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issue: July 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Technology Report
Touch Sensor Control


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A new touch control platform from SCHOTT North America Inc.’s White Goods Electronics division reportedly allows manufacturers to integrate aesthetics and advanced technology into their surface-cooking appliances.

Touch sensors attached to the underside of a glass ceramic cooktop are activated with the touch of a finger, sending electrical signals to the controller below it. The controller regulates the temperature of the heating elements.

The Wheaton, IL, U.S.-based company has introduced high-performance touch controls to work with its existing CERAN(R) glass-ceramic cooking surfaces.

“The addition of touch controls to CERAN cooktops was an obvious next step,” says Jens Hoche, general manager of White Goods Electronics, SCHOTT North America, Inc. He says the advantages and selling points of smooth cooktop surfaces revolve around “the beauty and easy-to-clean aspects of the totally smooth cooking surface. Replacing the control knobs with a touch-user interface simply adds to this functionality and aesthetic quality.”

The new modular, electronic touch control platform is said to be a cost-effective system that combines the company’s patented Field-Effect touch technology with the aesthetic quality of its UL-recognized glass-ceramic cooking surface and solid-state controls. The controls, which are driven by Flash microcontroller technology and use proprietary cooking algorithm software for burner element settings and pre-heat cycles, can also drive multi-color display solutions.

According to Dr. Hoche, Flash technology in the touch system allows the designer or user to reprogram software and data into the Flash memory. This information is retained in the microcontroller even when power is removed from the device. Also, because the Flash technology is self-programming, algorithms or critical data may be easily updated in the factory or even remotely, Dr. Hoche points out. “This creates new possibilities for the designer and the end user,” he says. One such possibility is offering new versions of the software to the end user to enhance an existing product feature set.

“The look and feel of the touch is one of the first key design aspects that draws a consumer’s attention to a particular appliance,” Dr. Hoche continues. “Our technology provides freedom in defining the user interface with very limited design restrictions on location and distance between the pads.” The TouchSensor Field-Effect technology is also easy to calibrate, which he says ensures a crisp touch “feel,” regardless of the surface it resides behind.

Ultimately, Dr. Hoche says, appliance OEMs are provided with flexibility when using a Flash microcontroller design, allowing for easy modification of features and functionality “on the fly.” The flexible operating requirements help reduce costs by allowing one system to operate in different environments, Dr. Hoche notes. One such example, he says, is being able to use it in different countries with different power supplies.

Beyond its design flexibility, Dr. Hoche notes, touch sensors are more durable, and therefore, more reliable since they do not have any moving parts to break or wear down. “Touch sensors represent high durability because they are mounted behind the substrate, are protected from environmental conditions that could damage the switch, have no openings for spills to leak through, and no plastic membranes to collapse, separate, or peel off,” he explains.

 

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