Title:
Molded shelf
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A shelf assembly includes a plastic body and a frame, which includes a pair of spaced apart side frame members. In addition, the frame is adapted for mounting the shelf assembly to a mounting surface. The plastic body forms a shelf element, which extends between the side frame members. Furthermore, the plastic body has portions that encapsulate at least portions of the side frame members wherein the portions of the side frame members are enclosed in the plastic body.



Inventors:
Bronsink, Bob (Rockford, MI, US)
Picken, Alan Dean (Milford, MI, US)
Beckman, William (Holland, MI, US)
Frankhouse, Jay M. (Holland, MI, US)
Application Number:
10/866964
Publication Date:
01/27/2005
Filing Date:
06/14/2004
Assignee:
BRONSINK BOB
PICKEN ALAN DEAN
BECKMAN WILLIAM
FRANKHOUSE JAY M.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F25D25/02; (IPC1-7): E04G3/08
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
HONG, JOHN C
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
VAN DYKE, GARDNER, LINN & BURKHART, LLP (GRAND RAPIDS, MI, US)
Claims:
1. A shelf assembly comprising: a frame, said frame having a pair of spaced apart side frame members and said frame being adapted for mounting said shelf assembly to a mounting surface; and a plastic body forming a shelf element extending between said side frame members, said plastic body having portions encapsulating at least portions of said side frame members wherein portions of said side frame members are enclosed in said plastic body.

2. The shelf assembly according to claim 1, wherein said frame includes a transverse frame member interconnecting said side frame members, said shelf element extending to said transverse frame member, and said body including a portion encapsulating a portion of said transverse frame member.

3. The shelf assembly according to claim 2, wherein said body includes a downwardly depending portion at a front end of said shelf element.

4. The shelf assembly according to claim 3, wherein said downwardly depending portion is substantially contiguous with said portions encapsulating at least portions of said side frame members.

5. The shelf assembly according to claim 3, wherein said body includes an upwardly projecting rib at one chosen from said side frame members, said transverse frame member, and said front end of said shelf element.

6. The shelf assembly according to claim 3, wherein said body includes an upwardly projecting rib at said side frame members, said transverse frame member, and said front end of said shelf element wherein said ribs form a spill barrier rim.

7. The shelf assembly according to claim 1, wherein said shelf element includes a recessed portion for forming a receptacle.

8. The shelf assembly according to claim 7, further comprising a lid, said lid enclosing said recessed portion for forming a compartment.

9. The shelf assembly according to claim 7, wherein said lid is hinged to said shelf element.

10. The shelf assembly according to claim 7, wherein said body includes an upwardly projecting rib adjacent said recessed portion for providing a spill barrier.

11. The shelf assembly according to claim 9, wherein said shelf element includes a support surface area, said support surface are having a perimeter, and said upwardly projecting rib extending around said perimeter of said support surface area to form a spill barrier rim.

12. The shelf assembly according to claim 7, wherein said recessed portion is provided at said front end of said shelf element.

13. The shelf assembly according to claim 7, wherein said recessed portion is provided adjacent one of said side frame members.

14. The shelf assembly according to claim 1, wherein said body includes at least one structure chosen from a projecting rail and a recessed groove at each of said portions encapsulating at least portions of said side frame members for slidingly supporting a tray.

15. The shelf assembly according to claim 14, wherein said at least one structure chosen from a projecting rail and a recessed groove comprises a recessed groove.

16. The shelf assembly according to claim 14, further comprising a sliding tray, said sliding tray being supported by said shelf assembly and being slidable along said side frame members.

17. The shelf assembly according to claim 14, wherein said portions encapsulating at least portions of said side frame members include inwardly facing sides, said structures provided at said inwardly facing sides.

18. The shelf assembly according to claim 1, wherein said frame comprises a metal frame.

19. The shelf assembly according to claim 18, wherein said metal frame comprises a metal stamping.

20. The shelf assembly according to claim 1, wherein said plastic body comprises a plastic polycarbonate material.

21. The shelf assembly according to claim 1, further comprising a lift, said frame being adapted for movably mounting said shelf assembly to the mounting surface, and said lift for raising or lowering said shelf assembly along said mounting surface.

22. A shelf assembly comprising: a frame, said frame having a pair of spaced apart side frame members and a transverse frame member interconnecting said side frame members, said frame further being adapted for mounting said shelf assembly to a mounting surface; a plastic body encapsulating at least portions of said side frame members wherein portions of said side frame members are enclosed in said body, said body having at least one structure chosen from a projecting rail and a recessed groove at each of said frame side members; and a shelf element, said shelf element slidingly supported and movable along said structures wherein said shelf element is extendable from said frame.

23. The shelf assembly according to claim 22, wherein said body includes a portion encapsulating a portion of said transverse frame member.

24. The shelf assembly according to claim 23, wherein said portion encapsulating a portion of said transverse frame member includes at least one structure chosen from a projecting rail and a recessed groove for receiving said shelf element when said shelf element is extended into said frame.

25. The shelf assembly according to claim 22, wherein said shelf element includes a downwardly depending portion at a front end of thereof.

26. The shelf assembly according to claim 22, wherein said shelf element includes a perimeter and a substantially continuous rib extending around its perimeter for forming a spill barrier rim.

27. The shelf assembly according to claim 26, wherein said shelf element includes a support surface area, and said rib includes rib portions substantially vertically aligned with said side frame members and said transverse frame member to thereby maximize the size of said supporting surface area of said shelf element.

28. The shelf assembly according to claim 22, wherein said portions encapsulating at least portions of said side frame members include inwardly facing sides, said at least one structure chosen from a projecting rail and a recessed groove provided at said inwardly facing sides.

29. The shelf assembly according to claim 22, wherein said frame comprises a metal frame.

30. The shelf assembly according to claim 29, wherein said metal frame comprises a metal stamping.

31. The shelf assembly according to claim 22, wherein said plastic body comprises a polycarbonate material.

32. A method of forming a shelf assembly, said method comprising: providing a frame, the frame including a pair of spaced side frame members; encapsulating at least portions of the side frame members in a body; and forming a shelf element with the body, the shelf element extending between the side frame members.

33. A method of forming a shelf assembly, said method comprising: providing a frame, the frame including a pair of spaced apart side frame members and a transverse frame member extending between the spaced apart side frame members; and molding a plastic body around at least portions of the frame wherein the portions of the frame are encapsulated in the plastic body, said molding including forming a shelf element extending between the side frame members.

Description:

This application claims priority from U.S. provisional Pat. Application Ser. No. 60/478,026, filed Jun. 12, 2003, entitled MOLDED SHELF, by Applicants Bob Bronsink, Alan Dean Picken, William Beckman, and Jay M. Frankhouse, which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

TECHNICAL FIELD AND BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a molded shelf and, more particularly, to a molded shelf, that is particularly useful as a refrigerator shelf.

Many conventional refrigerator shelves are formed from a metal frame and a glass shelf plate that is supported by the metal frame, for example, by tabs or the like. The metal frame incorporates a bracket for mounting the shelf in the refrigerator, and typically for releasably engaging vertical rails mounted in the back of the refrigerator.

More recently, the glass shelf plate has been secured to the metal frame by a polymeric member, which is molded onto the glass. The polymeric body forms a spill rim at the transition between the polymeric member and the glass element to provide a “spill safe condition”. However, these more recent shelf assemblies have inherent limitations. While is transition provides a spill rim, the transition between the polymeric member and the glass element also forms a debris sink. In addition, the polymeric member reduces the actual useable area of the shelf plate by virtue of the overlap between the polymeric member and the glass plate. The overlap of the polymeric member with the glass shelf plate also adds bulk to the shelf assembly and, therefore reduces the available vertical space in the refrigerator. Further, while providing additional functionality, the newer designs have added considerable cost to the shelf assembly.

Consequently, there is a need for an improved shelf assembly that can increase the useable space in the refrigerator while providing a shelf assembly that is easy to clean and, further, easier to manufacture.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention provides a shelf assembly that is easier to clean, is constructed of fewer parts, and, further, offers an increased support surface area. In addition, the shelf assembly may be assembled to occupy less space than many conventional shelf assemblies to thereby increase the vertical useable space, for example, when the shelf assembly is used in a refrigerator setting.

In one form of the invention, a shelf assembly includes a plastic body and a frame, which includes a pair of spaced apart side frame members. In addition, the frame is adapted for mounting the shelf assembly to a mounting surface, such as in a refrigerator. The body forms a shelf element that extends between the side frame members. Furthermore, the plastic body has portions that encapsulate at least portions of the side frame members wherein portions of the side frame members are enclosed in the plastic body.

In one aspect, the frame further includes a transverse member that interconnects the side frame members. In addition, the shelf element extends to the transverse frame member, with the body including a portion encapsulating a portion of the transverse frame member. In this manner, a large portion, if not a majority, of the frame is encapsulated within the plastic body.

In other aspects, the plastic body includes a downwardly depending portion at a front end of the shelf element. For example, the downwardly depending portion is substantially contiguous with the portions of the plastic body that encapsulate the side frame members.

According to other aspects, the plastic body includes an upwardly projecting rib, for example, at one of the side frame members, the transverse frame member, or the front end of the shelf element. Optionally, the plastic body includes an upwardly projecting rib at each side frame member, the transverse frame member, and the front end of the shelf element. Preferably, the ribs are contiguous so that the ribs form a spill barrier rim.

In yet other aspects, the shelf element includes a recessed portion for forming a receptacle. In addition, the shelf assembly may include a lid that encloses the recessed portion to form a compartment. For example, the lid may be hinged to the shelf element or may simply rest on the shelf element. In other aspects, the body includes an upwardly projecting rib adjacent the recessed portion for providing a spill barrier. Optionally, the upwardly projecting rib extends around the full perimeter of the support surface area of the shelf element to form a spill barrier rim. The recessed portion may be provided at the front end of the shelf element or adjacent one of the side frame members.

According to another aspect, the shelf assembly may incorporate a sliding tray that is supported by the portions of the plastic body that encapsulate the side frame members.

In further aspects, the plastic body includes a projecting rail or a recessed groove at each of the portions encapsulating the side frame members for slidingly supporting a tray. For example, a sliding tray may be provided, which is supported by the shelf assembly and is slidable along the side frame members. In addition, the projecting rail or recessed groove may be provided at the inwardly facing sides of the side frame members.

In preferred aspects, the frame comprises a metal frame, such as a metal stamping. The body preferably comprises a plastic polycarbonate material.

The shelf assembly may incorporate other features, such as a lift mechanism for raising or lowering the shelf assembly with respect to the mounting surface.

According to another form of the invention, a shelf assembly includes a frame and a plastic body that similarly encapsulates at least portions of the frame. For example, the frame may include a pair of spaced apart side frame members and a transverse frame member interconnecting the side frame members, with the frame being adapted for mounting the shelf assembly to a mounting surface. The plastic body encapsulates portions of the side frame members and includes a projecting rail or a recessed groove at each of said frame side members. The shelf assembly also includes a shelf element, which is slidingly supported and movable along the rail or groove wherein said shelf element is extendable from said frame.

In one aspect, the body includes a portion encapsulating a portion of the transverse frame member. In addition, the portion of the body that encapsulates the transverse frame member preferably includes at least one projecting rail or a recessed groove for receiving the shelf element when the shelf element is extended into the frame.

In further aspects, the shelf element includes a downwardly depending portion at a front end of thereof. In addition, the shelf element may include a substantially continuous rib, which extends around its perimeter for forming a spill barrier rim. For example, the rib may include rib portions substantially vertically aligned with the side frame members and the transverse frame member to thereby maximize the size of the support surface area of the shelf element.

In other aspects, the shelf assembly may incorporate a sliding tray, with the tray supported by the portions of the plastic body that encapsulate the frame.

According to other aspects, a shelf assembly is formed by molding a plastic body over a frame to at least partially encapsulate the frame. The frame includes spaced apart side frame members, and the plastic body forms a shelf element that at least substantially spans between the side frame members.

It can be appreciated from the forgoing that the present invention provides a shelf assembly that offers increased flexibility of conventional shelf assemblies and further provides the ability to increase the support surface area of the shelf assembly while reducing the height of the assembly so that when mounted in confined space, such as a refrigerator, the shelf assembly provides an increase in storage space while consuming less space.

These and other objects, advantages, purposes, and features of the invention will become more apparent from the study of the following description taken in conjunction with the drawings.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a shelf assembly of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of a shelf of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a cross-section view taken along line III-III of FIG. 2;

FIG. 3A is a cross-section view taken along line IIIA-IIIA of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3B is a cross-section view taken along line IIIB-IIIB of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3C is a perspective view of the frame of the shelf assembly of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a second embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention incorporating a recess;

FIG. 4A is a cross-section view taken along line IVA-IVA of FIG. 4;

FIG. 4B is a cross-section view taken along line IVB-IVB of FIG. 4;

FIG. 5 is an exploded perspective view of a third embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention;

FIG. 5A is a cross-section view taken along line VA-VA of FIG. 5;

FIG. 5B is a cross-section view taken along line VB-VB of FIG. 5;

FIG. 5C is a similar view to FIG. 5A illustrating another embodiment of the shelf element of the present invention;

FIG. 6 is an exploded perspective view of another embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention incorporating a compartment and a sliding tray;

FIG. 6A is a cross-section view taken along line VIA-VIA of FIG. 6;

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of yet another embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention;

FIG. 8 is a similar view to FIGS. 2 and 3;

FIG. 9 is a similar view to FIG. 1;

FIG. 10 is a similar view to FIG. 5;

FIG. 11 is a similar view to FIG. 6;

FIG. 12 is a similar view to FIG. 7;

FIG. 13 illustrates the tray assembly of FIG. 4 mounted in a refrigerator;

FIG. 14 is a similar view to FIG. 13 illustrating a lid being mounted over the recess of the shelf assembly;

FIG. 15 is a similar view to FIG. 13 illustrating a container positioned in a recess;

FIG. 16 is a similar view to FIG. 13 illustrating the container positioned in the recess with the lid of the container in an open position;

FIG. 17 is a similar view to FIG. 16 illustrating the container comprising an egg container;

FIG. 18 is a similar view to FIG. 15 illustrating the recessed area incorporating a can dispenser;

FIG. 19 is a similar view to FIG. 15 illustrating the recessed area receiving a can container and incorporating a can dispenser;

FIG. 20 is a perspective view of a tray of the present invention;

FIG. 21 is a perspective view of yet another embodiment of a shelf assembly of the present invention;

FIG. 22 is a top perspective view of the shelf assembly of FIG. 21;

FIG. 23 is a perspective view of another shelf assembly of the present invention;

FIG. 24 is a perspective view of a chest or cooler incorporating a shelf assembly of the present invention;

FIG. 25 is an enlarged view of shelves of FIG. 24;

FIG. 26 is a similar view to FIG. 13 illustrating the shelf assembly of FIG. 1 mounted in a refrigerator and incorporating a shelf liner;

FIG. 27 is a similar view to FIG. 26 illustrating a shelf assembly of FIG. 1 with a shelf liner;

FIG. 28 is a perspective view of yet another embodiment of the shelf assembly of present invention incorporating a recess and a lid in combination with a sliding tray; and

FIG. 29 is a similar view to FIG. 28 illustrating the tray in an extended position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Referring to FIG. 1, the numeral 10 designates a shelf assembly of the present invention. Shelf assembly 10 comprises a molded shelf assembly that is particularly useful as a refrigerator shelf. Shelf assembly 10 incorporates a reinforcing structure, which provides a mounting mechanism for mounting tray assembly 10, for example, in a refrigerator and which provides reinforcement and stiffness to shelf assembly 10. As will be more fully described below, tray assembly 10 is molded from a plastic material, which at least partially encapsulates the reinforcement structure, to provide a shelf assembly that offers an increased support surface area over a conventional shelf assembly. Further, with the present construction, the shelf assemblies of the present invention enables the shelf assembly to incorporate a variety of features, such as a rim around its perimeter to provide a spill safe condition, a recess to provide alternate storage space, including a closed storage space, or a slidable tray to increase the storage space provided by shelf assembly 10. Furthermore, as will be appreciated from the following description, the shelf assemblies of the present invention provide a more compact shelf assembly than conventional shelf assemblies; therefore, the shelf assemblies consume less space in the refrigerator to thereby permit the vertical available space in the refrigerator to be increased over conventional designs.

Referring to FIGS. 1-3, 3A, 3B, and 3C, shelf assembly 10 includes a frame 12 and a polymeric or plastic body 14, which encapsulates frame 12. Polymeric body 14 preferably comprises a plastic material, such as a plastic polycarbonate material, including LEXAN. Shelf assembly 10 is preferably formed by placing frame 12 in a mold cavity of a mold apparatus, such as an injection molding apparatus, and by molding the plastic body over and preferably around the frame to at least partially encapsulate the frame to form an integral shelf assembly that is easier to mount and further easier to clean.

Frame 12 includes a pair of spaced apart side frame members 16 and 18, which may be held in space registry (at least at their respective proximate ends) by a transverse member 20, which is secured at its opposed ends to side frame members 16 and 18. For example, side frame members 16, 18 and transverse number 20 may comprise a metal stamping or casting, such as a steel metal stamping or casting, to facilitate fabrication of shelf assembly 10; however, it can be appreciated that side frame members 16, 18, and transverse member 20 may comprise discrete components and/or may be assembled by welding, for example. Provided at the proximal ends 16a and 18a of side frame members 16, 18 are mounting tabs 22 and 24, which adapt shelf assembly 10 to be mounted to a mounting surface, such as a pair of spaced apart rails, such as in a refrigerator. It should be understood that the details of mounting tabs 22 and 24 are provided for illustrative purposes only and that other mounting mechanisms may be used to mount shelf assembly 10.

As noted above, polymeric or plastic body 14 encapsulates side frame members 16 and 18 and, further, preferably, encapsulates transverse member 20. In addition, body 14 extends between side frame members 16 and 18 to form a shelf element 26. As best seen in FIG. 2, polymeric body 14 encapsulates at least a portion of side frame member 16 and 18 and, preferably, terminates near or adjacent mounting tabs 22 and 24 and preferably in relatively close proximity to mounting tabs 22 and 24 such that when shelf assembly 10 is mounted in a refrigerator, for example, the mounting mechanism or hardware will generally not be visible and, instead only the polymeric body will be visible. However, it can be appreciated that when polymeric body 14 is molded from a clear or transparent plastic or polymer, frame 12 will be visible through the polymeric body. As will be more fully described below, polymeric body 14 may incorporate in-mold appliques to enhance the aesthetic appearance of shelf assembly 10 and/or to hide the members of frame 12. In-mold appliques are formed by placing a film, such as a decorative film, in the mold cavity before the plastic is injected into the cavity. After the plastic is injected into the mold and the plastic solidifies, the film adheres to the plastic to provide an appearance of a finish to the plastic. The film may merely add opacity, or may add color, a metallic appearance, a wood grain appearance or a number of difference finishes.

Referring to FIGS. 3, 3A, and 3B, polymeric body 14 includes downwardly depending portions 28 and 29 that encapsulate side frame members 16 and 18—in other words, they extend around side frame members 16 and 18 (as viewed in FIGS. 3, 3A, and 3B). Downwardly depending portions 28 and 29 are particularly suitable for incorporating an in-mold applique. As noted above, polymeric body 14 may include another downwardly depending portion 30, which encapsulates transverse member 20. Furthermore, polymeric body 14 preferably incorporates upwardly projecting ribs 32 and 34 at side frame members 16 and 18 to provide a spill barrier and, preferably, incorporates an upwardly projecting rib 36 at the back end of shelf element 26 at downwardly depending portion 30 and, further, a rib 38 at front edge 26b of shelf element 26. Furthermore, ribs 32, 34, 36, and 38 are preferably continuous or contiguous so that the ribs form a substantially continuous perimeter rib that forms a spill barrier rim around the support surface area 26c of shelf element 26 to provide a spill safe condition. In addition, ribs 32, 34, 36, and 38 are preferably located at downwardly depending portions 28, 29, and 30 and at the edge of shelf element 16 to thereby maximize the available support surface area. As a result, the support surface area of shelf element 26 essentially spans between the side frame members and from its front edge to its back edge. As would be understood, therefore, when placed in a refrigerator, the support surface can substantially span between the sides of the refrigerator and from the back wall of the refrigerator to the outer most edge of the shelf assembly.

As best seen in FIGS. 1, 2, and 3B, polymeric body 14 optionally includes a downwardly depending portion 40 at front end or edge 26b of shelf element 26. Downwardly depending portion 40 is preferably contiguous or continuous with portions 28 and 29 of polymeric body 14 to provide additional stiffness to shelf assembly 10. Similarly, as noted previously, downwardly depending portion 40 may incorporate an in-mold applique to provide a decorative appearance to the shelf assembly.

In the illustrated embodiment, and as best seen in FIGS. 3, 3A, and 3B, side frame members 16 and 18 and transverse frame member 20 comprise metal plate members 42, 44, and 46, each with heights greater than their thicknesses. Furthermore, as best seen in FIGS. 3A and 3B, side frame members 16 and 18 and transverse frame member 20 extend into ribs 32, 34, and 36 to reinforce ribs 32, 34, and 36 and, further, extend above the upper surface 26d of shelf element 26. However, it can be appreciated, that the height of the respective side frame members may be adjusted, and the thickness may be similarly adjusted to increase or decrease the rigidity of shelf assembly 10. Though depicted as a slender plate members, it should be appreciated that side frame members 16 and 18 may have different cross-sections to adjust the overall height of shelf assembly 10. Additionally, though depicted as solid frame members, frame members 16, 18, and 20 may have one or more perforations, in which case, plastic body 14 may extend through the perforations to provide a mechanical bond between the frame and body 14.

Referring to FIG. 4, the numeral 110 generally designates a second embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention. Shelf assembly 110 is of similar construction to shelf assembly 10 and includes a frame 112 and a polymeric body 114, which encapsulates at least a portion of frame 112 and, further, forms a shelf element 126. In the illustrated embodiment, shelf element 126 includes a recess 150, which is provided adjacent one of the side frame members, for example, side frame member 118. Referring to and as best seen in FIG. 4A, recess 150 may extend into shelf assembly 110 such that its lower support surface 152 aligns with the lower end 129a of portion 129 of body 114, which encapsulates side frame member 118. However, it can be appreciated that the height and size of recess 150 may be varied as needed and, further, lower support surface 152 may be eliminated so that recess 150 forms a transverse passageway that extends through shelf element 126 to accommodate containers or modules, such as shown in FIGS. 18 and 19 where access to the storage space provided in recess 150 is accessible from beneath shelf element 126. Similar to the previous embodiment, polymeric body 114 preferably includes ribs 132, 134, 136, and 138 at side frame members 116, 118, transverse member 120, and at front edge 126b of shelf element 126 to as to form a spill barrier. In addition, polymeric body 114 may include an intermediate rib 139 adjacent recess 150, which is preferably contiguous or continuous with ribs 136 and 138, which together with rib 132, provide a perimeter rib that forms a spill barrier rim around support surface area 126c of shelf element 126.

Referring to FIG. 4B, body 114 similarly includes a downwardly depending portion 140 at front edge 126b of shelf element 126, which extends across recess 150 and is substantially contiguous or continuous with downwardly depending portions 128 and 129 of body 114 to provide additional stiffness to shelf assembly 110, similar to the previous embodiment. As will be more fully described in reference to FIGS. 13-19, recess 150 may incorporate containers or inserts to achieve a number of different storage combinations.

Referring to FIG. 5, shelf assembly 210 incorporates a sliding shelf element. Shelf assembly 210 includes a base 211 and a shelf element 226, which is slidably mounted to base 211. Base 211 includes a frame 212 and a polymeric body 214, which encapsulates frame 212. As best seen in FIG. 5A, frame 212 is of similar construction to frames 12 and 112 described in reference to the previous embodiments, and is encapsulated by polymeric body 214, which is injection molded over frame 212 to form base 211. Body 214 similarly includes downwardly depending portions 228 and 229, which encapsulate side frame members 216 and 218, respectively, and, further, includes a third downwardly depending portion 230 (FIG. 5B), which encapsulates transverse frame member 220. Similar to the previous embodiments, frame 212 is preferably substantially encapsulated within body 214, with the proximate ends of side frame members 216 and 218 exposed where frame 212 is provided with one or more mounting mechanisms, such as tabs, for mounting shelf 210, for example, in a refrigerator. In the illustrated embodiment, each side frame member 216, 218 similarly includes a pair of mounting tabs 222 and 224 for releasably engaging a pair of rails mounted, for example, in a refrigerator.

Referring again to FIGS. 5A and 5B, each downwardly depending portion 228, 229 includes one or more support structures or surfaces for receiving shelf element 226. In the illustrated embodiment, the support structures are provided on the inner surfaces 228a and 229a of downwardly depending portions 228 and 229. Furthermore, in the illustrated embodiment, the support structures comprise elongate grooves 229a and 229b for receiving the edges 217a and 217b of shelf element 226 and, further for permitting shelf element 226 to slide along frame 212 with respect to side frame members 226 and 218. Alternately, downwardly depending portions 228 and 229 may include projecting structures, such as a projecting rail or rails for extending into a cooperating or receiving structure formed in shelf element 226, as will be understood by those skilled in the art. Optionally and preferably, downwardly depending portion 230 similarly includes a support structure, such as a recessed groove 230b, for receiving the rear edge 217c of shelf element 226. In this manner, shelf element 226 is supported on three sides when fully extended into base 211.

Optionally and preferably, front edge 217d of shelf element 226 incorporates a downwardly extending portion or flange 240, which provides a gripping surface to manually extend shelf element 226 in and out of base 211. Downwardly depending 240 is of similar construction to downwardly depending portions 140 and 40 of the previous embodiments and, further, optionally includes terminal ends 240a and 240b, which abut the terminal ends 228b and 229b of downwardly depending portions 228 and 229, respectively. In this manner, when shelf element 226 is fully extended into base 211, shelf assembly 210 will have a similar appearance to shelf assembly 10. Furthermore, downwardly depending portions 228, 229, and 230 each include upwardly projecting ribs or portions 228c, 229c, and 230c, respectively, which are preferably substantially continuous to form a U-shaped spill barrier. Furthermore, downwardly depending portion 240 similarly includes an upwardly extending portion to form a rib 240c, which together with ribs 228c, 229, and 230c form a substantially continuous perimeter rib that provides a spill safe condition.

Alternately, referring to FIG. 5C, shelf assembly 210 may incorporate a shelf element 226′, with upwardly extending portions 219′, which form a perimeter rim and preferably that are continuous with upwardly projecting rib 240c′ of downwardly depending portion 240′ so that ribs 219′ and 240c′ form a perimeter rim around shelf element 226′ to provide a spill safe condition.

Referring to FIG. 6, the numeral 310 designates another embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention. Shelf assembly 310 includes a base 311 and a shelf element 326 similar to the previous embodiment, with base 311 including a frame 312 that is at least partially encapsulated by a polymeric body 314. As will be more fully described below, base 311 is adapted to support a tray 315, which is also similarly slideably supported by base 311. As best seen in FIG. 6A, body 314 includes downwardly depending portions 328 and 329 (which encapsulate the side frame member of frame 12). In addition to the supporting structures for receiving shelf element 326, downwardly depending portions include support structures, such as recessed grooves 338d and 339d, for providing support to a tray 315. Alternately, downwardly depending portion 328 and 329 may include projecting structures, such as rails that extend into receiving structures provided on tray 315, similar to the previous embodiment. Similarly, tray 315 incorporates therein a pair of cooperating structures 315a and 315b, such as projecting ribs or flanges, for slidingly engaging the structure or structures provided in downwardly depending portions 328 and 329 to thereby slidingly mount tray 315 to base 311.

As best seen in FIG. 20, tray 315 may also incorporate an in-mold applique to provide a decorative appearance to tray 315. In the illustrated embodiment, the front handle or lip of tray 3156 incorporates an in-mold applique. However, it should be understood that the entire front panel or side panels of tray 315 may also incorporate in-mold appliques to further enhance or customize the appearance of the tray.

In the illustrated embodiment, shelf element 326 is similar to shelf element 226; however, it can be appreciated that shelf element 326 may be formed similar to shelf element 226′ and incorporate upstanding ribs, such as ribs 219′ to form an integral spill barrier rim. It also should be understood that tray 315 may be incorporated into shelf assembly 10 or 110, with accommodations made in the back wall 317 of tray 315 to accommodate recess 150.

Referring to FIG. 7, the numeral 410 designates yet another embodiment of the present invention. Shelf assembly 440 includes a base 411 and a shelf element 426 similar to base 211 and shelf element 226. In the illustrated embodiment, shelf assembly 410 incorporates a conventional and commercially available lift mechanism 460, which provides adjustment to the vertical height of shelf assembly 410. Lift mechanism 460 includes a drive shaft 462 and a handle 464, which is mounted to shaft 462 and is accessible at the front of shelf element 426. When handle 464 is rotated, shaft 462 is in turn rotate, which translates the rotary movement of the shaft into vertical movement of shelf assembly 10, as would be understood to those skilled in the art. In the illustrated embodiment, shaft 462 is supported at the underside of shelf element 426 by a support structure 466, which, for example, is molded therein or otherwise mounted to shelf element 426. To accommodate handle 464, downwardly depending portion 440 of shelf element 426 includes a recessed area 440a so that handle 464 may be extended through downwardly depending portion 440 and, further permit shelf element 426 to be extended. For further details of base 411 and shelf element 426, reference is made to the previous embodiments. Furthermore, lift mechanism 460 is conventional; therefore, no further details are provided herein.

Referring to FIGS. 8-12, it can be appreciated, that the plastic forming the various bodies and/or shelf elements of the present invention may comprise a clear plastic material, semi-transparent, or opaque. In addition, portions of the shelf may be decorated with an in-mold film applique to provide aesthetic functionality, including hiding the support structure that comprises the frame. Furthermore, while several forms and combinations of the invention have been shown and described, other combinations will be appreciated.

For example, referring to FIG. 14, FIG. 14 illustrates the shelf assembly 110 with a lid L positioned over the open end 150a (FIG. 4) of recess 150 to thereby form a compartment in recess 150. Lid L may comprise a plastic lid and may be formed from a plastic material with a high coefficient of friction, such as a rubberized plastic material, or with a high friction coating or surface, including, for example, bumps, ridges, or the like. In addition, as previously noted, lid L may be hinged to shelf assembly 110 or may simply rest on shelf element 126, such as on ribs 134, 139 and/or back rib 136. Furthermore, lid L may incorporate its own rib structure to form a spill safe condition for its support surface. Furthermore, lid L may be sized to provide a snap-fit arrangement so as to provide an airtight compartment. Alternately, lid L may incorporate a plurality of openings to provide circulation through the compartment.

Referring to FIGS. 15-19, shelf assembly 110 may incorporate a plurality of removable containers, such as containers 510, 610, 710, and 810. For example, container 510 may incorporate one or more storage compartments within the container for storing different types of food therein and, further, incorporate a lid 512 that is hinged or that forms a snap-fit connection with the container or simply rests on shelf element 116. Similarly, container 610 may comprise an egg holder container, which similarly may incorporate a lid. Container 710 comprises a can dispenser container; therefore, recess 150 is preferably modified to at least eliminate a portion of lower wall 152 to permit the dispensing of the cans from underneath shelf 110. As best seen in FIG. 19, recess 150 may be adapted to hold a commercial can container 810, such as a twenty-four pack, and, further, may be modified so that lower wall 152 is configured into a can dispenser.

Referring to FIG. 21, the numeral 910 generally designates another embodiment of the shelf assembly of the present invention. In the illustrated embodiment, shelf assembly 910 comprises a one-piece shelf assembly that is molded from a plastic material, such as a plastic polycarbonate material, including LEXAN. Shelf assembly 910 is adapted to provide multiple storage spaces and, further, is adapted to be mounted to conventional support rails provided in the freezer section of a refrigerator. In the illustrated embodiment, shelf assembly 910 incorporates three vertically spaced shelf elements 916a, 916b, and 916c, which are spaced such that they align with existing rails in, for example, the freezer compartment of a side-by-side refrigerator. It should be understood that the number of shelf elements may be varied. Furthermore, the width of the shelf elements may be increased as desired.

Shelf assembly 910 further includes a fourth shelf element 916d, which is located adjacent one of the shelf elements, such as shelf element 916c. Fourth shelf element 916d is mounted to shelf elements 916a, 916b, and 916c by a vertical side member 920 and includes a second vertical side member 922, which is aligned with one of the existing rails on the other side of the freeze compartment. Side walls 920 and 922 together with shelf element 916d form an enlarged recess 950 for supporting larger products, such as pizza boxes or the like.

As illustrated, one or more shelf elements 916a, 916b, 916c and/or 916d may be formed with a plurality of apertures to increase airflow through the refrigerator. The shape of these apertures or openings may be varied to provide a decorative function, such as shown in FIG. 23. Thought it should be understood that shelf elements 916a, 916b, and 916c, as well as shelf element 916d, may comprise solid shelf elements. In addition, each of the shelf elements 916a, 916b, and 916c may incorporate an upwardly depending flange or rib 940 at their front edges and back edges to provide support for items supported on the shelf elements when the shelf assembly is extended form the freezer. Though illustrated as a translucent shelf assembly, shelf assembly 910 may be molded from an opaque or colored plastic as well. In addition, the shelf elements may incorporate in-mold appliques to add color, designs or the like.

Referring to FIG. 23, shelf assembly 1010 comprises a single shelf element that is molded from a plastic material, such as a plastic polycarbonate material, including LEXAN. Shelf element 1010 is sized and configured such that it can be mounted between a pair of conventional rails, such as used in a freezer compartment of a refrigerator. Optionally, shelf element 1010 incorporates a plurality of openings 1012, which may provide for better airflow through the refrigerator. In the illustrated embodiment, apertures 1012 comprise star-shaped openings; however, it can be appreciated that the shape of the openings may be varied as desired.

Referring to FIGS. 24 and 25, shelf assemblies 1110 of the present invention are adapted for use in a chest or freezer unit. Each shelf assembly 1110 comprises a one-piece modular shelf that is molded from plastic. Each shelf assembly 1110 includes a shelf element 1116 and upstanding walls 1118 and 1120, which together form a receptacle therebetween. Furthermore, upstanding portions 11120 include mounting flanges 1122 for supporting the respective shelf assemblies 1110 in the chest or freezer unit and which are preferably sized to engage the upper perimeter rim or edge 1124 of the chest or freezer unit. Furthermore, flanges 1122 are sized to permit the lid 1126 of the chest or freezer unit to be closed and to be fully seated in the opening of the chest or freezer unit. It can be appreciated that when lid 1126 is opened, the individual shelf assembly 1110 may be relocated by sliding along rim 1124 to provide access beneath the respective shelf assemblies. Similar to the previous embodiments, the respective shelf elements 1116 of shelf assembly 1110 may incorporate a plurality of openings, including various-shaped openings to provide increase airflow through the chest or freezer unit.

Referring to FIGS. 26 and 27, the shelf assemblies of the present invention may further incorporate a liner 1210 or 1310. Liners 1210 and 1310 protect the plastic forming the shelf elements and optionally have channels or other structures formed therein to prevent spills from escaping the perimeter of the liner. Liners 1210 and 1310 may be generally rigid or may be flexible and formed from a rubber material. Optionally, liners 1210, 1310 may provide a high friction surface, including a texture, such a plurality of bumps or ribs or the like, to prevent items from skidding when, for example, the shelf element is extended from its base. Therefore, as would be understood, that liners 1210 and 1310 are particularly suitable for use with the extendable shelf assemblies of the present invention. Liners 1210, 1310 may assume a variety of different configurations, colors, and may only partially extend across the shelf element, such as shown in FIG. 27.

Referring to FIGS. 28 and 29, as previously noted, shelf assembly 1510 of the present invention may incorporate a recess that is located at the front end of the shelf element, as illustrated in FIGS. 28 and 29. Furthermore, shelf assembly 1510 may incorporate a lid to extend the useable support surface area of the shelf assembly and, further, to provide a closed and/or an airtight compartment. Optionally, the shelf assembly 1510 may incorporate a sliding tray, similar to sliding tray 315. Furthermore, as will be appreciated from the previous embodiments, the shelf element and, further, the lid may incorporate upstanding rib portions to provide a substantially continuous perimeter rim around the entire support surface area to prevent spills from escaping the perimeter of the shelf element and/or the lid to provide a spill safe condition. Alternately, each support surface area may be enriched by an upwardly projecting rib so that each surface area provides a spill safe condition. For further details of the construction of shelf assembly 1510, reference is made to the previous embodiments.

While several forms of the invention have been shown and described, it should be appreciated that further modifications and changes will now be apparent to those skilled in the art. For example, as noted in reference to several of the embodiments, various portions of the shelf assemblies may be decorated, for example by an in-mold applique. Furthermore, the plastic forming the various shelf elements and encapsulating the frames may be clear, semi-transparent, or opaque and may be colored and may incorporate pattern or design, such as with an in-mold applique. Therefore, it will be understood that the embodiments shown in the drawings and described above are merely for illustrative purposes, and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention, which is defined by the claims, which follow as interpreted under the principles of patent law including the doctrine of equivalents.





 
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