Title:
SNAP-TOGETHER FENCING COMPONENTS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A self-locking panel assembly for mounting between a pair of fence posts or deck posts has a first elongate rail having an elongate lower opening, a second elongate rail having an elongate upper opening, and an elongate fence panel having an upper edge and a lower edge. The upper edge of the panel is inserted into the lower opening of the first elongate rail, and the lower edge of the panel is inserted into the upper opening of the second rail. Catches are formed in the first and second rails and/or in the edges of the fence panel such that when the upper and lower edges of the fence panel are inserted into the openings in the rails, the catches hold the fence panel securely in place in the rails.



Inventors:
Erwin, Ronald D. (Fayetteville, GA, US)
Application Number:
12/337355
Publication Date:
06/18/2009
Filing Date:
12/17/2008
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E04H17/16
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20050279981Under-fence barrierDecember, 2005Onbey
20080135820Winged SlatJune, 2008Hoggan
20030085395Modular railing and bracket thereforMay, 2003Gardner
20020134976Kit for rail assemblySeptember, 2002Swartz
20070246696Fencing system in particular for deer controlOctober, 2007Campbell
20060060831Portable privacy panelsMarch, 2006Seas
20040195561Fence rall cap bracket assemblyOctober, 2004Forbis
20050242335Fencing constructionNovember, 2005Bunn et al.
20050236611Modular railing, fence, gate, and security barsOctober, 2005Vereide et al.
20040262588Variable width crash cushions and end terminalsDecember, 2004Bronstad
20090250673BARRIER AND SECURING POSTOctober, 2009Menzel



Primary Examiner:
KENNEDY, JOSHUA T
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GARDNER GROFF & GREENWALD, PC (Marietta, GA, US)
Claims:
1. A snap-together plastic panel assembly for mounting between two fence posts or deck posts, the snap-together panel assembly comprising: a lower rail with a channel formed therein; an upper rail with a channel formed therein; a middle rail with upper and lower channels formed therein; a lower panel extending between the lower rail and the middle rail; an upper panel extending between the middle rail and the upper rail; and wherein the rails and the panels are held together by snap-together connections therebetween.

2. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 1 wherein the upper and lower panels are barbed.

3. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 2 wherein the barbed panels each have multiple individual barbs formed therein.

4. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 2 wherein at least one of the barbed panels comprises an elongated barb formed along an edge of the panel.

5. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the rails is barbed, having an elongated barb formed along the length of the rail.

6. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 1 where the lower panel is corrugated.

7. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 1 wherein the upper panel is a lattice panel.

8. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the panels is embossed with a wood-grain texture.

9. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 6 wherein the corrugated panel is shaped and configured to allow multiple ones of the corrugated panels to be nested during shipping or storage.

10. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 9 wherein the corrugated panel has barbs or catches formed along at least one edge and the shape and configuration of the panel is adapted to allow multiple ones of the panel to be nested, as for stacking in shipment and storage, without crushing the barbs or catches.

11. The snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the panels is partially foamed to reduce weight, the foamed panel having outer layers which are not foamed sandwiching a foamed core.

12. A self-locking panel assembly for mounting between a pair of fence posts or deck posts, the panel assembly comprising: a first elongate rail having an elongate lower opening; a second elongate rail having an elongate upper opening; an elongate fence panel having an upper edge and a lower edge, the upper edge adapted to be inserted into the lower opening of the first elongate rail, and the lower edge adapted to be inserted into the upper opening of the second rail, and wherein catches are formed in at least one of the first and second rails and/or in the edges of the fence panel such that when the upper and lower edges of the fence panel are inserted into the openings in the rails the catches hold the fence panel securely in place in the rails.

13. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 12 wherein the catches comprise barbs.

14. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 13 wherein the barbs are formed in the edges of the panel.

15. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 13 wherein the barbs are formed in the rails.

16. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 12 wherein the panel is a privacy panel.

17. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 12 wherein the panel is a lattice panel.

18. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 12 further comprising: a third elongated rail having an elongated lower opening, wherein the first elongated rail further comprises an upper elongated opening; and a lattice panel having an upper edge and a lower edge, the upper edge adapted to be inserted into the lower opening of the third elongated rail and the lower edge adapted to be inserted into the upper edge of the first elongated rail.

19. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 18 further comprising a plurality of catches formed into at least one of the first and third rails and/or in the edges of the lattice panel such that when the upper and lower edges of the lattice panel are inserted into the openings in the rails the catches hold the lattice panel securely in place in the rails.

20. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 16 wherein the privacy panel is a corrugated panel.

21. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 20 wherein the corrugated panel has barb-like catches formed therein.

22. The self-locking panel assembly of claim 16 wherein the privacy panel comprises one or more solid board-like elements.

23. A snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 18 wherein at least one of the panels is embossed with a wood-grain texture.

24. A snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 12 wherein the panel comprises a corrugated panel with barbs or catches formed along at least one edge and the shape and configuration of the panel is adapted to allow multiple ones of the panel to be nested, as for stacking in shipment and storage, without crushing the barbs or catches.

25. A snap-together plastic panel assembly of claim 18 wherein at least one of the panels is partially foamed to reduce weight, the foamed panel having outer layers which are not foamed sandwiching a foamed core.

26. A plastic panel for use in a fence between fence posts or in a deck railing between deck posts, the plastic panel comprising: a corrugated plastic panel having barbs or catches formed therein along upper and lower edges of the corrugated plastic panel; and wherein the corrugated plastic panel is sized and configured to allow multiple ones of the panel to be stacked in a closely nested arrangement for shipping and/or storage without crushing the barbs or catches formed therein.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The benefit of the filing date of U.S. provisional patent application Ser. No. 61/014,629, filed Dec. 18, 2007, entitled SNAPTOGETHER FENCING COMPONENTS, is hereby claimed, and the specification thereof is incorporated herein by this reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates generally to modular fencing components, and in particular to fencing components that snap together.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Outdoor fencing and deck railings have often been made of wood. In recent years, plastic/resin has emerged as a material often used to manufacture fencing and decking products. Plastic/resin fencing and deck railing products tend to be relatively low cost to manufacture, but can be more difficult to assemble and install in the field, particularly by end consumers and “do-it-yourselfers” (DIYers). To address this, fencing and deck railings are sometimes factory-assembled into panel assemblies and then sold as completed assemblies ready for installation by the DIYers. While this approach addresses the ease of assembly issue, it can have other drawbacks. One such drawback is that the assembled panel assemblies can be more costly to ship, as they consume more space in shipping than would the individual parts. This is so because the individual parts typically can be more densely packed since there is no need to leave empty spaces between the parts (as there would be in a finished assembly). This same lack of compactness also requires more shelf space for displaying and retailing the assemblies in a home store.

Accordingly, it can be seen that a need remains in the art for a fence panel assembly/deck railing assembly that can be shipped and inventoried as individual components, but which can be assembled and installed quickly and easily by a DIYer or others. It is to the provision of such that the present invention is primarily directed.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Advantageously, the present invention provides a snap-together fence system that can be configured largely without the use of the tools. Preferably, the snap-together fence system includes a self-locking panel assembly for mounting between a pair of fence posts or deck posts (typically already driven or sunk into the ground). The self-locking panel assembly includes at least one elongate fence panel, such as a lattice panel or a privacy panel, and a pair of elongate rails. The first (or upper) rail includes an elongate lower opening, and the second (or lower) rail includes an elongate upper opening. The elongate fence panel has an upper edge that is adapted to be inserted into the lower opening of the upper elongate rail and a lower edge that is adapted to be inserted into the upper opening of the second rail. Catches are formed in the upper and lower rails and/or in the edges of the fence panel such that when the upper and lower edges of the fence panel are inserted into the openings in the rails, the catches hold the fence panel securely in place in the rails. Preferably, the catches are barbs formed in the edges of the elongate panel. Alternatively, the catches can be barbs formed in the rails.

Optionally, the self-locking panel assembly includes a third rail and a second elongate panel. Thus, a pair of panels can be stacked vertically and mounted between the three rails.

The barbs or catches can take the form of barb-shaped panels or multiple individual barbs formed along the edge of the panel.

Optionally, the panel assembly can include only one panel, instead of a lower panel and an upper panel. Also, the panel(s) can be plain, lattice-like, board-like (having at least the appearance of individual boards), and/or corrugated. Also, individual board-like elements can be provided, to give the appearance of wooden boards arranged side-by-side, but made from resin/plastic, and utilizing catches to secure the board-like elements to rails.

Optionally, at least one of the panels is embossed with a wood-grain texture.

Also, optionally the panel assembly includes at least one corrugated panel which is shaped and configured to allow multiple ones of the corrugated panels to be nested during shipping or storage. Preferably, the corrugated panel has barbs or catches formed along at least one edge and the shape and configuration of the panel is adapted to allow multiple ones of the panel to be nested, as for stacking in shipment and storage, without crushing the barbs or catches.

Optionally, at least one of the panels is partially foamed to reduce weight, with the foamed panel having outer layers which are not foamed and sandwiching a foamed core.

The specific techniques and structures employed by the invention to improve over the drawbacks of the prior art and accomplish the advantages described herein will become apparent from the following detailed description of example embodiments of the invention and the appended drawings and claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of a modular fence system 10 according to a first example embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is an exploded front perspective view of rail, post and panel portions of the modular fence system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is an exploded side view of rail and panel portions of the modular fence system of FIGS. 1.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a portion of the corrugated panel of FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a side sectional view of the portion of the corrugated panel of FIG. 4.

FIG. 6 is a top view of a portion of a corrugated panel similar to that of FIG. 4 and showing a pair of panel portions connected to one another to form a larger corrugated panel.

FIG. 7 is an exploded front perspective view of the connected panels of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is a top view of a portion of corrugated panels of FIG. 4 shown nests together for shipping or storage.

FIG. 9 is a front perspective exploded view of an alternate panel construction.

FIG. 10A is an exploded side sectional view of the portion of the panel and rail of FIG. 9.

FIG. 10B is a side sectional view of a portion of the panel and rail of FIG. 10A.

FIGS. 11A and 11B are side sectional views of panels in optional forms.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention may be understood more readily by reference to the following detailed description of the invention taken in connection with the accompanying drawing figures, which form a part of this disclosure. It is to be understood that this invention is not limited to the specific devices, methods, conditions or parameters described and/or shown herein, and that the terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments by way of example only and is not intended to be limiting of the claimed invention. Also, as used in the specification including the appended claims, the singular forms “a,” “an,” and “the” include the plural, and reference to a particular numerical value includes at least that particular value, unless the context clearly dictates otherwise. Ranges may be expressed herein as from “about” or “approximately” one particular value and/or to “about” or “approximately” another particular value. When such a range is expressed, another embodiment includes from the one particular value and/or to the other particular value. Similarly, when values are expressed as approximations, by use of the antecedent “about,” it will be understood that the particular value forms another embodiment.

FIG. 1 is a front view of a modular fence system 10 according to a first example embodiment of the present invention. FIG. 2 is an exploded front perspective view of the modular fence system 10 in FIG. 1. As shown in these figures, the modular fence system 10 includes a self-locking panel assembly 12 for mounting between a pair of posts 14 and 16 (such as fence posts or deck posts). Preferably, the panel assembly 12 includes an upper elongate panel 18 and a lower elongate panel 20 connected together with a plurality of rails: an upper rail 22, a lower rail 24, and a middle rail 26. As depicted, the upper panel 18 comprises a lattice pattern, while the lower panel 20 comprises a corrugated panel. As depicted, the upper panel 18 has dimensions of about 6 feet long×1½ feet high×¼ inch thick, while the lower panel 20 has dimensions of about 6 feet long×4½ feet high×0.070 inches thick. Thus, in the depicted embodiment, the fence system 10 provides a privacy-type fence with a decorative top. However, those skilled in the art will understand that the dimensions can vary in alternative embodiments. For example, both the upper and lower panels can have dimensions that are approximately equal.

Advantageously, the panel assembly can be constructed to have upper and lower panels (as depicted in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2) or simply can have a single panel. Likewise, while the panel assembly 10 of FIG. 1 shows a lower privacy portion and a lattice upper portion, the panel assembly can be constructed to be all privacy, all lattice, all corrugated, all individual board-like elements, or various combinations. Likewise, the panel portions can be single layer constructions or multi-layer constructions, as will be described in connection with FIGS. 11A, 11B.

In an alternative embodiment, the upper panel can have a picket-like pattern. The pattern can have the appearance of spaced apart pickets or closely abutting pickets. Still alternatively, the upper panel can be constructed as a corrugated panel. Similarly, the lower panel can have a pattern that has a lattice or picket-like appearance. Those skilled in the art will understand that the self locking panel assembly 12 can include a single panel between a pair of rails or a plurality of panels stacked vertically and/horizontally between a plurality of rails. In such instances, a plurality of horizontally abutting panels can be secured to each rail.

Each rail comprises an elongate opening or channel for receiving a portion of the elongate panel, as best seen in the exploded side view of the panel assembly 12 in FIG. 3. As shown, the upper rail 22 includes a lower elongate opening 30 for receiving an upper edge of the panel 18. The lower rail 24 includes an upper elongate opening 32 for receiving a lower edge of the panel 20. The middle rail 26 includes both an upper elongate opening 34 for receiving a lower edge of the panel 18 and a lower elongate opening 36 for receiving an upper edge of the panel 20. Preferably, the elongate openings 30, 32, 34, and 36 each have a constricted mouth 44 that opens into a wider area 46, as shown with reference to rail 24 in FIG. 3.

Preferably, a plurality of catches or barbs 40 is formed in the edges of each fence panel at appropriately spaced apart intervals along or proximate the edges of the panel. The barbs 40 can be die punched from its respective panel. Alternatively, the barbs 40 can be molded. Thus, when an edge of the fence panel is inserted into the opening of the rail, the barbs insert through the constricted mouth of the elongate opening and flare out such that they cannot be pulled back through the constricted mouth, thereby holding the fence panel securely in place in the rail.

For example, FIG. 4 depicts a perspective view of a portion of the corrugated panel 20, and FIG. 5 shows its side view. As shown the barbs 40 can be punched from the panel material at approximately ¾″ from the bottom edge and engage the rail 24 to securely hold the panel 20 in the rail. Those skilled in the art will understand that in other embodiments, the catches 40 can have other configurations and placements and still be within the scope of the present invention.

In the preferred embodiment, the panel 20 is a unitary element that spans six feet in width. Alternatively, the width of the panel can be achieved by utilizing two narrower panels and linking them together. For example, as shown in FIGS. 6 and 7, two more horizontally abutting corrugated panels can be linked, with the side edge 50 of the corrugated panel 20 rolled or bent to engage a cooperating side edge 52 of an adjacent panel 60, as depicted in FIG. 6. Thus, adjacent corrugated panels can be locked together at their sides.

FIG. 7 is a perspective front view of the panels 20 and 60 depicted in FIG. 6. As shown, when the adjacent panels are connected with the cooperating side edges.

Alternatively or additionally, catches or barbs 140 can be formed in the rail 122 for holding the panel 120 within the rail, as depicted in FIGS. 8, 9, 10A and 10B. Thus, the panel 120 can include a pair of notches 124 that cooperates with the barbs 140. Still alternatively or additionally, the front and rear surfaces of the panel 120 can be rough or have a textured surface that the barbs of the rail 122 can engage to securely hold the panel therein.

Advantageously, the corrugated panels are constructed and configured to allow them to be nested for compact shipping and storage. In this regard, the “draft” of the angled portions of the corrugations is selected to create interference as the panels nest sufficient to allow close nesting of the panels, but not so close as to crush the barbs or catches formed at the edges of the corrugated panels. Preferably, a space of between about 1/16 and ⅜ inch or so is maintained as an anti-crush zone for the barbs/catches. In this way, the corrugated panels can be more economically shipped and stored, without damage to the panels. When compared to shipping pre-built (pre-assembled) panels, the present invention provides a substantial reduction in shipping space. Indeed, in a typical prior art pre-assembled panel, perhaps about 350 or so panels can be shipped in a standard truck (tractor trailer). By contrast, as many as 1,000 or so of the present panel assemblies can be shipped (unassembled, but with some parts nested) in the same size truck. This allows a sizable reduction in shipping costs. Inasmuch as shipping costs can be on the same order of magnitude as the wholesale cost of the panel assembly itself, this savings in shipping costs stemming from the unique product configuration can be significant.

FIGS. 11A and 11B are side sectional views of panels in optional forms. In FIG. 11A, the panel is shown to have a single layer construction. In this form, the panel resin typically is not foamed, so as to maintain appropriate strength and appearance. On the other hand, as shown in FIG. 11B, the panel can have a multi-layer construction in which the outer layers are not foamed, while the inner layer is foamed to reduce weight and cost. It is contemplated that the inner layer can be foamed as much as 60% or so. This could be manufactured as a multi-layer extrusion. The particular foaming agent used can be selected as needed according to the wishes of one skilled in the art. The reduction in resin content by foaming part of the panel can save substantial money in resin costs and in energy consumed in manufacturing the panel. Indeed, weight savings of 25% or so are contemplated in some circumstances.

Preferably, the panels, rails, and posts of the modular fence system 10 are constructed of a substantially rigid and durable material such as plastic or resin. In a preferred commercial embodiment, the panels are constructed of PVC that is white in color, as are the rails and posts, although any weather-resistant resin can be used. Preferably, the resin is UV-stabilized. It is contemplated that PVC may be used to construct other parts of the modular fence system 10 as well. If a resin lattice is included, preferably the lattice is constructed of high density polyethylene (HDPE), also white in color. Optionally, the panels, rails, and posts can be embossed to give the appearance of wood grain. In alternative embodiments, the panels, rails, and posts can be constructed of other resins, aluminum, wood, or a wood-plastic composite material.

To install the modular fence system 10 of the present invention, the user drives posts into the ground at appropriately spaced locations. The user inserts the upper edge of the panel 18 into the lower elongate opening 30 of the upper rail 22 until it snaps (or locks) in place and the lower edge of the panel 18 into the upper elongate opening 34 of the middle rail 26 until it snaps (or locks) in place. Similarly, the user inserts the upper edge of the panel 20 into the lower elongate opening 36 of the middle rail 26 until it snaps (or locks) in place and the lower edge of the panel 20 into the upper elongate opening 32 of the lower rail 24 until it snaps (or locks) in place. The panel assembly 12 (with panels and rails connected together) can be fastened or secured to the posts with brackets using conventional fasteners or fastening techniques.

While the invention has been described with reference to preferred and example embodiments, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that a variety of modifications, additions and deletions are within the scope of the invention, as defined by the following claims.





 
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