Title:
Tether clip
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Panel fasteners or tether clips are disclosed that include a first retaining means near a first end that is adapted to be securable to a first panel, a second retaining means that is engageable with the second panel and limits the relative separation between the panels, and a releasable fastener means intermediate the first and second retaining means that normally maintains the two panels in a closed configuration relative to one another but that releases at least one of the panels relative to the other panel in response to a predetermined force tending to separate the panels.



Inventors:
Minnich, David Allan (Lincoln University, PA, US)
Plummer, Richard M. (Kennett Square, PA, US)
Carothers, Louis J. (Williamstown, NJ, US)
Application Number:
10/925719
Publication Date:
04/07/2005
Filing Date:
08/25/2004
Assignee:
MINNICH DAVID ALLAN
PLUMMER RICHARD M.
CAROTHERS LOUIS J.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B60R13/02; F16B5/06; E04F19/02; (IPC1-7): E04F19/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SANDY, ROBERT JOHN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PAUL AND PAUL (PHILADELPHIA, PA, US)
Claims:
1. A tether clip for holding a first panel in close proximity to a second panel until a load exceeding a predetermined threshold and tending to separate the first and second panels is applied between the first and second panels, and to thereafter limit the relative separation between the first and second panels, the tether clip comprising: first retaining means adapted to be securable to the first panel; second retaining means that is engageable with the second panel and limits the relative separation between the first and second panels; releasable fastener means located intermediate the first and second retaining means, the releasable fastener means being adapted to releasably engage the second panel in order to maintain the first and second panels in a closed configuration relative to one another, the releasable fastener means being designed to release the second panel in response to a force tending to separate the first and second panels that is greater than a first predetermined value; and a flexible section extending from said releasable fastener means to said second retaining means, the flexible section having a cross section that is wider in a first dimension than it is in a second perpendicular dimension such that said flexible section flexes easily in a direction defined by said second dimension and is relatively stiff in a direction defined by said first dimension.

2. The tether clip according to claim 1, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, wherein the tether clip has a longitudinal axis defined with said flexible section in an un-flexed condition, and wherein said first retaining means comprises: a first pair of resilient snap legs attached to a first body portion located intermediate said releasable fastener means and said first retaining means, said first pair of resilient snap legs is attached to said first body portion proximate an end of said first body portion distal from said releasable fastener means, each of said first pair of resilient snap legs has a proximal end and a distal end, each of said first pair of resilient snap legs is attached to said first body portion proximate said proximal end of each of said first pair of resilient snap legs, each of said first pair of resilient snap legs has a lateral extension attached to its distal end, each said lateral extension has a release tab attached thereto, wherein squeezing each said release tab toward said longitudinal axis of the tether clip releases said first pair of resilient snap legs from the first panel.

3. The tether clip according to claim 2, wherein said distal end of each of said resilient snap legs is provided with a notch.

4. The tether clip according to claim 3, wherein each said lateral extension is attached to said distal end of each of said resilient snap legs over said notch, each said lateral extension extends away from said longitudinal axis of the tether clip in a direction approximately perpendicular to said longitudinal axis of said tether clip, a portion of the first panel proximate the first opening being captured intermediate at least a portion of each said lateral extension and said notch of a respective one of said pair of resilient snap legs when the tether clip is secured to the first panel.

5. The tether clip according to claim 4, wherein each said lateral extension has an end distal form said respective one of said pair of resilient snap legs, each said release tab is attached to each lateral extension at said end of each said lateral extension that is distal from said respective one of said pair of resilient snap legs, and each said release tab extends toward said second retaining means in a direction approximately parallel to said longitudinal axis of the tether clip.

6. The tether clip according to claim 5, further comprising a shoulder located intermediate said releasable fastener means and said first retaining means, said first body portion being attached to said shoulder at one end thereof.

7. The tether clip according to claim 6, wherein each of said first pair of resilient snap legs extends from said proximal end thereof generally in a direction toward a plane coincident with said shoulder and at least in part diverging away from said longitudinal axis of the tether clip.

8. The tether clip according to claim 7, wherein said notch of each of said first pair of resilient snap legs is provided with a step to allow said first retaining means be securable to panels of different thickness.

9. The tether clip according to claim 8, wherein scalloping is provided on either side of said flexible section, said scalloping tending to further thin said flexible section in said second dimension and thus aid in the flexing of said flexible section in said second direction.

10. The tether clip according to claim 1, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said flexible section of the tether clip conforms closely in size and shape of its cross section to the size and shape of the second opening in the second panel to help guide the separation of the panels by limiting the displacements allowed during deployment by aligning said flexible portion properly, and wherein the relative movement of the first and second panels can be guided by the relative stiffness of said flexible section in said first direction.

11. The tether clip according to claim 9, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said releasable fastener means comprises: enlarged bodies on either side of said flexible section; and at least one relief slot provided intermediate said enlarged bodies.

12. The tether clip according to claim 11, wherein each of said enlarged bodies has a gradual transition leading to the normal cross section of said flexible section in the direction of said second retaining means to ease initial engagement of said releasable fastener means to the second panel, and wherein each of said enlarged bodies has an more abrupt transition in the direction of said first retaining means, whereby the installation efforts of said releasable fastener means is lower than the disengagement efforts.

13. The tether clip according to claim 12, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said second retaining means comprises: a flared and twisted barbed end portion wherein said barbs flex inward and pass through the second slot in the second panel during installation, and said barbs are free to return to their original configuration and provide retention behind the second panel once said barbs have passed through the second opening in the second panel.

14. The tether clip according to claim 12, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said second retaining means comprises: an arrow-shaped head with a smaller neck than the main body of said flexible section thereby creating a gap between said barbs of said arrow-shaped head and said flexible section, said gap between said barbs of said arrow-shaped head and said flexible section being approximately the same width as the thickness of the second panel to thereby facilitate insertion of the arrow-shaped head through the second opening of the second panel.

15. The tether clip according to claim 2, wherein said lateral extensions are provided with resilient spring members such that upon installation of the tether clip these spring members exert a constant load keeping said resilient snap legs tightly against the first panel to thereby reduce Buzz, Squeak, and Rattle concerns.

16. The tether clip according to claim 1, wherein scalloping is provided on either side of said flexible section, said scalloping tending to further thin said flexible section in said second dimension and thus aid in the flexing of said flexible section in said second direction.

17. The tether clip according to claim 1, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said releasable fastener means comprises: enlarged bodies on either side of said flexible section; and at least one relief slot provided intermediate said enlarged bodies.

18. The tether clip according to claim 17, wherein each of said enlarged bodies has a gradual transition leading to the normal cross section of said flexible section in the direction of said second retaining means to ease initial engagement of said releasable fastener means to the second panel, and wherein each of said enlarged bodies has an more abrupt transition in the direction of said first retaining means, whereby the installation efforts of said releasable fastener means is lower than the disengagement efforts.

19. The tether clip according to claim 1, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said second retaining means comprises: a flared and twisted barbed end portion wherein said barbs flex inward and pass through the second slot in the second panel during installation, and said barbs are free to return to their original configuration and provide retention behind the second panel once said barbs have passed through the second opening in the second panel.

20. The tether clip according to claim 1, wherein the first panel has a first opening and the second panel has a second opening, and wherein said second retaining means comprises: an arrow-shaped head with a smaller neck than the main body of said flexible section thereby creating a gap between said barbs of said arrow-shaped head and said flexible section, said gap between said barbs of said arrow-shaped head and said flexible section being approximately the same width as the thickness of the second panel to thereby facilitate insertion of the arrow-shaped head through the second opening of the second panel.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of the priority of U.S. Provisional Application for patent Ser. No. 60/498,176, filed on Aug. 26, 2003, the entirety of which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of Invention

This invention relates generally to a panel fastener or clip that normally fastens two panels together but allows for a predetermined displacement between the panels in response to a predetermined force applied to the panels.

2. Brief Description of the Related Art

In many applications the need arises to fasten one panel to another. For example, in the automotive industry the interior door panels of the vehicle must be securely fastened to the sheet metal forming part of the vehicle door. Many fasteners for this purpose have been proposed in the art. Examples of such panel fasteners can be seen in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,758,987 and 6,042,296. However, there remains a need in the art for panel fasteners that, while securing two panels together under normal circumstances, will also allow for a controlled displacement between the two panels in response to the application of a predetermined force. An example, of an application requiring this type of fastener is in cars having side airbags that are concealed by the interior door panels. In such cars, when the side airbag inflates in an accident, the panels must be allowed to be displaced relative to one another to allow the airbag to be deployed properly, however, the panels should not be allowed to become completely disconnected. If an interior panel is allowed to separate completely upon deployment of the airbag, then the loose panel could act as a projectile that can cause injury to a vehicle's occupants. Furthermore, by limiting the displacement between the panels, reinstallation of the panel subsequent to the deployment of the airbag becomes much easier. The need persists in the art for a reliable and durable panel fastener or clip that will continue to tether two panels together while allowing for a controlled displacement between the two panels in response to a predetermined force.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is directed to reliable and durable panel fasteners or tether clips that continue to tether two panels together while allowing for a controlled displacement between the two panels in response to a predetermined force. The panel fasteners or tether clips according to the present invention include a first retaining means near a first end that is adapted to be securable to a first panel, a second retaining means that is engageable with the second panel and limits the relative separation between the panels, and a releasable fastener means intermediate the first and second retaining means that normally maintains the two panels in a closed configuration relative to one another but that releases at least one of the panels relative to the other panel in response to a predetermined force tending to separate the panels. The type of panel fasteners that, while securing two panels together under normal circumstances, will also allow for a controlled displacement between the two panels in response to the application of a predetermined force, are referred to herein as tether clips.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIGS. 1-10 are views of a first embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIGS. 11-15 are views of a second embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIGS. 16-20 are views of a third embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 21 shows a panel adapted to receive a first end of the first embodiment of the tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 22 shows a relatively thin panel adapted to receive a second end of the first embodiment of the tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 23 shows a relatively thick panel adapted to receive a second end of the first embodiment of the tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 24 is a view of a fourth embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 25 is a view of a fifth embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIGS. 26-30 are views of a sixth embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 31 shows a panel adapted to receive a first end of the sixth embodiment of the tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 32 shows a panel adapted to receive a second end of the sixth embodiment of the tether clip according to the present invention.

FIG. 33 is a view of a seventh embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

FIGS. 34-38 are views of an eighth embodiment of a tether clip according to the present invention.

Like reference numerals indicate like elements throughout the several views.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Various other tether clip designs are disclosed in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/243,803, filed on Sep. 13, 2002, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/263,875, filed on Oct. 2, 2002, and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/289,669, filed on Nov. 6, 2002, which are commonly owned with the present invention and which are incorporated by reference herein in their entirety.

Referring to FIGS. 1-10 and 21-22, the present invention is directed to a single piece flexible tether clip 100 designed to hold a first panel 102 in close proximity to a second panel 104 until a load exceeding a predetermined threshold and tending to separate the panels is applied between the panels 102 and 104. The tether clip 100 comprises a first retaining means 106 adapted to be securable to the first panel 102; a second retaining means 108 that is engageable with the second panel 104 and limits the relative separation between the first and second panels; and a releasable fastener means 110 intermediate the first and second retaining means 106 and 108. The releasable fastener means 110 is adapted to be releasably engageable with the second panel 104. The releasable fastener means 110 is adapted to normally maintain the first and second panels in a closed configuration relative to one another as shown in FIGS. 7 and 8. The releasable fastener means 110 is designed to release the second panel 104 in response to a force tending to separate the first and second panels that is greater than a first predetermined value, thus allowing the panel 104 to move to the position shown in FIGS. 9 and 10.

The first panel 102 has a first opening 112 and the second panel 104 has a second opening 114. The first retaining means 106 comprises a shoulder 116; a first body portion 118 projecting from a first side of the shoulder 116 and having an end distal from the shoulder 116. The first body portion 118 has a first longitudinal axis that is coincident with the longitudinal axis of the tether clip 100 when the tether clip is in the unflexed condition illustrated in the drawings. The first retaining means 106 further includes a first pair of resilient snap legs 120 attached to the first body portion 118 proximate the end of the first body portion distal from the shoulder 116.

Each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 has a proximal end and a distal end. Each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 is attached to the first body portion 118 proximate the proximal end of each of the first pair of resilient snap legs. Each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 extends from the proximal end thereof generally in a direction toward a plane coincident with the shoulder 116 and at least in part diverging away from the longitudinal axis of the tether clip 100.

Each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 has at least one notch 124 provided proximate the distal end of each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120. When the first retaining means 106 is secured to the first panel 102, at least a portion of the first panel 102 proximate the first opening 112 is captured intermediate at least a portion of the shoulder 116 and the notch 124 in each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 to thereby secure the tether clip 100 to the first panel 102.

Preferably, the notches 124 of the first retaining means 106 are each provided with an optional step 125. This feature allows panels of two different thicknesses to be used for the first panel 102. When the panel 102 is relatively thin the opening 112 is approximately rectangular. In the case of the thin panel, at least a portion of the first panel 102 proximate the first opening 112 is captured between at least a portion of the shoulder 116 and the step 125 in each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 to thereby secure the tether clip 100 to the first panel 102 (see FIG. 22). When the panel 102 is relatively thick the opening 112a has notches 113 that allow the panel 102 to clear the steps 125. In the case of the thick panel, at least a portion of the first panel 102 proximate the first opening 112a is captured between at least a portion of the shoulder 116 and the portions of the notches 124 that are set back relative to the top of the step 125 in each of the first pair of resilient snap legs 120 to thereby secure the tether clip 100 to the first panel 102 (see FIG. 23). In the case of the thinner panel, the resilient snap legs 120 capture the panel 102 about the center of the notches 124. In the case of the thicker panel, the resilient snap legs 120 capture the panel 102 at the outer portions of the notches 124.

In the illustrated embodiment of FIGS. 1-10, a lateral extension 127 is attached to the distal end of each of the resilient snap legs 120 over the notch 124. Each lateral extension 127 extends away from the longitudinal axis of the tether clip 100 in a direction approximately perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the tether clip. When the tether clip 100 is secured to the first panel 102, a portion of the first panel 102 proximate the first opening 112 or 112a is captured intermediate at least a portion of each lateral extension 127 and the respective notch 124 of the respective resilient snap legs 120. A release tab 129 is attached to each lateral extension 127 at the end of the lateral extension that is distal from the respective resilient snap leg 120. Each release tab 129 extends toward the second retaining means 108 in a direction approximately parallel to the longitudinal axis of the tether clip 100. The release tabs 129 are primarily used to ease removal of the tether clip 100 from the first panel 102. Squeezing the release tabs 129 toward the longitudinal axis of the tether clip releases the resilient snap legs 120 from the panel 102 and allows for disengagement.

The release tabs 129 and lateral extensions 127 also act secondarily to help constrain the tether clip under axial load. Because the first body portion 118 is centered within the opening 112 or 112a, the axial tension loads on the tether clip tend to further splay the resilient snap legs 120 outward away from the longitudinal axis of the tether clip. The release tabs 129 and lateral extensions 127, by virtue of their location on the opposite side of the panel relative to the resilient snap legs 120, constrain the movement relative to the sides of the opening 112 or 112a of the ends of the resilient snap legs 120 that are distal from the body portion 118. Thus, the release tabs 129 and lateral extensions 127 enhance the resistance of the resilient snap legs 120 to splaying open under axial load.

The snap legs 120 are molded such that they are splayed in a slightly more open condition than is strictly necessary for the intended size of the opening 112 or 112a. This feature ensures that a transverse load is applied to the sides of the opening in the panel 102. This transverse load helps to ensure a tight fit between the tether clip 100 and the panel 102 even when there are deviations in the size of the opening in the panel 102 relative to the recommended opening size due to inaccuracies in production. By ensuring a tight fit, Buzz, Squeak, and Rattle issues will be reduced.

In the illustrated embodiment of FIGS. 1-10, the shoulder 116 is formed by a first side of a base plate 131. A flexible section 126 extends from the second side 128 of the base plate 131 to the second retaining means 108. The flexible section 126 of the tether clip 100 is designed to flex primarily in one plane. The flexible section 126 has a cross section that is relatively wide in one dimension, referred to as the wide dimension herein, and relatively thin in the dimension that is perpendicular to the wide dimension and is referred to herein as the thin dimension. Thus, the flexible section 126 flexes easily in the direction of the thin dimension and is relatively stiff in the direction of the wide dimension. Scalloping 142 is provided on either side of the flexible section 126. The scalloping 142 tends to further thin the flexible section 126 in the thin dimension and thus aids in the flexing of the flexible section 126 in the direction of the thin dimension. The scallops 142 also serve a secondary function by helping to decelerate the panels 102 and 104 relative to one another as the panels are moved apart, for example, due to the deployment of an airbag. Upon deployment, the scallops 142 make intermittent contact with the panel opening 114, thus decelerating the system along the way.

The flexible section 126 of the tether also conforms closely in size and shape of its cross section to the size and shape of the opening 114 in the panel 104. This helps guide the separation of the panels by limiting the displacements allowed during deployment. By aligning the flexible portion properly, the movement of the deploying panel can be somewhat guided by the relative stiffness of the flexible section 126 in the direction of the wide dimension.

The releasable fastener means 110 is located near the base plate 131 along the flexible section 126. The releasable fastener means 110 is formed by locally enlarging the cross section of the flexible section 126 to form the enlarged bodies 130 and placing a relief slot 140 to the inside of each enlarged body 130, i.e. placing the relief slot closer to the longitudinal axis of the tether clip relative to the enlarged bodies 130. Each enlarged body 130 has a gradual transition 144 leading to the normal cross section of the flexible section 126 in the direction of the second retaining means 108 to ease initial assembly. The transition 132 is much more abrupt for disengagement. In this way, the installation efforts can be lower than the disengagement efforts.

A center rib 146 is also located in the region of the releasable fastener means 110. The center rib 146 is has a longitudinal axis that is coincident with the longitudinal axis of the tether clip 100 and increases the thickness of the flexible section 126 in the direction of the thin dimension. This is to stiffen the tether clip locally to prevent excess flex around the releasable fastener means 110. Accordingly, the flexible section 126 of the tether clip, having the properties described previously, can be thought of as extending from the releasable fastener means 110 to the second retaining means 108.

The flexible section 126 of the tether clip is positioned behind the side of the panel 104 that is opposite the side of the panel 104 that faces the panel 102 when the releasable fastener means 110 engages the opening 114 in the panel 104 to retain the two panels 102 and 104 in close proximity to each other.

The second retaining means 108 is formed by a flared and twisted barbed end portion 138 with a slot 136 running at least part way along the center of the end portion 138. The second retaining means 108 is installed by pushing the end portion 138 through the opening or slot 114 of the panel 104. The slot 136 allows the barbs 134 to flex inward and pass through the slot 114 in the panel. The barbs 134 are also initially twisted out of the flat planes defined by the wider sides of the flexible section 126 and will twist inward during installation. Once passed through the panel slot 114, the barbs 134 are free to return to their original configuration and provide retention behind the panel 104.

The tether clip 100 is designed to hold a first panel 102 in close proximity to a second panel 104 until a prescribed load is met. Once the prescribed load is met, the first panel can separate from the second panel and travel to a constrained distance determined by the length of the flexible section 126. When in the closed position (the panels in close proximity) the flexible section 126 can flex over upon itself to pack into a smaller space than its straight length. The second retaining means 108 is retained behind a simple slot 114 in the second panel 104 while the first retaining means 106 installs into a larger rectangular opening 112 or 112a in the first panel 102. The self-releasing fastener means 110 also engages the opening 114 in the panel 104 to retain the two panels in close proximity to each other (i.e. in the closed position) until the prescribed load is met. The second retaining means 108 does not engage the second panel 104 such that it can impact the separation between the panels 102 and 104 when the releasable fastener means 110 engages the opening 114 in the panel 104 to retain the two panels 102 and 104 in close proximity to each other.

As shown in the embodiment of FIGS. 26-30, the tether clip may be made without the rib 146. In this case the two slots 140 will be replaced by a single relief slot 140a positioned intermediate the enlarged bodies 130. This embodiment also shows resilient snap legs 120 having notches 124a without the steps 125. The embodiment of FIG. 33 is the same as the embodiment of FIGS. 26-30, except that it has a stiffening rib 146.

Further, it is possible to eliminate the base plate 131. In this case the self-releasing fastener means 110 is directly attached to the first retaining means 106 and the lateral extensions 127 can perform the functions of the base plate 131. Moreover, both the base plate 131 and the lateral extensions 127 may be eliminated while retaining an operative tether clip. In this case the self-releasing fastener means 110 is directly attached to the first retaining means 106 and the panels are held in abutting contact between the self-releasing fastener means 110 and the first retaining means 106.

Referring to FIGS. 11-15, the second embodiment of the tether clip 100a showing an alternative second retaining means 108a can be seen. The second retaining means 108a includes an arrow shaped head 138a with a smaller neck 136a than the main body of the flexible section 126a. The gap between the barbs 134a of the arrow and the Flexible section 126a is approximately the same width as the thickness of the panel 104. Likewise, the length of the barb 134a is approximately the same length as the panel slot 114. To install, one barb 134a is aligned with the slot 114 and pushed through. The panel now enters the gap between the barb 134a and the main body of the flexible section 126a and the arrow-shaped head 138a is moved such that one end of the slot 114 is positioned at the base of the barb 134a. The arrow-shaped head 138a is then rotated to allow the second barb 134a to pass through the panel slot 114. The width across the barbs 134a is wider than the length of the panel slot 114 and now retains the tether clip to the panel 104.

The embodiment of FIGS. 16-20, shows a tether clip with a longer slot 136b to reduce insertion force for the second retaining means 108b.

The embodiment of FIGS. 34 to 38 is essentially the same as that of FIGS. 1-10, except for the elimination of the rib 146, the lateral extensions 127, the release tabs 129, the scalloping 142, and the steps 125. This design requires a modified opening in panel 102 to make the first retaining member 106a removable. The opening in panel 102 would have to have a wider portion to allow the tether clip to be removed by sliding out the first retaining member 106a transversely to the larger area of the opening in the panel 102, similar to a keyhole style approach. The first retaining member 106a could be snapped into the panel 102 as before.

Referring to FIGS. 24 and 25, the lateral extensions 127 are provided with resilient spring members 150 and 152. Upon installation of the tether clip, these spring members 150,152 will flex toward the enlarged bodies 130 to accommodate the panel 102 but will exert a constant load keeping the notches 124 or the steps 125 tightly against the panel 102. This will help reduce any potential gaps between parts and will also help reduce Buzz, Squeak, and Rattle concerns.

It is to be understood that the present invention is not limited to the embodiments described above. Furthermore, it is to be understood that the embodiments of the present invention disclosed above are susceptible to various modifications, changes and adaptations by those skilled in the art, without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.