Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
FASTENER
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2008/117070
Kind Code:
A3
Abstract:
The fastener comprises a male fastener component (1) and a female fastener component (2). The male fastener component (1) comprises a metal ball (10) which is welded to a disc (11). The female fastener component (2) is made of moulded plastics and has a disc (21) with a socket (26). The ball (10) is a releasable snap fit in the socket (26). Glue ( 61, 62, 63) is used to fix the male and female fastener components between a panel (4) and a fixed structure (5) such as a wall. By releasing the snap fit, the panel (4) may be removed. The panel may subsequently be snap fitted back into its exact previous position.

Inventors:
GIDDINGS BRIAN (GB)
Application Number:
GB2008/001094
Publication Date:
January 08, 2009
Filing Date:
March 25, 2008
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
BIGHEAD BONDING FASTENERS LTD (GB)
GIDDINGS BRIAN (GB)
International Classes:
B60R13/02; F16B11/00; F16B21/07; F16F9/54
Foreign References:
GB1276846A1972-06-07
DE3842609A11990-06-21
GB1570108A1980-06-25
US5647713A1997-07-15
US20030102693A12003-06-05
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PRICE, Paul, Anthony, King et al. (120 Holborn, London EC1N 2DY, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:

CLAIMS

1. A fastener for releasably joining a first structure to a second structure, the fastener comprising: - a male fastener component comprising a base plate with a rear surface for gluing to the first structure and a ball which is made of metal and is welded to the front surface of the base plate; and a female fastener component comprising a base plate with a rear surface for gluing to the second structure and a socket facing forwards for releasably receiving and gripping the ball of the male fastener component.

2. A fastener according to claim 1, wherein the ball is pivotable when gripped by the socket.

3. A fastener according to claim 1 or 2, wherein the female fastener component has a female projection which projects forwards from the front surface of the base plate of the female fastener component, is made of plastics material and defines the socket.

4. A fastener according to claim 3, wherein the female projection comprises arms which project away from the base plate of the female fastener component and define the mouth of the socket.

5. A fastener according to claim 4, wherein the tips of the arms curve inwards towards the mouth of the socket and the arms are resiliently deformable outwards to permit insertion of the ball into the socket.

6. A fastener according to claims 2 and 5, wherein when the socket is gripping the ball there is an annular gap between the tips of the arms and the welded bottom of the ball.

7. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the socket is a blind socket and, when the socket is gripping the ball, the tip of the ball rests against the bottom of the socket.

8. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the ball is located at a central zone of the base plate of the male fastener component and a plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate.

9. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the base plate of the male fastener component is a disc.

10. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the rear surface of the base plate of the male fastener component includes a plurality of standoff projections.

11. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the socket is located at a central zone of the base plate of the female fastener component and a plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate.

12. A fastener according to claim 11, wherein the base plate of the female fastener component is a disc.

13. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the rear surface of the base plate of the female fastener component includes a plurality of standoff projections.

14. A fastener according to any preceding claim, wherein the female fastener component includes a rim which projects forwards from the front surface of the base plate of the female fastener component and has a diameter substantially the same as a diameter of the base plate of the male fastener component.

15. A cladding unit for cladding a structure, the cladding unit comprising:- a panel having front and rear panel surfaces; and a plurality of fasteners fixed to the panel and projecting away from the rear panel surface; wherein each fastener comprises :- a male fastener component having a base and a ball which is made of metal and is welded to the base of the male fastener component; and a female fastener component having a base and a socket releasably gripping the ball of the male fastener component; wherein the base of one of the male and female fastener components is fixed to the panel and the base of the other one of the male and female fastener components has a bottom surface for gluing to the structure.

16. A cladding unit according to claim 15, wherein the ball is pivotable in the socket.

17. A cladding unit according to claim 15 or 16, wherein the female fastener component has a female projection which is made of plastics material and defines the socket.

18. A cladding unit according to claim 17, wherein the female projection comprises arms which project away from the base of the female fastener component and define the mouth of the socket.

19. A cladding unit according to claim 18, wherein the tips of the arms curve inwards towards the mouth of the socket and the arms are resiliently deformable outwards to permit removal of the ball from the socket and re-insertion of the ball into the socket.

20. A cladding unit according to claims 16 and 19, wherein there is an annular gap between the tips of the arms and the welded bottom of the ball of the male fastener component.

21. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 15 to 20, wherein the socket is a blind socket and the tip of the ball rests against the bottom of the socket.

22. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 15 to 21, wherein the base of the male fastener component comprises a base plate, the ball is located at a central zone of the base plate, and a plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate.

23. A cladding unit according to claim 22, wherein the base plate of the male fastener component is a disc.

24. A cladding unit according to claim 22 or 23, wherein the bottom surface of the base plate of the male fastener component is glued to the rear panel surface of the panel.

25. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 22 to 24, wherein the bottom surface of the base plate of the male fastener component includes a plurality of standoff projections.

26. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 15 to 25, wherein the base of the female fastener component comprises a base plate, and the socket is located at a central zone of the base plate.

27. A cladding unit according to claim 26, wherein the base plate of the female fastener component is a disc.

28. A cladding unit according to claim 26 or 27, wherein the female fastener component has a plurality of through holes which are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate.

29. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 26 to 28, wherein the bottom surface of the base plate of the female fastener component includes a plurality of standoff projections.

30. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 22 to 29, wherein said other one of the male and female fastener components further comprises a spacer device which is glued to the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components and provides the bottom surface for gluing to the structure.

31. A cladding unit according to claim 30, wherein the spacer device comprises an upper plate which is glued to the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components, a bottom plate providing the bottom surface for gluing to the structure, and a column extending between the upper and lower plates.

32. A cladding unit according to claim 22 or 28 and claim 31, wherein the upper plate of the spacer device includes spigots which are located in the through holes of the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components.

33. A cladding unit according to any one of claims 15 to 32, wherein the plurality of fasteners are positioned around the periphery of the rear panel surface of the panel.

34. A cladding unit according to claim 33, wherein the panel is rectangular and first to fourth said fasteners are positioned adjacent to respective corners of the rear panel surface.

35. A male fastener component comprising :- a metal base plate; and a metal ball which is welded to a central zone of the base plate.

36. A male fastener component according to claim 35, wherein the base plate has a plurality of through holes positioned between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate.

37. A male fastener component according to claim 35 or 36, wherein the base plate is a disc.

38. A male fastener component according to claims 36 and 37, wherein the through holes are arranged generally in a circle.

39. A male fastener component according to any one of claims 35 to 38, wherein the surface of the base plate opposite to the surface carrying the metal ball includes a plurality of standoff projections.

40. A male fastener component according to claims 38 and 39, wherein the standoff projections are arranged generally in a circle between the through holes.

41. A male fastener component according to claim 39 or 40, wherein the standoff projections are localised distortions of the metal base plate.

42. A method of fitting a panel to a structure, the method comprising:- providing a plurality of fasteners each in accordance with any one of claims 1 to 14; for each fastener, gluing the base plate of one of the male and female fastener components to a rear panel surface of the panel; for each fastener, snap fitting the other one of the male and female fastener components to said one of the male and female fastener components by means of the ball and the socket; for each fastener, applying glue to the rear surface of the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components; and

positioning the panel adjacent to the structure so as to glue the panel to the structure via the fasteners.

43. A method according to claim 42, wherein for each fastener it is the base plate of the male fastener component which is glued to the rear panel surface of the panel.

44. A method according to claim 42 or 43, wherein, for at least some of the fasteners, said other one of the male and female fastener components further comprises a spacer device having upper and lower plates wherein the upper plate is glued to the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components, the method further comprising: - for each such fastener, applying glue to the rear surface of the lower plate of the spacer device and gluing that surface to the structure.

45. A method according to any one of claims 42 to 44, further comprising:- providing one or more vibration damping devices; wherein the or each vibration damping device comprises upper and lower plates spaced apart by a strut and vibration damping material fixed to the upper plate; for the or each vibration damping device, gluing the lower plate to one of the rear panel surface and the structure; wherein, when the panel has been fitted to the structure via the fasteners, the vibration damping material is compressed by the other one of the rear panel surface and the structure.

46. A method of fitting a plurality of panels to a structure, wherein each panel is fitted using the method according to any one of claims 42 to 45 and the panels are fitted to the structure so as to form an array of panels.

47. A method of fitting, removing and re-fitting a panel to and from a structure, the method comprising:-

fitting the panel to a structure using the method according to any one of claims 42 to 45; removing the panel from the structure by releasing each fastener by withdrawing the ball from the socket of the fastener; and re-fitting the panel to the structure by snap fitting together again the ball and the socket of each fastener.

48. A vibration damping device comprising:- upper and lower plates which are spaced apart by a strut; and vibration damping material which is compressible and is fixed to the top surface of the upper plate; wherein the lower plate has a plurality of through holes for receiving glue which is used to glue the bottom surface of the lower plate into position.

49. A vibration damping device according to claim 48, wherein the strut extends between central zones of the upper and lower plates and the plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the lower plate between the strut and the perimeter of the lower plate.

50. A vibration damping device according to claim 48 or 49, wherein the upper and lower plates are discs.

51. A vibration damping device according to claim 50, wherein the through holes are arranged generally in a circle.

52. A vibration damping device according to any one of claims 48 to 51, wherein the bottom surface of the lower plate includes a plurality of standoff projections.

53. A vibration damping device according to claims 51 and 52, wherein the standoff projections are arranged generally in a circle between the through holes.

54. A vibration damping device according to any one of claims 48 to 53, wherein the upper and lower plates and the strut are made of rigid plastics material.

55. A vibration damping device according to any one of claims 48 to 54, wherein the vibration damping material is a disc or ring of material fixed as a layer to the top surface of the upper plate.

Description:

FASTENER

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates generally to a fastener and associated devices and methods. For example, the fastener may be used to releasably fit a decorative panel to an interior wall of a building, aircraft, ship, boat or vehicle. As an alternative example, the fastener could be used to releasably fit one or more access panels to the housing of a piece of equipment such as a cabinet frame or a control centre. When fitting a panel to a wall surface, there is a need for a fitting system which can be used by relatively-unskilled labourers wherein the labourer does not have to install a component on the panel and separately install a component on the wall and try to ensure that the two components line up when the panel is fitted to the wall. This alignment can be difficult to do for a panel when it is being fitted to the wall at multiple locations on the panel and it is necessary to ensure that the fitting systems installed at all of the locations on the panel have their components in alignment. After a panel has been installed, it is sometimes necessary to remove the panel, e.g. if it is necessary to gain access to the wall behind the panel or if it is desired to apply a different decorative finish to the panel. There is a need to be able to reinstall the panel quickly whilst retaining complete accuracy of alignment of the panel with its neighbouring panels. For example, an entire interior wall of a room may be covered with an array of panels wherein the panels are side by side and touching one another. When one panel is removed and reinstalled, it must be reinstalled accurately in order to maintain a pleasing visual alignment with the other panels.

US Patent No. 5,647,713 (TRW Inc.) discloses a plastic panel fastener suitable for use in the automotive industry for joining a decorative door liner panel to the interior door structure. The fastener is made of plastics material and has two components which pull apart by a ball-and-socket joint. The fastener is attached to the door liner panel through mechanical engagement and is also attached to the car door through mechanical engagement. The two locations on the door liner panel and the car door must be prepared and must be aligned. The door liner panel will be attached to the car door at multiple locations, so at each location the door liner panel and car door will need to be prepared for mechanical engagement with the respective fastener. This

can make the installation process complex. Furthermore, if it is desired to remove the door liner panel for servicing, there is a risk that the separation will not occur via the ball-and-socket joints of the fasteners and instead a fastener will be broken at the point at which it is engaged with the car door or the liner panel. One of the mechanical engagements of the fastener is by means of barbs at the end of the fastener and these can be easily damaged when a panel is being pulled away from the car door.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a fastener for releasably joining a first structure to a second structure, the fastener comprising:- a male fastener component comprising a base plate with a rear surface for gluing to the first structure and a ball which is made of metal and is welded to the front surface of the base plate; and a female fastener component comprising a base plate with a rear surface for gluing to the second structure and a socket facing forwards for releasably receiving and gripping the ball of the male fastener component.

Because the male and female fastener components are glued into position on the first and second structures, there is no need to prepare complementary mechanical- engagement features on the first and second structures. An unskilled operative may simply judge the approximate position where the fastener is to be installed and then use glue on the male and female fastener components.

The male projection is a ball. Thus, the "equator" of the ball provides a maximum-diameter portion of the male projection. The "northern hemisphere" of the ball provides a tapering structure for guiding insertion of the ball into the socket. The

"southern hemisphere" of the ball provides a reduced-diameter portion which may be gripped by the socket when the ball has been inserted into the socket, so as to enable the socket to retain the ball. Preferably, the ball is substantially spherical, although other ball shapes may work in practice. The advantage of a spherical ball is that, during the manufacturing process when the ball is being attached to the base plate of the male fastener component, no particular orientation of the ball relative to the base plate is required during the attachment operation.

The ball is made of metal and is welded to the base plate of the male fastener component. For example, the ball may be made of stainless steel. A good weld can be

achieved when the ball is welded to a stainless steel base plate. An alternative metal would be mild steel.

A metal ball can be ground and polished to have a very precise finish. This is not true of a plastic-moulded ball, which suffers from a general lack of accuracy. The precise finish of a metal ball means that the interface between the ball and the socket can be precisely and predictably engineered to have desired load-support characteristics.

Preferably, the ball is pivotable when gripped by the socket. This enables the fastener to cope with situations where the surfaces of the first and second structures are not parallel.

Preferably, the female fastener component has a female projection which projects forwards from the front surface of the base plate of the female fastener component, is made of plastics material and defines the socket. Preferably, the female fastener component as a whole is made of plastics material for ease of manufacture. The combination of a male fastener component made of metal and a female fastener component made of plastics material provides embodiments which work well together.

Preferably, the female projection comprises arms which project away from the base plate of the female fastener component and define the mouth of the socket. For example, there may be three arms. The arms may project up from an annular base wall of the socket. Thus, the socket may be given a generally-tubular configuration or a generally cup-like configuration. Such a configuration works well for receiving a ball- shaped male projection of the male fastener component.

Preferably, the tips of the arms curve inwards towards the mouth of the socket and the arms are resiliently deformable outwards to permit insertion of the ball into the socket. This arrangement for the socket works well with the ball-type male projection of the male fastener component. The tips of the arms can curve around and grip the

"southern hemisphere" of the ball after the ball has been inserted into the socket.

The female fastener component may be made of a plastics material such as polycarbonate. The glue ("High-Grab" glue from Bighead Bonding Fasteners Limited) used to adhere the female fastener component to the second structure adheres particularly well to a polycarbonate material.

The plastics material of the female fastener component may incorporate fibres for imparting a desired springiness to the deformable arms of the socket. For example, the polycarbonate could incorporate 10% glass fibres.

Preferably, when the socket is gripping the ball there is an annular gap between the tips of the arms and the welded bottom of the ball. This configuration is a convenient way of ensuring that the ball can pivot in the socket.

Preferably, the socket is a blind socket and, when the socket is gripping the ball, the tip of the ball rests against the bottom of the socket. The "north pole" of the ball may rest against the bottom of the socket, and the tips of the arms of the socket may curve round the "southern hemisphere" of the ball so as to grip and retain the ball.

Preferably, the ball is located at a central zone of the base plate of the male fastener component and a plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate. The glue used to fix the male fastener component in position on the first structure may ooze up through the through holes and key or lock the male fastener component to the solidified mass of glue. This mechanical effect is in addition to the adhesive effect between the glue and the base plate of the male fastener component.

In our preferred production version, the base plate of the male fastener component is a disc. A round disc works particularly well with a spherical ball. The production machinery can be simply set up to weld the ball to the centre point of the disc.

Preferably, the rear surface of the base plate of the male fastener component includes a plurality of standoff projections. These standoff projections help to ensure that the glue that is bonding the male fastener component to the first structure is not squeezed out of the gap between the male fastener component and the first structure. Instead, the height of the standoff provided by the projections ensures that a desired thickness of the layer of glue is achieved.

Preferably, the socket is located at a central zone of the base plate of the female fastener component and a plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the central zone and the perimeter of the base plate. Again, the through holes enable the glue to mechanically key or lock the female fastener

component to the second structure in addition to the adhesive sticking of the base plate of the female fastener component to the second structure.

Preferably, the base plate of the female fastener component is a disc. A round disc works particularly well with a round socket which is located at the centre of the disc, because production machinery may be set up to mould such a configuration from a suitable plastics material.

Preferably, the rear surface of the base plate of the female fastener component includes a plurality of standoff projections. Again, the standoff projections help to ensure that a desired thickness of the glue layer is maintained between the base plate of the female fastener component and the second structure. In particular, the standoff effect provided by the projections helps to ensure that the glue is not entirely squeezed out from the gap between the main planar rear surface of the base plate and the opposing surface of the second structure.

In a preferred embodiment, the female fastener component includes a rim which projects forwards from the front surface of the base plate of the female fastener component and has a diameter substantially the same as a diameter of the base plate of the male fastener component. The rim can be used to limit the pivoting between the male and female fastener components.

According to a second aspect of the present invention, there is provided a cladding unit for cladding a structure, the cladding unit comprising:- a panel having front and rear panel surfaces; and a plurality of fasteners fixed to the panel and projecting away from the rear panel surface; wherein each fastener comprises:- a male fastener component having a base and a ball which is made of metal and is welded to the base of the male fastener component; and a female fastener component having a base and a socket releasably gripping the ball of the male fastener component; wherein the base of one of the male and female fastener components is fixed to the panel and the base of the other one of the

male and female fastener components has a bottom surface for gluing to the structure.

With this arrangement, the cladding unit (panel plus fasteners) is ready for installation on, for example, the interior wall of a building. The operative simply needs to add glue to the fasteners and then press the panel into position. No holes or the like have to be pre-prepared in the wall. Thus, installation is simple and quick and can be done by an unskilled operative. The operative does not need to have the high skill level that would be required for aligning pre-installed components on the wall with pre-installed components on the panel such that all the components are in alignment when the panel is pressed against the wall because the components carried by the panel need to match-up in alignment with the components already installed on the wall.

In practice, the glue used to secure the cladding unit to the structure (e.g. interior building wall) to which it is being bonded can be chosen so as to permit the panel to be slid sideways to the exact desired final position from the initial position when the panel is first pressed against the wall. The glue can be chosen to permit refinement or adjustment of the final position for a period of minutes, before the glue cures and rigidly sticks the panel to the underlying structure (e.g. building interior wall). For example, the operative might be covering an entire wall with a series of panels. The operative may already have installed some of the panels. The operative is in the process of installing the current panel but has installed it slightly out of alignment with the neighbouring panels that are already installed. For a few minutes, the operative is able to adjust the final position of the current panel and slide it sideways to have the desired orientation (e.g. perfectly horizontal) and the desired positioning relative to the existing panels (e.g. to ensure that the new panel is touching the edges of the already-installed panels).

Preferably, the base of the male fastener component comprises a base plate, the ball is located at a central zone of the base plate, and a plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the base plate between the ' central zone and the perimeter of the base plate.

In our preferred embodiment, the bottom surface of the base plate of the male fastener component is glued to the rear panel surface of the panel. We prefer to glue the male fastener component to the rear panel surface of the panel and to glue the female fastener component to the structure onto which the panel is being mounted. Of course, the reverse arrangement is possible, wherein the female fastener component is glued to the rear panel surface, and the male fastener component is glued to the structure.

Preferably, the base of the female fastener component comprises a base plate, and the socket is located at a central zone of the base plate. hi some installations of the panel on the structure, the gap between the panel and the structure will not be uniform. Thus, the fasteners which span the gap at different points between the panel and the structure may need to have different lengths.

Thus, in some embodiments, said other one of the male and female fastener components further comprises a spacer device which is glued to the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components and provides the bottom surface for gluing to the structure.

With this arrangement, the base plate and the ball of the male fastener component, and the base plate and the socket of the female fastener component, may have a standard design producing a standard overall spacing between the base plates of the male and female fastener components. Where needed, additional spacing in order to span the gap between the panel and the structure may be achieved by selecting and using a spacer device having the necessary additional length to span the gap.

In a preferred embodiment, the spacer device comprises an upper plate which is glued to the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components, a bottom plate providing the bottom surface for gluing to the structure, and a column extending between the upper and lower plates.

The spacer device may be made of plastics material, e.g. the same plastics material as used to manufacture the female fastener component.

Preferably, the upper plate of the spacer device includes spigots which are located in the through holes of the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components. The operative can use the spigots to ensure quick and easy alignment of the spacer device when the spacer device is being glued onto the base

plate of the relevant fastener component in order to produce the new desired overall length of the fastener.

According to a third aspect of the present invention, there is provided a male fastener component comprising:- a metal base plate; and a metal ball which is welded to a central zone of the base plate.

The ball is welded to the base plate, e.g. by using machinery similar to the machinery used at Bighead Bonding Fasteners Limited to weld a metal threaded shaft to the centre of a metal disc when producing our current "Bighead" fasteners. Preferably, the bottom surface of the base plate has a plurality of standoff projections for controlling the thickness of the layer of glue used to glue the male fastener component into position. Preferably, the standoff projections are localised distortions of the metal base plate. For example, the base plate may be placed in a press and tooling used to produce the standoff projections, e.g. by distorting the base plate to produce domes.

According to a fourth aspect of the present invention there is provided a method of fitting a panel to a structure, the method comprising:- providing a plurality of fasteners each in accordance with the first aspect of the present invention; for each fastener, gluing the base plate of one of the male and female fastener components to a rear panel surface of the panel; for each fastener, snap fitting the other one of the male and female fastener components to said one of the male and female fastener components by means of the ball and the socket; for each fastener, applying glue to the rear surface of the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components; and positioning the panel adjacent to the structure so as to glue the panel to the structure via the fasteners

In some instances, the structure will have a surface which is not flat, and thus the gap between the panel and the structure will vary. Thus, in a preferred embodiment, for at least some of the fasteners, said other one of the male and female fastener components further comprises a spacer device having upper and lower plates

wherein the upper plate is glued to the base plate of said other one of the male and female fastener components, the method further comprising:- for each such fastener, applying glue to the rear surface of the lower plate of the spacer device and gluing that surface to the structure. Where the gap between the panel and the structure is small enough, only the basic fastener (basic male fastener component and basic female fastener component) will be needed. Where the gap is bigger, additional length can be achieved for spanning the gap by means of selecting a spacer device having the appropriate additional length. Where a fastener is being used where the gap is even bigger, a spacer device having an even longer length can be used with that fastener in order to span the gap that position.

Where the panel is large, the panel may be prone to flexing in and out at the positions where it is unsupported between the fasteners. Thus, in a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the method further comprises:- providing one or more vibration damping devices; wherein the or each vibration damping device comprises upper and lower plates spaced apart by a strut and vibration damping material fixed to the upper plate; for the or each vibration damping device, gluing the lower plate to one of the rear panel surface and the structure; wherein, when the panel has been fitted to the structure via the fasteners, the vibration damping material is compressed by the other one of the rear panel surface and the structure.

After the panel has been fitted, it may be necessary to gain access to the structure behind the panel. Thus, the panel can be removed from the structure by releasing each fastener by withdrawing the ball from the socket of the fastener. When access is no longer needed to the structure, the panel may be reinstalled. The panel is re-fitted to the structure by snap fitting together again the ball and the socket of each fastener.

According to a fifth aspect of the present invention, there is provided a vibration damping device comprising:- upper and lower plates which are spaced apart by a strut; and vibration damping material which is compressible and is fixed to the top

surface of the upper plate; wherein the lower plate has a plurality of through holes for receiving glue which is used to glue the bottom surface of the lower plate into position.

The through holes in the lower plate enable the glue to mechanically lock the vibration damping device into position in addition to the adhesive effect provided by the glue in bonding the lower plate onto the surface on which the vibration damping device is being mounted.

In the preferred embodiment, the strut extends between central zones of the upper and lower plates and the plurality of through holes are positioned in a peripheral zone of the lower plate between the strut and the perimeter of the lower plate. Preferably, the upper and lower plates are discs. Conveniently, the through holes are arranged generally in a circle. The through holes may be generally equi-angularly spaced, and this may also be true for the through holes used in the other aspects of the present invention. hi the preferred embodiment, the bottom surface of the lower plate includes a plurality of standoff proj ections.

For example, the standoff projections are arranged generally in a circle between the through holes.

In the preferred embodiment, the upper and lower plates and the strut are made of rigid plastics material. Thus, for example, the standoff projections may be integrally moulded (e.g. as domes) with the lower plate.

In the preferred embodiment, the vibration damping material is a disc or ring of material fixed as a layer to the top surface of the upper plate.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS Preferred, non-limiting embodiments of the present invention will now be described with reference to the accompanying diagrammatic drawings.

Fig. 1 is a side view of a fastener in accordance with the present invention, wherein the fastener comprises a male fastener component snap fitted into a female fastener component, and wherein the female fastener component has additional height by virtue of incorporating a spacer device.

Fig. 2 is a plan view of the fastener of Fig. 1 viewed in the direction A of Fig. 1.

Fig. 3 is a plan view of the spacer device of the female fastener component of the fastener of Fig. 1, when viewed along the line B-B of Fig. 1.

Fig. 4 is a side view, partially in section, of the fastener of Fig. 1 when glued into position between a thin exterior panel and a rigid substrate or structure such as the wall of a building.

Fig. 5 is a side view, partially in section, of a vibration damping device in accordance with the present invention when glued into position between the exterior panel and the substrate.

Figs. 6 to 10 are plan views of cladding units in accordance with the present invention, wherein the figures show panels of different rectangular shapes, and the positions of the fasteners are diagrammatically indicated by clear circles, and the positions of the vibration damping devices are diagrammatically indicated by shaded circles.

Figs. 11 to 13 are perspective views illustrating the sequence of installation steps for fixing a fastener in accordance with the present invention onto a panel to form a cladding unit, prior to then gluing the cladding unit onto a structure such as an interior building wall.

Fig. 14 is a diagrammatic view showing a person installing a cladding unit of the present invention onto an interior wall of a building. Fig. 15 is a diagrammatic view showing a person installing a cladding unit of the present invention onto a ceiling of the room shown in Fig. 14.

Fig. 16 is a diagrammatic view showing the person in the room of Fig. 15, wherein upon completion of the installation of the cladding panels the person is disassembling one of the already-installed cladding panels by releasing its fasteners so as to pull away the panel and the male fastener components, thereby to leave the female fastener components glued to the wall, so that the panel may subsequently be reinstalled simply by snap-fitting the male fastener components back into the female fastener components. (Note that in all of Figs. 14-16 the fasteners fixing the panels to the wall or ceiling are shown in a very diagrammatic and enlarged manner for the sake of clarity.)

Fig. 17 is a diagrammatic conceptual side view illustrating how a panel may be fixed to a surface, wherein the size of the gap between the panel and the surface varies,

thereby requiring the use of fasteners of the present invention which have different overall heights, in addition to a vibration damping device.

Fig. 18 is a conceptual sectional view through a vehicle door wherein a door liner panel has been fitted into a recess in the door by using fasteners and a vibration- damping device in accordance with the present invention.

Figs. 18 and 19 are perspective views of two different sizes of an alternative embodiment of a female fastener component of the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS Referring to Figs. 1 to 3, the fastener comprises a male fastener component 1, a female fastener component 2 and a spacer device 3 which may be considered to be part of the female fastener component 2. The male fastener component is made of stainless steel or alternatively could be made of mild steel. The female fastener component is made of plastics material, and the spacer device is also made of plastics material.

The male fastener component 1 comprises a spherical ball 10 which is welded to the centre of a plate-like disc 11. The weld is a precision spot weld so as not to consume much of the spherical surface of the ball 10.

The ball 10 is welded to a flat front surface 12 of the disc 11. The flat rear surface 13 carries 6 standoff projections 14 which are arranged in a circle and are equi- angularly spaced apart, as may be seen in Fig. 2. The disc 11 also includes 6 through- holes 15 which are arranged in a circle and are equi-angularly spaced apart.

The female fastener component 2 is moulded so as to have a plate-like disc 21 with a flat front surface 22 and a flat rear surface 23 (see Fig. 12). The rear surface 23 carries 7 standoff projections 24 comprising 6 projections arranged in a circle so as to be equi-angularly spaced apart, and a 7 th projection arranged at the centre of the rear surface 23. The disc 21 also includes 6 through holes 25.

The female fastener component 2 has a socket 26 projecting forwards from the front surface 22 of the disc 21. The socket 26 comprises a base 27 and an annular wall

28 having a top portion which is divided by axial slots into three forwardly-projecting arms 29 which have tips which curve inwards slightly in order to enable the arms to snap onto and grip the ball 10 when the ball 10 is inserted into the socket.

The spacer device 3 comprises upper and lower plates 31, 32 held a fixed distance apart by a central column 33. The bottom surface 34 of the lower plate 32

carries 6 standoff projections 35. As shown in Fig. 3, the top surface 36 of the upper plate 31 carries 6 spigots 37. The spigots 37 have a square cross-section and fit into the holes 25 of the female fastener component 2.

The fastener shown in Figs. 1 to 3 may be varied in size and shape to suit particular installation requirements. For example, the height of the spacer device 3 may be varied. The size, shape and characteristics of the ball 10 and the socket 26 may be varied depending on the weight to be carried by the fastener. For example, the arms 29 may need to exert a large gripping force on the ball 10 when the fastener is to carry a heavy panel. In other words, the arms 29 may need to be made thicker in order to have a high "jaw strength".

The disc 11 of the male fastener component is shown in Figs. 1 to 3 as having flat front and rear surfaces. If the disc 11 needs to be strengthened, it may be given strengthening indentations such as ribs. For example, a plurality of ribs (e.g. 3 ribs) could be pressed into the disc 11 so as to radiate out from the centre of the front surface 12, and the ball 10 could be welded to the central junction point of the ribs.

The arms 29 of the socket 26 do not extend all the way to the front surface 12 of the disc 11. This leaves an annular gap between the arms 29 and the front surface 12, whereby the ball 10 is able to pivot in the socket 26.

The socket 26 is engineered so that the arms 29 exert a tight grip on the ball 10 in order to avoid any slackness in the snap-fit connection between the male and female fastener components 1, 2.

The ability of the ball 10 to pivot in the socket 26 enables the fastener to be installed between opposed surfaces which are not parallel.

Fig. 4 shows the installation of the fastener of Figs. 1 to 3 between a thin panel 4 and a structure 5 such as a wall. The panel 4 is shown as being thin. The panel may vary in weight, density and material and may be intended to serve a variety of purposes (decorative, protective or load-bearing). The fastener can be designed to suit the particular installation requirements of the panel.

Glue 61 is used to glue the rear surface 13 of the male fastener component to a rear surface 41 of the panel 4. Glue 62 is used to glue the disc 21 of the female fastener component 2 to the upper plate 31 of the spacer device 3.

Glue 63 is used to glue the lower plate 32 of the spacer device 3 to a surface 51 of the wall 5.

Note that Fig. 4 shows how the glue 62 oozes past the spigots 37 in the holes 25 of the disc 21 in order that the glue 62 can provide a mechanical lock in addition to an adhesive joining function.

Similarly, the glue 63 oozes up through through holes 38 in the lower plate 32 of the spacer device 3 in order to provide a mechanical locking effect in addition to the adhesive attachment effect.

Fig. 5 shows a vibration damping device V in accordance with the present invention. It may be made of the same rigid or hard plastics material as the female fastener component 2 or the spacer device 3. The vibration damping device V comprises upper and lower plates 71, 72 which are spaced apart by a central strut 73 in the form of a column. The top surface of the upper plate 71 carried a layer of compressible vibration-damping material 74 which is not made of the plastics material used to mould components 71, 72 and 73 and is instead selected to have the desired vibration-absorbing characteristic.

The vibration-damping material 74 is shown compressed in Fig. 5. When uncompressed, it has a greater thickness. The overall height of the vibration damping device V shown in Fig. 5 is chosen to suit the size of the gap between the surface 41 of the panel 4 and the surface 51 of the wall 5. Glue 64 is used to glue the lower plate 72 onto the surface 51. Standoff projections 75 are provided on the lower plate 72 in order to maintain a desired thickness of the glue 64 between the lower plate 72 and the surface 51.

The glue 64 oozes up through through holes 76 provided in the lower plate 72 in order to mechanically lock the lower plate 72 in position in addition to adhesively sticking the lower plate 72 in position.

Figs. 6 to 10 show a variety of permutations of arrangements of fasteners F and vibration damping devices V on panels 4.

As can be seen, it is preferred that the panels 4 are supported adjacent to their corners by fasteners F. Not every panel will require the additional support of a vibration damping device V. However, the panels shown in Figs. 7, 9 and 10 do include vibration damping devices V. hi Figs. 7 and 9, the vibration damping devices

V are positioned on generally diagonal lines between the fasteners F. In Fig. 10, the panel 4 is supported by vibration damping devices V that are positioned along the edges of the panel between the fasteners F at the corners of the panel.

Figs. 11-13 show a sequence of views for installing a fastener on a panel 4. Firstly, the glue 61 is applied to the rear surface 41 of the panel 4 at the desired position. Then the male fastener component 1 is pressed into the glue 61. The glue 61 oozes up through the through holes 15.

Then, shown in Fig. 2, the female fastener component 2 is snapped fitted onto the male fastener component 1 by means of snapping the socket 26 onto the ball 10. When so fitted, the ball 10 is pivotably gripped by the arms 29 of the socket 26, and the tip of the ball 10 rests against the blind bottom wall (see Fig. 4) of the socket 26. The characteristics of the arms 29 of the socket 26 are engineered to suit the particular installation requirements. A large ball 10 and arms 29 capable of exerting a strong snap grip on the ball 10 may be required when a heavy panel 4 is to be mounted into position, hi particular, the flexibility of the arms 29 in terms of their ability to flex radially inwards and outwards from the socket can be engineered to suit the particular requirements. The female fastener component 2 is snapped into position on the male fastener component 1 after the glue 61 has (partially) cured, e.g. after one hour for initial strength. Then, shown in Fig. 13, the glue 62 is applied to the rear surface 23 of the disk

21 of the female fastener component 2.

If a spacer device 3 is being used in view of the size of the gap between the panel 4 and the wall 5, a spacer device 3 of suitable height can at this stage be glued by means of the glue 62 to the female fastener component 2. If the gap size does not require a spacer device 3, then no spacer device is glued into position on glue 62 shown in Fig. 13.

If a spacer device 32 is glued into position, the glue 63 is then applied to the bottom surface 34 of the lower plate 32.

Now, by means of the glue 62 (if no spacer device 3 is being used) or the glue 63 (if a spacer device 3 is being used), the fastener F is ready to be glued to the surface 51 ofthe wall 5.

As shown in Fig. 14, the person P may lift the panel 4 into the desired alignment position on the wall 5 and may press the fasteners F up against the wall surface 51 so that the glue 62 will glue the female fastener components 2 to the wall surface 51. As shown in Fig. 15, the person P continues installing more panels 4 by repeating the process. Each panel is aligned relative to its neighbours so as to cover the whole of the wall or the ceiling 52.

The glue 62 enables the person P to perform some slight final adjustment of the positioning of the panel 4 after the female fastener components 2 of the fasteners F first touch the wall or ceiling surface. In other words, the panel 4 can be adjusted sideways slightly by sliding until the glue 62 cures sufficiently to prevent any further adjustment and to hold the panel 4 in position.

In Fig. 16, the person has finished installing the panels 4 onto the wall and ceiling of the room. He now wishes to gain access to the wall surface 51 behind a particular panel 4. He simply needs to exert sufficient force on the panel 4 in order to overcome the gripping effect of the socket 26 on ball 10 of each fastener F. The panel 4, with the male fastener components 1 of the fasteners F still attached thereto, can then be pulled away from the wall. The female fastener components 2 of the fasteners F are left glued in position on the wall. Thus, when the person P wishes to reinstall the panel 4, it is a simple matter of snap fitting the male fastener components 1 of the fasteners F back into the female fastener components 2. Thus, the panel 4 is returned to its original installation position and it maintains perfect alignment on the wall, and perfect alignment relative to its neighbouring panels.

Fig. 17 illustrates how the size of the gap between the panel 4 and the wall 5 may vary. An exaggerated number of fasteners F and a vibration damping device V are shown in order to illustrate the principle of how these pieces of apparatus are used to bridge the gap between the panel 4 and the wall 5. Three fasteners Fl, F2 and F3 are shown.

Fasteners F2 and F3 include spacer devices 3 of different lengths in view of the different sizes of the gaps that fasteners F2 and F3 have to bridge.

Also, fastener F2 illustrates how the fastener is able to accommodate the non- planar surfaces 41, 51 of the panel 4 and wall 5 at the particular location where the

fastener F2 is installed. Thus, the fastener F2 makes use of the pivoting function of the ball 10 in the socket 26.

Similarly, the fastener Fl makes use of the pivoting function of the ball 10 in the socket 26 in view of the localised slope of the surface 51 of the wall 5. The vibration damping device V is glued by the glue 64 onto the surface 51 of the wall 5. When the panel 4 is fitted into position by the fasteners Fl, F2 and F3, the layer of vibration-damping material 74 is compressed in order to provide localised support to the panel 4 between the fasteners F2 and F3.

Fig. 18 shows how the present invention may be applied to the automotive industry. A door liner panel 4 is fitted by fasteners F4 and F5 into a recess R in a car door 8.

The fastener F4 is generally the same design as shown in Figs. 1 to 3.

However, the fastener F5 is a variant in which the female fastener component 2 is moulded to be integral with the spacer device 3. Specifically, the disc 21 of the female fastener component 2 also functions as the upper plate 31 of the spacer device

3. Thus, the fastener F5 does not need to use the glue 62. Only the glue 61 and 63 is used. The variant represented by fastener F5 is particularly suited to high-volume manufacturing situations where many millions of customised fasteners F5 will be needed over a long production run of a vehicle, such that it is economically worthwhile producing the customised fastener F5.

A vibration damping device V is installed in the recess R in order to provide some localised support to the middle of the door liner panel 4 in order to avoid unacceptable flexing of the panel.

Figs. 19 and 20 show two different sizes (different diameters) of a variant of the female fastener component of the fastener of the present invention. The same reference numerals identify already-described features. The differences are that the socket 26 has an increased number of arms 29 (six arms) and a rim 222 in the form of a ridge is provided around the perimeter of the front surface 22 and projects forwardly therefrom. The diameter of the annulus formed by the rim 222 may be substantially the same as the diameter of the disc of the male fastener component that is, in use, used with this type of female fastener component. Thus, when the male and female fastener

components pivot relative to one another, the edge of the male disc will come to rest on the rim 222, thereby limiting the pivoting. By increasing the height of the rim 222, the maximum permitted amount of pivoting can be reduced, thereby enabling the designer to control the pivoting function. It will be appreciated that the above description is non-limiting and refers to the currently-preferred embodiments of the invention. Many modifications may be made within the scope of the invention. Although features believed to be of particular significance are identified in the appended claims, the applicant claims protection for any novel feature or idea described herein and/or illustrated in the drawings, whether or not emphasis has been placed thereon.