Nice story, Chuck. It's amazing to see these little efficiency improvements here and there. It adds up. Let's hope these increasingly complex electronics that are saving energy in appliances do not become the breakdown element in the appliances.
I, for one, have spent time watching my front loader stop and start during cycling (don't ask) and now that you mention it, I can attest first hand to how many times during a cycle the washer drum twists, turns, stops, starts, etc., making adjustments for load size, water intake, etc. So it makes perfect sense that microcontrollers that give engineers more ways for finetuning these movements would help boost performance. But I have to agree with Rob, it's yet one more finely-tuned piece of mechanics with the potential for break down and lots of calls to the service repair person.
I'm an optimist, Beth (That may be a another spelling for the word, fool). Even so, while we've seen tons of Made by Monkeys blogs about washers breaking down because of the control panel, I believe the components in the electronics portion of appliances are becoming increasingly reliable. We'll see.
Micro-controllers for brushless motor control have been around for a few years now. You can get ARM (M0, M3) based controllers with motor drive peripherals for 1$-2$, so we can expect to see more brushless motors in appliances. Actually this should increase reliability because feedback is more precise and the controller can shut down or slow a motor under unusual load conditions instead of letting it shake itself to pieces.
I have a little experience with the Maytag Neptune. It has two circuit boards, one is the main control up in the control panel area, the other is the three phase motor control mounted near the washtub. I did have a main control board fail setting me back about 200 smackers. Thought about reverse engineering the board, but many of the parts I could not identify by the number marked on the chip. Several triacs, but strangely marked, so it was cheaper to just buy the new board. In hindsight I probably could have designed a new one, but my time is worth something.
Anyway most of the other failures were all low tech. Tub bearing failure causing a seal failure (or maybe the reverse). Another 200 bucks as the bearing is cast into the plastic. The door lock mechanism is a device they call a "wax motor". The design looks 1890s vintage (not a typo, yes 18-90). A heater turns on causing the material to expand and interlock the door till the tub is stopped. At 20 bucks for the part I just removed it and bypassed the interlock telling my wife not to open it till the motor stops.
In these experiences (I think) I have learned that the real techie parts are pretty bullet proof, but the low tech is what fails. The BOM for the main board is probably is the size of the Chicago phone book, maybe 1000 parts or so.
The motor control however is an art form, as is the motor. Whoever designed this should get an award. The designer of the main board and wax motor however should be escorted behind the factory and hung without delay! Made By Monkeys is too high an award.
Electronics can be a sticking point, Rob. Like Beth, I have a washer that stops during cycling. Mine stops because of a sensor problem. By pushing down on the topload door, I can temporarily resolve the problem and make it finish its cycle. But I've been too lazy to fix it and too cheap to hire a repairman.
Yes, I too, have a washer where you have to hold down the dial before you turn it or it slips. It's not an electronic problem, but it's one of those problems that seems to minor to fix correctly. You're lucky you were able a temporary to find a fix for your problem even if it is annoying.
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