Whirlpool Keeps Improving Tech Behind Household Appliances

By Steve Brachmann
March 5, 2014

Headquartered in Benton Charter Township, MI, the Whirlpool Corporation is a major American manufacturer whose appliance products can be seen in homes across the nation. It is the largest appliance manufacturer in the world, although some recent reports indicate that intense competition from firms abroad check this corporation’s progress in that regard. Whirlpool has been considering whether or not to file trade complaints against foreign firms selling unfairly priced goods in America, according to this article from The Wall Street Journal.

Green and sustainable technologies for home appliances continue to be a major focus for the Whirlpool Corporation’s research and development activities. In today’s Companies We Follow column, we’re strolling through the databases of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to give you the scoop on the latest improvements to the world’s consumer appliances, including those that relate to energy conservation and increased efficiency.

Today, we start off by looking at a patent application that would protect a system that could improve energy efficiency overall for appliances within a home. This type of smart metering system would take into account environmental factors, like temperature, that could affect the functioning ability of an appliance. Also, we saw some inventions related to better gas pressure calibration for cooking ranges, as well as one patent application describing a dishwasher capable of producing ozone gas for increased sanitation.

In our coverage of Whirlpool’s recent additions to its patent portfolio, we noticed a couple of intriguing technologies related to liquid soap dispensers for washing appliances, like dishwashers and laundry machines. An extendable guide for dispensing ice into cups is protected by another patent we discuss. We also take a look at an improved system of adjusting cycle operations in a laundry tumbling appliance in response to a change in load density.

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On-Line Energy Consumption Optimization Adaptive to Environmental Condition
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130340450

Energy efficiency has been a major area of research regarding electronic appliances, especially for home appliances that are responsible for completing many home chores. Dishwashers, dryers, refrigerators and more are all being designed by major manufacturers to use electricity more effectively. For many, this is a way to contribute their part towards an environmentally friendly and sustainable globe for the future. For others, the extra savings in their monthly utility bill is reason enough to purchase energy efficient appliances.

In most cases, the appliances are programmed with some sort of computerized circuitry which enables them to maintain proper temperature, humidity level and more. These systems, however, do not take environmental conditions that may affect appliance performance into account. For example, on a very hot day, a washing machine might be able to use even less energy to heat water if that ambient temperature could be determined.

In June 2012, Whirlpool filed this patent application with the USPTO to protect a system for an electronic appliance to detect environmental conditions that may affect energy efficiency within that appliance. According to the patent application’s description section, it seems that the technology in this patent has been mainly developed for refrigerators, although diagrams attached to the patent application indicates that the technology has wider applications. The system would be able to determine when the environmental temperature around the refrigerator dips below factory ambient levels, which is the default standard temperature for these appliances, and adjust control settings accordingly.

The system is able to detect the temperature surrounding the refrigerator through the use of a number of sensors located around the appliance. These sensors are connected to an intelligent control unit located within the appliance. The intelligent control analyzes the environmental data collected through the sensors, as well as power transmission data, to determine how to adjust energy settings.

Claim 1 of this patent application would give Whirlpool the right to protect:

“An appliance for use in an environment comprising: an appliance housing; an interface adapted to receive power information; a plurality of sensors for sensing environmental conditions; a plurality of controls for controlling operations of the appliance; an intelligent control disposed within the appliance housing and operatively connected to the interface and the plurality of sensors and adapted to dynamically select control values associated with the plurality of controls based on at least one of the power information, the environmental conditions, or a combination thereof to increase energy efficiency of the appliance.”

 

Other Patent Applications

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140030663, titled “Smart Gas Burner System for Cooking Appliance.”

The Whirlpool Corporation is busy ushering in the next generation of smart home appliances, to judge by most of its patent applications that have been recently published by the USPTO. We’re noticing a couple of innovations today here at IPWatchdog that may greatly increase energy efficiency for cooking appliances, especially gas stoves. For instance, U.S. Patent Application No. 20140030663, titled Smart Gas Burner System for Cooking Appliance, describes a gas valve on a cooking range that can be controlled by a piezoelectric drive. This system enables a gas cooking range to calibrate the gas pressure valve over time. U.S. Patent Application No. 20130344446, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Providing Ultra Low Gas Burner Performance for a Cooking Appliance, discusses a technology that provides a similar result, but uses a computer processor to achieve the goal of proper gas pressure.

Some other novel appliance improvements will help users enjoy not just better energy efficiency but also better quality of service from these Whirlpool products. Improved icemaker systems are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140033758, entitled Oscillating and Gyrating Stir Stick for an Ice Container. This patent application would protect a refrigerator with an icemaking compartment that uses a stir stick to ensure even temperature and airflow throughout the compartment. We also noticed U.S. Patent Application No. 20140020718, filed under the title Dishwasher With Ozone Generator. This would protect a dishwashing appliance that includes a generator for ozone gas, which can work as a sanitizing agent for dishes.

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Issued Patents of Note

From U.S. Patent No. 8,640,483, which is titled “Ice Guide Funnel.”

Although it does seem that the patents received by Whirlpool are pretty well outpaced by the large number of patent applications, this corporation is regularly on the receiving end of some very interesting issued patents. At the heart of just about every one of these patented technologies protected by the USPTO is the long line of home appliances developed by this company for consumers all over the world.

A couple of these patents protect innovations related to consumables used by appliances during regular operation; in these cases, a consumable can be thought of as dish soap for a dishwasher, or laundry detergent used in a washing machine. U.S. Patent No. 8628024, entitled Removable Component for a Consumable With Identifying Graphic, protects a removable liquid dispenser for an appliance that provides optically encoded information to an appliance user based on the level of liquid consumable contained within the dispenser. The chemical makeup of that consumable could be determined by the system protected in U.S. Patent No. 8627526, which is titled Method for Determining a Characteristic of a Consumable. Using the removable dispenser in the previous patent, this system provides for detection of the chemical makeup of a liquid consumable poured into the dispenser. In this way, a washing machine could automatically determine whether a liquid is bleach or detergent and adjust cleaning cycles appropriately.

Like the patent applications described above, Whirlpool has recently protected a lot of technologies that aren’t world-changing but do represent useful upgrades to many of the company’s appliance products. For example, U.S. Patent No. 8640483, which is titled Ice Guide Funnel, protects an extendable ice guide for refrigerators that can pour ice into a glass and then retract back into the appliance. U.S. Patent No. 8631527, issued under the title Laundry Treating Appliance With Tumble Pattern Control, protects a responsive system for laundry appliances that can determine when the density of a laundry load changes. For example, in typical tumble dryers, clothes may accumulate in one area of the dryer, preventing airflow and reducing the dryer’s effectiveness. This system would help the appliance change its cycle of operation to account for this issue. Finally, we also decided to open up and look at U.S. Patent No. 8627832, which is titled Rotating Filter for a Dishwashing Machine. This patent protects a rotating filter that separates food soil from water in a dishwasher and allows that water to be recirculated for dish cleaning.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

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