BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Field of the Invention
The present invention is directed to valve devices for
bathroom flushers and methods for operating and controlling fluid flow in such flushers.
Automatic flow-control systems have become increasingly
prevalent, particularly in public rest-room facilities, both toilets and urinals.
Automatic faucets and flushers contribute to hygiene, facility cleanliness, and
water conservation. In such systems, object sensors detect the user and operate
a flow-control valve in response to user detection. In the case of an automatic
faucet, for instance, presence or motion of a user's hands in the faucet's vicinity
normally results in flow from the faucet. In the case of an automatic flusher, detection
of the fact that a user has approached the facility and then left is typically what
triggers flushing action.
Although the concept of such object-sensor-based automatic
flow control is not new, its use has been quite limited until recently. The usage
is becoming more widespread due to the recent availability of battery-powered conversion
kits. These kits make it possible for manual facilities to be converted into automatic
facilities through simple part replacements that do not require employing electricians
to wire the system to the supply grid. A consequence of employing such battery-powered
systems is that the batteries eventually need to be replaced.
There is still a need for automatic flushers that are highly
reliable and can operate for a long time without any service or just minimal service.
There are several prior art valves for controlling water
flow in different types of flushers.
GB Patent 1532210
, identified as the closest prior art, discloses valve assemblies for controlling
fluid flow from a pressurized supply. The valve assembly shown in Figs. 1 to 3 of
has a valve housing built up from three interfitting parts and including
an inlet port and an outlet port. The valve assembly also includes a flexible diaphragm
clamped around its periphery within the housing to divide the housing into an inlet
chamber connecting the inlet port via a through-flow chamber with the outlet port,
and a back-pressure chamber. The central part of the diaphragm is formed as a valve
member, which engages seating to close off the through-flow chamber from the inlet
chamber and so effectively close off the outlet of the valve. Located at the centre
of the diaphragm is a bush having an axial bore connecting the inlet chamber to
the back-pressure chamber. Thus, the back-pressure chamber is filled with water
and provided no water is escaping from the chamber and substantially the same pressure
is applied to both sides of the diaphragm. When water is released from the back-pressure
chamber, the diaphragm flexes and the valve member is displaced from the valve seating
to open water flow.
EP publication EP 0848193
discloses in Figs. 1 - 4 a valve including a rigid valve body with a flow
inlet opening and one flow outlet, which are oriented in a substantially cross way
to said inlet opening. The body of the valve has a main cavity between the flow
inlet and outlet with a valve seat in the limit of the main cavity and the flow
inlet. In addition, the body of the valve has one or more ducts for the control
flow inlet, and one or more ducts for the outlet of the same which are associated
with the control flow transfer means of the valve. These inlet ducts of control
flow may be supplied from a network which is independent from the main flow. The
valve has an elastomeric body in charge of regulating the flow by its opening or
closing, depending on the difference of pressures produced between its walls. The
elastomeric body is located inside the main cavity of the valve, wherein the elastomeric
body is hollow and opened in one of its axial ends. This elastomeric body is made
up of at least two coaxial zones: a sealing zone and a zone of radial sealing. In
, Figs. 5 - 10 disclose different embodiments of the valve, which embodiments
also include a mobile axial stem. The mobile axial stem 35.3 is movable with respect
to the valve body and slides with the elastomeric body. This movability of the mobile
axial stem enables additional valve control of the elastomeric body regulating the
flow of fluid.
PCT Publication WO 97/04262
discloses a hydraulic valve with two control connections. The valve includes
a valve seat, located in the control bore between the two control connections, and
a control piston having a piston shaft. The piston shaft is guided concentrically
in the control bore and passes through the valve seat. At one end of the piston
shaft, the control piston is provided with a central collar which closes off the
control bore at the adjacent end, and is guided inside the valve housing so as to
form a seal. At the opposite end of the piston shaft, the control piston has an
end collar with a sealing surface facing the central collar. This forms a sealing
face that matches a sealing face located on the valve seat, which faces the first
control connection, so that the control piston and valve seat co-operate in the
closure direction from the first control connection to the second.
US Patent 3429333
discloses ball cocks for controlling flow of water in toilet flush tanks.
US Patent 4488702
discloses a metering valve, or a flush valve, which incorporates a rolling
diaphragm mechanism of a cylindrical elastromeric material providing a smoothly
transitioning flow rate control from the full open to the full close position. The
rolling diaphragm sealing means is actuated by a floating cup driven by the differential
pressure between the valve fluid inlet and an intermediate actuation control chamber.
The valve control is spring biased to the normally closed position and is actuated
by dumping all fluid from the control chamber through a poppet mechanism. After
dumping the fluid, the actuating cup is compressed by the pressure of the inlet
fluids to roll the diaphragm to a substantially open position. A metering orifice
within the actuating cup passes fluid from the inlet at a controlled rate to the
metering chamber, which, is gradually filled with fluid and expands moving the rolling
diaphragm towards the sealingly closed position. The rolling diaphragm forms an
upward extension of the inner wall of the metering chamber lower section and is
sealingly connected at a line adjacent to a joint f the metering chamber lower section
and the upper valve body. The rolling diaphragm vertically arises to and is hermetically
sealed at an upper end to the perimeter of the rolling diaphragm metering valve
diaphragm actuating cup. The position of the diaphragm actuating cup controls the
upward extension of the rolling diaphragm, which is affixed to the lower end of
the cup 29.
US Patent 4505450
discloses a diaphragm type valve for irrigation purposes or industrial
purposes where it is desirable to control large amounts of flow energy with a small
control signal. The valve includes a diaphragm chamber into which fluid is introduced
to establish a fluid pressure, which normally forces the diaphragm of a diaphragm
assembly against an annular seat in the valve to maintain the valve in a closed
condition. A stationary bleed tube is provided which extends through the diaphragm
into the diaphragm chamber. The diaphragm assembly is mounted in a body of the valve,
and it includes an integral annular sealing bead tightly held between a cap and
the body using a nut. When the diaphragm chamber is drained sufficiently to reduce
the pressure therein to a point at which the diaphragm assembly is forced off the
valve seat by the upstream fluid pressure, and the valve is opened. After some delay,
the fluid is introduced into the diaphragm chamber due to the upstream fluid pressure
forcing the fluid through a restricted annular passage between the bleed tube and
a guide mounted on the diaphragm. The movement of the diaphragm causes the guide
to move up and down with respect to the bleed tube to provide a self-cleaning action
in the annular passage.
US Patent 4911401
discloses a valve having a flexible diaphragm assembly that seals against
the valve seat. The valve also includes a bleed assembly that extends into a pressure
chamber located above the diaphragm for bleeding fluid pressure out of the chamber,
thereby opening the valve. The bleed assembly includes a hollow tube inserted into
a plastic plunger seat that is carried on the cap of the valve beneath the plunger
of an actuating solenoid. Such a bleed assembly does not need a bleed tube having
a precisely controlled length, and is not sensitive to flexure of the cap. The diaphragm
assembly includes a cup shaped rubber diaphragm having an annular peripheral edge
that is tightly clamped between the valve body and a cap of the valve when a nut
is tightened thus fixedly holding the peripheral edge.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The claimed invention is directed to a valve device for
bathroom flushers and a method for operating and controlling fluid flow in such
flushers. In general, a bathroom flusher includes a body, a valve assembly, and
an actuator. The body has an inlet and an outlet, and the valve assembly is located
in the body and positioned to close water flow between the inlet and the outlet
upon sealing action of a moving member at a valve seat thereby controlling flow
from the inlet to the outlet. The actuator actuates operation of the moving member.
The moving member may be a high flow rate fram member,
or a standard diaphragm, or a piston. The bathroom flusher may further include an
infra-red sensor assembly for detecting a urinal or toilet user. The bathroom flusher
may further include different types of electromechanical, hydraulic, or only mechanical
It is noted that a bathroom flusher includes a cover mounted
upon said body and defining a pressure chamber with the valve assembly. The bathroom
flusher may further include a flexible member fixed relative to the cover at one
end thereof, the other end of the flexible member being attached to a movable member
of the valve assembly, wherein there is a passage in said flexible member arranged
to reduce pressure in said pressure chamber. The flexible member may be a hollow
Preferably, the bathroom flusher may include an automatic
flow-control system. The automatic flow-control system may employ infrared-light-type
Disclosed in the specification is a novel design of an
infrared-light-type object sensor including an indicator. In the IR sensor, an IR
source (typically an infrared-light-emitting diode) is positioned behind an infrared-light-transmitting
aperture as to transmit the infrared light into a target region. The indicator may
be a visible-light-emitting diode included in an LED-combination device in which
it is connected antiparallel to the infrared-light-emitting diode. When the combination
device is driven in one direction, the infrared source shines normally through an
appropriate aperture. When the device is driven in the other direction, visible
light instead shines through the same aperture as the infrared light did. This arrangement
avoids separate provisions for the visible light's location or transmission.
Disclosed also is a novel algorithm for operating an automatic
flusher. The automatic flusher employs an infrared-light-type object sensor for
providing an output on the basis of which a control circuit decides whether to flush
a toilet. After each pulse of transmitted radiation, the control circuit determines
if the resultant percentage of reflected radiation differs significantly from the
last, and determines whether the percentage change was positive or negative. From
the determined subsequent data having a given direction and the sums of the values,
the control circuit determines whether a user has approached the facility and then
withdrawn from it. Based on this determination, the controller operates the flusher's
valve. That is, the control circuit determines the flush criteria based on whether
a period in which the reflection percentage decreased (in accordance with appropriate
withdrawal criteria) has been preceded by a period in which the reflection percentage
increased (in accordance with appropriate approach criteria). In this embodiment,
the control circuit does not base its determination of whether the user has approached
the toilet on whether the reflection percentage has exceeded a predetermined threshold,
and it does not base a determination of whether the user has withdrawn from the
toilet on whether the reflection percentage has fallen below a predetermined threshold.
Disclosed in the specification is also novel system and
method for storing or shipping the above-described automatic flushers. The automatic
flushers may include an object sensor (e.g., an IR sensor) and a manual a push button
actuator. When the flusher is operational, the push button is designed for a user
to provide signal to the control circuit to open the flusher's valve. However, if
the button actuator has been pressed continually for an extended period, the control
circuit assumes a sleep mode, in which its power consumption is negligible. A storage
or shipping container may be designed to activate the button actuator while the
container is closed. As a consequence, the flusher can be packed with the control
circuit's batteries installed without draining those batteries significantly during
shipping and storage. Alternatively, the storage or shipping container may include
an external magnet cooperatively arranged together with a reed sensor connected
to the control circuit. If the magnet continually activates the reed sensor for
an extended period, the control circuit assumes the sleep mode, in which its power
consumption is negligible. There are also other "sleep mode inducing" devices that
allow batteries to be installed without draining battery power significantly during
the shipping and storage.
The present invention is a novel valve device and the corresponding
method for controlling flow-rate of fluid between the input and output ports of
the valve device. A novel valve device includes a fluid input port and a fluid output
port, a valve body, and a fram assembly. The valve body defines a valve cavity and
includes a valve closure surface. The fram assembly provides two pressure zones
and is movable within the valve cavity with respect a guiding member. The fram assembly
is constructed to move to an open position enabling fluid flow from the fluid input
port to the fluid output port upon reduction of pressure in a first of the two pressure
zones and is constructed to move to a closed position, upon increase of pressure
in the first pressure zone, creating a seal at the valve closure surface.
According to preferred embodiments, the two pressure zones
are formed by two chambers separated by the fram assembly, wherein the first pressure
zone includes a pilot chamber. The guiding member may be a pin or internal walls
of the valve body.
The fram member (assembly) may include a pliable member
and a stiff member, wherein the pliable member is constructed to come in contact
with a valve closure surface to form seal (e.g., at a sealing lip located at the
valve closure surface) in the closed position. The valve device may include a bias
member. The bias member is constructed and arranged to assist movement of the fram
member from the open position to the closed position. The bias member may be a spring.
The valve is controlled, for example, by an electromechanical
operator constructed and arranged to release pressure in the pilot chamber and thereby
initiate movement of the fram assembly from the closed position to the open position.
The operator may include a latching actuator (as described in U.S Patent 6,293,516),
a non-latching actuator (as described in U.S Patent 6,305,662), or an isolated operator
(as described in
PCT Application PCT/US01/51098
). The valve may also be controlled may also including a manual operator
constructed and arranged to release pressure in the pilot chamber and thereby initiate
movement of the fram member from the closed position to the open position.
The novel valve device including the fram assembly may
be used to regulate water flow in an automatic or manual bathroom flusher.
It is noted that the electromagnetic actuator includes
a solenoid wound around an armature housing constructed and arranged to receive
an armature including a plunger partially enclosed by a membrane. The armature provides
a fluid passage for displacement of armature fluid between a distal part and a proximal
part of the armature thereby enabling energetically efficient movement of the armature
between open and closed positions. The membrane is secured with respect to the armature
housing and is arranged to seal armature fluid within an armature pocket having
a fixed volume, wherein the displacement of the plunger (i.e., distal part or the
armature) displaces the membrane with respect to a valve passage thereby opening
or closing the passage. This enables low energy battery operation for a long time.
Preferred embodiments of this aspect include one or more
of the following features: The actuator may be a latching actuator (including a
permanent magnet for holding the armature) of a non-latching actuator. The distal
part of the armature is cooperatively arranged with different types of diaphragm
membranes designed to act against a valve seat when the armature is disposed in
its extended armature position. The electromagnetic actuator is connected to a control
circuit constructed to apply said coil drive to said coil in response to an output
from an optional armature sensor.
The armature sensor can sense the armature reaching an
end position (open or closed position). The control circuit can direct application
of a coil drive signal to the coil in a first drive direction, and in responsive
to an output from the sensor meeting a predetermined first current-termination criterion
to start or stop applying coil drive to the coil in the first drive direction. The
control circuit can direct or stop application of a coil drive signal to the coil
responsive to an output from the sensor meeting a predetermined criterion.
It is noted that a valve device may inclue an assembly
of an electromagnetic actuator and a piloting button. The piloting button has an
important novel function for achieving consistent long-term piloting of a main valve.
The present invention is also a novel method for assembling a pilot-valve-operated
automatic flow controller that achieves a consistent long-term performance.
Method of assembling a pilot-valve-operated automatic flow
controller includes providing a main valve assembly and a pilot-valve assembly including
a stationary actuator and a pilot body member that includes a pilot-valve inlet,
a pilot-valve seat, and a pilot-valve outlet. The method includes securing the pilot-valve
assembly to the main valve assembly in a way that fluid flowing from a pressure-relief
outlet of the main valve must flow through the pilot-valve inlet, past the pilot-valve
seat, and through the pilot-valve outlet, whereby the pilot-valve assembly is positioned
to control relief of the pressure in the pressure chamber (i.e., pilot chamber)
of the main valve assembly. The main valve assembly includes a main valve body with
a main-valve inlet, a main-valve seat, a main-valve outlet, a pressure chamber (i.e.,
a pilot chamber), and a pressure-relief outlet through which the pressure in the
pressure chamber (pilot chamber) can be relieved. A main valve member (e.g., a diaphragm,
a piston, or a fram member) is movable between a closed position, in which it seals
against the main-valve seat thereby preventing flow from the main inlet to the main
outlet, and an open position, in which it permits such flow. During the operation,
the main valve member is exposed to the pressure in the pressure chamber (i.e.,
the pilot chamber) so that the pressurized pilot chamber urges the main valve member
to its closed position, and the unpressurized pilot chamber (when the pressure is
relieved using the pilot valve assembly) permits the main valve member to assume
its open position.
It is noted that the electromagnetic actuator system includes
an actuator, a controller, and an actuator sensor. The actuator includes a solenoid
coil and an armature housing constructed and arranged to receive in a movable relationship
an armature. The controller is coupled to a power driver constructed to provide
a drive signal to the solenoid coil for displacing the armature and thereby open
or close a valve passage for fluid flow. The actuator sensor is constructed and
arranged to sense a position of the armature and provide a signal to the controller.
Preferred embodiments of this aspect include one or more
of the following features: The sensor is constructed to detect voltage induced by
movement of the armature. Alternatively, the sensor is constructed and arranged
to detect changes to the drive signal due to the movement of the armature.
Alternatively, the sensor includes a resistor arranged
to receive at least a portion of the drive signal, and a voltmeter constructed to
measure voltage across the resistor. Alternatively, the sensor includes a resistor
arranged to receive at least a portion of the drive signal, and a differentiator
receiving current flowing through the resistor.
Alternatively, the sensor includes a coil sensor constructed
and arranged to detect the voltage induced by movement of the armature. The coil
sensor may be connected in a feedback arrangement to a signal conditioner providing
conditioned signal to the controller. The signal conditioner may include a preamplifier
and a low-pass filter.
Alternatively, the system includes two coil sensors each
constructed and arranged to detect the voltage induced by movement of the armature.
The two coil sensors may be connected in a feedback arrangement to a differential
amplifier constructed to provide a differential signal to the controller.
The actuator sensor includes an optical sensor, a capacitance
sensor, an inductance sensor, or a bridge for sensitively detecting a signal change
due to movement of the armature.
The actuator may have the armature housing constructed
and arranged for a linear displacement of the armature upon the solenoid receiving
the drive signal. The actuator may be a latching actuator constructed to maintain
the armature in the open passage state without any drive signal being delivered
to the solenoid coil. The latching actuator may include a permanent magnet arranged
to maintain the armature in the open passage state. The latching actuator may further
include a bias spring positioned and arranged to bias the armature toward an extended
position providing a close passage state without any drive signal being delivered
to the solenoid coil.
The controller may be constructed to direct the power driver
to provide the drive signal at various levels depending on the signal from the actuator
sensor. The drive signal may be current. The system may include a voltage booster
providing voltage to the power driver.
The controller may be constructed to direct the power driver
to provide the drive signal in a first drive direction and thereby create force
on the armature to achieve a first end position. The controller is also constructed
to determine whether the armature has moved in a first direction based on signal
from the actuator sensor; and if the armature has not moved within a predetermined
first drive duration, the controller directs application of the drive signal to
the coil in the first direction at an elevated first-direction drive level that
is higher than an initial level of the drive signal.
The controller may be constructed to trigger the power
driver to provide the drive signal in a first drive direction and thereby create
force on the armature to achieve a first end position. The controller is also constructed
to determine whether the armature has moved in a first direction based on signal
from the actuator sensor, and if the armature has moved, the controller directs
application of the drive signal to the coil in the first direction at a first-direction
drive level that is being lower than an initial level of the drive signal.
The actuator system may include the controller constructed
to determine a characteristic of the fluid at the passage based on the signal from
the actuator sensor. The characteristic of the fluid may be pressure, temperature,
density, or viscosity. The actuator system may include a separate a temperature
sensor for determining temperature of the fluid.
The actuator system may include the controller constructed
to determine a pressure of the fluid at the passage based on the signal from the
actuator sensor. The actuator system may receive signals from an external motion
sensor or a presence sensor coupled to the controller.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS
- Fig. 1 is a side elevation of a toilet and an accompanying automatic flusher.
- Fig. 1A is a side view of a urinal and an accompanying automatic flusher.
- Figs. 2A and 2B together form a cross-sectional view of a first embodiment of
- Figs. 2A and 3B together form a cross-sectional view of a second embodiment
of the flusher.
- Fig. 4 is a cross-sectional view of a third embodiment of the flusher.
- Fig. 4A is a block diagram of the flusher's control circuitry.
- Fig. 5 is an enlarged sectional view of a valve for controlling fluid flow in
the flusher shown in Fig. 4.
- Fig. 5A is a perspective exploded view of the valve shown in FIG. 5.
- Fig. 5B is an enlarged sectional view of another embodiment of the valve shown
in Fig 5.
- Fig. 5C is an enlarged sectional view of another embodiment of the valve shown
in Fig 5.
- Fig. 6 is a front elevation of an alternative version's transmitter and receiver
lenses and front circuit-housing part.
- Fig. 6A is a cross-section taken at line 6A-6A of Fig. 6.
- Fig. 6B is an isometric view of a container that can be used for a subassembly
of a flusher conversion kit.
- Fig. 6C is a cross section taken at line 6C-6C of Fig. 6B.
- Fig. 6D is an isometric view of a container that may be employed for a flusher
conversion kit of the type depicted in Fig. 2 or Fig. 3.
- Fig. 6E is a detailed cross section of a button-depression device included in
- Fig. 7 is a sectional view of a first embodiment of an electromechanical actuator
for controlling any one of the valves shown in Figs. 5 through 5B.
- Fig. 7A is a perspective exploded view of the electromechanical actuator shown
in Fig. 7
- Fig. 7B is a sectional view of a second embodiment of an electromechanical actuator
for controlling the valves shown in Figs. 5 through 6B.
- Fig. 7C is a sectional view of a third embodiment of an electromechanical actuator
for controlling the valves shown in Figs. 5 through 6B.
- Fig. 7D is a sectional view of another embodiment of a membrane used in the
actuator shown in Figs. 7 through 7C
- Figs. 7E is a sectional view of another embodiment of the membrane and a piloting
button used in the actuator shown in Figs. 7 through 7C.
- Fig. 7F is a sectional view of another embodiment of an armature bobbin used
in the actuator shown in Figs. 7 through 7C.
- Fig. 8 is a block diagram of another embodiment of a control system for controlling
operation of the electromechanical actuator shown in Figs. 7, 7A, 7B or 7C.
- Fig. 8A is a block diagram of yet another embodiment of a control system for
controlling operation of the electromechanical actuator shown in Figs. 7, 7A, 7B
- Fig. 8B is a block diagram of data flow to a microcontroller used in the fluid
flow control system of Figs. 8 or 8A.
- Figs. 9 and 9A show the relationship of current and time for the valve actuator
shown in Fig. 7, 7A, 7B or 7C connected to a water line at 0 psi and120 psi reverse
flow pressure, respectively.
- Fig. 9B illustrates a dependence of the latch time on the water pressure for
the actuator shown in Fig. 7, 7A, 7B or 7C.
- Fig. 10 is a flow diagram of a flushing cycle used to control the flushers shown
in Figs. 2, 3 or 4.
- Fig. 11 is a schematic diagram of the circuitry that the flusher uses to drive
its light-emitting diodes.
- Figs. 12A, 12B, and 12C together form a simplified flow-charts a routine that
the control circuitry of Fig. 4A executes.
- Figs. 13A and 13B together form a more-detailed flow chart of a step in the
routine of Figs. 12A, 12B, and 12C.
- Fig. 14 illustrates a novel algorithm for controlling operation of the flushers
- Fig. 15 is a front view of another embodiment of an automatic flusher and Fig.
15A is a cross-section taken at line 15A-15A in Fig. 15.
In Fig. 1, a flusher 10 receives pressurized water from
a supply line 12 and employs an object sensor, typically of the Infrared variety,
to respond to actions of a target within a target region 14 by selectively opening
a valve that permits water from the supply line 12 to flow through a flush conduit
16 to the bowl of a toilet 18. Fig. 1A illustrates a flusher 10 for automatically
flushing a urinal 18A. As described above, flusher 10 receives pressurized water
from supply line 12 and employs the object sensor to respond to actions of a target
within a target region 14A by selectively opening a valve that permits water from
the supply line 12 to flow through the flush conduit 16 to the urinal 18A.
Figs. 2A and 2B illustrate in detail a first embodiment
of automatic flusher 10. Fig. 2B shows supply line 12, which communicates with an
annular entrance chamber 20 defined by an entrance-chamber wall 22 formed near the
flush conduit 16's upper end. A pressure cap 24 secured by a retaining ring 25 to
the chamber housing clamps between itself and that housing the outer edge 26 of
a flexible diaphragm 28 seated on a main valve seat 30 formed by the flush conduit
The supply pressure that prevails In the entrance chamber
20 tends to unseat the flexible diaphragm 28 and thereby cause it to allow water
from the supply line 12 to flow through the entrance chamber 20 Into the flush conduit
16's interior 32. But the diaphragm 28 ordinarily remains seated because of pressure
equalization that a bleed hole 34 formed by the diaphragm 28 tends to permit between
the entrance chamber 20 and a main pressure chamber 36 formed by the pressure cap
24. Specifically, the pressure that thereby prevails in that upper chamber 36 exerts
greater force on the diaphragm 28 than the same pressure within entrance chamber
20 does, because the entrance chamber 20's pressure prevails only outside the flush
conduit 16, whereas the pressure in the main pressure chamber 36 prevails everywhere
outside of a through-diaphragm feed tube 38.
The flusher also include a solenoid-operated actuator assembly,
that can include any known solenoid or can include an actuator assembly 40 described
in U.S Patents 6,293,516 or 6,305,662. Alternatively, the solenoid-operated actuator
assembly includes an isolated actuator assembly 40A described in detail in PCT Application
PCT/US01/51098, filed on October 25, 2001
, which is incorporated by reference as if fully reproduced herein. The
isolated actuator assembly 40A is also in this application called a sealed version
of the operator.
To flush the toilet 18, the solenoid-operated actuator
assembly 40 controlled by circuitry 42 relieves the pressure in the main pressure
chamber 38 by permitting fluid flow, in a manner to be described in more detail
below, between pilot entrance and exit passages 44 and 46 formed by the pressure
cap 24's pilot-housing portion 48. A detailed description of operation is provided
Fig. 3 (formed by Figs. 2A and 3B) illustrates in detail
a second embodiment of automatic flusher 10. This embodiment uses a novel high flow
rate valve 600 (shown in Fig. 3B) utilizing a fram assembly described in detail
in connection with Fig. 5C below. Referring to Figs. 2A and 3B, automatic flusher
10 receives water input from supply line 12, which is in communication with a pliable
member 628 supported by a support member 632 of a fram member. Grooves 638 and 638A
provide water passages to a pilot chamber 642. The actuator relieves pressure in
pilot chamber 642 and thus initiate opening of valve 600. Then water flows from
input supply line 12 by a valve seat 625 to output chamber 32. The entire flushing
cycle is controlled by the solenoid-operated actuator assembly 40 controlled by
circuitry 42, shown in Fig. 2A. A detailed description of operation is provided
Fig. 4 illustrates in detail a third embodiment of automatic
flusher 10. Automatic flusher 10 is a high performance, electronically controlled
or manually controlled tankless flush system. Water enters thru input union 12 (supply
line), preferably made of a suitable plastic resin. Union 12 is attached via thread
to input fitting 12A that interacts with the building water supply system. Furthermore,
union 12 is designed to rotate on its own axis when no water is present so as to
facilitate alignment with the inlet supply line.
Referring still to Fig. 4, union 12 is attached to an inlet
pipe 64 by a fastener 60 and a radial seal 62, which enables union 12 to move in
or out along inlet pipe 64. This movement can align the inlet to the supply line.
However, with fastener 60 secured, there is pressure applied by the junction of
union 12 to inlet 60. This forms a unit that is rigid and sealed through seal number
62. The water supply travels through union 12 to inlet 64 and thru the inlet valve
assembly in the direction of elements 76, 78, 70, 72, and 74. Automatic flusher
10 also includes an inlet screen filter 80, which resides in a passage formed by
member 82 and is in communication with a main valve seat 525, the operation of the
entire main valve is described in connection with Figs. 5, 5A and 5B.
As described connection with Figs. 5, 5A and 5B, an electro-magnetic
actuator 50 controls operation of the main valve. In the opened state, water flows
between main valve seat 525 and a fram element 528 thru passage 528' thru passage
528A thru passage 528B into main outlet 32. In the closed state, the fram element
526 seals the valve main seat 525.
Automatic flusher 10 includes an adjustable input valve
72 controlled by rotation of a valve element 52 threaded together with valve elements
514 and 540, which are sealed from body 54 via o-ring seals 84 and 54. Valve elements
514 and 540 assembly are held down by threaded element 52, when element 52 is threaded
all the way. The resulting force presses down element 82 on valve element 72 therefore
creating a path from inlet 78 to passage of body 82. When valve element 52 is unthreaded
all the way, valve assembly 514 and 540 moves up due to the force of the spring
located in the adjustable valve 70. The spring force combined with inlet fluid pressure
from 78 forces element 72 against seat 72A resulting in a sealing action. Seal element
74 blocks the flow of water to inner passage of 82, which in turn enables servicing
of all internal valve element including elements 82, 50, 514, 500, and 528 without
the need to shut off the water supply at the inlet 12. This is a major advantage
of this embodiment.
According to another function of adjustable valve 70, the
threaded retainer is fastened part way resulting in valve body elements 514 and
82 to push down valve seat 72 only partly. There is a partial opening that provides
a flow restriction reducing the flow of input water thru valve 70. This novel function
is designed to meet application specific requirements. In order to provide for the
installer the flow restriction, the inner surface of valve body 54 includes application
specific marks such as 1.6 W.C 1.0 GPF urinals etc.
Automatic flusher 10 includes a sensor-based electronic
flush system located in housing 144 and described in connection with Fig. 2A. Furthermore,
the sensor-based electronic flush system may be replaced by an all mechanical activation
button or lever. Alternatively, the flush valve may be controlled by a hydraulically
timed mechanical actuator that acts upon a hydraulic delay arrangement. Such hydraulic
system can reside in housing 144. The hydraulic system can be adjusted to a delay
period commiserate with the needed flush volume for a given fixture such a 1.6 GPF
W.C etc. The hydraulic delay mechanism can open the outlet orifice of the pilot
section instead of electro-magnetic actuator 50 (shown in Fig. 4) for duration equal
to the installer preset value.
Alternatively, control circuitry 42 can be modified so
that the sensory elements housed in housing 144 are replaced with a timing control
circuit. Upon activation of the flusher by an electro-mechanical switch (or a capacitance
switch), the control circuitry initiates a flush cycle by activating electro-magnetic
actuator 50 for duration equal to the preset level. This level can be set at the
factory or by the installer in the field. This arrangement can be combined with
the static pressure measurement scheme described below for compensating the pressure
influence upon the desired volume per each flush.
The embodiment of Fig. 4 has several advantages. The hydraulic
or the electro-mechanical control system can be serviced without the need to shut
off the water supply to the unit. Furthermore, the valve mechanism enables controlling
the quantity of fluid that is passed thru the unit. The main flush valve includes
the design shown in detail in connection with Figs. 5. 5A, and 5B. This flush valve
arrangement provides for a high flow rate (for its valve size) when compared to
conventional diaphragm type flush valves, as shown in Fig. 2B.
The embodiment of Fig. 4 provides fluid control valves
in combination with a low power bi-stable electro magnetic actuator that combined
with the described control circuitry can precisely control the delivered water volume
per each flush. As described below, the capability of measuring fluid static pressure
and in turn altering the main valve open time controls dynamically the delivered
volume. That is, this system can deliver a selected water volume regardless of the
pressure variation in the water supply line.
The system can include a flexible conducting spring contact
arrangement for converting electrical control signals from the control electronics
to the electro magnetic actuator without the use of a wire/connector arrangement.
The system can also enable actuation of the main flush valve using a direct mechanical
lever or a mechanical level actuating upon a hydraulic delay arrangement that in
turn acts upon the main valve pilot arrangement. The individual functions are described
in detail below.
Fig. 5 illustrates a preferred embodiment of a valve 500
used in the faucet embodiment shown in FIG. 3 or 4. Valve device 500 includes a
valve body 513 providing a cavity for a valve assembly 514, an input port 518, and
an output port 520. Valve assembly 514 includes a proximal body 522, a distal body
524, and a fram member 526 (Fig. 5A). Fram member 526 includes a pliable member
528 and a support member 532. Pliable member 528 may be a diaphragm-like member
with a sliding seal 530. Support member 532 may be plunger-like member or a piston
like member, but having a different structural and functional properties that a
conventional plunger or piston. Valve assembly 514 also includes a guiding member
such as a guide pin 536 or sliding surfaces, and includes a spring 540.
Proximal body 522 includes threaded surface 522A cooperatively
sized with threaded surface 524A of distal body 524. Fram member 526 (and thus pliable
member 528 and a plunger-like member 532) includes an opening 527 constructed and
arranged to accommodate guiding pin 536. Fram member 526 defines a pilot chamber
542 arranged in fluid communication with actuator cavity 550 via control passages
544A and 544B. Actuator cavity 550 is in fluid communication with output port 520
via a control passage 546. Guide pin 536 includes a V-shaped or U-shaped groove
538 shaped and arranged together with fram opening 527 (FIG. 5A) to provide a pressure
communication passage between input chamber 519 and pilot chamber 542.
Referring still to Fig. 5, distal body 524 includes an
annular lip seal 525 arranged, together with pliable member 528, to provide a seal
between input port chamber 519 and output port chamber 521. Distal body 524 also
includes one or several flow channels 517 providing communication (in open state)
between input chamber 519 and output port chamber 521. Pliable member 528 also includes
sealing members 529A and 529B arranged to provide a sliding seal, with respect to
valve body 522, between pilot chamber 542 and output port chamber 521. There are
various possible embodiments of seals 529A and 529B (Fig. 5). This seal may be one-sided
as seal 530 (shown in FIG. 5A) or two-sided seal 529a and 529b shown in FIG. 5.
Furthermore, there are various additional embodiments of the sliding seal including
The present invention envisions valve device 10 having
various sizes. For example, the "full" size embodiment, shown in FIG. 2. has the
pin diameter A = 0.070", the spring diameter B = 0.360", the pliable member diameter
C = 0.730", the overall fram and seal's diameter D = 0.812", the pin length E =
0.450", the body height F = 0.380", the pilot chamber height G = 0.280", the fram
member size H = 0.160", and the fram excursion I = 0.100". The overall height of
the valve is about 1.39" and diameter is about 1.178".
The "half size" embodiment (of the valve shown In FIG.
2) has the following dimensions provided with the same reference letters (each also
including a subscript 1) shown in FIG. 2. In the "half size" valve A1
= 0.070", B1 = 0.30, C1 = 0.560", D1 = 0.650",
E1 = 0.38", F1 = 0.310", G1 = 0.215", H1
= 0.125", and I1 = 0.60". The overall length of the 1/2 embodiment is
about 1.350" and the diameter is about 0.855". Similarly, the valve devices of FIG.
5B or 5C may have various larger or smaller sizes.
Referring to Figs. 5 and 5B, valve 500 receives fluid at
input port 518, which exerts pressure onto diaphragm-like members 528 providing
a seal together with a lip member 525 in a closed state. Groove passage 538 provides
pressure communication with pilot chamber 542, which is in communication with actuator
cavity 550 via communication passages 544A and 544B. An actuator (shown in Figs.
4A. 5C) provides a seal at surface 548 thereby sealing passages 544A and 544B and
thus pilot chamber 542. When the plunger of actuator 142 or 143 moves away from
surface 548, fluid flows via passages 544A and 544B to control passage 546 and to
output port 520. This causes pressure reduction in pilot chamber 542. Therefore,
diaphragm-like member 528 and piston-like member 532 move linearly within cavity
542, thereby providing a relatively large fluid opening at lip seal 525. A large
volume of fluid can flow from input port 518 to output port 520.
When the plunger of actuator 142 or 143 seals control passages
544A and 544B, pressure builds up in pilot chamber 542 due to the fluid flow from
input port 518 through groove 538. The increased pressure in pilot chamber 542 together
with the force of spring 540 displace linearly, in a sliding motion over guide pin
536, fram member 526 toward sealing lip 529. When there is sufficient pressure in
pilot chamber 542, diaphragm-like pliable member 528 seals input port chamber 519
at lip seal 525. Preferably, soft member 528 is designed to clean groove 538 of
guide pin 536 during the sliding motion.
The embodiment of FIG. 5 shows valve 500 having input chamber
519 (and guide pin 536) symmetrically arranged with respect to passages 544A, 544B
and 546 (and the location of the plunger of actuator 701. However, valve device
500 may have input chamber 519 (and guide pin 536) non-symmetrically arranged with
respect to passages 544A, 544B (not shown) and passage 546. That is, this valve
has input chamber 519 (and guide pin 536) non-symmetrically arranged with respect
to the location of the plunger of actuator 142 or 143. The symmetrical and non-symmetrical
embodiments are equivalent.
Referring to FIG. 5C, valve device 600 includes a valve
body 613 providing a cavity for a valve assembly 614, an input port 618, and an
output port 620. Valve assembly 614 includes a proximal body 602, a distal body
604, and a fram member or assembly 626. Fram member 626 includes a pliable member
628 and a support member 632. Pliable member 628 may be a diaphragm-like member
with a sliding seal 630. Support member 632 may be plunger-like member or a piston
like member, but having a different structural and functional properties that a
conventional plunger or piston. Valve body 602 provides a guide surface 636 located
on the inside wall that includes one or several grooves 638 and 638A. These are
novel grooves constructed to provide fluid passages from input chamber located peripherally
(unlike the central input chamber shown in Figs. 5 and 5B).
Fram member 626 defines a pilot chamber 642 arranged in
fluid communication with actuator cavity 650 via control passages 644A and 644B.
Actuator cavity 650 is in fluid communication with output chamber 621 via a control
passage 646. Groove 638 (or grooves 638 and 638A) provides a communication passage
between input chamber 619 and pilot chamber 642. Distal body 604 includes an annular
lip seal 625 co-operatively arranged with pliable member 628 to provide a seal between
input port chamber 619 and output port chamber 621. Distal body 604 also includes
a flow channel 617 providing communication (in the open state) between input chamber
619 and output chamber 621 for a large amount of fluid flow. Pliable member 628
also includes sealing members 629A and 629B (or one sided sealing member depending
on the pressure conditions) arranged to provide a sliding seal with respect to valve
body 622, between pilot chamber 642 and input chamber 619. (Of course, groove 638
enables a controlled flow of fluid from input chamber 619 to pilot chamber 642,
as described above.)
We now turn to the system for controlling the operator.
Regarding the embodiments shown in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3, as Fig. 2A shows, the operator-control
circuitry 42 is contained in a circuit housing formed of three parts, a front piece
116, a center piece 118, and a rear piece 120. Screws not shown secure the front
piece 116 to the center piece 118, to which the rear piece 120 is in turn secured
by screws such as screw 122. That screw threadedly engages a bushing 124 ultrasonically
welded into a recess that the center housing piece 118 forms for that purpose. A
main circuit board 126, on which are mounted a number of components such as a capacitor
128 and a microprocessor not shown, is mounted in the housing. An auxiliary circuit
board 130 is in turn mounted on the main circuit board 126. Mounted on the auxiliary
board 130 is a light-emitting diode 132, which a transmitter hood 134 also mounted
on that board partially encloses.
The front circuit-housing piece 116 forms a transmitter-lens
portion 136, which has front and rear polished surfaces 138 and 140. The transmitter-lens
portion focuses infrared light from light-emitting diode 132 through an infrared-transparent
window 144 formed in the flusher housing 146. Fig. 1's pattern 148 represents the
resultant radiation-power distribution. A receiver lens 152 formed by part 116 so
focuses received light onto a photodiode 154 mounted on the main circuit board 126
that Fig. 1's pattern 150 of sensitivity to light reflected from targets results.
Like the transmitter light-emitting diode 132, the photodiode
154 is provided with a hood, in this case hood 156. The hoods 134 and 156 are opaque
and tend to reduce noise and crosstalk. The circuit housing also limits optical
noise; its center and rear parts 118 and 120 are made of opaque material such as
Lexan 141 polycarbonate, while its front piece 116, being made of transparent material
such as Lexan OQ2720 polycarbonate so as to enable it to form effective lenses 136
and 152, has a roughened and/or coated exterior in its non-lens regions that reduces
transmission through it. An opaque blinder 158 mounted on front piece 116 leaves
a central aperture 160 for infrared-light transmission from the light-emitting diode
132 but otherwise blocks stray transmission that could contribute to crosstalk.
Also to prevent crosstalk, an opaque stop 162 is secured into a slot provided for
that purpose in the circuit housing's front part 116.
The arrangement of Fig. 2A, in which the transmitter and
receiver lenses are formed integrally with part of the circuit housing, can afford
manufacturing advantages over arrangements in which the lenses are provided separately
from the housing. But it may be preferable in some embodiments to make the lenses
separate, because doing so affords greater flexibility in material selection for
both the lens and the circuit housing. Figs. 6 and 6A are front-elevational and
cross-sectional views of an alternative that uses this approach. That alternative
includes a front circuit housing piece 116' separate from lenses 136' and 152'.
The housing part 116' forms a teardrop-shaped rim 164 that cooperates during assembly
with a similarly shaped flange 166 on lens 136' to orient that lens properly in
its position on a teardrop-shaped shoulder 168 to which it is then welded ultrasonically.
Referring to Fig. 6A, the teardrop shape ensures that the lens is oriented properly.
The receiver lens 152 is mounted similarly. Since the front circuit-housing part
116' and lenses 136' and 152' do not need to be made of the same material, housing
part 116' can be made of an opaque material so that blinders 170 and a stop 172
can be formed integrally with it. As was mentioned in connection with Fig. 2A, the
circuit housing contains circuitry that controls the valve operator as well as other
Fig. 4A is a simplified block diagram of that circuitry.
A microcontroller-based control circuit 180 operates a peripheral circuit 182 that
controls the valve operator. Transmitter circuitry 184, including Fig. 2's light-emitting
diode 132, is also operated by the control circuit 180, and receiver circuitry 186
includes the photodiode 154 and sends the control circuit its response to resultant
echoes. Although the circuitry of Fig. 4A can be so implemented as to run on house
power, it is more typical for it to be battery-powered, and Fig. 4A explicitly shows
a battery-based power supply 188 because the control circuit 180, as will be explained
below, not only receives regulated power from the power supply but also senses its
unregulated power for purposes to be explained below. It also controls application
of the supply's power to various of the Fig. 4A circuit's constituent parts.
Since the circuitry is most frequently powered by battery,
an important design consideration is that power not be employed unnecessarily. As
a consequence, the microcontroller-based circuitry is ordinarily in a "sleep" mode,
in which it draws only enough power to keep certain volatile memory refreshed and
operate a timer 190. In the illustrated embodiment, that timer 190 generates an
output pulse every 250 msec., and the control circuit responds to each pulse by
performing a short operating routine before returning to the sleep mode. Figs. 12A
and 12B (together, "Fig. 12") form a flow chart that Illustrates certain of those
operations' aspects in a simplified fashion.
The automatic flushers shown in FIGS. 2, 3, and 4 may utilize
various embodiments of the isolated actuator, shown in FIGS. 7, 7B and 7C. Isolated
actuator 701 includes an actuator base 716, a ferromagnetic pole piece 725, a ferromagnetic
armature 740 slideably mounted in an armature pocket formed inside a bobbin 714.
Ferromagnetic armature 740 includes a distal end 742 (i.e., plunger 742) and an
armature cavity 750 having a coil spring 748. Coil spring 748 includes reduced ends
748a and 748b for machine handling. Ferromagnetic armature 740 may include one or
several grooves or passages 752 providing communication from the distal end of armature
740 (outside of actuator base 716) to armature cavity 750 and to the proximal end
of armature 740, at the pole piece 725, for easy movement of fluid during the displacement
of the armature.
Isolated actuator body 701 also includes a solenoid windings
728 wound about solenoid bobbin 714 and magnet 723 located in a magnet recess 720.
Isolated actuator body 701 also includes a resiliently deformable O-ring 712 that
forms a seal between solenoid bobbin 714 and actuator base 716, and includes a resiliently
deformable O-ring 730 that forms a seal between solenoid bobbin 714 and pole piece
725, all of which are held together by a solenoid housing 718. Solenoid housing
718 (i.e., can 718) is crimped at actuator base 16 to hold magnet 723 and pole piece
725 against bobbin 714 and thereby secure windings 728 and actuator base 716 together.
Isolated actuator 700 also includes a resilient membrane
764 that may have various embodiments shown and described in connection with Figs.
7D and 7E. As shown in FIG. 7, resilient membrane 764 is mounted between actuator
base 716 and a piloting button 705 to enclose armature fluid located a fluid-tlght
armature chamber in communication with an armature port 752. Resilient membrane
764 includes a distal end 766, O-ring like portion 767 and a flexible portion 768.
Distal end 766 comes in contact with the sealing surface in the region 708. Resilient
membrane 764 is exposed to the pressure of regulated fluid provided via conduit
706 in piloting button 705 and may therefore be subject to considerable external
force. Furthermore, resilient membrane 764 is constructed to have a relatively low
permeability and high durability for thousands of openings and closings over many
years of operation.
Referring to still to FIG. 7, isolated actuator 701 is
provided, for storage and shipping purposes, with a cap 703 sealed with respect
to the distal part of actuator base 716 and with respect to piloting button 705
using a resiliently deformable O-ring 732. Storage and shipping cap 703 includes
usually water that counter-balances fluid contained by resilient membrane 744; this
significantly limits or eliminates diffusion of fluid through resilient membrane
Referring still to FIG. 7, actuator base 716 includes a
wide base portion substantially located inside can 718 and a narrowed base extension
threaded on its outer surface to receive cap 703. The inner surface of the base
extension threadedly engages complementary threads provided on the outer surface
of piloting button 705. Membrane 764 includes a thickened peripheral rim 767 located
between the base extension 32's lower face and piloting button 705. This creates
a fluid-tight seal so that the membrane protects the armature from exposure to external
fluid flowing in the main valve.
For example, the armature liquid may be water mixed with
a corrosion inhibitor, e.g., a 20% mixture of polypropylene glycol and potassium
phosphate. Alternatively, the armature fluid may include silicon-based fluid, polypropylene
polyethylene glycol or another fluid having a large molecule. The armature liquid
may in general be any substantially non-compressible liquid having low viscosity
and preferably non-corrosive properties with respect to the armature. Alternatively,
the armature liquid may be Fomblin or other liquid having low vapor pressure (but
preferably high molecular size to prevent diffusion).
If there is anticorrosive protection, the armature material
can be a low-carbon steel, iron or any soft magnetic material; corrosion resistance
is not as big a factor as it would otherwise be. Other embodiments may employ armature
materials such as the 420 or 430 series stainless steels. It is only necessary that
the armature consist essentially of a ferromagnetic material, i.e., a material that
the solenoid and magnet can attract. Even so, it may include parts, such as, say,
a flexible or other tip, that is not ferromagnetic.
Resilient membrane 764 encloses armature fluid located
a fluid-tight armature chamber in communication with an armature port 752 or 790
formed by the armature body. Furthermore, resilient membrane 764 is exposed to the
pressure of regulated fluid in main valve and may therefore be subject to considerable
external force. However, armature 740 and spring 750 do not have to overcome this
force, because the conduit's pressure is transmitted through membrane 764 to the
incompressible armature fluid within the armature chamber. The force that results
from the pressure within the chamber therefore approximately balances the force
that the conduit pressure exerts.
Referring still to Figs. 7, 7A, 7B and 7C, armature 740
is free to move with respect to fluid pressures within the chamber between the retracted
and extended positions. Armature port 752 or 790 enables the force-balancing fluid
displaced from the armature chamber's lower well through the spring cavity 750 to
the part of the armature chamber from which the armature's upper end (i.e. distal
end) has been withdrawn upon actuation. Although armature fluid can also flow around
the armature's sides, arrangements in which rapid armature motion is required should
have a relatively low-flow-resistance path such as the one that port 752 or 790
helps form. Similar considerations favor use of an armature-chamber liquid that
has relatively low viscosity. Therefore, the isolated operator (i.e., actuator 700)
requires for operation only low amounts of electrical energy and is thus uniquely
suitable for battery operation.
In the latching embodiment shown in FIG. 7, armature 740
is held in the retracted position by magnet 723 in the absence of a solenoid current.
To drive the armature to the extended position therefore requires armature current
of such a direction and magnitude that the resultant magnetic force counteracts
that of the magnet by enough to allow the spring force to prevail. When it does
so, the spring force moves armature 740 to its extended position, in which it causes
the membrane's exterior surface to seal against the valve seat (e.g., the seat of
piloting button 705). In this position, the armature is spaced enough from the magnet
that the spring force can keep the armature extended without the solenoid's help.
To return the armature to the illustrated, retracted position
and thereby permit fluid flow, current is driven through the solenoid in the direction
that causes the resultant magnetic field to reinforce that of the magnet. As was
explained above, the force that the magnet 723 exerts on the armature in the retracted
position is great enough to keep it there against the spring force. However, in
the non-latching embodiment that doesn't include magnet 723, armature 740 remain
in the retracted position only so long as the solenoid conducts enough current for
the resultant magnetic force to exceed the spring force of spring 748.
Advantageously, diaphragm membrane 764 protects armature
740 and creates a cavity that is filled with a sufficiently non-corrosive liquid,
which in turn enables actuator designers to make more favorable choices between
materials with high corrosion resistance and high magnetic permeability. Furthermore,
membrane 764 provides a barrier to metal ions and other debris that would tend to
migrate into the cavity.
Diaphragm membrane 764 includes a sealing surface 766,
which is related to the seat opening area, both of which can be increased or decreased.
The sealing surface 766 and the seat surface of piloting button 705 can be optimized
for a pressure range at which the valve actuator is designed to operate. Reducing
the sealing surface 766 (and the corresponding tip of armature 740) reduces the
plunger area involved in squeezing the membrane, and this in turn reduces the spring
force required for a given upstream fluid-conduit pressure. On the other hand, making
the plunger tip area too small tends to damage diaphragm membrane 764 during valve
closing over time. Preferable range of tip-contact area to seat-opening area is
between 1.4 and 12.3. The present actuator is suitable for variety of pressures
of the controlled fluid. including pressures about 150 psi. Without any substantial
modification, the valve actuator may be used in the range of about 30 psi to 80
psi, or even water pressures of about 125 psi.
Referring still to Figs. 7, 7A, 7B and 7C, piloting button
705 has an important novel function for achieving consistent long-term piloting
of the diaphragm valve shown in FIG. 2B, or the fram valve shown in FIG. 3B. Solenoid
actuator 701 together with piloting button 705 are installed together as one assembly
into the electronic faucet; this minimizes the pilot-valve-stroke variability at
the pilot seat in region 708 (FIGS. 7, 7B and 7C) with respect to the closing surface
(shown in detail in FIG. 7E), which variability would otherwise afflict the piloting
operation. This installation is faster and simpler than prior art installations.
The assembly of operator 701 and piloting button 705 is
usually put together in a factory and is permanently connected thereby holding diaphragm
membrane 764 and the pressure loaded armature fluid (at pressures comparable to
the pressure of the controlled fluid). Piloting button 705 is coupled to the narrow
end of actuator base 716 using complementary threads or a sliding mechanism, both
of which assure reproducible fixed distance between distal end 766 of diaphragm
764 and the sealing surface of piloting button 705. The coupling of operator 701
and piloting button 705 can be made permanent (or rigid) using glue, a set screw
or pin. Alternatively, one member my include an extending region that is used to
crimp the two members together after screwing or sliding on piloting button 705.
It is possible to install solenoid actuator 701 without
piloting button 705, but this process is somewhat more cumbersome. Without piloting
button 705, the installation process requires first positioning the pilot-valve
body with respect to the main valve and then securing to the actuator assembly onto
the main valve as to hold the pilot-valve body in place. If proper care is not taken,
there is some variability in the position of the pilot body due to various piece-part
tolerances and possible deformation. This variability creates variability in the
pilot-valve member's stroke. In a low-power pilot valve, even relatively small variations
can affect timing or possibly sealing force adversely and even prevent the pilot
valve from opening or closing at all. Thus, it is important to reduce this variability
during installation, field maintenance, or replacement. On the other hand, when
assembling solenoid actuator 701 with piloting button 705, this variability is eliminated
or substantially reduced during the manufacturing process, and thus there is no
need to take particular care during field maintenance or replacement.
As described above, the main valve assembly includes a
main valve body with a main-valve inlet, a main-valve seat, a main-valve outlet,
a pressure chamber (i.e., a pilot chamber), and a pressure-relief outlet through
which the pressure in the pressure chamber (pilot chamber) can be relieved, wherein
the main valve member can be diaphragm 28 (Fig. 2B), a piston, or a fram member
(Fig. 3B or Fig. 4), all of which are movable between a closed position, in which
the main valve member seals against the main-valve seat thereby preventing flow
from the main inlet (e.g., input 12 in Figs. 2B, 3B or 4) to the main outlet (e.g.,
output 34 in Figs. 2B, 3B or 4).
Referring to FIGS. 7D and 7E, as described above, diaphragm
membrane 764 includes an outer ring 767, flex region 768 and tip or seat region
766. The distal tip of the plunger is enclosed inside a pocket flange behind the
sealing region 766. Preferably, diaphragm membrane 764 is made of EPDM due to its
low durometer and compression set by NSF part 61 and relatively low diffusion rates.
The low diffusion rate is important to prevent the encapsulated armature fluid from
leaking out during transportation or installation process. Alternatively, diaphragm
member 764 can be made out of a flouro-elastomer, e.g., VITON, or a soft, low compression
rubber, such as CRI-LINE® flouro-elastomer made by CRI-TECH SP-508. Alternatively,
diaphragm member 764 can be made out of a Teflon-type elastomer, or just includes
a Teflon coating. Alternatively, diaphragm member 764 can be made out NBR (natural
rubber) having a hardness of 40-50 durometer as a means of reducing the influence
of molding process variation yielding flow marks that can form micro leaks of the
contained fluid into the surrounding environment. Alternatively, diaphragm member
764 includes a metallic coating that slows the diffusion thru the diaphragm member
when the other is dry and exposed to air during storage or shipping of the assembled
Preferably, diaphragm member 764 has high elasticity and
low compression (which is relatively difficult to achieve). Diaphragm member 764
may have some parts made of a low durometer material (i,e., parts 767 and 768) and
other parts of high durometer material (front surface 766). The low compression
of diaphragm member 764 is important to minimize changes in the armature stroke
over a long period of operation. Thus, contact part 766 is made of high durometer
material. The high elasticity is needed for easy flexing diaphragm member 764 in
regions 768. Furthermore, diaphragm part 768 is relatively thin so that the diaphragm
can deflect, and the plunger can move with very little force. This is important
for long-term battery operation.
Referring to FIG. 7E, another embodiment of diaphragm membrane
764 can be made to include a forward slug cavity 772 (in addition to the rear plunger
cavity shaped to accommodate the plunger tip). The forward slug cavity 772 is filled
with a plastic or metal slug 774. The forward surface 770 including the surface
of slug 774 is cooperatively arranged with the sealing surface of piloting button
705. Specifically, the sealing surface of piloting button 705 may include a pilot
seat 709 made of a different material with properties designed with respect to slug
774. For example, high durometer pilot seat 709 can be made of a high durometer
material. Therefore, during the sealing action, resilient and relatively hard slug
772 comes in contact with a relatively soft pilot seat 709. This novel arrangement
of diaphragm membrane 764 and piloting button 705 provides for a long term, highly
reproducible sealing action.
Diaphragm member 764 can be made by a two stage molding
process where by the outer portion is molded of a softer material and the inner
portion that is in contact with the pilot seat is molded of a harder elastomer or
thermoplastic material using an over molding process. The forward facing insert
774 can be made of a hard injection molded plastic, such as acceptable copolymer
or a formed metal disc of a non-corrosive non-magnetic material such as 300 series
stainless steel. In this arrangement, pilot seat 709 is further modified such that
it contains geometry to retain pilot seat geometry made of a relatively high durometer
elastomer such as EPDM 60 durometer. By employing this design that transfers the
sealing surface compliant member onto the valve seat of piloting button 705 (rather
than diaphragm member 764), several key benefits are derived. Specifically, diaphragm
member 764 a very compliant material. There are substantial improvements in the
process related concerns of maintaining proper pilot seat geometry having no flow
marks (that is a common phenomena requiring careful process controls and continual
quality control vigilance). This design enables the use of an elastomeric member
with a hardness that is optimized for the application.
FIG. 7F is a cross-sectional view of another embodiment
of an armature bobbin used in the actuator shown in FIGS. 7 through 7C. The bobbin's
body is constructed to have low permeability to the armature fluid. For example,
bobbin 714 includes metallic regions 713, which are in contact with the armature
fluid, and plastic regions 713a, which are not in contact with the armature fluid.
Fig. 8 schematically illustrates a fluid flow control system
for a latching actuator 801. The flow control system includes again microcontroller
814, power switch 818, solenoid driver 820. As shown in Fig. 7, latching actuator
701 includes at least one drive coil 728 wound on a bobbin and an armature that
preferably is made of a permanent magnet. Microcontroller 814 provides control signals
815A and 815B to current driver 820, which drives solenoid 728 for moving armature
740. Solenoid driver 820 receives DC power from battery 824 and voltage regulator
826 regulates the battery power to provide a substantially constant voltage to current
driver 820. Coil sensors 843A and 843B pickup induced voltage signal due to movement
of armature 740 and provide this signal to a conditioning feedback loop that includes
preamplifiers 845A, 845B and flow-pass filters 847A, 847B. That is, coil sensors
843A and 843B are used to monitor the armature position.
Microcontroller 814 is again designed for efficient power
operation. Between actuations, microcontroller 814 goes automatically into a low
frequency sleep mode and all other electronic elements (e.g., input element or sensor
818, power driver 820, voltage regulator or voltage boost 826, signal conditioner
822) are powered down. Upon receiving an input signal from, for example, a motion
sensor, microcontroller 814 turns on a power consumption controller 819 (i.e., switches
on transistor Q1 in Fig. 3B). Power consumption controller 819 powers up signal
Also referring to Fig. 7, to close the fluid passage 708,
microcontroller 814 provides a "close" control signal 815A to solenoid driver 820,
which applies a drive voltage to the coil terminals. Provided by microcontroller
814, the "close" control signal 815A initiates in solenoid driver 820 a drive voltage
having a polarity that the resultant magnetic flux opposes the magnetic field provided
by permanent magnet 723. This breaks the magnet 723's hold on armature 740 and allows
the return spring 748 to displace valve member 740 toward valve seat 708. In the
closed position, spring 748 keeps diaphragm member 764 pressed against the valve
seat of piloting button 705. In the closed position, there is an increased distance
between the distal end of armature 740 and pole piece 725. Therefore, magnet 723
provides a smaller magnetic force on the armature 740 than the force provided by
return spring 748.
To open the fluid passage, microcontroller 814 provides
an "open" control signal 815B (i.e., latch signal) to solenoid driver 820. The "open"
control signal 815B initiates in solenoid driver 820 a drive voltage having a polarity
that the resultant magnetic flux opposes the force provided by bias spring 748.
The resultant magnetic flux reinforces the flux provided by permanent magnet 723
and overcomes the force of spring 748. Permanent magnet 723 provides a force that
is great enough to hold armature 740 in the open position, against the force of
return spring 748, without any required magnetic force generated by coil 728.
Referring to Fig. 2, microcontroller 814 discontinues current
flow, by proper control signal 815A or 815B applied to solenoid driver 820, after
armature 740 has reached the desired open or closed state. Pickup coils 843A and
843B (or any sensor, in general) monitor the movement (or position) of armature
740 and determine whether armature 740 has reached its endpoint. Based on the coil
sensor data from pickup coils 843A and 843B (or the sensor), microcontroller 814
stops applying the coil drive, increases the coil drive, or reduces the coil drive.
To open the fluid passage, microcontroller 814 sends OPEN
signal 815B to power driver 820, which provides a drive current to coil 842 in the
direction that will retract armature 740. At the same time, coils 843A and 843B
provide induced signal to the conditioning feedback loop, which includes a preamplifier
and a low-pass filter. If the output of a differentiator 849 indicates less than
a selected threshold calibrated for armature 740 reaching a selected position (e.g.,
half distance between the extended and retracted position, or fully retracted position,
or another position), microcontroller 814 maintains OPEN signal 815B asserted. If
no movement of armature 740 is detected, microcontroller 814 can apply a different
level of OPEN signal 815B to increase the drive current (up to several time the
normal drive current) provided by power driver 820. This way, the system can move
armature 740, which is stuck due to mineral deposits or other problems.
Microcontroller 814 can detect armature displacement (or
even monitor armature movement) using induced signals in coils 843A and 843B provided
to the conditioning feedback loop. As the output from differentiator 849 changes
in response to the displacement of armature 740, microcontroller 814 can apply a
different level of OPEN signal 815B, or can turn off OPEN signal 815B, which in
turn directs power driver 820 to apply a different level of drive current. The result
usually is that the drive current has been reduced, or the duration of the drive
current has been much shorter than the time required to open the fluid passage under
worst-case conditions (that has to be used without using an armature sensor). Therefore,
the system of Fig. 8 saves considerable energy and thus extends life of battery
Advantageously, the arrangement of coil sensors 843A and
843B can detect latching and unlatching movement of armature 740 with great precision.
(However, a single coil sensor, or multiple coil sensors, or capacitive sensors
may also be used to detect movement of armature 740.) Microcontroller 814 can direct
a selected profile of the drive current applied by power driver 820. Various profiles
may be stored in , microcontroller 814 and may be actuated based on the fluid type,
fluid pressure, fluid temperature, the time actuator 840 has been in operation since
installation or last maintenance, a battery level, input from an external sensor
(e.g., a movement sensor or a presence sensor), or other factors.
Optionally, microcontroller 814 may include a communication
interface for data transfer, for example, a serial port, a parallel port, a USB
port, of a wireless communication interface (e.g., an RF interface). The communication
interface is used for downloading data to microcontroller 814 (e.g., drive curve
profiles, calibration data) or for reprogramming microcontroller 814 to control
a different type of actuation or calculation.
Referring to Fig. 7, electromagnetic actuator 701 is connected
in a reverse flow arrangement when the water input is provided via passage 706 of
piloting button 705. Alternatively, electromagnetic actuator 701 is connected in
a forward flow arrangement when the water input is provided via passage 710 of piloting
button 705 and exits via passage 706. In the forward flow arrangement, the plunger
"faces directly" the pressure of the controlled fluid delivered by passage 710.
That is, the corresponding fluid force acts against spring 748. In both forward
and reverse flow arrangements, the latch or unlatch times depend on the fluid pressure,
but the actual latch time dependence is different. In the reverse flow arrangement,
the latch time (i.e., time it takes to retract plunger 740) increases with the fluid
pressure substantially linearly, as shown in Fig. 9B. On the other hand, in the
forward flow arrangement, the latch time decreases with the fluid pressure. Based
on this latch time dependence, microcontroller 814 can calculate the actual water
pressure and thus control the water amount delivery.
Fig. 8A schematically illustrates a fluid flow control
system for another embodiment of the latching actuator. The flow control system
includes again microcontroller 814, power consumption controller 819, solenoid driver
820 receiving power from a battery 824 or voltage booster 826, and an indicator
828. Microcontroller 814 operates in both sleep mode and operation mode, as described
above. Microcontroller 814 receives an input signal from an input element 818 (or
any sensor) and provides control signals 815A and 815B to current driver 820, which
drives the solenoid of a latching valve actuator 701. Solenoid driver 820 receives
DC power from battery 824 and voltage regulator 826 regulates the battery power.
A power monitor 872 monitors power signal delivered to the drive coil of actuator
701 and provides a power monitoring signal to microcontroller 814 in a feedback
arrangement having operational amplifier 870. Microcontroller 814 and power consumption
controller 19 are designed for efficient power operation, as described above.
Also referring to Fig. 3, to close the fluid passage, microcontroller
14 provides a "close" control signal 815A to solenoid driver 820, which applies
a drive voltage to the actuator terminals and thus drives current through coil 728.
Power monitor 872 may be a resistor connected for applied drive current to flow
through (or a portion of the drive current) Power monitor 872 may alternatively
be a coil or another element. The output from power monitor 872 is provided to the
differentiator of signal conditioner 870. The differentiator is used to determine
a latch point, as shown in Fig. 9A.
Similarly as described in connection with Fig. 8, to open
the fluid passage, microcontroller 814 sends CLOSE signal 815A or OPEN signal 815B
to valve driver 820, which provides a drive current to coil 728 in the direction
that will extent or retract armature 740 (and close or open passage 708). At the
same time, power monitor 872 provides a signal to opamp 870. Microcontroller 814
determines if armature 740 reached the desired state using the power monitor signal.
For example, if the output of opamp 870 initially indicates no latch state for armature
740, microcontroller 814 maintains OPEN signal 815B, or applies a higher level of
OPEN signal, as described above, to apply a higher drive current. On the other hand,
if armature 740 reached the desired state (e.g., latch state shown in Fig. 9A),
microcontroller 814 applies a lower level of OPEN signal 815B, or turns off OPEN
signal 815B. This usually reduces the duration of drive current or the level of
the drive current as compared to the time or current level required to open the
fluid passage under worst-case conditions. Therefore, the system of Fig. 8A saves
considerable energy and thus extends life of battery 824.
Referring to Fig. 10, flow diagram 900 illustrates the
operation of microcontroller 814 during a flushing cycle. Microcontroller 814 is
in a sleep mode, as described above. Upon an input signal from the input element
or external sensor, microcontroller 814 is initialed and the timer is set to zero
(step 902). In step 904, if the valve actuator performs a full flush, the time Tbas
equals Tfull (step 906). If there is no full flush, the timer is set
in step 910 to Tbas equals Thalf. In step 912, microcontroller
samples the battery voltage prior to activating the actuator in step 914. After
the solenoid of the actuator is activated, microcontroller 814 searches for the
latching point (see Fig. 9 or 9A), When the timer reaches the latching point (step
918), microcontroller 814 deactivates the solenoid (step 920). In step 922, based
on the latch time, microcontroller 814 calculates the corresponding water pressure,
using stored calibration data. Based on the water pressure and the known amount
of water discharged by the tank flusher, the microcontroller decides on the unlatch
time, (i.e., closing time) of the actuator (step 926). After the latching time is
reached, microcontroller 14 provides the "close" signal to current driver 820 (step
928). After this point the entire cycle shown in flow diagram 900 is repeated.
Referring to Figs. 12A and 12B, blocks 200 and 202 represent
the fact that the controller remains in its sleep mode until timer 190 generates
a pulse. When the pulse occurs, the processor begins executing stored programming
at a predetermined entry point represented by block 204. It proceeds to perform
certain initialization operations exemplified by block 206's step of setting the
states of its various ports and block 208's step of detecting the state of Fig.
2's push button 210. That push button, which is mounted on the flusher housing 146
for ready accessibility by a user, contains a magnet 210a whose proximity to the
main circuit board 126 increases when the button is depressed. The circuit board
includes a reed switch 211 that, as Fig. 6 suggests, generates an input to the control
circuit in response to the resultant increased magnetic field on circuit board 126.
Push button 210's main purpose is to enable a user to operate
the flusher manually. As Fig. 12's blocks 212, 214, 216, 217, and 218 indicate,
the control circuit 180 ordinarily responds to that button's being depressed by
initiating a flush operation if one is not already in progress, and if the button
has not been depressed continuously for the previous thirty seconds.
This thirty-second condition is imposed in order to allow
batteries to be installed during manufacture without causing significant energy
drain between the times when the batteries are installed in the unit and when the
unit is installed in a toilet system. Specifically, packaging for the flusher can
be so designed that, when it is closed, it depresses the push button 210 and keeps
it depressed so long as the packaging remains closed. It will typically have remained
closed in this situation for more than thirty seconds, so, as Fig. 12's block 220
shows, the controller returns to its sleep mode without having caused any power
drain greater than just enough to enable the controller to carry out a few instructions.
That is, the controller has not caused power to be applied to the several circuits
used for transmitting infrared radiation or driving current through the flush-valve
Among the ways in which the sleep mode conserves power
is that the microprocessor circuitry is not clocked, but some power is still applied
to that circuitry in order to maintain certain minimal register state, including
predetermined fixed values in several selected register bits. When batteries are
first installed in the flusher unit, though, not all of those register bits will
have the predetermined values. Block 222 represents determining whether those values
are present. If not, then the controller concludes that batteries have just been
installed, and it enters a power-up mode, as block 224 indicates.
The power-up mode deals with the fact that the proportion
of sensor radiation reflected back to the sensor receiver in the absence of a user
differs in different environments. The power-up mode's purpose is to enable an installer
to tell the system what that proportion is in the environment is which the flusher
has been installed. This enables the system thereafter to ignore background reflections.
During the power-up mode, the object sensor operates without opening the valve in
response to target detection. Instead, it operates a visible LED whenever it detects
a target, and the installer adjusts, say, a potentiometer to set the transmitter's
power to a level just below that at which, in the absence of a valid target, the
visible LED's illumination nonetheless indicates that a target has been detected.
This tells the system what level will be considered the maximum radiation level
permissible for this installation.
Among the steps involved in entering this power-up mode
is to apply power to certain subsystems that must remain on continually if they
are to operate. Among these, for instance, is the sensor's receiver circuit. Whereas
the infrared transmitter needs only to be pulsed, and power need not be applied
to it between pulses, the receiver must remain powered between pulses so that it
can detect the pulse echoes.
Another subsystem that requires continuous power application
in the illustrated embodiment is a low-battery detector. As was mentioned above,
the control circuitry receives an unregulated output from the power supply, and
it infers from that output's voltage whether the battery is running low, as block
226 indicates. If it is low, then a visible-light-emitting diode or some other annunciator,
represented in Fig. 4A by block 228, is operated to give the user an indication
of the low-battery state.
Now, the battery-check operation that block 226 represents
can be reached without the system's having performed block 224's operation in the
same cycle, so block 226's battery-check operation is followed by the step, represented
by block 230, of determining whether the system currently is in the power-up mode.
In the illustrated embodiment, the system is arranged to
operate in this power-up mode for ten minutes, after which the installation process
has presumably been completed and a visible target-detection indicator is no longer
needed. If, as determined in the block-230 operation, the system is indeed in the
power-up mode, it performs block 232's step of determining whether it has been in
that mode for more than ten minutes, the intended length of the calibration interval.
If so, it resets the system so that it will not consider itself to be in the power-up
mode the next time it awakens.
For the current cycle, though, it is still in its power-up
mode, and it performs certain power-up-mode operations. One of those, represented
by block 234, is to determine from the unregulated power-supply output whether any
of the batteries have been installed in the wrong direction. If any have, the system
simply goes back to sleep, as block 236 indicates. Otherwise, as block 238 indicates,
the system checks its memory to determine whether it has commanded the valve operator
five times in a row to close the flush valve, as the illustrated embodiment requires
in the power-up mode. We have found that thus ordering the valve to close when the
system is first installed tends to prevent inadvertent flushing during initial installation.
As block 242 indicates, the system then determines whether
a target has been detected. If is has, the system sets a flag, as block 244 indicates,
to indicate that the visible LED should be turned on and thereby notify the installer
of this fact. This completes the power-up-mode-specific operations.
The system then proceeds with operations not specific to
that mode. In the illustrated embodiment, those further operations actually are
intended to be performed only once every second, whereas the timer wakes the system
every 250 msec. As block 246 indicates, therefore, the system determines whether
a full second has elapsed since the last time it performed the operations that are
to follow. If not, the system simply goes back to sleep, as block 248 indicates.
If a full second has elapsed, on the other hand, the system
turns on a visible LED if it had previously set some flag to indicate that this
should be that LED's state. This operation, represented by blocks 250 and 252, is
followed by block 254's step of determining whether the valve is already open. If
it is, the routine calls a further routine, represented by block 256, in which it
consults timers, etc. to determine whether the valve should be closed. If it should,
the routine closes the valve. The system then returns to the sleep mode.
If the valve is not already open, the system applies power,
as block 258 indicates, to the above-mentioned subsystems that need to have power
applied continuously. Although that power will already have been applied if this
step is reached from the power-up mode, it will not yet have been applied in the
normal operating mode.
That power application is required at this point because
the subsystem that checks battery power needs it. That subsystem's output is then
tested, as blocks 260 and 262 indicate. If the result is a conclusion that battery
power is inadequate, then the system performs block 264's and block 266's steps
of going back to sleep after setting a flag to indicate that it has assumed the
power-up mode. Setting the flag causes any subsequent wake cycle to include closing
the valve and thereby prevents uncontrolled flow that might otherwise result from
a power loss. Now, it is desirable from a maintenance standpoint for the system
not to go too long without flushing. If twenty-four hours have elapsed without the
system's responding to a target by flushing, the routine therefore causes a flush
to occur and then goes to sleep, as blocks 268, 270, and 272 indicate. Otherwise,
the system transmits infrared radiation into the target region and senses any resultant
echoes, as block 274 indicates. It also determines whether the resultant sensed
echo meets certain criteria for a valid target, as block 276 indicates.
The result of this determination is then fed to a series
of tests, represented by block 278, for determining whether flushing should occur.
A typical test is to determine whether a user has been present for at least a predetermined
minimum time and then has left, but several other situations may also give rise
to a determination that the valve should be opened. If any of these situations occurs,
the system opens the valve, as block 280 indicates. If the visible LED and analog
power are on at this point, they are turned off, as block 282 indicates. As block
284 indicates, the system then goes to sleep.
Block 276's operation of determining whether a valid target
is present includes a routine that Figs. 13A and 13B together, ("Fig. 13") depict.
If, as determined in the step represented by that drawing's block 288, the system
is in its power-up mode, then a background gain is established in the manner explained
above. Block 290 represents determining that level.
The power-up mode's purpose is to set a background level,
not to operate the flush valve, so the background-determining step 290 is followed
by the block-292 operation of resetting a flag that, if set, would cause other routines
to open the flush valve. The Fig. 13 routine then returns, as block 294 indicates.
If the step of block 288 instead indicates that the system
is not in the power-up mode, the system turns to obtaining an indication of what
percentage of the transmitted radiation is reflected back to the sensor. Although
any way of obtaining such an indication is suitable for use with the present invention,
a way that tends to conserve power is to vary the transmitted power in such a way
as to find the transmitted-power level that results in a predetermined set value
of received power. The transmitted-power level thereby identified is an (inverse)
indication of the reflection percentage. By employing this approach, the system
can so operate as to limit its transmission power to the level needed to obtain
a detectable echo.
In principle, the illustrated embodiment follows this approach.
In practice, the system is arranged to transmit only at certain discrete power levels,
so it in effect identifies the pair of discrete transmitted-power levels in response
to which the reflected-power levels bracket the predetermined set value of received
power. Specifically, it proceeds to block 296's and block 298's steps of determining
whether the intensity of the reflected infrared light exceeds a predetermined threshold
and, if it does, reducing the system's sensitivity-typically by reducing the transmitted
infrared-light intensity-until the reflected-light intensity falls below the threshold.
The result is the highest gain value that yields no target indication.
In some cases, though, the reflected-light intensity falls
below the threshold even when, if the sensitivity were to be increased any further,
the system would (undesirably) detect background objects, such as stall doors, whose
presence should not cause flushing. The purpose of block 290's step was to determine
what this sensitivity was, and the steps represented by blocks 300 and 302 set a
no-target flag if the infrared echo is less than the threshold even with the gain
at this maximum, background level. As the drawing shows, this situation also results
in the flush flag's being reset and the routine's immediately returning.
If the block-300 step instead results in an indication
that the echo intensity can be made lower than the threshold return only if the
sensitivity is below the background level, then there is a target that is not just
background, and the routine proceeds to steps that impose criteria intended to detect
when a user has left the facility after having used it. To impose those criteria,
the routine maintains a push-down stack onto which it pushes entries from time to
time. Each entry has a gain field, a timer field, and an in/out field.
Block 304 represents determining whether the absolute value
of the difference between the current gain and the gain listed in the top stack
entry exceeds a threshold gain change. If it does not, the current call of this
routine results in no new entry's being pushed onto the stack, but the contents
of the existing top entry's timer field are incremented, as block 306 indicates.
If the block-304 step's result is instead that the gain change's absolute value
was indeed greater than the threshold, then the routine pushes a new entry on to
the stack, placing the current gain in that entry's gain field and giving the timer
field the value of zero. In short, a new entry is added whenever the target's distance
changes by a predetermined step size, and it keeps track of how long the user has
stayed in roughly the same place without making a movement as great as that step
As blocks 310, 312, and 314 indicate, the routine also
gives the entry's in/out field an "out" value, indicating that the target is moving
away from the flusher, if the current gain exceeds the previous entry's gain, and
it gives that field an "in" value if the current gain is less than the previous
entry's gain. In either case, the routine then performs the block-306 step of incrementing
the timer (to a value of "1") and moves from the stack-maintenance part of the routine
to the part in which the valve-opening criteria are actually applied.
Block 316 represents applying the first criterion, namely,
whether the top entry's in/out field indicates that the target is moving away. If
the target does not meet this criterion, the routine performs the block-292 step
of setting the flush flag to the value that will cause subsequent routines not to
open the flush valve, and the routine returns, as block 294 indicates. If that criterion
is met, on the other hand, the routine performs block 318's step of determining
whether the top entry and any immediately preceding entries indicating that the
target is moving away are preceded by a sequence of a predetermined minimum number
of entries that indicated that the target was moving in. If they were not, then
it is unlikely that a user had actually approached the facility, used it, and then
moved away, so the routine again returns after resetting the flush flag. Note that
the criterion that the block-318 step applies is independent of absolute reflection
percentage; it is based only on reflection-percentage changes, requiring that the
reflection percentage traverse a minimum range as it increases.
If the step of block 318 instead determines that the requisite
number of inward-indicating entries did precede the outward-indicating entries,
then the routine imposes the block-320 criterion of determining whether the last
inward-movement-indicating entry has a timer value representing at least, say, 5
seconds. This criterion is imposed to prevent a flush from being triggered when
the facility was not actually used. Again, the routine returns after resetting the
flush flag if this criterion is not met.
If it is met, on the other hand, then the routine imposes
the criteria of blocks 322, 324, and 326, which are intended to determine whether
a user has moved away adequately. If the target appears to have moved away by more
then a threshold amount, as determined by block 322, or has moved away slightly
less but has appeared to remain at that distance for greater then a predetermined
duration, as determined in blocks 324 and 326, then, as block 328 indicates, the
routine sets the flush flag before returning. Otherwise, it resets the flush flag.
The test of Fig. 13 is typically only one of the various
tests that Fig. 12B's operation 276 includes. But it gives an example of how the
illustrated system reduces problems that variations in user-clothing colors would
otherwise make more prevalent. As a perusal of Fig. 13 reveals, a determination
of whether a user has arrived and/or left is based not on absolute gain values but
rather on relative values, which result from comparing successive measurements.
This reduces the problem, which afflicts other detection strategies more severely,
of greater sensitivity to light-colored clothing than to dark-colored clothing.
It was mentioned above that the illustrated system employs
a visible-light-emitting diode ("visible LED"). In most cases, the visible LED's
location is not crucial, so long as a user can really see its light. One location,
for instance, could be immediately adjacent to the photodiode; Fig. 4A shows a non-roughened
region 330 in the flange of receiver-lens part 152', and the visible LED could be
disposed in registration with this region. In the embodiment of Fig. 2, though,
no such separate visible LED is apparent. The reason why is that the visible LED
in that embodiment is provided as a part of a combination-LED device 132, which
also includes the transmitter's infrared source.
To operate the two-color LED, transmitter and annunciator
circuits 184 and 228 (Fig. 4A) together take the form shown in Fig. 11. That circuitry
is connected to the two-color LED's terminals 332 and 334. The control circuit separately
operates the two-color LED's infrared-light-emitting diode D1 and the visible-light-emitting
diode D2 by driving control lines 336, 338, and 340 selectively. Specifically, driving
line 340 high turns on transistors Q1 and Q2 and thereby drives the visible-light-emitting
diode D2, at least if line 338 is held high to keep transistor Q3 turned off. If
line 340 is driven low, on the other hand, and line 338 is also driven low, then
infrared-light-emitting diode D1 is allowed to conduct, with a power that is determined
by the voltage applied to a line 336 that controls transistor Q4.
It was stated above in connection with Fig. 12's blocks
214, 217, and 220 that the system goes to sleep if the push button has remained
depressed for over 30 seconds. Fig. 6 illustrates packaging that takes advantage
of this feature to keep power use negligible before the kit is installed, even if
the kit includes installed batteries while it is in inventory or being transported.
To adapt a previously manual system to automatic operation, a prospective user may
acquire a flow controller that, for example, contains all of the elements depicted
in Fig. 2A except the through-diaphragm feed tube 38. This flow controller, identified
by reference numeral 348 in Fig. 15, is delivered in a container comprising a generally
rectangular cardboard box 350. The box's top includes an inner flap 352, which is
closed first, and an outer flap 354, which is closed over the inner flap. Tabs 356
that fit into slots 358 provided in the box body keep the box closed. To keep the
button depressed while the box is closed, the box is provided with a button activator
360 so mounted on the inner flap 352 that it registers with the push button 310
when that flap is closed. The package may be provided with inserts, not shown, to
ensure that the flow controller's push button registers correctly with the activator.
Fig. 6E is a detailed cross-sectional view of the button
activator 360 showing it mounted on the inner flap 352 with the outer flap 354 closed
over it. The illustrated activator 360 is typically a generally circular plastic
part. It forms an annular stop ring 362, which engages the top of the flow controller's
housing 146 (Fig. 2) to ensure that a central protuberance 364 depresses the push
button by only the correct amount. To mount the activator 360 in the inner flap,
it is provided with a barbed post 366. Post 366 forms a central slot 368 that enables
it to deform so that its barbs can fit through a hole 370 in the inner flap 352.
The outer flap 354 forms another hole 372 to accommodate the barbed post 366.
Other arrangements may place the button actuator elsewhere
in the container. It may be placed on the container's bottom wall, for example,
and the force of the top flaps against the flow controller.
Now, it sometimes occurs that the batteries are placed
into the circuit even before it is assembled into the housing, and the circuit with
the batteries installed may need to be shipped to a remote location for that assembly
operation. Since there is as yet no housing, the circuitry cannot be kept asleep
by keeping the housing's button depressed. For such situations, an approach that
Figs. 6B and 6C depict can be employed.
Fig. 6B is a view similar to Fig. 6D, but the contents
376 of Fig. 6B's package 350' are only a subset of the kit 348 that the package
350 contains. They may, for instance, exclude Fig. 2's housing 146 as well as the
pressure cap 24 and the solenoid and pilot-valve members mounted on it. So the package
350' in the Fig. 6B embodiment does not include a button activator like the one
that the box 350 includes. Instead, as Fig. 6C shows, a magnet 380 is glued to the
inner surface of the package 350's bottom wall 382, and a hole 384 in an insert
board 386 that rests on the bottom wall 382 receives the magnet.
The circuit assembly 376, which Fig. 6C omits for the sake
of simplicity, is so placed into the package that the circuit's reed switch is disposed
adjacent to the magnet. That switch is therefore closed just as it is when the push
button is operated, and the circuit therefore remains asleep.
Figs. 15 and 15A illustrate another embodiment of an automatic
flusher including a flexible tube that eliminates a dynamic seal used in the flusher
described in connection with Fig. 2. The automatic controller shown schematically
in Fig. 15 transmitter and receiver lenses and front circuit-housing part described
above. The automatic flusher includes the isolated operator 701 in a side (perpendicular)
The flush valve body is indicated at 10 and may have an
inlet opening 12 and a bottom directed outlet opening 14. The area between the underside
of the inner cover 1030 and the upper side of the diaphragm 1032 forms a pressure
chamber 1038. The pressure of the water within this chamber holds the diaphragm
1032 upon a seat 1040 formed at the upper end of barrel which forms a conduit between
the inlet 12 and the outlet 14.
Details of this operation are disclosed in
U.S. Patent 5,244,179
, as well as in
U.S. Patents 4,309,781
. Water flow through the inlet 12 reaches the pressure chamber 38 through
a filter and bypass ring, the details of which are disclosed in
U.S. Pat. No. 5,967,182
. Thus, water from the flush valve inlet reaches the pressure chamber,
to maintain the diaphragm in a closed position, and the pressure chamber will be
vented by the operation of the solenoid as water will flow upwardly through passage
44, then into chamber 1046 and then through the passage in the flex tube as described
U.S. Patent 6,382.586
The flex tube 1050 is hollow and in the form of a flexible
sleeve. The sleeve includes a coiled spring 1052, which prevents the tube from collapsing
due to water pressure flowing downwardly through the disc of the assembly. At its
upper end, the flex tube 1050 is attached to an inner cover adaptor or another element.
Seated on top of the upper end of the guide is a refill
head with the diaphragm 1032 being captured between the upper surface of the refill
head and a lower surface of a radially outwardly extending portion of the disc.
The diaphragm, the disc and the guide, will all move together when pressure is relieved
in chamber 1038 and the diaphragm moves upwardly to provide a direct connection
between flush valve inlet 12 and flush valve outlet 14. When this takes place, the
disc will move up and will carry with it the lower end of the flex tube 1050. Thus,
the flex tube must bend as its upper end is fixed within the passage of the inner
cover 1030. However, the flex tube always provides a reliable vent passage for operation
of the valve assembly.