Title:
PRESSURIZED GAS TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method and apparatus for a pressurized gas cylinder transportation system, which may be rapidly loaded, unloaded and refueled. A transportation system may include transportation equipment, a lift system, a cylinder holding cage, a single cylinder hand truck and a gas refueling station to deliver the cylinders.



Inventors:
Patterson, Paul (Green Bay, WI, US)
Wichmann, Michael (New London, WI, US)
Hackel, James (Pulaski, WI, US)
Application Number:
11/164385
Publication Date:
05/24/2007
Filing Date:
11/21/2005
Assignee:
Badger Energy Services LLC (Oconto Falls, WI, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B69/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
RUDAWITZ, JOSHUA I
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GODFREY & KAHN S.C. (Milwaukee, WI, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for handling and delivering pressurized gas cylinders, the method comprising: providing a plurality of gas cylinders positioned within a cylinder holding cage, each cylinder holding cage positioned within a transportation equipment, the transportation equipment located at a cylinder refueling location; charging at least one of the cylinders without removing the cylinder from the cylinder holding cage or from the transportation equipment; moving transportation equipment to a desired location; removing at least one of the cylinders from the cylinder holding cage using a portable lifting device, and leaving the cylinder at the desired location; acquiring a second cylinder at the desired location and positioning the second cylinder within the cylinder holding cage within the transportation equipment using the portable lifting device; and returning the transportation equipment to the cylinder refueling location.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein cylinders are placed within the cylinder holding cage before the cylinder holding cage is positioned within the transportation equipment.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein the portable lifting device is carried on the transportation equipment.

4. The method of claim 3, wherein the portable lifting device is a forklift and the transportation equipment is configured to carry the forklift externally.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein the portable lifting device is a single cylinder hand truck.

6. The method of claim 1, wherein the transportation equipment is a truck.

7. The method of claim 1, wherein at least one of the cylinders includes a gas level indicator.

8. The method of claim 1, wherein there are multiple desired locations to which the transportation equipment may be directed and steps (b) - (d) are repeated until all desired locations are reached.

9. The method of claim 1, wherein the cylinder holding cage includes a frame with a base frame and a top face with sidewalls between the base frame and the top face, the frame further having a plurality of shelves between the base frame and the top face and extending between sidewalls, the frame defining an access end for receiving cylinders, the base frame including at least one receptacle positioned between the base frame and a first shelf, the receptacle adapted to receive a lift device to move the cylinder holding cage, and each of the plurality of shelves allowing for horizontal storage of the cylinders by insertion of the cylinders through the access end.

10. A method for handling and delivering pressurized gas cylinders, the method comprising: providing a plurality of gas cylinders positioned within a cylinder holding cage, each cylinder holding cage positioned within a transportation equipment, the transportation equipment located at a cylinder refueling location; charging at least one of the cylinders without removing the cylinder from the cylinder holding cage or from the transportation equipment; moving transportation equipment to a desired location; removing the cylinder holding cage from the transportation equipment using a portable lifting device, and leaving the cylinder holding cage at the desired location; acquiring a second cylinder holding cage at the desired location and positioning the second cylinder holding cage within the transportation equipment using the portable lifting device; and returning the transportation equipment to the cylinder refueling location.

11. The method of claim 10, wherein the transportation equipment is a truck.

12. The method of claim 10, wherein the portable lifting device is a forklift.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein the transportation equipment is configured to carry the forklift externally.

14. A cylinder holding cage comprising: a frame including a top face and base frame and sidewalls secured thereto and extending therebetween, a plurality of shelves positioned between the top face and the base frame extending between sidewalls, the frame defining an access end for receiving objects; the base frame having at least one receptacle secured to the base frame and a first shelf, the receptacle adapted to receive a variety of lifting device to move the cylinder holding cage; and the plurality of shelves configured for generally horizontal storage of cylinders which are inserted through the access end of the frame.

15. The cylinder holding cage of claim 14, wherein the access end includes at least one-hinged door attached to the frame which is movable between a first position blocking removal or insertion of cylinders within at least one of the shelves and a second position allowing removal or insertion of cylinders.

16. The cylinder holding cage of claim 15, wherein the hinged door includes a lock.

17. The cylinder holding cage of claim 14, wherein at least one of the shelves include an upwardly positioned convex surface on which cylinders may be received.

18. The cylinder holding cage of claim 14, wherein at least one of the shelves includes a plurality of channels defining a plurality of locations to receive cylinders.

19. The cylinder holding cage of claim 18, wherein the at least one shelf includes an upwardly positioned convex surface at each of the cylinder receiving locations.

20. The cylinder holding cage of claim 14, wherein a plurality of support beams extend between and connect the plurality shelves.

21. single cylinder hand truck comprising: a base frame including two front stationary wheels and at least one movable rear wheel attached thereto, the base frame having at least one vertical support beam attached thereto; the vertical support beam having a vertically movable horizontal platform and an actuator attached thereto, the actuator operable to move the horizontal platform vertically; and the vertically movable platform having at least two horizontal beams to form a channel to hold a cylinder.

22. The single cylinder hand truck of claim 21, wherein at least one of the horizontal beams includes one receptacle for temporarily securing the hand truck to a cylinder holding cage within which a gas cylinder may be located.

23. The single cylinder hand truck of claim 21, further comprising a clamp adjacent the horizontal beams to releasably secure the gas cylinder to the hand truck.

24. The single cylinder hand truck of claim 21, wherein the actuator is mechanically actuated.

25. The single cylinder hand truck of claim 21, wherein the actuator is electrically actuated.

26. The single cylinder hand truck of claim 21, wherein a handle is attached to 5the vertical support beam.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to the delivery and transportation of fuels in small containers, and in particular to methods and apparatus for making such delivery and transportation efficient and less costly.

The pressurized gas business is a competitive nationwide industry. The pressurized gas business requires the transportation of a large number of pressurized gas cylinders. These cylinders are filled with gas before delivery to customer sites. After the gas is consumed, the empty cylinders are picked up and delivered to the gas refueling station. These empty cylinders are refilled and delivered back to customer sites. This process requires repeated loading and unloading of filled and empty gas cylinders. Since the process requires repeated cylinder loading and unloading, the process is labor intensive and expensive. Therefore, the industry is constantly examining new ways to better transport the large numbers of pressurized gas cylinders needed by its customers.

palletized trucking system is one conventional approach for transporting the large numbers of pressurized gas cylinders needed in the industry, e.g., in Stavlo, U.S. Pat. No. 4,542,774. This conventional palletized trucking system allows a pallet holding a plurality of gas cylinders to be loaded and unloaded from the vehicle using a forklift, as opposed to loading and unloading individual gas cylinders. This conventional palletized trucking system reduced the number of times an operator was required to handle each individual cylinder, which in turn helped reduce the occurrence of operator injuries compared to earlier cylinder handling approaches.

However, such palletized trucking systems are not completely satisfactory. First, each of the cylinders still had to be individually loaded and unloaded from the pallet during the delivery cycle. In this conventional palletized trucking system, the cylinders are removed from the pallet for refueling. This refueling process requires handling each cylinder twice, once when the cylinder is removed from the pallet to recharge the cylinder, and again when it is returned to the pallet fully charged for delivery to a customer. There have been attempts to remedy this disadvantage that have met with varying degrees of success, e.g., in Princiotta, U.S. Pats. Nos. 5,709,252 and 5,954,099. However, improvements to the conventional approach are desirable.

Second, the weight and size of the pallets required that the pallets be loaded and unloaded from the delivery vehicle using a forklift or other mechanized equipment. The need to have such equipment available for loading and unloading may result in increased capital cost for gas cylinder providers and also increased fuel usage.

Third, this conventional palletized approach required that a delivery driver had to load and unload individual cylinders at customer sites. This may result in increased delivery times as the delivery driver was required to physically carry and place each cylinder at the desired customer location.

Fourth, the amount of physical handling of the cylinder often resulted in an increased rate of injuries occurring. In the conventional palletized trucking system, each cylinder is stored in an embedded position at a zero or negative angle to the horizontal plane. A cross bar may be positioned across the cylinders to lock the cylinders in place on the pallet. To remove a cylinder from a pallet, the cylinder may be manually lifted to clear the cross bar. Whether the cylinder is being lifted for delivery or recharging, such a movement may result in injury to an operator.

Improvements to the conventional approaches for handling and transporting pressurized gas cylinders for delivery to customers and for other purposes are desirable.

SUMMARY

The present invention relates generally to the transportation and handling of pressurized gas cylinders. More specifically, the present invention relates to a method of handling and delivering gas cylinders where the cylinders do not need to be removed from a cylinder holding cage during the charging with a desired gas and transportation of the cylinders to a delivery location. Cylinders are only removed from the cylinder holding cage upon transportation of the cage to a delivery location.

The present invention further relates to a cylinder holding cage for gas cylinders. The cage includes shelves for storing gas cylinders in a generally horizontal position and a base frame within which are formed receptacles for receiving a lifting device.

The present invention further relates to a hand truck for moving single gas cylinders.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For the purpose of facilitating an understanding of the invention, there is illustrated in the accompanying drawings a preferred embodiment thereof, from an inspection of which, when considered in connection with the following description, the invention, its mode of construction, assembly and its operation, and many of its advantages should be readily understood and appreciated.

FIG. 1 is a side view of a cylinder holding cage transportation system according to the present invention.

FIG. 2 is an enlarged perspective view of the cylinder holding cage transportation system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a front view of a cylinder holding cage according to the present invention included in the cylinder holding cage transportation system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a front perspective view of the cylinder holding cage of FIG. 3, and a hand truck for moving the holding cage.

FIG. 5 is a front view of the cylinder holding cage of FIG. 3.

FIG. 6 is a front view of the cylinder holding cage of FIG. 3, with the cylinders removed from the holding cage.

FIG. 7 is a side view of an operator refueling cylinders within the cylinder holding cage transportation system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a single cylinder hand truck according to the present invention, positioned to remove a cylinder from the cylinder holding cage.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an alternative embodiment of a single cylinder hand truck according to the present invention with an electrical lift, the hand truck positioned to remove a cylinder from the cylinder holding cage.

FIG. 10 is a side perspective view of a single cylinder hand truck of FIG. 8, positioned to receive a cylinder from the cylinder holding cage.

FIG. 11 is a side perspective view of the hand truck of FIG. 10, with a cylinder from the cylinder holding cage positioned on the hand truck.

FIG. 12 is a side view of the cylinder holding cage of FIG. 3, showing a closer view of the shelves.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Before the present methods are described, it is understood that this invention is not limited to the particular methodology or apparatuses described, as these may vary. It is also to be understood that the terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only, and is not intended to limit the scope of the present invention which will be limited only by the appended claims.

It must be noted that as used herein and in the appended claims, the singular forms “a”, “an”, and “the” include plural reference unless the context clearly dictates otherwise. Thus, for example, reference to “a door” includes a plurality of such door, and equivalents thereof known to those skilled in the art, and so forth.

Unless defined otherwise, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meanings as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs. Although any methods and materials similar or equivalent to those described herein can be used in the practice or testing of the present invention, the preferred methods and materials are now described.

The practice of the present invention will employ, unless otherwise indicated, conventional techniques of mechanical and electrical engineering, which are within the skill of the art.

Referring to FIG. 1, a cylinder holding cage transportation system 12 includes transportation equipment, such as truck 14 with storage compartments 16 that may house a cylinder holding cage 10. Suitable transportation equipment may include but is not limited to a truck, railcar, plane, car or ship. Storage compartments 16 include storage compartment access doors 18. Truck 14 may include a lifting device, such as a fork lift 20 that may be stored externally. Suitable lifting devices include but is not limited to a forklift, hand truck, crane, conveyor, or pulley system.

As illustrated in FIG. 2, truck 14 includes storage compartments 16 that house the cylinder holding cage 10. Cylinder holding cage 10 may be loaded with one or more gas cylinders 22. Cylinder holding cage 10 may include lift receptacles 24. Lift receptacles 24 may include but is not limited a hand truck cut out 26. Cylinder holding cage 10 may be unloaded from the storage compartment 16 by forklift 20 or a hand truck (not shown).

Referring to FIG. 3, cylinder holding cage 10 includes a frame 27 which includes a support base frame 28 connected to sidewalls 30, a front face 32, a back face 34 and a bottom face 36. The sidewalls 30, front face 32 and back face 34 are connected to a top face 38. It is preferable that the combination of sidewalls 30, front face 32, back face 34 and top face 38 will cooperate to define a rigid structure for frame 27 of cylinder holding cage 10. A plurality of shelves 40 extend between sidewalls 30. Cylinders 22 are stored on shelves 40. If needed, support bars 42 may be used to provide increased bracing between adjacent shelves 40 and also from shelves 40 to base frame 28 and top face 38 to increase the load capacity of the shelves 40.

In the illustrated example of FIG. 3, the shelves 40 include channel bars 44. Channel bars 44 have a positive incline, meaning that they define a generally downward angled slope from adjacent front face 32 toward back face 34. The positive incline may also be measured moving from back face 34 towards front face 32 with the end measuring point being at an apex 46 of a curve defined by at least one of the channel bars 44. Front face 32 defines an access end for receiving cylinders 22 within cage 10.

Referring now also to FIG. 12, channel bars 44 include a front end 43 and a back end 45. Apex 46 may be positioned of channel bars 44 may be located adjacent front face 32, with front end 43 and back end 45 positioned generally level with each other. With apex 46 extending above the level of front end 43 and back 45, two distinct ramps may be formed on channel bar 44, including a front ramp 94 and a rear ramp 96. Front ramp 94 may define a relatively steeper entry into one of the shelves 40 to aid in the transition of a cylinder 22 into or out of cage 10. Rear ramp 96 may define a shallower angle to provide a positively sloped location to aid in the retention of cylinder 22 within cage 10. Alternatively, front end 43 and back end 45 may be located at different levels with respect to each other, so that a positive angle of for shelf 40 may be defined by channel bars 44. In such a configuration, front end 43 of channel bar 44 may include a shape to aid in the transition of a cylinder 22 into and out of cage 10.

Access doors 48 may be connected to front face 32. Access doors 48 may be attached to the front face 32 by a removable hinge 50 or by other movable connections. While removable hinges are shown, it is anticipated that other removable and non-removable hinges or others movable mounting arrangements may be used within the scope of the present invention. Alternatively, access doors 48 may be permanently mounted to front face 32 or to some other portion of frame 27. Access doors 48 may be secured with a chain 52 that extends through and locks into a pigeon hole 54. Chain 52 may be attached to one of the access doors 48 with pigeon hole 54 attached to rigid front face 32. It is anticipated that other door securing mechanisms may be used to secure one or both access doors 48 within the scope of the present invention.

Lift receptacles 24 may be attached to support base frame 28 and a lowest horizontal shelve 56. Lift receptacles 24 may also include a hand truck cut out 26. Conventional hand trucks for moving objects such as cage 10 may include wheels or rollers that need to be positioned closer to the load to be carried, due to the design and weight of the load and the lifting device. Alternatively, lift receptacles 24 may not include cut outs 26, and be configured for use with fork lifts or other similar lifting devices. Cylinder holding cage 10 may be provided with a metal construction but other materials of similar strength and ruggedness may also be used.

As illustrated in FIG. 4, cylinder holding cage 10 loaded with cylinders 22 may be transported by an operator 58 using a hand truck 60.

Referring to FIG. 5, cylinder holding cage 10 is loaded with cylinders 22. Each cylinder 22 may have a gas level indicating device 62, which either physically or procedurally indicates the gas level or status of cylinders 22. Cylinders 22 may be stored between pairs of channel bars 44, which may be configured as described above to provide a positively sloped or angled resting location for cylinders 22. Access doors 48 may be secured by inserting chain 52 into pigeon hole 54. Access doors 48 may be configured to permit inspection of gas level indicating device 62 without requiring doors 48 be opened.

An alternative embodiment cylinder holding case 100 is shown in FIG. 6. Cylinder holding case 100 includes shelves 140 without channel bars. Cylinder holding cage 100 may include support bars 42 and is shown with all cylinders 22 removed. Access doors 48 may be similarly secured by connecting chain 52 to pigeon hole 54. Cylinder holding cage 100 is also shown with lift receptacles 24 including hand truck cut outs 26. As shown, shelves 140 may also include a front end 143 and a back end 145 which are generally level with each other, and an apex 146 adjacent front face 32. A front ramp 1 94 is defined between apex 146 and front end 143 to aid transition of cylinders 22 into and out of cage 100. A rear ramp 196 is defined between apex 146 and rear end 145 and provides a positively angled resting location for cylinders 22. Alternatively, front end 143 and rear end 145 maybe positioned not level with each other so that a positively angled resting location for cylinders is formed on shelf 140. Additional shapes or features may be included adjacent front end 143 to aid transition of cylinders 22 into and out of cage 100.

Referring to FIG. 7, truck 14 is shown with storage compartment access doors 18 in an open position. Cylinder holding cage 10 is positioned inside storage compartment 16. Access door 48 to cylinder holding cage 10 is also in the open position. An operator 58 is filling cylinders 22 with gas using a gas delivery device 64. Gas delivery device 64 includes but is not limited to flexible or stationary hoses or piping systems, and some type of valve, as known in the technology of gas delivery. Operator 58 fills cylinders 22 until the gas level measuring device 62 indicates that the cylinder 22 is filled to a desired level.

Referring to FIG. 8, a single cylinder hand truck 66 may include a support base frame 68 connected to a vertical support beam 70. Support base frame 68 may include a front plate 72, a back plate 74 and side plates 76. Vertical support beam 70 may connect to the support base frame 68 at an off-center position. Support beam 70 may be positioned closer to back plate 74 than to front plate 72. Support base 68 may include two front stationary wheels 78 and at least one movable rear wheel 80. Support beam 70 may extend to and connect with a horizontal platform 82. Horizontal platform 82 may include two horizontal beams 84 that form a channel 85 configured to hold one of the cylinders 22. Horizontal beams 84 may have receptacles 86 that secure single cylinder hand truck 66 to cylinder holding cage 10. Horizontal beams 84 may connect to a cylinder holding clamp 88. Horizontal platform 82 may be raised to lowered vertically to a desired position relative to one of the cylinders 22 held within cylinder holding cage 10 by operator 58 utilizing a hand crank 90, which may be linked with powered by a mechanical pulley system or other mechanical advantage device (not shown).

As illustrated in FIG. 8, operator 58 may secure single cylinder hand truck 66 to cylinder holding cage 10 utilizing receptacles 86. This may be accomplished by opening the access door 48 and attaching receptacles 86 to shelves 40. After this attachment is completed, one of the cylinders 22 can be transferred to single cylinder hand truck 66 utilizing channel 85 defined by horizontal beams 84. Cylinder 22 may then be secured to single cylinder hand truck 66 using cylinder holding clamp 88.

An alternative embodiment of a single cylinder hand truck 166 is shown in FIG. 9. In single cylinder hand truck 166, the vertical position of horizontal platform 82 may changed by an operator (not shown) utilizing an electric motor 92 which may directly move platform 82 to different vertical positions or which may be linked to a mechanical pulley system or other mechanical advantage device (not shown).

As illustrated in FIG. 10 and 11, single cylinder hand truck 66 (or 166) is secured to cylinder holding cage 10. Receptacles 86 may temporarily attach to shelves 40 to form a secure connection. A corresponding cylinder 22 may then be transferred to single cylinder hand truck 66 (or 166) utilizing channel 85 created by horizontal beams 84 and secured by using cylinder holding clamp 88.

The present invention provides methods and apparatus for a pressurized gas cylinder delivery system, which permits rapid loading, unloading and refueling of gas cylinders. The transportation system may include transportation equipment, such as a truck, and a cylinder holding cage which may be used to deliver the cylinders.

cylinder handling and delivery method may be carried out using one or more cylinder holding cages positioned within a truck or other transportation equipment. First, with the truck at a cylinder refueling site, cylinders held by the cylinder holding cage may be filled or charged with gas using a gas delivery device, while the cylinders are on the truck and within the cylinder holding cage. The gas delivery device may be external to the truck. Next, the truck may be moved to one or more customer locations. At a customer location, a cylinder holding cage with full cylinders may be unloaded from the truck using a lifting device, such as a fork lift or a hand truck which directly engages the cylinder holding cage. A cylinder holding cage with empty cylinders from the customer location may then be loaded into the truck using the lifting device. Finally, the truck may return the cylinder holding cages with the empty cylinders to the cylinder refueling site. The lifting device may be carried on the truck or may be provided at the customer location.

In other embodiments, the cylinder holding cages are initially placed on a surface; filled with cylinders and loaded into the truck. The truck may adapted to store a forklift on the truck's exterior. Single cylinders may be delivered from the cylinder holding cage using a smaller lifting device, such as a single cylinder hand truck. The cylinders may have a gas level indicating device that indicates the amount of gas present in the cylinder. Individual cylinders may be unloaded from a cylinder holding cage at each of a plurality of customer locations before returning to the cylinder refueling site.

The cylinder holding cages used in the truck may have a rigid frame formed from a top face, bottom frame and sidewalls, with a plurality of shelves positioned between the top face and bottom frame and extending between the sidewalls. The cylinder holding cages may include at least one movable door allowing access to a plurality of cylinder locations defined on the shelves. Such movable doors may include but is not limited to a hinged door, sliding door or porous screen. The bottom frame may have at least one receptacle secured to the bottom frame below the first shelf. The receptacle may be adapted to allow a variety lifting devices to lift and move the cylinder holding cage. The plurality of shelves may be configured to allow the cylinders to be storage generally horizontally.

The hinged door may have some type of lock, including but not limited to mechanical, chemical or electrical locks, to keep the door closed and prevent removal of a cylinder from a shelf. The cylinder holding cage's shelves may have an upwardly convex surface or a plurality of channels defining ramps that may aid in holding cylinders within the shelves and to aid in the transition of cylinders into and out of the cylinder holding cage. The cylinder holding cage may have a plurality of support beams attached between the vertically sequenced shelves.

A cylinder holding cage and a single cylinder hand truck may used in combination to handle and transport individual pressurized gas cylinders. The single cylinder hand truck may have a base with a top, bottom and sidewalls. The base may include two front stationary wheels and at least one movable rear wheel and at least one generally vertical support beam. The vertical support beam may have a vertically movable horizontal platform with at least two horizontal beams that form a channel to hold at least one cylinder. The single cylinder hand truck may have horizontal beams, which include at least one receptacle that secures to a cylinder holding cage. The single cylinder hand truck may have at least one clamp mounted to one of the horizontal beams to secure a cylinder in place on the hand truck. Movement of the horizontal platform vertically may be by means of various mechanisms, which may include but are not limited to a mechanical pulley system or an electrical motor. The single cylinder hand truck may include a handle attached to the vertical support beam to facilitate movement of the hand truck by an operator.