Title:
Balloon Inflation System
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Apparatus for inflating a balloon (10) and keeping the balloon inflated whilst a substance (13) is introduced into the balloon, comprises a container (1) having a lid (2). The lid has an opening (4) arranged such that a balloon can be positioned in the container with its neck open, aligned* with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid. A non-return valve (3) permits gas to be displaced from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated. The non-return valve (3) is provided in a conduit (7) extending from the lid (2) to adjacent the base of the container. Once the balloon (10) has been inflated the substance (13) can be introduced into the balloon by a funnel (12). A release valve (6) is provided to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon, so as to permit controlled contraction of the balloon around the substance.



Inventors:
Crawshaw, Benjamin (Furners Green, GB)
Application Number:
12/278920
Publication Date:
06/18/2009
Filing Date:
02/08/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
141/348
International Classes:
B65B31/04
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
CERNOCH, STEVEN MICHAEL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MCDONNELL BOEHNEN HULBERT & BERGHOFF LLP (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
1. Apparatus for inflating a balloon and keeping the balloon inflated whilst a substance is introduced into the balloon, comprising a container having a lid with an opening arranged such that a balloon can be positioned in the container with its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; and a non return valve to permit gas to be displaced from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated by urging gas under pressure through the opening into the neck of the balloon; wherein a valve is provided to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon once the substance has been introduced into the balloon, so as to permit controlled contraction of the balloon around the substance.

2. Apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the non-return valve is associated with the lid.

3. Apparatus as claimed in claim 2, wherein a conduit extends from an aperture in the lid to a region of the container which is remote from the lid, the non-return valve being provided in the conduit.

4. Apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the valve means provided to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon is associated with the lid.

5. Apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the opening in the lid is provided with a tubular extension for engagement with the neck of the balloon.

6. Apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the opening in the lid is provided with means for sealing engagement with a pump outlet.

7. Apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the lid forms a snap fit with the container.

8. Apparatus as claimed in claim 7, wherein a seal is provided between the lid and the container.

9. A method of inflating a balloon and introducing a substance into a balloon, comprising inserting the balloon into a container having a lid with an opening, so that the balloon has its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; urging gas under pressure through the opening into the neck of the balloon and permitting gas to be displaced through a non return valve from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated; introducing the substance into the balloon through the open neck; sealing the neck of the balloon with the substance inside; and removing the balloon from the container; wherein the substance is a flowable substance, and wherein a valve is operated to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon once the flowable substance has been introduced into the balloon, so as to permit controlled contraction of the balloon around the substance before the neck of the balloon is sealed.

10. A method as claimed in claim 9, wherein the flowable substance is a liquid.

11. A method as claimed in claim 9, wherein the flowable substance is particulate material.

12. A method of inflating a balloon and introducing a substance into a balloon, comprising inserting the balloon into a container having a lid with an opening, so that the balloon has its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; pumping gas through the opening into the neck of the balloon and permitting gas to be displaced through a non return valve from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated; introducing the substance into the balloon through the open neck; sealing the neck of the balloon with the substance inside; and removing the balloon from the container; wherein the substance is a flowable substance, and wherein gas is introduced into the space in the container outside the balloon once the flowable substance has been introduced into the balloon, so as to permit contraction of the balloon around the flowable substance before the neck of the balloon is sealed.

13. Apparatus for inflating a balloon and keeping the balloon inflated whilst an object or substance is introduced into the balloon, comprising a container having a lid with an opening arranged such that a balloon can be placed in the container with its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; and a non return valve to permit gas to be displaced from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated by urging gas under pressure through the opening into the neck of the balloon; wherein a conduit extends from an aperture in the lid to a region of the container which is remote from the lid, the non-return valve being provided in the conduit.

Description:

This invention relates to apparatus and a method for inflating a balloon and keeping it inflated whilst the balloon is filled with a substance.

It has been proposed in, for example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,141,941 to provide apparatus for inflating a balloon and maintaining it in an inflated state whilst providing access to the interior of the balloon so that an object such as a stuffed toy can be placed through the neck and into the balloon. The neck of the balloon can then be sealed off with the object inside the balloon. The purpose of such a procedure is to use the balloon as novelty packaging for the object.

In U.S. Pat. No. 6,141,941, the balloon is positioned inside a container. Air is blown into the neck of the balloon by means of an integral blower. As the balloon is inflated, air is displaced from the container into which the balloon expands. One possibility mentioned is that this may be through a one-way valve. The displacement of air from the container through the one way valve results in a reduced pressure within the container, this serving to maintain the balloon in the inflated state even with the neck of the balloon open and exposed to the atmosphere so that an object can be inserted into the balloon.

The present invention is particularly, but not exclusively, concerned with a system that is adapted for introducing a flowable substance into the balloon. Such a substance could be a liquid such as water, or a flowable particulate material such as rice, flour, beans, sand and so forth, or a mixture of substances. Balloons filled in such a manner may used for a number of purposes, such as stress balls, juggling balls, water bombs and stress head characters.

Viewed from one aspect, the present invention provides apparatus for inflating a balloon and keeping the balloon inflated whilst a substance is introduced into the balloon, comprising a container having a lid with an opening arranged such that a balloon can be placed in the container with its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; and a non return valve to permit gas to be displaced from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated by urging gas under pressure through the opening into the neck of the balloon; characterised in that valve means are provided to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon once the substance has been introduced into the balloon, so as to permit controlled contraction of the balloon around the substance.

In this manner, the balloon can contract to an appropriate size around the desired quantity of substance which has been introduced into the balloon, and there will be no sudden contraction of the balloon that could result in unwanted expulsion of the substance. Such a problem does not arise with a system such as that in U.S. Pat. No. 6,141,941 where the balloon is left inflated in a taut condition spaced from the object that has been introduced.

Viewed from another aspect, the present invention provides a method of inflating a balloon and introducing a substance into a balloon, comprising inserting the balloon into a container having a lid with an opening, so that the balloon has its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; urging gas under pressure through the opening into the neck of the balloon and permitting gas to be displaced through a non return valve from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated; introducing the substance into the balloon through the open neck; sealing the neck of the balloon with the substance inside; and removing the balloon from the container; characterised in that the substance is a flowable substance, and in that valve means are operated to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon once the flowable substance has been introduced into the balloon, so as to permit controlled contraction of the balloon around the substance before the neck of the balloon is sealed.

It will be appreciated that in some cases it may not be necessary to have valve means to permit controlled introduction of gas into the space in the container outside the balloon, and that the balloon may simply be permitted to contract naturally at its own rate around the substance. Thus, viewed from a further aspect, the present invention provides a method of inflating a balloon and introducing a substance into a balloon, comprising inserting the balloon into a container having a lid with an opening, so that the balloon has its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; pumping gas through the opening into the neck of the balloon and permitting gas to be displaced through a non return valve from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated; introducing the substance into the balloon through the open neck; sealing the neck of the balloon with the substance inside; and removing the balloon from the container; characterised in that the substance is a flowable substance, and in that gas is introduced into the space in the container outside the balloon once the flowable substance has been introduced into the balloon, so as to permit contraction of the balloon around the flowable substance before the neck of the balloon is sealed.

The valve means used to control deflation of the balloon around the substance in accordance with the first two aspects of the invention may be incorporated into the non-return valve. Thus, there may be a single valve which acts as a one way valve until a component is operated to permit reverse flow. Preferably, and for ease of construction, there are two separate valves.

The non-return valve and the valve means used to control deflation need not be conventional valves. For example, the non return valve could be provided by distortion of the lid and container with respect to each other to permit gas to escape from inside the container. Controlled deflation may be provided, for example, by controlling the manner in which the lid is opened after the balloon has been filled, so that only a restricted flow of gas into the container is permitted initially. Preferably though, and for ease of construction, conventional types of valve are used.

In a preferred arrangement, the non-return valve is associated with the lid, as is the deflation control valve if provided. This means that the container body can be of simple construction, with the lid being the only component requiring details. The non-return valve need not be mounted on the lid as such, but can be associated with it by being connected to an aperture in the lid via a suitable conduit.

Associating the non-return valve with the lid improves the ease of manufacture. However, a problem may arise in terms of ensuring that air can be displaced from the container throughout the period that gas is being pumped into the balloon. The balloon will expand widthways as well as longitudinally away from the neck, which is received by the lid. If the balloon engages the sides of the container before the balloon has expanded fully in the longitudinal direction, then the gas in the lower part of the container, below the engagement of the balloon with the sides of the container, will be impeded from escaping via the non-return valve. Accordingly, in a preferred embodiment there is provided a conduit extending from an opening in the lid to a region adjacent the end of the container remote from the lid. The non-return valve may be provided in the lid or at any point along the conduit. The conduit will be of a material that will resist the compressive force on the balloon so as to ensure that there is a free passage for gas from the remote end of the container as the balloon is inflated.

Accordingly, viewed from another aspect the present invention provides apparatus for inflating a balloon and keeping the balloon inflated whilst an object or substance is introduced into the balloon, comprising a container having a lid with an opening arranged such that a balloon can be placed in the container with its neck open, aligned with the opening and in sealing engagement with the lid; and a non return valve to permit gas to be displaced from the space in the container outside the balloon whilst the balloon is inflated by urging gas under pressure through the opening into the neck of the balloon; characterised in that a conduit extends from an aperture in the lid to a region of the container which is remote from the lid, the non-return valve being provided in the conduit.

Preferably, the conduit extends from the lid to beyond half way towards the end of the container remote from the lid.

In normal use, the gas referred to for all aspects of the invention will be air although it might for example be possible to inflate the balloon with a gas such as helium. This may be of use in aspects of the invention in which the balloon has an object placed inside, and is maintained substantially fully inflated around the object.

Inflation of the balloon may be by any suitable means for producing gas under pressure, such as a hand pump, foot pump, electrical pump, cylinder of compressed gas and so forth. Preferably the lid is provided with a connector for receiving the outlet of the means for producing gas under pressure so that gas can be passed through the opening in the lid and through the neck of the balloon to inflate the balloon. The lid could be provided with a tube into which a person could blow to inflate the balloon.

Once a balloon has been filled extra balloons can be stretched around it to provide strength and also to produce multi-coloured balls and toys. Stick-on eyes or other features, and wool for hair may be added to filled balloons to create balloon characters.

In preferred embodiments of some aspects of the invention, there is provided an easy way of filling balloons and making balls and toys. The system is simple and easy to use and child safe. The preferred system provides apparatus for a fun arts and craft activity which has benefits of repetitive play. The system provides an educational toy which teaches about valves, vacuums, pressures and pumps, and which can be used as visual demonstration to prove these theories. The preferred embodiment provides a system which can be manufactured and mass produced at a low cost by incorporating simple components. In the preferred system, a balloon may be controllably inflated and deflated.

It will be appreciated that the various embodiments of the invention may be combined together in operative combinations.

The container and lid can both be of a suitable material such as plastics, metal, wood, glass, or a combination of these materials. The lid may be permanently attached to the container and be openable, or for example may be removable from the container. Thus the lid may screw on to the container or for example may clip to the container. The lid should form a sealing engagement with the container. In one preferred embodiment both the container and lid are of plastics, and the lid snaps on to the container, compressing a seal.

Some embodiments of the invention will now be described by way of example and with reference tom the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1. shows a side view of the balloon filling machine;

FIG. 2. shows a bird's eye view of the lid with its clips spread horizontally;

FIG. 3. shows a side view of the lid and a balloon;

FIG. 4. shows a balloon threaded through the hole in the lid;

FIG. 5. shows the balloon stretched over the lip of the hole;

FIG. 6. shows the lid attached to the container and a pump;

FIG. 7. shows the balloon being inflated;

FIG. 8. shows the balloon inflated and the pump removed;

FIG. 9. shows a funnel in the opening of the balloon and the balloon being filled;

FIG. 10. shows the release valve pressed and the balloon shrinking around the filling; and

FIG. 11. shows the lid unclipped and the balloon detached from the lid.

As shown in FIG. 1 a balloon filling machine in accordance with various aspects of the invention comprises a generally cylindrical container 1 and a circular lid 2, both of plastics material, which are shown in an unassembled condition. The container 1 and lid 2 are preferably made of a translucent plastic material so as the operations inside the container can be viewed by the operator of the machine. The lid 2 has an aperture with a plastics tube 7 attached to it which houses a one-way valve 3. The valve 3 allows air to pass from inside the container to the outside, through the aperture in the lid, and not outside to inside. The tube 7 is in place to prevent the air passage to the valve 3 from becoming blocked as a balloon is inflated, and extends to adjacent the bottom of the container 1, remote from the lid 2. If the tube 7 was not present, it is possible that a balloon being inflated inside the container 1 would touch the sides of the container 1 blocking the passage of air from the bottom of the container to the valve on the lid. In this preferred design the tube 7 is included for ease of manufacture by combining all mechanics of the apparatus on the lid 2. In particular this reduces the costs of injection moulding production of the container.

The lid 2 has an opening through the, top which has a circular lip/rim 4 of the type a balloon opening can be attached to by hand. A balloon is attached by threading it through the opening in the lid 2, preferably from the underside and then stretching the mouth of the balloon out and folding it over the tubular lip/rim 4.

The lid 2 also contains a release valve 6 for controllable deflation of a balloon. The release valve 6 shown, is a simple spring loaded push button, which in its natural state maintains an airtight seal. When the release valve 6 is pressed this seal is broken, allowing air into the container 1. For ease of description the one-way exhaust valve 3 and the release valve 6 are separate in the present embodiment, however it is possible to combine the two in one moving part.

The lid 2 is attached to the container by means of clips 8 which are part of the lid 2. The clips attach to a circular rim 9 on the container 1 by means of a snap fit. The circular rim 9 extends around the circumference of the container 1 so the clips 8 can be attached regardless of what position the lid 2 is in. The lid 2 is provided with an annular seal 5 received in a groove. The seal 5 is preferably made of a rubber or synthetic rubber material and in this instance is a simple O ring. When the lid 2 is attached to the container 1 and clips 8 snapped under rim 9, the lid is clamped to the container and the seal 5 creates an airtight seal between the lid 2 and container 1.

FIG. 2 shows a plan view of the lid 2.

FIGS. 3 to 11 show, step by step, how the balloon filling machine in accordance with the invention is used.

FIG. 3 is a side view of the lid 2 and a balloon 10 ready to be attached to the lid. FIG. 4 shows the balloon 10 threaded through the hole in the lid 2, and in FIG. 5 the neck of the balloon 10 has been stretched over the lip 4 so as to be sealed around the opening in the lid.

In FIG. 6 the lid 2 with balloon 10 has been attached to the container 1, and clipped on using the clips 8. A hand pump 11 is then inserted into the opening in the lead, forming a seal, and used to inflate the balloon. FIG. 7 shows the balloon 10 being inflated. As the balloon is inflated the air from inside the container is forced up the tube 7, through the one way valve 3 and out through the aperture in the lid 2.

The one way valve 3, and the fact that the release valve 6 remains closed, means that as the balloon 10 inflates, air is urged out of the container volume outside of the balloon 10 and there is a reduction in pressure in that volume, i.e. a partial vacuum. FIG. 8 shows that when the pump 11 is removed, and the neck of the balloon opened to atmosphere, the balloon 10 stays inflated. FIG. 8 also shows how the tube 7 allows air to pass out from the bottom region of the container, even though the balloon is tight against the side wall of the container.

With the balloon 10 inflated and the open neck exposed, FIG. 9 shows how a funnel 12 is inserted in to the inflated balloon 6. It is now possible to fill the balloon by pouring a flowable filling substance 13, such as sand, into the funnel 12.

Once the desired quantity of substance has been introduced into the balloon, as shown in FIG. 10 the release valve 6 button is pressed down allowing air into the container. The balloon 10 then deflates and shrinks around the filling substance 13.

As shown in FIG. 11, the lid 2 is removed and the filled balloon 10 is detached from the lip 4. The neck of the balloon can then be either tied off in a conventional manner, or for example extra balloons can be stretched over it to create balls and toys.

In a modified version, not shown, the lid 11 may be plain apart from the central opening with the rim 4, and the clips 8. A one-way valve is provided directly in the wall of the container, adjacent its bottom end. A release valve similar to valve 6 can also be provided in the container where desired.

If using a container with equal height, width and depth, and a balloon which forms a sphere, the balloon 10 will not contact the side walls of the container before the balloon has fully expanded and contacted the base of the container. In such a case the position of the one-way valve may not be critical.

Thus, in accordance with some embodiments of aspects on the invention, there is provided a device whereby a balloon can be inflated and maintain in an inflated state inside a container for purpose of filling and which can then be controllably deflated causing the balloon to shrink around the filling. Embodiments provide a wide necked container with a detachable lid. The lid includes a one-way air valve which allows air to pass out from inside the container. The valve is housed inside a tube which is attached to the lid and which extends to the bottom of the container when the lid is attached to the container. The lid has a hole through the top which has a circular lip/rim of the type a balloon opening can be attached to. A balloon is threaded through the hole in the lid and its neck attached to the lip/rim. When the lid is attached to the container the balloon can be inflated inside the container pushing air out through the one-way valve. Because no air can pass back through the valve the balloon stays inflated, this being due to the difference in pressure between the inside of the balloon and the inside of the container. It is then possible to fill the balloon through its neck by means of a funnel. The lid also includes a release valve which when pressed will let air into the container allowing controllable deflation of the balloon, which then shrinks around the filling.

The expression “balloon” used herein is not to be construed narrowly as meaning, for example, a balloon of the type used at parties. It extends to any suitable inflatable body of resilient material, whether or not it might be classed normally as a bag, bladder and so forth. Similarly the expression “neck£ is not to be construed narrowly and extends to any suitable portion through which air or another gas can be introduced, including for example a separate or integral inflating tube.

The precise arrangement of lid, container and balloon is not necessarily critical. The important thing is that an inflatable object is held in an inflated condition whilst an opening provides access to its interior without the need to maintain exterior pressure to keep inflatable object inflated. Thus, for example the various aspects of the invention may be applicable to apparatus for inflating an object and keeping the object inflated whilst something is introduced into the object, comprising a container having a lid arranged such that the object can be placed in the container with an access through the lid to the object open, the arrangement being such that there is a seal between the inside of the object and the container, so that gas can be displaced from the space in the container outside the object whilst the object is inflated by urging gas under pressure into the object.