Title:
Locking apparatus and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An apparatus for connecting a plurality of structures, such as ends of a sealing ring, with each end defining an aperture therein and with the ring being adapted to mount a meter to a meter box structure. The apparatus comprises a locking pin with a distal end adapted to be insertable through each of the apertures of the first and second ends of the ring. The locking pin comprises a head member having at least an engageable end and a fracturable member. The locking pin further comprises a shaft portion having the distal end. The apparatus further comprises a lock housing adapted to retain at least a part of the shaft portion such that the first and second ends of the ring are connected between the head member of the locking pin and the lock housing. The head member has an outer surface adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member. A lock removal tool is adapted to receive and fracture a portion of the locking pin, enabling removal of the lock assembly from the meter box sealing ring.



Inventors:
Stachowiak Jr., John Edward (Houston, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/921251
Publication Date:
05/21/2009
Filing Date:
05/31/2006
Assignee:
DeWalch Technologies, Inc.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D55/14
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
LUGO, CARLOS
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Michael A Evans (Houston, TX, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An apparatus for securing a ring having first and second ends, the ring being adapted to mount a meter to a meter box structure, each of the first and second ends of the ring defining an aperture therein, the apparatus comprising: a locking pin having a distal end adapted to be insertable through each of the apertures of first and second ends of a ring, wherein the locking pin comprises a head member having at least an engageable end and a fracturable member, the locking pin further comprising a shaft portion with the distal end, the fracturable member being disposed intermediate the engageable end and the distal end of the locking pin; and a lock housing adapted to retain at least a part of the shaft portion.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the head member has an outer surface adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the apparatus further comprises a complementary tool adapted to manipulate the outer surface of the head member, wherein the at least two opposing forces of sufficient magnitude may be applied to break the fracturable member.

4. The apparatus of claim 3, wherein the complementary tool comprises at least an actuator housing defining a cavity having an interior surface adapted to capture the head member, the outer surface of the head member being complementary to the interior surface of the cavity, the actuator housing comprising a force-exerting structure to in general, axially bear against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the fracturable member is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of first and second ends of a ring.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a stress-concentration member to concentrate stress at a desired location on the locking pin.

7. An apparatus for sealing, the apparatus comprising: a fracturable locking pin adapted to unite a plurality of structures; and a lock housing adapted to retain at least a part of the fracturable locking pin, wherein the plurality of structures is secureable between a portion of the fracturable locking pin and at least a portion of the lock housing, and wherein the portion of the fracturable locking pin is adapted to receive direct application of opposing forces by a separate object, whereby the fracturable locking pin may be fractured.

8. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein the portion of the fracturable locking pin has an outer surface adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable locking pin.

9. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein the apparatus further comprises a complementary tool adapted to manipulate the outer surface of the portion of the fracturable locking pin, wherein the at least two opposing forces of sufficient magnitude may be applied to break the fracturable locking pin.

10. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein the complementary tool comprises at least an actuator housing defining a cavity having an interior surface adapted to capture the portion of the fracturable locking pin, the outer surface of the portion of the fracturable locking pin being complementary to the interior surface of the cavity, the actuator housing comprising a force-exerting structure to in general, axially bear against an end of the portion of the fracturable locking pin to break the fracturable locking pin.

11. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein at least a part of the portion of the fracturable locking pin is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of the plurality of structures.

12. The apparatus of claim 7, firer comprising a stress-concentration member to concentrate stress at a desired location on the fracturable locking pin.

13. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein the fracturable locking pin comprises first and second shaft sections, a fracturable member disposed intermediate the first and second shaft sections, and a head section.

14. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein the portion of the fracturable locking pin comprises a head member disposed substantially near an outer side of one of the plurality of structures.

15. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein the portion of the fracturable locking pin comprises a head section and an engageable end.

16. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein the portion of the fracturable locking pin comprises a head section and an engageable end.

17. A system for sealing, the system comprising: means for uniting a plurality of structures; means for retaining the means for uniting, wherein the plurality of structures is secureable between at least a portion of the means for uniting and at least a portion of the means for retaining; and means for enabling direct application of opposing forces by a separate object to the at least a portion of the means for uniting, whereby the at least a portion of the means for uniting may be fractured.

18. A method for sealing, the method comprising: uniting a plurality of structures, wherein the uniting is carried out with a fracturable locking pin; retaining at least a part of the fracturable locking pin with a lock housing, wherein the plurality of structures is secureable between a portion of the fracturable locking pin and at least a portion of the lock housing; and enabling direct application of opposing forces by a separate object to the portion of the fracturable locking pin, whereby the fracturable locking pin may be fractured.

19. The method of claim 18, further comprising the step of manipulating the portion of the fracturable locking pin to break the fracturable locking pin.

20. The method of claim 19, wherein the step of manipulating the portion of the fracturable locking pin further comprises: capturing the portion of the fracturable locking pin; and bearing against an end the portion of the fracturable locking pin to break the fracturable locking pin.

21. The method of claim 20, further comprising the step of manipulating the portion of the fracturable locking pin with a complementary tool to break the fracturable locking pin, the complementary tool having structure adapted to manipulate an outer surface of the portion of the fracturable locking pin.

Description:

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/685,322, filed May 31, 2005.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates generally to a locking apparatus, and more specifically, it relates to a locking apparatus for securing at least one structure or a portion of a utility service enclosure such as, for example, a watthour meter socket ring to prevent the separation of two opposing members of the watthour meter socket box ring.

2. Description of the Background

Electrical service providers generally deliver electricity to their customers via power lines buried underground or distributed along poles or towers overhead. The provider's power lines are usually distributed from a power generation station to numerous sets of customer lines, so that customers can then use the power to satisfy their various electrical needs. To measure delivered power so that customers can be billed in proportion to their usage, service providers typically terminate their power lines at a customer's home or business facility through a metered socket box, various designs for which are well known.

A meter box is generally used by electric utility companies, however the invention herein may be used with other utility service enclosures in the gas, water, cable, TV utility industries or in other industries as well.

An example of one previously known meter box consists of two sets of electrical posts, with a provider's transmission lines being connected to one set of posts, and the customer's service lines to the other set. In order to measure the amount of electricity a customer uses, the meter box is configured to accept a watthour meter or another electricity usage measurement device, which, when plugged into the socket box, permits transmission of electricity from the provider to the customer and allows the amount of transmitted electricity to be accurately measured, so that the provider can charge the customer for power usage at an appropriate rate.

Various designs and uses for watthour meters are also well known, and all such designs and uses are incorporated by reference into the teachings of the present invention. The present invention is also applicable in situations where the customer's service lines are routed from the meter box to a breaker box so that electricity can be distributed to multiple service locations using additional sets of electrical lines or wires.

Presently, there are various types of meter socket boxes, each distinguished by the manner in which the meter is secured in place once it has been plugged into an electrical socket disposed in the meter box. For example, a ringed-type meter box fitted with a flanged front cover is known, within which a watthour meter is disposed so that a head portion of the meter passes out through a flanged opening in the front cover. In this configuration, the meter is generally held in place using an annular, lockable sealing ring. However, with this type of design, high lock cost and operator “key control” may be a potential problem. Moreover this type of design may require the use of special tools and structures to secure a ring locking device and may require used of more than one hand to retain or engage the locking device.

In an attempt to overcome some of these shortcomings, there destructible locks that can be installed on ring-type meter socket boxes. Several examples of patents which disclose attempts to solve some of the above problems are set forth as follows.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,161,838 to Ely, et al., entitled “Locking Assembly,” is directed to a locking assembly adapted for locking first and second members together, the assembly including a housing member and a stud member, the housing member being adapted to receive the stud member and permanently lock the stud member in the housing member, the assembly including a frangible portion, such that a part of the assembly is adapted to be broken away from a remainder of the assembly to permit removal of the assembly from the first and second members. This reference is incorporated by reference herein.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,406,074 to Mahaney, entitled “Destructible Locking Device,” sets forth a locking device for interlocking two members having aligned openings extending therethrough. The device includes a hollow cap and a pin with an enlarged head at one end and a nose at the opposite end. The pin is insertable through the aligned openings of the members, with its nose received in interlocked engagement within the cap, and with the two members captured between the cap and the enlarged head of the pin. A frangible portion of the pin is severable in response to relative rotation between its nose and enlarged head to thereby destructively disassemble the locking device. This reference is incorporated by reference herein.

There remains a need for a locking apparatus and method for securing at least one structure or a plurality of structures, to secure a utility service enclosure, such as for example, a meter box locking ring having, for example, flanged ends. There is a need for a locking apparatus that can be “locked” without the need for special tools and “unlocked” only one time by using a special or complementary tool, such that when the locking apparatus is “unlocked,” it is rendered ineffective as a future locking device. There is a further need for a locking or securing device that may be retained or engaged using one hand.

Those of skill in the art will appreciate the present invention which addresses the above needs and other significant needs the solution to which are discussed hereinafter.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An object of the present invention is to secure a watthour meter box sealing ring to a watthour meter box.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a locking assembly that can be installed without special tools.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a locking assembly that can be installed only one time.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a locking assembly that when broken, cannot be reinstalled.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a locking assembly that can be removed with a special lock removal tool.

Another object of the present invention is to provide means to prevent the locking assembly removal without a special lock removal tool.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a lock removal tool to be used with the locking assembly.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a lock removal tool that can be actuated with one hand.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a lock removal tool that when used to open or “unlock” a locking assembly, renders the locking assembly useless.

These and other objects, features, and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the drawings, the descriptions given herein, and the appended claims. However, it will be understood that the above-listed objectives and/or advantages of the invention are intended only as an aid in quickly understanding aspects of the invention, are not intended to limit the invention in any way, and therefore do not form a comprehensive or restrictive list of objectives, and/or features, and/or advantages. Accordingly the present invention provides a locking apparatus for securing at least one structure or a portion of utility service enclosure such as, for example, a watthour meter socket ring to prevent the separation of two opposing members of the watthour meter socket box ring, so as to address the needs as described above.

The general purpose of the present invention, which will be described subsequently in greater detail, is to secure at least one structure or a plurality of structures, to lock a utility service enclosure, such as for example, a meter box locking ring having flanged ends.

One example embodiment the invention includes at least a lock assembly and lock removal tool. The lock assembly generally includes at least a locking pin and a lock housing. The lock housing further includes at least an aperture and a retaining member. The locking pin further includes at least a shaft portion and a head member. The head member of the locking pin further includes at least a fracturable portion. The lock housing is adapted to permanently receive the shaft portion of the locking pin when. the lock assembly is in the “locked” position. The lock removal tool is generally comprised of two actuating handles, a base member and pivoting member that are joined and communicate through a common fulcrum pin, and an actuating pin. The lock removal tool is adapted to receive the head member of the locking pin. As the lock removal tool is actuated, a ring portion is removed from the head member of the locking pin, thus enabling the lock assembly to be removed or “unlocked” from the sealing ring, and consequently allowing for sealing ring removal from the watthour meter socket box.

Another example embodiment of the present invention includes at least a locking apparatus for securing at least one structure.

Another example embodiment provides an apparatus for creating a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures, each of the plurality of structures defining an aperture therein, the apparatus including at least a locking pin insertable into each of the apertures of the plurality of structures, wherein the locking pin comprises a shaft portion, a fracturable member, and a head section having an engageable end; and a lock housing adapted to retain at least a part of the shaft portion, the plurality of structures being connected between a portion of the locking pin and the lock housing, wherein the head section has a structural configuration adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus a portion of the head section is adapted to receive a first force while the engageable end is adapted to receive a second force opposing the first force, the first and second forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus a complementary tool adapted to manipulate the head section to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus a head section has an outer surface, with the complementary tool further including at least an actuator housing defining an encapsulating cavity having an interior surface adapted to capture the head section, the outer surface of the head section being complementary to the interior surface of the encapsulating cavity, the actuator housing comprising a force-exerting structure to bear against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus a complementary tool is adapted to manipulate the head section to break the fracturable member, the complementary tool having structure adapted to manipulate at an outer surface of the head section.

Another example embodiment provides a method for creating a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures, each of the plurality of structures defining an aperture therein, the method including at least: inserting a locking pin into each of the apertures of the plurality of structures, wherein the locking pin comprises a shaft portion, a fracturable member, and a head section having an engageable end; and retaining at least a part of the shaft portion with a lock housing, the plurality of structures being connected between a portion of the locking pin and the lock housing, wherein the head section has a structural configuration adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method a portion of the head section is adapted to receive a first force while the engageable end is adapted to receive a second force opposing the first force, the first and second forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the step includes manipulating the head section to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head section further includes at least: capturing the head section; and bearing against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

An another example embodiment of an apparatus method includes at least an apparatus for connecting and disconnecting first and second ends of a ring, the ring being adapted to mount a meter to a meter box structure, each of the first and second ends of the ring defining an aperture therein, the apparatus including at least: a locking pin having a distal end adapted to be insertable through each of the apertures of the first and second ends of the ring, wherein the locking pin comprises a head member having at least an engageable end and a fracturable member, the locking pin further comprising a shaft portion having the distal end, the fracturable member being disposed intermediate the engageable end and the distal end of the locking pin; and a lock housing adapted to retain at least a part of the shaft portion, the first and second ends of the ring being connected between the head member of the locking pin and the lock housing, wherein the head member has an outer surface adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus a portion of the head member is adapted to receive a first force while the engageable end is adapted to receive a second force opposing the first force, the first and second forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus the apparatus includes at least a complementary tool adapted to manipulate the outer surface of the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus the complementary tool further includes at least: an actuator housing defining an encapsulating cavity having an interior surface adapted to capture the head member, the outer surface of the head member being complementary to the interior surface of the encapsulating cavity, the actuator housing comprising a force-exerting structure to in general, axially bear against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the apparatus the fracturable member is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of the rings.

An another example embodiment of the apparatus includes at least a complementary tool adapted to manipulate the head member to break the fracturable member, the complementary tool having structure adapted to manipulate the outer surface of the head member.

An another example embodiment includes a method for connecting and disconnecting first and second ends of a ring, the ring being adapted to mount a meter to a meter box structure, each of the first and second ends of the ring defining an aperture therein, the method includes at least: inserting a distal end of a locking pin through each of the apertures of the first and second ends of the ring, wherein the locking pin comprises a head member having at least an engageable end and a fracturable member, the locking pin further comprising a shaft portion having the distal end, the fracturable member being disposed intermediate the engageable end and the distal end of the locking pin; and retaining at least a part of the shaft portion with a lock housing, the first and second ends of the ring being connected between the head member of the locking pin and the lock housing; wherein the head member has an outer surface adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method a portion of the head member is adapted to receive a first force while the engageable end is adapted to receive a second force opposing the first force, the first and second forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

Another example embodiment of the method further includes at least the step of manipulating the outer surface of the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member further includes at least: capturing the head member; and in general, axially bearing against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member requires the use of a complementary tool.

In another example embodiment of the method the fracturable member is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of the rings.

Another example embodiment of the method further includes at least the step of manipulating the head member with a complementary tool to break the fracturable member, the complementary tool having structure adapted to manipulate the outer surface of the head member.

Another example embodiment of a system is provided for creating a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures, each of the plurality of structures defining an aperture therein, the system including at least: means for positioning a locking pin having a distal end insertable through each of the apertures of the plurality of structures, wherein the locking pin comprises a head member having at least an engageable end and a fracturable member, the locking pin further comprising a shaft portion having the distal end, the fracturable member being disposed intermediate the engageable end and the distal end of the locking pin; and means for retaining at least a part of the shaft portion with a lock housing, the plurality of structures being securably connected between the head member of the locking pin and the lock housing.

In another example embodiment of the system a portion of the head member is adapted for receiving at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

Another example embodiment of the system further includes at least means for manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system means for manipulating the head member further includes at least: means for capturing the head member; and means for, in general, axially bearing against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member is performable by means for selectively bearing only against the head member rather than the head member and another structure.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member is performable by means for selectively bearing against only the head member rather than both the head member and the lock housing.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member is performed from only one side of the plurality of structures.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member further comprises means for applying a first force to a portion of the head member and means for applying a second force to the engageable end, the second force opposing the first force, the first and second forces being of sufficient magnitude so as to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member comprises means for applying a resultant generally axial force against a portion of the head member, the resultant generally axial force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member so as to pull the head member away from the engageable end.

Another example embodiment of the system further includes at least means for separating a part of the head member comprising the fracturable member from the engageable end and the shaft portion.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member includes at least a complementary tool.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for manipulating the head member is performable with one hand.

In another example embodiment of the system the complementary tool comprises first and second handles and an actuator housing, the first handle connected to the actuator housing and the second handle pivotably connected to the actuator housing, the second handle being in functional cooperation with the actuator housing, the actuator housing adapted to capture the head member and to bear against the engageable end to break the fracturable member when the second handle is actuated.

In another example embodiment of the system the second handle is adapted to be pivoted away from the first handle to an open configuration, the actuator housing adapted to capture the head member, and wherein, in response to a force applied to the second handle to pivot the second handle toward the first handle to a closed configuration, the actuator housing is adapted to in general, axially bear against the engageable end so as to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the actuator housing further comprises a force-exerting structural means adapted to convert a pivoting rotational force to a generally translational force, the force being of sufficient magnitude to in general, axially bear against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system, in response to a force applied to the first and second handles, the first and second handles and actuator housing are cooperatively adapted to transmit a mechanically multiplied generally translational force to the engageable end, the force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the actuator housing comprises a force-exerting structural means, the force-exerting structural means comprising a force-exerting means and a force-responsive means, the force-exerting means adapted to be carried along a curved path and simultaneously roll during engagement with a surface of the force-responsive means when the second handle is pivoted towards the closed configuration, the force-responsive means adapted for generally translational movement during engagement by the force-exerting means so as to transmit a resultant generally translational force to the engageable end, the force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable means.

In another example embodiment of the system the force-responsive means is an actuating pin and the force-exerting means is a cam.

In another example embodiment of the system the actuator housing is configured so as to define an encapsulating cavity adapted to securely confine the part of the head member after using the means for manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the second handle is frictionally pivotable with respect to the actuator housing so as to prevent unwanted pivoting of the second handle to an open position, and wherein a part of the head member is prevented from being inadvertently released after using the means for manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the second handle is pivotable to a stowed configuration, with the second handle being substantially aligned with the first handle so as to facilitate storage and handling.

Another example embodiment of the system, further includes at least means for capturing a part of the head member within the tool after using the means for manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

Another example embodiment of the system, further includes at least means for protecting the fracturable member from the engageable end so as to prevent undesired access to the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the head member further includes at least a structural element adapted to displace the engageable end away from the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the structural element includes at least a cylindrical standoff member adapted to displace the engageable end from the fracturable member by a selected distance so as to prevent tampering with the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system at least a portion of the head member is hardened to prevent unwanted tampering therewith.

In another example embodiment of the system the lock housing is in functional cooperation with the at least a part of the shaft portion such that the distal end of the shaft portion is adapted to bear against the lock housing, and wherein the lock housing rather than the fracturable member receives any undesired generally translational force transmitted through the engageable end so as to prevent unintended breaking of the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the lock housing has a longitudinal bore therein defining an opening in communication with a cavity, the cavity having an end wall being selectively displaced from the opening such that the distal end of the at least a portion of the shaft bears against the end wall when any undesired generally translational force is transmitted to the engageable end so as to prevent the undesired generally translational force from being transmitted to the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the system the fracturable member is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of the plurality of structures.

In another example embodiment of the system the head member further comprises a head section comprising a ring portion and a force-bearing portion having one end as the engageable end, the force-bearing portion disposed within the ring portion so as to define a circumferentially extending channel therebetween.

In another example embodiment of the system the fracturable member is interposed between the shaft portion and the head section.

In another example embodiment of the system the fracturable member is interposed between the shaft portion and engageable end.

In another example embodiment of the system the means for retaining at least a part of the shaft portion with a lock housing is performable without the use of a tool.

In another example embodiment of the system the plurality of structures comprises first and second ends of a ring adapted to attach a meter to a meter box structure, each of the first and second ends of the ring defining an aperture therein.

An example embodiment of the method provides for creating a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures, each of the plurality of structures defining an aperture therein, the method comprising: inserting a distal end of a locking pin through each of the apertures of the plurality of structures, wherein the locking pin comprises a head member having at least an engageable end and a fracturable member, the locking pin further comprising a shaft portion having the distal end, the fracturable member being disposed intermediate the engageable end and the distal end of the locking pin; and retaining at least a part of the shaft portion with a lock housing, the plurality of structures being securably connected between the head member of the locking pin and the lock housing.

In another example embodiment of the method a portion of the head member is adapted to receive at least two opposing forces, the at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

Another example embodiment of the method further includes at least the step of manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member to disconnect the plurality of structures.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member further includes at least: capturing the head member; and in general, axially bearing against the engageable end to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member is performable by selectively bearing only against the head member rather than the head member and another structure.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member is performable by selectively bearing against only the head member rather than both the head member and the lock housing.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member is performed from only one side of the plurality of structures.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member further comprises applying a first force to a portion of the head member while applying a second force to the engageable end, the second force opposing the first force, the first and second forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member comprises applying a resultant generally axial force against a portion of the head member, the resultant generally axial force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member so as to pull the head member away from the engageable end.

Another example embodiment of the method further includes at least the step of separating a part of the head member comprising the fracturable member from the engageable end and the shaft portion.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member requires the use of a complementary tool.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of manipulating the head member using the complementary tool is performable with one hand.

In another example embodiment of the method the complementary tool comprises first and second handles and an actuator housing, the first handle connected to the actuator housing and the second handle pivotably connected to the actuator housing, the second handle being in functional cooperation with the actuator housing, the actuator housing adapted to capture the head member and to bear against the engageable end to break the fracturable member when the second handle is actuated.

In another example embodiment of the method the second handle is adapted to be pivoted away from the first handle to an open configuration, the actuator housing adapted to capture the head member, and wherein, in response to a force applied to the second handle to pivot the second handle toward the first handle to a closed configuration, the actuator housing is adapted to in general, axially bear against the engageable end so as to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the actuator housing further comprises a force-exerting structure adapted to convert a pivoting rotational force to a generally translational force so as to in general, axially bear against the engageable end, the force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method, in response to a force applied to the first and second handles, the first and second handles and actuator housing are cooperatively adapted to transmit a mechanically multiplied generally translational force to the engageable end, the force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the actuator housing comprises a force-exerting structure, the force-exerting structure comprising a force-exerting member and a force-responsive member, the force-exerting member adapted to be carried along a curved path and simultaneously roll during engagement with a surface of the force-responsive member when the second handle is pivoted towards the closed configuration, the force-responsive member adapted for generally translational movement during engagement by the force-exerting member so as to transmit a resultant generally translational force to the engageable end, the force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the force-responsive member is an actuating pin and the force-exerting member is a cam.

In another example embodiment of the method the actuator housing is configured so as to define an encapsulating cavity adapted to securely confine the part of the head member after the step of manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the second handle is frictionally pivotable with respect to the actuator housing so as to prevent unwanted pivoting of the second handle to an open position, and wherein a part of the head member is prevented from being inadvertently released after the step of manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the second handle is pivotable to a stowed configuration, with the second handle being substantially aligned with the first handle so as to facilitate storage and handling.

Another example embodiment of the method further includes at least the step of capturing a part of the head member within the tool after the step of manipulating the head member to break the fracturable member.

Another example embodiment of the method further includes at least the step of protecting the fracturable member from the engageable end so as to prevent undesired access to the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the head member further comprises a structural element adapted to displace the engageable end away from the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the structural element comprises a cylindrical standoff member adapted to displace the engageable end from the fracturable member by a selected distance so as to prevent tampering with the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method at least a portion of the head member is hardened to prevent unwanted tampering therewith.

In another example embodiment of the method the lock housing is in functional cooperation with the at least a part of the shaft portion such that the distal end of the shaft portion is adapted to bear against the lock housing, and wherein the lock housing rather than the fracturable member receives any undesired generally translational force transmitted through the engageable end so as to prevent unintended breaking of the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the lock housing has a longitudinal bore therein defining an opening in communication with a cavity, the cavity having an end wall being selectively displaced from the opening such that the distal end of the at least a portion of the shaft bears against the end wall when any undesired generally translational force is transmitted to the engageable end so as to prevent the undesired generally translational force from being transmitted to the fracturable member.

In another example embodiment of the method the fracturable member is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of the plurality of structures.

In another example embodiment of the method the head member further comprises a head section comprising a ring portion and a force-bearing portion having one end as the engageable end, the force-bearing portion disposed within the ring portion so as to define a circumferentially extending channel therebetween.

In another example embodiment of the method the fracturable member is interposed between the shaft portion and the head section.

In another example embodiment of the method the fracturable member is interposed between the shaft portion and engageable end.

In another example embodiment of the method the step of retaining at least a part of the shaft portion with a lock housing is performable without the use of a tool.

In another example embodiment of the method the plurality of structures comprises first and second ends of a ring adapted to attach a meter to a meter box structure, each of the first and second ends of the ring defining an aperture therein.

There has thus been outlined, rather broadly, the more important features of the invention in order that the detailed description thereof may be better understood, and in order that the present contribution to the art may be better appreciated. There are additional features of the invention that will be described hereinafter.

In this respect, before explaining at least one example embodiment of the invention in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of construction and to the arrangements of the components set forth in the following description or illustrated in the drawings. The invention is capable of other embodiments and of being practiced and carried out in various ways. Also, it is to be understood that the phraseology and terminology employed herein are for the purpose of the description and should not be regarded as limiting.

To the accomplishment of the above and related objects, this invention may be embodied in the form illustrated in the accompanying drawings, attention being called to the fact, however, that the drawings are illustrative only, and that changes may be made in the specific construction illustrated.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Various other objects, features and attendant advantages of the present invention will become fully appreciated as the same becomes better understood when considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which like reference characters designate the same or similar parts throughout the several views, and wherein:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the present invention in the “locked” position, installed onto a watthour meter box sealing ring in accord with one possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a side-section view of the present invention in the “locked” position, installed onto a watthour meter box sealing ring in accord with one possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is an exploded side view of the present invention showing the path of installation onto a watthour meter box sealing ring.

FIG. 4 is a side-section view of the present invention in the “unlocked” position, installed onto a watthour meter box sealing ring showing the removal path of the ring portion of the locking pin head.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the present invention showing the engagement path of the lock assembly into the lock removal tool in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the present invention showing the engagement path of the lock assembly into the lock removal tool viewed from below in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 7 is a front view of the present invention showing the locking assembly removal tool in the open position in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 8 is a section view of the present invention in the “locked” position, showing the engagement path into the lock assembly removal tool in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 9 is a front view of the present invention showing the locking assembly in the “locked” position, loaded into the lock assembly removal tool in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 10 is a side-section view of the present invention showing the locking assembly in the “locked” position, loaded into the lock assembly removal tool in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 11 is a front view of the present invention showing the lock assembly and lock removal tool in the “unlocked” position in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 12 is a side-section view of the present invention showing the lock assembly and lock removal tool, in the “unlocked” position in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 13 is an exploded perspective view of the present invention showing the lock assembly tool in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 14 is a side-section view of the present invention shown in the “locked” position, installed onto a watthour meter box sealing ring in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 15 is a side-section view of the present invention in the “locked” position, installed onto a watthour meter box sealing ring in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 16 is a side-section view of the present invention shown in the “locked” position, installed onto a watthour meter box sealing ring in accord with another possible embodiment of the present invention.

While the present invention will be described in connection with presently preferred embodiments, it will be understood that it is not intended to limit the invention to those embodiments. On the contrary, it is intended to cover all alternatives, modifications, and equivalents included within the spirit of the invention and as defined in the appended claims.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXAMPLE EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

Turning now descriptively to the drawings, in which similar reference characters denote similar elements throughout the several views, the attached figures illustrate an apparatus for securing a plurality of structures or a portion of a utility service enclosure. For example, in one embodiment, the apparatus is used for securing a watthour meter socket ring so as to prevent the separation of two opposing members of the watthour meter socket box ring. The apparatus may be used for creating a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures. The apparatus may also be used as a locking assembly with at least one structure as will hereinafter be explained in further detail.

Referring now to FIG. 1, there is shown a securing sealing ring 14 for a ringed-type meter box (not shown). In order to hold a meter (not shown) in place and prevent its removal from the meter box, both the meter and meter base incorporate a corresponding set of flanges (not shown) that are retained together with an annular, lockable sealing ring 14. The lockable sealing ring 14 is designed to encase and captivate the corresponding flanges of the meter and base when the ends 11A, 11B of the sealing ring 14 are held or connected together. There are different types of lock devices for holding or connecting the ends 11A, 11B together. Most devices require a key in order to engage and disengage the sealing ring 14 from the meter and base; this type of lock device can be “locked” and “unlocked” multiple times.

Now referring to FIG. 2, there is shown one example embodiment for creating a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures with each of the plurality of structures defining an aperture therein. FIG. 2 shows a plurality of structures 11A, 11B having apertures 18A, 18B which may be any of a variety of structures. In one example embodiment, the plurality of structures comprise first and second ends 11A, 11B of a ring 14, which may be connected or disconnected, the ring being adapted to mount a meter to a meter box structure (not shown). Each of the first and second ends 11A, 11B of the ring 14 define apertures 18A, 18B therein respectively.

Referring now to FIGS. 1-3, there is shown a locking pin 2 with the locking pin having a distal end 5A insertable through each of the apertures 18A, 18B of the plurality of structures. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, the distal end 5A is adapted to be insertable through each of the apertures 18A, 18B of the first and second ends 11A, 11B of the ring 14. The locking pin 2 comprises a head member 6 having at least an engageable end 9A and a fracturable member 17. The locking pin 2 further comprises a shaft portion 5 having the distal end 5A. In the embodiment of FIG. 3, the fracturable member 17 is disposed intermediate the engageable end 9A and the distal end 5A of the locking pin 2. However, the fracturable member may also be disposed so as to be formed integrally with the engageable end of the head member. It should be noted that the fracturable member may also be a frangible or breakable member or any other structure having like characteristics.

As shown in FIGS. 2-3, a lock housing 3 is adapted to retain at least a part 5B of the shaft portion 5, with the plurality of structures or first and second ends 11A, 11B being securably connected between the head member 6 of the locking pin 2 and the lock housing 3.

In one example embodiment, the lock housing 3 preferably has a longitudinal bore therein defining an opening 49 in communication with a cavity 12. The lock housing 3 further comprises a retaining member 4 disposed within a cylindrical groove 13. The cylindrical groove 13 ideally incorporates a sloped surface 16.

As the shaft portion 5 of the locking pin 2 is inserted through the apertures 18A, 18B of sealing ring 14, and then into the opening 12 of the lock housing 3, the shaft cylindrical groove 15 disposed on the locking shaft portion 5 is adapted to receive the retaining member 4, thus retaining the locking pin 2 to the lock housing 3; this is the “locked” position. The flanges 11 of the sealing ring 14 are captivated between the head member 6 of locking pin 2 and the lock housing 3. In one example embodiment, the locking pin 2 is permanently affixed to the lock housing 3.

In another example embodiment, shown in FIG. 15, a retaining pin 11D comprising a shaft portion 55 and a head portion 57, is inserted through apertures disposed in flanges 11C, 11D. An aperture 18C is disposed in shaft portion 55 in a generally perpendicular configuration. When the locking pin 2A and the lock housing 3A are installed through the aperture 18C, the flanges 11C, 11D are captivated between the head portion 57 and the installed locking pin assembly 2A,3A. In this embodiment, the number of flanges to be captivated are not limited to two. The retaining pin 11D and the locking pin assembly 2A,3A may be installed in a single flange, or multiple flanges, depending on the application.

Once in the “locked” position, as shown in FIG. 2, if an attempt is made to separate the locking pin 2 from the lock housing 3, the sloped surface 16 urges the retaining member 4 in a radial direction toward the shaft cylindrical groove 15; this ensures constant retaining member 4 engagement with the shaft cylindrical groove 15, preventing the separation of the locking pin 2 from the lock housing 3.

It should be appreciated, that shaft portion 5, or at least a part thereof, as shown in FIG. 2 may be retained or engaged with the lock housing 3, for example, by hand without the use of a tool.

In another example embodiment shown in FIG. 14, lock housing cavity has an end wall 51 selectively displaced from the cavity opening such that the distal end 5A of the shaft portion 5 bears against the end wall when any undesired generally translational force is transmitted to the engageable end 9A; such a configuration helps prevent an undesired force from being transmitted to the fracturable member 17 and possibly breaking it to defeat the locking apparatus. That is, the lock housing 3 is in functional cooperation with at least a part 5B of the shaft portion 5 such that the distal end 5A of the shaft portion is adapted to bear against the lock housing 3. In this way, the lock housing 3, rather than the fracturable member 17, receives any undesired generally translational force transmitted through the engageable end 9A so as to prevent unintended breaking of the fracturable member.

Referring now to FIGS. 2-4, at least a portion of head member 6 has an outer surface 8, 21 adapted to receive at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member 17. At least a portion of outer surface 8 of the head member is preferably an angled surface. In certain embodiments, a portion of the head member 6 or outer surface 8, is adapted to receive a first force and the engageable end 9A is adapted to receive a second force with the second force opposing the first force. The first and second forces are preferably applied by a complementary tool described in further detail hereinafter. The first and second forces are of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member 17. That is, the head member 6 is adapted to receive a resultant generally axial force against the outer surface 8, 21 of the head member such that the resultant generally axial force is of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member so that a part 38 of the head member comprising the fracturable member 17 may be pulled away from the engageable end 9A. In this way, the part 38 of the head member with the fracturable member 17 is adapted to separate from the engageable end 9A and the shaft portion 5 such that the plurality of structures or ring ends 11A, 11B may be disconnected.

It will be appreciated that the angular surface 8 prevents a common prying or pulling device such as a “gear puller” from gripping the engaging flange 7 in an attempt remove the ring portion 19 from the shaft portion 5.

Turning now to FIGS. 5-6, an example embodiment of the invention is shown, comprising a complementary tool 31, or lock assembly removal tool, which is adapted to manipulate the head member 6 outer surface to break the fracturable member 17. The complementary tool 31 comprises, an actuator housing 39 defining an encapsulating cavity 29 having an interior surface 41 adapted to capture the head member 6. The outer surface 8, 21 of the head member 6 is configured so as to be complementary to the interior surface 41 of the encapsulating cavity 29.

Referring to FIGS. 5-10, and 13, in one example embodiment, the complementary tool 31 is comprised of first and second actuating handles 23A, 23B, a base member 27, a pivoting member 22, two pivot pins 30, 34, an actuating pin 26A, a force-exerting member 24., and a spring member 33. The actuating handles 23A, 23B are securely fastened to the base member 27, and the pivoting member 22. The base member 27 and the pivoting member 22 are preferably joined and rotatably communicate through a common fulcrum defined by apertures 35 and 37, and pivot pin 30 (as shown in FIG. 13). A pin 34 passes through the force-exerting member 24, and the opposing apertures 35 disposed on the pivoting member 22. This captivates the force-exerting member 24 between two flanges on the pivoting member 22, allowing the force-exerting member 24 to pivot. The first handle 23B may be mounted such that it freely rotates or is frictionally pivotable or rotational.

The first handle 23A is preferably fixedly connected to the actuator housing 39 and the second handle 23B is pivotably connected to the actuator housing. Both the first and second handles 23A, 23B could also be detachably mounted to the actuator housing to foster ease of storage and the like.

The second handle 23B is preferably in functional cooperation with the actuator housing 39 with the actuator housing adapted to capture the head member 6 and to bear against the engageable end 9A to break the fracturable member 17 when the second handle is actuated. In an example embodiment, the second handle 23B is preferably adapted to be pivoted away from the first handle 23A to an open configuration or position. In the open configuration, the actuator housing 39 is adapted to capture the head member 6. Then, in response to a force applied to the second handle 23B, the second handle 23B is adapted to pivot toward the first handle 23A to a closed configuration or position. In the closed configuration, the actuator housing 39 is adapted, as mentioned above, to in general, axially bear against the engageable end 9A so as to break the fracturable member 17.

With such a configuration, complementary tool 31 is usable with one hand to manipulate the head member 6.

Turning in particular to FIGS. 7-10, in certain embodiments, the actuator housing 39 comprises a force-exerting structure 43 adapted to convert a pivoting rotational force to a generally translational force so as to in general, axially bear against the engageable end with the force being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member 17.

In an example embodiment as shown in FIG. 8, the force-exerting structure 43 comprises a force-exerting member 24 and a force-responsive member 26. In one example embodiment, the force-exerting member 24 is a cam-like structure or cylinder and the force-responsive member 26 is an actuating pin.

The force-exerting member 24 is preferably adapted to be carried along a curved path and simultaneously rotate or roll during engagement with a surface 25 of the force-responsive member 26 when the second handle 23B is pivoted towards the closed configuration. The force-responsive member 24B is adapted for generally translational movement during engagement by the force-exerting member 24 so as to transmit a resultant generally translational force to the engageable end 9A.

It should be noted that, in response to a force applied to the first and second handles 23A, 23B, the first and second handles and actuator housing 39 are cooperatively adapted to transmit a mechanically multiplied generally translational force to the engageable end 9A. With such a configuration, the force is of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member 17.

In view of the above configuration, it will be appreciated that, the head member 6 is adapted to be manipulated by selectively bearing only against the head member rather than the head member and another structure, such as for example, one of the rings 11A, 11B or the lock housing 3.

The head member 6 is also adapted such that it may be manipulated from only one side of the rings 11A, 11B or other plurality of structures connected or held together.

Referring again to FIG. 4, after manipulating the head member 6 and breaking the fracturable member 17, the encapsulating cavity 29 of the actuator housing 39 is adapted to securely confine the remaining part 38 of the head member 6. In this way, the head member can be captured or held within the tool after using the tool to manipulate the head member.

In an example embodiment, the second handle 23B is frictionally pivotable with respect to the actuator housing 39 so as to prevent unwanted pivoting of the second handle to an open position. With this configuration, the part 38 of the head member 6 is prevented from being inadvertently released after head member is manipulated and the fracturable member 17 is broken.

It will also be appreciated that in another embodiment, the second handle 23B is pivotable to a stowed configuration, with the second handle 23B being substantially aligned with the first handle 23A so as to facilitate storage and handling.

In an alternate embodiment, the complementary tool may comprise the actuator housing without the actuating handles. That is, the actuator housing 39 may have a modular construction and comprise a power source for actuation so as to manipulate the head member. The power source may be electric or some other power source as would be understood by one of skill in the art.

Referring again to in FIGS. 2-4, the head member 6 of locking pin 2 further comprises a structural element 9B adapted to displace a surface 21 of the engageable end 9A away from the fracturable member 17. With such a configuration, structural element 9B serves as an anti-tampering element adapted to distance and protect the fracturable member from the engageable end so as to prevent undesired access to the fracturable member. That is, the material of the structural element would essentially have to be drilled out in order to gain access to and attempt to tamper with fracturable member to break it.

In one example embodiment, the structural element 9B comprises a cylindrical standoff member adapted to displace the engageable end from the fracturable member by a selected distance so as to prevent tampering with the fracturable member. In another embodiment, at least a portion of the head member is hardened to further deter attempts to defeat the locking assembly.

In other embodiments, however, the surface 21A of the engageable end 9C could be integrally formed with and lie substantially in the same plane as that defined by the fracturable member 17B, as shown in FIG. 16 For example, in an example embodiment, the engageable end could be formed with the fracturable 17B such that there is only a part of or no head section 6A.

In another embodiment, the fracturable member is disposed immediately adjacent at least one of the plurality of structures. Such a configuration helps to minimize access to and deter tampering with the fracturable member 17.

Turning again to FIG. 2, in one embodiment, the head member 6 has at least an engageable end 9A and fracturable member 17. The head member may also comprise a head section 6A having at one end the engageable end 9A, and fracturable member 17. The head section 6A preferably comprises a ring portion 19 which has a flanged portion 7 having an angular surface 8, and structural element 9B (or a cylindrical portion) which serves as a force-bearing portion with one end as the engageable end 9A. The structural element 9B is preferably disposed within the ring portion 19 so as to define a circumferentially extending channel 10 therebetween. In one embodiment, the fracturable member is interposed between the shaft portion 5 and a head section 6A. However, in other embodiments, the fracturable member may be interposed at different positions. In certain example embodiments, the fracturable member is interposed between the shaft portion and engageable end or disposed at the engageable end.

In one example embodiment, the locking apparatus creates a tamper-evident seal by securably connecting a plurality of structures, such as for example, ring ends 11A, 11B. Each of the ring ends preferably defines an aperture 18A, 18B therein. The locking pin is insertable into each of the apertures 18A, 18B and preferably comprises a shaft portion, a fracturable member, and a head section having an engageable end. The lock housing is adapted to retain at least a part of the shaft portion, with the ring ends connected between a portion of the locking pin and the lock housing. The head section has a structural configuration adapted to receive at least two opposing forces being of sufficient magnitude to break the fracturable member.

In use, as shown in the example embodiment of FIGS. 5-8, and 13, the encapsulating cavity 29 disposed on the base member 27 of the complementary tool, or lock removal tool 31, is adapted to receive the head member 6 of the locking pin 2. As the handles 23 are urged apart, the base member 27 and the pivoting member 22 of the lock removal tool 31 are pivoted about the pivot pin 30. The force-exerting member 24 is urged away from the actuating pin 26. The spring member 33 urges the actuating pin 26 toward the force-exerting member 24, allowing the head portion 6 of the locking pin 2 to freely enter the encapsulating cavity 29.

As shown in FIGS. 9 and 10, the head member 6 is inserted into the encapsulating cavity 29. An angular surface 28 disposed on base member 27 is adapted to securely retain the engaging flange 7 disposed on ring portion 19 of the head member 6.

As the handles 23A, 23B are urged together, the base member 27 and the pivoting member 22 of the lock removal tool 31 are pivoted about the pivot pin 30. The force-exerting member 24 is urged toward and bears on the surface 25 of actuating pin 26. As briefly mentioned above, the force applied to the actuating handles 23A, 23B is preferably mechanically multiplied and translated to the surface 21 of the structural element or cylindrical portion 9 of the head member 6. When the force applied to the surface 21 of the cylindrical portion 9 by the actuating pin 26 is greater than the ultimate strength of the fracturable portion 17, the ring portion 19 will separate from the remainder of the shaft portion 5, allowing the removal of the remainder of the lock assembly from the sealing ring 14.

Various other example embodiments provide an apparatus that may be adapted for use on a utility service enclosure. Such a utility service enclosure is used not only in the electric utility industry (e.g., a meter box) but also in the gas, water, cable, TV utility industries or in other utility industries.

The design described does not limit the scope of the invention; the number of flanges may change, or various components may be added or removed to the above-described concept to aid in improved security and operation.

The foregoing disclosure and description of the invention is illustrative and explanatory of presently preferred embodiments of the invention and variations thereof, and it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, that various changes in the design, organization, order of operation, means of operation, equipment structures and location, methodology, the use of mechanical equivalents, such as different types of fasteners and locking devices than as illustrated whereby different steps may be utilized, as well as in the details of the illustrated construction or combinations of features of the various elements may be made without departing from the spirit of the invention. As well, the drawings are intended to describe the concepts of the invention so that the presently preferred embodiments of the invention will be plainly disclosed to one of skill in the art but are not intended to be manufacturing level drawings or renditions of final products and may include simplified conceptual views as desired for easier and quicker understanding or explanation of the invention. As well, the relative size and arrangement of the components may be varied from that shown and the invention still operate well within the spirit of the invention as described hereinbefore and in the appended claims. Thus, various changes and alternatives may be used that are contained within the spirit of the invention.

Accordingly, the foregoing disclosure and description of the invention is illustrative and explanatory thereof, and it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, that various changes in the ordering of steps, ranges, interferences, spacings, hardware, and/or attributes and parameters, as well as in the details of the illustrations or combinations of features of the methods and system discussed herein, may be made without departing from the spirit of the invention.