LOAD BEARING TONNEAU COVER WITH INTEGRAL TRACK, IMPROVED LATCH TO VEHICLE AND CUSTOM FRAME ATTACHMENT
A system and method for providing a folding load bearing hard tonneau cover, wherein each folding section is constructed using friction stir welds for strength, stiffness and visual appeal, wherein edge extrusions may include an integral attachment track which is capable of sustaining high tie down loads, wherein a spring loaded latching system has the strength to react the moments generated by heavy loads on top of the tonneau cover, wherein installation does not require modification to the bed but instead uses a 2 bolt attachment system, and wherein the tonneau cover may carry heavy loads on top that are easy to secure, and wherein a custom carrying frame is easily attachable to the tonneau cover to enable large and heavy loads, even some that are longer than the pick-up bed, to be carried on the tonneau cover while enabling use of the pick-up bed for other cargo.
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- 11. A tonneau cover that may be used to transport another vehicle, said tonneau cover comprised of:
a plurality of tonneau sections, wherein each of the tonneau sections is constructed using friction stir welds, each of the tonneau sections including a hinge at each edge where it is joined to an adjacent tonneau section, and each of the hinges being joined to the respective tonneau sections using friction stir welding; an integral track disposed along at least a portion of the tonneau cover, wherein the integral track provides a plurality of attachments points along a length thereof; a removable framework disposed on top of the plurality of tonneau sections, wherein the removable framework is attached to the tonneau cover using the integral track, and wherein the removable framework is comprised of at least one U-channel that provides a location for wheels or skis of a vehicle.
- View Dependent Claims (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)
- 19. A method for transporting at least one vehicle on a tonneau cover, said method comprising:
providing a plurality of tonneau sections, wherein each of the tonneau sections is constructed using friction stir welds, each of the tonneau sections including a hinge at each edge where it is joined to an adjacent tonneau section, and each of the hinges being joined to the respective tonneau sections using friction stir welding; providing an integral track disposed along at least a portion of the tonneau cover, wherein the integral track provides a plurality of attachments points along a length thereof; providing a removable framework disposed on top of the plurality of tonneau sections, wherein the removable framework is attached to the tonneau cover using the integral track, and wherein the removable framework is comprised of at least one U-channel that provides a location for wheels or skis of a vehicle; and disposing at least one vehicle on the tonneau cover and on the removable framework.
This invention relates generally to tonneau covers. Specifically, the present invention is directed to obtaining an improved load bearing tonneau cover that includes improvements by including an integral track in each section of the tonneau cover, an improved latch mechanism for attaching the tonneau cover to a vehicle, and a custom carrying frame for loading UTVs or snowmobiles on the tonneau cover.
A tonneau cover may describe a hard or soft cover used to protect unoccupied passenger seats in a convertible or roadster, or the cargo bed in a pickup truck. Hard tonneau covers may open by a hinging or folding mechanism while soft covers may open by rolling up.
A tonneau cover may be used to conceal cargo or protect cargo from the elements. When the tonneau cover is used, it may keep cargo out of the sun and provides extra security by keeping items out of sight.
Tonneau covers have been well documented in publications since their inception in the early 1900s as a means to cover or conceal cargo in a vehicle. Even though vehicles have evolved in design and function over the years, the design of marketable tonneau covers may have only evolved in terms of aesthetics rather than increased practical functionality.
The largest market for tonneau covers may be the pickup truck. It has been estimated that 98% of the tonneau covers made for this market serve the singular function of covering the cargo bed to compliment the look of the vehicle.
One style of tonneau cover is the soft cover. The soft tonneau cover may generally be made from fabrics or fabric composites that resist water and UV light damage. This may be the most common cover because of its low cost. This style may be made to retract or roll up or back into position. The soft tonneau cover may occupy the least amount of space and there are a variety of attachment and fastening methods that are employed to attach it to a pickup truck.
A second style of tonneau cover is the hard cover. The hard cover is typically made from fiberglass, hard plastic, rubber, aluminum or some combination of these or other materials. The tonneau covers made from fiberglass may be described as a single shell type cover that opens by a hinge at the cab portion of the bed. Because they are quite heavy they may include pneumatically assisted cylinders for opening and closing. The hard tonneau covers are often made to order so that their color matches the color of the truck.
A variation of the hard tonneau cover is one that utilizes a series of foldable sections to cover the cargo portion of the bed. These sections can fold together from the rear to the front of the truck and stack near the cab to make use of the cargo portion of the truck bed. A variation of this design is to have a foldable section that opens from the side of the truck bed. The hard tonneau covers may either have locks located in the foldable panels or open from the inside of the bed. Typically, the covers that open from the inside of the bed rely on the factory locking tailgate to secure the bed contents. The hard tonneau cover is the next cost increment to not only cover the contents of the truck bed but to secure them as well with a lock system so that valuable items can be safely kept in the truck bed.
Both hard and soft tonneau covers may have a profile as low as possible with the top edge of the truck bed sides and tailgate for improved aesthetics. As a result, additional hardware may be needed to mount the tonneau cover to the inside walls of the truck bed.
One style of hard tonneau cover, fabricated from aluminum, has been developed to carry a load on the top while leaving the bed under the cover to carry additional items. This cover opens in a gull-wing manner with hinges secured across the middle of the truck bed allowing aluminum sections to open in the front behind the truck cab and at the tailgate. The utility is further increased by using boat style cleats for cargo tie downs. This style of tonneau cover is locked from the top of the cover and may have a protruding handle lock.
It is important to note that tonneau covers are aftermarket purchases that may need to be aesthetically pleasing to attract customers. Also, the owner may resist modifying a vehicle by making permanent changes such as drilling into the body or bed for attachment points.
There are some problems with existing tonneau covers. The soft tonneau covers may be limited to a covering function and cannot effectively be used for supporting objects. These tonneau covers may only protect the contents of the truck bed from weather. They may require multiple fasteners to be installed on the truck bed. It is a problem for many vehicle owners to drill holes in their vehicle for mounting these fasteners. In the event that it is desired to remove the cover altogether, the vehicle is left with exposed fasteners or if the fasteners are removed, permanent holes in the vehicle.
The single section hard tonneau cover, such as those made of fiberglass, may also require hardware mounted to the bed itself. This hardware may include hinges near the cab, gas struts on the sides and some sort of locking mechanism on the tailgate. In most cases, they are special ordered to be painted the color of the truck and a professional installer may need to be used for the installation.
There are several problems with this hard tonneau cover system. For example, the single section may only be opened as far as the gas struts allow. This means that nothing higher than the bed rails (if the cover is closed) could be put in the cargo section of the bed unless the hard tonneau cover itself is removed. If the hard tonneau cover is removed, it typically requires 2 people to undo hardware and lift the cover from the truck. This additional cost along with the yearly change in bed sizes for new truck models may make this a difficult and costly manufacturing/supply process.
Another problem with this hard tonneau cover design is the use of screws to attach hardware to the truck bed. A truck may experience extreme vibration during work and recreational use, especially if it is driven off road. Over a short amount of time, the thin sheet metal surrounding the screws may have a tendency to wear, deform and enlarge leaving a heavy tonneau cover improperly secured to the vehicle.
Hard tonneau covers with folding sections may add the element of utility by folding back and allowing objects taller than the sides of the bed to be transported in the bed without removing the hard tonneau cover. Unfortunately, most of the designs for hard tonneau covers have a significant number of parts required for construction to achieve this design objective. This construction may include rails that must be attached to the inside of the bed rails and each foldable section must fit uniformly and rest on these rails.
If the inside measurement across the width of the truck bed at the tailgate is 2 to 4 inches less than the inside measurement taken across the bed at the cab (both measurements taken at rail height) as in many trucks, each folding section may need to be trapezoidal in shape for proper fit up with the bed rails. This taper varies with make, model and year, and is a tremendous difficulty and expense for manufacturers to deal with for the multitude of trapezoidal shaped folding sections.
The problem may often be managed by offshore sourcing of materials to reduce cost and followed by domestic assembly of the components. Offshore sourcing is becoming more problematic because of long lead times, higher shipping costs, and higher component costs as world manufacturing costs merge closer together. Also, the uncertainty of foreign suppliers and their respective governments, means that domestic manufacturers must bear the risk of higher inventories, and consequently, higher costs. Further, costs may be incurred as a result of obsolete products which cannot be dumped in the market place without affecting existing price levels.
For the additional cost, these folding hard tonneau covers have only added a single dimension of utility by increasing cargo bed utilization. It is unfortunate that much of the cost and effort that goes into the design and fabrication of a folding hard tonneau cover may not provide additional utility. For example, the hard tonneau cover may not be able to carry loads or objects on top without being damaged. Many hard tonneau cover designs do not allow for any load whatsoever on top and therefore do not have attachment points to carry a load. In addition, the inherent design of the hard tonneau cover may not allow any load on the top surface because of small rails that are designed only to bear the weight of the tonneau cover and not the additional cargo load.
A pickup truck bed utility might be increased if additional items or cargo could be placed on top of the hard tonneau cover and secured while maintaining aesthetics of the cover.
One prior art design tried to provide this functionality by using aluminum tread plate sheet as a top layer with square tubing welded to the underside. This design has several design problems. First, the design prevents tall bed cargo utility by allowing only a small portion of the bed to be accessible to carrying tall cargo. Second, this tonneau cover is secured in the middle section of the truck bed by connecting the truck rails directly over the wheel wells. Hinges connect a front cab facing section and rear tailgate facing section aluminum structure which partially open with gas strut assistance. This design prevents the use for cargo taller than the bed rail to be placed in the truck bed. The struts can be disconnected on one side to somewhat increase the payload capacity, however securing the payload with tie downs is severely limited. Third, the tie down method employed utilizes a series of cleats that extend above the surface around the periphery of the cover. These cleats are prone to breakage during loading and unloading and are aesthetically undesirable. Fourth, the aluminum is conventional welded throughout the entire construction of the hard tonneau cover. These welds may cause distortion, may cause solidification defects, may be a starting point for corrosion, and may be a starting locations for crack initiation—especially when the tonneau cover is under load. Fifth, conventional hinges are mechanically attached to the folding sections and may be prone to loosening. The locations may also be locations for water entry and don'"'"'t protect cargo under the cover from the weather. Sixth, there are latches on the top surface that lock the cover to the truck. These latches also protrude above the surface of the hard tonneau cover and prevent loads from being slid on and off of the surface of the cover. Seventh, because this load carrying design does not allow access to much of the bed, it may need to be removed to allow the use of hitching a goose neck trailer (used for cargo, livestock hauling, etc.) and 5th wheel trailers used for recreation.
Another matter that must be discussed is a latching mechanism that needs to be used to prevent the embodiments of the invention from moving during braking or acceleration of a vehicle. It seems that there are an infinite number of latch styles and types for many applications. They range from typical door latches used in homes to specialty latches found in the automotive and aerospace applications. The majority of these applications utilize latches that restrict one degree of freedom of each side of a hinged device. Simply stated, they are used to keep two components on a hinge from opening. The next most common hinge restricts 2 degrees of freedom and is used to maintain the closure of 2 components but resists lateral sliding along the hinge axis. The most common of these latches is a buckle latch. Buckle latches are common to travel trunks that need to resist the top and bottom sections from sliding apart at the closure plane. These latches are used when the hinge is not rigid enough to prevent an extra degree of freedom.
It is interesting to note that assembly engineering design convention typically utilizes latches that resist one degree of freedom for the use of the assembly. In other words, hinges are designed to resist load conditions except for the movement of opening and closing said hinged components. This latch style resists one degree of freedom, the motion to open the hinged components. There are many design opportunities where the hinge is compliant and cannot resist all of the degrees of freedom of the hinged assembly. One example of this case is the load bearing foldable tonneau cover. Compliant hinges may be used to join at least 2 load bearing sections of this foldable tonneau cover. Since the hinges are compliant, the forces of the load secured to the top of the cover and the tonneau cover itself must be reacted against the truck bed in some fashion. This latch system must react 3 degrees of freedom—1. The force to lift the cover upwards, 2. The force to prevent the cover and load from sliding forwards when the truck brakes are suddenly applied, and 3. The force applied when the truck quickly accelerates. Each section of the tonneau cover that has an attached load must be able to react the forces to the bed of the truck. In addition, the latch system must be low profile and still allow each cover to fold on itself.
There are many other examples of assemblies and compliantly hinged components that could benefit from a latch solution that would eliminate at least 2 degrees of freedom.
Another issue that arises with tonneau covers may be an affordable attachment system for securing loads to the top of the tonneau cover. For example, when it is desirable to attach a load, a D ring may be used. The D ring attachment method may be unique and integral to a heavy duty design. The D ring may rely on a formed tread plate extended over an edge extrusion to contain and cover the D ring as well as reacting tie down loads as shown in
Another issue that may arise is the desire to haul items that are larger or may be longer than the bed of a pickup truck. For example, an owner may wish to transport a side-by-side recreational vehicle (UTV) or a snowmobile. These vehicles are typically longer than the bed of the pickup truck and may require the use of a very large and custom-built frame that is mounted to a pickup truck. The custom-built frame is expensive and may prevent access to or use of a pickup bed. Alternatively, the owner may pull down a tail-gate so that the vehicle can sit in the bed and hang over the back end of the tailgate. This option may prevent the owner from using the pick-up bed for hauling other items.
It would be an improvement over the prior art to provide a tonneau cover that can accommodate a large vehicle that may hang over the end of the pick-up truck and still allow use of the pick-up bed for carrying other items.
It is to be understood that the following description is only exemplary of the principles of the present invention, and should not be viewed as narrowing the claims which follow.
The present invention is a system and method for providing a folding load bearing hard tonneau cover, wherein each folding section is constructed using friction stir welds for strength, stiffness and visual appeal, wherein edge extrusions may include an integral attachment track which is capable of sustaining high tie down loads, wherein a spring loaded latching system has the strength to react the moments generated by heavy loads on top of the tonneau cover, wherein installation does not require modification to the bed but instead uses a 2 bolt attachment system, and wherein the tonneau cover may carry heavy loads on top that are easy to secure, and wherein a custom carrying frame is easily attachable to the tonneau cover to enable large and heavy loads, even some that are longer than the pick-up bed, to be carried on the tonneau cover while enabling use of the pick-up bed for other cargo.
These and other embodiments of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art from a consideration of the following detailed description taken in combination with the accompanying drawings.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS
Reference will now be made to the drawings in which the various embodiments of the present invention will be given numerical designations and in which the embodiments will be discussed so as to enable one skilled in the art to make and use the invention. It is to be understood that the following description illustrates embodiments of the present invention, and should not be viewed as narrowing the claims which follow.
A first embodiment of the present invention is shown in
A diagram of this tonneau cover of the first embodiment is shown in
This figure illustrates two subsurface D rings 20 and a cross section of a pliable hinge 22.
In order for a tonneau cover 10 to be durable as it serves as a utility surface, the first embodiment may eliminate mechanical fasteners such as screws, rivets, crimped interlocks, and other common devises that often form the integral structure of prior art tonneau covers. These fasteners may be acceptable for large or thick cross sections; however, they tend to be failure points for thin cross sections that exist in the tonneau cover 10 of the first embodiment.
Other joining methods such as conventional weld methods which require the melting and subsequent freezing of materials to form a joint are also eliminated with this construction method of the first embodiment. A solid state joining method may include but not be limited to a combination of friction stir joining, friction stir spot joining, friction stir processing, linear friction joining, etc. and are referred to hereinafter collectively as friction stir welding. The friction stir welding may be used at all appropriate joint locations such as those shown in
Using friction stir welding to create the solid state joints 30 of the tonneau cover 10 may be advantageous because the tonneau cover may be constructed as a continuous skeletal structure without the disadvantages of a structure that is welded using conventional welding techniques. Using friction stir welding may eliminate the problems of conventional joints that become stress raisers that lead to component failure. Friction stir welding of joints may be an essential element of the first embodiment in order to resist the extreme environment of high loads, vibration and impact which is considered normal use for pickup trucks and off road vehicles.
Another important aspect of the first embodiment of the invention may be the ability to easily attach the tonneau cover 10 to the pickup truck bed rail without modifying the bed with holes and screws while capable of reacting loads attached to the surface 36 of the tonneau cover 10. The tonneau cover 10 should easily unlock, open, unfold, fold back and lock.
The first embodiment of the invention may utilize a movable magnetic clamp 26 design that may also be attached to various thick section locations under the tonneau cover 10 for quick securing and un-securing of the section 14, 16, 18 of the tonneau cover that is being opened or closed.
The first embodiment of the present invention allows for loads to be secured on the surface 36 of the tonneau cover 10. Accordingly, there may be a need for a convenient method to store and access the necessary equipment used for securing loads. Tie down straps, tools, chains, etc. may tend to be loose in the bed of the truck or cluttering the cab because there may be no convenient method or means to access them.
Another aspect of the first embodiment for increasing the utility of this tonneau cover 10 may be the use of connection points to attach accessories such as tool boxes, winches, racks, specialty fixtures for sporting good items, etc. The problems associated with using fasteners to construct a tonneau cover 10 with existing art were identified earlier. These problems may be a result of joining thin sections of the tonneau cover 10 to other thin or thick sections. The first embodiment allows for the outer edge structure to have a thick section which allows for the mechanical attachment to other thick sections as shown in
In this example, the ramp may be unbolted and stored in the pickup bed. Another example would be to attach a “headache rack” to a hole pattern on the surface of the section 12 of the tonneau cover 10 that is adjacent to the cab of the truck in order to prevent surface cargo from contacting the rear window of the cab.
A plurality of different fixtures and accessories may be attached to the surface of the tonneau cover 10 for increased utility. In addition, there are several attachment points on the underside 100 of the tonneau cover 10 that may be used in the same fashion for attaching additional items.
Another aspect of the invention has been developed because of a problem that has been noticed with regards to keeping the tonneau cover 10 from moving during braking or acceleration of a vehicle. What is needed is a latch assembly that prevents unwanted movement of the tonneau cover 10.
Off-the-shelf latches are generally used in common applications and produced in large volumes so the latch component represents a small cost to the application. Specialty latches are more expensive and less common and are typically made to order. An example of a specialty latch is used to lock foldable hard tonneau covers in place on a pickup truck bed. It is common to use two opposing spring loaded pull pins that are connected together with a wire as they face opposite directions. As the wire is pulled transverse to the position of the pins, they retract towards each other and the pins release from their attachment point on the side of the truck bed. The pin is almost identical in design to the pins used to engage a door knob latch to the door jamb of the common house door. This style of latch is only used on foldable hard tonneau covers that do not carry loads.
Foldable load bearing Tonneau covers may be a means to carry heavy loads on a pickup truck while leaving space in the bed underneath the cover for storage. These tonneau covers may be unique in the sense that very heavy loads may be placed on top of the cover and attached or tied down using a D ring 20 system to secure the load to the surface 36 of the cover as disclosed above. The cover may be foldable or rather has independent load bearing panels or sections 14, 16, 18 that typically fold from the tail section towards the cab section of the truck to stack on top of each other and allow full access to the truck bed. Further, the embodiments above may teach that each of the panels or sections 14, 16, 18 is hinged with a compliant member such as rubber to allow folding and provide a water barrier. This tonneau cover 10 design is effective for attaching loads to the surface, freeing up space under the cover in the truck bed and weather proofing the bed.
All of the embodiments of the invention may benefit from a novel approach to react multiple degrees of freedom in a single latch component. This shifts the need to design an assembly with a complex and expensive load bearing hinge system to react loads in multiple directions.
Some advantages of the latch assembly 120 may include, but should not be considered as limited to, a hinged latch assembly that may restrict at least one degree of freedom in the closed position, a latch assembly with surfaces that may react loads without yielding latch material, a latch assembly having a release mechanism to open the latch, a latch assembly that may mate to a mounted block with surface to react loads, a mounting block that may not yield under load conditions, and a mounting block that may be attached using fasteners to eliminate drilling holes.
An alternative latch design is shown in
The costs associated with this concept may include the cost of tread plate 36 over the edge extrusion 38, the cost to bend the tread plate, the cost to laser cut the D ring 20 profile in the tread plate, the cost to friction stir weld the outer edge of the tread plate to the outside of the edge extrusion, and the material and labor cost of the D ring assembly 20. While the D ring 20 is an innovative and aesthetically pleasing solution to tying down loads on the top of the load bearing cover, it may not be economically viable for lighter duty pickup trucks.
The new embodiment shows the use of an “L track” as the integral track 166 that is disposed in the folding section 16. However, it should be understood that there are other types of track that perform the same function but may have slightly different top profiles. These other tracks may include E track, O track, etc. It should be understood that any of these commercially available off-the-shelf tracks may be integrated into the tonneau cover 10.
Some of the advantages of the integral track 168 in this new embodiment of an attachment system include but should not be considered as limited to the creation of many more attachment locations, eliminating the bending and laser cutting of a trade plate resulting in a single flat trade plate 36 in each folding section 16, and reducing the amount of material needed for construction of the tonneau cover 10.
The integral track 168 may be attached to the folding section 16 using friction stir welding. Friction Stir Welding (FSW) has been used for over 20 years to join aluminum and aluminum alloys. Those experienced in the FSW art dictate that FSW must be performed using an axial “forging” force on a rotating tool with a shoulder and pin as shown in
Those practicing FSW of thin sheet material in the prior art may recognize that thin sheets must be heavily clamped along the entire edge of each piece being joined. This is necessary to prevent the thin sheets from lifting, deforming and moving during FSW under high forging forces. Further, it is impossible to FSW aluminum sheets without the continuous support of an anvil to restrict any downward flow of aluminum. This alone may eliminate the possibility of using conventional FSW to join tread plates together because of the void 184 between the anvil 176 and bottom tread plate surface 188 created by the protruding diamond tread 186 as shown in
A radical change in thinking lead to a novel approach to tool design and FSW parameter development to allow thin sheet material to be joined. The following description explains how this is possible.
The bracket 206 that engages the tonneau cover 10 is adjusted laterally either towards or away from the truck bed rail 198 by matching serrations 208 to account for truck bed rail 198 taper that is present in every truck model. A slide bolt (not shown) on the tonneau cover 10 passes through a hole 212 in a vertical section 214 of the bracket 206 to secure the tonneau cover 10 to the bracket. Once the bracket 206 is positioned for engagement with the Tonneau cover latch, the bolts 210 are tightened. As the bolts 210 are tightened, the wedge lock 202 is drawn down to clamp against the truck bed rail 198. The clamping bracket 204 in turn reacts the force generated by the wedge lock 202 to secure the bracket 206 to the bed rail 198. Further adjustment may be achieved by moving the assembly of the wedge lock 202, the clamping bracket 204 and the bracket 206 vertically prior to drawing the wedge lock 202 tight against the clamping bracket 204 and the truck bed rail 198.
The wedge lock clamp 224 is coupled to the truck bed rail 198 using a wedge 228 and a bolt 230. A vertical tab 226 is also added to the wedge lock clamp 220 in order to attach an L track 222. The L track 222 provides a way to secure a load while the tonneau cover 10 is open and tie down points are needed. It also allows attachment of hardware (gas struts and remote control lock) to open the section of the tonneau cover 10 that is nearest to the cab.
It may be desirable to load a vehicle on the tonneau cover that extends beyond the bed of the truck. This may be accomplished by attached a support framework that is easily attached and removed from the tonneau cover 10. The framework may be wider, longer or both wider and longer than the truck bed and the tonneau cover. What this invention may provide is a means for attaching and removing a frame quickly and easily.
This figure shows a U-channel 242 that is bolted to the top of the tonneau cover using the integral L track 168. This figure shows two wheels 244 of a UTV or another vehicle disposed in the U-channel 242. This figure shows that chocks 246 are disposed in front and behind a wheel 244 in the U-channel 242.
A final aspect of the invention is that the tonneau cover 10 may include a rounded and raised center line down the length. A rounded center line provides a natural path for liquid such as rain to drain off of either side of the tonneau cover 10.
Although only a few example embodiments have been described in detail above, those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that many modifications are possible in the example embodiments without materially departing from this invention. Accordingly, all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of this disclosure as defined in the following claims. It is the express intention of the applicant not to invoke 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6 for any limitations of any of the claims herein, except for those in which the claim expressly uses the words ‘means for’ together with an associated function.