Title:
System and Clip for Holding and Filling a Stack of Flexible Packages
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention is a packaging system having a plurality of flexible packages that are arranged in a stack and held together with a clip having a pair of fingers and a retaining tongue that support and hold the flexible packages in the stack. The clip permits an outermost package to be filled and then removed from the stack with minimal tearing or damage to the flexible package. The clip comprises a body formed of a resilient flexible material, a pair of fingers extending outwardly in opposite directions from the body, and a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in the body that is configured and arranged to apply a clamping force against the stack so that the packages are retained in a stack. The clip and the fingers may comprise a flexible material that can collapse so that the flexible bag may be easily removed from the stack.



Inventors:
Hinley Jr., Robert W. (Ringwood, IL, US)
Kennedy, James D. (Elmhurst, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/560509
Publication Date:
05/17/2007
Filing Date:
11/16/2006
Assignee:
AMCOR Flexibles Healthcare, Inc.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D1/34
View Patent Images:
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20080210704Top or bottom loading containerSeptember, 2008Lomg et al.
20080116089Gift card carriersMay, 2008Roberts
20030111381Bag dispenser and a bag unit thereforeJune, 2003Borrisuttanakul
20080179362Cigarette lighter holder with built-in clipJuly, 2008Vaysberg et al.



Primary Examiner:
REYNOLDS, STEVEN ALAN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ALSTON & BIRD LLP (CHARLOTTE, NC, US)
Claims:
That which is claimed:

1. A packaging system comprising: a plurality of flexible packages arranged in a stack, each package having an open edge defining an mouth through which the package can be filled, and each package having at least one opening formed therein adjacent the open edge; and a clip retaining and holding the flexible packages as a stack, the clip comprising a body formed of a resilient flexible material and having at least one finger extending outwardly from the body, the body extending into one side of the stack through the opening formed in the respective individual packages so that the finger engages an outermost package of the stack; and a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in said body and configured and arranged to engage the stack and to apply a clamping force so that the packages are retained in a stack.

2. The packaging system of claim 1, wherein the clip includes a pair of fingers extending outwardly in opposite directions from the body and wherein each finger is configured and arranged to engage the outmost package of the stack.

3. The packaging system of claim 1, wherein the flexible packages of the stack are arranged with the open edge thereof on a common side of the stack.

4. The packaging system of claim 3, wherein the flexible packages are of a generally rectangular configuration, each having said open edge and three closed edges.

5. The packaging system of claim 3, additionally including a hanger opening formed in the body at a location spaced from the finger, and the system including a support peg extending laterally through the hanger opening so that the clip suspends the stack of packages for filling with the open edges of the respective packages oriented upwardly.

6. The packaging system of claim 4, wherein the finger engages the outermost package of the stack and the clip is positioned onto the support peg with the finger facing outwardly so that the outermost package may be individually removed from the stack by sliding the opening of the outermost package off of the finger.

7. The packaging system of claim 5, including a compressed air source positioned above the support peg and oriented toward the open edges of the packages so that a blast of compressed air from the source will enter the open edge of the outermost package to open it to facilitate filling the package with an article.

8. The packaging system of claim 6, including a second opening formed in each package adjacent said open edge thereof and at a location spaced from the first opening, and a second clip retaining and holding the flexible packages as a stack, and a second support peg extending laterally through the hanger opening of the second clip so that the stack of packages is suspended from the two clips with the open edges of the respective packages oriented upwardly.

9. The packaging system of claim 8, including a projection extending from said body at a distal location from said finger, the projection having a configuration adapted to pass through the opening in another like clip so that the projection of one clip can be passed through the opening of the other clip for holding the stack of packages in a folded configuration for storage and shipment.

10. The packaging system of claim 8, wherein the second clip comprises a body formed of a resilient flexible material, at least one finger extending outwardly from the body, the body extending into one side of the stack through the second opening formed in the respective individual packages so that the finger engages an outermost package of the stack, a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in said body and configured and arranged to engage the outermost package of the stack and to apply a clamping force against the stack, and a hanger opening formed in the body at a location spaced from the finger.

11. The packaging system of claim 5, wherein the flexible packages comprise packages of a generally rectangular configuration formed of opposed sheets or tubular construction of flexible thermoplastic film, each having said open edge and three closed edges.

12. The packaging system of claim 11, wherein the thermoplastic film is selected from the group consisting of ethylene homopolymer, ethylene copolymer, propylene homopolymer, propylene homopolymer, propylene copolymers, ionomers, paper, and blends thereof.

13. The packaging system of claim 11, wherein the packages comprise sterilizable packages for medical instruments.

14. The packaging system of claim 13, including one or more breathable vents through which a sterilization agent may be introduced into an interior space of the package.

15. A packaging system comprising: a plurality of rectangular-shaped packages arranged in a stack, each package having an open edge defining a mouth through which the package can be filled, and each package having one or more spaced apart openings formed therein adjacent the open edge; and one or more clips retaining and holding the rectangular packages as a stack, each clip comprising a body formed of a resilient flexible material, a pair of fingers extending outwardly in opposite directions from the body, the body extending into one side of the stack through one of said openings formed in the respective individual packages so that each pair of fingers engages an outermost package of the stack, and a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in said body and configured and arranged to engage the outermost package of the stack and to apply a clamping force against the stack so that the packages are retained in a stack.

16. The package system according to claim 15, wherein each finger includes an angled surface that engages the outermost package of the stack so that the outermost package may be individually removable from the stack by sliding the outermost package along each angled surface until the pair openings slide off each respective pair of fingers.

17. The package system according to claim 15, wherein each pair of fingers are collapsible so that an outermost package may be individually removed from the stack by sliding the pair openings of the outermost package off each respective pair of fingers.

18. The package system according to claim 15, wherein each package comprises a front sheet and a rear sheet affixed to each other to define a mouth to the package, the rear sheet extending beyond the front sheet and the package mouth to define a flap, and wherein the one or more openings are formed in said flap.

19. The package system according to claim 18, wherein the front and rear sheets include inner surfaces that are heat sealable to each other.

20. The package system according to claim 18, wherein the front and rear sheets are affixed to each other with an adhesive, thermal bond, or ultrasonic fusion bond.

21. The package system according to claim 18, wherein each package comprises a tubular construction that defines the front and rear sheets.

22. A clip for retaining and holding a stack of individually separable flexible packages to facilitate filling of individual packages and removal of a filled package from the stack, the clip comprising: a body formed of a resilient flexible material that is configured to be at least partially inserted into a stack of packages through an opening formed in each respective package; a pair of fingers extending outwardly in opposite directions from the body and configured to engage an outermost package of a stack of packages when the body is at least partially inserted into the stack of packages; and a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in said body and configured to engage the outermost package of the stack and to apply a clamping force against the stack of packages so that the packages are retained in a stack and may be individually removed therefrom.

23. The clip according to claim 22, additionally including a hanger opening formed in the body so that the clip can be hung from a support.

24. The clip according to claim 22, including a projection extending from said body at a distal location from said fingers, the projection having a configuration adapted to pass through the opening in another like clip.

25. The clip according to claim 24, wherein the projection has an arrow-head like shape.

26. A method of packaging a plurality of flexible packages as a stack, the method comprising: assembling a plurality of flexible packages as a stack; providing a clip having a clip body formed of a resilient flexible, at least one finger extending outwardly from the body, and a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in said body; inserting the clip into the stack of packages through an opening formed in each respective package until the at least one finger engages an outermost package of the stack so that the at least one finger holds and supports the stack; and engaging the outermost package of the stack with the retaining tongue so that a clamping pressure is applied against the stack so that the packages are retained in a stack.

27. The method according to claim 26, wherein the clip includes a hangar opening and further comprises the step of inserting a peg support through said hanger opening so that the stack of flexible packages are in a suspended position.

28. The method according to claim 26, further comprising the step of removing an outermost package from the stack by applying a pulling force on the outermost package so that the opening slides over the at least one finger.

29. A method of packaging an article comprising: providing a packaging system according to claim 1; creating a mouth into an interior space of an outermost flexible package; inserting an item into an interior space of the flexible package; detaching the flexible package from the packaging system; and sealing the opening of the thus removed flexible package to enclose the item therein.

30. The method according to claim 29, further comprising introducing a sterilization agent into the interior of the flexible package.

31. The method according to claim 29, wherein the step of creating a mouth includes blasting compressed air into the open edge of the outermost flexible package to open it.

32. The method according to claim 29, wherein the step of sealing comprises contacting an exterior surface of the flexible package with a heating element so that heat from the heating element seals the mouth closed.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application is related to commonly owned copending Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/737,817, filed Nov. 17, 2005, incorporated herein by reference in its entirety, and claims the benefit of its earlier filing date under 35 U.S.C. 119(e).

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Flexible packages, such as bags, are commonly used to package a wide variety of items. In some cases, it may be desirable to ship and store a plurality of such packages in a configuration that may permit an operator to fill and remove an individual package from the plurality of packages.

Traditional means of securing a plurality of packages to each other includes the use of staples, rubber stoppers, or similar devices. Such devices may sometimes damage the flexible packages as they are being separated. Devices such as staples typically include sharp edges that may loosen or detach. In some cases an operator may inadvertently contact a sharp edge of the staple and sustain an injury.

Wire wicket devices are also commonly used to retain a plurality of packages. Wire wicket devices typically include a U-shape wire holder that is to hold a stack of flexible packages for easy loading and removal from the holder. Once open, an operator may fill the package. Similar to the devices above, wicket wires may also result in tears or damage to the packaging. In some cases, traditional wicket wires may tear or separate pieces of the package, which may result in accumulation of small particles within a packaging area. In addition, because wicket wires typically are in a form of a U-shaped wire holder, they may also require a bigger foot print. In some packaging applications space may be limited and accommodating a wicket wire may not be feasible. Additionally, the use of wire wickets may include additional parts for retaining the packages on the U-shaped wire holder. In some cases, such parts, such as rubber grommets, rubber tips, chip board header, etc, may be inadvertently separated from the U-shaped wire holder and may fall into a package.

Thus, there exists a need for a packaging system that permits a plurality of flexible packages to be stored in compact stack and an individual package to be filled and removed from the stack with minimal damage to the package.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention provides a packaging system that overcomes many of the aforementioned problems. In one embodiment, the packaging system comprises a plurality of flexible packages that are arranged in a stack and held together with a clip having a pair of fingers and a retaining tongue that support and hold the flexible packages in the stack. The clip permits an outermost package to be filled and then removed from the stack with minimal tearing or damage to the flexible package.

In one embodiment, the clip comprises a body formed of a resilient flexible material, at least one finger extending outwardly from the body, and a resiliently deformable retaining tongue formed in the body that is configured and arranged to apply a clamping force against the stack so that the packages are retained in a stack. In some embodiments, the clip comprises a pair of fingers that extend outwardly from opposite sides of the body.

The flexible packages include at least one opening through which the body of the clip is at least partially insertable so that the fingers engage an outer surface of the outermost package on the stack. The retaining tongue is also configured to engage the outermost package of the stack so that the fingers and the retaining tongue retain the stack of flexible packages. An operator may then remove a flexible package from the stack by applying a pulling force on the outermost flexible package in a direction away from the stack. In one embodiment, the clip and the fingers comprises a flexible material so that as the outermost flexible package is pulled away from the stack, the fingers may collapse and permit the openings to slide over them. As a result, the packaging system may permit the easy removal of a flexible package from the stack with minimal damage to the flexible package.

In some embodiments, each flexible package includes a mouth through which an item can be placed into the interior of the package. In one embodiment, each flexible package within the stack may be arranged so their respective mouths are oriented in an upward direction and face outwardly away from the stack. As a result, an operator may efficiently place an item in the mouth without having to fumble about in an attempt to open the package or remove the package before inserting the item into the flexible package.

In another embodiment, the packaging system may be used in a system for packaging and sterilizing medical devices. In this embodiment, the packaging system may include a plurality of flexible packages that may each include a breathable vent that permits a sterilization agent to be introduced into the interior of the flexible package. An operator may insert an item into the package and then remove it from the stack. The flexible package may then be sealed so that the item is enclosed within the flexible package. Thereafter the flexible package may be placed into a sterilization chamber that introduces the sterilization agent into the package. The sealed and sterilized flexible package may be used, shipped, and/or stored.

Thus, the invention provides an efficient means of storing, filling, and removing a flexible package from a stack of such packages.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWING(S)

Having thus described the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a packaging system having at least one clip that holds and supports a plurality of flexible packages in a stack;

FIG. 2a is a graphical illustration of a clip for holding and supporting a plurality of flexible packages;

FIG. 2b is another embodiment of the clip that includes a projection for attaching two like clips together;

FIG. 2c is an illustration of an embodiment of the clip wherein the fingers include an angled surface that helps facilitate removal of a flexible package from the clip;

FIG. 2d is an illustration of an embodiment of the clip wherein the clip includes a single finger for engaging the outermost package of the stack;

FIG. 2e is an illustration of an embodiment of the clip wherein the clip includes a pair of fingers and a retaining tongue that extends outwardly from a side edge of the clip;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the packaging system of FIG. 1 illustrating the removal of a flexible package from the stack and wherein the packaging system is in a suspended position;

FIG. 4 is a perspective of the packaging system of FIG. 1 illustrating the use of a compressed air source to help facilitate opening of a flexible package;

FIGS. 5-6 illustrate an embodiment of the invention wherein the clip includes a projection that is used to retain the stack of flexible packages in a folded configuration for shipment and handling;

FIG. 7 is a graphical illustration of a flexible package that includes a breathable vent through which a sterilization agent may be introduced into the flexible packaging; and

FIG. 8 is a schematic illustration of a system of using the packaging system of FIG. 1 to fill a flexible package and sterilize its contents.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present inventions now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which some, but not all embodiments of the inventions are shown. Indeed, these inventions may be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will satisfy applicable legal requirements. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.

With reference to FIG. 1, a packaging system for detachably retaining a plurality of flexible packages is illustrated and broadly designated by reference number 10. In one alternative embodiment, the packaging system 10 may comprise a plurality of flexible packages 12 that are arranged in a stack 13 and a clip 20 for retaining and holding the flexible packages in a stack. The flexible package may include at least one opening 18 formed in the flexible package adjacent to the open edge 14. The opening 18 defines a channel in the flexible package through which a clip 20 may be removably inserted. The clip may include at least one finger 24 and a retaining tongue 28 that may be used to hold and support the stack of flexible packages. As shown in FIG. 1, the clip may include a pair of fingers 24.

In some embodiments, the flexible packages may include a second opening formed in the flexible package which may also be adjacent to the open edge 14. In the illustrated embodiments, the flexible package includes a pair of two such openings that are spaced apart. In other embodiments, the flexible package system may comprise a single opening and clip for holding and supporting the flexible packages. The opening 18 defines a channel through which at least a portion of the clip may be inserted through the flexible package. The opening may have a variety of shapes and configurations provided that it permits the body of the clip to be at least partially inserted into the opening and permits the finger 24 to engage an outer surface (see briefly FIG. 3, reference number 60) of the flexible package. For example, the opening may have a slit-like shape, a hole or punch-like shape, oval shape, circular shape, rectangular shape, a u-like shape, and the like.

In one embodiment, the flexible package comprises a front sheet 40 and a rear sheet 42 that are oriented face-to-face and affixed to each other at side edges 46, 48 and bottom edge 50. In another embodiment, the top edge 52 of rear sheet 42 may extend from the rear sheet beyond the open edge 14 of the front sheet along mouth 16 to define extension flap 54. In some embodiments, extension 54 may merely be a continuous extension of rear sheet 42. In one embodiment, one or more openings 18 may be formed in extension flap 54. In other embodiments, the flexible packages may include a pair of cooperating openings that are formed in the front and rear sheets through which a clip may be inserted. The term flexible package includes any type of storage medium having an interior space and a mouth through which items may be inserted to fill the package. In one embodiment, the term flexible package may also include, with out limitation, pouches, bags, satchels, flexible containers, and the like.

In one embodiment, each flexible package 12 may include an open edge 14 that defines a mouth 16 through which an item may be inserted into an interior space of the package. In some embodiments, the stack 13 may be arranged so that the open edge 14 of each flexible package is disposed on a common side of the stack. In FIG. 1, the plurality of flexible packages are each depicted as having three closed edges and open edge 14 which is disposed facing outwardly away from the stack. The outwardly facing open edge helps facilitate the opening and filling of the flexible packages in an efficient manner.

The clip 20 provides a means for retaining and holding the plurality flexible packages in a stack. With reference to FIGS. 2a and 2b, the clip 20 comprises a body 22 having a pair of fingers 24 that extend outwardly in opposite direction from the body 22. In one embodiment, the fingers 24 extend outwardly in opposite directions from side edges 26. The size and length of the fingers may be selected to provide a desired level of holding and/or dispensing force. The clip 20 may also include a retaining tongue 28 formed in the body 22 that is capable of extending outwardly from the body of clip 20. In this regard, FIG. 2b illustrates the retaining tongue 28 being moved outwardly from the body of the clip. In some embodiments, the body may include front and rear surfaces 30, 32 from which the retaining tongue may be configured to extend outwardly.

In some embodiments, the clip 20 may also include a hangar opening 34 formed in the body of the clip and spaced apart from fingers 24. The hangar opening 34 may provide a means whereby the packaging system may be suspended (See briefly FIG. 3, reference numbers 34, 64). As shown in FIG. 2b, the clip may also include a projection 36 that may permit two like clips to be fastened together so that the stack of packages can be disposed in a folded condition for storage and shipment. This is discussed in greater detail below.

As shown in FIG. 2c, each finger 24 may include an angled surface 25 that is configured and arranged to engage an outermost package of the stack of flexible packages. The angled surface 25 may help facilitate removal of the outermost package from the stack. For example, the outermost flexible package may be removed from the stack by applying a pulling force on the package in a direction that is away from the stack. The pulling force causes the edges of the package that are adjacent to the openings to slide along the angled surface 25 until the openings slide off each finger. As a result, the angle surface 25 may help facilitate removal of the package while minimizing tearing that may occur adjacent to the openings.

In another embodiment, the clip may include a single finger that is configured and arranged to engage an outermost package of the stack. In this regard, FIG. 2d illustrates a clip 20 having a single finger 24 that projects outwardly from the body 22. In this embodiment, a lower portion 23 of the body may extend beyond the finger 24 and may also engage the outermost package on the stack. The shape and size of the lower portion 23 may be configured to provide sufficient surface area to engage the flexible package so that the flexible packages are retained on the stack. In yet another embodiment, the clip may include a retaining tongue that extends laterally from a side edge of the body. In this regard, FIG. 2e illustrates an embodiment of the clip 20 comprising a body 22 having a pair of fingers 24 that extend outwardly in opposite direction from the body 22 and a retaining tongue 28 formed in the body 22 and that extends outwardly from a side edge 26 of the body. In this embodiment, the retaining tongue can be configured and arranged to engage and secure the outermost package of the stack to the clip.

As can best be seen in FIG. 3, a portion of the body 22 extends at least partially through one side 58 of the stack of flexible packages (i.e., front sheet) to the opposite side 56 of the stack (i.e., rear sheet). In one embodiment, the widths of the openings 18 may be approximately the same width of the body 22 so that when the body of the clip is inserted through opening(s) on one or more of the flexible packages, the fingers will extend beyond the width of the slip. As a result, the fingers can engage an outer surface 60 of the outermost flexible package 62 of the stack to thereby retain the stack of flexible packages on the clip. In one embodiment, the clip may comprise a resilient flexible material, such as a thermoplastic material. A resilient flexible material may permit the clip to have some flexibility that may help facilitate the insertion and removal of the clip into and out of the opening(s). For example, the fingers may comprise a material that permits the fingers to collapse as one of the flexible packages is being removed from the stack. As a result, a flexible package may be removed from the stack with minimal tearing or damage to the outer surface that is adjacent to the fingers. In one embodiment, when the body of the clip is at least partially inserted through the openings 18 of the plurality of flexible packages, the retaining tongue 28 extends over the back edges 52 of the plurality of flexible packages and engages the opposite side 58 (i.e., front sheet) of the stack of flexible packages. As shown in FIG. 3, the body of the clip is depicted as partially extending into the stack of flexible packages through the openings formed in each individual package. In one embodiment, when the body is at least partially inserted into the stack of packages, the pair of fingers are configured to engage an outermost package of the stack of packages and the retaining tongue is also configured to engage the outermost package of the stack and to apply a clamping force against the stack of packages so that the packages are retained in a stack.

The retaining tongue may comprise a resiliently deformable material so that when the retaining tongue extends outwardly from the body it may posses an inherent desire to return to a non-extended state. As a result, the retaining tongue may be used to apply a clamping force against the stack of flexible packages so that the flexible packages are retained in a stack.

As discussed above, the clip 20 may also include a hangar opening 34 that may be used to support the flexible packages in a suspended position. In this regard, FIG. 3 depicts an embodiment of the invention wherein the packaging system includes a pair of support pegs 64 that extend laterally through the hanger openings 34. In one embodiment, the stack of flexible packages may be suspended by clip with the open edges 14 of the flexible packages being oriented in an upward direction and facing outwardly from the stack of flexible packages. While in a suspended position, an operator may easily open and fill the outermost flexible package.

As shown in FIG. 3, the outermost flexible package 62 may be removed from the stack of flexible packages 13 by applying a pulling action to the outermost flexible package in a direction opposite of the stack. In some embodiments, the outermost flexible package may be removed from the stack by applying a pulling action downwardly and away from the stack. In some cases, the pulling action may permit the openings to slip over fingers and thereby detach the outermost flexible package from the stack. In other cases, the pulling action may cause a perforation of the outer surface 60 as the flexible package is detached from the stack.

In some embodiments, one or more items 66 may be inserted into the flexible package. In one embodiment, the one or more items may be inserted into the flexible package before the outermost package has been removed from the stack 13. In such an embodiment, it may be desirable to orient the stack of flexible packages so that the open edge 14 of each flexible package is facing outwardly away from the stack. As a result, this may help facilitate the quick and efficient filling of the flexible package and may help reduce any difficulties that may be experience in filling the flexible package. In other embodiments, the one or more items can be placed into a flexible package after removal from the stack.

In one alternative embodiment, the package system 10 may be used in conjunction with a device that may help open the flexible package while it is still attached to the clip. In this regard, FIG. 4 illustrates an embodiment of the invention where a compressed air source 70, such as nozzle, is positioned above the mouth 16 of the outermost flexible package 62. In some embodiments, the air source may be positioned above the support peg. The air source may be oriented to provide a blast of compressed air that enters the open edge 14 of the flexible package to thereby open the mouth of the flexible package. The opened mouth may permit an operator to fill the flexible package in an efficient manner. As a result, the amount of time that may be associated with trying to find the mouth or open the flexible package may be reduced. In some embodiments, opening of the flexible packages may be an automated process.

As discussed above, the clip may also include a projection that permits two like clips to be fastened together so that a stack of flexible packages may be disposed in a folded condition for storage and shipment. In this regard, FIGS. 5 and 6 illustrate a packaging system 10 wherein at least one of the clips 20 includes a projection 36 that projects outwardly from the body at a distal location 38 from the fingers 24. The projection has a configuration that permits the projection to pass through an opening in another like clip. In one embodiment, the projection may have a configuration that is adapted to pass through a hangar opening 34 of the other clip. As can be seen in FIGS. 5 and 6, the stack of flexible packages may be folded so that the projection may be inserted into the corresponding hanger opening 34 on the other clip 20. The stack of flexible packages may be retained in this folded configuration for storage and shipment.

In some embodiments, the hanger opening may include one or more slits or incisions that help to facilitate inserting the projection into the hanger opening. In this regard, FIG. 2c illustrates an embodiment wherein a slit 35 is formed in the body 22 of the clip adjacent to the hanger opening 34. As shown, the slit 35 extends from the hanger opening into the body of the clip. To join two clips together, a user can align the projection 36 on one clip with the hanger opening and the slit 35 on a second clip. Thereafter, the user presses the projection through the hanger opening. Pressing the projection through the hanger opening when it is aligned with the slit will cause the slit to slightly separate so that the projection can be inserted into the hanger opening. In some embodiments, the orientation of the slit may be arranged so that once two clips have been joined together, the clip that is inserted into a corresponding hanger opening is rotated slightly so that the stack of packages are maintained in an orderly stack. Rotation of the clip within the hanger opening may also help prevent the projection from inadvertently passing back through the hanger opening, and may also permit a user to easily separate the clips by rotating one of the clips in the hanger opening so that the projection is aligned with the slit.

In some embodiments, the projection may have an arrowhead-like shape. The arrowhead shape helps facilitate the insertion of the projection into the hanger opening. As shown in FIG. 5, a lower portion of the arrowhead may include a surface 39 that abuts the rear surface of the body after the projection has passed through the opening. The projection may be removed by applying a pulling force to the clip so that surface 39 passes through hanger opening 34.

As discussed above, the flexible package may comprises a front sheet 40 and a rear sheet 42 that are oriented face-to-face and affixed to each other at side edges 46, 48 and bottom edge 50. Preferably, each of the side edges and bottom edge are permanently sealed. In some embodiments the front and rear sheets may comprise two separate sheets, or alternatively, a single sheet that has been center-folded at bottom edge 50. Together the sheets define flexible package 12 having an interior space for receiving an item and a mouth 16 through which an item can be placed into the interior of the package. The front and rear sheets may be sealed together using adhesive, thermal bonds, ultrasonic bonds, radio frequency sealing, or the like.

In another embodiment, the flexible package may comprise a thermoplastic material that may be suitable for medical packaging applications. In one embodiment, the flexible package may comprise a thermoplastic material having barrier properties that may be used to maintain the interior of the flexible package in a substantially sterile condition.

In yet another embodiment, the flexible package may include one or more breathable vents, such as a membrane, through which a sterilization agent may be introduced into the interior of the package. In this regard, FIG. 7 illustrates a flexible package 12 having a breathable vent 80 that permits the introduction of a sterilization agent into the package, while preventing the ingress of contaminants and other pathogens into the package. Sterilization agents may include, but are not limited to, steam and ethylene oxide.

In one embodiment, the packaging system may be particularly useful in the packaging and sterilization of medical instruments and devices. FIG. 8 is a schematic illustration of a method and system 90 of using the packaging system to package and sterilize one or more items within a flexible package. In one embodiment, system 90 may comprise a packaging system 10, a sealing device 92, such as a vacuum sealer, and a sterilization chamber 94. In a first step, an operator may insert one or more items 66 into the interior of a flexible package. The filled flexible packaging may then be removed from the clips 20. In a next step, the mouth of the flexible packaging may be sealed, for example, with a heat seal. Next, the contents of the flexible package may be sterilized by introducing a sterilization agent into the interior of the flexible package. Alternatively, the contents of the flexible package may be sterilized prior to sealing the mouth of the package closed. In some embodiments, the sterilization chamber may comprise an autoclave or a gas chamber that flushes the flexible package with a sterilization agent such as ethylene oxide. After the package 12 has been sealed and sterilized, it may be packaged in a larger container, stored, and/or shipped.

In some embodiments, the system 90 may also include a compressed air source (see briefly, FIG. 4, reference number 70) that may help facilitate filling of the flexible packages in a relatively more efficient manner. In some embodiments, the system 90 may include a means of conveying 96 the flexible package between subsequent steps. Such conveyance means may include a conveyor belt, carts, and the like.

After the flexible package has been manufactured, sealed, and filled, it is ready for sterilization. Autoclaving is a method that is commonly used for sterilizing medical products. In one technique, the sterilized package is placed into a plastic overwrap or container. The overwrap may serve as a dust cover and help protect the contents of the package from any external foreign contaminants, moisture loss, gas permeation, etc. If desired, the sterilization process could be performed following the overwrapping process.

In one alternative embodiment, the flexible package of the present invention may be prepared from a variety of suitable plastic materials whereby a strong, lightweight, reliable, yet economic container is provided. Preferably, each sheet comprises a plastic material having an inner surface capable of forming a strong heat seal with the inner surface of the opposite sheet to define the package. Suitable plastic materials include both multi- and mono-layered films, webs, laminates, and the like. In other embodiments, the flexible packages may comprise both multi- and mono-layered paper and cellulose materials.

In some embodiments, the flexible package may comprise one or more thermoplastic materials. In one embodiment, the flexible package may comprise a thermoplastic material that may be useful in medical applications. Suitable thermoplastic material may include polyolefins including, ethylene homopolymer, ethylene copolymer, propylene homopolymer, propylene homopolymer, propylene copolymers, and blends thereof. Suitable ethylene copolymers may include ethylene/alpha-olefin copolymers. The term “ethylene/alpha-olefin copolymer” generally designates copolymers of ethylene with one or more comonomers selected from C3 to C20 alpha-olefins, such as 1-butene, 1-pentene, 1-hexene, 1-octene, methyl pentene and the like, in which the polymer molecules comprise long chains with relatively few side chain branches. A more in depth description of ethylene/alpha-olefin copolymer is contained in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,695,840 and 6,027,776, the contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.

Suitable material may also include film/laminates comprising a blend of polyethylene and an ionomer. In one embodiment, the polyethylene-ionomer blend may contain from about 12 to about 95% ionomer and from about 5 to about 88% polyethylene, the blends in such ranges may provide films/laminates having excellent properties as well as excellent linear tear qualities in the direction of extrusion.

Preferably, flexible packages for use in the medical field are prepared from films or laminates that can withstand the high-temperature sterilization and storage conditions that are commonly associated with medical solutions and powders. Particularly useful films for medical packages are described in U.S. Pat. No. Re 30,726, the contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.

The flexible package may be prepared in a variety of ways. In one embodiment, the package may be prepared from a roll of double-wound film wherein the sheets are separated to form the front and rear sheets of the package. The separate sheets may then be conveyed in a substantially parallel manner. In other embodiments, the front and rear sheets may be formed from a tubular film, slit tubular film, or from sheets of film that are provided on separate supply rolls. In one embodiment, the flexible packages may comprise a tubular or slit tubular film wherein the opposing faces of the tubular film define the front and rear sheets. In some embodiments, any excess sheet material can be trimmed away from around the perimeter heat seals. If desired, the front or rear sheets may be printed with any necessary labeling information.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the inventions set forth herein will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which these inventions pertain having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the inventions are not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.