Title:
Retail and storage unit suited for retail display
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A cooling apparatus in the form of a point of sale cooler employs a cooling unit, such as a thermoelectric module. Forced cool air deflected upwardly into a storage compartment in which retail merchandise is visible through two transparent walls forming the storage compartment and a transparent door. The door has a pocket receiving merchandise, which expands the volume of the storage compartment. Edge lit images on the transparent walls are illuminated by light emitting diodes to draw the attention of prospective purchasers.



Inventors:
Welker, Brian Hart (Pfafftown, NC, US)
Isaacs, Gregory Scott (Mount Airy, NC, US)
Application Number:
11/895665
Publication Date:
06/26/2008
Filing Date:
08/27/2007
Assignee:
IMAGEWORKS DISPLAY AND MARKETING GROUP
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47F3/04
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ROGERS, LAKIYA G
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Robert W. Pitts (Winston-Salem, NC, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A retail display and refrigeration apparatus comprising: a storage compartment formed in part by walls through which merchandise stored in the storage compartment is visible, the walls including two side walls and a door on a third side of the storage compartment, so that the retail merchandise is visible through the two side walls and through the door; a cooling unit having a cold side and a hot side located on a side the retail display and refrigeration apparatus opposite from the door and between the two side walls, air being circulated up and down in the storage compartment past the cold side and along the walls and the door; air from outside the storage compartment being drawn, along the side of the retail display and refrigeration apparatus opposite from the door, past the hot side of the cooling unit and exhausted through a vent opening on the exterior of the retail display and refrigeration apparatus.

2. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 wherein the cooling unit comprises a Peltier cooling unit

3. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 wherein the cooling unit comprises a thermoelectric cooling unit.

4. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 including a cold side sink adjacent a thermal electric chip and a hot side sink on an opposite surface from the thermal electric chip.

5. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 including a baffle separating the storage compartment from the cooling unit.

6. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 wherein air is directed by a fan along the cold side of the cooling unit into lower sections of the storage compartment and deflected upward adjacent the door.

7. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 wherein walls along the sides of the storage compartment comprise transparent wall with an illuminated geometric figure being formed on at least one side wall.

8. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 7 wherein the illuminated geometric figure comprises an edge lit figure illuminated by light sources located along one edge of the transparent wall.

9. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 1 wherein the door includes a pocket extending beyond the two side walls to form additional space in the storage compartment.

10. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of clam 9 wherein a display rack is located in the storage compartment, the display rack positioning retail merchandise so that a forward article is positioned in the pocket.

11. The retail display and refrigeration apparatus of claim 10 wherein the display rack is retractable from the storage compartment through the door so that the display rack can be refilled with retail merchandise.

12. A point of sale cooler for storing and displaying refrigerated retail merchandise, the cooler comprising: a refrigeration device including a thermoelectric cooling unit and a fan for circulating air; a storage compartment formed in part by transparent walls so that retail merchandise situated within the storage compartment is visible, the storage compartment having a height in excess of the storage compartment's width and depth so that retail merchandise can be stacked in multiple layers in the storage compartment; and a deflector situated to deflect cooled air upwardly from the bottom of the storage compartment so that cooled air is forced upwardly in the storage compartment so that cooled air may be circulated to the top and throughout the storage compartment.

13. The point of sale cooler of claim 12 wherein the deflector comprises a deflector plate angled relative to the one wall.

14. A device for storing items at a temperature different from ambient temperature, the device comprising: a heat exchange unit; a compartment formed by walls, at least one of the walls being transparent, the transparent wall including a geometric figure formed thereon, and light emitting diodes located along one edge of the transparent wall, the transparent wall forming a light guide for light emitted by the light emitting diodes, the geometric figure being illuminated by the light emitted by the light emitting diodes so that the geometric figure is visible on the transparent wall of the compartment.

15. The device of claim 14, wherein the device comprises a cooler and the heat exchange unit comprises a refrigeration apparatus.

16. The device of claim 15 wherein the geometric figure comprises grooves formed in the transparent wall.

17. The device of claim 16 wherein the light emitting diodes are positioned in a linear array.

18. The device of claim 16 wherein the grooves are formed on an interior face of wall of the transparent wall.

19. The device of claim 15 wherein the transparent wall extends from a base of the compartment to a top of the compartment so that items in the compartment are visible through the transparent wall.

20. The device of claim 15 including opposite transparent walls each including a geometric figure illuminated by light emitting diodes located along an edge of the corresponding transparent wall.

21. The device of claim 15 wherein the compartment comprises a storage compartment for storing items comprising retail merchandise, and the geometric figure comprises advertising matter.

22. The device of claim 21 including a storage rack in the storage compartment, items of retail merchandise being positionable on the storage rack and being visible through the transparent wall.

23. The device of claim 14 wherein the transparent wall is formed by two transparent panels with an air gap located between the transparent panels.

24. A point of sale cooler for storing and displaying retail merchandise, the cooler comprising: a thermoelectric refrigeration apparatus; a storage compartment in which merchandise is stored and displayed, the storage compartment communicating with the refrigeration apparatus so that cool air may be introduced into the storage compartment, the storage compartment including an opening through which merchandise may be removed from the storage compartment; a rack in the storage compartment, the rack comprising means for supporting merchandise in the storage compartment, the rack including pusher means for advancing merchandise toward the opening in the storage compartment; and a door mounted on the storage compartment, the door closing the opening in the storage compartment when closed to reduce loss of cool air, the door including a sealing surface extending around the opening when the door is closed, the door also including a pocket extending beyond opening to create additional space extending beyond the opening.

25. The point of sale cooler of claim 24 wherein the rack has multiple tracks so that multiple rows of merchandise may be stored and independently advanced toward the opening so that when merchandise on one track is removed, merchandise in other tracks will block portions of the opening when the door is open to lessen the area through which cool air may flow when the door is open.

26. The point of sale cooler of claim 25 wherein cool air is introduced into the storage compartment along a wall of the storage compartment spaced from the opening.

27. The point of sale cooler of claim 26 wherein the refrigeration device includes a fan for forcing cool air in the storage compartment.

28. The point of sale cooler of claim 24 wherein the door is formed of a transparent material so that merchandise is visible through the door.

29. The point of sale cooler of claim 24 wherein the storage compartment has a height exceeding the storage compartment width and depth and the door has a height exceeding the door width and depth.

30. The point of sale cooler of claim 24 wherein storage compartment side walls flanking the opening comprise transparent walls through which merchandise in the storage compartment is visible.

31. A retail refrigeration apparatus comprising: a storage compartment in which merchandise can be stored for sale; four walls surrounding the storage compartment, one of the walls including a door and a wall on the opposite end of the storage compartment from the door comprising a baffle forming an interior barrier of a cool air duct extending from adjacent a top of the storage compartment to adjacent a bottom of the storage compartment; a thermoelectric cooling unit being located on the opposite side of the cool air duct and including a cold side sink extending into the cool air duct and a hot side sink on the opposite side of the thermoelectric cooling unit, which includes a thermal electric chip between the cold side sink and the hot side sink; a hot air duct extending upwardly from a base below the storage compartment to vents located on top of the retail refrigeration apparatus; and a deflector located on the bottom of the storage compartment for deflecting cool air exiting the cool air duct to flow along side walls of the storage compartment.

32. The retail refrigeration apparatus of claim 41 wherein the deflector comprises edges on an insulation panel, wherein the edges diverge toward the door.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO PRIOR CO-PENDING APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of the filing date of prior co-pending US Provisional Patent Application Ser. No 60/876,112 filed Dec. 10, 2006 entitled Refrigeration and Storage Unit Suited for Retail Display and U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/937,723 filed Jun. 30, 2007 entitled Refrigeration and Storage Unit Suited for Retail Display.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention is related to a retail display unit for storing merchandise that should be cooled or heated. More particularly, this invention is related to a refrigeration and storage unit that can also function as a display on a counter or other location where it can be easily seen by prospective customers. This invention is also related to a display unit that can employ a thermoelectric or Peltier cooling unit. This device can also employ transparent sides that can employ edge lit lighting for advertising or other displays.

2. Description of the Prior Art

Retail merchandise that must be or should be cooled or chilled in an establishment, such as a grocery or convenience store, is normally placed in a conventional refrigeration unit. These typical refrigeration units are typically large units that may be open so that prospective customers can easily remove merchandise, or if necessary can have glass doors where items, such as frozen foods, must be kept at a lower temperature. These large units, are however, intended for storing a wide variety of competitive items. Representative examples of such refrigerated merchandisers are shown in U.S. Pat. No. 5,499,513 and U.S. Pat. No. 5,584,192. Such refrigeration units are normally intended for use in storing foods and beverages, and are normally not suitable for storing nonfood items. This lack of storage space is one factor preventing the effective retail distribution of items, which if refrigerated or heated, could offer improvements to the prospective purchaser.

There are situations in which a smaller cooler that can be dedicated to the storage and display of a single item or a single family of merchandise is desirable. For example, a small, dedicated cooler that could be mounted on a counter would provide a means for attracting the attention of a shopper or prospective purchaser. One such version of a merchandising cooler with a small footprint is suggested by US Patent Application Publication 2005/0109040 A1. This device employs a thermoelectric array for either heating or cooling an insulated container. One advantage of the thermoelectric array is its relatively small size. However, one apparent disadvantage of this device is the relatively small area of windows or doors that would allow inspection of the product or merchandise in the insulated container. Furthermore there is no suggestion of means for drawing a prospective purchaser's attention to the product. Of course, it would be possible to make the majority of the insulated container transparent, assuming that the loss of thermal efficiency would be compatible with the desired application. However, even such a totally transparent, insulated storage container would only make the product or merchandise visible. It would still rely primarily on the appearance of the product to draw the attention of the prospective purchaser.

Thermoelectric cooling elements are used for applications other than point of sale refrigeration units. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,769,260 discloses the use of a thermoelectric cooling element for storing cosmetics. A thermoelectric unit can also employed in a humidifier as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,007,242.

None of these devices disclose the same combination of efficient cooling in a small cooler suitable for point of sale retail use combined with the display characteristics exhibited by the instant invention. These characteristics are inherently incompatible, and increasing one compromises the performance of the other. Not only does the instant invention permit the merchandise to be easily displayed by increasing the viewable area, but it also uses decorative advertising displays that are part of the device itself. This invention employs an edge lit display that is part of one or more transparent panels that form the storage compartment in which merchandise is both stored and displayed. Edge lit signs such as that shown in U.S. Pat. No. 6,023,869 and U.S. Pat. No. 6,481,130 are know, but they are commonly employed as parts of signs and not as part of a storage and display unit in accordance with the instant invention.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

A retail display and refrigeration apparatus according to this invention has a storage compartment formed in part by walls through which merchandise stored in the storage compartment is visible. Two side walls and a door on a third side define part of the storage compartment. Retail merchandise is visible through the two side walls and through the door. The apparatus also includes a cooling unit having a cold side and a hot side located on a side the retail display and refrigeration apparatus opposite from the door and between the two side walls. Air is circulated up and down in the storage compartment past the cold side and along the walls and the door. Air from outside the storage compartment is drawn along the side of the retail display and refrigeration apparatus opposite from the door past the hot side of the cooling unit and exhausted through vent opening on the exterior of the retail display and refrigeration apparatus.

According to another aspect of this invention a point of sale cooler for storing and displaying refrigerated retail merchandise has a refrigeration apparatus including a cooling unit and a fan for circulating air. A storage compartment is formed in part by transparent walls so that retail merchandise situated within the storage compartment is visible. The storage compartment has a height in excess of the storage compartment's width and depth so that retail merchandise can be stacked in multiple layers in the storage compartment. A deflector is situated to deflect cooled air upwardly from the bottom of the storage compartment so that cooled air is forced upwardly in the storage compartment so that cooled air may be circulated to the top and throughout the storage compartment.

From a slightly different perspective, device for storing items at a temperature different from ambient temperature has a heat exchange unit and a compartment formed at least one transparent wall. The transparent wall including a figure formed thereon. Light emitting diodes are located along one edge of the transparent wall. The transparent wall forms a light guide for light emitted by the light emitting diodes. The geometric figure is illuminated by the light emitted by the light emitting diodes to form an image visible on the transparent wall of the compartment, but the contents of the storage compartment are not obstructed.

The point of sale cooler according to this invention is primarily used to store and display retail merchandise. The cooler has a refrigeration device and a storage compartment cooled by the refrigeration apparatus. The storage compartment stores and displays merchandise The storage compartment communicates with the refrigeration device so that cool air may be circulated in the storage compartment. The storage compartment has an opening through which merchandise may be removed from the storage compartment. A rack is located in the storage compartment to support merchandise in the storage compartment. The rack includes pusher means for advancing merchandise toward the opening in the storage compartment. A door is mounted on the storage compartment. The door closes the opening in the storage compartment and when closed it reduces loss of cool air. The door includes a sealing surface extending around the opening when the door is closed. The door also has a pocket extending beyond opening to create additional storage space extending beyond the opening.

Still further, the retail refrigeration apparatus has a storage compartment in which merchandise can be stored for sale. Four walls surround the storage compartment. One of the walls includes a door, and a wall on the opposite end of the storage compartment from the door is a baffle forming an interior barrier of a cool air duct extending from adjacent a top of the storage compartment to adjacent a bottom of the storage compartment. A thermoelectric cooling unit is located on the opposite side of the cool air duct and includes a cold side sink extending into the cool air duct and a hot side sink on the opposite side of the thermoelectric cooling unit. The thermoelectric cooling unit includes a thermal electric chip between the cold side sink and the hot side sink. A hot air duct extends upwardly from a base below the storage compartment to vents located on top of the retail refrigeration apparatus. A deflector is located on the bottom of the storage compartment to deflect cool air exiting the cool air duct to flow along side walls of the storage compartment.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a three dimensional view of a first embodiment of this invention, showing the portion of the storage and retail display device in which a door is located.

FIG. 2 is also a three dimensional view of the embodiment shown in FIG. 1 in which a product display side is visible.

FIG. 3 is a side view of the apparatus of FIGS. 1 and 2, showing the side containing the door, which can be opened for access to the interior of the refrigerated storage compartment.

FIG. 4 is another side view at right angle to the view shown in FIG. 3, but showing an illuminated edge lit geometric figure on a transparent wall, through which merchandise in the storage compartment would be visible.

FIG. 5 is a section view, taken along sections lines 5-5 in FIG. 3, showing the interior of the storage compartment.

FIG. 6 is an exploded view of the main components employed to fabricate a first refrigerated storage and display apparatus.

FIG. 7 is a more detailed view of one transparent wall panel, showing a linear array of light emitting diodes that would be employed to illuminate a geometric figure or figures formed by grooves on the transparent wall panel.

FIG. 8 is a view of the storage rack and pusher apparatus on which retail merchandise would be positioned.

FIG. 9 is a more detailed view of the cooling unit employed with this apparatus.

FIG. 10 is a view of an alternate embodiment of a transparent wall subassembly comprising an edge lit transparent wall and a parallel transparent panel.

FIG. 11 is a three dimensional view of a second embodiment of this invention.

FIG. 12 is an exploded view showing the components of the second embodiment of this invention shown in FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 is a cutaway view of the embodiment shown in FIGS. 11 and 12.

FIG. 14 is a view of a cooling unit comprising a thermoelectric cooling unit used in the embodiment of FIGS. 11-13.

FIG. 15 is a bottom view of the thermoelectric cooling unit shown in FIG. 14.

FIG. 16 is an exploded view showing the components of the thermoelectric cooling unit of FIGS. 14 and 15.

FIG. 17 shows the retail display and refrigeration apparatus of the second embodiment showing the door open to allow access to the storage compartment in the apparatus.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Although not limited to reliance upon Thermoelectric or TE modules for temperature control, these devices provide an effective method of pumping heat for use in this invention, and a brief discussion of these modules is appropriate prior to discussion of a first embodiment of this invention. Thermoelectric modules are the basis of efficient solid state heat pumps or heat exchangers for both heating and cooling. Thermoelectric modules are based on the Peltier effect, which recognizes that current passed through two dissimilar electrical conductors will cause heat to be either emitted or absorbed at the junction of the two conductors. A typical thermoelectric module consists of bismuth telluride semiconductor P/N doped pellets with pairs of P/N pellets electrically in series, but thermally in parallel. Thermoelectric modules of this type function as heat pumps and are especially suited for units of small size in which the temperature differential between the exterior and the refrigerated interior is on the order of 30-50° F. for example. These devices can be used for cooling or for heating depending upon the direction of current flow through the semiconductor junction. Thermoelectric modules can also be employed for power generation, although this application is not relevant to the instant invention. A discussion of thermoelectric modules and the Peltier Effect can be found in “Thermoelectric Materials: Principles, Structure, Properties, and Applications”, Encyclopedia of Materials: Science and Technology, © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd., incorporated herein by reference.

The principle application of a thermoelectric module relevant to a first embodiment of this invention is its use for cooling the contents of a storage compartment. It should be understood that alternative embodiments in which heat is delivered to the contents of the storage compartment are also possible, and the differences between these two applications will be discussed after the point of sale cooler 2, comprising a first embodiment of this invention, has been described.

The cooler 2 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2 is particularly adapted as a point of sale storage and cooling apparatus in which retail merchandise 4 can be refrigerated and displayed for potential purchase. A first embodiment of this cooler 2 is especially adapted to be mounted on a typical retail counter so that this point of sale cooler 2 and the merchandise or products 4 stored therein are readily visible to prospective purchasers. For example, this cooler could be positioned on or at a check-out counter in a convenience store or grocery store. This point of sale cooler 2 could also be positioned on a counter in any retail establishment, and is especially suited for displaying product that could be the subject of impulse purchases.

Cooler 2 includes storage compartment 30 in which merchandise 4 is stored at a prescribed temperature less than ambient. The storage compartment has transparent side walls 44 and 46, as well as a transparent door 70 so that merchandise 4, stored in compartment 30 can be easily seen by a prospective purchaser. The height of the point of sale cooler 2 is greater than its width, and the height will normally be greater than its depth. Similarly the storage compartment 30 has a height that exceeds both its width and depth. The cooler 2 and the compartment 30 are relatively tall, relative to the counter space occupied by the cooler 2 so that more merchandise can be displayed for a given amount of counter space. Point of sale cooler apparatus 2 will therefore increase the amount of merchandise that can be stored, but at the same time it will not unduly limit the amount of counter space available for other products and merchandise. As will be explained subsequently in more detail, the shape of such a tall storage compartment can compromise the efficiency of the refrigeration unit. The transparency of the walls 44 and 46 will also compromise the insulating efficiency of the cooling apparatus. A point of sale cooling apparatus 2 in accordance with this invention can nevertheless provide adequate refrigeration and at the same time can employ display characteristics that are important for a point of sale display.

Although this cooling apparatus 2 is primarily intended for use as a retail display storage and refrigeration apparatus, it is not limited solely to retail applications. This apparatus can also be employed in other applications, such as for portable coolers, and the decorative and display characteristics, which will be subsequently explained in further detail, can render this device attractive for use as a portable or personal cooler or for similar uses.

The storage compartment 30 is located above a base 20 housing a cooling unit 12, which includes a refrigeration module 10, preferably in the form of a Thermoelectric cooling unit operating in accordance with the Peltier effect. By mounting the storage compartment 30 on top of the cooling unit 12, the merchandise 4 within the storage compartment 30 is more readily visible. However, this configuration requires that relatively heavier cold air must be pumped upwardly into the storage compartment 30 in order to maintain the desired temperature within the refrigerated storage compartment 30. A Thermoelectric cooling unit is preferred for use in this application for a number of reasons, such as the absence of moving parts reducing maintenance, and the absence of coolants that must be replenished. A typical refrigerating thermoelectric module consists of bismuth telluride semiconductor P/N doped pellets with pairs of P/N pellets electrically in series, but thermally in parallel. Thermoelectric modules of this type function as heat pumps and are especially suited for units of small size in which the temperature differential between the exterior and the refrigerated interior is on the order of 30-50° F. Other components of cooling unit 12 will be subsequently discussed in further detail. It should be understood, that while Thermoelectric modules are especially suited for use in small coolers of the type described herein, this invention is not limited to the use of Thermoelectric or solid state cooling units.

The storage compartment 30 in a first embodiment depicted herein has a generally rectangular horizontal cross section and a generally rectangular vertical cross section. A rear insulated vertical wall 32 is spaced from a front vertical wall or plate 40, which includes an opening 42. Two transparent side walls 44 and 46 extend between rear wall 32 and front wall 40. These transparent side walls 44 and 46 are preferably formed of a material such as an acrylic, which are suitable for use with geometric figures that can be edge lit by light emitting diodes in a manner that will be subsequently discussed in more detail. A door 70, which can be molded from a transparent material, is mounted over the opening 42 in front wall 40. Examples of a suitable transparent material include plastics, such a acrylics, polycarbonate, styrene derivatives, ABS as well as glass. Front wall 40 is fabricated from a sheet metal, and a gasket 72 can be mounted in a groove on door 70. A hinge 76 mounts the door 70 on the front wall 40, and a handle 78 on the door 70 can be used to open the door as it rotates about a vertical axis formed by the hinge 76. The opposite rear vertical wall 32 is fabricated from a rear sheet metal panel 35 to which a rear separation panel 34 can be attached with rear insulation 36 being sandwiched there between. The rear wall 32 can be completely insulated because a product display unit 38 can be mounted on the exterior of the rear sheet metal panel 35. This product display panel 38 includes a transparent cover, and samples of the retail merchandise 4 or containers, normally used for this merchandise, can be mounted within the product display panel 38 so that prospective customers can inspect the packaging for the product or merchandise 4. Normally the point of sale cooler will be mounted with the rear wall and this exterior product display panel facing the prospective customer. The front wall 40 and the door 70 would normally be positioned facing the rear of the counter on which the point of sale cooler is mounted, so that a salesperson could remove merchandise 4 from the storage compartment. Since the samples mounted in the exterior product display unit 38, would not be for sale, and need not even include the contents of the packaging, it is not necessary to refrigerate the exterior product display unit 38.

The transparent side walls 44 and 46 not only provide a means for prospective purchasers to view the refrigerated merchandise on display, but they also provide space for display of appropriate advertising, brands or decorative matter with can also draw a purchaser's attention to the merchandise on display. In a first embodiment, an illuminated edge lit display is formed on both side walls 44 and 46. As depicted herein the edge lit display is illustrated by geometric figures 90, which are formed by grooves cut or formed on interior faces 52 and 54 of transparent side walls 44 and 46. Here the geometric figures are demonstrated by a design, such as a star, and by appropriate TEXT, which of course would normally identify the product and merchandise being displayed. Each side wall 44, 46 also includes a notched ledge 48, 50 along the top of the respective wall. A linear array of discrete light sources, preferably in the form of a linear array discrete light emitting diodes 94 can be mounted along these mounting ledges 48, 50. These LED's can be mounted on a rigid conductive strip, and they can be connected to an appropriate source of electrical current (not shown). The transparent walls 44, 46 will function as light guides that will transmit light emitted by the LED's between interior and exterior wall faces. This light will strike the grooves forming the geometric figures 90, and light will be refracted so that the light will be visible when viewed from a direction transverse relative to the side walls 44 and 46. The manner of illuminating geometric figures is shown in more detail in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/448,187 filed on Jun. 7, 2006 entitled Edge Lit Sign with Illuminated Image, incorporated herein by reference. The transparent side walls 44 and 46 thus not only provide two of the walls forming the refrigerated storage compartment 30, but they allow prospective purchasers to inspect the merchandise displayed therein. They form a substrate for advertising, branding or decorative matter that can typically be seen at distances greater than those at which the actual merchandise would be clearly visible. The illuminated edge lit displays will therefore aid in attracting the attention of prospective purchasers. In an alternative configuration, transparent side walls could be formed by two parallel transparent panels, that are closely spaced, but with an air gap formed between the two transparent panels. The use of two side by side panels reduces the thickness of each panel and also facilitates fabrication of the edge lit panel. Typically, only one of these two parallel panels would be edge lit, but both edge lit figures on that panel and the contents of the storage compartment would still be visible through the twin transparent panels forming a sidewall. If desired both of the two panels can be edge lit providing two different colors for suitable effect. FIG. 10 shows a transparent panel 5 that could be positioned adjacent to a transparent wall 54 with an air gap 57 positioned therebetween. For purposes of illustration the size of this air gap 57 is not intended to be to scale. A small opening permits communication between the interior of the storage compartment 30 and the gap 57, which has been found to reduce the possibility of condensation. Preferably on the thicker interior panel, two small holes are formed at the bottom and four small holes are formed at the top. This will result in a chimney effect and a plenum will be formed between the panels. The temperature of the air inside this plenum will be greater than the temperature on the interior of the transparent wall, but less than the outside temperature. This will reduce the formation of condensation.

The actual LED's 94 would be mounted behind the top cap 60 located at the top of the point of sale cooler 2. This top cap 60 would normally be opaque and would hide not only the linear array of LED's 94, but also any conventional electrical components for driving these LED's. The top wall of the storage compartment would be insulated by an insulation panel 62 held in an insulation tray 64 located below the top cap 60. A card display slot 61 can be located adjacent the rear of the top cap 60, so that promotional material can be placed on top of the point of sale cooler 2.

In the specific embodiment depicted herein the retail merchandise 4 is positioned on an open metal rack 80 located within the storage compartment 30. In this embodiment, the rack 80 has three layers, each formed by a pair of horizontal rails 84, so that individual items of merchandise or products can be positioned in three rows. Since the rack is open, the merchandise stored on the rack will be clearly visible. In the embodiment best seen in FIGS. 5, 6 and 8, the rack 80 is designed to hold small circular containers 4. Since three rows are provided, different versions of the same product can be positioned on each of the three rows. Of course, the specific configuration and shape of the rack 80, and the rails 84 can be modified to conform to the specific item of merchandise to be stored, refrigerated and displayed. The rack 80 also employs spring pushers 82 that will urge the merchandise forward toward the opening 42 in the front wall 40, through which they will be extracted. The individual items of merchandise 4 can also be loaded into the storage compartment 30 through the front opening 42. A stop 86 is provided at the front of each level of the rack 80 so that the items of merchandise will reside between the pusher 82 and the stop 86. The front item of merchandise will engage the stop 86.

The door 70, which closes opening 42, has a pocket 74 located on its interior. The stop members 86 on the rack 80 will be positioned within this pocket 74 when the door is closed, and as can be seen in FIG. 5, the corresponding pusher 82 will advance to the front wall 40. Therefore, no matter how many items of merchandise are located on each level of the rack 80, the most forward item of merchandise, engaging stop 86 will be received within the pocket 82. When a person removes the most forward item of merchandise, it will not be necessary to that person to insert and hand into the storage compartment, since the front item will be then be exposed on the exterior of the storage compartment. Therefore it will not be necessary to make the opening large enough for a person to insert his or her hand and the relatively smaller opening will reduce the potential area for leakage of cold air when the door is open. It will then be easier to maintain a specified temperature level within the storage compartment. Although this pocket 74 will be part of the refrigerated storage compartment 30 when the door 70 is closed, the pocket 74 will be located beyond the front wall 40 and the opening 42. Thus the items of merchandise will tend to block the opening 42 and will prevent unnecessary loss of cool air when the door 70 is opened. The oval shape of the pocket 74 is suited for receiving cylindrical items of merchandise in the embodiment depicted herein. Of course, other shapes may be adopted depending upon the shape of the product or item of merchandise with which other embodiments of this cooler may be employed.

The small thermoelectric cooling unit 12 is mounted on a heat sink 19 to form the refrigeration apparatus mounted in the base 20. An upper fan 16 blows cold air from the thermoelectric cooling unit 12 upwardly into the storage compartment 30. A lower fan 18, located below the heat sink 19 blows hot air away from the cooling unit 12. The thermoelectric cooling unit 12 thus acts as a heat pump according to the Peltier effect to cool the contents of storage compartment 30. Forced convection of air is illustrated by the arrows shown in FIG. 5. Relatively heavier cold air is forced upward along the rear vertical wall 32. A deflector plate 66 extends upwardly from a central region of a rack base plate 68, which supports the rack 80 and forms the lower wall of the storage compartment 30. The deflector plate 66 extends at an angle toward the rear vertical wall 32, and its edge is spaced from the rear vertical wall to form a gap through which cold air is forced upward. Equivalent means may be substituted for the deflector plate 66 to deflect cooler air upwardly. For example, a channel extending upwardly along the rear vertical wall can deflect cooler air and provide forced transport or convection of relatively colder air upward in the storage compartment 30. The rear vertical wall 32 is insulated to reduce the heating of this cold air as it emerges from the cooling unit 12. This is significant because the side walls 44 and 46 are transparent and no insulation other than the acrylic side walls themselves is provided. The door 70 on the front vertical wall 40 also does not contain an insulation panel, such as rear wall insulation panel 36, and this configuration increases the amount of colder air, or decreases the amount of heat added to this air as it emerges from the cooing unit 12, so that the contents of storage compartment 30 can be more effectively cooled. Rack base plate 68 includes perforations on opposite sides of the deflector plate so that cold air may circulate upward on one side of the deflector plate 66 and circulate downward on its opposite side.

As previously discussed the refrigeration apparatus 10 is located in the base 20, so that the storage compartment 30 and its contents will be more visible. The cooling unit 12 is mounted on a bottom panel 25 by means of a bottom top hat bracket 28 and two mounting “C” brackets 24, as shown in FIG. 6. The bottom panel 25 includes perforations 26 to permit air circulation away from heat sink 19. The bottom panel 25 and the entire cooler 2 is raised above the countertop on which it will be mounted by base mounting pads 29 allowing air to travel between the cooler base 20 and the countertop. Side ventilation openings 27 are located on each side of the base 20 to permit warm air to escape. As best seen in FIG. 3, the sides of the base 20 are angled so that space will be provided between the cooler 2 and any other device that may be mounted adjacent thereto when the device is in use. Thus ventilation through side openings 27 will not be unduly restricted. Scroll pricing space 22 is provided on the front and back of the base 20 so that pricing will be visible to prospective customers, and this pricing can be easily changed when appropriate. Appropriate electrical wiring and connections are provided on the interior of the base 20, and electrical current sufficient for driving LED's 94 can be provided by wires extending from the base upwardly through either the rear wall 32 or the corners of the front wall 40.

The representative embodiment of the point of sale cooler 2 depicted herein is suitable for use with a wide variety of merchandise. Although it could be used with food, beverage and snack items, it is also suitable for use with new or improved versions of products that would not normally be refrigerated. Such products could include tobacco products, especially smokeless tobacco products, cosmetics and personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and products that would otherwise have a limited shelf life. A wide variety of products that might support a larger sales price if displayed in a refrigerated condition could employ the point of sale cooler 2 with only limited modifications. For instance the size and shape of the rack 80, the door pocket 74 or the opening 42 might need adjustment in order to facilitate products having a shape and size different from the merchandise 4 illustrated herein. These modifications would, however, not be difficult to make. Of course, the advertising figures 90 would need to be changed for different products, but that would only require substitution of side walls 44 and 46 having different images molded or otherwise formed therein. It would also be easy to substitute different LED's if, for example, the color of the illuminated image were to be different for different merchandise.

A second embodiment of this invention is depicted in FIGS. 11-17. This second embodiment has certain advantages over the first embodiment of FIGS. 1-9. One significant difference between the two embodiments is that the cooling unit 112 is located along one end wall of retail display and refrigeration apparatus 102 of the second embodiment depicted in FIGS. 11-17. This provides a larger cooling unit and better cooling and more easily vents warm air than the first embodiment. Cool air is, however, constantly circulated within the storage compartment 130, and an edge lit illuminated design 190 is still employed on transparent walls 144 and 146 on opposite sides of the storage compartment 130.

As shown in FIG. 11, cooler 102 is an upright apparatus with a height greater than its width or depth. One transparent wall 144 is shown, and an image 190, which can include graphical and/or text material, is clearly visible. This image 190 would normally comprise a trademark or brand or other advertising material that would draw the attention of a prospective purchaser. A storage compartment is in part bounded by the wall 144, and an opposite wall 146, not visible in FIG. 11, as well as a door 170, which can also be transparent so that the product stored within is clearly visible. A rear wall 132 is located on the opposite side of the storage compartment from the door 170, and the storage compartment is also bounded by a top 160 and a base 120. Vents 127 permit the exhaust of warm air heated by the exterior of the thermoelectric unit 112, seen in FIGS. 12-16, are located along one edge of the top 160. A pricing display 122 is located on the base 120.

The major components forming the point of sale cooler or retail display and refrigeration apparatus 102 are shown in the exploded view of FIG. 12. The base 120 has a flat upper surface and a front wall 140 with openings 142, along with a rear wall 132 are mounted on base 120. In this embodiment the sides of the storage compartment 130, best seen in FIG. 17, are also supported on base 120, and each side wall comprises two panels. Panels 144 and 145 are separated by a small gap, as illustrated by FIG. 10, and form one side of the storage compartment 130. Panels 146 and 147 are located on the opposite side. These side panels form two side walls of the storage compartment 130. All of the panels 144, 145, 146 and 147 are sufficiently transparent so that merchandise stored within the storage compartment 130 is visible for inspection. The image or geometric figures 190 are located on the exterior side wall panels 144 and 146, and an array of light emitting diodes 194 is located along one edge of each of the side wall panels 144, 146. The geometric images 190 will thus comprise edge lit geometric images, which will complement the appearance of cooler 102 without interfering with visibility of the merchandise stored within.

As seen in FIG. 12, the front vertical wall 140 has three rectangular openings 142 through which merchandise can be extracted. Three storage racks 180, on which the merchandise is stored, can also be withdrawn through aligned openings 142 so that they can be restocked. Each rack 180 includes a pusher 182 for advancing the merchandise. Each pusher 182 is biased by a spring 185, and one of these springs is shown in FIG. 12.

Door 170 is hinged on front wall 140, and a gasket 172 is mounted on the door to seal any gap surrounding the door 170 when closed. Handle 178 permits the door 140 to be easily opened. Door 170 also has a pocket 174, best seen in FIG. 17. The pocket 174 enlarges the volume of the storage compartment 130 and the front of the racks 182 protrude into pocket 174 so that the front item of merchandise in each rack 182 will have been advanced into the pocket 174, where it is readily accessible when the door 170 is opened. This configuration will make it easier to extract merchandise from the cooler 102 and will reduce the time during which the door 170 must remain open. In this manner it will be easier to maintain a substantially constant temperature within the storage compartment 130. The door 170 can also be constructed so that two adjacent transparent panels forming the door will be separated with gaps permitting small amounts of air to enter the space between two panels forming the door 170 to limit the amount of condensation that might collect on the door 170.

The thermoelectric cooling unit 112 is mounted within the rear wall 132 on the opposite side of the storage compartment 130 from door 170. A baffle 114 is located on the inside of the thermoelectric cooling unit 112, where it will form an interior wall of the storage compartment 130. The baffle 114 will also form a cool air duct as will be explained with reference to FIG. 13. A power supply 111, located in the base 120 will power the thermoelectric cooling unit 112. Unlike the other sides of the cooler 102, the rear of the storage compartment is not visible. Sample merchandise or product containers 104 are therefore mounted on the front of the cooling unit 112 for inspection by prospective purchasers and these containers 104 are housed by panel 135.

Insulating foam panel 169 is mounted inside the container top 160 and insulating foam panel 166 is mounted on the top surface of base 120. In addition to the insulating function of each foam panel, the lower foam panel 166 also includes a V-shaped projection having upwardly projecting edges 167, which diverge toward the front wall 140. These edges 167 will serve to deflect cold air as will be described in more detail with reference to FIG. 13. Lateral, diverging deflection of cool air will tend to reduce any tendency for condensation to collect, especially on door 170.

The cutaway view of FIG. 13, not only shows the interior of the storage compartment 130, but also shows how air cooled by the thermoelectric cooling unit 112 is circulated around the storage compartment 130. A cool air duct is shown in FIG. 13 by descending arrows and is formed between the thermoelectric cooling unit 112 and the baffle 114 forming the rear interior end wall of storage compartment 130. A hot air duct is shown in FIG. 13 by ascending arrows. Hot air exhaust vent 127 is located at the top of the ascending hot air duct. A cool side sink 115 extends into the descending cool air duct and a hot side sink 113 extends into the hot air duct. Fan 116, forming a part of the thermoelectric unit 112, is located at the top of the cool air duct and draws air from the interior of storage compartment, above merchandise that will be stored on racks 180. The air drawn into the inner cool air duct will flow downwardly past cool side sink 115 where heat will be withdrawn from the air flowing in this cool air duct. This cool air will be confined by baffle 114, until the air reaches the lower open end of baffle 114. Cooled air will then flow into the bottom of storage compartment 130. The insulating foam 166 will prevent heat from the base 120 from being added to the cool air stream. The insulating foam 166 has a V-shaped projection with diverging edges 167, which will divert cool air outwardly beyond the racks 180, where cool air will both be forced upwardly and drawn upwardly by the fan 116. Some cool air can also flow upwardly though the door pocket 170, but the divergence of cool air by edges 167 will help prevent the loss of cooler air, when the door 170 is opened. Once air reaches the top of the storage compartment 130, it will be drawn through an opening in baffle 114 by the fan 116 and thence back through the descending cool air duct. The hot side sink 113 is on the outside of the thermoelectric unit 112. A hot air duct will then be formed on the outside of the thermoelectric unit. Air will be drawn from outside the base 120 and air will be heated by exposure to hot side sink 113. A fan located in base 120 will draw air upwardly through perforations in the base 120 into the hot air duct and past the hot side sink 113 and this hot air will exit through the vents 127 located at the top of the hot air duct. Since the hot air is vented from the top of the cooler 102, there will be little likelihood that the escape of hot air will be blocked by surrounding structures or items placed near the cooler 102.

Details of the thermoelectric cooling unit 112 are shown in FIGS. 14-16. Cool side sink 115 is located on an opposite side from hot side sink 113, and fan 116 is located above both of these sinks. As shown in FIG. 16, two thermal electric chips 117 characterized by the thermoelectric effect, are mounted on a plastic carrier plate 123 and are surrounded by a foam insulation panel 121 with openings for receiving the two thermal electric chips 112. Aluminum heat transfer blocks 119 transmit heat away from the cool side sink, in which they are in contact, to the cold surface of the thermal electric chips 117, with which they are also in contact. Temperature sensors (not shown) can also be attached to heat transfer blocks 119, so that when the temperature is colder than desired, the sensor can signal the power supply to disconnect the thermal electric chips 117. This will prevent frost from building up. Gaskets 125 surround the chips 117 on each side of the carrier plate 123. Fan 116 is mounted on the plastic carrier plate and an opening is provided for fan 116 in the foam panel 121. A separate foam panel 131, separates the fan 116 from the hot side sink 113 and thus isolates cool air passing thought fan 116 from the hot side sink. A felt wick 129 can be mounted in a slot on the bottom of foam panel 121 to collect condensate. A temperature sensor (not shown) can also be positioned near the hot side sink 113 to deactivate the thermoelectric chips 117 when temperature has reached an unsafe level.

FIG. 17 depicts the manner in which the door 170 can be opened to expose the interior of the storage compartment 130. In normal use, merchandise can be removed from any of the three racks 180 of this invention by merely pulling the first product from its rack. The associated spring loaded pusher 182 will then advance the next item. Since the first item extends beyond the side walls of the storage compartment 130 through openings 142, the first item is easily and quickly accessible and the door 170 can be closed. Of course it will become necessary to replenish the items in each rack. As shown in FIG. 17, each of the racks 180 can be pulled through its opening 142 and tiltled to expose the entire rack for refilling. Although refilling will take longer than merely extracting one item, exposure of the racks in this manner will make the racks accessible and will speed up refilling in order to minimize the time in which warm air can enter the storage compartment. Reduction in the loss of cool air is important because it reduces the capacity needed for the thermoelectric cooling unit. Since the walls of the storage compartment are transparent so that the stored merchandise is visible, the efficiency of the cooling unit is even more important.

Although specially adapted for over the counter retail use, coolers of this type are not limited to use in conventional sales outlets, such as convenience, grocery or department stores. Coolers in accordance with this invention could be employed in restaurants, for product displays in conventions, in hotels and in numerous other businesses. These coolers would also include features that would not be incorporated in portable coolers for personal use. For example, edge lit displays could be employed, which would have a particular association with an individual user. For example, a sports or school mascot could be employed. Although normally powered from a wall outlet, battery or rechargeable units could also be provided for use in activities, such as outdoor parties or tailgating.

As previously discussed, the point of sale storage unit according to this invention need not be a cooler. A similar point of sale storage and display device could employ a heating element to elevate the temperature of the items displayed in the storage compartment. The combination of a heating device with the edge lit display on transparent sides of the storage compartment offers a similar combination of storage and display, as described with reference to the cooler 2 comprising a first embodiment of this invention. The principle difference is the types of items or merchandise to be stored and displayed. The use of a thermoelectric module as the heat pump or heat exchange device would mean that the differences between the two devices would not be great. As previously stated the relative direction of charge flow would be different. The heat sink would also be resized or replaced, depending upon the specific application. Furthermore, the convection within the storage compartment would be easier, because the heat would tend to rise.

It should be readily apparent then that numerous modifications would be apparent those of ordinary skill in the art, which would permit adaptation of a first and representative embodiment depicted herein to fit a specific use and to allow its use with different products. Therefore the scope of this invention is defined by the following claims and is not limited to a first embodiment depicted herein.