Title:
Shipping container
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention provides a reusable container for shipping parcels that is both durable for repeated use and is provided with a reusable, inflatable bladder, cushioning material. The container includes an improved closure that both protects the container contents and is durable enough to serve as a support surface for other containers stacked thereon. The container also employs a seal to prevent water intrusion, is configured to nest for storage, and employs an improved lifting and carrying system that evenly distributes the weight of the container.



Inventors:
Dickinson, Kent H. (Covington, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/665762
Publication Date:
07/02/2009
Filing Date:
03/18/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D81/02; A45C13/02; B65D81/05; B65D81/127; B65D85/30; A45C5/14
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
GRANO, ERNESTO ARTURIO
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Michael R. Henson & Associates, LLC (Greenwood Village, CO, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A reusable container adapted to receive an item for shipment to an intended recipient, comprising: (A) an outer shell, including (1) a bottom wall; and (2) a surrounding sidewall extending upwardly from said bottom wall and defining an interior for receiving the item to be shipped; (B) an inflatable bladder disposed in the interior and adapted to receive a filling medium such that when at least partially filled, said bladder is interposed between the item to be shipped and at least one of said bottom wall and said surround sidewall; (C) a lid supported by said outer shell and movable between an open position to permit access to the interior and a closed position to enclose the interior; (D) a securement system supported by said outer shell and adapted to retain said lid in the closed position.

2. A reusable container according to claim 1 including an aperture formed through said outer shell in fluid communication with said bladder whereby said filling medium may be communicated thereto.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is broadly directed to containers. Particularly, the present invention is directed to shipping containers useful for transporting parcels between senders and recipients. Specifically, the present invention is directed to reusable, space efficient shipping containers suitable for shipping parcels in the parcel carrier industry.

There are a wide variety of containers useful for holding, storing, and shipping goods. Such containers include a large variety of tote containers, cartons, and boxes, all of which are known in the art and each having particular features that make the container suitable for desired applications.

Containers are commonly used, for example, in the shipping industry. Indeed, there is a fundamental need for containers in commerce-based societies so that goods may be shipped from merchant to customer. Perhaps the most common type of container employed by the shipping industry is a one-time use only carton, constructed, for example, of paperboard. The item to be shipped is placed within the interior of the carton that is filled with cushioning materials, such as styrofoam “peanuts”, shredded paper or other paper based filler, to name a few. Thereafter, the carton is sealed with packaging tape, staples, twine, or similar mechanism. Once the carton reaches its shipping destination, the recipient typically discards both the container and the cushioning materials.

There are several noteworthy deficiencies associated with the shipping industry's use of one-time use only cartons. First, since the cartons are not constructed of a rigid material, such as corrugated plastic or sheet metal, shippers have been conditioned to excessively cushion items to protect them during shipping. Such excessive packaging leads to increased packing costs and an inefficient use of the parcel carrier's space. Wasted space reduces the volume of shipping capacity of carriers, be it air transport or land-based transport, such as trucks. Second, there is a substantial time investment in packaging that results from the need to carefully pack and seal the paperboard carton and prepare the shipping documents for the same. Third, in addition to the problem of cost, packing waste is one of the leading contributors to landfill waste today. The detriment to the environment is only expected to worsen with the continued rise in internet commerce.

One possible solution that the shipping industry could employ to remedy the deficiencies created by the use of cardboard cartons is to adopt a more highly durable container that is reusable and makes efficient use of the carrier's available space. One such container having both of these characteristics and that is being used for limited shipping needs is commonly referred to as a tote box.

Generally, tote boxes are substantially rigid containers that provide for the safe transportation and storage of goods. Typically, tote boxes are designed to have tapered sides so that the tote boxes can be stacked or mounted in a nested relationship with other tote boxes of the same construction. The ability to stack multiple tote boxes on top of each other makes efficient use of space during the transportation and storage of goods. As a result, many tote boxes are constructed of a rigid material, usually corrugated plastic or sheet metal, to support the weight of a plurality of tote boxes. In addition, many tote boxes are further constructed to include a top rail or rim that is adapted to receive the bottom of another tote box.

The use of conventional tote boxes, with few exceptions, has not easily translated into a viable use for the shipping industry, due perhaps to various drawbacks associated with their construction. For example, tote boxes are typically constructed as open-top, bin-like containers and therefore usually lack a closure or lid. As one might imagine, items packaged in an open, bin-like container would not withstand the rigors associated with the shipping industry. Loss or damage to items shipped in open containers is almost certainly a consequence. Although the bottom of a companion tote box may serve as an adequate lid, such as when a plurality of tote boxes are stacked one on top of the other, the use of this type of closure would be limited to bulk shipments. Bulk shipments of goods only the serve the needs of particular types of recipients, such as retailers, thus greatly limiting instances in which tote boxes can be used to ship items.

In addition, tote boxes are typically constructed so as to have two (2) handhold openings to facilitate the lifting and carrying of the tote. Depending upon their construction, the handhold opening may permit intrusion of dirt, dust, or even water into the interior of the tote box, which may harm or otherwise destroy the item.

Further, when the handhold openings are used to lift or carry the tote box the weight of the tote box and its contents is only evenly distributed when both handhold openings are used. More particularly, when only one handhold opening is used to carry a tote box, especially a heavy tote box, it may be awkward to carry because the weight of the box and contents is not evenly distributed. Further, use of only one handhold opening to lift and carry the tote box may impair the integrity of that handhold opening, especially after repeated use. Damage to a handhold opening may require that the entire tote box be discarded.

Yet another deficiency inherent in the design of the conventional tote box is its inability to efficiently adapt for use with items of varying sizes and dimensions. For example, conventional tote boxes used to package items with conventional cushioning materials such as those identified above, may result in excessive use of cushioning materials for relatively small items or, perhaps even worse, an insufficient amount of cushioning materials resulting in empty space. Empty space within a rigid container would permit the item to shift therein possibly resulting in damage to the item or its loss altogether.

There has long been a need for strong, inexpensive, reusable shipping containers that provide for the safe transit of items and that also provide for efficient use of the carrier's available space. Such a need is only somewhat met by use of conventional tote containers and only then, for very limited shipping needs. Accordingly, there is a need to provide a versatile, reusable shipping container that overcomes the deficiencies of a conventional tote box that is space efficient, provides an effective cushioning environment for the item inside, regardless of the item's size and dimension, that is capable of widespread use for a variety of shipping needs, that is cost efficient, and that is environmentally friendly. The present invention is directed to a shipping container that meets these needs.

OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION

An object of the present invention is to provide a new and useful container for shipping parcels between locations.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a reusable container that is both durable for repeated use and that is provided with reusable cushioning materials.

A further object of the present invention is to provide a reusable shipping container that includes an improved closure that both protects the container's contes from the rigors associated with the shipping industry and is durable enough to serve as a support surface for other containers of various dimensions to be stacked thereon.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a shipping container that employs a seal to reduce water intrusion into the interior thereof.

It is still a further object of the present invention to provide shipping containers that are configured to nest with one another for stacking purposes.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide shipping containers of standardized configurations that employ cushioning materials capable of conforming to items of varying sizes and dimensions so as to reduce the amount of empty space in the container and provide the item with a protective cushioning environment.

Still a further object of the present invention is to provide shipping containers with an improved lifting and carrying mechanism such that when the container is lifted or carried with one hand, the weight of the container and its contents are evenly distributed.

These and other objects of the present invention will become more readily appreciated and understood from a consideration of the following detailed description of the present invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a partially cut away tote box according to the prior art;

FIG. 2 a cross-sectional view of a top portion of one of the corners of the container shown in FIG. 1, taken about lines 2-2

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a plurality of tote boxes stacked one on top of the other according to the prior art;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a first embodiment of the container according to the present invention;

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the container shown in FIG. 4, partially cut away;

FIG. 6 is a top plan view of the construction blank that may be folded to form the outer shell of the shipping container shown in FIGS. 4 and 5;

FIG. 7 is a top plan view of the construction blank that may be folded to form the insert adapted to be placed within the outer shell of the shipping container shown in FIGS. 4 and 5;

FIG. 8 is a top plan view of the construction blank, shown in FIG. 6, and showing a portion of the securement system as contemplated by the present invention;

FIG. 9 is cross-sectional view of the container shown in FIG. 4, taken about lines 9-9;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a portion of the container shown in FIG. 4 showing the buckle in use with a cable tie;

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of a second embodiment of the container according to the present invention; and

FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a third embodiment of the container according to the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

According to the present invention, then, a shipping container is provided that is adapted to receive an item for shipment from a sender to an intended recipient. The present invention generally contemplates a reusable shipping container that is capable of withstanding the rigors associated with shipping parcels in commerce. One embodiment of the shipping container of the present invention incorporates aspects of the construction of a conventional tote box that are advantageously modified to be a more durable, usable container adapted for use for a wide variety of shipping needs rather than the limited use for which conventional tote boxes have been applied. The modified tote box further includes a lid, which together form one of the shipping containers contemplated herein.

The shipping containers according to the present invention may be provided with other features that further enhance their ability to be used in the shipping industry. For example, they may be provided with a securement system that is integrated with the construction of the shipping container. The securement system may provide a mechanism by which the lid is held closed. The securement system may also provide an alternative mechanism by which the container may be more easily lifted and carried whereby the weight of the container and its contents are evenly distributed so that it may be lifted or carried with one hand.

Also, as contemplated, the shipping container may be provided with reusable cushioning materials adapted to conform to contents of varying configurations. The ability to manipulate the reusable cushioning materials to conform, as needed, to the dimensions of the selected contents permits the size of the shipping container to be standardized, if the industry so desires. Further, if desired, customized packing solutions, which are beginning to be used with some frequency, can be modified, as described herein, so as to be used with the reusable cushioning materials to ensure that the items are packed in a manner to reduce the risk of damage or loss of the product.

To better appreciate the construction of the shipping container contemplated by the present invention and its improvements over a conventional tote, it is perhaps useful to first describe the construction of a conventional tote. Reference, then, is first made to FIG. 1, which shows one such conventional tote 10, commonly used in the automotive industry for transporting and storing auto parts. As shown, tote 10 is formed by outer shell 20 and three-wall insert 40, both formed of corrugated plastic. As will be described in more detail below, insert 40 is placed inside outer shell 20 so as to reinforce or line a portion of outer shell 20. Outer shell 20 and opposed walls of insert 40 are bonded together by sonic welding, which is common in the industry. The sonic welding of the two components forms indentations 12.

As may be appreciated by FIG. 1, outer shell 20 is constructed of five walls configurable to generate an outer shell having a bottom wall (not shown), a pair of sidewalls 22 and 24, a front wall 26 and a back wall (not shown). Insert 40, on the other hand, is constructed of three walls—bottom wall 41, front wall 42, and back wall 44. As used herein, reference to sidewalls, front and back walls, and bottom walls are used to describe those walls as they are presented in the views of the Figures of the application. Use of this terminology is intended for the purposes of providing clarification to the explanations of the features of the invention, and is not intended to be limitations to those features.

Insert 40 is placed inside outer shell 20 such that bottom wall 41 if insert confronts the bottom wall of the outer shell, front wall 42 insert confronts front wall 26 of outer shell, and back wall 44 of insert confronts the back wall of the outer shell. As a result, two walls of outer shell 20, shown here in FIG. 1 as sidewalls 22 and 24, are not reinforced by insert 40 and thus are only a single layer thick.

Front wall 26 and back wall of outer shell 20 as well as front and back walls 42 and 44 of the insert are provided with handhold openings 14 of a selected size and are configured to allow the human hand to be inserted for grasping the handhold opening during the lifting and carrying of tote 10. Further, as shown, an identification label 16 for displaying information such as to identify the contents of tote 10, is disposed on front wall 26.

With reference now to FIGS. 1-3, tote 10 is further provided with a rail system 50 that is seated on the top edges (not shown) of outer shell 20. Directing attention, for the moment, at the cut away portion of tote 10 in FIG. 1, it may be seen that front wall 42 of the insert does not extend up the entire height of front wall 26 of the outer shell. Rather, front and back insert walls 42 and 44 are of reduced height compared to front wall 26 and the back wall of the outer shell. This construction accommodates the seated placement of rail system 50 on the top edges of outer shell 20.

The rail system 50 employed by tote 10 is an off the shelf product that is the combination of the self-locking tote rail and self-locking tote rail clip both manufactured by SeaGate Plastics of Waterville, Ohio and identified by SeaGate Plastics as product numbers SG-1 111 and SG-1110 respectively. The construction of SeaGate Plastics' connecting system (generally referred to in the Figures of the present application as a rail system), as well as the manner in which it is mounted onto the top edges of a conventional tote, is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,520,477 to Fink, which issued on May 28, 1996, (the “'477 Patent”) the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. The '477 Patent describes a connecting system, the features of which are described for example, with reference to FIGS. 1-4 in the '477 Patent.

As will be appreciated from the section entitled “Best Mode of Carrying Out the Invention”, the self-locking tote rail clip is substantially U-shaped and engages rectangular openings disposed adjacent to the outer edge of the tote. The self-locking tote rail, which is a separate piece, is positioned over the clip and engages the clip as shown and described, for example, with reference to FIG. 3 in the '477 Patent. Further, a connector, such as that shown and described with reference to FIG. 8 in the '477 Patent, may be utilized to allow for the formation of a 90° corner between adjacent sides of the tote.

With the construction of the connecting system in mind, then, and returning now to prior art FIGS. 1-3 of the present application, rail system 50 includes a rail member 52 and flange 54, both of which reinforce the top edges of outer shell 20 as well as to facilitate the stacking of multiple totes 10 of like construction. Accordingly, totes, such as tote 10, are typically constructed so as to have tapered sidewalls in order for the bottom wall to be configured so that it may be seated upon flange 54 of a companion tote 10.

With this understanding in mind, a first exemplary embodiment of the present invention is shown in FIGS. 4 and 5. Generally, shipping container 110 is constructed of an outer shell 120 and insert 140 constructed of corrugated material that are adhered together by glue or suitable other adhesives commonly used in the industry. By way of example, outer shell 120 may be constructed of 8 mil corrugated plastic while insert 140 is constructed of 10 mil plastic corrugated material, however the thickness of the corrugated plastic material is not limited to these measurements. Other corrugated materials that can provide for a durable and reusable container may also be used, such as cardboard. As shown, shipping container 110 includes lid 190 and may further be provided with handhold openings such as handhold openings 114 and 117, shipping label 116, rail system 150, and integral securement system 170, thereby to form at least one embodiment of the shipping container according to the present invention.

As is shown in FIGS. 4-6 outer shell 120 is generally in a form of a box having a surrounding outer container wall that forms an interior 129, and includes a bottom wall 121, a pair of sidewalls 122 and 124, a front and back walls 126 and 128, a first pair of inner flaps 132 and 134, and a second pair of inner flaps 136 and 138. Formation of outer shell 120 is accomplished by means of a single, integral one-piece construction blank 160 that is configured to be folded into a box.

With reference to FIGS. 5 and 6, sidewalls 122 and 124 and front and back walls 126 and 128 are extensions of bottom wall 121 whereas inner flaps 132 and 136 are extensions of sidewall 122 while inner flaps 134 and 138 are extensions of sidewall 124. With respect to the dimensions of the walls and flaps of the outer shell, it may be seen that inner flaps 132, 134, 136, and 138 are substantially similar to one another and are of reduced as compared to each of walls 122, 124, 126, and 128. Further, as shown, front and back walls 126 and 128 are provided with handhold openings 114 and 118 respectively, while inner flaps 132 and 134 are each provided with notched cutouts, each forming half of a handhold opening 113, such that when assembled as shown in FIG. 5, the notched cutouts align to create another opening in facing relation to handhold opening 114. The same holds true for inner flaps 136 and 138, and their associated notched cutouts 117.

With specific reference to FIG. 6, construction blank 160 includes longitudinal extending, parallel score or fold lines 162, which separate sidewalls 122 and 124 from bottom wall 121. Construction blank 160 also includes transverse score or fold lines 164, which separate front and back walls 126 and 128 from bottom wall 121 and that also separate inner flaps 132 and 136 from sidewall 122 and flaps 134 and 138 from sidewall 124. Longitudinal cuts 166 are formed as extensions of fold lines 162 and serve to separate flaps 132, 134, 136, and 138 from front and back walls 126 and 128.

Accordingly, when construction blank 160 is folded and glued, inner flaps 132 and 134 are positioned side by side and in confronting relationship with front wall 126 such that half handhold openings 113 form a whole handhold opening aligned in facing communication with handhold opening 114. Similarly, inner flaps 136 and 138 are positioned side by side and in confronting relationship with back wall 128 such that half handhold openings 117 form a whole handhold opening that is aligned in facing communication with handhold opening 118.

As should be appreciated from the foregoing description, when construction blank 160 is folded to form outer shell 120, inner flaps 132, 134, 136, and 138 provide an additional layer of corrugated material to front and back walls 126 and 128 while bottom wall 121 and side walls 122 and 124 have only a single layer of corrugated material. However, as will be more fully described below with reference to FIGS. 5, 7 and 9, when insert 140 is folded and placed within outer shell 120, an additional layer of corrugated material is added to the single layer bottom wall 121 and sidewalls 122 and 124 thereby resulting in a uniform sidewall thickness throughout the container.

Turning then to FIG. 7, three-walled insert 140 is formed of bottom wall 141 and sidewalls 142 and 144. Similar to construction blank 160 described above, sidewalls 142 and 144 are extensions of bottom wall 141 and separated therefrom by longitudinally extending, parallel score or fold lines 146. As contemplated, insert 140 is glued, or otherwise suitably affixed to outer shell 120 such that bottom wall 141 of insert 140 confronts bottom wall 121 of outer shell and sidewalls 142 and 144 of insert, respectively, confront sidewalls 122 and 124 of outer shell 120.

With reference then to FIGS. 5 and 9, outer shell 120 and insert 140, together form a container wherein each wall of the container are provided with a two layers of corrugated material thereby resulting in a uniform sidewall thickness throughout the container. For example, as shown in FIG. 9, flap 134 provides a second layer of corrugated material to front wall 126, flap 138 provides a second layer of corrugated material to back wall 128. Similarly, bottom panel 141 provides a second layer of material to bottom wall 121 and side panel 144 provides a second layer of material to sidewall 124 (not shown).

As indicated above, the shipping container 110 according to the first exemplary embodiment of the present invention also includes a securement system 170. Generally, as shown in FIG. 4, securement system 170 includes a strap or preferably an ensemble of flexible straps, which may be secured about shipping container 110 by suitable means, such as with buckle 180, to provide a quick and easy way of fastening and cinching the straps.

Securement system 170 is preferably formed as an integral part of container 110. As shown in FIG. 8, securement system 170 may be formed as an ensemble of strap segments and may include two spaced apart lower strap segments 172 and 174, extending parallel with respect to one another across bottom wall 121 of construction blank 160 (which is identical to that described above with respect to FIG. 6). Lower strap segments 172 and 174 continue to extend beyond bottom wall 121 and up a respective sidewall 122 and 124, where they converge upwardly and merge together where they are sewn or otherwise joined together at a respective junction 177 and 179.

Side strap segments 176 and 178 continue to extend beyond the respective junctions 177 and 179 up a respective sidewall 112 and 124, and are laced through strap slots 171 and 173, formed, respectively, in sidewalls 122 and 124. In this way, as shown in FIG. 4, side strap segments 176 and 178 are accessible on the outside of container 110. Specifically, as shown, side strap segment 176 extends through strap slot 171 and appears on the outside of sidewall 122 proximate to label 116. Similarly, side strap 178 extends through strap slot 173 (as shown in FIG. 8) and spans lid 190. Side strap segments 176 and 178 are fastened together by conventional means such as with buckle 180, that may be similar to the type of buckle in a variety of industries, including the automotive industry, so that it can be quickly and easily fastened or unfastened.

When side strap segments 176 and 178 are fastened and securement system 170 is tightened about shipping container 110, it maintains lid 190 securely in place. Further, it should be appreciated that, when fastened securement system 170 may, if desired, serve as a lifting and carrying handle. Since securement system 170 includes lower strap segments 172 and 174, which extend the length of bottom wall 121, the entire load of the container's contents can be supported from the bottom. Further, this configuration of the straps allows the weight to be evenly distributed so that, if desired, the lifting/carrying handle can be used as an alternative means to handhold openings in situations where it might be more convenient to use one hand instead of two.

Further, if desired, locking member 181 such as shown in FIG. 10, may be provided. Locking member 181 is preferably insertable through both the male and female components of buckle 180, thereby to assist in keeping lid 190 closed and prevent tampering. Locking member 181 may be in the form of a cable tie such as known in the art. As shown, cable tie 181 is provided with a locking head 187 provided with a ratcheting locking mechanism (not shown) with locking head 187 located on an end of an elongated tail 189.

Now that strap system 170 has been described in some detail, reference can now be made to both FIGS. 8 and 9 to further describe the construction of container 110 and the integration of strap system 170 with its construction. First, straps 172, 174, 176, and 178 are simply laid across bottom wall 121 and sidewalls 122 and 124, as shown in FIG. 8. Next, insert panel 140, shown in FIG. 7, is placed over the straps and adhered to the respective walls of the outer shell thereby sandwiching straps 172, 174, 176, and 178, therebetween. For example, as shown in FIG. 9, straps 172 and 174 are sandwiched between bottom wall 121 and bottom panel 141. Similarly, as should be appreciated, converging straps 172 and 174 and single strap 178, extending up sidewall 124, are sandwiched between side panel 144 and sidewall 124. Sandwiching the straps in this way avoids the need to separately adhere the straps to either the outer shell or the insert. Further, since the straps are concealed, the straps are less likely to be frayed or damaged by continued use of the container and the container achieves an overall more aesthetic appearance.

Further, as indicated above, container 110, according to the first exemplary embodiment of the present invention, preferably also includes connecting system 150, such as that described in the '477 Patent. Accordingly, connecting system 150 is constructed of four interconnecting pieces that are disposed on a respective top edge 151 of sidewalls 122 and 124 and front and back walls 126 and 128. Connecting system 150 includes self-locking tote rail clip (SeaGate Part Number SG-1110) combined with the self-locking tote rail (SeaGate Part No. SG-1111), the interrelationship of which is described in the '477 Patent.

Turning to FIG. 8, in order to accommodate the structure of the tote clip, a plurality of elongate openings 156 are disposed adjacent a top edge 151 that are substantially rectangular in shape. Tote clip engages openings 156 as described in the '477 Patent. In addition, notches 158 are formed in top edge 151 of sidewalls 122 and 124 to accommodate a connector such as that shown and described with reference to FIG. 9 in the '477 Patent. As taught therein, the connector may be utilized to allow for the formation of a 90° corner between adjacent sides of the tote.

As shown in FIG. 4, rail system 150 includes rail 152 and flange 154, which circumscribes the upper perimeter of the interior 129 of shipping container 110. As contemplated, rail system 150 facilitates the stacking of multiple containers of like construction, wherein the bottom wall of a first container is seated on the flange of a second container, similar to that shown and described above with reference to FIG. 3. Additionally, however, rail system 150 may instead provide a seat for a lid, such as lid 190 shown in FIGS. 4 and 5.

As shown in FIGS. 4 and 5, lid 190 is sized and adapted to be nestably seated on flange 154 of rail system 150 and is substantially flush with the top of rail member 152. Lid 190 completely encloses the interior of the container to protect the contents to be shipped but may also serve as a planar surface upon which other containers may be stacked. As should be appreciated, lid 190 may support companion containers of unlike construction such that the bottom walls that do not have to be sized so as to be seated on the flange of the connecting system. Accordingly, containers of the present invention provide a more versatile container for stacking purposes.

Optionally, if desired, container 110 may further be provided with foam gasket 157, which, as shown in FIG. 5, is disposed on flange 154. Foam gasket 157 assists lid 190 in sealing container 110 and helps to prevent the intrusion of water into the interior of the container. Optionally, if desired, a drain hole, formed at the corners, for example corner 101 formed by two sections of rail system 50 as shown in FIG. 2, may be formed in one or more corners of rail system 150 and used to channel water along the seam of foam gasket 157.

In addition to providing a seal, gasket 157 also functions to elevate lid 190, so as to ensure that it will be substantially flush with the top of rail member 152 once strap system 170 is in place and fastened. As should be appreciated from the foregoing description, strap system 170 will provide a downward force on lid 190 when cinched, essentially urging lid 190 to be nestably seated with the confines of rail system 150 to further secure it in place. Gasket 157 will act to cushion lid 190 and protect it from any damage from connecting system 150, while at the same time ensures that lid 190 will be flush with top of rail member 152.

A second exemplary embodiment of the shipping container according to the present invention is shown in FIG. 11. Here, container 210 is shown in use to package movie reel 299. Shipping container 210 is constructed as described above with reference to FIGS. 5-9 to the extent that it may include outer shell adhered to a three-walled insert, a rail system, a securement system, and a lid. Rather than repeat the construction of each wall of container 210 for the purposes of providing a description of FIG. 11, the walls of container 210 will simply be referred to as sidewalls 222 and 224 and front and back walls 226 and 228.

As shown, lid 290 further includes hinges 292, which are formed of a flexible material that could be the same material as that which forms the strap segments in the securement system discussed above. Hinges 292 may be glued or otherwise adhered to both container 210 and lid 290. Preferably, one end of hinges 292 may be sandwiched between the two layers of corrugated material that form sidewall 224 while the opposite end is adhered or otherwise suitably affixed to lid 290. Lid 290 may further include a foam lining 294, shown here to be egg crate foam although other suitable foam material readily available in the art could be employed. Foam lining 294 provides further protection for the container's contents during shipment.

As should be appreciated, lid 190 described above with respect to the first embodiment of the present invention and shown, for example in FIGS. 4 and 5, may also include hinges similar to that described above, although not shown in the Figure. However, lid 190 may be a separate piece without hinges. Further, as should be appreciated then, lids with or without hinges are interchangeable between the two embodiments of the shipping container shown and described thus far.

Container 210 may also be provided with foam inserts 201, 202, 203, and 204, and an inflatable bladder 282 to provide a cushioned environment for the protection of the container's contents during shipment. Foam inserts 201-204 and bladder 282 may be used in conjunction with one another as complementary components to cushion the item. Alternatively, if desired, bladder 282 and foam inserts 201-204 may be used separately.

As shown in FIG. 11, bladder 282 is positioned between reel 299, bottom wall 221 and front and back walls 226 and 228. Accordingly, bladder 282 does not line all sides of the container, however, an appropriately sized and configured bladder adapted to line all sides of the container may be used if desired. As shown, foam inserts 201 and 203 may be sandwiched between sidewalls 226 and 228, respectively, and bladder 282, so as to cover handhold openings, such as handhold opening 214. Covering handhold openings with the foam inserts helps prevent entry of dust, dirt, water, or other contaminates into the interior of the container.

Bladder 282 may be sized and adapted for insertion into the interior 229 of container 210 after which it can be inflated to an appropriate level to cushion the item. Bladder 282 may be any suitable inflatable bladder such as known in the art and that is capable of receiving air through an inflation valve, such as a one-way check valve manufactured by Halkey-Roberts located in St. Petersburg, Fla. This provides a cushion of air to protect items having a higher degree of fragility, or for those items that the consumer wants to provide additional protection.

As shown in FIG. 11, inflation may be accomplished by injecting air through the bladder's inflation valve (not shown) via inflation tube 284, such as through the use of a squeeze bulb 283. Squeeze bulb 283 is similar to that conventionally found on a medical blood pressure cuff, and is sized and adapted for attachment to inflation tube 284, which interconnects the valve (not shown) of bladder 282 and bulb 286 to, correspondingly, inflate and deflate the bladder 282, all as is known in the art.

As should be understood, when bladder 282 is used in conjunction with foam inserts, such as inserts 201 and 203, the inflation of the bladder reduces the amount of empty space in the interior of container 210 as well as the amount of space between reel 299 and the foam inserts, thus enhancing its protection during shipment. For additional cushioning and to help prevent puncturing of air bladder 282, an additional layer of foam could be placed between the item and the bladder. One or more inflatable bladders, such as bladder 282 may be placed about a shipping container to cushion all or selective aspects of the item to be shipped.

It is contemplated that bladder 282 would be filled either partially or completely with air after both it and reel 299 are placed in container 210. Accordingly, hole 288 is formed through a wall of container 210, such as through front wall 226, which is sized to receive inflation tube 284. As is contemplated, bladder 282 may be provided with a inflation tube that either travels within the shipping container or apart therefrom. For example, and with reference to FIG. 11, if the inflation tube was not intended to travel in the shipping container, then it may be desirable to mount a one-way check valve into a container wall, such in hole 288 formed in sidewall 226. Inflation tube 284 would then be adapted to secure into the mounted valve. Once the air bladder is filled with air, as desired, the inflation tube may be removed therefrom by forcibly pulling it free from the inflation valve.

A third embodiment of the container of the present invention is shown in FIG. 12. As mentioned above, some companies are manufacturing customized packing solutions for particular manufactures of relatively valuable products, such as expensive electronic equipment. One aspect of the present invention includes modifying these customized shipping containers so as to employ the reusable cushion materials such as that described above with respect to FIG. 11.

Turning then to FIG. 12, shipping container 310 is a hard-sided customized shipping container, similar to that of a suitcase or brief case, which is produced through a blow-molding, roto-molding, or fabrication method such as known in the art. Typically, customized shipping containers, such as those manufactured by the Pelican Products, Inc. of Torrance, California, employ customized foam packaging solutions to cushion and protect items during shipment and transportation. Foam inserts, such as those used by companies like Pelican Products, Inc., are customized for a particular item. Accordingly, if an item of different size or configuration is to be subsequently shipped or transported in the same case, in many circumstances the foam inserts would have to be replaced with appropriately sized and configured foam inserts to accommodate the item.

The present invention, however, may both accommodate existing foam inserts as well as reduce the need to replace these foam inserts for subsequent items packaged in such cases. For example, as shown here, foam piece 303 is configured to accommodate the size and dimension of a representative shipping item 399, which could be a fragile piece of electronic equipment. Lid 390 is lined with foam 394, shown here to be egg crate foam, but other suitable foam material readily available in the art may be used. Also, inflatable bladder 382 is provided and may be used to provide a more enhanced cushioned environment for the protection of the container's contents during shipment. Bladder 382 is sized and adapted to be placed in interior 329 of container 310, which, as shown, lines bottom wall 321 and partially lines sidewall 324. Again, bladder 382 may be sized to line additional walls of container 310, if desired.

Accordingly, once electronic equipment 399 is placed in foam 303, and lid 390 is closed, bladder 382 may be inflated. As air fills bladder 382, the foam will be pressed into electronic equipment 399 and further reduces voids present in container 310. Similarly, if a smaller item is later shipped in this container, it may be possible to place the item within the foam interior and fill bladder 382 with enough air such that the foam is pressed in the product so as to compensate for oversized cut out existing in the foam.

Accordingly, the present invention has been described with some degree of particularity directed to the exemplary embodiments of the present invention. It should be appreciated, though, that modifications or changes may be made to the exemplary embodiments of the present invention without departing from the inventive concepts contained herein.