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Publication numberUS20050284791 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/879,924
Publication dateDec 29, 2005
Filing dateJun 28, 2004
Priority dateJun 28, 2004
Also published asWO2006012077A2, WO2006012077A3
Publication number10879924, 879924, US 2005/0284791 A1, US 2005/284791 A1, US 20050284791 A1, US 20050284791A1, US 2005284791 A1, US 2005284791A1, US-A1-20050284791, US-A1-2005284791, US2005/0284791A1, US2005/284791A1, US20050284791 A1, US20050284791A1, US2005284791 A1, US2005284791A1
InventorsBernard Sadow
Original AssigneeSadow Bernard D
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Computer carrying case with inflated cushioning
US 20050284791 A1
Abstract
An inflated cushioning member is configured for receiving and providing shock-absorbing protection for stowed articles such as a laptop computer. The inflated member is integrally formed from a plurality of preferably interconnected cells defining six walls can be securely positioned in a conventional carrying case, portfolio or piece of luggage. A cover can be placed over the exposed surfaces of the inflated cushioning member for aesthetic purposes to provide a smooth decorative surface and, optionally, to provide a secondary seal. A kit is also provided that includes separate inflated cushioning members for installation in a carry case to surround all sides of an article for transportation.
Images(12)
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Claims(28)
1. An inflated cushioning member for protecting a stowed article during transportation in a carrying case, the cushioning member comprising:
a plurality of inflated cells, integrally joined along fold lines to define an enclosed central space for receiving the stowed article in close-fitting relation, the folded cells defining at least five walls for enclosing the stowed article on at least five sides, the exterior of the folded cells being dimensioned for installation in the carrying case.
2. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1 which includes four elongated sections of perimeter walls and at least one planar side wall section, the at least one planar side wall section being joined to a longitudinal edge of a perimeter wall.
3. The inflated cushioning member of claim 2 having two side wall sections, each side wall section being joined to a longitudinal edge of a section of a perimeter wall.
4. The inflated cushioning member of claim 3 in which the side wall sections are joined to opposite edges of the same perimeter wall section.
5. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1 in which each of the plurality of cell walls comprises a plurality of elongated tubular members.
6. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1, wherein six walls are folded and positioned in the carrying case to enclose the stowed article on six sides.
7. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1, wherein five walls are folded and positioned to contact three interior perimeter walls of the carrying case.
8. The inflated cushioning member of claim 2, wherein the dimensions of the side walls are defined by the dimensions of two adjacent perimeter walls.
9. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1, wherein a cover is positioned over at least a portion of the plurality of cells.
10. The inflated cushioning member of claim 9, wherein the cover is selected from the group consisting of an open-mesh woven polymer material, a substantially inelastic transparent or translucent polymer web, a woven textile web, and combinations thereof.
11. The inflated cushioning member of claim 9, wherein the cover is at least partially transparent, whereby the underlying inflated cells are visible.
12. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1, wherein the cover is sealingly secured to at least a portion of the plurality of cells to thereby provide an airtight barrier layer.
13. The inflated cushioning member of claim 2 in which at least one of the cell walls is configured to define a central region for receiving edge portions of the stowed article in a secure, overlying frictional relation, whereby the stowed article is substantially immobilized in the carrying case.
14. The inflated cushioning member of claim 13, wherein the opposing end portions of one side wall cell form a generally C-shaped recess, the upper arm of which extends inwardly above the connecting central portion of said wall, whereby the opposing ends of the stowed article are received and retained in said C-shaped recesses.
15. The inflated cushioning member of claim 14 which has one side wall.
16. The inflated cushioning member of claim 15, wherein the side wall is comprised of a plurality of contiguous elongated tubular members extending longitudinally between the opposing C-shaped recesses.
17. The inflated cushioning member of claim 16, wherein the plurality of adjacent C-shaped members are bounded on opposing sides by an integral elongated tubular member extending longitudinally along the length of the side wall.
18. The inflated cushioning member of claim 1 which further includes at least one integral valve for admitting and releasing pressurized gas to and from the interior of the cells.
19. An inflated cushioning member for protecting a stowed article during transportation in a carrying case, the article having six generally planar sides, the cushioning member comprising:
a plurality of integral inflated cells, integrally joined along at least one fold line to define an enclosed central space for receiving the stowed article in close-fitting relation, the exterior of the folded cells being dimensioned for installation in a carrying case, the folded cells defining at least four interior walls for contacting four of the exterior sides of the stowed article, the remaining two sides of the stowed article being contacted by at least a portion of a contiguous cell.
20. The inflated cushioning member of claim 19 which includes two generally planar opposing walls joined along a fold line, the opposing walls being mirror images.
21. The inflated cushioning member of claim 20, wherein the stowed article is centrally positioned adjacent the fold line and supported by at least one transverse cell.
22. An inflated cushioning member for protecting a stowed article during transportation, the cushioning member comprising:
a plurality of inflated cells forming a plurality of walls, the walls configured for juxtapositioning in at least two perpendicular planes and at least partially enclosing a central space for receiving the stowed article in close-fitting relation.
23. The inflated cushioning member of claim 22, wherein the stowed article has six generally planar sides and the plurality of close-fitting walls define a corresponding enclosure.
24. The inflated cushioning member of claim 23, wherein the walls include planar walls and perimeter walls, the planar walls having edge cells and the edge cells being positioned to define portions of at least two perimeter walls.
a plurality of inflated cells integrally joined along fold lines to define an enclosed central space for receiving the stowed article in close-fitting relation, the folded cells defining a self-supporting case.
26. A kit for protecting a stowed article during transportation in a carrying case having four perimeter walls bounding a pair of opposing side walls, each of the side walls being joined along at least one edge to at least one of the perimeter walls to thereby define an interior storage space for the stowed article, the kit comprising:
a. a pair of separate generally planar inflated cushioning members having dimensions corresponding to those of the case side walls;
b. a plurality of elongated inflated cushioning members that are adapted to contact at least three of the four interior perimeter walls of the case; and
c. means for securing the two planar cushioning members and the elongated cushioning members in position against the respective side and perimeter walls of the case.
27. The kit of claim 26, wherein the elongated cushioning members includes four integrally formed sections that are foldable to enclose the four perimeter walls of the case.
28. The kit of claim 26, wherein the means for securing the cushioning members includes a pocket in the case side walls for retaining the planar cushioning member.
29. The kit of claim 26, wherein the means for securing the cushioning members includes hook-and-loop fastener elements attached, respectively, to the case and the cushioning members.
Description
    FIELD OF INVENTION
  • [0001]
    This invention relates to inflated protective cushioning structures that can be installed in a carrying case or used alone to provide shock-absorbing support during transportation of an impact-sensitive electronic or scientific article, such as a laptop computer.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0002]
    The use of inflated cushioning for packaging articles is disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,622,262, 5,755,329 and 5,819,942 to Sadow, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference. In accordance with the teachings of the prior art, inflated cushioning in the form of elongated bolsters or tubes are fabricated from a puncture resistant polymer or other non-porous material that can be heat-sealed in three or four sections that are adapted to be folded at right angles and placed around the internal perimeter of a conventional shipping carton or manual carrying case.
  • [0003]
    As reported in U.S. Pat. No. 5,622,262, the use of this inflated cushioning was able to reduce the G-forces of an impact along a perimeter edge or corner of the container to within the range prescribed by the manufacturer of a laptop computer. However, the disclosures of the prior art teach the use of inflated cushioning members around only three or, at most, four of the perimeter sides of the article to be protected. There has been no suggestion or teaching in the art of providing an integrally formed inflated cushioning member that is adapted to receive and surround an impact-sensitive article so as to protect all sides of the article from the shock of an impact during transportation.
  • [0004]
    Thus, the prior art is limited in its teaching that the structure of the inflated cushioned protection extends around only four sides, i.e., the narrow sides of an article such as a laptop computer. This cell wall structure provides a resilient shock-absorbing structure configured to receive an article and provide protection for that article from shock impacts and vibrations that are generally aligned with the plane of the cushions, but provides no protection from an impact directed to the larger side wall of the carton or carrying case.
  • [0005]
    As used herein, the term “perimeter walls” refers to the four relatively narrower side walls of a conventional rectilinear packing carton or carrying case as would be used for a laptop computer, and the term “planar side wall” or simply “side wall” refers to the remaining two larger walls. Where the carton or carrying case that is essentially a cube having six equal sides, the same descriptive terminology will be used to define the relationship of the elements of the cushioning member of the invention.
  • [0006]
    For the purposes of describing the invention and its use, the term “carrying case” as used herein is to be understood to include packing cartons, luggage of various sizes, designs and materials of construction, briefcases, portfolios and specialized cases for transporting articles such as scientific and technical instruments of irregular configuration.
  • [0007]
    A need exists for an improved inflated cushioning member to protect an article positioned therein from shock and/or vibration of impact directed from any angle to the perimeter or planar side wall of a carton or carrying case.
  • [0008]
    It is therefore an object of this invention to provide an inflated cushioning member of unitary or integral construction that is adapted to provide all sides of an article with protection during transportation.
  • [0009]
    Another object of the invention is to provide an inflated cushioning member that has means for securely retaining an article to be transported that will effectively protect the article from impact in any direction.
  • [0010]
    A further object of the invention is to provide a kit that includes cooperating cushioning members that are adapted for secure placement in a carrying case for use in transporting an article that is to be protected.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • [0011]
    The above objects and other advantages are provided by the present invention, which comprises a plurality of integral hollow inflated bladders or cells that are pressurized to form an inflated cushioning member that supports and cushions a fragile article, such as a laptop computer, to protect the article from the shock and vibration of an impact from any direction. In one preferred embodiment, the inflated cells comprising the cushioning member form a structure that can be folded to enclose all sides of the article to be transported. In a particularly preferred embodiment, the cells are positioned or integrally formed to cover all six of the interior sides of a carrying case.
  • [0012]
    In one preferred embodiment the inflated cushioning member of the invention is integrally formed and foldable for positioning in a carry case to provide cushioning for the four perimeter walls and opposing side walls of the case.
  • [0013]
    In another preferred embodiment, either one or both of the opposing side wall cushioning members are formed as independent elements to be inserted in a retraining pocket or secured by other retaining means in the corresponding side walls of the carrying case. In this embodiment, the perimeter cushioning members can be positioned and secured in accordance with methods known in the art.
  • [0014]
    In another preferred embodiment, the inflated cushioning member can be used independently of a carrying case and his sufficient form and structural integrity in a folded and generally U-shaped configuration to retain an article, such as a laptop computer, that is stowed in its interior. In this embodiment, the inflated cushioning member can advantageously be provided with an optional cover, such as the ballistic nylon, PVC or other materials commonly used for luggage manufacture, as well as carrying handles and/or a shoulder strap. Alternatively, the inflated cushioning member can be dimensioned and configured for insertion in a conventional portfolio, briefcase or other carrying case.
  • [0015]
    The cells can be formed from one or a plurality of layers of thermoplastic materials. The materials of the cell walls can be laminated to form a unitary structure across their entire surface, or only joined along the seams where they are heat-sealed.
  • [0016]
    The materials of construction of the inflatable cells can include polymers and polymer blends such as polyurethane or thermoplastic polyurethane, vinyls, including polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene and polypropylene and composites. The materials used for fabrication are resistant to puncturing and preferably are of limited elasticity.
  • [0017]
    Cells can be constructed of transparent, translucent or opaque materials. Cells using clear materials of construction have the advantage of permitting a visual inspection of the inflated condition of the cells, as well as the contents of any compartments formed by the cells within the interior sides or interior edges. Materials of construction can be embossed or printed with decorative designs to provide aesthetic effects.
  • [0018]
    The inflated member(s) can be provided with a cover that is a fine or relatively open mesh netting. The cover can be clear, translucent or opaque. In one preferred embodiment, a polymer cover extends over all, or at least the exposed surfaces of the inflated cells, and is itself inflated. The air impermeable cover can be covered by a second transparent cover, such as a nylon mesh of the type conventionally used in the manufacture of luggage, or a composite of a polymer including a nylon or other inelastic mesh reinforcing material.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0019]
    Preferred embodiments of the inflated cushioning for an article are described herein with reference to the attached drawings, in which like numerals identify the same or similar drawings, elements throughout the several views, wherein:
  • [0020]
    FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of four inflated bolsters of the prior art positioned in a carton of the inflated bladder;
  • [0021]
    FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional partially cut-away view illustrating one manner of construction of the prior art bolsters of FIG. 1;
  • [0022]
    FIG. 3 is a top front perspective exploded view of one preferred embodiment of an inflated cushioning member of the present invention in a partially folded condition for placement in a case, with the perimeter members unfolded shown in phantom;
  • [0023]
    FIG. 4 is a perspective view in cross-section of a portion of a cell wall of an inflated cushioning member of the present invention;
  • [0024]
    FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional front perspective partially cut-away, view, of a portion of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 3 having transparent cell walls and a transparent cover;
  • [0025]
    FIG. 6 is a view similar to FIG. 5 having a non-transparent cover with a window revealing the cells;
  • [0026]
    FIG. 7 is a view similar to of FIG. 5 in which the cover is an open mesh web;
  • [0027]
    FIG. 8 is a top view of the embodiment of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 3, the cells having a uniform diameter;
  • [0028]
    FIG. 9 is a side view partly in cross-section of the embodiment of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 8 positioned in the case with the article, the top of the carrying case and the inflated cushioning member in an open position;
  • [0029]
    FIG. 10 is a top view of another embodiment of the present invention;
  • [0030]
    FIG. 11 is a cross-sectional side view of another embodiment of the present invention, where a portion of the inflated cushioning member has a “C” shape;
  • [0031]
    FIG. 12 is a perspective view of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 10, where the cells have different cross-sections and an associated cover;
  • [0032]
    FIG. 13 is a perspective view of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 12 inserted in the cover;
  • [0033]
    FIG. 14 is a cross-sectional view of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 13 taken along line 14-14 where the article is shown in phantom;
  • [0034]
    FIG. 15 is a perspective view of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 12 enclosing the article and configured for use as a separate carrying case;
  • [0035]
    FIG. 16 is a side cross-sectional view of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 12 positioned in a carrying case;
  • [0036]
    FIG. 17 is a top cross-sectional view of the inflated cushioning member of FIG. 16 along lines 17-17 showing the cells enclosing the article;
  • [0037]
    FIG. 18 is a cut-away perspective view in cross-section of one preferred embodiment of the inflated cushioning member of the present invention where the cell walls include a reinforcing mesh; and
  • [0038]
    FIG. 19 is a cross sectional side view of another embodiment of the invention illustrating separate inflated cushioning members positioned in a case.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • [0039]
    The present invention represents an advance and improvement over the prior art which will be briefly described with reference to FIG. 1 where four inflated bolsters or cells 100, 120 and 140 of the prior art are positioned around the perimeter walls of a case or carton 105, and provide no cushioning effect from side impact to a stowed article during transportation. The inflated cells are connected at the corner folds, are in fluid communication, and are positioned in case 105 using a backing strip having an adhesive portion covered by release tape.
  • [0040]
    Referring to another embodiment of prior art inflated cushioning shown in FIG. 2, member 164 includes a pair of interconnected cells 176 and 178 at least partially enclosed by a cover layer 162. In this embodiment, the cells are positioned around the four perimeter sides of case 105 and can further include a flexible, open-celled foam material in their interior.
  • [0041]
    Referring now to FIG. 3, there is illustrated one preferred embodiment of the present invention comprising an integral inflated cushioning member 10 ready for positioning in carrying case 5.
  • [0042]
    Referring to carrying case 5, planar side 6 has a width that is at least equal to the width of side 7. Side 7 has a narrow width. Top 8 includes a handle and bottom 9 is configured for repeated contact with a floor or the ground during use. Bottom 9 has a hinge or gusset configured for aiding in the opening and/or closing or expansion of one of sides 6 or sides 7. Case 5 is opened using a fastening device positioned at least along top 8. In one preferred embodiment, case 5 opens along top 8 and sides 7, but any configuration of case 5, including the dimensions and manner of opening and closing, can readily be accommodated by inflated cushioning member 10.
  • [0043]
    Member 10 includes a plurality of integrally connected cells 20 providing multiple interior walls or surfaces that are preferably in apposition to perimeter sides 7, 8 and 9 of case 5. Inflated cushioning member 10 can also include a cover 50 positioned at least partially over cells 20, as shown in FIGS. 5-7.
  • [0044]
    In the embodiment of FIG. 3, the configuration of individual cells 20 and inflated cushioning member 10 includes planar walls 46 and perimeter walls 47, 48 and 49 generally corresponding to planar side 6 and perimeter sides 7, 8 and 9 of carrying case 5. Walls 46, 47, 48 and 49 can be in apposition to their respective sides 6, 7, 8, and 9 or be positioned in spaced relation therefrom. The perimeter walls and side walls can be attached by hook-and-loop fasteners for ease of installation and even removal.
  • [0045]
    As shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, cells 20 include cell walls 21 that are preferably heat-sealed and contain a pressurized fluid, which is preferably air. Walls 21 are sufficiently impervious to air leakage to maintain the desired pressurization over extended periods of time. Cell walls 21 are puncture-resistant and can be provided with a self-sealing composition on their interior at the time of manufacture.
  • [0046]
    Individual cells 20 preferably have an elongated configuration with a pair of opposing side walls 21 that assume a symmetrical elliptical shape upon inflation. Cells 20 can be configured in any geometric shape, for example, such as columnar or conical shapes extending outwardly, or any other shape or combination of shapes suitable for applications for vibration isolation and/or shock-absorption to protect the cushioned article. Cells 20 can be in apposition to form a substantially continuous exterior surface or positioned in spaced relation by a plurality of parallel spaced seams so as to provide the isolative and shock-absorbing qualities required for a particular product application with a minimum number of cells 20.
  • [0047]
    Air vents or passageways 25 can be provided in walls 21 for fluid communication within individual cells 20 or between two or more cells 20. All of cells 20 forming inflated cushion member 10 can be in fluid communication for convenience or ease of manufacture, selectively placed in fluid communication in groups, or individually isolated for maximum redundancy.
  • [0048]
    Walls are composed of one or more cells 20 and are connected by seams that can define areas of flexure or folding having a reduced or no volume of fluid such that inflated cushioning member 10 can be folded or bent at right angles for positioning in case 5, for example. In one preferred embodiment, thermoplastic polyurethane is used as the material of cells walls 21 and is heat-sealed to form areas of flexure. The walls can be predisposed to retain a preferred shape by selective heat-sealing of the seams. In this configuration, inflated cushioning member 10, can bend or flex upon the introduction of a displacing force, but upon release will return to its predetermined shape.
  • [0049]
    In one preferred embodiment, inflated cushioning member 10 is configured for inflation to the desired pressure and sealed during fabrication to permanently retain its shock-absorbing qualities. Cells 20 are preferably inflated to a pressure of about 14 pounds per square inch for shock protection, but it is understood that a broad range of pressures can provide at least some shock and/or vibration absorbing qualities and that the amount of pressure in cells 20 can vary according to a particular use.
  • [0050]
    Alternatively, the cushioning can be sold and/or transported uninflated and filled with fluid prior to, or after installation in case 5. Cells 20 can also be permanently or removably connected to a supplemental source of pressurized gas, such as a cartridge. The cartridge can be made of metal and filled with air, carbon dioxide or other gas under high pressure. Cushioning member 10 can also be provided with one or more valved fittings to permit at least partial inflation with a hand pump or even by exhaled breath. An air release position on the valve allows the inflated member to be deflated, e.g., after use or factory testing for leaks.
  • [0051]
    Internal dividers, walls or lattice-type structures in cells 20 connected to walls 21 can be employed to enhance the structural strength, resistance to impact and redundant pressure retaining characteristics of cells 20. For example, the internal walls can provide redundancy by isolating individual portions of each cell 20, additional structural integrity or resilience independent of the status of the inflation of cell 20 or a free flow of fluid within each cell 20 by including interconnecting air passage ways 25. Similarly, when a grouping of cells are in fluid communication, the cells in fluid communication can be selectively positioned and arranged in relation to other separately inflated groupings to minimize the adverse effect of deflation as a result of a puncture or a gradual loss of pressure.
  • [0052]
    Cells can be configured to at least partially define a separate storage compartment 24 centrally positioned within the space defined by the cells 20 and include a clear lid that can be secured in the closed position. A clear set of cells 20 can be used to facilitate viewing the presence of an article or the quantity of articles present, such as camera film or floppy disks positioned in compartment 24.
  • [0053]
    The materials of construction of cells 20 are preferably inelastic, but can include elastic materials. Elastic materials are preferably at least partially enclosed by an inelastic cover 50 configured to limit the outward expansion of cell walls 21. Specific materials of construction for cells 20 include thermopolymers such as PVC, polyethylene, polypropylene, copolymer webs and laminates, polyurethane or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that are clear, translucent or opaque. Other materials, including thermoplastics, having the desired characteristics of being puncture-resistant, flexible and heat-sealable can be used. Cells 20 that are opaque or translucent and fabricated from plastics and/or rubber materials can also contain transparent windows. Some or all of cells 20 can enclose resilient open cell or closed cell foams in accordance with methods known to the prior art.
  • [0054]
    Cells 20 and/or one or more walls can be at least partially connected to a support member or support 60. Support 60 is a rigid, semi-rigid or flexible, but inelastic foundation or backing element configured to facilitate the installation of inflated cushioning member 10 in case as, for example, in FIG. 3. Support member 60 can be integrally formed with cover 50 and/or cells 20 and can be an inflated or an uninflated element. Materials of construction for support 60 can include plastics; cellulose materials, e.g., cardboard and paperboard; composites and metal.
  • [0055]
    In one preferred embodiment, inflated cushioning member 10 and/or support 60 are configured for assembly to case 5 using means such as a zipper, snaps, adhesive or hook and loop fasteners, for example. The inclusion of support 60 can also serve to simplify the assembly process during manufacturing or provide the necessary internal structure to an otherwise lightweight and shapeless fabric carrying case. Thus, use of integral support 60 with cushioning member 10 can provide a further advantage of economy. Cover 50 can enclose cells 20 separately or in combination with support 60.
  • [0056]
    Referring to FIGS. 5-7, optional cover 50 is employed to provide a smooth secure layer over cells 20 to preclude bulging as a result of over-pressurization, a reinforcing element to cell walls 21 during temporary reductions in ambient air pressures (e.g., during air travel) and a secondary air seal or a weak cell wall 21. Cover 50 can be a layer conforming to the shape of individual cells 20 and walls or a layer stretching across or spanning the recesses between adjacent cells 20.
  • [0057]
    Cover 50 can be decorated with aesthetically attractive designs, a trademark or other informational text, and/or provide a non-static contact surface for stowed article 2 (see FIG. 1). Cover 50 stretching across cells 20 serves to prevent small items placed in the case, e.g., pencils and paper clips, from slipping into the narrow spaces between the cells. A smooth taut cover 50 across cells 20 also minimizes the risk that a pencil, clip or similar small item will puncture a cell wall.
  • [0058]
    Cover 50 can be transparent, rendering the cells visible or non-transparent, thereby concealing all or portions of the cells. Non-transparent cover 50 can include one or more clear plastic windows 52 in order to reveal the cells 20. Cover 50 can be a continuous sheet of a polyurethane material, a solid mesh or an open net through which all of the inflated cells 20 are visible. Visibility through cover 50 into cells 20 advantageously permits visual examination of the condition of cells 20 to assess whether there is any loss of fluid pressure or damage to walls 21. Cover 50 and walls 21 of cells 20 can also be configured with self-sealing coatings on their interior in the event of a puncture. Cover 50 can be integrally formed simultaneously with the heat-sealing operation that forms walls, or subsequently thereto.
  • [0059]
    Referring now to FIGS. 3 and 8, inflated cushioning member 10 is shown in one preferred embodiment having two opposing planar walls 46 and the remaining perimeter walls 47, 48 and 49 being positioned in case 5 to provide an enclosure having six sides of shock-absorbing protection around article 2. Shock protection, as described and shown herein is related to a laptop computer having a hexahedral shape with a rectilinear footprint, but it is to be understood that article 2 can have any shape and that inflated cushioning member 10 can be configured to have any corresponding shape suitable to provide shock-absorbing protection separately and/or in conjunction with case 5 to provide the desired degree of shock and impact protection for a given application.
  • [0060]
    In another embodiment, at least two opposing sides, such as a combination of opposing perimeter walls 47, or opposing walls 48 and 49 are used in combination with planar side walls 46 to form inflated cushioning member 10 having only four cushioning walls. In this configuration, when the two opposing pairs of walls are connected together, they provide inflated shock absorbing protection in the directions generally perpendicular to their surfaces and a limited degree of shock protection in the direction perpendicular to the omitted walls as a result of the snug fit of article 2 within the remaining walls.
  • [0061]
    As shown in FIG. 9, inflated cushioning member 10 is installed in case 5 and in an open position for access to or the removal or placement of article 2. Member 10 has two planar walls 46, top 48, bottom 49 and walls 47 (not shown) fully encapsulating article 2 with a snug fit to provide all around shock protection. Support 60, when present, can be positioned in direct contact with one or more walls. Upper wall 46 can be directly connected to upper carrying case side 6 to open and close with side 6.
  • [0062]
    Referring now to FIGS. 3 and 10, inflated cushioning member 10 can be configured as a continuous sheet or bladder of inflated cushioning cells 20 having portions designated for planar walls 46, and perimeter walls 48 and 49 and is configured to enclose at least four of the six sides of article 2. In this configuration, the two opposing perimeter sides of article 2, such as those of perimeter sides 7, are at least partially open and do not have corresponding walls 47. The shock protection for article 2 along an axis centrally positioned between open perimeter sides 7 is provided by the snug fit of article 2 between walls and the margins between article 2 and the edges of cells 20.
  • [0063]
    Improved all around shock protection in this embodiment is achieved by providing cells 20 with a non-uniform cross-section. For example, defined areas in cushioning member 10 corresponding to one or more of sides 6, 7, 8 and 9 of case 5 and/or article 2 can be provided with a reduced cell 20 diameter and define a recessed area 15. Preferably, recess 15 provides a snug fit with four of the six sides of article 2 and recess 15 at least partially defines walls 47 to provide all around shock protection. It is also understood that even less than snug fitting of walls can provide significant protection under most circumstances
  • [0064]
    As shown in the embodiment of FIG. 11, individual cells 20 can be folded or preformed to have a “C” shaped cross-section. In this configuration, member 10 is sufficiently flexible to permit the terminal ends of the cells 20 to be flexed for the positioning of article 2. The “C” configuration can be used in combination with other shaped configurations and to as few as one cell 20 per wall or corresponding side 6, 7, 8 and 9 of case 5 to provide all around shock protection for article 2.
  • [0065]
    Referring now to FIGS. 12-14, cushioning member 10 includes four larger edge cells 21 positioned around an inner set of cells 20. A cover 50 can be heat bonded to cells 20 before or after inflation. In this embodiment, edge cells 21 are generally larger in cross-sectional height than inner cells 20. Edges cells 21 positioned in planar walls 46 define the outer limits of walls 46 are positioned and dimensioned so as to extend to at least define portions of perimeter walls 47, 48 and 49 and provide a snug fit for article 2. Alternatively, a fifth edge cell 21 can be positioned centrally and transversely and define bottom perimeter side 49 separating the inner set of cells 20. In this embodiment, cover 50 is preferably conformingly positioned over cells 20.
  • [0066]
    Alternatively, full shock protection for perimeter sides 47 can be achieved by individual cells 20 or portions of cells 20 and/or cover 50 being under-inflated so that when article 2 is positioned on lower planar wall 46, for example, the edge cells 21 of planar wall 46 extend around article 2 to form at least a portion of perimeter side 47 so as to provide sufficient support and shock protection by inflated cushioning member 10 on all six sides of article 2.
  • [0067]
    Referring now to the embodiment of FIGS. 15-17, inflated cushioning member 40 is configured for receiving an article 2 such as a thin laptop computer. Cells 20 are proportioned in this embodiment to provide a snug fit and all around shock protection for article 2 using edge cells 21, but member 10 can encompass only four sides, including recesses 15 as shown in FIG. 10, under-inflated cells 20, “C” shaped cells 20 or other construction methods described previously. In this embodiment, member 10 can be configured as a separate assembly having an open and a closed position like a typical brief case or a pouch. Bottom perimeter wall 49 can have a flexible hinge or gusset. Inflated cushioning member 10 can be secured together by one or more attachment mechanisms 45, such as a zipper, hook-and-loop fasteners or snaps, for example, positioned on walls 47 and/or 48.
  • [0068]
    When in the pouch configuration, inflated cushioning member 10 has only portions of sides 47 and/or top perimeter side 48 open for securing by attachment mechanism 45. The remaining portions of perimeter walls 47, if any, as well as planar walls 46 are connected by heat-sealing, for example, by joining the free edges or uninflated trim material projecting outwardly a sufficient distance from edge cells 21 to form the pocket. In this embodiment, inflated cushioning member 10 can also include a handle so that it can separately carry article 2 as well as act as a shock, impact and vibration-absorbing member for positioning within case 5. Cover 50 can provide a protective barrier for the external sides of walls, an aesthetically appealing exterior surface, as well as providing a low friction interior surface for sliding article 2 into and out of the pocket of cushioning member 10.
  • [0069]
    With further reference to FIG. 15, the cushioning member 40 can be provided with a separate carrying handle assembly 60, as illustrated, or a longer shoulder strap. Carrying assembly includes elongated straps 64 extending upwardly from base member 66 that supports the folding section 49 of cushioning member 40. The straps 64 are attached to the side walls 46 and/or upper cells 21, as by adhesive or heat-sealing, and are joined by handles 62 in the embodiment illustrated. As will be apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art, one or both of handles 62 can be extended to, or supplemented with shoulder straps.
  • [0070]
    As shown in FIG. 18, a mesh or webbing 53 can either be formed in cell walls 21 or integrally connected thereto. The mesh can function to reinforce the inelasticity or strengthen cells 20 from being punctured or rupturing, for example. A nylon mesh web can be incorporated into a polymer layer, by calendaring, heat bonding or other methods known to the art.
  • [0071]
    Referring now to FIG. 19, inflated cushioning member 10 can be configured as a kit having individual perimeter walls or selectively connected sections of perimeter walls as separate components that can be advantageously configured to adapt to a broad range of dimensional requirements for cases 5 and articles 2. In this embodiment, individual side walls that are separate and unconnected or connected together in sections of at least two walls, such as perimeter walls 48 and 49 can be more readily integrated into many configurations of cases 5. For example, separate walls can be removably positioned in preformed pockets on interior planar sides 6 and perimeter sides 7, 8, and 9 of case 5, or fixedly connected to the interior sides of case 5.
  • [0072]
    As will be apparent from the above description, for reasons of economy and ease of installation and assembly in the carrying case, the perimeter walls are preferably formed as an integral unit of either three, but most preferably four sections. However, it is clearly within the scope of this and the other embodiments of the invention as described above to produce the perimeter wall sections in individual units for secure placement in the carrying case. These units can be sold in the form of a kit to manufacturers of carrying cases, or directly to owners of conventional carrying cases for installation of the individual perimeter and planar side wall sections. In the practice of this embodiment, the perimeter wall sections, whether of unitary construction or individual sections, and the side wall cushioning members can be manufactured and stocked in various sizes to accommodate a range of sizes of carrying cases. The lengths of perimeter wall section and the length and width of side wall sections can vary in two-inch increments to provide a range of sizes, while controlling the number of elements that must be maintained in inventory.
  • [0073]
    As shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, in accordance with the method of the invention, the integral cushioning member 10 is preferably formed by heat-sealing separate webs or two superposed portions of a web along predetermined lines to define the cells required for the perimeter walls 47, 48 or 49 and the at least one side planar wall section 46. As will be apparent from the figures previously described, the layout of the pattern, or patterns, for the heat-sealed seams can vary and the selection is well within the abilities of one having ordinary skill in the art. Since the material of construction for the cushioning member 20 is preferably inelastic, the dimensions of the inflated cell elements can be calculated or determined from simple experiments. As noted above, it may be desirable to provide a cushioning member 10 that is adapted to receive one or more articles or objects whose dimensions are fixed or fall within a prescribed range. In this case, the patterns for the heat-sealed seams will be determined with reference to the prescribed dimensions of the articles or objects.
  • [0074]
    Methods and techniques for heat-sealing thermoplastic webs are well known in the art. Heated dies and platens can be used that already include the pattern of the seams, including interconnecting unsealed channels to permit fluid communication between and among cells 20. Preferably, the heat-sealing is accomplished using ultrasonic tools and methods in order to avoid overheating and thereby damaging the thernoplastic material.
  • [0075]
    Sealing can be accomplished by using hand tools, but is preferably completed using automated equipment, including computer-directed tools. As is known from the prior art, the heat-sealing of regions between elongated cell elements that are intended to form right angles when folded into a configuration for use must allow for sufficient spacing between inflated elements and enlarged heat-sealed areas to permit the formation of a corner at the fold.
  • [0076]
    Following the heat-sealing operation, at least one external seam is provided with a pressurization orifice for the insertion of a pressurized gas filling tube. If a cushioning member is to be permanently inflated, the channel for the inflation tube is positioned and dimensioned so that the final heat-sealing can be completed while the member 10 is inflated. The inflated member can then be water tested to assure that there are no leaks. Alternatively, one or more separate filling valves are installed at accessible locations on the exposed surface of the sealed member. After completion, air is introduced through the valves to inflate member 10, and the inflated member is water tested for leaks. If the member is to be deflated for shipment prior to use, the valves are opened and all air is forced from the unit.
  • [0077]
    If the inflated cushioning member 10 is to be provided with a separate cover 50, whether airtight or open mesh, it can advantageously be secured to member 10 during the heat-sealing stage of production. An air tight transparent cover can be applied by heat-sealing a continuous web around the finished and inflated member 10 or, alternatively, by piecing together a plurality of cut sections of thermoplastic material and heat-sealing them to each other and/or to the exterior of member 10.
  • [0078]
    In the embodiment described above, where the cushioning member 10 is to be attached to a flat backing support 60, the support is preferably applied using adhesive, heat-sealing, or other appropriate means following heat-sealing of the seams, but prior to inflation. This is because the individual cell elements will assume a curved surface when pressurized which, of course, is contrary to the purpose to be served by use of the flat backing member 60. When a mesh or other protective or decorative or aesthetic covering material 50 is to be utilized, it is advantageously attached to the exposed surface of the supporting plate after the plate is attached to the perimeter and/or sidewall panels.
  • [0079]
    Although the invention has been described generally and with reference to the drawings in which the various cells are shown as elongated elements, the cells can be formed in other shapes, including shorter walled sections, in a latticework or diagonal pattern, or of a waffle pattern defined by generally square or round inflated cells. Cells are preferably interconnected with channels or passageways to facilitate the inflation of the entire structure or in sections.
  • [0080]
    The inflated cushioning member of the invention offers the advantages of being able to be transported uninflated, readily inflated and sealed on location, transported inflated separately from, or incorporated into a carrying case or even a simple flexible cover, and used for short term or long term packaging. It is reusable and provides an ecologically sound alternative form of packaging that requires minimal material resources.
  • [0081]
    Although the illustrative embodiments of the present invention have been described herein with reference to the accompanying drawings, it is to be understood that the disclosure is not limited to those specific embodiments and that various other changes and modifications may be affected therein by one skilled in the art without departing from the scope or spirit from the disclosure. All such changes and modifications are included within the scope of the invention as defined by appended claims.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification206/522, 383/3, 206/320
International ClassificationB65D30/00, B65D81/05, B65D81/02, A45C13/02, B65D85/30
Cooperative ClassificationB65D81/052, A45C13/021
European ClassificationB65D81/05A1, A45C13/02B
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Nov 3, 2004ASAssignment
Owner name: BBS LICENSING, INC., NEW YORK
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:SADOW, BERNARD;REEL/FRAME:015969/0661
Effective date: 20041029