US 20020026755 A1
A workstation system comprising at least one cable beam having first and second ends, respective posts at each end of the beam supporting the beam in a generally horizontal disposition, and a cluster of individual workstations arranged around the beam. Electrical supply and communication cables extend along the beam from respective external connections. Each workstation can be connected with at least one of the cables within the beam. Means is provided at least at one end of the beam for coupling end-to-end therewith, a similar beam, while permitting selective orientation of the beams with respect to one another about a generally upright axis, according to desired workstation layout.
1. A workstation system comprising:
at least one cable beam having first and second ends and including electrical supply cables and communication cables that extend along the beam from respective external connections;:
means supporting the beam at each said end in a generally horizontal disposition;
a cluster of individual workstations arranged around the beam;
in association with each workstation, means connecting the workstation with at least one of said electrical supply cables and said communication cables of said beam; and
means at least at one said end of the beam for coupling a similar beam in end-to-end relationship therewith, while permitting selective angular orientation of the beams with respect to one another about a generally upright axis, according to desired workstation layout.
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 This application claims benefit from United States provisional application Ser. No. 60/189,058 filed Mar. 14, 2000 which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
 This invention relates generally to a workstation system that includes a plurality of individual workstations. The invention has been devised primarily in the context of a workstation system for a telephone call centre in which a relatively large number of individual representatives or agents are required to communicate with the outside world by telephone, often while using a computer terminal. However, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited to this application.
 Typical call centre workstation systems are designed on the basis of accommodating a large number of people in minimum space while providing for each workstation, acoustical screening as well as electrical power and communication services. Typically, each workstation may be a fixed cubicle having a desk area to accommodate a computer terminal, telephone and some work space.
 A workstation system such as this is relatively inflexible in terms of adding or removing workstations and in general does not provide a very pleasant working environment for the individuals who use the workstations.
 An object of the present invention is to provide an improved workstation system that addresses these disadvantages of the prior art.
 The workstation system of the invention includes at least one cable beam having first and second ends, with means at each end supporting the beam in a generally horizontal disposition. A cluster of individual workstations is arranged around the beam. The beam itself houses electrical supply and communication cables which extend along the beam. Each workstation is provided with means for connecting the workstation with at least one of the cables, for example via connection ports spaced along the beam. The beam itself is provided, at one or both ends, with means for coupling a similar beam end-to-end with the first beam, while permitting selective angular orientation of the second beam respect to the first beam about a generally upright axis according to a desired layout of the workstations.
 In general, the invention is based on the principle of a horizontal cable beam and individual workstations that can be plugged into the beam. The workstations can be clustered around the beam, and the number and arrangement of the workstations can be varied according to requirements. Further, the system can “grow” by coupling additional beams end-to-end with the first beam. Preferably, the beams are identical and have coupling means at both ends so that the workstation system has wide flexibility for change in accordance with personnel requirements and desired layout. The beams can be angularly oriented with respect to one another so that the system does not need to grow in a straight line. Provision may be made for branching additional beams laterally from a main “spine” of beams so that the overall layout can be quite irregular.
 In this way, it is possible not only to accommodate growth or contraction in the number of workstations required and the space available, but the workstations can be arranged in a manner that provides a pleasant, stimulating environment for the individuals who are using the workstations.
 While the workstations could be fixed to the beams, the workstations preferably are free standing and are coupled to the beams only by one or more cables, so as to allow for additional flexibility.
 The workstations themselves can be essentially a desktop mounted on a wheeled base and provided with appropriate acoustical screening. Seating can be incorporated in the workstation, or a separate wheeled chair can be provided.
 In order that the invention may be more clearly understood, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings which illustrate a particular preferred embodiment of the invention, and in which:
FIG. 1 is a plan view showing one possible layout of a workstation system in accordance with the invention;
FIG. 2 comprises views denoted (a) to (g) which are also plan views similar to FIG. 1, illustrating other possible layouts;
FIG. 3 is a side elevational view of a typical cable beam, supported on both ends by cable beam supports;
FIG. 4 is an enlarged cross-sectional view through the beam;
FIG. 5 is a detail cross-sectional view showing a support at one end of the cable beam;
FIG. 6 is a plan view illustrating three cable beams radiating from a single support;
FIG. 7 is a view similar to FIG. 6 showing a top plate on the support; and,
FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a typical free-standing workstation.
FIGS. 1 and 2 show examples of workstation configurations that may be achieved using a workstation system in accordance with the invention. It is of course to be understood that these are examples only and are not limiting.
 Referring first to FIG. 1, the system includes a series of individual cable beams 20 that are coupled together end-to-end at varying angular configurations with respect to one another. As best shown in FIG. 3, each beam is supported at each end by a post 22 so that the beam is supported in a generally horizontal disposition above the ground, e.g. at typical desk height. Reverting to FIG. 1, a cluster of free-standing workstations individually denoted 24 is arranged around each beam. An example of a typical workstation is shown in FIG. 8, from which it can be seen that each workstation is supported on wheels so that it can be conveniently maneuvered in position with respect to the associated beam. The only connection between each workstation and the associated beam is a cable 26 that includes power and at least one telecommunication line.
 As will be described in more detail later, the cable beams provide conduits for electrical supply and communication cables that extend along the beams from external connections. By way of example, a power pole may be used to route the cables downwardly from a ceiling space to one end of the beam assembly, for example, as indicated at 28 in FIG. 1. The cables are then routed along from beam to beam. Typically, the cables will be made available in sections that can be plugged together end-to-end so that the length of cable matches the length of the beam assembly.
 Also to be described is the fact that each beam is provided with a plurality of cable connection ports that are spaced along the beam so as to allow the individual workstations to be plugged in. In this embodiment connection ports are provided for the power cables only, though ports (jacks) could be provided for plugging in communications lines also.
FIG. 1 also illustrates auxiliary items such as free-standing lockers 30 or a table 32 that can be positioned alongside the workstation system as desired. In the configuration of FIG. 1, the workstation 24′ that is closest to the table 32 is designated as a supervisor workstation.
FIG. 1 and FIGS. 2(a) to 2(g) illustrate some of the possible configurations that can be achieved with the workstation system of the invention. In the minimum case, there is only a single beam (FIG. 2(c)) while in other configurations, there are a plurality of beams that can be angularly oriented with respect to one another, or branched beam arrangements can be designed, for example as shown in FIGS. 2(b), (e) and (f).
 Referring now to FIG. 3, a typical cable beam 20 is shown in elevation and supported at each end by a post 22. In the illustrated embodiments, all of the beams 20 are identical although in principle, different beam lengths and configurations could be used within the same workstation system.
 Each post 22 has a flat base 34 and a horizontal plate 36 at the top of the post on which the beam is supported by a bracket which is shown in detail in FIG. 5. Spaced along the beam are a series of ports 38 at which electrical power cables can be plugged into the beam. Typically, these ports will comprise conventional electrical receptacles that are pre-wired to the electrical cables within the beam.
FIG. 4 shows the cross-sectional shape of the beam in detail. It will be seen that the beam comprises upper and lower aluminum extrusions 40 and 42 respectively. Each extrusion is designed to provide two compartments, 40 a, 40 b and 42 a, 42 b that are electrically screened from one another by an intervening wall. The two upper compartments 40 a and 40 b are open at the top so that wiring can simply be laid into the respective compartments. A plastic cover 44 extends over the open tops of the two compartments so that the wiring normally is concealed. However, the cover incorporates two live hinge formations 46 so that either side of the cover can be lifted up to gain access to the compartments.
 In this particular embodiment, the two upper compartments 40 a and 40 b receive communications wiring (voice and data). Communications cables coupled to the individual workstations are routed between the outer walls of the extrusions 40, 42 and the cover 44, as indicated at 47.
 The lower extrusion 42 is enclosed in a removable steel cover 48 which defines the two compartments 42 a and 42 b. Electrical receptacles 38 are carried by cover 48.
FIG. 5 shows the plate 36 at the top of one of the support posts 22. A collar at the bottom of the plate for extending around the top of the post is indicated at 50. Projecting outwardly from each end of the cable beam is a plate 52 that rests on support post plate 36 and by which the beam is supported on the post. A bolt 54 extends through a plain opening in plate 52 and is threaded into a complimentary threaded opening 56 in plate 36. A pin 58 extends upwardly from the centre of plate 36 and carries a cap or cover 60.
FIGS. 6 and 7 illustrate the fact that a number of beams can be coupled together at the top of the same post so as to extend radially outwardly from that post about the axis of pin 58 (denoted A A in FIG. 5).
FIG. 7 is a plan view showing the cap or cover 60 at the junction between three cable beams 20. FIG. 6 shows the same junction but with the cover 60 removed. Bolts for securing the three beams to the plate 36 are individually denoted 54. It will be seen that there is in fact an array of beam attachment points (holes 56) for receiving bolts 54 and that the holes 56 are angularly distributed about the centre point of plate 36 (pin 58). In this case, twelve holes 56 are provided to give a selection of different beam attachment points. It will also be seen that the plates 52 that support the beams on plate 36 are tapered and have rounded ends to allow for rotational flexibility in positioning the beams. In the illustrated embodiment, each beam can in fact pivot and be fixed within a range of 150 to both sides of a central position.
 Cables can be run from one beam to the other through the space between plate 36 and the cover 60. Flexible cable barriers 62 extend between the beams for covering the cables.
 Finally, FIG. 8 shows a typical one of the workstations 24. The workstation is designed as a free-standing piece of furniture that can adjust to the needs of each person using the workstation. The workstation can be oriented to accommodate varying environmental conditions.
 As shown in FIG. 8, the workstation includes a desktop 64 that is supported on a wheeled base 66 by a column 68 that is vertically adjustable. A computer terminal on the desktop 64 is indicated at 70 and is surrounded by an acoustical screen 72. A work surface in front of the desktop is indicated at 74. A concealed hinge 76 in each side of screen 72 allows front side portions of the screen to be folded back as indicated by the arrows 78.
 It will be appreciated that the workstation system of the invention provides advantages in terms of flexibility of the number of workstations that can be accommodated, and their arrangement within the working area. The system can “grow” by adding cable beams and workstations according to demand. At the same time, the individuals using the workstations are provided with a pleasant working environment that allows some flexibility for the individual.
 It will of course be appreciated that the preceding description relates to a particular preferred embodiment of the invention and that modifications are possible, some of which have been indicated previously and others of which will be apparent to a person skilled in the art.