Title:
Flexible Container Filling Device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A flexible container filling device adapted to quickly fill sandbags for water control, erosion control and military use is comprised of a vehicle coupling mechanism, a hopper having at least one inlet port and at least one outlet port and a flexible container receiving system. The flexible container receiving system includes at least one flexible container ejection device. Furthermore, the flexible container receiving system is adapted to receive at least one flexible container. The receiving system is then adapted to receive flexible container filler material from the hopper. The receiving system places the flexible container filler material within the flexible container and ejects the flexible container from the system upon the flexible container being at least partially filled. This apparatus also provides a method for emptying the flexible container, collecting the flexible container material and collecting it for reuse.



Inventors:
Lorenzi, Thomas Edward (Centennial, CO, US)
Application Number:
11/829721
Publication Date:
05/15/2008
Filing Date:
07/27/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
383/2
International Classes:
B65B1/04; B65D30/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
WEEKS, GLORIA R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Thomas Edward Lorenzi (Centennial, CO, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A flexible container filling device comprising: a vehicle coupling mechanism; a hopper having at least one inlet port and at least one outlet port; a flexible container receiving system having at least one flexible container ejection device, the flexible container receiving system adapted to receive (i) at least one detachably coupled flexible container and (ii) flexible container filler material from the hopper, place the flexible container filler material within the flexible container, and eject the flexible container from the system upon the flexible container being at least partially filled.

2. The flexible container filling device of claim 1 wherein, there is at least one inlet port and one outlet port; the flexible container receiving system comprises a spool, the spool (i) having a plurality of flexible container cartridges, and (ii) detachably coupling to the hopper; and the ejection device is a flexible container support system.

3. The flexible container filling device of claim 2 wherein, each flexible container cartridge is (i) detachably coupled to the spool and (ii) adapted to place flexible container filler material within at least one flexible container; and the flexible container support system is a plurality of polymeric flaps.

4. The flexible container filling device of claim 3 wherein, the hopper includes a valve adapted to control the rate of flexible container filler material exiting the outlet port; the polymeric flaps are adapted to release the flexible container from the spool upon the flexible container receiving flexible container filling material; the spool is rotatably coupled to the hopper; and the vehicle coupling mechanism is coupled to the hopper and is adapted to couple the flexible container filling device to a cement truck.

5. The flexible container filling device of claim 1 wherein, the flexible container receiving system comprises a chute and a roller, the chute and roller adapted to receive at least one flexible container.

6. The flexible container filling device of claim 5 wherein, the chute having a pair of slotted rails adapted to receive a flexible container having (i) a pair of flanges and (ii) a surface being at least a partially mesh portion, the mesh portion being adapted to receive a flexible container filling material.

7. The flexible container filling device of claim 6 wherein, the flange portion includes a rope.

8. A flexible container filling combination comprising: a flexible container filling material supply vehicle; a flexible container filling device comprising: a vehicle coupling mechanism; a hopper having at least one inlet port and at least one outlet port; a flexible container receiving system having at least one flexible container ejection device, the flexible container receiving system adapted to: receive (i) at least one detachably coupled flexible container and (ii) flexible container filler material from the hopper, place the flexible container filler material within the flexible container, and eject the flexible container from the system upon the flexible container being at least partially filled; a flexible container; and a flexible container emptying device.

9. The combination of claim 8 wherein, the supply vehicle is a dump truck; the vehicle coupling mechanism is coupled to the hopper; and the flexible container emptying device includes a conveyor system.

10. The combination of claim 9 wherein, the flexible container receiving system includes a flexible container opening device operatively coupled to the flexible container; and the flexible container being operatively coupled to at least one other flexible container.

11. The combination of claim 10 wherein, the flexible container opening device is a pair of rails, each rail being adapted to receive a flexible container flange.

12. The combination of claim 8 wherein, the flexible container receiving system is a spool having a plurality of cartridges; the cartridges are adapted to (i) receive at least one flexible container and (ii) supply flexible container filling material to the at least one flexible container; and the flexible container is an expandable flexible container.

13. The combination of claim 12 wherein, the flexible container receiving system further includes a flexible container support mechanism; the flexible container support mechanism is adapted to couple the flexible container to the system prior to the flexible container receiving filler material; and the bag is adapted to expand upon receiving filler material.

14. The combination of claim 13 wherein, the spool is a first spool detachably coupled to the hopper in a manner adapted to allow a second spool to couple to the hopper upon detaching said first spool and the hopper is adapted to detachably couple to an outside surface of a dump truck wall.

15. A flexible container having a generally cylindrical shape including, a proximal end, the proximal end being generally open a distal end, a portion of the distal end coupling to a second flexible container; a longitudinal axis, and a flexible container opening device coupling mechanism.

16. The flexible container of claim 15 wherein, upon receiving filler material, the flexible container is longitudinally expandable onto a flexible container placement location.

17. The flexible container of claim 15 wherein, the flexible container opening device coupling mechanism is a pair of flanges.

18. The flexible container of claim 17, further having at least a partially mesh surface.

19. The flexible container of claim 18, wherein, the pair of flanges extend generally parallel to the longitudinal axis; and the mesh surface extending between the two flanges.

20. The flexible container of claim 15 wherein, the flexible container opening device coupling mechanism is a bar.

Description:

REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to and incorporates fully by reference provisional application No. 60/837,850 filed on Aug. 16, 2006 entitled “Bag construction, system of continuously filling and emptying”. The entitled provisional application has at least one inventor in common with this application.

This application claims priority to and incorporates fully by reference provisional Application No. 60/838,401 filed on Aug. 18, 2006 entitled “Bag construction, system of continuously filling and emptying”. The entitled provisional application has at least one inventor in common with this application.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention generally relates to machines adapted to fill sandbags.

BACKGROUND

Burlap sacks filled with sand or soil, commonly known as “sandbags” are used in a number of applications, one being flood control. When rivers threaten to run over their banks or when a levee or dike is damaged, sandbags are used to control and direct the flow of water. Sandbags are also often used as the foundation for new and higher levees or other water-control structures.

Another application of sandbags is for military fortifications. Sandbags are often used to construct temporary field fortifications such as bunkers. The sandbags may be laid in excavated defenses as a revetment, or as an above-ground free-standing wall. Sandbags may also be used as a temporary protective measure for already exiting civilian and military structures. Sandbags provide protection by the soil or sand grains, together with the air gaps between the grains, efficiently and effectively dissipating an explosive blast, lessening the effect of the blast from one side of the sandbag to the other.

Because burlap and sand are inexpensive materials, strong protective structures can be erected cheaply. However, plain burlap sandbags deteriorate fairly quickly, so if it is anticipated that a sandbag structure will remain in place for a long time, it may be coated with a substance such as Portland cement to reduce any rotting effects. Additionally, non-burlap flexible containers are sometimes used for a long-term replacement of burlap sandbags. For example, the US Army Corp of Engineers sometimes uses sandbags for the prevention of flooding which are made of circular woven prolypropylene.

Historically, sandbags have typically been filled manually by people using shovels. The flexible containers are normally filled with an amount of sand that allows a person or persons to carry the flexible container from where it is filled to where it will be used. Sand bags generally maximize the efficiency of manual labor by using human trains to perform the filling, carrying and laying of the flexible containers, but this method does not economically fill the greatest number of bags. However, machines capable of filling flexible containers at a much greater rate than a shovel have been in use since the 1990s.

Current sandbagging machines are deficient in many respects. For example, current systems require multiple persons to operate an order to fill a large number of flexible containers. The machines do not automatically lay the bags in the correct position as they exit the machine. Also, to machines do not create a way to quickly remove the sand from the flexible containers. Therefore, the carrying, laying, and emptying of the sandbags is still performed manually.

SUMMARY OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an isometric view of a spool and a rear isometric view of a hopper.

FIG. 2 is an isometric view of a material supply chute inserted into a hopper inlet port, the hopper being coupled to the material supply chute and a spool.

FIG. 3 shows a side view of a chute, hopper, and spool.

FIG. 4 shows a side view of a device coupled to the side of a vehicle in the process of ejecting flexible containers from the apparatus.

FIG. 5 shows a front isometric view of a hopper.

FIG. 6A shows an isometric view of the bottom of a hopper with a slider valve in an open position.

FIG. 6B shows an isometric view of the bottom of a hopper with a slider valve in a partially closed position.

FIG. 7 shows a series of isometric view of a spool coupling to a hopper.

FIG. 8 shows a side view of a portion of the spool without any coupled cartridges.

FIG. 9 shows an isometric exploded view of a hopper spool, and 6 cartridges.

FIG. 10 shows an isometric view of a hopper bracket.

FIG. 11 shows an isometric view of a spool with 5 coupled cartridges without flexible containers and one uncoupled cartridge without a flexible container.

FIG. 12 is a bottom view of a spool coupled to a hopper.

FIG. 13A is a top view of (i) a spool having six receiving ports, each port adapted to receive an oval cartridge in each spool receiving port, and (ii) a detached oval cartridge.

FIG. 13B is a top view of (i) a spool having six receiving ports, each port adapted to receive two flexible container cartridges, and (ii) two cartridges.

FIG. 14 is an isometric view of a filling apparatus adapted to fill two flexible containers in a generally simultaneous manner.

FIG 15 is an isometric view of a portion of a chute having two slotted rails, and a close-up side view of the slotted rails.

FIG. 16 is an isometric view of a flexible container having two flanges and a mesh surface, and a close-up side view of the flanges and mesh portion.

FIG. 17 is a top view of a flexible container filling device having a chute and a roller coupled to the side of a dump truck bed.

FIG. 18 is a side view of a flexible container filling device having a chute and a roller coupled to the side of a dump truck bed.

FIG. 19 is a front view of a flexible container on a chute.

FIG. 20 is an isometric view of a flexible container having a mesh surface, flanges, and a rope inserted within the flanges.

FIG. 21 is an isometric view of a plurality of flexible containers stacked in a manner adapted to keep the filler material from exiting the mesh surface.

FIG. 22 is an isometric view of a flexible container having a bar as an opening device coupling mechanism.

FIG. 23 is a sectional detail of a flexible container having a bar coupling to an opening device.

FIG. 24 is a side view of a flexible container emptying device according to one embodiment.

FIGS. 25A and 25B are isometric views of a flexible containers wrapped around structures and interwoven.

FIG. 26 is an isometric view of (i) a roller coupled to a plurality of flexible containers having a bar, (ii) an outlet port, and (iii) a chute operative coupled to the flexible containers, and (iv) full flexible containers having exited the chute.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

One embodiment of a flexible container filling device is comprised of a hoper and flexible container receiving system. The hopper is a device adapted to receive and hold flexible container filling material. One embodiment'S hopper is adapted to receive and hold sand for filling burlap sandbags positioned on the receiving system. A version of a hopper comprises a generally rectangular 4-sided receiving bin having a top portion, a bottom surface, at least one filler material inlet port and at least one material outlet port. The hopper inlet port may be an open top portion and an open portion of at least one wall. The outlet port in one embodiment comprises a bore in the hopper bottom surface that uses gravity to funnel sand through the bore, out of the hopper and into the flexible container receiving system.

One hopper version may be adapted to detachably couple to a material supply vehicle, while other versions of a hopper are not adapted to detachably couple to a supply vehicle, but may be integrated into a supply vehicle. For example, one hopper adapted to detachably couple to a vehicle may couple to an end of a cement truck chute through a hopper support bar. The hopper support bar may be a shaft which dissects the hopper receiving bin, coupling to the hopper walls through wall bores. The support bar may enable the hopper to rest on a portion of the chute adapted to receive the bar so that the material in the chute may enter the inlet port. The hopper may also detachably couple to the side of a dump-truck bed through at least one hook. An example of an integrated hopper may be a hopper integrated into a mobile vehicle such as, but not limited to, a Gator™ Utility Vehicle, produced by Deere & Company, located in Moline, Ill.

In the case of a cement truck embodiment, the hopper may receive filling material through normal operation of the cement truck. The cement truck may be adapted to provide sand. In a dump truck embodiment, a rear portion of the bottom surface of the truck bed may have grated surface allowing the filler material to fall through the grate. Below the grate may be a mechanism adapted to send the filler material to the hopper filler material inlet port. One embodiment may use an auger to perform this function. An integrated hopper may manually receive material through a back-hoe or other large earth-moving equipment.

As the hopper receives filler material, the material is typically substantially contained within the hopper until the material exits through the hopper outlet port. In one hopper outlet port, the exit flow rate of the material is controlled through a valve. The valve may be a manually operated slider coupled to the outer portion of the bottom surface of the hopper. Such a valve is slide into and out of position in order to release and prevent filler material from exiting through the outlet port and into the flexible container receiving system.

One version's flexible container receiving system comprises a spool having at least one cartridge. The spool is operatively coupled to the hopper. In one embodiment, the cartridges are hollow cylindrical tubes, each end of the cartridge being an open end, and one end of the cartridge having a flange. Prior to coupling the cartridges to the spool, in one embodiment, the cartridge receives a flexible container having an open end and a closed end by placing the flexible container around the cartridge such that the flexible container open end is proximal the flanged cartridge end and the flexible container closed end is proximal an unflanged end. Upon placing a flexible container around a cartridge, in one embodiment, the cartridge is subsequently coupled to the spool.

In one embodiment, the spool comprises a generally cylindrical spool having an upper spool surface and a lower spool surface coupled via a spool center shaft. In one version, the spool vertically couples to the hopper such that the spool upper surface is proximal the hopper bottom surface. The spool upper and lower surfaces may have generally circular cross sections, with the upper surface having a hopper attachment mechanism. One embodiment's hopper attachment mechanism comprises a hopper attachment cylinder with a flanged end generally located in the center of the upper surface. The hopper attachment cylinder is adapted to mate with a hopper bracket located on the outer bottom surface of the hopper.

The spool may be substantially immobilly secured to the hopper. In one embodiment, the spool is substantially immobilly secured to the hopper through the hopper bracket and a locking device. In one embodiment, the hopper attachment cylinder flanged end is adapted to fit in a recessed portion of the hopper bracket with a vertical locking pin being the locking device, securing the spool in position. The pin may be coupled to the hopper and adapted to fit into at least one notch on the spool upper surface.

The spool in an embodiment is adapted to receive a plurality of cartridges, with one embodiment adapted to receive six cartridges. The cartridges may couple to the spool with or without flexible containers coupled to the cartridge. The spool is generally adapted to receive a cartridge in a manner adapted to allow the coupled flexible container to receive filler material, and subsequently allow the flexible container to be ejected upon being at least generally filled.

An ejection device may remove the flexible container from the spool. The ejection device may be a flexible container support mechanism. The ejection device may also be a chute. In either embodiment, the ejection device may be a device adapted to enable a flexible container to automatically leave the receiving system upon receiving a specified amount of filler material.

In one version, the cartridge couples to the spool by the flanged portion of the cartridge resting upon a recessed portion of an upper spool surface receiving port. The receiving port is adapted to horizontally receive the cartridge in one embodiment, with the recessed portion adapted to mate with the flange. The lower spool surface may have a flexible container outlet bore correspondingly aligned with each upper spool surface receiving port. The lower spool surface bore may have a flexible container support mechanism which also comprises the ejection device. One version's support mechanism/ejection device comprises a plurality of flaps which extend from the flexible container bore edge towards the center of the flexible container bore. The flaps may be a series of concentric flaps encircling the bore, being comprised of flexible polymeric material adapted to support the flexible container closed end prior to the flexible container receiving filler material. The flaps are adapted to support a specific weight, so upon the bag receiving filler material, when the bag weight is greater than the weight the flaps are designed to support, the flaps bend, ejecting the bag through the bore.

The flexible container receives filler material from the hopper. In one embodiment, the spool is vertically coupled to the hopper. Therefore, upon release of the hopper valve, gravity causes the flexible container to receive filler material through the outlet port. Upon exiting the outlet bore, the flexible container closed end may be generally set in a correct flexible container placement location. For example, in an embodiment coupled to military equipment, the equipment may be positioned such that the outlet port is proximate to a bunker wall such that little to no other movement of the flexible container is needed to correctly position the flexible container upon exit. In the war against terror, such features may not only save time, but they could also save lives.

In one version, the flexible container coupled to the cartridge may be expandable and adapted to act similar to a spring's actions, capable of expanding upon receiving filler material and compressing upon release of filler material. During the flexible container's receipt of filler material, the flexible container expands longitudinally, the flexible container exiting out the outlet bore. In order to the flexible container to continue to exit out of the bore and continually be automatically placed in the correct position, a military vehicle may be moved slowly as the container is filled and exits.

By being able to use expandable flexible containers, one embodiment may use flexible containers which are larger than typical sandbags, effectively increasing the efficiency of prior art sandbagging machines. An expandable flexible container may also allow for quicker placement. Additionally, since the flexible container is automatically placed in position upon release of the flexible container from the outlet bore, one person may operate an apparatus, especially if the spool rotation mechanism has an electronic rotation mechanism. Manual spool rotation devices may require two persons to operate. One type of mobile system may allow a single user to operate, place, and create an entire flexible container structure, further increasing the efficiency. Therefore, multiple bunkers, military structures, and water control devices and structures could be fortified simultaneously with relatively few operators. A two person military team may operate a flexible container filling apparatus, especially one having a manual valve, more effectively and efficiently than one person.

As the flexible container continues to exit the spool, one embodiment's flexible container continues to expand. When the flexible container is at least generally filled, the valve is closed. After the valve is closed, which, on one embodiment is at full container expansion, the open end of the flexible container eventually slides down the cartridge and through the outlet port. Therefore, any flexible container portion unfilled with filler material exits the spool as well. In one embodiment, upon a flexible container exiting the spool, the spool is rotated so that a new flexible container may be tilted upon all flexible containers filling, the spool may be removed and a new spool with cartridges having coupled flexible containers may replace it. The spool is replaced by releasing the locking device and lifting the spool out of the hopper bracket recessed portion.

In another version, the flexible container receiving system may not be a spool having a plurality of cartridges, but may be a chute. The chute may be an ejection device which receives flexible containers from a flexible container supply device. One type of flexible container supply device may be a roller. In one embodiment, a chute top end is located proximal the hopper outlet port and a chute bottom end is locate proximal a flexible container placement location so that the flexible container is ejected onto the correct placement location. One placement location may be proximal a military or civilian building that the filled flexible container would provide explosive blast protection to. In one embodiment, a flexible container having at least one open end may be placed on the chute proximal the chute top end with the flexible container open end being placed in a position to receive filler material from the hopper outlet port.

One chute version includes a flexible container opening device. The flexible container opening device comprises a device adapted to keep the flexible container open at the location the flexible container receives filler material. One type of opening device may be a pair of slotted hollow tubes, with each tube being adapted to receive a flexible container flange.

The tubes may be adapted to receive a flexible container flange running longitudinally along an outer edge of the flexible container. A flange outer portion may extend along a greater circumferential flexible container length than a flange inner portion. the flange outer portion may also include a rope, although items other than rope may be used. The rope may be used to keep at least a portion of the flange outer portion within the tube. The two flanges keep the flexible container in an open position. In one embodiment, the flange and rope may be manually fed into the hollow tubes.

The outer surface of one flexible container between the flanges is at least partially meshed. The mesh surface may be the portion of the surface of the flexible container located proximal the outlet port. Therefore, as the valve releases filler material from the hopper and through the outlet port, the flanges hold the flexible container in an open position and the flexible container receives filler material through the mesh portion. As the filler material is sent into the flexible container, gravity causes the flexible container closed end receiving the filler material to move through the chute towards the chute bottom end, ejecting the container since one embodiment's chute bottom end is located at a lower vertical position than a chute top end.

In one embodiment, the chute does not comprise a vertical chute, but a chute bottom surface creates an angle with the flexible container placement location. Therefore, as the flexible container weight is increased by receiving more filler material, the weight of the flexible container overcomes the friction keeping the flexible container on the chute, allowing the flexible container to slide down the chute. Filler material continues to enter the flexible container through the mesh surface. As the flexible container closed end reaches the chute bottom end and contacts the placement locations the device is adapted to allow the flexible container to continually exit the chute. In one embodiment, the device is adapted to allow the flexible container to continually exit the chute by moving the device in a manner where the chute bottom end is continually set proximate to the correct flexible container placement location. A vehicle usually enables device movement.

A version of an apparatus also includes a flexible container emptying device. In one embodiment, the flexible container emptying device employs a conveyor system having a conveyor belt coupled to a dump truck. One end of the conveyor is located near an end of a flexible container and the other end of the conveyor is placed near the bed of the dump truck. A portion of the flexible container including the flexible container end is placed on the conveyor belt. As the conveyor belt is operated, the flexible container end is moved towards the truck bed. Upon reaching the belt end, the flexible container wraps under the conveyor towards a roller. As the flexible container travels towards the roller, the filler material empties out of the flexible container and into the truck bed. In one embodiment, the flexible container is emptied through the mesh surface. As the flexible container reaches the roller, the flexible container is at least substantially empty and the roller rolls the flexible container onto the roller, possibly for use at a later date.

Terminology:

The terms and phrases as indicated in quotation marks (“ ”) in this section are intended to have the meaning ascribed to them in this Terminology section applied to them throughout this document, including in the claims, unless clearly indicated otherwise in context. Further, as applicable, the stated definitions are to apply, regardless of the word or phrase's case, tense or any singular or plural variations of the defined word or phrase.

The term “or” as used in this specification and the appended claims is not meant to be exclusive rather the term is inclusive meaning “either or both”.

References in the specification to “one embodiment”, “an embodiment”, “a preferred embodiment”, “an alternative embodiment”, “a variation”, “one variation”, and similar phrases mean that a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least an embodiment of the invention. The appearances of phrases like “in one embodiment”, “in an embodiment”, or “in a variation” in various places in the specification are not necessarily all meant to refer to the same embodiment or variation.

The term “couple” or “coupled” as used in this specification and the appended claims refers to either an indirect or direct connection between the identified elements, components or objects. Often the manner of the coupling will be related specifically to the manner in which the two coupled elements interact.

The term “integrate” or “integrated” as used in this specification and the appended claims refers to a blending, uniting, or incorporation of the identified elements, components or objects into a unified whole.

Directional and/or relationary terms such as, but not limited to, left, right, nadir, apex, top, bottom, vertical, horizontal, back, front and lateral are relative to each other and are dependent on the specific orientation of a applicable element or article, and are used accordingly to aid in the description of the various embodiments and are not necessarily intended to be construed as limiting.

As applicable the terms “about” or “generally” as used herein unless otherwise indicated means a margin of +−20%. Also, as applicable, the term “substantially” as used herein unless otherwise indicated means a margin of +−10%. It is to be appreciated that not all uses of the above terms are quantifiable such that the referenced ranges can be applied.

The term “composite”, “composites” or any version thereof refers to a solid material which is composed of two or more substances having different physical characteristics and in which each substance retains its identity while contributing desirable properties to the whole.

The term “hopper” or any version thereof refers to a fluent material receiving bin, however, the receiving bin is not necessarily funnel-shaped.

The term “flexible container” as used herein refers to a container capable of expansion and holding a fluent material. The term includes, but is not limited to, burlap sacks adapted to hold sand and may be referred to simply as a container, a bag, a sandbag, or a sack.

One Embodiment of a Flexible Container Filler Device

One embodiment of a flexible container filling device 10 includes a hopper 12 and flexible container receiving system. As best shown in FIG. 1, the flexible container receiving system may be a spool 14 having at least one flexible container 50 coupled to a flexible container cartridge 16. The flexible container receiving system enables the flexible container to be filled with filler material and upon filling to be ejected from the system. One type of flexible container which may be used comprises a burlap sack and one type of filling material that may be used comprises sand. Also, one embodiment may use flexible containers that are adapted to receive cement or another substance similar to cement. Such flexible containers may be used to shore up an underwater break in a dam or levee.

The hopper 12 is adapted to receive flexible container-filling material through at least one inlet port 18 and transfer it to the flexible container receiving system. For example, as best shown by FIG. 2, the inlet port may be a filler material inlet port adapted to allow a filler material chute 19 to be inserted into the port so that filler material may slide down the chute and easily enter the hopper. The hopper may have a plurality of receiving ports in one embodiment. As best shown in FIG. 3, the inlet port in one embodiment may be a corner of a hopper that has been removed. Additionally, as best shown in FIG. 5, the inlet port may include an entire open top portion 17 of a hopper.

One type of a flexible container bagging device 10 is adapted to couple to a vehicle. One hopper may use a hopper support bar 15 to couple the apparatus to the vehicle. As best shown in FIG. 5 the bar may dissect the hopper receiving bin and be placed through wall bores 5 located in opposing hopper walls. The bar may support the hopper by a pair of chains 45 being coupled to the bar, the chains also being coupled to a clasp or a hook 46, with the clasp or hook adapted to couple an upper edge of a pick-up truck bed, as best shown in FIG. 4. The support bar may also be called a support shaft, the shaft being adapted to rest in a notch 13 located on a filler material chute such as, but not limited to, a cement truck chute, in order to couple the apparatus to a vehicle, as best shown in FIG. 2. Other embodiments may not use a support bar to couple the apparatus to a vehicle. For example, mechanisms such as, but not limited to, a bolted assembly, may be used to couple the apparatus to a vehicle.

Some hoppers 12 are not directly coupled to a vehicle. In one such embodiment, another portion of an assembly apparatus 10 is coupled to the vehicle instead of the hopper such as, but not limited to, the flexible container receiving system. Additionally, some hoppers are a portion of a vehicle. For example, the hopper may be the bed of a vehicle. For example, the hopper may be the bed of a vehicle such as, but not limited to, a Gator™ Utility Vehicle, produced by Deere & Company, located in Moline, Ill.

The hopper receiving bin and the hopper components may come in different sizes. In one version, the length 11 of the sides of the hopper receiving bin are generally equal. One hopper may have sides which are about two feet in length. The support bar 15 in one embodiment may be about three and a half feet in length. A top edge may have a length 9 only equal to one foot in a version. In a hopper that is integrated to a vehicle, the hopper may be substantially larger.

As best shown in FIG. 5, the hopper 12 also includes an outlet port 20. The outlet port may be a bore located in a bottom surface of the hopper. The outlet port is adapted to allow filler material to exit the hopper. Controlling the filler material flow out of the hopper may be a hopper valve 22. As best shown by FIGS. 6A and 6B, the hopper valve may be a manually controlled slider valve that may be pulled to an open position and pushed to a closed position. When the hopper is vertically installed the slider may be operatively coupled to the hopper by at least one flange 24 and one hopper bracket 29. Electronic or automatic valves that may or may not be non-slider valves are also contemplated. For example, a hopper is contemplated that does not use gravity to transfer the filler material from the hopper to the flexible container. In such an embodiment a pump-valve mechanism may be used.

Coupled to the hopper 12 in one embodiment is the flexible container receiving system. As best shown in FIGS. 2 and 7, a spool 14 having a plurality of cartridges 16 may be used as the flexible container receiving system. The cartridges may be referred to as flexible container opening devices. As best shown in FIG. 8, the spool may be coupled to the hopper using an extension 26 with a flanged end 28. The flanged end is adapted to fit within a hopper bracket 29, as best shown in FIGS. 6A, 6B and 10.

As best shown in FIGS. 7, 8, and 10, in one embodiment, as the hopper extension 26 slides into a hopper bracket open end 39, the flanged end 28 of the hopper extension may mate with a recessed portion 27 of the bracket. For example, the flanged end and recessed portion may have generally circular cross-sections, with the flanged end diameter being generally smaller than the recessed portion diameter so that the flanged end securely rests within the recessed portion. In one such version, the weight of the spool and coupled cartridges keeps the spool within the recessed portion. Other items adapted to secure the spool to the hopper such as but not limited to, a spool locking mechanism, may be used as well.

Operatively coupled to the spool 14 in one embodiment is at least one flexible container 50. The flexible container may be coupled to the spool in a manner adapted to enable a flexible container filling apparatus operator to quickly replace the flexible container upon the flexible container ejection from the device 10. For example, included in one version's spool 14 is at least one cartridge 16, the cartridge adapted to be quickly removed from a spool with a new flexible container being placed on the spool. One version may have a spool which is also easily replaceable on and off the hopper.

In one spool 14 version, the spool may include an upper spool surface 32 and a lower spool surface 34. The upper and lower spool surfaces may be coupled through a spool center shaft 80, as best shown in FIG. 8. As best shown in FIG. 11, one spool version also includes six cartridges 16. One version's cartridge comprises a generally circular hollow cylinder with at least one flanged cartridge end 30. The upper spool surface may be adapted to receive the flanged portion of the cartridge. In one spool, an upper surface has a plurality of receiving ports 36. The receiving port may have a recessed portion 34 which is adapted to receive the flanged portion of the cartridge. The recessed portion mates with the flanged cartridge end 30 in a manner similar to the mating between the hopper extension 26 and flanged end 28.

In one version, the receiving port 36 may be an indention on an edge of the upper spool surface 32 which allows the flanged cartridge end 30 to be placed into and on the recessed portion 33 by moving the cartridge perpendicularly to the longitudinal axis of the cartridge through the receiving port. In another version the receiving port may only allow the cartridge to be inserted into the receiving port and onto the recessed portion by moving the cartridge substantially parallel to the longitudinal axis of the cartridge, as would happen if the receiving port was a bore. The flanged cartridge end may be prevented from rotating upon coupling to the recessed portion. For example, in one version, the flanged end may have a protrusion which generally secures the cartridge to the spool.

Besides the receiving ports 36, the outer edge of the upper spool surface 32 is also comprised of a plurality of notches 38 in one embodiment. The notches are adapted to substantially align a cartridge open end 40 with the hopper outlet port 20. To do so, the notches mate with a spool locking pin 42, as best shown in FIG. 2. The pin-notch mechanism keeps the spool from rotating once the flanged end 28 of the hopper extension 26 mates with the recessed portion 27 of the bracket 29. Other mechanisms adapted to substantially align a cartridge open end with a hopper outlet port are also contemplated.

As best shown by FIG. 11, the spool 14 may also include a flexible container outlet bore 41. One version's bore is adapted to allow a flexible container 50 to exit the spool upon the flexible container filling with sand. As best shown in FIG. 12, one version of a bore has a flexible container support device 43. The flexible container support device may generally encircle the bore. The flexible container support device may be the flexible container ejection device.

In one embodiment, the support device 43 may be a series of polymeric flaps, encircling the bore 41, adapted to support the weight of a flexible container 50 prior to the flexible container receiving filler material. Upon the flexible container receiving filler material, the flaps begin to bend under the weight of the flexible container. The flexibility of the flaps may be adjusted in an embodiment, either by replacing the flaps or otherwise, in order to release the flexible container containing the filler material through the bore at different specified flexible container weights.

In order for the flexible container 50 to be ejected through the bore 41 upon receiving filler material, in one embodiment, the flexible container is placed around the flexible container cartridge 16. Upon the cartridge flanged end resting in the recessed portion 33, the flexible container may be manually placed through the bore. Therefore, upon the open flanged end 30 of the cartridge receiving filler material, the filler material falls through the cartridge and rests upon the bottom of the flexible container which may be located at least partially through the bore.

In one embodiment, the flexible container 50 comprises an expandable flexible container. One version's expandable flexible container may expand longitudinally. The flexible container may be adapted to expand upon receiving filler material and contract upon emptying filler material. When the flexible container receives the filler material and begins to exit out of the bore 41, the flexible container begins to longitudinally expand, with the upper portions of the flexible container remaining on the cartridge. An upper end of the flexible container may be placed between the flanged upper end of the cartridge 16 and the recessed portion 34 in order to help keep the flexible container elongated during filling in one embodiment. When the flexible container is at least generally full, the lower end of the flexible container begins to slide down the cartridge and exits out the bore 41.

In an embodiment where the flexible container filling device 10 is coupled to a vehicle, the bore 41 may be placed proximate to the final flexible container receiving location. One final flexible receiving location may be where the flexible container 50 will be utilized as a military structure or structure blast protection. As the flexible container begins to exit the spool 14 and is set on the flexible container receiving location, the vehicle may be moved in a direction such that the bore is continually generally located in a position which enables the flexible container to exit the bore and be generally placed in the correct flexible container receiving location, as best shown in FIG. 4. This is a more efficient and effective way to place flexible containers in the correct placement location than using human trains.

In one embodiment, once one flexible container 50 is ejected from the spool 14, or when the flexible container receives the requisite amount of flexible container filling material, the valve 22 is closed. When the flexible container exits the bore 41, the spool is then rotated to enable another cartridge 16 to align with the hopper outlet port 20. To do so, in one embodiment, the pin 42 is released from a notch 38, allowing the spool to rotate, and when another cartridge is aligned with the bore, the pin is set within another notch 38 to keep the cartridge aligned. Other spool locking devices are also contemplated. Upon alignment of the cartridge with the outlet port and setting the locking mechanism is in place, the valve is opened, releasing filler material to the flexible container once again.

The spool 14 in one embodiment may be adapted to receive filler material into differently-shaped cartridges 16, as best shown in FIGS. 13A and 13B. For example, FIG. 13A shows a cartridge having a oval-shaped cross-sectional area and FIG. 13B shows the spool adapted to receive two cartridges in one receiving port. In such an embodiment, or in other embodiments, the spool may be adapted to fill and release two flexible containers substantially simultaneously. One example of a flexible container filling device 10 which may fill two flexible containers substantially simultaneously is shown in FIG. 14.

An embodiment may also have a spool 14 which includes at least one foot 44. The foot is enabled to allow the spool to rest on a generally flat surface. In one embodiment, the foot may have wheels or may be of a size which is adapted to allow the flexible container 50 to slide out from the bore 41 onto the flexible container placement location.

As best shown in FIG. 18, one embodiment of a flexible container receiving device is comprised of a chute 60 and a roller 62. One version's chute acts as an ejection device and includes a flexible container opening device. One type of flexible container opening device comprises a pair of rails 64, as best shown in FIG. 15. The roller-chute embodiment is adapted to receive at least one flexible container 50, generally fill the flexible container with flexible container filling material such as, but not limited to, said and subsequently eject the flexible container from the device.

In one embodiment, the chute 60 is comprised of a top end 70 and a bottom end 71, with the top end located proximal to the hopper outlet port 20 and the bottom end resting on or near the ground. A bottom surface 61 of the chute and the ground may create a thirty degree angle in one embodiment. The angled chute may enable the chute to act as an ejection device—as the flexible container receives filler material, the container weight is sufficient to overcome the friction between the bag and the chute, allowing the bag to slide towards the bottom end and out of the chute.

In one embodiment, a flexible container 50 is wrapped around the roller 62. The roller may be a bar adapted to receive the flexible container operatively coupled to a rolling-element bearing such as a ball bearing. The roller bar and bearing may be operatively coupled to a bracket 83 which is coupled to the side of a truck, such as, but not limited to, being coupled to the side of a dump truck bed, as best shown in FIG. 17. Other devices adapted to couple or integrate rollers to a mobile device such as a vehicle, besides vehicle-mounted brackets, are contemplated.

To begin the process of filling a flexible container 50 in providing suitable military support, upon attachment of the roller 62 to the bracket 83 or other holder, a first flexible container is pulled from the roller to the chute top end 70. FIG. 25B shows an example of how one embodiment may be used to protect a civilian or military structure upon exit from the chute 60. In one embodiment, the flexible container is manually placed on the chute. In one embodiment a flexible container opening device may be employed.

As best shown in FIGS. 15 and 18, in one embodiment, the flexible container opening device comprises a pair of rails 64. Other flexible container opening devices are contemplated. In one embodiment, each rail has a slot 63. One version's slot may be located in the bottom of rail. As the flexible container 50 reaches the chute top end 70, a portion of the flexible container may be placed within the rails, through the slot. For example, in one embodiment, the flexible container may be a flexible container having two flexible container flanges 65, as best shown in FIG. 16. The flanges may be a flexible container opening, device coupling mechanism. A rope may be placed into the flange bore 66 in order to keep the flanged portion of the flexible container within the rails. FIG. 20 shows a flexible container having ropes within the flanges. An extension portion 67 of the flange may fit within the rail slot 63.

Another type of opening device may couple to a flexible container having a bar 90, as best shown in FIG. 22. The bar may be the opening device coupling mechanism, where FIG. 23 shows how one flexible container having a bar may couple to the chute opening device. In another version, the cartridge may be the flexible container opening device as it is adapted to keep the flexible container in an open position. In the flexible container having a bar, the flexible container may be generally cylindrical with a longitudinal axis. Both ends of the flexible container may be open ends, with a first flexible container having one closed end. Subsequent bags having two open ends may receive filler material by the filler material entering the bag top end, located proximal the chute top end. The bottom end of the flexible container is coupled on the top portion 93 of an adjacent flexible container. As the filler material slides down the flexible container, the material reaches the top end 91 of the adjacent, full flexible container, which precludes the filler material from falling any further down the chute. The adjacent flexible container therefore acts as the closed bottom end for each subsequent flexible container.

In one embodiment, as the flexible container opening device is operated, flexible container filling material enters the flexible container cavity 68. For example, as the flexible container flanges 63 (with ropes inserted into the flange bore 66) are placed into the rails 64, sand or other fluent material enters the flexible container 50. In one embodiment, the fluent material may enter through a mesh portion 69 of the flexible container. As best shown in FIGS. 16 and 19, in one embodiment, the meshed portion of the flexible container is the portion of the flexible container extending between two longitudinally-aligned flexible container flanges.

The hopper outlet port 20 in one embodiment is adapted to send sand or other filler material into the mesh portion 69 of the flexible container 50 at the chute top end 70. Since the rails 64 hold the flexible container in an open manner at the point the filler material enters the flexible container, as the filler material begins to enter the flexible container, the filler material slides down the flexible container. In one embodiment, the filler material reaches the bottom of the flexible container and begins to fill the flexible container. As the flexible container begins to gain weight, the friction between the flexible container and the chute 60 is insufficient to continue to keep the flexible container bottom end positioned on the chute. Chutes may be designed with a sufficiently high or low coefficient of friction to eject a flexible container may from the chute at a specified weight. At the point the friction between the flexible container and the chute is overcome by the weight of the flexible container, the flexible container begins to slide and travel down the chute towards the chute bottom end 71.

In one embodiment, flexible container 50 may be longer than a normal burlap sack sandbag. One embodiment's flexible container may be twenty feet in length. Therefore, as the flexible container travels down the chute in one embodiment, more flexible container material is pulled from the roller 62 in the process. Upon reaching the chute bottom end 71, the flexible container exits out of the chute. In one embodiment, as the flexible container exist the chute 60, the flexible container is placed in the correct flexible container placement location.

Upon the flexible container 50 continuing to receive filler material, the flexible container continues to exit the chute bottom end 71. The flexible container continues to exit the chute bottom end by moving the vehicle that the apparatus is coupled to. In exiting the chute, in one embodiment, the mesh portion 69 of the flexible container comprises a top surface of the flexible container. As best shown in FIG. 21, the flexible container may be stacked in a manner where a bottom surface of a first flexible container is placed on the top surface of a second flexible container. Such a stacking method may keep the filler material from emptying out of the mesh portion while the flexible container is in use.

As best shown in FIG. 17, one embodiment's hopper 12 may be a dump truck bed. The dump truck may provide filler material to a flexible container 50 through a grate 72 in the rear of the dump truck bed. Below the grate, a device such as, but not limited to, an auger, may propel the filler material towards the outlet port 20 and the chute 60. The auger may have a motor 73. It is also contemplated that the empty flexible container 50 may alternatively be laid out flat and empty then 74 fed into the top of the chute from that position rather than being fed from a roll.

As best shown in FIG. 24, one version may also include a flexible container emptying device 100. In one embodiment, the flexible container emptying device employs a conveyor system having a conveyor belt 101, the conveyor system being operatively coupled to a dump truck. One end of the conveyor is proximal an end of a flexible container 50 and the other end of the conveyor is proximal the bed of the dump truck.

To operate the emptying device 100, one end of the flexible container 50 is placed on the conveyor belt 101. As the conveyor belt is operated, the flexible container end is moved towards the truck bed. Upon reaching the belt end, the flexible container wraps under the conveyor towards a roller 62. As the flexible container travels towards the roller, the filler material empties out of the flexible container and into the truck bed. In one embodiment, the flexible container filler material empties through the mesh surface. As the flexible container reaches the roller, the flexible container is at least substantially empty and the roller rolls the flexible container onto the roller, possibly for use at a later date. Additional flexible containers may be emptied in substantially the same manner. In one embodiment, the flexible containers are operative coupled to each other.

Other Embodiments and Variations:

The embodiments of the flexible container filling device as illustrated in the accompanying figures and described above are merely exemplary and are not meant to limit the scope of the invention. It is to be appreciated that numerous variations to the invention have been contemplated as would be obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art with the benefit of this disclosure.

For example, different flexible container variations are contemplated. One version of a flexible container comprises a burlap bag with a twelve inch diameter. Such a bag may have a mesh surface which has a circumferential length of three inches. Such a bag may enable quicker loading, with one twenty foot long bag capable of being generally loaded in about thirty seconds. A version having a surface which is at least partially mesh may also be used with a spool. In such a version, the bag may have mesh patches on an outer surface of the bag which allows the bag to be more easily emptied and reused.

As best shown in FIG. 26 another bag version may be a telescoping flexible container. Such a version may be used in connection with a chute-roller embodiment 62. With a telescoping flexible container, each container section has two open ends except for the first section which has one closed end and one open. Each section has an opening mechanism 90. When the opening mechanism enters the top of the chute it contacts ridges on each side of the chute. The first end of a section is telescoped into the section ahead of it. Filler material entering the section expands the lower portion of the bag that is telescoped into the previous bag creating a seal. As each section is filled an open end coupled to the closed end of another section. As the closed end that is coupled to the open end is filled and receives filler material, it acts as a seal for the open end.

Different uses of the bags are also contemplated. For example, some bags may be designed to wrap around trunks of trees to prevent them from being uprooted during a storm, as best shown in FIG. 25A. Also, when longer bags are used, the bags may be much stronger than individual bags, which is important in both military fortifications and water control alike.