Title:
FIBERFILL PACKAGING METHOD AND APPARATUS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method for packaging a product comprises compressing a product in a first direction and a second direction, and transferring the product into a package having an opening, wherein the product is oriented in the package such that neither the first direction nor the second direction are aligned with the opening is disclosed. A packaging apparatus comprises a first plate oriented in a first direction, a second plate oriented in a second direction that intersects the first direction, a third plate oriented in a third direction that intersects the second direction but does not intersect the first direction, and a chute aligned with the third direction.



Inventors:
Heilman, Robert D. (Buffalo, NY, US)
Pumphrey, Linda (Fairfield, OH, US)
Kumm, Jeffrey R. (Amherst, NY, US)
Application Number:
11/934657
Publication Date:
05/08/2008
Filing Date:
11/02/2007
Assignee:
L&P PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANY (South Gate, CA, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
53/469, 53/529, 428/222
International Classes:
B65B1/24; B65B63/02
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
GEHMAN, BRYON P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Conley Rose, P.C. (Plano, TX, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for packaging a product, comprising: compressing a product in a first direction and a second direction; and transferring the product into a package having an opening; wherein the product is oriented in the package such that neither the first direction nor the second direction are aligned with the opening.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein the first direction is substantially perpendicular to the second direction.

3. The method of claim 1: wherein the product is transferred into the package in a third direction; and wherein the product is not substantially compressed in the third direction.

4. The method of claim 3 wherein the third direction is substantially perpendicular to the first direction and the second direction.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein the package comprises a plurality of side surfaces, and the product expands until the product is constrained by the side surfaces of the package.

6. The method of claim 5 wherein the product only expands in the first direction and the second direction.

7. The method of claim 1 further comprising sealing the package.

8. The method of claim 1 wherein the product is fiberfill.

9. An apparatus comprising: a first plate oriented in a first direction; a second plate oriented in a second direction that intersects the first direction; a third plate oriented in a third direction that intersects the second direction but does not intersect the first direction; and a chute aligned with the third direction.

10. The apparatus of claim 9 further comprising: a loading area configured to receive a product, the loading area intersecting the first direction.

11. The apparatus of claim 9 wherein the first direction, the second direction, and the third direction are substantially perpendicular to one another.

12. The apparatus of claim 9: wherein the first plate has a first range of motion extending between a first uncompressed position and a first compressed position; wherein the second plate has a second range of motion extending between a second uncompressed position and a second compressed position; and wherein upon placing the first plate in the first compressed position, at least a portion of the second plate is flush with at least a portion of the first plate for at least part of the second range of motion.

13. The apparatus of claim 9: wherein the second plate has a second range of motion extending between a second uncompressed position and a second compressed position; wherein the third plate has a third range of motion extending between a retained position and a transferred position; and wherein upon placing the second plate in the second compressed position, at least a portion of the third plate is flush with at least a portion of the second plate for at least part of the third range of motion.

14. The apparatus of claim 9 wherein the third plate transfers a product through the chute without substantially compressing the product in the third direction.

15. A packaged product comprising: a package having a plurality of sides and an opening; and a product disposed within the package, the product having a compressed direction and an uncompressed direction; wherein the compressed direction is aligned with at least one of the sides and the uncompressed direction is aligned with the opening.

16. The packaged product of claim 15 wherein the product is fiberfill.

17. The packaged product of claim 15 wherein upon removal of a first portion of the product from the package through the opening, a second portion of the product remains within the package.

18. The packaged product of claim 15 wherein the opening further comprises a closure that is selectively opened and closed.

19. The apparatus of claim 18 wherein the product remains in the package when the closure is opened.

20. The apparatus of claim 18 wherein the package is substantially free of any void space when the closure is closed.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present application claims priority to and the benefit under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/864,353 filed Nov. 3, 2006 and entitled “Fiberfill Packaging Method and Apparatus,” hereby incorporated herein for all purposes.

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT

Not applicable.

REFERENCE TO A MICROFICHE APPENDIX

Not applicable.

BACKGROUND

Fiberfill is a product comprising a plurality of loose fibers that are not woven, knitted, or otherwise bonded together. Generally, fiberfill is used as cushioning or stuffing material for pillows, mattress toppers, quilts, toys, and other stuffed items. Fiberfill has a resilient nature such that it returns to its original shape when compressed or otherwise distorted. Fiberfill is typically lofty in nature in that it has a relatively low mass per unit volume. The lofty nature of fiberfill leads to high transportation and storage costs because these costs are generally based on the volume, not the weight, of the fiberfill. Consequently, a need exists for a method to package fiberfill and other products so as to reduce their volume and thus their transportation and storage costs.

SUMMARY

In one aspect, the disclosure describes a method for packaging a product, comprising compressing a product in a first direction and a second direction, and transferring the product into a package having an opening, wherein the product is oriented in the package such that neither the first direction nor the second direction are aligned with the opening.

In a second aspect, the disclosure describes an apparatus comprising a first plate oriented in a first direction, a second plate oriented in a second direction that intersects the first direction, a third plate oriented in a third direction that intersects the second direction but does not intersect the first direction, and a chute aligned with the third direction.

In a third aspect, the disclosure describes an apparatus comprising a package having a plurality of sides and an opening, and a product located within the package, the product having a compressed direction and an uncompressed direction, wherein the compressed direction is aligned with at least one of the sides and the uncompressed direction is aligned with the opening.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For a more complete understanding of the present disclosure, and for further details and advantages thereof, reference is now made to the following Detailed Description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a flow chart of one embodiment of a packaging method;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of one embodiment of a packaging apparatus;

FIG. 3 is a top plan view of the packaging apparatus of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4 is a front elevation view of the packaging apparatus of FIG. 2;

FIG. 5 is a side elevation view of the packaging apparatus of FIG. 2;

FIG. 6 is a side view of a loading area of the packaging apparatus of FIG. 2, the loading area comprising a lid shown in an open position;

FIG. 7 is a side view of the loading area of FIG. 6 depicting the lid in a closed position;

FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional side view of the packaging apparatus of FIG. 2 taken along section line 8-8 of FIG. 3;

FIG. 9 is a cross-sectional side view of the packaging apparatus of FIG. 2 taken along section line 9-9 of FIG. 4;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a package positioned adjacent a discharge chute of a packaging apparatus and receiving a compressed product therein;

FIG. 11 is a top view of one embodiment of a packaged product; and

FIG. 12 is a side view of the packaged product of FIG. 11.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Described herein is a product packaging method and apparatus suitable for implementing the product packaging method. The method comprises compressing a product in at least one direction to reduce the void space therein without compressing the product in at least another direction. The product is then transferred into a package such that the compressed surfaces of the produce are aligned with the sides of the package and an uncompressed surface of the product is aligned with an opening in the package. The resulting packaged product has a substantially reduced volume as compared to an uncompressed product.

In one embodiment, the product that is compressed by the method and apparatus described herein is fiberfill, which may be used as a stuffing and/or cushioning material. Fiberfill comprises a plurality of loose fibers that are not woven, knitted, or otherwise bonded together. Fiberfill may comprise natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, or silk, or synthetic fibers, such as polyester, polypropylene, or rayon. Persons of ordinary skill in the art are aware of many other fiber types and blends that are suitable for use as fiberfill. The fiberfill has a resilient nature such that it returns to its original shape when compressed or otherwise distorted. Fiberfill is generally lofty in nature in that it has a relatively low mass per unit volume. The lofty nature of fiberfill leads to high transportation and storage costs because these costs are generally based on the volume, not the weight, of the fiberfill. Thus, significant cost savings and/or convenience can be achieved by compressing the fiberfill so that the fiberfill consumes less space when it is shipped and stored.

FIG. 1 illustrates a flowchart of one embodiment of a packaging method 100. Briefly, the packaging method 100 comprises receiving an uncompressed product at 102, compressing the product in a first direction at 104, compressing the product in a second direction at 106, and transferring the product into the package at 108. If desired, the packaging method 100 may also include sealing the package at 110. Each of the blocks in the packaging method 100 is described in detail below.

In an embodiment, the packaging method 100 comprises receiving the uncompressed product at 102. Generally, a packaging apparatus, such as the packaging apparatus described herein, will be configured with a loading area or other device that positions the product in the packaging apparatus such that the product may be subsequently compressed in the first direction per 104. An operator may manually load the product into the packaging apparatus, or a machine may automatically load the product into the packaging apparatus. If desired, the packaging apparatus may be part of a larger process such that the packaging apparatus receives the product immediately after the product leaves a manufacturing process.

In an embodiment, the packaging method 100 comprises compressing the product in a first direction at 104. The first direction may be part of a Cartesian coordinate system containing three perpendicular coordinate directions. For example, the first direction could be substantially horizontal with respect to a reference plane. Alternatively, the first direction may be a direction that is not perpendicular to the second direction and/or the third direction, but instead exists at an angle, such as about 75, about 60, about 45, about 30, or about 15 degrees, with respect to one or both of the second and third directions. Further, the first direction could be part of any other coordinate system known to persons of ordinary skill in the art.

In an embodiment, the packaging method 100 comprises compressing the product in a second direction at 106. The second direction may also be part of the Cartesian coordinate system, and may be perpendicular to the first direction. For example, if the first direction is substantially horizontal, then the second direction may be substantially vertical. Alternatively, the second direction may be a direction that is not perpendicular to the first direction and/or the third direction, but instead exists at an angle, such as about 75, about 60, about 45, about 30, or about 15 degrees, with respect to one or both of the first and third directions. Further, the second direction could be part of any other coordinate system known to persons of ordinary skill in the art.

The extent of compression in the first direction and the second direction can be varied to achieve a desired size and shape of compressed product. Specifically, if a smaller product is desired, the compression in the first direction and/or the second direction may be increased such that the void space within the product is reduced. For example, the product can be compressed in the first direction and the second direction until at least about 80, at least about 90, or at least about 99 percent of the void space in the product is removed. In addition, the compression in the first direction and the second direction can be varied to achieve the desired shape of the compressed product. For example, if the compression in the first direction and the second direction remove 99 percent of the void space within the product, a rectangular product may be obtained by compressing the product in the first direction to remove 60 percent of the void space, and then compressing the product in the second direction to remove the remaining 33 percent of the void space. Such a compression scheme would produce a product that is wider in the second direction than in the first direction. In other embodiments, the compression in the first direction may be less than, greater than, or substantially equal to the compression in the second direction, resulting in various sizes and shapes of compressed products.

In an embodiment, the packaging method 100 comprises transferring the product into the package at 108. The product may be transferred into the package in a third direction by a variety of different methods, such as by pushing, pulling, or otherwise transferring the product into the package. The third direction may also be part of the Cartesian coordinate system, and may be substantially perpendicular to the first direction and/or the second direction. For example, if the first direction is substantially horizontal from left to right and the second direction is substantially vertical, then the third direction could be substantially horizontal from front to back. Alternatively, the third direction may be a direction that is not perpendicular to the first direction and/or the second direction, but instead exists at an angle, such as about 75, about 60, about 45, about 30, or about 15 degrees, with respect to one or both of the first and second directions. Further, the third direction could be part of any other coordinate system known to persons of ordinary skill in the art. In addition, it is not required that the first, second, and third directions meet at a common point. Instead, one or more of the first, second, and third directions may be offset from one another, as is illustrated in the packaging apparatus described herein.

The packaging method 100 may optionally comprise sealing the package at 110. In an embodiment, the package is a bag-shaped container with an open end. The open end can be closed and/or sealed to retain the compressed product within the package and/or protect the product. The package may be closed and/or sealed with any type of closure device, including a drawstring, a ZIPLOC® type closure, tape, zip-tie, heat-sealed, or other closure means. In addition, if an airtight closure is used, a vacuum source can be applied to the inside of the package, the outside of the package can be compressed, or other means may be used to remove any excess air from within the package such that the product is further compressed and the volume of the package is further reduced.

FIGS. 2-9 illustrate various views of one representative packaging apparatus 200 suitable for compressing a product in accordance with the method 100 of FIG. 1. The packaging apparatus 200 comprises a loading area 202, a first compression assembly 220, a second compression assembly 230, a third compression assembly 240, and a discharge chute 210. In an embodiment, the first compression assembly 220 is oriented in the first direction, which in the embodiment illustrated herein is substantially horizontal with respect to the floor upon which the packaging apparatus stands, and extending from left to right. In an embodiment, the second compression assembly 230 is oriented in the second direction, which in the embodiment illustrated herein is vertical and substantially perpendicular to the first direction. In an embodiment, the third compression assembly 240 is oriented in the third direction, which in the embodiment illustrated herein is substantially horizontal and extending from the back of the apparatus 200 to the front of the apparatus 200 and is substantially perpendicular to the first and second directions. Although the first, second, and third directions are substantially perpendicular to each other, the first, second, and third directions do not intersect at a common point, as shown in FIGS. 8 and 9.

As best depicted in FIGS. 3, 4 and 8, in an embodiment, the loading area 202 is a compartment configured to receive the product that will be compressed by the packaging apparatus 200. Specifically, the loading area 202 aligns the uncompressed product with the first direction as described below. As depicted specifically in FIGS. 6 and 7, the loading area 202 contains a lid 203 that may be opened as shown in FIG. 6 and closed as shown in FIG. 7 so that the operator can insert a predetermined amount of the product, such as three pounds of fiberfill, for example, into the packaging apparatus 200. If desired, the loading area 202 may be configured with a latch, lock, or similar means to allow the lid 203 to be secured in the closed position.

FIG. 8 depicts the first compression assembly 220 oriented in the first direction. The first compression assembly 220 comprises a first cylinder 228, a first piston 222, a first plate 224, and a first housing 226. The first plate 224 may be circular, elliptical, square, rectangular, or any other shape and is generally shaped and sized to conform to the shape of the inside of the first housing 226. The first compression assembly 220 may be operated by pneumatic, hydraulic, electrical, mechanical, or some other actuation means to move the first piston 222 and first plate 224 relative to the first cylinder 228 and first housing 226. Specifically, the first piston 222 and first plate 224 are extendable between a first uncompressed position, as shown in solid lines in FIG. 8, and a first compressed position, as shown in phantom lines in FIG. 8. The movement of the first plate 224 from the first uncompressed position to the first compressed position causes the product to be compressed in the first direction without being substantially compressed in either the second or third directions. As described below, the second compression assembly 230 is typically oriented in a second uncompressed position and the third compression assembly is typically in the retained position when the first plate 224 is moved from the first uncompressed position to the first compressed position.

FIGS. 8 and 9 depict the second compression assembly 230 oriented in the second direction in the second uncompressed position and the second compressed position, respectively. The second compression assembly 230 comprises a second cylinder 238, a second piston 232, a second plate 234, and a second housing 236. The second plate 234 may be circular, elliptical, square, rectangular, or any other shape and is generally shaped and sized to conform to the shape of the inside of the second housing 236. The second compression assembly 230 is operated by pneumatic, hydraulic, electrical, mechanical, or some other actuation means to move the second piston 232 and the second plate 234 relative to the second cylinder 238 and the second housing 236. Specifically, the second piston 232 and the second plate 234 are extendable between a second uncompressed position, as shown in solid lines in FIG. 8, and a second compressed position, as shown in phantom lines in FIG. 8 and in solid lines in FIG. 9. The movement of the second plate 234 from the second uncompressed position to the second compressed position causes the product to be compressed in the second direction without being substantially compressed in the first or third directions. The first compression assembly 220 is typically oriented in the first compressed position and the third compression assembly is typically oriented in the retained position when the second plate 234 is moved from the second uncompressed position to the second compressed position. In addition, at least part of the side of the second plate 234 may move flush across at least part of the face of the first plate 224 such that the second plate 234 scrapes any excess portion of the product, such as loose fibers, from at least part of the face of the first plate 224. Moreover, once the second plate 234 is in the second compressed position, the first plate 224 may be moved back to the first uncompressed position as shown in FIG. 8 without uncompressing the product.

FIG. 9 shows the detail of the third compression assembly 240 oriented in the third direction. The third compression assembly 240 comprises a third cylinder 248, a third piston 242, a third plate 244, and a third housing 246. The third plate 244 may be circular, elliptical, square, rectangular, or any other shape and is generally shaped and sized to conform to the shape of the inside of the third housing 246. The third compression assembly 240 is operated by pneumatic, hydraulic, electrical, mechanical, or some other actuation means to move the third piston 242 and the third plate 244 relative to the third cylinder 248 and the third housing 246. Specifically, the third piston 242 and the third plate 244 are extendable between the retained position, as shown in solid lines in FIG. 9, and a transferred position, as shown in phantom lines in FIG. 9. The movement of the third plate 244 from the retained position to the transferred position causes the product to be transferred out of the open-ended discharge chute 210 in the third direction without being substantially compressed in any direction. The second compression assembly 230 is typically oriented in the second compressed position when the third plate 244 is moved from the retained position to the transferred position. In addition, at least part of the side of the third plate 244 may move flush across at least part of the face of the second plate 234 such that the third plate 244 scrapes any excess portion of the product, such as loose fibers, from at least part of the face of the second plate 234.

FIG. 10 illustrates one embodiment of a package 250 positioned adjacent the discharge chute 210 and receiving the compressed product 252. In an embodiment, the package 250 may comprise an open end 254, a closed end 258, and a plurality of side surfaces 260 joined to the closed end 258. The closed end 258 may be configured with a handle 256 to facilitate handling of the package 250. The open end 254 is configured to receive the compressed product 252 and may be sized and shaped to conform to the size of the discharge chute 210. Specifically, the open end 254 may be fitted over the chute 210 prior to moving the third plate 244 from the retained position to the transferred position. As the third plate 244 moves to the transferred position, the compressed product 252 is pushed out of the chute 210 and into the package 250 through the open end 254. When the compressed product 252 enters the package 250, the product 252 expands in the first direction and the second direction until restrained by the sides 260 of the package 250, but does not substantially expand in the third direction because the product 252 has not been compressed in the third direction. The open end 254 may then be closed and/or sealed and the product may be shipped or stored as desired.

FIGS. 11 and 12 illustrate the force of the product 252 against the package 250. As shown by the arrows in FIGS. 11 and 12, the product 252 is constrained by the package sides 260 in the first direction and the second direction, but not the third direction. Specifically, the open end 254 does not have to be closed or sealed to retain the product 252 within the package 250. Such a configuration substantially reduces the stress placed on any closure used on the open end 254.

There are several advantages to a product 252 that is packaged using the disclosed packaging method 100 and apparatus 200. First, the product 252 is compressed such that it has a substantially reduced void space. The substantially reduced void space reduces the overall volume of the package 250, which reduces the shipping and storage costs for the product 252. Second, a product 252 packaged using the disclosed packaging method 100 will remain in the package 250 after the open end 254 of the package 250 has been opened. Specifically, because the product 252 is oriented such that the third direction is aligned with the open end 254 and the product 252 is compressed in the first direction and the second direction but not the third direction, the product 252 will not substantially expand when the open end 254 of the package 250 is open. Such a feature also allows the package 250 to be repeatedly opened and closed without the product 252 escaping the package 250. Finally, a product 252 packaged using the disclosed packaging method 100 allows a consumer to remove a portion of the product 252 from the package 250 without substantially uncompressing the remaining portion of the product 252. More specifically, the consumer can remove a portion of the product 252 from the package 250, and then reseal the package 250 without the remaining portion of the product 252 losing any substantial compression. Without being limited by theory, it is envisioned that such a feature is made possible in part by the fact that the product 252 exerts force on the sides 260 of the package 250 and not the open end 254 or the closed end 258.

While several embodiments have been disclosed and described herein, it should be understood that the disclosed systems and methods may be embodied in many other specific forms without departing from the spirit or scope of the present disclosure. The present examples are to be considered as illustrative and not restrictive, and the intention is not to be limited to the details given herein. For example, the various elements or components may be combined or integrated in another system or certain features may be omitted, or not implemented.

In addition, techniques, systems, subsystems, and methods described and illustrated in the various embodiments as discrete or separate may be combined or integrated with other systems, modules, techniques, or methods without departing from the scope of the present disclosure. Other items shown or discussed as directly coupled or communicating with each other may be coupled through some interface or device, such that the items may no longer be considered directly coupled to each other but may still be indirectly coupled and in communication, whether electrically, mechanically, or otherwise with one another. Other examples of changes, substitutions, and alterations are ascertainable by one skilled in the art and could be made without departing from the spirit and scope disclosed herein.