December 17, 2017

Archives for July 2008

How Your Automatic Ice Maker Makes Ice

A tall glass of iced tea or lemonade seems to symbolize summer, and it seems we are all adding ice to our drinks. I remember those old fashioned metal ice cube trays with a lever that was lifted to release the cubes. Those were followed by plastic trays that we twisted to get to the ice. Now I have noticed that it is nearly impossible to find a new refrigerator without an automatic ice maker built into it. If you’ve ever listened to your freezer making ice and wondered exactly how the system works, has the answer for you. We’ll share the gist of for you:

An ice maker works like those plastic trays, but the process of pouring water and extracting cubes is fully automated. A home ice maker is an ice-cube assembly line.

Most ice makers use an electric motor, an electrically operated water valve and an electrical heating unit. To provide power to all these elements, you have to hook the icemaker up to the electrical circuit powering your refrigerator. You also have to hook the icemaker up to the plumbing line in your house, to provide fresh water for the ice cubes. The power line and the water-intake tube both run through a hole in the back of the freezer.

When everything is hooked up, the ice maker begins its cycle. The cycle is usually controlled by a simple electrical circuit and a series of switches.

  • At the beginning of the cycle, a timed switch in the circuit briefly sends current to a solenoid water valve. In most designs, the water valve is actually positioned behind the refrigerator, but it is connected to the central circuit via electrical wires. When the circuit sends current down these wires, the charge moves a solenoid (a type of electromagnet), which opens the valve.
  • The valve is only open for about seven seconds; it lets in just enough water to fill the ice mold. The ice mold is a plastic well, with several connected cavities. Typically, these cavities have a curved, half-circle shape. Each of the cavity walls has a small notch in it so each ice cube will be attached to the cube next to it.
  • Once the mold is filled, the machine waits for the water in the mold to freeze. The cooling unit in the refrigerator does the actual work of freezing the water, not the ice maker itself. The ice maker has a built-in thermostat, which monitors the temperature level of the water in the molds. When the temperature dips to a particular level — say, 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 degrees Celsius) — the thermostat closes a switch in the electrical circuit.
  • Closing this switch lets electrical current flow through a heating coil underneath the ice maker. As the coil heats up, it warms the bottom of the ice mold, loosening the ice cubes from the mold surface.
  • The electrical circuit then activates the ice maker’s motor. The motor spins a gear, which rotates another gear attached to a long plastic shaft. The shaft has a series of ejector blades extending out from it. As the blades revolve, they scoop the ice cubes up and out of the mold, pushing them to the front of the ice maker. Since the cubes are connected to one another, they move as a single unit.
  • At the front of the ice maker, there are plastic notches in the housing that match up with the ejector blades. The blades pass through these notches, and the cubes are pushed out to a collection bin underneath the ice maker.
  • The revolving shaft has a notched plastic cam at its base. Just before the cubes are pushed out of the ice maker, the cam catches hold of the shut-off arm, lifting it up. After the cubes are ejected, the arm falls down again. When the arm reaches its lowest resting position, it throws a switch in the circuit, which activates the water valve to begin another cycle. If the arm can’t reach its lowest position, because there are stacked-up ice cubes in the way, the cycle is interrupted. This keeps the ice maker from filling your entire freezer with ice; it will only make more cubes when there is room in the collection bin.

It’s quite a system, and one we should appreciate on a 100 degree day.

Laundry Tips From Whirlpool

If you want good advice, go to the experts. I know I’m not alone in my opinion that laundry takes up way too much of my time. Whirlpool, a leading manufacturer of washers and dryers offers their advice on getting your clothes clean with the least amount of hassle.

  • As your laundry accumulates, pre-sort it into designated baskets for lights, darks and whites. This way, a load will be ready to throw in the washer whenever you have a minute to spare.
  • While sorting, don’t forget to close zippers, clasp hooks and check pockets to prevent snags and avoid washing tissues, money, lipstick, etc.
  • Streamline the laundry process by incorporating storage solutions and flat working surfaces into your laundry room. This will keep laundry where it belongs and eliminate the need to treat, sort and fold in other rooms of the house.
  • Wash small loads as needed between laundry days. Today’s high efficiency washing machines use substantially less water and energy than a conventional top-loading washer. Which means you can do small loads when you have time, rather than waiting for the basket to fill up.
  • Don’t overload the washer or dryer. Clothes come out cleaner and less wrinkled when given room to move freely.
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Save Energy and Save Money or Not?

Energy costs are going up and we’re surrounded by warnings of global warming.  What’s a conscien-tious consumer to do?  Buy an energy efficient appliance of course.

From washing machines that use steam instead of hot water, to refrigerators that use low-energy compressors, to low-power computer screens, electronics companies are furiously developing energy-efficient products and heavily promoting lines already on the market that use less electricity than competitors’ brands.

Homemakers are increasingly buying front-load washing machines, which use gravity to move water instead of agitators as in top loaders.

And now, new washers from LG Electronics and Whirlpool offer an option to use steam instead of hot water, cutting water and power use by more than 70 percent compared with some top-load models.

LG expects 4 out of 10 front-load washers it sells in North America to use steam technology by the end of this year, compared with 2 out of 10  currently.

Their biggest appliance plant in South Korea makes mostly front loaders, while recently built plants like one in Russia have stopped manufacturing top loaders altogether.

Among refrigerators, which consume 30 percent of overall power in a typical home, traditional compressors are giving way to linear compressors that use up to 40 percent less power and make less noise.

In the computing industry, power-saving has long been a key priority as bigger and hungrier gadgets challenge battery life.  PC makers from Apple to the Lenovo Group are replacing screens lit by conventional cold cathode fluorescent lamps with light emitting diode (LED) displays.  “LED saves up to 40 percent of the power used in traditional backlights,” said Jeff Kim, an analyst at Hyundai Securities. “Next year they will be commonly found in notebook screens, and will be increasingly used in TV panels from 2010.”

But too often, these energy-efficient products carry a hefty price premium to reflect the cost of developing new technologies, which in turn hampers faster adoption.  For instance, Whirlpool’s washing machines with steam are sold at $1,300 to $1,500, compared with a traditional machine priced at $700.  Still, makers argue that the lifetime savings from green products could amount to the price of the appliance itself.

Sometimes a little incentive helps.

The Japanese electronics retailer Bic Camera is running a campaign in which buyers of eco-friendly products get extra credit points that can be used for future purchases. “That’s a little nudge to help people buy products that are more efficient, even if they are slightly more expensive,” said Naoko Ito, a Bic Camera spokeswoman. “Consumer interest is high.”

Recall: Log Splitter Engines By American Honda Motor Co. Due to Fire Hazard

Name of Product: Engines used in SpeeCo and Huskee Brand Log Splitters

Units: About 5,600

Manufacturer: American Honda Motor Corp., of Torrance, Calif.

Hazard: The engine’s fuel tank can crack and leak, posing a risk of fire or explosion.

Incidents/Injuries: None reported.

Description: The recall involves Honda engines (model type GCV160LA N1A) used in Split Master by SpeeCo and Huskee brand log splitters. Only engine serial numbers between 5547012 and 6880908 are included in the recall. The serial number is located below the upper shroud near the oil dip-stick. The following models of log splitters are affected by the recall and are either silver/black or red/black colored.

Huskee Log Splitter SpeeCo Split Masters
LS401227TS (22 Ton)
LS401228NO (27 Ton)
LS401228SP (22 Ton)
LS401227NO (22 Ton)
LS401225NO (25 Ton)

Sold at: The log splitters with the recalled engines were sold at outdoor power equipment dealers and Tractor Supply stores nationwide from January 2007 through June 2008 for between $1,150 and $1,500.

Manufactured in: United States

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the affected log splitters and contact any Honda Lawn and Garden dealer or Honda Engine dealer for a free repair. Registered owners of the recalled log splitters will be mailed a notice.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Honda at (800) 426-7701 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at

Recall: Dirt Devil Vacuum Accessory Tools Due to Laceration Hazard

Name of Product: Dirt Devil Vacuum Power Brush Attachment Tools

Units: About 987,000

Manufacturer: TTI Floor Care North America, of Glenwillow, Ohio

Hazard: Plastic pieces inside the vacuum tool can break apart and be ejected, posing a laceration hazard to consumers.

Incidents/Injuries: TTI Floor Care has received 140 reports of incidents involving the recalled vacuum tool, including 12 reports of injuries. Those consumers reported minor eye or skin injuries and one thumb injury.

Description: The recalled Dirt Devil Turbo Tool/Power Brush attachment was sold as an accessory with the following Dirt Devil vacuum models. Only vacuum tool accessories with date codes J7060 through J7365 and have a C-clip connector are included in this recall. The date code is located on the underside of the vacuum accessory. The Turbo Tool/Power Brush tools are about 6 ½ inches long by about 5 inches wide and come in a variety of colors that match the color of the vacuum. The housing of the tool was made in clear, red, green, or light blue with clear, light blue, dark blue, red, purple, or black turbine fans with matching brush rolls.

Dirt Devil Vacuum Models
Reaction Purpose for Pets Ultra Swivel Glide     
M110000 M140000 M086020
M110000HD                  M140000CA  
M110002 Envision Wide Glide      Swerve
M110003 M086700WCA M086030
M110006 M086710 M086030CA
M110008CA Action Upright Royal Commercial
M110009 M110020CAB RY6100

Sold at: Mass merchandisers, home improvement stores and other retail stores nationwide from April 2007 through April 2008 for between $60 and $170 for the vacuum cleaner, including accessory tools.

Manufactured in: China

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Dirt Devil accessory tool and contact the firm to receive a free repair kit.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact TTI Floor Care at (800) 245-2296 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at


Assistive Kitchen Robot Takes Stanford’s Dishes to the Wash

BoingBoing Gadgets reports:

The “Assistive Kitchen” robot picks up the dishes and takes them to the wash, thanks in large part to RFID sensors built into the plates and utensils in Stanford’s test kitchen. The team building the robot is also trying to teach it to surf the web to pick up new tricks, as well as self-optimize its routines to minimize the amount of running around it would have to do to pick up the dishes. (Pick up all the plates missing from the cabinet before returning to the dishwasher, for instance.)

Robot B21 today — Rosie tomorrow.

Robot chef gets a boost from wireless kitchen [New Scientist] (Thanks, Zoe!)

Hal 2000 as a dishwasher

Whirlpool’s New SpeedCook Oven

Whirlpool’s New SpeedCook combines a microwave with a true convection oven and range hood.  The  SpeedCook appliance is a True Convection oven, a g2Max® SpeedCook oven, a  microwave and a steamer all in one. 

 Typically, microwave ovens operate on HIGH power only. For example, to achieve a 50% power level (“medium”) in a typical microwave oven, the microwave oven operates 50% of the time at HIGH power and 50% of the time OFF.  In contrast,  this microwave system delivers the selected power level continuously. This constant stream of microwave power helps to minimize overcooking of foods and messy food spatters.

The microwave system features the 6th SENSE™ cooking system. A humidity sensor in the microwave oven cavity detects moisture and humidity emitted from food as it heats. The sensor adjusts cooking times to various types and amounts of food. Sensor cooking takes the guesswork out of microwave cooking.

A 1,000-watt halogen bulb with a 500-watt quartz bulb to serve as the grill element for various cooking functions.  This allows browning which is not usually possible in a microwave.

The oven’s convection system is composed of a convection element, which heats in conjunction with the convection fan for true convection cooking. The system is embedded in the wall of the microwave oven cavity, behind the protective screen.

On the outside, a glass LCD screen makes programming simple and easily visible. You can choose from a handy 30-second cook option and many resets to cook different sorts of food. There are also speed cook, “keep warm,” and childproof options on the oven.  Other options include the option to turn off the turntable and instructions for using the oven to proof a loaf of bread.

This sounds like a real multipurpose appliance.  It retails starting at $919.

Food Safety and Your Refrigerator

We all know how important it is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday.   One of the easiest ways to do that is to keep the fridge produce drawers stocked with your family’s favorites .  The problem arises with how most people maintain those drawers.  The details of how a refrigerator is cleaned and its temperature, along with how food is prepared and stored were discussed by a panel of experts meeting in New Orleans this June.

Vegetable bins in home refrigerators contain the highest percentage of bacteria,” said Sandria Godwin, a food scientist with Tennessee State University and part of a four-member panel that presented its findings on consumer refrigeration trends.

“You don’t have to go to a party or a restaurant to get food poisoning,” she said. “We are all looking for someone to blame when it comes to food safety, but there are things we can do to reduce the risk, especially for high-risk groups such as the elderly, infants and children.”

Poor refrigerator cleaning, mixing unwashed vegetables with uncovered raw meats in the storage bins, failing to install a refrigerator thermometer, and not maintaining the recommended refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees are all food spoilers and bacteria multipliers.

While less scientific than some of the other findings, uncertain economic times have also forced consumers to view raising the temperature in the refrigerator as a way to save on their energy bill, panelists said. It has also made consumers less likely to throw away food that is past its recommended self date.

Consumers with a higher income are less likely to keep their refrigerator clean, Godwin said. She cited busy lifestyles and time constraints as the cause.

We have a big challenge because it’s hard to change behaviors,” said Danielle Schor, senior vice president of food safety with the nonprofit International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C.

“People think food-borne illness is something you just get over,” Schor said. “It’s not a stomach ache; it can cause a lot of damage, but people don’t always see the immediate consequence so they don’t realize the danger.”

The 68th Annual Meeting and Expo of The Institute of Food Technologists, has attracted about 15,000 food scientists and others in the food technology industry, including representatives from the academic, private, nonprofit and government sectors.