Title:
REFRIGERATOR APPLIANCE HAVING A DRAIN PAN
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A refrigerator appliance is provided with a drain pan mounted below a condenser of the refrigerator appliance. The drain pan includes features such as a channel for directing air through the drain pan. The channel can, e.g., increase the efficiency of the condenser and/or promote evaporation of liquid contained within the drain pan.



Inventors:
Austin, Martin Nicholas (Louisville, KY, US)
Kyriacou, Stephanos (Louisville, KY, US)
Berger, Justin (Louisville, KY, US)
Application Number:
13/451697
Publication Date:
10/24/2013
Filing Date:
04/20/2012
Assignee:
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY (Schenectady, NY, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
220/571
International Classes:
B65D1/34; F25D21/14
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ARANT, HARRY E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Dority and Manning, P.A and Haier US (Greenville, SC, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A refrigerator appliance comprising: an evaporator; a condenser; and a drain pan disposed below said condenser and in fluid communication with said evaporator so as to receive liquid condensate from said evaporator, said drain pan defining a containment volume configured for holding liquid directed from said evaporator, said drain pan also extending between a top and a bottom along a vertical direction, said drain pan comprising: a bottom plate; an outer wall extending upwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said outer wall also extending around a periphery of said bottom plate; and an inner wall extending upwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said inner wall defining a channel for directing a flow of air through said drain pan along the vertical direction between the bottom of said drain pan and the top of said drain pan.

2. The refrigerator appliance of claim 1, further comprising a hood disposed on a top of said inner wall.

3. The refrigerator appliance of claim 1, further comprising a fan configured for selectively urging a flow of air through said condenser.

4. The refrigerator appliance of claim 1, further comprising a plurality of legs extending downwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said plurality of legs elevating said bottom plate relative to a support surface such that a gap is defined below said bottom plate for permitting a flow of air beneath said bottom plate.

5. The refrigerator appliance of claim 1, further comprising a plurality of posts extending upwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said plurality of posts configured for supporting said condenser.

6. The refrigerator appliance of claim 1, wherein said condenser is positioned adjacent said drain pan such that heat energy from said condenser assists in evaporating liquid contained in the containment volume of said drain pan.

7. The refrigerator appliance of claim 1, wherein said drain pan is constructed of plastic.

8. A refrigerator appliance comprising: an evaporator; a condenser; and a drain pan disposed below said condenser and in fluid communication with said evaporator so as to collect liquid condensate directed from said evaporator, said drain pan extending between a top and a bottom along a vertical direction, said drain pan defining at least one channel for directing air through said drain pan along the vertical direction between the top and the bottom of said drain pan.

9. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, wherein an outer wall of said drain pan partially encloses the at least one channel.

10. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, wherein an outer wall of said drain pan encloses the at least one channel.

11. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, further comprising a hood disposed adjacent a top of the at least one channel.

12. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, further comprising a fan configured for selectively urging a flow of air through said condenser.

13. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, further comprising a plurality of legs extending downwardly from said drain pan along the vertical direction, said plurality of legs positioning said drain pan relative to a support surface such that a gap is defined below said drain pan for permitting a flow of air beneath said drain pan.

14. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, further comprising a plurality of posts extending upwardly from said drain pan along the vertical direction, said plurality of posts configured for supporting said condenser.

15. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, wherein said condenser is positioned adjacent said drain pan such that heat energy from said condenser assists in evaporating liquid contained in said drain pan.

16. The refrigerator appliance of claim 8, wherein said drain pan is constructed of plastic.

17. A drain pan for an appliance, the drain pan defining a containment volume configured for holding liquid, the drain pan extending between a top and a bottom along a vertical direction, the drain pan comprising: a bottom plate; an outer wall extending upwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said outer wall also extending around a periphery of said bottom plate; and an inner wall extending upwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said inner wall defining a channel for directing a flow of air through the drain pan along the vertical direction between the bottom of the drain pan and the top of the drain pan.

18. The drain pan of claim 17, further comprising a hood disposed adjacent a top of said inner wall.

19. The drain pan of claim 17, further comprising a plurality of legs extending downwardly from said bottom plate along the vertical direction, said plurality of legs positioning said bottom plate relative to a support surface such that a gap is defined below said bottom plate for permitting a flow of air beneath said bottom plate.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to drain pans for refrigerator appliances.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Consumer refrigerator appliances generally utilize a relatively simple vapor compression refrigeration apparatus that includes a compressor, a condenser, an expansion device, and an evaporator connected in series. The system is charged with a refrigerant such as R-134a. During operation, pressurized liquid refrigerant from the compressor and condenser enters the expansion device. Upon exiting the expansion device and entering the evaporator, the refrigerant drops in pressure and changes phase from a liquid to a gas.

Due to the pressure drop and phase change of the refrigerant in the evaporator, heat from a chilled chamber of the refrigerator appliance (e.g., a freezer chamber or a fresh food chamber) is transferred to the refrigerant within the evaporator. However, during the heat transfer, water vapor within the chilled chamber can freeze upon contact with the evaporator and create a frost buildup. Such frost buildup can grow in size until it negatively affects operation of the refrigerator appliance. Accordingly, certain refrigerator appliance include a defrost cycle during which such frost buildup melts and is removed from the evaporator.

When the frost buildup melts, a significant amount of liquid (e.g., water) can be generated. In certain refrigerator appliances, such liquid is directed to a drain pan disposed outside of the chilled chamber wherein the liquid evaporates. However, because a significant amount of liquid can be generated, a significant amount of time may be needed for the liquid to evaporate.

To promote evaporation, the drain pan can be positioned adjacent the condenser that operates at a relatively high temperature relative to the liquid. However, the effectiveness of such a configuration can be limited. To further promote evaporation, a fan can direct air, e.g., heated air from the condenser, towards the liquid. Similarly, a heater can be mounted within or adjacent the drain pan in order to increase the temperature of the liquid and encourage evaporation. However, such mechanisms consume energy and can decrease the efficiency of the appliance. Such mechanisms also add to the cost of producing the refrigerator appliance.

Accordingly, a refrigerator appliance with features for improving evaporation of liquid within a drain pan of the refrigerator appliance would be useful. In particular, a drain pan with features for improving evaporation of liquid within the drain pan without requiring additional energy consumption by the appliance would be useful.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

A refrigerator appliance is provided with a drain pan mounted below a condenser of the refrigerator appliance. The drain pan includes features such as a channel for directing air through the drain pan. The channel can, e.g., increase the efficiency of the condenser and/or promote evaporation of liquid contained within the drain pan. Aspects and advantages of the invention will be set forth in part in the following description, or may be obvious from the description, or may be learned through practice of the invention.

In a first exemplary embodiment, a refrigerator appliance is provided. The refrigerator appliance includes an evaporator, a condenser, and a drain pan. The drain pan is disposed below the condenser and in fluid communication with the evaporator in order to receive liquid condensate from said evaporator. The drain pan defines a containment volume configured for holding the liquid directed from the evaporator. The drain pan extends between a top and a bottom along a vertical direction. The drain pan has a bottom plate. An outer wall extends away from the bottom plate along the vertical direction. An inner wall also extends away from the bottom plate along the vertical direction. The inner wall defines a channel for directing air through the drain pan along the vertical direction between the bottom of the drain pan and the top of the drain pan.

In a second exemplary embodiment, a refrigerator appliance is provided. The refrigerator appliance includes an evaporator, a condenser, and a drain pan. The drain pan is disposed below the condenser and configured for collecting liquid condensate directed from the evaporator. The drain pan extends between a top and a bottom along a vertical direction. The drain pan defines at least one channel for directing air through the drain pan along the vertical direction between the top and the bottom of the drain pan.

In a third embodiment, a drain pan for a refrigerator appliance is provided. The drain pan defines a containment volume configured for holding liquid. The drain pan extends between a top and a bottom along a vertical direction. The drain pan includes a bottom plate and an outer wall extending upwardly from the bottom plate along the vertical direction. The outer wall also extends around a periphery of the bottom plate. An inner wall extends upwardly from the bottom plate along the vertical direction. The inner wall defines a channel for directing a flow of air through the drain pan along the vertical direction between the bottom of the drain pan and the top of the drain pan.

These and other features, aspects and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with reference to the following description and appended claims. The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate exemplary embodiments of the invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A full and enabling disclosure of the present invention, including the best mode thereof, directed to one of ordinary skill in the art, is set forth in the specification, which makes reference to the appended figures, in which:

FIG. 1 is a front view of a refrigerator appliance according to an exemplary embodiment of the present subject matter.

FIG. 2 is schematic view of a refrigeration system of the refrigerator appliance of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 illustrates a perspective view of a condenser of the refrigeration system of FIG. 2 mounted above an exemplary embodiment of a drain pan.

FIG. 4 illustrates a perspective view of the drain pan of FIG. 3 with the condenser removed for clarity and, in particular, illustrates channels defined by the drain pan.

FIG. 5 provides a perspective view of the drain pan of FIG. 3 with hoods mounted to the drain pan.

FIG. 6 illustrates a perspective view of a drain pan according to an additional exemplary embodiment of the present subject matter.

FIG. 7 provides a perspective view of a drain pan according to another exemplary embodiment of the present subject matter.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Reference now will be made in detail to embodiments of the invention, one or more examples of which are illustrated in the drawings. Each example is provided by way of explanation of the invention, not limitation of the invention. In fact, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that various modifications and variations can be made in the present invention without departing from the scope or spirit of the invention. For instance, features illustrated or described as part of one embodiment can be used with another embodiment to yield a still further embodiment. Thus, it is intended that the present invention covers such modifications and variations as come within the scope of the appended claims and their equivalents.

FIG. 1 depicts a consumer refrigeration appliance 10 in the form of a refrigerator that may incorporate a sealed refrigeration system in accordance with aspects of the invention. It should be appreciated that the term “consumer refrigeration appliance” is used in a generic sense herein to encompass any manner of refrigeration appliance, such as a freezer, refrigerator/freezer combination, and any style or model of conventional refrigerator. In the illustrated exemplary embodiment, the refrigerator 10 is depicted as an upright refrigerator having a cabinet or casing 12 that defines a number of internal storage compartments. In particular, the refrigerator 10 includes upper fresh-food compartments 14 having doors 16 and lower freezer compartment 18 having upper drawer 20 and lower drawer 22. The drawers 20, 22 are “pull-out” drawers in that they can be manually moved into and out of the freezer compartment 18 on suitable slide mechanisms.

FIG. 2 is a schematic view of refrigerator 10 including an exemplary sealed refrigeration system 60. A machinery compartment 62 contains components for executing a known vapor compression cycle for cooling air. The components include a compressor 64, a condenser 66, an expansion valve 68, and an evaporator 70 connected in series and charged with a refrigerant. As will be understood by those skilled in the art, refrigeration system 60 may include additional components, e.g., at least one additional evaporator, compressor, expansion valve, and/or condenser. As an example, refrigeration system 60 may include two evaporators.

Within refrigeration system 60, gaseous refrigerant flows into compressor 64, which operates to increase the pressure of the refrigerant. This compression of the refrigerant raises its temperature, which is lowered by passing the gaseous refrigerant through condenser 66. Within condenser 66, heat exchange with ambient air takes place so as to cool the refrigerant and cause the refrigerant to condense to a liquid state. A fan 72 is used to pull air across condenser 66, as illustrated by arrows AC, so as to provide forced convection for a more rapid and efficient heat exchange between the refrigerant within condenser 66 and the ambient air. Thus, as will be understood by those skilled in the art, increasing air flow across condenser 66 can, e.g., increase the efficiency of condenser 66 by improving cooling of the refrigerant contained therein.

An expansion device (e.g., a valve, capillary tube, or other restriction device) 68 receives liquid refrigerant from condenser 66. From expansion device 68, the liquid refrigerant enters evaporator 70. Upon exiting expansion device 68 and entering evaporator 70, the liquid refrigerant drops in pressure and vaporizes. Due to the pressure drop and phase change of the refrigerant, evaporator 70 is cool relative to compartments 14, 18 of refrigerator 10 (FIG. 1). As such, cooled air is produced and configured to refrigerate compartments 14, 18 of refrigerator 10 (FIG. 1). Thus, evaporator 70 is a type of heat exchanger which transfers heat from air passing over evaporator 70 to refrigerant flowing through evaporator 70.

Collectively, the vapor compression cycle components in a refrigeration circuit, associated fans, and associated compartments are sometimes referred to as a sealed refrigeration system operable to force cold air through refrigeration compartments 14, 18 (FIG. 1). The refrigeration system 60 depicted in FIG. 2 is provided by way of example only. Thus, it is within the scope of the present subject matter for other configurations of the refrigeration system to be used as well.

It should be understood that during operation of refrigeration system 60 water vapor, e.g., from air within refrigeration compartments 14, 18 (FIG. 1) can freeze upon contact with evaporator 70. For example, refrigerant within evaporator 70 may reach a temperature below the freezing point of water. Thus, water vapor contacting evaporator 70 may freeze and create a frost buildup (not shown) on evaporator 70. Such frost buildup may continue to grow during operation of refrigeration system 60. For example, when a user opens freezer doors 20, 22 and permits fresh water vapor containing air to enter freezer chamber 18.

To avoid potential negative effects of such frost build up on refrigeration system 60 operation, refrigeration system 60 is configured for executing a defrost cycle. For example, refrigeration system 60 may deactivate compressor 64 for a period of time sufficient for the frost buildup on evaporator 70 to melt. However, when the frost buildup melts, a volume of liquid runoff (e.g, water) is produced that can freeze upon reactivation of compressor 64 and negatively affect refrigeration system 60 and, in particular, evaporator 70. Thus, such liquid runoff is directed away from evaporator 70, e.g., using a tube, pipe, conduit, trench, or other suitable mechanism (not shown). In the exemplary embodiment shown in FIG. 2, the liquid runoff is directed to a drain pan 100 as shown in FIG. 3 below.

FIG. 3 illustrates a perspective view of condenser 66 of refrigeration system 60 (FIG. 2) mounted above drain pan 100. In FIG. 3, fan 72 is mounted to a support wall 106 that extends from drain pan 100, e.g., along a vertical direction V. In addition, condenser 66 rests upon posts 130 that extend upwardly from drain pan 100 along the vertical direction V. As discussed above, fan 72 urges a flow of cooling air AC through condenser 66. It should be under stood that condenser 66 need not be supported by drain pan 100 and may be mounted above drain pan 100 in any suitable manner.

Drain pan 100 extends between a top 102 and a bottom 104 along the vertical direction V. Between top 102 and bottom 104, drain pan 100 defines a containment volume 108. Containment volume 108 is configured for receipt of the liquid runoff from evaporator 70 (FIG. 2) discussed above. Within containment volume 108, such liquid runoff is permitted to evaporate. More particularly, certain components of refrigeration cycle 60 and drain pan 100 may be directed towards facilitating and assisting evaporation of liquid runoff within containment volume 108. For example, condenser 66 operates at an elevated temperature relative to the liquid runoff. Thus, air about condenser 66 can be heated and assist evaporation of the liquid runoff. More directly, fan 72 can direct a portion of flow AC across and/or into containment volume 108 in order to assist evaporation of the liquid runoff.

Regarding drain pan 100, drain pan 100 defines vents or channels 101 for assisting evaporation of the liquid runoff. For example, channels 101 are configured for directing a flow of air AF through drain pan 100. Channels 101 direct air from bottom 104 to top 102 of drain pan 100 as discussed in greater detail below. As an example, air may be urged through channels 101 by convective currents generated by condenser 66. As heated air rises from condenser 66, cooler air within channels 101 may be drawn upwardly, and such air may assist in cooling condenser 66. Thus, e.g., condenser 66 may function more efficiently due to cooling air carried within flow AF.

FIG. 4 illustrates a perspective view of drain pan 100 with condenser 66 removed for clarity. As may be seen in FIG. 4, drain pan 100 includes a base plate or bottom plate 110 that supports posts 130. An outer sidewall 120 extends around or about an outer edge or perimeter 121 of bottom plate 110. Outer sidewall 120 also extends upwardly from bottom plate 110 along the vertical direction V. Like outer sidewall 120, inner sidewalls 122 extend upwardly from bottom plate 110 along the vertical direction V from inner edges 123 of bottom plate 110.

In FIG. 4, channels 101 are defined by inner sidewalls 122. Channels 101 also extend along the vertical direction V and are enclosed by inner sidewalls 122. In FIG. 4, bottom plate 110, outer sidewall 120, and inner sidewalls 122 also assist in defining containment volume 108. Thus, for example, outer sidewall 120 and inner sidewalls 122 extend between top 102 and bottom 104 of drain pan 100 to hold liquid within containment volume 108. In FIGS. 3-5, channels 101 are substantially circular. However, in alternative exemplary embodiments, channels 101 may have any suitable shape, e.g., oval and/or rectangular.

As discussed above, channels 101 direct flow of air AF from bottom 104 to top 102 of drain pan 100. To facilitate flow of air AF, drain pan 100 includes a plurality of legs 140 that extend downwardly from bottom plate 110. By extending downwardly, plurality of legs 140 assist bottom plate 110 in defining a space or gap 142 beneath drain pan 100. Gap 142 is defined between pan 100 and a floor or other (e.g., substantially flat) support surface 150 (FIG. 3) on which drain pan 100 rests. Thus, for example, air can enter gap 142 adjacent bottom 104 of drain pan 100. Such air can flow through gap 142 beneath bottom plate 110 and enter channels 101. Such air is then directed through channels 101 as flow of air AF and passes through channels 101 from bottom 104 to top 102 of drain pan 100.

Upon exiting channels 101, inner sidewalls 122 may, e.g., direct flow of air AF along the vertical direction V towards condenser 66 (FIG. 3). By directing flow of air AF towards condenser 66, channels 101 and, more generally, drain pan 100 may increase the efficiency of condenser 66. For example, flow of air AF can assist in cooling refrigerant within condenser 66. Conversely, flow of air AF can also assist in evaporation of liquid held within containment volume 108. For example, flow of air AF exiting channels 101 can flow across liquid within containment volume 108. Drain pan 100 may include additional features for altering the direction flow of air AF in order to further assist evaporation of liquid in containment volume 108 as discussed in greater detail below.

FIG. 5 provides a perspective view of drain pan 100 with hoods 124 disposed on a top or a distal end 125 of inner sidewalls 122. As may be seen in FIG. 5, hoods 124 are configured for directing flow of air AF. For example, hoods 124 may direct flow of air AF towards, into, and/or across containment volume 108. By directing the flow of air AF into, towards, and/or across containment volume 108, hoods 124 can, e.g., direct greater amounts of air across liquid within containment volume 108 compared to channels 101 shown in FIG. 4 in order to further facilitate evaporation of the liquid. Hoods 124 may be an integral component of inner sidewalls 122. Alternatively, hoods 124 may be a separate component that is secured in place on top 125 of inner sidewalls 122, e.g., using glue, fasteners, snaps, or any other suitable mechanism.

FIG. 6 illustrates a perspective view of a drain pan 200 according to an additional exemplary embodiment. Drain pan 200 is substantially similar to drain pan 100 of FIGS. 3-5. For example, drain pan 200 includes a bottom plate 210 and an outer sidewall 220 that extends upwardly from bottom plate 210 in the vertical direction V. Bottom plate 210 and outer sidewall 220 help define a containment volume 208 from a bottom 204 to a top 202 of drain pan 200.

In FIG. 6, drain pan 200 assists in defining a plurality of channels 230. It should be understood that channels 230 function similarly to channels 101 (FIG. 3). For example, like channels 101, channels 230 can direct flow of air AF from bottom 204 to top 202 of drain pan 200. However, channels 230 are only partially enclosed by outer side wall 220. Thus, air may enter channels 230 from a side of drain pan 200 not only from bottom 204. Thus, outer side wall 220 may be configured such that channels 230 are at least partially enclosed by outer side wall 220.

FIG. 7 provides a perspective view of a drain pan 300 according to another exemplary embodiment. Drain pan 300 is substantially similar to drain pans 100 and 200 discussed above. For example, drain pan 300 includes a bottom plate 310 and an outer sidewall 320 that extends upwardly from bottom plate 310 in the vertical direction V. Bottom plate 310 and outer sidewall 320 help define a containment volume 308 from a bottom 304 to a top 302 of drain pan 300.

Drain pan 300 assists in defining a plurality of channels 330. It should be understood that channels 330 function similarly to channels 101 (FIG. 3) and channels 230 (FIG. 5). For example, like channels 101 and channels 230, channels 330 direct flow of air AF from bottom 204 to top 202 of drain pan 200. Channels 330 are only partially enclosed by outer side wall 320. Thus, air may enter channels 330 from a side of drain pan 300 not only from bottom 304.

This written description uses examples to disclose the invention, including the best mode, and also to enable any person skilled in the art to practice the invention, including making and using any devices or systems and performing any incorporated methods. The patentable scope of the invention is defined by the claims, and may include other examples that occur to those skilled in the art. Such other examples are intended to be within the scope of the claims if they include structural elements that do not differ from the literal language of the claims, or if they include equivalent structural elements with insubstantial differences from the literal languages of the claims.