US 3719768 A
Description (OCR text may contain errors)
llited States Patent 1 Jonsson 1 CONSTRUCTION PANEL Nils G. .lonsson, Woburn, Mass.
 Assignee: American Modular Systems Designs,
lnc., Cambridge, Mass.
 Filed: May 27, 1971  Appl.No.: 147,458
52 U.S.Cl. ..17'4/49,52/221 51 1m.c|. ..nozg 3/28 58 FieldofSearch ..174/48,49; 52/27, 28,220,
Primary Examiner-Bernard A. Gilheany si fiaqminerf LA T 1 9 7 r Attorney-Wolf, Greenfield, Hieken & Sacks 1 March 6, 1973 [5 7] ABSTRACT A flexible, versatile building system including movable wall panels has a portion of an electrical system as an integral part of the' panel. The panels may be rearranged easily to provide a variety of wall and floor plan configurations adapted to suit a particular purpose. The portion of the electrical system which is integral with the panel is connected to one or more main electrical distribution systems by special easily disconnectable connectors which are formed permanently as an integral part of the panel at the upper marginal edge of the panel. The electrical distribution system is disposed above and map rest on the ceiling and includes flexible, easily accessible cords which may be reconnected to the panel after the panel has been moved to a new location. The system avoids conventional concepts of permanent wiring. The connectors integral with the panels are of special design to preclude inadvertent mismatching of connectors when the electrical system in the building includes a number of distinct circuits for different purposes such as lighting controls, communications etc.
5 Claims, 8 Drawing Figures CONSTRUCTION PANEL BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION Recent trends in design and construction of buildings have been directed, in part, to the concept of modular, interchangeable building elements such as movable wall panels, partitions and the like. Such design tends to result in greater flexibility and enables floor plans to be changed if and when desired according to changing floor plan requirements. Among the main difficulties heretofore presented in such systems has been the unavailability of an electrical system of equal flexibility. Thus, although a variety of types of easily movable panels have been proposed and employed in the prior art, these panels either did not contain electrical circuitry or, alternatively, contained circuitry which connected to the main power source in a relatively permanent manner as by splicing, soldering or other techniques well known to those familiar with the art. As a result, considerable effort and expense has been necessary in order to rearrange the panels, detach the relatively permanent electrical connections and then again make the necessary permanent attachment to the panel circuitry after the panel has been moved to the new location. It is among the primary objects of the invention to provide an improved arrangement in which movable panels having integral electrical systems may be connected and disconnected from the main power supply easily and in a manner which avoids the foregoing difficulties.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION My invention may be employed in association with any of a number of movable wall panels which are available commercially from a variety of suppliers. In the illustrative embodiment of the invention, the panels are retained at their upper marginal ends in overhead channels which lie in a horizontal plane defining a ceiling matrix. The panels may be engaged with the overhead channels in a variety of configurations and floor plans to support the panels as desired.
The panels are provided with integral electric wiring which is permanent within the panel. For example, a representative panel may have one or more of a switch circuit to control lighting, telephone or other communications circuitry, power outlets, etc. Each circuit in the panel is connectable to a main power distribution circuit by a special connector located at the upper, channel-engaging edge of the panel. The ceiling channels are designed to expose the special connectors from above the channels. The connectors themselves are of special design and are of different configuration for each circuit to preclude inadvertent mismatching of connectors and interconnection of separate distinct circuits. The flexibility of the panels is enhanced further by providing compact, portable distribution boxes which rest atop the ceiling and which are connected to the special panel connectors by flexible cords.
It is among the primary objects of the invention to provide a versatile movable wall panel having an integral wiring system.
Another object of the invention is to provide a building system employing panels of the type described in which the circuitry in the panel may be connected to and disconnected from the main electrical distribution system.
Still another object of the invention is to provide an improved connector which is effective to preclude inadvertent interconnection of unrelated circuits when the building construction includes panels having more than one self contained integral electrical circuit.
DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS These and other objects and advantages of the invention will be understood more fully from the following detailed description thereof, with reference to the accompanying drawings wherein;
FIG. I is an illustration of a portion of a structure embodying the invention including a ceiling matrix, a representative panel and an overhead portable electrical distribution system;
FIG. 2 is a side elevation in section of a representative panel and the channel in the ceiling matrix which engages the upper marginal edge of the panel;
FIG. 3 is a plan view of the upper edge of the panel;
FIG. 4 is an enlarged side elevation, in section, of the connector at the upper edge of the panel;
FIG. 5 is an illustration of the special connector used in the panel;
FIG. 6 is a rear view of the connector module shown in FIG. 5;
FIG. 7 is an illustration of a mating connector at the end of a typical cord; and
FIG. 8 is a somewhat diagrammatic illustration of a connector having dummy connector modules to preclude inadvertent misregistration.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT FIG. I shows an installation in which the invention may be embodied and includes a ceiling grid 10 formed from a number of downwardly opening channels 12 arranged in a matrix. The wall of the structure are formed from a variety of panels, indicated generally by the reference character 14 and having upper marginal edges which are engageable with the channels 12 to secure to panels in the manner described below. The adjacent edges 16 of the panels preferably are arranged to interlock with each other and further rigidify the structure. The ceiling grid 10 supports a plurality of ceiling panels 18, some of which may include integral lighting fixtures 20.
The wall panels M may take a variety of forms such as the plain panel 14a, the door panel 14b and the electrically wired panel Me which may include one or more integral electrically operable devices and with which the invention is concerned particularly.
The upper edge region of each wall panel is designed to interlock with the channel 12 to retain the wall panel in place. The heightwise extending edges 16 of the wall panels also preferably interlock to provide a substantially continuous wall. As shown in FIGS. 2, 3 and 4, the invention is illustrated as embodied in one type of panel having a spring loaded elongate shoe 22 extending along the upper edge of the panel. The shoe is biased upwardly and outwardly by appropriate spring means (not shown). Means also are provided to enable shoe 22 to be withdrawn into the upper edge of the panel to enable the panel to be properly placed between the floor and the receptive channel 12. After the panel has been placed, the shoe 22 is released to engage the channel and lock the panel firmly in place between the channel and the floor. Wall panels of this type are available commercially from the I-Iough Company of 1023 South Jackson Street, .Ianesville, Wis. 53545.
As shown in FIGS. 2 and 3, the representative wired panel 14c may include one or more electrically operable devices such as an outlet 24, switches 26, a clock 28, communications equipment 30 or the like. Because the electrical requirements for each of these devices are different, a separate circuit must be provided in association with each of the devices. Thus, separate wiring 24c, 26c, 28c and 300 is associated with each of the devices. The wires extend from the electrical devices upwardly within the panel and are connected at their upper ends to special electrical connectors 32 which are secured permanently along the upper edge of the wallpanel.
The electrical connectors 32 are incorporated into the panel so that when the panel is attached to the channel ceiling grid, the connectors 32 will remain exposed from above the channel 12. As shown in FIGS. 2 and 3 this arrangement may include forming the channels to define an elongate slot 34. The electrical connector 32 is secured in the spring loaded shoe 22 by an elongate basket 36 which extends along the shoe 22, is secured thereto and preferably is recessed below the level of the shoe. After the panel has been aligned with the channel and the spring loaded shoe has been released to engage the channel as show the electrical connectors 32 remain exposed. The complete panel with integral electrically operated devices and circuitry therefor may be moved to any location in the building having a receptive channel. The electrical elements in the panel remain intact and no special efforts must be made to connect or disconnect any of these elements. The cords need only be connected or disconnected.
FIG. 1 shows the electrical distribution system. The complexity of the distribution system depends on the number and type of appliances which are associated with the panel. Regardless of the complexity of the circuitry, the distribution system is completely portable and may simply be rested on top of the ceiling panels 18. The distribution box or boxes 38 connected to the main electrical power line by one or more appropriate flexible electric cords 40. The distribution boxes may include integral transformers when necessary to feed power at the required voltage to a particular appliance. When the appliance is of the controlable type, such as overhead lights, communications equipment, etc., relays 42 are provided and are connected to the control circuit in the panel 140 through the electrical connector 32. In each instance, the wiring in the panel is connected to the distribution box or the relay by a flexible electrical cord 44 which is connectable to the electrical connector 32 in the upper edge of the panel. Because the cords, distribution boxes and relays simply are rested on top of the ceiling panels 18 and are connected to the wiring in the wall panel 140 through an easily disconnectable connector 32, the floor and wall plan configuration may be modified simply and rapidly when desired. An additional, not unimportant, feature of the system is that because the wall panel 140 includes self contained electrical appliances and circuitry therefor, the wall panel 14c may be fabricated completely and permanently in a factory thus achieving the attendant economies of mass production and avoiding the heretofor expensive and time consuming field work necessary to modify the electrical system in accordance with the modified wall panel arrangement.
It is important, particularly when a region defined by such wall panels provides access to a number of electrical appliances, that some means he provided for precluding the possibility of improperly connecting the electrical cords with their respective electrical connectors 32 in the panel 14c. Obviously, because of the varying electrical power requirements of the various appliances, improper interconnection between the electrical cords and the electrical connectors associated with the respective appliances would have adverse consequences. In order to insure that the connectors are mated properly with their respective cords, the electrical connectors 32 and their mating connectors 33 are designed so that a particular electrical connector 32 can only be mated with the proper connector 33 of the proper electrical cord.
I have found that an electrical connector of the general type shown in U.S. Pat. No. 3,218,599 to Winkler and available from Anderson Power Products of Boston, Mass. is suitable for installations of the type described. As shown in FIGS. 5 and 6 these connectors are built up from one or more modules, each module comprising one half of a sexless connector. Each module includes a hollow insulating housing 50 which supports an internal electrical contact 52. Each housing is formed with a bore 54 through which the electrical contact 52 and its cable 56 extends. The forward end of the housing is formed to define a hollow extension 58 which receives the forward end of the contact 52. The housing 50 also includes a forwardly extending overlapping extension 60 which defines an inverted U- shaped socket 62 extending over the contact receiving extension 58. The electrical contact is retained in the housing in a manner described more fully in the foregoing U.S. patent and also in U.S. Pat. No. 3,091,746. Each of the modules is connectable with another identical module in telescoping fashion in which the hollow extension 58 of one module is inserted into and is received within the U-shaped overlapping extension 60 of the other module. Additionally, each housing 50 is of generally rectangular cross section and is provided along its longitudinal sidewalls with longitudinally extending dovetail shaped tongues 64 and grooves 66 on opposite sidewalls thereof. This enables any number of housing modules 50 to be connected together to form a multiple terminal connector. As shown in FIGS. 3 and 4 a number of connected modular housings 50 are secured to each other and are retained in the basket 36 at the upper end of the shoe 22 in the panel. The modules are retained in the basket by semicircular slots 68 formed transversely along the opposite sidewalls of the housing 50. The slots receive ribs 70 formed along the length of the basket to facilitate in retaining the modular array in the basket.
The end of each cord is provided with a mating array of modular housings 50, a simplified single row version of which is shown in FIG. 7. This arrangement comprises a generally channel shaped retainer having sidewalls 74 which terminate in an inwardly extending longitudinal rib 76. The mating array of modular housings 50 is disposed within the channel with the ribs 76 engaging the aligned transverse slots 58 in the housing modules. The sidewalls 74 of the retainer 72 are urged together to grip firmly the modular array by a pair of bolts '78 which are passed through the sidewalls 74 at opposite ends of the array. The bottom wall 80 of the retainer 72 is provided with appropriate openings to enable the cable 56 of each terminal to extend outwardly of the retainer and be bound in a single, composite cable 44.
One aspect of the invention relates to an improved arrangement to insure that the cable connector cannot be improperly connected with its intended panel connector. In this regard, it should be noted that although the flexibility which is obtained by using the connectors of the type described is of material advantage, it is possible that when making a connection, one may inadvertently misalign, longitudinally, the cable connector with its intended mating socket in the panel. in order to insure that such mismatching cannot occur, the connector assembly is modified as shown in FIG. 7 to include a blank module at each end of one of the connector array. Thus, the connector array includes a plurality of electrically operative housings 50 having their respective extensions 58 and sockets 62. At each end of the array, a blank, non-receptive housing 82 of the same external configuration as the operative housing is provided. The blank housing 82 does not have the receptive socket 62 as does the operative housings. The blank housings 82 may be formed from operative housings by filling their receptive sockets 62 with an appropriate material or, alternatively, may comprise a separately formed member of the general external configuration as the housings but which is completely solid. Although the preferred arrangement is to employ a blank member @2 which is similar in external configuration to the housing 54}, other means may be provided to insure that the end most housings of one connector array can only be engaged by the intended, end-most connectors of the mating connector array. Thus, any appropriate socket-free means located at one or both ends of at least one of the connector arrays to preclude engagement of a misaligned mating connector array may be employed.
FIG. 8 shows somewhat diagrammatically, how the connector of FIG. 7 is employed, for example, in association with one of the panel connectors 32. It will be seen that the cord connector carrying the dummy modules 82 can only be mated with the connector in the basket 36 when the modules 50 of each connector array are aligned properly.
Thus the modules are connectable to each other in a variety of configurations to provide any of a number of module arrays. The modular arrays for each of the electrical connectors 32 may be varied to insure that all of the connectors 32 in the wall panels Me of a given floor plan region are different, thus precluding inadvertent mismatching of cords and connectors. Additionally, the distribution boxes and relay boxes also may include connector arrays formed from the foregoing connector modules in an arrangement corresponding to those in the wall panels 1140. With this arrangement, any given 6 Thus, l have described an improved wall panel system and integral electrical system which enables the wall panels to be rearranged in other floor plan configurations with minimal effort. Additionally, substantial economies are achieved because the panels with integral electrical appliances and wiring therefor may be fabricated completely in a factory and may be connected to the source of electrical power and the installation with minimal effort. It should be understood, however, that the foregoing description of the invention is intended merely to be illustrative thereof and that other embodiments and modifications will be apparent to those skilled in the art without departing from its spirit.
Having thus described the invention what I desire to claim and secure by Letters Patent is:
1. In a building construction the improvement comprising, in combination:
means defining overhead ceiling members;
wall panel means having an upper edge thereof detachably engageable with said overhead ceiling members to enable said wall panel means to be connected thereto in various floor plan configurations;
electrically operable appliance means supported by said wall panel and exposed along a surface thereof;
permanent electrical conductor means within said panel and being connected to said appliance means and extending toward the upper edge of said panel;
disconnectable electrical connector means secured to and exposed at the upper edge of said panel, said overhead ceiling members being so constructed and arranged as to expose said connector means upwardly therethrough when said panel is connected to said ceiling member whereby said appliance means may be connected in circuit with an electrical power supply therefor by a flexible electric cable disposed above said ceiling and being connectable to said connector means.
2. An improvement in a building construction as defined in claim 1 wherein the upper edge of said panel comprises;
an elongate shoe extending along the upper edge of said panel and projecting heightwise from said upper edge of said panel, said shoe being movable in relation to said panel toward and away from said ceiling member for detachable engagement with said ceiling member; and
said electrical connector being mounted to said shoe.
3. The improvement in a building construction as defined in claim 2 wherein said shoe further comprises;
means forming an elongate slot in said shoe;
anelongate channel-shaped basket spanning said slot and opening upwardly;
means securing said electrical connector means within said basket for exposure through said slot in said shoe.
4. The improvement in building construction as defined in claim 1 wherein said electrical connector means comprises:
a plurality of sexless modular connector elements attached to each other in a predetermined array and being electrically connectable only to another connector having an identical array.
5. An improvement for building construction as defined in claim 1 wherein said appliance means includes switching means for controlling operation of another electrically operable appliance, said combination further comprising:
portable, self-contained relay means disposed atop said ceiling members and being detached therefrom to enable said relay means to be relocated in any desired position atopsaid ceiling;