Title:
Siding system with connecting arrangement
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A siding system is arranged as individual interconnectable pieces, each representing an individual piece of natural building material, such as brick or stone. The individual pieces are preferably made of injection-molded plastic and include vertical interlocking mechanisms and horizontal alignment mechanisms which cooperate with the vertical interlocks. Good esthetics, as well as good weather proofing, are provided by maintaining a flat panel surface against a supporting wall or substrate.



Inventors:
Hendricks, Robert (Youngstown, OH, US)
Application Number:
12/288629
Publication Date:
11/19/2009
Filing Date:
10/22/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
52/747.1
International Classes:
E04F19/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
FIGUEROA, LUZ ADRIANA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LEV INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CONSULTING (YOUNGSTOWN, OH, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A siding system for a substrate, including a plurality of individual, interconnectable pieces, each said piece comprising: a) a top surface comprising a portion representing an individual piece of natural building material; b) side walls supporting said top surface at one end of said side walls; and, c) at least one flange extending from an end of said side walls opposite said top surface and approximately perpendicular to said side walls, said flange comprising an interconnecting system.

2. The siding system of claim 1, wherein said interconnecting system comprises means for connecting each said flange to said substrate.

3. The siding system of claim 1, wherein said side walls are contiguous.

4. The siding system of claim 1, wherein said flanges extend in four directions from said side walls.

5. The siding system of claim 1, further comprising: d) a contoured surface attachable to said top surface to simulate an individual piece of a natural building material.

6. The siding system of claim 1, wherein said interconnecting system comprise means for connecting said flanges to flanges of adjacent individual pieces.

7. The siding system of claim 6, wherein said means for connecting said flanges comprise apertures in said flanges.

8. The siding system of claim 6, wherein said means for connecting said flanges comprise a vertical connection arrangement and a horizontal connection arrangement.

9. The siding system of claim 8, wherein said vertical connecting arrangement and said horizontal connecting arrangement operate in conjunction with each other to connect to adjacent vertical and horizontal individual pieces.

10. The siding system of claim 9, wherein said horizontal connection arrangement comprises complementary offset and overlapping flanges.

11. The siding system of claim 9, wherein said vertical connection arrangement comprises at least one friction-fit device.

12. The siding system of claim 11, wherein said vertical friction fit device comprises a vertical connecting flange and at least one holding tab extending parallel to said connecting flange.

13. The siding system of claim 12, wherein said holding tab is spaced from vertical connecting flange by a thickness of a connecting flange from a vertically adjacent individual piece.

14. The siding system of claim 13, wherein said flanges are ⅛″ in thickness.

15. The siding system of claim 5 further comprising: e) a rear surface arranged to interface with said substrate holding said individual piece level on said substrate.

16. The siding system of claim 15, wherein a plurality of said individual pieces are interconnectable to provide a panel having a uniform rear surface against the said substrate.

17. The siding system of claim 12, wherein said vertical connecting arrangement comprises a plurality of said holding tabs, and is arranged to hold two adjacent individual pieces.

18. A method of applying siding to a substrate using a plurality of individual, interconnectable pieces, each representing an individual piece of natural building material, said method comprising the steps of: a) connecting a plurality of said individual pieces together in a shape and size to form a panel to cover said substrate; and b) attaching said panel to said substrate, matching size and shape of said substrate.

19. The method of claim 18, wherein the step of assembling said pieces includes attaching two vertically adjacent individual pieces to a first individual piece.

20. The method of claim 18, wherein the step of mounting comprises placing a uniform panel surface on said substrate.

Description:

PRIORITY INFORMATION

This application relies for priority upon the following provisional patent applications:

    • 60/000,067 filed Oct. 23, 2007
    • 61/127,542 filed May 14, 2008
      making reference thereto and incorporating them in their entirety.

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to the field of decorative siding panels. In particular, the present invention is directed to a system for assembling and mounting siding panels of manufactured materials in a wide variety of esthetic and practical configurations.

BACKGROUND ART

Various types of siding materials have been used to protect and decorate the walls of structures, especially structures for which appearance or other esthetics are important. Examples are natural building materials such as brick, stone, marble, plaster and wood. Some of these have been traditionally used as structural elements constituting the structural support of buildings. In more recent times they have been used both as protective agents for structures, and as decorative facades. The inherent beauty and traditional connotations of these materials have made them highly desirable for the facing and siding of many structures, even when not providing structural capability or protection from the weather.

Part of the esthetic appeal of these materials is the variation in appearance. For example, no two pieces of brick, stone, marble or wood are exactly alike. This adds to the esthetic or decorative uses of such materials.

The natural characteristics of these materials, while attractive in appearance, have certain inherent engineering limitations, (vulnerability to certain conditions, brittleness, or the like) that preclude many structural uses, as well as insulation and tight weather proofing in some cases. The cost of large amounts of such materials also precludes their use in many applications. As a result some natural materials such as wood, brick, stone and marble have long been superseded as structural elements in many types of construction, being limited to decorative uses.

While some of these materials can serve as insulation, protection, or even structural supports, high quality materials are required for each of these uses. As a result, these materials become prohibitively expensive. Even with limited uses, such as thin decorative facades, the high cost of high-quality batches of these materials (such Italian marble, teak, ceramics and the like) keep these materials from being affordable for most structures, for almost any purpose even in very small amounts.

Consequently, there have been numerous attempts to simulate these natural products (brick, stone, marble or wood) by using cheaper materials processed to appear as the high-quality, natural materials. Traditional examples have included plaster, stucco, drywall, woven fabrics, plywood, plastic and various types of wooden veneers. Unfortunately, this approach requires a series of tradeoffs between the expense of intensive processing of the cheaper materials and the similarity in appearance of the processed products to high-grade, natural materials. Further, certain physical requirements, outside of appearance, are desirable for the substitute materials. For example, weatherproof characteristics are necessary for exterior siding while fireproof characteristics are necessary for interior panels. Any kind of insulating capability is also considered highly desirable. Assuring these characteristics adds to the expense of processing the cheaper materials.

Brick and wood are the materials most often simulated, usually in plastic. The appearance of both are desirable in both exterior and interior applications. However, in many situations, the appearance of stone is considered more appropriate than either brick or wood. Panels that appear to be stone (or marble) have applications, both in exterior and interior situations, and so are very popular.

Natural stone walls can be made of regular stone pieces, or of irregular stone pieces, which is more common. Even if the shape of each stone piece is regular, there will be different colors and textures when dealing with natural stone as well as marble). Artificial panels that closely simulate natural stone should also follow this pattern.

Unfortunately, differences in color, texture, size and shape, while occurring naturally, are often difficult to simulate with artificial panel materials, such as plastic. Normally, non-uniformity between plastic panels requires variations in the forming or molding tools, a very expensive arrangement since each variation requires different tooling for each different plastic panel.

One example of a system for making plastic panels is found in U.S. Pat. No. 6,237,294 to Rygiel. This patent is directed to flexible, decorative panels which simulate the appearance of stone walls or panels. Each panel is composed of a flexible building sheet reinforced with light, fibrous material, and fabricated by filling a mold within the building sheet. These molds are constituted in a pattern simulating that of natural stonework. A fluid hardening material is placed in the mold and the overlay of reinforcing material and the flexible building sheet are arranged thereupon, the result is a large flexible panel simulating a natural stone formation.

While the system of Rygiel is relatively inexpensive, it is awkward to use. Poured molding is a slow and very cumbersome manufacturing arrangement. The only advantage is that the molds can be relatively inexpensive. Nonetheless, changing them to provide variations in the simulated stone pattern can be time consuming and difficult, especially at a construction site. Further, since all the material applied to the mold is of the same type and same color, the natural variation of mixed stone work is impossible in the Rygiel system without substantial post-manufacturing processes. Also, the final panel product of this system is very often too flexible and cumbersome to be used in many siding or panel applications, especially if the panel is large.

A wide variety of other materials and processes have been used to simulate natural stonework construction. Rygiel is simply one such example, and incorporated herein by reference. However, each of these conventional examples has substantial drawbacks These include difficulties in handling, transport, manufacturing, and installation. High cost and degraded esthetics are also characteristic of many conventional examples.

While a number of materials can be used to simulate natural stone work, injection-molded plastic has developed into a favored option. This type of product offers a wide range of benefits. Some of these include: ease of mass production; a convenient selection of sizes based upon construction industry standards; and, light weight to facilitate convenient shipping and handling.

Unfortunately, the advantages of injection-molded panels also lead to certain disadvantages. In particular, the plastic that is formed so easily and efficiently is monochromatic within each panel. As a result, the natural variation of colors and textures that is found with natural stonework is impossible to simulate without expensive painting or other additional post-molding industrial processes. However, these additional processes would negate many of the advantages (low cost, simplicity, uniformity and the like) of the basic injection molding process for producing the panels.

There are further complications when using plastic injection molding, for simulating the wide range of surface variations of natural stone work. Conventionally, each plastic panel looks exactly the same in terms of the stone pattern, even if the color is changed later with paint, an awkward process with questionable results. To achieve variation between standard sized plastic panels the tooling becomes more complicated and expensive (due to the substantial size of the panels). This strongly mitigates against the simulation of a natural stone appearance in most applications requiring cost-effective techniques and materials (such as light plastics). Thus, esthetics must be compromised by the use of uniform mass-produced plastic panels since uniformity is seldom a normal characteristic of natural stone construction, or even of brick or wood.

Accordingly, there is substantial need for improvement in the art of simulating natural stonework and brickwork (as well as other natural surfaces such as wood) for building siding and paneling applications. Such improvement should be adaptable to both interior and exterior uses with products that are easy to transport, handle and install. The new products embodying these improvements should have the appearance of natural materials, including all the variations required by the esthetics that prompt the use of such materials. Above all these products must be easy to transport and install.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

It is a primary object of the present invention to provide a siding system that better simulates certain natural materials than conventional siding and panel systems.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a paneling system simulating natural materials wherein a wide variety of different colors and configurations are readily obtainable within each individual panel.

A further object of the present invention is to provide a paneling system simulating natural materials wherein selection of configuration and color can easily be effected at the time of installation.

An additional object of the present invention is to provide a siding system, simulating natural materials, that is easy to handle, transport and install.

It is still another object of the present invention to provide a paneling system that can be used for both interior and exterior applications.

It is yet a further object of the present invention to provide a paneling system that simulates a wide variety of different natural appearances without requiring substantial manufacturing modifications, retooling, or post-manufacturing finishing to achieve natural variations in individual panels.

It is again an additional object of the present invention to provide a paneling system, simulating natural products, in which individual pieces can easily be varied in color or texture within each individual panel without expensive reprocessing or painting.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a siding system in which large panels can be substantially varied in the field without manufacturing modifications.

It is still an additional object of the present invention to provide for a wide variety of siding panels while maintaining the advantages of the plastic injection molding manufacturing process.

It is yet a further object of the present invention to provide a system of siding panels which are easily fitted and adapted to existing structures.

It is still another object of the present invention to provide a siding system that can be easily and economically used in relatively small siding applications.

It is again a further object of the present invention to provide a siding system that admits to mass production while still permitting a wide variety of configurations, with little additional manufacturing expense.

It is still an additional object of the present invention to provide a siding system that can be easily assembled and installed without skilled labor.

It is again a further object of the present invention to provide a siding system that accurately simulates natural surfaces using a wide variety of light building materials.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a siding system that easily admits to modification in panel size and configuration, without cutting, when being installed.

It is still an additional object of the present invention to provide a siding system that can be configured on the job site without requiring additional manufacturing processes to effect the new configuration.

It is yet a further object of the present invention to provide a siding system with a secure connecting system that does not require external fasteners to hold individual panels together.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a siding system with a self-contained connecting arrangement.

It is still another object of the present invention to provide a siding system in which connectors holding the siding to a wall substrate can be minimized.

It is again a further object of the present invention to provide a siding system in which individual pieces can be interlocked without additional fasteners.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a siding system in which vertical interlocking is facilitated by horizontal alignment mechanisms.

It is still an additional object of the present invention to provide a siding system constituted by individual contoured pieces, each of which represents an individual piece of natural building material, wherein each of the pieces does not have to be individually connected directly to a wall or substrate supporting the siding system.

It is again a further object of the present invention to provide a siding system constituted by individual pieces representing individual pieces of natural building material that can be interconnected together while presenting a single, planar surface to an underlying substrate.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a siding system constituted by individual pieces simulating individual pieces of natural building materials in which horizontal connection between pieces is facilitated by vertical interlocking between individual pieces.

These and other goals and objects of the present invention are achieved by a siding system constituted by a plurality of individual interconnectable pieces. Each of these individual pieces includes a top surface contoured to simulate an individual piece of natural building material, supporting side walls at the opposite end of the sidewalls with at least one peripheral flange extending perpendicular to the side walls. There is also a system for interlocking the peripheral flange of one individual piece to the peripheral flange of adjacent individual pieces.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a top view of a typical interconnectable contoured piece simulating a natural surface in accordance with a first embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a side view of the contoured piece of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a top view of a number of different interconnectable contoured pieces of the first embodiment of the present invention, depicting different sizes to be fit together.

FIG. 4 is a top view of a panel constituted by a plurality of interconnected contoured pieces, as depicted in FIG. 3.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of an interconnectable contoured piece in accordance with a second embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a top view of the piece depicted in FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 is a right side view of the piece depicted in FIG. 5.

FIG. 8 is a left side view of the piece depicted in FIG. 5.

FIG. 9 is a front view of the piece depicted in FIG. 5.

FIG. 10 is a bottom view of the piece depicted in FIG. 5.

FIG. 11 is a rear view with the bottom facing upwards, of the piece depicted in FIG. 5.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIG. 1 depicts a top view of an individual interconnectable contoured piece 1 simulating an individual piece of a natural surface in accordance with the present invention. The individual contoured piece 1 is sized so that it can be easily interconnected with other such pieces to form either a standard sized or specifically configured construction siding panel 100 (FIG. 4). As depicted in FIG. 3, contoured piece 1 can be provided in a wide range of sizes, and even shapes. Preferably, these are sized so as to adapt easily to the dimensions used in standard construction techniques.

The nominal thickness of the contoured piece 1 is approximately ⅛ inch. Individual pieces are typically 2″×6″ (to simulate an individual brick). It should be noted that other thicknesses are permitted within the scope of the present invention, as are a wide variety of other dimensions, as depicted in FIG. 3.

A key attribute of individual contoured piece 1 is the extending, peripheral flange 11, which preferably extends in all four directions forming a surround structure. The purpose of this peripheral flange 11 is to interface or interconnect with the peripheral flanges 11 of the adjacent contoured pieces, as depicted in FIG. 4. Preferably, peripheral flange 11 contains apertures 110 or other connecting structures to be used to hold the peripheral flange 11 to those of adjacent contoured pieces 1, and to a supporting wall or substrate (not shown).

It should be understood that external connectors (not shown) can be used in conjunction with the apertures 110 to hold adjacent peripheral flanges 11 together. A wide range of connectors is already known in the existing technology, including screws, brads, clips, rivets, staples and the like. These can be used to hold together only the adjacent flanges 11, or can be used to attach individual flanges to the underlying substrate (not shown) of the wall where the siding panel 100 is to be mounted. Further, the extending, peripheral flanges 11 of adjacent individual contoured pieces 1 can be connected by other techniques. These would include but are not limited to sonic welding, adhesives, chemical welding and thermal welding.

A key aspect of the present invention is that the individual contoured pieces 1 having the desired simulated natural surfaces are directly connected to each other in order to form a panel 100 to be mounted on a wall (not shown), as depicted in FIG. 4. Because of extending peripheral flanges 11, the interconnectable individual contoured pieces 1 can be directly connected together in virtually any configuration. Further, because a wide range of different sizes and shapes available for individual contoured pieces 1, as depicted in FIG. 3, a wide variety of different panel configurations is possible.

Extending peripheral flanges 11 can form a grout pattern. However, since the extending peripheral flanges 11 are the same color as the rest of the contoured piece 1, the grout pattern will not show up easily unless additional techniques or processes are used to create the distinction. One such technique might be to adhere plastic strips (either uniform or irregular), specifically sized, to fit on interconnected peripheral flanges 11 between adjacent individual contoured pieces 1. These could be attached with adhesive or staples or any combination of a wide range of connecting techniques.

In a preferred embodiment as depicted in FIG. 1, a natural stone surface is simulated. However, the present invention is not limited thereto. Rather, as depicted in FIGS. 3 and 4, the present invention can be used to effect the appearance of a brick wall, or wood parquet, using alternating courses of individual pieces. This could be easily facilitated because the individual contoured pieces 1 fit together in any configuration desired for a particular type of panel or building.

Because a wide variety of different sizes for the interconnectable contoured pieces 1 can be manufactured quickly and efficiently, (especially using plastic injection molding processes), kits containing a wide variety of different sizes and shapes can be easily transported to construction job sites. This arrangement allows construction site installers to easily configure the final panel 100 in virtually any size and shape required. Because different colors and configurations are easily and cheaply facilitated by the plastic injection molding process, a wide variety of colors and textures are economically facilitated to achieve desired esthetic effects.

A typical interconnectable individual contoured piece 1 is used to simulate natural stonework as, depicted in FIGS. 1 and 2. The individual contoured piece 1 is preferably constituted as a hollow, formed molded structure (preferably made by plastic injection molding) to have a top wall 10 supported by continuous side walls 13. Extending from the side walls 13 is the extending peripheral flange 11 which is essentially perpendicular to the side walls 13. However, because of esthetic considerations, the angle between the side walls and the extending peripheral flanges 11 need not be 90 degrees within the concept of the present invention.

The upper wall 10 can have almost any kind of contoured surface 12 formed therein. Further, the contoured surface 12 can either be formed separately and attached to the upper wall 10, or as an integral part of upper wall 10. In many instances, such as that of injection plastic molding, this latter approach is the preferred arrangement. The overall thickness of the sidewalls 13 is approximately the same as that of the extending peripheral flange 11, approximately ⅛″. However, because all individual contoured pieces 1 are formed separately, differences in thickness, as well as color and texture, are easily facilitated. Simulated stone contoured pieces 1 preferably have side walls 13 extending in the range of ½ inch to 6 inches above peripheral flange 11. However, the present invention is not confined to these limits.

Further, when plastic injection molding is being used, mass production is facilitated even for a wide variety of different simulated stone or brick sizes, contours and colors. This allows the use of multi-piece kits with a wide variety of extra simulated stone or brick individual contoured pieces 1 to achieve variety and desired decorative effect. A wide variety of panel 100 configurations can also be achieved with only limited expense.

While plastic injection molding is the preferred method of manufacture, it is not a requirement within the concept of the present invention. Rather, any combination of manufacturing processes can be used. For example, very irregular shapes can be put into custom molds and a pour made for individual simulated stone contoured pieces 1. The individual simulated stone contoured pieces 1 can then be fit in a suitable pattern such as that depicted by FIG. 4.

Further, the simulated stone individual contoured pieces 1 need not be of the same material for all the panels 100. Rather, foam, nylon, fiberglass or thin plaster, or any other appropriate material can be used in accordance with the present invention for particular decorating or building requirements.

Because the overall panel 100 is formed entirely of small, separate, interconnectable individual contoured pieces 1, the size of panels are reduced for purposes of handling, transport and installation, even if thicker configurations and denser materials are used. Ease of handling is crucial, especially on a construction site. The simplicity of the present invention facilitates the assembly of panels 100 with unskilled labor. Further, the selection of colors and textures for individual parts of panel 100 can be made at the time of installation, thereby granting far greater latitude for esthetic considerations.

Because light, inexpensive molded plastic is the preferred material for the present invention, the use of kits with multiple, additional individual contoured pieces 1, affording many different configurations, becomes practical. Likewise, a wide variety of different interconnectable individual contoured pieces 1 can be included in a kit so that the final installer can make the selection for the desired esthetic effect on the structure, or to obtain proper coverage of an irregular wall. This wide variety of different choices is achieved with very little additional expense, and is one of the benefits of the present invention. Likewise, the concept of the present invention admits to a wide variety of different materials, configurations, patterns or thicknesses. One variation includes the use of a plastic material that can hold a foam backing for insulation.

Because the size and shape of the panels 100 can easily be altered in accordance with the wall or other structure that will receive/mount the panels 100, the panels can easily be reduced in size to accommodate much heavier and/or thicker materials. Also, because panels 100 can be reassembled on a piece-by-piece basis, installation can be done on a “piecemeal” basis, using easily handled sections.

It should be understood that virtually any material that can be used as siding for a structure, can also be used as an individual contoured piece 1 within the concept of the present invention. Consequently, the present invention is not limited to injection molded plastic in the ⅛ inch thickness range, even though this is one common preferred embodiment. Conceivably, the same inventive concept can be used with foam, nylon, neoprene, metals (such as aluminum), plaster, fiberglass, and virtually any kind of plastic.

The present invention also provides additional flexibility with respect to the installation of siding on structures. While most conventional siding is installed on structures in relatively large panel sizes (for example, standard 3′×5′ sections), the present invention permits another approach, if desired. In particular, the present invention allows smaller portions of a structure to be sided individually using a few or even one individual contoured piece at a time, such as those depicted in FIG. 3. It can also facilitate easier installation for irregular sizes and shapes. For example, it is much easier handle and install a 2′×2′ plastic piece than it is to do the same for a 3′×5′ siding panel. Direct installation of smaller panels 100, or even individual contoured pieces 1 offers the advantage of saving time and expense when finishing the siding for relatively small or irregular walls. Odd wall sizes are easily accommodated through the assembly of appropriately-sized panels at the construction site before installation. This flexibility in the installation process is one of the additional benefits of the present invention.

The previously described embodiments of the present invention offer a great deal of flexibility with respect to variations in panel configuration. However, there is at least one drawback. In particular, the individual contoured pieces 1 required the use of external connectors (not shown), to tie the contoured pieces together, as well mount them to an underlying substrate. While each contoured piece 1 can be individually connected to wall substrate (not shown), individual contoured pieces 1 are best independently connected to adjacent contoured pieces 1 to form panels 100. This interconnecting between adjacent contoured pieces 1 by means of extending flanges 11 (as depicted in FIGS. 1-4) can lead to some difficulties.

In a situation where each of the individual contoured pieces is individually connected to the wall by nails (or similar devices) through the apertures in the flanges, a clean grout template or layer can be place over the flanges. This can be done by simply using the grout system in U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/999,344 by the same author. This template or grout pattern can be used to fit over the flanges once they have been nailed to the substrate. The grout pattern can be made large enough so that the flanges can be mounted, edge to edge throughout, in what is an essentially a butt connection arrangement. On the other hand, the grout layer can also be adjusted for thinner grout patterns if the flanges of adjacent individual contoured pieces overlap each other, rather than simply butt up against each other. Thus, even though the system of Ser. No. 60/999,344 appears to be counter-intuitive to the present system, a modification of this first system can be used to facilitate at least one embodiment of the present system.

In a situation where each individual contoured piece 1 is not directly connected to an underlying substrate (using nails, brads, staples or some similar means), it is necessary to securely attach adjacent contoured pieces 1 to each other by using extending flanges 11. However, there are certain difficulties found in interconnecting adjacent contoured pieces in accordance with the previously-embodiments of the present invention. These can sometimes lead to unstable panels 100, or extended installation times.

One way of connecting individual contoured pieces 1 to each other is to align the edges of the peripheral extending flanges 11. While this provides a reasonably uniform appearance simulating grout lines, it is very difficult to achieve without the use of special connectors. The use of such connectors, increase the complexity of installing the system of the present, a highly undesirable situation. For example, even with specialized connectors, the connection between adjacent contoured pieces 1 connected edge to edge (at flanges 11) becomes problematical since the result is a very flimsy arrangement (at least until the individual contoured pieces 1 are each attached to the substrate). On a constructions site awkwardness or flimsy arrangements lead to the loss of time, and very often a questionable end product.

Another approach to connecting adjacent individual contoured pieces 1 to each other is to overlap the extending peripheral flanges 11. This makes the work of connecting the flanges together much easier, resulting in a much sturdier arrangement. However, this operation can still be time consuming, and might result in a flawed panel 100 that must rely upon extensive connections to the wall substrate (not shown) in order to be adequately stable. Further, the overlapping of the peripheral flanges often results in an uneven alignment of adjacent contoured pieces 11. This very often results in an unaesthetic appearance for both the grout line and an awkward appearance for the overall panel. Also with this type of overlap many of the individual contoured pieces 1 will not lie flat against the substrate (not shown). Such panels 100 are also prone to be far from weather-tight.

It should be noted that a certain amount of non-uniformity is desirable, especially with simulated stone. However, with other simulated materials (such as brick) too great a level of irregularity results in a distorted simulation of the natural material, thereby leading to undesirable esthetics.

With overlapping flanges 11, some of the individual contoured pieces 1 will lie flat on the wall or substrate (not shown), and others will not since they are spaced away from the substrate by the thickness of flanges 11 (on the adjacent individual pieces 1). This arrangement creates an additional level of irregularity, which may or may not be considered esthetically pleasing. However, it does not facilitate a stable, weather-proof arrangement. As such, it can be problematical on outdoor installations.

One approach to controlling the problems caused by irregularity or non-uniformity in the previous embodiments is found in a second group of embodiments depicted in FIGS. 5-11. The key distinction resides in the configuration of peripheral flanges 11. In these figures, each of the individual contoured pieces 1 is depicted without any surface contouring such as that designated by 12, in FIGS. 1-4. However, it is presumed that upper surface 10 of each of the individual contoured pieces 1 contains a desired amount of contouring, or constitutes a surface that can accept an additional contoured overlay structure 12.

Because the contoured pieces 1 in FIGS. 5-11 are relatively uniform, and can be made with a modest amount of contouring, this embodiment is especially appropriate for simulating brick surfaces. Conventional brick walls are characterized by a relatively small number of different types of pieces arranged in a relatively uniform, but offset pattern. Brick arrangements are also characterized by relatively uniform grout patterns. The appearance of a conventional brick wall can be achieved by the arrangements depicted in FIGS. 5-11. These arrangements facilitate uniform grout patterns between individual contoured pieces 1. Also, based upon certain esthetic standards, it is often desirable to minimize the grout pattern between the individual pieces constituting the simulated brick wall. This capability is also facilitated by the embodiments depicted in FIGS. 5-11.

Another drawback of the embodiments depicted in FIGS. 1-4 can be the time and effort necessary to connect adjacent peripheral flanges 11. This difficulty is addressed by the connecting flange arrangement depicted in FIGS. 5-11. The connecting flange arrangement can be used in both vertical and horizontal directions. It permits sliding in the horizontal direction while still interlocking vertically adjacent individual contoured pieces 1. Consequently, individual contoured pieces 1 can be staggered, and different sizes can be used to obtain desired esthetic effects, or to accommodate difficult installation or fitting situations.

The connecting system of these embodiments of the present invention, depend on peripheral flanges 11 extending from all four sidewalls 13 in a manner similar to the embodiments depicted in FIGS. 1-4. However, the particular configuration of the extending peripheral flanges 11 facilitates a different type of connecting system in which no external connectors are required (except to attach panel 100 to the wall). Further, the interconnection system depicted in FIGS. 5-11 facilitates even spacing between adjacent contoured pieces. As a result, an esthetically pleasing appearance can be achieved very easily.

Further, the connecting system depicted in FIGS. 5-11 facilitates a moderately tight fit, in at least the vertical direction (oriented as the contoured pieces 1 are installed on a wall). Horizontal connecting is also achieved, at least to the extent of requiring an alignment that facilitates a uniform grout line. Also, with the connecting scheme of FIGS. 5-11, the connection of individual contoured pieces 1 to each other is accomplished quickly and efficiently even by unskilled labor. The resulting panels are held together very firmly in the vertical direction and when traditional offsets are used (simulating standard brick construction), the entire panel 100 is securely held together and easily handled for installation to a wall or substrate (not shown). This particular arrangement allows any number of offset arrangements, even when all of the contoured pieces 1 are the same size. It should be noted that within the concept of the present invention and the embodiments of FIGS. 5-11, it is not necessary for all of the individual contoured pieces 1 to be of the same size. For this second group of embodiments, all that is necessary is the connecting arrangement of the extending peripheral flanges 11.

One reason that these benefits can be achieved is that a flat, uniform surface 200 is presented to the wall or substrate (not shown) by the panel 100, and each of the individual contoured pieces 1 therein. As a result, there is no offset with any individual contoured piece or any part of that piece with respect to the substrate. This means that an even arrangement of the individual contoured pieces 1 and panels 100 can be obtained over the wall or substrate. This capability is achieve by the arrangement of flanges, connecting pieces and aligning pieces described with respect to FIGS. 5-11.

For descriptive purposes in FIGS. 5-11, 110 refers to the upper vertical flange immediately extending above sidewall 13, and designed to lie flat against a supporting wall (not shown). Connecting tabs 111 extend from side wall 13, parallel to upper flange 110. Space between the holding or connecting tabs 111 and the upper flange 110 is approximately the thickness of the material constituting contoured piece 1. This arrangement is used to form a slidable press-fit or friction connection with lower vertical flange 115 of an adjacent individual piece (not shown). While four connecting tabs 111 are depicted in the drawings, the present invention is not confined to this number. Also, the tabs are approximately ½″ wide and ⅛″ high. However, the present invention is not confined to these dimensions. A greater or lesser number of extending tabs can be used and can be both taller and wider than those described with respect to FIG. 5. The key limitation of connecting tabs 11 is that they be sufficient in size and number to hold multiple vertically adjacent individual pieces 1 to any particular individual piece 1. In most cases, this means two pieces arranged in the standard alternating courses used in normal brick work. However, when variety of different sizes of the individual contoured pieces 1 are used in a particular arrangement, and a wide variety of size are accommodated, then it is possible to for one individual piece to hold more than two pieces vertically within the concept of the present invention.

Preferably the lower vertical flange 115 is a single continuous piece as depicted in FIG. 6. However, the flange will function if it is arranged in several different pieces, as long as each piece aligns with a corresponding connector 111. However, it is preferable that the lower vertical flange 115 be in one piece to facilitate sliding when interlocking with the upper lower vertical flange 110 and connectors 111.

When viewing the front of FIG. 6 (a top view of contoured piece 1), the upper vertical flanges 110 (with connectors 111) appear at the top of contoured piece 1 while the lower vertical flange 115 appears at the bottom of this particular drawing. Right-side horizontal flanges 112(a), 112(b) are depicted on the right side of FIG. 6, and depicted in the side view designated FIG. 7. A single right-side horizontal flange 112 can be used as well. Ridge 119 extends below right-side horizontal flanges 112(a), 112(b) in order to help present a flat, even surface against the supporting wall or substrate (not shown).

The left horizontal side flange 113 is depicted on the left hand side of FIG. 6, and is depicted in side view designated FIG. 8. It should be noted that the left horizontal flange 113 is constructed to have a raised or offset segment 114 along a portion of the flange length.

FIG. 10 is a bottom view of contoured piece 1. The only new structure depicted is constituted by apertures 116 in alignment with holding tabs 111. FIG. 11 is a front view of the same contoured piece 1 with the bottom being aligned upwards. Otherwise no new structures are depicted.

In operation, the horizontal connecting of the present invention is really an alignment process that operates very differently from the friction connection effected by lower vertical flange 115, upper vertical flange 110, and holders 111. In contrast, the horizontal connecting of the present invention does not depend on a friction fit connection. Rather, the horizontal side flanges 112, and 113 effect vertical as well as horizontal alignment between adjacent contoured pieces. This is done through the use of offset or raised segment 114, on the left hand side horizontal flange 113. In operation the horizontal flange, right hand 112, rests upon left hand flange 113 and aligns with raised segment 114 so as to horizontally hold the contoured pieces 1 in a specific alignment. The raised segment 114 prevents vertical movement downward. The placement of a vertically adjacent individual contoured piece 1 (not shown) prevents vertical movement upwards. The side wall 13 of a horizontally adjacent individual contoured piece 1 (not shown) on the right hand side prevents horizontal movement in that direction. While a horizontally adjacent individual contoured piece on the left hand side (not shown) will prevent horizontal movement towards the left of the first horizontal piece.

It should be noted that the right hand side horizontal flange 112 is raised above the plane of the upper vertical flange 110, and above the plane of the left hand side horizontal flange 113. This allows horizontal alignment on two planes as one right side horizontal flange 112 abuts up against the side wall 13 of an adjacent individual contoured piece, and the left hand side horizontal flange 113 is aligned with the upper vertical flange 110 of an adjacent individual contoured piece 1. Vertical slippage between two horizontally aligned contoured pieces 1 is prevented by the presence a raised segment 114 extending above left hand side horizontal flange 113. In effect, the left and right side horizontal flanges 112, 113 provide a measure of vertical alignment (through the presence of raised segment 114, and through the presence of vertically adjacent contoured pieces).

The interaction of lower vertical flange 115 with upper vertical flange 110 and connectors 111 also effects both horizontal and vertical interlocking. Horizontal interlocking is also achieved by the alignment of the left hand side horizontal flange 113, which is on the same plane and abuts upper vertical flange 110, which extends into a side wall 113 immediately beneath right hand vertical flange 112. It should be noted that right hand horizontal flange 112 is raised above the bottom of side wall 113 only by the thickness of left hand side horizontal flange 113.

The interconnection between adjacent contoured pieces is sufficiently loose and flexible so that assembling the pieces can be done very easily, even by unskilled labor. More comprehensive interlocking of individual pieces 1 occurs when a panel 100 of the contoured pieces 1 is assembled together in alternating courses, such as shown in FIG. 4. This alternating arrangement facilitates greater strength in the interlocking (both vertically and horizontally) of the entire panel 100. Because this interlocking holds the final panel 100 in a reasonably tight arrangement, installation of the overall panel is not complicated by the possibility of the panel falling apart while it is fitted to the substrate of a wall. These results are achieved by a friction connection only in one direction (vertical), and simple flange alignment in the horizontal direction. It should be noted that the friction connection is sufficiently loose to allow sliding of the flange held in the friction connectors. This arrangement facilitates a near-optimum combination of holding and alignment capability, along with easy assembly (and disassembly when needed).

In the present invention, the alignments of the horizontal flanges facilitate the interlocking of the vertical flanges. This horizontal alignment also ensures that a flat, even surface 200 is presented by any number of interconnected individual contoured pieces 1 to any supporting wall or other substrate. This flat, even fit of panel 100 (constituted by a plurality of interlocked and interconnected individual contoured pieces 1) facilitates good weather proofing performance as well as an even, uniform appearance facilitating desirable esthetics. These advantages are facilitated by the combination of vertical interlocking and horizontal alignment found with the present invention.

It should be clear that a first version of the second set of embodiments is used to depict a brick structure and is optimized for such an arrangement, including the alternating courses simulated brick. In this arrangement, all of the individual contoured pieces 1 are of the same size, further facilitating the use of alternating courses of individual contoured pieces 1. However, the interconnecting of the second group of embodiments need not be directed solely to individual contoured pieces 1 of the same size, or type. Rather, contoured pieces 1 of different sizes, as depicted in FIG. 4, can be used with the connection arrangements of FIGS. 5-11.

Another variation of the embodiments of FIGS. 5-11 resides in contoured structure 12. In the embodiments of FIGS. 1-4, this structure is merely a surface that can be attached by overlaying to top surface 10, or preferably by forming the contoured surface as part of top surface 10. On the other hand, the embodiments of FIGS. 5-11 depict embodiments in which contoured structure 12 is constituted by a top (contoured) surface 121 supported by side walls 120. The entirety of contoured structure 12 can be fit over the top surface 10, thereby constituting the overall individual contoured piece 1.

This arrangement allows for a wide variety of different textures, contours, and colors to be manufactured for contoured structure 12 while maintaining the rest of contoured pieces 1 as uniform structures. This facilitates a simplified, faster, and ultimately less expensive manufacturing process. At the same time, a much greater extent of variation is optional using a wide variety of different contour structures 12. In the alternative, contoured structure 12 as depicted in FIGS. 5-11 can be molded as a single integral part of each of the contoured pieces 1.

Thus, while the present invention has been described by way of example, the present invention is not limited thereto. Rather, the present invention should be construed to include any and all variations, modifications, adaptations, derivations, and embodiments that would occur to one skilled in this art once in possession of the teachings of the present invention. Consequently, the present invention should be interpreted to be limited only by the following claims.