10 could be more firmly attached to the loading dock via the use of more traditionally permanent means such as screws and/or glue.

A bar 24 is typically affixed to the seal 10 along the second side edge 18. The bar 24 here is constructed of nylon. The bar 24 provides a general stiffness to the seal 10 such that the seal 10 will stand upright when in the vertical position and will not fold over upon itself. The bar 24 is not necessary, but facilitates the easy installation of the seal 10 into the truck cargo area 11. The bar need not be constructed of nylon but can be made of any material that is relatively light, but relatively rigid and rugged. Non-limiting examples of other materials that would serve as an effective bar would include wood, PVC and plastic. An effective width for the bar is two inches, but the width can be varied for various needs.

The bar 24 can be affixed to the vinyl sheet via glue and other adhesives. In this embodiment, a pocket 26 is pre-sewed along the length of the second edge 18 of the vinyl sheet and then insert the bar 24 is inserted into the preformed pocket 26. The pocket 26 is then sewn shut with the bar inside. Before the bar 24 is sewn into the seal 10, and magnets 28 are affixed along the length of the bar 24 to facilitate the second edge 18 of the seal 10 to removably stick to the inside surface 32 of a truck's cargo space 11. An example of an effective magnet is a magnet with a forty to fifty pound lifting power. Different size magnets and attractive forces can be used to effectively seal the seal 10 to the interior wall 106.

This exemplary embodiment, the seal 10 is also fitted with two opposite Velcro™ pieces 47 and 48 to facilitate storage (as previously described—see also FIGS. 3D and E). When the seal 10 is not in use, the seal 10 is bent back upon itself such that the Velcro™ pieces 47 and 48 attach to each other. This then effectively holds the seal 10 back from the edge of the doorway of the loading dock. Another means of holding back the seal 10 could include the use of a tether strap attached to the loading dock.

As can be appreciated, side seal 10 can be made out of a robust vinyl or other flexible sheet-like material that can be manipulated to create a pocket 26 along distal edge 18 into which substantially rigid bar or bars 24 can be inserted and held into place (e.g., by sewing off or closing the opposite ends of pocket 46), or simply closing the bottom side of pocket 46. Magnets 28 can be fixed along bar 24 before insertion into pocket 46. Bar 24 provides substantial rigidity of the flexible sheet along its free edge 18. The attachment of proximal edge 16 by the multiple Velcro™ pieces to a substantially rigid existing dock shelter, or dock opening jamb, provides substantial rigidity of that side of side seal 10. Velcro™ strips 42 can be adhered to side seal 10 by glue, sewing, sonic welding, or other methods such as are well-known in the art. The material of the sheet of side seal 10 is selected to be as flexible and lightweight as possible but yet durable for the conditions experienced around loading docks. As mentioned, in this embodiment, the sheet material is at least substantially opaque, air impermeable, water impermeable, and impervious to insects and small particles to effectively substantially block light, air movement, water movement, or dust or debris. However, these characteristics can differ according to need or desire. For example, there may be situations where a transparent or translucent material is desired. It might also be air permeable but have a pure size that blocks most insects and debris. Other configurations are possible.

FIG. 9 provides an illustration from a different perspective of side seal 10R in sealing position, wrapped around hinges 107 and the vertical complete edge from top to bottom of truck 100. Side seal 10L is not shown but would have same substantially complete sealing action on the opposite side of truck 100.

FIGS. 11-13 are additional illustrations of an actual installation. The side seals 10R and 10L are a supplemental or stand alone solution to the needs and deficiencies in the art.

D. Optional Top Curtain Seal Assistance

FIGS. 10A-C show an optional possible feature for a loading dock. Some dock shelters have a top curtain 88 that attempts to seal the top of truck 100 (see FIG. 10A). However, it has been found that because of the different heights of trucks, and other factors, the top seal many times is not perfect, and in fact, can be far from a seal. What will be called a modified top seal adds a foam member 38 to the inside top wall 84 of the dock shelter 79 inwardly of the top curtain 88. As illustrated in FIGS. 10B and 10C, it is sized and spaced such that when truck 100 backs in, top curtain 88 would be forced against the top of truck 100 to try to promote a seal all the way across the top. Member 38 would therefore extend substantially all across the width of the dock shelter 79.

As seen in FIGS. 10B and 10C, a foam block 38 is attached along the lower side of the dock seal roof 84. When the truck 100 backs into the loading dock, the curtain 88 folds back and is pinched against the upper surface of the truck 100 by the foam block 38 as seen in FIG. 10C. This top seal forms a very effective barrier, around the entire dock opening when used in conjunction with the vertical side seals 10A and B described above.

An alternative to provide a seal along the top, horizontal gap 110 created when the truck 100 is backed against the loading dock wall 30 is as follows. Edge 16 of a side seal 10 can be attached along the horizontal upper edge 78 of the doorway. When the truck 100 is backed against the wall 30, the seal 10 is lowered down and then folded back against the interior ceiling 34 of the truck's cargo space (or could be attached to the outside top of the truck).

E. Options and Alternatives

A description of a few exemplary embodiments of the present invention have been set forth above. Those skilled in the art to which the present invention pertains will recognize and be able to practice additional variations in the methods and systems described which fall within the teachings of this invention. Accordingly, all such modifications and additions are deemed to be within the scope of the invention which is to be limited only by the appended claims herein.

As can be appreciated, examples of options and alternatives have been discussed previously. For example, the material from which side seals 10 is made can vary according to need and desire. The way in which the distal edge 18 is made substantially rigid can vary. It has been found that magnets work well for their intended purpose of releasably attaching distal edge 18 to the interior of a truck. However, other means and methods are possible.

Furthermore, in some cases, the proximal edge 16 may be permanently attached. Alternatively, other means for removable attachment are possible.

In one aspect of the invention, the easy, efficient, and economical use of hook and loop fasteners to fasten edges 16 allows it to be usably retrofitted to existing docks and dock structures, or installed as original equipment. They can also be reused or moved to different docks or dock structures. It also allows for an effective, non-destructive way to attach them to existing dock shelters and dock seals. There is no drilling, screws, or other structure that must penetrate into the dock shelter or dock seals, if attached to those structures.

As stated above, the dimensions of side seals 10 can vary. In one exemplary embodiment, however, it is important that they extend to allow coverage of the entire vertical height of the truck body and/or the dock opening, dock shelter opening, or pre-existing dock seal opening. Flexibility of the sheet material for side seals 10, the Velcro™ attachability of edge 16, and the magnetic releasable attachment of distal edge 18, allow substantial flexibility for different trucks, different truck dimensions, and different truck orientations relative to the dock opening.