Title:
Packaging device and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention basically includes an outer layer made of flexible sheets of synthetic resinous or impervious materials, and/or rigid and/or semi-rigid materials while the wrapping of each article may be held inside the packaging system by flexible linkages. The portion of the wrapping that is not directly wrapping the article should be considered as the flange of the wrapping which will become the “linkage” in the glossary of this invention. The wrapping may be designed with openings for the protruded, fragile or sharp members of the article to avoid damage to these parts. The wrapping may be made as a closed cell and a negative pressure (vacuum) may be applied to securely grasp the article. For those articles that are not suited for tight wrap, certain fluids (e.g., air) may be provided to the inside of the sealed wrapping to counteract the inflation pressure at the outside of the wrapping.



Inventors:
Mak, Chi Yin (Hong Kong, HK)
Application Number:
11/089004
Publication Date:
10/06/2005
Filing Date:
03/24/2005
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
53/434, 53/472, 206/583
International Classes:
B65B11/50; B65B11/58; B65B23/00; B65B31/00; B65B31/06; B65B55/20; B65D25/10; B65D81/05; B65D81/07; B65D81/107; B65D85/30; (IPC1-7): B65B31/00; B65B23/00; B65D85/30
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
WEEKS, GLORIA R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BUCHANAN, INGERSOLL & ROONEY PC (ALEXANDRIA, VA, US)
Claims:
1. A device for packaging at least one article therein, said device including: at least two outer portions; at least two inner portions, wherein said inner portions are joined with said outer portions via linking means, wherein said inner portions are adapted to contain said at least one article; and wherein, in use, said linking means is in a tensioned or compressed state, and is adapted to position said at least one article at a distance from said outer portions, and to hinder movement of said at least one article towards either of said outer portions.

2. A device according to claim 1 wherein said device is movable between a collapsed pre-use configuration and an inflated in-use configuration.

3. A device according to claim 1 further including at least a port allowing a fluid to enter the spaces between said inner portions and a respective adjacent outer portion.

4. A device according to claim 3 wherein said fluid is a gas.

5. A device according to claim 4 wherein said gas is air.

6. A device according to claim 3 wherein said fluid in said spaces between said inner portions and the respective adjacent outer portion is at a pressure above the atmospheric pressure.

7. A device according to claim 1 wherein said inner portions are fixedly secured with a respective adjacent outer portion.

8. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means is fixedly secured with a respective adjacent inner portion and/or outer portion by heat-sealing, mechanical fasteners, gluing, chemical bonding, high frequency welding or ultrasonic welding.

9. A device according to claim 1 further including at least a port allowing air to be removed from or introduced into a space between said inner portions.

10. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means is flexible.

11. A device according to claim 10 wherein said linking means is movable between a pre-use collapsed configuration and an in-use expanded configuration.

12. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means is integral with said inner portions.

13. A device according to claim 1 wherein said outer portion is longer than said inner portion.

14. A device according to claim 1 wherein said outer portion is shorter than said inner portion.

15. A device according to claim 1 wherein said outer portion is wider than said inner portion.

16. A device according to claim 3 further including a passageway in fluid communicable relationship with the spaces formed between the outer layers and the respective adjacent inner layer, allowing said fluid to pass from one said space to another.

17. A device according to claim 1 wherein, when in use, the pressure in the spaces between the outer portions and the respective inner portion is higher than that in the space between the inner portions.

18. A device according to claim 1 wherein, when in use, the pressure in the spaces between the outer portions and the respective inner portion is lower than that in the space between the inner portions.

19. A device according to claim 1 wherein, when in use, the pressure in the spaces between the outer portions and the respective inner portion is substantially the same as that in the space between the inner portions.

20. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means comprises a plurality of linkages.

21. A device according to claim 1 wherein said outer portions collectively form a bag or a sleeve.

22. A device according to claim 1 wherein said inner portions collectively form a bag or a sleeve.

23. A device according to claim 1 wherein one said inner portion and one said outer portion collectively form a bag or a sleeve.

24. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means is part of said outer portions.

25. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means is part of said inner portions.

26. A device according to claim 1 wherein said linking means is a component separate from said inner portions and said outer portions.

27. A packaging system including a packaging device according to claim 1 packaged within a packaging device according to claim 1.

28. A method of packaging at least one article, including the steps of: (a) providing a packaging device with at least two outer portions, and at least two inner portions joined with said outer portions via linking means; (b) positioning said at least one article between said at least two inner portions; and (c) tensioning or compressing said linking means to thereby position said at least one article at a distance from said outer portions, and to hinder movement of said at least one article towards either of said outer portions

29. A method according to claim 28 further including a step (d) of sealing said packaging off from the outside environment.

30. A method according to claim 28 further including a step (e) of introducing a fluid into spaces formed between said outer portions and the respective adjacent inner portion.

31. A method according to claim 30 wherein said fluid is a gas.

32. A method according to claim 31 wherein said gas is air.

33. A method according to claim 30 wherein said fluid in said spaces between said outer portions and the respective adjacent inner portion is at a pressure above the atmospheric pressure.

34. A method according to claim 28 further including a step (f) of removing air from a space between said inner portions.

35. A method according to claim 28 further including a step (g) of causing said linking means to move between a pre-use collapsed configuration and an in-use expanded configuration.

36. A method according to claim 30 wherein said fluid introduced into at least one said space between one said outer portion and its adjacent inner portion passes to another space between another said outer portion and its adjacent inner portion via a passageway which is in fluid communicable relationship with said spaces.

37. A method according to claim 28 further including a step (h) of introducing air into a space between said inner portions.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a packaging device and method and, in particular, a packaging device and method for supporting and isolating an article within a unit so that the article is protected against any damage from impulsive shocks.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Manufacturers have been looking for replacements to the typical prior art “packing peanuts”, newspaper, wrapping paper, shredded paper, and custom foam packing systems. Packaging represents a significant cost of an article in many instances, and returns due to items broken in transit can reduce profitability for a company. There are increasing environmental concerns regarding packing materials, and many consumers are turned off by large amounts of packing peanuts and the like in a product packaging.

In some European Union countries, manufacturers are responsible for the solid waste created by packaging materials and must offer to recycle such materials or make such materials easily recyclable. Packaging that folds flat for return shipment has an advantage over traditional peanuts or other bulking cushioning devices. Customers demand may dictate that recyclable materials and degradable resinous sheets be used in place of conventional packing materials.

Inflatable packaging systems offer some advantages over prior art Styrofoam peanuts and the like, as they can be folded flat for return shipment, and offer decreased cost, better protection, and lower environmental impact.

However, some inflatable packaging systems use inflatable “pillows” used to pack items for shipment. Such inflatable “pillows” do not secure the item, however, but rather act only as a free cushioning device. The item being packed may still move or slip in relation to the pillows. If the item slides to one side of the package, the pillows may no longer provide any cushioning effect.

In addition, such prior art devices require that the user inflate multiple pillows individually, while maintaining the position of the article to be shipped in the shipping carton or container. Such a process is awkward at best, and does not insure that the cushioning amount on all sides of the article is equal.

Thus, it remains a requirement in the art to provide a packaging system that is easy to use, securely grips an object to be packed, does not require multiple insertion of various separate bladders or bags, and provides even pressure on the object being packed.

It is thus an object of the present invention to provide a packaging system and a packaging method in which the above shortcomings are mitigated, or at least to provide a useful alternative to the public.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a device for packaging at least one article inside a space thereof, said device including at least two outer portions; at least two inner portions wherein said inner portions are joined with said outer portions via linking means, wherein said inner portions are adapted to contain said at least one article; and wherein, in use, said linking means is in a tensioned or compressed state, and is adapted to position said at least one article at a distance from said outer portions, and to hinder movement of said at least one article towards either of said outer portions.

According to a second aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of packaging at least one article, including the steps of (a) providing a packaging device with at least two outer portions, and at least two inner portions joined with said outer portions via linking means; (b) positioning said at least one article between said at least two inner portions; and (c) tensioning or compressing said linking means to thereby position said at least one article at a distance from said outer portions, and to hinder movement of said at least one article towards either of said outer portions.

The present invention pertains to a packaging device and a method for supporting and isolating an article within a unit so that the article is protected against any damage from impulsive shocks. The system of the present invention may be designed regardless of the shape of the article, to fit within the configuration of the finished pack such as a printed box or shipping carton, and does not rely on the rigidity or strength of the article or the outer packaging. The article (product) packed may comprise a single article or a number of smaller articles packed together. Thus, for example the product may comprise more than one article, for example, a camera body and several AF zoom lenses, packed in the same package, where each article is “wrapped” (and possibly vacuumed) individually. The product may also comprise not a single article, but a number of articles packed together. Thus, for example, if the product is a bag of diamonds, each bag may be one wrapping.

It should be noted that that while the term “air” may be used throughout the specification, the use of such a term should not be construed as limiting the present invention, as any one of a number of packaging fluids, including, but not limited to atmospheric air, inert gases, liquids, and the like may be used in the present invention.

Similarly, for the term “heat-sealing” or “sealing” or “seal” which may be used throughout the specification, the use of such a term should not be construed as limiting the present invention, as any one of a number of bonding techniques, including, but not limited to, seal by a heat generating device, high frequency or ultrasonic welding machines, and the like may be used in the present invention.

The system of the present invention may hold objects of any shape, and provides cushioning protection to the object.

A packaging device according to the present invention enclose an article or a plurality of articles inside it in such a way that each article is wrapped at a distance from the adjacent articles and from the outer layers of the packaging device. Any external impulses on the surface of the packaging system can be absorbed and any direct shocks thus occurring on the article(s) will be minimized.

The present invention holds an article (or a plurality of articles) by any possible means, and link it (them) to outer layers of the package in such a way that the article(s) will not come into contact with the outer layers (and each other).

Note that for the purpose of this disclosure, the term article here can be a single object or a pack of objects.

There are a number of packing applications or scenarios that the present invention may be applied to. The present invention may be used in numerous applications or scenarios, with no fixed design shape. Shipping clients may have different products with different requirements to satisfy. The device and method of the present invention may be tailor-designed and tailor-made such that production and packaging fixtures are produced for each specific need.

The basic structure of the invention includes outer layers of the packaging device made of flexible sheets of synthetic resinous or any impervious materials and/or rigid and/or semi-rigid materials. The wrapping of the article may be held inside the packaging system by flexible linkages.

The portion of the wrapping that does not directly wrap the article should be considered as the flange of the wrapping, which in turn is regarded as the “linkage” in the glossary of this invention. In the present invention, part of the inner portions, part of the outer portions, or a separate component, may act as the linkages.

The wrappings and the linkages may be made of hard, soft, flexible, elastic or inelastic materials, string or wire, or any combination of these materials, and also has no fixed design. With reference to the shape and the requirements of the article, the wrapping may be designed with openings for the protruded, fragile or sharp members of the article to avoid damage to these parts. In addition, the wrapping may be made as a closed cell and a negative pressure (vacuum) may be applied to securely grasp the article. For those articles that are not suited for tight wrap, certain fluids (e.g., air) may be provided to the inside of the sealed wrapping to counteract the inflation pressure at the outside of the wrapping.

Flexible linkages may be fixed to the wrapping of the article and the outer layers of the packaging system by mechanical fastening methods, gluing, chemical bonding, high frequency or ultrasonic welding, heat-sealing, or the like. After the packaging device is filled or pressurized with fluid (e.g., air), the wrapping(s) may be held at a distance from other wrapping(s) and from the outer layers of the packaging system. To maintain the position of the wrapping(s), all the linkages may need to be in tension and preferably of more or less the same magnitude.

Sealing is not the only way to close the opening of the wrapping. In fact, gluing, taping, or other fastening means such as zip locking, strong clipping, stapling, sewing, Velcro or tying around the built-in bollard type poles or washers or through the big eyelets, etc., or any combination of these methods is feasible in certain embodiments of this invention which wrapping has no airtight requirement.

As an analogy, a typical example of the linkage is similar to the stalk or pedicel of an apple. An apple's pedicel extends from the top to the bottom passing through the loculus or the core of the apple. In the present invention, linkages may be used to link the upper part and lower part of the wrapping (the core) to the top and bottom of the outer layer respectively. (Note: the terms “upper”, “lower”, “top” and “bottom” can be replaced with “left” and “right”, or “front” and “rear” and the like.) Another analogy refers to an arbitrary fruit, such as a peach, where the flesh (mesocarp), like and orange, is separated into segments. As applied to the present invention, peripheral flanges are created for the wrapping to perform the function of the linkages—i.e., to link the wrapping to the outer layer. If the wrapping is like a hexahedron, the flanges can be extended from any/all of the 12 edges of the wrapping. After all flanges are affixed to the outer layer, the assembly may look like an arbitrary fruit with a number of segments surrounding the stone (wrapping). The passage between segments can be made for an inflation fluid (e.g., air). If no passage is left for the inflation fluid to go into adjacent segments, the fluid has to be filled into each isolated segment with even pressure.

The above two analogies are for packing a single article. In the case of a plurality of articles, the wrappings of the articles may be arrayed in a rectangular form, like a 2-D or 3-D matrix; or radially, like the seeds inside a persimmon; or randomly, like the seeds inside a durian. The wrappings may comprise closed cells or with openings and also the same for the linkages or the flanges so that they may form open cells or closed cells with each other and with the outer layer. The inflation pressure inside the outer layer makes the linkages in tension while the closed cells formed by the linkages will become cushions between wrappings or between wrappings and the outer layer.

The security packaging system may be adopted to provide more secured protection to the article(s) inside it, especially for packing heavy objects or products demanding more protection. Simply by applying the same packaging method of packing a single article mentioned above to pack another packaging system by regarding that packaging system as a “wrapping”, the security can be enhanced. In other words, the packaging system may be used to house another packaging system.

Similarly, flexible linkages or flanges may be used to fix the position of the inner packaging devices. After the assembly is filled or pressurized with fluid (e.g. air), the “outer layers” of the two packaging device s may form a rather rigid shell and as a result the article mounted at the centre of the inner packaging system may be much better protected. By scientifically evaluating the pressure of each individual compartment, by experimental trial and error, the best protection result for the article may be determined.

Note that for easy understanding, one can conceive the rigid shell mentioned above as being a cube with six flat “life buoys” joined together as its six faces. It becomes rigid after all the life buoys are inflated. The faces of the life buoys facing inside of the cube may be regarded as the “outer layer” of the inner packaging system, while the faces of the life buoys facing externally may be referred to as the outer layer of the outer packaging system.

If the six life buoys are replaced with six panels of closed cells, this change will not only improve the strength of the packaging, but also minimize the risk from piercing as well. Moreover, by controlling the size and configuration of individual closed cells of each panel, it can help shaping the external profile of the finished pack as well.

The packaging device of the present invention may be adopted to any combination of, but not confined to, the examples to be discussed below. The packing device may be packaged within another packing system, which in turn may be packed in yet another packing system, and so on.

The inflated security packaging system consumes much less raw material as comparing with Styrofoam, PU foam, or PE foam, it is therefore much less expensive to manufacture. Moreover it takes up much less storage, handling and transportation space, creates less waste and causes less pollution.

For those articles that can sustain vacuum force, the present invention allows the air inside the wrapping to be extracted such that there will be no relative movement between the article and the wrapping so as to avoid any undue movement or rubbing action on the article.

For those articles that are suitable for loose pack but unsuitable for being tightly wrapped, some fluid may be retained inside the sealed wrapping in order to sustain the external inflation pressure exerting on the wrapping of the article.

For those articles having protruded, fragile or sharp members, openings may be made on the wrapping for these portions to avoid damaging them. Even articles full of fragile or sharp components can still be wrapped by other methods and to fasten it at the expected position inside the package with the linkages.

The prior art devices, such as pillows, which rely on external inflation pressure to hold the article, cannot handle the above situations. Moreover, in the case of packing a plurality of articles inside the same outer layers, one can apply different wrapping concepts mentioned above for individual articles.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Preferred embodiments of the present invention will now be described, by way of examples only, with reference to the accompanying figures, in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective exploded view of a packaging device according to a first embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a front exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a cross-section view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 1, as assembled and before inflation;

FIG. 4 is a cross-section view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 1, as assembled, evacuated, and inflated.

FIG. 5 is a cross-section view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 1, as assembled, evacuated, and inflated, but without the linkage assemblies;

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the linkage assembly of the packaging device shown in FIG. 1, prior to folding;

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the linkage assembly shown in FIG. 6, after folding;

FIG. 8 is a perspective exploded view of a packaging device according to a second embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 9A is a perspective exploded view of the outer layers of the packaging device shown in FIG. 8;

FIG. 9B is a top view of the outer layer of the outer layer shown in FIG. 9A;

FIG. 9C is a side exploded view of the outer layers shown in FIG. 9A;

FIG. 10A is a top view of a packaging device according to a third embodiment of the present invention, illustrating how the edges of the outer layers may be heat-sealed;

FIG. 10B is a side view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 10A;

FIG. 10C is a front view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 10A;

FIG. 10D is a perspective view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 10A;

FIG. 11A is a top view of packaging device according to a fourth embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 11B is a side view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 11A;

FIG. 11C is a sectional view of the packaging device taken along the line B-B in FIG. 11A;

FIG. 12A is an end view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 11A;

FIG. 12B is a sectional view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 11A, taken along a line perpendicular to the line B-B;

FIG. 12C is a perspective view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 11A;

FIG. 13 is an exploded perspective view of a packaging device according to a fifth embodiment of the present invention, in which the wrapping extends beyond the outer layer.

FIG. 14 is a top view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 13;

FIG. 15 is an exploded perspective view of a packaging device according to a sixth embodiment of the present invention, in which the wrapper extends out of only two sides of the outer layer.

FIG. 16A is an exploded end view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 15;

FIG. 16B is an exploded side -view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 15, showing an alternative way of assembling the packaging device shown in FIG. 15;

FIG. 17A is an end exploded view of a packaging device according to a seventh embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 17B is a side exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 17A;

FIG. 17C is a perspective exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 17A;

FIG. 18 is a perspective exploded view of a packaging device according to an eighth embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 19 is an end exploded view of the packaging device as shown in FIG. 18;

FIG. 20 is a side exploded view of the packaging device as shown in FIG. 18;

FIG. 21A is a front view of the packaging device as shown in FIG. 18, duly assembled and inflated;

FIG. 21B is a sectional view taken along the line B-B in FIG. 21A;

FIG. 21C is a sectional view taken along the line A-A in FIG. 21A;

FIG. 21D is a side view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 21A;

FIG. 21E is a sectional view taken along the line C-C in FIG. 21D;

FIG. 22 is an exploded perspective view of a packaging device according to a ninth embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 23 is a top view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 22 with parts removed;

FIG. 24A is a top view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 22;

FIG. 24B is a side exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 24A;

FIG. 24C is a front exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 24A;

FIG. 25A is a top view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 22, as assembled, before inflation and with no article inside;

FIG. 25B is a top perspective view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 25A;

FIG. 25C is a sectional view taken along the line A-A in FIG. 25A;

FIG. 25D is an enlarged view of the part shown in FIG. 25C;

FIG. 26A is a top view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 22, as assembled, after inflation and with an article packed inside;

FIG. 26B is a front view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 26A;

FIG. 26C is a side view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 26A;

FIG. 26D is a sectional view taken along the line A-A in FIG. 26A;

FIG. 27A is a top view of a packaging device according to a tenth embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 27B is a side view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 27A;

FIG. 27C is a front view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 27A;

FIG. 27D is a sectional view taken along the line A-A in FIG. 27A;

FIG. 27E is an exploded side view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 27A;

FIG. 27F is a top exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 27A;

FIG. 27G is a perspective exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 27A; and

FIG. 27H is a side exploded view of the packaging device shown in FIG. 27A.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIG. 1 is a perspective exploded view of a packaging device, generally designated as 600, according to a first embodiment of the present invention, and FIG. 2 is a front exploded view thereof. Referring to FIGS. 1 and 2, the device 600 includes a number of component layers and linkages for securely a package article 630. The article 630 may not form part of the invention itself, but is shown for purpose of illustration as to how the invention may secure the article 630. Alternatively, the article 630 may itself be a box or package according to the present invention, with the item to be shipped placed within. As noted above, the article 630 may comprise another packaging system of the present invention, packaged within the system of the present invention.

The packaging device 600 includes an upper outer layer 610 and a lower outer layer 650, which may be formed of any type of elastomeric or resinous material, or a rigid material. In the embodiment as shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the upper outer layer 610 and the lower outer layer 650 are formed from an elastomeric material that, when sealed, can be inflated with a suitable fluid or gas, such as air. Note that the terms “upper” and “lower” as used herein are arbitrary for purposes of illustration. The device according to the present invention may be oriented in almost any direction.

Upper wrapping 620 and lower wrapping 640 may also be formed from the same elastomeric material as the upper outer layer 610 and the lower outer layer 650, or may be formed of some other material. Note that in this embodiment, these layers may be formed of a clear or translucent material such that the article 630 can be viewed from outside of the assembled device 600. Note that even if one or both of the upper outer layer 610 and the lower outer layer 650 is formed of a rigid material, the upper wrapping 620 and the lower wrapping 640 may be formed of an elastomeric material (e.g., plastic sheet) so as to conform to the shape of the article 630.

Upper linkage assembly 615 and lower linkage assembly 645 may be optionally installed in the device 600 to better locate and stabilize the article 630 and also to prevent the assembly from “ballooning” once inflated.

FIG. 3 is a cross-section view of the device 600, fully assembled and before inflation. The various components of the device 600 may be secured to one another by heat sealing, ultrasonic welding, adhesives, or the like. As illustrated in FIG. 4, the article 630 is placed between upper and lower wrapping sheets 620 and 640 which are in turn wrapped with upper and lower outer layers 610 and 650, respectively.

The upper and lower wrapping sheets 620 and 640 may be secured to the upper and lower outer layers 610 and 650 respectively at locations 605 and 655. The optional upper and lower linkage assemblies 615 and 645 may be placed between the upper and lower wrapping sheets 620 and 640 and the respective upper and lower outer layers 610 and 650 as illustrated.

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of the device 600, fully assembled, partly evacuated, and partly inflated. FIG. 5 is a cross-section view of the device 600, fully assembled, partly evacuated, and partly inflated, but without the optional linkage assemblies, showing how the outer layers swell.

As illustrated in FIG. 4, once the device 600 is heat sealed or otherwise assembled, it may form an airtight unit. Before pneumatically sealing the device 600 from the outside environment, air is evacuated from the space between the upper and lower-wrapping sheets 620 and 640, so that these two wrapping sheets 620, 640 will wrap tightly around the article 630.

To enhance the wrapping effect and the protection afforded to the article 630, air is pumped into the space between the upper layer 610 and the upper wrapping sheet 620, and the space between the lower outer layer 650 and the lower wrapping sheet 640. Pressurized air (e.g. at a pressure above the atmospheric pressure) within the device 600, and/or the vacuum force around the article 630, force the upper and lower wrapping sheets 620 and 640 to conform to the shape of article 630. In doing so, the wrapping sheets 620 and 640 would prevent article 630 from moving laterally within the assembly, or at least to minimize its movement within the device 600.

At the same time the wrapping layers 620 and 640 may be made “shorter” than the outside layer, so as to create a tension on the “wrapping flange” formed around the periphery of the article 630. The tension on this “wrapping flange” can limit the amplitude of the up and down movement of the article 630, so that the linkages 615 and 645 may be optionally eliminated from the design.

The portions of the wrapping layers 620, 640 between the article 630 and the outer layers 610, 650 thus also act as linkages for hindering the movement of the article 630 towards the outer layers 610, 650. In this embodiment, therefore, the linkages may also be integral with the wrapping sheets. It should be noted that in an experiment conducted on the packaging device illustrated in FIG. 4 hereof, no additional heat sealing around the article was required between the wrapping layers, but instead, the power of the vacuum was sufficient to hold the two wrapping layers together. While this may present a viable embodiment for the present invention, in practical use, heat-sealing or other means may be used to insure the apparatus is secured properly.

It can be seen that, when the packaging device 600 is inflated from the pre-use collapsed configuration as shown in FIG. 3 to the inflated configuration as shown in FIG. 4, the linkages 615, 645 are also moved from a pre-use collapsed configuration (see FIG. 3) to an in-use expanded and extended configuration (see FIG. 4).

Similarly, the upper and lower linkage assemblies 615 and 645 prevent the article 630 from moving up and down and also prevent the overall assembly from “ballooning” as illustrated in FIG. 5, which also illustrates an embodiment of a packaging device according to the present invention, in which the optional linkage assemblies 615 and 645 are dispensed with.

Note that air pressure in the space between the upper outer layer 610 and the upper wrapping layer 620 and in the space between the lower outer layer 650 and the lower wrapping layer 640 would assist in forcing the wrapping layers 620 and 640 to conform to the shape of the article 630. Alternatively, the air contained between the upper and lower wrapping layers 620 and 640 may be evacuated before, during, or after the assembly is pressurized, so as to shrink the upper and lower wrapping layers 620 and 640 to the shape of the article 630.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the linkage assembly prior to folding (now designated as 750), and FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the linkage assembly shown in FIG. 6, after folding. The linkage 750 is only an illustrative example, which may be formed of a number of techniques. In a preferred embodiment, the linkage 750 may be formed of a material identical to or similar to that of the upper and lower outer layers 610 and 650, and that of the upper and lower wrapper layers 620 and 640, e.g. an elastomeric material, and is thus elastic and flexible. Especially for big panels, e.g. a plasma TV, a number of linkages of appropriate configurations should be arrayed on the two major sides of the panel so as to provide enough force to maintain the relative positions of the outer layers and the wrapping during any sideward crash.

The linkages 750 are formed of two layers 720 joined together along a seam 740 at two heat seal positions 710. Once sealed together, the linkage 750 may be folded to form flanges 730, as illustrated in FIG. 7. The portion along the seam 740 may remain heat sealed together. The flanges 730 are then attached to one or more of the wrapper layers 620 and 640 and/or the outer layers 610 and 650, or may be held in position by the tension between the respective layers.

FIG. 8 is a perspective exploded view of a second embodiment of the present invention. To simplify this exploded drawing, the linkage assemblies linking the center of the outer layers and the wrapping layers have been omitted. As noted above, the flexible linkages may be in tension, as to the flanges formed by the wrapping layer that also act as linkages. In order to achieve this requirement, wrapping layers 420 and 440 may be smaller than outer layers 410 and 450.

To overcome the size difference of the heat sealing parts, and to facilitate the heat sealing operation, a fixture comprising upper and lower portions 400 and 460 may be adopted to hold the center portion of the outer layers 410 and 450 at a certain distance from the wrapping layers 420 and 440 by means of a suction force, mechanical force, electrostatic force, sticky substances, adhesives, or the like. This center portion may be of the same size as the wrapper layers 420 and 440.

Then, the outer layers 410 and 450 and the wrapper layers 420 and 440 are heat sealed side by side. The side of the outer layers 410 and 450 in turn for heat-sealing may be drawn straight to meet the wrapping layers 420 and 440. FIGS. 9A-9C illustrate the resultant sealing of these edges. FIG. 9A is a perspective exploded view of the outer layer illustrating the heat sealing of the edges; FIG. 9B is a top view of the outer layer illustrating the sealing edges; and FIG. 9C is a side exploded view of the outer layer illustrating the sealing edges.

Note that fluid ports 425, 435, and 455 are provided to pressurize and/or evacuate various portions of the assembled item. These ports will be described in more detail below in connection with another embodiment. In the present embodiment, the fluid port 435 is used for evacuating the portion where the article 430 is located so that the wrapper layers 420 and 440 conform to the shape of the article 430 and grip it securely. As noted above, partial evacuation may also be used. The ports 425 and 455 are used for introducing a fluid, e.g. gas, for pressurizing an upper chamber formed by the upper outer layer 410 and the upper wrapper 420 and a lower chamber formed by the lower outer layer 450 and the lower wrapper 440. It should be noted that it is possible to make one or more passages allowing the fluid to go from one inflation chamber to another inflation chamber. For example, at least one side or one corner of the layers 420 and 440 has been sealed before putting into the assembly and that side/corner needs not to be sealed with the outer layer. Then the inflation pressure of the two chambers may be balanced and one of the fluid inlet ports 425 and 455 may be eliminated.

Note that in this embodiment, the upper outer layer 410 and the lower outer layer 450 may form rigid or semi-rigid assemblies to provide an outer packaging layer for the assembly. Alternatively, the upper outer layer 410 and the lower outer layer 450 may be flexible layers as in the embodiments illustrated above.

FIGS. 10A-D illustrate such a semi-rigid or flexible outer layer enclosure forming a box-like structure 1610. FIG. 10A is a top view of a further embodiment of the present invention, illustrating how the edges of the outer layer may be heat-sealed. FIG. 10B is a side view of, FIG. 10C a front view, and FIG. 10D a perspective view of this embodiment.

Once all the edges are heat-sealed, the assembly 1610 will appear as shown in FIGS. 10A-D. Note that one side of the upper outer layer 410 and the upper wrapping 420 may be sealed first, and then the lower outer layer 450 and the lower wrapping 440. The remaining three sides may then be sealed together forming an opening for the article to be inserted into the assembly afterwards. It is also a preferred arrangement to seal and trim the four corners as illustrated in FIGS. 10A-D to make the package look more “rectangular”.

FIGS. 11A-C and FIGS. 12A-C illustrate a yet further alternative embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the linkages are not illustrated for purposes of illustration only, or may be deleted if desired. The air-outlet/inlets appearing in the drawing are to be trimmed after final heat-sealing.

FIG. 11A is a top view of this embodiment, FIG. 11B a side view thereof, FIG. 11C a side cutaway view thereof along the line B-B in FIG. 11A, FIG. 12A an end view thereof, FIG. 12B an end cutaway view thereof taken along a line perpendicular to the line B-B in FIG. 11A, and FIG. 12C a perspective view thereof.

Referring to FIGS. 11A-C and FIGS. 12A-C, a package 900 according to this embodiment contains an article 930 between outer layers and inner wrapper layers as illustrated in the previous embodiments. Fluid ports 925, 935, and 955 are provided for pressurizing and/or evacuating portions of the package as noted above.

It should also be noted that packaging devices according to the present invention, such as that illustrated in FIGS. 11A-C and FIGS. 12A-C, may be provided as a pre-formed bag, with three sides sealed. In use, the shipper may insert the object 930 into the inner bag formed by the wrapper layers 920 and 940 and simply heat seal or otherwise seal the last edge. Then the space between the wrapper layers 920 and 940 is evacuated, and the other regions pressurized to form a shipping container bag with the article 930 inside. Such an embodiment requires less heat sealing or other attachment means in the shipping environment, and thus an article may be quickly packed, sealed, and evacuated/pressurized in a single motion, preferably by an automated equipment.

FIG. 13 is an exploded perspective view of packaging device according to a yet further embodiment of the present invention, where the wrapping can be extended beyond the outer layer. FIG. 14 is a top view of this packaging device. In FIGS. 13 and 14, the fixtures 400 and 460 of FIG. 8 are omitted for the sake of clarity.

As in the embodiment shown in FIG. 13, outer layers 1310 and 1350 are provided along with extended wrapping layers 1320 and 1340 to wrap an object 1330. Fluid ports 1325, 1335, and 1355 are provided to evacuate and/or pressurize the various compartments in the package. In this embodiment, the wrapping layers 1320 and 1340 are extended beyond the outer layers 1310 and 1350, and may be cut off after heat-sealing or other fastening. The wrappings 1320 and 1340 may extend beyond the outer layers 1310 and 1350, respectively, for better and easier positioning.

FIG. 15 is an exploded perspective view of a packaging device according to a further embodiment of the present invention, where the wrapper extends out only two sides of the outer layer. FIG. 16A is an exploded end view and FIG. 16B is an exploded side view of this embodiment.

In the embodiment of FIGS. 15-16B, in some cases, if secure enough, wrappings 1520 and 1540 may need to be sealed and evacuated first, with the article 1530 trapped inside. As shown in FIG. 16A, the wrappings 1520 and 1540 may be sealed along two edges 1590 to outer layers 1510 and 1550, which may be formed of a rigid or semi-rigid material, or by a flexible material. Alternatively, as shown in FIG. 16B, the outer layers 1510 and 1550 are sealed along an edge 1595, while the inner wrappings 1520, 1540 are sealed along an edge 1597.

In an alternative embodiment, not illustrated in the drawings, an opening with zip-lock or other fastening means is made slightly longer than the outer layer at the side of the opening and extends outward. This arrangement provides the opportunity to get the article out for inspection and put the article back in without breaking the inflated portion of the packaging. For this alternative embodiment, either a built-in device is provided for evacuation of air from between the wrappings, or the wrappings are sealed around the article, while the opening side is not sealed, so as to make a lateral linkage there for establishing the required protection for the article.

FIGS. 17A to 17C show a packaging device according to a further embodiment of the present invention, which is rather similar to that shown in FIGS. 15 to 16B, except that, in the packaging device shown in FIGS. 17A to 17C, upper and lower outer layers 1512 are folded flat with pleats, as compared with the upper and lower outer layers 1510, 1550 in the embodiment shown in FIGS. 15 to 16B. The pleats serve to provide tension to wrappers 1514. In particular, flanges of the wrappers 1514 are bonded to the outer layers 1510, 1550 at the two sides with the pleats, rather than the other two sides. Although it is shown in FIGS. 17A to 17C that the pleats are provided along the longer sides of the outer layers 1510, 1550, it should be understood that the pleats may be provided along the shorter sides of the outer layers 1510, 1550.

FIGS. 18 to 21E show various views of a packaging device according to another preferred embodiment of the present invention. The device includes outer layers 1810, 1880, heat seal lines 1820, 1870 for sealing the outer layers 1810, 1880 with borders of sheets 1830, 1860, which act as linkages, whereas the central portion of the sheets 1830, 1860 act as the wrapping sheets. Holes 1835, 1865 in the respective sheets 1830, 1860 act as the passageway through which the inflation fluid, e.g. air, may pass from one inflation compartment, e.g. one formed by the sealing of the outer layer 1810 with the sheet 1830, to another compartment, e.g. one formed by the sealing of the outer layer 1880 with the sheet 1860. An article 1840 to be packaged within the package is positioned between the sheets 1830, 1860. Two heat seal lines 1850 are provided for sealing the sheets 1830, 1860 with each other. Alternatively, a wide seal line may be used instead. Such also acts as a flange for preventing the article 1840 from moving near to the periphery of the package.

As in the previous embodiment discussed above and illustrated in FIGS. 15 to 16B, the space between the wrapping sheets 1830, 1860 may be evacuated and sealed off beforehand. As an alternative, the sealing operation of the wrappings can be effected through the outer layers. For example, an insulation substance that can prevent the outer layers 1810, 1880 from sealing with the respective sheets 1830, 1860, e.g. a heat-resistant nitrocellulose ink, may be applied between the surface along which the outer layer 1810 contacts the wrapping sheet 1830, and the surface along which the outer layer 1880 contacts the wrapping sheet 1860, about the heat sealing region of the wrappings 1830, 1860, i.e. the heat seal lines 1850. The outer layer 1810 and the sheet 1830 may be a polybag, and the outer layer 1880 and the wrapping sheet 1860 may also be a polybag.

FIGS. 22 to 26D show various views of a packaging device according to a yet further preferred embodiment of the present invention. Outer layers 2210, 2280 are heat-sealed with sheets 2230, 2260 respectively, via heat seal lines 2220, 2270 respectively. A heat-seal line 2240 is provided for sealing the outer layers 2210 and 2280 with each other. In FIGS. 25A to 25D, the outer layers 2210 and 2280 are presented as a polybag. A heat-seal line 2250 is provided for sealing the wrapping sheets 2230, 2260 with each other. In FIGS. 25A to 25D, the wrapping sheets 2230, 2260 are presented as a polybag. An article 2290 (see FIG. 26D) is packaged within the device according to this embodiment. Voids 2292 in the package can be minimized after the space between the wrapping sheets 2230, 2260 are evacuated.

FIGS. 27A to 27H show various views of a packaging device, generally designated as 2700, according to a tenth embodiment of the present invention. An article 2702 is trapped between a smaller bag, namely one formed by the sealing of shorter sheets 2704b, 2708b, and a bigger bag, namely one formed by the sealing of longer sheets 2704a, 2708a. Air is introduced into the space between the sheets 2704b, 2708b, and that between the sheets 2704a, 2708a. The inflation pressure of the smaller bag effectively presses the article 2702 against the bigger bag, so as to isolate the article 2702 from the outer sheets 2708a, 2708b. A port 2703 is provided for evacuating the air from between the inner sheets 2704a, 2704b, or for allowing air to escape from the space between the inner sheets 2704a, 2704b during inflation of the smaller bag and the bigger bag.

It should be noted that while specific embodiments are illustrated herein, the present invention should not be construed as being limited thereto. The present invention may be applicable to many scenarios. The drawings provided are just few illustrations, which make use of plastic sheets for reference only. For example, the linkages can be of many forms and/or combination of forms, e.g. in the form of a spacer, and are not limited to the linkages shown in the drawings. As a result, numerous 2-dimensional arrays, 3-dimensional arrays, and packaging-in-packaging designs can be generated.

While various preferred embodiments of the present invention have been disclosed and described in detail herein, it may be apparent to those skilled in the art that various changes in form and detail may be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope thereof.





 
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