The present invention relates to a system and container for the storage and s delivery of goods.
More specifically, the present invention concerns a system and container for the short-term storage and delivery to residential accommodation of a wide range of goods.
to Delivery of goods to the home is convenient for the customer, and represents an opportunity for the supplier of the goods to provide an extra service, promoting supplier recognition and goodwill, and increasing turnover and profit.
~s As home computers and use of the Internet have become commonplace, ordering goods and paying for them from home have become more convenient for the customer. Electronic ordering and payment before despatch of the goods is convenient and profitable for the supplier.
However, the range of goods suitable for home delivery is limited by a number of factors, including perishability of the goods, the intrinsic value of the goods, the security aspects of leaving them unattended at the home and the cost of delivery. For many goods, home delivery is only practicable at a specified time when it .is known that the householder will be at home to accept delivery. Thus the householder is obliged to be at home for an extended period to await the arrival of the delivery.
Currently, unattended delivery of foods with particular temperature requirements is not feasible unless the property is equipped with a fridge/freezer which is accessible from outside.
Also, home deliveries of items requiring the customer's signature (for example for valuable and/or confidential goods) are currently practicable only with attended deliveries.
The present invention provides a system comprising a container for goods 1o to be delivered to a delivery location, attachment means for releasably connecting the container to a docking station at the delivery location, the container comprising at least one rotatable element to facilitate movement of the container, at least one enclosure within the container having thermally insulative walls and a body of material to maintain goods within the enclosure at a predetermined temperature.
The system may include the features of any one or more of dependent Claims 2 to 11.
2o The present invention also provides a container for goods to be delivered to a delivery location, attachment means for releasably connecting the container to a docking station at the delivery location, the container comprising lock means with a dual mode function whereby when a container has been locked to the docking station, it can be released by a first 2s type of key, but when it is locked again, it can be released by a second type of key.
The system may include the features of any one or more of dependant Claims 13 or 14.
The present invention also provides a system comprising a container for goods to be delivered to a delivery location, attachment means for releasably connecting the container to a docking station at the delivery location, the container having addressable identification means.
s The system may comprise one or more trays, andlor liners of thermally insulative material, and/or bodies of material to maintain goods at a predetermined temperature, each of which has separately addressable identification means.
to The present invention also provides a system comprising one or more trays for containing goods to be delivered to a delivery location, the or each tray having runner means to support the tray when in a container, the runner means having a second mode to allow stacking of full trays when not in the 15 container.
The present invention also provides any one or more elements (e.g a container and a docking station) for a system as so claimed herein.
2o The present invention also provides a method of operating a system comprising the features as claimed.
In order that the present invention may more readily be understood, a description is now given, by way of example only, reference being made to 25 the accompanying drawings, in which:-Figure 1 shows a container of the present invention;
Figure 2a is a cross-sectional view of a tray for frozen goods;
Figure 2b is a cross-sectional view of a tray for chilled goods;
Figure 2c is a cross-sectional view of a tray for hot goods;
3o Figure 3 shows a tray of the type of Figure 2a;
Figure 4 shows the container of Figure 1 ready for transport;
Figure 5 shows an empty docking station at a residence;
Figure 6 shows the container of Figure 1 secured to a docking station;
s Figure 7a shows the docking station of Figure 5 and part of the container of Figure 1 in exploded view;
Figure 7b shows the docking station of Figure 7a in the closed mode;
Figure 7c shows the docking station of Figure 7a and part of the container of Figure 1 in section as seen from above;
to Figure $a shows the profiles of the keys of a customer and a delivery person respectively;
Figures 8 b and c shows the lock mechanism;
Figure 8d shows the interior of the docking station;
Figure 9 shows a stack support for the trays of Figure 3;
1s Figure 10 shows the stack support of Figure 9 locked to a docking station;
Figure 11 a is a perspective view of part of a tray;
Figures 1 1b, 11 c and 11 d are schematic views of trays of Figure 11 a in different modes for use;
2o Figure 12 shows a security box;
Figure 13 shows the box of Figure 12 secured to a docking station;
Figure 14 is a sectional view of the box of Figure 12 at the docking station as in Figure 13;
Figure 15 is a table of prior and new distribution chains.
A first embodiment of the present invention provides a container 1 of height about 1 metre, width not more than 0.6 metres (such that it can readily fit through a standard door width) and depth about 0.5 metres (see Figure 1).
Container 1 is formed of low density polyethylene (or high density 3o polyethylene) plastics material, and has a vertical closure panel 2 which slides downwardly along vertical flanges 3 extending down both sides and along the top of container 1; container 1 holds four layers of tray 4 containing foodstuffs and groceries, each tray having a runner 5 to engage with a co-operating horizontal static runner on the interior of container 1.
s Any one or more of the four trays 4 may have a thermally insulating liner 6 formed of a base section 7 and lid 8. If the tray 4 and liner 6 is to contain frozen foodstuff, then there is provided an eutectic plate 9 on bottom interior of base 7 and another eutectic plate 9 on the top of the frozen to foodstuff. Each eutectic plate 9 contains a solution of sodium chloride.
When the tray is to contain chilled foodstuff, then plates 10 containing ice at or about -1°C are used instead of eutectic plates 9.
is When the tray 4 is to contain hot food stuffs, then plates 11 of latent heat paraffin are used instead of eutectic plates 9.
If container 1 is to contain a number of trays 4 of different temperature conditions, then any tray to contain frozen foodstuff is at or near the bottom, 2o and any tray to contain hot foodstuff is at or near the top, so that the temperature distribution is such that increasing temperature increases with height.
Thus, insulated liner 6 contains the food which needs to be kept at a 2s particular temperature, together with temperature control packs or plates 9, or 11 to maintain the required temperature.
The required temperature is determined by the nature of . the food.
Typically, frozen food is kept at -21°C to -18°C, chilled food is kept at 0°C
3o to +5°C, and hot food is kept above +63°C.
For home delivery of groceries, it is convenient to pick and pack the order, deliver it to the customer's home, and for the goods then not to require unpacking and transfer to the customer's fridge or freezer for a few hours.
s The invention provides for a storage time of at least 24 hours at the required temperature for chilled or frozen food. For hot food, storage times are generally less, because most food loses quality if kept hot for long periods.
The system requires thermal insulation to hinder the flow of heat into or out to of the food, and temperature control packs or plates containing a suitable phase-change material (PCM) which changes phase at or near the required temperature for the food.
Heat flowing into or out of the container is taken up or lost by the phase-1s change material as latent heat, resulting in a change of phase of some of the material, without significant change in temperature. Only when all the phase-change material has changed phase will further heat transfer result in a change in temperature .
2o Suitable phase-change materials include:
~ Eutectic solution of sodium chloride (23% w/w, changes phase at -21 °C);
~ Water (0°C);
~ Latent heat paraffins (for instance, a normal-paraffinic hydrocarbon with 2s 30 carbon atoms in the molecule melts at approx 65°C).
The phase-change material is contained within a leakproof container and is not intended to come into contact with food, but must still be non-toxic.
The rate of flow of heat (Q) is given by the equation:
Q=7~ A dT/dx, Where ~, is the thermal conductivity, A is the cross-sectional area, s And dT/dx is the temperature/thickness gradient.
For an insulated tray 6 as described above, the product ~, A has to be determined by measurement of the box itself, rather than from literature or theoretical values. Once the behaviour of the box has been established, it is to possible to calculate the amount of phase-change material (or number of packs) needed to maintain the temperature inside the box for 24 hours for different ambient (external) temperatures.
One example is given below:
Is NUMBER OF PACKS TO MAINTAIN ~21 °C FOR 24 HOURS
Zs OUTSIDE TEMPERATURE
SUBSTITUTE SHEET (RULE 26) g One practical application of this aspect of the invention is that the weather forecast may be taken into account when packing the goods. The forecast temperature for the next 24 hours determines the number of phase-change material packs placed in the insulated box with the food.
It has been found that, for a tray 4 with a liner made of expanded polystyrene, a wall thickness of approximately 5 cms is practical and suitable for frozen foods, and a wall thickness of approximately 2.5 cms for chilled foods. The weight of the phase-change material packs can be substantial, but there need be no problem with lifting a container 1 as it has wheels.
An individual tray 4 may have a cover 12 with a tamper-evident seal 13 being a plastic click tab and/or a lock along one of the edges including one ~s of the runners 5 as shown in Figure 3.
Once the trays 4 are filled and the closure panel 2 has been slid into place, a tamper-evident tab 14 is activated so that the container 1 is now sealed ready for transport and delivery as shown in Figure 4. Container 1 has two 2o wheels 15 along a lower edge to enable the container to be readily moved.
Figure 5 shows an empty docking station 16 at a residence, the docking station 16 comprising a base plate 17, secured by four large masonry screws 1 ~ to wall 19 of the residence, and two protruding latching members 20,21 25 each with a hooked end 22,23 respectively (see Figure 7a). Also, the docking station 16 has a hinged cover 24 with a lock 25, keyhole 26 and a viewing hole 27.
When container 1 is positioned at docking station 16 (see Figure 6), the top edge of the upper rim 2~ of closure panel 2 and the top edge of flange 3 is placed against base plate 17 such that latching members 20,21 pass through apertures 29,30 in the flange 3 of container 1 and apertures 31 and 32 of the rim 28.
s The hinged cover 24 is closed over the flange 3 allowing the spring-loaded latches 71,72 to engage behind the. latching members 20,21. Flange 3 and rim 28 are sealed together by tamper-evident seal 14, the body 33 of the seal protruding from flange 3. Now that the cover is closed, the connecting rod 73 connecting the Lock body 69 to latch 72 rests against the seal body 33.
1o Clockwise rotation of the key in the lock is now impossible because downward motion of the connecting rod is prevented (see Figure 7c).
Connecting rod 74 extends between lock body 69 and latch 71.
Figure 7b shows the docking station 16 with cover 24 closed over the upper 1s rim of panel 2 and the upper edge of container 1 and locked in position.
Figure 7c shows the docking station in section seen from above with container 1 attached.
2o Figure 8a indicates the profiles of the keys 40,41 for the customer and the delivery person respectively, such that customer key 40 works in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions, while the deliveryman's key 41 is a master key for all locks for the containers 1 in a given area but able to provide clockwise action only.
2s The dual-lock action makes use of lock technology to limit the possibility of theft of the contents ~of the container 1 while the box is locked to the customer's property and before it is opened and emptied by the customer.
In prior systems, the delivery driver was issued with a master key for all the 3o containers locks in his area. Each customer would be issued with a key unique to his or her lock. The possibility existed, however, that the driver's key would in time be lost or stolen, or an unauthorised copy made, and the security of a large number of locks would be compromised.
s The present invention prevents this by introducing a feature which affects the action of the lock in such a way as to distinguish between a container 1 before it has been opened by the customer and after it has been so opened i.e between a full and an empty container.
1o In one embodiment, the lock may be opened by clockwise action of both the driver's master key 41, and by the customer's unique key 40. The customer's key 40 has a longer shaft, with further levers at the distal end, which are needed to open the lock in the anti-clockwise direction.
The container 1 is sealed with one or more tamper-evident disposable tags 14, which are inserted through holes in the container 1 and closure panel 2.
One tag has to be in the top flange of container 1, in the area which engages with the docking station. This tag has a body 33, typically plastic, which 2o stands proud of container 1, and projects into the locking area, just to the right and slightly below, the lock. The lock has a cam on its inner end, and projecting to the right.
The delivery driver can open an empty docking point with the master key 2s 41, by turning the key clockwise.
When a sealed, and therefore full, container 1 is locked to the docking station 16, the cam is obstructed by the body 33 of the tag, and the lock is prevented from working in the clockwise direction. The master key 41 is therefore ineffective, only the customer's key 40 can now release the box.
Once the tag 33 has been removed, there is no obstruction to clockwise action of the lock, so the delivery person is able to remove an empty container 1 by using the master key 41.
Figures 8b and 8c indicate how the docking station 16 and the lock mechanism work, with the hinged cover plate 24 closing to grip the rim of the container between the cover and base plate 17. The cam 150 inside the docking station 16 engages the removable tamper-evident tag 33, preventing clockwise function of the Lock. The delivery person's key 4I only works in the clockwise direction. Removal of the tag 33 when the box is opened allows the lock to work in either direction.
In Figure 8b, the position of cover 24 when open is indicated by 241, and 2o when closed by 241 i .
Container 1 may include one or more trays 4, up to a maximum of six trays 4. In a variation, container 1 may include one or more trays which are deeper or shallower than trays 4. Also, container 1 may be used to hold 25 goods not held in trays, for example large objects or items on hangers e.g clothes which are new or have been cleaned. Clearly, container 1 may include any possible combination of such alternatives.
Operation of the receipt-acknowledged delivery system Operation of the system incorporating the present invention involves the following steps:-1. The customer registers with the carrier or supplier of the goods for home delivery. The registration includes a unique identification code, such as the customer's telephone number.
2. The carrier or supplier arranges for a docking point, to be attached to the customer's property. This may be attached to an external door, which may be provided with a hole to allow access to the lock from inside the property, or it may be as a docking station located on the exterior wall of the property.
3. The goods are packed in one of the secure boxes of an ~s appropriate size. The box is locked with a code, which is recorded in the customer's details, but not on any of the documentation notifying the customer of delivery. The documentation, or the parcel itself, is marked with a code, such as an order or delivery number.
4. The box is delivered to the customer's address, and locked to the docking point. Notification of the delivery may be posted through the letterbox (or the package could be handed to someone at the customer's home , with no need to wait fox a signature).
5. The customer releases the container from the docking point (from inside the property if the appropriate docking/locking point is fitted).
6. The customer then telephones the registration number. The code to unlock the container is released on recognition of the customer's 3o telephone number or other unique recognition code, and by the customer quoting or keying in the order or delivery number. Simultaneously, receipt of the goods in the package is recorded.
7. The customer opens the container, removes the goods, and s then recloses it. Having unlocked the box, the feature that prevented the delivery person's key from removing the box from the docking point is removed. The delivery person removes the empty box during a subsequent visit.
This delivery system is essentially similar to the delivery system for that of the wheeled container 1 described above. The major distinctions of the delivery system for container 1 are that:-~ Container 1 is sealed with a tamper-evident seal but not a lock (and so there is no need for the customer to phone the supplier to obtain a code ~s to unlock the container);
~ Container 1 is wheeled, so it is not weight restricted (typical maximum weights being 30 to 60 Kgs of groceries as compared to a maximum of 25 Kgs fox the confidential box).
2o Alternatively, if the container is to be used for the return of goods for instance clothes supplied on a "sale or return" basis, then the container can be re-sealed, with a tamper-evident tag (supplied with the goods) and placed back on the docking station. The customer telephones the supplier to say that goods are being returned and the driver is issued with a duplicate of the 25 customer's key for only that shift in which the container with the returned goods is to be collected.
In an alternative embodiment, container 1 is replaced by a vertical stack support 50 (see Figure 9) which holds one or more trays 4.
The trays may be stacked when full, either by using cover 12 to support another tray, or by a support moulded into, or attached to, the tray 4 itself.
This support may be in the form of a handle or handles which when folded flat, serve to support another tray.
Alternatively, runners 170 to support tray 4 may be hinged so that in one position (see Figures l la and 1 1b) they lie outwardly of the side wall 171 of tray 4 and operate as runners allowing sliding motion by cooperation with runners or grooves in container l, and in another position they lie inwardly l o of the sides 171 of tray 4 in order to enable stacking of trays 4 (see Figure Ilc) so that goods can be contained in the trays. Also, the position of runners 170 shown in Figures 11 a and 11b enables two or more trays, when empty, to be stored or transported while taking up minimal space (see Figure 11 d).
~s Figure 1 I a shows that each runner I 70, has two or more hinge bars 172, each with a pivot 173 connecting the hinge bar 172 to side wall 171 of tray 4. Bar 172 is connected by a second pivot (not visible) to runner 170.
2o Thus, the trays 4 are packed with goods (ambient, chilled or frozen) as already described and marked with customer identification, the trays being placed on a stack support 50 (see Figure 9).
For home delivery, the trays may be taken on a wheeled trolley to the 25 customer's home. The trolley itself or the stack of trays may be attached to the docking station 16 (see Figure 10).
This embodiment is particularly suited for personal pick-up from the shop or the depot after phoning in the order, or after sending it by the Internet.
For personal pick-up, the stack of trays may be secured to a docking point or within a secure enclosure at the store or depot. The location of the goods may be identified, and a key issued to release them upon production of suitable identification by the customer. Alternatively, the location can be s identified on the customer's confirmation of order, and the goods released by swiping a card, such as the customer's loyalty card. The store or depot provides a means for return of the trays, lids and any insulated inserts and temperature control packs.
Figure 12 shows a confidential documents box 80 with a lid 81, hinge or catch 82, combination lock 83 and flange 74 with slot 85 to permit locking to a docking station.
Figure 13 shows box 80 attached to docking station 86 being mounted on Is the outside of the front door of a property.
In Figure 14, bevelled latching extension 90 has square or hexagonal head 91, which engages with a mating socking 92 on the end of a spring-loaded shaft 93 protruding through the door 94 and operated by a knob 95 inside 2o the property.
The box 80 is attached to the docking station 86 and cannot be removed by the delivery person's key, because of the interaction of the tamper-evident tag on the box 80 and the clockwise-obstructing cam on the lock as already 2s described.
The customer can release the package from the docking station 86 from inside the property by rotating the knob 95 on the inside of the front door 94 in a clockwise direction (this would be anticlockwise if looking at the lock 3o from outside the property).
This function could also be performed with a key; alternatively, the docking station could be operated from outside the house with two keys as already described.
Having released the box from the docking station into the customer's custody, the system still requires the customer to register receipt of the package by telephoning the registration number in order to get the combination to unlock the box 80.
"Smart" technology (radio frequency ID) allows tracking of the container andlor its components. The item is "labelled" by attaching a chip connected to an antenna, and optionally a battery. These devices are commercially available in many different forms, ranging from a passive barcode label is replacement, such as the GemWave Folio range, to temperature monitoring and active transmitting devices.
Additional Features 1. Asset tagging. Each component of the container, namely container 1 itself, each tray 4, each insulated liner 6 (being base 7 and cover 8), each eutectic pack 9 is labelled with a passive RFID tag. Once packed with groceries and sealed, the whole container 1 is passed through a detection "portal", which reads and records the identification of each component. On return, the empty container 1 is again passed through the detector, and any missing components are immediately identified, and can be charged to the customer's credit card.
2. Pickin : The order is picked in store or depot directly into the trays.
(Frozen or chilled food picked into the insulated liner 6 or box in the tray 4).
Typically, 6 trays (representing part of 6 different orders) are picked at a time. The rewritable tag on the tray can carry not just the customer's identification (name, order number, account number etc, information which is essential to the picker, and which replaces the barcode label) but can be written with other information such as time of picking.
3. Programming: the customer and delivery details are programmed onto the tag for container 1. The delivery driver scans each box to ensure correct delivery. The docking point can also be tagged to identify the 1o customer and address. The use of rewritable tags replaces paper barcode labels, thereby saving cost, labour and litter.
4. Temperature recording: A historical record of temperature can be stored on the chip to prove food safety over the period the food is stored in is the box.
5. Labelling: The container 1 is labelled with an active RFII~ tag active in that it has its own power source. This transmits a signal, allowing tracking of the box, and acting as an anti-theft measure.
6. Route monitoring: When transported via the hub and spoke transport system described elsewhere in this patent application, the rewritable tag on the container 1 can be used to record progress and timings of the box through the system.
7. An active tag on the delivery vehicle itself can help to track the vehicle, and also through global satellite positioning, to confirm correct delivery locations and to plan routes efficiently.
8. Ultrachill: is enabled by the system, whereby frozen food can be placed in a chilled food insulated insert, together with chill packs with a phase change temperature at or about 0°C. During its transit from the supplier to the customer, the temperature of the food will increase to about s 0°C, and then be held at that temperature. The system is particularly suited to those foods which the customer wishes to receive chilled but which are more conveniently stored frozen by6 the supplier. Examples are fish, ready meals, cakes etc.
1o The present invention enables the provision of goods, including but not restricted to groceries, delivered direct to the consumer, at prices comparable with, and capable of being genuinely lower than, general supermarket prices. The system significantly reduces the supply chain by removing the "bricks and mortar" supermarket with its associated storage 15 and display costs from the supply chain.
Additionally, customers can be invited to "buy forward", committing today to buy (and paying today), for delivery up to a few weeks in the future. The planning and logistical advantage this gives to the manufacturer and retailer 2o make deep price cuts possible without reducing profit margin. It also removes from manufacturers the risk of being penalised by supermarket customers for supplying discounted goods to a smaller customer (the home delivery retailer). The manufacturer's supply prices remain in line with the buying power of the retailer customer; the home delivery retailer can 2s genuinely afford to offer lower retail prices because of efficiencies in the supply chain.
In the graph below (for example only), lowest sustainable retail prices from a basic price supermarket are set at 100%. A cut-price warehouse 30 operation might be able to sustain 98%, but only by offering a mix of economy own-label and special offers of short-life and special purchase goods. An average quality mainstream supermarket would probably run at about 105% and better quality supermarkets up to about 115%. By ordering in advance, economies of 15% and more are obtainable, and allow a typical s home delivery basket to be delivered free without impacting on the normal grocery margin.
of "lowest average" price to lla 15 Retail price (manufacturer's price + normal margin) -5 ~ _3 _~ _ 1 novv~
weeks Interactive display and selling techniques in the Internet. Includes a conversion step, "why did you not buy?" designed principally to convert 2o waverers into customers, and a bargaining step "how much would you be prepared to pay for this item?" and secondarily to gather information on how the offering could be made more appealing to customers.
Interactive pricing reintroduces the practice of bargaining into the otherwise 25 fixed price regime of the modern supermarket, for example:
1. Variable delivery charge. The charge for delivery is shown on the screen as the customer compiles the shopping list. Goods which are efficient to deliver by container 1 by virtue of being compact in relation to 3o their price, or undemanding in their temperature requirements, trigger a reduction in. the delivery charge as they are added to the shopping cart.
Goods which have the opposite characteristics are neutral in their effect on the delivery charge, or may even increase it.
5 2. Rollover cashback. As the shopping list is compiled, the accumulated cashback is shown on the screen, representing money which can be set against the NEXT order.
Both the above price reductions are visible BEFORE the customer passes to through the checkout, and can be varied by the customer to achieve maximum advantage.
The system also lends itself to virtual trial of goods, such as clothes, by the customer before deciding whether to buy. Using existing computer-aided is design technology, the customer can enter his or her physical measurements, optionally with a photograph. Selecting a garment from the choice displayed on the supplier's website can give a visual demonstration of the fit and appearance of the garment as actually worn by the customer.
2o The present invention addresses the issues of unattended delivery and receipt acknowledgement of valuable or important items, which are too bulky to pass through the letterbox of most houses. Examples include legal documents, or other packages which are normally be delivered by recorded delivery, with the recipient's signature being required as proof of delivery.
Figure 15 shows a distribution chain suitable for home deliveries from a supermarket (see the first column) together with a shorter distribution chain made possible by using the container 1 system described above (see the second column).
Here, the features of the present invention already allow a maj or reduction in the distribution chain.
Steps 1 to 7 involve the manufacturers) of the goods, and are common to s both systems. From step 8 onward, the distribution chain, and costs associated with it, are greatly reduced.
For example, a consortium of manufacturers may deliver their products to a central depot, or depots, where goods are picked into the containers) described in this invention, according to individual customers' orders. The sealed containers are transported to "zone" depots, from where they are delivered to the customers' home. The ability to maintain food at a variety of appropriate temperatures allows ample time for nationwide distribution from a very limited number of depots.
1s Alternatively, a retailer or supermarket based in a country other than the country where this distribution is to be implemented may use the container and system described to enter a new market, gaining direct contact with the consumer and using existing picking and distribution facilities, without the 2o capital cost of buying or building local retail stores.
Also, the third column shows a supply chain for goods ordered in advance.
Summary The aspect of the present invention concerning receipt-acknowledgement has the following features:
1. A docking station permanently attached to the customer's property.
2. A range of lockable boxes in different sizes. The boxes are made of a robust but reasonably lightweight material, such as a thermo-plastic or paper/thermo-plastic composite, and may include an expanded or foam layer for cushioning the goods to be packed in the box. The combined s weight of the box and contents is intended not to exceed 25 kgs and to comply with manual lifting legislation in most countries.
3. The lock on the box is of a combination type, either mechanical or electronic. It is operated by a code which is made available only to a person telephoning from the delivery address.
4. Additionally, the box has a feature such as the removable tamper-evident seal, the purpose of which is to prevent anyone other than the intended recipient of the goods from removing the packed and locked box ~s from the docking point.