Title:
Appliance with movable carriage for storing goods
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
There is described a novel appliance that, on the one hand, can be used to access goods stored in the appliance while, on the other hand, can be retracted when access to the goods is not required. Preferably, the appliance is in the form of a refrigeration unit although other applications are possible (e.g., dishwasher, freezer and the like). The present appliance is well-suited to be incorporated into a counter, for example a kitchen counter.



Inventors:
Lishman, William (Blackstock, CA)
Application Number:
11/141207
Publication Date:
06/29/2006
Filing Date:
06/01/2005
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
62/378
International Classes:
F25D23/12; A47B51/00; B66F3/08; F25D23/10; F25D25/00; F25D25/02; F25D25/04
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
TAPOLCAI, WILLIAM E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GOWLING WLG (Canada) LLP (TORONTO, ON, CA)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An appliance comprising: a housing; a carriage comprising at least one support element for storing goods and a cover element; and and a non-pneumatic drive mechanism connected to the carriage and operable between (i) a retracted position in which the cover element and the housing combine to form an enclosure for the goods, and (ii) an extended position in which the cover element is spaced from the housing to allow access to the goods.

2. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein the drive mechanism comprises a screw drive mechanism.

3. The appliance defined in claim 2, wherein the screw drive mechanism comprises a rotatable threaded element and a thrust tube threadably engaged to one another.

4. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein a proximal portion of the drive mechanism is connected to an electric drive motor.

5. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein a distal portion of the drive mechanism is connected to a proximal portion of the carriage.

6. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein a lift element is interposed between the carriage and the drive mechanism, the lift element comprising a base element secured to the housing and a slider element in telescoping engagement with the base element.

7. The appliance defined in claim 6, wherein a distal portion of the lift element comprises a first locating portion for contact with a second locating portion disposed on the carriage.

8. The appliance defined in claim 1, further comprising a seal interposed between the cover element and the housing.

9. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein the housing comprises an insulation element to insulate the goods.

10. The appliance defined in claim 1, further comprising a cooling unit coupled to the housing for cooling an interior of the enclosure.

11. The appliance defined in claim 1, further comprising a detector element for detecting interposition an object between the cover element and the housing.

12. The appliance defined in claim 11, wherein the detector element is coupled to an interruption switch operable between a first position which causes interruption of operation of the non-pneumatic drive mechanism and a second position in which the non-pneumatic drive mechanism is operable.

13. The appliance defined in claim 12, wherein the detector element causes the interruption switch to be in the first position an object is interposed between the cover element and the housing.

14. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein the carriage comprising a plurality of shelves for storing goods.

15. The appliance defined in claim 1, wherein the carriage comprises a tubular element for receiving at least a portion of the drive mechanism.

16. The appliance defined in claim 15, wherein a plurality of shelves are engaged to the tubular element.

17. An under-the-counter refrigeration unit comprising: an insulated housing; a carriage comprising at least one shelf for storing goods and a cover element; a cooling unit coupled to the insulated housing; and a non-pneumatic drive mechanism connected to the carriage and operable between (i) a retracted position in which the cover element and the housing combine to form an enclosure for the goods, and (ii) an extended position in which the cover element is spaced from the housing to allow access to the goods.

18. The refrigeration unit defined in claim 17, wherein the drive mechanism comprises a screw drive mechanism.

19. The refrigeration unit defined in claim 18, wherein the screw drive mechanism comprises a rotatable threaded element and a thrust tube engaged to one another.

20. The refrigeration unit defined in claim 18, wherein the screw drive mechanism comprises a rotatable threaded element and a thrust tube threadably engaged to one another.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The present application claims the benefit under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) of provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/575,372, filed Jun. 1, 2004, the contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to an appliance, more particularly (and preferably) a refrigeration unit.

2. Description of the Prior Art

Refrigeration units are known.

For residential applications, known refrigeration units typically have a housing and a swinging door. The housing and the door are insulated and a compressor unit is coupled to the housing to refrigerate the interior of the housing.

Over the years, advances in the art of residential refrigeration units have typically taken the form of improved compressor units, improved insulation materials, cosmetic features and the like. These improvements have been primarily directed to improving the cost efficiency of operating the refrigeration units. Notwithstanding this, the basic design and structure of residential refrigeration units has remained unchanged.

With increasing population densities in major markets in the world, in recent years, there has been increased pressure in reducing the amount of living space in residence. This is particularly so in many European and Southeast Asian cities and is becoming increasingly so in a number of large North American cities. There is also an increasing demand for more energy efficient appliances and, with an aging population, a demand for counter height access to goods

One location in a typical residence in which it has been desired to reduce space is the kitchen or food preparation area. While some success has been achieved in this area, a limiting factor has been the amount of space occupied by conventional residential refrigeration units. Little progress has been made in this regard.

Thus, there remains a need for a practical and effective refrigeration unit which, on the one hand will allow storage of a significant volume of goods while on the other hand, can be incorporated in a novel manner in a kitchen or food preparation area. It would be particularly advantageous if the refrigeration unit were effectively “out of sight” when not used. It would also be advantageous if such a refrigeration unit was relatively energy efficient and allowed for relatively easy access to the goods stored therein.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the present invention to obviate or mitigate at least one of the above-mentioned disadvantages of the prior art.

Accordingly, in one of its aspects, the present invention provides an appliance comprising:

a housing;

a carriage comprising at least one support element for storing goods and a cover element; and

and a non-pneumatic drive mechanism connected to the carriage and operable between (i) a retracted position in which the cover element and the housing combine to form an enclosure for the goods, and (ii) an extended position in which the cover element is spaced from the housing to allow access to the goods.

In another of its aspects, the present invention provides an under-the-counter refrigeration unit comprising:

an insulated housing;

a carriage comprising at least one shelf for storing goods and a cover element;

a cooling unit coupled to the insulated housing;

and a non-pneumatic drive mechanism connected to the carriage and operable between (i) a retracted position in which the cover element and the housing combine to form an enclosure for the goods, and (ii) an extended position in which the cover element is spaced from the housing to allow access to the goods.

Thus, the present inventor has discovered a novel appliance that can be, on the one hand, used to access goods stored in the appliance while, on the other hand, retracted when access to the goods is not required. Preferably, the appliance is in the form of a refrigeration unit although other applications are possible (e.g., dishwasher and the like). The present appliance is well-suited to be incorporated in a counter, for example a kitchen counter.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Embodiments of the present invention will be described with reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein like reference numerals denote like parts, and in which:

FIG. 1 illustrates a perspective view of a preferred embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 illustrates a sectional view of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 illustrates a perspective view, partially cutaway, of the embodiment of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2;

FIGS. 4-5 illustrate a sectional view of a preferred drive mechanism for use in the present invention;

FIG. 6 illustrates the drive mechanism illustrated in FIGS. 4-5 in a disassembled form;

FIGS. 7-8 illustrate a safety feature of a preferred form of the present invention;

FIG. 9 illustrates an exploded sectional view of a seal arrangement for a preferred embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 10 illustrates an alternate embodiment of the present invention;

FIGS. 11-13 illustrate one preferred form of shelving for the present invention; and

FIG. 14 illustrates an alternate embodiment of shelving for the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Thus, with reference to FIGS. 1-3, there is illustrated a refrigeration unit 100 mounted in a countertop 105. Refrigeration unit 100 comprises a housing 110, a carriage 115 and a cover 120.

Carriage 115 comprises a tubular element 125. Cover 120 is attached to a distal portion of tubular element 125. Also attached to tubular element 125 is a series of shelves 130.

As shown in FIG. 2, shelves 130 support various goods (e.g., food) shown in ghosted outline.

Carriage 115 is operable between a retracted position (FIG. 1) in which cover 120 is substantially flush with counter 105 to enclose goods for storage and an extended position (FIGS. 2 and 3) in which cover 120 is lifted from counter 105 in the direction of arrow A thereby allowing access to goods stored on shelves 130.

As shown in FIG. 3, it is preferred to construct housing 110 such that the walls thereof are insulated. In the particular embodiment shown, housing 110 comprises an inner wall 112 and an outer wall 114 to define and insulating space 116 therebetween. Insulating space 116 comprises a series of cooling coils 118. Further cooling coils 119 are disposed on the exterior of outer wall 114. Alternatively, cooling coils 118 and 119 maybe replaced or supplemented with insulation material (e.g., foam) and/or vacuum disposed in insulating gap 116.

With reference to FIGS. 4-6, there is illustrated a preferred embodiment of a drive mechanism 200 which is particularly preferred for incorporation in refrigeration unit 100. Drive mechanism 200 comprises a threaded element 205 and a thrust tube 210. Threaded element 205 and thrust tube 210 are engaged to one another via a bearing unit 215 comprising a series of ball bearings 220. Threaded element 205 is connected to an electric drive motor 211. Threaded element 205 and thrust tube 210 are disposed within a base element 225 (stanchion) having a flange 227 that is secured to a bottom surface of housing 110. Tubular element 125 is in sliding, telescopic engagement with base unit 225. An upper bushing element 235 is anchored statically in the top of base element 225. A lower bushing element 237 is used to engage tubular element 125 and base unit 225, and is free to rotate about 225 and/or slide telescopically.

Preferably, thrust tube 210, bushing element 235 and a washer 250 are interconnected to form a thrust tube end cap and a thrust washer (not shown) is interposed between this end cap and tubular element 125. The purpose of the square shape of thrust tube 210 is to hold the tube from torquing when the screw turns.

As shown in FIG. 6, washer 250 comprises a square shaped projection 245 on a bottom surface thereof for engagement with aperture 240 of bushing element 235. Washer 250 further comprises a extension portion 255 that passes through a distal end of tubular element 125 and is received in a recess 122 disposed in cover 120.

When it is desired to lift carriage 115 from housing 110, electric drive motor 211) connected to threaded element 205 is actuated. This causes threaded element 205 to rotate thereby causing thrust tube 210 to extend with respect to threaded element 205.

As threaded element 205 is rotated, thrust tube 210 is lifted with respect to threaded element 205 thereby causing carriage 115 to lift and be in an extended position—see FIGS. 2 and 3.

With reference to FIGS. 7 and 8, there is shown a safety feature of a preferred embodiment of the present invention. Specifically, if an object such a users hand 300 is interposed between cover element 120 and housing 110, injury to the user can be avoided in a number of ways. For example, tubular element 125 can be designed so that it is not mechanically coupled to thrust tube 210. In the result, when thrust tube 210 is retracted in the direction of arrow B, tubular element 125 will stop if it is impeded by a blockage 300 and the same is true for lid 120 and each of the shelves 130 in relationship to tubular element 125—see FIG. 7. Alternatively (or in addition), it is possible to incorporate a detector, such as a pressure sensitive ring (for example, incorporated in second seal 111 described below) to sense a blockage and reverse the closing actuation of electric drive motor 211. Thus, the pressure sensitive ring would sense and respond to a an obstruction placed between cover 120 and housing 110. Further, actuation of the pressure sensitive ring could cause actuation of an interruption switch to stop further movement of carriage 115 to the retracted position.

With reference to FIG. 9, there is shown the preferred use of a double seal system for refrigeration unit 100. Thus, unit 120 is provided with a first seal 124 and housing 110 is provided with a second seal 111. In retracted position of carriage 115, first seal 124 and second seal 111 combine to provide a substantially fluid type seal between cover element 120 and housing 110.

FIG. 10 illustrates an alternate embodiment of refrigeration unit 100 described above. The specific modification in FIG. 10 relates to the use of compartments in carriage 115 so that only specific compartments of interest need be open to access the goods therein. This improves the operating efficiency of the refrigeration unit.

With reference to FIGS. 11-13, there is illustrated an alternate form of shelving for refrigeration unit 100. Thus, tubular element 125 has disposed thereon a locking ring 305. Locking ring 305 combines with tubular element 125 to provide a series of locking receptacles 310. A number of shelves 315 are provided, each shelf 315 having a general wedge shape and a locking tab 320. As shown in FIGS. 11 and 12, locking tab 320 may be engaged with locking receptacle 310 to mount each shelf 315 on locking ring 305. As such, one or more shelves 315 maybe easily removed for cleaning and/or replacement, as necessary. Once all shelves 315 are in place, a circular shelve unit results—see FIG. 13.

FIG. 14 illustrates a disassembled form of a preferred shelving system. Thus, a bottom shelf 320 is provided on a proximal portion of tubular element 125. A support ring 325 is provided on tubular element 125 and serves to support an intermediate shelf 330 having a tubular projection portion 335. Tubular projection portion 335 serves to support a top shelf 340 having a tubular extension portion 335 which is connected to cover 120. Drive mechanism 200 described above can be incorporated within tubular sections of this alternate shelving system.

While this invention has been described with reference to illustrative embodiments and examples, the description is not intended to be construed in a limiting sense. Thus, various modifications of the illustrative embodiments, as well as other embodiments of the invention, will be apparent to persons skilled in the art upon reference to this description. For example, it is possible to replace the ball screw shown in the illustrated embodiments with a simple square cut screw since the latter may be better suit to self-braking. Further, it is possible to replace the double seal arrangement shown in FIG. 9 with a simpler single seal arrangement. In this regard, it should be pointed out that the cold air in the housing 110 is heavier than ambient air and is captive (e.g., like water in a bowl)—this one of the reasons why refrigeration unit 100 is more energy efficient than a conventional refrigerator since the latter loses significantly more cold air every time it is opened. Generally, it is possible to envision a number of safety elements and/or sensors that serve to reverse the action of the lid and shelves so that they lift off if they encounter a blockage. Also, it is envisioned that carriage 115 would open (i.e., be extended) relatively quickly for total opening (e.g., about 3 seconds) but when closing is selected (i.e., retraction of carriage 115), the speed of movement is slower (e.g., 2-5, preferably 4, times slower) giving the operator time to ensure there are no blockages. Further, it is possible to substitute bearing unit 215 (including ball bearings 220) with an alternate engagement system such as a threaded element or the like. Still further, the specific embodiment discussed above refers to a thrust tube 210 having a generally square cross-section. The selection of such a tube having a square cross-section results in prevention of torquing of the follower (or other) as it slides the square bushings it hold. However, thrust tube 210 could be modified to be a spline, octagonal or have a longitudial groove. The point is that the function of the element is to hold the threaded follower nut from torquing within the confines of the telescoping round outer shaft that carry the shelves and thus, any shaped tube that can slide longitudinally but not turn rotationally could be substituted for thrust tube 210. Still further, it is possible to modify threaded element 205 to include a carrier bearing at the distal end thereof to prevent the distal end of threaded element 205 from rattling within thrust tube 210. It is therefore contemplated that the appended claims will cover any such modifications or embodiments.

All publications, patents and patent applications referred to herein are incorporated by reference in their entirety to the same extent as if each individual publication, patent or patent application was specifically and individually indicated to be incorporated by reference in its entirety.