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issue: October 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Ignition Systems & Gas Technology
Lighting a Fire under Appliances


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by David Simpson, contributing editor

Gas component suppliers help appliance makers work on efficiency, emissions, reliability, and cost.

A fully electronic system with touch control for gas cooktops has been developed by Mondragón Componentes (Aretxabaleta, Spain; www.mondragoncomponentes.com). The system, named Su-k, has an electronic board, a driver, a touch control, and a motorized valve offering two to six ways. This allows different configurations (two, three, four, five, or six burners) according to the final application.

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Gas component suppliers help appliance makers work on efficiency, emissions, reliability, and cost.

Gas appliance manufacturers operate in environments at least as stressful as those experienced by their products. As with other appliance companies, they need to design and produce products that are priced appealingly for the market, are technologically competent, and are reliable.

Water heaters, ranges, furnaces, and other gas-fueled appliances increasingly need to be energy efficient and have low emissions. You can throw in challenges such as the need to meet standards, receive certifications, and reduce hazardous materials. Add these to the usual requirements of operating a manufacturing company in a competitive international market and the heat is on.

“The market demands increasingly high-level household appliances that are easier and simpler to use, with new functions and less consumption, which translates into a sense of well-being,” declares Virginia Lekuona, spokesperson for Copreci S.Coop (Aretxabaleta, Spain; www.copreci.com). “More than a decade ago, nobody could imagine that gas hobs would have smart safety systems with reignition devices or that they could even be programmed, and even less that they could interact with the other appliances in the kitchen.”

She describes Copreci-smart cooking as a new gas cooking concept that evolves cooking control to an intelligent system that integrates electronics and provides security, energy, ease of use, and aesthetic advantages. “We work with concepts like intuition, perception, interaction, and ease of use in order to come up with domestic appliances that communicate with their users,” Lekuona says. “Our electronics engineering team for gas cooking is four times bigger. We’ve developed more than 10 new electronic gas-flow-control systems that have put gas cooking right at the top in terms of features.”

The Starlite hot-surface igniter can be the ignition source in furnaces, boilers, pool heaters, unit heaters, water heaters, ovens, and clothes dryers. Igniter Systems Inc. (Akron, NY, U.S.; www.ignitersystems.com) reports it has the industry’s only full-sized 230-V igniter suitable for commercial as well as residential applications in North America and Europe.

Matching Modulation

Gas technology has been evolving around advances in materials, computer controls, and electronics. For example, observes Farshid Ahmady, vice president, research and development, Solaronics Inc. (Rochester, MI, U.S.; www.solaronicsusa.com), “the new techniques in modulation allow the heating systems to deliver only the precise amount of heat required by the load at any time. However, this would not be possible only by advancing electronic control components. An advance in materials has allowed new burners to be able to match the modulation capabilities of the new controls. For example, the new woven ceramic fabric (WCF) has an operation range 15 times that of standard burners. The race between the controls and the burners continues for more and more turn-down ratios.”

Ahmady adds that precise modulation also results in less wear and tear on the components and less pollutant emission. Appliance NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions are increasingly under scrutiny, notably in the state of California and now Texas, with more states lining up.

Ahmady feels that the issue facing the implementation of new technology is cost. “Our U.S. market is traditionally a cost-driven market versus, for instance, the European market which is more technology driven. This is perhaps due to an abundance of energy resources as well as available space. For example, our large basements or garages always accommodated large storage (tank)–type water heaters. Therefore return on investment for buying a high-efficiency tankless water heater was not justified. Of course, this is not the case anymore. In addition to the environmental impact of such appliances, the ever-increasing costs of energy push us toward more-advanced-technology appliances.

“Regardless, in order for any new technology to be successful, the innovation has to be practical and as inexpensive as possible. Even a 100%-efficient gas appliance with zero emissions will not be successful if it costs too much.”

Series III burners from Sabaf (Milan, Italy; www.sabaf.it) were developed with a focus on optimizing consumption and maximizing emissions reduction. The supplier’s laboratory tests have shown efficiency values amounting to 66%, an increase of more than 18% compared with current average values. Burner power has increased 15–20% on the same overall burner diameter. The cover and flame spreader units are firmly fixed to the cooktop and, thanks to their rounded-off shape, enable quick and easy continuous cleaning.

Costs and a Directive

Of course, gas appliances are among those that have been pressured by rising materials costs. For instance, says Manuel Rodriguez, product manager, Burner Systems International (BSI; Chattanooga, TN, U.S.; www.burnersystems.com), “The high price of brass is driving the industry to find brass substitutes.”

For many years, 360 brass has been the material of choice to make nuts. This is mainly due to the qualities of the material: excellent machinability and corrosion resistance. These qualities, however, are being blurred by the high price of copper used to make brass. In the commodities market, copper climbed to record highs of over $4.00 a pound earlier this year.

BSI is working on increasing the number of aluminum nuts on all its tube sizes. Aluminum nuts will replace its current brass nuts if the customer chooses. This will reduce the cost of the tubing assemblies. This less-expensive option is also a quality option, as the aluminum nuts currently in production have passed the supplier’s quality tests and comply with its standards. The supplier believes the aluminum nuts will perform as well as, or better than, their brass counterparts.

Some companies are also weighing the use of lead in brass and aluminum alloys. Adding lead improves machinability by acting as a lubricant between the cutting tool and the machined part. This extends the life of the cutting tool. Lead also prevents chips from sticking together and making the cutting operation more difficult.

But lead is a toxic substance and Europe’s RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Directive restricts the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in homogeneous materials. The allowed maximum concentration of each of these substances is 0.1%, except for cadmium, which is limited to 0.01% by weight of homogeneous material. Some exceptions are allowed, however, including aluminum, which can contain up to 0.4% lead, and brass, which can contain up to 4%.

For manufacturers, the challenge is finding alloys that comply with RoHS without hindering productivity. BSI orifices are made of brass 360, which contains up to 3.7% lead. This is an RoHS-compliant material. BSI’s new aluminum nuts are made from
aluminum C06N or 6042, which is a low-lead alloy with a maximum of 0.4% lead. These nuts comply with the RoHS Directive as well. BSI says aluminum C06N and 6042 have not impacted productivity and have proven to be an outstanding material to machine compression nuts.

Smaller Is Better

In gas ignition technology, much of the focus is on cost reduction while maintaining or improving performance.

“Ispracontrols has reduced the size of electronic ignition modules by nearly 50%, resulting in lower material cost and increased space utilization in the appliance,” explains Jeff Prunty, business unit manager, ITW Cooking Products–North America (Des Plaines, IL, U.S.; www.itwispracontrols.com). “The new ignition module families offer snap-in mounting features, eliminating the need for screw attachment. Additional benefits of the technical evolution are increased temperature ratings. This allows more flexibility in the placement of the module in the appliance, resulting in shorter wire lengths, therefore lower cost.”

Most important, he adds, is that its newly developed ignition modules can be tailored to the number of outlets required. “Typical ignition modules have outlets in pairs (two, four, six, or eight). With the new modules, you only pay for the outlets required for the application and there is no need to add excess wiring or terminals to connect unused outlets to ground. The new ignition module family is available with integrated terminal blocks and a push-button switch to further reduce final assembly cost. Modules have IMQ, VDE, and CSA approvals and are RoHS compliant.”

Low-Volume Choice

Fenwal offers a full line of standard gas ignition controls in direct spark, intermittent pilot (spark-to-pilot) and hot-surface designs for 24 V ac and 120 V ac, both with and without combustion blower relays.

“As with most gas-ignition-control manufacturers, large production volumes use preprogrammed microprocessors and are ‘built complete’ to an OEM’s requirements as a specific top-level SKU,” says Gerald Harting, director of sales and marketing, Fenwal Controls, Kidde-Fenwal Inc. (Ashland, MA, U.S.; www.fenwalcontrols.com). “However, to support the development of new appliances, sample controls must be able to be quickly supplied with a variety of customized timing cycles, features, and options so the performance of the final appliance can be optimized and proven. Also, production ramp-ups, smaller-volume customers, and low-volume model variations need to be supplied in an economical way.”

In order to meet these needs, the supplier produces standard controls as readily configurable platforms, designed for in-circuit programming (ICP). These standard subassemblies are manufactured with all components and hardware, but without programming the microprocessor. Programs and options can be downloaded and custom configured quickly to meet the requirements of the appliance engineer. “Critical parameters can be precisely defined including number of tries for ignition, trial for ignition time, and blower timings for pre-, inter-, and postpurge,” Harting explains. “Standard and custom timing can be easily installed, creating any of a wide variety of top-level SKUs in a matter of moments, including all the safety requirements in the product’s agency listing.”

The supplier’s ICP system utilizes a computer connected to a benchtop programming station, with a selection of “bed of nails”–style fixtures for the various subassembly PCB sizes. The software and specified options are loaded into the subassembly using the appropriate fixture, then the control is functionally tested, conformal coated for protection, and completed with the specified enclosure or potting. “The completed control is a listed product under the applicable third-party agency shown on the label such as CSA or multiple agencies: CSA/CE/AGA,” Harting says.

Ignition Alternatives

Channel Products Inc. (Chesterland, OH, U.S.; www.channelproducts.com) introduced a hot-wire ignition alternative that it says can be a direct application replacement for existing hot-surface elements and high-voltage spark electrodes. No warm-up is needed, with fast ignition times on both natural gas and propane. The Quik-Lighter is low voltage, so there is no need for specialty high-voltage wire. The company says the igniter resists contamination and corrosion and performs well in harsh and wet climates. Combination controls include timing, fan control, and safety functions. Several input voltages are available: 12, 24, 120, and 240 V ac, and portable battery.

Sam Collins, spokesman for Crystal-Technica Ltd. (Newton Abbot, United Kingdom; www.crystaltechnica.com) maintains that silicon nitride (Si3N4) hot-surface ignition devices can now fulfill ignition requirements that only spark ignition could previously satisfy. Benefits he sees with silicon nitride include the ability to withstand harsh operating conditions, imperviousness to chemicals, instant ignition, no need for specialist handling requirements, silent operation, the ability to retrofit existing applications, and high energy efficiency.

 “We are particularly excited about the applications where in the past hot-surface ignition was not possible due to the inherent difficulties in using silicon carbide,” says Collins. “For example, our 12-V mini element, coupled with our controller, is designed for use in cooktops. This is an application that would be simply unthinkable with silicon carbide. There is an innovative reignition system, eliminating flame blowout. Similarly, our 6-V igniters can run from a battery pack and so can be used pretty much anywhere, as they can withstand even the harshest operating environments.”

Tom Fredricks, vice president of engineering at White-Rodgers, a division of Emerson (St. Louis, MO, U.S.; www.white-rodgers.com), reports his company has been working with another firm on a new generation of silicon nitride igniters to use with its controls. “Existing igniters work best if they are at a certain voltage level, and they are sensitive to overtemperature. The new construction will be more tolerant of overtemperature and overvoltage. This should open up more applications. We’ve just started putting the igniters on the market.”

The 2XXXX DSI (direct spark ignition) system was developed by Capable Controls (Bensenville, IL, U.S.; www.capablecontrols.com) to replace over 70 different types of direct spark igniters currently in use. The control is fully factory configurable, allowing one control circuit board to handle various voltages, currents, and current-timing requirements. The company will also be offering standard ODL programming on a hot-surface ignition system and a CE/EN 298 system, being introduced early next year.

Regulation-Driven Changes?

“Overall, combustion technology isn’t significantly different than it was 15 to 20 years ago,” says Bill Butler, assistant vice president of technology at White-Rodgers. “What we have today has been proven reliable, and is pretty robust. Appliance producers have not had an incentive to change.”

But, he notes, change may be coming with potential new standards, in California and elsewhere, governing appliance NOx emissions.

“Regulations could have a dramatic effect on gas burner technology in the future,” Butler observes. “If you are producing gas appliances, it would be a good idea to keep a close eye on the emissions regulatory front.”

A fully electronic system with touch control for gas cooktops has been developed by Mondragón Componentes (Aretxabaleta, Spain; www.mondragoncomponentes.com). The system, named Su-k, has an electronic board, a driver, a touch control, and a motorized valve offering two to six ways. This allows different configurations (two, three, four, five, or six burners) according to the final application.

The Starlite hot-surface igniter can be the ignition source in furnaces, boilers, pool heaters, unit heaters, water heaters, ovens, and clothes dryers. Igniter Systems Inc. (Akron, NY, U.S.; www.ignitersystems.com) reports it has the industry’s only full-sized 230-V igniter suitable for commercial as well as residential applications in North America and Europe.

Series III burners from Sabaf (Milan, Italy; www.sabaf.it) were developed with a focus on optimizing consumption and maximizing emissions reduction. The supplier’s laboratory tests have shown efficiency values amounting to 66%, an increase of more than 18% compared with current average values. Burner power has increased 15–20% on the same overall burner diameter. The cover and flame spreader units are firmly fixed to the cooktop and, thanks to their rounded-off shape, enable quick and easy continuous cleaning.

The 2XXXX DSI (direct spark ignition) system was developed by Capable Controls (Bensenville, IL, U.S.; www.capablecontrols.com) to replace over 70 different types of direct spark igniters currently in use. The control is fully factory configurable, allowing one control circuit board to handle various voltages, currents, and current-timing requirements. The company will also be offering standard ODL programming on a hot-surface ignition system and a CE/EN 298 system, being introduced early next year.

 

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