Title:
A Bracing Member
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A bracing member for use with a body support unit, the bracing member defining a lower surface having a plurality of series of interconnected discrete voids extending substantially vertically from the lower surface into the body, each series of voids to retain a respective column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, in use.



Inventors:
Katan, Joe (London, GB)
Application Number:
15/027620
Publication Date:
09/08/2016
Filing Date:
08/14/2014
Assignee:
BALLUGA LIMITED (London, GB)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47C27/08
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
CUOMO, PETER M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Intrinsic Law Corp. (Waltham, MA, US)
Claims:
1. 1-44. (canceled)

45. A bracing member for use with a body support unit, the bracing member defining a lower surface having a plurality of series of interconnected discrete voids extending substantially vertically from the lower surface into the body, each series of voids to retain a respective column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, in use.

46. A bracing member according to claim 45, wherein the bracing member is composed of a plurality of bracing components.

47. A bracing member according to claim 46, wherein the bracing components are arranged in substantially horizontal layers to define the bracing member, each bracing component having a substantially horizontal mating face, wherein at least some bracing components further have a plurality of apertures through the component which together define said series of voids.

48. A bracing member according to claim 47, wherein the substantially horizontal mating face passes through at least one void.

49. A bracing member according to claim 46, wherein each bracing component is provided with a matrix of apertures therethrough, wherein the respective apertures of neighboring bracing components are axially aligned, the diameter of the apertures in one bracing component being different to the diameter of the apertures in an at least one neighboring bracing component, such that a series of axially aligned apertures together define said series of interconnected discrete voids.

50. A bracing member according to claim 49, wherein the apertures in the bracing components are substantially cylindrical.

51. A bracing member according to claim 45, further comprising an upper surface including a plurality of protrusions extending therefrom, each protrusion surrounding an uppermost void of a respective series of voids, a top portion of the protrusions collectively defining a body support surface, wherein the upper surface of the bracing member does not contact a user when in use.

52. A bracing member according to claim 45, wherein the bracing member is a unitary item.

53. A bracing member according to claim 45, wherein the voids are substantially spherical.

54. A bracing member according to claim 45, wherein the bracing member is resilient.

55. A bracing member according to claim 45, further comprising at least one ventilation channel fluidly connected between an upper surface and the lower surface of the bracing member.

56. A body support unit comprising a bracing member according to claim 45, further comprising a base, wherein the bracing member is attachable to the base, wherein the base comprises a plurality of air supply ports, each air supply port for fluid connection with a respective column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, in use.

57. A body support unit according to claim 45, further comprising a column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells received within each respective series of voids.

58. A body support unit according to claim 57, wherein the series of voids are shaped to as to substantially correspond to the columns of interconnected fluid-fillable cells.

59. A body support unit according to claim 58, wherein the voids are shaped so as to substantially correspond to the shape of the cells, wherein the cells are substantially spherical when filled with fluid and the voids are sized so as to correspond substantially to the spherical outer surface of a cell in use, such that there is substantially no gap between the inner surface of the voids and the outer surface of the cells.

60. A body support platform having a plurality of body support united according to claim 56.

61. A body support unit comprising: a bracing member having a plurality of recesses extending from a lower surface into the bracing member; and a plurality of columns, each comprising a series of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, wherein each column is retained within a respective recess.

62. A body support unit according to claim 61, wherein the recesses extend from the lower surface through to an upper surface of the bracing member.

63. A body support unit according to claim 61, wherein the cells of each column are substantially spherical when filled with fluid.

64. A body support unit according to claim 61, wherein the diameter of the cells of each column, when filled with fluid, is larger than the diameter of the inner surface of the respective recess, such that the bracing member adjacent the cells is at least partially locally deformed when the column is filled with fluid.

Description:

DESCRIPTION OF INVENTION

This application claims priority to UK patent application GB1314877.0 filed 20 Aug. 2013, UK patent application GB1320511.7 filed 20 Nov. 2013 and UK patent application GB1320712.1 filed 22 Nov. 2013.

The present invention relates to a bracing member for use with a body support unit. More particularly, the bracing member is for use with a body support unit comprising a plurality of columns of interconnected fluid-fillable cells. Further, the present invention relates to a body support unit, a column and a body support platform.

In WO2012/049481, the present applicant disclosed a body support platform comprising a plurality of body support units. Each body support unit comprises a plurality of columns, each column comprising a stack of fluid-fillable substantially spherical resilient balls. Each ball of a respective column is physically and fluidly connected to the adjacent ball(s) within said column, such that a column may be compressed substantially independently of a neighbouring column. A base provides a primary fluid reservoir and the columns are arranged in an array across the base. The columns are connected to the base such that the lowermost ball of each respective column is directly fluidly connected to the primary fluid reservoir. The uppermost ball of the respective columns collectively define a body support surface. WO2012/049481 discloses various other advantages of the arrangement.

In WO2013/114126, the applicant disclosed an improvement to the arrangement in WO2012/049481, comprising a tie arrangement. The tie arrangement comprises a tie member having at least one retention aperture configured to be releasably connected to a column at a point of reduced diameter (“neck”) between two neighbouring cells. A benefit of the tie arrangement is that it serves to constrain relative sideways movement of the columns of cells, without adversely affecting the behaviour of the columns. Connecting parallel and neighbouring tie members together serves to reinforce the body support platform and reduce or prevent lozenging of the body support unit.

Although the tie members disclosed in WO2013/114126 serve effectively to constrain relative sideways movement of the columns, the applicant has developed a further improvement in the form of the present invention.

Accordingly, the present invention provides a bracing member for use with a body support unit, the bracing member defining a lower surface having a plurality of series of interconnected discrete voids extending substantially vertically from the lower surface into the body, each series of voids to retain a respective column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, in use.

Preferably, the bracing member further defines an upper surface.

Preferably, the upper surface is planar and provides a body support surface.

Preferably, the plurality of series of interconnected discrete voids extend from the lower surface to the upper surface.

Preferably, the bracing member is composed of a plurality of bracing components.

Preferably, the bracing components are arranged in substantially horizontal layers to define the bracing member, each bracing component having a substantially horizontal mating face, wherein at least some bracing components further have a plurality of apertures through the component which together define said series of voids.

Preferably, the substantially horizontal mating face passes through at least one void.

Preferably, each bracing component is provided with a matrix of apertures therethrough, wherein the respective apertures of neighbouring bracing components are axially aligned, the diameter of the apertures in one bracing component being different to the diameter of the apertures in an at least one neighbouring bracing component, such that a series of axially aligned apertures together define said series of interconnected discrete voids.

Preferably, the apertures in the bracing components are substantially cylindrical.

Preferably, the bracing components are arranged side-by-side to define the bracing member, each bracing component having a substantially vertical mating face.

Preferably, the longitudinal axis of at least one series of voids lies in the plane of the mating face.

Preferably, the upper surface comprises a plurality of protrusions extending therefrom, each protrusion surrounding the uppermost void of a respective series of voids, a top portion of the protrusions collectively defining a body support surface, wherein the upper surface of the bracing member does not contact a user in use.

Preferably, the plurality of series of voids are arranged in the member in a matrix.

Preferably, the bracing member is a unitary item.

Preferably, the voids are substantially spherical.

Preferably, the inside surface of each series of voids is coated with a fluid-impermeable material to define a discrete column of interconnected fluid-filled cells therein.

Preferably, the coating is Latex.

Preferably, the bracing member is resilient.

Preferably, the bracing member is comprised of foam.

Preferably, the bracing member has a substantially uniform density.

Preferably, the bracing member further comprises at least one ventilation channel fluidly connected between an upper surface and the lower surface of the bracing member.

Preferably, the bracing member further comprises a base, wherein the bracing member is attachable to the base.

Preferably, the base comprises a plurality of air supply ports, each air supply port for fluid connection with a respective column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, in use.

Preferably, the body support unit further comprises a column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells received within each respective series of voids.

Preferably, the series of voids are shaped to as to substantially correspond to the columns of interconnected fluid-fillable cells.

Preferably, the voids are shaped so as to substantially correspond to the shape of the cells.

Preferably, the cells are substantially spherical when filled with fluid and the voids are sized so as to correspond substantially to the spherical outer surface of a cell in use, such that is there is substantially no gap between the inner surface of the voids and the outer surface of the cells.

Preferably, a retaining band is provided around the neck between two neighbouring cells of the column, to constrain the neck when the column is inflated.

The present invention further provides a body support platform having a plurality of body support units embodying the invention.

The present invention further provides a body support unit comprising:

    • a bracing member having a plurality of recesses extending from a lower surface into the bracing member; and
    • a plurality of columns, each comprising a series of interconnected fluid-fillable cells,
    • wherein each column is retained within a respective recess.

Preferably, the recesses are substantially cylindrical.

Preferably, the recesses are blind recesses.

Preferably, the recesses extend from the lower surface through to an upper surface of the bracing member.

Preferably, the cells of each column are substantially spherical when filled with fluid.

Preferably, the diameter of the cells of each column, when filled with fluid, is larger than the diameter of the inner surface of the respective recess, such that the bracing member adjacent the cells is at least partially locally deformed when the column is filled with fluid.

Preferably, the resiliency of the columns, when inflated, is different to the resiliency of the bracing member.

Preferably, at least a portion of the resilient member adjacent one edge is not provided with recesses, to define a border.

Preferably, adjacent cells in a column are fluidly connected by a neck, and a discrete retaining band is provided around the neck, so as to constrain the neck when the column is filled with fluid.

The present invention further provides a column for a body support unit, comprising a series of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, in which adjacent cells are fluidly connected by a neck, the column being provided with a discrete retaining band at each neck, so as to constrain the neck when the column is filled with fluid.

Preferably, the retaining band is resilient.

The present invention further provides a former comprising a series of cups connected together by neck forming portions.

Preferably, the cups are substantially spherical and the neck forming portions are substantially cylindrical.

Preferably, the space envelope of the cross-section of the cups is substantially semi-circular.

The present invention further provides a method of forming a column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, comprising:

    • providing a former comprising a series of cups connected together by neck forming portions; and
    • moulding material over the former.

Embodiments of the present invention will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the figures in which:

FIG. 1 illustrates a perspective view of a bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 2 illustrates a cross-section of the bracing member shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 illustrates a cross-section of a further bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 4 illustrates a cross-section of another bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 5 illustrates a perspective view of a bracing component of a bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 6 illustrates a cross-section of the bracing component of FIG. 6;

FIG. 7 illustrates a cross-section of part of a bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 8 illustrates a cross-section of a part of another bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 9 illustrates a cross-section of a body support unit embodying the present invention;

FIG. 10 illustrates a cross-section of another body support unit embodying the present invention;

FIG. 11 illustrates a cross-section of a still further body support unit embodying the present invention;

FIG. 12 schematically illustrates a column embodying the present invention, for use with a body support unit;

FIG. 13 schematically illustrates a cross-section of a part of a bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 14 schematically illustrates a cross-section of a part of another bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 15 schematically illustrates a cross-section of a part of another bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 16 schematically illustrates a cross-section of a part of another bracing member embodying the present invention;

FIG. 17 illustrates a perspective view of a former embodying the present invention

FIG. 18 illustrates the former of FIG. 17 from one side.

FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate a body support unit 1 incorporating a bracing member 2 and base 3.

The bracing member 2 comprises a lower surface 4 and an upper surface 5. A plurality of series 6 of interconnected discrete voids 7 extend substantially vertically from the lower surface 4 into the body 2. In this embodiment, the only connection between the series 6 of interconnected discrete voids 7 with the outer surfaces of the bracing member 2 is with the lower surface 4. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 2, the lower 4 and upper 5 surfaces are substantially planar and horizontal in use.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 2, each series 6 of interconnected discrete voids 7 comprises three voids 7. This is not essential. There may be any number of voids 7 (though at least two) in the series 6. Each of the voids 7 is connected to a neighbouring void 7 by a neck portion 8. The lowermost void 7 is connected to the lower surface 4 of the bracing member 3 by a port 9. The diameter, form and/or configuration of the port 9 are substantially the same as that of the neck 8. In the embodiment shown, the voids 7 are substantially spherical.

The plurality of series 6 of voids 7 are preferably arranged within the member 2 in a matrix. With reference to the bracing member 2 illustrated in FIG. 1, the series 6 of voids 7 may be arranged in a 4×4 array across the lower surface 4 of the bracing member 2. The series 6 of voids 7 are preferably arranged in uniform rows and columns.

The bracing member 2 of FIG. 2 may be manufactured from a block of material, in which the series 6 of voids 7 are then created by removing material. Material may be removed by drilling, milling, scrapping, melting etc. Alternatively, the bracing member 2 may be formed by moulding. A mould may comprise a substantially cube-shaped chamber, into which formers are inserted. Each former comprises a series of spheres arranged on a rod.

Molten material is introduced into the mould to form the bracing member. Once cured and/or expanded, the moulded bracing member 2 comprises a series 6 of voids 7 which conform to the shape of the former. Alternatively, the columns 10 of interconnected fluid-fillable cells 11 can be used as the formers. After curing of the material, the columns 10 are either left in place, and subsequently de/inflated, or removed.

Each series 6 of voids 7 is configured to retain a column 10 of interconnected fluid-fillable cells 11 therein. Preferably, a column 10 of fluid-fillable cells 11 is shaped so as to substantially correspond to the shape of the series 6 of voids 7. This is to say, in an embodiment when the voids 7 are substantially spherical in shape, having a predetermined diameter; the fluid-fillable cells 11 have a corresponding spherical shape with a corresponding predetermined diameter. In one embodiment, the diameter of the inner surface of the voids 7 may be slightly larger than the diameter of the outer surface of the fluid-fillable cells 11 of the column 10.

In one embodiment, the column 10 of cells 11 is manufactured as a discrete item, separate to the bracing member 2. During assembly, the column 10 is inserted into the series 6 of voids 7 and then subsequently inflated. During inflation, the fluid causes the fluid-fillable cells 11 to expand so as to fill, or substantially fill, the voids 7 of the series 6.

In one embodiment, the discrete column 10 of interconnected fluid-fillable cells 11 is secured to the inner surface of the series 6 of voids 7, preferably by gluing.

In an alternative arrangement, the columns 10 of cells 11 may be formed, in situ, within the series 6 of voids 7 by coating the inner surface of the voids 7 with a fluid-impermeable material. The coating may be provided by spraying the inner surface of the voids 7, by dipping or by any other methods of coating a surface. Alternatively, the columns 10 of cells 11 may be formed first, around which is then provided the bracing member 2. For example, as noted above, the plurality of columns 10 of cells 11 may be arranged in a mould and the mould is then filled with foam, or other material, to form the bracing member 2 around the columns 10. Preferably, the coating is Latex. It may also be any other airtight (fluid impermeable) stretchable (resilient) moldable membrane.

Preferably, the fluid-fillable cells 11 are resilient, such that they stretch when pressure is applied to them (either by internal fluid pressure or an external force).

The bracing member 2 is also preferably resilient. In one embodiment, the bracing member 2 is comprised of foam. The bracing member 2 preferably has substantially uniform density. In another embodiment, the density of the bracing member 2 may vary across the bracing member 2. For example, a lower part of the bracing member 2, closest to the lower surface 4, may be more resilient than the part of the bracing member 2 at the top of the bracing member, closer to the upper surface 5.

FIG. 3 shows an alternative bracing member 12. The bracing member 12 is illustrated without a column 10 of cells 11, for clarity. The upper surface 5 of the bracing member 12 comprises a plurality of protrusions 13 extending therefrom. Each protrusion 13 surrounds the uppermost void 7 of a respective series 6 of voids 7. The top portions of the protrusions 13 collectively define a body support surface for supporting a human, in use. Preferably, the upper surface 5 of the bracing member 13 does not contact a user in use. In the embodiment shown, the upper surface 5 is substantially co-planar with the equator of the uppermost void 7 of each respective series 6. The upper surface 5 may terminate above or below the point shown in FIG. 3. A benefit of the bracing member 12 illustrated in FIG. 3 is that the surface area of the bracing member 12 which contacts a user in use is reduced as compared to the bracing member 2 shown in FIG. 2. An advantage of this arrangement is that air may circulate between the protrusions 13, aiding to cool the user.

FIG. 4 shows another bracing member 22 embodying the present invention. The bracing member 22 is substantially identical to the bracing member 2 shown in FIG. 2, apart from the addition of a plurality of ventilation channels 23 which fluidly connect between the upper surface 5 and lower surface 4 of the bracing member 22. The ventilation channels 23 are not fluidly connected to the series 6 of voids 7. In use, air (which may be heated or cooled as appropriate) is provided through the ventilation channels 23 for supply to the upper surface 5. Ventilation channels may be adopted with the bracing member 12 shown in FIG. 3, or any of the bracing members embodying the present invention.

The bracing members 2, 12, 22 illustrated in FIGS. 1-4 are preferably unitary items. In an alternative arrangement, shown in FIGS. 5 and 6, the bracing member may comprise a plurality of individual and discrete bracing components 30. FIG. 6 illustrate a cross-section of the bracing component 30 of FIG. 5. Each of the substantially vertical side surfaces 31 of the bracing component 30 is provided with a series 32 of depressions 33. Each depression 33 is substantially hemispherical. When two bracing components 30 are arranged side-by-side, the respective depressions 33 of neighbouring bracing components 30 define a series 6 of voids 7 such as those illustrated in FIG. 2. As a consequence, the longitudinal axis of a least one series 6 of voids 7 lies in the plane of the mating face 31. It will be appreciated from FIG. 6 that the bracing component 30 used at the ends of the bracing member will only have depressions 33 provided on one side face 31.

A benefit of the arrangement illustrated in FIGS. 5 and 6 is that there are no internal surfaces or voids. All of the depressions 33 open out towards a surface of the bracing component 30. The bracing component 30 illustrated in FIG. 6 may therefore be easier to manufacture. In an embodiment where the columns of fluid-fillable cells are provided by coating the surface of the bracing component 30 with a fluid impermeable material, coating of the bracing component 30 is much more easily performed, since all of the surfaces to be coated are external. Any surface finishing (e.g. deburring) is also easier to perform.

In an alternative arrangement, the plurality of bracing components may be arranged in substantially horizontal layers to define the bracing member 2. In this alternative arrangement, each component has a substantially horizontal mating face. The mating face of this alternative bracing component may be co-planar with a neck 8 of the series 6 of voids 7 or the equator of each void 7 of a series 6.

As illustrated in FIG. 2, the body support unit 1 further comprises a base 3, (not shown in FIGS. 3-6 for clarity). The bracing member 2 is attachable to the base 3. In one embodiment, the bracing member 2 may be glued to the base 3. Alternatively, since the diameter of the outer surface of the lowermost cell 11 of a column 10 is larger than the port 9, inflation of the column 10 serves to retain the column 10 within the voids 7. If the column 10 is secured to the base 3, the consequence is that the bracing member 2 is also secured relative to the base 3. The bracing member 2 may be secured to the base 3 (additionally or primarily) by a resilient outer sheath (not shown) or any other suitable arrangement.

The base 3 comprises a plurality of air supply ports 40, each air supply port 40 for fluid connection with a respective column 10 of interconnected fluid-fillable cells 11. In use, fluid (e.g. air) is supplied to an inner plenum of the base 3 to act as a reservoir, which is then supplied to the cells 11 of the column 10 through the port 40 of the base and port 9 of the series 6 of voids 7.

FIG. 7 illustrates a cross-section of part of a body support unit embodying the present invention. A cross section of part of the base 3 is shown, with an air supply port 40. The lower part of the column 10 is also shown, with the cells 11 being substantially of the same form as the voids 7. In the arrangement shown in FIG. 7, the column 10 extends out of the port 9 of the bracing member 42 and along a part of the lower surface 4. The lower end of the column 10 effectively creates a flange 44. The diameter of the flange 44 is preferably larger than the diameter of the port 9. The flange 44 is also preferably larger than the air supply port 40 of the base 3. As a consequence, when the base 3 is engaged with the bracing member 42, the flange 44 serves to fluidly seal the air supply port 40 with the cells 11 of the columns 10. The flange 44 may be glued to the upper surface of the base 3 to prevent leakage. Any other means of connecting the bracing member 42 to the base 3 may be adopted to create a sufficient fluid seal between the column 10 and the base 3. A benefit of the arrangement shown in FIG. 7 is that all of the respective air supply ports 40 of the base 3 may be simultaneously fluidly connected to each of the respective columns 10 simply by engaging the bracing member 42 against the upper surface of the base 3.

The arrangement shown in FIG. 7 may either comprise a discrete column 10, as described above, or an integrated column 10 which has been provided by coating the surface of the bracing member 42, also as described above.

FIG. 8 illustrates an alternative arrangement, in which the lower part of the column 10 is mechanically secured to a grommet 45 provided in (either separately or as part of) the air supply port 40 of the base 3. The lower part of the column 10 may be held on the grommet 45 by suitable means, such as gluing or a mechanical clip (not shown). A cut out 46 is provided in the lower part of the bracing member 43 so as to accommodate the parts of the mechanical connection between the column 10 and the grommet 45. Preferably, the cut out 46 is large enough so as to accommodate the components but not so large so as not to provide adequate support to the cells 11 of the column 10 in use. The arrangement shown in FIG. 8 preferably comprises a discrete column 10, which is first attached to the grommet 45. The columns 10 are then inserted into and received within the series 6 of voids 7. The columns 10 are then inflated so as to substantially fill the voids 7 of the series 6.

It will be appreciated that various other alternatives to the arrangements shown in FIGS. 7 and 8 are possible. For example, the grommet 45 may be integrally formed with the lower part of the column 10, and provided with a thread on the outer surface of the grommet, which is received in a correspondingly threaded part of the air inlet port 40 of the base 3.

A benefit of the present invention over, for example, the separate tie arrangement disclosed in WO2013/114126, is that it provides a single support structure for the plurality of columns. A bracing member embodying the present invention contacts the cells of the columns substantially across their entire surface area, therefore effectively controlling (restraining) the expansion and movement of the columns.

The provision of the series of voids (preferably spherical) to retain a column of a plurality of cells is advantageous over the provision of a single cylindrical column in a cylindrical void since it serves substantially to provide the same benefits as the arrangement of WO2012/049481. The provision of a plurality of cells increases the downwards-facing surface area of the column, which engages the upwards-facing surfaces of the voids of the bracing member. The provision of a plurality of cells provides the necessary resiliency whilst still maintaining adequate strength and support in the body support platform.

In the embodiments described above, the voids 7 are preferably substantially spherical, having a predetermined diameter. Preferably, the voids 7 are sized so as to correspond substantially to the spherical outer surface of a cell 10 of a column 11.

Although preferred, this arrangement is not essential. A part of an alternative, composite, bracing member 72 is illustrated in FIG. 13. In this embodiment, the bracing member 72 is comprised of a plurality of discrete planar bracing components 72a, 72b.

Each of the bracing components 72a, 72b is provided with a matrix of cylindrical apertures 73a, 73b extending from a top surface through to a bottom surface. The diameter of the apertures 73a, 73b in one of the bracing components 72a, 72b is different to the diameter of the apertures 73b, 73a in the other of the bracing components 72b, 72a.

When a plurality of the bracing components 72a, 72b are alternately arranged on top of one another, they effectively define a series of interconnected discrete cylindrical voids, wherein adjacent voids are connected by a cylindrical neck of narrower diameter. Accordingly, the shape of the recess formed by the series of differing apertures 73a, 73b of the individual bracing components 72a, 72b loosely conforms to the shape of the column 10 of interconnected cells 11.

As illustrated schematically in FIG. 13, the alternate diameters of the apertures 73a, 73b of the bracing components 72a, 72b serve to loosely follow the outer profile of the column 10. Accordingly, as the column 10 is inflated (filled with fluid such as air), the walls of the apertures 73a, 73b serve to retain the column 10 in the recess. Conveniently, the smaller diameter 73b of the bracing component 72b serves to prevent over inflation or “bulging” of the neck of the column 10 between the cells 11.

As the column is filled with fluid, the top and bottom rims of the apertures 73b are caused to deform by the expansion of the cells, as depicted in FIG. 13. Likewise, the centre of the aperture 73a is caused to deform.

In FIG. 13, the top of each column of cells protrudes from the top of the upper surface of the bracing member, so as to contact the user in use.

FIG. 14 shows a further bracing member 82 embodying the present invention. The bracing member 82 comprises a plurality of bracing components 82a, 82b, 82c. In the embodiment shown, each bracing component 82a, 82b, 82c is substantially identical in thickness. Preferably, the thickness of a bracing component 82 is sized so as to substantially correspond to the height of a cell 11 of a column 10 with which the bracing member 82 is used.

Each bracing component 82 comprises a plurality of apertures 83. Preferably, the apertures 83 are cylindrical. Preferably, the diameter of each aperture 83 is identical, across all bracing components 82. The diameter of the aperture may be substantially equal to, or smaller than, the diameter of the cell 11 of the column 10 when inflated, as discussed above in connection with other embodiments.

The bracing member 82 further comprises a plurality of ties 85. Each tie 85 is substantially planar, and has a plurality of apertures 86. The diameter of the apertures 86 of the tie 85 is smaller than the diameter of the aperture 83 of the bracing components 82. Preferably, the diameter of the apertures 86 of the tie 85 is sized so as substantially to correspond to the diameter of the neck of the column 10 between two adjacent cells 11.

The ties 85 are arranged between adjacent bracing components 82. The centre of the aperture 86 of the tie 85 is preferably aligned/coaxial with the centre of the aperture 83 of the bracing components 82. The ties 85 may be secured to the surfaces of the bracing components 82 (e.g. by gluing). They may alternatively or additionally by held in place by a frame surrounding the body support unit.

The tie 85 may be resilient and/or flexible. The tie 85 may substantially take the form as that illustrated in FIG. 3 and disclosed in WO2013/114126 to the applicant.

The resiliency of each of the bracing components 82 may be the same, or different. For example, the top bracing component 82a may be less resilient than the lower bracing component 82b.

The present invention provides a bracing member for use with a body support unit, the bracing member comprising a plurality of bracing components arranged in layers, wherein a substantially planar tie (retaining sheet) is provided between adjacent bracing components, the bracing components and the planar ties comprising a plurality of apertures, the diameter of the apertures of the bracing components being greater than the diameter of the apertures of the ties, wherein the centre of the apertures of the bracing components is substantially aligned with the centre of the corresponding apertures of the ties. In use, the aligned apertures of the bracing components and the ties retain a respective column of interconnected fluid-fillable cell therein.

The combination of the bracing components 82a, 82b, 82c, and the ties 85 form a series of interconnected discrete voids. Each void is created by the aperture 83 of the bracing component 82a,b,c and the ties 85 arranged either side of that aperture 83.

FIG. 15 illustrates another bracing member 102 embodying the present invention. The bracing member 102 is comprised of a plurality of bracing components 102a, 102b. Each of the bracing components 102a, 102b comprises an aperture 103, which has a substantially hemispherical surface. The apertures 103 of two neighbouring bracing components 102a, 102b together define a substantially spherical void, which receives a spherical cell of a column in use. The mating faces of the bracing components 102a, 102b respectively intersect the neck 8 of the column or the equator of the cell of the column 10.

A benefit of the arrangement of FIG. 15 is that the bracing components 102a, 102b, and particularly the apertures 103 therein, are relatively easy to manufacture, since the hemispherical aperture is always ‘open’ to one surface of the bracing component 102a, 102b.

FIG. 16 illustrates another bracing member 92 embodying the present invention. The bracing member 92 is comprised of a plurality of bracing components 92a, 92b, 92c, 92d, 92e etc. Each bracing component 92a-x comprises an aperture 93. Preferably, the apertures 93 are substantially cylindrical, aiding manufacture. The diameter of the aperture 93 in one bracing component 92a-x differs to that of the neighbouring bracing component 92a-x. Collectively, the apertures 93 of all the bracing components 92a-x define an inner surface which closely conforms to that of the column 10 of cells 11. Therefore, even when the aperture 93 is substantially cylindrical, the thinner the bracing component 92a-x and the more bracing components 92a-x there are, the more closely the collective inner surface will conform to the non-cylindrical outer surface of the column 10. It will be noted, for example, that the inner surface of the apertures 93 of the arrangement in FIG. 16 more closely conforms to the outer surface of the column than do the apertures 73a, 73b of the arrangement disclosed in FIG. 13.

In the embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 2 to 6 and 13 to 16 there is provided a series of interconnected discrete voids extending substantially vertically from the lower surface into the body.

In the embodiments comprising a plurality of bracing components arranged together to form a bracing member, the bracing components may be secured together by gluing their respective mating surfaces. Alternatively, they may be held together by securing a band or sheath around the outside of the bracing member. In another embodiment, the bracing components may be mechanically secured by pegs or by inserting a pin through separate, axially aligned, apertures in each of the bracing components. In another embodiment, the bracing components may not be secured together. Instead, the insertion and subsequent inflation of the column, alone, serves to retain the bracing components in place.

With reference to FIGS. 9 to 11, the present invention further provides a body support unit comprising: a bracing member having a plurality of recesses extending from a lower surface into the bracing member; and a plurality of columns, each comprising a series of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, wherein each column is retained within a respective recess.

FIG. 9 illustrates, in cross-section, a body support unit 50 comprising a bracing member 52. The bracing member 52 comprises a plurality of recesses 53 extending from the lower surface into the bracing member 52. The body support unit 50 further comprises a plurality of columns 10, such as those operable to be retained within the bracing member 2 shown in FIG. 2. A column 10 is retained within each recess 53 of the bracing member 52.

Preferably, the recess 53 is substantially cylindrical. In the arrangement shown in FIGS. 9 and 10, the recess 53 is a blind recess. In FIG. 11, the recess 63 extends from a lower surface to an upper surface of the bracing member 62—i.e. it is a through hole.

In all embodiments, the cells 11 of the column 10 are substantially spherical when inflated (filled with fluid).

In one embodiment, the diameter of the cells 11, when inflated, substantially equals the diameter of the inner surface of the recess 53, 63.

In an alternative arrangement, illustrated in FIG. 10, the diameter of the cells 11 of each column 10, when inflated, is larger than the diameter of the inner surface of the respective recess 53, such that the bracing member 52 adjacent the cells 11 is at least partially locally deformed by the inflation of the column 10.

An advantage of this arrangement is that the local deformation of the bracing member 52 adjacent the column 10 adds additional resiliency to the body support unit, in addition to that provided by the column 10. As the bracing member 52 is compressed by a force acting vertically downwards (for example by a user sitting or laying on the body support unit), the fluid-filled column 10 provides resiliency against the vertical force, in reaction to the force. When under force, there is a tendency of the cells 11 of the column 10 to expand further. With the arrangement of FIG. 10, the local deformation of the bracing member 52 serves to limit any additional expansion of the cells 11 of the column 10, by increasing the resiliency. Effectively, the resiliency of the cells of the columns combines or compounds with the resiliency of the bracing member.

A further advantage of the arrangement in FIG. 10 is that the local deformation of the bracing member 52 adjacent the cells 11 causes friction at the interface of the cells 11 with the inner surface of the recess 53. Accordingly, in use, relative movement between the cells 11 of the column 10 and the inner surface of the recess 53 will be resisted by this friction.

The bracing members 52, 62, 72 of FIGS. 9, 10, 11 and 13 may have similar properties and methods of assembly or manufacture as those described above and illustrated in FIGS. 2 to 6. For example, the bracing members 52, 62, 72 may have similar properties of resiliency and/or density as those described above. Similarly, the bracing members may further comprise ventilation channels and/or may be comprised of a plurality of bracing components which together form a composite bracing member.

An advantage of the bracing member 2 of FIG. 2 having a series of interconnected voids is that it closely conforms to the outer shape of the cells 11 of the column 10. Accordingly, when a vertical force is applied to the arrangement 1 shown in FIG. 2, the bracing member 2 serves to provide a substantially equal retaining force over the outer surface of the column 10. This prevents any over-expansion, or “bulging” of any part of the column 10.

Since the recesses 53, 63 in the bracing members 52, 62, shown in FIGS. 9 to 11 do not substantially conform to the outer surface of the column 10, there is a risk of over expansion/bulging when a force is applied to the column 10.

Accordingly, FIG. 12 shows a column 10 for a body support unit, comprising a series of interconnected fluid-fillable cells 11, in which adjacent cells 11 are fluidly connected by a neck 12. The column 10 may be the same as that shown in FIG. 2.

The column 10 is additionally provided with a discrete retaining band 100 at each neck 12, so as to constrain the neck 12 when the column 10 is inflated.

Preferably, the retaining band 100 is resilient. Preferably, the resiliency of the retaining band 100 is greater than the resiliency of the material used to manufacture the column 10.

The advantage of the arrangement shown in FIG. 12 is that, as the column is inflated, or an external force is placed on the column, over inflation or “bulging” of the neck 12 is prevented by the retaining band 100. Advantageously, the use of the retaining bands 100 helps the cells 11 of the column 10 to keep their substantially spherical shape. The retaining bands 100 preferably provide adequate support to the necks 12 of the column 10 such that the column 10 may be used with a substantially cylindrical recess 53 of the bracing member 52 shown in FIG. 9; without needing a bracing member such as that shown in FIG. 2.

It should be noted that FIGS. 13 to 16 illustrate only a section of the bracing member, for clarity. In preferred embodiments of the invention, the bracing members have a plurality of apertures and are of the same or similar dimensions and proportions to that shown in FIG. 1. Likewise, the bracing members would preferably be arranged on top of a reservoir such as that demonstrated in FIG. 2, to form a body support unit.

Former and Method of Manufacturing a Column

According to another aspect of the invention, there is disclosed a method of manufacturing a column of interconnected fluid-fillable cells, and an associated former.

FIGS. 17 and 18 illustrate a former 120 according to one embodiment. The former 120 comprises a series of cups 121 connected together. Each cup 121 defines an inner surface 122 and an outer surface 123. Preferably the inner 122 and outer 123 surfaces are concentric with one another. Preferably, the inner 122 and outer 123 surfaces are generally spherical.

The top surface of the cup, at the intersection of the inner 122 and outer 123 surfaces, defines an annulus 124, wherein the radius of the annulus 124 substantially corresponds to the radius of spherical curvature of the inner 122 and outer 123 surfaces. In other words, the annulus 124 is substantially coterminous with the equator (great circle) of the spherical surface of the outer/inner surface of the cup 121.

The inner 122 and outer 123 surfaces of each cup 121 are configured such that material can be formed/moulded over them. Once the material has cured, the former 120 can be removed and the formed article can be inflated to create a substantially spherical object. Before inflation, the article effectively comprises two flexible concave parts of material lying against each other. When inflated, one of the concave parts of material is caused to become convex by the inflation.

Each of the neighbouring cups 121 of the former 120 is joined together by a neck forming portion 125. In one embodiment, the neck forming portion 125 defines a channel having an inner 126 and outer 127 surface. Preferably the inner 126 and outer 127 surfaces of the neck forming portion 125 are concentric with one another. Preferably, the inner 126 and outer 127 surfaces of the neck forming portion 125 are generally cylindrical.

The inner 126 and outer 127 surfaces of the neck forming portion 125 are configured such that material can be formed/moulded over them. Once the material has cured, the former 120 can be removed and the formed article can be inflated to create a substantially tubular object. Before inflation, the article effectively comprises two flexible ‘trough-shaped’ parts of material lying against each other. When inflated, one of the parts is caused to move away from the other part, to define a cylindrical object (the neck).

Collectively, the plurality of cups 121 connected in a series with corresponding neck forming portions 125 allow the creation of an inflatable column 10 comprising a plurality of cells 11 (preferably balls) connected to one another by substantially cylindrical necks 8, such as that shown in FIG. 12.

The shape of the former 120 is particularly advantageous when removing a formed column 10 from the former 120. It will be appreciated that, along the length of the formed column 11, there are areas of large cross section (the equator the cells 11) and areas of small cross-section (the necks 8). When removing the moulded column 10 from the former 120, it is necessary to ‘stretch’ the parts of the column with small cross-sections (the necks) over the parts of the former with larger cross-sections (the cups 121), to remove the column 10 from the former. The space envelope occupied by a cup 121 is approximately half that of a sphere.

Referring to FIG. 18, it will be noted that the former 120 allows the column 10 to be removed whilst minimising the extent to which the necks of the column 10 need to stretched.

The alternative would be to provide a former comprising a plurality of spheres connected together. If that alternative former was used, the neck of the formed column would need to stretch around the entire circumference of the spheres, which could damage the material of the neck of the column. By comparison, with the former 120 illustrated in FIGS. 17 and 18, the neck only needs to be stretched over a hemisphere, reducing the risk of damage.

The present invention also provides a body support platform comprising a plurality of body support units. In one embodiment, a body support platform comprises an array of body support units, in an X×Y matrix. In one embodiment, a body support platform may be 3 units wide by 5 units long (15 units in total). The body support platform preferably comprises a frame on which the body support units are supported (directly or indirectly). In one embodiment, there may be a single bracing member for the body support platform. The single bracing member may receive the columns of a plurality of body support units. That is to say that the columns of neighbouring body support units (each having a discrete air supply and/or reservoir) are effectively held relative to one another by a single bracing member embodying the present invention.

Any references to “fluid” preferably refer to air, but other gases or liquids are suitable.

When used in this specification and claims, the terms “comprises” and “comprising” and variations thereof mean that the specified features, steps or integers are included. The terms are not to be interpreted to exclude the presence of other features, steps or components.

The features disclosed in the foregoing description, or the following claims, or the accompanying drawings, expressed in their specific forms or in terms of a means for performing the disclosed function, or a method or process for attaining the disclosed result, as appropriate, may, separately, or in any combination of such features, be utilised for realising the invention in diverse forms thereof.