Title:
REFRIGERATOR SHELF ASSEMBLY
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A shelf assembly for a refrigerator is provided and includes a support member for supporting the shelf assembly laterally. The assembly includes a shelf panel that is supported along its side regions by respective support brackets. The support brackets are attachable or mountable to a support structure, such as to a support rack positioned at a back panel of a refrigerator. The support member is provided at one or both support brackets and may comprise a magnet or a suction cup.



Inventors:
Picken, Alan D. (Manitou Beach, MI, US)
Brownlow, John (Grand Rapids, MI, US)
Application Number:
12/208767
Publication Date:
04/02/2009
Filing Date:
09/11/2008
Assignee:
Clarion Technologies, Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
248/201, 312/408
International Classes:
A47G1/17; A47B96/06; F25D23/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
GALLEGO, ANDRES F
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
VAN DYKE, GARDNER, LINN & BURKHART, LLP (GRAND RAPIDS, MI, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A shelf assembly for use in a refrigerator, said shelf assembly comprising: a shelf panel comprising a generally planar shelf portion and opposite side perimeter regions; a pair of opposite support brackets, each of said support brackets supporting one of said opposite side perimeter regions of said shelf panel and each of said opposite support brackets being mountable to the refrigerator at a back panel, wherein one of said support brackets is positionable adjacent a side panel of the refrigerator; a magnetically permeable member mountable at the side panel of the refrigerator; and a magnet at said one of said support brackets and positioned at said magnetically permeable member when said one of said support brackets is mountable to the refrigerator, wherein said support brackets are supportable at the back panel of the refrigerator and said one support bracket is further supportable at the side panel of the refrigerator by said magnet and said magnetically permeable member.

2. The shelf assembly of claim 1, wherein said magnet comprises a neodymium magnet.

3. The shelf assembly of claim 1, wherein said magnetically permeable member comprises a steel plate.

4. The shelf assembly of claim 1, wherein each said support bracket comprises a roller mechanism.

5. The shelf assembly of claim 4, wherein said slide mechanism comprises a fixed rail that is mountable in the refrigerator and a movable rail that is movable along said fixed rail of said support bracket to move said shelf panel relative to said fixed rail, said magnet being mounted at said fixed rail.

6. The shelf assembly of claim 1, wherein the side panel is located intermediate said magnetically permeable member and said magnet.

7. The shelf assembly of claim 1, further comprising: another magnet at a second of said pair of support brackets, said other magnet positioned at another magnetically permeable member when said second support bracket is mounted to the refrigerator, wherein said second support bracket is further supportable at another side panel of the refrigerator by said other magnet and said other magnetically permeable member.

8. The shelf assembly of claim 1, wherein said shelf panel comprises a generally planar shelf portion, a front perimeter region, a rear perimeter region, and opposite side perimeter regions, said front perimeter region, said rear perimeter region and said perimeter side regions being upwardly angled along respective perimeter regions of said generally planar portion, and wherein said upwardly angled side perimeter regions and said upwardly angled front and rear perimeter regions cooperate to provide a substantially continuous upwardly angled perimeter lip around said perimeter regions of said generally planar shelf portion.

9. The shelf assembly of claim 1, wherein said shelf panel comprises a glass material.

10. The shelf assembly of claim 1, further in combination with a refrigerator.

11. A shelf assembly for use in a refrigerator, said shelf assembly comprising: a shelf panel comprising a glass material; said shelf panel comprising a generally planar shelf portion, a front perimeter region, a rear perimeter region, and opposite side perimeter regions; said front perimeter region, said rear perimeter region and said perimeter side regions being upwardly angled along respective perimeter regions of said generally planar portion; said upwardly angled side perimeter regions and said upwardly angled front and rear perimeter regions cooperating to provide a substantially continuous upwardly angled perimeter lip around said perimeter regions of said generally planar shelf portion; said side perimeter regions having an upwardly angled lower attachment surface; a pair of opposite support brackets, each of said support brackets having a generally vertical portion and an angled portion that extends at an angle from an upper edge region of said generally vertical portion, said angled portions of said support brackets being angled to generally correspond to the angle of said upwardly angled side perimeter regions of said shelf panel, said angled portions of said support brackets being bonded via a cured adhesive layer along a respective one of said lower attachment surfaces of said side perimeter regions of said shelf panel; said support brackets comprising a slide mechanism having a fixed rail that is mountable in the refrigerator and a movable rail that includes said angled portion that is bonded to said lower attachment surface of said side perimeter regions of said shelf panel, said movable rails being movable along said fixed rails of said support brackets to move said shelf panel relative to said fixed rail; a magnetically permeable member for mounting at the side panel of the refrigerator; and a magnet positioned at said fixed rail of one of said opposite support brackets mountable adjacent the side panel of the refrigerator and said magnetically permeable member, wherein said support brackets are supportable at the back panel of the refrigerator and said one support bracket is supportable at the side panel of the refrigerator by said magnet and said magnetically permeable member.

12. The shelf assembly of claim 11, wherein said one of said support brackets comprises a proximal end and a distal end, said proximal end positionable at the back panel of the refrigerator, wherein said magnet is positioned at said distal end of said one of said support brackets.

13. The shelf assembly of claim 11, wherein said magnet comprises a neodymium magnet.

14. The shelf assembly of claim 11, wherein the side panel is located intermediate said magnetically permeable member and said magnet.

15. A shelf assembly for use in a refrigerator, said shelf assembly comprising: a shelf panel comprising a generally planar shelf portion and opposite side perimeter regions; a pair of opposite support brackets, each of said support brackets supporting one of said opposite side perimeter regions of said shelf panel and each of said opposite support brackets being mountable to the refrigerator at a back panel, wherein one of said support brackets is mountable adjacent a side panel of the refrigerator; and a suction cup at said one of said support brackets for engaging a side panel of the refrigerator, wherein said support brackets are supportable at the back panel of the refrigerator, and wherein said one support bracket is further supportable at the side panel of the refrigerator by said suction cup.

16. The shelf assembly of claim 15, wherein each said support bracket comprises a roller mechanism.

17. The shelf assembly of claim 16, wherein said roller mechanism comprises a fixed rail that is mountable in the refrigerator and a movable rail that is movable along said fixed rail of said support bracket to move said shelf panel relative to said fixed rail, said magnet being mounted at said fixed rail.

18. The shelf assembly of claim 15, wherein said shelf panel comprises a generally planar shelf portion, a front perimeter region, a rear perimeter region, and opposite side perimeter regions, said front perimeter region, said rear perimeter region and said perimeter side regions being upwardly angled along respective perimeter regions of said generally planar portion, and wherein said upwardly angled side perimeter regions and said upwardly angled front and rear perimeter regions cooperate to provide a substantially continuous upwardly angled perimeter lip around said perimeter regions of said generally planar shelf portion.

19. The shelf assembly of claim 15, wherein said shelf panel comprises a glass material.

20. The shelf assembly of claim 15, further in combination with a refrigerator.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The present application claims the benefit of U.S. provisional application Ser. No. 60/971,734, filed Sep. 12, 2007, which is hereby incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to shelving and, more particularly, to shelving for refrigerators and the like.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

It is known to provide shelves in a refrigerator, where each shelf is supported on a pair of supports extending at least partially along the side edges of the shelf. The supports receive the edges of the shelf along side caps or the like to retain the shelf to the supports and to provide a lip along the upper surface of the shelf to form a “spill proof” shelf. The supports typically include a bracket or similar feature at their rear portions for mounting to the back panel of the refrigerator.

On some refrigerators, the shelves are extendable and retractable on or along the supports, such as to improve access to objects located on a rear portion of a shelf. However, typical supports do not provide significant lateral support, such that a shelf may wobble left and right, or such that slider or roller mechanisms in the supports may jam from misalignment when a shelf is extended or retracted, especially when the shelf is pushed or pulled from one side of the shelf, or when the shelf is pushed or pulled at an angle.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides a shelf assembly, such as a shelf assembly for a refrigerator, where a shelf panel is attached to a support bracket, rail, or slide mechanism or roller mechanism extending along each side region of the shelf panel. The support brackets are attached to the interior of the refrigerator, such as at a back panel. In order to provide additional lateral and vertical support, one or both supports are equipped with a support member, such as a magnet or a suction cup, for engaging the side panel of the refrigerator. The magnet or suction cup may be particularly well suited for applications in which the shelf assembly has one side adjacent the side panel of the refrigerator, and an opposite side for which there is not a corresponding adjacent side panel within the refrigerator.

According to one form of the present invention, a shelf assembly is provided for use in a shelving system having a back panel and a side panel, such as in a refrigerator. The shelf assembly includes a shelf panel, a pair of opposite support brackets supporting the shelf panel, a magnet, and a magnetically permeable or attractable member at the side panel of the refrigerator. The shelf panel includes a generally planar shelf portion, front and rear perimeter regions, and opposite side perimeter regions. Each of the support brackets supports one of the opposite side perimeter regions of the shelf panel. Each support bracket is mountable to a shelving system at the back panel of the refrigerator, and at least one of the support brackets is located adjacent the side panel of the refrigerator. The magnetically permeable member is positioned at the side panel of the refrigerator for attracting the magnet. The magnet is positioned at one of the support brackets and adjacent the side panel and magnetically permeable member. The magnet is attracted to the magnetically permeable member so that the shelf is supported vertically and horizontally or laterally by the magnetic interaction between the magnet and the magnetically permeable member.

In one aspect, the magnet is a neodymium magnet.

In another aspect, the magnetically permeable member is a steel plate. The steel plate may be located behind the side panel of the refrigerator whereby the side panel is positioned between the magnet and the steel plate so that the steel plate is not visible to a person viewing the interior of the refrigerator.

In yet another aspect, each of the support brackets includes a slide mechanism for sliding the shelf panel inwardly and outwardly relative to the back panel of the refrigerator. The slide mechanism may include a fixed rail and a movable rail. The fixed rail is mountable in the refrigerator and the movable rail is movable along the fixed rail. The magnet is mounted at the fixed rail.

According to another form of the present invention, a shelf assembly similar to that described above is provided, wherein the magnet is replaced by a suction cup such that the side panel need not be magnetically permeable or include a steel, ferrous, or magnetically permeable plate. The suction cup engages the side panel of the refrigerator, which is preferably generally planar at the area to be engaged by the suction cup, and is held substantially in place by atmospheric pressure to support the shelf panel both laterally and vertically.

Therefore, the shelf assembly of the present invention provides a user with a stabilized shelf on which to store objects, such as food products, in a refrigerator, while the shelf remains aesthetically pleasing. Further, the shelf assembly of the present invention provides stabilization of a shelf installed in a refrigerator having only one side panel adjacent the shelf.

These and other objects, advantages, purposes, and features of the present invention will become apparent upon review of the following specification in conjunction with the drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a refrigerator shelf assembly in accordance with the present invention, with a magnet provided for support thereof;

FIG. 2 is a top plan of the refrigerator shelf assembly of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3A is a front elevation of the refrigerator shelf assembly of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3B is a front elevation of another refrigerator shelf assembly of the present invention, with a suction cup;

FIG. 4A is a side elevation of the refrigerator shelf assembly of FIG. 3A;

FIG. 4B is a side elevation of the refrigerator shelf assembly of FIG. 3B;

FIG. 5 is an enlarged front elevation of a roller mechanism useful with the present invention; and

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a combination freezer-refrigerator incorporating shelves of the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention is directed to a refrigerator shelf assembly that is both vertically supported, such as with a rear-mounted bracket, and laterally supported, such as with a magnet or suction cup support member, in order to stabilize the shelf assembly in up/down, fore/aft, and left/right directions. While the present invention is described with reference to a refrigerator shelf, it should be understood that the same or similar principles may be used for other shelves or supports that are subject to side loading that can cause undesired lateral movement and/or binding or jamming of roller or slider mechanisms. As will be more fully described below, the support member of the refrigerator shelf assembly engages a side wall of a refrigerator in order to laterally stabilize the shelf. Thus, when the shelf assembly is used by placing or removing articles from the shelf, or by pulling the shelf to extend it or pushing to retract it along movable brackets, the shelf assembly remains stable and resists jamming or misalignment due to lateral forces that may be applied to the shelf during use.

Referring now to the drawings and the illustrative embodiments depicted therein, a shelf assembly 10 (FIG. 1) for use in a refrigerator 11 (FIG. 6) includes a shelf panel 12 that is supported at least partially along its side regions or edges 14 by respective supports or support rails or brackets 16. Shelf panel 12 may include a raised lip 15 (FIGS. 3A and 4A) extending around the entire perimeter of the panel in order to confine liquids that may be spilled or leaked on panel 12. Thus, panel 12 is preferably a “spill proof” panel when raised lip 15 is included. Support brackets 16 are attachable or mountable to a support structure, such as to a support rack 17 (FIGS. 4A and 4B) or the like positioned at a back panel of a refrigerator, such as refrigerator 11. The support brackets 16 include a proximal or rear end 18 and a distal or front end 20 (FIGS. 1 and 4A) and are mountable at proximal ends 18 to the support structure (such as support rack 17) within the refrigerator. A support member 22 is provided at support bracket 16 for laterally supporting shelf assembly 10. Support member 22 may comprise a magnet 24 or a suction cup 26, for example, as will be described in greater detail below.

The underside or lower surface of shelf panel 12 may be bonded to support bracket 16, such as at side regions 14, whereby the support brackets 16 are secured to the lower surface of the shelf panel and thus do not extend over or intrude onto the upper surface of shelf panel 12. Shelf panel 12 may comprise a glass panel, and preferably a substantially transparent strengthened glass panel, such as a tempered or toughened glass panel, suitable for use in a refrigerator environment. Optionally, shelf panel 12 may be slidably or movably mounted to support brackets 16 and may be movable along the support brackets, such as by a slide mechanism or roller mechanism 11 (FIG. 5) or the like. Shelf panel 12 and support brackets 16 are more fully described in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/577,147, which claims priority to PCT Application, Ser. No. PCT/US2005/036992, filed Oct. 13, 2005, both of which are hereby incorporated herein by reference in their entireties. Further, a suitable process for forming shelf panel 12 is more fully described in copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/173,207 filed Jul. 15, 2008, which is hereby incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

It will be appreciated that a shelf panel having a generally planar shelf portion, a front perimeter region, a rear perimeter region, and opposite side perimeter regions may be provided. The front perimeter region, rear perimeter region, perimeter side regions may be upwardly angled along respective perimeter regions of the generally planar portion. The upwardly angled side perimeter regions and upwardly angled front and rear perimeter regions cooperate to provide the substantially continuous upwardly angled perimeter lip 15 around the perimeter regions of the generally planar shelf portion. The side perimeter regions 14 may each have an upwardly angled lower attachment surface 14a (FIG. 3A). A pair of opposite support brackets may be provided, where each of the support brackets 16 has a generally vertical portion 16a and an angled portion 16b that extends at an angle from an upper edge region of the generally vertical portion 16a. The angled portions 16b of the support brackets 16 are angled to generally correspond to the angle of the upwardly angled side perimeter regions 14a of the shelf panel 12. The angled portions of the support brackets may be bonded via an adhesive layer along a respective one of the lower attachment surfaces of the side perimeter regions of the shelf panel. Further, the support brackets may incorporate a slide mechanism having a fixed rail that is mountable in the refrigerator and a movable rail that includes the angled portion that is bonded to the lower attachment surface of the side perimeter regions of the shelf panel so that the movable rails are movable along the fixed rails of the support brackets to move the shelf panel relative to the rail.

Bracket 16 includes a hook element 16c for inserting into a first aperture or slot 17a in generally vertical support rack 17 having a plurality of vertically spaced slots therein, and a tab 16d for inserting into a second aperture 17b in support rack 17 (FIG. 4A). Support member 22 provides lateral support to shelf assembly 10 at distal end 20 of support bracket 16. Support member 22 is attached to support bracket 16 via a fastener 28 (FIG. 3A) that extends through an aperture in bracket 16 and engages support member 22. It will be appreciated, however, that support member 22 may alternatively be attached to support bracket 16 by magnetic force, or by an adhesive or the like. Support member 22 may alternatively be attached at any location intermediate distal end 20 and proximal end 18 of support bracket 16 while still providing lateral and vertical support.

In the case of support member 22 comprising magnet 24, a magnetically permeable or attractable member 32 is positioned adjacent a side panel 30 (FIG. 3A) of the refrigerator, such as on the side of side panel 30 opposite the shelf assembly 10. Magnet 24 is positioned on the outer surface of support bracket 16 adjacent side panel 30 of the refrigerator opposite magnetically permeable member 32. Magnet 24 is thus attracted to magnetically permeable member 32 to substantially prevent left and right lateral movement of support bracket 16 relative to side panel 30. It will be appreciated that although magnet 24 primarily stabilizes and supports bracket 16 in a lateral direction, magnet 24 may also provide vertical support to at least partially support the weight of shelf panel 12 and objects located thereon. Magnet 24 may be made of any suitably powerful permanent magnet material to sufficiently laterally support support bracket 16, such as a ferrite magnet or a rare earth magnet, such as a neodymium magnet, a neodymium-iron-boron magnet, or a samarium cobalt magnet, for example.

Magnetically permeable member 32 may be a small disc or plate that is fastened or glued or fixed to the inner surface of side panel 30 in the vicinity of magnet 24. A plurality of magnetically permeable members 32 may be positioned at various spaced locations along side panel 30 so that multiple shelf assemblies 10 may be positioned at an interior region of the refrigerator, for example, or so that a particular shelf assembly may be repositioned or adjusted vertically at any one of a plurality of positions within the refrigerator while still allowing magnet 24 to be attracted to an adjacent member 32. Alternatively, a magnetically permeable member may be provided in the shape of a vertically or horizontally oriented strip to facilitate the positioning of different sizes of shelf assemblies or to increase the number of positions at which a shelf assembly may be located within the refrigerator. Optionally, it will be appreciated that side panel 30 may be made of a magnetically permeable material for attracting magnet 24 so that separate magnetically permeable members are not needed at spaced positions. Magnetically permeable member 32 is preferably made of steel or iron or any material that is sufficiently attracted to a magnet.

In an alternate embodiment, support member 22 may comprise a suction cup 26, such as on alternative shelf assembly 110 (FIGS. 3B and 4B), wherein a shelf panel 112 is supported by support brackets 116 and includes suction cup 26 for engaging a side panel 130 of a refrigerator or the like. It should be noted that in FIGS. 3B and 4B, reference numerals having 100 added are used to represent elements corresponding to those in the other figures. Suction cup 26 provides substantially the same function of magnet 24 on shelf assembly 10 and is connected to support bracket 116 by a fastener 128 extending through bracket 116. Suction cup 26 may be manually urged or pressed to engage side panel 130. Once suction cup 26 has engaged side panel 130, atmospheric pressure holds suction cup 26 against the side panel so as to substantially prevent support bracket 116 from moving away from side panel 130. Preferably, side panel 130 is generally planar in the area or areas to be engaged by suction cup 26 so that the flexible material of suction cup 26 will uniformly engage and seal against panel 130. Suction cup 26 may be made from any suitably soft and air-impervious material capable of forming a seal against a planar surface, such as nitrile, polyurethane, neoprene, vinyl, or silicone, for example.

In another alternate embodiment, a shelf assembly 210 includes roller mechanism 11 for facilitating the movement of a shelf panel 212 relative to a support bracket 216 that remains stationary (FIG. 5). It should be noted that in FIG. 5, reference numerals having 200 added are used to represent elements corresponding to those in the other figures. Roller mechanism 11 includes at least one roller 34 rotatably supported at an axle or spindle 36 mounted at bracket 216. An elongated rail or track 38 is movable relative to bracket 216 and is movably supported at roller 34. Track 38 has a channel 38a for receiving roller 34. Shelf panel 212 is supported at track 38, such as with an adhesive layer 40. Alternatively, a slider mechanism (not shown) may be used to facilitate movement of the shelf panel relative to the support brackets.

Accordingly, support member 22 stabilizes shelf assembly 10 so that assembly 10 is substantially prevented from moving laterally and so that the assembly is also provided with at least some vertical support. Where shelf panel 12 is movable relative to support brackets 16, panel 12 may be pulled outwardly and pushed inwardly from the refrigerator without inducing lateral oscillations or jamming of the slider or roller mechanism 11 due to misalignment within support brackets 16. Although support member 22 may be provided at support brackets 16 at either or both sides of shelf panel 12 (FIG. 2), support member 22 may optionally be provided at only one bracket for engaging one side panel of the refrigerator such that the opposite bracket is supported solely at support rack 17 at the back panel. Additionally, support member 22 facilitates the installation and removal and relocation of shelf assembly 10 without precisely aligning the shelf assembly prior to installing or removing or relocating it.

It will be appreciated that support member 22 may be applied to any conventional shelf assembly for a refrigerator. For example, and without limiting the scope of the present invention, a support member comprising a magnet or a suction cup may be used in conjunction with a shelf assembly having a molded rim around the perimeter of a shelf panel, the molded rim being attached to a pair of support brackets and supported thereby.

Changes and modifications in the specifically described embodiments may be carried out without departing from the principles of the present invention, which is intended to be limited only by the scope of the appended claims, as interpreted according to the principles of patent law including the doctrine of equivalents.