- FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This application claims priority to applications U.S. Ser. No. 60/528,452 filed Dec. 10, 2003, U.S. Ser. No. 60/525,052 filed Nov. 25, 2003, and U.S. Ser. No. 60/525,066 filed Nov. 25, 2003, each incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The invention relates to improved systems for the safe restraint and manipulation of heavy or bulky items.
Large warehouse-style retail stores have increased in number and popularity. This type of store often keeps large amounts of palletized and/or boxed stock on high shelves in the sales areas that are open to the public. The high shelves are generally open, which allows employees to easily access the stock via ladder or fork truck. Unrestrained items falling from the high shelves pose a hazard to the public. To address this hazard, many retail establishments temporarily eliminate public entry to the aisle where the employees are accessing the high shelves. This does not safeguard against items that may have been knocked loose and can fall at a later time, after public entry is permitted. It also fails to protect against items that may be pushed off the high shelving into an adjacent, unrestricted aisle. Finally, the lack of permanent protection leaves the store patrons and employees vulnerable during natural disasters, such as earthquakes, that may cause items to fall from the high shelves.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Methods of addressing this hazard include curtain or net type restraints mounted to catch falling items when the net is in the closed position. These restraints are manually operated. They must be opened for access by ladder or fork truck and closed for proper function after access. The use of such items is so cumbersome that many retailers do not employ them. There remains a need in the art for improved lift systems.
The present invention provides an apparatus for securing items. In certain embodiments, the invention provides mounting devices to provide secure attachment of the apparatus to support structure of the elevated shelving in retail and warehouse establishments.
The apparatus includes a top channel housing having a drive system. The top channel housing has one or more integral support plates having features for the attachment and support of drive system components. In one embodiment, the drive system components include primary and secondary drive mechanisms. The drive system includes a motor system to provide rotational motion, wherein the motor system is adapted to respond to operator input, through control circuitry. In various embodiments, an operator provides input through a remote signal device, a wireless signal device, a direct connection signal device, or a hardwired signal device. The control circuitry also includes motor deactivation sensors that provide a signal based on the main restraint position.
The motor system includes a power supply that utilizes AC power or DC power to drive the motor. The motor system includes an output shaft and power transmission component that provides rotational motion to the lift system. In a preferred embodiment this is a main drive shaft, which is mechanically mated to the power transmission component of the motor system and is supported by bearing devices having ball bearings, journal bearings, plain bearings, needle bearings, or pillow blocks. The drive system may further comprise one or more secondary drive devices. Integral geometric features on both planar ends of the main drive shaft provide connection and transmission of rotational motion with auxiliary devices. The secondary drive system includes integral geometric features that communicate with the main drive shaft, and with sprockets and a chain, or pulleys and a cord, or other means of communicating power to the mobile anchor devices.
The apparatus includes at least two side rails having axial channels, the side rails adapted to the top channel housing, for example, geometric features provide secure attachment to the top channel housing. The side rails include a slot for the incorporation of the mobile anchor devices. The side rails also include geometric features for the attachment, support, and enclosure of the secondary drive device. A plurality of slide anchors are adapted to the side rails and are capable of axial travel along the length of the side rails. One or more of the slide anchors is further adapted to the drive system, preferably, attached to the secondary drive device though the chain or cord.
The apparatus further includes two structural members, the first structural member is attached to the side rails, and the second structural member is attached to the top channel housing. The structural members are inserted through the lumens of the safety restraint.
- BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS
The apparatus includes a main restraint having integral open-ended lumens at each terminus capable of receiving the structural members. The safety restraint may be further adapted to the side anchors. In a preferred embodiment, the main restraint further comprises integral features for attachment to the lift system. In various embodiments, the main restraint is a single continuous material or includes a plurality of components that are woven, fastened or otherwise bonded together. In other embodiments, the main restraint includes signage or a graphic display, which may be integral to the main restraint or removable. In one embodiment, the main restraint includes components for attachment and removal of the signage to the main restraint.
FIG. 1 is a full front view of the preferred embodiment of the safety restraint.
FIG. 2 a is a full front view of the preferred embodiment of the lift system.
FIG. 2 b is a full side view of the preferred embodiment of the lift system.
FIG. 3 a is a full front section view of the top channel component in the preferred embodiment.
FIG. 3 b is a full perspective view of the bottom of the top channel assembly with covers.
FIG. 3 c is a full perspective view of the bottom of the top channel assembly without covers.
FIG. 4 a is a full perspective detail view of the side rail component in the preferred embodiment.
FIG. 4 b is a partial front section view of the side rail component in the preferred embodiment.
FIG. 4 c is a full side view of the side rail component in the preferred embodiment.
FIG. 5 a is a detailed view of the main drive shaft connection feature.
FIG. 5 b is a detailed view of the secondary drive shaft connection feature.
FIG. 6 illustrates the worm drive belt lift.
FIG. 7 illustrates the worm drive telescoping hoist.
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION
FIG. 8 illustrates the spring assist telescoping hoist.
The present invention provides a safety restraint and lift system for use to lift, hold, and automatically extend and retract a protective restraint used in conjunction with storage of items on high shelving. The system provides a safety restraint securely attached to a lift system. The lift system includes a variable speed drive assembly, which powers mobile attachment devices that extend and retract the restraint. The lift system further includes remote control activation and limit switch deactivation, in both the extension and retraction directions. The mechanical and electrical assemblies are contained within protective enclosures, which have features to accommodate mounting to elevated retail display and warehouse shelving.
Turning to FIG. 1, a preferred embodiment of the safety restraint (104) is illustrated, having integral open-ended lumens (110) for the insertion of structural members to provide secure attachment to the lift system components (201). Each end of the structural member for the lower lumen is attached to a side rail (215). The structural member for the upper lumen is fixed to the top channel housing (203). The through-hole features (134) in the upper lumen provide alignment and attachment points for fasteners. The lower structural member and top channel housing contain corresponding through-hole features. Both vertical sides of the safety restraint contain attachment features (118), such as grommets or loops, to provide additional attachment points to the lift system.
Front and side views of the preferred embodiment of the lift system are shown in FIG. 2 a and FIG. 2 b. The top channel assembly (203) contains the drive unit, including an electric motor and a drive assembly, and further including electronic control mechanisms. The side rail assemblies (215) contain the free anchor units (236), limit switches, and mounting features (250). The bottom bar for restraint attachment is linked to the driven slide anchors (224), which powers the extension and retraction of the restraint in response to activation of the drive assembly by the remote control.
FIG. 3 a is a section view of the top channel housing. The motor and electronics assembly (306) is activated by both remote and hardwire controls. All components, including the motor, shaft, bearing, power board, and control board are preferably mounted to a single rigid plate, for example preferably a steel plate. The steel plate has features to accommodate mounting in the top channel housing. When activated by the control, the motor rotates a shaft that is supported by a pillow block type bearing. A commonly available power transmission component (317), such as a gear or pulley, is attached to the motor shaft. The main drive shaft (323) carries a mating power transmission component (328) that is connected to the motor shaft using a commonly available belt or chain (not shown) or the equivalent. The main driveshaft is supported by commonly available bearings, such as ball or journal, which are solid mounted to support plates (331) within the top channel. Attaching covers to the open (bottom) side of the top channel housing protects the internal components of the top channel assembly. FIG. 3 b shows the cover contains a grate area (345) to provide motor cooling and remote antenna egress. The cover also contains access areas for drive controls (357).
FIG. 4 a is a detailed view the side rail in the preferred embodiment. Each side rail contains a slot (408) parallel to the axial length of the rail, in which the slide anchor devices travel. In the preferred embodiment, commonly available edge trim, constructed from a low friction material, such as ultra-high molecular weight polymer for example, is used to cover the slot sides and create contact surfaces for the slide anchor devices. In the preferred embodiment, three free-moving slide anchor devices (413) and one driven slide anchor device (425) are contained in each side rail assembly. Variations of the invention include multiple driven slide anchor devices, e.g., two driven slide anchor devices, three driven slide anchor devices or more. FIG. 4 b shows the slide anchor device features (420) used to interface with the side rail slot, illustrated as an axial grove on each side of the slider device, capable of receiving and engaging the contact surfaces. The slide anchor device includes a feature (417) for attachment to the safety restraint on each free-moving slide anchor. In the preferred embodiment the feature is an eyehook. The driven slide anchor device(s) is attached to the safety restraint (104) and to a commonly available means of transmitting linear motion, such as a chain or cable.
In the preferred embodiment the power that drives the linear motion of the chain or cable is taken from the drive shaft (323) in the top channel. As shown in FIG. 4 c, power is transmitted from the main drive shaft to a secondary shaft and bearing assembly (437), mounted inside the top end of each side rail. As shown in FIG. 5 a and 5 b, the secondary shaft is connected to the main drive shaft in the top channel by means of mating features (502 and 506) on the end of each shaft that assures power transmission and rotational alignment of the shafts. These features create a connection between all drive components, both rotational and linear, and allow the all components to be driven, in unison, from a single motor. The secondary shafts contain a similar connection feature in the external end to allow for multiple lift systems to be connected in parallel to a single motor. Additionally, these external connection features allow the lift units to be powered by an external source of rotation, such as a wrench or rotary drill fitted with a commonly available drive head, such as a square drive head.
One of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate the various embodiments of the disclosed invention to accompany the variation in shelving dimensions to which the disclosed invention is mounted. One of ordinary skill in the art will also appreciate the various embodiments of the disclosed invention to accompany the variety of the safety restraint materials used in dissimilar application environments. For example, square weave netting is commonly used in warehouse environments, and is retracted in a horizontal direction. The invention is adapted for horizontal use when square weave netting is employed.
In another aspect, the invention provides a storage lift system designed for safe overhead storage and manipulation of items. The lift system is preferably controlled with the same remote unit that controls the restraint system, whereby the stock to be manipulated is also secured by the restraint system. The lift system provides a hoist, which fastens to an overhead beam or any secure overhead mounting location. The hoist is preferably operated from the ground and is designed for quick-unassisted lowering and raising of stock items by one individual. As would be apparent to a skilled artisan, the storage lift system described herein can be applied to many items in retail and warehouse space. Preferably, the invention is used with bicycles, as will be described below, for illustrative and non-limiting example, in three embodiments, a worm drive belt lift device, a worm drive telescoping hoist device and a spring assist telescoping hoist device.
The worm drive belt lift operator will raise and lower the bike from the rafters using a drive stick. The operator will snag the eyelet on the drive extension shaft using the drive stick hook and rotate the drive stick by means of manual operation or a motor driven operation. This rotation will dispense or retract the belt and raise or lower the bike. During the entire operation, the bike will be under the complete control of the operator and swaying will be limited by the guide ring that rides vertically along the drive stick.
In another embodiment the worm drive telescoping lift operator will raise and lower the bike from the rafters using a drive stick. The operator will snag the eyelet on the drive extension shaft using the drive stick hook and rotate the drive stick by means of manual operation or a motor driven operation. This rotation will dispense or retract the telescoping members and raise or lower the bike.
In yet another embodiment the spring assist telescoping hoist operator will hook the bike and pull downward to defeat the detent position locks and springs. The operator will continue to pull down on the bike until reaching the fully extended telescope position. In the fully extended position, the telescoping hoist will be locked and the bike will be safe to remove. To raise the bike, the operator will push upward on the bike with assistance from the load carrying springs. The operator will push the bike upward until reaching the fully retracted telescope position, where the hoist will lock into place.
The operation of the inventions having been described, turning to FIG. 6, the worm drive belt lift includes: a mounting bracket (601), which attaches the hoist assembly to the overhead beam or other overhead mounting location; a bike mounting clamp or hook (602), whereby the operator can secure the bike to the hoist via the bike mounting hook; a spooled belt (603) wherein the bike mounting hook is fastened to a belt that is coiled on a spool. The bike will span the distance from the ceiling to the floor via the spooled belt; a worm drive gearbox (604), wherein the worm drive gearbox will translate the rotation from the operator's drive stick to the spool to dispense or retract the belt; a drive extension shaft/catch loop (605), wherein the drive extension shaft/catch loop is the interface between the hoist operator and the worm drive gearbox. It extends the catch loop to a reachable height from the ground floor; an operator drive stick (606) which has an extended shaft having a hooked end. The hoist operator uses the drive stick to hook the catch loop on the extension shaft, drive the gearbox, and ultimately rotate the belt spool to lower and raise the bike. This can be a hand driven rotation device or a motor powered rotation device as described; a guide ring (607), wherein the guide ring is attached to the bike mounting hook and loops around the drive extension shaft. When the bike mounting hook is raised and lowered, the guide loop will ride up and down the drive extension shaft and operator drive stick to maintain operator control of bike motion and limit sway.
As can be seen in FIG. 7, the worm drive telescoping hoist includes: a mounting bracket (701) that attaches the hoist assembly to the overhead beam or other overhead mounting location; a bike mounting clamp or hook (702) that allows the operator to secure the bike to the hoist via the bike mounting hook. The mounting hook will ride vertically along the innermost telescoping member; a spooled cable (703) that will control the extension and retraction of the telescoping members. The bike mounting hook is fastened to a cable that is coiled on a spool; telescoping members (704) used to span the distance from the ceiling to the floor. The telescoping members are thin-walled tubing sets that slide inside one another; a worm drive gearbox (705) that translates the rotation from the operator's drive stick to the spool to dispense or retract the cable; a drive extension shaft/catch loop (706) that provides the interface between the hoist operator and the worm drive gearbox thereby extending the catch loop to a reachable height from the ground floor; and an operator drive stick (707) consisting of a long shaft with a hooked end. The hoist operator uses the drive stick to hook the catch loop on the extension shaft, drive the gearbox, and ultimately rotate the cable spool to lower and raise the bike. This can be a hand driven rotation device or a motor powered rotation device as described.
As can be seen in FIG. 8, the spring assist telescoping hoist includes: a mounting bracket (801) which attaches the hoist assembly to the overhead beam or other overhead mounting location; a bike mounting clamp or hook (802) to secure the bike to the hoist via the bike mounting hook. The mounting hook will ride vertically along the innermost telescoping member; telescoping members (803) which are thin-walled tubing sets that slide inside one another. The telescoping members are used to span the distance from the ceiling to the floor; extension springs (804) where each end of the extension spring is attached to each member of the telescoping set, i.e., an outer telescoping member and an inner member. The springs provide assistance in raising the bike and collapsing the telescoping set to the fully retracted position; and spring detent locks (805) which latch the telescoping set in the fully retracted position, fully extended position, and mid-range positions.
From the foregoing detailed description of the specific embodiments of the invention, it should be apparent that unique safety restraint and lift systems have been described. Although particular embodiments have been disclosed herein in detail, this has been done by way of example for purposes of illustration only, and is not intended to be limiting with respect to the scope of the appended claims which follow. In particular, it is contemplated by the inventors that various substitutions, alterations, and modifications may be made to the invention without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the claims. For instance, the choice of restraint materials, or the mechanical advantage systems employed in the lift system are believed to be matter of routine for a person of ordinary skill in the art with knowledge of the embodiments described herein.