Title:
Automated system for securing a load to a flatbed truck
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system that is adapted for attachment to a flatbed trailer that provides automated tightening of tie down straps for securing the trailer's load. An electric motor is attached to each end of a drive shaft and used to rotate the drive shaft. Tie down straps are uncoiled from around the drive shaft, stretched over the load and attached to the opposite side of the trailer to start the load securing process. The motors are then engaged to rotate the drive shaft and provide automatic tightening of the tie down straps, which completes the securing process. Cotter pins can also be used to provide a backup locking mechanism.



Inventors:
Williams, Travis B. (Riviera Beach, FL, US)
Williams, Shantell H. (Riviera Beach, FL, US)
Application Number:
11/213401
Publication Date:
03/01/2007
Filing Date:
08/29/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B61D45/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
GORDON, STEPHEN T
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SETO PATENTS (SALEM, VA, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. An automated system that is adapted for attachment to a tractor trailer wherein the trailer is a flatbed trailer having a top, a bottom, a front, a back, a right side and a left side, the automated system allowing any user to safely secure a load to the flatbed trailer, the system comprising: an electric motor, the electric motor having a motor bracket for attachment to the bottom of the trailer at a location near the front and right side of the trailer, the electric motor also having a drive shaft that extends out from a housing of the electric motor so that drive shaft runs under the right side of the trailer and parallel to the top of the trailer, wherein the housing of the motor includes a tighten button and a loosen button for controlling a direction of rotation of the drive shaft; a winch, the winch having a winch bracket for attachment to the bottom of the trailer near the right side of the trailer, wherein the drive shaft is incorporated in the winch so that a portion of the drive shaft extends through a center of the winch and the winch includes an automatic locking mechanism that prevents unwanted turning of the drive shaft; and, a strap, the strap having a first end that is permanently attached to the portion of the drive shaft that extends through the center of the winch, a length that is initially wound around the portion of the drive shaft that extends through the center of the winch, and a second end that can be temporarily connected to the left side of the trailer, wherein the strap gets wound around the drive shaft when the user pushes the tighten button and the strap is unwound from the drive shaft when the user pushes the loosen button.

2. The system of claim 1, further comprising: a second winch, the second winch having a second winch bracket for attachment to the bottom of the trailer near the right side of the trailer, wherein the drive shaft is also incorporated in the second winch so that a second portion of the drive shaft extends through a center of the second winch and the second winch includes a second automatic locking mechanism that prevents unwanted turning of the drive shaft; and, a second strap, the second strap having a first end that is permanently attached to the second portion of the drive shaft, a length that is initially wound around the second portion, and a second end that can be temporarily attached to the left side of the trailer, wherein the second strap gets wound around the drive shaft when the user pushes the tighten button and the second strap is unwound from the drive shaft when the user pushes the loosen button.

3. The system of claim 2, further comprising: a second electric motor, the second electric motor having a second motor bracket for attachment to the bottom of the trailer at a location near the back and right side of the trailer, wherein the second electric motor is attached to an opposite end of the drive shaft and operates in sync with the electric motor.

4. The system of claim 3, wherein the second electric motor includes a second housing and the second housing includes a second tighten button and a second loosen button for controlling a direction of rotation of the drive shaft.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein the electric motor is adapted for connection to an electrical system of the tractor trailer.

6. The system of claim 1, further comprising: at least one battery, wherein the at least one battery is electrically connected to the electric motor.

7. The system of claim 1, wherein the winch further includes a manual locking mechanism comprising a sleeve that surrounds the drive shaft and a cotter pin, the manual locking mechanism being engaged by pushing the cotter pin through holes in the sleeve and a hole in the drive shaft.

8. The system of claim 1, wherein the housing further includes a tug switch, wherein the electric motor is disengaged from the drive shaft when the tug switch is flipped so that the drive shaft is allowed to rotate freely.

9. The system of claim 1, wherein the drive shaft includes at least one hole that is adapted for entry of a pole, the at least one hole allowing the drive shaft to be turned manually in the event that power is not available for the electric motor.

10. The system of claim 4, wherein the drive shaft extends substantially from the front of the trailer to the back of the trailer.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to the field of trucking and more specifically to a system for securing loads to flatbed trucks.

Trucks provide the primary method for moving goods within the U.S. Tractor trailer trucks shoulder a majority of this logistical burden. Tractor trailers, also called 18 wheelers, take advantage of a standard coupling system that allows the same tractor to be connected to, and disconnected from, almost any trailer. Some trailers are enclosed and even refrigerated. Other trailers are open and consist primarily of the bed of the trailer, which is flat. Thus, these open trailers are referred to as flatbed trailers.

Flatbed trailers provide great flexibility to truckers. Because the trailer does not include an enclosure, the truckers are not limited to accepting loads that have to fit within the enclosure. A “load” refers to that which is to be loaded on a trailer, and anything that has already been loaded on a trailer. Since there are no walls to keep the load from falling off of a flatbed, all loads need to be secured to the bed of the trailer. Tie down straps are commonly used to secure loads to flatbeds. Thick straps are pulled over the top of the load and secured to opposite sides of the flatbed. A hand winch is used to tighten and hold each strap. Many hand winches have been adapted to allow a crow bar to be used to help tighten the strap. Using a crow bar gives leverage to the trucker, but even this advantage is not enough for some truckers to sufficiently tighten the straps for all loads.

What is needed in the field is a system that allows all truckers to safely secure any load to a flatbed trailer.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An automated system that is adapted for attachment to a flatbed trailer. The automated system allows any user to secure a load to the flatbed trailer. The system comprises at least one electric motor and at least one winch with an incorporated tie down strap. The electric motor includes a bracket for attachment to the bottom of the trailer. The electric motor has a drive shaft that extends out from a housing of the motor. The drive shaft runs along the length of the trailer and just under either side of the trailer. Control buttons including a tighten button and a loosen button are provided on the housing of the motor. The buttons are used for controlling the direction of rotation of the drive shaft. The winch also includes a bracket for attachment to the bottom of the trailer. The drive shaft is incorporated in the winch so that a portion of the drive shaft extends through the center of the winch. The winch includes an automatic locking mechanism that prevents unwanted turning of the drive shaft. A strap is provided with each winch and the strap has a first end that is permanently attached to the portion of the drive shaft that extends through the center of the winch. The length of the strap is initially wound around this portion of the drive shaft. The free end of the strap preferably includes an eye hole that allows temporary connection to a peg on the opposite side of the trailer. After the strap has been placed over the load on the trailer and secured on the opposite side, the user pushes the tighten button to wind the slack around the drive shaft and the load is secured. To loosen the strap the user pushes the loosen button, which releases the safety latch on the side of the wrench and allows the strap to be uncoiled.

When a second electric motor is used the second motor is attached to the terminal end of the drive shaft and the second motor operates in sync with the first electric motor. The second electric motor also includes a housing with tighten and loosen buttons. The control buttons on either housing can control the rotation of the drive shaft. Each motor housing preferably includes a tug switch that when flipped allows the drive shaft to rotate freely so the strap can be uncoiled and the free end can be moved over the load for securing. The electric motors can optionally include their own battery power supply on the trailer, but preferably the electric motors are connected to the electrical system of the tractor trailer.

The system includes a manual locking mechanism that acts as a back-up system for securing the load. A sleeve is provided on the side of each winch. The sleeve surrounds the drive shaft and has two holes that allow for passage therethrough of a cotter pin. A hole of similar diameter is also provided in the drive shaft and the manual locking mechanism is engaged by pushing the cotter pin through the holes in the sleeve and the hole in the drive shaft.

The drive shaft also includes other holes that are adapted for entry of a pole so the drive shaft can be turned manually in the event that power is not available for the electric motor.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a system that allows a any person, including woman, inexperienced truckers, elderly, and the disabled, to safely secure a load on a flatbed trailer, no matter what size the load.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention of the present application will now be described in more detail with reference to the accompanying drawings, given only by way of example, in which:

FIG. 1 shows the preferred embodiment in operational position;

FIG. 2 is a bisected perspective view of the preferred embodiment;

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary winch bracket;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary motor bracket;

FIG. 5 is a side view of the preferred locking mechanisms; and,

FIG. 6 is an exemplary circuit diagram for the present system.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

FIG. 1 shows the preferred embodiment 100 in its operational position, just below the edge of a flatbed trailer 105. The present system is designed to automate the load 110 securing process. The strapping down process is still primarily manual and requires that the tie down straps 115 &120 be placed over the load 110 and attached to the opposite side of the trailer 105. The securing process requires a tightening of the tie down straps 115 &120 so that each strap applies sufficient downward force on the load 110. For tall, heavy and awkwardly shaped loads the amount of downward force required to safely secure the load can be a tremendous amount, up to 1,000 lbs of pressure. Even using crow bars, some truckers are still not able to generate this much pressure. By using strong electric motors, the present system allows anyone to safely secure a load to a flatbed trailer. The preferred embodiment 100 can generate up to 1,200 lbs of pressure. The present system can also be retrofitted on flatbed trailers that come equipped with tie down strap hardware.

FIG. 2 shows a bisected perspective view of the preferred embodiment 100. Electric motor 200 is at the beginning of the apparatus and includes a motor bracket 205 for attachment to the bottom of the trailer. The motor 200 includes a tighten/loosen button 210 and a tug switch 215. The tighten/loosen button 210 is used to control the direction of rotation of the drive shaft 220. When the tighten portion of the button 210 is pressed the drive shaft 220 rotates so that the straps 115 &120 are wound around the shaft. When the loosen portion of the button 210 is pressed the drive shaft 220 initially moves in the same direction, so the safety latch is released, and then rotates in the opposite direction so the straps 115 &120 are unwound from around the shaft. The tug switch 215 disengages the motor 200 so the shaft 220 is allowed to rotate freely, as is needed when the trucker is pulling the strap 120 over the load. The preferred embodiment uses a modified winch to assist the winding and unwinding process and also to provide two locking mechanisms for preventing unwanted slippage or unwinding of the straps 115 &120. The modified winch assists in the winding process by allowing the shaft 220 to continue turning after a predetermined amount of downward pressure, such as 1,000 lbs, has been created on the load. This allows winches with more slack, or more length of strap to wind up, to continue winding even after other winches have stopped. The first winch includes a bracket 225 for attachment to the bottom of the trailer, an automatic locking mechanism 230 and a manual locking mechanism 235 &240. The automatic locking mechanism 230 engages in new positions automatically as the drive shaft 220 rotates. The manual locking mechanism is engaged by pushing a cotter pin 235 through two holes in opposite ends of a sleeve 240. The cotter pin 235 also passes through a hole in the drive shaft 220 and prevents the shaft from rotating. The second winch includes a bracket 245 for attachment to the bottom of the trailer, an automatic locking mechanism 250 and a manual locking mechanism 255 &260. The automatic locking mechanism 250 engages in new positions automatically as the drive shaft 220 rotates. The manual locking mechanism is engaged by pushing cotter pin 255 through two holes in opposite ends of sleeve 260. The cotter pin 255 also passes through a hole in the drive shaft 220 and prevents the shaft from rotating. At the end of the preferred embodiment 100 is another electric motor 265 and motor bracket 270 for attachment to the trailer. The motor 265 includes a tighten/loosen button 275 and tug switch 280, both of which have the same functions as their counterparts on the first motor 200, mentioned above. Another manual locking mechanism 285 &290 is provided on the side of the motor bracket 270. Various holes 295 in the drive shaft 220 allow for insertion of a metal pole, which may be used to turn the drive shaft and thereby secure or tighten the load in the event that the power supply to the electric motors 200 &265 is lost. The arrows with the large reference numbers next to them in FIG. 2 indicate the cross-sectional perspectives provided in the Figures with the associated numbers.

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of winch bracket 225, drive shaft 220, cotter pin 235 and sleeve 240. Multiple ball bearings 300 are provided within the bracket 225 to facilitate rotation of the shaft 220.

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of the motor bracket 205. Multiple ball bearings 400 are provided within the motor bracket 205 to facilitate rotation of the drive shaft 220. The control buttons 210 and 215 on the motor 200 can take other shapes and in an alternative embodiment remote controls are provided.

FIG. 5 is a side view of the first winch and a cross-sectional view of cotter pin 235 and sleeve 240, which provide a manual, back-up mechanism for locking the drive shaft 220 in place. The automatic locking mechanism comprises safety latch 500 and latch gear 505.

FIG. 6 is an exemplary circuit diagram for the preferred embodiment. The battery is the truck's, or tractor's battery. Of course, a separate battery on the trailer can also be provided. On/Off switch 1, which is located on the first electric motor, controllably supplies power to both motor 1 and motor 2. Likewise, On/Off switch 2, which is located on the second electric motor, also controllably supplies power to both motor 1 and motor 2. Thus, the trucker can operate all of the winches in the system from either end of the drive shaft. Tug switches 1 &2 are also provided for each motor 1 &2, respectively.

The foregoing description of the specific embodiments will so fully reveal the general nature of the invention that others can, by applying current knowledge, readily modify and/or adapt for various applications such specific embodiments without departing from the generic concept. For example, a system could be provided on both sides of the trailer thereby allowing automated tightening of the straps from either side of the trailer. Therefore, such adaptations and modifications should and are intended to be comprehended within the meaning and range of equivalents of the disclosed embodiments. It is to be understood that the phraseology of terminology employed herein is for the purpose of description and not of limitation.