NEW WASHING MACHINE COUNTER-WEIGHT INNOVATION Featured

NEW WASHING MACHINE COUNTER-WEIGHT INNOVATION

Neil Howieson of Domestic Appliance comments:

This innovation, on the face of it, seems to be a simple and highly practical innovation that could have some or all of the benefits claimed by the developers. However, several questions would have to be concisely answered before the idea could even get close to production status. Some of the areas that would require close scrutiny include the following:

  • A plastic tank full of water inside the machine would require certain safety mechanisms to protect the electrical components and wiring in the instance of a puncture or other damage to the plastic tank. If a breakage occurred in the water tank mounted on top of the appliance drum, then this could have catastrophic ramifications as the water escapes and comes in to contact with electrical wiring and components.
  • In the instance of a very small hair line crack in the container, the water could leak out slowly over a period of months without the owner realising. This could have the potential to leak onto wooden flooring, thus rotting it away over a period of months, causing substantial damage. The water filled counter-weight would therefore need some kind of leak protection, such as a double skinned wall etc. or be made of a very durable material.
  • One of the main claims of this innovation is that it would make the transportation of the appliance cheaper, and also reduce carbon emissions/ carbon footprint. This reduction in the transportation costs wouldn’t necessarily filter down to the end user. Even if the shop floor price of the appliance became slightly cheaper, the savings would most likely be eaten up in additional installation costs when the new appliance is delivered. The delivery & installation team now have to spend an extra 15-20 minutes removing the appliance lid, un-capping the new water tank, connecting a hose to fill it up, securely capping off the filled water tank, and refitting the appliance lid. All this is before they even begin to install the appliance in the normal manner. All of this extra time and labour goes straight onto the installation charges. So what’s been saved in lower transportation costs has potentially been added to in additional installation costs.
  • HOWEVER, the above only relates to the installation procedures for the TOP water filled counter-weight, which was the subject of the recent reports. If washing machines were to be manufactured with the top AND bottom counter-weights being of the water filled tank design, then the installation costs would then quantum leap once again, and further considerations would have to be given as to how the lower counter-weight would be safely filled and capped off. The technical aspects of filling up the lower tank would very likely be much more onerous that that of the top counter-weight, which is intrinsically more accessible to the installation technician. It is therefore evident that more details about the filling and sealing off of the water tanks needs to be released before an overall opinion of the innovation can be arrived at.
  • In addition, it isn’t at all clear from the various reports just how the empty counter weight will actually be filled once the new appliance is delivered to the customer. Does the installation technician connect a garden hose to the customers cold water tap and let the water feed into the tank before capping it off? Or is there a more technical method for filling the tank such as via a solenoid valve? And once the tank is full, how it then securely sealed? If it is the former, then the cap or seal for the water tank will need to be very secure and fail-safe so that it doesn’t loosen off over time due to the vibrations caused by front loading washing machines. If it is the latter, then this will add more costs to the purchase price of the appliance due to additional components, wiring and design. I would therefore like to know more detail on how the tank is physically filled at the point of installation, and how it is then capped off.
  • It is also worth considering the sheer costs to all of the potential manufacturers globally in adopting this system and fully updating all their production lines including: robots, presses, plastic & alloy forming machinery, production line software, changing the shape and design of the appliance drum, cabinet and components, all of which have to be changed or relocated due to the space taken up by these water tanks, especially so when and if the lower counter weight is modified. Globally we’d be looking at $ Millions in investment to adopt these changes. So all in all, the extra costs in materials and production processes could possibly negate any cost savings on the appliance to the end user. However, this is all dependent on the full details of the system and how it will be designed and incorporated into new appliances.
  • As per the report findings, water is less heavy than concrete. It is therefore necessary to make the physical dimensions of the water filled counter-weights, substantially larger than their concrete counter parts, so that once filled, the overall weight is roughly comparable to the concrete versions. As can be seen from the below image, the water filled counter-weight on the right, is significantly larger than the concrete weight on the left. You can also see that the water tank version is very close to the sides of the appliance cabinet to the right hand side and the rear, and it is also very close to the detergent dispenser moulding. This could be a potential issue when the appliance is on the spin cycle, and especially so when it is on the ramp up to spin process, known as the ‘distribute’ cycle, wherein the machine attempts to evenly distribute the load before going onto full spin. If the drum is slightly out of balance during this process, then there can be a significant amount of movement of the outer drum, which causes the drum and/ or concrete weight to bang against the inside of the cabinet, and sometimes the components. Appliance technicians see the results of this out of balance scenario frequently, with differing amounts of damage being observed from one appliance to the next. Although the distribution process has been much improved over the years due to developments in electronics and sensing systems, washing machines do still spin out of balance, especially if the drum has been badly loaded. The reduction in space between the water filled counter-weight and the insides of the cabinet, is therefore significant:

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The other aspect to consider is that thus far, the project has only utilised the modification of the washing machine TOP counter-weight. The lower counter-weight, which is heavier and larger than the top weight, has not been examined in the recent reports. The below graphic is representing the upper and lower counter-weights, with the traditional concrete version on the left, and the water filled version on the right. The below graphic in my opinion, is a grossly unfair representation of the water tank vs. the traditional concrete block. The image on the right is possibly showing a fair representation of the size and shape of the lower water tank counter-weight. However, the representation of the concrete counter weight on the left hand graphic is shown much larger than they are in real life. Lower concrete weights are nowhere near as large as this, and therefore the visual comparison is not accurate or fair.

If the overall weight of the lower water tank counter weights are required to be the same as the concrete version once filled, then as is the case with the upper weights, the lower one would also have to be significantly larger than the concrete version. There is a limited amount of space in modern washing machine cabinets, especially with the demand for ever larger wash capacities and resultant drum sizes, and if the physical size and shape of the counter-weights are increased on all current makes and models, then something will have to be moved or redesigned to accommodate this, perhaps the drive motor, suspension mountings/ dampers, drain pump, electronics etc. This will all add to production costs, and thus potentially increase the cost of the appliance to the end user.

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So all in all, this is a positive and potentially advantageous innovation, but with a great deal of questions to be answered at this stage.