Title:
Collapsible nestable pallet
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A multi-component pallet includes a first deck and a second deck. The first deck can be configured to be removably connected to the second deck in a first position for use in the load-bearing assembled state. The first deck can also be configured to be nested with the second deck when the pallet is in the unloaded, disassembled state. The first deck and the second deck can be configured such that the volume of the pallet in the load-bearing assembled state is greater than the volume of the first deck and the second deck when they are nested in the unloaded, disassembled state.



Inventors:
Macdonald, Warren M. (Lexington, KY, US)
Nolan, Roger (Seymour, IN, US)
Tobias, Stephan (Elm Grove, WI, US)
Application Number:
11/128920
Publication Date:
11/16/2006
Filing Date:
05/12/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D19/38
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
CHEN, JOSE V
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PAUL HASTINGS LLP (Washington, DC, US)
Claims:
What is claimed:

1. A pallet comprising: a first deck and a second deck, wherein the first deck is configured to be connected to the second deck in a first position; the first deck is configured to be nested with the second deck in a second position when the pallet is in the unloaded state; and volume occupied by the pallet in the first position is greater than volume occupied by the pallet in the second position.

2. The pallet of claim 1, wherein the first position is a load-bearing assembled state and the second position is a disassembled state.

3. The pallet of claim 2, wherein the first deck further comprises a leg core and the second deck further comprises a cavity, the leg core configured to slidably mate with the cavity when the first deck is nested with the second deck to the volume of the pallet.

4. The pallet of claim 3, wherein the first deck is configured to be connected to the second deck in the first position by slidably engaging an interlocking joint member of the first deck with an interlocking joint member of the second deck.

5. The pallet of claim 4, wherein the first deck is configured to be nested with the second deck in the second position by be inverting the first deck and placing the first deck over the second deck whereby the volume of the pallet is reduced.

6. The pallet of claim 5, wherein the first deck is a top deck section and the second deck is a fork strap section.

7. The pallet of claim 5, wherein the first deck is a fork strap section and the second deck is a top deck section.

8. The pallet of claim 5, further comprising a lock member to connect the first deck to the second deck.

9. A multi-component pallet comprising: a fork strap section having a slat member and a first leg core, the first leg core including a first interlocking joint member; and a top deck section having a second slat member and a second leg core, the second leg core including a second interlocking joint member, wherein the second leg core is configured to form an opening in the top deck section, said opening complementing the configuration of said first leg core; wherein the top deck section may be removably coupled to the fork strap section by slidably engaging the first interlocking joint member of the first leg core with the second interlocking joint member of the second leg core to form a joint.

10. The multi-component pallet of claim 9, further comprising a lock member to connect the fork strap section and the top deck section.

11. The multi-component pallet of claim 10, wherein at least one of the interlocking joint members further comprises a stopping member configured to prevent the movement of the other interlocking member in one horizontal direction when the top deck section is removably coupled to the fork strap section.

12. The multi-component pallet of claim 11, wherein the first interlocking joint member of the first leg core may be slidably engaged with the second interlocking joint member of the second leg core from only one direction.

13. The multi-component pallet of claim 12, wherein the top deck section further comprises a plurality of slat members.

14. The multi-component pallet of claim 13, wherein the top deck section further comprises a plurality of stringer members.

15. The multi-component pallet of claim 14, wherein the top deck section further comprises a plurality of leg cores.

16. The multi-component pallet of claim 15, wherein each leg core of the plurality of leg cores of the top deck section further comprises an interlocking joint member.

17. The multi-component pallet of claim 16, wherein the fork strap section further comprises a plurality of leg cores.

18. The multi-component pallet of claim 17, wherein each leg core of the plurality of leg cores of the fork strap section further comprises an interlocking joint member.

19. The multi-component pallet of claim 18, wherein the plurality of leg cores of the top deck section are configured to form a plurality of openings in the top deck section, said plurality of openings in the top deck section complementing the configuration of the plurality of leg cores of the fork strap section.

20. The multi-component pallet of claim 19, wherein the top deck section is molded as one integral component.

21. The multi-component pallet of claim 20, wherein the fork strap section is molded as one integral component.

22. The multi-component pallet of claim 21, wherein the fork strap interlocking joint member further comprises an undercut section formed by allowing a portion of the interlocking joint member to overhang the leg core.

23. The multi-component pallet of claim 22, wherein the top deck interlocking joint member further comprises an undercut section formed by allowing a portion of the interlocking joint member to overhang the leg core.

24. The multi-component pallet of claim 23, wherein the undercut section of each interlocking joint member of the top deck section is configured to receive the portion of a corresponding interlocking joint member of the fork strap section which overhangs the leg core.

25. A disassembled multi-component pallet comprising: a fork strap section having a first slat member and a first leg core including a first interlocking joint member; and a top deck section having a second slat member and a second leg core including a second interlocking joint member, said second leg core configured to form an opening in the top deck section when the pallet is configured in a load-bearing state, said opening complementing the configuration of said first leg core; wherein said top deck section may be inverted and placed over said fork strap section to nest said top deck section and said fork strap section to reduce the height of said pallet.

26. The disassembled multi-component pallet of claim 25 wherein the top deck section further comprises a plurality of leg cores.

27. The disassembled multi-component pallet of claim 26 wherein the fork strap section further comprises a plurality of leg cores.

28. The disassembled multi-component pallet of claim 27 wherein the plurality of leg cores of the top deck section are configured to form a plurality of openings in the top deck section, said plurality of openings in the top deck section complementing the configuration of the plurality of leg cores of the fork strap section.

29. A multi-component pallet comprising: a fork strap section, a top deck section; the fork strap section including a first means for providing structural support and a first joint means to enable the coupling of the fork strap section to the top deck section; a top deck section, including a second means for providing structural support and a second joint means to enable the coupling of the fork strap section to the top deck section; a means for preventing movement once the fork strap section has been coupled to the top deck section; wherein said second joint means is configured to form an opening in the top deck section, said opening configured in size and shape to compliment said first joint means, so that when the pallet is disassembled, the top deck section may be inverted and placed over said fork strap section to nest said top deck section and said fork strap section to reduce the height of said pallet.

30. A method for disassembling a multi-component pallet having a top deck section with a plurality of openings and a plurality of leg cores and a fork strap section with a plurality of openings and a plurality of leg cores, the method comprising the steps of: removing the top deck section from the fork strap section; inverting the top deck section; and nesting the top deck section with the fork strap section by inserting the plurality of leg cores of the fork strap section into the plurality of openings of the top deck section.

31. The method of claim 30, further comprising the step of removing a locking member from the multi-component pallet before removing the top deck section from the fork strap section.

32. The method of claim 31, wherein removing the top deck section from the fork strap section further comprises slidably disengaging the top deck section from the fork strap section.

33. The method of claim 32, further comprising disassembling a second multi-component pallet having a top deck section with a plurality of openings and a plurality of leg cores and a fork strap section with a plurality of openings and a plurality of leg cores, the method comprising the steps of: removing the top deck section from the fork strap section of the second pallet; inverting the top deck section of the second pallet; and nesting the top deck section of the second pallet with the fork strap section of the second pallet by inserting the plurality of leg cores of the fork strap section of the second pallet into the plurality of openings of the top deck section of the second pallet.

34. The method of claim 33, further comprising the step of nesting the pallet in the disassembled state with the second pallet in the disassembled state.

35. The method of claim 34, wherein nesting the pallet in the disassembled state with the second pallet in the disassembled state further comprises inserting the plurality of leg cores of the top deck section of the first pallet into the plurality of openings of the fork strap section of the second pallet.

36. A method for transporting an item from a point of origin to a destination with a pallet having a first deck and a second deck, the method comprising the steps of: connecting the top deck section to the fork strap section in a first position; placing an item on the top deck section of the pallet at the point of origin; transporting the pallet and the item to the destination; removing the item from the pallet at the destination; removing the top deck section from the fork strap section; and nesting the top deck section with the fork strap section in a second position, wherein the volume of the top deck section and the fork strap section in the second position is less than the volume of the top deck section and the fork strap section in the first position.

37. The method of claim 36, further comprising transporting the top deck section and the fork strap to the point of origin, wherein the top deck section and the fork strap are connected in the second position.

38. The method of claim 37, further comprising the step of inserting a locking member to connect the fork strap section and the top deck section.

Description:

1. FIELD OF THE INVENTIONS

The field of the invention relates generally to pallets and, more particularly, to multi-component pallets that may be disassembled and whose components may be nested with each other to reduce the pallet's volume while in the disassembled state.

2. BACKGROUND

Pallets have been widely utilized in environments such as warehouses, factories and the shipping industry to provide a portable platform for handling, storing and moving materials. Historically, pallets have been made of wood, which has proven to be an effective construction material. A typical wooden pallet includes multiple spaced slats mounted to the top surface of spaced transverse stringers which elevate the top slats from the ground and allow handling of the pallet with equipment, such as a forklift. The top slats can then provide a surface to support a load. In some cases, additional spaced slats are mounted to the bottom surface of the stringers to provide additional strength to the pallet.

Spacing the slats can allow for a reduction in the overall weight of the pallet while still providing sufficient surface area on the top deck section to support a load. Spacing between the slats also prevents the collection of dirt, trash, water or other debris on the pallet, as such material is able to pass between the slats. While wooden pallets do not allow for a significant amount of flexibility in terms of design characteristics, they can be manufactured with relatively low costs while providing adequate strength for a variety of applications.

However, common wood pallets present several deficiencies, particularly when they are used in connection with the international shipment of goods. Before a wooden pallet can be shipped into the United States from a foreign country, such as China, for example, the pallet must often times be treated for insect infestation to prevent the entry of non-native, and potentially harmful species into the United States. Over time, wood treatments may become ineffective, particularly as the insects become resistant to pesticides. Treatment processes increase the cost of using wooden pallets for shipping goods internationally, and such increased costs must then be passed on to the customer who receives the shipment. Often this causes an increase in operating expenses that must ultimately be passed along to the consumer.

Due to the low costs associated with manufacturing wood pallets, however, it is typically more cost effective for a customer to have a new pallet built at the point of origin for the shipment, rather than paying to ship an empty pallet back for use in a subsequent shipment. These costs are due to the weight and volume of the pallets when they are in the unloaded state, which is typically the criteria shipping companies use to establish the cost for shipping a particular item. Therefore, while some pallets can be reused for other applications at their delivery destination, woods pallets are often, if not typically, discarded into a landfill resulting in the inefficient use of resources.

More recently, the industry has seen an increase in the number of plastic pallets being used. In some cases, plastic pallets can provide some advantages over wooden pallets, including the ability to provide a significant amount of flexibility in terms of design characteristics, simplified manufacturing through the use of injection molding techniques, lightweight, and improved strength and durability. Also, in the case of the international shipment of goods, plastic pallets do not have to be treated for insect infestation. Plastic pallets are typically more expensive to manufacture than wood pallets. In addition, many current plastic pallets tend to collect dirt, trash and water over time due to their corrugated structure that does not open up to allow debris to pass through.

Typical one-piece plastic pallets can be configured to allow the pallets to be easily nested, or stacked upon each other when they are in the unloaded state. Nesting is typically accomplished by providing recesses in the top deck section of one pallet that are configured to receive the feet positioned on the fork strap section of a second pallet, as the second pallet is stacked onto the first pallet. This process can be repeated to facilitate the stacking and transporting of multiple pallets in the unloaded state, and is desirable because it reduces the overall shipping volume of the unloaded pallets, allowing some cost savings.

Despite these advantages, one-piece nestable pallets have other drawbacks. For example, current nestable pallets typically do not have any openings, which allows dirt and water to collect. Other nestable pallets are often-times not able to be stacked on traditional stringer/slat wood pallets due to their design, which sometimes makes them inconvenient.

Two piece pallets that snap together are also known. Current two piece pallets typically snap together with integrally molded details within the components or have a secondary series of fasteners installed at the time of assembly. However, such pallets are not meant to be easily disassembled for return shipment. Other current two piece pallets feature components that are welded together, preventing the disassembly of such pallets. Such pallets are also difficult if not impossible to repair. Further, such pallets cannot be taken apart and the components cannot be nested with each other for reduced volume for return shipment. Finally, secondary fasteners can fail and add costs to production and installation operations. Thus, there remains a need for a highly-compatible plastic pallet that is strong, durable, and nestable, offering both convenience and cost effectiveness. A multi-component pallet that is strong, durable, compatible, and whose components are easily nestable with each other would provide significant advantages.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention is related to multi-component pallets that may be disassembled and whose components may be nested. In one aspect, the invention provides a pallet which includes a first deck configured to be connected to a second deck in a first position when the pallet is in the loaded state. The first deck can be configured to be nested with the second deck in a second position when the pallet is in the unloaded state, wherein the volume of the first deck and the second deck in the first position is greater than the volume of the first deck and the second deck in the second position.

In another aspect, the invention is related to a multi-component pallet which comprises a fork strap section having a slat member and a first leg core, the first leg core including a first interlocking joint member. The multi-component pallet can also comprise a top deck section having a second slat member and a second leg core, the second leg core including a second interlocking joint member. The second leg core can be configured to form an opening in the top deck section. The opening can be configured to complement the configuration of the first leg core. The top deck section may be removably coupled to the fork strap section by slidably engaging the first interlocking joint member of the first leg core with the second interlocking joint member of the second leg core to form a joint.

In another aspect, the invention is related to a disassembled multi-component pallet which comprises a fork strap section having a first slat member and a first leg core including a first interlocking joint member. The disassembled multi-component pallet can further comprise a top deck section having a second slat member and a second leg core including a second interlocking joint member. The second leg core can be configured to form an opening in the top deck section when the pallet is configured in a load-bearing state. The opening can also be configured to complement the configuration of the first leg core such that the top deck section may be inverted and placed over the fork strap section to nest the top deck section and the fork strap section to reduce the height of said pallet.

In another aspect, the invention is related to a multi-component pallet which comprises a fork strap section, and a top deck section. The fork strap section can include a first means for providing structural support and a first joint means to enable the coupling of the fork strap section to the top deck section. The top deck section can include a second means for providing structural support and a second joint means to enable the coupling of the fork strap section to the top deck section. The multi-component pallet can also comprise a means for preventing movement once the fork strap section has been coupled to the top deck section, wherein the second joint means can be configured to form an opening in the top deck section. The opening can be configured in size and shape to compliment the first joint means, so that when the pallet is disassembled, the top deck section may be inverted and placed over said fork strap section to nest said top deck section and said fork strap section to reduce the height of said pallet.

In another aspect, the invention is related to a method for disassembling a multi-component pallet having a top deck section with a plurality of openings and a plurality of leg cores and a fork strap section with a plurality of openings and a plurality of leg cores which comprises the steps of removing the top deck section from the fork strap section, inverting the top deck section and nesting the top deck section with the fork strap section by inserting the plurality of leg cores of the fork strap section into the plurality of openings of the top deck section.

In another aspect, the invention is related to a method for transporting an item from a point of origin to a destination with a pallet having a first deck and a second deck which comprises the steps of connecting the top deck section to the fork strap section in a first position, placing an item on the top deck section of the pallet at the point of origin, transporting the pallet and the item to the destination, removing the item from the pallet at the destination, removing the top deck section from the fork strap section, and nesting the top deck section with the fork strap section in a second position, wherein the volume of the top deck section and the fork strap section in the second position is less than the volume of the top deck section and the fork strap section in the first position.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Features, aspects, and embodiments of the inventions are described in conjunction with the attached drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of a multi-component pallet of the invention in a load-bearing assembled.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of one embodiment of a fork strap section of the invention.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the bottom side of an embodiment of a top deck section of the invention.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of area A of FIG. 2 showing the leg core and the interlocking joint member of a fork strap section.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of area B of FIG. 3 showing the leg core and the interlocking joint member of a top deck section.

FIG. 6 is a perspective elevation view of an assembled joint of the invention.

FIG. 7 is a perspective sectional view of one embodiment of an assembled joint along line L-M of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is a perspective sectional view of another embodiment of an assembled joint along line L-M of FIG. 6.

FIG. 9 is a perspective drawing illustrating the disassembly of one embodiment of the multi-component pallet of the invention.

FIGS. 10A-B are perspective views of another embodiment of the interlocking joint member of the invention; FIG. 10A illustrates the disassembled state and FIG. 10B illustrates the assembled state.

FIGS. 11A-B are perspective views of another embodiment of the interlocking joint member of the invention; FIG. 11A illustrates the disassembled state and FIG. 11B illustrates the assembled state.

FIGS. 12A-B are perspective views of another embodiment of the interlocking joint member of the invention; FIG. 12A illustrates the disassembled state and FIG. 12B illustrates the assembled state.

FIGS. 13A-B are perspective views of another embodiment of the interlocking joint member of the invention; FIG. 13A illustrates the disassembled state and FIG. 13B illustrates the assembled state.

FIG. 14 is a perspective sectional view of an assembled joint showing one embodiment of a fastener of the invention.

FIG. 15 is a perspective sectional view of an assembled joint showing one embodiment of a fastener of the invention.

FIG. 16 is a perspective sectional view of an assembled joint showing one embodiment of a fastener of the invention.

FIGS. 17A-D show a perspective sectional view of an assembled joint showing one embodiment of a fastener of the invention; FIG. 17A illustrates the joint in the unlocked state; FIG. 17B illustrates the insertion of a member to set the joint to the locked state; FIG. 17C illustrates the insertion of a member to set the joint to the unlocked state; FIG. 17D illustrates the joint in the unlocked state.

FIG. 18 is a perspective drawing illustrating the disassembly of one embodiment of the multi-component pallet of the invention.

FIG. 19 is a perspective drawing illustrating the disassembly of one embodiment of the multi-component pallet of the invention.

FIG. 20 is a perspective drawing illustrating the disassembly of one embodiment of the multi-component pallet of the invention.

FIG. 21 is a perspective drawing illustrating an embodiment of a multi-component pallet of the invention in a disassembled, nested state.

FIG. 22 is a perspective bottom view of one embodiment of a multi-component pallet in a load-bearing assembled state.

FIG. 23 is a perspective drawing illustrating a stack of four disassembled, nested pallets.

FIG. 24 is a perspective drawing illustrating a stack of four multi-component pallets in a load-bearing assembled state.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIGS. 1, 2 and 3 illustrate one embodiment of a multi component, plastic pallet 100. FIG. 1 shows the multi-component pallet in a load-bearing assembled state. Pallet 100 comprises top deck section 102 and fork strap section 104; the top side and the bottom side of top deck section 102 are illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 3, respectively, and the top side of fork strap section 104 is illustrated in FIG. 2. Top deck section 102 may be a solid piece. Alternatively, top deck section 102 may comprise a plurality of slat-type members 106 and 108, that run in both the length and width of the pallet, respectively. The slat-type members 106 and 108 forming the top deck of the pallet are typically orientated so as to be substantially coplanar to one another, creating a substantially planar surface on which items may be placed. Similarly, fork strap section 104 may comprise substantially coplanar slat-type members 110 and 112, that also run in both the length and width of the pallet, respectively. Typically, the slat-type members that run in a particular direction, i.e. lengthwise or widthwise, are substantially parallel. However, the slat-type members can run diagonally or at some angle(s) as well as a combination of angles, horizontally, or vertically. A slat-type member may have virtually any length, width, size, or shape. Rectangular slat-type members, when viewed in plane, are preferred.

In a preferred embodiment, the slat-type members 106 and 108 forming the top deck may contain one or more openings 114, as illustrated in FIG. 1. The openings 114 may be any size or shape, and are implemented to reduce the overall weight of pallet 100. Alternatively, the slat-type members 106 and 108 forming top deck section 102 may be solid or hollow.

As indicated in FIG. 3, the underside of the top deck slat-type member 106 may also have a plurality of transverse reinforcing members 302 and one or more lateral channel members 304, which increase the strength and load bearing capacity of the pallet. In one embodiment, pallet 100 can be configured to have a solid slat to resemble existing wood pallets providing compatibility with existing wood pallets. In another embodiment, the slat-type members may be replaced by a flat sheet that may or may not contain openings.

FIG. 2 illustrates the top side of fork strap section 104. Fork strap section 104 may comprise a plurality of slat-type members 110 and 112, orientated lengthwise and widthwise, respectively. In one embodiment, the slat-type members 110 and 112 are arranged to form a rectangular or square base that optionally include additional interior slat-type members 202 located inwardly of the rectangular base, so as to provide additional strength and load bearing capacity. However, there is no requirement or limit to the number of interior slat-type members 102 that can comprise fork strap section 104. Instead, the position, shape, size and quantity of slats can be reduced, eliminated or any combination thereof to increase or decrease the strength and or weight of the pallet, depending upon the particular application.

As shown in FIGS. 2 and 3, both top deck section 102 and fork strap section 104 may include one or more leg cores, 206 and 306, respectively. In fork strap section 104, leg cores 206 are coupled to slat-type members 110 or 112, or both, as the case may be. As illustrated in FIG. 2, leg cores 206 may also be placed at the junction of two slat-type members. In the assembled state, leg cores 206 are in an upwards orientation. In the top deck section, leg cores 306 are coupled to the underside of the slat-type members 106 and 108 or both, as the case may be. As illustrated in FIG. 3, leg cores may also be placed at the junction of two slat-type members. It should be noted that FIGS. 3 and 5 illustrate the underside of the top deck section. Thus, when the pallet is assembled, the top deck leg cores are in a downward orientation. The leg cores 206 and 306 can be substantially hollow, so as to define cavity 116 in top deck section (FIGS. 1, 7, and 8) and cavity 702 in the fork strap section (FIGS. 7 and 8).

As illustrated in FIGS. 4, 5, and 6, both top deck leg core 206 and fork strap leg core 306 can further comprise a connector structure, such as interlocking joint members 402 and 502, respectively. In one embodiment, interlocking joint member 402 and 502 can be molded as an integral part of leg core 206 and 306, respectively. In another embodiment, interlocking joint member 402 and 502 can be secondary members that can be snapped, welded or fastened to leg cores 206 and 306, respectively. Interlocking joint member 402 can comprise base structure 404 and a cantilevered overhang 406, creating a slot-like area or undercut 408, which is bounded by leg core 206 and the overhang 406 (FIG. 4). In addition, fork strap interlocking joint member 402 also may contain notch 410

Similarly, interlocking joint member 502 comprises base structure 504 and a cantilevered underhang 506, which creates a slot-like area 508 bounded by the leg core 306 and the underhang 506 (FIG. 5). Interlocking joint member 502 may also contain stop 510. In one embodiment, stop 510 can be molded as an integral part ofjoint member 502. In another embodiment, stop 510 can be a secondary piece that is snapped, welded or fastened to the component. Persons of skill in the art would understand that notch 410 and stop 510 may be juxtaposed, such that notch 410 is included as part of top deck interlocking joint member 502, and stop 510 may be included as part of fork strap interlocking joint member 402. Interlocking joint members 402 and 502 may be positioned at opposite terminal ends of corresponding fork strap leg core 206 and top deck leg core 306 to facilitate the creation of a joint when the pallet is assembled. In one embodiment, interlocking joint members 402 and 502 may include a plurality of holes to promote drainage of water from leg cores 206 and 306 if the pallet is exposed to water.

The interlocking joint(s) of the top deck section 102 and the fork strap section 104 may be coupled to assemble pallet 100 in a load-bearing state. When assembling the pallet, slot-like undercut 408 of fork strap interlocking joint member 402 is designed to slidably receive underhang 506 (FIGS. 6 and 9) of the top deck interlocking joint member 502 such that overhang 406 and underhang 506 become engaged, and the respective slot-like areas 408 and 508 are filled by the corresponding underhang 506 and overhang 406, respectively, to complete the joint as illustrated in FIGS. 6, 7, and 8. In one embodiment, the assembly process is restricted to assembly in one direction because of stop 410. (FIGS. 7 and 9). Thus, during the assembly process, the top deck interlocking joint member 502 slides along direction x until stop 510 engages notch 410, as illustrated in FIG. 7. When the pallet configuration includes a plurality of joint members, the respective leg cores and joint members are aligned so that each notch and each stop engage at substantially the same time. The butting of interlocking joint members 402 and 502 in this manner prevents the relative movement of fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 in all but one direction. While the previous examples have illustrated top deck section 102 and fork strap section 104 being slidably engaged in the direction of the width, a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand that in other embodiments, fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 can be configured to be slidably engaged in the length dimension.

Also, as persons of skill in the art would understand, the size and shape of the underhang or overhang, and the slot-like areas 408 and 508, may be varied so long as they correspond to one another. In addition, the interlocking joint members 402 and 502 may also contain other structures to add additional features to the joint. For example, overhang or underhang may contain a tongue or groove respectively (or vice versa) to provide additional means for securing the fork-shape section to the top deck section. Persons of skill in the art would further understand that a wide variety of configurations of interlocking joint members 402 and 502 can be implemented. While there is no limit to the types of interlocking joint members 402 and 502 that can be implemented, FIGS. 10-13 illustrate additional exemplary configurations for the interlocking joint members 402 and 502. FIGS. 10A, 11A, 12A, and 13A each illustrate the detail of a portion of interlocking joint members 402 and 502 in a disengaged configuration. FIGS. 10B, 11B, 12B and 13B each illustrate the detail of a portion of interlocking joint members 402 and 502 in an engaged configuration. As shown, persons of skill in the art would understand the size and shape of the components of interlocking joint members 402 and 502 may be varied so long as they provide a joint for coupling top deck section 102 with fork strap section 104.

To increase the stability of the multi-component pallet and to prevent the fork strap section and top deck section from moving relative to each other in the direction of assembly, locking member 802 is provided, as illustrated in FIG. 8. FIG. 8 shows locking member 802 can be inserted through a core hole formed through leg core 306 and interlocking joint member 502 of top deck section 102, and snapped into a core hole formed in leg core 206 and interlocking joint member 402 of fork strap section 104. In addition, one or more leg cores may be modified so as to not include interlocking joint members, and locking member may be simply inserted through corresponding core holes formed only in the respective leg cores of top deck section and fork strap section. In one embodiment, locking member 802 can be an injection molded member that snaps into cored holes within fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 to prevent fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 from separating. Locking member 802 can also be a pin, snap, cotter pin, bolt, lag screw, or any type of equivalent fastener.

After being inserted into the core hole, a portion of locking member 802 can be configured to expand slightly to prevent locking member 802 from withdrawing up through the core hole. Persons of ordinary skill in the art would understand that other means of preventing the fork strap section and top deck section from moving relative to each other in the direction of assembly can be implemented, such as the exemplary embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 14-16. FIG. 14 illustrates the use of a nut and bolt as locking member 1402 that can be used to secure fork strap section 104 to top deck section 102. Locking member 1402 can also be plastic, steel or aluminum rivets, screws or most commonly used fasteners.

FIG. 15 illustrates another exemplary embodiment of locking member 1502, which can be a quarter turn lock that can be inserted into a core hole that includes a slot that can receive a tab on locking member 1502. Once locking member 1502 has been inserted into the core hole, locking member 1502 can be rotated slightly to prevent the tab from sliding back through the slot of the core hole.

FIG. 16 illustrates another exemplary embodiment of locking member 1602, which can be a post member that is inserted from one side of a core hole and then heat stake with tool to enlarge the diameter of the post member to the point where it cannot pass back through the hole it went through at assembly. Another exemplary embodiment of locking members can include a detent formed in the interlocking joint member of one leg core that catches a groove formed in the interlocking joint member of the opposing interlocking joint member to prevent movement. Another exemplary embodiment of the locking member can include a ratchet rivet, or two pieces that snap together from opposing sides. Another exemplary embodiment of a locking member can include a post member that is formed as an integral part of one interlocking joint member so when the fork strap section and the top deck section are assembled the post member enters a hole on the opposing interlocking joint member.

FIG. 17 illustrates yet another embodiment of a locking member 1702. Locking member 1702 can be positioned within cavity 1704 formed integral to the joint formed by interlocking joint members 402 and 502. Locking member 1702 can also be configured to be slidably positioned within cavity 1704. Opening 1708 can also be formed in top deck interlocking joint member 502 to provide access to cavity 1704 and locking member 1702. Opening 1708 allows the insertion of member 1706 into cavity 1704. As shown in FIG. 17B, member 1706 can contact locking member 1702 as member 1706 extends into cavity 1702. The geometry of locking member 1702 can be configured such that the force that is applied to locking member 1702 by member 1706 causes locking member 1702 to translate in a horizontal direction. Locking member 1702 can be configured to translate horizontally into a portion of cavity 1704 that is defined by lip 1710. Locking member 1702 and lip 1710 can therefore provide an improved connection between fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 in the assembled state to allow the pallet to better support a load, and better withstand the rigors of fork truck interactions.

FIG. 17C illustrates opening 1712 formed in fork strap interlocking joint member 402. Opening 1712 allows the insertion of member 1706 into cavity 1704. As shown in FIG. 17C, member 1706 can contact locking member 1702 as member 1706 extends into cavity 1704. The geometry of locking member 1702 can be configured such that the force that is applied to locking member 1702 by member 1706 causes locking member 1702 to translate in a horizontal direction. Locking member 1702 can be configured to translate in a horizontal direction that is opposite to that illustrated in FIGS. 17A and 17B when the pallet was configured for use in the load-bearing assembled state. As shown in FIG. 17C, locking member 1702 can be configured to translate into a portion of cavity 1704 such that locking member 1702 is clear of lip 1710. Once locking member 1702 is clear of lip 1710, top deck section 102 and fork strap section 104 can be separated.

An important aspect of the present invention is that the pallet may be disassembled and the top deck section 104 may be inverted and nested onto the lower fork strap section 102, and the nested configuration can occupy a reduced volume compared to the fully assembled configuration. In another embodiment, fork strap section 102 may be nested onto the top deck section 104. FIGS. 9 and 18-21 illustrate the disassembly and nesting process. As an initial step, any locking members that have been implemented to secure fork strap section 104 to top deck section 102 must be removed before the disassembly of pallet 100 can begin. Then, interlocking joint member(s) 402 on fork strap section 104 and interlocking joint member(s) 502 on top deck section 102 can be slidably disengaged by moving one of the decks in a substantially horizontal direction relative to the other deck, for example, top deck section 102 can slide along direction y. The position and spacing of the additional interlocking joint members provided on fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 can be configured to allow the junction between all interlocking joint members provided on fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 to be disengaged at the same time as illustrated in FIG. 9. It should be noted that these are just some exemplary embodiments of how fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 can be disengaged. FIG. 19 illustrates the continued disassembly of pallet 100 as top deck section 102 has continued to be shifted in the horizontal direction. In one embodiment, once the interlocking joint members on fork strap section 104 and top deck section 102 have been fully disengaged, top deck section 102 and fork strap section 104 can be fully separated from each other.

FIG. 19 illustrates pallet 100 in a disassembled state, with top deck section 104 rotated by approximately ninety degrees. To minimize the volume that the nested components will occupy and ensure a tight fit, top deck section 102 can include cavity 116. Cavity 116 is defined by the walls comprising top deck leg cores 306 (FIG. 7). By designing top deck leg core 306 and fork strap leg core 206 to have corresponding shapes, heights, lengths, and widths, cavity 116 will necessarily correspond to fork strap leg core 206. There is no requirement that the fork strap section cavities and the top deck section cavities have the same volume, only that they should have generally the same basic shape. Thus, cavity 116 will necessarily compliment fork strap leg core, and is properly configured to receive fork strap leg core 206 when top deck section 102 is inverted and placed on fork strap section 104. The top deck section may butt against the fork strap interlocking joint member 402.

As illustrated in the FIGS. 1, 9 and 18-19, top deck section 104 can include a plurality of top deck cavities 116, all configured to receive a corresponding plurality of fork strap leg cores 206 when top deck section 102 is inverted and placed on fork strap section 104. There is no requirement as to the number of cavities that can be provided within top deck section 102. However, in order to facilitate the nesting of top deck section 102 with fork strap section 104, each leg core on fork strap section 104 should mate with a corresponding cavity on top deck section 102. FIG. 20 illustrates pallet 100 in a disassembled state, with top deck section 102 fully disengaged and inverted from its assembled position. Although the cavities formed within top deck section 102 are not visible in FIG. 20, it can be appreciated that the cavities in top deck section 102 are configured to receive the corresponding leg cores positioned on fork strap section 104. Top deck section 102 remains in an inverted position as it is lowered towards fork strap section 104 in preparation for the insertion of the leg cores on fork strap section 104 into the corresponding cavities on top deck section 102.

FIG. 21 illustrates pallet 100 in the fully disassembled and nested configuration. Top deck section 102 has been fully lowered onto fork strap section 104 while top deck section 102 is in an inverted position. Each leg core 206 of fork strap section 104 can be inserted into a corresponding cavity 116 formed in top deck section 102. In one embodiment, the size and volume of the leg cores 206 on fork strap section 104 can be configured to be substantially equal to the depth of the cavities 116 formed in top deck section 102, thus allowing the overall height of the disassembled, nested pallet to reach its minimum, as the slat-type members that comprise top deck section 102 and fork strap section 104 can become substantially coplanar and flush with each other.

By enabling top deck section 102 to nest with fork strap section 104 when the pallet is in the unloaded state, the overall height of the pallet can be reduced substantially, as compared to the height of the pallet when it is assembled for use in the load bearing state. In one embodiment, the overall height of the assembled pallet can be reduced from about 5 inches to about 2 inches.

As illustrated in FIG. 21, when pallet 100 is in the nested state, top deck section 102 is in an inverted position, causing top deck leg cores 306 to extend in the vertical direction.

As was the case with the design of the leg cores in the top deck section, the leg cores of the fork strap section may also be designed so as to create cavity 2202, as illustrated in FIG. 22. Cavity 2202 is defined by the walls comprising fork strap leg cores 206 (FIGS. 7 and 8). By designing fork strap leg core 206 and top deck leg core 306 to have corresponding shapes, heights, lengths, and widths, cavity 2202 will necessarily correspond to top deck leg core 306. Thus, cavity 2202 will necessarily compliment top deck leg core 306, and is properly configured to receive top deck leg core 306 when fork strap section 104 is placed on an inverted top deck section 102. As illustrated in the FIG. 22, fork strap section 104 can include a plurality of fork strap cavities 2202, all configured and spaced to receive a corresponding plurality of top deck leg cores when top deck section 102 is inverted. There is no requirement as to the number of cavities that can be provided within fork strap section 102. However, in order to facilitate the nesting of fork strap section 104 with top deck section 102, each leg core 306 on top deck section 102 should mate with a corresponding cavity 2202 on fork strap section 104. This design allows for the repeated nesting of multiple disassembled nested pallets of the present invention, beginning with a fork strap section, nesting an inverted top deck section thereon, nesting a fork strap section, nesting an inverted top deck section and so forth. In another embodiment, the nesting process can begin with an inverted top deck section, nesting a fork strap section thereon, nesting an inverted top deck section thereon, and so forth.

FIG. 23 illustrates the nesting of multiple pallets in the disassembled, nested state, as pallets 2302, 2304, 2306 and 2308 have each been disassembled and the top deck section of each pallet has been nested with the fork strap section of each pallet as previously described. Also, although not visible in FIG. 23, the cavities 2202 that can be formed in the bottom surface of the fork strap section of each pallet as illustrated in FIG. 22, can be used to facilitate the stacking of any number of pallets 2302, 2304, 2306 and 2308.

For example, leg cores 306 that are illustrated in FIG. 21 extend in the vertical direction when top deck section 102 is placed in an inverted position and nested with fork strap section 104. In one embodiment, leg cores 306 of one pallet, as illustrated in FIG. 21, can be configured to be slidably inserted into the cavities 2202 formed in the bottom of fork strap section 104 of another pallet as illustrated in FIG. 23.

For example, when pallet 2302 is in the disassembled, nested position, the top deck section of pallet 2302 can be in the inverted position causing the plurality of leg cores 306 of the top deck section 102 to extend in the vertical direction towards pallet 2304. Pallet 2304 can include a plurality of cavities formed in the bottom of the fork strap section of pallet 2304. These cavities can be configured to mate with the leg cores of the inverted top deck section of pallet 2302. Accordingly, pallet 2304 can further be nested with pallet 2302 as the pallets are stacked as shown in FIG. 23. This process of mating the leg cores from the inverted top deck section of one pallet with the cavities formed in the bottom portion of the fork strap section of another pallet can be repeated to stack a plurality of pallets such as pallets 2302, 2304, 2306 and 2308. Again, there is no requirement that the stacking process begin with a fork strap section. Instead, the stacking process can begin with an inverted top deck section, followed by a fork strap section that is nested on top of the top deck section. This process can then be repeated to stack multiple patents in the disassembled state. As shown in FIG. 23, the nesting of pallet 2302 with pallet 2304 can be configured to provide a substantially flush junction between the top deck section of pallet 2302 and the fork strap section of pallet 2304. By providing this substantially flush junction, the overall height and volume occupied by the stack of pallets 2302, 2304, 2306 and 2308 can be further minimized to reduce the cost to ship the empty pallets to their point of origin when they are in the unloaded state.

It should be understood that there is no requirement that the fork strap section and top deck sections be nested in an alternating manner. Instead, in one embodiment, cavity 2202 on fork strap section 104 can be configured to mate with a leg core on another fork strap section when two pallets are in the disassembled state. The process can then be repeated, allowing multiple fork strap sections to be nested upon themselves. Similarly, in one embodiment, cavity 116 on top deck section 102 can be configured to mate with a leg core on another fork strap section when two pallets are in the disassembled state. The process can then be repeated, allowing multiple fork strap sections to be nested upon themselves. In yet another embodiment, pallets that are in the assembled state, disassembled state, or any combination thereof, can be nested so long as the leg core of one section of a pallet can be mated with the cavity of another section of a pallet.

Turning now to FIG. 24, fully assembled pallets 2402, 2404, 2406 and 2408 can be configured to be uniformly stacked to improve the efficiency of storing the assembled pallets when they are in the unloaded state. The separation between the top and fork strap sections of each pallet can provide access for equipment that is used to handle the pallets, such as a forklift.

Due to the design of the multi-component pallet and the ability to nest top deck section 102 with fork strap section 104, or vice versa, when the pallet is in the unloaded state, the overall weight and volume of pallet 100 can be reduced to a point to make it cost effective for the customer to ship the empty pallet back to the point of origin for use in a second shipment. That is, the cost of shipping the empty pallets in their collapsed, nested form, even for long distances encountered with international shipments, can become less than the cost of purchasing or building new pallets at the place of origin. The ability to collapse and nest top deck section 102 with fork strap section 104 also minimizes the amount of space required to store pallet 100 when it is not in use.

The pallets described herein also can provide universal compatibility for working with pallets that are configured similarly to both wood and plastic pallets that are currently in use. However, the pallets described herein are not limited to any specific size or design. Instead, the pallets can be configured for use with a two-way fork entry, four-way fork entry, or even a two-way partial four-way fork entry. Also, while there are no limits to the materials and methods used to construct the pallets described herein, typically the components for the pallets described herein may be injection molded, extruded, or rotationally molded and may be made of various plastics or polymer materials, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene or polyvinyl chloride, or recycled plastic, for example.

Any of the components of the pallets described herein can be manufactured through a molding process such as high-pressure injection molding. The mold can be a stack mold made from steel. The stack mold can be configured to allow the top deck section of the pallet to be positioned near the front of the press and the fork strap section to be positioned near the back of the press. This type of mold allows for one complete pallet to be made each time the press opens and requires less clamp tonnage or size of press. Alternate molds can include single cavity steel molds with just one half of the pallet in each mold. However, this configuration requires either two presses to create the two halves of the pallet or a process of running one half of the pallet first then running the other half of the pallet later. In another alternate mold, a steel four cavity stack mold can produce two top halves of the pallet and two bottom halves of the pallet every time the press opens. Optional mold materials can include aluminum and or copper or a combination of these two and steel. Optional processes could include structural foam molding, rotational molding, blow molding, or even compression molding. These processes are generally known to those skilled in the art.

Both the top deck section 102 and the fork strap section 104, including the respective slats, leg cores, and interlocking joint members, are preferably molded as a single piece, although separate connectors may be used. The leg cores essentially may have any size or dimensions, so long as they contain an appropriate connector structure to allow top deck section 102 to easily slidably interlock with fork strap section 104. For example, the leg cores and joint members may extend across the entire length of the pallet to create a pallet that mimics a traditional wood pallet. Preferably, a plurality of leg cores 206, as illustrated in FIG. 2 can be coupled to the slat-type members that comprise fork strap section 104. It should be understood that there is no limit to the number, size, position, or configuration of leg cores that can be coupled to fork strap section 104. In an embodiment, illustrated by FIGS. 2 and 3, the leg cores positioned to maximize the ability of fork strap section 104 to support a load transferred from the top deck section 102 when the pallet is in the loaded state. However, persons of skill in the art would recognize that one or more leg cores may be omitted to reduce weight, or reduce manufacturing costs.

While certain embodiments of the inventions have been described above, it will be understood that the embodiments described are by way of example only. Accordingly, the inventions should not be limited based on the described embodiments. Rather, the scope of the inventions described herein should only be limited in light of the claims that follow when taken in conjunction with the above description and accompanying drawings.