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This invention relates to a packaging article in the form of a fitting for associating with an article, e.g. with a beverage container.
Beverage containers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. In some cases, the container may have a base which is narrower than other parts thereof, e.g. a container shaped to resemble a conventional beer glass having a wide mouth and/or a bulge towards its upper end and a base which is narrower than said mouth and/or said bulge. However, such containers can present difficulties in manufacturing lines and/or during transport or packaging thereof due to their shape.
The present invention seeks to overcome or reduce these difficulties and/or provide additional advantages.
According to a first aspect of the invention, there is provided a fitting for the base of a container arranged such that, when fitted thereto, a peripheral part of the fitting and a peripheral part of the container (at or towards the upper end thereof) respectively present first and second points of contact aligned along a substantially vertical line.
According to a second aspect of the invention, there is provided a fitting for associating with an article to provide an assembly having desired shape characteristics to facilitate handling thereof in automatic machinery, the fitting being adapted to be subsequently joined with one or more similar fitting so as to form part of a packaging unit for holding a plurality of said articles together.
According to other aspects of the invention there is provided the use of such a fitting for facilitating the handling of a line of containers in an automated assembly or filling line, the use of such a fitting to facilitate the packaging of an array of containers and/or the use of such a fitting as a coaster or base of a container.
According to a further aspect of the invention, there is provided a method of filling and packaging containers in which such fittings are used to facilitate handling of the containers whilst they are being filled and to facilitate packaging of a plurality of containers once filled.
Preferred or optional features of the invention will be apparent from the subsidiary claims of the specification.
The invention will now be further described, merely by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIGS. 1A and 1B are a perspective view and side view, respectively, of a first embodiment of the invention;
FIGS. 2A-2D are perspective views of a second embodiment of the invention in an initial flat configuration, when opened up for use, when used in a production line and when re-configured for use in subsequent packaging, respectively;
FIGS. 3A-3C are perspective views of a third embodiment of the invention showing, respectively, the fitting on its own, during assembly of packaging and in the packaging thus formed;
FIGS. 4A-4C are perspective views of a fourth embodiment of the invention showing, respectively, a line of fittings, adjacent fittings being assembled side by side and arrays of two, four and six fittings.
FIG. 5A shows a fifth embodiment of the invention and FIGS. 5B-5D show six such fittings being joined together in an array, once joined together in an array and with containers located therein;
FIG. 6A shows a sixth embodiment of the invention, FIG. 6B shows six such fittings being joined together in an array and FIG. 6C shows the array with containers located therein;
FIG. 7A shows a seventh embodiment of the invention and FIG. 7B shows six such fittings being joined together in an array; and
FIG. 8A shows an eighth embodiment of the invention and FIG. 8B shows six such fittings being joined together in an array.
FIGS. 1A and 1B show a fitting 10 formed from sheet material cut and folded to a desired configuration. Any type of sheet material that can be configured to the desired form may be used including cardboard and plastic materials (or laminates of different materials). A preferred material in a polymer sheet which is tear-resistant, washable, does not absorb water (or other liquids) but which otherwise behaves in a similar manner to cardboard and which can be printed on. One such material is manufactured by AGI Klearfold and sold under the trade name Durafold™ is a polypropylene-based synthetic paperboard.
As shown in FIGS. 1A and 1B, the fitting comprises an upper, substantially square, surface 10A with an aperture 10B formed therein shaped to receive the base of an article, e.g. the base of a beverage container 11 shaped to resemble a conventional beer glass. The aperture 10B may be formed with flexible tabs 10C therearound to help locate and hold the base of the container 11 therein. Side surfaces 10D depend from the four edges of the upper surface 10A.
In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1A and 1B, the fitting 10 does not have a lower surface but stands on the lower edges of the side surfaces 10D and also, preferably, on the distal ends of the tabs 10C (as shown in FIG. 1B). In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1A and 1B, each fitting is a separate item (although a line or array of such fittings may be assembled side by side and may be held in such a configuration by secondary packaging).
As shown in FIG. 1B, the opposite sides 10D of the fitting are spaced from each other by a distance d corresponding to the maximum width of the container 11. Peripheral parts of the fitting 10 (in this case the sides 10D) and peripheral parts of the container 11 (in this case a bulge 11A towards the upper end thereof) present points of contact aligned vertically above each other, i.e. along substantially vertical lines L1 and L2.
Thus, if two such fittings are placed side by side, the arrangement is relatively stable as the sides 10D of the adjacent fittings abut each other and the bulges 11A of adjacent containers 11 also abut each other. The arrangement is thus much less prone to the containers 11 tilting or tipping over compared to a line or array of such containers without the fittings 10.
If the fitting is square, it will have the same dimension d between both pairs of opposite sides so can be used in either orientation. In other cases (not shown), the widest part of the container may be non-circular so it has different widths in different directions. In this case, the fitting may be rectangular and the container orientated therein so the sides of the rectangular fittings are aligned with the parts of the container having the corresponding width. In this case, if the base of the container is non-circular, the aperture 20B may be correspondingly shaped and orientated so as to assist in locating the container in the correct orientation with respect to the fitting.
The use of such fittings 10 thus facilitates the handling of the containers 11, e.g. in an automated filling line in which the containers are filled with a beverage and closure means (not shown) applied to close the opening 112B at the upper end of the container 11 as they help ensure that a line or array of containers can be moved along the filling line with a much reduced risk of tilting or tipping over.
Such fittings 10 may be used just to facilitate handling of the containers 11 in a filling line and once used may be disposed of or, preferably, re-used at the beginning of the filling line.
However, in a preferred arrangement, the fitting may remain with the container and form part of its subsequent packaging in transit from the filling plant to a retail outlet. For example, four containers 11 in their respective fittings 10 may be placed side by side in a square array and secured in this configuration by secondary packaging, e.g. folded cardboard sheet (similar to that shown in FIG. 3C which is described further below) and/or shrink film packaging. Again, the fittings 11 help provide a stable array in which the containers are held in alignment with each other.
FIGS. 2A-2D illustrate a second embodiment of a fitting 20 according to the invention. This is similar to that shown in FIGS. 1A and 1B in that it is also formed from sheet material that can be cut and folded to a desired configuration.
In this embodiment, the sheet material is in the form of a tube with a rectangular cross-section which can adopt a flat configuration for storage (as shown in FIG. 2A) or an open, erect configuration in use (as shown in FIG. 2B). The tube comprises an upper, rectangular surface 20A with one or more apertures 20B formed therein shaped to receive the base of a beverage container 21 (see FIG. 2C). As in the first embodiment, flexible tabs 20C are provided around the apertures to assist in locating and holding the base of a container 21 therein. The tube also comprises a lower, rectangular surface 20E and sides 20F and 20G joining the upper and lower surfaces 20A and 20E.
In the arrangement shown in FIG. 2A, the fitting 20 comprises four apertures 20B in a line with a perforation 20H formed midway along the length of the fitting 20. The fitting 20 may be of greater length than that shown with a perforation 20H between each pair of apertures 20B as shown in FIG. 2C. It will be appreciated that such a fitting 20 (or a line of similar fittings) can be moved along an assembly line to receive containers 21 therein and to hold the containers whilst they are being filled and whilst closure means (not shown) are fitted to the containers 21.
If it is desired to use the fitting 20 as part of the packaging for the containers, lengths of fitting comprising four apertures 20B may be separated from each other and then partially separated about their centre perforation and folded to form a two-by-two array of apertures 20B as shown in FIG. 2D. The two halves 22A and 22B of the fitting shown in FIG. 2D may remain attached to each other where sides 20G thereof meet (at point 22C) or they may be separated from each other but assembled side-by-side. In another arrangement, inter-engaging tabs (not shown) may be provided to assist in holding the two halves 22A and 22B together at point 22D.
Separation of the fitting 20 and folding to form such arrays may be carried out whilst containers 21 are held within the apertures 20B (the containers not being shown in FIG. 2D for ease of illustration).
The two-by-two array shown in FIG. 2D may form part of secondary packaging for the containers during transport from the assembly plant to a retail outlet and for use by the consumer until the containers are removed therefrom for consumption of the beverage. As described above, the two-by-two array may be held in this configuration by further packaging, e.g. folded sheet material as shown in FIGS. 3B and 3C, and/or by shrink-film packaging.
FIGS. 3A-3C show a third embodiment of a fitting according to the present invention. In this case, the fitting comprises a substantially flat plastic moulding 30 having an aperture or recess 30A in the upper surface thereof for receiving the base of a container 31. Ribs 30B may be provided around the periphery of the aperture 30A to assist in locating and holding the base of a container 32 therein. In the example shown, the plastic moulding has a circular shape and is generally in the form of a puck. The outer diameter of the moulding 30 corresponds to the maximum diameter of the upper end and/or bulge of the container 31 so the container and moulding together present peripheral parts which are aligned vertically so as to provide a stable configuration when placed side by side with similar assemblies (whether in a line or some other form of array). As will be appreciated, with a circular fitting and a container with a circular periphery, the assembly presents the same lateral dimensions whatever its orientation about its axis. It is also particularly well adapted for being moved along an assembly line which may include curves and corners.
In a preferred embodiment, the moulding is designed to be a push-fit on snap-fit onto the base of a container so it remains thereon and is not prone to accidental detachment, although it can be removed therefrom by manually pulling it from the container. In some cases, it may be designed to remain attached to the base of the container when beverage is drunk from the container, e.g. to provide a broad, stable base for the container and/or as an integral part of the overall aesthetics of the container (e.g. if the container is designed to resemble a wine glass).
The plastic moulding 30 may thus be used in an assembly plant to facilitate the handling of the containers 31 to reduce the risk of the containers tilting or tipping over. They may then be re-cycled for further use in the assembly plant. Alternatively, they may remain with the container and form part of the secondary packaging used to transport the containers, e.g. as shown in FIGS. 3B and 3C. This secondary packaging may comprise sheet material 32 on which an array of containers 31 held within respective mouldings 30 may be placed and then secured further by folding the sheet material and fastening into a package as shown in FIG. 3C.
The use of folded sheet material for such purposes is well-known so will not be described further. The sheet material is preferably held together in the assembled configuration by mechanical interlocking between parts thereof although, in some cases, the use of adhesives may be desired.
The moulding may subsequently be used by the consumer as a coaster for the container 31 and/or for receiving closure means (not shown) when removed from the container 31.
The fittings shown in FIGS. 4A-4C are formed from folded sheet material like those of FIGS. 1 and 2 but in an 8-side, approximately octagonal shape. Thus, compared to the fitting shown in FIG. 1, the fittings of FIG. 4 have chamfered corners. This is done so as to approximate the shape and function of the circular, plastic fittings shown in FIG. 3 in a fitting formed from folded sheet material. In a preferred arrangement, the width d2 of the fitting between its corner faces is preferably the same as its width d1 between opposite sides, as shown in FIG. 4A.
As shown in FIG. 4A, each fitting 40 has an aperture 41 in the upper face thereof for receiving the base of a container and a plurality of resilient fingers or tabs 42 around the periphery of the aperture to assist in locating and holding the container therein.
The eight-sided shape shown helps ensure that a line of fittings, such as that shown in FIG. 4A, is able to travel along an assembly line (which typically includes curves or corners which the fittings have to move around) without risk of getting caught up or stuck. It will be appreciated that a line of fittings having a square shape such as that shown in FIG. 1 is not adapted to travel easily along a curved or angled path.
Adjacent fitting in the assembly line abut against each other as shown in FIG. 4A but are not connected to each other. After passing along an assembly line (or filling line) the fittings may be arranged side by side (as shown in FIG. 4B) to form a 2-dimensional array, e.g. of two, four or six fittings (as shown in FIG. 4C).
Whilst FIGS. 4A-4C show fittings with flat corner faces, it will be appreciated that by appropriate shaping of the sheet material, the corners may be rounded.
Adjacent fittings may be connected to each other by adhesive, inter-engaging tabs and slots or by any other suitable means. Examples are described below with reference to FIG. 5 to 8.
FIGS. 5-8 show examples of various inter-engaging features which may be used to connect fittings together side by side in an array.
FIG. 5A shows a fitting formed of folded sheet material similar to that described in relation to FIG. 4. The fitting 50 is eight-sided and four sides thereof are provided with inter-engaging flaps, two with an upwardly directed flap 50A and two with a downwardly directed flap 50B (opposite sides being provided with different flaps, one upwardly directed and the other downwardly directed). When two fittings 50 are placed side-by-side, e.g. in an array as shown in FIG. 5B, the flaps 50A, 50B inter-engage to hold the adjacent fittings together. A 2×3 array as shown in FIG. 5C may thus be provided. FIG. 5D shows containers 51 located in the fittings 50,
FIG. 6A shows a fitting 60 formed from a plastic moulding but otherwise of similar shape to that described in relation to FIG. 4. In this case, sides of the fittings are provided with dove-tail shaped projections 60A and recesses 60B which inter-engage to hold fittings together in an array as shown in FIG. 6B. FIG. 6C shows containers 61 located in the fittings 61.
FIG. 7A shows a fitting 70 formed from a plastic moulding but otherwise of similar shape to that described in relation to FIG. 4. In this case, sides of the fittings are provided with a key-hole shaped slot 70A or a circular projection 70B for inter-engaging to hold adjacent fittings 70 together as shown in FIG. 7B.
FIG. 8A shows a fitting 80 formed from a plastic moulding but otherwise of similar shape to that described in relation to FIG. 4. In this example, sides of the fitting 80 are provided with an aperture 80A or a circular projection 80B which inter-engage to hold adjacent fittings 80 together in an array, e.g. as shown in FIG. 8B. The projections 80B preferably snap-fit with the apertures 80A.
Whilst rectangular, circular and octagonal fittings having been described above, it will be appreciated that other shapes may be used, e.g. triangular, pentagonal, hexagonal, etc. Preferably, the shapes are capable of tessellating to form an array or mosaic in which each fitting contacts one or more adjacent fittings. Similarly, whilst two-by-two arrays have been described above other arrays may be used, e.g. to provide a “six-pack” or “twelve-pack”.
Whilst the fittings may simply be located side by side they are preferably arranged (whether formed from sheet material or a plastic moulding) to interlock or inter-engage with one or more adjacent fittings, e.g. by provision of co-operating features on the periphery thereof as described above, when assembled in an array to form part of the secondary packaging of the containers.
As mentioned above, the fitting may be arranged to receive closure means when the latter is removed from the container (e.g. to provide temporary storage of the closure means and/or so that both items may be disposed of/recycled as a single unit and/or to reduce the potential for the closure means creating litter if discarded after removal). The fitting may also be adapted to co-operate with the upper end of a container and/or the closure means thereof to assist in locating a container or pack of containers stacked on top of another. The fittings may thus be used to help stabilize a 3-dimensional array of containers as well as 2-dimensional array.
In addition to the other uses/advantages mentioned above, the fittings provide potential for promotional use.
It will be appreciated that the fittings described above provide a simple but effective way of altering the shape of a product, such as a beverage container, having a tapered or irregular form to a shape which is effectively parallel sided (i.e. which engages adjacent products at at least two points which are aligned on a substantially vertical line).
A fitting can thus be provided for associating with an article (e.g. a container) to provide an assembly having desired shape characteristics (e.g. effectively parallel sides), to facilitate handling of the article in automated machinery (e.g. a filling and/or packaging line).
In other uses, the fitting is preferably adapted to be joined with one or more similar fittings (e.g. in a side-by-side array) so as to form part of a packaging unit (e.g. a 6-pack) for holding a plurality of the articles together.
The fittings have particular application to wide-mouth containers, e.g. beverage containers which are designed to have a wide mouth through which the beverage can be drunk, particularly as, if it desired to avoid the container having parallel sides (and hence looking more like a can or jar), the container is shaped so its base is narrower than the wide mouth (and/or may bulge towards the upper end of the container).
By a “wide-mouth opening” is meant (at least in its broadest sense) an opening of a size suitable for a person to drink from the container in the same manner as from a drinks glass or similar drinking vessel. That is, in its broadest sense, the wide-mouth opening of the container generally renders the container suitable as a drinking vessel from which a beverage supplied in the container may be conveniently drunk (in contrast to conventional narrow-necked bottles and ring-pull cans which generally are not regarded as comfortable drinking vessels). In practice, this requirement means that the diameter of the wide-mouth opening of the container will normally need to be at least 40 mm, preferably at least 45 mm, and more preferably at least 50 mm. Additionally, an excessively wide opening is generally difficult for the consumer to drink from, and thus the wide-mouth opening preferably has a diameter no greater than 150 mm, more preferably no greater than 100 mm, and especially no greater than 80 mm. A particularly preferred diameter range for the wide-mouth opening is 50 to 80 mm, and examples of particular preferred diameters included 53 mm and 63 mm.
The embodiments described above relate to wide-mouth containers. However the fittings described can be used with other types of container having a base which is narrower than other portions thereof, e.g. a bottle or drinking vessel having a bulge between its top and base. The mouth of such containers may be relatively narrower, e.g. as in a conventional 28 mm opening, or may be relatively wide as described above.
The above description relates to fittings designed for use with containers, e.g. beverage containers, but it will be appreciated that the concept can be applied to a wide variety of other articles and containers.
As described above, the fitting may be formed of folded sheet material or of a plastics material, e.g. formed by injection moulding. Other materials may, however, be used depending upon the application, e.g. aluminium when the fittings are only used to facilitate handling of containers in automated assembly/filling equipment.