CONTAINER SIDEWALL AND RELATED METHODS
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 This invention relates generally to container sidewalls (but can be used in a wide
variety of panels, sidewalls, drop doors, bases, pallets, or similar panels), and specifically to
apparatus and methods for improving the strength and reducing the weight of such panels. Broadly, the invention includes providing a structural support network having generally planar
inner and outer surfaces positioned offset from each other (so that they are not co-planar), and
an interconnecting support frame, preferably including at least one support member, positioned therebetween.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 A wide variety of containers for the carry, storage, and/or transport, of various items exist. Although manufacturers typically incorporate into each type container features
unique for the container's intended purpose or application, generally most containers can benefit from improved strength and reduced weight. Accordingly, there exists a need for a container sidewall or panel configuration that is adaptable for a wide variety of applications requiring
additional strength and reduced weight, when compared with similar type containers. Similar
needs and benefits exist for panels in many other applications besides containers.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION  The invention provides for, among other things, improved strength/weight ratio
in a sidewall panel (or other container elements or similar apparatus, including things such as
drop doors, bases, tops, or similar structures; components or apparatus useful in multi-part and/or collapsible containers, pallets, and other related devices). The sidewall/panel includes a
structural support network having generally planar inner and outer surfaces positioned offset
from each other and an interconnecting support frame positioned therebetween. In one
embodiment, the support frame includes at least one hexagon shaped support member.
 Although the particular shape or form of one or more support members and
assembly can vary widely, preferably the present invention includes a plurality of hexagon (or
other geometrically) shaped support members within a single sidewall or panel. Among other
things, this can further strengthen the sidewall/panel, and can enable larger sizes of sidewalls/panels to be formed and used in a wide variety of applications. The wall thickness of
the panel elements can be relatively thin (and therefore relatively lightweight) compared to prior
art technology, while providing improved strength.
 Another way of describing the invention is that it is directed to an improved design for structural panels, using an interconnected pattern or web of shapes (triangles,
hexagons, and/or other geometric or even "free-hand" shapes, etc.) with alternating
internal/external surfaces. Although one embodiment of the alternating surfaces has them
formed in parallel planes (which provides the effect on each opposing face of the panel or structural element, of a generally planar surface that is "pockmarked" by indentions), the
surfaces could be formed in non-parallel arrangements and/or in non-planar configurations.
 hi addition, other of the many examples of embodiments of the invention include multi-planar configurations, in which one or more of the "alternating" surfaces are neither completely "internal" or "external", but instead somewhere in between, hi other words, using an
analogy of a multilayer sandwich (e.g., meat and cheese and tomato on plain sliced white bread) in place of the finished panel or structural elements, instead of all of the "alternating" surfaces
being located just in the two "bread slice" planes, some of the "alternating" surfaces could be
located in one or more interior planes (such as in the meat plane, the tomato plane, and/or the
cheese plane). As above, one or more of the "alternating" surfaces (whether internal, external, or in between) could also be non-parallel to others of the "alternating" surfaces.
 The geometric and/or free-hand shapes are virtually unlimited, and multiple
shapes can be combined within a single panel. Conventional panel reinforcing ribs or similar structures can be used in conjunction with the shapes/patterns. The shapes or pattern can cover
the entire panel or other part, or can be positioned only in strategic areas.
 The geometric/free-hand elements can be of virtually any size and shape, and the
wall thickness of the panel and its elements is virtually unlimited. The invention can be
practiced in a wide variety of panel shapes, including (by way of example and not by way of limitation) curved planes, flat planes, spheres, or any type surface or planar irregularities, and
can have a wide variety or edge shapes as well (straight, rectilinear, curved, etc., to name a few).
Although many of the benefits of the invention are related to a generally "planar" orientation of
the panel and the shapes formed therein, embodiments may include panels or constructions other than "planar" arrangements.  The invention can be practiced using a wide variety of suitable processes and
materials. Processes could include die cast, investment casting, sheet metal stamping, single/
twin sheet thermo-form, blow-molding, rotational molding, injection molding, gas assist, water
assist, web molding, structural foam molding along with many other existing and new processes
on the horizon. Materials are not limited in anyway and could run from metals to resins of all types.
 The offset surfaces and integrally formed structural supports can produce
stronger components using the same or less materials than with other constructions. The added strength can be beneficial for compression and/or stack loading, internal displacement forces
(such as in the outward direction relating to a container, for example), transverse forces imposed
on the panel (inward or outward or otherwise), compressive forces, downward and/or other
forces commonly found within storage and transportation products, containers, and other load bearing structures or panels. The weight and strength of the sidewall can be adjusted in
numerous ways, including increasing or decreasing the size and quantity of geometric shapes
being used. Among other things, embodiments that include several different types of integrally formed shapes can include those where the different shapes are used side by side in order to "fill
in" or complete areas of the panel or other structure, so that the geometric shapes can continue even closer to one or more edges of the panel (such as a straight or irregular perimeter panel
configuration). Similarly, if one or more voids is intentionally formed or otherwise included in
the panel (such as a pass-through hole of some shape), the "other" geometric shapes could be used to "fill in" and possibly strengthen the panel around such void or voids. Such voids could
be in virtually any number, position, and shape, including (by way of example and not by way of limitation) one or more circular/triangular/other voids formed in the middle (and/or offset from the "middle") of the panel to provide a pass-through/window/port.
 Likewise, the invention can be practiced in embodiments having less than the entire panel "pock-marked". For example, and not by way of limitation, one or more areas in
the panel between "pock-marks" may be solid and or sealed on both sides of the panel, so that
for those "non-pock-marked" areas, there is no "alternating" surface but instead there is panel material at both the "internal" and "external" surfaces of the panel.
 Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the concepts of "internal"
and "external" surfaces of the panel discussed herein are used for convenient reference to embodiments such as collapsible or non-collapsible containers or the like (in which there is an
"inside" or "outside"). For other embodiments (such as pallets, free-standing structural panels, etc.), there may not be an "inside" or "outside", in which case it may be more convenient to
describe the "internal" and "external" surfaces as "first" and "second" surfaces, respectively.
Similarly, "free-hand" is intended to indicate that, in addition to conventional named shapes
(such as ovals, circles, triangles, rectangles or squares, hexagons, pentagons, etc.), the invention can be practiced with less "precise" shapes for offsetting the relevant surfaces (even perhaps
with shapes evoking a random "doodle" or "squiggly line"). The disclosures and claims herein are intended to be interpreted in the broadest valid meaning of those concepts and terms,
regardless of which particular term may be used.
 One of the many suitable methods of manufacturing embodiments of the
invention is by high or low pressure injection molding. Such methods may include providing a
mold having the aforementioned sidewall or panel character, forcing material into the mold,
allowing the material to set, and removing the sidewall or panel from the mold. Likewise, the inside and/or outside offset surfaces can be formed in a separate process and combined with one
or more support members by bonding, sonic welding, or other well-known methods. Depending
on the application, some or all the structural support member (s) may be in plain view of the end user from the inside and/or outside of the container. The same geometric and/or free-hand
shapes or configurations with offset surfaces or wall structure can be produced with other types of molding processes such as blow-molding, rotational molding, castings etc. Again, persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that many other methods of fabrication exist to practice
the invention, and all such methods as can validly be included are intended to be encompassed within this disclosure and the accompanying claims.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 FIGS. l(a)-(c) show prior art containers having sidewalls with support ribs
 FIG. 2(a) similarly shows an external sidewall of a prior art container having a vertical and horizontal support rib configuration.
 FIG. 2(b) shows the internal surface, opposite the rib configuration, of Figure
2(a).  FIG. 3 (a) shows one side of a sidewall having generally planar internal (inner)
and external (outer) surfaces positioned offset from support members, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
 FIG. 3(b) shows the opposite side of the container of Figure 3 (a).
 FIG. 4(a) shows a sectional view along line S-S of the prior art container
sidewall of Figure 2(a).
 FIG. 4(b) shows a perspective view along line S-S of the sidewall shown in
 FIG. 4(c) is similar to FIG. 4(b), but shows an end view along line S-S of the
sidewall shown in Figure 3 (a).  FIG. 4(d) shows a perspective view of the sidewall shown in Figure 3 (a) with
dashed lines showing generally the edges or border of a recessed portion of the sidewall, according to one embodiment of the present invention. That recessing is further illustrated in
FIGs. 18 and 19.
 FIGs. 5(a)-(b) show external and internal views of a sidewall having a plurality of alternative geometrically shaped support members positioned between generally planar inner
and outer surfaces offset from each other (internal/external alternating skin) in accordance with
one of the many alternative embodiments of the present invention.
 FIGs. 6(a)-(b) show a compression load comparison (with compression forces being exerted in the vertical direction when viewed as in FIGs. 6(a)-(b)) between (1) a prior art
sidewall, Figure 6(a), having a vertical and horizontal rib configuration, and (2) a sidewall of the
present invention, Figure 6(b), having a plurality of generally hexagon shaped support members
positioned between generally planar inner and outer surfaces positioned offset from each other.
 FIGs. 7(a)-(b) show opposite sides of a sidewall/pallet or similar structural
element in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention, that may be used as a
pallet, container bottom, and/or lid having generally planar internal (inner) and external (outer)
surfaces positioned offset from support members to form a structural web.
 FIG. 8 is a perspective view of another embodiment of the invention, with two openings formed in the panel.
 FIG. 9 is a section view, taken along line 9-9 of Fig. 8.
 FIG. 10 is similar to Fig. 8, but shows another embodiment in which the central
areas are filled (rather than open, as in Fig. 8), and is formed in a curved configuration (with the center of a radius of curvature located near the viewer of the drawing and the radius moving from left to right).
 FIG. 11 is a section perspective view from the reverse side, taken along line 11 —
11 of Fig. 10.
 FIG. 12 is a section view similar to Fig. 11, taken along line 12—12 of Fig. 10.
 FIG. 13 is a perspective view of three panels similar to the embodiment of FIG.
10 assembled to form a wall or similar barrier.  FIG. 14 is similar to Fig. 13, but shows the assembly from the opposite side.
 FIG. 15 is similar to Fig. 13, but shows yet another assembly of two panels.
 FIG. 15A illustrates in a block diagram another of the many ways a plurality of panels of the invention may be assembled together, using various joints (abutting, overlapping,
 FIG. 15B is similar to 15 A, and illustrates another of the many ways a plurality of panels of the invention may be assembled together.
 FIG. 15C is similar to 15A, and illustrates another of the many ways a plurality of panels of the invention may be assembled together.
 FIG. 15D is similar to 15 A, and illustrates another of the many ways a plurality
of panels of the invention may be assembled together.
 FIG. 15E is similar to 15 A, and illustrates another of the many ways a plurality of panels of the invention may be assembled together.
 FIG. 16 is a perspective view of another structural element in conformance with the invention, having a single central opening and offset surfaces at staggered depths in the wall structure.
 FIG. 17 is a section view taken along line 17-17 of Fig. 16.
 FIG. 18 is similar to the left hand portion of Fig. 9, but is a graphical representation of the volume generally occupied by that embodiment of the invention (the offset
surfaces and other details are omitted, to help illustrate the element's overall volume).
 FIG. 19 is an end view of the representation of Fig. 18, viewed in the direction of arrows 19 on Fig. 18.
 FIG. 20 is similar in concept to FIG. 18, but shows a graphical representation of the volume generally occupied by a typical prior art wall element.  FIG. 21 is an end view of the prior art representation of Fig. 20, viewed in the
direction of arrows 21 on Fig. 20.
 FIG. 22 is a perspective view of another of the many embodiments of the
invention, illustrating a generally round bucket or pail having a sidewall incorporating the offset surface feature of the invention.
 FIG. 23 is similar to Fig. 22, but shows the bucket from a lower perspective, looking slightly up at the bucket.
 FIG. 24 is an elevation view of the bucket of Figs. 22-23.  FIG. 25 is a perspective view similar to Fig. 22, but shows the bucket sectioned
along line 25-25 of Fig. 24.
 FIG. 26 is similar to Fig. 4(c), but shows another embodiment of the invention in section, in which one or more offset surfaces are not parallel with the general plane of the panel and/or each other.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION  Examples of the many embodiments of the present invention will now be
described with references to the accompanying Figures, wherein like reference numerals refer to like elements throughout. The terminology used in the description presented is not
intended to be interpreted in any limited or restrictive manner, simply because it is being
utilized in conjunction with a detailed description of certain embodiments of the invention.
Furthermore, various embodiments of the invention (whether or not specifically described)
may include novel features, no single one of which is solely responsible for its desirable attributes or which is essential to practicing the invention described.
 As used herein, the terms "panel", "structural element", and "sidewall" are
broad terms used in their ordinary generally broad meanings, and are sometimes used interchangeably within the disclosure and claims herein. They include, without limitation any of the many components that may be considered as part of the structural framework or body
of a container (such as a top portion, a bottom portion, any one or more of a side portion or structure formed therein, such as a drop door, etc.), pallets, other load bearing devices, wall
panels or sheets or similar barriers or building elements, or similar apparatuses.
 Figures l(a)-(c) and 2(a)-(b) show prior art containers 5 having sidewalls 10
with support ribs 15. As shown in Figures l(c) and 2(a), such prior art containers 5 may include
vertical 15(a), horizontal 15(b) and/or diagonal 15(c) rib configurations. These prior art containers 5 are generally constructed of plastic and typically include a generally smooth interior
surface 20 formed during the molding process, as shown in Figure 2(b). The interior surface 20
generally allows items to be carried (stacked or arranged) more uniformly within the container 5 while generally allowing those same items to be removed from the container 5 without snagging
or becoming embedded in pockets 25 formed by the various support rib configurations. Among
other things, these prior art drawings illustrate some of the many optional features of collapsible containers, such as lids, drop door openings or access openings, drop doors, and other features.
Some of these features are discussed in further detail in, for example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,674,647, 4,917,255, 4,923,079, and 5,938,059, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by
 Although generally well accepted in the industry, the aforementioned prior art
containers with their sidewalls 10 and related elements can benefit from an improved strength and reduced weight design. Among other things, such containers are commonly used for
shipping, storing, and handling items (such as automobile components or the like). All of those uses, and many others, can be accomplished more economically and with less energy and
materials if a container can be fabricated (a) with the same (or greater) strength but (b) using less container weight and material. Similar benefits (and others) can be appreciated in many
applications of the invention besides its use in containers.
 A preferred embodiment of such an improved sidewall 30 design is generally
illustrated in Figures 3(a)-(b) and 9(a)-(b). Although pairs of such walls that are substantially
the same (or even identical) can be as used as opposing sidewalls in an assembled container,
persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that there is no requirement that such
opposing walls be similar or identical, hi other words, even if multiple panels or walls elements
are used in a single application such as a collapsible container, those panels could differ from each other [e.g., one or more sidewall could have a drop door (as may be used in a collapsible
container), or each wall may have a different support member pattern, as discussed below, multiple panels could be connected at their edges to form a wall or similar barrier for crowd
control or the like, etc.] and still beneficially use the invention. The support members and other
inventive concepts, as described herein, may be used anywhere that structural or similar panels
are used. In applications such as illustrated (within a collapsible container or similar device),
the invention can be incorporated or foπned as the top portion, bottom portion [shown in
Figures 7(a)-(b)], any one or more of a side portion or structure formed therein, such as a drop door, or other container components.
 Many general concepts relating to collapsible containers are well known,
including the features and examples listed above, and many of those concepts can be improved in terms of costs, weight, strength, and other factors, by utilizing the teachings of the invention.
Moreover, as noted elsewhere, although the invention is generally discussed herein in
connection with various collapsible containers and related components, persons of ordinary skill
in the art will understand that it may be useful in a wide variety of applications, including ones other than containers.
 In one embodiment, the present invention includes at least one sidewall 30
having a structural support network or web 35. As described herein, and among other things,
the structural support network 35 preferably includes generally planar inner and outer surfaces
or webs 40, 45 positioned offset from each other (in separate planes), and an interconnecting support frame 50 positioned therebetween. As further described below, when compared to
similar type container sidewalls, the offset surfaces 40, 45 permit a sidewall 30 having an improved strength-to-weight ratio to be produced from a single and/or plurality of mold(s).
 Panels or sidewalls or other devices incorporating the invention can be
fabricated from a wide variety of materials and by a wide variety of methods. Among others, high/low pressure plastic injection molding, structural foam-molding, or blow-molding can be
readily utilized to form lightweight components or structures embodying the invention, for
storage, transport, and handling of a wide variety of solid and liquid materials and other things. Other fabrication methods include, by way of example, compression molding, rotational
molding, gas/water assist molding, extrusion, or pultrusion. Persons of ordinary skill in the art
will understand that other manufacturing processes and materials may be readily utilized.
 Materials for practicing the construction of the invention include (without
limitation) ferrous or non-ferrous metal, virtually any resin, aluminum, fiberglass reinforced
resins, and others. Among other ways, these and other applications can be fabricated or assembled from sub-components such as cast, extruded, or pultruded structural members that
are inserted into a larger plastic component/panel assembly. Other of the wide variety of
fabrication methods could involve welding or gluing elements to each other to form a web of the present invention.
 Additional strength can be introduced into many embodiments of the invention by using engineered grade resins, and/or fillers such as mineral or glass fillers. Preferably,
embodiments of the invention are fabricated from suitably strong, lightweight materials
sufficient to support substantial loads and forces encountered in transporting and handling
relatively heavy materials. For less demanding applications, thinner support members and/or a different material may be sufficient.
 Preferably, the support frame 50 includes a plurality of geometrically shaped support members 55. In a preferred embodiment shown in Figures 3(a)-(b), the support members 55 are generally hexagonal 55(a), 55(b) . . . in shape and positioned such that two
hexagon shaped support members 55(a), 55(b) share a common side 56(a). Other geometric
shapes may include an octagon, triangle 55(c) (one of the many triangle shapes/sizes/patterns is
shown in Figures 5(a)-(b)), diamond, star, etc., or combinations thereof. Whatever offset shape is used, even if it is not a definable "conventional shape" and/or is not repeated within the panel
or web 35 but is instead relatively random, one difference between the present invention and
prior art support ribs 15 is that the present structure uses "alternating internal/external" surfaces or web portions. Such "alternating internal/external" surfaces or web portions can, among
other things, add support in multiple directions.
 Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that, in certain embodiments,
additional ribs/support elements 57 can be formed within the shapes/sizes/patterns. Among other things, such additional ribs can further strengthen or otherwise improve the structure. In
the embodiment of FIGS. 3(a)-(b), the vertical ribs 57 in the center of the panel 35 (shown in
Fig. 3(b)) are substantially aligned with the dividing edges 56(c) (shown in Fig. 3(a)), so that
there is effectively a substantially continuous vertical rib through at least much of the center of the panel 35.
 hi some embodiments, the staggered web/shear portions provide an honeycomb-
like strength to the structure, especially for embodiments using an enclosed geometric shape
such as a hexagon 55(a), 55(b) that is capable of providing support at least along each of its six sides. Prior art horizontal, vertical, and/or diagonal support ribs 15(a)-(c) provide support
primarily in their respective directional alignment, must be combined to provide multi-
directional support, and in any case do not provide the offset/alternating plane strength of the
present web structure.
 Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the overall and specific
dimensions, location, size, direction (alignment), thickness, and other aspects of the offset
sidewall surfaces 40, 45 and other structural support network elements can vary widely and be customized to applications and anticipated loading conditions. Furthermore, each of the
elements that make up the structural support network 35 may be provided individually or in
combination on a single sidewall.
 Figures 3(a)-(b) show a container sidewall 30 having generally hexagon shaped support members 55(a), 55(b) positioned between generally planar inner and outer surfaces 40,
45 offset from each other. As used herein, the term "offset" means that the generally planar surfaces 40, 45 on each side of the container are not coplanar or aligned with each other
transversely, with respect to the thickness of the overall panel or wall web 35 (the thickness being the direction in and out of the page for Figs. 3(a) and 3(b)). The degree of offset can vary,
depending on the application, the anticipated loading conditions, the size and shape of the offset
elements, the materials used in fabricating the particular embodiment of the invention, and other
factors. One benefit of the invention is to provide greater strength with less part weight as compared to prior art apparatus and methods. However, if for certain applications the
inventions strength is more important than weight, then an embodiment can be used with the
spacing between alternating geometric structures forming a pocket of some size would increase strength, but also weight. Example would be making the hexagon size itself smaller would
increase the quantity used, which in turn increases material. Hence more weight.
 Accordingly, for a sidewall embodiment of the invention such as shown in Figs. 3 (a) and 3(b), hexagon-shaped support members (a, b, c, and d) of Figure 3 (a) are attached on
one side by generally planar inner (interior) surfaces (A, B, C, and D), as shown in Figure 3(b). Likewise, hexagon shaped support members (e, f, and g) of Figure 3(b) are attached on one side
by generally planar outer (exterior) surfaces (E, F, and G), as shown in Figure 3 (a). In other
words, generally planar inner surfaces (A, B, C, and D) and generally planar outer surfaces (E,
F, and G) are "offset" (non-planar, or not aligned with each other) from each other relative to
any of one of the support members (a, b, c, d, e, f, and g). However, when viewed in cross- section, support members (a, b, c, d, e, f, and g) are positioned between generally planar surfaces
(A, B, C, D, E, F, and G).
 In this regard, support members may be described as being positioned
"therebetween" or "between" relative to inner and outer surfaces 40, 45 that are themselves offset from each other. This is because, as illustrated in the cross-section view as indicated by
"S" Figure 3(a) and shown in Figure 4(b), the hex shaped pockets 60 formed by the hexagonal
sides 56(a), 56(b), . . . etc., and/or other geometrically shaped pockets, if used, are generally inset from the inner and outer surfaces 40, 45.
 Depending on the application, some or all the structural support member(s) 55
may be provided in plain view of the end user, viewed from the inside and/or outside of the container. For example, the support members 55 shown in Figure 3(a) can be viewed by the end
user from outside the container, the support members 55 shown in Figure 3(b) can be viewed by the end user from inside the container, and those support members 55 (not shown) forming a
portion of a structural support network 35 without inner or outer surfaces 40, 45 (similar to a
pass-through window) being attached to either side would be visible to the end user from the inside and outside of the container.
 As shown in Figures 3(a)-(b), the sidewall can includes an outer periphery 70
that has a predetermined (not necessarily uniform) thickness that is different from the central
web portions of the panel 35. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that these variations in thickness can be positioned at virtually any location on the panel, depending on the intended application, the materials selected for fabrication, and other factors. In the
embodiment of Figures 3(a)-(b), for example, the "thicker" perimeter area 70 permits ready
stacking of the erected container on or under prior art containers. Due to the improved vertical
compressive and flexural support provided by the offset surface configuration (as compared to prior art containers), the central area of the container sidewall 30 may include one or more areas
of "reduced wall thickness." One such area is represented by phantom line border 75 in Figure
4(c), and is further illustrated in FIGS. 18 and 19 (which shown the general outer overall shape
of this embodiment, with the reduction from prior art embodiments shown by comparing the
FIGS. 20 and 21). In this embodiment, area 80 is inset or recessed from the outer periphery 70, toward the center of the panel body. Reducing the thickness in that area 80 helps reduce the
material and corresponding weight of the structure, as compared to prior art structures.
 In other embodiments, there may not be any need for a "thicker" perimeter area
70, so that the material/weight reduction can be practiced across the entire body of the panel 35.
In such embodiments, the entire structure is the reduced thickness 81 (as best shown in FIGS. 4(c) and 19). In other words, referring to Fig. 19, instead of tapering at 90 to a thicker edge 70,
such other embodiments could simply continue to their edges with a uniform reduced thickness
81.  hi the embodiment of Fig. 4(d), a majority of the sidewall's structural support network 35 (outer periphery 70, offset surfaces 40, 45, and support members 55 positioned
therebetween) is contained in that central inset portion of the sidewall. Those elements of the
sidewall's structural support network 35 can be provided in any suitable manner, including
without limitation being attached, connected, disposed, and/or integrally formed with the
surrounding perimeter or edge portions of the sidewall. In one embodiment, as shown in Figure 3(a)-(b) and Figure 4(b), a bevel 90, step, or similar feature may be used to insert or recess the
body 80 from a relatively "thicker" outer periphery 70.
 The structural frame network 35, including container body 80, may further
include integrally formed areas 85 of even further reduced "thickness", such as ones void of
support members 55 and/or offset surfaces 40, 45. Preferably, the offset surface areas or portions surrounding or adjacent to any such "void" areas are located and proportioned so that
the overall assembly provides sufficient torsional, shear, compressive, and/or flexural strength and support for the anticipated loads on the panel 35. Examples of these reduced/'Void of
support" areas 85 are shown in Figures 3(a)-(b). Among other things, these areas 85 may
provide a convenient uniform surface for adhesive labeling for identification, instruction, or information purposes. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that these areas 85 can
also provide load bearing strength to the structure, depending on their dimensions and other factors. Other embodiments can leave these areas 85 as actual "voids" or as openings in the
structure 35, to provide access, ventilation, or the like through the sidewall.
 Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand the aforementioned relatively
thin sections or areas such as area 85 can even further reduce the overall material used, weight, and production cost of the sidewall 30 without sacrificing the sidewall' s structural rigidity. The structural relationship (positioning and construction) between various sidewall elements,
including the outer periphery 70, recessed container body 80, offset surfaces 40,45, support
members 55, and other areas 85 of one sidewall embodiment is shown in Figures 4(b)-(c).
 As indicated above, persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that, in the embodiment of FIGS. 3(a), 3(b), and 4(b), the "offsets" are provided in horizontal rows. In
other words, a horizontal row of offsets with "interior" surfaces is below a row with "exterior"
offsets, which is below a row with "interior" surfaces, etc. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that, among the many alternatives in which the invention can be practiced, the
offsets can instead be random, can alternate in columns rather than rows, can alternate in "both"
columns and rows (so that no two adjacent offsets are both interior or both exterior), etc.
 Figures 5(a)-(b) show external and internal views of one of the many other
embodiments of a container sidewall 30 of the invention. This embodiment illustrates a plurality of alternative geometrically shaped support members (triangle 55(c)) positioned between generally planar inner and outer surfaces 40, 45 offset from each other
(internal/external alternating skin) in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
 Among other things, the combination of hexagon shaped support members 55(a), 55(b) positioned between offset inner and outer surfaces 40, 45 provides an improved
strength-to- weight ratio to the sidewall 30 or panel when compared to prior art sidewalls 10
such as those discussed above.
 The structural configuration of the sidewall 30, as described herein, provides
improved compression/shear/fiexural strength, better resistance against buckling or other deformation from loads imposed by stacking other similar containers on top of each other, as
well as hoop strength or similar resistance to outward deformation such as might occur from extreme liquid or other loads within the container, hi this regard, as shown in Figure 6(a), finite
element analysis (FEA) of a 1 OK pound stack load test shows that deflection of a sidewall 10 having support ribs 15(a)-(b), is considerably greater than the deflection of a sidewall 30 having
generally planar inner and outer surfaces 40, 45 positioned offset from each other and an
interconnecting support frame 50 including a plurality of generally hexagon shaped support
members 55(a), 55(b) position therebetween, as shown in Figure 6(b).
 In addition, the use of a relatively large offset shape (such as the hexagons of Figs. 3) decreases the quantity of pockets 60 in a given area of the sidewall or structural
element. This can be especially beneficial where water, dirt, and other materials may become trapped in such pockets, and in any case can reduce the mass (described above) and increase the
strength of the structure when compared to traditional rib configurations.
 In many embodiments, the offset surfaces 40, 45 from hex pocket 60 to hex pocket 60 can improve compressive strength and/or load distribution by transferring the forces
from the internal surface 40 to the external surface 45 throughout the length and width of the
product design. Accordingly, the offset surface design is an advantage over the typical single-
sided wall structure 5 having a horizontal/vertical rib configuration 15(a)-(b).
 Although one embodiment of the invention has been illustrated and discussed
herein as a generally flat sidewall 30 or panel for a container, persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the invention has broad utility. Among other things, concepts as described
herein can be used for curved walls or panels, and for separately constructed "support inserts" that can be installed, captured, fastened, welded, or adhesively applied to one or more other
components. The strength provided by the offset surfaces 40, 45 and/or support members 55 of
the invention can be used in pallets (see, for example, FIGS. 7(a) and 7(b)), bases, decks, and similar devices. Container lids/covers and bottoms can also use and benefit from the teachings of the invention, such as to add support for applications in which the lid may face elevated
temperatures and/or loads from pooling of rain or other liquids.
 For pallets (such as shown in FIGS. 7(a) and 7(b)), lids, and similar structures
that are sometimes used and "loaded" in a generally horizontal position, the invention can
provide improved strength across the width and/or "span" of the structure. Among other things, this is useful in situations in which the stacking of the units atop other things may leave one or
more of the leg/support elements 58 hanging in mid-air, without actual contacting support
thereunder. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the invention can be used in embodiments such as the pallet of FIGS. 7(a) and 7(b), in a configuration that is
nestable/stackable with other like sized and shaped structures.
 In general terms, the preferred embodiment of the invention provides additional
strength to large open areas or panel spans of various components of containers or similar objects. The offset surfaces 40, 45 and/or support members 55 can be provided in concentrated
areas subject to high stress within the container/panel (and can be sized and dimensioned to
further adjust the strength of such areas), and/or in segregated and/or spaced/targeted locations
that may require additional strength to handle the various forces to which containers are
commonly exposed (for example, stacking, compression, hoop, expansion, or other forces).
 The particular application and the anticipated loads or other factors may affect
the precise shape or construction not only of the sidewall generally, but also of the offset sidewalls 40, 45 and/or support members 55. For example, the sides 56(a), 56(b) . . . etc., of the
support member 55 may require increased or decreased angles. As shown in Figure 4(b), the
geometric pockets 60 may include sides 56(a)-56(b) generally perpendicular to the general plane of the sidewall 30.
 A contrasting example of a sidewall support member side configuration (not
shown) has a generally sloped side (instead of the perpendicular sides 56(a)-56(b). Such a sloped side can be useful, among other things, for applications in which a sidewall or panel is
lowered, and granular contents (sand or similar material) of the container are poured out over
that sidewall. In such situations, the sloped surface allows the granular material to pour out
more completely than would be the case if were more perpendicular (in which case it would form a "shelf that might catch some portion of the material being poured out).
 Additional support can be provided within the support members themselves by
reinforcing elements such as one or more ribs 105, shown in Figures 6(b).
 Among other things, the combination of offset surfaces 40, 45 and support
members 55 can facilitate lighter weight and larger components (such as one or more doors, not shown) than may be achieved without using the invention, thereby improving safety, ease of
use, and improved ergonomics and user efficiencies for a wide variety of applications. For example, a relatively wide drop door can provide workers at automobile plants easier access to a greater area of the interior of collapsible containers in which various automobile components
are commonly transported.
 FIGS. 8 and 9 illustrate yet another of the many embodiments of the invention, in which two voids 83 (for pass-through/ventilation/access or other purposes) are formed or
otherwise provided in the panel. As indicated above, persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that any such voids are optional, and that they can be positioned, sized, shaped, and provided in any number depending on the intended application of the panel.
 FIGS. 10-12 illustrate a still further embodiment of the invention, in which a
panel or structure is formed into a curvilinear plane. FIGS. 13-14 illustrates an assembly of a
plurality of structures such as those in FIGS. 10-12, as they might be positioned to provide a barrier, support, etc. FIGS. 15 and 15A-E illustrate even more of the many assemblies that can
be formed using the invention. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the
panels in these drawings can be joined to each other in any suitable manner (or not at all),
including without limitation one or more of the following: mortise/tenon structures formed with or on the panels themselves, bolts/screws, combination joints, glue/welding, pegs/holes, etc.
 FIGS. 16-17 illustrate yet another embodiment of the invention, including a
central opening 84 and staggered or "multilevel" offset surfaces 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, and 92.
 FIGS. 22-25 illustrate another of the many embodiments of the invention. In
those figures, a generally round bucket or pail 100 has a sidewall 102 incorporating the offset surface feature of the invention. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the offset feature could also be used in the base 101 (although it is not shown in the base 101 in
these figures), in combination with other ribs and/or reinforcing features, and in other
configurations and locations. Likewise, persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the container shape in these drawings is shown as generally cylindrical, but in others of the
many alternative embodiments of the invention could be any of a wide range of useful shapes,
including square, rectangular, etc., and could be used in totes or other items. Certain
embodiments may be more effective to fabricate using blow-molding, rotational molding, injection molding, or similar techniques.
 FIG. 26 shows a section similar to Fig. 4(c), but for yet another of the many
embodiments of the invention. Although one or more of the offset surfaces of the invention can
be generally parallel to the overall plane of the panel 110 (such as generally parallel surfaces
111 and 112), one or more of those surfaces (such as surfaces 113 and 114) may be non-co- planar or otherwise not parallel with that general panel plane and/or with other of the offset surfaces. Persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the precise orientation of the
offset surfaces is yet another of the many factors that can be varied while practicing the
invention, depending on the particular application.
 A method of manufacturing a container sidewall 30 preferably includes the steps
of: (1) providing a mold (not shown) configured to form a container sidewall 30 as described herein, (2) forcing material into the mold, (3) allowing the material to set, and (4) removing the
sidewall from the mold.
 Further in that regard, persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that any number of suitable molds can be readily configured for injection molding the panel of the
invention, by forming cavities and plugs in appropriate locations within a mold block or blocks, providing suitable cooling circulation if necessary, etc. Such molds are intended to be included
within the scope of the present disclosure and claims, to the extent such broad interpretation is valid over the prior art.
 The apparatus and methods have been described with some particularity, but the specific designs, constructions and steps disclosed are not to be taken as delimiting of the invention. Obvious modifications will make themselves apparent to those of ordinary skill in
the art, all of which will not depart from the essence of the invention and all such changes and
modifications are intended to be encompassed within the appended claims.