Title:
FLEXIBLE FASTENER STRIP ASSEMBLY AND METHODS OF ASSEMBLING THE SAME
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Various embodiments of a flexible fastener strip assembly include two or more straight hook fastener elements and an elongated connecting member for joining the hook fastener elements in an end-to-end relationship. Each hook fastener element includes a plurality of hooks and defines at least one elongated hole that extends through an upper and a lower surface of the hook fastener element. The elongated connecting member includes a spine and two or more protrusions that extend from one side of the spine in a width plane, and a width dimension of the spine in the width plane is greater than a thickness dimension of the spine in a thickness plane. Each protrusion is engaged into one of the elongated holes of the hook fastener elements such that the spine is disposed adjacent the lower surface of the hook fastener elements.



Inventors:
Coronel, Wolfgang E. (Macon, GA, US)
Kratz, Keith D. (Hawkinsville, GA, US)
Maddox, Cary (Jackson, GA, US)
Application Number:
12/133572
Publication Date:
12/10/2009
Filing Date:
06/05/2008
Assignee:
YKK Corporation of America
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A44B18/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
LAVINDER, JACK W
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP - East Coast (ATLANTA, GA, US)
Claims:
1. An elongated, flexible fastener strip assembly comprising: two or more hook fastener elements, each of said hook fastener elements having: an elongated base having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite said upper surface, a first end, and a second end opposite said first end, wherein a longitudinal axis extends between said first end and said second end; and a plurality of hooks extending upwardly from said upper surface, wherein each of said hook fastener elements defines at least one elongated hole extending through said upper and lower surfaces; and an elongated connecting member comprising a spine and at least two protrusions, said spine having a width dimension in a width plane and a thickness dimension in a thickness plane, said width dimension being larger than said thickness dimension, and said at least two protrusions extending from a first side of said spine in said width plane, wherein: said first protrusion is adapted for securely engaging said at least one elongated hole of a first hook fastener element and said second protrusion is adapted for securely engaging said at least one elongated hole of a second hook fastener element such that said first end of said first hook fastener element is disposed adjacent said first end of said second hook fastener element, said spine is disposed adjacent said lower surfaces of said hook fastener elements, and said width plane is substantially perpendicular to said lower surface of said hook fastener elements, and said elongated fastener strip assembly exhibits flexibility in said thickness plane of said elongated connecting member and stiffness in said width plane of said elongated connecting member.

2. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein each of said protrusions has a head and a neck intermediate said head and said spine, said head having an engaging portion having a length greater than a length of said neck, said engaging portion of said head being disposed adjacent said upper surface of said hook fastener element and said neck being disposed between said lower surface and said upper surface when said protrusion is engaged in said elongated hole of said hook fastener element.

3. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 2 wherein said head has a distal end opposite said engaging portion, said distal end having a length that is less than a length of said elongated hole of said hook fastener element and said engaging portion having a length that is greater than said length of said elongated hole.

4. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein said at least one elongated hole is disposed adjacent said first end of each of said hook fastener elements.

5. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 4 wherein: said first hook fastener element further defines a first elongated slit, said first elongated slit extending along said longitudinal axis of said first hook fastener element from said first end to a point adjacent said elongated hole adjacent said first end, said second hook fastener element further defines a second elongated slit, said second elongated slit extending along said longitudinal axis of said second hook fastener element from said first end to a point adjacent said elongated hole adjacent said first end, said elongated connecting member further comprises a stabilizing member disposed intermediate said first protrusion and said second protrusion, said stabilizing member extending from said first side of said spine in said width plane and having a thickness substantially equal to said spine and said first and second protrusions, and said stabilizing member is adapted for engaging said first elongated slit and said second elongated slit when said first hook fastener element is secured in an end-to-end relationship with said second hook fastener element.

6. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 5 wherein said first and second protrusions, said spine, and said stabilizing member have a rectangular shaped cross section as taken through the thickness plane of said elongated connecting member.

7. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 4 wherein said plurality of hook fastener elements comprises a third hook fastener element, and said plurality of protrusions extending from said first side of said elongated connecting member comprises a third protrusion and a fourth protrusion, said third protrusion adapted for securely engaging an elongated hole disposed adjacent said second end of said second hook fastener element and said fourth protrusion adapted for securely engaging an elongated hole disposed adjacent a second end of said third hook fastener element such that said second end of said second hook fastener element is disposed adjacent said second end of said third hook fastener element.

8. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein said first and second protrusions and said spine have a rectangular shaped cross section as taken through the thickness plane of said elongated connecting member.

9. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein an end portion of at least one of said ends of each of said hook fastener elements forms an arrow shape as viewed from the upper or lower surface of said hook fastener element.

10. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein each of said hook fastener elements further comprise at least two longitudinal side walls extending upwardly from said upper surface and being disposed adjacent each longitudinal edge of said upper surface, said longitudinal side walls having a height substantially equal to a height of said plurality of hooks.

11. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 10 wherein said base, said hooks, and said side walls of each of said hook fastener elements are integrally formed.

12. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 11 wherein said spine and said protrusions of said elongated connecting member are integrally formed.

13. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 12 wherein said spine and said protrusions are die cut from an elongated strip.

14. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein said base and said hooks of each of said hook fastener elements are integrally formed.

15. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein said elongated connecting member is formed from a material having magnetic properties.

16. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 1 wherein said elongated connecting member is formed from a plastic material.

17. The elongated flexible fastener strip assembly of claim 16 wherein each of said hook fastener elements comprises a monofilament formed therein having magnetic properties.

18. A method of assembling a plurality of hook fastener elements in an end-to-end relationship with a connecting member, said method comprising: providing two or more hook fastener elements, each of said hook fastener elements having: an elongated base having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite said upper surface, a first end, and a second end opposite said first end, wherein a longitudinal axis extends between said first end and said second end; and a plurality of hooks extending upwardly from said upper surface, wherein each of said hook fastener elements defines at least one elongated hole extending through said upper and lower surfaces; providing an elongated connecting member comprising a spine and at least two protrusions, said spine having a width dimension in a width plane and a thickness dimension in a thickness plane, said width dimension being larger than said thickness dimension, said protrusions extending from a first side of said spine in said width plane; securely engaging said first protrusion in said at least one elongated hole of a first hook fastener element; and securely engaging said second protrusion in said at least one elongated hole of a second hook fastener element, wherein said first end of said first hook fastener element is disposed adjacent said first end of said second hook fastener element, said spine is disposed adjacent said lower surfaces of said hook fastener elements, and said width plane of said elongated connecting member is substantially perpendicular to said lower surface of said hook fastener elements.

19. The method of claim 18 wherein the step of providing two or more hook fastener elements comprises die-cutting a straight hook fastener element into two or more separate hook fastener elements.

20. The method of claim 19 wherein the step of die-cutting said straight hook fastener element comprises die-cutting said elongated holes through said upper and lower surfaces of each separate hook fastener element.

21. The method of claim 18 wherein the step of providing said elongated connecting member comprises die-cutting said protrusions from an elongated strip of material having a rectangular cross section as taken through the thickness plane and the width plane.

22. An elongated, flexible fastener strip assembly comprising: a straight hook fastener element comprising: an elongated base having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite said upper surface, a first end, and a second end opposite said first end, wherein a longitudinal axis extends between said first end and said second end; a plurality of hooks extending upwardly from said upper surface; and at least one narrow portion extending between two wide portions of said base, wherein said wide portions are able to bend relative to each other through said narrow portion, wherein each of said wide portions of said hook fastener element further defines at least one elongated hole extending through said upper and lower surfaces; and an elongated connecting member comprising a spine and at least two protrusions, said spine having a width dimension in a width plane and a thickness dimension in a thickness plane, said width dimension being larger than said thickness dimension, and said at least two protrusions extending from a first side of said spine in said width plane, wherein: said first protrusion is adapted for securely engaging said at least one elongated hole of a first wide portion of said hook fastener element and said second protrusion is adapted for securely engaging said at least one elongated hole of a second wide portion of said hook fastener element such that said spine is disposed adjacent said lower surface of said hook fastener element, and said width plane is substantially perpendicular to said lower surface of said hook fastener element, and said elongated fastener strip assembly exhibits flexibility in said thickness plane of said elongated connecting member and stiffness in said width plane of said elongated connecting member.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Hook and loop fastening structures may be used in various applications to secure objects adjacent each other. For example, hook fastening strips may be molded onto a surface of a foam bun of an automobile seat, and loop material may be provided on an inner surface of an automobile seat covering to engage the hook fastening strips and secure the seat covering to the foam bun. Flexible hook fastening strips may be utilized adjacent portions of the foam bun having contours, and straight hook fastening strips may be utilized on straight portions of the foam bun, such as longitudinally down the center of the bun.

FIG. 1 illustrates an embodiment of a mold 10 for forming the foam bun of a particular automobile seat. The mold 10 includes trenches 12, 13 for receiving the hook fastening strips 21, 22, respectively, prior to injection of the foam for forming the foam bun. An operator disposes a straight hook fastening strip 22 within a straight trench 13 and flexible hook fastening strips 21 within curved trenches 12. To hold the hook fastening strips 21, 22 in the trenches 12, 13 and to align each strip 21, 22 properly within each trench 12, 13, the trenches 12, 13 may include a magnetic surface and the hook fastening strips 21, 22 may include a monofilament having magnetic properties (e.g., carbon steel or iron) formed within the fastening strips 21, 22.

Prior art flexible hook fastener strip such as the fastener strips 21 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2A-2D are die cut into the shape of the trench 12, which limits the fastener strips to use only with trenches having that particular shape. In addition, a covering 23 is disposed over the hooks to prevent foam from seeping between the hooks. However, an operator has to remove this covering 23 from a base 24 on which the hooks are disposed after removing the formed foam bun from the mold 10, which results in an extra manufacturing step for the operator and wasted material for the manufacturer. Furthermore, as shown in FIGS. 2C and 2D, the known fastener strips 21 are flimsy, making them difficult for the operator to manipulate when disposing them within the trenches 12.

Straight fastener strips 22, such as those disclosed in U.S. Published Patent Application Number 2007/0240289 and shown in FIG. 3, provide a sufficient level of stiffness in a plane perpendicular to an upper surface of the fastener strips 22, but these fastener strips 22 lack flexibility in a plane containing the upper surface of the fastener strips 22.

Thus, a need in the art exists for an improved flexible fastener strip that provides a balance of flexibility and stiffness for easier maneuverability by an operator and increased efficiency in the manufacturing process.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF VARIOUS EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

Various embodiments of the invention provide an elongated, flexible fastener strip assembly comprising two or more hook fastener elements and an elongated connecting member. Each of the hook fastener elements has: (1) an elongated base having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite the upper surface, a first end, a second end opposite the first end, and a longitudinal axis that extends between the first end and the second end; and (2) a plurality of hooks that extend upwardly from the upper surface. Each of the hook fastener elements defines at least one elongated hole that extends through the upper and lower surfaces.

The elongated connecting member comprises a spine and at least two protrusions. The spine has a width dimension in a width plane and a thickness dimension in a thickness plane, and the width dimension is larger than the thickness dimension. The protrusions extend from a first side of the spine in the width plane. The first protrusion is adapted for securely engaging the at least one elongated hole of a first hook fastener element, and the second protrusion is adapted for securely engaging the at least one elongated hole of a second hook fastener element such that the first end of the first hook fastener element is disposed adjacent the first end of the second hook fastener element, the spine is disposed adjacent the lower surfaces of the hook fastener elements, and the width plane is substantially perpendicular to the lower surface of the hook fastener elements. The elongated fastener strip assembly according to this embodiment exhibits flexibility in the thickness plane of the elongated connecting member and stiffness in the width plane of the elongated connecting member.

In a further embodiment, the first hook fastener element further defines a first elongated slit that extends along the longitudinal axis of the first hook fastener element from the first end to a point adjacent an elongated hole adjacent the first end. In addition, the second hook fastener element further defines a second elongated slit that extends along the longitudinal axis of the second hook fastener element from the first end to a point adjacent an elongated hole adjacent the first end. Furthermore, the elongated connecting member further comprises a stabilizing member disposed intermediate the first protrusion and the second protrusion. The stabilizing member extends from the first side of the spine in the width plane and has a thickness substantially equal to the spine and the first and second protrusions. The stabilizing member is adapted for engaging the first elongated slit and the second elongated slit when the first hook fastener element is secured in an end-to-end relationship with the second hook fastener element.

In a further embodiment, the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly comprises a third hook fastener element, and the elongated connecting member comprises a third and fourth protrusion extending from the first side of the spine. The third and fourth protrusions are adapted for engaging the elongated hole defined in the third hook fastener element and a second elongated hole defined in the second hook fastener element such that the second ends of the third hook fastener element and the second hook fastener element are disposed adjacent each other in an end-to-end relationship.

In an alternative embodiment, an elongated, flexible fastener strip assembly comprises a straight hook fastener element and an elongated connecting member. The straight hook fastener element comprises an elongated base having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite the upper surface, a first end, a second end opposite the first end, and a longitudinal axis extending between the first end and the second end. The straight hook fastener element also includes a plurality of hooks extending upwardly from the upper surface and at least one narrow portion that extends between two wide portions of the base. The wide portions are able to bend relative to each other through the narrow portion, and each of the wide portions of the hook fastener element further defines at least one elongated hole extending through the upper and lower surfaces. The elongated connecting member comprises a spine and at least two protrusions. The spine has a width dimension in a width plane and a thickness dimension in a thickness plane, wherein the width dimension is larger than the thickness dimension, and the at least two protrusions extend from a first side of the spine in the width plane. The first protrusion is adapted for securely engaging the at least one elongated hole of a first wide portion of the hook fastener element and the second protrusion is adapted for securely engaging the at least one elongated hole of a second wide portion of the hook fastener element such that the spine is disposed adjacent the lower surface of the hook fastener element, and the width plane is substantially perpendicular to the lower surface of the hook fastener element. The elongated fastener strip assembly exhibits flexibility in the thickness plane of the elongated connecting member and stiffness in the width plane of the elongated connecting member.

Various other embodiments of the invention provide a method of assembling a plurality of hook fastener elements in an end-to-end relationship with a connecting member. The method includes the steps of: (1) providing two or more hook fastener elements that each have: (a) an elongated base having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite the upper surface, a first end, a second end opposite the first end, and a longitudinal axis extending between the first end and the second end; and (b) a plurality of hooks extending upwardly from the upper surface, wherein each of the hook fastener elements defines at least one elongated hole extending through the upper and lower surfaces; (2) providing an elongated connecting member comprising a spine and at least two protrusions, the spine having a width dimension in a width plane and a thickness dimension in a thickness plane, the width dimension being larger than the thickness dimension, and the protrusions extending from a first side of the spine in the width plane; (3) securely engaging the first protrusion in the at least one elongated hole of a first hook fastener element; and (4) securely engaging the second protrusion in the at least one elongated hole of a second hook fastener element. By securely engaging the first protrusion in the elongated hole of the first hook fastener element and engaging the second protrusion in the elongated hole of the second hook fastener element, the first end of the first hook fastener element is disposed adjacent the first end of the second hook fastener element, the spine is disposed adjacent the lower surfaces of the hook fastener elements, and the width plane of the elongated connecting member is substantially perpendicular to the lower surface of the hook fastener elements.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Having thus described various embodiments of the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:

FIG. 1 illustrates a view of a mold for forming a foam bun.

FIGS. 2A and 2B illustrate a known flexible fastener strip.

FIG. 2C and 2D illustrate stiffness and flexibility qualities of the flexible fastener strip shown in FIGS. 2A and 2B.

FIG. 3 illustrates a known straight fastener strip.

FIG. 4 illustrates a plan view of a lower surface of two hook fastener elements according to various embodiments of the invention.

FIGS. 5A and 5B illustrate side views of an elongated connecting member for engaging with the hook fastener elements shown in FIG. 4 according to various embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 6 illustrates a bottom plan view of the elongated connecting member shown in FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 illustrates a bottom perspective view of an assembly of the elongated connecting member shown in FIGS. 5 and 6 with the hook fastener elements shown in FIG. 4.

FIG. 8 illustrates a top perspective view of the assembly shown in FIG. 7.

FIG. 9 illustrates a side view of the assembly shown in FIG. 7.

FIG. 10 illustrates a lower perspective view of the assembly shown in FIG. 7 disposed on a magnetic surface of a trench.

FIG. 11 illustrates a side view of an elongated connecting member according to another embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 12 illustrates a plan view of a lower surface of two hook fastener elements according to another embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 13 illustrates a bottom perspective view of the elongated connecting member in FIG. 11 assembled with the hook fastener elements in FIG. 12 according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 14 illustrates a lower perspective view of the assembly shown in FIG. 13 disposed on a magnetic surface of a trench.

FIG. 15 illustrates an upper plan view of the assembly shown in FIG. 13 formed on the surface of a foam bun according to one embodiment.

FIG. 16 illustrates a die-cutting roller for forming an elongated connecting member according to one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 17 illustrates a lower plan view of a straight hook fastener element according to an alternative embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF VARIOUS EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

Various embodiments of the invention are described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which some, but not all embodiments of the invention are shown in the figures. Indeed, these inventions may be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will satisfy applicable legal requirements.

Brief Summary

Various embodiments of the invention provide an elongated flexible fastener strip assembly that includes two or more hook fastener elements and an elongated connecting member for joining the hook fastener elements in an end-to-end relationship. In particular, in various embodiments, the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly includes two or more hook fastener elements and an elongated connecting member. Each of the two or more hook fastener elements include a plurality of hooks that extend upwardly from an upper surface of the hook fastener elements and define at least one elongated hole extending through the upper surface and a lower surface of the hook fastener element. The elongated connecting member includes a spine and two or more protrusions extending from one side of the spine in a width plane, and a width dimension of the elongated connecting member in the width plane is greater than a thickness dimension of the elongated connecting member in a thickness plane that is perpendicular to the width plane. The protrusions are adapted for engaging each of the elongated holes of the hook fastener elements. When the protrusions are engaged with the holes of the hook fastener elements, the spine is disposed along the lower surface of the hook fastener elements. The assembly according to various embodiments exhibits an improved level of stiffness and flexibility in the thickness plane of the elongated connecting member, which is parallel to the upper and lower surfaces of each hook fastener element, and in the width plane of the elongated connecting member. More detailed descriptions of various embodiments of the hook fastener elements and the elongated connecting member of the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly are provided below.

Structure and Methods of Manufacturing a Hook Fastener Element

FIGS. 4, 8, and 10 illustrate a hook fastener element 31 according to one embodiment of the invention. In particular, the hook fastener element 31 has an elongated base 32 that has an upper surface 33 and a lower surface 34 opposite the upper surface 33. The hook fastener element 31 also includes a first end 35 and a second end 36, and a longitudinal axis 37 extends between the first end 35 and the second end 36. A plurality of longitudinal side walls 39a, 39b extend upwardly from the upper surface 33 of the hook fastener element 31 and are disposed adjacent each longitudinal edge 40a, 40b, respectively, of the upper surface 33. A plurality of hooks 38 adapted for engaging loop material extend upwardly from the upper surface 33 of the hook fastener element 31 and are disposed between the longitudinal side walls 39a, 39b. The height of the longitudinal walls 39a, 39b is substantially equal to a height of the plurality of hooks 38 to prevent foam from seeping between the hooks 38 during the molding process. In addition, the hook fastener element 31 defines at least one elongated hole 41 that extends through the upper surface 33 and the lower surface 34 and is disposed adjacent the first end 35 of the hook fastener element 31 along longitudinal axis 37.

In a further embodiment, a width of an end portion 44 of at least the first end 35 of each hook fastener element 31 begins to decrease along the longitudinal axis 37 toward the first end 35, forming an arrow-shape. This arrangement allows for the ends of two adjacent hook fastener elements 31 assembled in an end-to-end relationship to move at an angle to each other in a width plane of the hook fastener elements 31.

In addition, according to one embodiment, the hook fastener element 31 also defines at least one elongated slit 42 that extends along the longitudinal axis 37 from the first end 35 to a point adjacent the elongated hole 41 adjacent the first end 35.

In another embodiment in which the hook fastener element 31 is to be joined between two other hook fastener elements 31 in an end-to-end relationship, the hook fastener element 31 further defines a second elongated hole 41 adjacent the second end 36 of the hook fastener element 31. In addition, the hook fastener element 31 may further define a second elongated slit 42 that extends along the longitudinal axis 37 from the second end 36 to a point adjacent the elongated hole 41 adjacent the second end 36.

According to various embodiments, the hook fastener element 31 is formed of a plastic material (e.g., polyamides, polyurethanes, polyesters, or polybutylene terephthalate (PBT)), and the base 32, hooks 38, and longitudinal side walls 39a, 39b are integrally formed during a molding process. In a particular embodiment, the strip 31 further includes a monofilament (e.g., iron monofilament) extending longitudinally through the base 32 that has magnetic properties. This monofilament attracts, aligns, and holds the hook fastener element 31 adjacent a magnetic trench, such as the magnetic trench 12 described above in relation to FIG. 1.

According to a particular embodiment, the hook fastener elements 31 are manufactured from straight hook fastener elements such as the straight hook fastener elements described in U.S. Published Patent Application Number 2007/0240289, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety. In particular, straight hook fastener elements are die-cut into smaller straight hook fastener elements 31, and the process further includes cutting the elongated holes 41 and the ends 35, 36 of the hook fastener elements 31 into the arrow-shape described above. In other alternative embodiments, the cutting may be done using a laser cutting device or by grinding.

The length of the hook fastener elements, the location of the elongated holes relative to the ends of the hook fastener elements, and whether an elongated slit 42 is provided adjacent the ends of the hook fastener elements may be a function of the radius of the contour for which the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly will be used. For example, the length of the hook fastener elements 31 in the above described embodiments is longer than the length of the hook fastener elements 71 described below in relation to the embodiments shown in FIGS. 11-15 because the hook fastener elements 71 are to be used in a contour having a greater radius. In particular, the hook fastener elements 71 shown in FIGS. 11-15 are used in a 90° contour. In addition, the elongated holes 41 of the hook fastener elements 31 described above are disposed adjacent each end of the hook fastener elements 31, but the elongated holes 91 of the hook fastener elements 71 shown in FIGS. 11-15 are disposed adjacent a center of each hook fastener element 71. Furthermore, because the hook fastener elements 71 shown in FIGS. 11-15 are to occupy a contour having a greater radius than the hook fastener elements 31 shown in FIGS. 4, 8, and 10, the hook fastener elements 71 do not define an elongated slit.

FIG. 17 illustrates an alternative embodiment of a straight hook fastener element 95 that includes an elongated base 94 having an upper surface, a lower surface opposite the upper surface, a first end, a second end opposite the first end, and a longitudinal axis 93 extending between the first end and the second end. The straight hook fastener element 95 also includes a plurality of hooks extending upwardly from the upper surface and at least one narrow portion 96 that extends between two wide portions 97 of the base. The wide portions 97 are able to bend relative to each other through the narrow portion 96, and each of the wide portions 97 of the hook fastener element 95 further defines at least one elongated hole 98 extending through the upper and lower surfaces. In a further embodiment, an elongated slit 99 extends along the longitudinal axis 93 between the elongated holes 98 of adjacent wide portions 97 through the narrow portion 96 between the two wide portions 97.

Structure and Methods of Manufacturing an Elongated Connecting Member

FIGS. 5A, 5B, and 6 illustrate an elongated connecting member 50 according to one embodiment of the invention. In particular, the elongated connecting member 50 includes a spine 51 having a width W in a width plane and a thickness T in a thickness plane, wherein the width W is larger than the thickness T. According to various embodiments, the thickness T may be between about 0.01″ and about 0.05″, and the width W may be between about 0.04″ and about 0.25″. For example, in a particular embodiment, the elongated connecting member 50 is formed of a polyester material, and the thickness T is about 0.022″ and the width W is about 0.078″. The elongated connecting member 50 further includes at least two protrusions 52 that extend in the width plane from one side of the spine 51, and the protrusions 52 have a thickness that is substantially equal to the thickness of the spine 51. The protrusions 52 are spaced along a length of the elongated connecting member 50. According to one embodiment, each protrusion 52 includes a head 53 and a neck 54 intermediate the head 53 and the spine 51. The head 53 has an engaging portion 55 that has a length Le greater than a length Ln of the neck 54 and a length of the distal end 56 of the head 53.

In a particular embodiment, the elongated connecting member 50 further includes a stabilizing member 57 that extends in the width plane from the same side of the spine 51 as the protrusions 52 and is disposed intermediate the protrusions 52. The stabilizing member 57 has a thickness and width substantially equal to the thickness and width, respectively, of the two protrusions 52. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 6, the stabilizing member 57, the two protrusions 52, and the spine 51 have a rectangular cross-section as taken through the thickness plane.

According to various embodiments, the elongated connecting member 50 is formed of a plastic material (e.g., polyester, PVC, HDPE, or nylon), and the spine 51, protrusions 52, and stabilizing member 57 are integrally formed. In a particular embodiment, the spine 51, protrusions 52, and stabilizing member 55 are formed by die-cutting an extruded piece of plastic material using a roller assembly, such as the roller assembly 100 shown in FIG. 16. In an alternative embodiment, the elongated connecting member may be formed from a magnetic material (e.g., carbon steel or iron). This magnetic elongated connecting member may be used in one embodiment of the elongated, flexible fastener strip assembly in which the hook fastener elements do not include a magnetic monofilament. The magnetic properties of the elongated connecting member 50 would cause the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly to be attracted to and align along the contour of the magnetic trench and would keep the assembly adjacent the magnetic trench.

According to one embodiment, the length of the elongated connecting member may depend on the number of hook fastener elements to be included in the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly and the end use of the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly. For example, the elongated connecting member may be cut to a length substantially equal to the total length of the hook fastener elements to be included in the elongated flexible fastener strip assembly, which is partially shown in FIG. 10. Alternatively, the elongated connecting member may be cut to a length that is sufficient to span at least two hook fastener elements.

Methods of Assembly

FIGS. 7-10 illustrate a flexible fastener strip assembly 30 according to one embodiment of the invention. FIG. 7 illustrates the elongated connecting member 50 described above in relation to FIGS. 5A, 5B, and 6 being inserted into the ends 35 of two adjacent hook fastener elements 31. Two adjacent hook fastener elements 31 are joined together in an end-to-end relationship by engaging the projections 52 and the stabilizing member 57 of the elongated connecting member 50 into the elongated holes 41 and elongated slits 42, respectively, of each hook fastener element 31. In particular, according to one embodiment, when the protrusions 52 are engaged into the elongated holes 41 of each hook fastener element 31, the engaging portion 55 of each head 53 of each protrusion 52 is disposed adjacent the upper surface 33 of the hook fastener element 31, the neck 54 is disposed between the upper surface 33 and the lower surface 34 of the hook fastener element 31, and the spine 51 is disposed adjacent the lower surface 34 of the hook fastener element 31. In one embodiment in which the distal end 56 of the head 53 has a length that is less than the length of the elongated hole 41, the distal end 56 can pass through the elongated hole 41 easily. In addition, in a further embodiment in which the length of the engaging portion 55 is slightly greater than the length of the elongated hole 41, the elongated hole 41 is elastically deformed as the engaging portion 55 is pushed through the hole 41 and then returns to its original length, preventing the engaging portion 55 from passing back through the hole 41.

In an alternative embodiment (not shown), the elongated connecting member may be glued to the lower surfaces of the hook fastener elements to prevent separation of the hook fastener elements and the elongated connecting member. In one such embodiment, the protrusions do not include an engaging portion for engaging the upper surface of the hook fastener elements.

FIGS. 11-15 illustrate another embodiment of an elongated, flexible fastener strip assembly 80 that includes an elongated connecting member 60 and a plurality of hook fastener elements 71 secured in an end-to-end relationship by the elongated connecting member 60. In this embodiment, the hook fastener elements 71 are shorter in length than the hook fastener elements 31 described above and do not include elongated slits 42, and the elongated connecting member 60 does not include a stabilizing member 57. Instead, the elongated connecting member 60 comprises a spine 61 and at least two protrusions 62 for engaging each of at least two elongated holes 91 defined through each hook fastener element 71. For example, if four hook fastener elements 71 are to be joined together in an end-to-end relationship, the elongated connecting member 60 may include eight protrusions 62. In addition, according to one embodiment, the elongated holes 91 are disposed along the longitudinal axis of the hook fastener elements 71 adjacent the center of each hook fastener element 71.

According to various embodiments, the flexible fastener strip assemblies 30, 80 described above are sufficiently flexible in the thickness plane of the elongated connecting members 50, 60 to be used along a curved contour, such as discussed above in relation to FIGS. 1-2D, and the assemblies 30, 80 exhibit sufficient stiffness in the width plane of the elongated connecting members 50, 60 to provide easier maneuverability for an operator installing the elongated flexible fastener strip assemblies 30, 80. Furthermore, in embodiments in which the hook fastener elements are cut from longer straight hook fastener elements, the operators can quickly and easily make custom-sized elongated, flexible fastener strips assemblies.

CONCLUSION

Although this invention has been described in specific detail with reference to the disclosed embodiments, it will be understood that many variations and modifications may be effected within the spirit and scope of the invention as described in the appended claims.