BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention generally relates to the dispensing of liquid from bottles and, more particularly, to a no-spill dispensing apparatus and system that overcomes the cap “floater” problem in the industry, while retaining the advantages o current liquid dispensing systems.
Bottled water companies supply packaged purified water to end users, typically in five-gallon bottles. The five-gallon bottle is heavy and difficult to install without spilling water. Also, since the water in the bottle is purified, there is a desire by the industry to maintain the integrity of both the water and the water bottle. Therefore, caps have been developed to make the bottle easier to install and to also maintain the quality of the water and the container during transportation and installation onto a water dispensing appliance such as a water cooler. Examples of such caps are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,392,939, 5,542,555 and 5,904,259, each of which are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety. In these cap designs, the cap fits over the neck of the bottle and seals the bottle so that it is watertight and sealed against contamination. When the consumer of the water installs the water bottle on the water dispensing appliance, an internal cap plug is dislodged and seats itself on an upstanding probe. An opening in the probe allows water to flow into the water dispensing appliance without spilling and without the need to remove the can and expose the contents of the bottle to contamination. During water dispensing, the cap plug is intended to remain fixed to the probe until the bottle is empty and is removed from the water dispensing appliance. Then, upon bottle removal from the water cooler, it is intended that the cap plug reseat itself inside the cap and reseal the bottle. This allows the bottle to be removed without spilling any remaining contents in the bottle, while also resealing the bottle and reducing the opportunity for contamination of the bottle during transportation of the empty bottle back to the filling location. However, because of inconsistencies in the manufacturing process of both the probe mechanism and the caps, and because the cap must operate on many different type of probe mechanisms used in the industry, the cap plug frequently does not seat correctly on the probe. This may result in the plug, instead of reseating itself inside the cap, separating from the cap and floating inside the water bottle. This is termed a “floater” in the industry and is objectionable both from the industry's perspective and from the consumer's point of view. Additionally, when the bottle is substantially empty and ready to be removed, a floating plug will not reseat itself on the probe. The result is that water can spill from the bottle as the bottle is removed, the bottle will not be sealed, and the loose plug can foul washing and filling equipment when the bottle is returned for refilling.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, it would be advantageous to provide a bottle cap which overcomes these problems.
The present invention includes a bottle cap and method for its use in connection with a water dispensing apparatus and system in which the cap plug is physically attached to the cap body so that if the cap plug does not seat properly on the probe mechanism, it will not float away into the bottle. This eliminates the visual “floater” problem and also ensures that the cap plug, since physically attached to the cap, will be discarded when the cap is discarded. It is believed that the present invention will, therefore, substantially reduce customer complaints and concerns over cap plug “floaters,” reduce associated equipment problems, and also reduce, although not eliminate, the possibility of the plug releasing from the probe mechanism.
In a preferred embodiment of the invention, a cap is provided for sealing a liquid container such as a water bottle. The cap includes a body with an annular wall sized to sealingly contact a neck of the liquid container, and an inner annular wall with at least one plug gripping formation. The cap also includes a cap plug having an outer surface with at least one cap gripping formation for engaging a corresponding of the at least one plug gripping formation. The cap body and the cap plug are physically attached by a tether to ensure that the cap plug does not completely disassociate from the cap during liquid container removal and replacement. In a particularly preferred embodiment, the tether, which may be a plastic strip, may be connected to a plastic ring sized to snap-fit over the inner annular wall of the cap body.
In an alternative embodiment of the invention, a liquid container closure and probe combination for use in dispensing a liquid from the container is provided. The probe is adapted to be placed in fluid communication with the liquid container, and to allow the removal of liquid from the container. The closure includes a cap body and a cap plug. The cap body includes an outer annular wall sized to sealingly contact a portion of the liquid container, and an inner annular wall with at least one plug gripping formation. The cap plug includes an outer surface with at least one can gripping formation for engaging the at least one plug gripping formation, to form a liquid-tight seal between the plug and the cap body. Again, the cap body and the cap plug are preferably physically attached by a tether to ensure that the cap plug does not completely disassociate from the cap during liquid container removal and replacement. In a particularly preferred embodiment, the plug includes a sealing portion fitting over and sealing against a corresponding portion of the cap body, and an engaging portion which engages and retains the plug in fixed position adjacent the probe when the probe is engaged to remove liquid from the container.
In another alternative embodiment of the present invention, a method is provided enabling dispensing from a liquid container. A cap body is provided having an annular wall sized for connection to a portion of the liquid container, and a frangible cap plug having a seal that may be ruptured. When a hollow probe is inserted into the cap, the cap plug is ruptured, enabling fluid communication between the probe and the liquid container, and when the probe is disengaged from the cap, the cap plug automatically substantially reseals the liquid container. The cap plug preferably is made of a resilient membrane or check valve, and most preferably is made of a thermoset or thermoplastic elastomers (e.g., silicone) that returns to its original shape when the load is removed. Such a cap plug is available, for example, from Liquid Molding Systems, Inc. of Midland, Mich. When the probe is disengaged from the cap, the cap plug, depending upon its design and material, may be caused to return to its approximate original shape. The cap plug may initially include a thinned portion which ruptures upon insertion of the probe.
In another alternative embodiment of the invention, a method is provided for enabling dispensing from a liquid container. A cap is provided for sealing a liquid container which includes a cap body with concentric outer and inner annular walls. The outer annular wall may be sized to connect to a portion of the liquid container. The inner annular wall may be sized to accept wedge-shaped cap plug. When a probe is inserted into the cap, the cap plug is engaged by the probe and the cap plug is raised by the probe above the inner annular wall, enabling fluid communication between the liquid container and the probe. Upon disengagement of the cap from the probe, the cap plug substantially reseals the liquid container by reseating itself within the inner annular wall of the cap body. Preferably, the cap plug does not contact any outside or top surface of the inner annular wall of the cap body. The inner annular wall of the cap body may be caused to bow outwardly when the cap is disengaged from the probe and the cap plug is seated back within the inner annular wall; during this reseating, the design of the cap plug, probe and inner annular wall of the cap body is such that the frictional force between the inner annular wall of the cap body and outer walls of the cap plug exceeds a snap force between the cap plug and the post, thereby allowing the post to disengage from the cap while permitting the cap plug to reseat itself between the inner walls of the cap body.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In yet another alternative embodiment of the present invention, a method is provided for dispensing liquid from a bottle having a bottle cap normally sealing the bottle and in selective fluid communication with a water dispensing unit housing a reservoir and an upstanding hollow probe. The bottle is placed adjacent the water dispensing unit, and the probe is seated in contact with and in fluid communication with the bottle cap. A cap plug is attached to the bottle cap using an attachment mechanism such as a tether terminating in a ring sized to fit an annular wall on the bottle cap. Dispensing liquid from the bottle commences, causing the liquid to flow through the bottle neck, the bottle cap and the attached cap plug, and through the probe. When the bottle is removed from the probe, the bottle cap remains engaged with the bottle, and the cap plug remains attached to the bottle cap by the attachment mechanism.
The novel features which are characteristic of the invention are set forth in the appended claims. The invention itself, however, together with further objects and attendant advantage thereof, can be better understood by reference to following description taken in connection with the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is a partial sectional view of one preferred embodiment of the bottle cap of the present invention installed on a bottle container neck, and about to be inserted onto the skirt of a dispensing unit having an upstanding feedstock or probe;
FIG. 2 is an exploded, sectional view of the bottle cap embodiment shown in FIG. 1, with the bottle now lowered such that the probe has been inserted into the bottle cap; allowing dispensing into a lower reservoir (not shown) to occur;
FIG. 3 is a side and planar perspective of a preferred bottle cap of the present invention, showing a cap plug tethered to the cap body;
FIG. 4 is a sectional view along section line 4-4 of FIG. 3;
FIGS. 5A and 5B are enlarged sectional views showing the cap plug/bottle cap wall interaction (before and after abutment, respectively) as indicated by the referenced bracket in FIG. 4;
FIG. 6 is a side and planar perspective view of an alternative bottle cap embodiment according to another aspect of the present invention;
FIG. 7 shows the bottle cap embodiment of FIG. 6, with a probe having pierced the middle gasket of the cap;
FIGS. 8A-8C are sectional views of the bottle cap embodiment shown in FIGS. 6-7 showing the bottle cap before, during and after probe penetration, respectively, while FIGS. 8AA and 8CC are enlarged sectional views of the circled portion shown in FIG. 8A before and after seal rupture, respectively;
FIGS. 9A-9C are sectional views of yet another alternative bottle cap design according to another aspect of the present invention, showing the bottle cap before, during and after probe penetration, respectively; and
FIG. 9D is an enlarged view of the circled portion in FIG. 9C.
- DEFINITION OF CLAIM TERMS
The components in the drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead being placed upon clearly illustrating the principles of the present invention. In the drawings, like reference numerals designate corresponding parts throughout the several views.
The following terms are used in the claims of the patent as filed and are intended to have their broadest meaning consistent with the requirements of law. Where alternative meanings are possible, the broadest meaning is intended. All words used in the claims are intended to be used in the normal, customary usage of grammar and the English language.
“Snap force” means the frictional force exerted between interior surfaces of the cap plug and an exterior surface of a top portion of the fill post, causing the cap plug to remain attached to the fill post.
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
“Substantially reseals” means that the cap plug seal reseals in a substantially liquid-tight fashion that may allow drips of liquid to pass the seal, but does not allow a steady trickle or stream of liquid to pass the seal.
Set forth below is a description of what are believed to be the preferred embodiments and/or best examples of the invention claimed. Future and present alternatives and modifications to this preferred embodiment are contemplated. Any alternatives or modifications which make insubstantial changes in function, in purpose, in structure, or in result are intended to be covered by the claims of this patent.
Referring first to FIG. 1, a preferred embodiment of the bottle cap of the present invention, generally referenced by numeral 10, is shown. Bottle cap 10 may be sealed over open neck portion 15 of a liquid source, such as a 5-gallon water bottle. A conventional liquid dispensing apparatus 20, which may include an upstanding feedstock or probe 22 and a skirt 24 for supporting the water bottle, is shown. Base 14 may be connected to a lower liquid reservoir (not shown). Circulate plate 30 including annual wall 30A may be connected in liquid-tight fashion to the lower reservoir using rubber gasket 31, for example. As disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,957,316, for example, and as known in the art, once hollow probe 22 has been inserted into bottle cap 10, liquid such as water may be allowed to flow from the liquid source through the probe and into the reservoir in fluid communication with the probe, so that liquid may be dispensed from the bottle and into the reservoir. To ensure continuous dispensing and to avoid airlock, air may be permitted to flow through probe ports 22A from an ambient source, for example, so that air enters the liquid source/water bottle during dispensing.
Referring now to FIGS. 2-4, bottle cap 10 includes inner annular wall 27 and outer annular wall 29. A cap plug 25, having an attached tether 26 and ring 28, is also provided. To overcome the “floater” problem, ring 28 may be placed over the outer surface 27A of inner wall 27. Cap plug 25 may then be inserted within inner wall 27 of bottle cap 10. Referring to FIGS. 3 and 5A-5B, rib 33 on the outer surface of cap plug 25 is designed to provide a liquid-tight seal with lip 27C of inner wall 27. Rib 33 also may act as a secondary stop mechanism, to ensure that the plug is not dislodged from the bottle cap. Edge 39 and ledge 37 on the cap plug (see FIGS. 5A and 5B) may act as the primary stop mechanism, abutting bottle cap flange 27B to ensure that the cap plug is not pushed too deeply within wall 27 during initial water bottle installation and mating with the probe.
In operation, when probe 22 has been inserted through inner wall 27, inner wall lip 27C of the bottle cap (FIG. 3) may be configured to snap fit with probe ledge 22B (FIG. 1), ensuring a tight fit between the bottle cap and the probe. In this position, cap plug 25 may cover the top portion of probe 22. During dispensing, liquid is permitted to flow from the liquid source down through the bottle neck and bottle cap 10, down through cap plug 25 (a pinhole, not shown, may be provided in the closed top 25A, shown in FIG. 4, for this purpose), through probe ports 22A, down through the hollow probe and into the lower reservoir below the probe (not shown). When the liquid source (e.g., water bottle) is empty, and is removed from the probe, bottle cap 10 with cap plug 25 intact may be removed as an integral piece from the probe.
Referring to FIG. 4, bottle cap 10 may be provided with tear tab 40 having ribs 40A to facilitate grasping of the tear tab A seam of weakened area 41 may be provided to facilitate tearing. Of course, with the present invention, as there is no need for the consumer to remove the bottle cap during or after dispensing, bottle caps without tear tabs or weakened seams may be employed. It may be desirable, however, to utilize bottle caps with tear tabs and weakened seams for those bottlers not possessing decapping machines, for example. Finger 36 may be provided on the inner surface of outer annular cap wall 29 to hold down a compressible insert 57.
Referring now to FIGS. 6-8, an alternative bottle cap 50 is shown. Bottle cap 50 may be constructed in a similar fashion to bottle cap, 10 described above; however, cap plug 25 may be replaced with check valve 51, which may be made of a pliable or elastomeric material such as silicone. Silicone valve 51 may have a weakened area 51A at a midpoint so that, prior to insertion by hollow post or probe 22, the check valve is still fully sealed. Referring to FIG. 7, upon post penetration, check valve 51 is ruptured at portion 51A, allowing separate upward movement of flaps 51B and permitting dispensing to occur. When the water bottle is empty and probe 22 is removed from cap 50, check valve 51 returns to its original shape, as shown in FIG. 8C, preferably resealing the bottle in a liquid-tight or substantially liquid-tight fashion.
Referring now to FIGS. 9A-9D, yet another alternative bottle cap 60 is shown. Bottle cap 60 may be constructed in a similar fashion to bottle cap 10, described, above; however, cap plug 25 may be replaced with a wedge-shaped plug 61, as shown. Referring to FIG. 9A, plug 61 is initially retained within bottle cap 60 as shown. Referring to FIG. 9B, upon penetration of the cap by probe 22, edges 61B (see FIG. 9D) of plug 61 are retained within the annular inset between probe ledge 22B and the probe cap; plug 61 is raised by upward movement of the probe and removed from the cap's inner side walls 27, allowing water to flow through the liquid source, through probe opening 22A, and from the post into a reservoir (not shown), in the direction of the arrows. Ambient air may also be permitted to enter the probe and then, through the probe, to enter the liquid source to prevent air lock. Referring to FIG. 9C, when the bottle cap is removed from the post, wedge-shaped plug 61 is caused to slide down and once again seat itself within inner cap side walls 27. Referring to FIGS. 9C and 9D, this occurs as cap side walls 27 may be designed to distort or bow slightly outwardly as wedge-shaped plug 61 enters, such that the friction between the outer surface of plug walls 61A and the inner surface of inner cap wall 27C and annular nubs 27B will gradually increase; when the friction between these opposing surfaces exceeds the snap force between plug 61 and post 22, the post will be released and the plug will reseat itself within cap walls 27 and reseal cap 60, as shown in FIG. 9C. In the event that the plug were not to thus disengage from the probe, the tether (not shown in these drawings for simplicity) could be used to ensure that the plug is removed from the probe when the bottle cap/bottle combination is removed.
Still referring to FIGS. 9A-9D, inner wall annular ribs 27D function as the stopper for plug 61 to limit its downward movement. Plug nub 27B interacts with wall protuberance 61C to provide a liquid-tight seal between cap wall 27 and probe 22. As shown, during its life cycle plug 61 does not touch either top portion 27A or the outer periphery 27D of cap wall 27.
The above description is not intended to limit the meaning of the words used in the following claims that define the invention. Other systems, methods, features, and advantages of the present invention will be, or will become apparent to one having ordinary skill in the art upon examination of the foregoing drawings, written description and claims, and persons of ordinary skill in the art will understand that a variety of other designs still falling within the scope of the following claims may be envisioned and used. It is contemplated that these or other future modifications in structure, function or result will exist that are not substantial changes and that all such insubstantial changes in what is claimed are intended to be covered by the claims.