Title:
Beer keg tap
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
This invention relates to a keg coupler. The keg coupler comprises a foot pump for pressurizing a keg and a tap head including a diverter for separating a beer flow into a plurality of separate streams. The foot pump includes an airline extending from the pump to the air passageway of the coupler. The diverter includes beer lines and faucets for each stream exiting the tap head. The tap head may comprise a unitary piece of molded plastic having threads for mating with the stem of a coupler.



Inventors:
Murray, James (Wilmette, IL, US)
Moriarty, James (Glencoe, IL, US)
Application Number:
10/914142
Publication Date:
02/16/2006
Filing Date:
08/10/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D83/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NGO, LIEN M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CAHN & SAMUELS LLP (WASHINGTON, DC, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A keg tap comprising: a tap body adapted for both air and liquid fluid communication with the interior of a keg; a foot pump in fluid communication with said tap body for providing air to said interior of said keg; a tap head integral with said tap body; said tap head configured to accept a flow of liquid from said keg and diverting said flow into a plurality of streams; and a faucet in fluid communication with each of said plurality of streams.

2. The keg tap of claim 1 further comprising: a nipple associated with each of with said streams, said nipples adapted for fluid tight engagement with faucet tubing for communicating said streams to their respective faucets.

3. The keg tap of claim 1 further comprising air tubing in fluid communication from an outlet of said foot pump to an air inlet adapted to communicate air to said keg.

4. The keg tap of claim 1 wherein said tap head diverts said flow into three streams.

5. The keg tap of claim 1 wherein said tap head diverts said flow into two streams.

6. The keg tap of claim 1 wherein said tap head diverts said flow into four streams.

7. The keg tap of claim 1 wherein said tap head diverts said flow into five streams.

8. The keg tap of claim 1 wherein said tap head diverts said flow into six streams.

9. A keg tap head comprising: a housing having a fluid conduit therein; said fluid conduit comprising an inlet, a stem channel, and a plurality of tributaries; wherein said tributaries are disposed radially around said stem channel and are in communication with an area outside said housing.

10. The keg tap head of claim 9 wherein said inlet is threaded for mating with cooperating threads on a keg coupler.

11. The keg tap head of claim 10 wherein said inlet communicates a beer stream from said keg coupler to said stem channel and to said tributaries.

12. The keg tap head of claim 10 further comprising three tributaries.

13. The keg tap head of claim 12 further comprising a faucet in fluid communication with each respective tributary.

14. The keg tap head of claim 13 further comprising a nipple associated with each tributary for securing faucet tubing.

15. The keg tap head of claim 14 further comprising a manually operated valve associated with each of said faucets.

16. The keg tap head of claim 9 wherein said housing is manufactured by injection molding using a tap head substrate.

17. The keg tap head of claim 9 wherein said tap head is injection molded in a predetermined color.

18. The keg tap head of claim 17, wherein said tap head includes indicia integral therewith.

19. The keg tap head of claim 17 further comprising tubing in a predetermined color associated with said tributaries.

20. The keg tap head of claim 10, wherein said tap head is adapted for fitting an a plurality of different sized couplers.

Description:

I. FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to portable couplers or tapping units for extracting the contents of valved kegs. More particularly, the present invention relates to novel keg couplers or taps providing improved pressurization and multiple fluid streams for extracting the contents of valved kegs.

II. BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Keg couplers, or “taps,” are known in the art and have been used for hundreds of years. For example, modern beer kegs are constructed of pressure-resistant, rust-resistant material, such as steel, in the shape of a barrel. At the top of the keg, there is provide an integral tap assembly through which the kegs are filled at the brewery and through which the contents are later extracted by imbibers. Conventional tap assemblies atop kegs include a neck with a top flange and internally positioned mounting lugs extending from a bunghole having a plunger ball seated therein. The plunger ball is spring biased against the top of the keg. In conjunction with a gasket surrounding bung hole, the spring-biased plunger ball maintains a fluid tight seal to not only protect the contents of the keg from spillage, but more importantly, to keep the contents of the keg under pressure from the carbon dioxide dissolved in the beer, or other fluid, disposed in keg.

Extending from the neck inside the keg is a central pipe. Central pipe extends to almost the bottom of keg and includes an air tube or perforations in its upper area for allowing air to permeate the keg's interior to pressurize the keg's contents. Disposed centrally in pipe is a tap tube. Tap tube extends from plunger ball to an area near the keg's bottom. Tap tube carries beer up its length when air is forced into the keg's interior through the air holes or air tube in pipe according to rudimentary principles of fluid dynamics.

As will be appreciated, when a user desires to access the contents of the keg, the spring bias of plunger ball must be overcome and a conduit for the beer to orderly exit the keg must be provided. In addition, external pressure must be provided via air or other gaseous fluid to the internal space of keg above the beer line to force beer to exit the keg in a suitable stream. There are two commonly known techniques for pressurizing the contents of the keg for serving beer to imbibers—supplied gas pressurization and manual pressurization.

In a bar or tavern setting, wherein beer is sold on a systematic and routine basis, the beer flow through the keg is more or less permanently connected to a duct system that leads to a beer tap or faucet at the bar. In this setting, the keg is kept under a constant pressure by the provision of a gas conduit integral with the keg coupler and attached at its distal end to a source of pressurized gas, such as a carbon dioxide or nitrogen canister or tank. The tavern system includes a pressure regulator associated with the gas source to insure the keg's contents remain at a pressure that is sufficient to prevent the keg's contents from going flat during periods of non-use and sufficient to ensure a beer stream pours from the tap that is not overly foamy due to over-pressurization. In operation, when the faucet or tap is moved to the open position, the pressure in the keg resulting from the pressurized gas line forces beer through the open spring-valve, through the neck of the coupler, through the fluid conduit of the tap, and out through the opening in the tap to an awaiting glass or pitcher. When the glass or pitcher is full, moving the tap or faucet to the closed position blocks the exit and the beer line remains under pressure and ready to pour the next time the tap is opened.

Use of gas pressurization fixtures is not always feasible. When keg beer is purchased for a party or outing in an area removed from a fixed tap system, it is impractical and unsafe to carry a source of pressurized gas. Likewise, when kegs are only bought infrequently for parties or special events, it is cost prohibitive for most imbibers to invest in a CO2 system. Accordingly, prior artisans developed portable, manual-pressurization taps. Most prior art portable taps are basically tavern couplers that have been modified by the addition of a hand pump in place of a pressurized gas line.

The coupling and extraction of beer with manual taps in essence mimics that of tavern taps. The coupler has a body portion configured to insert inside the neck of the tapping unit and is provided with mating lugs that couple with the mounting lugs of the keg's neck to form a fluid tight seal when the coupler is turned in the clockwise direction. The coupler's body portion includes a fluid tight interior defined by a sidewall. The interior is configured to include both a gas line and beer exit tube. The coupler may also include a lever handle associated with a movable tip, whereby downward movement of the handle results in a reciprocating downward movement of the tip. The downward movement of the tip serves to force plunger ball against its spring bias to open the keg bunghole. Tip is configured to allow beer to pass around plunger ball and up the beer exit tube of the coupler.

The beer exit tube terminates in the tap head of the coupler at an exit fitting or nipple. The exit fitting is mated with a flexible hose that itself terminates at a faucet having a manually-activated spring valve. As will be appreciated, the spring valve allows a user to open the valve to fill a cup with beer. Likewise, as will be appreciated, the flexible hose allows the faucet to be movable to fill cups oriented anywhere around the kegs proximate exterior.

In operation, a user desiring to pour beer mates the tap to the tapping assembly of the keg to open the bung hole of the keg in a fluid tight arrangement. The manual pump attached to the tap head is actuated by the user to force air down the interior of the coupler body into an area inside the neck of the tapping assembly into the keg's pipe and an area above the keg's beer line. The pressure inside the keg caused by the pumping of air forces beer up the tap tube, around the open plunger ball and up the exit tube of the coupler. The beer stream flows into the flexible hose through the exit fitting in tap head and out the user-activated open faucet so long as sufficient pressure is provided to the keg to keep the beer flowing. In the event of over-pressurization, through excessive pumping or otherwise, most keg taps are provided with a relief valve to evacuate the pressure build-up.

As will be appreciated by one of ordinary skill in the art, prior art beer taps suffer from many drawbacks. For example, manual pump taps often prove slow, unwieldy, and fatiguing. As readily appreciated, many keg parties are burdened by long keg lines due to the slow extraction of beer from the keg. First, keg taps only provide for the service of one beer at a time. Secondly, that one user attempting to fill a cup only has two hands. Filling a cup requires an imbiber to perform three functions. The imbiber must hold a cup to be filled, actuate the keg pump to pressurize the keg to force beer out of the keg, and open the faucet via the manually-operated valve to pour the beer. Typically, this results in a user first pumping the keg then lifting a cup and pouring a beer. The inefficiency of this process is obvious, not to mention other drawbacks, which commonly occur during this process, such as the over-pressurization of the keg (and the resultant foamy beers) from over pumping or the resultant slow pour stemming from under pumping.

In addition to the foregoing examples, one of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that there are additional drawbacks to prior art keg couplers. For example, keg couplers are keg-type or tap-assembly specific. There is no universal tap. Different countries and different manufactures have different tap assemblies for filling their kegs. Accordingly, to extract beer from these kegs, a coupler must be compatible with the manufactures tap assembly. This is true for both gas systems and manual taps.

The foregoing underscores some of the problems associated with conventional keg couplers and tap systems. Furthermore, the foregoing highlights the long-felt, yet unresolved need in the art for an inexpensive keg tap which increases pour efficiency. The foregoing also highlights the long-felt, yet unresolved need in the art for a universal coupling system which preferably increases pour efficiency.

III. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention overcomes the practical problems described above and offers new and additional advantages as well. One object of the invention is to provide a manual tap having increased pour efficiency. According to this object of the invention, one aspect of the invention is to provide a manual tap having a foot-powered pump for pressurizing a keg. One advantageous feature of this aspect of the invention is the provision of a foot-pump that provides more air output per depression then a standard hand pump on a tap. In one embodiment, the foot pump comprises a heavy-duty foot pump having an air hose coupled to a keg tap.

Another advantageous feature of this aspect of the invention is an improved method of extracting a liquid from a keg. In a preferred embodiment, the foot pump is actuated by the foot of a user and a cup is filled during the actuation of the pump.

According to an object of the invention, another aspect of the invention is to provide a tap having a plurality of beer streams. One advantageous feature of this aspect of the invention is the provision of a beer exit tube having a plurality of exit nipples. One advantageous aspect of this feature of the invention is the ability to fill more than one cup at a time from the same keg. In a preferred embodiment, the tap includes three exit lines or nipples extending from the exit tube. In this embodiment, the exit lines may be disposed 120° apart. In an alternate embodiment, the exit tube includes two exit lines. In other alternative embodiments, the tap comprises four, five or six exit lines. In one embodiment, the tap is for a manually powered tap. In an alternate embodiment, the tap is for a pressurized gas powered tap.

According to an object of the invention, another aspect of the invention is the provision of a manually powered tap having a plurality of streams and powered by a foot pump. One advantageous feature of this aspect of the invention is the synergistic effect of the additional air input per cycle providing effective pouring pressure for the extraction of multiple streams of beer. In one embodiment, the tap head includes three streams of beer and a foot pump associated with the tap body. In alternate embodiments, the tap head includes two, four, five or six streams. In a preferred embodiment, the tap head includes a beer exit tube having three exit nipples disposed 120° apart.

It is another object of the invention to provide a universal tap head. According to this object of the invention, it is one aspect of the invention to provide tap head configured to be mated with existing keg coupler designs. According to one advantageous feature of the invention, the universal tap head is couplable to existing pressurized gas powered couplers. According to another advantageous feature, the tap head is couplable to existing manually-powered couplers.

Also in accordance with an aspect of the invention, it is an aspect of the invention to provide a beer stream diverter. According to this aspect of the invention, one advantageous feature of the invention lies in the beer stream diverter's ability to divert the flow of beer coming from a keg into a plurality of separate steams. In one embodiment, the diverter is a “tri-verter” that diverts flowing beer into three separate streams. In alternate embodiments, the diverter separates flowing beer into two, four, five, six or more streams of beer.

According to the invention, the diverter may be injection molded. In a preferred embodiment, the diverter is formed from high-density injection molded plastic. Advantageously, injection molding according to known processes may allow the diverter to include a plurality of nipples (one for each desired beer stream) to be adapted for coupling with a flexible hose and faucet beer delivery assembly. In a preferred embodiment, the diverter comprises a tri-verter. Also according to the invention, the injection-molded taps, tap heads, and/or diverters may be provided with threads to allow the device to be mated with threads on any type of coupler. An advantageous feature of the invention is a method of using a diverter according to the invention on more than one type of coupler by thread-coupling with a first type of keg tap assembly, unscrewing the diverter, and thread-coupling the diverter to a second type of keg tap assembly.

According to another aspect of the invention, the taps and associated tubing of the present invention are manufactured in a desired color or color-scheme. In a preferred method of manufacturing, the taps and/or associated tubing are molded in colored plastic. In accordance with this aspect of the invention, the taps include a foot pedal and associated tubing that may also be provided in a predetermined color or color scheme. Also in accordance with this aspect of the invention, the taps and associated parts may be stamped, embossed, or molded with logos, trademarks, indicia, lettering or other decorative or informative designs or characters. In accordance with this aspect of the invention, one advantageous feature is a method of marketing the taps of the present invention by offering decorative taps. According to the invention, taps may be offered with university or college colors and/or names, logos, mascots or the like, professional sport team colors/and or names, logos, mascots or the like, or corporate names, logos, marketing materials, advertising, trademarks, brand names, promotional or informational materials integral therewith.

The invention as described and claimed herein should become evident to a person of ordinary skill in the art given the following enabling description and drawings. The aspects and features of the invention believed to be novel and other elements characteristic of the invention are set forth with particularity in the appended claims. The drawings are for illustration purposes only and are not drawn to scale unless otherwise indicated. The drawings are not intended to limit the scope of the invention. The following enabling disclosure is directed to one of ordinary skill in the art and presupposes that those aspects of the invention within the ability of the ordinarily skilled artisan are understood and appreciated.

IV. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention is described with reference to the accompanying drawings. In the drawings, like reference numbers indicate identical or functionally similar elements.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a keg tap according to the invention.

FIG. 2 is a cross-section view of the tap head of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a front view of an alternate embodiment of a tap head according to the invention.

FIG. 4 is a side view of the tap head of FIG. 3.

FIG. 5 is a top view of another alternative embodiment of a tap head according to the invention.

FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional side view of the tap head of FIG. 5.

V. DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A presently preferred embodiment of a keg tap incorporating various advantageous features of the invention is depicted in FIG. 1. As shown, keg tap 10 includes an upper portion 20 and a lower portion 30. The lower portion 30 of keg tap 10 comprises the features of any of the various prior art keg couplers. In the embodiment depicted, lower portion includes a stem body 31 having outwardly-disposed mating lugs 32 for fluid tight threading with mounting lugs disposed in the neck of a keg's tapping assembly (not shown). Stem body 31 also includes an outwardly and upwardly projecting stop 33 that ensures the tap 10 is not over-tightened when mating with the tap assembly of a keg. The bottom portion of stem body 31 includes mating flange 34, which seals the keg's neck and the tap 10 in a fluid tight arrangement. Extendable from the bottom of stem body 31 is the tapping tip 35. The tapping tip 35 overcomes the spring bias of the plunger ball disposed in the bunghole of a keg, thereby opening the keg's interior. The tapping tip 35 is movable with, and is locked into place, by actuation of handle 36. Once locked into the open position, air pressure entering the keg above the beer line will force beer up the keg's tap tube, around the plunger ball, and into the exit tube defined by the side wall of stem body 31.

In the embodiment depicted, the lower portion 30 of tap 10 also includes an air inlet tube 40. The air inlet tube 40 is configured to allow air to be passed to the interior of a keg above the beer line once the tap 10 is positioned and the keg is locked in the open position. The exact mechanics of how air is forced into the interstitial space of a keg's interior for the various types of gas-pressurized and manual pump keg couplers are well known in the art and not important to the novel features of the present invention. Suffice it to say that air forced into inlet tube 40 serves to pump beer out of the keg.

Inlet tube 40 includes an air conduit 41, or air hose, extending from a threaded end cap 42 (that mates with threads on the outlet of air conduit 41) along its length to an air outlet 51 of foot pump 50. The foot pump 50 may comprise any suitable foot pump configured to force air out its outlet 51 upon compression of the pump (not shown) disposed under foot pedal 52. The exact mechanics and configuration of the foot pump are not critical to the present invention. Any suitable foot pump may be used in connection with the present invention. It is well within the ability of the ordinarily skilled artisan armed with the present specification to choose or craft a foot pump to achieve the advantages aspects of the present invention.

While the specifics of the foot pump or not important, the advantages of the foot pump should be understood and appreciated. For example, a foot pump allows an imbiber to pressurize a keg and fill a beer without having to put the cup down or hand-pressurize the keg before pouring. A user will be able to perform the three filling functions with two hands. Likewise, a foot pump allows a user to utilize the stronger and less fatigable muscles of the lower body in filling beers, thereby extending the time and speed at which the filler can perform that function. In addition, and as will be readily appreciated by one of ordinary skill in the art, a foot pump allows for a greater air volume to be sent to the keg's interior with each actuation than with a hand pump. The increased flow and pressure developed in the keg's interior allows additional streams of beer to be extracted in an uninterrupted manner without slowing the speed of the flow or sacrificing the quality of the pour.

Disposed atop upper portion 20 is tap head 50. Tap head 50 comprises a housing 51 including a threaded bottom opening 52 and defining a plurality, in this case three, faucet-tube openings 53, 54, 55. Extending from faucet-tube openings 53, 54, 55 are respective hollow faucet tubes 63, 64, 65 that provide a conduit for beer exiting tap head 50. Each tube terminates in a respective faucet 73, 74, 75, the flow of beer through which is controlled by its respective manually actuate spring valve 83, 84, 85. The mechanics of how faucets and their valves operate are well known in the art, and all of the various techniques for directing and controlling the flow of beer exiting a tap head should be understood to be contemplated by the present invention.

According to the invention, tap head 50 can be constructed in any suitable shape and manufactured from any suitable material(s). For example, the tap head could comprise a threaded tubular metal body having a plurality of exit fittings integral therewith. The exit fittings in turn could be coupled to respective faucet hoses for a multi-faucet tap. The tap head could be coupled to mating threads disposed on the tap coupler, and thereby be interchangeable or readily adaptable to any existing coupler.

In a preferred embodiment, the advantageous features of which will become more apparent herein, the tap head 50 is manufactured by injection molding. The specifics of the injection molding process are well known in the art, and it will be appreciated that the mold may be configured to accommodate a tap head comprising two, three, four, five, six or possibly more streams of beer coming off of a common beer exit tube.

FIG. 2 depicts a cross-sectional side view of the tap head 50 of FIG. 1. In this embodiment, the tap head 50 is molded to form a housing 51 shaped as a pair of identical cropped-cones 201, 202 (or “conical frustums” as the geometric shape is called) meeting at their bases, and separated by, a circular, belt-line mid-section area 203. Preferably, the cones are cropped at their respective tops to form approximately 1.750-inch flat tops 204, 205. The respective sidewalls 206, 207 of the cones 201, 202 extend approximately 1.125 inches to form respective 4-inch diameter circular bases 208, 209 separated by a 0.750-inch thick circular belt-line 203. This configuration results in a tap head 50 that is approximately 3 inches high and 4 inches wide.

The housing 51 defines a hollow central stem 220 with tributaries 221, 222 depending therefrom and exiting the housing. Stem 220 is preferably threaded at its base 225 for connection to a prior art coupler. In operation, once the keg is tapped and pressurized, beer flows up stem 220 and out tributaries 221, 222. As will be appreciated, any number of tributaries 221, 222 may be provided.

Providing a tap head 50 configured as a unitary piece of plastic several inches in each dimension not only provides a sturdy, damage resistant structure for housing the beer tube and exit lines, but also provides a novel workpiece for decorative, promotional or informational purposes. Hereinto fore no prior artisan has attempted to use a keg coupler in a promotional, decorative or aesthetic manner. As will become apparent to one of ordinary skill armed with the present application, the tap heads of the present invention can be molded of plastic of any color(s) or color scheme. Modifications to the manufacturing process to achieve this aspect of the invention is well within the ability of the ordinarily skilled artisan. Likewise, unlike prior art taps, the molding process allows the mold to include logos, indicia, or other impressions in the final product. In addition, the final product can be embossed or otherwise fitted with logos, trademarks, names, indicia or other aesthetic, promotional, or informational material. For example, the tap head can be molded of a plastic to match the color(s) of a university and then fitted with the schools name, mascot, symbol or the like.

In some embodiments, the various tubing and/or other parts of the keg tap are provided in different colors or color schemes. As will be appreciated, almost any conceivable color scheme and associated indicia can be provided on customized taps for a consumer.

In a preferred embodiment depicted in FIGS. 3-4, the tap head 50 comprises a three-stream diverter which the inventors have named a “Tri-verter.” The tri-verter substrate 100 of the present embodiment includes a circular base 101, a generally rod-shaped stem 102 extending axially from base 101, and three branches 103, 104, 105 projecting radially outward from stem 102. Preferably, circular base 101 includes threads (not shown) for mating with threads on a coupler. In a presently preferred embodiment, the circular base is configured to be ⅞-14×0.62 inches deep with thread relief.

The rod-shaped stem 102 extends a length of 1 to 3 inches, preferably about 2 inches and ends with a generally conical-shaped tip 107. In a preferred embodiment, stem 102 has a diameter of about ½ inch to accommodate a suitable flow of beer for the Tri-verter. The diameter of stem 102 may be manipulated depending on the number of beer streams desired and the length of rod.

Extending radially outward from an area near tip 107 of stem are the branches 103, 104, 105. Branches are preferably of a length suitable for receiving and holding tubing or nipples for channeling beer out of the tap head 50 when the faucets are opened. In a presently preferred embodiment, branches 103, 104, 105 are disposed approximately 120° apart. More preferably, as best shown on FIG. 4, the branches 103, 104, 105 also extend radially outward perpendicular to stem 102, or in other words at an angle of about 90° from horizontal. The disposition of the branches is not critical to the invention and other angles of separation and orientation are understood to be within the scope of the invention.

Turning now to FIGS. 5-6, a presently preferred embodiment of a “Tri-verter” 100 which the inventors use is a tap assembly called a “Huka Tap” is depicted. FIG. 5 is a top view of tri-verter 100. As clearly shown, tri-verter includes three branches 301, 302, 303 extending radially away from central stem 305. In this embodiment, branches 301, 302, 303 are spaced approximately 120° apart. This configuration provides a visually-pleasing symmetry, but the positioning and spacing of the branches are not critical to the invention. As will be appreciated, a diverter according to the invention can be configured of any suitable number of branches is any suitable configuration.

Preferably, the branches 301, 302, 303 include nipples 304 for gripping faucet-hoses or beer lines (not shown). Injection molding allows for nipples 304 to be manufactured integral with the branches by providing for these structures in the mold.

As best shown in FIG. 5, tri-verter 100 is preferably manufactured in a size suitable for including decorative or informational indicia 310. As previously mentioned, taps according to the invention can be made is any color or color scheme and include characters, pictures, words, or the like. This aspect of the invention allows taps to be customized for consumers.

As illustrated in FIG. 6, a preferred tri-verter 100 according to the invention includes a central stem 320 including a threaded base area 325 for mating with threads on a coupler. Central stem 320 includes a plurality of branches 321, 322 for carrying respective beer streams out their respective beer exits 302, 303. Preferably, branches 321, 322 include nipples 304 for securing faucet-tubing (not shown). In a presently preferred embodiment, the tri-verter is approximately 2.875-inches tall with a tubular body having a 1.375-inch diameter and defining a 0.875-inch central stem chamber. Preferably, stem chamber includes a threaded base of ⅞-14×0.62 inch deep. The branches are preferably manufactured to fit securely within faucet-tubing. More preferably, branches include ¼-inch nipples for securing tubing therewith. The nipples may comprise any suitable configuration to hold a beer tube in fluid tight communication. Alternate methods and means of holding beer tubing should be understood to be within the ability of the ordinarily skilled artisan and within the scope of the present invention.

Those skilled in the art will appreciate that various adaptations and modifications of the above-described preferred embodiments can be configured without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention. Therefore, it is to be understood that, within the scope of the appended claims, the invention may be practiced other than as specifically described herein.





 
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