CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This application claims the benefit under 35 USC section 119(e) of U.S. provisional applications 60/378,056 and Ser. No. 60/378,057, both filed May 16, 2002. Further, this application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/935,672, filed Aug. 24, 2001. U.S. application Ser. No. 09/935,672 is a continuation-in-part of international application no. PCT/US00/30206, filed Nov. 2, 2000, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/553,234, filed Apr. 19, 2000 and issued May 22, 2001 as U.S. Pat. No. 6,233,776. Application Ser. No. 09/553,234 is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/418,752, filed Oct. 15, 1999, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/304,051, filed May 4, 1999 and issued Apr. 24, 2001 as U.S. Pat. No. 6,219,876.
The present invention relates generally to floor mats, and more specifically to a cost-effective method for fabricating a floor mat with an insert area having an aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Floor mats that include a tacky surface as well as more conventional surfaces for the cleaning of shoes are known. For example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,233,776 and 6,219,876, which are fully incorporated herein by reference, describe a floor mat comprising a base portion with water-absorbing and water-dissipating properties, and including a recess configured to receive an insert having a tacky surface. The combination of the tacky surface of the insert with the surface of the base portion enables shoes to be more completely cleaned.
For a floor mat that includes an area (hereinafter, “insert area”) for receiving a dirt-trapping material such as a tacky insert as described above to be a commercially successful product, the floor mat needs to be not only functional and cost-effective to produce, but also aesthetically appealing. One concern involving functionality is providing a suitable surface for the insert area. The dirt-trapping material may have an adhesive lower surface to enable it to be securely seated in the insert area. Accordingly, the insert area should have a smooth surface to provide a high degree of contact area for the adhesive lower surface of the dirt-trapping material. Additionally, because the dirt-trapping material may be a tacky insert designed to be a disposable commodity, comprising a plurality of separable, disposable tacky sheets as discussed in more detail below, the adhesive lower surface should not be so firmly adhered to the insert area that the tacky insert is difficult to remove when it is time to replace the tacky insert, A concern involving aesthetic appeal is giving the floor mat a uniform appearance where the tacky insert blends in smoothly with the rest of the upper floor mat surface. It is also desirable to reduce the visibility of dirt on the top exposed tacky surface of the insert.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Embodiments of the invention as described below address the foregoing concerns.
FIG. 1 illustrates a process of thermoforming an insert area in a floor mat material, according to embodiments of the present invention;
FIG. 2A shows a floor mat with a thermoformed insert area having nodular treads configured to engage corresponding apertures in a tacky insert according to embodiments of the invention;
FIG. 2B shows a floor mat with a thermoformed insert area having elongated treads configured to engage corresponding apertures in a tacky insert according to embodiments of the invention;
FIG. 3A shows an alternative process for forming an insert area in a floor mat according to embodiments of the invention;
FIG. 3B shows an assembled floor mat with an insert area formed according to the process illustrated in FIG. 3A;
FIG. 3C shows one possible form factor for marketing embodiments of the present invention; and
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION
FIG. 3D shows an embodiment of an insert area formed separately using a different process than thermoforming, and later joined to a floor mat material.
Embodiments of the present invention relate to a floor mat comprising an insert area configured to receive an insert comprising a dirt-trapping material, where the insert area includes a portion of a material of the floor mat compressed and smoothed by application of pressure and heat. This compressing and smoothing may be done by an inexpensive process referred to herein as “thermoforming.” The thermoforming process, while flattening the floor mat material in the insert area, may leave the insert area with substantially the same appearance as the rest of the floor mat material, i.e., the material not treated by thermoforming. Thus, because in embodiments the dirt-trapping material inserted in the insert area (hereinafter, “insert material”) may be made transparent or semi-transparent, a uniform, aesthetically pleasing appearance is given to the floor mat. Further, the compressing and smoothing of the insert area may provide for better adhesion of the insert material. Alternatively, an additional smooth overlay may be provided for the thermoformed insert area for improved adhesion of the insert material, while also enabling easy removal of the insert material from the insert area. According to embodiments, the insert area may comprise a portion of the floor mat material that is left uncompressed during the thermoforming. This uncompressed portion may be configured to engage an aperture in the insert material, and act as an anti-slip tread as discussed in more detail below.
A process according to embodiments of the present invention is illustrated in FIG. 1. The process may be applied to any suitable floor mat material, including, by way of example only, carpet, plastic, rubber and the like. An extent of floor mat material 110 may be arranged between parts 115, 120 of a two-part thermoforming tool. If carpet, the floor mat material 110 may comprise, by way of example only, olefin fibers. The parts 115, 120 may be, for example, heated platens.
The parts 115, 120 may be brought into contact with the floor mat material 110 in an area of the floor mat material designated for receiving an insert material, and pressure applied thereby to the floor mat material to compress it. One of the two parts 115, 120 (120 in FIG. 1) may have recesses 125 formed therein to prevent portions of the floor mat material aligning with the recesses from being compressed.
The parts 115, 120 may be heated to a temperature just above the melt temperature of the floor mat material. This temperature, in combination with the applied pressure, may cause the floor mat material in contact with the tool parts to at least partly melt, forming a smoothed, compressed portion 140 when the tool parts 115, 120 are withdrawn and the floor mat material is allowed to cool. The portions 135 of floor mat material aligned with the recesses 125, and thus uncompressed, may be unmelted or only slight melted around their edges. The smoothed, compressed portion 140 and uncompressed portions 135 constitute an insert area 141 which may be used to receive an insert material. According to embodiments, the insert area may be at least large enough to accommodate a pair of adult-sized shoes.
More specifically, as shown in FIG. 2A, a resulting thermoformed floor mat 130 comprising an insert area 141 may then be ready to receive an insert material in the insert area 141. According to embodiments, the insert material may have an adhesive lower surface to secure the insert material within the insert area by adhesive engagement with a superior exposed surface of the insert area. More specifically, the insert material may be a tacky insert 200 comprising a plurality of separable, disposable layers or sheets formed as a stack, each sheet having a top tacky surface. Sheets of the tacky insert may be removed and disposed of one by one as they are used over time. The tacky insert may include a bottom layer or sheet 202, having adhesive on a lower surface thereof, as well as its top surface, in order to secure the stack of sheets within the insert area by adhesive engagement with the superior exposed surface of the insert area. The tacky insert may further include apertures 205 therein configured to receive and be engaged by the uncompressed portions 135 of the floor mat material. More specifically, the uncompressed portions 135 may act as treads for preventing slipping of a person on the tacky insert when it is wet, by projecting above the top exposed surface of the tacky insert and presenting a textured surface to engage the soles of shoes. For example, if the overall floor mat material 110 was carpet, at least a portion of a top exposed surface of an uncompressed portion 135 would present the texture of the original carpet surface, thereby providing friction for preventing slippage. The treads 135 could have any arbitrary form, including the round, nodular form illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2A, or, for example, a thin, elongated form as shown in FIG. 2B. Recesses in the thermoforming tool and apertures in the tacky insert would of course have a corresponding shape.
It is noted that in alternative embodiments of the invention, uncompressed areas or treads need not be included in the insert area. Instead, the entire insert area could be compressed and smoothed, with uncompressed floor mat material forming a border around the insert area. A dirt-trapping material could be received within the insert area and need not include apertures.
In still other embodiments, treads or other anti-slip features within the insert area need not have the same texture, color, or be formed from the same material as the floor mat. Instead, the treads could be made of a different material and added to the insert area after its formation. Examples of alternative tread materials include carpet, plastic, rubber, wood and metal.
The smoothed, compressed portion 140 of the insert area should provide for good contact with the adhesive lower surface of an insert material. However, referring now to FIG. 1, according to embodiments, an overlay 150 could be provided for improved contact with the adhesive lower surface of the insert material and for easy release of the insert material from the insert area when, for example, the insert material is a stack of insert sheets that has been used up and it is time to replace the insert material. The overlay 150 could be configured to be received within the insert area 141, and could include apertures 155 for receiving and engaging the uncompressed portions or treads 135. However, as noted above, the insert area need not include treads, and accordingly, the overlay need not include apertures. The overlay 150 could be bonded, for example, by adhesive, to the smoothed, compressed portion 140 of the insert area. Alternatively, the overlay 150 could be made of a material with a melt temperature close to that of the floor mat material, and bonded by the application of pressure and heat to the insert area 141. This could be done, for example, in the same step as the initial forming of the insert area, or in a separate step. To facilitate adhesion of the insert material within the insert area, the overlay 150 material may be chosen based on its smoothness; i.e., preferably the overlay material would have a smoother surface than was readily achievable by simply compressing and partly melting the overall floor mat material as described above. For example, the overlay material could be, by way of example only, Mylar™ (polyester) or plastic. Reference number 145 in FIG. 1 designates an embodiment including an overlay 150.
A factor that figures into the function of a tacky insert is the comparative strength of the adhesive used on the bottom layer and the rest of the sheets of the insert stack. Experimentation has shown that good results are achieved when a strength of approximately 14 ounce/in. adhesion to steel or 170 g/cm2 as measured on a tack probe is used on the lower surface of the bottom insert layer that is configured to bond to the superior exposed surface of the insert area. The adhesive strength of the top surface of the bottom layer and the remaining tacky sheets in the stack are about half these values, so that the bond between the bottom layer and the insert area is stronger than the bond between sheets, thus allowing sheets of the insert stack to be peeled off without removing the bottom layer until it is time to install a new stack.
As noted earlier, the thermoforming process should leave the insert area with substantially the same appearance (e.g., color and/or pattern) as the rest of the floor mat material, to give a finished floor mat a uniform, pleasing appearance when a transparent or semi-transparent tacky insert is received therein. Accordingly, the overlay 150 may also be transparent or semi-transparent to allow the underlying color and/or pattern of the insert area to be seen therethrough. However, according to alternative embodiments, the overlay could be made with a custom printed, opaque or translucent material of a color and/or pattern that is coordinated with a color and/or pattern of the floor mat material, or provides a message, advertisement, logo, name or insignia.
FIG. 3A illustrates an alternative process according to embodiments of the present invention. In the process of FIG. 3A, a separate section 320 of arbitrary shape is formed, for example by die cutting, from an extent of floor mat material 310. Pressure and heat may be applied to the section 320 using a two-part thermoforming tool as described above. More specifically, pressure and heat may be applied for a predetermined amount of time to form a smoothed, compressed portion 340, while recesses 125 in one of the parts 120 of the thermoforming tool allow for uncompressed portions 335, which may function as anti-slip treads as described above. However, the section 320 need not include treads.
An overlay 345 may be provided which includes a raised portion 350 configured to receive the section 320. The overlay may include apertures 355 for receiving and engaging the uncompressed portions 335 of the thermoformed section 320. However, the overlay need not include apertures. Portions 351 of the overlay 345 may extend beyond and around the raised portion 350. Like the overlay 150 described above in connection with FIG. 1, the overlay 345 may be provided in order to have better adhesion of the insert material within the insert area. Accordingly, the overlay 345 could, by way of example only, be made of a smooth material like Mylar™ or plastic. Also like the overlay 150, the overlay 345 may be transparent or semi-transparent, or could be made with a custom printed, opaque or translucent material of a color and/or pattern that is coordinated with a color and/or pattern of the floor mat material, or provides a message, advertisement, logo, name or insignia.
As shown in FIG. 3B, the overlay 345 and the section 320 may be joined to an extent 310 of floor mat material. This extent of floor mat material, of course, need not be the same extent from which the section was formed, nor even be the same kind of material. The section 320 could be, for example, carpet of a different texture and/or color, or of a different material than carpet. The extent of floor mat material may include an opening 315 configured to receive the raised portion 350 of the overlay. The raised portion 350, in turn, receives the section 320. The overlay 345 may be bonded to the underside of the floor mat material 310 by, for example, Velcro™ or an adhesive which is applied to portions 351 bordering the raised portion 350. The overlay 345 and associated section 320 thereby form an insert area 360 which may receive a tacky insert as described above in the discussion of FIGS. 1, 2A and 2B.
FIG. 3C illustrates one possible form in which a floor mat according to embodiments of the invention could be commercially marketed. The overlay 345 and associated section 320 could be sold as one part of a two-part floor mat that is assembled by a consumer. An extent of floor mat material with an opening 315 configured to receive the raised portion 350 of the overlay could be provided as the other half. This would enable the extent of floor mat material 310 to be, for example, folded or rolled up for packaging, allowing for a compact form factor that economizes on shelf space, an important advantage in product merchandising.
As shown in FIG. 3D, according to alternative embodiments, an insert area could be formed separately from, and then later joined to, an extent of floor mat material having an opening configured to receive the insert area as described above, but where the insert area is not made by thermoforming a section of floor mat material. Instead, the insert area could be made by some different process of some different material. For example, the insert area could be formed by injection molding entirely of smooth plastic, rubber, or other material or combination of materials. This may or may not obviate the need for a smooth overlay as described above. In FIG. 3D, separately-formed insert area 370 made of, for example, injection-molded plastic, may be joined to an extent of floor mat material 310 at an opening 315 in the floor mat material. The insert area 370 may or may not include treads 375.
Embodiments of the invention could be provided with an anti-skid layer on the underside of the floor mat material and insert area, i.e., the surfaces that are in contact with the floor, to prevent the floor mat from sliding along the floor. This anti-skid layer could be made from, for example, latex, vinyl, rubber or TPR (thermoplastic rubber).
Several embodiments of the present invention are specifically illustrated and/or described herein. However, it will be appreciated that modifications and variations of the present invention are covered by the above teachings and within the purview of the appended claims without departing from the spirit and intended scope of the invention.