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issue: August 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Controls & Sensors
Perfect Timing

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by Tina Grady Barbaccia, Managing Editor

As Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.-based Whirlpool Corporation began adding more and more features to its washing machines, the need arose for additional switching functionalities.

The white goods maker was only able to make high-current load connections on “drops” or bottom contacts, but it wanted to have the option of creating these loads on the top or bottom—to have more flexibility with design. It also wanted to be able to deliver additional features such as a timer capable of rotating both forward and backward, making it easier for users to select cycle settings.

Invensys, a longtime supplier to Whirlpool, knew of its customer’s wishes because there had been previous discussions about this topic. Therefore, the Carol Stream, IL, U.S.-based controls and sensors manufacturer decided to propose to Whirlpool that it would create a new timer to meet its needs. Whirlpool readily agreed, and the companies began working together to create a new, customized component—the HD (high-definition) Timer. While the initial startup began in 2001, the timer did not go into high-volume production until last year.

The HD Timer from Invensys enabled Whirlpool to add more functionality to its washing machine. The constant-drive device has a 360-degree layout that works with switches on a flat disc and single axis.

“It started back a while ago because we previously used their old 168 and 184 series timers,” Jim Miller, manager of washer platform integrity, Whirlpool, tells APPLIANCE. “We [at Whirlpool] always just said, ‘Hey, if we do a new timer, this is what we would do with it.’ Not having one was limiting the ability of us to do the higher-end machines. In fact, we used to put relays in the machines to make up for the shortcomings of what the old timer could not do.”

The old timer was a round disc with switches on the outside, explains Gary LaGesse, vice president/Whirlpool global key account manager at Invensys. Because of the 360-degree layout of the timer, only so much switching could be done because this timer was a pulsing mechanism that used an impulse drive. During the specified interval, the timer could move a certain number of degrees. In contrast, the HD Timer is a constant-drive timer and bi-directional. The timer provides more switching in the same 360-degree dial rotation. “Since it is moving all of the time, it allows for difficult switching without the need for a secondary mechanism,” notes Mr. LaGesse. Indentation points were also put on the timer so that a user can actually feel the spot on the dial he or she wants. There is no longer the need to do a complete 360-degree turn to reach that “detent” again.

“ This allows more to be done in the 360 degrees and for it to be able to move at a slower, more precise rate as it is turned, which is much easier and convenient for the consumer,” Mr. LaGesse explains. The HD Timer is a flat disc with all of the switches on one axis, which enables more complex switching. “Having a disc instead of a round drum eliminates tolerance stackups, which allows it to be more accurate,” Mr. LaGesse adds. “The switches sit in a neutral position—they are not open or closed. When the mechanism—a follower plate—is actuated, the switches fall onto the disc. As the disc rotates, it either opens or closes the switches, depending on the program designed into it.”

Once the timer was launched, Whirlpool quickly implemented it into its washing machines, immediately using it in its high-volume models. Within about 8 months of the timer’s original launch, Whirlpool started using the timer in its Catalyst model, the company’s premium top-loading, agitator-based washing machine. The difference, Mr. Miller observes, has been significant.

“ It has improved our ability to go from concept to production—to reduce the amount of time in this,” Mr. Miller explains. Previously, complicated harnessing was used for sub-interval switches to control dispensers, making the design more complex and less flexible. “It limited us. We were forced to use the same sub-interval pattern that we had for a hand-wash cycle also for the dispense cycle,” Mr. Miller notes. “It limited maximum performance of the washer. There was also a high amount of assembly labor involved in the old timers. With the extra parts, just their sheer number drove the opportunity for something to go wrong.”

One advantage of the HD Timer is that connections can be made on both the top and the bottom. “It just throws a tremendous amount of flexibility into the circuit,” Mr. Miller explains. Additionally, the overall number of components in the new timer is nearly half of the old one. This alone increases the reliability of the Whirlpool washers, Mr. Miller explains. “As you reduce the number of components, you are improving the reliability of the system,” he says. “Also, there are fewer needs for jumpers and jumper wires, which also improve reliability. We improved our overall Service Instance Rate (SIR) because of the new timer.”

During the development of the HD Timer, both Invensys and Whirlpool played a major part in its conception. Both companies regularly met to determine what was needed and what actions they could both take to successfully develop the timer. Once a prototype was developed, they also both took part in testing the new timer. “The testing and development of the timer were done together,” Mr. Miller points out. “The testing was split halfway. The joint test plan we had was trying to maximize the best thing everybody could bring to the table.” Invensys performed all of the accelerated contact life testing, while Whirlpool executed the end application tests in an actual machine at its facility.

The close relationship between the two companies proved particularly important when Whirlpool added new features, which meant the timer’s design had to be altered. “The requirement was always evolving,” he tells APPLIANCE. “This product was designed with flexibility in mind. For the period when close cooperation was required during the design phases, this initial design concept proved to be invaluable. What otherwise could have been an extremely lengthy redesign only promoted a more constructive exchange of ideas between Whirlpool and Invensys.”

Ultimately, all of the features Whirlpool wanted were provided, including the forward and backward motion of the timer and the ability to implement this feature in both its high-end and value products. “Invensys did a good job of developing the timer and developing it to our needs,” Mr. Miller notes. “As we went along, there were obstacles. In every case, they came back to us with very good solutions to our problems. It kept us on track.”


More from our August 2004 Report
Controls and Sensors

Silicon: Smart and Strategic

The Right Touch

Freezing Out the Competition

Perfect Timing



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