Title:
Free-standing panel assembly
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A free-standing panel assembly includes adjacent panels hinged together by an easily installed hinge mechanism. The hinge mechanism is removably attachable to respective fasteners formed adjacent edges of each of the panels. The assembly may also include a stay mechanism that serves to fix a relative angle between adjacent panels.



Inventors:
Murray, Christopher (Charlottesville, VA, US)
Application Number:
10/740914
Publication Date:
09/02/2004
Filing Date:
12/22/2003
Assignee:
Gressco, Ltd. (Waunakee, WI)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63H33/10; (IPC1-7): A47G5/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PUROL, DAVID M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
NIXON & VANDERHYE, PC (ARLINGTON, VA, US)
Claims:
1. A free-standing panel assembly comprising: at least two adjacent panels each having a front face and a rear face, each of the front and rear faces having respective edge sections; a fastener disposed on at least one of the front face and the rear face in at least one of the edge sections of the adjacent panels; and a hinge mechanism removably attachable to each of the adjacent panel fasteners, the hinge mechanism thereby connecting the adjacent panels.

2. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the front face and rear face of the adjacent panels comprises a functional or decorative material.

3. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 2, wherein the functional or decorative material comprises one of chalkboard, white marker board, felt, cork, hook or loop material, magnetic surface, electronic media, pegboard, and a hanging medium.

4. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein the hinge mechanism and fasteners are configured to permit the adjacent panels to pivot through 360° relative to each other while connected.

5. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein the fasteners are disposed on at least the front face of one of the adjacent panels and the rear face of another of the adjacent panels such that the hinge mechanism attaches one end to the one panel fastener, passes between the adjacent panels, and attaches an opposite end to the other panel fastener.

6. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 5, wherein the fasteners comprise one of a hook material or a loop material of a hook and loop fastening assembly, and wherein the hinge mechanism comprises a strip of material with the other of the hook material or the loop material disposed at the ends thereof.

7. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 6, wherein the other of the hook material or the loop material disposed at the ends of the hinge mechanism strip of material is disposed on only one side of the strip of material such that the hinge mechanism is twisted in order to attach the ends thereof to the respective adjacent panel fasteners.

8. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 5, wherein the fasteners are disposed on both the front face and the rear face of both the adjacent panels, and wherein the hinge mechanism comprises: a first member attaching one end thereof to the one anel front face fastener, passing between the adjacent panels, and attaching an opposite end thereof to the other panel rear face fasteners, and a second member attaching one end thereof to the other panel front face fastener, passing between the adjacent panels, and attaching an opposite end thereof to the one panel rear face fasteners.

9. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein the fasteners comprise one of a hook material or a loop material of a hook and loop fastening assembly, and wherein the hinge mechanism comprises a strip of material with the other of the hook material or the loop material disposed at ends thereof.

10. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 9, wherein the hook material or the loop material of the fasteners is affixed to the adjacent panels via an adhesive.

11. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein fasteners are disposed in all the edge sections of the adjacent panels.

12. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 11, wherein different edge section fasteners of the adjacent panels are differently colored, textured or shaped.

13. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 12, wherein the hinge mechanism comprises one end attachable to one of the fasteners in one of the adjacent panels and an opposite end attachable to an adjacent one of the fasteners in another of the adjacent panels, the respective ends of the hinge mechanism being differently colored, textured or shaped corresponding to the edge section fasteners of the adjacent panels.

14. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, further comprising a stay mechanism attachable between the adjacent panels, the stay mechanism fixing a relative angle between the adjacent panels.

15. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 14, wherein the stay mechanism comprises a semi-rigid material attachable to each of the adjacent panels.

16. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 15, wherein the semi-rigid material comprises a tube with an elastic cord therein and connectors fixed to opposite ends of the elastic cord external to the tube, the connectors being releasably attachable to the adjacent panels.

17. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 16, wherein each of the adjacent comprises a slot shaped to receive the elastic cord, such that when connected to the adjacent, at least a portion of the connector and the tube are disposed on opposite sides of the panel.

18. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 17, wherein the connectors comprise at least one spherical member fixed to each end of the elastic cord, and wherein the slots in each of the panels terminate at a hole, the spherical members positively engaging each of the holes, respectively, when the elastic cord is inserted into the slots.

19. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 15, wherein the semi-rigid material comprises one of polyurethane, polycarbonate or nylon.

20. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 15, wherein the semi-rigid material is selected to resist without preventing collapse of the hinged adjacent panels.

21. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 14, wherein the stay mechanism is attachable to a single panel for self-storage

22. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, comprising more than two adjacent panels pivotable about a common hinge assembly.

23. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein each of the adjacent panels comprises a four-sided shape.

24. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 1, wherein the hinge mechanism and fasteners are configured to maintain an axial relationship of the adjacent panels.

25. A free-standing panel assembly comprising: at least two adjacent panels each having a front face and a rear face, each of the front and rear faces having respective edge sections; means for effecting a hinge between the adjacent panels; and means for fixing a relative angle between the adjacent panels.

26. A free-standing panel assembly according to claim 25, wherein the means for effecting a hinge comprises a connector having a first end secured to the front face of one of the adjacent panels and a second end secured to the rear face of another of the adjacent panels.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/434,667, filed Dec. 20, 2002, the entire content of which is herein incorporated by reference.

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT

[0002] (NOT APPLICABLE)

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] The present invention relates to a free-standing panel system that permits numerous activities on its surfaces. Multiple panels are hinged to one another via an easy-to-assemble hinge system, and one or more stays maintain an angular relationship of the panels relative to each other.

[0004] Hinged panels are particularly suitable for constructing temporary play structures, display structures and the like. Such assemblies, however, are typically unable to withstand any level of rough play or use without collapsing or otherwise failing. Constructions attempting to solve this problem are typically difficult to assemble and as a consequence of the more complicated construction, are also more expensive.

[0005] U.S. Pat. No. 5,354,589 to Wass discloses a relatively complicated hinge structure utilizing a “figure 8” looped structure. This construction not only requires the figure 8 wrapping of a webbing material and requires apertures in the panel, but also secures the material to a wooden trim via screws. See also U.S. Pat. No. 4,964,249 to Payn describing a foldable playhouse using simple hook and loop fasteners to secure adjacent panels. The panel connections are likely to fail upon movement of the structure or rough play or use.

[0006] Still further, existing systems using hinge mechanisms to connect adjacent panels are unable to accommodate varying thicknesses of adjacent panels. Moreover, the failure of one or more hinge mechanisms with existing products can be catastrophic to the structure. Additionally, existing systems utilizing multiple pivot points between adjacent panels undesirably permit the panels to shift and rotate around their respective pivot axes. As a result, an axial relationship of the panels cannot be maintained. See, e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 4,825,930 to Lindberg et al.

[0007] Yet another problem with existing systems is that the systems typically lack structure for fixing a relative angle between panels. As a consequence, if adjacent panels are inadvertently folded, the hinges may unpredictably fail or the structure may no longer be self-supporting and collapse. Moreover, as a result of relatively complicated securing structure, the assembly cost is increased.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0008] It would thus be desirable to construct a free-standing panel assembly that is inexpensive and easy to assemble. It would additionally be desirable to include a hinge mechanism that can withstand rough play or use and a stay mechanism that can maintain a relative angle of adjacent panels without affecting operation of the hinge mechanism. It would additionally be desirable to enable multiple panels to be connected to a common pivot.

[0009] In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a free-standing panel assembly includes adjacent panels each having a front face and a rear face, where each of the front and rear faces have respective edge sections. A fastener is disposed on at least one of the front face and the rear face in at least one of the edge sections of the adjacent panels. A hinge mechanism is removably attachable to each of the panel fasteners, thereby connecting the adjacent panels. At least one of the front face and rear face of the adjacent panels may include a functional or decorative material, such as chalkboard, white marker board, felt, cork, hook or loop material, a magnetic surface, electronic media, pegboard, and a hanging medium.

[0010] The hinge mechanism and fasteners are preferably configured to permit the adjacent panels to pivot through substantially 360° relative to each other while connected. Additionally, the hinge mechanism and fasteners are preferably configured to maintain an axial relationship of the adjacent panels

[0011] In one arrangement, the fasteners are disposed on at least the front face of one of the adjacent panels and the rear face of another of the adjacent panels such that the hinge mechanism attaches one end to the one panel fastener, passes between the adjacent panels, and attaches an opposite end to the other panel fastener. In this context, the fasteners may comprise one of a hook material or a loop material of a hook and loop fastening assembly, and the hinge mechanism may comprise a strip of material with the other of the hook material or the loop material disposed at the ends thereof. In this regard, the other of the hook material or the loop material disposed at the ends of the hinge mechanism strip of material is preferably disposed on only one side of the strip material such that the hinge mechanism is twisted in order to attach the ends thereof to the respective panel fasteners of the adjacent panels. In an alternative arrangement, the fasteners are disposed on both the front face and the rear face of both adjacent panels. The hinge mechanism in this context comprises a first member attaching one end thereof to the one panel front face fastener, passing through the adjacent panels, and attaching an opposite end thereof to the other panel rear face fastener. A second member of the hinge mechanism attaches one end thereof to the other panel front face fastener passing through the adjacent panels, and attaching an opposite end thereof to the one panel rear face fastener.

[0012] The hook material or the loop material of the fasteners may be affixed to the adjacent panels via an adhesive. The fasteners may be disposed in all of the edge sections of the adjacent. In this context, respective edge section fasteners of the adjacent panels are preferably differently colored, textured or shaped. The hinge mechanism may comprise one end attachable to one of the one panel fasteners and an opposite end attachable to an adjacent one of the other panel fasteners. The respective ends of the hinge mechanism in this arrangement may also be differently colored, textured or shaped corresponding to the edge section fasteners of the adjacent panels.

[0013] A stay mechanism may be attachable between the adjacent panels for fixing a relative angle between the adjacent panels. The stay mechanism preferably includes a semi-rigid material attachable to each of the adjacent panels. The material is selected to resist without preventing collapse of the hinged adjacent panels. Examples of suitable materials include polyurethane; polycarbonate or nylon. The semi-rigid material may include a tube with an elastic cord therein and connectors fixed to opposite ends of the elastic cord external to the tube. The connectors are releasably attachable to the adjacent panels. For this purpose, each of the adjacent panels may include a slot shaped to receive the elastic cord such that when connected to the adjacent panels, at least a portion of the connector and the tube are disposed on opposite sides of the panel. Preferably, the connectors may include at least one spherical member fixed to each end of the elastic cord, and the slots in each of the panels terminate at a hole, with the spherical members positively engaging each of the holes, respectively, when the elastic cord is inserted into the slots. 21. The stay mechanism may be attachable to a single panel for self-storage

[0014] The assembly may also include more than two adjacent panels pivotable about a common hinge assembly. Additionally, each of the adjacent panels may comprise a four-sided shape.

[0015] In another exemplary embodiment of the invention, a free-standing panel assembly includes adjacent panels each having a front face and a rear face, with each of the front and rear faces having respective edge sections. The assembly additionally includes structure for effecting a hinge between the adjacent panels, and structure for fixing a relative angle between the adjacent panels.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0016] These and other aspects and advantages of the present invention will be described in detail with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

[0017] FIG. 1 is an exemplary configuration of the free-standing panel assembly of the present invention;

[0018] FIG. 2 is an alternative exemplary configuration;

[0019] FIG. 3 illustrates the hinge mechanism of the free-standing panel assembly;

[0020] FIG. 4 illustrates the stay mechanism of the free-standing panel assembly;

[0021] FIGS. 5, 6A and 6B show multiple adjacent panels with a common pivot;

[0022] FIG. 7 illustrates a self-storing feature of the invention; and

[0023] FIGS. 8A and 8B show configurations of the stay mechanism connectors.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0024] FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate exemplary configurations of the free-standing panel assembly of the present invention. FIG. 1 shows a play fort or playhouse assembly 10 including a doorway panel 12 and two window panels 14. The assembly in FIG. 2 shows a stage configuration including a window panel 14, a door panel 12 and two puppet panels 16. As described in more detail below, the respective panels 12, 14, 16 are pivotally attached to one another at ends thereof via one or more hinge systems 20, as shown in FIG. 3. Additionally, if desirable, a relative angle between adjacent panels can be fixed by means of a stay mechanism 40 as shown in FIG. 4. Although the panels are shown generally as rectangular structures, it will be appreciated that panels of any shape could be used, including but not limited to triangular, pentagonal, hexagonal, etc.

[0025] The assembly generally includes at least two adjacent panels 12, 14, 16, the faces of which may be covered with one or more of a plurality of surface finishes such as chalkboard, white marker board, felt, cork, hook or loop material, a magnetic surface, electronic media, pegboard, hanging medium and the like. The hinge system 20 secures edges of adjacent panels in proximity to and substantially parallel with each other.

[0026] The panels 12, 14, 16 may be cut out of any sheet material rigid enough to stand on its own. Suitable materials may include particle board, medium density fiberboard (MDF), plywood, plastic (acrylic, foamed polystyrene, corrugated high density polyethylene), cardboard, and the like. The edge profile may be flat (FIGS. 1 and 3) or shaped in a decorative fashion (FIGS. 2 and 4). Faces of the panels 12, 14, 16 may be pierced for openings of various sizes and purposes and additionally may have decorative or functional surfaces applied or themselves be made of functional materials.

[0027] With reference to FIG. 3, each panel includes a front face 22 and a rear face 24, with each of the front and rear faces 22, 24 having respective edge sections, the number of which depending on the shape of the panel. The removable hinge system 20 between the adjacent panels permits the panels to pivot through substantially 360° relative to each other while connected.

[0028] A fastener 25 is disposed on the front face and/or the rear face of each panel in at least one of the edge sections. In FIG. 3, fasteners 25 are shown in a right side edge section of a first panel front face (left side panel in FIG. 3) and in a left side edge section of a second panel front face (right side panel in FIG. 3).

[0029] The hinge system 20 will be described using hook and loop fastening material although those of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate other suitable applications, and the invention is not necessarily meant to be limited to the described example. The hinge system generally has a mating component attachable to the panel fasteners that when attached, form a hinging device between the two panels. In addition to the hook and loop fastening material, examples of other suitable mating components include screws or pegs in slots, magnets, and the like.

[0030] Using complementary hook and loop materials, the fastener 25 may comprise a piece of loop material affixed to the panel via an adhesive or the like. The loop material or fastener 25 may be affixed to the panel as a continuous strip along an entire edge section, or it may be configured as dots or squares or the like, adjacent one or more edges of the panel. The amount of loop material encroaching toward a centerline of the panel depends on a hinge strength requirement. Preferably, corresponding loop material on the reverse side of each panel is similarly situated opposite the material applied on the front face. With the fasteners 25 affixed in all of the edge sections of the panels, an infinite number of the panels may be attached via their adjacent edges, creating an unlimited series of mountable and demountable panels. With the alternatively-shaped panels, closed polygonal structures such as a geodesic dome may also be assembled.

[0031] A hinge mechanism 26 is removably attachable to each of the adjacent panel fasteners 25 to thereby connect the adjacent panels. In a preferred arrangement, the hinge mechanism 26 includes a patch of hook material or other connecting material 27 engageable with the fasteners 25 disposed at opposite ends of a ribbon or strip of material 28. The length and width of the ribbon 28 exposed between the hook surfaces 27 is dependent upon panel thickness and desired strength of the hinge as well as the amount of rotation desired between the panels. Alternatively, the hinge mechanism 26 may comprise a homogeneous strip of material such as the hook material for the hook and loop fastener connection.

[0032] With continued reference to FIG. 3, the fasteners 25 are disposed on at least the front face 22 of one of the adjacent panels and the rear face 24 of another of the adjacent panels such that the hinge mechanism 26 attaches one end 27 to the one panel fastener 25, passes between the adjacent panels, and attaches an opposite end 27 to the other panel fastener 25. Additionally, it is further preferable that the hook material disposed at the ends 27 of the hinge mechanism 26 strip of material 28 is disposed facing only one side of the strip of material 28 such that the hinge mechanism 26 is twisted in order to attach the ends thereof 27 to the respective panel fasteners 25. FIG. 3 illustrates a further preferred arrangement with two twisted hinge mechanism members crossing between the adjacent panels and securing to the opposite face of the opposite panel.

[0033] Using the described structure for the hinge mechanism 26, the hinge system 20 can readily accommodate panels of different thicknesses, via different length hinge mechanisms 26, or by merely customizing the length by the number of twists in the ribbon material 28. The hinge system 20 may also accommodate panels of disparate materials. Additionally, with reference to FIGS. 5, 6A and 6B, the hinge mechanism 26 permits more than two panels to be hinged at the same intersection by alternating front to back fastener positions. In this context, it may be desirable to incorporate double-sided hook or loop material at the ends 27 of the hinge mechanism to facilitate folding of the assembly.

[0034] With fasteners 25 disposed in the edge sections of each of the adjacent panels, the fasteners 25 or loop material may be differently colored, textured or shaped. For example, in the color context, if the loop material along the left side edge section of one face is white, the loop material along the opposite side edge section of that face could be black. The hook material end pieces 27 of the hinge mechanism 26 may be correspondingly colored, textured or shaped to facilitate assembly.

[0035] In storing the panels, one end 27 of the hinge mechanism 26 may be affixed to the fastener 25 on one face of the panel, while an opposite end 27 of the hinge mechanism 26 is wrapped around the edge of the same panel and affixed to the fastener 25 on the reverse side of the panel. Typically, a panel may include fasteners 25 at least at ends of each edge section and possibly also along intermediate portions adjacent the panel edge. In order to assemble a hinge between two panels, the panels can be placed in proximity to each other with adjacent edges abutting or nearly abutting. The hook end of one hinge mechanism 26 is detached from its position on one panel, twisted and reattached to the loop material on the presenting face of the adjacent panel. Likewise, the hinge mechanism from the other panel is removed from its fastener 25, twisted and secured to the fastener 25 on the presenting face of the adjacent panel.

[0036] The twisted configuration generally accomplishes three goals, where a single twist is necessary to the mating of opposite hook and loop surfaces, which, when mated, maintains adjacent panels in fixed proximity to each other. Additionally, twisting the material 28 effectively shortens its length, decreasing the distance of panel edges from each other, thus adjusting the proximity of adjacent panels. The resulting hinge system permits the panels to hinge and fold face to face with no further adjustment of the hinge and no change in the snugness or proximity of one panel to its adjacent panel. Still further, varying the number of twists in the hinge mechanism 26 permits hinging of panels of disparate materials and varying thicknesses, as discussed above.

[0037] While it is possible for the hinge mechanism 26 to remain on the same face of adjacent panels (i.e., and not cross from back to front of adjacent panels), when the panels are attempted to pivot to a face-to-face position, the increasing radius of the outside surfaces folding away from each other may ultimately pull the outside hinge from its position. As a contrary consideration, if the material or ribbon 28 is of sufficient length to permit the panels to fold in this manner, the resulting assembly, when unfolded and freestanding, may be too unstable for optimal use.

[0038] In order to prevent free-standing pairs of panels from being folded or flattened involuntarily, which condition may cause them to fall over, a stay mechanism 40 is provided to fix the relative angle between adjacent panels. With reference to FIG. 4, a stay mechanism 40 is attachable between adjacent panels for fixing a relative angle therebetween. A slot 42 terminating at an opening or a hole 44 may be formed in a top surface of the adjacent panels. As shown in FIG. 4, the slot 42 and hole 44 appear as decorative expressions of the perimeter shape. Generally, one or more slots and holes 42, 44 may be situated at one or both ends of each panel, occurring at intervals within the decorative edge.

[0039] The stay mechanism 40 preferably includes a tubular member 46 formed of a semi-rigid material, such as polyurethane, polycarbonate or nylon. The semi-rigid material is selected to resist without preventing collapse of the hinged adjacent panels. By resisting but not preventing collapse, the tube 46 acts as a spring or shock absorber signaling the user not to further fold the panels. Were the stay mechanism tube 46 too rigid, leverage from the folding action could cause the hinges 20 to fail. With the hinge system 20 of the invention, in conjunction with the stay mechanism 40, any failure would be gradual and repairable without permanent damage.

[0040] An elastic cord 48 is disposed within the tube 46, and a suitable connector 50 is fixed to ends of the elastic cord 48. The connector 50 may include two components, a first component 51 affixed to each end of the tube 46, and a second component 52 pulled into releasable engagement with the first component 51 by the elastic cord 48. The slot 42 is generally shaped to receive the elastic cord 48 such that when connected to the adjacent panels, the first component 51 and the second component 52 are disposed on opposite sides of the panel. The second connector component 52 can be separated from the first 51 to expose the elastic cord 48 for insertion into the slot 42, whereby the connector components 51, 52 sandwich the respective panels. As shown, the connector components 51, 52 are preferably spherical members that effect a positive engagement in the holes 44 when installed.

[0041] To install the stay mechanism 40, the connector components 51, 52 at a given end are separated exposing the elastic cord 48. The elastic cord 48 thus exposed may be pushed into the slot 42 in the panel until it fetches up at the hole. When the components 51, 52 are released, the elastic cord 48 sequentially pulls the components 51, 52 toward each other. The components 51, 52 center themselves in the hole 44, and the stay mechanism 40 remains in position in the panel until it is actively removed by reversing the process. The tube 46 length is determined according to the desired angle between the panels. The desired angle may also be adjusted by adding additional second components 52 to the elastic cord 48 (as shown in FIGS. 8A and 8B) or by installing the stay mechanism in different slots 42 in the adjacent panels.

[0042] An alternative exemplary construction of the stay mechanism 40 is shown in FIG. 7, using a semi-rigid bar 54 with pegs 56 disposed at opposite ends thereof. The pegs 56 are insertable in the slots 42. FIG. 7 illustrates a self-storing arrangement where the pegs 56 are spaced corresponding to a distance between slots 42 of a panel.

[0043] With the structure of the present invention, a freestanding panel assembly is inexpensive and easy to assemble. Additionally, the arrangement of the hinge mechanism enables multiple adjacent panels to freely pivot relative to each other while maintaining a sturdy connection. Still further, a stay mechanism may be secured between the panels to fix a relative angle therebetween.

[0044] While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiments, but on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.