Even washing machines are getting smarter, says the teardown team at iSuppli.
The 'smart' top-of-the-range household appliance has been with us for a while now, most tangibly for those willing to pay in excess of £1,000. However, evidence of its impact on the wider white-goods market has arguably been harder to find.
Similarly, the general perception is that the focus for energy-saving design has been the mobile device market. That is largely true, but energy consumption benchmarking for washing machines, tumble driers, dishwashers, fridges and more is increasingly common globally (one thinks of the mandatory EU ratings all such products must display).
This month's teardown addresses a product that brings together these two trends. The GFWN1100LWW is a mid-range, front-loading washing machine from General Electric (GE). It has a 3.5ft3 capacity (specifically 99l, but in European terms, where load weight rather than volume is used, this converts to about 4.5-6.5kg) and comparatively limited programmability.
This is not the kind of machine you connect to the Internet and advance into its spin cycle from your iPhone. Rather, as the pricing suggests – $750 list, down to a typical $700-600 (£448-384) – GE is chasing the mass market.
This is a product that combines simplicity of operation, with a relatively comprehensive set of wash settings and compliance with the US Energy Star power consumption rating. Also, to the extent that this is a 'pre-set' machine, the actual influence of the electronics is largely hidden.
Bill of materials
Seen against the retail price tag, the electronics content of the washer appears to have a relatively modest cost, with a bill of materials (BOM) of $36.13 according to a physical teardown conducted by IHS. However, out of this total, $13.84 – or 38 per cent – is accounted for by semiconductors, a higher percentage than average ($5.52). The bulk of this silicon spend goes to four components (see table).
A significant component of the higher cost is attributable to the use of a 16bit microcontroller (MCU) from Renesas Electronics to implement intelligent motor control for power savings.
"The GFWN1100LWW washing machine employs intelligent motor control to help reduce power consumption and achieve the coveted Energy Star designation," says Kevin Keller, senior principal analyst, Teardown Analysis, for IHS.
"While the use of the Renesas MCU drives up the electronics cost of the GE washing machine, it will more than pay for itself through power savings during the life of the product.
"Intelligent motor control through the use of MCUs is finding increased acceptance in appliances like washing machines, even in midrange models."
Intelligent motor control
At a unit cost of $2.89, the MCU represents about 8 per cent of the total electronics BOM.
However, the intelligent motor control implemented through the MCU could reduce energy consumption by as much as 60 per cent in an appliance such as this GE washing machine.
Towards this goal, the MCU is not the most expensive component in the machine. This is instead a hybrid IC module containing an array of insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) devices. These are power semiconductor devices used as switching for the washing machine's motor. Supplied by International Rectifier, the IGBT driver module carries a cost of $5.25, representing about 15 per cent of the BOM.
So, what are the hard results here? According to a cost performance analysis by Reviewed.com, "The GE GFWN1100LWW's total average yearly electricity cost was a mere 92 cents (59p)". It expects the machine to use roughly 151kWh per year.
The electronics are then coupled with a number of more traditional features – in particular, the standard settings on the machine use very little hot water – to deliver an annual operating cost of $30.49 ((£19.50). This is lower than comparable Kenwood and Electrolux machines analysed by Reviewed, but some way behind a Whirlpool model.
Nevertheless, GE has come up with a product that is very typical of the trends in volume washing machine design and manufacturing.
With an expected five-year life span, IHS expects the company to produce roughly one million units.