Title:
Printed plastic packaging
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A premium plastic package is provided as well as a method for producing such a package. Printing on multiple surfaces of a package to obtain appealing visual effects is described. Methods of sealing plastic packages are described, including some that use ultraviolet light to activate an adhesive. Plastic materials that can be used include recycled and/or recyclable polyurethane.



Inventors:
Tilton, Christopher R. (Laguna Niguel, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/033702
Publication Date:
07/13/2006
Filing Date:
01/12/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D73/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
ACKUN, JACOB K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KNOBBE MARTENS OLSON & BEAR LLP (IRVINE, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An enclosure to deter theft of a product in the enclosure comprising: a first plastic portion having first and second surfaces, said first plastic portion having printing upon at least one of said first and second surfaces; a second plastic portion having third and fourth surfaces, said second plastic portion having printing upon at least one of said third and fourth surfaces; and wherein said first and second plastic portions are secured to enclose a product.

2. The theft-deterrent enclosure of claim 1, wherein first and second plastic portions are secured using ultraviolet light to activate an adhesive.

3. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 1, wherein the plastic clamshell package is formed from recycled polyurethane.

4. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 1, wherein the plastic portions are clear.

5. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 1, wherein at least three of the plastic surfaces have printing.

6. A theft-deterrent plastic enclosure for a product comprising: a front plastic portion and a back plastic portion; at least two inner surfaces, at least one of which is printed; at least two outer surfaces, at least one of which is printed; wherein the plastic portions are formed from recycled material.

7. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 6, wherein said front and back plastic portions are sealed together using ultraviolet light to activate an adhesive.

8. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 6, wherein the recycled material is recycled polyurethane.

9. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 6, wherein the plastic portions are clear.

10. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure as in claim 6, wherein the at least two printed surfaces comprise opposite sides of the same plastic portion.

11. The theft-deterrent plastic enclosure of claim 6, wherein the plastic enclosure is a clamshell.

12. A method of forming a theft-deterrent plastic clamshell package for a product, comprising: extruding a plastic material into a plastic sheet; printing on one surface of the plastic sheet; printing on the other surface of the plastic sheet; forming the plastic sheet into a package; placing a product into the package; and closing said package.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein the closing step comprises sealing the package using ultraviolet light to activate an adhesive.

14. The method of claim 12, wherein the plastic material is recycled polyurethane.

15. The method of claim 12, wherein the plastic material is clear.

16. The method of claim 12, wherein the steps of forming, placing, and closing are performed in the same machine, fully automatically.

17. The method of claim 12, wherein the step of closing the package further comprises die cutting the package to separate the package.

18. A theft-deterrent printed plastic package for a product comprising: a first plastic portion having first and second surfaces, said first portion having printing upon at least one of said first and second surfaces; a second plastic portion having third and fourth surfaces, said second portion having printing upon at least one of said third and fourth surfaces, said second portion secured to said first portion at multiple seal points around the product; said package is at least 13 inches long in a first dimension.

19. The package of claim 18, wherein said first and second plastic portions are formed from at least thirty-gauge plastic.

20. The package of claim 18, wherein said first and second plastic portions are formed from plastic having a minimum caliper of 16 mil.

21. The package of claim 18, wherein said plastic portions are formed from recycled polyurethane.

22. The package of claim 19, wherein said first and second plastic portions are secured using ultraviolet light to activate an adhesive.

23. The package of claim 18, wherein said first and second portions are secured at two seal points around the product.

24. The package of claim 18, wherein said package is at least 15 inches long in a second dimension.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTIONS

1. Field of the Inventions

The inventions disclosed herein relate to product packaging. More specifically, some embodiments provide for a retail product display package that is not only resistant to theft and tampering, but also highly attractive and formed from recycled materials.

2. Description of the Related Art

Retail establishments commonly attempt to make their products more attractive to customers. However, some of the same techniques that attract buyers can also attract thieves. Theft is a problem that has long plagued retail establishments, especially theft of compact, high-margin goods-personal electronic devices, for example which are attractive to thieves because they can be easy to pocket and have a high resale value. Often, retail stores make these items less accessible to customers, placing them behind or inside of a glass counter, for example. That way, store personnel do not have to spend as much time watching over patrons to make sure they are not pilfering goods.

This solution is effective at preventing theft, but can have the undesirable side effect of lowering sales. For a variety of reasons, many customers are uncomfortable asking a sales clerk to help them. For example, some customers are simply too impatient to wait for a busy clerk to get to them. No matter what the reason, if a customer cannot quickly and easily select an item for purchase without the aid of a store clerk, a customer is less likely to purchase it.

As an alternative to placing the goods behind a counter or in a protective case, many stores instead prefer to display high-margin items inside oversized packaging that is unlikely to fit in the pocket of a potential thief. Tamper-resistant packaging can also help foil the would-be larcenist by deterring any attempts to tear, puncture, cut, or fold the packaging to make it easier to conceal.

In addition to concerns relating to potential theft, retail establishments generally have a preference for packaging that improves the appearance of the products inside. However, currently used plastic packaging and the techniques for creating it leave much to be desired. For example, low cost skin packs use shrink wrap surrounding printed cardboard, but these packages are not sufficiently tamper resistant to package high-priced items. Likewise, blister packs are not sufficiently secure, due to readily-tom cardboard portions. Clamshell packaging can be more tamper-resistant than blister packs, but in current forms, it has drawbacks as well, because generally a cardboard insert must be separately printed and then positioned within the packaging by human hands. Indeed, many of the complex folds and features employed to make clamshell packaging more tamper resistant make such packaging expensive to manufacture. For example, the thick plastic often used is relatively expensive, and assembly steps are difficult to automate. Furthermore, many of the packaging genres described above do not make use of recycled materials, leading to increased manufacturing costs. Finally, current methods do not provide for printing on more than one surface of plastic packaging material.

Therefore, a theft-deterring package that is capable of displaying informative product information, can be cheaply manufactured, and can comprise a highly attractive design would be of great benefit to the retail sales industry. Indeed, low cost theft prevention packaging that also provides a very high quality presentation while using recycled materials has not been available in the past.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTIONS

The inventions described herein have several features, no single one of which is solely responsible for their desirable attributes. Without limiting the scope of the inventions as expressed by the claims that follow, some of the prominent features will now be discussed briefly. Embodiments disclosed in this application provide for packaging that solves many of the problems encountered in the past. For example, some embodiments are not only resistant to theft and tampering, they are also inexpensive to manufacture and highly attractive. Furthermore, some embodiments provide high impact point-of-sale marketing through use of specialty printing directly on multiple surfaces of plastic materials. Various plastic materials can be used in accordance with the disclosed embodiments, including recycled or virgin plastics. The disclosed inventions provide for superior quality and environmentally favorable packaging with unique visual appeal and theft-resistant properties.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Preferred embodiments will now be discussed in detail. The embodiments depict novel and non-obvious aspects of printed packaging that has great advantages over the prior art. The embodiments shown in the drawings are for illustrative purposes only, and the claimed inventions should not be deemed limited by the exemplary embodiments illustrated by the following figures:

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of a folded clamshell package.

FIG. 2 shows an exploded view of a two-part clamshell package.

FIG. 2A shows a plan view of the two-part clamshell package of FIG. 2 in an assembled state.

FIG. 3 depicts overlying patterns.

FIG. 4 shows two overlapping patterns.

FIG. 5 illustrates a cross-sectional view of a plastic package.

FIG. 6 shows a flow chart for the steps in a plastic packaging production method.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Product information printed directly on a product's packaging enhances convenience for potential buyers. A buyer can study the package at the point of sale and compare various products according to the data printed on the package. This can save time for a consumer and provide access to useful information, reducing the risk that the product will later be returned or that the consumer will not be happy with the purchase. Furthermore, such information on packaging increases the chances that a customer will buy the product by informing him or her of its novel features and advantages over other products. Information provided on product packaging can also have a persuasive role from a purely advertising perspective by conveying a positive brand message and encouraging purchase through enumerating the merits and utility of the product.

But providing product data to the diligent comparative shopper is not the only reason to print directly on product packaging; the packaging can in fact attract buyers that would otherwise not be interested in the product. For example, the packaging may prominently display a trademark or brand name that does not or cannot appear so prominently on the product itself. A package may further display colors that are more eye-catching than would be desirable for the product itself. Furthermore, a product package can serve the purpose of calling attention to the product or group of products, drawing the consumer closer to the product or products. Indeed, product packaging can be part of an overall visual effect caused by a display in a retail location. For example, the product packaging can have colors that harmonize or clash with display colors to create a visual effect. Such attractive packaging and/or brightly colored advertising increases the product's visibility on the shelf.

Another way a product packaging can add value is by associating a product with an entity from popular culture such as a movie personality or a broader advertising campaign. This can be accomplished by portraying commonly recognized images or words on the packaging. A product's packaging can thus capitalize on the popularity or status of any entity or fad. Recognizing the multiple ways product packaging can be used in a retail setting, various improvements can further enhance current packages and the methods and systems that lead to their creation and use.

Clamshell Packaging

One type of product packaging that can have good theft-deterrent properties is clamshell packaging (clamshell). As its name suggests, clamshell packaging can comprise two complementary plastic portions that may be linked along one side in order to fold together like the two complementary shells that form the exoskeleton of the well-known marine crustacean.

FIG. 1 illustrates an embodiment of such a folded clamshell configuration 110. As illustrated, a folded clamshell 110 can have a first portion 111 and a second portion 115, joined together at a crease 136. The two portions can in fact be integrally formed in earlier manufacturing steps and folded to create crease 136 in a later step. First portion 111 can have a first surface 112 and a second surface 114. Similarly, second portion 115 can have a third surface 116 and a fourth surface 118.

Either of first portion 111 and second portion 115 can comprise a molded portion, such as molded portion 132 in FIG. 1. A molded portion such as molded portion 132 can be generally contoured to the shape of a product to be packaged (not shown). Such a molded portion 132 can be in first portion 111, second portion 115, and/or both portions. A product can be sandwiched between the two portions of the packaging, fitting, for example, within the contours of the molded portion.

To assemble a clamshell package the product is placed between the two halves, which are then brought together. Once the package is closed, the edges can be advantageously secured to each other with glue, heat or other means suitable to prevent the edges from being easily separated.

Alternatively, the two portions of a clamshell package need not be hingedly linked before being sealed together. Thus, clamshells can consist of two molded pieces of transparent plastic, PVC, or other material that is difficult for human hands to tear. The pieces are sometimes mirror images of one another, with the edges of one half designed to mate or fit within the edges of the other. Some embodiments may have one plastic portion that includes a raised lip about its perimeter. The path traced by the lip about the perimeter of that portion is preferably the same shape as, but of slightly larger dimension than, the edges of the complementary portion. The lip can provide a seat for the complementary portion, facilitating automated manufacturing of the package by providing accurate relative positioning of the two portions. The lip can also advantageously block access to the edges of the complementary portion. Because a thief cannot grasp the edges of the complementary portion, he or she cannot attempt to easily peel the two portions apart in order to remove the product.

A slightly different type of clamshell can be a self-service package for containing small parts. Such a package can include a bottom part having a perimeter wall, thereby forming a cup shape. A lid, also having a perimeter wall that forms a cup shape, can overlap the perimeter wall of the bottom part to close the container. An adhesive label can span the boundary between the two halves to seal them together.

Another type of clamshell can have a rigid back panel with a product holding area and a separate larger graphics area. The panel can have a flange that carries product information and the panel can also seat against part of the product. The rigid back panel and product cassette can be packaged with a further external thin film shrink wrap.

Theft Deterrence

Some clamshells, such as those described above, can be effective at deterring theft because they are difficult to fold, nearly impossible to tear open, and difficult to cut open without attracting attention. Some clamshells can be, however, quite expensive to manufacture due to expensive materials and high labor costs if non-plastic inserts are used to provide a place for printing words or designs. Embodiments disclosed herein overcome this dilemma by providing for printing directly on the plastic clamshell packaging material.

Certain embodiments comply with theft deterrent standards published by various retail companies. For example, some retail establishments require that a theft resistant package have a minimum size. Some advantageous embodiments meet such requirements by being at least 15 inches wide by at least 13 inches tall. Other sizes can also be adequately theft resistant. Retail establishments also sometimes require plastic packaging materials to be of a minimum hardness or thickness. Some advantageous embodiments meet such requirements by being formed from a minimum of thirty-gauge plastic. Some embodiments meet such requirements by using plastic having a minimum caliper of 16 mil. Other thicknesses and properties can also be adequately theft resistant. Retail companies sometimes require that theft resistant packaging meet certain minimum closure requirements. Some advantageous embodiments meet these requirements by having multiple seal points in the plastic packaging around the product. Some preferred embodiments additionally have metal locking inserts and/or wire hooks that attach the product to the plastic. Some preferred embodiments meet these requirements by being “fully sealed,” for example by using heat sealing or a water-based urethane on the interference fit edges. Some preferred embodiments are sealed so as to leave no openings or holes larger than ⅛ inch in diameter.

The plastic packaging can include a raised ridge or indented portion that projects outwardly from or protrudes inwardly from the surface of the plastic package. Such a ridge or indented portion can provide the package with greater rigidity, thereby increasing the package's ability to resist bending. The ridge can thus prevent a would-be larcenist from easily folding the package in order to more easily conceal it under his or her clothing or inside a purse or shopping bag. In addition, raised ridges can assist in the vertical display of multiple packages in a box (not shown). Rather than including such a ridge, the plastic packaging may alternatively be constructed of plastic that is thick enough to resist bending.

Some types of packaging are not necessarily designed to prevent theft, but still include at least two plastic portions sealed to one another. For example, a package can comprise a box having one open side made of rigid plastic having a flexible plastic cover adhered to a rim of the box spanning the opening. A tab on the corner of the cover can enable a consumer to easily tear off the cover in order to access the product inside. Another type of plastic packaging can comprise a rigid plastic shell shaped either as a hollow cylinder with one open end, or as a U. The open end of the shell can be covered with a flexible plastic seal that can be easily peeled away to access the product inside.

Printing

As illustrated in FIG. 2, in some embodiments, the plastic portions of clamshell packaging can be printed upon. For example, if a clamshell package has two complementary plastic portions, each portion can have generally two surfaces. Each of the four surfaces can receive printed material in the form of words, designs, colors, layers of ink, etching, chemical effects, etc. In some embodiments, printing on multiple surfaces of plastic materials allows for special effects graphics, creation of transparent and/or translucent surfaces, and even three-dimensional effects. These and many other special graphical effects are possible by combining printing on plastics with printing on multiple surfaces of a package. Indeed, the quality of such graphics can be superior to graphics printed on a paperboard insert card.

FIG. 2 illustrates one embodiment of a plastic clamshell package 210 having printing on multiple plastic surfaces. In contrast to FIG. 1, FIG. 2 illustrates a two-part clamshell without a connecting crease such as crease 136 of FIG. 1. Clamshell 210 does, however, have multiple plastic portions. As shown, a clamshell package 210 can have a first portion 211 and a second portion 215. First portion 211 can have a first surface 212 and a second surface 214. Similarly, second portion 215 can have a third surface 216 and a fourth surface 218. As illustrated, each plastic surface can be printed upon. For example, first surface 212 can have printing 222 on it as illustrated by the numeral “1.” Second surface 214 can have printing 224 on it as illustrated by the printed numeral “2.” Printing 224 is visible through the plastic portion 215. When viewed from the front, the numerals 1 and 2 seem to partially overlap, even though the respective inks used to print the two numerals do contact each other. This visual overlapping effect is made possible by printing on both surfaces of the plastic portion 215. Similarly, third surface 216 can have printing 226 on it as illustrated by the numeral “3,” and fourth surface 218 can have printing 228 on it as illustrated by the numeral “4,” as seen through the plastic portion 215.

FIG. 2A illustrates how the plastic portions 211 and 215 of FIG. 2 can come together, with product 234 sandwiched in between them. As shown, printed portions 222, 224, 226, and 228 (numerals 1-4) seem to overlap, even though only one numeral is printed on each of the four surfaces 212, 214, 216, and 218. The printing on the back surfaces of the two plastic portions 211 and 215 (surfaces 214 and 218) is indicated with vertical lines. The printing on the front surfaces (surfaces 212 and 216) of the two plastic portions 211 and 215 is indicated with horizontal lines. Thus, in the illustrated configuration, the numerals are visible to the observer despite the fact that some of them are farther removed from the viewer, being separated from the viewer by successive plastic portions. As shown, the numeral 1 is located closest to the viewer, followed by numerals 2 and 3, separated from the viewer by plastic portion 211, and finally by numeral 4, separated from the viewer by both plastic portions 211 and 215.

Multiple layers of printing can have many desirable benefits. Spectacular visual effects can be achieved by using combinations of four colors on multiple superimposed plastic surfaces. The color combinations used and the relative positioning of the patterns can be chosen to depict any number of unique designs. Multiple surface printing has the advantage of allowing visual depth and spatial effects to be more convincing and realistic. Printing in an overlapping manner also allows for a wide variety of design options.

FIG. 3 illustrates one way in which layered printing can comprise complementary layers that are configured to create a visual effect when positioned one over another. In one embodiment, the illustrated layers do not represent separate plastic portions, but instead represent regions or surfaces that can accept printing. For example, the layers can represent the four surfaces of two plastic portions, such as surfaces 212, 214, 216, and 218 in FIG. 2. In some embodiments, a first layer 312 can have a printed pattern 322. A second layer 314 can have a second pattern 324, a third layer 316 can have a third pattern 326, and a fourth layer 318 can have a fourth pattern 328. Each pattern can be printed on a surface of transparent plastic, thus allowing light to pass through each layer to some extent. This allows underlying layers to be partially visible through overlying layers. Furthermore, each pattern can have some portions that are opaque and some that are transparent, according to the lines and spaces in the printed patterns. Thus, as patterns overlay one another, visual effects are created that are unique to each pattern combination. The effect created by any pattern combination can also change according to the relative orientations of the two patterns to each other, either in a parallel plane or in a more complex spatial relationship. As FIG. 3 illustrates, combinations of overlying patterns can result in numerous new patterns and/or visual effects.

FIG. 4 illustrates another way in which multiple-layer printing can achieve visual effects. Masking pattern 422 can generally obscure anything that is located behind pattern 422. However, if masking patter 422 is partially removed or is not printed on a portion of a transparent surface, a second pattern such as pattern 424 can be visible through the opening. This negative printing technique has great potential for striking visual effects, as can be seen in FIG. 4. Similar visual combinations can also be advantageous, such as a “peek-a-boo” printing effect, inverse, and or cutaway printing. Packaging materials can also be printed or sized to allow a portion of the product inside to be accessible to the sight or touch of a potential buyer.

Another embodiment capitalizes on principles of artistic perspective. In some embodiments, for example, a design printed on an inferior surface positioned behind a superior surface can appear to be contained deep within or far behind the design of the superior surface: This appearance of perspective can be enhanced when printing appears on more than two surfaces of overlaid plastic material. Thus, appropriately printed images can create an enhanced sense of depth in a plastic packaging material with an otherwise more shallow appearance. In some embodiments, a printing process using combinations of multiple colors can lead to spectacular visual effects. For example, a four color process has many advantages. Some embodiments create translucent and lenticular effects. Some embodiments use spot color processes.

FIG. 5 illustrates a cross-section of various layers that can comprise a packaging configuration 510. Layer 522 represents printing on a surface 512 of plastic portion 511. Printing 524 can also be located on surface 514 of plastic portion 511. Opening 530 can contain the product to be packaged, or it can be a gap, depending on where the cross-section of the package 510 is taken. On the other side of opening 530 is another plastic portion 515, having a surface 516 with a printed layer 526. Similarly, surface 518 can have a printed layer 528. As illustrated by eye 542, a viewer can see a combination of patterns comprising the various layers of printing and plastics in the line of sight 544 of the viewer.

Plastic portions 511 and 515 can be adapted to receive print. Printing layers 522, 524, 526 and 528 can be adapted to adhere to plastic surfaces, including, in some embodiments, recycled PET, recycled PVC, and/or other recycled and/or recyclable plastics. When the plastic surfaces and/or printing materials are adapted to adhere, the ability of the plastic material to receive print eliminates the need to place a cardboard insert within the package, as with some prior art packages. Eliminating the cardboard insert can lower both the cost of producing the package itself, and the cost of assembling the product and package together. The cost of producing the package can be lowered because fewer materials are needed. The cost of assembling the product and package together can be reduced because the labor step of placing the cardboard insert within the package is eliminated.

Although FIG. 5 illustrates a printing layer adhered to each of the four plastic surfaces, some embodiments only have printing on one of the surfaces. Other embodiments have printing on only two of the surfaces. Other embodiments have printing on only three of the surfaces. More surfaces can also be included, and various other combinations of layered surfaces and printing configurations are contemplated.

Other ways in which the appearance of plastic packaging can be enhanced include using translucent and/or iridescent materials. For example, metallic, shimmering, highly reflective, and/or glittering effects can be created with some chemical substances. These substances can be used on one or multiple layers of the plastic packaging. Multiple layers of ink can also be printed onto a single plastic surface. Design and marketing potential increases drastically when printing can be accomplished on multiple surfaces of plastic packaging.

Materials

Many retail establishments prefer to use clear plastic for at least a portion of the packaging that is used to enclose and display products. This allows consumers to see the product inside. Traditionally, clear plastic has also been used to permit the consumer to see through the plastic material to a printed insert or printed cardboard backing. However, printing directly on clear plastic has many advantages. Such an approach can avoid extra costs associated with extra inserts, for example. Furthermore, printing on clear plastic allows for a wide array of impressive visual effects.

Plastic materials that can be used for these purposes include thermoplastic materials. Preferred embodiments are formed from plastic materials that resist tearing, puncturing, and/or ripping. Preferred materials include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PET), recycled PET, recycled PVC, polypropylene, PVC styrene, APET, recyclable PET, recyclable PVC, and other materials having similar tamper-resistant properties. Preferred materials also include those materials that can be sealed using RF, sonic, heat, or ultraviolet sealing technology. Various embodiments are formed from a wide variety of virgin, recycled, or recyclable materials, providing a unique appearance that is both superior in quality and also environmentally favorable. The plastic material can be completely transparent, partially transparent, or fully impervious to light. Varying levels of opacity can be accomplished by printing ink layers on the surfaces of the plastic material or by including opaque materials in the mixture of chemicals that is used to form the original plastic material, for example. A plastic package can comprise a transparent cover and a non-transparent backing, or a transparent backing and a non-transparent cover. Various other combinations of transparency and/or opacity are also possible.

The innovations described herein permit a relatively inexpensive assembly process. By allowing premium printing on the plastic packaging material itself, the process saves the cost of an additional package insert, as well as the assembly costs of inserting the package insert. Indeed, many of the steps described above can be effectively automated. Cost savings also occur by allowing such printing to occur on recycled materials. Recycled plastics can be obtained cheaply, reducing the costs of the necessary raw materials. Furthermore, by using recyclable materials, some costs can be recovered by reusing scraps or off-fall materials left over after the manufacturing process. Moreover, post-consumer recycling can be a source of raw materials, further reducing costs.

Manufacturing

FIG. 6 illustrates a method of manufacturing a plastic package. An extruding step 620 can comprise extruding plastic material and gathering the resulting sheets onto rolls.

A printing step 63.0 can comprise feeding the plastic sheet through a printer. The printer can print on one or multiple surfaces of the plastic sheet concurrently. In some embodiments, a second printing step 640 can comprise sending the same plastic sheet through the same or a subsequent printer.

A cutting step 650 can comprise die-cutting portions of the plastic sheet or cutting portions of the sheet with a rolling blade, for example. The cutting step can form smaller portions for one or multiple packages. Cutting step 650 can also comprise folding portions of plastic if the resulting package is to have a crease such as crease 136, for example. In some embodiments, the cutting step can comprise molding or stamping the plastic portions to form contours intended to house the product or other items to be contained within the packaging. Such contours can be formed at the same time the plastic sheet is cut if the cutting die also comprises a stamping mold. Such molding can also comprise heating or cooling the plastic material. In some embodiments, the plastic material can be vacuum molded. This technique employs a vacuum to force the plastic material against a mold so that the plastic subsequently retains the shape of the mold.

Filling step 660 can comprise placing the product within the plastic packaging. Other items can also be placed within the plastic packaging, such as instructions, batteries, printed materials, companion items, other products, storage cases, refill containers, spare parts, assembly hardware, etc.

Closing step 670 can include a method of closing the plastic packaging. For example, staples, rivets, pins, or glue can be used. In some embodiments, complementary features are formed in the two portions of a plastic package that mate together. For example, tongue features can fit into groove features formed in the respective portions of a plastic package. Alternatively, tabs can be formed in one portion to fold over or protrude through a slot in the other portion. Some embodiments employ plastic lips, locks, or snaps that can be formed by shaping the plastic. For sufficient theft or tamper resistance, however, often these methods require additional sealing measures to be taken. Some potential additional measures include heat sealing, RF welding, UV welding, and ultrasonic welding.

Closure

Ultraviolet, or UV welding, has many advantages. For example, UV welding can achieve sufficient strength to provide theft resistance. UV welding can also be accomplished cheaply and efficiently, with relatively few steps. In some embodiments, an adhesive substance such as thermoset glue can be applied. After the two plastic portions have been placed in contact with the thermoset glue, ultraviolet light can be shined on the glue and plastic. The ultraviolet light activates the adhesive properties of the glue. One advantage of UV welding is its adhesive strength. Using this approach, sufficient tamper-resistance can be achieved even though the two flat plastic portions may not have features such as lips, locks, or snaps in addition to the adhesive material. Two flat, featureless surfaces can thus be strongly adhered to each other simply and effectively.

Another advantage of UV welding is that such techniques can seal a much wider array of materials than those that can be sealed by conventional techniques. This provides for even greater latitude in design for visual effects in packaging. For example, UV welding techniques can be used to bond recycled polyurethane (RPET), a material that is difficult to seal with conventional techniques. Another material that can be bonded using UV welding is APET.

In some embodiments, the two plastic portions of the packaging can be closed together using a method such as stamping or heating. For example, a stamp can be used to exert pressure on the two plastic layers while they are in apposition. The pressure can seal the two portions together at or near the place where the stamp contacts the plastic. Another example uses heat to meld the two plastic portions together. This can be accomplished using a hot implement that contacts the packaging at various places around the perimeter while the two portions are in apposition, for example. Sonic heat and RF welding methods can be used to fuse the two portions, for example. Alternatively, non-UV wavelengths of radiation can also be used to activate adhesives. An adhesive can be activated by microwave, infrared, radio frequency, or gamma ray radiation, for example. In one exemplary RF welding approach, two electrodes can be placed in close proximity to each other, but not in direct contact with each other. The electrodes can be permitted, however, to contact one or both of the plastic portions of the packaging. The plastic material can act as a dielectric that permits some electrical current to flow, but with some resistance. As the plastic resists current flow, electrical energy is converted into thermal energy and the heat melds a portion of the plastic packaging. This approach advantageously permits the two electrodes to not be independently heated. The heating effect can be reserved for the material to be heated such as the plastic, for example.

In some advantageous embodiments, adhesive substances can be used to chemically attach the two or more portions of a package together. For example, glue that cures over time as it dries can be used. Multiple-component glues can also be used, where one component is applied and another component activates the adhesive effect. In some embodiments, the packaging can be closed using a water-based urethane sealant. Advantageously, the adhesive may be applied only in areas where adhesion is to take place. Alternatively, the adhesive may be applied to an entire surface of one of the plastic portions. If glue is applied to an entire surface, the glue is preferably of the type that will not adhere permanently to the product. The glue may, for example, be applied to one portion of the packaging and then allowed to dry before the package is assembled. The glue in the adhesion areas is then activated by heat, RF waves, ultrasonic waves or another sealing method. Preferably, any adhesive used is transparent so as not to interfere with consumers reading the printing on either of the plastic portions.

In some embodiments, plastic features can be formed that complement other welding techniques. For example, abutting plastic portions can include raised ridges, narrow exposed channels, etc. These features can allow welding to occur in conjunction with a roller or other mechanisms that can urge the corresponding plastic portions into proper contact. These features and mechanisms can cause an effective and strong plastic-to-plastic seal. They can allow the two plastic portions to mechanically interlock together.

In some embodiments, the adhesion only occurs in discrete areas of the package, and preferably in areas where the adhesion makes it very difficult to separate the two plastic portions. For example, adhering the two plastic portions together near the edges makes it difficult for a thief to effectively grasp the edges of both pieces in order to pull them apart. Furthermore, many of the fusion techniques described above, including RF welding, ultrasonic welding and UV welding, produce such a strong bond between the two plastic portions that it is virtually impossible for a thief to separate the two. Even if a thief could separate the two portions by peeling, the process would likely require a substantial amount of effort, and would produce an exceptional amount of noise, attracting the attention of other store patrons and/or store personnel, thereby effectively foiling the attempted larceny.

One example of preferred packaging equipment that can be used to accomplish the methods described above is a Multivac machine, manufactured by Multivac, Inc., of Kansas City, Missourri. Other form, fill, and seal equipment can also be used. Preferred machines function in-line, fully automatically, and have a high-volume output. In a preferred form, fill and seal machine, a bed is tooled with molds that heat and form plastic material to contours of the molds. The plastic material can be fed in to one end of the machine from a roll of plastic. The machine then orients the plastic correctly with respect to the molds and forms the plastic into the shape of the mold. After the plastic is formed by the molds and cooled, if necessary, the product(s) is/are placed into the molded plastic. Then, the plastic backing (in the form of flat plastic film off a roll, for example) that preferably has been printed on one or both surfaces is fed into the machine, which seals the plastic backing to the molded portion, thus securely enclosing the product inside. The printed plastic backing can be formed from rigid or flexible plastic material. Moreover, the steps described above can be performed in a different order.

Because the form, fill and seal machine can have multiple molds for multiple product packages, the machine can advantageously separate the individual packages from each other by a die cutting step. Advantageously, the sealing and cutting steps can be combined into a single die-cut seal step, where part of the die exerts pressure on the package to urge the portions together in a secure seal, while another part of the die is sharper and shaped to cut through the plastic adjacent to the sealed portion. The form, fill and seal equipment can be oriented horizontally or vertically with respect to the floor.

The specifications of any given machine can be described in terms of the machine's “web,” measured perpendicularly to the machine's length. Machines with wider webs have more capacity to form packaging at any given position along the machine's length. Accordingly, even though machines with wider webs index—or move the packaging through—at slower absolute speeds than narrower web machines, the overall efficiency of the wider webbed machines is greater. Thus, the larger the web, the more units per cycle can be formed at the same time.

The foregoing description sets forth various preferred embodiments and other exemplary but non-limiting embodiments of the inventions disclosed herein. The description gives some details regarding combinations and modes of the disclosed inventions. Other variations, combinations, modifications, modes, and/or applications of the disclosed features and aspects of the embodiments are also within the scope of this disclosure, including those that become apparent to those of skill in the art upon reading this specification. Thus, the scope of the inventions claimed herein should be determined only by a fair reading of the claims that follow.