Title:
Shipping container for lawn and garden tractors constructed from re-usable materials
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A shipping container for transporting small vehicles such as garden tractors includes a plastic pallet constructed fiber-reinforced recycled materials and a framework constructed of metal and plastic parts. The framework is structured to reinforce the load at orthogonal angled and therefore to limit swaying of the load during shipping. Furthermore, components of the shipping container can be folded and shipped flat for assembly.



Inventors:
Bartholomew, David (Greensburg, PA, US)
Fray, Scott (Kingston Springs, TN, US)
Application Number:
10/891200
Publication Date:
01/20/2005
Filing Date:
07/14/2004
Assignee:
BARTHOLOMEW DAVID
FRAY SCOTT
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D19/18; B65D85/68; (IPC1-7): B65D19/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
PICKETT, JOHN G
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
QUARLES & BRADY LLP (MILWAUKEE, WI, US)
Claims:
1. A shipping package for a small vehicle, the shipping package comprising: a polygonal horizontal pallet having a top and a bottom surface; a post receiving indent formed in at least each of the corners of the top of the horizontal pallet; a plurality of support posts, each of the support posts being received in one of the post-receiving indents; a plurality of brackets, equivalent in number to the plurality of support posts, the brackets being coupled to the support posts and arranged orthogonally around the corners of the pallet, wherein at least a portion of each of the brackets extends along a length of the pallet and at least a portion of each of the brackets extends along a width of the pallet.

2. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the horizontal pallet comprises a recycled plastic material.

3. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the horizontal pallet comprises a recycled plastic material reinforced with fibers.

4. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the horizontal pallet is compression molded.

5. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the brackets are snap-fit into the pallet.

6. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the support posts are constructed of a roll form metal material.

7. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, further comprising a plurality of post-receiving indents in the bottom of the horizontal pallet for receiving the posts from a second shipping container beneath the pallet.

8. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, further comprising a plurality of hand hold apertures formed in the pallet.

9. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the horizontal pallet further comprises at least one wheel well formed in the pallet for receiving a wheel.

10. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the horizontal pallet further comprises at least one wheel chock formed in the pallet for limiting the motion of a wheel.

11. The shipping package as defined in claim 1, wherein the horizontal pallet is rectangular.

12. A foldable shipping container for a small vehicle, the shipping container comprising the following: a substantially rectangular horizontal pallet including a top and a bottom surface; a plurality of post-receiving indentations formed in at least the corners of both the top and the bottom of the pallet; a plurality of bracket-receiving apertures formed in the pallet; a plurality of posts sized and dimensioned to be received in the post-receiving indentations in the pallet; a plurality of brackets equivalent in number to the number of corners, each of the brackets comprising a first wall hingedly coupled to a second wall, each of the walls including a clip sized and dimensioned to be received in one of the bracket-receiving apertures, and at least one clip sized and dimensioned to secure the posts to the brackets; and wherein the shipping container is constructable from separately shipped components by folding the first and second walls of the brackets along the hinge and inserting the brackets into the bracket-receiving apertures, inserting the posts into the post-receiving indentations in the pallet, and securing the post with the clips.

13. The shipping container as defined in claim 12, wherein the pallet is compression molded from a recycled plastic material reinforced with fibers.

14. The shipping container as defined in claim 12, wherein the brackets comprise a plastic material.

15. The shipping container as defined in claim 12, wherein the posts are roll formed steel.

16. The shipping container as defined in claim 12, wherein the pallet includes a steel reinforcement between the post-receiving indents in the top and the bottom of the pallet.

17. A shipping container, comprising: a rectangular pallet compression molded from recycled plastic materials including fiber reinforcements, the pallet being molded to include first and second tracks for receiving the wheels of a vehicle, a plurality of post-receiving indentations formed in the corners of the pallet, and a plurality of bracket-receiving apertures; a plurality of brackets, each of the brackets comprising a first wall and a second wall hingedly connected to the first wall, the brackets being received in the bracket-receiving apertures wherein one of the first and second walls extends along the length of the pallet and the other of the first and second walls extends along a width of the pallet, the first and second walls being provided around a corner of the pallet in a substantially orthogonal configuration; and a plurality of steel posts received in the post-receiving apertures, each of the posts being received in the clips in the brackets; wherein a vehicle is mountable on the tracks between the posts and the brackets, the posts providing a mounting location for a second pallet stacked onto the pallet, and the brackets protect the container from swaying during shipping.

18. The shipping container as defined in claim 17, wherein the pallet is molded to include at least one wheel well for receiving a wheel of the vehicle.

19. The shipping container as defined in claim 18, wherein the pallet is molded to include at least one wheel chuck for limiting motion of the vehicle.

20. The shipping container as defined in claim 17, wherein the steel posts are roll formed.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of provisional application Ser. No. 60/487,082, filed Jul. 14, 2003, hereby incorporated by reference.

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT

Not applicable.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to containers for storing vehicles such as lawn and garden tractors. More particularly, the present invention relates to a plastic container for packaging, storing, and shipping vehicles which is constructed from recycled materials.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

In providing packaging for heavy articles such as lawn and garden tractors, it is important not only that the packaging adequately protect and support the goods during shipping and storage, but also that these functions be provided at a minimal cost. Adequately supporting and protecting the vehicles is important to minimize damage and repair costs, to allow stacking of the vehicles to minimize warehousing storage costs, and further to allow for shipping of completed products rather than parts which require assembly in the warehouse. Minimizing the overall cost of the packaging is important in keeping the overall cost of the product low, and is particularly important because packaging does not add value to the product, and therefore does not provide a sales or marketing advantage.

Because of the cost requirements, small consumer vehicles such as lawn and garden tractors are typically packaged for storage and shipping in reinforced corrugated paperboard containers. These containers often comprise a wood pallet, to which the lawn and garden tractor mounts, a corrugated paperboard body which encloses the vehicle and protects the vehicle from damage and dust, and a wood top frame, provided on top of the paperboard body which encloses the top of the vehicle and further provides a base for stacking another packaged vehicle on top for storage. The paperboard body is reinforced to distribute a force applied by one or more vehicles stacked on top of the package from the top frame to the bottom pallet, allowing for the stacking of packages. Wood frame and paperboard packaging is typically removed from the vehicle at a sales center and is then recycled. Recycling can be expensive, however, in that the materials must be stored, wasting valuable space which would otherwise be dedicated to products.

To balance environmental and commercial needs, therefore, the trend in packaging is to create packaging which is reusable. Also known in the art, therefore, are shipping containers which are constructed of a plastic pallet, such as those described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,804,087. Here, the shipping container comprises an injection molded plastic pallet in which stake-receiving depressions are formed on both the top and bottom sides. A framework, including forged metal stakes, is received in the depressions in the top of the pallet and, when one pallet is stacked upon another, also in the depressions in the bottom of the pallet. Horizontal support members extend between the stakes along the length of and on opposing sides of the pallet to support the weight of a tractor stacked above.

This shipping container provides a reusable and easily storable pallet, but suffers from a number of disadvantages. First, although the frame construction is restrictive along the sides of the tractor, little or no framing is provided along the front and back of the tractor. When the pallets are stacked onto, for example, a truck for shipping, the motion of the truck tends to force the pallets to move randomly in a number of directions. Unless the shipping container is sufficiently framed to provide reinforcement in multiple directions, swaying can result, leading to an unstable load which can both damage the equipment being shipped and cause problems for the truck operator. Furthermore, because the framework is open along the width of the pallet in the front and back of the container, these containers cannot be adequately handled by clamping forklifts, which are increasingly used in warehousing for handling multiple packages. Additionally, the plastics required for the injection molding process are costly, rendering this shipping container significantly more expensive than paperboard containers.

Accordingly, there is a need in the art for an improved container for lawn and garden tractors which overcomes drawbacks associated with previously used corrugated paperboard and plastic-based containers.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one aspect, the present invention is a shipping package for a small vehicle. The shipping package includes a rectangular horizontal pallet having a top and a bottom surface, a post receiving indent formed in at least each of the corners of the top of the horizontal pallet, and a plurality of support posts, each of the support posts being received in one of the post-receiving indents. A plurality of brackets, equivalent in number to the plurality of support posts, are coupled to the support posts and arranged orthogonally around the corners of the pallet, wherein at least a portion of each of the brackets extends along a length of the pallet and at least a portion of each of the brackets extends along a width of the pallet. The brackets reinforce the pallet in at least two directions and therefore minimize swaying of the shipping container during transit.

In another aspect of the invention, the horizontal pallet comprises a recycled plastic material which can be reinforced with fiber materials. The pallet can be compression molded to provide an inexpensive shipping container which is also sufficiently strong to hold the tractor or small vehicle. The brackets are also preferably constructed of a plastic material and the posts of a metal material. The posts can be, for example, constructed of a roll-formed steel.

In yet another aspect, the invention comprises a foldable shipping container for a small vehicle. The shipping container comprises a substantially rectangular horizontal pallet including a top and a bottom surface, with a plurality of post-receiving indentations and a plurality of bracket-receiving apertures formed in the pallet. A plurality of posts, sized and dimensioned to be received in the post-receiving indentations in the pallet, are also provided, along with a plurality of brackets. Each of the brackets comprises a first wall hingedly coupled to a second wall, and includes clips sized and dimensionsed to be snap-fit into one of the bracket-receiving apertures.

The shipping container can be constructed from the separately shipped components by folding the first and second walls of the brackets along the hinge and inserting the brackets into the bracket-receiving apertures, inserting the posts into the post-receiving indentations in the pallet, and securing the post with the clips. When assembled, the brackets are provided in the corners of the pallet, and extend orthogonally to each other along a length and a width of the pallet, respectively, such that the pallet is reinforced in at least two directions.

These and other objects, advantages and aspects of the invention will become apparent from the following description. In the description, reference is made to the accompanying drawings which form a part hereof, and in which there is shown a preferred embodiment of the invention. Such embodiment does not necessarily represent the full scope of the invention and reference is made therefore, to the claims herein for interpreting the scope of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a tractor provided on a shipping container constructed in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a top view of the shipping container of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a detail illustrating a reinforcement provided in a corner of the pallet of the shipping container of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a side view of the bracket of FIG. 1 removed from the shipping container and folded to lie flat.

FIG. 5 is a view of the bracket of FIG. 4, folded for installation in the shipping container.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a bracket retaining clip extending from the bracket of FIG. 4.

FIG. 7 is a bottom view of the pallet of FIG. 1.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a vertical post used in the shipping container of FIG. 1.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a cap for use on the vertical post of FIG. 8.

FIG. 10 is a detailed view of the clip of FIG. 6 inserted into the pallet of FIG. 7.

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of the shipping container of FIG. 1 without a load.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PRESENT INVENTION

Referring now to the figures and more particularly to FIG. 1, a shipping container 10 for shipping a small tractor 12 such as a lawn and garden tractor is shown. The shipping container 10 comprises a pallet 14 formed from a recycled plastic waste stream material using a compression molding process as described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,591,384 and 5,637,329 hereby incorporated by reference for their description of this process. The pallet 14 is formed to include post-receiving indents 20 (FIG. 2) at each of the corners, which are sized and dimensioned to receive vertical posts 16. The vertical posts 16 are snap-fit into reinforcement brackets 18 which are themselves snap-fit into the pallet 14. A stiff, preferably steel, U-shaped reinforcement support 17 (FIG. 3) is molded into each indent 20 to provide a stable mounting location for the posts 16.

Referring now to FIG. 2, a top view of the pallet 14 is shown. As noted above, the pallet 14 is formed from a plastic waste stream material, and can comprise, for example, a thermoplastic olefin which can be reinforced with fibers such as fiberglass, wood fibers, paper fibers, rice hulls, hemp, or other fibrous materials which will be apparent to those of skill in the art. Furthermore, metal reinforcements such as the reinforcement support described above, can be molded into the pallet 14 in positions expected to receive or to support significant weight. The use of the waste stream plastic material provides a pallet which is relatively inexpensive as compared to prior art devices, while the use of the compression-based molding process and fibrous reinforcements allow for the construction of a pallet 14 which is sufficiently strong to carry the weight of the tractor 12, and to withstand the weight of stacked tractors, with relatively little additional framing. Furthermore, the resultant shipping container can also be re-used, thereby further decreasing the shipping cost per vehicle.

Referring still to FIG. 2, the pallet 14 is rectangular and is molded to include a post-receiving indentation 20a, 20b, 20c, 20d, respectively, in each corner of the pallet 14. The indentations 20a, 20b, 20c, and 20d are each sized and dimensioned to receive a vertical post 16, such that a vertical post 16 extends upward from each of the corners of the pallet 14. Also molded along the right and left sides of the pallet 14 are hand-hold apertures 24a-24d and bracket-receiving apertures 23a-23h. The hand-hold apertures 24a-24d allow a user or operator to position his or her hand on the pallet 14 to manually lift and move the shipping container 10 and associated tractor 12, and the bracket-receiving apertures 23a-23h are sized and dimensioned to receive the reinforcing brackets 18, as described below.

Referring still to FIG. 2, tracks 26 and 28 are provided in the pallet 14 for receiving the tractor 12. Each of the tracks 26 and 28 culminates in a wheel well 30 at the front end for receiving the front wheels of the tractor 12, and a wheel well 32 positioned at the opposing end for receiving the rear wheels of the tractor 12. The rear wheel wells 32 each include an angled ramping portion 34 over which the tractor can be driven onto the pallet. The angled ramping portions 34 prevent the tractor 12 from rolling backwards off of the pallet 14 once it is positioned on the pallet. A corresponding wheel chock 38 is further provided at the opposing end of at least one of the tracks 26 and 28 at the distal end of the front wheel well 30. The wheel chock 38 extends vertically upward from the horizontal pallet 14 and provides a stop preventing the tractor 12 from rolling forward off the pallet 14.

Referring now to FIG. 4, the reinforcement brackets 18 comprise first and second generally triangularly-shaped walls 70 and 72 connected through a hinge 79. A clip 75 and 77, respectively, extends downward from the base of each of the walls 70 and 72 at the end furthest from the hinge 79, and is sized and dimensioned to be received in the bracket-receiving apertures 23a-23h in the pallet 14, as described below. The reinforcement brackets 18 are preferably constructed from a plastic material and, to reduce the amount of material used, can include cut-outs 51 and 53, shaped similarly to the walls 70 and 72, as shown. The brackets 18 can be shipped with the walls 70 and 72 folded flat, as shown, and then be folded along the hinge 79 for assembly.

Referring now to FIG. 5, the bracket 18 is shown as folded along the hinge 79 to be inserted into the pallet 14. The bracket 18 is folded along the hinge 79 such that the walls 70 and 72 extend substantially perpendicular to each other to define a corner 73. Flanges 58 and 60 extend inward at an angle substantially perpendicular to the walls 70 and 72, respectively, wherein they rest on the surface of the pallet when installed, as described below. A post-retaining clip 50 and 52 extends inward from each of the walls 70 and 72, respectively, surrounding a post-receiving opening 54 between the flanges 58 and 60. The clips 50 and 52 and the opening 54 are all sized and dimensioned to receive a vertical post 16, which can be snap-fit into the clips 50 and 52, and extended through the opening 54 defined between the walls to a post-receiving indent 20a-20d, as described below.

Referring now to FIG. 6, the retaining clips 75 and 77 extend downward from the bracket 18 and are sized and dimensioned to be received in the apertures 23a-23h (FIG. 3) provided in the pallet 14 and to lock the bracket 18 into the respective apertures. Each clip 75 or 77 is constructed of a flexible material and comprises a horizontal base portion 80 which lies flat on the pallet 14, and a vertical locking portion 82, extending downward from the horizontal base 80. At a distal end, the locking portion 82 widens to provide a catch 86 for engaging the underside of the respective aperture 23a-23h, as described below.

Referring now to FIG. 7, a bottom view of the pallet 14 is shown. On the bottom of the pallet 14, a second set of post-receiving indents 22a-22d sized and dimensioned to receive the top end of a vertical post 16 (FIG. 8), are positioned opposite the post-receiving indents 20a-20d. The indents 22a-22d facilitate stacking of two or more containers 10, as described below. As described above, apertures 23a-23h are provided through the pallet 14 to receive clips 75 and 77 of each of the corner brackets 18.

Referring now to FIG. 8, a perspective view of the vertical post 16 is shown. The post 16 comprises a substantially rectangular elongated member 66 which is constructed of a metal material, and is preferably a roll-formed steel. Referring now to FIG. 9, a cap 68, sized and dimensioned to be received in the post receiving indents 22a-22d, and also constructed of a metal material, is welded or otherwise affixed to the top of the post 16.

Referring now to FIGS. 1 and 11 views of the shipping container 10 as assembled and as loaded with a tractor 12, are shown. To load the container 10 for shipping, the vehicle 12 is driven or otherwise directed onto the pallet 14 and onto the tracks 26 and 28, such that the front wheels of the tractor 12 rest in the wheel wells 30 and the back wheels in the wheel wells 32. As described above, the wheel chock 38 prevents the tractor 12 from rolling forward over the front of the pallet 14, while the angled portions 34 prevent the tractor 12 from rolling backward over the back of the pallet 14.

To assemble the bracket and posts into the pallet 14, each of the brackets 18 is folded along the hinge 79 with the flanges 58 and 60 pointed inward to form a right angle and is positioned in a corner of the pallet 14 around one of the post-receiving indents 20a-20d. Referring now to FIG. 10, the clips 75 and 77 are inserted into the apertures 23a-23h in the pallet 14 with the catch 86 engaging the edge of the pallet 14 to lock the brackets 18 in place. A vertical post 16 is then inserted through the opening 54 between the clips 50 and 52, wherein it is snap fit in place, and is extended into the respective post-receiving indent 20a-20d. As assembled, at least a portion of each of the walls 70 and 72 extends along a length or a width of the container 10. The brackets 18 therefore provide orthogonal reinforcements along the sides of the container 10, such that when the container 10 is shipped, the load is reinforced in both directions, and swaying of the load is minimized or limited.

After a plurality of tractors 12 are loaded into corresponding shipping containers 10 and the posts 16 and brackets 18 are assembled, a first container 10 can be stacked onto a second container 10 such that the post-receiving indents 22a-22d on the bottom side of the pallet 14 of the upper container 10 receive the caps 68 of the vertical posts 16 extending from the lower container 10. When stacked as described, the brackets 18 of the respective shipping containers 10 restrain the pallets from swaying by providing orthogonal reinforcements along each of the length and widths of the pallet 14. Furthermore, because the brackets 18 extends substantially across the width of the container and therefore provide sufficient structure to receive a clamp from a clamping fork lift, the stacked containers 10 can be lifted with a clamping fork lift, thereby allowing for movement of a number of shipping containers simultaneously.

While there has been shown and described what are at present considered the preferred embodiments of the invention, it will be obvious to those skilled in the art that various changes and modifications can be made therein without departing from the scope of the invention defined by the appended claims.