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The “must-have” feature in home appliances

The “must-have” feature in home appliances

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Efficiency is key in home appliance development

We’ve come a long way from gathering around the fire at mealtime. Thanks to advancements in technology and the adoption of connected home appliances, our homes are becoming smarter, more convenient, and more efficient.

According to research, the smart appliances market is expected to grow rapidly, worth $640 billion USD in 2021 and expected to grow to $785 billion by 2027. And in the smart appliances sector, that growth is even more pronounced: from $33.8 billion USD in 2021 and an expected $76.4 billion by 2025. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 18 percent!

So what is driving this growth in the market? And what key feature is outshining all of the smart bells and whistles?

Efficiency in home appliances – more than just a “nice-to-have” feature

More remote work and learning options mean people are spending more time at home, increasing the demand for modern home appliances. If you’ve been one of the many shopping for a new appliance lately, you’ve probably noticed a lot of new features: refrigerators that can help you with your grocery list, washing machines you control with an app, thermostats that integrate your favorite voice assistant. However, more time at home means more energy consumed, which is why home appliance convenience is often outweighed by the cost of operation.

While smart features may be a strong selling point for consumers, they also want to make sure their new appliance won’t burden their bank account – or the environment – when it comes to using it. But energy efficiency is not only driven by consumers, it is also increasingly being pushed by governments. New national and international regulations are turning this 'nice to have' feature into a mandatory requirement in many markets.

Luckily, energy efficient appliances are more popular and accessible than ever. Thanks to advancements in semiconductor technology and the trend toward inverterization, we have witnessed drastic improvements in energy efficiency over the last couple of decades (Figure 1).

Jens_0-1657182846166.pngFigure 1: Reduction of energy consumption, based on Energy Star and IEA (see full reference in our whitepaper).

More efficient motor control through inverterization

Inverterization can improve efficiency in home appliances by up to 30 percent. But how? Three components are key: sensors, microcontrollers, and power semiconductors. Working together, they can optimize the way the motors in our appliances work.

Before inverterization, the compressor in a refrigerator, for example, would only have two speeds: full-speed or off. When the air became too warm, it would turn on and run at full power until the air cooled to a certain temperature. Then, it would shut off completely until needed again. Semiconductors are used to optimize this process with a variable speed drive – or inverterization.

With inverterization, the refrigerator’s compressor can be gradually adjusted according to need. In its simplest form, sensors in the refrigerator measure the temperature of the air and the speed of the fan. Microcontrollers then interpret that information into commands. Then power semiconductors perform those commands by adjusting the compressor speed. This means that the motors work more efficiently – more when needed, and less when they’re not.

Power semiconductors for meeting energy efficiency requirements

To develop the most energy efficient designs, it is important to look at the whole system. Let’s look at some concrete ways to improve efficiency through more advanced power semiconductor solutions.

Firstly, advanced IPMs’ highly integrated nature means they can be extremely compact. The CIPOS™ Nano IPM, for example, is an ultra-compact, three-phase or half-bridge MOSFET™ IPM, designed for the rectifier, converter, and inverter stage in power management circuits and motor drives less than 100 W. By utilizing PCB copper traces to dissipate heat from the module, it has a 60 percent smaller footprint. In designs where discretes are preferred, the 600 V Reverse Conducting Drive 2 (RC-D2) family of IGBT is ideal for low-power drives like refrigerator compressors. When improving light-load efficiency is a top priority, one of our power MOSFETs like the CoolMOS™ PFD7 can be utilized.

Whether in discrete form or in a power module, every switch needs a driver that can effectively and efficiently serve as the interface between control signals and power switches. The integrated nature of our EiceDRIVER™ gate driver ICs, for example, helps to reduce complexity, development time, bill of materials (BOM), and board space while improving reliability.

It is also important to look at digital motor control technology. Here, we can not only save energy, but also time to market. The iMOTION™ digital motor controller offers appliance developers fast and accurate ‘out of the box’ control of variable speed drives. With its motor control engine (MCE) there is no need for software coding. Implementing a variable speed drive can be quickly achieved by configuring the MCE for the respective motor. Plus, advanced tools like the MCEDesigner help developers get a motor up and running in less than an hour.

When designing smart, efficient home appliances, thinking about how the entire system works together is important. Connected, smart features are definitely an increasingly important feature of new designs, but energy efficiency must also be achieved. By integrating the right power modules, motor controllers and associated components, home appliance developers can ensure their designs meet both consumer and regulatory demands.

Read more about the future of home appliances in our whitepaper “The rise of the smart kitchen”.