Title:
Foldable Crate With Bidirectional Manually Releasable Fastening Mechanism
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A foldable crate has two pairs of folding sides hinged to base. A fastening mechanism associated with one pair of sides has a pair of displaceable catch elements assuming an engagement position for engaging features of the adjacent first pair of sides to inhibit folding of the crate. The fastening mechanism also includes a manually operable actuator linked to each of the pair of catches by a mechanical linkage such that, when the manually operable actuator is displaced from an initial position in either of an upward vertical motion and a downward vertical motion, the mechanical linkages displace the catch elements from the engagement position to release the engagement so as to allow folding of the crate.



Inventors:
Hadar, Nir (Hadera, IL)
Application Number:
11/970526
Publication Date:
04/23/2009
Filing Date:
01/08/2008
Assignee:
POLYMER LOGISTICS (ISRAEL) LTD (Raanana, IL)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D6/16
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
HICKS, ROBERT J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Dr. Mark M. Friedman (Ramat Gan, IL)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A foldable crate comprising: (a) a base; (b) a first pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; (c) a second pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; and (d) a fastening mechanism associated with each of said second pair of sides, each of said fastening mechanisms including: (i) a pair of catch elements mounted so as to be displaceable relative to the corresponding one of said second pair of sides between an engagement position for releasably engaging complementary features of the adjacent first pair of sides when said first and second pairs of sides are in said erected position so as to inhibit folding of the crate, said catch elements being displaceable in at least one direction from said engagement position to release said engagement so as to allow folding of the crate, and (ii) a manually operable actuator associated with the corresponding one of said second pair of sides, said manually operable actuator being linked to each of said pair of catches by a mechanical linkage, wherein said manually operable actuator and said mechanical linkage are configured such that, when said manually operable actuator is displaced from an initial position in either of an upward vertical motion and a downward vertical motion, said mechanical linkages displace said catch elements from said engagement position to release said engagement so as to allow folding of the crate.

2. The foldable crate of claim 1, wherein said catch elements are resiliently biased to assume said engagement position, and wherein said mechanical linkages are configured to allow displacement of said catch elements away from said engagement positions without requiring displacement of said actuator.

3. The foldable crate of claim 1, wherein each of said mechanical linkages is configured such that displacement of said actuator in each of an upward vertical motion and a downward vertical motion displaces said catch elements from said engagement position in the same direction.

4. The foldable crate of claim 1, wherein each of said mechanical linkages includes a pin engaged in a shaped slot.

5. The foldable crate of claim 4, wherein said shaped slot has edges approximating to a “V” shape.

6. The foldable crate of claim 4, wherein said shaped slot has a width greater than a dimension of said pin such that said catch element is displaceable away from said engagement positions without requiring displacement of said actuator.

7. The foldable crate of claim 1, wherein said catch elements are configured to be displaceable substantially horizontally relative to said second pair of sides.

8. The foldable crate of claim 1, wherein said catch elements are configured to be displaceable substantially vertically relative to said second pair of sides.

9. The foldable crate of claim 8, wherein said catch elements, said actuator and said mechanical linkages are integrally formed as a single element.

10. The foldable crate of claim 9, wherein said mechanical linkages are substantially rigid such that said catch elements, said actuator and said mechanical linkages move upwards and downwards together.

11. The foldable crate of claim 1, wherein said manually operable actuator is deployed to be accessible from an inward facing surface of said sides.

12. The foldable crate of claim 11, wherein said fastening mechanism further includes a secondary actuation handle mechanically linked to said manually operable actuator and accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate.

13. A foldable crate comprising: (a) a base; (b) a first pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; (c) a second pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; and (d) a latch mechanism associated with each of said second pair of sides for releasably interlocking said sides with stops on each of the adjacent first pair of sides, said latch mechanism including a latch element extending across substantially the entirety of a width of the second side and terminating at each end in a latch portion configured for engaging one of said stops on the adjacent side, said latch element being resiliently biased to a central position in which said latch portions engage said stops to retain said first and second pairs of sides erected in interlocking relation, said latch element being displaceable from said central position in a first direction to a raised position in which said latch portions clear said stops to allow folding of said second pair of sides to said folded position, characterized in that said latch element is further displaceable from said central position in a second direction opposite to said first direction to a lowered position in which said latch portions also clear said stops to allow folding of said second pair of sides to said folded position.

14. The foldable crate of claim 13, wherein said latch element is deployed primarily on an inward facing surface of said sides.

15. The foldable crate of claim 14, wherein said latch element includes an actuation handle accessible for manual actuation from inside the crate.

16. The foldable crate of claim 15, further comprising a secondary actuation handle mechanically linked to said latch element, said actuation handle being accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate.

17. The foldable crate of claim 14, further comprising an actuation handle mechanically linked to said latch element, said actuation handle being accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate.

18. The foldable crate of claim 13, wherein said latch element is biased to said central position by at least one integrally-formed spring element.

Description:

FIELD AND BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to foldable crates and, in particular, it concerns foldable crates with manually releasable fastening mechanisms which can be released by displacement in either of two opposite directions.

It is known to provide crates for transport of produce which are foldable for compact storage or return transportation when not in use. In some cases, it is desirable to provide a fastening mechanism for positive locking between the sides of the crate when erected to prevent inadvertent folding during use. Where a fastening mechanism is provided in each corner, it has been found advantageous to provide a common actuating mechanism to allow release of two corners by a single motion of the user's hand. Examples of such mechanisms are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 7,011,225 and 6,290,081, as well as in patent application publication numbers US 2003/000950 A1 and WO 00/68099 A1. In each of these cases, catch elements in each of two corners are disengaged by operating a sliding handle or other manually operable mechanism near the middle of the short sides of the crate.

In the field of shipping, primary importance is associated with features which provide ease of use and convenience. Thus, it would be advantageous to provide a foldable crate with a manually releasable fastening mechanism which would could be released by displacement in either of two opposite directions, and in particular, either by lifting of pressing downwards on the mechanism. Similarly, it would be advantageous to provide for releasing of the fastening mechanism both from inside and outside the container.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is a foldable crate with a manually releasable fastening mechanisms which can be released by displacement in either of two opposite directions.

According to the teachings of the present invention there is provided, a foldable crate comprising: (a) a base; (b) a first pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; (c) a second pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; and (d) a fastening mechanism associated with each of the second pair of sides, each of the fastening mechanisms including: (i) a pair of catch elements mounted so as to be displaceable relative to the corresponding one of the second pair of sides between an engagement position for releasably engaging complementary features of the adjacent first pair of sides when the first and second pairs of sides are in the erected position so as to inhibit folding of the crate, the catch elements being displaceable in at least one direction from the engagement position to release the engagement so as to allow folding of the crate, and (ii) a manually operable actuator associated with the corresponding one of the second pair of sides, the manually operable actuator being linked to each of the pair of catches by a mechanical linkage, wherein the manually operable actuator and the mechanical linkage are configured such that, when the manually operable actuator is displaced from an initial position in either of an upward vertical motion and a downward vertical motion, the mechanical linkages displace the catch elements from the engagement position to release the engagement so as to allow folding of the crate.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the catch elements are resiliently biased to assume the engagement position, and wherein the mechanical linkages are configured to allow displacement of the catch elements away from the engagement positions without requiring displacement of the actuator.

According to a further feature of the present invention, each of the mechanical linkages is configured such that displacement of the actuator in each of an upward vertical motion and a downward vertical motion displaces the catch elements from the engagement position in the same direction.

According to a further feature of the present invention, each of the mechanical linkages includes a pin engaged in a shaped slot.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the shaped slot has edges approximating to a “V” shape.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the shaped slot has a width greater than a dimension of the pin such that the catch element is displaceable away from the engagement positions without requiring displacement of the actuator.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the catch elements are configured to be displaceable substantially horizontally relative to the second pair of sides.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the catch elements are configured to be displaceable substantially vertically relative to the second pair of sides.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the catch elements, the actuator and the mechanical linkages are integrally formed as a single element.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the mechanical linkages are substantially rigid such that the catch elements, the actuator and the mechanical linkages move upwards and downwards together.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the manually operable actuator is deployed to be accessible from an inward facing surface of the sides.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the fastening mechanism further includes a secondary actuation handle mechanically linked to the manually operable actuator and accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate.

There is also provided according to the teachings of the present invention, a foldable crate comprising: (a) a base; (b) a first pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; (c) a second pair of sides hingedly attached to the base so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position overlying at least part of the base; and (d) a latch mechanism associated with each of the second pair of sides for releasably interlocking the sides with stops on each of the adjacent first pair of sides, the latch mechanism including a latch element extending across substantially the entirety of a width of the second side and terminating at each end in a latch portion configured for engaging one of the stops on the adjacent side, the latch element being resiliently biased to a central position in which the latch portions engage the stops to retain the first and second pairs of sides erected in interlocking relation, the latch element being displaceable from the central position in a first direction to a raised position in which the latch portions clear the stops to allow folding of the second pair of sides to the folded position, characterized in that the latch element is further displaceable from the central position in a second direction opposite to the first direction to a lowered position in which the latch portions also clear the stops to allow folding of the second pair of sides to the folded position.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the latch element is deployed primarily on an inward facing surface of the sides.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the latch element includes an actuation handle accessible for manual actuation from inside the crate.

According to a further feature of the present invention, there is also provided a secondary actuation handle mechanically linked to the latch element, the actuation handle being accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate.

According to a further feature of the present invention, there is also provided an actuation handle mechanically linked to the latch element, the actuation handle being accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate.

According to a further feature of the present invention, the latch element is biased to the central position by at least one integrally-formed spring element.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention is herein described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein;

FIG. 1A is an isometric view of a first embodiment of a foldable crate including a fastening mechanism constructed and operative according to the teachings of the present invention;

FIG. 1B is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 1A designated “A”, showing a partial view of the fastening mechanism;

FIG. 2 is an isometric view of the elements of the fastening mechanism of FIG. 1A in isolation from the crate;

FIGS. 3A-3D are front views of the elements of the fastening mechanism of FIG. 1A in a fastened state, a raised-to-open state, a lowered-to-open state and during forced inward movement of the catch elements, respectively;

FIG. 4A is an isometric view of the foldable crate of FIG. 1A with the fastening mechanism in the raised-to-open state of FIG. 3B;

FIG. 4B is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 4A designated “A”;

FIG. 5A is an isometric view of the foldable crate of FIG. 1A with the fastening mechanism in the lowered-to-open state of FIG. 3C;

FIG. 5B is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 5A designated “A”;

FIG. 6A is an isometric view of the foldable crate of FIG. 1A during forced inward motion of the catch elements of the fastening mechanism occurring during erecting of the crate, corresponding to the state of FIG. 3D;

FIG. 6B is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 6A designated “A”;

FIG. 7A is an isometric view of a variant of the foldable crate of FIG. 1A having a fastening mechanism with a reversed implementation of a mechanical linkage;

FIG. 7B is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 7A designated “A”;

FIG. 8 is an isometric view of second embodiment a foldable crate including a fastening mechanism constructed and operative according to the teachings of the present invention;

FIG. 9 is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 8 designated II;

FIG. 10 is a view similar to FIG. 9 with the end wall omitted to better reveal details of the fastening mechanism;

FIGS. 11A-11D are a sequence of schematic cross-sectional views showing the motion of the fastening mechanism during erecting of the crate of the present invention;

FIGS. 12A-12C are a sequence of schematic cross-sectional views during release of the fastening mechanism by an upward motion; and

FIGS. 13A-13C are a sequence of schematic cross-sectional views during release of the fastening mechanism by a downward motion.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention is a foldable crate with a bidirectional manually releasable fastening mechanism.

The principles and operation of crates and fastening mechanisms according to the present invention may be better understood with reference to the drawings and the accompanying description.

Referring now to the drawings, the present invention will be illustrated herein with reference to two non-limiting exemplary embodiments. A first embodiment, described with reference to FIGS. 1A-6B, relates to a fastening mechanism in which the catch elements move horizontally to engage the adjacent sides of the crate. In a second embodiment, described with reference to FIGS. 8-13C, the catch elements are implemented as vertically-moving latch elements. In both cases, the foldable crates of the present invention share various generic inventive features, as will now be described.

Thus, in generic terms, the present invention provides a foldable crate 100 (FIGS. 1A-6B) or 10 (FIGS. 8-13C), constructed and operative according to the teachings of the present invention. Generally speaking, the foldable crates of each of the exemplary embodiments has a base 12 to which are hingedly attached first and second pairs of sides 14 and 16 so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate and a folded position (not shown) overlying at least part of the base. A fastening mechanism, associated with each side 16, includes a pair of catch elements mounted so as to be displaceable relative to the corresponding side 16, assuming an engagement position for engaging complementary features of the adjacent sides 14 when sides 14 and 16 are erected so as to inhibit folding of the crate. A manually operable actuator, associated with the corresponding side 16, is linked to each of the pair of catches by a mechanical linkages.

It is a particular feature of the present invention that the manually operable actuator and the mechanical linkage are configured such that, when the manually operable actuator is displaced from an initial position in either of an upward vertical motion and a downward vertical motion, the mechanical linkages displace the catch elements from the engagement position to release the engagement so as to allow folding of the crate. This bidirectional actuation to release locking of the crate walls provides added versatility and convenience in the day-to-day usage of the crates of the present invention. This and other advantages of the present invention will be further understood with reference to the following detailed description.

Before addressing the features of the present invention in more detail, it will be helpful to define certain terminology as used herein the description and claims. Firstly, the term “crate” is used herein generically to refer to any and all types of container variously referred to as “shippers”, “crates”, “boxes”, “containers” or the like. The containers in question are typically, although not necessarily, constructed primarily from polymer materials, and may have solid walls, walls with apertures or any other form of openings.

The invention relates primarily to folding crates wherein each side is a folding panel hingedly attached to the base. The manner of folding, the degree of overlap between sides in the folded state, the height of the hinges (i.e., whether the base extends upwards to meet a smaller foldable side panel) and whether the walls fold along intermediate hinges, are all variable parameters which do not directly affect the invention. In each case, the sides are referred to as “overlying at least part of the base” when in the folded state, independent of whether they overlie the base directly or overlie other sides which in turn overlie the base.

For convenience of description, reference is made to “vertical” and “horizontal” in the normal orientation of the erected crate, i.e., when the crate is erected and the base is assumed to be sitting on a horizontal underlying surface. Thus, “horizontal” is essentially used to refer to directions roughly parallel to (for example, inclined by no more than about 15 degrees relative to) the general plane of the base of the crate while “vertical” is essentially used for a direction roughly perpendicular to the base and roughly parallel to the general plane of the erected sides.

The term “slot” is used herein in the description and claims to refer to any recess, depression, aperture, hole, opening or other feature within which a pin can be engaged to as to define a range of relative motion of the pin and the slot. The term “pin” is used herein the description and claims to refer to any projecting feature which can engage a slot as defined herein. The “pin” thus defined need not be round, nor elongated.

Turning now to the embodiment of FIGS. 1A-6B in more detail, the fastening mechanism of crate 100 includes a pair of catch elements implemented as sliding bolts 102 mounted so as to be slidable horizontally in each of the short sides 16. Each sliding bolt 102 is outwardly biased to assume an engagement position (FIGS. 1A, 1B, 2 and 3A) for engaging a complementary recess (not shown) near the edge of each adjacent long side 14. The crate is configured so that the long sides 14 open first followed by short sides 16. As a result, the engagement of sliding bolts 102 in the recesses of sides 14 interlocks the sides to maintain the erect form of the crate during use. In the preferred example illustrated here, biasing of sliding bolts 102 is achieved by integrally formed spring arms which slide against corresponding abutment features formed in sides 16.

The manually operable actuator is implemented here as a handle 104 which slides vertically up and down relative to side 16. Most preferably, handle 104, which is here located on the inner face of side 16, is connected via pins or bolts passing through vertical slots in side 16 to a secondary actuation handle 106 on the outer face of side 16. In addition to providing the required sliding engagement of handle 104 to side 16, this structure also provides added convenience by facilitating manual actuation to release locking of the walls both from inside and outside the crate.

As mentioned above, it is a particular feature of the present invention that handle 104 is linked to each of sliding bolts 102 by a mechanical linkage which unlocks bolts 102 through either raising or lowering of the handle. In the preferred example illustrated here, each of the mechanical linkages includes a pin 108 engaged in a shaped slot 110. In this case, shaped slots 110 are integrally formed on each side of handle 104 while pin 108 is provided as part of each sliding bolt 102. It should be noted, however, that the structure may be reversed with a shaped slot 110 formed as part of bolts 102 and a pin 108 on each side of handle 104, as illustrated in FIGS. 7A and 7B.

Shaped slot 110 as shown here has two edges approximating to a “V” shape, with pin 108 initially biased (through the biasing of sliding bolts 102) to the bottom of the “V”. As a result of this structure, when handle 104 is moved upwards as shown in FIGS. 3B, 4A and 4B, abutment of pin 108 against one edge of the “V” shape draws both sliding bolts 102 inwards to release the locking of the sides. Similarly, when handle 104 is moved downwards as shown in FIGS. 3C, 5A and 5B, abutment of pin 108 against the other edge of the “V” shape draws both sliding bolts 102 inwards to release the locking of the sides. Thus, both upward and downward displacement of handle 104 in this case result in inward displacement of both associated sliding bolts 102.

Although the aforementioned bidirectional functionality could be provided using a narrow parallel-sided V-shaped slot, in the particularly preferred implementation illustrated here, shaped slot 110 has a width greater than the corresponding dimension of pin 108, at least around the initial position of the pin. This extra width provides freedom of motion of the sliding bolts 102 away from the engagement positions without requiring displacement of handle 104, as illustrated in FIGS. 3D, 6A and 613. In other words, during erecting of the crate, sliding bolts 102 can ride over the edge of the engagement recesses (the edges being formed with suitable angled surfaces) to reach the locked state without requiring manual actuation or indirect displacement of handle 104. Clearly, the shape of the slot 110 in regions not generally contacting pin 108 is not critical. In the example shown here, slot 110 is roughly triangular. However other shapes, including irregular shapes and open shapes, could also be used.

Turning now to FIGS. 8-10, these show all or part of a second embodiment of a foldable crate, generally designated 10, constructed and operative according to the teachings of the present invention. Generally speaking, foldable crate 10 includes a base 12 to which first and second pairs of sides 14, 16 are hingedly attached so as to be hingedly displaceable between an erected position for forming a crate as shown and a folded position (not shown) overlying at least part of base 12. Foldable crate 10 also includes a fastening mechanism associated with each of sides 16 for releasably interlocking sides 16 with stops 18 on each of the adjacent sides 14. The fastening mechanism includes a latch element 20 extending across substantially the entirety of a width of side 16 and terminating at each end in a latch portion 22 configured for engaging one of stops 18 on the adjacent side 14. As best seen in FIG. 10, latch element 20 is resiliently biased to a central position in which latch portion 22 engages stop 18 to retain the first and second pairs of sides erected in interlocking relation. It is a particular feature of the present invention that latch element 20 is displaceable in each of two opposite directions from this central position to clear stops 18, thereby allowing folding of sides 16 (and thereafter also sides 14) to their folded positions.

Most preferably, latch element 20 is deployed primarily on an inward facing surface of side 16. A central portion of latch element 20 preferably provides an actuation handle 24 accessible for manual actuation from inside the crate. In a most preferred implementation, a secondary actuation handle 26, mechanically linked to latch element 20, is provided to as to be accessible for manual actuation from outside the crate. In this case, secondary actuation handle 26 is connected to actuation handle 24 via connecting elements which pass through vertical slots 28 formed in sides 16.

As mentioned above, latch element 20 is biased to the aforementioned central locking position. This bias is preferably provided by at least one integrally-formed spring element. In the particularly preferred implementation shown here, latch element 20 is integrally formed with two laterally extending resilient arms 30 which slide within corresponding guide slots 32 formed in sides 16. This structure provides balanced centering forces while allowing latch element 20 to be displaced either upward to a raised position or downwards to a lowered position.

The relative motion of one of latch portions 22 and the corresponding stop 18 during locking and releasing of the latch mechanism is shown in FIGS. 11A-13C. Referring first to FIGS. 11A-11D, during erection of the crate, sides 14 are first lifted to their upright positions and then sides 16 are raised. As sides 16 reaches the final part of its opening motion, latch portions 22 meet an inclined abutment surfaces of stops 18 (FIG. 11A), thereby raising latch portions 22 (and hence the entirety of latch element 20) as shown in FIGS. 11B and 11C until latch portions 22 clear the end of stops 18 and spring back under their resilient bias to the central locking position as shown in FIG. 11D. The erected crate is then locked in its open state until the latch mechanism is manually released.

FIGS. 12A-12C show release of the latch mechanism by manually raising latch element 20 until latch portions 22 clear the tops of stops 18 (FIG. 12B), thereby allowing folding down of sides 16 (FIG. 12C).

FIGS. 13A-13C show release of the latch mechanism by manually lowering latch element 20 until latch portions 22 clear the bottom of stops 18 (FIG. 13B), thereby allowing foling down of sides 16 (FIG. 13C).

Foldable crate 10 is preferably formed from molded polymer materials. In all respects other than the details of the latch mechanism described above, the crate may be implemented using well know and well established technology, and with numerous different implementations according to the requirements of a given application. For example, the base and walls of the crate may be formed with or without aeration openings of various sizes, and various different types of hinges and geometries of folding may be used, all as will be clear to a person having ordinary skill in the art.

It will be appreciated that the above descriptions are intended only to serve as examples, and that many other embodiments are possible within the scope of the present invention as defined in the appended claims.