Title:
First in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer is assembled from a plurality of support panels and spacer dowels which interconnect the support panels in a spaced-apart, parallel relationship. Each support panel has right and left faces, and each face is equipped with at least one supply rail which slopes downward from the front to the back of the panel, and a retrieval rail beneath the supply rail, from which it is fed, and which slopes downward from back to front. Two adjacent, spaced-apart support panels provide sets of opposed rails, which form at least one supply track and one retrieval track for storing cans. At least three spacer dowels interconnect each adjacent pair of support panels. The end of each dowel is inserted into an interconnection aperture in a support panel and rotated 90 degrees to lock it in place.



Inventors:
Tippets, Michael A. (Spanish Fork, UT, US)
Young, Jared W. (Spanish Fork, UT, US)
Furr, Douglas K. (Orem, UT, US)
Application Number:
11/450073
Publication Date:
12/14/2006
Filing Date:
06/08/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
211/74
International Classes:
A47F1/04
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
KRYCINSKI, STANTON L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Angus C. Fox, III (Provo, UT, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer comprising: at least two support panels, each support panel having at least one supply rail and one retrieval rail on each of two opposed major faces, each support panel also having at least six interconnection apertures arranged in spaced-apart sets of two; and at least three spacer dowels for securing said at least two support panels in a parallel, spaced-apart relationship, each spacer dowel having a locking head at each end thereof, each locking head being insertable within an interconnection aperture and locking the dowel within the interconnection aperture when the spacer dowel is axially rotated.

2. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 1, wherein each interconnection aperture and each locking head is shaped generally like an irregular hexagon that is symmetrical about a pair of intersecting, perpendicular axes.

3. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 1, wherein a spacer dowel may be inserted from either side of an interconnection apertures so that the spacer dowel protrudes from either of the major faces of the support panel, thereby allowing assembly of can organizers employing any number of support panels.

4. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 1, which comprises x number of support panels, and 3(x-1) number of spacer dowels.

5. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 1, wherein each of said support panels and each of said spacer dowels is injection molded from a tough, semi-rigid, polymeric thermoplastic material.

6. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 5, wherein said thermoplastic material is selected from the group consisting of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinylchloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), and polystyrene (PS).

7. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 1, wherein each major face of a support panel has two supply rails, which are downwardly inclined from a front edge of the support panel toward a rear edge, and one retrieval rail which is downwardly inclined from an upper portion of said rear edge to a bottom portion of said front edge.

8. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 1, wherein each interconnection aperture is surrounded on both major faces by a crenelated circular wall.

9. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 8, wherein each spacer dowel comprises: a locking head at each end thereof that, when rotated, is secured against one major face of a support panel and locks the spacer dowel within an interconnection aperture; an inner retainer disc inboard of each locking head, said retainer disc being secured against an opposite face of the support panel, with the support panel sandwiched between it and the adjacent locking head; a cylindrical coupler coupling each locking head to its adjacent retainer disc, said cylindrical coupler having a width that is equal to or just slightly greater than the thickness of the support panel in the interconnection aperture region; a ribbed center portion which spans a distance between the retainer discs at opposite ends of the spacer dowel; and a domed projection inboard and immediately adjacent each retainer disc, said domed projection being perpendicular to a longitudinal axis of the spacer dowel, said domed projection having a radius that is greater than an inner radius of each crenelated wall.

10. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 9, wherein each domed projection distorts said crenelated circular wall after the locking head most near thereto is inserted in an interconnection aperture and the spacer dowel is axially rotated, said domed projection being positioned in a notch of the crenelated circular wall when said locking head is axially rotated to a locked position.

11. A first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer comprising: x number of support panels, each support panel having one retrieval rail and upper and lower supply rails on each of two opposed major faces, each support panel also having an even number y of interconnection apertures arranged in spaced-apart sets of two; and y/2(x-1) number of spacer dowels for securing said support panels in a parallel, spaced-apart relationship, each spacer dowel having a locking head at each end thereof, each locking head being insertable within an interconnection aperture and locking the dowel within the interconnection aperture when the spacer dowel is axially rotated.

12. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein x is an integer greater than 1, and y/2 is an integer equal to 2, 3 or 4.

13. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein each interconnection aperture and each locking head is selected from the group consisting, generally, of irregular hexagons that are symmetrical about a pair of intersecting, perpendicular axes, rectangles, and crosses.

14. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein a spacer dowel may be inserted from either side of an interconnection apertures so that the spacer dowel protrudes from either of the major faces of the support panel, thereby allowing assembly of can organizers employing any number of support panels.

15. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein each of said support panels and each of said spacer dowels is injection molded from a tough, semi-rigid, polymeric thermoplastic material.

16. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 15, wherein said thermoplastic material is selected from the group consisting of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinylchloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), and polystyrene (PS).

17. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein each major face of a support panel has two supply rails, which are downwardly inclined from a front edge of the support panel toward a rear edge, and one retrieval rail which is downwardly inclined from an upper portion of said rear edge to a bottom portion of said front edge.

18. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein each interconnection aperture is surrounded on both major faces by a crenelated circular wall.

19. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 18, wherein each spacer dowel comprises: a locking head at each end thereof that, when rotated, is secured against one major face of a support panel and locks the spacer dowel within an interconnection aperture; an inner retainer disc inboard of each locking head, said retainer disc being secured against an opposite face of the support panel, with the support panel sandwiched between it and the adjacent locking head; a cylindrical coupler coupling each locking head to its adjacent retainer disc, said cylindrical coupler having a width that is equal to or just slightly greater than the thickness of the support panel in the interconnection aperture region; a ribbed center portion which spans a distance between the retainer discs at opposite ends of the spacer dowel; and a domed projection inboard and immediately adjacent each retainer disc, said domed projection being perpendicular to a longitudinal axis of the spacer dowel, said domed projection having a radius that is greater than an inner radius of each crenelated wall, so that each domed projection distorts said crenelated circular wall after the locking head most near thereto is inserted in an interconnection aperture and the spacer dowel is axially rotated, said domed projection being positioned in a notch of the crenelated circular wall when said locking head is axially rotated to a locked position.

20. The first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer of claim 11, wherein spacer dowels of different lengths are provided to accommodate cans of different heights.

Description:

This application has a priority date based on provisional patent application No. 60/595,136, which was filed on Jun. 8, 2005.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates broadly to shelf units for storing and dispensing individual cans of food or beverage. More particularly, the present invention comprises an improved gravity-feed rack that is assembled from at least two side panels which are held together in a parallel arrangement by connector dowels.

2. History of the Prior Art

Storing cans of food or beverage on a shelf can be not only cumbersome, but dangerous. Ideally, a homeowner would should would to use the oldest food first. However, when cans are stacked on shelf, it is frequently necessary to completely rearrange the cans so that the earliest purchased are the most accessible. Even when properly arranged, it can be difficult to determine which are the earliest purchased cans. Stacked cans can also be unstable, especially during the process of rearrangement. If cans are stored on a high shelf in a pantry, for example, a falling can cause potentially serious injury to the homeowners toes or feet, can fall on a child's head or, less significantly, dent a hardwood floor.

Gravity racks for dispensing cylindrical cans have long been known in the art. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 4,998,628 to Ross (1991) discloses a GRAVITY-OPERATED BOTTLE AND CAN DISPENSING RACK which is constructed from a pair of rigid, generally parallel, and spaced-apart side walls which interconnect with a rear wall. A pair of upper and lower lengthwise included shelves extend generally transversely between the opposing sides. The upper shelf is inclined downwardly interiorly from an access end of the rack, while the lower shelf is inclined downwardly from the rear wall towards the access end. Containers roll from the upper shelf at the rack access end into the interior of the rack, through a transfer throat, and then down the lower ramp back to the rack access end.

Another examples of a gravity-feed can dispenser is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 2,888,145 to Knots et al. (1959) titled BIN DISPENSER. This dispenser includes three laminar body members which are arranged in a parallel, spaced-apart relationship. A pair of outer body members are mirror images of one another, having downwardly inclined, serpentine-like can tracks on only one side thereof. A center body member has similar can tracks on both sides thereof. The three body members are maintained in the spaced-apart relationship by a plurality x of hollow spacer tubes and a plurality 2x of threaded shafts. Spacer tubes are positioned longitudinally between adjoining pairs of body members, with spacer tubes between each adjoining pair being coaxial with those of the other adjoining pair. Each threaded shaft penetrates all three body members, and is coaxial with a pair of coaxially-aligned spacer tubes. Each threaded shaft is secured at both ends so as to clamp all three body members together.

Another gravity-feed can dispenser is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,105,126, to Deffner, et al. (1978) titled STORAGE AND DISPENSING RACK, which discloses a modular dispensing rack comprising a plurality of identical, interchangeable shelf components. The components may be quickly and conveniently coupled together to create vertical racks of selective desired sizes. The individual shelves are slightly downwardly inclined to assist gravity-feed, and each comprises integral side rails of different heights adapted to accommodate varying sizes of cans without jamming. Another example is U.S. Pat. No. 4,228,903 to Eckert (1980) titled GRAVITY FEED CAN DISPENSER FOR BEVERAGE COOLERS. Eckert's improvement is the provision of stackability and side-by-side interconnection of multiple dispensers.

Of less relevance to the present invention are certain vending machine systems which employ broad principles of gravity-feed technology, such as those disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 3,416,706 to Gross (1968), and in U.S. Pat. No. 3,795,345 to Baxendale (1974).

It would be desirable to provide a can dispenser that can be compactly shipped when unassembled and that can be easily assembled and is readily adapted for both home and commercial use.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

A first in, first out, gravity-feed can organizer is assembled from a plurality of support panels and spacer dowels which interconnect the support panels in a spaced-apart, parallel relationship. Each support panel has right and left faces, and each face is equipped with two supply rails which slope downward from the front to the back of the panel, and a retrieval rail beneath the two supply rails, from which it is fed, and which slopes downward from back to front. Two adjacent, spaced-apart support panels provide three sets of opposed rails, which form two can supply tracks and one can retrieval track. The left face of the support panel provides the right rails of the three tracks, while the right face of the opposed support panel provides the left rails. For the present embodiment, each adjacent pair of support panels are interconnected by three spacer dowels. Each support panel has six dowel interconnection apertures, which are divided into three spaced-apart groups of two; two groups near the rear of the support panel and one near the front thereof. Each group of interconnection apertures provides an anchor for the end of each of two spacer dowels which are inserted into the apertures from opposite sides of the support panel. Each interconnection aperture is generally in the shape of an irregular hexagon that is symmetrical about a pair of intersecting, perpendicular axes. Each spacer dowel has a locking head at each end thereof which is generally of the same shape as the interconnection aperture, but slightly smaller so that it can pass through the aperture. Each interconnection aperture is surrounded by a crenelated wall, the slots of which enable the spacer dowels to be locked in place with their associated interconnection apertures. A domed projection near the end of each spacer dowel distorts the crenelated wall as the dowel is axially rotated in an associated interconnection aperture until the domed projection reaches a slot in the wall. The slot provides a lower energy state that tends to retain spacer dowel in its locked position. For a present embodiment of the invention, three spacer dowels are employed to interconnect a pair of adjacent support panels. Can organizers employing any number of support panels may be assembled. If x equals the number of support panels, then 3(x-1) will be the number of spacer dowels that are required to assemble the can organizer. Each of the spacer dowels which interconnect two adjacent panels must be of the same length. Spacer dowels of any length can be made by adjusting the length of the ribbed center portion of the spacer dowel to accommodate different can sizes. The support panels and dowels are preferably injection molded from a tough polymeric thermoplastic material, such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinylchloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), polystyrene (PS), or other suitable thermoplastic compounds. Filler materials, such as talc may be used with the thermoplastic compounds to provide color and improve rigidity.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

FIG. 1 is an isometric view of a support panel, taken from a top, rear, left-side vantage point;

FIG. 2 is a right-side elevational view of the support panel of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a left-side elevational view of the support pane of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a side elevational view of a short spacer dowel, with the locking domes facing down;

FIG. 5 is an end elevational view of a short or long spacer dowel, with the locking domes facing down;

FIG. 6 is a top plan view of the short spacer dowel of FIG. 4;

FIG. 7 is an end elevational view of a short or long spacer dowel, with the locking domes facing right;

FIG. 8 is a bottom plan view of the short spacer dowel of FIG. 4;

FIG. 9 is an end elevational view of a short or long spacer dowel, with the locking domes facing left;

FIG. 10 is a side elevational view of a long spacer dowel, with the locking domes facing down;

FIG. 11 is a top plan view of the long spacer dowel of FIG. 10;

FIG. 12 is a bottom plan view of the long spacer dowel of FIG. 10;

FIG. 13 is an isometric view of the long spacer dowel of FIG. 10, with the locking domes on the back side and not visible here;

FIG. 14 a view of ellipsoid region 14 of FIG. 2, enlarged to show the insertion of a locking head of a first spacer dowel in the left connection aperture from the bottom thereof, and the insertion of a locking head of a second spacer dowel in the right connection aperture from the top thereof;

FIG. 15 is a view of the region of FIG. 14, following the axial rotation of each of the spacer dowels 90 degrees to locked positions; and

FIG. 16 is an isometric view of a can organizer assembled from three support panels and six spacer dowels.

DETAILED DISCLOSURE OF THE INVENTION

The new first in first out can organizer will now be described in detail, with reference to the attached drawing figures.

Referring now to FIG. 1, a support panel 100 has a front edge 101 and a rear edge 102. The left face 103 of the support panel 100, which is visible in this view, is a mirror image of the right face thereof, which is shown in FIG. 2. The left face 103 of the support panel 100 has upper and lower right-side supply rails, 104R and 105R respectively, which are downwardly inclined from the front edge 101 toward the rear edge. The upper and lower right-side supply rails 104R and 105R, in conjunction with upper and lower left-side supply rails 104L and 105L of an opposed right face of an adjacent identical panel; provide a pair of tracks which feed cans to al retrieval track comprised of a right-side retrieval rail 106R and a left-side retrieval rail 106L on the opposed right face of an adjacent identical panel. Each retrieval rail 106, generally, has four interconnected sections: a nearly vertical section 107 which begins at the top rear of the support panel 100; a moderately-inclined section of constant slope 108; a curved section 109 which interconnects the nearly vertical section 107 and the moderately-inclined section 108; and a final level section 110 that is connected to the moderately-inclined section 108. When a retrieval track is created by the right and left retrieval rails 106R and 106L on the opposed right and left faces of two adjacent support panels 100, cans are retrieved from the level track formed by the two opposed final level sections 110 of right and left retrieval rails 106R and 106L. Although somewhat confusing at first, the left face 103 of the support panel 100 provides the right rails of a can track, while the right face 201 provides the left rails of a can track (each track including both a right and left rail between two support panels 100.

Still referring to FIG. 1, as will be later shown and described, at least two support panels 100 must be interconnected in a perpendicular, parallel and spaced-apart relationship. There is no limit to the number of support panels 100 which can be so interconnected. As will be subsequently shown, each adjacent pair of support panels 100 is interconnected with three spacers dowels. Each support panel 100 is equipped with three sets of closely-spaced interconnection apertures. A first set 111A/111B is located in the upper rear corner of the support panel 100; a second set 112A/112B is located in the lower rear corner of the support panel 100; and a third set 113A/113B is located near the front edge 101 just below the lower supply rail 105R. For each set of interconnection apertures 110, 111 and 112, generally; spacer dowels (not yet shown) can be inserted into the interconnection apertures 111, 112 or 113 from opposite sides of the support panel 100 and secured within the apertures. The opposite end of each spacer dowel can then be interconnected to other support panels. It will be noted that each interconnection aperture 111A, 111B, 112A, 112B, 113A and 113B is surrounded by a crenelated circular wall 114. The notches 115 in each crenelated wall 114 allow the wall portions 116 to more readily flex and also provide two positions of lower energy for locking a spacer dowel.

Referring now to FIG. 2, the right face 201 of the support panel 100 is visible. It will be noted that each of the apertures 111A, 111B, 112A, 112B, 113A and 113B has the general shape of an irregular hexagon that is bilaterally symmetrical about a pair of intersecting, perpendicular axes. In this view can be seen the profiles of the left upper supply rail 104L, the left lower supply rail 105L and the left retrieval rail 106L.

Referring now to FIG. 3, the left face 103 is shown from a plan perspective. In this view can be seen the profiles of the right upper supply rail 104R, the right lower supply rail 105R and the right retrieval rail 106R. FIG. 3 also shows the path of cans 301, shown circles drawn with dashed lines. Cans suspended between upper supply rails 104R and 104L and lower supply rails 105R and 105L (the left rail of each pair is not shown in this drawing figure) roll from front to back. Cans suspended between retrieval rails 106R and 106L (not shown) roll from back to front. Assuming the cans 301 are of equal size and weight, cans from the upper supply track 104R/104L will feed the retrieval track 106R/106L before it is fed with cans from the lower supply track 105R/105L.

Spacer dowels are available in a variety of different lengths, which accommodate cans of different heights (different lengths, if the can axis is horizontal). FIGS. 4, 6 and 8 show different views of a short spacer dowel 400, while FIGS. 10, 11 and 12 show different views of a long spacer dowel 1000. FIGS. 5, 7 and 9 are end views which may apply to both long and short spacer dowels.

Referring now to FIGS. 4, 6, 8, 10, 11 and 12, a short spacer dowel 400 and a long spacer dowel 1000 have identical end portions 401A and 401B and vary only in the length of the ribbed center portions 402 and 1002. Each spacer dowel 400 or 1000 comprises a locking head 403A and 403B at each end thereof that, when rotated, is secured against one face of a support panel 100 and locks the spacer dowel within an interconnection aperture 111, 112 or 113; inner retainer discs 404A and 404B inside the locking heads 403A or 403B, respectively, at each end of the dowel 400 or 1000, a retainer disc 404A or 404B being secured against an opposite face of the support panel 100 with the support panel 100 sandwiched between it and the adjacent locking head; cylindrical couplers 405A and 405B, each of which has a width that is equal to or just slightly greater than the thickness of the support panel in the interconnection aperture region, and that interconnects a locking head 403A or 403B with a retainer disc 404A or 404B respectively a ribbed center portion 402 or 1002 which interconnect the retainer discs 404A and 404B; and locking domes 406A and 406B which both distort the wall portions 116 of the crenelated circular wall 114; when the spacer dowel 400 or 1000 is rotated within an interconnection aperture 111, 112, or 113 and are positionable in notches 115 between wall portions 116 of the crenelated circular walls 114. When positioned between wall portions 116 after insertion in an interconnection aperture 111, 112 or 113 and axial rotation of 90 degrees, the spacer dowel 400 or 1000 is locked in place.

Referring now to FIG. 5, the hidden lines 501 show how the ribbed center portions 402 or 1002 would appear if a cross-sectional view were taken thereof. It will also be noted that each of the locking heads 403A or 403B, like each of the interconnection apertures 111, 112 or 113, has the general shape of an irregular hexagon that is symmetrical about a pair of intersecting, perpendicular axes.

Referring now to FIG. 13, a long spacer dowel 1000 is seen in an isometric view, making it easier to conceptually visualize the spacer dowel that is possible by referring to only plan view or end view drawings. The parts of the spacer dowel 1000, which have been heretofore described and identified here by their item numbers.

Referring now to FIG. 14, a locking head 403 of a first spacer dowel 400 or 1000 has been inserted into the left connection aperture 11 3B from the bottom thereof, and a locking head 403 of a second spacer dowel 400 or 1000 has been inserted into the right aperture 113A from the top thereof.

Referring now to FIG. 15, each of the inserted spacer dowels 400 or 1000 in FIG. 14 has been axially rotated 90 degrees so that the locking domes 405A or 405 assume locked positions in the notches 115 between the wall portions 116 of the crenelated circularwalls 114 which surround the connections apertures 113A and 113B.

Referring now to FIG. 16, a can organizer 1600 has been assembled from three support panels 100A 100B and 100C and six long spacer dowels 1000A, 1000B, 1000C, 1000D, 1000E and 1000F. Each of the spacer dowels has been axially rotated 90 degrees from its insertion angle in order to lock them in place. It should be clear from the foregoing description that can organizers employing any number of support panels may be assembled. If x equals the number of support panels, then 3(x-1) will be the number of spacer dowels that are required to assemble the can organizer. Each of the spacer dowels which, interconnect two adjacent panels must be of the same length. Spacer dowels of any length can be made by adjusting the length of the ribbed center portion of the spacer dowel to accommodate different can sizes.

The support panels 100 and the spacer dowels 400 and 1000 are preferably injection molded from a tough semi-rigid polymeric thermoplastic material, such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinylchloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), polystyrene (PS), or other suitable thermoplastic compounds. Filler materials, such as talc may be used with the thermoplastic compounds to provide color and improve rigidity.

Although only a single embodiment of the invention has been disclosed, it will be obvious to those having ordinary skill in the art that changes and modifications may be made thereto without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention as claimed. For example, the intersection apertures 111, 112 and 113 and the locking heads 403A and 403B may also be generally rectangular shaped or cross shaped. In the former case, the locking head would be axially rotated about 90 degrees to lock the spacer dowel within the interconnection aperture. In the latter case, an axial rotation of about 45 degrees would be required. In addition, although three dowels are currently preferred, the can organizer may be designed so that two or four spacer dowels are employed to secure adjacent pairs of support panels in a parallel, spaced-apart relationship.