Title:
Container ramp
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is a ramp having a front end that can be positioned up to the open end of a shipping container. The ramp is adapted to receive the forks of a forklift for lifting and transport. Generally, the ramp is constructed of an upwardly inclined load-bearing plate having at least one, and preferably two, fork-receiving slots with forward edges parallel to the load-bearing plate back edge, with the load-bearing plate being supported on first and second side support plates having upwardly inclined upper edges attached to the load-bearing plate adjacent load-bearing plate side edges. At least one, and preferably both, of the side support plates may also have at least one, and preferably two, fork-receiving slots with a horizontal upper edge.



Inventors:
William Jr., Emerson P. (Wilmington, NC, US)
Application Number:
10/840570
Publication Date:
12/09/2004
Filing Date:
05/06/2004
Assignee:
EMERSON WILLIAM P.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65G69/28; (IPC1-7): E01D1/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
ADDIE, RAYMOND W
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MACCORD MASON PLLC (GREENSBORO, NC, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A portable container ramp adapted to be transported on the forks of a forklift, said ramp comprising: a) a load-bearing plate having an outer surface, an inner surface, a front edge, a back edge, first and second parallel side edges, and at least one fork-receiving slot with a forward edge parallel to said back edge; and b) first and second side support plates having upwardly inclined upper edges attached to said load-bearing plate adjacent said side edges, horizontal lower edges, and front edges.

2. The container ramp of claim 1, further including a front plate parallel to said load-bearing plate front edge, said front plate having ends attached to the front edges of said support plates.

3. The container ramp of claim 1, further including at least one inner support plate having a upwardly inclined upper edge attached to the lower surface of said load-bearing plate between said side support plates, and a horizontal lower surface.

4. The container ramp of claim 1, further including a lip with a substantially horizontal lower surface and a downwardly inclined upper surface, said lip extending from the front edge of said load-bearing surface.

5. The container ramp of claim 1, wherein said load-bearing plate includes two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with forward edges parallel to said load-bearing plate back edge.

6. A portable container ramp adapted to be transported on the forks of a forklift, said ramp comprising: a) a load-bearing plate having an outer surface, an inner surface, a front edge, a back edge, first and second parallel side edges; and b) first and second side support plates having upwardly inclined upper edges attached to said load-bearing plate adjacent said side edges, horizontal lower surfaces, and front edges, at least one of said side support plates having at least one fork-receiving slot with a horizontal upper edge.

7. The container ramp of claim 6, further including a front plate parallel to said load-bearing plate front edge, said front plate having ends attached to the front edges of said support plates.

8. The container of claim 6, further including at least one inner support plate having a upwardly inclined upper edge attached to the lower surface of said load-bearing plate between said side support plates, and a horizontal lower surface.

9. The container of claim 6, further including a lip with a substantially horizontal lower surface and a downwardly inclined upper surface, said lip extending from the front edge of said load-bearing surface.

10. The container ramp of claim 6, wherein at least one of said side support plates includes two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with horizontal upper edges.

11. The container ramp of claim 6, wherein both of said side support plates include at least one fork-receiving slot with a horizontal upper edge.

12. The container ramp of claim 6, wherein both of said side support plates include two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with horizontal upper edges.

13. A portable container ramp adapted to be transported on the forks of a forklift, said ramp comprising: a) a load-bearing plate having an outer surface, an inner surface, a front edge, a back edge, first and second parallel side edges, and at least one fork-receiving slot with a forward edge parallel to said back edge; and b) first and second side support plates having upwardly inclined upper edges attached to said load-bearing plate adjacent said side edges, horizontal lower surfaces, and front edges, at least one of said side support plates having at least one fork-receiving slot with a horizontal upper edge.

14. The container ramp of claim 13, further including a front plate parallel to said load-bearing plate front edge, said front plate having ends attached to the front edges of said support plates.

15. The container of claim 13, further including at least one inner support plate having a upwardly inclined upper edge attached to the lower surface of said load-bearing plate between said side support plates, and a horizontal lower surface.

16. The container of claim 13, further including a lip with a substantially horizontal lower surface and a downwardly inclined upper surface, said lip extending from the front edge of said load-bearing surface.

17. The container ramp of claim 1, wherein said load-bearing plate includes two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with forward edges parallel to said load-bearing plate back edge.

18. The container ramp of claim 13, wherein at least one of said side support plates includes two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with horizontal upper edges.

19. The container ramp of claim 13, wherein both of said side support plates include at least one fork-receiving slot with a horizontal upper edge.

20. The container ramp of claim 13, wherein both of said side support plates include two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with horizontal upper edges.

Description:

[0001] This application is a continuation-in-part of pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/449,550, filed May 30, 2003, which in turn is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/390,274, filed Mar. 17, 2003, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,708,361, issued Mar. 23, 2004.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] (1) Field of the Invention

[0003] The present invention relates generally to ramps used to load and unload freight from shipping containers. In particular, the invention relates to a portable container ramp that can be transported by a forklift.

[0004] (2) Description of the Prior Art

[0005] Container ramps are used to load and unload items to and from shipping containers like those carried by container ships. Shipping containers are often lifted from ships and placed on the dock or ground for loading and unloading. While on the ground, a difference in level exists between the floor of the shipping container and the surface on which it rests. Container ramps are used to bridge this difference in level. These ramps need to be portable for transport from one container to another. Forklift tractors are the vehicles of choice for transporting container ramps between shipping containers.

[0006] One of the challenges to transporting a container ramp is the difficulty in initially getting the forks of a forklift under the rear edge of a ramp, which normally rests in full contact with a supporting surface. Prior art attempts to solve this problem mostly involve a rear edge lifting mechanism having moving parts. The moving parts for these lifting mechanisms add substantially to the costs of the ramp and also require more maintenance than ramps not having moving parts.

[0007] Other ramps have attached chains that loop over the forks of a forklift for lifting and transporting. Lift chains have the disadvantage of requiring a helper to ready the chains and loop them over the forks of the forklift for lifting and transport. Worse yet, if a helper is not available, a forklift operator must dismount the forklift to ready the chains, thereby breaking up what should be a continuous operation.

[0008] One patent, U.S. Pat. No. 4,634,145 to Humpe discloses a ramp that does not require a lifting mechanism or lift chains. Instead, the ramp disclosed by Humpe has an internal lift engagement support plate structure that receives the forks of a forklift. One disadvantage of this design is the need for a forklift operator to use great precision to guide the forklift forks through openings in the ramp in order to reach the internal lift support plate structure. Another disadvantage is the complexity of manufacture involving the alignment of the internal support plate structure with the slot openings in the ramp. Therefore, a need remains for a container ramp of simple construction that can be easily transported by a forklift tractor.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] The present invention is directed to a portable container ramp capable of supporting loads of considerable weight while bridging the difference in level between the floor of a shipping container and the surface on which the ramp rests. The invention relates especially to a container ramp that can be easily lifted and transported by an elevator type forklift tractor.

[0010] The present invention is a ramp having a front end that can be positioned up to the open end of a shipping container and a back end adapted to receive the forks of a forklift for lifting and transport. Generally, the ramp is made up of an upwardly inclined support structure having an upper surface that supports a load bearing plate and a lower surface that normally rests on the ground. The load bearing plate has an outer surface, an inner surface, a front edge, a back edge and side edges. The load-bearing plate includes at least one slot to receive at least one fork of a forklift. The term slot used herein covers both cutouts and openings. In a preferred embodiment, the back edge of the load-bearing plate includes at least one cutout section with a forward edge spaced above the support structure's lower surface. The ramp further includes at least one lift plate that has a bottom surface that is substantially in a plane with the at least one cutout forward edge when the ramp is positioned horizontally, i.e., on the ground.

[0011] In the preferred embodiment, there are two spaced cutouts in the back edge of the load-bearing surface. Each of these two cutouts is sized to engage and guide a forklift fork. The spacing between the cutouts is set to receive the forks of a forklift adapted to a given separation distance. Preferably, the front edges of both cutouts are aligned and are parallel with the back edge of the load-bearing surface. Moreover, the forward edge of each cutout can be beveled on a downward slope to help guide the forklift's forks to underneath the ramp. The bevel slope can range between 5 and 45 degrees. The preferred bevel slope is around 20 degrees.

[0012] Furthermore, in this preferred embodiment, sidewalls each having a railing section and a support section attach to the side edges of the load-bearing plate. A forward bracing plate near the ramp front end extends downwardly from the load-bearing plate inner surface and extends between and transverse to the sidewalls. Preferably, the upwardly inclined support structure is made up of a plurality of bracing plates extending downwardly from the load-bearing plate's inner surface. The bracing plates and sidewall support sections have bottom edges forming the support structure's lower surface.

[0013] Also, two lift plates extend downwardly between two pairs of the bracing plates. Both lift plates have a bottom surface that is substantially in a plane with the forward edges of the two cutouts when the ramp is positioned horizontally, i.e., resting on the ground. The spacing of the lift plates substantially equals that of the spacing of the two cutouts. Moreover, the cutouts and lift plates align defining a pathway that leads engaging forklift forks from the back end of the ramp to the front end of the ramp.

[0014] The preferred ramp also includes a forward section comprising a lip for extending over the floor of a shipping container. The lip comprises a horizontal lower surface with a forward edge that extends from the front end of the ramp. An upper surface for the lip is made from a section of the load-bearing surface that extends beyond the front end of the ramp and inclines slightly downward such that the load-bearing surface front edge joins with the horizontal surface's forward edge. Preferably, the lip upper surface inclines downwardly at an angle of around 10 degrees. It is also preferred that the load-bearing surface has a texture to prevent slipping while loading or unloading a shipping container. The texture can be any texture that makes for a non-slip surface. An example would be a texture like that found on the surface of a type of steel plate commonly known as diamond plate.

[0015] To lift the ramp, a forklift operator drives the fork tips of a forklift tractor under both cutout forward edges. As the forklift tractor is driven forward, the edges of the cutouts guide the forklift's forks underneath the lift plates. Normally, the forklift operator continues driving the forklift forward until the tips of the forks extend slightly beyond ramp front end. At this point the forklift's forks can be raised to lift the ramp. When lifted, the weight of the ramp is distributed across the forklift's fork at the cutout forward edges, lift plates, and forward bracing plate.

[0016] Once lifted, the ramp can be carried on the forklift's forks to a shipping container to be loaded or unloaded. Since the front end of the ramp is facing away from the forklift tractor when carried, the ramp front end can be maneuvered just up to the open end of a shipping container. When the ramp is lowered, the support surface will come to rest on the ground and the ramp lip will extend into the shipping container. Ideally, the lip lower surface will come to rest on the floor of the container. However, slight differences in level may allow a small gap to exist between the lip's lower surface and the container floor. Once the ramp is resting horizontally on the ground, the forklift tractor is backed away and the forklift forks withdraw from beneath the cutout leading edges.

[0017] In an alternate embodiment, a slot is an opening in the load-bearing plate rather than a cutout, and in this case, a slot will have both a forward edge and a trailing edge. Generally, the alternate embodiment has a load-bearing plate that includes at least one opening with a forward edge spaced above the support structure's lower surface. The at least one opening is preferably located within the rear section of the ramp's load-bearing plate. The rear section of the load-bearing plate extends from the back edge of the load-bearing plate to approximately midway the load-bearing plate between the ramp's front end and back end. In other words, the at least one opening is spaced forward of the load-bearing plate's back edge and to the rear of the mid-point of the ramp. Preferably the at least one opening is spaced immediately to the rear of the midpoint of the ramp.

[0018] The ramp further includes at least one lift plate that has a bottom surface that is substantially in a plane with the at least one opening's forward edge when the ramp is positioned horizontally, i.e., on the ground. The ramp also includes at least one fork capture plate spaced below the at least one lift plate for preventing the ramp from falling off a forklift fork when the ramp is accelerated by the movements of a forklift tractor transporting the ramp from one location to another.

[0019] Preferably, the alternate embodiment has two spaced rectangular shaped openings within the load-bearing surface's rear section. Each of these two openings is sized to engage and guide a forklift fork. The spacing between the openings is set to receive the forks of a forklift adapted to a given separation distance. Preferably, the front edges of both openings are aligned and are parallel with the back edge of the load-bearing surface. Moreover, the forward edge of each opening can be beveled on a downward slope to help guide the forklift's forks to underneath the ramp. The trailing edge of each opening can also be beveled with a downward slope to help guide the forks of a forklift. The bevel slope for either edge can range between 5 and 45 degree. The preferred bevel slope is around 20 degrees.

[0020] Furthermore, like the preferred embodiment, the alternate embodiment includes sidewalls, each having a railing section and a support section attached to the side edges of the load-bearing plate. A forward bracing plate near the ramp front end extends downwardly from the load-bearing plate inner surface and extends between and transverse to the sidewalls. Preferably, the upwardly inclined support structure is made up of a plurality of bracing plates extending downwardly from the load-bearing plate's inner surface. The bracing plates and sidewall support sections have bottom edges forming the support structure's lower surface.

[0021] The alternate embodiment also includes, two lift plates that are attached between two pairs of the bracing plates. Both lift plates have a bottom surface that is substantially in a plane with the forward edges of the two openings when the ramp is positioned horizontally, i.e., resting on the ground. The spacing of the lift plates substantially equals that of the spacing of the two openings. Moreover, the openings and lift plates align defining a pathway that leads engaging forklift forks from the trailing edges of the openings to the front end of the ramp. To prevent the ramp from bouncing or tipping off the forklift forks during ramp transport, a fork capture plate is spaced below each lift plate and is preferably attached to the same pairs of braces as the lift plates. The space between the lift plates and fork capture plates are pockets through which the front portions of the forklift forks are inserted in order to lift the ramp. Preferably, each fork capture plate has a bottom surface that is substantially in a plane with the support structure's lower surface when the ramp is positioned horizontally.

[0022] Like the preferred ramp, the alternate embodiment also includes a forward section comprising a lip for extending over the floor of a shipping container. The lip comprises a horizontal lower surface with a forward edge that extends from the front end of the ramp. An upper surface for the lip is made from a section of the load-bearing surface that extends beyond the front end of the ramp and inclines slightly downward such that the load-bearing surface front edge joins with the horizontal surface's forward edge. Preferably, the lip upper surface inclines downwardly at an angle of around 10 degrees. It is also preferred that the load-bearing surface of the alternate embodiment has a texture to prevent slipping while loading or unloading a shipping container. The texture can be any texture that makes for a non-slip surface. An example would be a texture like that found on the surface of a type of steel plate commonly known as diamond plate.

[0023] To lift the alternate embodiment of the ramp, a forklift operator drives the fork tips of a forklift tractor under both opening's forward edges and above the fork capture plate. As the forklift tractor is driven forward, the edges of the openings guide the forklift's forks between the lift plates and fork capture plates. Normally, the forklift operator continues driving the forklift forward until the tips of the forks extend beyond the forward extents of the lift and fork capture plates. At this point the forklift's forks can be raised to lift the ramp. When lifted, the weight of the ramp is distributed across the forklift's fork at the openings forward edges, and lift plates.

[0024] Once lifted, the alternate embodiment of the ramp can be carried on the forklift's forks to a shipping container to be loaded or unloaded. Since the front end of the ramp is facing away from the forklift tractor when carried, the ramp front end can be maneuvered just up to the open end of a shipping container. When the ramp is lowered, the support surface will come to rest on the ground and the ramp lip will extend into the shipping container. Ideally, the lip lower surface will come to rest on the floor of the container. However, slight differences in level may allow a small gap to exist between the lip's lower surface and the container floor. Once the ramp is resting horizontally on the ground, the forklift tractor is backed away and the forklift forks withdraw from beneath the openings leading edges.

[0025] Other embodiments can be created by combining elements of the preferred embodiment with the proceeding alternate embodiment. For example, the fork capture plates can be added to the preferred embodiment to help prevent the preferred ramp from falling from the forks of a forklift during transport.

[0026] The present invention also contemplates a container ramp in which slots are included in the side support plates instead of, or in addition to, the slots in the load-bearing plate. Again, the definition of “slots” as used herein, unless otherwise stated, is intended to encompass both cutouts at the rear edge of the load-bearing plate or bottom edge of the support plate, as well as openings with a lower edge spaced forward of the rear edge of the load-bearing plate or spaced above the bottom edge of the support plate.

[0027] The container ramp in this embodiment is therefore comprised of an upwardly inclined load-bearing plate that is supported on support plates extending downwardly from the side edges of the load-bearing plate. The load-bearing plate has an outer surface, an inner surface, a front edge, a back edge, first and second parallel side edges. The first and second side support plates have upwardly inclined upper edges attached to the load-bearing plate adjacent its side edges, horizontal lower surfaces, and front edges, at least one of the side support plates having at least one fork-receiving slot with a horizontal upper edge. In addition, the load-bearing plate may have at least one fork-receiving slot with a forward edge parallel to the back edge of the load-bearing plate.

[0028] This ramp may be modified in various ways. For example, a front plate may be attached to the ends of the front edges of the support plates parallel to the load-bearing plate front edge. One or more additional inner support plates may be attached to the inner surface of the load-bearing plate to provide additional support for material placed on the load-bearing plate. A lip may be included as described for the preceding embodiments. The lip extends from the front edge of the load-bearing surface, and has a substantially horizontal lower surface and a downwardly inclined upper surface. Instead of a single slot, the load-bearing plate can include two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with forward edges parallel to the load-bearing plate back edge. Similarly, one or both of the side support plates can include two longitudinally aligned, fork-receiving slots with horizontal upper edges.

[0029] In this latter embodiment of the invention, positioning of the ramp can be accomplished by inserting the forks of a forklift into the slot or slots at the rear of the load-bearing plate, or into the slow or slots in either of the side support plates. Thus, greater flexibility in positioning is possible, particularly when there is a need to maneuver the container ramp in tight spaces where positioning of the fork lift behind the ramp may not be feasible.

[0030] These and other aspects of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art after a reading of the following description of the preferred and alternate embodiments.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0031] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the preferred ramp as seen from above showing the load-bearing surface.

[0032] FIG. 2 is a cross sectional view of the preferred ramp showing the positional relationship between the at least one lift plate and the at least one cutout.

[0033] FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the preferred ramp's underside showing the lift plates and plurality of bracing plates.

[0034] FIG. 4 is a perspective view of an alternate embodiment of the ramp as seen from above showing the load-bearing surface.

[0035] FIG. 5 is a cross sectional view of the alternate embodiment of the ramp showing the positional relationship between the at least one lift plate and the at least one slot.

[0036] FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the alternate ramp's underside showing the lift plates, fork capture plates and plurality of bracing plates.

[0037] FIG. 7 is a perspective view of another embodiment of the ramp as seen from above showing the load-bearing surface.

[0038] FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional side view of the ramp of FIG. 7.

[0039] FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the underside of the ramp of FIG. 7.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0040] In the following description, terms such as horizontal, upright, vertical, above, below, beneath, and the like, are used solely for the purpose of clarity in illustrating the invention, and should not be taken as words of limitation. The drawings are for the purpose of illustrating the invention and are not intended to be to scale.

[0041] Referring to FIGS. 1-3, a typical ramp 10 comprises a front end 12 that can be positioned up to the open end of a shipping container (not shown). Ramp 10, has a back end 14 adapted to receive the forks of a forklift for lifting and transport. Generally, ramp 10 is made up of a load bearing plate 16 and a support structure 18. Load-bearing plate 16 has a front edge 20, a back edge 22, a side edge 24 and a side edge 26. Load-bearing surface 16 is supported in an upwardly inclined position by support structure 18. Preferably, ramp 10 is made of aluminum or steel components, but could be made of any material with strength to carry the loads anticipated and weather any expected environmental conditions.

[0042] In accordance with the present invention, ramp 10 includes two cutout sections 28 and 30, having forward edges 32 and 34 spaced above the lower surface of support structure 18. Sidewalls 36 and 38 each have a railing section 40 and a support section having a bottom edge forming the lower surface of support structure 18. Sidewalls 36 and 38 attach to load bearing plate edges 24 and 26 along a plane that separates each railing section and each support section.

[0043] FIG. 3 shows ramp 10 turned upside down. When right side up, a forward bracing plate 42 near ramp front end 12, extends downwardly from the inner surface of load-bearing plate 16, and extends between and transverse to sidewalls 36 and 38. Ramp 10 further includes equidistantly spaced bracing plates 44, 46, 48 and 50 that extend downwardly from the inner surface of load-bearing plate 16 and rearwardly from forward bracing plate 42.

[0044] As best seen in FIGS. 2 and 3, a lift plate 52 extends downwardly from the inner surface of load-bearing plate 16 and extends between ramp bracing plates 44 and 46. Another lift plate 54 extends downwardly from load-bearing surface 16 and extends between ramp bracing plates 48 and 50. As best seen in FIG. 2, lift plates 52 and 54 each have a bottom surface substantially in a plane with cutout forward edges 32 and 34, when ramp 10 is positioned horizontally, i.e., resting on the ground.

[0045] As best seen in FIGS. 1 and 3, ramp 10 also includes a forward section comprising a lip 56 for extending over the floor of a shipping container (not shown). Lip 56 has horizontal lower surface 58 and an upper surface 60 that inclines downwardly to join at front edge 20. Lip 56 extends from ramp front end 12. Preferably load-bearing surface 16 has a texture 62 to prevent slipping.

[0046] To lift ramp 10, a forklift operator drives the fork tips of a forklift tractor (not shown) under cutout forward edges 32 and 34. As the forklift tractor is driven forward, cutouts 32 and 34 guide the forklift's forks underneath lift plates 52 and 54. Preferably, the forklift operator continues driving the forklift forward until the tips of the forks extend slightly beyond ramp front end 12. At this point the forklift's forks can be raised lifting ramp 10. When lifted, the weight of ramp 10 is distributed across the forklift's fork at cutout leading edges 32 and 34, lift plates 52 and 54, and forward bracing plate 42.

[0047] Once lifted, ramp 10 can be carried on the forklift's forks to a shipping container to be loaded or unloaded. Since ramp front end 12 is facing away from the forklift tractor when carried, ramp front end 12 can be placed just up to the open end of a shipping container. When ramp 10 is lowered, support surface 18 will come to rest on the ground and lip 56 will extend into the shipping container. Ideally, lip lower surface 58 will come to rest on the floor of the container, however slight differences in level may allow a small gap to exist between lower surface 58 and the container floor. Once ramp 10 is resting horizontally on the ground, the forklift tractor is backed away and the forklift forks withdraw from beneath cutout leading edges 32 and 34.

[0048] Referring to FIGS. 4-6, an alternate embodiment of the present invention is a ramp 100 comprising a front end 112 that can be positioned up to the open end of a shipping container (not shown). Ramp 100, has a back end 114 adapted to receive the forks of a forklift for lifting and transport. Generally, ramp 100 is made up of a load bearing plate 116 and a support structure 118. Load-bearing plate 116 has a front edge 120, a back edge 122, a side edge 124 and a side edge 126. Load-bearing surface 116 is supported in an upwardly inclined position by support structure 118. Preferably, ramp 100 is made of aluminum or steel components, but could be made of any material with strength to carry the loads anticipated and weather any expected environmental conditions.

[0049] In accordance with the present invention, alternate ramp 100 includes two rectangular shaped openings 128 and 130, having forward edges 132 and 134 spaced above the lower surface of support structure 118. Openings 128 and 130 also have trailing edges 133 and 135 that, in conjunction with forward edges 132 and 134, help guide forklift forks trough openings 128 and 130.

[0050] Sidewalls 136 and 138 each have a railing section 140 and a support section having a bottom edge forming the lower surface of support structure 118. Sidewalls 136 and 138 attach to load bearing plate edges 124 and 126 along a plane that separates each railing section and each support section.

[0051] FIG. 6 shows alternate ramp 100 turned upside down. When right side up, a forward bracing plate 142 near ramp front end 112, extends downwardly from the inner surface of load-bearing plate 116, and extends between and transverse to sidewalls 136 and 138. Ramp 100 further includes equidistantly spaced bracing plates 144, 146, 148 and 150 that extend downwardly from the inner surface of load-bearing plate 116 and rearwardly from forward bracing plate 142.

[0052] As best seen in FIGS. 5 and 6, a lift plate 152 is attached to and extends between ramp bracing plates 144 and 146. Another lift plate 154 is attached to and extends between ramp bracing plates 148 and 150. As best seen in FIG. 4, lift plates 152 and 154 each have a bottom surface substantially in a plane with opening forward edges 132 and 134, when alternate ramp 100 is positioned horizontally, i.e., resting on the ground. A fork capture plate 153 is attached to support structure 118 and extends between bracing plates 144 and 146. Whenever alternate ramp 100 rests on the ground, fork capture plate 153 lies within a plane parallel to and spaced below lift plate 152. Another fork capture plate 155 is attached to support structure 118 and extends between bracing plates 148 and 150. Similar to fork capture plate 153, fork capture plate 155 lies within a plane parallel to and spaced below lift plate 154 whenever ramp 100 is positioned horizontally, i.e., resting on the ground.

[0053] As best seen in FIGS. 4 and 6, alternate ramp 100 also includes a forward section comprising a lip 156 for extending over the floor of a shipping container (not shown). Lip 156 has horizontal lower surface 158 and an upper surface 160 that inclines downwardly to join at front edge 120. Lip 156 extends from ramp front end 112. Preferably, load-bearing surface 116 has a texture 162 to prevent slipping.

[0054] To lift ramp 100, a forklift operator drives the fork tips of a forklift tractor (not shown) under cutout forward edges 132 and 134. As the forklift tractor is driven forward, openings 132 and 134 guide the forklift's forks underneath lift plates 152 and 154. Preferably, the forklift operator continues driving the forklift forward until the tips of the forks extend beyond the forward extent of lifting plates 152 and 154 as shown in FIG. 5 wherein a forklift fork 157 (shown in phantom) is depicted engaging lift plate 152. At this point the forklift's forks can be raised lifting alternate ramp 100. When lifted, the weight of ramp 100 is distributed across the forklift's forks at openings leading edges 132 and 134 and lift plates 152 and 154.

[0055] Once lifted, alternate ramp 100 can be carried on the forklift's forks to a shipping container to be loaded or unloaded. Since ramp front end 112 is facing away from the forklift tractor when carried, ramp front end 112 can be placed just up to the open end of a shipping container. When alternate ramp 100 is lowered, support surface 118 will come to rest on the ground and lip 156 will extend into the shipping container. Ideally, lip lower surface 158 will come to rest on the floor of the container, however slight differences in level may allow a small gap to exist between lower surface 158 and the container floor. Once alternate ramp 100 is resting horizontally on the ground, the forklift tractor is backed away and the forklift forks withdraw from openings 128 and 130.

[0056] The embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 7-9 shows the inclusion of slots in the side support plates. While the illustrated embodiment also includes slots in the load-bearing surface, it will be understood that the embodiment contemplates ramps with slots in both the load-bearing plate and one or both side support plates, as well as ramps with slots only in the load-bearing plate or the support plates, as well as ramps with slots in only one of the support plates.

[0057] Specifically, ramp, generally 170, is comprised of a load-bearing plate 172 having fork-receiving slots 174 and 176 with forward edges parallel to the back edge of plate 172. Plate 172 is supported in an inclined position by first and second side support plates 178 and 180. Plate 178 has an upwardly inclined upper edge integral with one side edge of plate 172, while plate 180 has an upwardly inclined upper edge integral with the opposite, parallel side edge of plate 172. Plates 178 and 180 have lower surfaces that are horizontal when ramp 170 is resting on a horizontal surface. Plate 178 includes horizontally, aligned fork-insertion slots 182 and 184, and plate 180 includes horizontally aligned fork-insertion slots 186 and 188. 14.

[0058] Ramp 170 may further include a lip 190 extending downwardly from the front edge of load-bearing plate 172 and a front plate 192. Optionally, ramp 170 may include one or more inner support plates 194, which have upwardly inclined upper edges attached to the lower surface of load-bearing plate 172.

[0059] Certain modifications and improvements will occur to those skilled in the art upon a reading of the foregoing description. It should be understood that all such modifications and improvements have been deleted for the sake of conciseness and readability but are properly within the scope of the following claims.