Stackable envelope trays

Abstract

A stackable tray is provided that includes a tray having a bottom, a pair of side walls each having an upper edge, and a rear wall. A pair of support columns is provided on each side wall. Each of the support columns includes: a protrusion extending upwardly from a top portion of the support column; a first groove formed in a bottom portion of the support column, the first groove being aligned with the protrusion in the vertical direction; and a second groove formed in the bottom portion of the support column, the second groove being aligned with the upper edge of the respective side wall in the vertical direction.

Claims

What is claimed is: 1. A stackable tray comprising: a tray having a bottom, a pair of side walls each having an upper edge, and a rear wall; and a pair of support columns provided on each side wall, each support column including: a protrusion extending upwardly from a top portion of the support column; a first groove formed in a bottom portion of the support column, the first groove being aligned with the protrusion in the vertical direction; and a second groove formed in the bottom portion of the support column, the second groove being aligned with the upper edge of the respective side wall in the vertical direction. 2. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein the protrusion is an elongated member that perpendicularly extends from an outer surface of the side wall. 3. The stackable tray of claim 2 , wherein an upper edge of the protrusion includes angled surfaces that intersect with one another to form an apex. 4. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein the first groove is defined by a pair of spaced apart vertical rib members that laterally extend from an outer surface of the side wall. 5. The stackable tray of claim 4 , wherein the second groove is defined by aligned notches that extend upwardly into bottom edges of the vertical rib members. 6. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein the second groove has an inverted V-shaped configuration. 7. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein each support column defines an outer surface that is laterally spaced from an outer surface of the side wall. 8. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein each support column further includes an engagement feature adapted to receive tooling provided on an automated delivery system. 9. The stackable tray of claim 1 , further including an identification element that identifies the tray or contents provided therein. 10. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein the rear wall is spaced inwardly from a rear edge of the bottom of the tray, wherein the stackable tray retains the same overall outer dimensions. 11. The stackable tray of claim 1 , wherein the second groove is wider than the upper edge of the side wall.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/512,009 filed Jul. 27, 2011, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION This invention relates in general to stackable trays, such as can be used to store and transport various types of manufactured envelope products. In particular, this invention relates to stackable trays that can be stacked and retrieved with relative ease. Corrugated boxes are typically used in the envelope processing and printing industries for storing and transporting large quantities of envelopes and other types of stationary products. However, there are a number of drawbacks with the use of corrugated boxes in these industries. For example, when a plurality of corrugated boxes are filled with envelopes and then stacked on top of one another, the boxes near the bottom of the stack have a tendency to buckle under the weight of the boxes stacked above. In addition, differently sized corrugated boxes are used for differently sized envelopes. As such, it can be somewhat difficult to stack the various sized boxes in an efficient manner. Corrugated boxes also have a limited usable life and, therefore, are usually discarded and replaced on a regular basis, which can have a negative impact on the environment. It has also been found that corrugated boxes are not generally compatible for use with automated stacking and retrieval systems. Thus, it would be desirable to provide stackable and reusable trays that are durable, suitable for envelopes of varying sizes, environmentally friendly, and compatible for use with an automated stacking and retrieval system. It would also be desirable to provide trays that enable the storing, stacking, and transporting of envelopes without any weight or pressure being applied to the actual envelopes on lower layers of a skid or other supporting and transporting device. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION This invention relates to a stackable tray that can be stacked and retrieved with relative ease. The stackable tray includes a tray having a bottom, a pair of side walls each having an upper edge, and a rear wall. A pair of support columns is provided on each side wall. Each of the support columns includes: a protrusion extending upwardly from a top portion of the support column; a first groove formed in a bottom portion of the support column, the first groove being aligned with the protrusion in the vertical direction; and a second groove formed in the bottom portion of the support column, the second groove being aligned with the upper edge of the respective side wall in the vertical direction. Various aspects of this invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art from the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments, when read in light of the accompanying drawings. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a plurality of stackable trays, in accordance with this invention. FIG. 2 is a perspective view of portions of a first embodiment of two stackable trays shown in FIG. 1 . FIG. 3 is a front elevational view of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 2 . FIG. 4 is a top plan view of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 2 . FIG. 5 is a side elevational view of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 2 . FIG. 6 is a cross sectional side view taken along section line 6 - 6 of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 3 . FIG. 7 is an enlarged front view of a portion of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 3 that is indicated by the dashed reference circle A. FIG. 8 is an enlarged side view of a portion of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 5 that is indicated by the dashed reference circle B. FIG. 9 is cross sectional front view taken along section line 9 - 9 of one of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 4 . FIG. 10 is an enlarged front view of a portion of the stackable tray shown in FIG. 9 that is indicated by the dashed reference circle C. FIG. 11 is a top plan view of a second embodiment of a stackable tray, in accordance with this invention. FIG. 12 is a cross sectional side view taken along section line 12 - 12 of the stackable tray shown in FIG. 11 stacked on top of one of the stackable trays shown in FIG. 3 . FIG. 13 is a top plan view of an automated system for stacking and retrieving the stackable trays in accordance with this invention. DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS Referring now to the drawings, there is illustrated in FIG. 1 a plurality of stackable trays, indicated generally at 10 , in accordance with this invention. The stackable trays 10 can be used to store and transport large quantities of envelopes (not shown) or other types of stationary products. For example, the stackable trays 10 may each be filled with a stack of envelopes. The stackable trays 10 can be stacked on a skid 12 to form a plurality of vertical columns of trays. The skid 12 can then be transported to another location for storage or further processing of the envelopes. Although the stackable trays 10 will be described in the context of storing and transporting envelopes, it should be appreciated that the stackable trays 10 can be used in any desired environment and for any desired purpose. As shown in FIG. 1 , there is illustrated a first embodiment of a pair of stackable trays including a first stackable tray, indicated generally at 10 A, which is stacked on top of a second stackable tray, indicated generally at 10 B. The illustrated first and second stackable trays 10 A, 10 B are similar to one another, although such is not required. Thus, only the first stackable tray 10 A will be described in further detail. Similar features of the second stackable tray 10 B have been identified with common reference numerals having the suffix letter B (i.e., 20 B, 30 B, 40 B, etc.). Referring now to FIGS. 2 through 8 , the illustrated first stackable tray 10 A includes a bottom 20 A, a rear wall 30 A, and a pair of side walls 40 A that define a rectangular, open tray structure. The first stackable tray 10 A may, however, define any shape or have any dimensions. The first stackable tray 10 A can be formed from a rigid material, including but not limited to a plastic or metal material. Further, the first stackable tray 10 A can be integrally formed by a molding process, such as an injection molding process or the like. Alternatively, the first stackable tray 10 A may be assembled from individual components. The illustrated first stackable tray 10 A includes a pair of vertical support columns 42 A provided along an outer surface of each side wall 40 A. As shown, the support columns 42 A vertically extend along each corner of the first stackable tray 10 A. The first stackable tray 10 A may, however, include any desired number or configuration of support columns 42 A. As will be explained below, the support columns 42 A are configured to provide separation between the side walls 40 A of trays that are placed adjacent to one another on the skid 12 . The support columns 42 A also facilitate vertical alignment of the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. The support columns 42 A also prevent relative movement between the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B once they are stacked in vertical columns, as shown in FIG. 1 . The support columns 42 A are preferably similar in structure to one another and, therefore, only one support column 42 A will be further described below. The illustrated support column 42 A includes a top surface that is located near a top a portion thereof, although such is not required. The top surface of the support column 42 A can be positioned below an upper edge 41 A of the side wall 40 A. A protrusion 44 A is provided on the top surface of the support column 40 A and extends upwardly there from. The illustrated protrusion 44 A is an elongated member that laterally extends in a perpendicular manner from the side wall 40 A. The protrusion 44 A defines an upper edge that includes angled surfaces, which intersect one another to form an apex (see FIG. 8 ) or the like in order to facilitate alignment of the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B, as will be explained below. The protrusion 44 A may, however, have any desired shape or configuration. The illustrated support column 42 A also includes a first groove 45 A that is formed in a bottom portion thereof. The illustrated first groove 45 A extends in a first direction that is perpendicular to the side wall 40 A of the first stackable tray 10 A, although such is not required. The first groove 45 A is aligned with the protrusion 44 A in the vertical direction, the purpose of which will be explained below. In the illustrated embodiment, the first groove 45 A is formed by a pair of spaced apart rib members that laterally extend from the outer surface of the side wall 40 A. However, the first groove 45 A can be any recess formed in a bottom surface of the support column 42 A that extends perpendicular to the side wall 40 A. The first groove 45 A may have any desired cross-sectional shape such as, for example, a U-shape or V-shape configuration to facilitate vertical alignment of the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. The illustrated support column 42 A also includes a second groove 46 A that is formed in the bottom surface thereof. The illustrated second groove 46 A extends in a second direction that is parallel with the side wall 40 A (e.g. perpendicular to the first groove 45 A), although such is not required. The second groove 46 A is aligned with the upper edge 41 A of the side wall 40 A in the vertical direction, the purpose of which will be explained below. In the illustrated embodiment, the second groove 46 A is defined by notches that are formed in the bottom edges of the vertical rib members of the support column 42 A. The illustrated second grooves 46 A are aligned with one another along the side wall 40 A. The second groove 46 A may have any desired cross-sectional shape such as, for example, a U-shape or V-shape configuration to facilitate alignment of the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. The support column 42 A also includes an engagement feature 48 A, although such is not required. The engagement feature 48 A facilitates handling of the first stackable tray 10 A by an automated stacking and retrieval system. The illustrated engagement feature 48 A includes a vertical wall that laterally extends from the outer surface of the side wall 40 A of the first stackable tray 10 A. The vertical wall is spaced from the inner rib member of the support column 42 A to form a void there between that is capable of receiving a piece of tooling (not shown) provided on a delivery mechanism in the automated stacking and retrieval system (described below). The vertical wall may include a curved lower edge or other structural feature that corresponds with the tooling. It should be appreciated that the engagement feature 48 A can be configured in any manner to facilitate handling of the first stackable tray 10 A. For example, the engagement feature 48 A may alternatively be an outwardly extending knob, a clip, a thru-hole, a latch, or any other structural feature for handling the first stackable tray 10 A. The illustrated support column 42 A defines an outer surface that is laterally spaced from the outer surface of the side wall 40 A. Thus, when two stackable trays 10 A, 10 B are positioned adjacent to one another on the skid 12 , the side walls 40 A, 40 B of the adjacent trays are spaced apart from one another by the support columns 42 A, 42 B. This enables a person to reach between the respective side walls 40 A with relative ease and grab the desired stackable tray 10 A using apertures or handles that are formed in the side walls 40 A. As shown in FIGS. 2 and 5 , the first stackable tray 10 A also includes an identification element 49 A, although such is not required. The identification element 49 A may be provided on any portion of the first stackable tray 10 A such as, for example, on one or both of the side walls 40 A. The identification element 49 A can be any component that is capable of identifying the first stackable tray 10 A, its location, or its contents. In one example, the identification element 49 A is a visual label and may include a barcode or other scannable image. In another example, the identification element 49 A is a device that transmits a signal which can be detected by a receiver. In this example, the identification element 49 A may be detectable by a positioning system, such as global positioning system or the like. Alternatively (or in addition), the identification element 49 A may be a rewritable memory device that is capable of storing information relating to the first stackable tray 10 A, its location, or its contents. The stackable tray 10 A may also be a specified color that designates the size of envelopes or other objects provided therein. As will be described below, the specified color can be identified by a color recognition device that is incorporated in an automated stacking and retrieval system. Thus, it should be appreciated that the identification element 49 A can be any label, device, color, or other component that is capable of providing desired information about the first stackable tray 10 A, its location, or its contents. The first and second stackable trays 10 A, 10 B will now be described in the stacked position. As best shown in FIG. 7 , the upper edge 41 B of the side wall 40 B on the second stackable tray 10 B is received within the second groove 46 A of the first stackable tray 10 A. This is a result of the second grooves 46 A, 46 B being aligned with the upper edges 41 A, 41 B of the side walls 40 A, 40 B in the vertical direction on each of the trays 10 A, 10 B. When in the stacked position, the upper edge 41 B of the side wall 40 B and the second groove 46 A cooperate to prevent the first and second stackable trays 10 A, 10 B from moving side-to-side relative to one another. The illustrated second groove 46 A has an inverted V-shaped cross-section to facilitate vertical alignment of the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. A relatively tight fitting connection is created between the upper edge 41 B of the side wall 40 B and the second groove 46 A to eliminate or reduce movement between the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. As best shown in FIG. 8 , the protrusion 44 B of the second stackable tray 10 B is received within the first groove 45 A of the corresponding support column 42 A of the first stackable tray 10 A. This is a result of the first grooves 45 A, 45 B being aligned with the protrusions 44 A, 44 B in the vertical direction on each of the trays 10 A, 10 B. When in the stacked position, the protrusion 44 B and the first groove 45 A cooperate to prevent the first and second trays 10 A, 10 B from moving in a forward or rearward direction relative to one another. As described above, the protrusion 44 B forms an apex to facilitate vertical alignment of the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. A relatively tight fitting connection is created between the protrusion 44 B and the first groove 45 A to eliminate or reduce movement between the stackable trays 10 A, 10 B. Referring now to FIGS. 11 and 12 , there is illustrated a second embodiment of a stackable tray including a third stackable tray, indicated generally at 10 C, in accordance with this invention. The third stackable tray 10 C may include any structural features as described and illustrated with reference to the first and second stackable trays 10 A, 10 B above, although such is not required. Similar features of the third stackable tray 10 C have been identified with common reference numerals having the suffix letter C (i.e., 20 C, 30 C, 40 C, etc.). It should be appreciated that similar features are structured similarly, operate similarly, and/or have the same function unless otherwise indicated by the drawings or this specification. For example, the illustrated third stackable tray 10 C includes a bottom 20 C, a rear wall 30 C, and a pair of side walls 40 C. However, the illustrated rear wall 30 C is inwardly spaced from a rear edge of the bottom 20 C. This enables the third stackable tray 10 C to store envelopes having a smaller size as compared to the first stackable tray 10 A in the above embodiment. Nonetheless, the third stackable tray 10 C retains the same overall outer dimensions as the first stackable tray 10 A and, therefore, is stackable therewith as shown in FIG. 12 . Thus, it should be appreciated that the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C may be individually configured to store envelopes having any desired size, wherein the various trays can be stacked and subsequently retrieved with relative ease. Referring now to FIG. 13 , there is illustrated an automated system for stacking and retrieving the various stackable trays 10 A, 10 C that are shown in FIG. 12 . The automated system is configured to perform a stacking operation, wherein the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be collectively stacked together on a single skid (not shown) or sorted and stacked on separate skids 12 A, 12 C. The automated system is also configured to perform a retrieval operation, wherein the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be retrieved from each of the skids 12 A, 12 C in a desired order. The automated system will now be described in further detail. The illustrated automated system includes a conveyor system, indicated generally at 50 . The illustrated conveyor system 50 is a roller conveyor having a plurality of rollers that form a conveyor path. The stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be placed on the conveyor system 50 in any manner and moved along the conveyor path from one location to another. For example, the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be moved along the conveyor path by a chain or belt driven mechanism (not shown). The illustrated stackable trays 10 A, 10 C are suitable for a roller conveyor because the trays have a generally flat bottom portion. In other words, the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C do not have portions that extend below a bottom surface thereof, which would otherwise obstruct movement of the trays across the roller conveyor. In other embodiments, however, the conveyor system 50 can be a belt conveyor or any other material handling system. The automated system also includes a tray identifier 60 . The tray identifier 60 can be any device that is capable of identifying the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C as they move along the conveyor system 50 . The illustrated tray identifier 60 is capable of reading the identification elements 49 A, 49 C (not shown) that are provided on the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C. For example, the tray identifier 60 can be a barcode scanner, a receiver that is configured to receive a signal generated by the identification elements 49 A, 49 C, or a color recognition device that is capable of determining a color of the respective stackable trays 10 A, 10 C. The illustrated automated system also includes a delivery mechanism 70 . The delivery mechanism 70 can be a robotic arm, as illustrated in FIG. 13 , or an overhead hoist mechanism (not shown). In any event, the delivery mechanism 70 is configured to grab the individual stackable trays 10 A, 10 C using the engagement features 48 A, 48 C (not shown) and move them between the conveyor system 50 and one or more skids 12 A, 12 C, as will be further explained below. The delivery mechanism 70 can be any automated mechanism that is configured to accomplish the functions described herein. The stacking and retrieval operations of the automated system will now be described. During the stacking operation, the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C are moved along the conveyor system 50 as indicated by the direction arrow in FIG. 13 . It should be appreciated that the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be empty or filled with envelopes during this operation. As shown, the tray identifier 60 identifies the individual trays, such as the third stackable tray 10 C for example. After the third stackable tray 10 C has been identified, the delivery mechanism 70 grabs the third stackable tray 10 C and removes it from the conveyor system 50 . The delivery mechanism 70 then stacks the third stackable tray 10 C on the desired skid 12 C. It should be appreciated that the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be randomly stacked together on the same skid (not shown) or can be sorted and separately stacked on their respective skids 12 A, 12 C as shown in FIG. 13 . When a skid 12 A, 12 C is full of stacked trays, it can be removed and an empty skid (not shown) can be located in its place. Thus, the stacking operation can be continuously performed for any length of time without interruption. During the retrieval operation, the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C are provided on the respective skids 12 A, 12 C, either pre-sorted or in random order. It should be appreciated that the stackable trays 10 A, 10 C can be empty or filled with envelopes during this operation. As shown, the delivery mechanism 70 grabs a desired tray, such as the third stackable tray 10 C for example. The delivery mechanism 70 removes the third stackable tray 10 C from the skid 12 C and delivers it to the conveyor system 50 . The automated system may optionally include a second tray identifier (not shown) to ensure that the desired tray has been retrieved from the skids 12 A, 12 C and delivered to the conveyor system 50 . When a skid 12 A, 12 C is emptied, it can be removed and a full skid (not shown) can be located in its place. Thus, the retrieval operation can be continuously performed for any length of time without interruption. It should be appreciated that the stacking operation and the retrieval operation can be performed consecutively by the same automated system, thereby creating an infinite processing loop. Further, the automated system described herein can be incorporated in a production facility where empty trays are filled with envelopes and stacked on the skids or in a processing facility where full trays are removed from the skids and emptied for further processing. The principle and mode of operation of this invention have been explained and illustrated in its preferred embodiments. However, it must be understood that this invention may be practiced otherwise than as specifically explained and illustrated without departing from its spirit or scope.

Description

Topics

Download Full PDF Version (Non-Commercial Use)

Patent Citations (18)

    Publication numberPublication dateAssigneeTitle
    US-2005236348-A1October 27, 2005Killinger Timothy D, Lerch Matthew G, Smith Aaron W, Cavada Gilberto Jr, Conklin Melanie LNestable and stackable document storage trays
    US-2012223083-A1September 06, 2012Georg Utz Holding AgInsert for a transport container made of plastic material
    US-3750892-AAugust 07, 1973W GrosseStackable tray for temporarily storing documents or other items
    US-4120444-AOctober 17, 1978Lionel Cedric Nall GraySecuring devices
    US-4333573-AJune 08, 1982Holoubek Verne RStackable tray
    US-4366905-AJanuary 04, 1983Syn-Trac Systems Inc.Plastic material handling rack
    US-4671411-AJune 09, 1987Rehrig Pacific CompanyNestable open case
    US-5186338-AFebruary 16, 1993Eastman Kodak CompanyPallet for holding a cassette
    US-5279438-AJanuary 18, 1994Franco CesanoPlastics box with corner uprights
    US-5460292-AOctober 24, 1995Holman; DonAgricultural container with corner struts
    US-5531352-AJuly 02, 1996Kradon, Inc.Agricultural container
    US-5638973-AJune 17, 1997Western Poly CorporationStorage container with interlocking corner members
    US-6749077-B1June 15, 2004Mcalpine Gilroy Clements, Alexander John BronkhorstCollapsible crate and associated connecting means
    US-7607542-B1October 27, 2009Chuan Pao HsiehContainer assembly of pallet structure
    US-7637373-B2December 29, 2009Norseman Plastics, LtdStackable container
    US-7699172-B2April 20, 2010Drader Manufacturing Industries Ltd.Stacking delivery tray
    US-D334412-SMarch 30, 1993Rubbermaid IncorporatedLetter tray
    WO-2011058489-A1May 19, 2011Georg Utz Holding AgEinsatz für einen transportbehälter aus kunststoff

NO-Patent Citations (0)

    Title

Cited By (0)

    Publication numberPublication dateAssigneeTitle