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Title:
ARTICULATING COMPOSITE SURFACE COVERING MAT AND METHOD OF MAKING
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/208716
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An articulating composite surface covering mat and process of forming the mat are provided. The mat has multiple units having a natural or irregular appearance, and each unit has an irregular peripheral shape and a flexible geogrid extending therethrough. Irregular gaps are formed in the spacing between the units. The peripheral surface of the mat includes multiple sides, where at least some of the sides have S-curve geometry. A method of forming the mat includes forming the mat upside-down on a bottom surface of a bottom mold, locating a geogrid in a cavity defined between the bottom mold and a top mold, and placing the top mold over the bottom mold to form the mold assembly, sealingly engaging the transverse walls of the bottom mold and top mold where there is no geogrid, and adding the filler to the mold assembly.

Inventors:
RICCOBENE, Thomas S. (532 Westgate Lane NW, Los Ranchos, New Mexico, 87107, US)
RICCOBENE, Dominic S. (637 Pueblo Solano Road NW, Los Ranchos, New Mexico, 87107, US)
Application Number:
US2018/031495
Publication Date:
November 15, 2018
Filing Date:
May 08, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
RICCOBENE DESIGNS LLC (532 Westgate Lane NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87107, US)
International Classes:
E02D3/12; E02D17/20; E02D31/06
Domestic Patent References:
WO2017052032A12017-03-30
Foreign References:
JPH0849237A1996-02-20
US20020180076A12002-12-05
US20070077387A12007-04-05
CN201669790U2010-12-15
US4621942A1986-11-11
JPH07317176A1995-12-05
GB2122127A1984-01-11
US8336274B22012-12-25
US7972129B22011-07-05
EP2363262A12011-09-07
US4234534A1980-11-18
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WANEK, Laura (300 South Wacker Drive, Suite 2500Chicago, Illinois, 60606, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A process for the formation of an articulating composite surface covering mat which comprises spaced apart units that are held together by a geogrid, the process comprising the steps:

disposing a bottom mold on a substantially level surface, wherein the bottom mold has a generally planar bottom surface that defines the top surface of the formed mat, and transverse walls extending from the bottom surface of the bottom mold;

locating a geogrid onto a cavity defined by at least one of the bottom mold and a top mold such that the geogrid is generally horizontal, wherein the geogrid extends into each of the spaced apart units to be formed;

placing the top mold over the bottom mold to form the mold assembly, wherein the bottom mold and the top mold define the cavity therebetween for receiving the geogrid, wherein the top mold has a generally planar top surface and transverse walls extending therefrom;

sealingly engaging at least a portion of the transverse walls of the top mold with corresponding transverse walls of the bottom mold at a location of no geogrid therebetween; and

adding a filler to the mold assembly through openings in the top mold.

2. The process of claim 1 wherein the transverse walls of the top mold have one of a groove and corresponding positive structure, and the transverse walls of the bottom mold have the other of the groove and the corresponding positive structure, the process further comprising sealingly engaging the transverse walls of the top mold and the transverse walls of the bottom mold by fitting the positive structure into the groove.

3. The process of claim 2, wherein the transverse walls of the top mold and the transverse walls of the bottom mold have a snap-fit configuration, the process further comprising fitting the top mold and the bottom mold together in a snap-fit.

4. The process of claim 1 further comprising the step of positioning a press over the top of the top mold and engaging the press against the top mold so that the top mold is sealingly engaged against the bottom mold.

5. The process of claim 4 wherein the press is comprised of a frame having rigid members, the process further comprising the step of stacking multiple mold assemblies one on top of the other on their respective frames.

6. The process of claim 1 further comprising forming texture into the top surface of the formed mat by providing the bottom surface of the bottom mold with texture.

7. The process of claim 1 further comprising the step of removing the top mold after at least 24-hours of curing, and inserting a flash dislodger between the formed units.

8. The process of claim 7 further comprising the step of vibrating the flash dislodger.

9. The process of claim 1 wherein the bottom mold comprises a unitary piece and the top mold comprises a unitary piece, the process further comprising placement of the unitary top mold onto the unitary bottom mold.

10. A process for the formation of multiple articulating composite surface covering mats which each comprise spaced apart units that are held together by a geogrid and define a mat peripheral surface, the process comprising the steps: disposing a bottom mold on a substantially level surface, wherein the bottom mold has a generally planar bottom surface that defines the top surface of the formed mat, and transverse walls extending from the bottom surface of the bottom mold, a first portion of the transverse walls defining the spaced apart units to be formed, and a second portion of the transverse walls defining the mat peripheral surfaces of the multiple mats to be formed; locating a geogrid horizontally onto at least one cavity defined by at least one of the bottom mold and a top mold, wherein the geogrid extends over the first portion of transverse walls defining the spaced apart units and into each of the spaced apart units within each of the multiple mats, the geogrid not extending over the second portion of the transverse walls defining the peripheral surfaces of the multiple mats to be formed;

placing the top mold over the bottom mold to form the mold assembly, wherein at least one of the bottom mold and the top mold define the cavity therebetween for receiving the geogrid, wherein the top mold has a generally planar top surface and transverse walls extending therefrom;

engaging the transverse walls of the top mold with the second portion of the transverse walls of the bottom mold at the peripheral surface of the multiple mats to be formed; and

adding the filler to the mold assembly at an opening in the generally planar top surface of the top mold.

11. The process of claim 10 wherein the mold assembly is generally rectangular in shape, and the peripheral surface of a first mat is defined by the transverse walls on the upper left portion of the bottom mold that are identical, but rotated 180-degrees, to the peripheral surface of a third mat that is defined by the transverse walls on the lower right portion of the bottom mold, the process further comprising the step of placing the top mold on the bottom mold in one of a 0-degree rotation and a 180-degree rotation.

12. An articulating composite surface covering mat, comprising: multiple units having a natural or irregular appearance and formed of a filler, each having an irregular peripheral shape as viewed in plan view;

a flexible geogrid extending through and between each of the multiple units to define the mat;

irregular gaps formed between the multiple units, wherein the irregular gaps have irregular spacing as measured horizontally at the geogrid;

a peripheral surface of the mat defined by segments of peripheral surfaces of at least some of the multiple units, the peripheral surface of the mat having at least three sides, wherein at least two of the at least three sides comprise the segments of the peripheral surfaces of the multiple units defining S -curve geometry, wherein at least two of the three sides of the mat has a center point, and a first segment of the side is a 180-rotation of a second segment of the side about the center point.

13. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 12 wherein the geogrid is positioned generally parallel with the plane of a bottom surface of the mat, and generally at the center height of each of the multiple units.

14. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 13 wherein the geogrid has apertures defined by the geogrid, wherein each of the multiple units has at least one aperture embedded therein.

15. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 12 wherein the mat comprises two sides, two ends, and four corners, and wherein the mat can articulate in five directions including side-to-side, end-to-end, corner-to-corner, opposite corner to corner, and twist.

16. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 12 further comprising cleats located on a bottom surface of at least one of the multiple units, the bottom surface being configured to contact the substrate.

17. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 12 wherein at least one of the multiple units further comprises a bevel extending from a bottom surface up towards the geogrid.

18. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 12 wherein each of the multiple units has a stacking projection that is equal height to permit substantially level stacking of the mats.

19. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 12 wherein a rectangular shape is defined by an outer extent of the peripheral surface of the mat, and the S-curve geometry of each side traverses inside the rectangular shape at intersecting areas, wherein the intersecting areas are configured to receive portions of units of adjacent mats.

20. The articulating composite surface covering mat of claim 19 wherein the intersecting areas are located asymmetrically along the sides of the rectangular shape about the centerpoint of the sides.

Description:
ARTICULATING COMPOSITE SURFACE COVERING MAT

AND METHOD OF MAKING

RELATED APPLICATION

This Patent Convention Treaty (PCT) International Application claims the benefit of priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/504,343 filed May 10, 2017. The aforementioned application is expressly incorporated herein by reference in its entirety and for all purposes.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates generally to blocks, patios, fences, walls, retaining walls or surface covering mats, and particularly to surface covering mats for use in landscaping or for other site development needs, and more particularly to a surface covering mat that is used over stabilized hills and slopes.

BACKGROUND ART

Surface covering mats are often comprised of stone, brick, plastic, or concrete that are arranged to form a covering over a surface. These surface covering mats may be utilized for many reasons including as a surface for walking, for vehicular traffic, as a decorative element or as a protective surface. Surface covering mats that are predominately concrete or other rigid materials are generally not flexible, are difficult to install, or are unable to articulate over uneven surfaces, particularly on slopes. Terrain on a development site often includes hills and slopes that may be constructed of relatively stable or stabilized engineered soil that requires additional protection from elements such as wind, rain, and snow to stay in place over time and with little added maintenance. Conventional protective applications for these uneven surfaces are generally difficult and/or expensive to install, aesthetically unpleasing or difficult to maintain. Conventional methods typically utilize plants and grasses, hand placed natural stone, manufactured block, mechanically placed block or a mechanically sprayed-on concrete shell such as gunite.

Utilizing plants and grasses in conjunction with surface coverings on slopes is sometimes aesthetically desirable. Additionally, the roots of plants help to protect the surface by holding it together. Depending on site conditions and geographic regions, plants are difficult to grow and maintain due to location, cold, heat, lack of moisture or other conditions.

When utilizing hand placed natural stone, every stone is a different shape size and thickness requiring them to be handled individually. Each stone must be carefully fitted together and embedded into the soil to help prevent it from sliding or rolling and also to achieve the desired visual aesthetic in the exposed surface. Hand placed stonework is slow to install and also generally requires the installer to be a skilled craftsman with knowledge of stone cutting, fitting and placement. For these and other reasons, hand placing stone is generally known to be difficult and slow, especially on slopes, making the work expensive.

When manufactured blocks are used, they are normally used as ballast over geogrid to hold it in place. Geogrids, used widely in Civil Engineering applications to provide tensile reinforcement of soil, are geosynthetic materials made from polymers such as polypropylene, polyethylene or polyester which are formed as an open grid that allow soil to strike through the apertures allowing the two materials to interlock together to give a composite behavior. In a typical installation, geogrid is first applied directly over the slopes and then covered with protective ballasting elements such as gravel, stone or blocks. On slopes, gravel has limited appeal unless the grid contains large holding pockets to contain the gravel, making the grid expensive. Additionally, these installations are sometimes considered unsightly and difficult to install. Stone is rarely used because of its irregular nature. Manufactured block requires that each block be hand placed or, if mechanical installation is used, the blocks need to be cabled together prior to installation. This requires the block to first be individually placed on a flat surface then cabled together into large mats. These mats then must be moved to the area of installation by using a crane to lift the mats onto flatbed trucks for transport to the installation site where another crane must lift the mats into position. These mats are large and their final cabled shapes require them to be pre- engineered to fit specific places on the site.

When gunite is used, a wire or plastic mesh is applied over the slope and then concrete is sprayed over the mesh, providing a thin yet solid surface covering held together by the mesh. The process is fast, and compared to other methods, comparably inexpensive. However, the visual appearance of gunite is not usually desirable. Further, since application of gunite results in a solid shell over the surface, sometimes erosion may happen in the soil beneath the gunite covering which cannot be seen from the surface. This is a problem because if the erosion beneath the shell removes soil, the gunite can crack or collapse which leaves the slope unsightly, potentially dangerous and expensive to repair.

SUMMARY

In accordance with the present invention, an articulating composite surface covering mat includes multiple units having a natural or irregular appearance and formed of a filler, each having an irregular peripheral shape and a flexible geogrid extending between and through the units. Irregular gaps are formed between the multiple units and have irregular spacing as measured horizontally at the geogrid. A peripheral surface of the mat is defined by segments of peripheral surfaces of at least some of the multiple units. The peripheral surface of the mat has at least three sides, at least two sides including the segments of the peripheral surfaces of the multiple units defining S -curve geometry. At least two of the three sides of the mat has a center point, and a first segment of the side is a 180-rotation of a second segment of the side about the center point.

A process for the formation of an articulating composite surface covering mat that includes spaced apart units that are held together by a geogrid includes the step of disposing a bottom mold on a substantially level surface, where the bottom mold has a generally planar bottom surface that defines the top surface of the formed mat, and the where the bottom mold has transverse walls extending from the bottom surface. Additional steps include locating a geogrid onto at least one cavity that is defined by the bottom mold or a top mold or a combination of both the bottom and the top molds, such that the geogrid is generally horizontal, where the geogrid extends into each of the spaced apart units to be formed. Another step includes placing the top mold over the bottom mold to form the mold assembly, where the bottom mold and the top mold define the cavity therebetween for receiving the geogrid, and where the top mold has a generally planar top surface and transverse walls extending therefrom. A further step includes sealingly engaging at least a portion of the transverse walls of the top mold with corresponding transverse walls of the bottom mold at a location of no geogrid therebetween, and adding a filler to the mold assembly through openings in the top mold.

A process for the formation of multiple articulating composite surface covering mats, where each mat includes spaced apart units that are held together by a geogrid and define a mat peripheral surface, includes the steps of disposing a bottom mold on a substantially level surface, where the bottom mold has a generally planar bottom surface that defines the top surface of the formed mat, and transverse walls extending from the bottom surface of the bottom mold. A first portion of the transverse walls in the bottom mold define the spaced apart units to be formed, and a second portion of the transverse walls in the bottom mold define the mat peripheral surfaces of the multiple mats to be formed. Further steps include locating a geogrid horizontally onto at least one cavity defined by the bottom mold or the top mold or a combination of both the bottom and top molds, where the geogrid extends over the first portion of transverse walls defining the spaced apart units and into each of the spaced apart units within each of the multiple mats, but where the geogrid does not extend over the second portion of the transverse walls defining the peripheral surfaces of the multiple mats to be formed. Additional steps include placing the top mold over the bottom mold to form the mold assembly, where the bottom mold and the top mold define the cavity therebetween for receiving the geogrid, and where the top mold has a generally planar top surface and transverse walls extending therefrom. More steps include engaging the transverse walls of the top mold with the second portion of transverse walls of the bottom mold at the peripheral surface of the multiple mats to be formed, and adding the filler to the mold assembly at an opening in the generally planar top surface of the top mold.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a top perspective view of an articulating composite surface covering mat, the mat being shaded to indicate an irregular surface texture;

FIG. 2 is a top plan view of the surface covering mat;

FIG. 3 is a bottom perspective view of the surface covering mat;

FIG. 4 is a top perspective view of an example embodiment of interior unit of the surface covering mat having an embedded section of geogrid running horizontally through the unit and extending out from its sides, the unit being shaded to indicate an irregular surface texture;

FIG. 5 is a bottom perspective view of an example embodiment of interior unit of the surface covering mat having the embedded section of geogrid running horizontally through the unit and having two cleats that are formed on a bottom surface of the unit;

FIG. 6 is a cross-section view of an example embodiment of interior unit of the surface covering mat and shows the embedded section of geogrid running horizontally through and extending out from the unit, the unit having cleats on the bottom surface; FIG. 7 is a side elevation view of an example embodiment of surface covering mat;

FIG. 8 is a partial cross-section view of the surface covering mat, where the area of cross-section is horizontally above and along the plane of the geogrid, and additionally cross-sectioned vertically through the top surface of the mat, as indicated in FIG. 1 ;

FIG. 9 is a laying out pattern of multiple surface covering mats in a half-bond arrangement, with exemplary adjacent mats outlined in bold for purposes of showing their spatial relationship;

FIG. 10 is a laying out pattern of multiple surface covering mats in a basket weave arrangement, with exemplary adjacent mats outlined in bold for purposes of showing their spatial relationship;

FIG. 11 is a laying out pattern of multiple surface covering mats in a herringbone arrangement, with exemplary adjacent mats outlined in bold for purposes of showing their spatial relationship;

FIG. 12 is a laying out pattern of multiple surface covering mats in a straight arrangement, with exemplary adjacent mats outlined in bold for purposes of showing their spatial relationship;

FIG. 13 is a laying out pattern of multiple surface covering mats in an offset bond arrangement, with exemplary adjacent mats outlined in bold for purposes of showing their spatial relationship;

FIG. 14 is an exploded perspective view of a bottom mold, geogrid and top mold of a first embodiment of a mold assembly;

FIG. 15 is a perspective view of the assembled mold of FIG. 14 that is ready to be filled;

FIG. 16 is a perspective view of the assembled mold of FIG. 15 that is filled to the top of the top mold, where the filled material is shaded to indicate concrete; FIG. 17 is an exploded perspective view of a finished surface covering mat shaded to indicate concrete, where the finished mat was formed between the bottom mold and the top mold of FIG. 14;

FIG. 18 is a perspective view of two partial master molds for making the bottom mold and the top mold of FIG. 14;

FIG. 19 shows multiple surface covering mats articulating over natural sloped terrain;

FIG. 20 shows multiple surface covering mats articulating over natural sloped terrain where the individual units are filled with soil to permit vegetation growth;

FIG. 21 is perspective view of the surface covering mat being manually broken- away through the geogrid;

FIG. 22 is a schematic of the surface covering mat having units defining ergonomic handles for users to carry the mat;

FIG. 23 is a schematic of the surface covering mat having texture on the individual units of a uniform height throughout the mat for even stacking of multiple mats on top of each other;

FIG. 24 is a perspective view of the surface covering mat being articulated above a substrate to reveal treads on the bottom surface thereof;

FIG. 25 is a schematic of the surface covering mat that has been trimmed-out to allow for vegetation;

FIG. 26 is a detail view of an overlapping guard on two adjacent surface covering mats;

FIG. 27 is a perspective view of a surface covering mat having embedded cables;

FIG. 28 is a partially cut-away view of the surface covering mat being pinned through the exposed geogrid with a pin to a substrate;

FIG. 29 is a perspective view of a second embodiment of a mold assembly for making the surface covering mat; FIG. 30 is a section view of the mold assembly of FIG. 29 showing a cavity for receiving the geogrid;

FIG. 31 is a detail view of the mold assembly of FIG. 29 showing a steel frame above the top mold;

FIG. 32 is an exploded view of the mold assembly of FIG. 29 showing a groove in the bottom mold;

FIG. 33 is a detail section view of a first embodiment of snap -fit between the top mold and the bottom mold at the location of the trough;

FIG. 34 is a detail section view of a second embodiment of snap-fit between the top mold and the bottom mold at the location of the trough;

FIG. 35 is a detail section view of an outer gasket on the bottom mold;

FIG. 36 is a detail perspective view of the outer gasket on the bottom mold;

FIG. 37 is a detail view of an encapsulated plywood core of a mother mold;

FIG. 38 is a perspective view of the mother mold having suspension points for the plywood core;

FIG. 39 is a perspective view of a branded unit;

FIG. 40 is a perspective view of the surface covering mat having a flash dislodger placed between the individual units to dislodge the flash between the units;

FIG. 41 is a schematic depicting the surface covering mat in a first direction of articulation that is end-to-end;

FIG. 42 is a schematic depicting the surface covering mat in a second direction of articulation that is side-to-side;

FIG. 43 is a schematic depicting the surface covering mat in a third direction of articulation that is two diagonally opposing corners;

FIG. 44 is a schematic depicting the surface covering mat in a fourth direction of articulation that is the other two diagonally opposing corners;

FIG. 45 is a schematic depicting the surface covering mat in a fifth direction of articulation that is a twist; and

FIG. 46 is a perspective view of multiple mold assemblies being stacked.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIGs. 1-45 depict the preferred embodiments of articulating composite surface covering mats (herein "mats") and a method of making mats.

Referring to FIG. 1-8, a first embodiment of mat is indicated generally at 10. The mat 10 includes multiple irregularly shaped units 12. By the term "irregularly shaped" it is meant that the peripheral side of the unit 12 appears jagged or roughhewn, or comprises complex curves, and is not a straight line or a simple curve, e.g., a circular arc. However, it should be understood that an irregularly shaped side might comprise a multiplicity of straight-line segments angled with respect to each other, such that the general appearance of the side is irregular. Optionally, one or more portions of sides could consist of or include a straight segment or a regular geometric curve.

All of the units 12 are at least partially embedded horizontally with at least one section of geogrid 14. The geogrid 14 provides a flexible connection between the individual units 12 forming the mat 10. The mat 10 is relatively thin and flexible, is of a generally consistent thickness, and can perform as a structurally sound protective shell over stabilized soil or substrate S. In use, multiple mats 10 are placed next to each other to form an overall surface covering.

The mat 10 has a generally planar configuration that includes a top surface 16, a bottom surface 18 opposite of the top surface, and a peripheral surface 20 extending substantially perpendicularly between the top surface and the bottom surface. Likewise, each unit 12 includes a top surface 16 A, a bottom surface 18A and a peripheral surface 20 A. The top surface 16, 16A is preferably irregular, and more preferably has a stone texture or other surface textures to provide a natural appearance (as best seen in FIG. 4). Further, the top surface 16A can include false joints. Alternatively, for some applications, the top surface 16A may be smooth.

The peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10, as viewed from a top plan view, appears irregularly shaped. The peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10 generally defines a rectangular or square shape 29 (seen annotated in FIG. 2). However, as will be discussed below, the mat 10 can have at least three sides. In the preferred embodiment of FIG. 2, there are four total sides including two sides 22 and two ends 24. Each side 22, 24 consists of segments of peripheral surfaces 20 A of some of the units 12 located at the exterior of the mat. It is contemplated that the mat 10 may contain both exterior and interior units 12, or may only contain exterior units 12 (i.e. all units 12 in the mat 10 define the peripheral surface 20 of the mat). The segments of the peripheral surfaces 20A of the exterior units 12 form a center rotation geometry, or "S-curve".

FIG. 2 has been annotated to include a peripheral line immediately outside the peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10 for purposes of demonstrating the "S-curve" geometry of the sides 22, 24 of the mat. It should be noted that the annotated line is moved outwardly but adjacent to the actual peripheral surface 20 for purposes of clarity only. The purpose of the annotated line is to show the "S-curve" geometry of the peripheral surface 20, prior to surface irregularities being added to the peripheral surface 20. That is, the annotated line demonstrates the foundational S-curve geometry of the peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10, before that foundational geometry is obscured visually to the eye by adding irregularities to the peripheral surface 20 so that each unit 12 look like natural stone.

By the term "S-curve" it is meant that a first segment 21 A of each side 22, 24 extending from the centerpoint CP to the endpoint EP would be identical to a second segment 2 IB of each side extending from the centerpoint to the opposite endpoint if the first segment 21 A was rotated 180-degrees about the centerpoint. The resulting S- curve may be smoothly curved, non-smoothly curved, regular, or irregular.

For purposes of this patent application, the term "S-curve" is used in its broadest sense to mean any shape that is a center 180 -degree rotation, other than a straight line. For further disclosure of S -curve geometry, reference is made to US Patent Nos. 8,336,274 and 8,726,595 to Riccobene, the disclosures of which are entirely incorporated herein.

An S-curve is formed in the peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10 at each of the sides 22 and each of the ends 24, as viewed from the top plan view in FIG. 2. Preferably, the S-curve formed in the two sides 22 are substantially identical, such that the S-curve in one side is substantially a translation of the S-curve in the other side. Additionally, preferably the S-curve formed in the two ends 24 are substantially identical, such that the S-curve at one end is substantially a translation of the S-curve at the other end. The S-curve geometry along each side 22 and each end 24 of the mat 10 facilitates adjacent mats 10 fitting together (as will be further described with reference to FIGs. 9-13), where the adjacent mats are either duplicates of the original mat, or the adjacent mats are non-duplicates of the original mat but have substantially similar S- curve geometry to the original mat. With the S-curve geometry applied over multiple mats 10, where the multiple mats are not identical but have substantially similar S- curve geometry at their sides 22, 24, multiple configurations of mats can be fitted together in multiple layout configurations.

In one embodiment, the mat 10 has at least three sides 22. The peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10 defines S-curve geometry on at least two of the three sides. Those at least two sides have a center point CP, and the first segment 21A of the side is a 180-rotation of the second segment 2 IB of the side about the center point CP. Further, in an embodiment of mat 10 having four or more sides 22, 24, at least two of the sides have the S-curve geometry that allows the mat to mate with an adjacent mat.

Referring back to the preferred embodiment of FIG. 2, while the S-curve geometry is present in each of the sides 22 and ends 24, the peripheral surface 20 can be irregularly shaped in the plane that is parallel with the top surface 16, such that the peripheral surface 20 substantially follows the S-curve geometry but is not 100% identical to the S-curve geometry when the irregularities are added to the units 12. This can be seen in FIG. 2 where the peripheral surfaces 20 A of the units 12 look like natural stone, but still have the foundational S-curve geometry.

Additionally, the peripheral surface 20 can be irregularly- shaped in the plane extending perpendicularly from the top surface 16 to the bottom surface 18. For example, the peripheral surface 20 can taper or be non-uniform from the top surface 16 to the bottom surface 18, adding to its irregular shape (best seen in FIGs. 4-7). Between these surface irregularities at the peripheral surface 20 within a single mat 10, and surface irregularities that may be present at the peripheral surface in an adjacent mat, as long as both mats have substantially similar S-curve geometry, the adjacent mats will mate with each other to form a surface covering yet appear seamless without substantial gaps between mats. The term, "without substantial gaps" means no gaps and/or comparatively small gaps that may be filled with sand or mortar, and that are not as large as a single unit, such as between the mating sides of the units 10 and between individual units 12.

As best seen in FIG. 8, the embedded geogrid 14 is preferably smaller in size than the perimeter of the mat 10, as long as the geogrid is large enough to have at least one aperture 15 of the geogrid embedded into each of the perimeter units 12 of the mat. This allows the perimeter units 12 to have stone edges that protrude beyond the geogrid 14, allowing clear space between projecting portions of exterior units. This also provides a clean perimeter edge of the mat 10 that facilitates the installation of similarly S-curved shaped adjacent mats to mate with each other without restriction from the embedded geogrid 14. Mating of multiple mats 10 can be seen in FIGs. 9-13. The term "mate" is used to refer to the positioning of adjacent mats where adjacent mats fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, but in the state where either gaps 28 are present between the units, or alternatively where there is contact between adjacent mats 10. In the most preferred embodiment, the mating peripheral surfaces 20 of adjacent mats 10 should mate with gaps 28, but not substantial gaps.

It is contemplated that multiple mats 10 are provided with a different configuration of irregular units 12 such that the appearance of the multiple irregular units that are present in a given layout of mats is preferably of different sizes and shapes in plan view, and with a variable gap 28A spacing between individual units. The multiple, different mats 10 having multiple, different individual units 12 lends to a more natural aesthetic across the layout of mats.

The units 12 within the mat 10 are also spaced from each other by the gap distance 28A to allow flexibility between the units and for apertures 15 in the geogrid 14 to exist between the units. The individual unit 12 top surfaces 16A are also irregular and designed to mimic natural stone where top surfaces of each unit have a higher height or a lower height than other portions of the top surface of the same unit.

Where the peripheral surface 20 has a height from the bottom surface 18 to the top surface 16, the S -curve may be defined by the outermost peripheral projection of the surface 20 in the radial direction from the center of the unit 12 (where the radial direction is generally parallel to the top surface and the bottom surface of the unit), i.e. the outermost peripheral extent of the surface 20 as viewed in plan view. The peripheral surface 20 A of the units 12 are substantially vertical sides, however the peripheral surface can be rounded, beveled or near vertical- straight from the top surfaces 16A of the unit down to the level of the embedded geogrid 14. When the peripheral surface 20 A of these individual units 12 are coupled with the irregular gap spacing 28 A between units, the entire installed mat 10 appears as individual natural stones installed on the substrate S.

Installations of the mats 10 on slopes will generally be viewed from some distance. Therefore, it is desirable that the individual units 12 be large enough to see their shape and form from that distance. Units 12 that are too small in size would appear from a distance as a layer of small aggregate or stone and not necessarily as aesthetically pleasing larger stones. However, due to gravity, larger units 12 have a tendency to slide down on a slope. The bottom surface 18A of one or more units 12 may include tractive cleats 26. The cleats 26 enable the unit 12 to penetrate and grip into the soil or substrate S, thereby reducing the tendency for the mats 10 to slide down the hill. This also puts the geogrid 14 residing in the gaps 28 A between the units 12 directly in touch with the substrate S, which is a desirable position for the geogrid. Additionally, a channel 30 defines two cleats 26 that stabilize the unit 12 with the substrate S.

The embedded geogrid 14 is preferably a triaxial grid, but other configurations of geogrid are envisioned. For example, a biaxial or rectangular grid, mesh, screen, wire, or any other material that is both semi-rigid and flexible, and defines apertures 15 therein, are contemplated. Preferably the geogrid 14 is polypropylene, which has high tensile strength and is generally semi-rigid axially, thereby providing a horizontal and flexible articulating structure through the units. The flexible articulation allows installations of mats 10 where multiple mats fitted together do not necessarily need to be oriented in one direction or another across a hill or slope. One such geogrid 14 is commercially available under the trademark TENSAR®. Other types of geogrid 14, such as polyethylene or polyester, which are bundled fibers, may be used but are not preferred as these will easily collapse between the units causing the mats to be difficult to handle and install. Not only does the geogrid 14 provide flexible articulation in the gaps 28A between the units 12, but it also provides vertical stability between the individual units by restricting their vertical movement due to the geogrid being embedded through the units. Polypropylene geogrid 14, while axially semi-rigid, also provides some radial flexibility in gaps 28A between the units allowing for minor on- site adjustments to the mat 10 to aid installation.

Referring to FIGs. 41-45, the mat 10 is shown in 5-directions of articulation: 1) FIG. 41 shows end-to-end; 2) FIG. 42 shows side-to-side; 3) FIG. 43 shows two diagonally opposing corners; 4) FIG. 44 shows the other two diagonally opposing corners; and 5) FIG. 45 shows a twist (i.e. a non-45-degree and a non-90-degree articulation), which includes anything that is not purely the articulation directions shown in 1) through 4). The degree of articulation in any of the 5-directions is dictated by the gap space 28A between the units 12, the geometry of the individual units 12, the material of the geogrid 14, and the overall geometry of the mat 10. With 5-directions of articulation available to the mat 10, the mat is well-suited for an uneven substrate S.

Referring to FIGs. 9-13, multiple mats can be arranged in relationship to each other in many configurations to form an overall surface covering. Examples of such configurations are half-bond (FIG. 9), basket weave (FIG. 10), herringbone (FIG. 11), straight bond (FIG. 12), offset (FIG. 13), and/or combinations of the same, to cover a substrate S with an overall surface covering and to be aesthetically pleasing. Exemplary units 10 are outlined in bold for purposes of showing their spatial relationship. In the half-bond, one side 22 A of a first mat 10A mates with two half- sides 22B, 22C of two mats 10B, IOC. In the basket weave, one side 22 A of a first mat 10A mates with two ends 24B, 24C of two mats 10B, IOC. In the herringbone, one end 24A of a first mat 10A mates with half a side 22B of a second mat 10B, a first half of a side 22 A of first mat 10A mates with a first half of a side 22C of a third mat IOC, and a first half of a second side 22 A' of mat 10A mates with an end 24D of a fourth mat 10D. In the straight bond, the mats 10A and 10B are stacked and have the same rotational placement. In the offset, the first mat 10A is stacked above two mats 10B, IOC, but is offset to be adjacent over ¾ of the second mat 10B, and ¼ of the third mat IOC.

In the finished installation of these five arrangements or combinations of these five arrangements, the individual units 12 of all mats 10 are arranged together to visually appear as separate units 12 that are natural and of irregular thickness. The gaps 28 between the mats 10, and the gaps 28 A between the units 12 (as measured at the level of the geogrid) are all irregular, i.e. differing in width.

Additionally, referring back to annotated FIG. 2, the rectangular shape 29 is defined by the outermost extent of the peripheral surface 20 of the mat 10. It can be seen that the S-curve geometry of each side 22, 24 traverses inside the rectangular box 29 at intersecting areas 31. The intersecting areas 31 are configured to receive portions of units 12 of an adjacent mat within the rectangular shape 29 defined by the original mat. In the most preferred embodiment, the intersecting areas 31 are not located symmetrically along the sides of the rectangular shape 29 about the centerpoint CP of the sides 22, 24. This asymmetric location of the intersecting areas 31 further obscures the seams of adjacent mats 10 from view. Additionally, the surface areas of the intersecting areas 31 are dependent on the S-curve geometry, however in a preferred embodiment, the intersecting areas are in the range of 8% to 20% of the rectangular shape, and more preferably in the range of 10% to 17% of the rectangular shape. Thus, as seen in FIGs. 9-13, the resulting appearance of multiple mats 10 has hidden seams between units 10, and is similar to the appearance of a hand placed natural stone.

Referring to FIGs. 19-20, multiple mats 10 are capable of articulation in the 5- directions over natural sloped terrain substrate S. In FIG. 20 it can be seen that soil, grass, sand, gravel, concrete, glass, grout, plantings, or other materials may be used to fill in the gaps 28, 28A. In some geographic regions, condensation and moisture is held underneath and between the units 10, which can promote plant growth in the gaps 28, 28A.

Referring to FIG. 23, multiple (and preferably all) units 12 have a raised stacking projection 32 that is the same height so that each mat 10 can be stacked substantially level on a pallet. The raised projection 32 is disguised within the natural looking texture on the top surface 16A of the units 12 so that the projection is not easily discerned, but the projection facilitates even stacking of multiple mats 10 on top of each other for delivery to the work site. The mats 10 arrive at the installation site in a condition to be installed by relatively unskilled workers, in one operation, by directly placing mats onto the soil or substrate S. As seen in FIG. 22, the mat 10 has four corner units 12C that define ergonomic handles for users to carry the mat from the pallet to the location of placement on the substrate S. The corner units 12C have a protruding geometry such that their relatively slim shape allows them to be easily accessible for manual gripping.

Referring to FIGs. 21 and 25, trimming or cutting the mats 10 to fit around or against obstacles can be accomplished on site by manually breaking away units 12 by using another unit as a fulcrum and fracturing the geogrid 14 (see FIG. 21). Alternatively, the geogrid 14 can be cut between units 10 with a simple set of hand shears. Either way, trimming away portions of the mats 10 can allow space for vegetation or other obstacles (FIG. 25).

Referring to FIG. 24, the bottom surface 18A of the unit 12 may have treads 34 for gripping the substrate S. Also seen in FIG. 24, the unit 12 may have a bevel 36 in the range of about 20 to 45-degrees around the perimeter of the bottom surface 18A, which provides a smaller footprint of contact of the unit with the substrate S, and provides a larger area for drainage of water between units. The bevel 36 may extend from the bottom surface 18A at about 20 to 45-degrees to about the height of the embedded geogrid 14. When the mat 10 is placed on a substrate S, the bevel and the edge around any of the units 12 provide a channel for the drainage of water around the units.

Extending from the peripheral surface 20 vertically downward in the direction of the substrate S, the mat 10 may have an optional overlap guard 38, as seen in FIG. 26. The overlap guard 38 may extend from the top of the bevel 36, from the level of the geogrid 14, from the outermost extent of the peripheral surface, or anywhere along the peripheral surface. Preferably, the overlap guard 38 extends from beneath the level of geogrid 14. The overlap guard 38 prevents relative sliding of adjacent units 10 so that one unit doesn't slide over the top of an adjacent unit in situ.

Another optional feature of the mats 10 includes spacers (not shown) that are either integrally formed (such as by molding) or removable and located at peripheral surfaces 20 of exterior units 10 to facilitate proper alignment between mats or to help prevent mat edges from sliding over adjacent mat edges during installation. Spacers are not required because irregular spacing between mats 10 also lends to the natural appearance of the finished installation.

As an alternative to manually placing the units 10 at the installation site, the mats 10 can incorporate a feed-thru cable-way 40 which would allow a crane to place the mats (See FIG. 27). The cable-way 40 may be molded into the mats, and an embedded cable 42 can extend through the cable-way for connection to a crane or for connection to other mats. The cable-way 40 is particularly well suited for larger mats 10, or where the mats need to be placed in water, or where the mats are to be placed on a steep slope, or on other difficult terrain.

With these features, the mats 10 can be placed on steep slopes without sliding down the substrate S. It has been found that the mats 10 can anchor themselves into the substrate in a 1-to-l slope. Further, the combination of multiple mats 10, and specifically the cooperation of S-curve geometries on the multiple mats, interlockingly links the overall surface covering formed by the multiple mats, so that one mat cannot slide without pulling the rest of the mats with it. In this way, the interlocking cooperation among the mats 10 keeps the resulting surface covering in place. However, referring to FIG. 28, pins 44 can be inserted into the geogrid 14 at the gaps 28A to assist in anchoring the mat 10 to the substrate S. It is contemplated that with the assistance of pins 44, the mats can be used on a steep slope up to a near vertical wall. Examples of pins 44 include nails, staples, hooks, and other known anchoring devices.

It is contemplated that different mats 10 can be used for commercial/homeowner purposes than for applied engineering purposes. In the smaller commercial or homeowner embodiment, the mat 10 is preferably about 1.75 square feet in surface area and weighs about 12 pounds, although other surface areas and weights are contemplated. In the applied engineering mat embodiment, the mat 10 is preferably about 5.6 square feet in surface area and has a weight of about 60 pounds, however other surface areas and weights are contemplated.

In the finished installation, mats 10 are arranged in combination with each other to form a covering over the substrate S. Once installed, the individual units 12 contained in the mats 10 will visually appear as individuals and not as mats. The result is a substrate that looks as if it were covered with individual natural stones of irregular shape and thickness.

Referring to FIGs. 14-17, a method of manufacturing the mats 10 is shown in its most simplified form. The mats 10 are manufactured upside-down in mold assemblies 46. The mold assemblies 46 consist of a bottom mold 48 and a top mold 50. The bottom mold 48 has texture and is used to form (face down) the irregular exposed top surface 16 of the individual units 12 of the finished mat 10.

A pre-sized segment or segments of geogrid 14 is placed on the bottom mold 48 in a predetermined position, and then the top mold 50, which forms the underside of the units 12 as well as the optional cleats 26, is placed over the bottom mold 48. When the top mold 50 is placed on the bottom mold 48, the geogrid 25 is sandwiched between the top mold and the bottom mold. The filler 52, preferably concrete, and more preferably fiber reinforced concrete, is then poured or placed into the mold assembly 46 through openings 54 provided in the top mold 50. It is contemplated that the filler 52 can be any sort of wet cast material. Because the geogrid 14 has open apertures 15, the flow of concrete 52 through the geogrid and into the multiple sections of the bottom mold 48 is facilitated. Additional concrete 52 is added until the top mold 50 is completely filled, thereby embedding the geogrid 14. In an embodiment of mat 10 with cleats 26, the protruding cleats are formed at the top surface of the filled concrete. Between the geogrid 14 reinforcing the concrete 52, and the fiber reinforcement within the concrete, the likelihood of flexural, compressive or environmental failure of the units 12 is minimized.

As seen in FIG. 18, the bottom mold 48 and the top mold 50 are created with a master mold 56, which is the inverse profile of the bottom mold and the top mold. The master mold 56 may be sculpted with draft to allow easier release of the mold assembly 46.

Referring now to FIGs. 29-40, a second embodiment of mold assembly is indicated generally at 146, and has a bottom mold 148 and a top mold 150. Like the mold assembly 46, the bottom mold 148 has texture formed into its bottom surface so that it forms (face down) the irregular exposed top surface 16 of the individual units 12 of the finished mat 10. The bottom mold 148 and the top mold 150 are preferably formed of a high-durometer rubber, which renders the mold assembly 146 flexible and easy to clean, however other materials are contemplated. Preferably, the bottom mold 148 is a single component or single assembly, and preferably the top mold 150 is unitarily or integrally formed, which reduces the amount of moving parts that need to be aligned within the mold assembly 146.

The bottom mold 148 has a generally planar bottom surface 158, which preferably includes the texture for forming the irregular top surface 16 of the units 12. The bottom mold 148 also includes multiple transverse walls 160 extending upwards from the planar bottom surface 158 forming chambers 162. These chambers 162 are where the units 12 are molded. The top mold 150 has a generally planar top surface 164, and multiple transverse walls 166 extending downwards from the planar top surface. The multiple transverse walls 166 of the top mold 150 and/or the generally planar top surface 164 of the top mold define the openings 154 for receiving the concrete or other filler 52 into the mold assembly 146. When the top mold 150 is placed on the bottom mold 148, a first portion of the transverse walls 160 of the bottom mold 148 are non-sealing walls 170A and a first portion of the transverse walls 166 of the top mold 150 are non-sealing walls 170B that define a cavity 172 for receiving the geogrid 14 (see FIG. 30). It is contemplated that the bottom mold 148, the top mold 150, or a combination of both the bottom and top molds can define the cavity 172. Since in use, the non-sealing walls 170A, 170B have geogrid 14 sandwiched between them, depending on the filler 52 used, some seepage may occur at the cavity 172, through the geogrid, and through the non-sealing walls. The height of the cavity 172 is preferably the same or slightly larger than the thickest point on the geogrid 14, which is typically located at the node of the geogrid.

A second portion of the transverse walls 160 of the bottom mold 148 are sealing walls 168 A, and a second portion of the transverse walls 166 of the top mold 150 are sealing walls 168B that, in the absence of the geogrid 14 therebetween, contact each other and positively seal to prevent seepage of the filler. The sealing walls 168 A, 168B are generally located at the periphery of the mold assembly 146, however in an embodiment of the mold where more than one mat 10 is formed at once, then the sealing walls are also located within the interior of the mold (as will be discussed with detail with respect to FIG. 32 below).

After the concrete or other filler 52 is received into the mold assembly 146, the mold has a tendency to be pushed apart by the forces exerted by the concrete. A press 174 is applied to the top planar surface 164 of the top mold 150 to aid in maintaining the top mold 150 on the bottom mold 148. The press 174 is preferably a steel frame 176 having longitudinal members 178 that run generally the length of the mold assembly 146, and lateral members 180 connecting the longitudinal members, however any number and arrangement of rigid members forming a frame are contemplated. Both the longitudinal and lateral members 178 and 180 preferably abut the planar top surface 164 of the top mold 150 to press the top mold against the bottom mold 148. At least two, and preferably four, clamping feet 182 extend from the frame 176 downwardly towards the bottom mold 148. A clamp 184 selectively engages the clamping feet 182 to pin the press 174 to the bottom mold 148. It is contemplated that the clamping feet 182 are also steel, or any other rigid material, such that the press 174 forms a frame 176 that permits stacking of multiple mold assemblies 146 one on top of the other (See FIG. 46).

Referring to FIG. 32, it can be seen that four mats 10 are formed in a single mold assembly 146 at one time, i.e. four mats per cycle on each mold assembly. Although the following description is made with respect to four mats 10, any number of mats in multiples of two are contemplated. The transverse walls 160 in the planar bottom surface 158 include both sealing walls 168 A and non-sealing walls 170 A. The sealing walls 168 A can be seen at the periphery as having grooves 186. Additionally, grooves 186 are formed into the sealing walls 168 A that generally bisect the mold longitudinally and laterally. Corresponding positive structures 188 are formed into the sealing walls 168B of the top mold planar surface 164 (as seen in FIGs. 30 and 35).

It is contemplated that the sealing walls 168B of the top mold 150 and the sealing walls 168 A of the bottom mold 148 may have a selectively releasable snap -fit structure 190A, 190B and 190 A' and 190B' as shown in FIGs. 33 and 34. The structures shown in FIGs. 33 and 34 are just two examples of releasable snap-fit structures, and other snap-fit structures are contemplated. One such snap-fit structure would be substantially identical to structures 190 A, 190B and 190A',190B' except that they would be double-sided, having a mirror image along a vertical plane (not shown) of FIGs. 33 and 34. The sealing wall 168A, 168B includes bottom transverse wall 160 and upper transverse wall 166 that engage each other. Each transverse wall 160 and 166 is flexible and is provided with a complimentary shape. The engagement of the sealing wall 168 A, 168B is accomplished by pushing the interlocking components together, and separation of the sealing wall 168 A, 168B is accomplished by elastically deforming the wall. It is also contemplated that incorporation of the snap-fit structures 190 A, 190B and 190A' and 190B' could obviate the use of the press 174.

Still referring to FIG. 32, and as can be further seen in FIG. 38, the upper right mat and the lower left mat to be formed in the mold assembly 146 are the same mats, albeit rotated 180-degrees. Further, the upper left mat and the lower right mat to be formed in the mold assembly 146 are the same units, albeit rotated 180-degrees. In other words, the upper right mat to be formed is defined by transverse walls 160 that are identical, but rotated 180-degrees, to the transverse walls 160 on the lower left of the bottom mold 148, and the upper left mat to be formed is defined by transverse walls 160 that are identical, but rotated 180-degrees, to the transverse walls 160 on the lower right of the bottom mold 148. With this particular configuration, the top mold 150 can be placed onto the bottom mold 148 in either a 0-degree direction or in a 180-degree rotated direction. This means that in a rectangular mold assembly 146, user error is reduced because the rectangular top mold 150 will only go onto the rectangular bottom mold 150 in two orientations (0-degrees or 180-degrees) and both of these orientations will result in a sealing of the transverse wall 160, 166 and the mat 10 being formed.

As seen in FIGs. 35 and 36, the sealing wall 168 A of the bottom mold planar bottom surface 158 sealingly engages with corresponding positive structure 188 of the sealing wall 168B of the top mold planar top surface 164. In the preferred embodiment, the sealing wall 168 A is a double-wall with the groove 186 therebetween. A gasket 192 may be formed in the exterior double-wall of the sealing wall 168 A, or alternatively may be formed in the sealing wall 168B of the top mold 150, to further seal the periphery of the mold assembly 146. With the gasket 192, leaks outside of the mold assembly 146 can be prevented or reduced. Gaskets 192 may also be located at any of the sealing walls 168.

Referring to FIG. 37, the bottom mold 148 may include a solid core 194, such as a plywood core, that is encapsulated in rubber. The plywood provides rigidity to manufacture larger mats 10, and the rubber is easy to clean. Referring now to FIG. 38, the master mold 156 for forming the mold assembly 146 includes suspension points 196 for receiving the plywood core. It is also contemplated that branding inserts can be used to incorporate branding 198 onto the units 12 (See FIG. 39).

To manufacture the unit 10, the bottom mold 148 is disposed on a substantially level surface, and the geogrid 14 is placed horizontally on the bottom mold, and specifically within the cavity 172. The geogrid 14 preferably does not extend over the top of the sealing walls 168A. Thereafter, the top mold 150 is placed over the bottom mold 148, thereby sandwiching the geogrid between the top mold and the bottom mold. The sealing walls 168B of the top mold 150 are sealingly engaged to the sealing walls 168A of the bottom mold 148, preferably by engaging the positive structures 188 of the top mold into the grooves 186 in the bottom mold. The snap-fit structure 190 A, 190B may be used to seal the walls 168A, 168B. Likewise, the non-sealing walls 170B of the top mold 150 are preferably engaged on the geogrid 14, which is in turn engaged on the non-sealing walls 170A of the bottom mold 148.

The press 174 is positioned over the top of the top mold 150, and the clamping feet 182 are secured with the clamps 184. The concrete filler 52 is then poured or placed into the mold assembly 146 through the openings 154 provided in the top mold 150. Because the geogrid 14 has open apertures, the flow of concrete 52 through the geogrid and into the multiple chambers 162 of the bottom mold 148 is facilitated. Additional concrete 52 is added until the top mold 50 is completely filled, thereby embedding the geogrid 14.

Referring to FIG. 40, a flash dislodger 200 may be inserted into the flash that may result following formation of the mat 10. The flash dislodger 200 may be inserted after molding and initial set, while the unit 10 is still in the mold assembly 146, or alternately after the unit has been removed from the mold assembly. The flash dislodger 200 is preferably a steel plate having a shape that corresponds with the gaps 28A in the mat 10. Upon insertion of the flash dislodger 200 into the formed mat 10, the flash dislodger is vibrated, and optionally pressure may be applied, to dislodge the flash and free up the geogrid 14 between the individual units 12. It is contemplated that the flash dislodger 200 has near vertical edges. It is also contemplated that the flash dislodger 200 may have saw -toothed edges to facilitate removal of the flash.

The mats 10 are preferably molded of fiber reinforced concrete, however materials such as ceramics, plastic, natural or synthetic rubber, glass or other suitable material, or combinations thereof are contemplated. To further improve the natural appearance of the mats 10, it is desirable to provide variations in the individual units 12. In addition to differing the shapes of the units 12, dyes and colorants may be added, and the color and quantity of dye may be regulated to produce color variations from unit-to-unit and mat-to-mat. Surface variations in the top surface 16 and the peripheral surface 20 from unit-to-unit and mat-to-mat are also desirable.

While particular embodiments of mats 10 and methods of making same have been described herein, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that changes and modifications may be made thereto without departing from the invention in its broader aspects as set forth in the following claims.