US 20020105252 A1
A storage unit including a snap-together cabinet having a forwardly-opening cavity and a drawer for hanging files slidably received within the cavity. The drawer includes a face and an item containing portion having a pair of side rails detachably interconnected with the face. Each side rail includes an inner flange, an outer flange, and a cross-member connected between the inner and outer flange. The side rails are generally I-beam shaped such that the flanges are substantially vertical and the cross-member is substantially horizontal. The storage unit is also detachably stackable with an accessory unit including a cabinet and drawer for storing items slidably received within the cabinet.
1. A storage unit comprising:
a cabinet having a forwardly-opening cavity; and
a drawer slidably received within said cavity, said drawer having
an item containing portion; and
a face releasably connectable to said item containing portion, said face being interconnectable and disconnectable from said item containing portion without the use of tools.
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21. A storage unit comprising:
a cabinet having a forwardly-opening cavity; and
a drawer slidably received within said cavity, said drawer having
a face; and
an item containing portion including a pair of side rails interconnected with said face, wherein each side rail includes an inner flange, an outer flange, and a cross-member connected between said inner and outer flange, wherein said flanges are substantially vertical, and said cross-member is substantially horizontal.
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 The invention relates to an improved ready-to-assemble file storage unit.
 Typical prior art file cabinets are metal file cabinets that are assembled with the use of fasteners and tools by the manufacturer. The assembled file cabinet is then shipped to a store where it is sold and typically delivered to the purchaser in its assembled condition.
 It is known to construct file storage containers of plastic and other materials. It is also known to sell file storage containers in panel form that are intended to be snapped together by the end user.
 One problem that has been identified with known file cabinets is that the file cabinets are assembled by the manufacturer. Thus, an assembled file cabinet is stored by the manufacturer, shipped to the retail store, stored by the retailer or displayed on the sales floor, and delivered to the customer. Assembled file cabinets tend to be bulky, and, because shipping and storage costs are often associated with the amount of space occupied by the item, may be expensive to ship and store. Also, because assembled file cabinets are relatively bulky items, they may be difficult to maneuver around in a store or warehouse without bumping into other items and causing damage to the file cabinet and/or the other items.
 It is known to provide a plastic file storage container consisting of a plurality of panels that are snapped together by the end user of the container. However, these known file storage containers typically do not include the functional benefits of a file cabinet. For example, it is very difficult to manufacture plastic panels having the proper rollers and guides to create a plastic, snap-together file cabinet having a drawer slidably received within a cabinet. Consequently, known plastic snap-together file storage containers typically do not include a drawer slidable over a roller.
 It would be advantageous to manufacture, store, and ship a file cabinet or other file storage container in a disassembled condition in which the various panels of the file cabinet are stacked and contained in a shipping box that occupies less space than the assembled file cabinet. This may result in significant shipping and storage cost. The box would also substantially protect the panels from dents and scratches while the box is being moved.
 Molded file storage units most commonly use drawers that are manufactured as one piece in a single mold. This method of manufacture results in a number of disadvantages. First, this method involves a large and complex mold that requires a substantial initial investment for tooling and equipment. Second, the one-piece molded drawer occupies a greater amount of shipping space as opposed to a drawer capable of being shipped in a disassembled condition. Third, each time an esthetic change is made to the face of the drawer, a costly new mold for the entire drawer would be required. Finally, these one-piece molded drawers are at a disadvantage to meet the market demands because of the lengthy lead times necessary to make these complicated new molds. Solving these problems would potentially create a huge market advantage by decreasing the initial investment required, reducing shipping costs, and meeting market demands.
 The present invention provides a storage unit comprising a cabinet defining a cavity, and a pair of drawers slidably received within the cavity. The cabinet can be assembled without the use of tools. Preferably, the drawers can also be assembled without the use of tools, and both the drawers and the cabinet are constructed of a plurality of plastic molded panels. Preferably, the panels are interconnected with tongues inserted into slots, and the panels may be disconnected from each other without the use of tools and without damage to the panels.
 Each drawer includes a face and an item containing portion detachably connectable with the face. The item containing portion includes a pair of side rails that are movable within guides located on the cabinet to assist sliding the drawer into and out of the cavity. Preferably, the side rails are generally I-beam shaped and provide a rigid frame for the drawer to support the weight of the drawer and items contained in the drawer.
 The invention also provides an accessory unit that can be stacked on top of the storage unit for the storage of items other than files. A number of accessory units may be stacked, one on top of the other, to create a file cabinet having a plurality of item containing drawers. The accessory unit or units may also be stacked on the above-described storage unit. Slots and tabs in the tops and bottoms of each storage and accessory unit cooperate to interconnect with the adjacent units.
 Other features and advantages of the invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon review of the following detailed description, claims, and drawings.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a storage unit embodying the present invention.
FIG. 2 is an exploded view of the cabinet of the storage unit illustrated in FIG. 1.
FIG. 3 is an exploded view of the drawer of the storage unit illustrated in FIG. 1.
FIG. 4 is a cross-section view of the drawer taken along line 4-4 in FIG. 1.
FIG. 5 is a cross-section view of the face of the drawer taken along line 5-5 in FIG. 3.
FIG. 6 is a cross-section view of the item containing portion of the drawer taken along line 6-6 in FIG. 3.
FIG. 7 is a cross-section view of a side rail taken along line 7-7 in FIG. 4.
FIG. 8 is a plan view of the enclosure shown in an unfolded condition.
FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the enclosure partially folded into a folded condition.
FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the storage unit of FIG. 1 having an accessory unit attached thereto.
FIG. 11 is a cross-section view taken along line 11-11 in FIG. 10.
FIG. 12 is a perspective view of the drawer of the accessory unit illustrated in FIG. 10.
FIG. 13 is a cross-section view taken along line 13-13 in FIG. 12.
 Before one embodiment of the invention is explained in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of construction and the arrangements of the components set forth in the following description or illustrated in the drawings. The invention is capable of other embodiments and of being practiced or being carried out in various ways. Also, it is understood that the phraseology and terminology used herein is for the purpose of description and should not be regarded as limiting. The use of “including” and “comprising” and variations thereof herein is meant to encompass the items listed thereafter and equivalents thereof as well as additional items. The use of “consisting of” and variations thereof herein is meant to encompass only the items listed thereafter. The use of letters to identify elements of a method or process is simply for identification and is not meant to indicate that the elements should be performed in a particular order.
FIG. 1 illustrates a storage unit 10 including a cabinet 14 and a pair of drawers 18 according to the present invention. As will be explained further below, the storage unit 10 is made to be easily assembled and disassembled by hand, without the use of tools.
FIG. 2 better illustrates the component parts of the cabinet 14. The cabinet 14 includes a bottom panel 22, first and second side panels 26, a rear panel 30, and a top panel 34. When assembled, the cabinet 14 defines a forwardly opening cavity that can slidably receive the drawers 18. In the illustrated embodiment of the invention, the panels 22, 26, 30, 34 for the cabinet 14 and the drawers 18 are constructed of injection-molded thermoplastic material, and are preferably made of high impact polystyrene.
 Referring to FIG. 2, the panels 22, 26, 30, 34 of the cabinet 14 are designed to be releasably connectable to each other to allow for simple assembly and disassembly of the cabinet 14. The side panels 26, the bottom panel 22, and the top panel 34 include flexible tongues or tabs. Each tab includes a ledge or protrusion. The flexible tabs are movable between a lock position and a clearance position, and are biased toward the lock position. The cabinet side panels 26, bottom panel 22, and top panel 34 include slots or collars into which a corresponding tab may be inserted when the tab is in the clearance position. The cabinet panels 22, 26, 30, 34 may be configured to have various combinations of slots and tabs other than that illustrated. For a further explanation of a similar cabinet, the entire contents of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/368,272, filed Aug. 3, 1999, are hereby incorporated by reference.
 The side panels 26 of the illustrated embodiment also each include a vertical wall 38 and a frame 42 defining an outwardly-facing recess 46. The frame 42 includes multiple slots 50 located about the interior of the frame 42 adjacent to the vertical wall 38. The storage unit 10 also includes a function panel 54 (FIG. 10) that can be positioned within the recess 46. The function panel 54 includes multiple corresponding tabs (not shown) that can be positioned within the slots 50 of the frame. The tabs could alternatively be located on the frame 42 and be mounted within slots located on the function panel 54. The illustrated function panel 54 can be used to hold paper or office supplies and is located at the bottom of the recess 46. However, the function panels 54 can have multiple configurations and can be positioned anywhere within the recess 46. While advantageous to have function panels 54 entirely within the recess 46 for space-saving purposes, larger function panels 54 may be used that extend partially out of recess 46.
 With reference to FIG. 2, each cabinet side panel 26 also includes an upper rail guide 58, and a lower rail guide 62 extending into the cavity from the interior surface of the side panel 26. The rail guides 58, 62 can be integrally formed with the side panel 26 and are used to slidably support the drawers 18, as will be further described below. The side panels 26 also include a roller 66 rotatably mounted to the interior of the side panel 26 at the front end of the rail guides 58, 62. The roller 66 is preferably made of Nylon. As illustrated in FIG. 2, the roller 66 is mounted so that the top of the roller 66 is slightly above the lower rail guide 62 to provide a rolling surface for the drawer 18 as the drawer 18 slides into and out of the cavity within the upper and lower rail guides 58, 62.
 With reference to FIGS. 3-9, the drawer 18 includes an item containing portion 70, and a face 74 detachably connectable to the item containing portion 70. The item containing portion 70 holds hanging file folders, office supplies, stationary, and the like.
 The detachability of the face 74 and item containing portion 70 provide for tooling advantages, simple assembly and disassembly allowing for less expensive shipping costs, and the option to interchange the face 74 of the drawer 18 with faces having other ornamental and functional designs. Because the item containing portion 70 and face 74 are manufactured separately from injection-molded thermoplastic material, the present invention offers potential cost savings in tooling. More specifically, modifications may be made to the face 74 (e.g., ornamental modifications) without having to retool the entire drawer. Additionally, retooling that would be required for modifications to the face 74 would be significantly simplified (e.g., a less complex and shallower tool to replace) when compared to the retooling of a mold for a one-piece drawer. The result is that a new line of drawers may be made at a lower price and at a faster response time to meet the demands of the marketplace.
 Another advantage is the space saving nature of separable parts. Because the cabinet 14 and drawers 18 need not be assembled prior to shipping, assembly costs, storage costs, and shipping costs are substantially reduced. In this regard, the unit 10 may be stored and shipped in a box that occupies significantly less space than the assembled unit 10. Assembling the unit 10 does not require tools; the end user can simply assemble the storage unit 10 by hand. Even after the drawer 18 is assembled, the components can be disassembled easily as well for storage and/or shipping.
 Finally, because the face 74 and the item containing portion 70 are releasably attachable, either element can be substituted with other potential interchangeable parts. For example, if a new face is available with a different aesthetic feature such as color, or with a different functional feature such as a more comfortable handle or a labeling window, the end user may purchase the new face and exchange it with the old face at a lower cost than replacing the entire drawer. Therefore, this configuration provides the end user with potential options that will be supplied at a cost savings.
 Referring to FIGS. 3 and 5, the face 74 includes an edge stiffener 78 located around the perimeter of the face 74 and extending from the back of the face 74 towards the item containing portion 70. The edge stiffener 78 includes a top edge stiffener 82 across the top of the face 74. The top edge stiffener 82 includes two exterior tabs 86 located adjacent the outward ends of the top edge stiffener 82. The exterior tabs 86 extend downward away from the top edge stiffener 82. The top edge stiffener 82 also includes two downwardly extending interior tabs 90 located between the two exterior tabs 86. The face 74 also includes a horizontal stiffener 94 substantially parallel to the top edge stiffener 82. The horizontal stiffener 94 is located below the top edge stiffener 82 and includes two slots 98. The face 74 also includes ribs 102 located on the interior side of the face 74 that extend substantially perpendicularly away from the face 74. In the illustrated embodiment, there are two vertical ribs 102 and one horizontal rib 102. The ribs 102 include multiple forward connection points 106 located thereon. Additional stiffening members 104 are also provided between the vertical ribs 102.
 With reference to FIGS. 3, 4, 6, and 7, the item containing portion 70 includes a forward support 110, a rear support 114, and first and second side rails 118 separated by a distance and connected between the forward support 110 and the rear support 114. The forward support 110, the rear support 114, and the side rails 118 are made from injection-molded polypropylene, and the face 74 is made from injection-molded polystyrene. The item containing portion 70 is preferably molded as one integral piece. The forward support 110 includes a plurality of mating faces 122 along its top edge that are pressable against the tabs 86, 90 of the top edge stiffener 82 of the face 74. The forward support 110 also includes two downwardly extending flanges 126 that are insertable into the slots 98 of the horizontal stiffener 94 of the face 74. The forward support 110 also includes multiple strengthening ribs 130 that extend substantially perpendicularly from the interior side of the forward support 110.
 As seen in FIG. 3, the rear support 114 is connected between the side rails 118 at a distance away from the forward support 110. The rear support 114 extends generally parallel to the forward support 110 and is substantially perpendicular to the side rails 118. The rear support 114 has multiple rear attachment points 134 located on the interior side thereof.
 Referring to FIGS. 3-7, the side rails 118 are generally I-beam shaped and each include an inner flange 138, a substantially parallel outer flange 142 separated from the inner flange 138 by a distance, and a substantially perpendicular cross-member or web 146 connected between the inner flange 138 and the outer flange 142. Although the illustrated embodiment shows the cross-member 146 located towards the lower portions of the inner and outer flange 138, 142, the cross-member 146 can be located at any position along the flanges 138, 142. For example, the cross-member 146 could be positioned at the extreme lowermost end of the inner flange 138 and positioned near the center or top portion of the outer flange 142. As will become apparent below, it is preferred to space the cross-member 146 from the lowermost edges of the flanges 138, 142. The side rails 118 also include multiple upwardly extending strengthening ribs 150 located between the inner and outer flanges 138, 142. The ribs 150 provide the side rails 118 with increased strength and resist twisting of the inner and outer flanges 138, 142. The inner flange 138 has a file support surface 154 located on its uppermost edge. As shown in FIG. 7, the hook 158 of a file hanger extends over the inner flange 138 and is supported by the file support surface 154. The inner flanges 138 also include multiple side attachment points 156 located on the interior face of the inner flanges 138.
 The cross-member 146 of the side rail 118 has a roller track 162 located on the bottom side of the cross-member 146 opposite the ribs 150. The roller track 162 is defined by the lower portions of the flanges 138, 142 and the cross-member 146. The roller track 162 contacts the roller 66 of the side panel 26 (as shown in phantom in FIG. 7) and provides a smooth continuous surface for the roller 66 to ride against when the drawer 18 is inserted or pulled from the cabinet 14. The roller track 162 includes a roller stop (not shown) positioned adjacent its rearward end. The roller stop resists movement of the drawer 18 entirely out of the cavity. Specifically, when the drawer 18 is pulled out, the roller 66 rolls against the roller track 162 until the roller 66 comes into contact with the roller stop. The roller stop acts as a fulcrum, or pivot, whereby the weight of the drawer 18 forces the rearward ends of the side rails 118 against the upper rail guides 58 of the side panels 26, thereby resisting unintentional sliding or falling out of the drawer 18 with respect to the cabinet 14.
 With reference to FIGS. 3 and 5, the face 74 of the drawer 18 also includes a handle 170 on its exterior side. When the face 74 is connected to the item containing portion 70, the handle 170 is located substantially at the same vertical level as the side rails 118. When the handle 170 is substantially aligned with the side rails 118, the pulling forces are more directly transferred through to the side rails 118. This eliminates the bending stress that would be present if the handle 170 was located a vertical distance from the side rails 118. Therefore, the pulling motion will act substantially solely to slide out the drawer 18 from the cavity 14 without drawer 18 incurring significant pinching or bending stresses.
 The method of connecting the item containing portion 70 to the face 74 is best illustrated in FIG. 4. First, the item containing portion 70 should be positioned on an angle relative to the face 74 as shown in phantom lines. The mating faces 122 of the forward support 110 are positioned behind both the exterior and interior tabs 86, 90 of the top edge stiffener 82. Once the mating faces 122 are located behind the tabs 86, 90, the item containing portion 70 can be rotated about the mating faces 122 toward the locked position as shown by the arrow in FIG. 4. Before the rotation is complete, the flanges 126 of the forward support 110 will contact the horizontal stiffener 94. As the rotation continues, the flanges 126 will press against the horizontal stiffener 94 causing the horizontal stiffener 94 to deflect downward away from the flanges 126. This deflection will continue until the flanges 126 fall into the slots 98 of the horizontal stiffener 94 at which time the horizontal stiffener 94 will elastically return to its original undeflected position. The item containing portion 70 is thereby effectively locked into the functional position by the combination of the tabs 86, 90 of the top edge stiffener 82 positioned against the mating faces 122 of the forward support 110 and the flanges 126 of the forward support 110 positioned within the slots 98 of the horizontal stiffener 94. Additionally, the item containing portion 70 can be separated from the face 74 by deflecting the horizontal stiffener 94 down and rotating the item containing portion 70 in a direction opposite to that described above.
 In the preferred embodiment of the present invention, the forward support 110 of the item containing portion 70 is releasably connected to the top portion of the face 74. Specifically, the connection is located within about the uppermost 20% of the face, leaving about 80% of the face 74 hanging free from any connection with the forward support 110 or side rails 118.
 Referring to FIGS. 9 and 10, the drawer 18 also includes an enclosure 174 detachably connectable to the item containing portion 70 and the face 74. The enclosure 174 is die cut from a sheet of polypropylene or similar resilient plastic material. The enclosure 174 prevents objects from falling out of the drawer 18 as well as to give the drawer 18 the appearance of a solid enclosure.
 The enclosure 174 includes a generally rectangular bottom portion 178 having four edges, a generally rectangular rear portion 182 having four edges, wherein the rear portion 182 is connected to the bottom portion 178 along a common edge. The bottom portion 178 also has two holes 186 located at the edge opposite the edge connected to the rear portion 182. The rear portion 182 also has two holes 186 located near the edge opposite the edge connected to the bottom portion 178. The rear portion 182 also has multiple outwardly extending tabs 190 connected to the remaining edges.
 The enclosure 174 also includes two side portions 194 each connected to a respective remaining edge of the bottom portion 178. As illustrated best in FIG. 9, the connections between the bottom portion 178 and each of the other portions 182, 194 are accomplished by a living material hinge created by scoring the material with a knife or blade. The side portions 194 include a hanging edge 198 opposite the edge connected to the bottom portion 178, and multiple holes 186 located along that same edge. The hanging edge 198 includes two tabs 202 projecting outwardly from the side portions 194. The side portion 194 includes flaps 206 connected to the edges adjacent to the rear portion 182, wherein two slots 210 are cut into the connection edge. The side portions 194 also include a single hole 186 located adjacent to the edge opposite the edge connected to the flap 206.
 Referring specifically to FIG. 9, the enclosure 174 can be assembled by folding the flaps 206 of the side portions 194 ninety degrees upward from the side portions 194. After the flaps 206 are folded, the side portions 194 are folded ninety degrees upward from the bottom portion 178 to create a U-shape. Next, the tabs 190 of the rear portion 182 are folded upward ninety degrees from the rear portion 182. Finally, the rear portion 182 is folded upward ninety degrees while at the same time positioning the tabs 202 of the rear portion 182 into the slots 210 of the side portion 194 and positioning the bent flaps 206 inside of the rear portion 182. After the assembly is complete, the enclosure 174 defines a forwardly and upwardly-opening cavity.
 Referring now the FIGS. 3, and 9, the assembled enclosure 174 can be releasably connected to the item containing portion 70 and the face 74. First, the projecting tabs 202 of the side portions 194 are placed onto the forward support 110 and the rear support 114 respectively. After the tabs 202 are positioned, the holes 186 of the enclosure 174 should be substantially aligned with the attachment points 134, 156 of the item containing portion 70 and the connection points 106 of the face 74. Specifically, the holes 186 of the side
 The drawer 230 of the accessory unit 222 is better illustrated in FIGS. 12 and 13. The drawer 230 includes an item containing portion 254 and a face 258 releasably connected to the item containing portion 254. The item containing portion 254 includes a pair of spaced side rails 262 and a rear support 266 connected between the side rails 262. The item containing portion 254 also includes an upwardly-opening compartment 270 having a bottom wall 274, a rear wall 278 extending between the bottom wall 274 and the rear support 266, first and second side walls 282 extending between the bottom wall 274 and the side rails 262, and a front wall 286 partially extending upwardly from the bottom wall 274 and connected between the side walls 282. The bottom wall 274 includes two slots 290 adjacent the front wall 286.
 Each side rail 262 includes a inner flange 294 spaced from a substantially parallel outer flange 298. Each side rail 262 also includes a cross-member 302 connected between and substantially perpendicular to the inner and outer flange 294, 298. The bottom side of the cross-member 302 defines a roller track 306 that contacts the roller of the side panels 242 when the drawer 230 is slidably inserted into the cabinet 226. Each side rail 262 includes an upwardly extending tab 310 located on its forward end.
 The face 258 of the drawer 230 includes a handle 314 located on the exterior side of the face 258. The face 258 also includes edge stiffeners 318 projecting outwardly from the interior side of the face 258, and located on the perimeter of the face 258. The edge stiffeners 318 includes a lower edge stiffener 322 including two upwardly projecting tabs 326. The face 258 also includes two downwardly projecting tabs 330 and two outwardly extending flanges 334, both located on the interior side of the face 258.
 The method of assembling the accessory unit drawer 230 is best shown in FIG. 13. Similar to the storage unit drawer 18, the face 258 is in the upright position and the item containing portion 254 is tilted at a slight angle relative to the face 258. The upwardly portions 194 are positioned over the side attachment points 156 of the inner flanges 138 of the side rails 118. The holes 186 of the rear portion 182 are positioned over the rear attachment points 134 of the rear support 114. Finally, the forward holes 186 of the bottom portion 178 and the side portions 194 are connected with the connection points 106 of the rib 102. The method of connecting is different from the connections on the item containing portion 70 due to tooling considerations. In particular, the connection points 106 of the rib 102 include an additional hole instead of a protrusion upon which to hang the enclosure. Because of this configuration, a common plastic pin must inserted through both the hole in the connection points 106 of the rib 102 and through the hole 186 in the respective portion of the enclosure 174.
 Referring now to FIGS. 2, 10, and 11, the top panel 34 includes a top surface 214. The top surface 214 includes multiple mounting holes 218 configured to permit the stacking of an accessory unit 222 on the storage unit 10. The accessory unit 222 includes both a cabinet 226 and a drawer 230 slidably mounted within the cabinet 226. The cabinet 226 includes a bottom panel 234 having four legs 238, first and second side panels 242, a rear panel (not shown), and a top panel 250 in a manner similar to the storage unit 10 described above. The side panels 242 also include an upper rail guide, and a lower rail guide (not shown) extending into the cavity from the interior surface of the side panel 242. The side panels 242 also include a roller (not shown) rotatably mounted to the interior of the side panel 242 at the front end of the rail guides. The top panel mounting holes 218 of the storage unit 10 receive the corresponding legs 238 of the bottom panel 234 of the accessory unit 222 stacked on top of it (See FIG. 11). By way of this configuration, the upper accessory unit 222 is substantially prevented from sliding off of the lower storage unit 10. Also, the bottom panel 134 of the upper accessory unit 222 is substantially aligned with the top panel 34 of the lower storage unit 10. extending tabs 310 of the side rails 262 are positioned behind the downwardly projecting tabs 330 of the face 258. The item containing portion 254 is pivoted from this point and is rotated downward until the upwardly extending flanges 326 of the lower edge stiffener 322 come into contact with the bottom wall 274 of the compartment 270. Rotation is continued until the flanges 334 of the lower edge stiffener 322 are positioned within the slots 290 of the bottom wall 274 of the compartment 270. Finally, the front wall 286 is snugly positioned between the outwardly projecting flange 334 of the face 258 and the lower edge stiffener 322. The face 258 can be removed from the item containing portion 254 in a similar fashion by deflecting the lower edge stiffener 322 and rotating the item containing portion 258 in the reverse direction away from the face 258.