Title:
Secure storage system having mobile shelving units
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A storage system having mobile storage units and lock means for securing a plurality of the storage units. A storage system having mobile storage units, door means, and lock means for securing a plurality of the storage units. A method for securing a storage system having mobile storage units and lock means.



Inventors:
Olson, Jeffrey C. (Dallas, PA, US)
Application Number:
12/219389
Publication Date:
01/28/2010
Filing Date:
07/22/2008
Assignee:
Metro Industries Inc. (Reno, NV, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
312/215, 312/198
International Classes:
A47B53/02
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20060290244Combination cabinetDecember, 2006Wang
20080278043DRAWER LOCK MECHANISMNovember, 2008Holcomb
20080316699Plate combination type computer housingDecember, 2008Chen et al.
20090025954Switchgear CabinetJanuary, 2009Stock et al.
20050151453Storage unit for stacking multiple containers with lidsJuly, 2005North
20090243446Housing of an Electrical Machine Comprising Cooling Channels Extending in a Housing WallOctober, 2009Platen et al.
20050248241Beam box storage containerNovember, 2005Ceglarski
20080018213Drawer slide assembly having an adjustment mechanismJanuary, 2008Chen et al.
20090058242SLIDE ASSEMBLYMarch, 2009Holcomb
20080252191Damper and Home-Bar Door Apparatus for Refrigerator Using the SameOctober, 2008Kim et al.
20090091227FRONT PANEL FOR A DRAWERApril, 2009Bruhin et al.



Primary Examiner:
GALLEGO, ANDRES F
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Venable LLP (New York, NY, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A storage system, comprising: a. first and second storage units, each of which has an interior for storing items; b. guide means for mounting said first storage unit for movement between (1) a closed position relative to said second storage unit, wherein in the closed position access to the interiors of said first and said second storage units is prevented, and (2) an open position spaced away from said second storage unit, wherein in the open position access to the interiors of said first and said second storage units is provided; and c. lock means for selectively (1) locking said first storage unit in the closed position and (2) unlocking said first storage unit thereby permitting it to move to the open position.

2. The storage system according to claim 1, wherein when said first storage unit is in the closed position, the exterior sides of said first and said second storage units are substantially enclosed thereby preventing access to their interiors.

3. The storage system according to claim 2, further comprising enclosing means for substantially enclosing all the exterior sides of said first and said second storage units when said first storage unit is in the closed position.

4. The storage system according to claim 2, wherein at least one of the exterior sides of said first or said second storage unit is substantially enclosed via a wall which is separate from the storage system.

5. The storage system according to claim 1, wherein said second storage unit is mounted in a stationary position, and said guide means mounts said first storage unit for translational movement between the closed position and the open position.

6. The storage system according to claim 1, further comprising one or more additional first storage units, one of said first storage units being positioned most distant from said second storage unit, wherein (1) said guide means mounts each of said additional first storage units for movement along a path between a closed position relative to an adjacent storage unit, the adjacent storage unit being one of said first storage units, and an open position spaced away from the adjacent storage unit and (2) said lock means is operative for selectively locking one of said additional first storage units in its closed position and unlocking it.

7. The storage system according to claim 1, wherein said lock means does not require a separate rack means to lock said first storage unit in the closed position.

8. The storage system according to claim 1, wherein said lock means comprises a bar operable to extend into an aperture in the guide means.

9. The storage system according to claim 1, further comprising one or more additional first storage units, wherein said lock means is operable to lock two adjacent storage units together.

10. The storage system according to claim 9, wherein if neither of the two adjacent storage units is said second storage unit, the two adjacent storage units are operable to move as a single unit when they are locked together.

11. A storage system comprising: a. first and second storage units, each of which has an interior for storing items; b. guide means for mounting said first storage unit for movement between a first position and a second position relative to said second storage unit, wherein when said first storage unit is in the first position there is an access space between said first and said second storage units; c. door means mounted for movement between (1) a closed position wherein the door means substantially obstructs the ingress of the access space formed when said first storage unit is moved to the first position and (2) an open position wherein the door means does not substantially obstruct the ingress of the access space; and d. lock means for selectively (1) simultaneously locking said door means in the closed position and said first storage unit in the first position and (2) simultaneously unlocking said door means permitting it to move to said open position and said first storage means permitting it to move to said second position.

12. A method for securing a storage system, the storage system comprising first and second storage units each having an interior, guide means for mounting said first storage unit for movement, and lock means for selectively locking said first storage unit in a closed position, the method comprising: a. moving said first storage unit from an open position spaced away from said second storage unit, the open position being a position where the interior of each of said first and said second storage units are accessible, to a closed position relative to said second storage unit, the closed position being a position where the interior of at least one of said first and said second storage units is not accessible; and b. locking said lock means when said first storage unit is in the closed position, thereby to prevent access to the interior of each of said first and said second storage units.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Hospitals, restaurants, businesses, and homeowners need storage space. However, because space is often limited, storage systems are desiredly compact and efficient. A number of compact storage systems exist that employ mobile shelving units that move along or are guided by a bottom or a top track. An example of a top track storage system is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,991,725 (Welsch, et al.) An example of a bottom track storage system is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 7,143,474 (Welsch, et al.) (Both of these patents are assigned to the assignee of the subject invention.) A perceived problem with these storage systems, however, is that their contents are not secure. These storage systems are often located in a room to which many people have access. As a result, one with access to that room can readily gain access to the interior of the storage system. This poses potential problems to a business owner, for example, as employees or others can pilfer the often valuable contents of the shelving units and to a homeowner as children can have access to possibly dangerous materials stored therein.

There has been some effort put into developing apparatus and methods for holding or fixing mobile shelving unit movement along a track or other guide structure. These efforts tend to be directed to the safety feature of maintaining an access aisle open so that a user in the aisle is not inadvertently struck by a moving mobile shelving unit. Information relevant to these efforts can be found, for example, in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,523,794 (Peterman); 4,607,896 (Peterman); and 5,160,189 (Johnston, et al.). The techniques employed, however, fail to teach how to secure a storage system having mobile shelving units so as to prevent access to the contents of the shelving units. Further, the holding mechanisms are often complex and/or are not versatile.

For at least the foregoing reasons, there is a need for a secure storage system having mobile shelving units that can be secured in various ways so as to protect the contents of the shelving units.

SUMMARY

The present invention has been developed with this need in mind. Further, while several aspects of the invention are herein described, the invention is broader than each aspect and the invention's scope is delineated by the claims and corresponding equivalents.

One aspect of the invention is directed to a storage system that comprises first and second storage units, each having an interior for storing items, and guide means for mounting the first storage unit for movement between a closed position relative to the second storage unit and an open position spaced away from the second storage unit. Means are provided so that access to the interiors of the first and second storage units is only available in the regions wherein the units face each other. Therefore, in the closed position, it is not possible to access the interiors of the storage units. However, in the open position, it is possible to access the interiors of the storage units. The system further comprises lock means for selectively locking the first storage unit in the closed position and unlocking the first storage unit so that it can move to the open position.

Another aspect of the invention is directed to a storage system comprising first and second storage units, each having an interior for storing items, and guide means for mounting the first storage unit for movement between a first position and a second position relative to the second storage unit. When the first storage unit is in the first position, there exists an access space between the first and second storage units, whereby the interiors of the storage units are accessible. The system further comprises door means mounted for movement between a closed position and an open position. When in the closed position, the door means substantially obstructs the ingress to the access space such that the interiors of the storage units are not accessible. When in the open position, the door means does not substantially obstruct the ingress to the access space, and thus the interiors of the storage units are accessible when the first storage unit is in the first position. The system further comprises lock means for selectively (a) simultaneously locking the door means in the closed position and the storage unit in the first position and (b) simultaneously unlocking the door means (thus permitting the door means to move to the open position) and the first storage means (thus permitting it to move to the second position).

A further aspect of the invention is directed to a method for securing a storage system, the storage system comprising first and second storage units each having an interior, means to prevent access to the interiors of the first and second storage units other than through the regions wherein the units face each other, guide means for mounting the first storage unit for movement, and lock means for selectively locking the first storage unit in a closed position. The method comprises moving the first storage unit from an open position spaced away from the second storage unit to a closed position relative to the second storage unit. The open position is a position where the interior of each of the first and second storage units are accessible. The closed position is a position where the interior of each of the first and second storage units are not accessible. The method further comprises locking the lock means when the first storage unit is in the closed position, thereby to prevent access to the interior of each of the first and second storage units.

These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with regard to the following description, appended claims, and accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a top plan schematic view of a storage system wherein a stationary storage unit and a mobile storage unit are secured in a closed position relative to each other;

FIG. 2 is a top plan schematic view of a storage system wherein a plurality of mobile storage units are secured in a closed position relative to a stationary unit;

FIG. 3 is a top plan schematic view of a storage system wherein two mobile storage units are secured in a closed position; and

FIG. 4 in a top plan view of a storage system wherein door means are used to secure a plurality of storage units in a closed position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention is directed to a secure storage system having mobile storage units. As storage systems having mobile storage units are widely available, there are many teachings regarding their details and various configurations. Two examples of storage systems with mobile storage units can be found in U.S. Pat. No. 4,991,725 (Welsch, et al.) (top track storage system) and U.S. Pat. No. 7,143,474 (Welsch, et al.) (bottom track storage system), the disclosures of each of which are herein incorporated in their entireties by reference. Therefore, for purposes of efficiency, discussion of many of the details of such storage systems that are not crucial to understanding, describing, and enabling the present invention is omitted herein. Nevertheless, the present invention is intended to encompass all of the many types and configurations of storage systems having mobile storage units that are well-known in the art.

First Embodiment

FIG. 1 shows a storage system comprising a stationary storage unit 101, a first mobile storage unit 102, and a plurality of other mobile storage units 103. The mobile units are mounted for movement toward and away from the stationary unit. The storage units can be any of several kinds well known in the art. For example, a storage unit could comprise four corner posts that support one or more shelves. The volume defined by the four posts or corners of each unit is the interior of that unit. Enclosure means are provided substantially to enclose certain exterior portions of each unit so as to limit access to the interior of that unit. For example, such enclosure means could be in the form of an exterior side on each mobile unit 102. Alternatively, a separate wall structure 109 against which the storage system is mounted could provide the means for enclosing one side of each storage unit.

More particularly, as seen in FIG. 1, the stationary unit is enclosed by, for example, a panel 120 on its extreme left-most side, a panel on its uppermost end 122, and a wall 109 in the area in and against which the storage system is installed. The first mobile unit 102 similarly has a panel 124a on its extreme right-most side and a panel 126a on its uppermost end, and is enclosed by the wall 109 on its lowermost end 128. In this way access to the interiors of the stationary and first mobile units is limited to the region in which these units face each other. The remaining mobile storage units may have enclosure panels 124b and 126b comparable to those on the first mobile unit 102a. Of course if the storage system is free-standing and away from the wall 109, each of the stationary and mobile storage units may have a panel enclosing its lowermost end as seen in FIG. 1. A storage unit could also be constructed as a partial enclosure, such that separate enclosure panels are not required. For example, stationary storage unit 101 could be formed with a back and sides, like a bookcase. Some of the mobile storage units could be constructed only with sides, as their front and back portions would be effectively closed off by other storage units in certain configurations, like mobile storage unit 202 in FIG. 2.

The stationary storage unit 101 may be bolted to the floor or otherwise secured in place by conventional structures.

The mobile storage units are mounted for movement on a guide structure, such as a track 402. There are many types of track systems that are well-known in the art such as, for example, a top track system and a bottom track system. In a top track system, the mobile storage units have wheels or other sliding mechanisms to move along the floor and the tops of the mobile storage units are guided for movement by track means, like a guide rail, located at the top of the storage units, all as fully described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,991,725. In a bottom track system, tracks are mounted along the floor and the mobile storage units are mounted for movement along the tracks, as fully described in U.S. Pat. No. 7,143,474. The guide structures that may be used in conjunction with the present invention are not limited to these track systems. Any guide means that effectively guides the movement of the mobile storage units is contemplated by the invention.

The mobile storage units are mounted on the guide means for movement between at least two positions, namely a closed position and an open position. In FIG. 1, mobile storage unit 102a is shown in the closed position relative to stationary storage unit 101. In this closed position, access to the interiors of these two storage units is prevented because all exterior portions of the storage unit are substantially enclosed or otherwise inaccessible and the stationary unit and mobile unit each respectively obstruct the region in which access would otherwise be provided where the units confront each other. In FIG. 1, enclosure panels 124a and 126b, and wall means 109 serve to enclose the interiors of storage units 101 and 102.

The open position is one wherein the interiors of the storage units are accessible. Referring to FIG. 1, if mobile storage unit 102 is moved along the guide means away from stationary storage unit 101 into the space represented by 110, then the mobile storage unit would be in an open position in which the interiors of both the stationary storage unit 101 and the mobile storage unit 102 are accessible.

The storage system further comprises lock means 111. Although the lock means is indicated as being located between the stationary storage unit 101 and mobile storage unit 102, and is discussed below as being mounted on or otherwise associated with the left corner of the mobile storage unit 102, the lock means could be mounted on or otherwise associated with an adjacent corner 112 of the mobile storage unit 102. The lock means 111 functions to selectively lock the mobile storage unit 102 in the closed position, as shown in FIG. 1. When the lock means 111 is not locked, the mobile storage unit 102 is free to move to the open position. Thus, the lock means functions to secure the interiors of storage units 101 and 102, when the mobile unit is in the closed position.

The lock means has two component mechanisms, and comprises a holding mechanism that holds the storage units in the closed position and a locking mechanism that locks the storage units in that closed position such that a party without a proper authority cannot disengage the lock means. The holding mechanism and locking mechanism can also be viewed as merely two functions of the locking means, as both functions could be accomplished through the same mechanism.

To hold the storage units in the closed position, the lock means 111 could comprise a bar that can be engaged with the guide means 104. For example, in a bottom track system, an extendable bar could be mounted on mobile storage unit 102. An individual track 402 could have an aperture through which the bar could extend. When the bar is extended through the aperture in the track 402, movement of mobile storage unit 102 would be prevented, thus maintaining stationary storage unit 101 and mobile storage unit 102 in the closed position.

Such a holding mechanism of the lock means could be locked through a number of available mechanisms well known in the art. For example, the extendable bar could be part of a mechanical cylinder lock attached to the mobile storage unit 102. A user would thus need a key to operate the cylinder lock. Alternatively, the extendable bar could be a component of an electronic touchpad/keypad lock, a sensor lock, or even a biometric lock. In a touchpad/keypad lock, the user enters a code into the touchpad/keypad to cause the bar to extend or retract. In a sensor lock, the user possesses a transmitter that, when brought into close proximity with the lock, for example, sends a signal to a sensor to extend or retract the extendable bar. In a biometric lock, a user causes the lock to operate through recognition of some physical characteristic. For example, the lock could comprise a fingerprint recognition apparatus wherein the user can cause the lock to operate when he places his finger on a pad on the apparatus and it is successfully recognized. Alternatively, a biometric lock could comprise a voice recognition unit, or a retinal scan unit, for identifying the user and allowing for operation of the lock means. In sum, the present invention envisions the lock means comprising any sort of locking mechanism that prevents operation of the lock means except by authorized users.

Alternatively, the lock means could comprise merely a conventional combination lock having a hasp. In such a case, the mobile storage unit 102 could have a tab which extends over the individual track 1113. The tab could have a hole through it and the individual track 402 could have a corresponding hole. Then the hasp of a combination lock or pad lock could be placed through both the hole in the tab and the hole in the track, and the lock actuated. This would effectively lock the mobile storage unit in place on the track such that the stationary storage unit 101 and mobile storage unit 102 are in the closed position. Only a user with the appropriate combination or key could open the lock to thus remove it and permit movement of the mobile storage unit 102 into the open position.

As yet another example embodiment, the lock means could comprise a combination lock or pad lock that is used to lock the mobile storage unit 102 to the stationary storage unit 101. Such an arrangement could be provided in a number of ways. For example, the stationary storage unit 101 and mobile storage unit 102 could each have a tab with a hole. The tabs could be horizontally-oriented tabs located along the bottom of the units in such a manner such that they can overlap. The hasp of the lock could fit through the holes to lock the units together. Alternatively, the tabs could be vertically-oriented tabs located at any height along the storage unit, but preferably at about arm level for ease of use by a user. The tabs would come together when the storage units are in the closed position. The hasp of the lock could be fitted through the holes in the tabs. This could also be accomplished through the use of brackets.

Several types of lock means have been discussed. However, the present invention is not limited to the lock means discussed herein. It is well within the skill of the art to employ any number of locking mechanisms to effectively secure the storage system. It is within the spirit of the invention to use any locking mechanisms available to an ordinary artisan. Protracted discussion of such lock means is omitted for purposes of focusing the disclosure on the inventive concept, that of securing a storage system having one or more mobile storage units.

Thus far, the focus has been on securing stationary storage unit 101 and mobile storage unit 102 in the closed position. However, as a feature of the present invention, any number of storage units could be secured. For example, FIG. 2 illustrates how stationary storage unit 201, mobile storage unit 202, and an additional plurality of other mobile storage units 203 could all be secured together, thus preventing access to the interior of all of the storage units in the storage system. In this example, right-most mobile storage unit 204, as seen in FIG. 2, has lock means 205 located on its outer corner. The lock means may comprise any of the lock means described above for holding the mobile unit in place and securing it from disengagement by an unauthorized party. In this embodiment, all of the exposed exterior sides of the storage units are enclosed by any of the enclosure means described above, such as here, by a wall 206 and enclosure panels represented by the thickened lines.

The lock means could be located on any or all of the intermediate mobile storage units for creating different configurations of secured storage units in the system. For example, perhaps it is necessary only to secure stationary storage unit 201, mobile storage unit 202, and one or more members of the plurality of mobile storage units 203. With the appropriate placement of enclosure means and lock means, such a group of storage units can be secured while allowing the additional storage units to be accessible.

Second Embodiment

As another aspect of the invention, solely mobile storage units could be secured without reference to a stationary unit. FIG. 3 depicts a storage system with mobile storage units 301 and 302 secured in a closed position, leaving the stationary storage unit 303 and another three mobile storage units 304 accessible. Again, in this embodiment a closed position is a position wherein access to the interiors of the second storage units is prohibited. As with the first embodiment, the exposed exterior sides of the second storage units must be enclosed with enclosure means. However, in the closed position, the secured mobile storage units may or may not be mobile, as discussed below.

In one example, the lock means 305 is such that the mobile storage units 301 and 302 are locked in place. This could be accomplished, for example, by each second mobile storage unit 301, 302 having a horizontal tab that extends along the individual track 306 at the location specified by the lock means 305. Each horizontal tab could have a hole in it, and the individual track 306 could have a hole in it, such that a bolt, hasp or bar of a lock means (a padlock, combination lock, or the like) could fit through each horizontal tab's hole and the track component's hole when the three holes are overlapped. As a result, the movement of the second mobile storage units 301, 302 along the track would be prevented by the lock means.

Alternatively, an extendable bar could be mounted on the mobile storage unit 301 and could extend into an aperture in the individual track 306. Since in such a case only the movement of mobile storage unit 301 is prevented by the lock means, mobile storage unit 302 would have to have its movement in the opposite direction, away from unit 301, hampered by a stopper or the like on the guide means. The location of the lock means could, of course, vary. For example, the lock means could be located at the corner 307 or at any other location along that side of the mobile storage unit 301, and the lock means would still operate to prevent movement of both mobile storage units 301, 302, and thus would keep the mobile units in the closed position. Also, any of the other mobile storage units 304 could similarly have lock means and enclosure panels, and thus could be moved into a closed position relative to the mobile storage units 301, 302 and be secured.

In another example, the mobile storage units 301, 302 could still have the capability of movement even though locked together as a unitary structure. In such a case, it would be necessary to lock the mobile storage units 301, 302 together without locking them to the guide means. For example, the lock means could comprise vertical tabs or brackets and a combination or pad lock, as described with reference to the first embodiment. Any lock means will do as long as the units are not locked in place.

As illustrated by the second embodiment, a secure storage system could comprise only mobile storage units. Thus, the invention does not require that one or more storage units be stationary. Further, in the closed position, the secured mobile storage units may or may not be mobile, depending on the type of lock means used.

Third Embodiment

In yet another embodiment, the storage system comprises door means. More specifically, FIG. 4 depicts a storage system comprising a door 401 movably attached to stationary storage unit 404 for substantially obstructing ingress 402 to the access space 403 between a stationary storage unit 404 and a mobile storage unit 405. The door can be locked in place by lock means 406. When the door is locked in place, the movement of the mobile storage units would have to be prevented by either the door or by some other means, like a brake. Importantly, such other means would have to be inaccessible when the door is locked. All exposed exterior sides of the storage units are enclosed by enclosure means. As a result, the entire storage system, that is the interiors of all the storage units, can be secured.

The door 401 can be constructed of any materials well-known in the art for constructing storage systems. All that is required is that the door prevents access to the interiors of the storage units when the door is in its closed position. The door can move from a closed position, wherein the door substantially obstructs ingress to the access space and is held in place, to an open position. The open position is a position wherein the door is not held in place and thus can be freely moved. When in the open position, the door 401 of this embodiment can be swung open a full 180 degrees. A holding mechanism, such as a clip, magnet, or the like, can be optionally provided on the stationary storage unit 404 to hold the door in its fully open position so that the door does not inadvertently move when the storage system is being accessed.

The door 401 can be mounted on the stationary storage unit 404 at a point 407. Such mount can be accomplished through any means well known in the art, such as hinges. The door 401 could also be movably attached to the guide means, in this case, the individual track 408. The guide means alternatively could have a tab that extends outward from the storage system upon which the door 401 could be movably attached. The door 401 could even be installed in the floor of the room in which the storage system is located.

The lock means 406 for holding the door 401 in place and locking it can comprise or be similar to any of the lock means discussed with reference to the previous embodiments. The lock means would be preferably located at arm level for ease of use by the user.

Alternatively, the door means could be movably attached at a different location. For example, the door means could be movably attached to the mobile storage unit 405 at the location specified by the lock means 406, or to the guide means at said location. Thus arranged, the lock means could lock the door to the stationary storage unit 404. In this case, it would be important that the attachment mechanism of the door to the stationary storage unit or guide means not impede movement of the mobile storage units along the guide means when the door is in the open position. Similarly, the door means could conceivably be located at any point along the storage system so long as, when it was in the closed position, it substantially obstructs the ingress of the access space.

The door means need not comprise a “swinging” door, but could, for example, be a sliding door. In such a case, the door means could be slidably attached to the stationary storage unit 404 or to the guide means. Alternatively, the door means could comprise a pull-down door. For example, in a top-track storage system, the door could be slidably attached to the top track.

In sum, the use of a door in a storage system having mobile storage units has many benefits. When combined with lock means, it is a practical way to provide a user-friendly, secure storage system.

The secure storage systems described above offer convenient and versatile arrangements and methods for securing the contents of the individual storage units comprising the system. The systems described herein meet an important security need for users that has not been previously addressed, and do so without requiring complex and expensive hardware. Moreover, the combination of a door and a secure modular storage system is unique in its own right.

While several embodiments of the invention have been described, along with numerous alternative features, the true scope of the invention is not limited to the disclosed embodiments. Rather, the present invention covers various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims. The scope of the appended claims is to be accorded the broadest interpretation so as to encompass all such modifications and equivalent structures and functions.