Title:
MODULAR REEL ASSEMBLY
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A modular reel assembly for winding, dispensing, transporting, or storing hose, cord, or cable, is provided. Such a reel comprises of a pair of substantially similar polymeric support endplates and a pair of substantially similar polymeric spool endplates. The substantially similar support endplates are connected by at least one support endplate connecting member defining a predetermined support assembly width. The substantially similar spool endplates are connected by at least one spool endplate connecting member defining a predetermined spool assembly width. The modular reel assembly can thus be adjusted to particular discrete spool assembly and support assembly widths through appropriately selected interchangeable spool endplate and support endplate connecting members.



Inventors:
Leonard, Erik (Johnson City, TN, US)
Sumner, William P. (Kingsport, TN, US)
Application Number:
11/460569
Publication Date:
01/31/2008
Filing Date:
07/27/2006
Assignee:
Alemite LLC (Fort mill, SC, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
242/401, 242/407, 242/608.4, 242/610.6
International Classes:
B65H75/44
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
DONDERO, WILLIAM E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
STINSON LLP (ST LOUIS, MO, US)
Claims:
That which is claimed:

1. A reel for winding, dispensing, transporting, or storing hose, cord, or cable, the reel comprising: a support assembly comprising: a pair of substantially similar opposed planar support endplates comprised of a polymeric material; at least one first elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends and extending lengthwise between the opposed support endplates, each of the at least one first support endplate connecting members having a first defined support endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a first predetermined support assembly width, the first defined support endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the first predetermined support assembly width; and at least one second elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends and configured to be interchangeable with the at least one first support endplate connecting member, each of the at least one second support endplate connecting members having a second defined support endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a second predetermined support assembly width different from the first predetermined support assembly width, the second defined support endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the second predetermined support assembly width; and a spool assembly operably engaged with the support assembly, between the support endplates thereof, such that the spool assembly is rotatably supported by the support assembly, the spool assembly comprising: a pair of substantially similar opposed planar spool endplates comprised of a polymeric material; at least one first elongate spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends and extending lengthwise between the opposed spool endplates, each of the at least one first spool endplate connecting members having a first defined spool endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a first predetermined spool assembly width, the first defined spool endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the first predetermined spool assembly width and cooperate to define an axis extending therebetween, the spool assembly being supported along the axis by the support assembly, when the spool assembly is operably engaged therewith, such that the spool assembly is rotatable about the axis; and at least one second elongate spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends and configured to be interchangeable with the at least one first spool endplate connecting member, each of the at least one second spool endplate connecting members having a second defined spool endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a second predetermined spool assembly width different from the first predetermined spool assembly width, the second defined spool endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the second predetermined spool assembly width.

2. A reel according to claim 1, wherein one of the support endplates and spool endplates is comprised of a rotomolded polymeric material.

3. A reel according to claim 1, wherein one of the support endplates and spool endplates comprises a polyurethane foam core.

4. A reel according to claim 1, wherein the connecting members are comprised of a metallic material.

5. A reel according to claim 1, wherein the first and second predetermined support assembly widths and the first and second predetermined spool assembly widths are nonadjustable.

6. A reel according to claim 1, wherein the first elongate support endplate connecting member, the second elongate support endplate connecting member, the first elongate spool endplate connecting member, and the second elongate spool endplate connecting member have substantially similar cross-sections.

7. A reel according to claim 1, wherein each support endplate defines an aperture configured to receive at least a portion of one of the support endplate connecting elements of one of the support endplate connecting members.

8. A reel according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the support endplates comprises a mount configured to receive at least one of a motor and a manual crank, the at least one of the motor and the manual crank being configured to operably engage the spool assembly so as to provide rotation thereof about the axis and with respect to the support assembly.

9. A reel according to claim 1, further comprising a bearing and an axle operably engaged between the support assembly and the spool assembly and cooperable to allow the spool assembly to be rotatable about the axis and with respect to the support assembly, one of the bearing and the axle being coupled to one of the support endplates, and the other of the bearing and the axle being coupled to one of the spool endplates.

10. A reel according to claim 1, further comprising a guide member operably engaged with the support assembly and adapted to guide one of a hose, a cord, and a cable therethrough to be wound onto the spool assembly.

11. A reel according to claim 1, further comprising: a gear mounted to one of the spool endplates; and a drive mechanism operatively coupled to the gear and configured to drive the spool assembly to rotate about the axis of the spool assembly.

12. A reel according to claim 7, wherein the aperture is configured to receive the connecting element of a connecting member, the connecting element comprising a threaded end portion of the connecting member, with opposing threaded end portions being separated by an unthreaded medial portion of the connecting member and the medial portion having a greater diameter than the end portions, the connecting element being configured to be operably engaged by a complementarily-threaded securing member so as to secure the support endplate between the unthreaded medial portion of the connecting member and the securing member.

13. A reel assembly according to claim 1, wherein one of the support endplates and spool endplates is comprised of a molded polymeric material, and wherein the one of the support endplates and spool endplates comprises a tubular insert operably engaged with and extending axially through the polymeric material, the tubular insert being configured to receive at least a portion of one of the support endplate and spool endplate connecting elements of one of the support endplate and spool endplate connecting members.

14. A method of manufacturing a reel for winding, dispensing, transporting, or storing hose, cord, or cable, the reel comprising a spool assembly rotatably supported by a support assembly, the method comprising: connecting at least one first elongate support endplate connecting member lengthwise between a pair of substantially similar opposed planar support endplates, the support endplates being comprised of a polymeric material, and the at least one first elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends each having a first defined support endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a first predetermined support assembly width, the first defined support endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the first predetermined support assembly width, and being interchangeable with at least one second elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends each having a second defined support endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a second predetermined support assembly width different from the first predetermined support assembly width, the second defined support endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the second predetermined support assembly width; connecting at least one first elongate spool endplate connecting member lengthwise between a pair of substantially similar opposed planar spool endplates, the spool endplates being comprised of a polymeric material, and the at least one first spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends each having a first defined spool endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a first predetermined spool assembly width, the first defined spool endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the first predetermined spool assembly width, and being interchangeable with at least one second elongate spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends each having a second defined spool endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a second predetermined spool assembly width different from the first predetermined spool assembly width, the second defined spool endplate connecting elements being configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the second predetermined spool assembly width, the at least one first and second spool endplate connecting members each being configured to connect the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates cooperate to define an axis extending therebetween; and operably engaging the spool assembly with the support assembly such that the spool assembly is supported along the axis by the support assembly and is rotatable about the axis.

15. A method according to claim 14 further comprising forming at least one of the support endplates and the spool endplates from the polymeric material using a rotomolding process about a polyurethane foam core.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the present invention relate to reels and, more particularly, to a modular reel assembly for winding, dispensing, transporting, or storing hose, cord, or cable.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Long elongate flexible items such as hose, cord, or cable are often stored on a reel. Such reels typically include a spool portion supported by a support structure. The spool portion is typically configured to be rotated relative to the support structure in order to take up or dispense the hose, cord, or cable, which is wound around the spool portion of the reel.

Such reels can be used in many different industries and environments, and for many different applications. For example, reels are used often in the landscaping industry for hoses used for water or chemical treatment, in the lubrication industry for hoses used for dispensing lubricants, or in the utility industry for cable. Reels for holding hose, cord, or cable may be configured to be mounted on a wall, on the floor, on the ceiling, or on a cart, trailer, or other vehicle. Reels can also be found in the landscaping, firefighting, utility, or fuel industries, typically mounted to a vehicle. The reels may further be configured to have one spool or multiple spools disposed adjacent to one another. Many reels are stored outdoors or are otherwise subject to harsh or hazardous environments. For example, reels for hoses used to transport water or chemicals usually come into contact with the water or chemicals, thereby possibly leading to corrosion of reel components.

In some instances, reels may be constructed of steel or another metal. The metallic components of the reel may be painted or otherwise coated to provide protection from water or harmful chemicals, to make the reel more esthetically pleasing, or to provide a warning that the reel may hold a hose or cable containing harmful chemicals, gases, or electricity. However, due to the service environment or the particular use of the reel, the coating may chip or peel, thereby exposing the metallic components to the environment and leading to corrosion or other degradation. Reels having metallic components may also be heavy, which may not be desirable if the reel is intended to be portable or is intended to be mounted on a wall, ceiling, or vehicle.

In some instances, reels may be configured for a specific application and, as such, are usually not readily adaptable to other applications. Furthermore, a manufacturer may only offer a few different size or capacity reels which may also be less than desirable from a flexibility standpoint, since the appropriate reel size depends, for example, on the length, diameter, and/or flexibility of the hose, cord, or cable, which all may vary greatly from application to application. In some instance, the reel may have an application-specific support structure and, thus, may not be flexible with respect to the size or configuration of the support structure to meet other applications. For example, if the reel includes a motor for rotatably driving the spool, the location of the motor is usually fixed, which may be a problem for the user depending on the space constraints dictated by where the user wants to mount the reel.

Thus, there exists a need for a reel that is durable, lightweight, and readily adaptable to various applications, but also economical and easily assembled. Such a reel should desirably be configured to allow for flexibility and/or customization as to size (of the support structure and/or spool capacity), configuration, color, mounting requirements, and spool rotatability configurations. Such a reel should also desirably be suitable for use in harsh environments where moisture and/or hazardous chemicals may be present.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The above and other needs are met by the present invention which, according to one aspect, provides a reel for winding, dispensing, transporting, or storing hose, cord, or cable. Such a reel comprises a support assembly including a pair of substantially similar opposed planar support endplates comprised of a polymeric material. At least one first elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends extends lengthwise between the opposed support endplates. Each of the at least one first support endplate connecting members has a first defined support endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a first predetermined support assembly width. The first defined support endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the first predetermined support assembly width. At least one second elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends is configured to be interchangeable with the at least one first support endplate connecting member. Each of the at least one second support endplate connecting members has a second defined support endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a second predetermined support assembly width, different from the first predetermined support assembly width. The second defined support endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the second predetermined support assembly width. A spool assembly is operably engaged with the support assembly, between the support endplates thereof, such that the spool assembly is rotatably supported by the support assembly. Such a spool assembly comprises a pair of substantially similar opposed planar spool endplates comprised of a polymeric material. At least one first elongate spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends extends lengthwise between the opposed spool endplates. Each of the at least one first spool endplate connecting members has a first defined spool endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a first predetermined spool assembly width. The first defined spool endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the first predetermined spool assembly width and cooperate to define an axis extending therebetween. The spool assembly is supported along the axis by the support assembly, when the spool assembly is operably engaged therewith, such that the spool assembly is rotatable about the axis. At least one second elongate spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends is configured to be interchangeable with the at least one first spool endplate connecting member. Each of the at least one second spool endplate connecting members has a second defined spool endplate connecting element disposed about each end thereof and separated by a second predetermined spool assembly width, different from the first predetermined spool assembly width. The second defined spool endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the second predetermined spool assembly width.

Another aspect of the present invention provides a method of manufacturing a reel for winding, dispensing, transporting, or storing hose, cord, or cable, wherein the reel comprises a spool assembly rotatably supported by a support assembly. Such a method comprises connecting at least one first elongate support endplate connecting member lengthwise between a pair of substantially similar opposed planar support endplates, wherein the support endplates are comprised of a polymeric material. The at least one first elongate support endplate connecting member has opposed ends, each having a first defined support endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a first predetermined support assembly width. The first defined support endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the first predetermined support assembly width, and are interchangeable with at least one second elongate support endplate connecting member having opposed ends, each having a second defined support endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a second predetermined support assembly width, different from the first predetermined support assembly width. The second defined support endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed support endplates such that the support endplates are separated by the second predetermined support assembly width. At least one first elongate spool endplate connecting member is connected lengthwise between a pair of substantially similar opposed planar spool endplates, wherein the spool endplates are comprised of a polymeric material. The at least one first spool endplate connecting member has opposed ends each having a first defined spool endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a first predetermined spool assembly width. The first defined spool endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the first predetermined spool assembly width, and are interchangeable with at least one second elongate spool endplate connecting member having opposed ends, each having a second defined spool endplate connecting element disposed thereabout so as to be separated by a second predetermined spool assembly width, different from the first predetermined spool assembly width. The second defined spool endplate connecting elements are configured to engage the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates are separated by the second predetermined spool assembly width. The at least one first and second spool endplate connecting members are each configured to connect the opposed spool endplates such that the spool endplates cooperate to define an axis extending therebetween. The spool assembly is then operably engaged with the support assembly such that the spool assembly is supported along the axis by the support assembly and is rotatable about the axis.

Accordingly, embodiments of the present invention provide significant advantages, as discussed herein in further detail.

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:

FIGS. 1a and 1b are perspective views of a reel according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2a is a perspective view of a support assembly according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2b is a perspective view of a support endplate according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 3a is a perspective view of a spool assembly according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 3b is a perspective view of a spool endplate according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 4a is a perspective view of an endplate connecting member according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIGS. 4b and 4c are perspective views of a securing member configured to cooperate with an endplate connecting member according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 4d is a cross-sectional view illustrating a connection between a support endplate and two support endplate connecting members using two securing members, according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 4e is a perspective view of one embodiment of the support assembly utilizing one embodiment of the support endplate connecting members and one embodiment of the securing members;

FIG. 5a is a perspective view of a support endplate having tubular inserts, according to one embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 5b is a cross-sectional view illustrating a connection between a support endplate and two support endplate connecting members using two securing members and two tubular inserts, according to one embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention 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.

FIGS. 1a and 1b are perspective views of a reel 1 according to one embodiment of the present invention, comprising a support assembly 110 and a spool assembly 10. The support assembly 110 is configured to support the spool assembly 10 so that the spool assembly 10 may rotate relative to the support assembly 110. Such a configuration allows the spool assembly 10 to wind or dispense a hose, cord, or cable (not shown). One skilled in the art will appreciate that the terms “hose,” “cords,” or “cable,” as used herein refer to any flexible elongate item suited to be wound or stored on a reel. Such a flexible elongate item may be, for example, a tubular hose, such as a round or flat hose for transporting a gas or liquid; electrical cable; rope; yarn; string; continuous sheet-like material; steel cable; chain; or the like. Similarly, references herein to a “reel” or a “hose reel” refer to a reel apparatus for winding, dispensing, transporting, and/or storing any such flexible elongate member as disclosed herein.

The support assembly 110 comprises two opposing support endplates 120 connected by elongate support endplate connecting members 130. In one exemplary embodiment, the two opposing support endplates 120 are generally planar, and are substantially similar. That is, in some instances, a single support endplate configuration is capable of being used as either or both of the two opposing support endplates 120 of the support assembly 110. According to one advantageous aspect, the single support endplate configuration is used as both of the two opposing support endplates 120. The elongate support endplate connecting members 130 may be, for example, generally cylindrical and are attached at each opposing end thereof to one of the two opposing support endplates 120. In one embodiment, the support endplates 120 each define apertures 122 configured to receive the ends of the support endplate connecting members 130 for connecting the support endplate connecting members 130 to the support endplates 120. The support endplate connecting members 130 cooperate with the support endplates 120 to define a predetermined support assembly width W1, which is defined herein as the distance between the support endplates 120. The support endplates 120, the support endplate connecting members 130, and the manner in which the support endplate connecting members 130 are connected to the support endplates 120, are discussed in greater detail herein, for example, with reference to FIGS. 2a, 2b, and 4a-e.

The spool assembly 10 is similarly comprised of two opposing spool endplates 20 connected by elongate spool endplate connecting members 30. In one exemplary embodiment, the two opposing spool endplates are generally planar, and are substantially similar. That is, in some instances, a single spool endplate configuration is capable of being used as either or both of the two opposing spool endplates 20 of the spool assembly 10. According to one advantageous aspect, the single spool endplate configuration is used as both of the two opposing spool endplates 20. The elongate spool endplate connecting members 30 may be, for example, generally cylindrical and are attached at each opposing end thereof to one of the two opposing spool endplates 20. In one embodiment, the spool endplates 20 each define apertures 22 configured to receive the ends of the spool endplate connecting members 30 for connecting the spool endplate connecting members 30 to the spool endplates 20. The spool endplate connecting members 30 cooperate with the spool endplates 20 to define a support surface between the two spool endplates 20 for supporting the hose, cord, or cable, and further determine the spool assembly width W2, which is defined herein as the distance between the spool endplates 20. The spool endplates 20, the spool endplate connecting members 30, and the manner in which the spool endplate connecting members 30 are connected to the spool endplates 20, are discussed in greater detail herein, for example, with reference to FIGS. 3a, 3b, and 4a-d.

As shown in FIGS. 1a and 1b, the width of the spool assembly 10 is configured such that the spool endplates 20/spool endplate connecting members 30 fit between the support endplates 120 of the support assembly 110. The spool assembly 10 defines an axis extending through the spool endplates 20, wherein the spool assembly 10 is supported by the support assembly 110 such that the spool assembly 10 is capable of rotating about the axis relative to the support assembly 110. In an exemplary embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 1a and 1b, the spool assembly 10 includes axles 40 and 41 that are each coupled to a corresponding one of the two spool endplates 20. Each of the support endplates 120 includes a cutout or aperture 42 for receiving a corresponding axle. In some instances, a bearing 140 engages each axle to facilitate the rotation of the spool assembly 10 relative to the support assembly 110. For example, the bearings 140 may be mounted to the support endplates 120 via fasteners engaging apertures 127, disposed on either side of a U-shaped cutout defined by the support endplates 120. One skilled in the art will appreciate, however, that the bearings 140 may be otherwise mounted to the support endplates 120 or spool endplates 20, or that other mechanisms for rotatably supporting the spool assembly 10 may be implemented. For example, in one embodiment, the axles 40, 41 may be coupled to the support endplates 120 and the bearings 140 may be coupled to the spool endplates 20. In another embodiment, one axle may traverse the width of the spool assembly 10, instead of using separate axles attached to each spool endplate.

The spool assembly 10 is assembled with the support assembly 110 to form the reel 1, wherein the reel 1 may further include a mechanism for driving the rotation of the spool assembly 10 relative to the support assembly 110. In some instances, the drive mechanism for the reel 1 may be actuated to rotate the spool assembly 10 in a first direction in order to wind the hose, cord, or cable onto the spool assembly 10. The drive mechanism may also be actuated to rotate the spool assembly 10 in a second direction, opposite to the first direction, in order to dispense the hose, cord, or cable that is already wound onto the spool assembly 10. FIGS. 1a and 1b illustrate two exemplary drive mechanisms for the reel 1: a motor driven system and a hand crank system. The reel 1 may include both drive systems or may only have one such drive system. One skilled in the art will appreciate that the reel 1 may also use any other suitable drive system or may not have any drive system other than that of allowing a user to physically rotate the spool endplates 20 directly by hand.

The motor driven system of FIG. 1a comprises an electric motor 160 coupled to one of the support endplates 120. In one embodiment, the motor is a hazardous duty motor suitable for use in hazardous duty environments where volatile gases or other hazardous fluids may be present. In some instances, the motor 160 includes a flange 162 with apertures for mounting the motor to one of the support endplates 120. These apertures are aligned with corresponding apertures 124 defined by the support endplate 120 so that a bolt, screw, or other appropriate fastener (not shown) may be used to mount the motor 160 to the side of the support endplate 120. The motor 160 includes driveshaft (not shown) that extends through aperture 126 in the support endplate 120. A sprocket 161 is coupled to the driveshaft and engages a chain 65. The chain 65 also engages a spool sprocket 60, which is coupled to a spool endplate 20, so that rotation of the driveshaft causes rotation of the spool assembly 10. In the illustrated embodiment, the motor mount apertures 124 and 126 of the spool endplates 120 are elongated so that the position of the motor can be adjusted in order to fit the chain 65 around the sprocket 161 and in order to appropriately adjust the tension of the chain 65. In some instances, such as that shown, the reel 1 includes four substantially identical motor mount provisions, two defined by each support endplate 120, which may provide the flexibility for mounting the motor in the location that best suits the particular configuration of the reel 1. In other instances, the substantially similar support and spool endplates may facilitate assembly of the reel 1 regardless of which respective endplate is used on either side of the reel 1.

FIG. 1b illustrates one embodiment of a hand crank system that may be implemented in conjunction with the reel 1 in order to drive the rotation of the spool assembly 10. A hand crank support assembly 165 is coupled to a support endplate 120 and attached thereto with appropriate fasteners via apertures 129. In some instances, such as that shown, four substantially identical sets of apertures 129 may be provided, two sets being defined by each support endplate 120. Such provisions may provide the flexibility as to where the hand crank support assembly 165 is located and may provide easier assembly of the reel 1 regardless of which respective endplate is used on either side of the reel 1. The hand crank support assembly 165 rotatably supports a hand crank driveshaft 167 (e.g., via a bearing component of the hand crank support assembly 165). A hand crank sprocket 166 is coupled to one end of the hand crank driveshaft 167, and engages a second spool sprocket 62 coupled to one of the spool endplates 20. A lever (not shown) may be removably coupled to the other end of the hand crank driveshaft 167 to allow a user to rotate the driveshaft 167 and, thereby, cause the spool assembly 10 to rotate relative to the support assembly 110.

FIG. 2a is a perspective view of one embodiment of the support assembly 110, comprising two substantially similar opposing support endplates 120. FIG. 2b depicts a single support endplate 120, according to such an embodiment. The support endplate 120 is comprised of a polymeric material such as, for example, low density polyethylene (LDPE) or high density polyethylene (HDPE). In one exemplary embodiment, at least one of the support endplates 120 is comprised of, for example, a rotomolded polymeric material, wherein, in some instances, the rotomolded polymeric material may include a foam core such as, for example, a polyurethane foam core.

In the embodiment illustrated by FIG. 2a, the two opposing planar support endplates 120 are interconnected, for example, by four elongate support endplate connecting members 130. One skilled in the art will appreciate, however, that other embodiments of the support assembly 110 may include any number of such support endplate connecting members 130. Similarly, the connecting members 130 may be positioned at locations or in orientations between the support endplates 120 other than those illustrated by the figures. In one embodiment, two support endplate connecting members 130 may be located parallel to each other (e.g., as shown in FIGS. 1a-2a) and configured to allow the hose, cord, or cable to pass therebetween. In this regard, the two parallel support endplate connecting members 130 may serve as a guide for guiding the hose, cable, or cord onto the spool assembly 10. In other embodiments, a separate hose guide may be coupled to the support assembly 110 for guiding the hose, cable, or cord onto the spool assembly 10. The support endplates 120 are substantially identical, or at least substantially similar, and, as such, may be interchangeable between sides of the support assembly 110.

Although not shown in the figures, the support assembly 110 may comprise various other apertures or structures such as structures for mounting the support assembly to a vehicle, a floor, the ground, a wall, a ceiling, a set of wheels, etc. Such structures may be molded into the support assembly 110 or may be separate structures that can be attached to the support endplates 120 or support endplate connecting members 130.

FIG. 3a is a perspective view of one embodiment of the spool assembly 10, comprising two substantially similar opposing spool endplates 20, coupled together by at least one, or a plurality, of elongate spool endplate connecting members 30. FIG. 3b depicts a single spool endplate 20 comprised of, for example, a polymeric material, such as low density polyethylene (LDPE) or high density polyethylene (HDPE). In one exemplary embodiment, at least one of the spool endplates 20 is comprised, for example, of a rotomolded polymeric material, wherein, in some instances, the rotomolded polymeric material may include a foam core such as, for example, a polyurethane foam core. The spool endplates 20 are substantially identical, or at least substantially similar and as such, may be interchangeable between sides of the spool assembly 10.

The spool endplates 20 may also define apertures 23 for fastening the axles 40 and 41 to the spool endplates 20. In addition, the spool endplates 20 may further define a circular aperture 42 disposed about the center of the endplates 20 so that the axles 40 and 41 may pass therethrough. The apertures 42 may also be used to pass a pipe, hose, or cable therethrough as an extension or connection from one end of the hose, cord, or cable wound on the spool assembly 10, to one end of an external hose, cord, or cable. In instances where the reel 1 is configured for storing a hose, one of the axles 41 may comprise a pipe 50 used to connect one end of the hose wound on the reel 1 to one end of an external hose or pipe. In one embodiment, the end of the pipe 52 that extends out from the support assembly 110 may comprises a rotatable coupling for removably attaching an external hose or pipe to the end of the pipe 52 so that, when the axle 41 rotates with the spool assembly 10, the external hose or pipe connected to the end 52 of the pipe is not also required to rotate. If the reel 1 is configured for storing electrical or other cable, the reel 1 may comprise a cable extension having the appropriate connectors. In some embodiments, however, no such extension or connector is implemented, and the cord or cable is simply wound about the spool assembly 10.

The spool endplates 20 further define apertures 22 for connecting the spool endplate connecting members 30 to the spool endplates 20. The apertures 22 are spaced about the spool endplate 20, in some instances at equal distances from the center of the spool endplate 20, so that when the spool endplate connecting members 30 are engaged with the apertures 22, the spool endplate connecting members 30 cooperate to define a support structure for supporting the hose, cord, or cable. Although not shown in the figures, the spool endplates 20 may further define other apertures that cooperate to define generally concentric perimeters with respect to the perimeter defined by the illustrated apertures 22. These additional apertures could also be used for connecting the spool endplate connecting members 30 to the spool endplates 20. Such a configuration may allow the dimensions of the support surface to be appropriately varied by moving the spool endplate connecting members 30 from one set of the apertures 22 to another set of concentric apertures defined by the spool endplates 20. In one embodiment, the apertures 22 are used both to connect the spool endplate connecting members 30 and the sprockets 60 and 62 of the drive mechanism to the spool endplates 20. The details of such a connection are described in greater detail below in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. In another embodiment (not shown), other apertures or structures are defined by the spool endplates 20 for attaching the sprockets 60 and 62 or other items to the spool endplates 20.

In some instances, the spool endplates 20 may further comprise at least one circular step portion 21 that extends inwardly toward the center of the spool assembly 10. These step portions 21 may function, for example, to partially support at least a portion of the wound hose, cord, or cable. In addition, the outward face of the spool endplate 20 may define at least one recess 24. This recess 24 may provide, for instance, a space for receiving the sprocket 62 used in the hand crank drive system. If a motor-driven drive system is used in the reel 1, spacers 25 may be used for separating the sprocket 61 from the side of the spool endplate 20 to allow sufficient room for the chain 65 to pass over the sprocket 60 and around the motor sprocket 161. Such steps and recesses may further add structural integrity to the spool endplates 20. In other embodiments, however, the spool endplates 20 do not have any step or recess.

FIG. 4a is an illustration of an exemplary embodiment of an endplate connecting member 230, such as that which can be used as a spool endplate connecting members 30 and/or a support endplate connecting members 130. The connecting member 230 is elongate with opposed ends. In some instances, the connecting member 230 may be cylindrical. The connecting member 230 may be, for example, a solid member or a hollow tube, and made of any material suitable for application to the support and/or spool assemblies 110, 10. In one embodiment, the connecting members 230 may be comprised of hollow metal tubing or pipe such as steel tubing, and may be plated, painted, or otherwise coated or treated to improve the corrosion resistance thereof. Such connecting members 230 are configured to extend between the support or spool endplates 120, 20, as appropriate, so as to couple the respective endplates together. In some instances, each connecting member 230 comprises two defined connecting elements disposed about the ends thereof, with the connecting elements being separated by an elongate medial portion 232. The separation distance W between the defined connecting elements determines the width W1 of the support assembly or the width W2 of the spool assembly.

The connecting elements may comprise, for example, threaded end portions 231 of the connecting member 230, wherein the threaded end portions 231 may be configured to operably engage a complementary threaded securing member 240. FIGS. 4b and 4c illustrate two different views of the securing member 240 according to one embodiment of the present invention. In such instances, the securing member 240 may comprise a first head portion 241 and a continuous second tubular portion 242, wherein the internal wall 243 of the tubular portion 242 may be threaded so as to be capable of engaging the threaded end 231 of the connecting member 230. The head portion 241 is of a greater dimension than the tubular portion 242 and may define apertures 244, 245 configured to be engaged by a complementary tool (not shown) for tightening or loosening the securing member 240 with respect to an engagement with the connecting member 230. The aperture 244 may also be threaded and configured to engage a screw or bolt, for example, for attaching the sprockets 60 and/or 61 to the spool assembly 10. For example, the sprockets 60, 61 may define apertures corresponding to the apertures 22 used for engaging the spool endplate connecting members 30. Thus, after the spool endplate connecting members 30 are attached to the spool endplates 20 using the securing members 240, the sprockets 60 and/or 61 can be bolted to the spool endplates 20 using apertures 244 in the securing members 240.

FIG. 4d illustrates a cross-sectional view of two endplate connecting members 230 coupled to a support endplate 120 using securing members 240, according to one embodiment of the present invention. The apertures 122 defined by the support endplate 120 are configured to receive the tubular portion 242 of the securing member 240 such that the head portion 241 of the securing member 240 abuts the support endplate 120 when securing member 240 is screwed onto the threaded end 231 of the connecting member 230. The diameter of the threaded end 231 of the connecting member 230 is less than the diameter of the medial portion 232 so that a washer 250 may be disposed about the threaded end 231, without being movable over the medial portion 232 of the connecting member 230. In this manner, when the securing member 240 is screwed onto the end 231 of the endplate connecting member 230, the support endplate 120 is secured between the washer 250 and the head portion 241 of the securing member 240. In other embodiments, the diameter of the threaded portion 231 of connecting member 230 may be sufficiently less than the diameter of the medial portion 232 such that a washer 250 may not be necessary. The spool endplate connecting members 30 may be coupled to the spool endplates 20 in a similar manner to that disclosed herein with reference to the support assembly 110.

FIG. 4e is a perspective view of a support assembly 110 utilizing the endplate connecting members 230, securing members 240, and washers 250 to connect the two support endplates 120, according to one embodiment of the present invention. The spool assembly 10 can be formed in a similar manner using endplate connecting members 230, securing members 240, and washers 250. As can be seen in the figures, the length W of the medial portion 232 of the connecting members 230 generally determines the distance W1 or W2 between the support endplates 120 or spool endplates 20, respectively.

One skilled in the art will thus appreciate that embodiments of the present invention facilitates adjustability of the width of the support assembly 110 and/or the spool assembly 10, by changing the connecting members 230, as appropriate. That is, various sets of connecting members 230 may be formed, with each set having a different length W of the medial portion 232 between the threaded end portions 231 of the connecting member 230, whereby the width of the support and/or spool assemblies 110, 10 can be readily varied to meet the requirements of a particular application. This adjustability may be advantageous since the support assembly 110 can be readily adjusted to suit mounting constraints and support needs, while the spool assembly 10 can be readily adjusted to suit size constraints and spool capacity needs. Similarly, for instance, the material used for the connecting members 230 or the gauge of the connecting members 230 may be varied depending upon the strength requirements or weight constraints for the reel 1. Thus, the reel 1 can be readily customized by changing the connecting members 230.

FIGS. 5a and 5b illustrate another exemplary embodiment of an endplate, where one or more tubular inserts 246 are associated with one or more of the apertures 122 to provide, for example, greater strength and rigidity of the reel assembly 1 by reinforcing the endplate 120 about the apertures 122. The tubular inserts 246 may be made from a metallic material, such as aluminum. For instance, the tubular inserts 246 may be cut from hollow metal tubing or pipe, such as aluminum tubing. The tubular inserts 246 comprise an outside diameter and an inside diameter. Preferably, the outside diameter is such that the insert 246 fits snugly within the aperture 122 defined by the endplate 120, and the inside diameter is such that the connecting member 230 fits snugly within the tubular insert 246.

For example, FIG. 5b illustrates a cross-sectional view of a portion of a support assembly 110 implementing such tubular inserts 246, according to one embodiment of the present invention. FIG. 5b shows two securing members 240 being used to couple two connecting members 230 to a support endplate 120 that is equipped with two tubular inserts 246. As can be seen in the figure, the tubular insert 246 is configured to receive the tubular portion 242 of the securing member 240 which is screwed onto the threaded end portion 231 of the endplate connecting member 230. In one embodiment, the length of the tubular insert 246 is roughly the width of the endplate 120 at the location of the aperture 122, such that the tubular insert 246 is secured between the washer 250 and the head portion 241 of the securing member 240 when the securing member 240 is screwed onto the end of the connecting member 230, as shown in FIG. 5b.

In one embodiment, the tubular inserts 246 are molded into the polymeric endplates 120 at the time the endplates 120 are molded. In such an embodiment, the molded-in inserts 246 define the endplate apertures 122 configured to receive the ends of the support endplate connecting members 130 for connecting the support endplate connecting members 130 to the support endplates 120. Although FIGS. 5a and 5b illustrate tubular inserts 246 used in connection with the apertures 122 of a support endplate 120, such tubular inserts 246 may also be used in a similar manner in connection with one or more of the apertures 22 of a spool endplate 20.

One skilled in the art will thus appreciate that embodiments of the present invention provide an improved reel that may provide a strong, durable, corrosion resistant, lightweight, modular and customizable reel that is relatively easy to manufacture and assemble. For example, according to one embodiment of the present invention, a supply of substantially similar polymeric spool endplates can be made from a first mold and a supply of substantially similar polymeric support endplates can be made from a second mold, with both supplies of endplates being manufactured with a single rotomolding machine. A supply of substantially similar endplate connecting members, varying in length (and/or width), can also be manufactured for use as spool endplate connecting members 30 and/or support endplate connecting members 130.

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.