Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Concrete and washing machines

There is something that you may not expect about the modern washing machine. Apparently many of them contain a concrete block or several concrete blocks. We may ask why: to hold the machine still during spin cycles. I had no idea this was so. I do know that washing machines are often surprisingly heavy. I assumed it was all the steel used in construction. And boy, how wrong was I.

A bright young engineer from Trent University wondered just why we put concrete in washing machines and then shipped them around the world. So he designed a replacement that almost any housewife could have told a designer about a hundred years ago: replace the concrete block with a container of water that you fill once you have put the machine into position. We ship empty, we fill once ready to use. Hardly rocket science, is it. So why has it taken us a hundred years to think of it?

Well, actually, it hasn't taken that long. The first patent for water filled ballast was filed 50 years ago (here). It is just that washing machine manufacturers were a little slow in getting around to doing anything with the idea. And, if we stop to think about it, this is just like one of those water-filled bases we regularly use for an outdoor sunshade or umbrella. 

And, like those fillable bases, we could, if we need it to be heavier, fill it with sand and then add another couple of kilos by topping the container up with water.

My washing machine does not contain a concrete block under the hood. It is an Asko, which, like Meile, uses a cast iron surround and four stabilisers to balance it. However, using the water idea, those companies could build out of lighter steel or aluminium, then use a fillable plastic container instead. Or we could bracket the machine to the floor, or have a safety belt on the wall locking the machine in place while it does its thing. Then we wouldn't need additional weight at all.

The silly thing is that worldwide we have gobbled up hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel, damaged moving people's backs, and created lots of household frustration in moving washing machines that could have all weighed at least twenty five kilos less. As a race, this shows me that we humans are surprisingly thick. 

I am very glad that the Trent Uni engineer got to apply the nous that any at-home parent could have applied, had they known what was under the washing machine hood. 

Maybe we should all ask more questions?!

Sam

1 comment :

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