US20120073321A1 - Refrigerator door mullion apparatus and system - Google Patents

Refrigerator door mullion apparatus and system Download PDF

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Publication number
US20120073321A1
US20120073321A1 US12/893,633 US89363310A US2012073321A1 US 20120073321 A1 US20120073321 A1 US 20120073321A1 US 89363310 A US89363310 A US 89363310A US 2012073321 A1 US2012073321 A1 US 2012073321A1
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position
door
refrigerator
mullion
french
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US12/893,633
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Matthew William Davis
Scott Gabriel Brown
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General Electric Co
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General Electric Co
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Assigned to GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY reassignment GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST (SEE DOCUMENT FOR DETAILS). Assignors: BROWN, SCOTT GABRIEL, DAVIS, MATTHEW WILLIAM
Publication of US20120073321A1 publication Critical patent/US20120073321A1/en
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    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F25REFRIGERATION OR COOLING; COMBINED HEATING AND REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS; HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS; MANUFACTURE OR STORAGE OF ICE; LIQUEFACTION SOLIDIFICATION OF GASES
    • F25DREFRIGERATORS; COLD ROOMS; ICE-BOXES; COOLING OR FREEZING APPARATUS NOT COVERED BY ANY OTHER SUBCLASS
    • F25D23/00General constructional features
    • F25D23/02Doors; Covers
    • F25D23/028Details
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F25REFRIGERATION OR COOLING; COMBINED HEATING AND REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS; HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS; MANUFACTURE OR STORAGE OF ICE; LIQUEFACTION SOLIDIFICATION OF GASES
    • F25DREFRIGERATORS; COLD ROOMS; ICE-BOXES; COOLING OR FREEZING APPARATUS NOT COVERED BY ANY OTHER SUBCLASS
    • F25D2323/00General constructional features not provided for in other groups of this subclass
    • F25D2323/02Details of doors or covers not otherwise covered
    • F25D2323/021French doors

Abstract

A French-style refrigerator door is disclosed. The refrigerator door includes an actuator and a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the door. The mullion bar is responsive to the actuator to automatically rotate from a first position to a second position upon actuation of the actuator.

Description

    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • The present disclosure relates generally to a refrigerator including French-style doors. More particularly, aspects of the disclosed embodiments relate to a French-style door having a rotating mullion.
  • In general, refrigerators having French-style doors are known. Typically, two French-style doors are used in side-by-side configurations to seal fresh food and freezer compartments. With the growing popularity of bottom mount freezers, manufacturers are now finding it desirable to provide French-style doors for the upper fresh food compartment.
  • French-style doors are desirable for a number of reasons, including for example, weight reduction. The doors divide an opening in half such that each French-style door is approximately half the weight of a conventional door. Additionally, the use of French-style doors enhances the arrangement for storing, as well as the accessibility to, a wide variety of objects within the refrigerator. Accordingly, when used in conjunction with a fresh food compartment, the size and strength of the support structure can be reduced.
  • A rotating mullion bar may be attached to one of the two French-style doors to provide a sealing surface therebetween. The rotating mullion bar may include a pin to engage a striker attached to a body structure of the refrigerator and a spring to bias the mullion to one or more positions. Upon initial opening or final closing of the French-style door to which the rotating mullion bar is attached, engagement of the pin with the striker causes the mullion bar to rotate. During such engagement and corresponding mullion bar rotation, an amount of resistance to motion of the French-style door felt by the user varies, or is inconsistent. Additionally, on some refrigerators, the striker may reduce the available magnetic seal contact area, disrupt the aesthetic appearance of the refrigerator interior, and interfere with the user's line of site to refrigerator controls or other portions of the interior of the refrigerator.
  • Accordingly, it would be desirable to provide a French-style refrigerator door arrangement that overcomes at least some of the problems identified above.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • As described herein, the exemplary embodiments overcome one or more of the above or other disadvantages known in the art.
  • One aspect of the disclosed embodiments relates to a French-style refrigerator door. The refrigerator door includes an actuator and a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the door. The mullion bar is responsive to the actuator to automatically rotate from a first position to a second position.
  • Another aspect of the disclosed embodiments relates to a refrigerator. The refrigerator includes at least one compartment defined within a main body of the refrigerator and two French-style doors rotatably mounted to the main body of the refrigerator. At least one of the French-style doors includes an actuator and a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the door. The mullion bar is responsive to the actuator to automatically rotate from a first position to a second position.
  • A further aspect of the disclosed embodiments relates to a French-style refrigerator door. The door includes a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the door and means for rotating the mullion bar from a first position to a second position. The means for rotating the mullion bar are independent from any physical interaction with a structure of a refrigerator.
  • These and other aspects and advantages of the exemplary embodiments will become apparent from the following detailed description considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings. It is to be understood, however, that the drawings are designed solely for purposes of illustration and not as a definition of the limits of the invention, for which reference should be made to the appended claims. Moreover, the drawings are not necessarily drawn to scale and unless otherwise indicated, they are merely intended to conceptually illustrate the structures and procedures described herein. In addition, any suitable size, shape or type of elements or materials could be used.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • In the drawings:
  • FIG. 1 depicts a front perspective view of a refrigerator in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure;
  • FIG. 2 depicts a front perspective view of a prior art refrigerator interior;
  • FIG. 3 depicts a front perspective view of a refrigerator interior in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure;
  • FIG. 4 depicts a top cross section view of two French-style refrigerator doors in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure; and
  • FIG. 5 depicts a top cross section view of two French-style refrigerator doors in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS OF THE DISCLOSURE
  • FIG. 1 illustrates a front perspective view of an exemplary refrigerator 100 incorporating aspects of the disclosed embodiments. The aspects of the disclosed embodiments are generally directed towards a refrigerator having French-style doors, at least one of which incorporates a rotating mullion bar. The rotation of the mullion bar is provided automatically by an actuator, independent of the motion of the French-style door, and may be activated by one of the doors, a switch, or a combination of both.
  • As shown in FIG. 1, the refrigerator 100 includes food storage compartments, such as a fresh food compartment 102 and a bottom-mounted freezer compartment 104. The refrigerator 100 may be coolable by a conventional vapor-compression temperature control circuit (not shown).
  • The fresh food compartment 102 and the freezer compartment 104 are arranged in a bottom mount configuration where the freezer compartment 104 is disposed or arranged beneath or below the fresh food compartment 102. The fresh food compartment 102 and the freezer compartment 104 are contained or defined within a main body 112 of the refrigerator 100. The main body 112 includes a top wall 114 and two sidewalls 116. The main body 112 also has a bottom wall 118, which connects the two sidewalls 116 to each other at the bottom edges thereof, and a back wall (not shown).
  • The fresh food compartment 102 is shown with French-style doors 106, 108 that close the frontal access openings of the fresh food compartment 102. A drawer or an access door 110 closes the freezer compartment 104. Although the refrigerator 100 is shown as the “bottom freezer” configuration or type, aspects of the disclosed embodiments are applicable to other types of refrigeration appliances, including but not limited to, side-by-side refrigerators. The aspects of the disclosed embodiments are therefore not intended to be limited to any particular type or configuration of a refrigerator.
  • In one embodiment, each French door 106, 108 is rotatably mounted to the main body 112 by a top hinge 120 and a corresponding bottom hinge 122. Generally, each door 106, 108 is rotatable about its outer vertical edge between an open position for accessing the respective part of the fresh food compartment 102, as shown in FIGS. 2 and 3, and a closed position for closing the respective part of the fresh food compartment 102, as shown in FIG. 1.
  • Similarly, when an access door 110 is used for the freezer compartment 104, it is rotatably mounted to the main body 112 in a known fashion. When the access door 110 is a drawer for the freezer compartment 104, the drawer is slidably received in the freezer compartment 104 in a known fashion.
  • FIG. 2 depicts a front perspective view of prior art refrigerator including a rotating mullion 130. The mullion 130 is a sealing mechanism between the two French style refrigerator doors 106, 108. The mullion 130 is rotatably mounted to door 108 about axis 131 and spans from a top 132 to a bottom (not shown) of the fresh food compartment 102. The mullion 130 includes a surface 133 that may include metal or be magnetic. A striker 134 is attached to a portion of the refrigerator 100 main body 112 structure, such as the top 132 of the fresh food compartment 102. Similarly, another striker (not shown) may be attached to the bottom of the fresh food compartment 102. The mullion 130 includes a pin 136 that is configured to interface with a cam surface 138 of striker 134. The mullion 130 may be biased, via a spring (not shown) to rotate into the plane of the page of FIG. 2, with an orientation approximately perpendicular to the plane formed by door 108 (as shown in FIG. 2). Accordingly, as the door 108 is closed, the mullion 130 interacts via striker 134 with the main body 112 structure of the refrigerator 100. For example, the pin 136 of the mullion 130 engages with cam surface 138, which causes the mullion 130 to rotate out of the plane of the page of FIG. 2, and become biased (via the spring) to rest with an orientation approximately parallel to the plane formed by door 108. Accordingly, the position and motion of the mullion 130 interfaces with the refrigerator 100 main body 112 structure and is coupled to, or dependent upon, the position and motion of the door 108 via the pin 136 and cam surface 138, such that the position and motion of the mullion 130 is defined by that of the door 108. In response to closure of door 108, the surface 133 of mullion 130 is disposed to attract a magnetic seal 140 of door 108 and a similar magnetic seal (not shown) of door 106. During the initial process of opening door 108, forces related to the bias of mullion 130 and engagement of pin 136 with surface 138 are transferred to the user through the door 108. In similar manner, during the final process of closing door 108, forces related to rotation of the mullion 130 are likewise transferred to the user via door 108. Accordingly, a user observes a non-linearity of force related to the initial opening and final closing of door 108. Some users may perceive this non-linearity as a negative reflection of quality of the refrigerator 100. Further, it will be appreciated that the striker 134 presents a visual obstruction to at least some portion of refrigerator controls 142, as well as reducing the length of surface 133 available to attract magnetic seals 140 of doors 106, 108.
  • FIG. 3 depicts a front perspective view of a refrigerator in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure. The sealing mechanism between the two French doors 106, 108 is configured to automatically open and close with activation of the doors, and is referred to herein as “independent mullion 150.” The independent mullion 150 is rotatably mounted to door 108 about axis 152 and spans from the top 132 to the bottom (not shown) of the fresh food compartment 102. The position and motion of the mullion 150 may be absent any bias or interaction with the main body 112 structure of the refrigerator 100, and independent of, or decoupled from, motion of the door 108. Mullion 150 includes surface 154 that may include metal or be magnetic. It will be appreciated that the absence of any physical interface between the main body 112 structure of the refrigerator 100 and mullion 150 allows for increased mullion 150 length and magnetic contact surface area, and enhanced visibility to refrigerator controls 142.
  • FIG. 4 depicts a top cross section view of the doors 106, 108 and mullion 150. With reference to FIGS. 3 and 4, in response to an initial opening of the door 108, depicted by direction X in FIG. 4, the independent mullion 150 automatically rotates from position A of FIG. 4 toward position B, such as to be disposed approximately perpendicular to the plane formed by door 108, as depicted in FIG. 3, for example. Similarly, in response to the door 108 being closed, the independent mullion 150 automatically rotates from position B, and comes to rest at position A, with an orientation approximately parallel to the plane formed by door 108. Surface 154 of mullion 150 is configured to attract the magnetic seal 140 of door 108 and a similar magnetic seal 141 of door 106. Accordingly, in response to closure of doors 106, 108 and disposal of the mullion 150 in position A, the surface 154 of mullion 150 is disposed to attract the magnetic seals 141, 140 of doors 106, 108 and thereby seal the interior of fresh food compartment 102 from the environment surrounding refrigerator 100. While the embodiment of FIGS. 3 and 4 depict the mullion 150 attached to the right-hand door 108, it will be appreciated that the scope of the disclosure is not so limited, and is contemplated to include other arrangements of independent mullions, such as to include a mullion 150 that may attached to a left-hand door, such as door 106, for example.
  • In an embodiment, the refrigerator 100 further includes an actuator 156 mounted within door 108 in operative communication with mullion 150 and a sensor 158 in operative communication with actuator 156. While the embodiment of FIG. 3 depicts one sensor 158 disposed upon the main body 112 of refrigerator 100, it will be appreciated that the scope of the disclosure is not so limited, and is contemplated to include other arrangements of sensor 158, such as to include one or more sensors 158 that may be disposed additionally or alternatively upon the doors 106, 108, or within a handle 160 of doors 106, 108, for example.
  • Mullion 150 may be responsive to sensor 158 to rotate about axis 152. For example, the actuator 156 may respond to detection by sensor 158 that the refrigerator door 108 has begun (or is about to begin) to open to initiate rotation of the mullion 150 from position A to position B. Similarly, the actuator may be responsive to detection by sensor 158 that the refrigerator door 108 has begun (or has completed) closure to initiate rotation of the mullion from position B to position A.
  • In one embodiment, actuator 156 is an electric motor coupled to the mullion 150 via appropriate linkages and gears, and sensor 158 is a door closure switch 158. The motor 156 is responsive to detection of initial opening of the door 108 by the switch 158 to rotate the mullion from position A to position B. The motor 156 is further responsive to detection of initiation (or completion) of closure by switch 158 to begin to rotate the mullion 150 from position B to position A. In some embodiments, it may be preferable to implement a time delay such that rotation of the mullion 150 from position B to position A begins after a short delay following detection of initiation (or completion) of closure of the door 106. This delay may allow both doors 106, 108 to be in fully closed positions before any rotation of the mullion 150 begins, thus enhancing freedom of any obstruction or interference to the mullion 150 rotation. Switch 158 may be of the contact closure type or non-contact proximity detection type, and may be mounted upon the main body 112 of the refrigerator 100, or upon door 108.
  • Referring still to FIG. 4, in another embodiment, the mullion 150 may responsive to opening of door 108 to move from position A to position B. As the door 108 is opened (as shown by direction X), the mullion 150 may be free to rotate about axis 152 from position A toward position B. For example, upon initiation of opening of the door 108, the mullion 150 may be disengaged from actuator 156, such as via disengagement of a clutch 159, as is schematically shown in FIG. 3. In this embodiment, because mullion 150 has been disengaged, via clutch 159, from the actuator 156, it is absent any bias toward position A. Accordingly, an amount of force applied to the door 108 that will be required to rotate the mullion 150 is greatly reduced and a user's perception of refrigerator 100 quality relative to those employing prior art rotating mullions that may include biasing means is greatly enhanced.
  • In another embodiment, the electric motor 156 may be responsive to two sensors. For example, a first sensor 158 may be a door closure switch 158 mounted upon the frame of the refrigerator 100, and a second sensor may be a handle switch 162 mounted upon the handle 160. In this embodiment, the motor 156 may be responsive to detection of a hand of a user upon the handle 160 by the switch 162 to rotate the mullion from position A to position B. Use of the door handle switch 162 may thereby enable rotation of the mullion 150 before motion of the door 106 begins. Such rotation of the mullion before motion of the door 106 may enhance a likelihood that mullion 150 is fully in position B prior to motion of door 108, thus enhancing freedom of any obstruction or interference to opening of the door 108. Examples of the type of switch 162 may include, but are not limited to, contact closure, capacitive sensing, touch sensing or non-contact proximity detection. The motor 156 may be further responsive to detection by the first sensor 158 of initiation (or completion) of closure to begin to rotate the mullion 150 from position B to position A. As described above, a delay may be incorporated with the first sensor 158 to postpone mullion 150 rotation from position B to position A until after closure of the door 108.
  • FIG. 5 depicts a top cross section view of an embodiment of doors 106, 108 and mullion 150 in a first position B, shown by solid lines and a second position A shown by dashed lines. In an exemplary embodiment, the actuator 156 is in operative communication with the mullion 150 via a first gear 164 and a second gear 166.
  • With reference to FIGS. 5 and 3, exemplary operational logic of an embodiment of the independent mullion 150 is described below. In response to closure of French-style door 106 from an initially open condition, while French-style door 108 is in the closed position of FIG. 5, the sensor 158 is activated. A delay may follow, such as for two to three seconds for example, after which the actuator 156 is responsive to the sensor 158 to rotate the mullion 150 from position B to position A via the first and second gears 164, 166. The speed of actuator 156 may be selected to maintain a desired level of sound or vibration.
  • In response to opening of French-style door 108 from an initially closed condition, while French-style door 106 remains in the closed position of FIG. 5, the mullion 150 may remain stationary in position A.
  • In response to opening of French-style door 106 from an initially closed condition, while French-style door 108 is in the closed position, the mullion 150 may rotate freely from position A to position B. For example, contact between the door 108 and mullion 150 to cause the mullion 150 to rotate to the open position B. An embodiment may utilize the clutch 159 (as shown in FIG. 3) to reduce a resistance of rotation of the mullion 150. Alternate embodiment may disengage the gears 164, 166, to decouple the mullion 150 from the actuator 156. In some embodiments, cams (not shown) may be strategically placed upon door 108 to guide the mullion 150 to open position B. Further embodiments may utilize a spring (not shown) to bias the mullion 150 in one or both of positions A and B.
  • In response to closure of French-style door 108 from an initially open condition, while French-style door 106 is open, the mullion 150 may remain stationary in position B.
  • In response to closure of French-style door 106 from an initially open condition, while French-style door 108 is in the open position, the sensor 158 is activated. As described above, a delay may follow, and the actuator 156 is responsive to the sensor 158 to rotate the mullion 150 from position B to position A. The speed of actuator 156 may be selected to maintain a desired level of sound or vibration.
  • While embodiments have been described using electric motors as actuators 158, it will be appreciated that the scope of the present disclosure is not so limited, and is contemplated to include alternate actuators, such as compressed air, fluid, and piezoelectric actuators, for example. Further, while an embodiment has been described using a clutch to reduce a resistance to mullion rotation, it will be appreciated that the scope is not so limited, and is contemplated to employ other means to reduce resistance to mullion rotation, such as actuator-provided assist, for example.
  • As disclosed, some embodiments of the present disclosure may include advantages such as enhanced user perception of refrigerator quality resulting from consistent force feedback; enhanced line of sight visibility to refrigerator controls; and enhanced refrigerator sealing efficiency resulting from increased magnetic contact surface area.
  • Thus, while there have been shown, described and pointed out, fundamental novel features of the invention as applied to the exemplary embodiments thereof, it will be understood that various omissions and substitutions and changes in the form and details of devices illustrated, and in their operation, may be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit of the invention. Moreover, it is expressly intended that all combinations of those elements and/or method steps, which perform substantially the same function in substantially the same way to achieve the same results, are within the scope of the invention. Moreover, it should be recognized that structures and/or elements and/or method steps shown and/or described in connection with any disclosed form or embodiment of the invention may be incorporated in any other disclosed or described or suggested form or embodiment as a general matter of design choice. It is the intention, therefore, to be limited only as indicated by the scope of the claims appended hereto.

Claims (20)

1. A French-style refrigerator door comprising:
An actuator; and
a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the door, the mullion bar responsive to the actuator to automatically rotate from a first position to a second position upon actuation of the actuator.
2. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein the actuator is an electric motor.
3. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 2, further comprising:
a sensor;
wherein the actuator is responsive to the sensor to rotate the mullion bar from the first position to the second position.
4. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 3, wherein the sensor detects an initial closure of the refrigerator door; and the actuator is responsive to the sensor to rotate the mullion bar from the first position to the second position following a time delay after detection of the initial closure of the refrigerator door.
5. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 3, wherein the sensor is a first sensor and the refrigerator door further comprises:
a second sensor;
wherein the actuator is responsive to the second sensor to rotate the mullion bar from the second position to the first position.
6. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is independent of any physical interaction with a refrigerator structure.
7. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is decoupled from motion of the French-style refrigerator door.
8. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is absent bias toward the second position.
9. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 8, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is absent bias toward the first position.
10. A refrigerator comprising:
at least one compartment defined within a main body of the refrigerator;
first and second French-style doors rotatably mounted to the main body of the refrigerator;
wherein at least one door of the first and the second French-style doors comprises:
an actuator; and
a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the at least one door, the mullion bar responsive to the actuator to automatically rotate from a first position to a second position upon actuation of the actuator.
11. The refrigerator of claim 10, wherein the actuator is an electric motor.
12. The refrigerator of claim 11, the at least one door further comprising:
a sensor;
wherein the actuator is responsive to the sensor to rotate the mullion bar from the first position to the second position.
13. The refrigerator of claim 12, wherein the sensor is a first sensor and the at least one door further comprises:
a second sensor;
wherein the actuator is responsive to the second sensor to rotate the mullion bar from the second position to the first position.
14. The refrigerator of claim 10, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is independent of any physical interaction with the main body of the refrigerator.
15. The refrigerator of claim 10, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is decoupled from motion of the at least one door.
16. The refrigerator of claim 10, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is absent bias toward the second position.
17. The refrigerator of claim 16, wherein rotation of the mullion bar is absent bias toward the first position.
18. A French-style refrigerator door comprising:
a mullion bar rotatably mounted to the door; and
means for automatically rotating the mullion bar from a first position to a second position, the means for automatically rotating being independent from any physical interaction with a structure of a refrigerator.
19. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 18, wherein the means for automatically rotating the mullion bar rotates the mullion from the first position to the second position following a delay after closure of the French-Style refrigerator door.
20. The French-style refrigerator door of claim 18, wherein the means for rotating comprises means for rotating the mullion bar from the second position to the first position.
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US9841225B2 (en) 2015-03-20 2017-12-12 Whirlpool Corporation Low wattage flipper mullion
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