Title:
Face mask packaging, dispensing system, and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Methods and systems of packaging and dispensing face masks. The method includes providing a package unit including a plurality of stacked face masks contained in a containment body having a top wall forming a passage. The package unit is inserted into compartment of a dispenser housing that otherwise includes a front panel forming a slot corresponding with the compartment. The passage of the containment body is accessible via the slot in the front panel. A top-most face mask is dispensed from the package unit through the slot and the passage. Two or more different face mask package units can be stored in corresponding compartments, with the method further including visually discerning one stored package unit from another. Other embodiments include a flexible or “soft” face mask packaging.



Inventors:
Rudd, David (Woodstock, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/525249
Publication Date:
03/22/2007
Filing Date:
09/21/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D69/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20070062829Brush keeper for professional paintersMarch, 2007Crocker
20060249417Scented shoe and shoe packaging systemNovember, 2006Jones
20070227931Child-Resistant Wallet Package for Dosage FormsOctober, 2007Shane
20050016895Travel case for transporting insulinJanuary, 2005Glenn
20050284874Display stopper for beverage container lidsDecember, 2005Lucks
20050011781Storage container for compact disk protective coverJanuary, 2005Cheng
20040050733Dental hygiene holderMarch, 2004Page et al.
20090314665MODERN STATION OF WASTE MANAGEMENTDecember, 2009Konstantinos
20070227925An Expandable Tree Bag Assembly for Enclosing Conifer and Deciduous Trees During Vehicular TransportOctober, 2007Westrate
20080000794Reclosable blister package assemblyJanuary, 2008Aldridge
20050150803Stackable box and machine for packing such boxesJuly, 2005Marroncles



Primary Examiner:
RANDALL, JR., KELVIN L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Cardinal Health and Arent Fox LLP (Washington, DC, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of packaging and dispensing a plurality of face masks, the method providing: providing a first package unit comprising: a plurality of stacked face masks including a top-most face mask, a containment body within which the plurality of face masks are disposed, the containment body including a top wall forming a passage through which the top-most face mask is accessible; inserting the first package unit into a first compartment of a dispenser housing, wherein the dispenser housing includes a front panel forming a slot corresponding with the first compartment such that upon insertion of the first package unit, the passage is accessible via the slot; and removing the top-most face mask from the plurality of stacked face masks through the slot and the passage.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein providing a first package unit includes forming the containment body to be flexible.

3. The method of claim 2, wherein the first package unit further includes a lid removably disposed across the passage, the method further comprising: removing the lid from the containment body prior to insertion into the dispenser housing.

4. The method of claim 3, wherein prior to removal of the lid, the face masks are sealed within the containment body.

5. The method of claim 3, wherein the containment body and the lid are films, and further wherein providing the first package unit includes sealing a perimeter of the lid to a perimeter of the top wall.

6. The method of claim 1, further comprising: urging the containment body toward the front panel upon insertion into the first compartment.

7. The method of claim 6, wherein the containment body is flexible and further wherein urging the containment body is characterized by the contained stack of face masks being urged toward the front panel.

8. The method of claim 7, wherein the containment body further includes a bottom wall opposite the top wall, and further wherein urging of the containment body includes applying a pushing force onto the bottom wall to force the containment body toward the front panel.

9. The method of claim 8, wherein the pushing force is translated from the bottom wall onto the plurality of stacked face masks due to a flexibility of the containment body.

10. The method of claim 7, wherein urging the containment body includes applying a pulling force onto the top wall.

11. The method of claim 1, wherein the dispenser housing further includes a side orthogonal to the front panel, the side forming a fill opening to the first compartment, and further wherein inserting the first package unit includes directing the first package unit through the fill opening.

12. The method of claim 1, wherein a size of the slot is greater than a size of the passage, and less than a size of the front wall, and further wherein removing the top-most face mask includes: grasping the top-most face mask with a user's fingers inserted through the slot; and applying a pulling force onto the top-most face mask with the user's fingers; wherein an interface between the front panel and the top wall prevents dislodgement of the first package unit through the slot in response to the pulling force.

13. The method of claim 1, further comprising: providing a second package unit comprising a plurality of stacked face masks disposed within a containment body including a top wall forming a passage; inserting the second package unit into a second compartment of the dispenser housing, wherein the front panel of the dispenser housing forms a second slot corresponding with the second compartment such that upon insertion, the passage of the second package unit is accessible via the second slot; and determining whether to remove a face mask from the first package unit or the second package unit.

14. The method of claim 13, wherein the plurality of face masks of the first package unit are substantially identical and are characterized by a first performance characteristic and a first dominant color, and further wherein the plurality of face masks of the second package unit are substantially identical and are characterized by a second performance characteristic and a second dominant color, wherein the first performance characteristic differs from the second performance characteristic, and the first dominant color differs from the second dominant color, and further wherein determining whether to remove a face mask includes: evaluating whether a procedure to be performed is indicative of the first or the second performance characteristic; and selecting a face mask from the first or second compartment based upon the evaluation.

15. The method of claim 14, wherein the top wall of both of the first and second package units is substantially translucent, and further wherein selecting a face mask includes: visually comparing the first and second dominant colors.

16. A face mask dispensing system comprising: a first package unit comprising: a plurality of stacked face masks, a containment body within which the plurality of stacked face masks is disposed, the containment body including a top wall forming a passage; and a dispenser housing including a front panel and defining a first compartment, the front panel forming a slot; wherein upon assembly of the first package unit within the first compartment, the front wall is adjacent the front panel and the passage is aligned with the slot such that the stack of face masks is accessible from an exterior of the housing via the slot and the passage.

17. The system of claim 16, wherein the containment body is flexible.

18. The system of claim 17, wherein the first package unit further includes a lid removably sealed over the passage.

19. The system of claim 17, wherein the containment body is a formed film.

20. The system of claim 17, wherein the containment body is substantially translucent.

21. The system of claim 16, wherein a size of the slot is greater than a size of the passage and less than a size of the top wall.

22. The system of claim 16, wherein a depth of the first compartment is greater than a depth of the first package unit.

23. The system of claim 22, wherein the dispenser housing further comprises: a biasing device for urging the first package unit toward the front panel upon final assembly.

24. The system of claim 16, further comprising: a second package unit including a plurality of stacked face masks disposed within a containment body including a top wall forming a passage; wherein the second package unit is assembled within a second compartment of the dispenser housing such that the passage of the second package unit is aligned with a second slot in the front panel of the dispenser housing.

25. The system of claim 24, wherein the front panel is substantially translucent in at least regions surrounding the slots, respectively, such that the first and second package units are visually perceptible from an exterior of the dispenser housing via the front panel.

26. The system of claim 24, wherein the top wall of each of the package units, respectively, is substantially translucent such that the plurality of face masks, respectively, are visually perceptible upon final assembly within the dispenser housing.

27. The system of claim 26, wherein the plurality of face masks of the first package unit are characterized by a dominant color differing from a dominant color of the plurality of face masks of the second package unit.

28. A package unit of face masks comprising: a plurality of stacked face masks; and a flexible containment body containing the face masks and including top, side, and bottom walls, each formed of a flexible film, wherein the top wall includes a passage through which a top-most face mask of the plurality of face masks is accessible.

29. The package unit of claim 28, further comprising: a lid removably attached to the containment body, the lid extending across the passage.

30. The package unit of claim 29, wherein the face masks are sealed within the containment body by the lid.

31. The package unit of claim 30, wherein the containment body and the lid are adapted to maintain a sterility of the face masks.

32. The package unit of claim 29, wherein the flexible containment body is substantially translucent, and an exterior of the lid includes written indicia.

33. The package unit of claim 29, wherein the lid is a flexible film.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e)(1) to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/719,298, filed Sep. 21, 2005, and entitled “Face Mask Dispensing System,” the entire teachings of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Disposable face masks are widely used in the medical field. Healthcare personnel and patients alike benefit from the protection afforded by face masks. As such, face masks are commonly worn by healthcare personnel as well as patients in connection with a multitude of procedures ranging from surgery to non-surgical examinations.

In light of the above, substantial efforts have been made to improve upon face mask material(s) as well as overall construction or structure. As a result, a plethora of differently-configured face masks are currently available, many of which are specifically designed to address requirement(s) of a particular procedure and/or user. For example, depending upon the malady or maladies afflicting a particular patient (e.g., immune system deficiencies, highly communicable virus, etc.), the best suited face mask is characterized by more rigorous filtering of airborne contaminants as compared to acceptable face mask material(s) for less demanding situations. Other performance characteristics commonly addressed by different face mask designs include breathability and heat protection to name but two Similarly, a particular user may desire a face mask having a size and/or shape differing from other available face masks (e.g., smaller-sized face masks are more appropriate for small patients, such as children, whereas larger-sized face masks are generally preferred by adult users).

While performance and wearability characteristics of medical face masks have greatly improved over time, the manner in which face masks are packaged and presented to healthcare personnel has remained substantially unchanged. In general terms, healthcare facilities typically purchase face masks in bulk form, and greatly desire to have numerous face mask styles (in terms of performance characteristics, size, shape, etc.) on hand at all times. To meet these needs, face mask manufacturers typically package a number of identical face masks into a single cardboard box or similar paper-based, rigid container. Thus, each style of face mask is purchased and stored by the healthcare facility in a separate box. In light of the wide variety of different face mask styles normally desired to be on hand, then, the healthcare facility will at all times have a large number of boxed face masks in inventory. To promote ease of access, at least one box of each face mask style is temporarily stored at locations nearby areas where procedures are typically performed (e.g., on shelving, within a cabinet, under a desk, etc.).

While well accepted, the above approach can be problematic for the healthcare facility and its personnel. For example, where a number of boxes of different face mask styles are randomly placed in a temporary storage area, healthcare personnel oftentimes are required to waste time searching through all of the boxes when looking for the desired face mask style. Along these same lines, after searching through multiple boxes, the healthcare personnel may forget to neatly replace the boxes in the storage area, leading to an unkempt appearance. Healthcare facilities, on the other hand, greatly prefer that all areas remain tidy so as to enhance a patient's confidence in the level of care being received. Further, the face mask boxes may be accidentally dropped or exposed to contaminants in the storage area, especially when other face mask boxes in the storage area are repeatedly moved. This is especially true for a box of less commonly used face mask style that may otherwise remain in the storage area for extended periods of time.

In light of the above, a need exists for improved face mask packaging, dispensing systems, and methods of dispensing face masks.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Benefits achieved in accordance with principles of the disclosed invention include an improved face mask dispensing system that facilitates removal of individual masks by a user; facilitates replacement of stacked masks through the use of face mask package units that can be easily replaced in the dispenser; and/or afford the advantage of multi-compartmentalizing different kinds of face masks within a single dispenser site. It has been discovered that such dispensing systems can be constructed having these desirable features simultaneously, and yet is of relatively simple and easy construction that can also easily be installed. Other benefits include providing user with a flexible or “soft” face mask package unit that is convenient to store, and promotes face mask sterility and single mask dispensing.

Some aspects of the disclosed invention relate to a method of packaging and dispensing a plurality of face masks. The method includes providing a first package unit including a plurality of stacked face masks and a containment body. The containment body includes a top wall forming a passage, and is sized to contain the plurality of stacked face masks therein. In this regard, the plurality of face masks includes a top-most face mask that is otherwise positioned adjacent the top wall. With this in mind, the first package unit is inserted into a first compartment of a dispenser housing that otherwise includes a front panel forming a slot corresponding with the first compartment. With this configuration, upon insertion of the first package unit within the first compartment, the passage of the containment body is accessible via the slot in the front panel of the dispenser housing. The top-most face mask is then removed or dispensed from the package unit through the slot in the front panel and the passage in the containment body. With this technique, the plurality of stacked masks can be stored in a location that is conveniently accessible by users. In some embodiments, two or more different face mask package units are stored in corresponding compartments of the dispenser housing, with the method further including visually discerning one stored package unit from another in selecting a desired face mask for dispensement. In other embodiments, upon insertion of the package unit into the dispenser housing compartment, the package unit is urged toward the front panel to promote consistent dispensement of a face mask from the corresponding package unit.

Other aspects in accordance with principles of the present disclosure include a face mask dispensing system including a package unit and a dispenser housing. The package unit includes a plurality of stacked face masks disposed within a containment body. The containment body includes a top wall forming a passage through which the plurality of face masks are accessible. The dispenser housing includes a front panel and forms a compartment. Further, the front panel defines a slot that is associated with the compartment. Upon assembly of the package unit within the compartment, the top wall of the containment body is adjacent the front panel of the dispenser housing, and the passage is aligned with the slot. With this configuration, the stack of face masks is accessible from an exterior of the housing via the slot and the passage. In some embodiments, a size of the slot in the front panel is greater than a size of the passage in the containment body, and is less than a size of the top wall of the containment body. With this configuration, the front panel resists dislodgement of the package unit from the compartment upon application of a pulling force to a top-most face mask of the package unit during a dispensing procedure. In other embodiments, a depth of the compartment is greater than a depth of the package unit, and the dispenser housing further includes a biasing device for urging the package unit toward the front panel upon final assembly.

Yet other aspects in accordance with principles of the present disclosure relate to a package unit of face masks including a plurality of stacked face masks and a flexible containment body containing the face masks. The containment body includes top, side, and bottom walls each formed of a flexible film. Further, the top wall includes a passage through which a top-most face mask is accessible. With this configuration, the flexible containment body facilitates use of the package unit within a dispenser housing that otherwise includes a biasing device acting upon the bottom wall; for example, the flexible nature of the containment body promotes translation of a biasing force applied to the bottom wall directly onto the contained stack of face masks. In some embodiments, the package unit further includes a lid removably attached to the containment body and extending across the passage. In yet other embodiments, the lid is flexible, and serves to seal the face masks within the containment body so as to maintain a sterility of the face masks. In yet other embodiments, the flexible containment body, including the top wall, is substantially translucent such that a dominant color associated with the contained face masks is visually perceptible from an exterior of the containment body.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an exploded, perspective view of a face mask dispensing system in accordance with aspects of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is an exploded, perspective view of a face mask package unit useful with the system of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the package unit of FIG. 2 upon final assembly;

FIG. 4A is a front perspective view of the package unit of FIG. 3 with a lid portion partially removed therefrom;

FIG. 4B is a front perspective view of the package unit of FIG. 3 following removal of the lid;

FIG. 4C is a cross-sectional view of a portion of an alternative face mask package unit;

FIG. 5A is a perspective view of a dispenser housing useful with the system of FIG. 1;

FIG. 5B is a perspective view of a rear panel portion of the dispenser housing of FIG. 5A;

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the dispensing system of FIG. 1 upon final assembly;

FIG. 7 is a front view of the system of FIG. 6, illustrating dispensement of a face mask therefrom; and

FIG. 8 is a side perspective view of the system of FIG. 6, illustrating replacement of a face mask package unit.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

One embodiment of a face mask dispensing system 20 in accordance with principles of the present disclosure is shown in exploded form in FIG. 1. The system 20 includes a plurality of face mask package units 22 and a dispenser housing 24. Details on the various components are provided below. In general terms, however, the dispenser housing 24 includes a front panel 26 and forms a plurality of compartments 28. The face mask package units 22 are loaded into respective ones of the compartments 28, with each package unit 22 including one or more face masks 30 (referenced generally). Following assembly and during use, a desired one of the face masks 30 can be dispensed (or removed) from the system 20 via a user grasping the desired face mask 30 through a corresponding slot 32 (referenced generally) in the front panel 26. As a point of reference, the system 20 (FIG. 1) is preferably adapted such that each of the face mask package units 22 are substantially identical except for, in some embodiments, a style of the face mask(s) 30 provided therewith and/or an overall size of the package unit 22. For example, a first face mask package unit 22a can include a first style of face masks, whereas the second face mask package unit 22b can include a second style of face mask.

FIG. 2 illustrates one embodiment of the face mask package unit 22. The face mask package unit 22 includes a plurality of stacked face masks 40, a containment body 42, and a lid 44. With this but one embodiment, the plurality of stacked face masks 40 are disposed within the containment body 42. The lid 44, in turn, is releasably secured to the containment body 42 so as to, in some embodiments, seal the plurality of stacked face masks 40 within the containment body 42.

The plurality of stacked face masks 40 is comprised of two or more of the individual face masks 30 (illustrated generally in FIG. 2) that are preferably, but not necessarily, substantially identical in terms of construction and size. Thus, the face masks 30 can assume a wide variety of forms akin to face masks currently available or in the future developed, especially for application in the medical fields. For example, the individual face masks 30 can be configured to have virtually any performance characteristic desired (e.g., low, medium, or high filtration; breathability; heat protection; etc.), and/or can be of any conventional shape and/or size. Along these same lines, the individual face masks 30 can have various features such as tie straps, formed shape, etc. In some embodiments, the particular style (e.g., performance characteristics, shape, and/or size) can be reflected or indicated by a coloring and/or pattern associated with an exterior of the face masks 30. For example, where the face masks 30 are relatively small (e.g., for use by a child), the face masks 30 can be formed to exhibit a first dominant color; conversely, where the face masks 30 are configured to be worn by a larger user (e.g., an adult), the face masks 30 can instead exhibit a different or second dominant color (that is otherwise different from the first dominant color). As is known, the dominant color identification of a particular face mask style can take a wide variety of forms.

The containment body 40 can also assume a variety of forms, and includes or is defined by a top wall 50, a bottom wall 52, and side walls 54 (referenced generally in FIG. 2). In some embodiments, the walls 50-54 are thin film(s), and thus highly flexible (e.g., minimally resistant to applied forces, in contrast to the rigidity inherently associated with cardboard or paper-based boxes within which face masks are conventionally packaged) yet capable of maintaining an integrity of the contained plurality of stacked face masks 40. For example, suitable materials for the walls 50-54 include polyolefins in general, and polyethylene, low density polyethylene, linear low density polyethylene, high density polyethylene, polypropylene, and co-polymers and block co-polymers of polyolefins in particular. Further, one or more of the walls 50-54 can be formed of two or more layers of film, and the walls 50-54 need not be formed of identical materials.

Regardless, in some embodiments, the film material selected for one or more of the walls 50-54 is substantially translucent (e.g., sufficiently transparent such that a color of an article contained within the containment body 42 can be visually perceived through the wall(s) 50-54). In this regard, one or more of, and in some embodiments all of, the walls 50-54 are substantially translucent. For example, in other embodiments, only the top wall 50 and the bottom wall 52 are substantially translucent.

The flexible containment body 42 can be constructed in a variety of manners, and in some embodiments includes the bottom and side walls 52, 54 being simultaneously formed from a first film web, whereas the top wall 50 is separately formed from a second film web and subsequently assembled to the formed bottom and side walls 52, 54. Any suitable film forming process(es) can be employed (e.g., blown film, film extrusion, etc.), and can result in the combined bottom and side walls 52, 54 having an integral, contiguous form that defines a pocket (unnumbered) for receiving the stack of face masks 40. With this but one acceptable technique, the separately formed top wall 50 can then be assembled to the side walls 54 (following placement of the plurality of stacked face masks 40 within the pocket) in a variety of known fashions, for example shaping the side walls 54 to terminate in a shoulder or flange to which the top wall 50 is secured (e.g., heat seal, adhesive, RF weld, etc.). In some embodiments, the top wall 50 is sealed to the side walls 54. Alternatively, a wide variety of other manufacturing techniques are also available; for example, the each of the various walls 50-54 can be separately formed and subsequently assembled. Further, in other embodiments, the containment body 42 can have other shapes and can include additional features and/or walls.

Regardless of the particular material(s) selected for the containment body 42 and the method of manufacture thereof, the top wall 50 forms a passage 56 for selectively dispensing a contained face mask. The passage 56 can assume a variety of shapes and sizes, and in some embodiments is a slit cut formed through the top wall 50. As should be evident from FIG. 2, however, the passage 56 is preferably smaller in length and width than a corresponding dimension of the top wall 50. For example, the top wall 50 has a length LW and the passage 56 has a length LP. With these designations in mind, the passage length LP is at least 10% less, in other embodiments at least 15% less, than the top wall length LW. As described in greater detail below, by forming the passage 56 to be smaller than the top wall 50, the top wall 50 promotes retention of the containment body 42 within the dispenser housing 24 (FIG. 1) during a face mask dispensing procedure. As a point of reference, FIG. 2 also illustrates a depth DP of the face mask package unit 22, defined as a distance between the top and bottom walls 50, 52.

The lid 44 is an optional component of the face mask package unit 22. Where provided, the lid 44 is releasably secured to the containment body 42, and in particular extends across, or covers, the passage 56. In some embodiments, the lid 44 is formed of a thin film material conducive for sealing to the top wall 50 (that can otherwise be a film material) via suitable technique (e.g., heat seal, adhesive, RF welding, etc.). With this approach, then, where the containment body 42 is formed of a film material, the plurality of face masks 40 can be sterilized prior to, or after, placement within the bottom wall 52/side walls 54 pocket, and the top wall 50 and the lid 44 sealed thereto, with the containment body 42 and the lid 44 combining to maintain a sterility of the contained plurality of face masks 40 prior to removal of the lid 44. Regardless, assembly of the lid 44 to the containment body 42 is such that that lid 44 can readily be removed by a user (as described below) to thus uncover the passage 56, thereby affording access to the contained stack of face masks 40.

The face mask package unit 22 is shown in final form (and prior to use) in FIG. 3. The plurality of stacked face masks 40 (referenced generally in FIG. 3 and best shown in FIG. 2) is contained within the containment body 42, with the lid 44 covering the passage 56 (FIG. 2). A seal line 58 is generally illustrated in FIG. 3 along which the lid 44 is joined to the flexible containment body 42. In this regard, the seal line 58 can be formed slightly spaced from an edge of the lid 44 to facilitate removal of the lid 44 as described below. As further reflected in FIG. 3, in some embodiments the lid 44 is formed of a substantially opaque material (e.g., a white colored film), and includes indicia 60 on an exterior surface 62 thereof. Where provided, the indicia 60 can assume a variety of forms (e.g., words, symbols, pictures, etc.), and can typically include a description of the contained stack of face masks 40 and/or instructions for using the package unit 22. Alternatively, the indicia 60 can be eliminated.

With the one embodiment of FIGS. 2 and 3, where access to the stack of face masks 40 is desired, the lid 44 is first partially or entirely removed from the containment body 42 as shown in FIGS. 4A and 4B. For example, a user (not shown) can apply a pulling force to an edge of the lid 44 (e.g., at the spacing between the seal line 58 and the corresponding edge of the lid 44) to peel the lid 44 away from the containment body 42 as shown in FIG. 4A. Where desired, upon complete removal of the lid 44 (FIG. 4B), the passage 56 in the top wall 50 is completely uncovered, thereby affording access to the contained stack of face masks 40.

While the face mask package unit 22 can be provided to a user without the lid 44, in other embodiments where the lid 44 is included, the package unit 22 can further include additional features to enhance a sterility of the individual face masks 30 following removal of the lid 44. For example, and with reference to FIG. 4C, a protective sheet 64 is positioned between each adjacent pair of face masks 30 (e.g., in the view of FIG. 4C, a first protective sheet 64a is positioned above a top-most face mask 30a; a second protective sheet 64b is position between the top-most face mask 30a and an immediately underlying face mask 30b; a third protective sheet 64c is positioned between the immediately underlying face mask 30b and a next underlying face mask 30c; etc.). With this approach, following removal of the lid 44, the first protective sheet 64a substantially maintains a sterility of the stack of face masks 40 within the containment body 42 via internally “blocking” the passage 56. Where use of the top-most face mask 30a is desired, the user (not shown) simply removes the first protective sheet 64a and the top-most face mask 30a from the containment body 42 via the passage 56. In connection with this dispensing procedure, however, the second protective sheet 64b remains in the flexible containment body 42, serving to substantially maintain a sterility of the remaining stack of face masks 40 (i.e., the second protective sheet 64b will then be located between the underlying face mask 30b and top wall 50, thus internally blocking the passage 56).

Returning to FIG. 1, the dispenser housing 24 is configured to retain one, two, or more of the face mask package units 22 in the one or more compartments 28, and generally includes the front panel 26, a rear panel 70, a top panel 72, a bottom panel 74, a side panel 76, and one or more partitions 78. The panels 26, 70-76 combine to form the dispenser housing 24 to have a box-like structure, with the partitions 78 at least partially defining the respective compartments 28. Finally, the dispenser housing 24 can optionally include a biasing device 80 (referenced generally) associated with respective ones of the compartments 28. As described in greater detail below, the biasing device 80 assists in maintaining a desired position of a face mask package unit 22 relative to the front panel 26 upon placement within the corresponding compartment 28.

The dispenser housing 24 can assume a variety of different sizes (e.g., height, width and/or depth) as desired, and can define any number of compartments 28. Thus, and with additional reference to FIG. 5A, while three of the compartments 28 are shown in the figures, in other embodiments a greater or lesser number of the compartments 28 is equally acceptable. Regardless, the compartments 28 are preferably, though not necessarily, of approximately equal size, having a height, width and depth appropriate for readily receiving one of the face mask package units 22. To this end, the face mask package units 22 can be made in accordance with standard dimensions (regardless of a size of the face masks 30 provided with the particular package unit 22), or can be made so as to not exceed pre-determined, maximum dimensions (e.g., a package unit 22 providing large face masks 30 will reflect the pre-determined, maximum dimensions, whereas a package unit 22 providing small face masks 30 will have smaller dimensions). With this in mind, the compartments 28 preferably, though not necessarily, reflect one or more dimensions that is or are greater than the standard or pre-determined, maximum dimensions of the face mask package units 22. For example, each of the compartments 28 can have a depth DC that is greater than a standard or maximum depth DP (FIG. 2) of the package units 22. In this way, then, the package unit 22 can easily be inserted into, and removed from, a desired one of the compartments 28.

To facilitate insertion of the package unit 22 into a respective one of the compartments 28, the dispenser housing 24 can form a fill opening 82 (referenced generally) to each compartment 28 at a side 84 of the housing 24. The fill openings 82 can be permanently open as shown in the FIGS. 1 and 5A; alternatively, the dispenser housing 24 can further include a door (not shown) or similar structure that provides selective access to the fill openings 82.

As should be evident from FIGS. 1 and 5, the front panel 26 defines a leading face or side of each of the compartments 28. That is to say, the front panel 26 can be a continuous or homogeneous body extending between the top panel 72 and the bottom panel 74, and thus across the partitions 78. Thus, for example, the portion of the front panel 26 between the top panel 72 and the first partition 78a defines a leading face or side of the first compartment 28a; the portion of the front panel 26 between the first and second partitions 78a, 78b defines a leading face or side of the second compartment 28b; etc. With these designations in mind, the front panel 26 further forms one of the dispensing slots or openings 32 relative to each of the compartments 28. For example, the first slot 32a is associated with, and provides access to, the first compartment 28a; the second slot 32b is associated with, and provides access to, the second compartment 28b; etc. In this regard, in some embodiments, a size of the dispensing slot 32 is correlated with a size of the passage 56 and the top wall 50 of the package units 22. More particularly, and with additional reference to FIG. 2, each of the face mask package units 22 can be formed such that the passage 56 has a standard length LP and the top wall 50 has a standard length LW; alternatively, the passage length LP can be formed to not exceed a predetermined, maximum length and the top wall length LW can be formed to not be less than a predetermined, minimum length. Regardless, the slot 32 is preferably, though not necessarily, sized to be greater than a size of the passage 56 and less than a size of the top wall 50 (e.g., the slot 32 can have a length LS that is greater than the passage length LP and less than the top wall length LW). In this manner, then, the slot 32 does not overtly restrict removal or dispensing of individual face masks through the passage 56, yet ensures an interface with the front panel 26 to prevent complete dislodgment of a face mask package unit 22 through the slot 32 during a dispensing procedure. While the slots 32 are shown in FIGS. 1 and 5A as having an oval-like shape, a wide variety of other shapes or configurations are equally acceptable.

In addition to providing the dispensing slots 32, in some embodiments the front panel 26 is configured to facilitate viewing of the face mask package unit 22 otherwise loaded into a respective one of the compartments 28. For example, the front panel 26 can be formed of a rigid, yet substantially transparent material (e.g., clear plastic, glass, etc.) at least in a region of each of the slots 32. With this configuration, and in combination with the one embodiment in which at least a portion of the containment body 42 (FIG. 2) is also substantially transparent, a user can readily visually perceive a dominant color provided by the face masks 30 otherwise contained within each compartment 28 from a location exterior the dispenser housing 24. Alternatively, however, the front panel 26 can assume a wide variety of other forms.

The rear panel 70 also forms a portion of each of the compartments 28 in extension between the top and bottom panels 72, 74. In some embodiments and with reference to FIG. 5B, the rear panel 70 forms or carries one or more mounting devices 90 (referenced generally) that facilitate mounting of the dispenser housing 24 at a desired location (e.g., on to a wall). For example, the mounting device(s) 90 can be a hole sized to receive a body (e.g., nail) otherwise attached to a desired wall, can be or include a hook, etc. Alternatively, the mounting device(s) 90 can be eliminated.

Finally, and as shown in FIGS. 5A and 5B, in some embodiments the dispenser housing 24 can include one or more of the biasing devices 80, for example as part of or connected to the rear panel 70. In general terms, the biasing devices 80 can be identical, with respective ones of the biasing devices 80 being associated with respective ones of the compartments 28 (e.g., the first biasing device 80a is associated with the first compartment 28a; the second biasing device 80b is associated with the second compartment 28b; etc.). Further, each biasing device 80 is configured to urge or gently force the face mask package unit 22 (FIG. 1), otherwise stored within the corresponding compartment 28, toward the front panel 26 (and thus toward the corresponding dispensing slot 32). With these general parameters in mind, the biasing device 80 can assume a wide variety of forms including a biased flap (as shown in the figures) formed in the rear panel 70 and that otherwise exhibits a spring force, a spring-biased panel assembly, etc. As an alternative to applying a pushing force, the biasing device 80 can instead be configured and positioned to effectuate a pulling force on to the face mask package unit 22 (e.g., a compression spring-based assembly extending from the front panel 26 and acting to pull or urge the face mask package unit 22 toward the front panel 26). Alternatively, the biasing devices 80 need not be identical, and in other embodiments, can be eliminated.

The face mask dispensing system 20 is shown in final, assembled form in FIG. 6. In particular, respective ones of the face mask package units 22 have been inserted into respective ones of the compartments 28 (e.g., the first face mask package unit 22a is inserted into the first compartment 28a; the second face mask package unit 22b is inserted into the second compartment 28b; etc.), for example via the corresponding side access opening 82. Where provided, the lid 44 (FIG. 3) can be removed from the corresponding package unit 22 prior to loading within the dispenser housing 24. Regardless, as shown, the package units 22 are arranged within the corresponding compartments 28 such that the corresponding top wall 50 faces or is adjacent the front panel 26. Along these same lines, the passage 56 of the face mask package unit 22 is generally aligned with the dispensing slot 32 associated with the compartment 28 in which the package unit 22 is inserted (e.g., the first face mask package unit 22a is inserted within the first compartment 28a, with the top wall 50a facing or adjacent the front panel 26 and the passage 56a generally aligned with the first slot 32a). Further, FIG. 6 reflects a dimensional relationship between the compartments 28 and the face mask package units 22 in accordance with some embodiments whereby the compartment depth DC (FIG. 5A) is greater than the package unit depth DP (FIG. 2); the front panel slot length LS (FIG. 5A) is greater than the passage length LP (FIG. 2); and the front panel slot length LS is less than the top wall length LW (FIG. 2).

Once inserted into one of the compartments 28, the corresponding biasing device 80 urges the package unit 22 toward the front panel 26. For example, the first biasing device 80a bears against the bottom wall 52 (referenced generally) of the first package unit 22a, thus urging the first package unit 22a toward the front panel 26. In this regard, due to a flexible nature of the containment body 42 in accordance with some embodiments (e.g., where the containment body 42 is a film), the biasing or urging force generated by the biasing device 80 is translated directly onto the contained stack of face masks 40. Thus, regardless of whether the stack of face masks 40 completely “fills” an available volume of the corresponding containment body 42, a top-most face mask (referenced at 30a in FIG. 6 for the first face mask package unit 22a, it being understood that the face mask 30a is partially hidden in the view) is readily present or located immediately adjacent the front panel 26 (and in particular the corresponding slot 32). Alternatively, however, the system 20 can also function with a more rigid containment body 42 and/or where the biasing device(s) 80 are eliminated.

With reference to FIG. 7, a face mask dispensing procedure facilitated by the system 20 includes a user 100 removing a desired face mask (102 in FIG. 7) through the passage 56 and the slot 32. By way of reference, the dispensed face mask 102 in FIG. 7 can be described as the top-most face mask associated with the third face mask package unit 22c. In this regard, an interface between the front panel 26 and the top wall 50c of the package unit 22c from which the face mask 102 is being removed prevents the package unit 22c from dislodging through the slot 32 in response to the user-applied pulling force. By resisting movement of the top wall 50c, interface with the front panel 26 promotes desired dispensing of only a single face mask (as compared to conventional, boxed face mask packaging that has been found to oftentimes result in multiple face masks being pulled from the box when only one is desired). Once again, the slot 32 is sized to not overtly impede dispensing of the face mask 102 from and through the corresponding passage 56.

With embodiments in which two or more of the inserted face mask package units 22 have differently-styled face masks 30 (e.g., the face masks 30a of the first package unit 22a exhibit a first breathability characteristic and the face masks 30b of the second package unit 22b exhibit a second breathability characteristic differing from the first), the user 100 can, prior to dispensing a face mask, visually determine which of the various compartments 28 contains the particular face mask style desired by the user 100. For example, the face masks 30a of the first package unit 22a (and thus of the first compartment 28a) can have a first dominant color otherwise indicative of the first breathability characteristic, and the face masks 30b of the second package unit 22b (and thus of the second compartment 28b) can have a second dominant color otherwise indicative of the second breathability characteristic (with the first and second dominant colors being different). Through experience and/or by reference to a guide chart, the user 100 will understand the correlation between color and breathability characteristic. Thus, prior to removing a particular face mask, the user 100 can first evaluate the breathability characteristic required or otherwise indicated by the procedure to be performed. With this information in mind, the user 100 can then visually perceive the dominant color associated with the face masks 30 in each of the compartments 28 (e.g., viewing through the front panel 26 and/slot 32, as well as the top wall 50 of each of the package units 22, the user 100 can visually compare the dominant color of the first and second masks 30a, 30b), and make an appropriate selection. In this way, then, the user 100 is not required to remove each package unit 22 from the dispenser housing 24 prior to making a face mask selection.

Once the stack of face masks 40 from the corresponding package unit 22 has been depleted (or at other times as desired by the user 100), the package unit 22 can be removed from the dispenser housing 24 and replaced with a new package unit 22. For example, as shown in FIG. 8, the first and second package units 22a, 22b (FIG. 7) have been removed, and a new, fourth package unit 22d is being inserted into the second compartment 28b by the user 100. Once again, the fill openings 82 provide ready access to the compartments 28 such that the package units 22 are easily interested into, and removed from, the corresponding compartment 28.

The face mask packaging, dispensing systems and methods of dispensing face masks in accordance with aspects of the present disclosure provide marked improvements over previous designs. By compartmentally storing differently-styled face masks in close relation to one another, health care personnel can consistently, and quickly, find a desired face mask for a particular procedure. Further, the face mask package units are neatly stored and not unduly exposed to possible contamination. In other embodiments, the flexible containment body (e.g., “soft” puck) presents a marked improvement over conventional cardboard box face mask packaging, and can be employed to maintain face mask sterility.

Although the present invention has been described with reference to preferred embodiments, workers skilled in the art will recognize that changes can be made in form and detail without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention. For example, while the dispenser housing has been described in connection with face mask package units otherwise incorporating a flexible containment body (e.g., a film-based containment body structure), in other embodiments, more conventional face mask packaging can be employed. Conversely, the face mask package unit with flexible containment body is highly useful and unique as a standalone article, such that the dispenser housing is not required.