Search Images Maps Play YouTube News Gmail Drive More »
Sign in
Screen reader users: click this link for accessible mode. Accessible mode has the same essential features but works better with your reader.

Patents

  1. Advanced Patent Search
Publication numberUS20070051653 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/413,750
Publication dateMar 8, 2007
Filing dateApr 28, 2006
Priority dateSep 8, 2005
Publication number11413750, 413750, US 2007/0051653 A1, US 2007/051653 A1, US 20070051653 A1, US 20070051653A1, US 2007051653 A1, US 2007051653A1, US-A1-20070051653, US-A1-2007051653, US2007/0051653A1, US2007/051653A1, US20070051653 A1, US20070051653A1, US2007051653 A1, US2007051653A1
InventorsChristopher Tilton
Original AssigneeTilton Christopher R
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Reusable packaging
US 20070051653 A1
Abstract
An embodiment of the present disclosure provides a reusable product package. The reusable product package utilizes a slot and tab mechanism to hold the product package in its closed position, while also allowing the tabs to be removed from the slots to open the package. The slot and tab mechanism can make the product package inexpensive to manufacture versus other reusable solutions. Disclosed embodiments provide reliable, reusable containers that are also very environmentally friendly.
Images(11)
Previous page
Next page
Claims(21)
1. A reusable package comprising:
A backing having at least one slot sized to receive a tab;
A cover having at least one cavity formed therein, the cavity and the backing configured to form a product-enclosing space, the cover further having an edge portion and at least one tab on said edge portion, the at least one tab configured to fit into the at least one slot of the backing portion to releasably secure the cover to the backing.
2. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the backing is substantially flat.
3. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein at least a part of the edge portion of the cover is permanently secured to the backing at an attachment point, said attachment point being substantially opposite the at least one tab.
4. The reusable package of claim 3, wherein the cover is fastened to the backing at least in part by a sonic seal.
5. The reusable package of claim 3, wherein the cover is fastened to the backing at least in part by an RF weld.
6. The reusable package of claim 3, wherein the cover is fastened to the backing at least in part by a UV weld.
7. The reusable package of claim 3, wherein the cover is fastened to the backing at least in part by a heat seal.
8. The reusable package of claim 3, wherein the cover is fastened to the backing at least in part by an adhesive.
9. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the backing and the cover are two portions of a single plastic piece and a living hinge divides the backing and the cover.
10. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the cover is substantially transparent.
11. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the cover is substantially translucent.
12. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the backing has printing of at least one color thereon.
13. The reusable package of claim 3, wherein:
the backing comprises a utility portion and an information portion;
the utility portion comprises a peripheral portion attached to the cover and at least one slot sized to receive a tab; and
the information portion is not adjacent to the peripheral portion.
14. The reusable package of claim 13, wherein the information portion and utility portion are separated by scoring which allows the two portions to detach, and the at least one slot sized to receive a tab is located away from the scoring such that the slot can receive the tab even after the two portions are separated.
15. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the cover further contains a hold, the hold being configured to allow a user to grasp the hold and pull the cover partially away from the backing, overcoming the forces holding the at least one tab in the at least one slot, and allowing the user access to the cavity.
16. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the backing is a plastic.
17. The reusable package of claim 1, wherein the cover is a plastic.
18. A reusable package comprising:
a substantially flat backing, the backing comprising at least two slots sized to receive at least one tab per slot; and
a cover comprising at least one cavity formed therein, the cavity and backing creating a product-enclosing space, the cover further comprising an edge portion and at least two tabs on the edge portion, each tab being adapted to fit into at least one of the plurality of slots of the backing portion to form the product enclosing-space of the cavity.
19. The reusable package of claim 18, wherein:
the at least two tabs are arranged along the edge of the cover so that at least two tabs are on generally opposite sides of the at least one cavity; and
the slots are arranged on the backing to accept the tabs, such that when the slots accept the tabs, the backing and cover are substantially joined.
20. A method of using a plastic package comprising:
purchasing a plastic package having a product cavity between a cover and a backing, the cover and/or backing having at least one tab and at least one slot;
opening the plastic package to use a product; and
re-closing the plastic package to enclose a product by inserting the tab into the slot.
21. The method of claim 20, further comprising:
removing a product information portion from the plastic package after purchasing the plastic package.
Description
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/715,693, filed Sep. 9, 2005; to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/716,037, filed Sep. 8, 2005; and to U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/328,801, filed Jan. 9, 2006. The entirety of each of these patent applications is hereby incorporated by reference herein and made part of this specification.

BACKGROUND OF THE DISCLOSURE

1. Field of the Invention

Embodiments disclosed herein relate to product packaging. More specifically, some embodiments provide for a reusable retail product package that can be manufactured efficiently and may be opened and closed to store products before and/or after use.

2. Description of the Related Art

One type of packaging, a blister pack, consists of thermoformed plastic shells with cardboard. An example of this type of package is shown in U.S. Design Patent No. D438,1854. The cardboard backing may be printed on directly and then secured to the transparent plastic shell by gluing, stapling or other convenient means.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,053,321 to Kayser (the '321 patent) discloses a blister pack display card with reusable container. The reusable plastic container is mounted to the display card in a tamper-resistant manner. The reusable container has a tray and a lid with the tray having detachable flanges thereon which are sealed to a presentation side of the display card. The lid has a deep channel which is received frictionally into the tray for securely closing the reusable container. Since the tray is heat sealed to the presentation side of the display card, any attempt to remove the tray from the display card will be evident, as the surface of the display card will be damaged.

Another reusable container utilizes a deep channel similar to that of the '321 Patent but also utilizes complementary nubs on the tray and lid portions. The nubs of one portion then fit frictionally into the nubs of the other portion. These nubs may also be utilized to hold a cardboard display card by fitting one nub through a hole in the display card before then fitting it into its complementary nub.

Such reusable containers are not without limitations, however. The intricate shapes of the nubs and/or the deep channel of the lid and walls of the tray that must be molded to allow for resealing the package and the use of multiple pieces of both cardboard and plastic may make production and assembly relatively costly and time-consuming.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments described herein have several features, no single one of which is solely responsible for their desirable attributes. Without limiting the scope of the invention as expressed by the claims, some of the advantageous features will now be discussed briefly.

One aspect of an embodiment of the present disclosure provides a reusable product package with a closure mechanism to allow relatively inexpensive manufacture. In some embodiments, a reusable packaging advantageously includes a substantially flat backing having at least one slot sized to receive a tab, and a cover having at least one cavity formed therein, such that the cavity and backing may come together to create a product-enclosing space. The cover can have an edge portion substantially surrounding the at least one cavity and at least one tab on the edge portion. The at least one tab can be adapted to fit into the at least one slot of the backing portion to help hold the cover and backing in proximity, preferably preventing access to the product-enclosing space.

A further aspect of the disclosure provides a break-away portion of the backing. While many manufacturers use product packaging to draw attention to a product and provide a potential purchaser with information, this may create a bulky product storage container. In some embodiments, the backing has an information portion and a utility portion. Each portion may contain printing thereon, such as graphics, product information, instructions, warnings and the like. The information portion is removable from the utility portion without affecting a slot-tab closing mechanism.

In some embodiments, a printed package can comprise a backing having printing thereon and a cover having printing thereon and a cavity therein. The cover and the backing can be secured together to secure the product-enclosing space in place. Furthermore, the cover can comprise preformed rigid or semi-rigid plastic.

Embodiments disclosed in this application provide for packaging that solves many of the problems encountered in the past. For example, some embodiments are inexpensive to manufacture and highly attractive. Furthermore, some embodiments provide high impact point-of-sale marketing. Various plastic materials can be used in accordance with the disclosed embodiments, including recycled and/or virgin plastics. The disclosed inventions provide for superior quality and environmentally favorable packaging with unique visual appeal.

For purposes of summarizing the invention, certain aspects, advantages and novel features of the invention are described herein. Of course, it is to be understood that not necessarily all such aspects, advantages or features will be embodied in any particular embodiment the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The following drawings and the associated descriptions are provided to illustrate embodiments of the present disclosure and do not limit the scope of the claims.

FIG. 1 illustrates a perspective view of an embodiment of a product package in a closed orientation.

FIG. 2 a illustrates a perspective view of an embodiment of a product package in a closed open orientation.

FIG. 2 b illustrates a cross-sectional view of an attachment point.

FIG. 3 a illustrates a top plan view of an embodiment of a backing element of a product package.

FIG. 3 b illustrates a top plan view of an embodiment of a cover element of a product package.

FIG. 4 a illustrates a top plan view of an alternate embodiment of a backing of a product package.

FIG. 4 b illustrates a top plan view of an alternate embodiment of a cover element of a product package to be used in conjunction with the backing of FIG. 4 a.

FIG. 4 c illustrates a perspective view of the product package of FIGS. 4 a and 4 b in its assembled state.

FIG. 5 depicts overlying patterns.

FIG. 6 shows a pattern showing through a portion of another pattern.

FIG. 7 illustrates a cross-sectional view of a plastic package.

FIG. 8 illustrates a cross-sectional view of a plastic package and visible layers.

FIG. 9 shows a flow chart of steps in a plastic packaging production method.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Product information printed directly on a product's packaging enhances convenience for potential buyers. A buyer can study the package at the point of sale and compare various products according to the data printed on the package. This can save time for a consumer and provide access to useful information, reducing the risk that the product will later be returned or that the consumer will not be happy with the purchase. Furthermore, such information on packaging increases the chances that a customer will buy the product by informing him or her of its novel features and advantages. Information provided on product packaging can also have a persuasive role from a purely advertising perspective by conveying a positive brand message and encouraging purchase through enumerating the merits and utility of the product.

Providing product data to the shopper is not the only reason to print directly on product packaging; the packaging can in fact attract buyers that would otherwise not be interested in the product. For example, the packaging may prominently display a trademark or brand name that does not or cannot appear so prominently on the product itself. A package may further display colors that are more eye-catching than would be desirable for the product itself. Furthermore, a product package can serve the purpose of calling attention to the product or group of products, drawing the consumer closer to the product or products. Indeed, product packaging can be part of an overall visual effect caused by a display in a retail location. For example, the product packaging can have colors that harmonize or clash with display colors to create a visual effect. Such attractive packaging and/or advertising increases the product's visibility on the shelf.

Another way a product package can add value is by associating a product with an entity from popular culture such as a movie personality or a broader advertising campaign. This can be accomplished by portraying commonly recognized images or words on the packaging. A product's packaging can thus capitalize on the popularity or status of any entity or fad. Recognizing the multiple ways product packaging can be used in a retail setting, various improvements can further enhance current packages and the methods and system that lead to their creation and use.

Product packaging can be especially effective when it features the actual product, set off by the product packaging. For example, a product can be seen through the packaging, thus allowing the potential buyer to know exactly what the package contains. In some embodiments, product packaging can partially obscure a product, shrouding the product in mystery and inducing a consumer to buy the product to see the rest of the product.

Thus, product packaging has many uses, and a number of solutions can be designed to accommodate one or more of these uses. One use of product packaging is to provide a container that protects the product prior to purchase. Product packaging can be used to help deter theft. Additionally, product packaging may be used to advertise the product contained therein or other related products; promote features or methods of use of the product; and even attract purchasers.

Another advantageous feature for some product packaging is reusability, so the package can be used after purchase for storage of the product. Allowing product packaging to be reused after purchase as a container for the product can have a number of advantages, including protecting unused or reusable products from breakage and avoiding contamination of unused products. Products that should be protected in this way may also be produced more cheaply if the product package doubles as the product's container, because there will be no need to produce (or purchase) both a product and a separate container for that product. Furthermore, a reusable package can be more environmentally friendly because it performs a continued function after a consumer purchases a product contained therein. Thus, a reusable package is less likely to be relegated to the trash heap or the land fill.

A package that is capable of displaying informative product information, can be inexpensively manufactured, is relatively rugged, and can comprise a highly attractive design would be of great benefit to the retail sales industry. It is therefore desirable to have a product package that can be opened and closed to store items not only prior to purchase but also after purchase during periods of nonuse. It is further desirable to make such packaging with few or no intricate channels or interlocking nubs that increase the complexity and costliness of manufacture of the packaging. Complex mechanisms such as these may also be prone to failure, because over time, they can tend to degrade. Furthermore, interlocking nubs or channels rely on friction between packaging portions that may decrease as the package is opened and closed repeatedly.

To facilitate a complete understanding of the disclosure, the remainder of the detailed description refers to the drawings. Corresponding reference numerals generally refer to corresponding elements or components.

FIG. 1 illustrates a product package embodiment. The product package comprises a backing 102 and a cover 104. Typically both the backing 102 and the cover 104 are made of a rigid or a semi-rigid plastic, but other materials can be used. In some embodiments, the material is The backing 102 depicted in FIG. 1 and described further below can be located at the front or the back of a package. Thus, the package can be designed to be displayed to consumers with the cover 104 in back (farther away from the consumer) and the backing 102 in front (closer to the consumer).

In some embodiments, the backing 102 and/or the cover 104 are formed from paperboard cards that are coated or laminated with plastic or other materials at the paper mill. This coating can provide enhanced theft-prevention and strength, as well as the cosmetic (e.g., glossy) effects and sealing advantages discussed further below. In some embodiments, the backing 102 and/or the cover 104 can be interlaced with plastic reinforced webbing (e.g., nylon webbing), random particles, or other material fragments during the corrugation or mill production process. These techniques can improve tear resistance or puncture resistance and improve strength and theft resistance.

Clear plastic can be used for at least a portion of the packaging that is used to enclose and display products (such as the cover 104, for example). This allows consumers to see the product inside. Clear plastic can also be used to permit the consumer to see through the plastic material to a printed insert or printed backing. Transparent, translucent, or partially transparent plastic can be used to form any of the various portions illustrated in FIG. 1, including the backing 102 and the cover 104. Preferably, the cover 104 is formed from transparent plastic so the product 18 can be seen through it. In some embodiments, the cover 104 can form a product-containing cavity that is located behind the backing 102, which has a window through which the product can be seen.

It is desirable to be able to print on some portions of the package, even if they are formed from plastic or plasticized paperboard. Printing directly on plastic, clear or otherwise, has many advantages. Such an approach can avoid extra costs associated with extra inserts, for example. Furthermore, printing on clear plastic allows for a wide array of impressive visual effects. Plastic materials that can be used for these purposes include thermoplastic materials. Preferred embodiments are formed from plastic materials that resist tearing, puncturing, and/or ripping. Preferred materials include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PET), recycled PET, recycled PVC, polypropylene, PVC styrene, APET, recyclable PET, recyclable PVC, polylactic acid (PLA) and other materials having that can have tamper-resistant properties. Preferred materials also include those materials that can be sealed using RF, sonic, heat, or ultraviolet sealing technology. Various embodiments are formed from a wide variety of virgin, recycled, or recyclable materials, providing a unique appearance that is both superior in quality and also environmentally favorable. The plastic material can be completely transparent, partially transparent, or fully impervious to light. Varying levels of opacity can be accomplished by printing ink layers on the surfaces of the plastic material or by including opaque materials in the mixture of chemicals that is used to form the original plastic material, for example. A plastic package can comprise a transparent cover and a non-transparent backing, or a transparent backing and a non-transparent cover. Various other combinations of transparency and/or opacity are also possible.

In some embodiments, a preferred material is polylactic acid (PLA), a polymer derived from natural plant sugars and marketed as NatureWorks PLA and Ingeo fibers. PLA is available from Cargill, Inc. and NatureWorks, LLC. PLA is a polylactide polymer derived 100 percent from annually renewable resources with cost and performance that compete with petroleum-based packaging materials and fibers.

The innovations described herein permit a relatively inexpensive assembly process. By allowing premium printing on the plastic packaging material itself, the process saves the cost of an additional package insert, as well as the assembly costs of inserting the package insert. Indeed, many of the steps described above can be effectively automated.

Another way to streamline the manufacturing process is to use a paperboard or plastic card for the backing 102 and/or the cover 104 that have been coated or laminated with rigid, semi-rigid, or flexible plastic or other materials prior to printing. These portions can be subsequently thermoformed in a conversion process prior to package assembly or in-line as part of the assembly process itself. Thus, the components fed into a form, fill and seal machine can already have portions that fill the role of the cover 104 integrated into them. Alternatively, laminated paperboard or plastic materials can be potentially used as a substitute for the flexible, rigid, and semi-rigid materials currently used for thermoformed cavities (e.g., the cover 104). The laminated material can be formed into a cavity for receiving or securing a product for display in a finished package.

Cost savings can be achieved by allowing printing to occur on recycled materials. Recycled plastics can be obtained cheaply, reducing the costs of the necessary raw materials. Furthermore, by using recyclable materials, some costs can be recovered by reusing scraps or off-fall materials left over after the manufacturing process. Post-consumer recycling can be a source of raw materials, further reducing costs.

In some embodiments, a corrugated plastic material can be used to increase the strength of the package. For example, club stores or warehouse-style retailers often require packaging to be stackable and able to withstand the weight of multiple packages or other items stacked on top of the package. This can be especially useful when the packaged products are shipped in bulk on a large pallet, which can also serve as the display vehicle when the pallet is placed on the floor of Costco® or Sam's Club®, for example. The corrugated plastic material can comprise two flat external portions, with a third internal portion that bends back and forth, contacting the inside of one external portion and then the other. The corrugated plastic material can resemble corrugated cardboard in its structure, but it can greatly exceed the strength of typical corrugated cardboard. Materials that can be used to form corrugated plastic include high-density PET, which provides a relatively inexpensive option with good strength.

With further reference to FIG. 1, in some embodiments, the backing 102 and the cover 104 are joined at an attachment point 112. Attachment may be accomplished by any of a number of suitable methods or mechanisms. For example, the attachment may be accomplished through a sonic seal, an RF weld, a UV weld, a heat seal, an adhesive, or a fastener. In some embodiments, the backing 102 and the cover 104 may be formed from a single piece of material. In such a case, the attachment point 112 may designate a hinge, such as a living hinge. The backing 102 and the cover 104 are preferably pivotable about or near the attachment point 112.

The cover 104 preferably has a generally planar edge portion 118 substantially surrounding at least one domed portion of the cover 104. Furthermore, the cover 104 can define a cavity 120. The cover 104 also has at least one tab 108 protruding from the edge portion 118. In a preferred embodiment, the cover 104 also has a hold 110, suitable for gripping and pulling the cover 104 away from the backing 102. The backing 102 also has at least one slot 106 sized to receive the at least one tab 108. In FIG. 1, the embodiment shown has two slots 106, each with a corresponding tab 108. Each slot 106 accepts a tab 108 to hold the cover 104—and, more particularly in the present embodiment, the edge portion 118—close to the backing 102, thereby forming a product-enclosing space or cavity 120 between the cover 104 and the backing 102. In some embodiments, a tab or tabs may be part of the backing 102 and be configured to insert into a slot that is located in the cover 104. In some embodiments, the cover 104 can be designed to be behind the backing 102, and the tabs 108 can protrude from behind the backing 102 through to the front side of the backing 102. In some embodiments, each of the cover 104 and/or backing 102 can have a slot and a tab, such that a tab from the backing 102 can insert into a slot in the cover 104 and a tab from the cover 104 can insert into a slot in the backing 102.

The generally planar edge portion 118 may provide structural rigidity to the cover 104 and provide more surface area to help close the product-enclosing space or cavity 120. The generally planar edge portion 118 can also provide a surface for holding or contacting an adhesive, thus allowing the cover 104 to adhere to the backing 102, even when the tabs 108 are not inserted into the slots 106. It is also contemplated that a product package may not have the generally planar edge portion 118.

While the present figure illustrates a domed cavity 120, any of a wide variety of shapes may be utilized to enclose various different products. For example, and without limitation, the cavity 120 may resemble a cube, a cone, a pyramid, a tube, a triangular-, rectangular-, or other shaped-prism, or any of a myriad of other shapes. In some advantageous embodiments, the shape of the cavity 120 is selected and/or configured to correspond to the shape of the product to be enclosed. In some embodiments, both the backing 102 and the cover 104 are formed in a molded shape (e.g., such as the molded shape depicted for the cover 104). In some embodiments, both the backing 102 and the cover 104 are formed in a generally flat configuration (e.g., such as the generally flat configuration

As further shown in FIG. 1, the product package may be closed by pivoting the cover 104 towards the backing 102 at or near the attachment point 112. The slots 106 on the backing 102 then accept the tabs 108 to hold the product package in a closed position. To allow this, the cover 104 and/or the backing 102 are preferably elastically flexible. Accordingly, in some embodiments, the cover 104 may compress slightly to allow the tips of the tabs 108 to slide into the slots 106 and expand again to a neutral state once the tabs 108 have slid farther into the slots 106. The slots 106 and the tabs 108 are preferably placed generally opposite from the attachment point 112 to reduce pivotal opening of the product package without an external force.

To facilitate opening the package, the hold 110 is preferably located generally opposite the attachment point 112 on the cover 104. If the tabs 108 are inserted into the slots 106, a user may grasp the hold 110 and pull away from the backing 102 and the slots 106, overcoming the forces holding the tabs 108 in the slots 106, and pivot the cover 104 away from the backing 102. The force used to open the product package may elastically compress the cover 104 until the tabs 108 are released from the slots 106. The tabs 108 themselves may also bend as they are removed from the slots 106.

In some embodiments, a plastic package may not be sold or displayed with the tabs 108 in the slots 106. For example, an adhesive material can be used to secure the cover 104 and the backing 102 together when a package is in a retail store. A user can detach the cover 104 from the backing 102 to open the package and use the product. A user can then re-close the package by inserting the tabs 108 through the slots 106. In order to facilitate the detachment of the cover 104 from the backing 102, a temporary adhesive can be used. If when a package is first purchased, the tabs 108 are not be inserted into the slots 106, but instead the cover 104 is adhered to the backing 102 with an adhesive, the hold 110 can be grasped by a user, the force of the adhesive material can be overcome, and the cover 104 can thus be pulled away from the backing 102.

In some embodiments, the first time a user re-closes the package, the user may be required to open the slots 106. For example, the slots 106 can be partially formed or scored, but a user may be required to finish opening the slots 106. This approach can allow a package to have more structural integrity during the original manufacturing and/or packaging process, while still allowing a user to form a slot 106 when convenient.

The use of tabs (such as the tabs 108) and slots (such as the slots 106) can allow a package to be secure and/or have a longer life than many other kinds of packaging (e.g., a package with nubs that insert directly into nub cavities). Whereas nubs can structurally degrade over time from being forced into a cavity that is contoured to fit the nubs tightly, the tabs 108 do not exert the same potentially degrading pressures on the slots 106. Furthermore, a package having nubs may be inadvertently opened because it is merely a sideways frictional force which holds a nub in a nub cavity. In contrast, the tabs 108 are actually located on the opposite side of the backing 102 from the rest of the cover 104. Thus, there is a direct obstruction (not merely a surface frictional force) to the cover 104 separating from the backing 102. Whereas some portions of the forces inherent in a living hinge are directly opposed to the frictional forces keeping a nub in a nub cavity—e.g., a living hinge can have a spring-like tendency to open, pulling a nub directly out of a nub cavity—the force that can effectively open a tabbed package is generally orthogonal to the direction in which the tabs extend. Thus, any tendency of a living hinge to pop open will not tend to compress and bend the cover 104 toward the connection point 112, thus pulling tabs 108 out of the slots 106. Instead, it is more likely that the tabbed package will only open when an intelligent user either pulls firmly on the hold 110, thus bending the tabs 108, or bends the cover 104 such that the tabs 108 approach the connection point 112 and are thereby released from the slots 106.

The domed portion (surrounding the cavity 120) of the cover 104 can be “pre-formed,” or molded before the package is assembled. The cover 104 can be formed from transparent plastic and can be adhered (e.g., releasably or temporarily adhered) to the backing 102. Thus, rigid or semi-rigid plastic materials can be used to immediately enclose a product (not shown). In the illustrated embodiment, the cavity 120 is configured and sized to contain a mask for protecting a worker from dust (e.g., sawdust) or other air-borne breathing hazards. However, the package can be configured in any shape and size.

A sealing process that uses heat convection rather than the more targeted RF techniques can be an attractive option when the central portion is not formed from thin plastic film but instead the kind of thicker plastic that does not melt so readily. This has the advantage of efficiency and economy because it avoids further manufacturing apparatus and extra time; the package sealing can be accomplished in a single step.

The cover 104 can be thermoformed in line (as a previous step in the same manufacturing system or at a previous station of the same machine used to fasten the components together and insert the product) or off line (by a machine dedicated to thermoforming large plastic sheets and cutting out the pre-formed portions to be fed later into a separate machine). The cover 104 can alternatively be injection molded or vacuum molded, on line or off line. Injection molding can include injecting fluid materials (such as liquid plastic) into a mold and allowing the materials to fully or partially solidify, then removing the materials from the mold. Vacuum molding can include forcing a formerly flat sheet of material against a half-mold surface with a sucking force from a suddenly activated vacuum, for example. The material can retain the shape of the half-mold surface after molding, and can comprise a rigid or semi-rigid plastic material.

Examples of packaging machines that can be used are the Rotary RT-72 and the Rotary SBR-8, in-line heat/RF sealing equipment, available from Sun Industries, Inc. of Goodland, Ind. Another example of packaging equipment that can be used to accomplish some of the methods described herein is a Multivac machine, manufactured by Multivac, Inc., of Kansas City, Mo. Other form, fill and seal equipment can also be used. Preferred machines function in-line, fully automatically, and have a high-volume output. In some embodiments, a machine can have vacuum or suction cavities underneath the web into which the cover 104 can protrude and/or expand.

In some embodiments, a form, fill and seal machine can have a bed that is tooled with molds that heat and form plastic material to contours of the molds. The plastic material can be fed into one end of the machine from a roll of plastic. The machine then orients the plastic correctly with respect to the molds and forms the plastic into the shape of the mold. The molds can be formed from aluminum, for example. After the plastic is formed by the molds and cooled, if necessary, the product(s) is/are placed into the molded plastic. Then, the plastic backing (in the form of flat plastic film off a roll, for example) that preferably has been printed on one or both surfaces is fed into the machine, which seals the plastic backing to the molded portion, thus securely enclosing the product inside. The printed plastic backing can be formed from rigid or flexible plastic material or from a laminated paperboard, as discussed above. Moreover, the steps described above can be performed in a different order.

Because the form, fill and seal machine can have multiple molds for multiple product packages, the machine can advantageously separate the individual packages from each other by a die cutting step. Advantageously, the sealing and cutting steps can be combined into a single die-cut seal step, where part of the die exerts pressure on the package to urge the portions together in a secure seal, while another part of the die is sharper and shaped to cut through the plastic adjacent to the sealed portion. The form, fill and seal equipment can be oriented horizontally or vertically with respect to the floor.

The specifications of any given machine can be described in terms of the machine's “web,” measured perpendicularly to the machine's length. Machines with wider webs have more capacity to form packaging at any given position along the machine's length. Accordingly, even though machines with wider webs index—or move the packaging through—at slower absolute speeds than narrower web machines, the overall efficiency of the wider webbed machines can be greater. Thus, the larger the web, the more units per cycle can be formed at the same time. Some embodiments use narrow and/or wide web machines.

In some embodiments, rolls of printed paperboard and/or plastic materials are fed into a form, fill and seal machine from rolls. In a “lower web area,” the machine forms the unprinted areas of the semi-rigid plastic sheets into product cavities (e.g., cavity 120) in-line. The product is then placed into the formed cavities. The printed, molded, product-containing plastic portions from the lower web area can then be automatically attached to corresponding package portions (e.g., backing portions such as the backing 102) that are in an upper web area. Finally, the machine die cuts the packages into finished goods. Upper and lower web portions can be aligned using an electronic eye that locates hash marks or other markings on the rolled materials. Various optical alignment systems can be used, including CCD edge-detection systems. Alignment can be used at various discreet stages of the process or continuously, and can be especially advantageous during the product insertion, sealing and die-cutting portions of the process. Automating this process allows for cost reductions and higher productivity and output. The described process and machines can also allow packaging manufacturers to take advantage of the economies of scale to offer lower costs for high volume orders. A third, or “middle” web can also be incorporated into this system. For example, a middle web can include the cover 104 that can be thermo-formed in-line, rather than preformed.

Adhesion

In some embodiments, the generally planar edge portion 118 of the cover 104 can be temporarily or releasably adhered to the backing 102 when the package is originally sold to a consumer. Such a temporary adhesion can make the package efficient to manufacture or assemble. For example, it may be more difficult to automatically close a package by inserting the tabs 108 into slots 106 than it is to apply adhesive to the edge portion 118. Moreover, in some embodiments, the backing 102 and the cover 104 are securely attached at the attachment point 112. Thus, portions of the package can be advantageously adhered to each other.

In some embodiments, heat sealing techniques can be used to seal portions of the plastic packaging together. For example, the cover 104 can be sealed to the backing 102 at the attachment point 112. Heat sealing can have many advantages. For example, heat sealing machines are less expensive and readily available on the market. Furthermore, heat sealing machines can heat a larger surface area than other techniques, allowing for a backing (such as the backing 102) to be sealed to a front portion (such as the cover 104) of a plastic package. This can be accomplished by applying a heat-activated adhesive to the appropriate surfaces of the two package portions, and then using a heating element with a hot surface to press the two portions together while heating them and activating the bonding properties of the adhesive. Thus, heat sealing techniques can be used to seal two-piece plastic packaging cards or foldover, one-piece packaging cards through widespread heat application along the entire sealing surface of the package. Heat sealing techniques use hot plates that can be heated to an operating temperature in a general range of approximately 240 degrees Fahrenheit to approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The seal can extend across greater surface areas with heat sealing than might otherwise be possible with RF sealing techniques. Furthermore, rigid and semi-rigid plastics can be sealed using heat-sealing techniques in cases where the materials may have structure (such as a molded flange) that may be too thick for RF sealing to work properly.

In addition to allowing thorough surface coverage for sealing applications, heat sealing is a good technique for use with unusual shapes in a package, or for a package with multiple openings (e.g., windows or cut-outs) for multiple products, for example. Some embodiments seal front and back portions of a package together in a narrow band around the periphery of the front and back cards of the package, as well as around the periphery of any product or other cavities (such as the cavity 120) in the package.

Whereas RF sealing is useful for creating narrow adhesion lines, heat sealing can be used for wider seal areas in various shapes. Thus, heat sealing techniques can be used to apply heat to specifically identified areas along the periphery of a package body by making contact with various combinations of the front, back, and peripheral edges of a rigid or semi-rigid cavities (such as the cavity 120).

Heat sealing techniques can be used with various adhesive materials. For example, solvent-based or water-based heat seal coatings can be used. Furthermore, heat sealing techniques can allow for use of components (such as the backing 102 and the cover 104) that are coated with plastic, or poly-coated. Polyethylene (“poly”) coatings can be applied in-line or by a “converter,” after the materials have been manufactured. However, in some preferred embodiments, the poly coating is applied by the manufacturer (e.g., a paper mill) of the material for the backing 102, rather than in a secondary conversion process. Poly coatings can provide enhanced appearance and provide a basis upon which to print attractive graphics as discussed further below.

Various other methods of adhering the backing 102 and the cover 104 can be employed. Many of the described methods can be used for secure attachment at the attachment point 112, but others can be used to attach the cover 104 to the backing 102 all along the generally planar edge portion 118 substantially surrounding the domed portion (or cavity 120) of the cover 104. For example, the adhesive lines can be applied that comprise adhesive material that is activated by ultraviolet radiation. Alternatively, ultraviolet radiation can target some areas (such as those near the attachment point 112) and bond the underlying materials of the backing 102 and cover 104 together. Ultraviolet, or UV welding, has many advantages. For example, UV welding can achieve sufficient strength to provide theft resistance. UV welding can also be accomplished cheaply and efficiently, with relatively few steps. In some embodiments, an adhesive substance such as thermoset glue can be applied. After the two portions have been placed in contact with the thermoset glue, ultraviolet light can be shined on the glue and plastic. The ultraviolet light activates the adhesive properties of the glue. One advantage of UV welding is its adhesive strength. Using this approach, sufficient tamper-resistance can be achieved even though two plastic portions may not have features such as lips, locks, or snaps in addition to the adhesive material. Two flat, featureless surfaces can thus be strongly adhered to each other simply and effectively. Alternatively, adjustments can allow two surfaces to be weakly and releasably adhered.

UV welding techniques can seal a wide array of materials. This provides for great latitude in design for visual effects in packaging. For example, UV welding techniques can be used to bond recycled polyurethane (RPET), a material that is difficult to seal with conventional techniques. Another material that can be bonded using UV welding is APET.

In some embodiments, two plastic portions of the packaging can be closed together using a method such as stamping or heating. For example, a stamp can be used to exert pressure on the two plastic layers while they are in apposition. The pressure can seal the two portions together at or near the place where the stamp contacts the plastic. Another example uses heat to meld the two plastic portions together. This can be accomplished using a hot implement that contacts the packaging at various places around the perimeter while the two portions are in apposition, for example.

Sonic heat and RF welding methods can be used to fuse the two portions, for example. RF and sonic sealing methods send different wavelengths of energy to vibrate molecules of plastic and cause plastic portions to fuse together. For example, sonic sealing methods send acoustic energy into the plastic in the form of acoustic compression waves. RF sealing methods can transmit radio frequency energy into plastic at a wavelength that can be tuned to correspond to a vibratory wavelength of the molecules comprising the plastic material. Alternatively, UV and/or non-UV wavelengths of radiation can also be used to activate adhesives. An adhesive can be activated by microwave, infrared, radio frequency, or gamma ray radiation, for example. In one exemplary RF welding approach, two electrodes can be placed in close proximity to each other, but not in direct contact with each other. The electrodes can be permitted, however, to contact one or both of the plastic portions of the packaging. The plastic material can act as a dielectric that permits some electrical current to flow, but with some resistance. As the plastic resists current flow, electrical energy is converted into thermal energy and the heat melds a portion of the plastic packaging. This approach advantageously permits the two electrodes to not be independently heated. The heating effect can be reserved for the material to be heated such as the plastic, for example.

In some advantageous embodiments, adhesive substances can be used to chemically attach the two or more portions of a package together. For example, glue that cures over time as it dries can be used. Multiple-component glues can also be used, where one component is applied and another component activates the adhesive effect. In some embodiments, the packaging can be closed using a water-based urethane sealant. Advantageously, the adhesive may be applied only in areas where adhesion is to take place. Alternatively, the adhesive may be applied to an entire surface of one of the plastic portions. If glue is applied to an entire surface, the glue is preferably of the type that will not adhere permanently to the product. The glue may, for example, be applied to one portion of the packaging and then allowed to dry before the package is assembled. The glue in the adhesion areas can then be activated by heat, RF waves, ultrasonic waves, or another sealing method. Preferably, any adhesive used is transparent so as not to interfere with consumers reading any printing that may exist on either of the adhered portions.

In some embodiments, plastic features can be formed that complement other welding techniques. For example, abutting plastic portions can include raised ridges, narrow exposed channels, etc. These features can allow welding to occur in conjunction with a roller or other mechanisms that can urge the corresponding plastic portions into proper contact. These features and mechanisms can cause an effective and strong plastic-to-plastic seal. They can allow the two plastic portions to mechanically interlock together.

In some embodiments, the adhesion only occurs in discrete areas of the package. For example, adhering the two plastic portions together near the edges makes it difficult for a thief to effectively grasp the edges of both pieces in order to pull them apart. Alternatively, if two plastic portions are intended to come apart under some circumstances, the attachment can be located away from a hold 110, for example, to allow a place to grip and pull the two portions apart.

In some embodiments, external adhesion activation is not required. Examples of external adhesion activation are RF, heat, and sonic energy. Eliminating these portions of a production process can reduce cost and increase efficiency. For example, some adhesives can adhere and begin to cure immediately upon coming into contact with another material. Some embodiments use adhesive that is post-consumer recyclable, such as water-based adhesives. Use of adhesives for which activation is not required allows for a broader range of material combinations than would otherwise be available. For example, in some cases, various activation processes may discolor printing or warp materials, so eliminating the activation process can avoid such results. In some embodiments, an activation process may not work to adhere to different materials, but an adhesive can be used without an activation step. In some embodiments, a material for which external activation energy is not required is RPET. Some RF sealing processes can require that the two portions to be bonded both be from the same kind of plastic so the energy frequency affects both portions. In some embodiments, a material that uses RF activation energy is APET. Thus, embodiments that do not require RF energy for bonding can allow for plastic and paperboard to adhere together. Accordingly, various materials can be mixed and matched to achieve various desirable effects.

In some embodiments, different sealing techniques can be used for different portions of a package. In order to use two or more different sealing techniques on the same package, the “rule” (or area of the seal band) can be reduced so that the RF or heating contact head does not contact the whole package at once. For example, one RF head can be designed to contact one portion of the package, and another heat head can be designed to contact another portion of the package.

Eliminating constraints to material combinations can greatly reduce costs and allow for improved package presentation. One advantage from such freedom is the ability to create a 100% post-consumer recyclable package. Another advantage from such freedom is the ability to create packages from post-industrial or post-consumer recycled material. Such a package can comprise, without limitation, the following exemplary components: front and/or back portions can comprise PLA, SBS, RPET, APET, or PVC (with RPET and APET being preferred for recycling, and PLA being preferred for composting/renewing); printing can comprise standard lithographic or UV inks (with UV inks preferred for printing on plastic surfaces); and adhesives can comprise a blister coating on SBS or water-based adhesives for recycling. Various materials from the following list can be combined in various ways to create recyclable packaging.

Recyclable Properties
Post Post Re-
Abv. Material Industrial Consumer cyclable
PLASTIC
RPET Recycled Poly Ethylene X X X
Terephthalate
PP Poly Propylene X X
APET Amorphous Poly Ethylene X X X
Terephthalate
HDPE High Density Poly Ethylene X X X
LDPE Low Density Poly Ethylene X X
PS Poly Styrene X X
PAPER
E-flute Corrugated paperboard X X X
B-flute Corrugated paperboard X X X
Blister card X X
SBS Solid bleached sulfate X X

In some embodiments, PLA is used for plastic portions. PLA is a compostable, renewable material. This combination of properties allows for an alternative to recycling because the source materials (e.g., corn) can be grown each year, and the used packaging can quickly decompose when discarded. Thus, PLA provides many advantages and can be used for some or all portions of a package as described herein. Paper and/or paperboard materials are also renewable and compostable.

As discussed further below, packaging can include various combinations of separate or integral packaging portions. For example, the backing 102 and the cover 104 (see FIG. 1) can be formed from the same piece, folded over, or from two separate pieces (see FIGS. 3 a and 3 b, or 4 a and 4 b). In some embodiments, a third piece (not shown) can be added. The third piece can have a cut-out portion through which the “cavity” 120 protrudes, while at the same time the third piece can overlie some portions (such as a generally planar edge portion 118) of the cover 104, thus securing the cover 104 to the backing 102. U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/328,801, filed Jan. 9, 2006 (the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein and made part of this specification) illustrates further details of such one, two, or three-piece embodiments.

Another packaging combination, sometimes referred to as a “clam-shell” package configuration, has a one- or two-piece construction. A clamshell can have front and back plastic portions that are both thermoformed integrally, but then folded over to form two sides of a single package. A second piece can comprise an insert that is placed between these two folded portions. In some embodiments, the folded portion is clear plastic, and the insert is printed plastic or paperboard. In some embodiments, no insert is required because the folded portion has printing on it. U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/033,702, filed Jan. 12, 2005 (the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein and made part of this specification) illustrates further details of clamshell-type embodiments.

As noted above, combinations of packaging portions can be made from the same materials, or from different materials. Combinations of package portions that include PLA include: (1) printed front PLA card, printed back PLA card, trapped PLA “blister cavities” (thermo- or vacuum-formed product-containing cavity) inside (with all three portions being formed from PLA, this embodiment is a 100% renewable and 100% compostable consumer package); (2) printed front PLA card, printed back PLA card, trapped rigid plastic material (e.g., RPET blister) (with the front and back portions formed from PLA, such a package is for the most part renewable and compostable, with a recycled and recyclable blister secured between the two to form a product-containing cavity, for example); (3) printed front PLA card, printed back PLA card, trapped non-rigid formable plastic material (with a formable film secured between the two to form a product-containing cavity, for example) (majority renewable and compostable package); (4) printed front PLA card, printed back corrugated or paperboard card, PLA blister (100% compostable and renewable package); and (5) printed PLA card, printed back corrugated or paperboard card, various different film or plastic blister cavities (majority compost able or renewable package).

If all portions of a package formed from the same material, or materials that have similar properties, that package can be termed “material pure.” A package can be “material pure” in the sense that it is 100% recycled, or 100% post-consumer recyclable, for example. (Examples include packages that are completely formed from RPET so that the entire package can be thrown into the recycle bin as one recyclable unit. Packages can also be “material pure” if they are 100% renewable and/or 100% compostable. For example, a package formed exclusively from some combination of PLA and/or paperboard may be both 100% compostable and 100% renewable. Thus, “material pure” packages have many environmental benefits.

In some embodiments, cured adhesive is unattractive when seen through one or more of the plastic portions it bonds. In such cases, the adhesive can be shielded from view by printing on the surface of the external surfaces of the packaging. For example, if a front or back portion of a plastic package has printing and/or graphics (such as a stripe) strategically placed over where the adhesive will be applied, such an approach can greatly improve the appearance of the package for a consumer at the point of sale. In some embodiments, the printing can extend across substantially the whole surface of the package, effectively shielding any unsightly adhesive underneath any portion of the package surface. In some embodiments, the printing intended to obscure underlying adhesive can be dark and thick to more effectively hide the underlying adhesive.

In some embodiments, the backing 102 is flat as shown in FIG. 1. However, some advantageous embodiments include a vacuum- or thermo-formed portion that corresponds to and/or roughly mates with the cavity 120 of the cover 104. When the backing 102 includes a concave portion, the convex outer surface of the cover 104 of a different package can be at least partly inserted into that concave portion. Thus, the packages can be efficiently stacked and/or nested, which has many advantages for efficient retail display and transportation.

FIG. 2 a shows a similar embodiment as that of FIG. 1; however, in FIG. 2 a, the product package is in an open orientation. FIG. 2 a also shows that in some embodiments, the backing 102 and the cover 104 may be formed from a single piece. In such a case, the pivotal motion at the attachment point 112 may be accomplished through a living hinge 226, as pictured in FIG. 2 b. A living hinge 226 is generally accomplished by creating a pinch-point 228 in a flexible plastic, such as polypropylene or polyethylene, such that the backing 102 and the cover 104 can pivot around that point.

FIGS. 3 a and 3 b illustrate the backing 102 and the cover 104, respectively, as two separate components. The backing 102 is shown with optional product information 330. Due in part to the backing 102's typically flat surfaces, the backing 102 may be utilized to display the product information 330, such as its common name, trademark, trade name, source information, graphics, instructional information, and/or advertising information. Such printing may be on either or both of the front and back of the backing 102.

In some embodiments, the backing 102 may have also have two portions—a utility portion 114 and an information portion 116. The utility portion 114 and the information portion 116 are preferably separable along a line 124. In some embodiments, this line may be scored to aid in allowing a user to tear or snap off the information portion 116 or otherwise remove it from the utility portion 114. The utility portion 114 contains the at least one slot 106 and can be the portion of the backing 102 which is connected to the cover 104 at the attachment point 112, if the embodiment utilizes an attachment point.

The backing 102 and its optional product information 330 can be used to grab a potential buyer's attention or display all desired information. Thus, the backing 102 can be generally larger, and at times significantly larger, than the area of the backing 102 covered by the cover 104. In such a case, it is advantageous to allow a user to detach the information portion 116 after purchase. The information portion 116 may then be stored for later reference to the information contained thereon or alternately discarded if not needed or wanted. The utility portion 114 of the backing 102 may then be retained for continued use in storing unused or reusable products. In some embodiments, the information portion 116 can be devoid of “information” and still be an information portion 116. For example, the information portion 116 can be blank. The information portion can have none, one or more than one of the following: decorative graphics; text; product details; marketing material; endorsement information; coupon(s); store-specific information; proof of purchase; tracking information; RFID tags; bar-codes; mechanical features (e.g., a hook or hole for hanging the package in a retail display); eye-catching graphics; size data; etc.

This does not mean that the product information 330 may not be printed on the utility portion 114. Some or all of the product information 330 (or any of the other items listed above) may be on the utility portion 114. In an embodiment some product information 330, particularly product name and/or model numbers or incentives, such as coupons, would be contained on the information portion 116, so that the information portion 116 can be kept as a reference in future purchases. Additionally, the product information 330, such as usage instructions and warnings, may be contained on the utility portion, so that such information is more likely to be close at hand when removing a product from the package for use. Product information (or any of the other items listed above) may be visible when a user removes the product from the package. For example, if instructions for the use of a product are printed on the backing behind where the product is located in the package, those instructions for use can be visible to a user immediately upon removal of the product from the package, even if they were not visible before removal of the product. Printing and graphics are further discussed below with respect to FIGS. 5, 6, 7, and 8.

FIGS. 4 a, 4 b, and 4 c illustrate an alternate embodiment of the product package utilizing tabs. FIG. 4 a shows a top plan view of the backing 102 and FIG. 4 b shows the corresponding view of the cover 104. In such an embodiment, it may be noted that there is no the attachment point. Instead, the cover 104 is completely removable from the backing 102. In order to close the package, only the tabs 408 and the slots 406 are used. FIG. 4 c illustrates an assembled version of such an embodiment, showing three pairs of tabs 408 and the slots 406 holding the cover 104 and the backing 102 together. The embodiment shown utilizes three tabs 408, but it can be noted that at least two should be used to secure the backing 102 and the cover 104 together. The at least two tabs are preferably generally opposite each other in relation to the cavity 120 to reduce movement in opposing directions.

Printing

The backing 102 and the cover 104 can each have printing or other graphics on their surfaces. Printing may be accomplished on the backing 102 and/or the cover 104 in various ways. In particular, printing may be accomplished according to the disclosure of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/033,702, filed Jan. 12, 2005, and assigned to the assignee of the present disclosure and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/328,801. The entirety of both U.S. application Ser. No. 11/033,702 and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/328,801 are hereby incorporated herein by reference and made part of the specification hereof.

In some embodiments, the plastic (or plasticized or laminated) portions of packaging can be printed upon. For example, if a package has two complementary plasticized portions, each portion can have generally two surfaces. Each of the four surfaces can receive printed material in the form of words, designs, colors, layers of ink, etching, chemical effects, etc. In some embodiments, printing on multiple surfaces of plastic materials allows for special effects graphics, creation of transparent and/or translucent surfaces, and even three-dimensional effects. These and many other special graphical effects are possible by combining printing on plastics or laminated materials with printing on multiple surfaces of a package. Indeed, the quality of such graphics can be superior to graphics printed on a pure paperboard insert card.

In some embodiments, graphics can be improved by using a heat sealing technique as discussed above. For example, portions of the package can be printed prior to assembly. If an RF seal is used, the RF sealing process can distort the graphics or other printed material on the surface of the package. However, some heat sealing processes can allow the printed material on paperboard or coated paperboard to remain unchanged, even after the package has been heated to activate adhesion.

Multiple layers of printing can have many desirable benefits. Spectacular visual effects can be achieved by using combinations of four colors on multiple superimposed plastic surfaces. The color combinations used and the relative positioning of the patterns can be chosen to depict any number of unique designs. Multiple-surface printing has the advantage of allowing visual depth and spatial effects to be more convincing and realistic. Printing overlapping manner also allows for a wide variety of design options.

FIG. 5 illustrates one way in which layered printing can comprise complementary layers that are configured to create a visual effect when positioned one over another. In one embodiment, the illustrated layers do not represent separate plastic portions, but instead represent regions or surfaces that can accept printing. For example, the layers can represent the four surfaces of two plastic portions, such as the surfaces of the backing 102 and the cover 104 of FIGS. 1, 2, and 3.

In some embodiments, a first layer 512 can have a printed pattern 522. A second layer 514 can have a second pattern 524, a third layer 516 can have a third pattern 526, and a fourth layer 518 can have a fourth pattern 528. Each pattern can be printed on a surface of transparent plastic, thus allowing light to pass through each layer to some extent. This allows underlying layers to be partially visible through overlying layers. Furthermore, each pattern can have some portions that are opaque and some that are transparent, according to the lines and spaces in the printed patterns. Thus, as patterns overlay one another, visual effects are created that are unique to each pattern combination. The effect created by any pattern combination can also change according to the relative orientations of the two patterns to each other, either in a parallel plane or in a more complex spatial relationship. As FIG. 5 illustrates, combinations of overlying patterns can result in numerous new patterns and/or visual effects.

FIG. 6 illustrates another way in which multiple-layer printing can achieve visual effects. Masking pattern 622 can generally obscure anything that is located behind pattern 622. However, if masking pattern 622 is partially removed or is not printed on a portion of a transparent surface, a second pattern such as pattern 624 can be visible through the opening. This negative printing technique has great potential for striking visual effects, as can be seen in FIG. 6. Similar visual combinations can also be advantageous, such as a “peek-a-boo” printing effect, inverse, and or cutaway printing. Packaging materials can also be printed or sized to allow a portion of the product inside to be accessible to the sight or touch of a potential buyer.

Some embodiments capitalize on principles of artistic perspective. In some embodiments, for example, a design printed on an inferior surface positioned behind a superior surface can appear to be contained deep within or far behind the design of the superior surface. This appearance of perspective can be enhanced when printing appears on more than two surfaces of overlaid plastic material. Thus, appropriately printed images can create an enhanced sense of depth in a plastic packaging material with an otherwise more shallow appearance. In some embodiments, a printing process using combinations of multiple colors can lead to spectacular visual effects. For example, a four color process has many advantages. Some embodiments create translucent and lenticular effects. Some embodiments use spot color processes.

FIG. 7 illustrates a cross-section of various layers that can comprise a packaging configuration 710. Layer 722 represents printing on a surface 712 of the plastic portion 711. Printing 724 can also be located on a surface 714 of the plastic portion 711. An opening 730 can contain the product to be packaged, or it can be a gap, depending on where the cross-section of the package 710 is taken. On the other side of opening 730 is another plastic portion 715, having a surface 716 with a printed layer 726. Similarly, surface 718 can have a printed layer 728. As illustrated by eye 742, a viewer can see a combination of patterns comprising the various layers of printing and plastics in the line of sight 544 of the viewer, creating numerous potential visual effects.

Plastic portions 711 and 715 can be adapted to receive print. Printing layers 722, 724, 726 and 728 can be adapted to adhere to plastic surfaces or each other, including, in some embodiments, recycled PET, recycled PVC, and/or other recycled and/or recyclable plastics. When the plastic surfaces and/or printing materials are adapted to adhere, the ability of the plastic material to receive print eliminates the need to place a paperboard or cardboard insert within the package, as with some prior art packages. Eliminating the paperboard or cardboard insert can lower both the cost of producing the package itself, and the cost of assembling the product and package together. The cost of producing the package can be lowered because fewer materials are needed. The cost of assembling the product and package together can be reduced because the labor step of placing the paperboard or cardboard insert within the package is eliminated.

One measurement unit of the strength, adhesion and resilience of printing is the “dynn” (pronounced “d in.”) Inks generally are approximately 33 dynn, but higher dynn ratings are stronger and frequently more desirable. For example, a 45 dynn printing procedure can allow a plastic portion to adhere to an ink layer, which in turn adheres to another plastic portion. If the dynn rating is high enough, the ink located between the two plastic portions will be able to withstand and assist in the adhesion process. Many plastics are hydrophobic and tend not to bond or mix with polar substances (such as water-based inks). One way to reduce this effect (and thereby increase the dynn rating) is to treat the plastic before applying the ink, preparing the surface to bond with the ink material. Higher dynn ratings can also improve an ink's scratch resistance, which can be useful for inks that are printed on the front, exposed portion of a package. In some embodiments, inks with higher dynn ratings are advantageously used on the back, protected surface of a transparent front plastic portion so that the printing and graphics can be seen through the plastic; the plastic thus adds a glossy sheen to the top of the printing as viewed from the front of a package.

Although FIG. 7 illustrates a printing layer adhered to each of the four plastic surfaces, some embodiments only have printing on one of the surfaces. Other embodiments have printing on only two of the surfaces. Other embodiments have printing on only three of the surfaces. More surfaces can also be included, and various other combinations of layered surfaces and printing configurations are contemplated.

FIG. 8 schematically illustrates a cross-sectional view of a product within a plastic package 810. The plastic package comprises a back portion 802 and a front portion 804 (which can be, for example, an embodiment of the cover 104 of FIG. 1). The front portion 804 can be pre-formed semi-rigid plastic and can generally contain a product 840 within the cavity 821. The back portion 802 has a back coating 820 and a front coating 822. The front portion 804 can have a tab 808 that extends through a slot 806 so that some of the front portion 804 is actually located behind the back portion 802. However, as illustrated, the front portion 804 can also be adhered to the back portion 802 with an adhesive portion 834.

The package 810 schematically illustrates several regions that can have visual effects. For example, a first region 812, where the back portion 802 appears in front of the front portion 804, can be seen from a vantage point 813. The front portion 804 and the back portion 802 can have various combinations of transparent, glossy, matte, printed, and or coated visual effects. Similarly, the coatings 822 and 820 can combine for various visual effects. The thicknesses of the layers and coatings in FIG. 8 are exaggerated for the sake of schematic illustration, and may no be drawn to scale. A second region 814 can have a combined visual effect as seen from a vantage point 815. For example, if the front portion 804 is transparent, the coating 822 may be at least partly visible from the vantage point 815. If the coating 822 is partly transparent, the back portion 802 may be visible through both the pre-formed plastic portion 806 and the coating 822. A third region 816 generally contains a product 840. If the front portion 804 is fully or partially transparent, the product 840 can be readily seen from a vantage point 817, for example. The product can also be seen, and potential visual effects can be provided, if the various layers are viewed from non-perpendicular angles. For example, the product 840 and the layer 822 can be seen through the front portion 804 from the vantage point 813. A fourth region 818 is illustrated where the front portion 804 has a back layer 826 of printing or coating and a front layer 828 of printing or coating. These layers, in combination with the other layers discussed above, can be seen from the vantage point 819, for example.

The appearance of plastic packaging can be enhanced using translucent and/or iridescent materials. For example, metallic, shimmering, highly reflective, and/or glittering effects can be created with some chemical substances. These substances can be used on one or multiple layers of the plastic packaging. Multiple layers of ink can also be printed onto a single plastic surface. Design and marketing potential increases drastically when printing can be accomplished on multiple surfaces of plastic packaging.

FIG. 9 illustrates a method of manufacturing a plastic package. A milling step 920 can comprise forming a backing material (such as that used to form the backing 102) into sheets and gathering the resulting sheets onto rolls. The backing material can comprise paperboard, laminated paperboard, plastic, etc. The milling step can further comprise incorporating webbing or other reinforcing materials into a paperboard material. The milling step can also comprise laminating or otherwise plasticizing paperboard material. If a plastic material is used, a milling step 920 can include extruding a plastic material into sheets and gathering the resulting sheets onto rolls.

A printing step 930 can comprise feeding the paperboard or plastic material through a printer. The printer can print on one or multiple surfaces of the material concurrently. In some embodiments, a second printing step 940 can comprise sending the same material through the same or a subsequent printer.

A cutting step 950 can comprise die-cutting portions of the paperboard or plastic sheet or cutting portions of the sheet with a rolling blade, for example. The cutting step can form smaller portions for one or multiple packages. Cutting step 950 can also comprise folding portions of material if the resulting package is to have a crease (e.g., if the attachment point 112 is a living hinge formed in a folded unitary piece). In some embodiments, the cutting step can comprise molding or stamping the paperboard or plastic portions to form contours intended to house the product or other items to be contained within the packaging. Such contours can be formed at the same time the paperboard or plastic sheet is cut if the cutting die also comprises a stamping mold. Such molding can also comprise heating or cooling the paperboard or plastic material. In some embodiments, the paperboard or plastic material can be vacuum molded. This technique employs a vacuum to force the material against a mold so that the material subsequently retains the shape of the mold. In some embodiments, paperboard material and plastic material is used. The paperboard material is die cut and the plastic material is molded, and the two are brought together.

A filling step 960 can comprise placing the product within the plastic packaging. Other items can also be placed within the plastic packaging, such as instructions, batteries, printed materials, companion items, other products, storage cases, refill containers, spare parts, assembly hardware, etc.

A closing step 970 can include a method of closing the plastic packaging. For example, heat sealing, RF welding, UV welding, and ultrasonic welding techniques can be used, which can include adhesive or glue materials. Preferred embodiments use heat sealing to adhere front and back portions of plastic packaging throughout a large surface area or around multiple openings. In some embodiments, complementary features are formed in the two portions of a plastic package that mate together. For example, tongue features can fit into groove features formed in the respective portions of a plastic package. Alternatively, tabs can be formed in one portion to fold over or protrude through a slot in the other portion, as shown in FIGS. 1-4. Some embodiments employ plastic lips, locks, or snaps that can be formed by shaping the plastic. For sufficient theft or tamper resistance, however, often further sealing measures may be taken. Some potential additional measures include staples, rivets, and pins. The steps depicted in FIG. 9 and/or discussed here can occur in any combination or order.

“Registration” techniques can involve placing machine-readable marks on a material to aid in automatic alignment of that material. Registration can use an optical eye, lasers, precision CCDs, etc. in conjunction with automated or robotic systems. Registration techniques can be used for proper alignment of previously-printed portions of plastic material. Thus, if a printed plastic material is unrolled, a portion (e.g., an un-printed portion) can be thermoformed to correspond to a product. Registration can help align the material so the thermoformed cavity is positioned and oriented correctly. Registration can also help the system cut (e.g., die cut) the plastic material properly so that each individual piece is the proper size and has the proper shape.

In some embodiments, material a efficiency is improved and costs reduced by manufacturing a one- or two-piece package, instead of a three-piece package. In some embodiments, this can be accomplished by printing a plastic film while the film is still on a roll. Then, with registration, the film is unrolled and the cavity is formed in the proper place, aligned with the location of the graphics. Then the film roll is die cut into individual pieces. These individual pieces now have formed cavities. The pieces can then either be combined with other pieces (e.g., flat plastic or cardboard backing) to form a two-piece package, or they can be folded in half to form a one-piece package. Registration can be used to align the two pieces of a two-piece package, or to insure the fold occurs in the proper place on a one-piece package.

Although the description above relates to preferred embodiments, the disclosure is not intended to be limited thereby. Rather, a skilled artisan will recognize from the disclosure herein a wide number of alternatives. For example, the backing 102 and the cover 104 may be made of the same or differing materials, some of which may include plastics and paperboard and/or cardboard. Either or both of the backing 102 and the cover 104 may be transparent, translucent, or opaque. Furthermore, while printed graphics or information was discussed in relation to the backing 102, information, graphics, and the like may also be printed on the cover portion. Additionally, other combinations, omissions, substitutions and modifications will be apparent to the skilled artisan in view of the disclosure herein. Accordingly, the present disclosure is not intended to be limited by the reaction of the preferred embodiments, but is to be defined by reference to the appended claims.

All publications, patents, and patent applications mentioned in this specification are herein incorporated by reference and made part of this specification to the same extent as if each individual publication, patent, or patent application was specifically and individually indicated to be incorporated by reference and made part of this specification.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7571810Jan 9, 2006Aug 11, 2009One Source Industries, LlcPrinted packaging
US8146745 *Mar 10, 2008Apr 3, 2012Cardpak, Inc.Environmentally separable packaging device with attaching base
US8177066Oct 12, 2010May 15, 2012One Source Industries, LlcPrinted packaging
US8387412 *Sep 24, 2009Mar 5, 2013Christopher J. O'ByrneArticle with interchangeable decorative ornaments
US8569411Aug 18, 2008Oct 29, 2013Smart Planet Technologies, Inc.Flexible packaging composites
US20120222990 *Mar 12, 2010Sep 6, 2012Michiko FujiwaraBattery blister pack and method for fabricating the same
Classifications
U.S. Classification206/462, 206/461, 206/471
International ClassificationB65D73/00
Cooperative ClassificationY02W30/807, B65D73/0057, B65D2575/365, B65D75/22
European ClassificationB65D73/00D1B, B65D75/22
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Nov 8, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: ONCE SOURCE INDUSTRIES, LLC, CALIFORNIA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:TILTON, CHRISTOPHER R.;REEL/FRAME:018499/0079
Effective date: 20060916