Title:
Network and protocol for controlling washing and drying machines which share common utilities
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for controlling a plurality of washing machines in a laundry facility which share a common resource. A plurality of autonomously operated washing machines are connected through a network, so that a slave controller of each washing machine may be controlled by a master controller of the network. The master controller issues periodic polling commands over the network to obtain status information from each of the washing machines. Each slave controller of the washing machine can be prohibited from proceeding through a washing cycle when a common resource used by all machines has reached capacity limits.



Inventors:
Costa, Craig A. (Fairhaven, MA, US)
Slutsky, Dennis (Providence, RI, US)
Application Number:
11/019396
Publication Date:
08/25/2005
Filing Date:
12/23/2004
Assignee:
COSTA CRAIG A.
SLUTSKY DENNIS
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
68/12.16, 68/13R, 68/12.02
International Classes:
D06F33/02; D06F33/04; D06F39/00; (IPC1-7): D06F33/04
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
KO, STEPHEN K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BARLOW, JOSEPHS & HOLMES, LTD. (PROVIDENCE, RI, US)
Claims:
1. A system for controlling a plurality of washing machines in a laundry facility which share a common resource, comprising: a plurality of autonomously operated washing machines; a network connecting a slave controller of each of said plurality of washing machines; and a network controller connected to said network for obtaining status information from each of said washing machines, and for transmitting to each slave controller connected to said network a command prohibiting a washing machine from using said common resource based on previously received status information from other of said washing machines.

2. A system for controlling a plurality of washing machines according to claim 1 wherein said network controller determines the number of washing machines which use said common resource.

3. A system for controlling a plurality of washing machines according to claim 2 wherein said network controller determines from status information received from said washing machines when said common resource is not available for a washing machine to use.

4. A system for controlling a plurality of washing machines according to claim 1 wherein said master controller determines from said status information the number of machines which are simultaneously using said common resource.

5. A system for controlling a drain function of a plurality of washing machines which use a common drain in a laundry facility, comprising: a slave controller at each washing machine, said slave controller controlling said washing machine wash and dry cycles; and a network controller connected via a network to each of said slave controllers, said network controller connected to receive information identifying the status of each washing machine, said network controller determining from said status how many machines are using said common drain, and generating an inhibit command for the remaining machines entering a drain portion of their washing cycle when a predetermined number of machines are using said drain to prevent said remaining machines from draining into said drain.

6. The system for controlling said drain function according to claim 5 wherein said network controller authorizes a remaining machine to utilize said common drain when the number of machines using said drain drops below said predetermined number.

7. The system for controlling said drain function according to claim 5 wherein said network controller issues a drain permissive command to a remaining one of said washing machines that reports status information indicating that it is entering a drain portion of its washing cycle when said number of machines using said common drain is below said predetermined number.

8. The system for controlling said drain function according to claim 7 wherein each slave controller determines that a drain permissive command has been received before permitting a respective washing machine to enter a drain cycle.

9. In a system for operating a plurality of laundry machines in a laundry, a slave controller for each washing machine comprising: a laundry cycle controller for operating a laundry machine; and a network interface for receiving commands and transmitting data from and to a network controller, said commands including a permissive which permits said laundry machine to enter a portion of a laundry cycle which shares a common resource with other laundry machines.

10. The slave controller according to claim 9 wherein said slave controller permissive is removed by a command from said network interface indicating that said shared common resource is unavailable.

11. The slave controller according to claim 10 wherein said laundry machine enters said portion of said laundry cycle when a subsequent command from said network interface reestablishes a permissive.

12. The slave controller according to claim 11 wherein following said portion of said laundry cycle, said slave controller transmits a completed command to said network controller.

13. A method for sharing resources among a plurality of laundry machines which are connected over a common network to a network controller, comprising: determining at a network controller when one or more of said laundry machines is entering a portion of a machine cycle requiring a shared resource; determining the number of laundry machines using said shared resource; determining if the number of machines using said shared resource is at a maximum; inhibiting any additional machines from using said shared resource when the number of machines reaches said maximum; and authorizing said additional machines to use said shared resource when the number of machines using said resource is less than said maximum.

14. The method for sharing resources according to claim 13 wherein said shared resource is a common drain.

15. The method for sharing resources according to claim 13 further comprising: forwarding status information identifying each machine requiring said shared resource from a slave controller of said laundry machine to said network controller.

16. The method for sharing resources according to claim 15 wherein said network controller inhibits a machine from entering said portion of a laundry cycle by forwarding a command removing a permissive in said slave controller.

17. The method for sharing resources according to claim 16 wherein said network controller restores said permissive in said machine entering said portion of a laundry cycle when the number of machines using said resource decreases below said maximum.

18. The method for sharing resources according to claim 1 wherein said shared resource is a common source of input power.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is based on provisional application No. 60/546,187, filed Feb. 23, 2004, and claims priority thereto.

The present invention relates to operating multiple machines of a laundry facility. Specifically, a system and network protocol are disclosed for controlling laundry machines which use a common resource.

Large laundry facilities utilize numerous washing/drying machines which necessarily share common utilities, such as power and/or a drain. As the number of machines in a facility increases, the ability of the common resources to adequately service each additional machine is limited. For instance, in the case of a common drain used by all washing machines, the drain capacity may be such that only a certain number of machines may discharge wash water at a given time. Accordingly, the facility must include a way to avoid an overload of any common resources such as a drain, and it is necessary to avoid completely autonomous operation of each machine.

The overload of common resources may only be temporary. For instance, washing machines, or drying machines in a laundry facility, may only be draining or using an excessive amount of power during a portion of their washing/drying cycle. In the case of the drain, it is only used to discharge water following the washing cycle or the rinse cycle. Accordingly, it is not necessary to limit the number of machines in a facility if there is a way of controlling how many machines will use a particular resource at the same time. Thus, in the case of the drain, a machine needing the drain may be inhibited until such time as the drain capacity is available.

In the case of a facility that has a limited power service, such as 60 amp service for instance, the total number of machines serviceable by the facility would normally be limited. However, by recognizing that the machines are power intensive only during portions of their machine cycles, it is possible to inhibit a machine from entering a power intensive portion of its operational cycle if inadequate power is available for the machine. The present invention has been implemented to provide a central control facility for monitoring the usage of common resources to prevent exceeding their capacity.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

A system is provided for controlling a plurality of washing machines in a laundry facility which share a common resource. A plurality of autonomously operated washing machines are connected via a network to a network controller. The washing machines each include a slave controller which monitors operation of the washing machine, collects status information regarding the washing cycle of a machine and reports the information to the network controller. The network controller determines from the status information how many machines are using a common resource. The network controller issues commands prohibiting a washing machine from using a common resource when the previously received status information of the washing machines using a common resource indicates the capacity of the common resource to service washing machines has been reached.

The invention also includes a method for sharing resources among the plurality of laundry machines. A common network connects a slave device of the laundry machine to a controller which is common to all machines. The controller receives data indicating the number of machines using the shared resource, and if the number of machines has exceeded the capacity of the shared resource to service additional machines, the controller can inhibit any additional machines from attempting to use the shared resource. The additional machines may be placed in a waiting mode and are later authorized to use the shared resource when the number of machines using the resource has decreased by one.

In accordance with a preferred embodiment of the invention, a common drain is used by all machines of a laundry facility, and the controller receives information from each machine as to the portion of a laundry cycle being executed by the machine. When the drain is handling a maximum number of machines, additional machines are prohibited from entering a drain cycle until the number of machines in a drain cycle is below the maximum number. While the preferred embodiment is described with respect to one resource, a common drain, the features of the invention may be utilized to avoid exceeding the capacity of other resources, such as power, or even an exhaust commonly used by a plurality of dryers in a laundry facility.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the invention illustrating a control system for a plurality of washing/drying machines of a laundry facility;

FIG. 2 schematically represents the controller and machine network topology;

FIG. 3 is a flowchart illustrating the process executed by the master controller to determine the wash cycle status of each machine;

FIG. 4 illustrates the process executed at the slave controller of a washer/dryer machine;

FIG. 5 illustrates the process for authorizing a machine to use a common resource; and

FIG. 6 illustrates the system process for allowing a machine to enter a rinse and extract portion of its washing/drying cycle.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT OF THE INVENTION

Referring now to FIG. 1, there is shown a block diagram of a laundry facility having a plurality of washing/drying machines 10-13. The illustrated machines are of the type described more particularly in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/428,994, filed May 5, 2003, owned by the Assignee of the present application. Each of the washing/drying machines 10-13 have associated with them a controller 18, a door 15 for receiving a wash load and a washing agent compartment 14. The electronic controllers 18-21 of each of the washing/drying machines 10-13 include a slave controller, which is capable of transmitting data and receiving data over the network 17 interconnecting each of the slave controllers 18-21 with the master controller 16. The slave controllers 18-21 monitor the machine cycles, and determine when each of the machines reaches a point where a shared resource, such as a common drain 30 or increased power for the machines is needed. The status of each machine washing/drying cycle is reported to the master controller 16 where a decision can be made whether or not to authorize one of the washing/drying machines 10-13 to use the common resource 30. Each of the machines 10-13 have individual drains 24-27 connected to a common drain 30 and are connected to a common source of input power. In order to avoid overloading the common drain, or overload the power source, the master controller 16 will keep track of the number of machines entering a discharge cycle or a power intensive cycle. When the maximum number of machines are discharging wash water into the drain 30, controller 16 inhibits additional machines from discharging wash water into the drain 30. The system also monitors when a maximum number of machines are entering a power intensive portion of the operational cycle and inhibits additional machines from entering the power intensive portion when the input power will not support additional machines.

FIG. 2 is a schematic representation of the controller 16 networked using an industrial network, such as the Allen Bradley Industrial Machine Network, to each of the washing/drying machines 10-13. Using the application information available from the network provider, a controller 16 and slave interface for controllers 18-21 of each machine may be realized.

The master controller 16 and slave controllers 18-21 are programmed in accordance with the steps shown in the flowcharts of FIGS. 3-6. FIGS. 3-6 illustrate the embodiment of the invention which permits sharing of a common drain. Sharing of other resources, such as input power during power intensive portions of the washing cycle can be effected using similar programming.

Referring now to FIG. 3, the steps executed by the master controller are illustrated to determine the state of various washing/drying machines connected to the network. Once all of the machines have been powered up, and the network controller 16 has entered a communication routine with each of the slave controllers 18-21, the master controller in step 36 continuously polls each of the slave machines for information. When a given washing/drying machine is entering the discharge portion of the washing cycle, the master controller is notified as determined from step 37. When the master controller has received X drain requests, as determined from decision block 38, where X represents a maximum number of machines which can simultaneously drain at the same time, it notifies in step 42 the slave controller of any additional washing/drying machines that the drain function is at capacity. Step 42 represents the condition where the slave controller has had a drain permissive removed, thereby inhibiting the drain function of a given washing machine.

Decision block 43 of the master controller determines when a machine has finished draining through systematic polls of the slave controllers of the machines, and the count of drain requests is reduced by one machine.

At this time, the master controller enables the slave controller of a waiting machine in step 44 to clear the drain permissive which has inhibited the machine from entering the drain cycle.

The slave controller of a waiting machine initiates in step 39 a drain routine when the master controller has cleared the drain permissive, previously applied because X machines were determined to already be using the common drain. When the slave machine finishes a drain routine, the slave controller reports the drain status as having finished to the master controller which is continuously polling each of the slave controllers of the washing machines.

The specific machine cycle and network control provided by the present invention for the machines described in accordance with the previously identified patent application is illustrated more particularly in FIGS. 4-6. The invention may also be employed in other facilities which use other types of washing machines.

Step 46 of FIG. 4 illustrates that portion of the washing cycle where the wash/rinse portion has been engaged. Step 47 illustrates a lint cleaning routine which is used in the aforesaid washing/drying machines. Following the lint cleaning mode, the washer/dryer begins filling for a wash cycle in step 48.

Decision block 49 determines whether the washer/dryer has filled to a desired washing level. If so, the washing cycle begins in step 50. When the washing cycle is complete as determined in decision block 51, the washer then looks to open the drain in step 52. Before the washer can use its drain function, the master controller has in decision block 53 determined whether or not a condition exits, such as a large number of other machines using the drain, which will prohibit the use of the drain by another machine. If a previously drain inhibit command was initiated by the master controller in step 56, the machine waits until such time that the master controller has sensed in step 57 that one of the machines previously in a drain cycle has completed the drain cycle.

When the machine is allowed to drain in step 58, the machine wash cycle goes into a post wash extract function in step 59. A rinse cycle begins in step 60 when decision block 61 determines that the desired water level in the machine has been obtained. The rinse cycle completes in step 62, and when decision block 63 indicates it is complete, the washer/dryer then attempts to drain following the rinse cycle in step 64. However, the master controller may have previously inhibited the machine from using the drain if it has sensed in step 65 that X many machines are using the drain function.

FIG. 6 illustrates the completion of the washing cycle. Step 68 in decision block 69 represents a condition where the machine has been placed in the wait state because the drain is at capacity due to other machines using the drain. Once the master controller determines in step 69 that another machine may use the common drain, a waiting machine is authorized in step 70 by removing a drain permissive previously established in the slave machine controller. The machine may then go into a post rinse extract function in step 71. The washer/dryer machine of the referenced patent application may then begin a drying process in step 72.

The foregoing description of the invention illustrates and describes the present invention. Additionally, the disclosure shows and describes only the preferred embodiments of the invention in the context of a network and protocol for controlling washing/drying machines which share common utilities, but, as mentioned above, it is to be understood that the invention is capable of use in various other combinations, modifications, and environments and is capable of changes or modifications within the scope of the inventive concept as expressed herein, commensurate with the above teachings and/or the skill or knowledge of the relevant art. The embodiments described hereinabove are further intended to explain best modes known of practicing the invention and to enable others skilled in the art to utilize the invention in such, or other, embodiments and with the various modifications required by the particular applications or uses of the invention. Accordingly, the description is not intended to limit the invention to the form or application disclosed herein. Also, it is intended that the appended claims be construed to include alternative embodiments.