US 20030005862 A1
A shipping pallet typically consists of slats and runners arranged to provide a top surface and open access underneath for a fork lift type device and is used to store and/or transport a variety of products.
The modular ecological shipping pallet of the present invention offers significant advantage over present state of the art in the field. It is stronger, lighter, stiffer and more rigid, more economical, and ecologically sound.
The present invention features a combination of design elements than utilize the most effective geometric shapes to increase strength and reduce weight. It allows manufacture from a multitude of potential materials and even allows combinations of different materials within the same component so as to enhance desirable features.
With the above stated improvements in the art, the present invention satisfies a need in the marketplace and materially effects world commerce and preservation of the ecology.
1) A modular ecological shipping pallet featuring several basic components from which a variety of configurations may be constructed to meet specific needs of an end user.
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2) A modular shipping pallet utilizing longitudinal arch or circular or semi-circular sections such as to increase load carrying capacity for any given assembly weight.
3) The shipping pallet of
4) The shipping pallet of
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5) The shipping pallet of
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8) A modular shipping pallet featuring arch or circular or semi-circular structural elements to increase strength, stiffness and rigidity, and load carrying capacity while minimizing weight of the product.
9) The shipping pallet of
 There is no prior patent application.
 There has been no federally funded sponsored research or development of the present invention.
 There is no Microfiche Appendix to this application for letters patent on the present invention.
 Shipping pallets are used as portable platforms to handle, store and transport loads. A pallet typically consists of slats and runners arranged to provide a top surface and open access underneath for a fork lift type device. Bottom slats may also be added to provide for transport on conveyer belts and to add strength, stiffness and rigidity to the pallet.
 Present shipping pallets are usually constructed of wood or wood products with numerous associated problems. There are few shipping pallets constructed from alternative materials but no matter what construction material used all present shipping pallets suffer from one or more significant problems, some of which are described herein.
 Construction material choice has unintended consequences that significantly impact the end user and the world at large. Wooden pallets are heavy and often present rough and/or broken areas leading to work related injuries such as muscle strain, hernia, splinters or worse.
 Ignoring the obvious issues surrounding logging there are ecological issues just now being addressed globally. Wooden shipping pallets provide a transport mechanism for known and, as yet, unknown entomological infestations. The cost of wooden shipping pallets can only increase dramatically as preventative and safety measures are mandated.
 Wooden pallets play host to a wide variety of entomological pests such as
 And many more from around the world. Wooden shipping pallets are the perfect host for these world travelers and the perfect vector to introduce non-native species of destructive pests into foreign ecological systems.
 This problem has recently been recognized and regulations have been enacted to address it. Even more regulatory action is proposed and international treaties, along with trade barriers against untreated wooden pallets are in force.
 One preventative action taken is the application of pesticides. Another preventative action is baking the wood material. Application of pesticides introduces the risk of contaminating the product being carried on the shipping pallet. Baking the wood increases the cost of the shipping pallet and still doesn't address the issue of subsequent entomological infestation. Baking also dries out the wood. This increases fire danger. It also increases the danger of splinters and the inevitable injury to workers using the pallet.
 Disposal of wooden shipping pallets is an equally compelling problem. In the United States alone there are some 270 million wooden shipping pallets sent to landfills or burned yearly. Burning wooden pallets contributes to atmospheric pollution. With current and proposed entomological safeguards, where pesticides are mandated, the problem of pallet disposal becomes even more critical. The added factor of pesticide residue leaching into ground water or being released into the atmosphere through combustion further exacerbates the problem.
 The present invention provides significant improvement to the art of shipping pallet strength, weight, ecological acceptability, design, production, transport and storage.
 Strength, weight, stiffness and rigidity, cost, versatility, transportability, reuse and recyclability, and recently resistance to entomological infestation are all important issues to shipping pallet users. Prior art amply demonstrates the attention inventors have paid to at least some of these issues. U.S. Pat. No. 5,170,722, 5,365,859, 5,402,735, 5,417,167, 5,456,189, 5,497,709, 5,601,035 and 5,941,179 disclose various designs for prior art pallets.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,417,167 describes a modular plastic pallet design but falls short of the present invention in that the “deck boards” attachment method optionally requires added fasteners and react to the imposition of a unit load badly by loosening their grip or attachment to the “stringers.” It also describes a design that is decidedly weaker than the present invention and displays a lack of planar stiffness and rigidity that is overcome by the present invention.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,941,179 describes a modular plastic pallet design comprising two basic components which may be assembled into a variety of different pallet configurations to meet specific user needs. The runner to slat attachment means is weak and the stiffness and rigidity of the design is less than that of the present invention. As with U.S. Pat. No. 5,417,167, this design is amenable to manufacture from a variety of raw materials, including thermoplastics to eliminate the problem of wood pest hosting.
 The present invention adds a number of novel and unique features to shipping pallet art. It is modular so that the required storage space for pallets that are not in use can be drastically reduced. It can be manufactured from recyclable materials. It can be manufactured from materials that do not support entomological infestation. The materials of manufacture can be fire retarding. Structural characteristics can be enhanced through additives to the manufacturing materials. It can be built as a compound structure so as to take advantage of varying shapes, sizes, materials and component arrangements to enhance strength, stiffness and rigidity, weight, entomological infestation resistance, fire resistance, and other physical characteristics. It requires few component parts to produce a full line of pallet sizes, strengths, load capacities and weights. It is inherently stronger, lighter and more rigid than present shipping pallets. It requires no tools or special skills to assemble in a warehouse or in the field. It requires no attachment or other fittings for assembly. It disassembles easily for compact storage when not in use. It features a commonality of components such that should a pallet of the present design be damaged it requires only replacement of that specific component or components to repair the pallet and return it to full functionality. It is reusable for many service cycles and then recyclable at the inevitable end of its useful life.
FIG. 1 illustrates the preferred embodiment of the present of the present invention in isometric projection.
FIG. 2 illustrates the present invention utilizing a reduced number of runner elements showing how the modular construction of the present invention permits the pallet end user to configure his pallets to meet his exact shipping needs. FIG. 2 further illustrates how the slat elements are used both in the top planar assembly and also on the bottom of the pallet to provide for conveyor or similar conveyance method support.
FIG. 3 illustrates an alternative embodiment of the present invention wherein the slat element is retained in the runner element by the retainer wedge and retainer pins. It further illustrates an alternative structural support member providing longitudinal stiffness and rigidity to the assembly.
FIG. 4 illustrates the preferred embodiment of the present invention wherein structural stiffness and rigidity are provided by an arch member. The slat elements are again retained in the assembly by the retainer wedge and retainer pins.
FIG. 5 illustrates a typical slat element of the present invention and shows the unique innovation where the longitudinal arch sections provide stiffness and rigidity in one plane yet allow flexibility in the tangential plane for purposes of pallet assembly without the need for any tools.
FIG. 6 illustrates one assembly technique and shows how a typical slat element is joined to a typical runner element.
FIG. 7 illustrates how the present invention utilizes the weight of the pallet load to increase stiffness and rigidity of the pallet assembly.
 The first issue in pallet design is strength. A pallet must support the weight of the product or products it stores statically when just loaded, and dynamically when the product or products are transported on the pallet assembly. Since a pallet is a planar device it must also maintain cross-plane integrity, rigidity and stiffness so that opposing corners do not deform or loosen and damage or lose the load.
 To this end the present invention employs a plurality of arch or circular or semi-circular sections arranged at oblique angles to each other such as to provide stiffness and rigidity and structural integrity to the planar surface at a much-reduced weight. FIG. 1 shows one implementation of the present invention in isometric projection. This representation is but one possible embodiment of the present invention. Other embodiments will be immediately obvious to one skilled in the art. Representation of this particular embodiment is in no way meant to limit the claims of the present invention but, rather, shows but one method to implement the means and methods thereof.
 In FIG. 2, element 1 is the preferred embodiment of a typical longitudinal runner element and 2 is the preferred embodiment of a typical transverse slat element. A plurality of such longitudinal runner elements provide both access for a forklift type device to transport the pallet and associated load and load bearing capacity, along with rigidity and stiffness in the plane. A plurality of such transverse slat elements connecting a plurality of such runner elements provide load bearing capacity, a load bearing surface, rigidity and stiffness in the plane, and form the planar aspect of the pallet. The combination of elements 1 and 2 give cross-plane and transverse stability, stiffness and rigidity to the pallet assembly.
FIG. 3 illustrates one implementation of the present invention. 3 is the top surface of the runner element and features a non-slip surface upon which to rest the pallet load. 4 is one of a plurality of insertion areas for attaching slat elements to runner elements and is shaped such as to securely hold slat elements in place and to tighten their grip when load is applied to the pallet. 5 shows one of a plurality of retainer pins integral to a runner element, the which act to hold said slat elements in place after assembly and resist inadvertent separation of slat elements from runner elements. 6 illustrates one implementation of a structurally sound through section opening to remove material and lighten the component while maintaining the strength required of the assembly. 7 represents one implementation of the runner element design where the primary structural member is of a modified “I” beam design such as to support the load imposed upon the pallet, statically when storing product and dynamically when the pallet and product are transported. 4 and 5 are common to both the top and bottom of the runner elements.
FIG. 4 illustrates a preferred implementation of the present invention. 3 is again the top surface of the runner element and features a non-slip surface upon which to rest the pallet load. And 4 is again one of a plurality of insertion areas for attaching slat elements to runner elements and is shaped such as to securely hold slat elements in place and to tighten their grip when load is applied to the pallet assembly. 5 again shows one of a plurality of integral retainer pins which act to hold said slat elements in place after assembly and resist inadvertent separation of slat elements from runner elements. Again, 6 illustrates one implementation of a through section opening to remove material and lighten the component while maintaining structural integrity. 7 is replaced by 8 which is one of a plurality of longitudinal arch or circular or semi-circular elements which provide strength, stiffness and rigidity over the length of the runner element. 4 and 5 are common to both the top and bottom of runner elements.
FIG. 5 shows a preferred embodiment of the slat elements of the present invention. 9 is a top view and 10 a bottom view of a slat element in isometric projection. 11 is one of a plurality of pillow blocks shaped so as to mate with the retainer section of pallet runner elements. 12 represents the plurality of holes to accept the integral retainer pins and securely hold slat elements in place after assembly. 13 shows the arch or circular or semi-circular cross section where the slat element maintains longitudinal strength and rigidity yet permits lateral flexibility for compression in the cross-plane to allow for easy assembly.
FIG. 6 illustrates a preferred runner element-slat element assembly means wherein 14 is a cross sectional view of the runner element. 15 illustrates a slat element being inserted into one edge of a runner element retainer wedge section. 16 shows the progression of the slat element downward to engage the retainer pins on that side of the retainer wedge section. 17 illustrates the lateral compression of the slat element to allow it to engage the opposite retainer wedge section and retainer pins. 18 then shows the final assembled position of a typical slat element into a typical runner element.
 A significant shortcoming of present art plastic pallets is their excessive flexibility. FIG. 7 shows an important feature of the present invention wherein application of a load to the pallet assembly strengthens the assembly and increases structural rigidity, decreasing flexibility to values below those obtained by any previous design means. For first assembly, the pillow blocks section of the slat element is dimensioned with a slight clearance. When a load is applied to the pallet the longitudinal arch segments of the slat element spread to move the pillow blocks to provide an interference fit with the mating wedges in the runners element.
 The present invention lends itself to a wide variety of materials and manufacturing processes. The two essential components may be made of the same or different materials and may incorporate more than one material within the manufacture of any one component. Component pieces of the present invention may be produced in plastic type materials, metallic elements or any combination thereof or from any material having sufficient strength and rigidity to prove acceptable in the application.
 While this illustrates the preferred embodiment of the present invention there are other implementations that immediately become obvious to one skilled in the art but are not shown here for simplicity only. All such implementations are deemed to be within the scope of the present invention which is to be limited only by the claims appended hereto.