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United States Patent Application 20160258670
Kind Code A1
Deka; Lakshya ;   et al. September 8, 2016

APPLIANCE DOOR WITH VACUUM INSULATED OUTER DOOR

Abstract

A refrigerator includes an insulated cabinet structure and a cooling system. A door assembly includes a perimeter structure that is movably mounted to the insulated cabinet structure and an outer door that is movably mounted to the perimeter structure whereby the outer door can be moved between open and closed positions relative to the perimeter structure when the perimeter structure is in its closed position The outer door may comprise a vacuum insulated structure including porous core material disposed in a cavity of the outer door.


Inventors: Deka; Lakshya; (Mishawaka, IN) ; Naik; Abhay; (Stevensville, MI)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

Whirlpool Corporation

Benton Harbor

MI

US
Assignee: WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION
Benton Harbor
MI

Family ID: 1000001571638
Appl. No.: 14/639617
Filed: March 5, 2015


Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: F25D 23/028 20130101; F25D 23/04 20130101; F25D 2201/126 20130101; F25D 23/065 20130101; F25D 25/02 20130101; F25D 23/025 20130101
International Class: F25D 23/02 20060101 F25D023/02; F25D 23/06 20060101 F25D023/06; F25D 25/02 20060101 F25D025/02; F25D 23/04 20060101 F25D023/04

Claims



1. A refrigerator, comprising: an insulated cabinet structure defining a refrigerated interior space having an access opening that permits user access to the refrigerated interior space; a cooling system that is configured to cool the refrigerated interior space; a door assembly that selectively closes off at least a portion of the access opening; wherein the door assembly includes a perimeter structure that is movably mounted to the insulated cabinet structure for movement between open and closed positions, the perimeter structure defining an outer perimeter and a door opening through a central portion of the perimeter structure to provide access to the refrigerated interior space when the perimeter structure is in a closed position, wherein the perimeter structure includes an outer wrapper and an inner liner that is secured to the outer wrapper to define a ring-shaped cavity, extending around the perimeter structure between the outer perimeter of the structure and the door opening, and wherein the ring-shaped cavity is filled with closed-cell foam insulation to form a rigid structure, wherein the perimeter structure includes oppositely facing inner and outer surfaces defining a first thickness; wherein the door assembly further includes at least one shelf supported by the perimeter structure, and wherein the shelf has an upwardly opening U-shape in cross section to support jugs of milk thereon, and wherein the shelf is disposed in the door opening; wherein the door assembly further includes a vacuum insulated outer door that is movably mounted to the perimeter structure whereby the outer door can be moved between open and closed positions relative to the perimeter structure when the perimeter structure is in its closed position to selectively close off at least a portion of the door opening without moving the least one shelf, wherein the vacuum insulated outer door includes inner and outer layers that are spaced apart to define a cavity, and wherein the cavity defines a vacuum, and wherein the inner and outer layers have outer surfaces defining a second thickness, and wherein the first thickness is significantly greater than the second thickness.

2. The refrigerator of claim 1, wherein: the perimeter structure is generally ring-shaped.

3. (canceled)

4. The refrigerator of claim 2, wherein: the door opening is quadrilateral, and wherein the outer door has a quadrilateral perimeter that is smaller than the quadrilateral door opening and the vacuum insulated door is disposed inside the door opening.

5. The refrigerator of claim 1, wherein: the at least one shelf extends horizontally across the door opening.

6. The refrigerator of claim 5, wherein: the at least one shelf defines opposite ends that are fixed to the perimeter structure.

7. The refrigerator of claim 1, wherein: the perimeter structure defines a ring-shaped inner side face that sealingly engages the insulated cabinet structure around the access opening, and a ring-shaped outer side face; and wherein the outer door sealingly engages the outer side face around the door opening.

8. The refrigerator of claim 1, wherein: the outer layer of the outer door comprises sheet metal, and the inner layer of the outer door comprises a polymer liner having a perimeter that is secured to a perimeter of the sheet metal of the outer layer.

9. The refrigerator of claim 8, wherein: the outer door includes a core panel disposed between the sheet metal outer layer and the polymer liner, wherein the core panel comprises porous core material disposed inside an airtight sheet of material forming an envelope.

10. The refrigerator of claim 9, wherein: the core panel is adhesively bonded to at least one of the sheet metal and the polymer liner.

11. The refrigerator of claim 8, wherein: the sheet metal is sealingly connected to the polymer liner to define an airtight vacuum cavity therebetween, and including porous core material disposed between the sheet metal and the polymer liner.

12. The refrigerator of claim 1, wherein: the insulated cabinet structure further defines an insulated freezer compartment having a freezer opening, wherein the cooling system is configured to maintain the freezer compartment at or below freezing; and including: a freezer door movably mounted to the insulated cabinet structure for movement between open and closed positions to selectively close off the freezer opening, wherein the freezer door includes a vacuum insulated panel structure.

13. The refrigerator of claim 12, wherein: the freezer door includes a ring-shaped perimeter structure defining a freezer door opening therethrough and having non-porous foam insulation disposed within the perimeter structure; and wherein the freezer door includes an outer freezer door comprising a vacuum insulated panel, wherein the outer freezer door is movably mounted to the perimeter structure of the freezer door to selectively close off the freezer door opening.

14. The refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein: the vacuum insulated outer door is pivotably mounted to the perimeter structure and rotates about a vertical axis.

15. The refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein: the door opening includes horizontally juxtaposed first and second portions; the vacuum insulated outer door comprises a first vacuum insulated outer door that closes off the first portion of the door opening when in its closed position; and including: a second vacuum insulated outer door movably mounted to the perimeter structure for movement between an open position and a closed position in which the second vacuum insulated outer door closes off the second portion of the door opening.

16. The refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein: the vacuum insulated outer door is pivotably mounted to the perimeter structure and rotates about a horizontal axis between its open and closed positions.

17. A refrigerator, comprising: an insulated cabinet structure defining a refrigerated interior space having an access opening that permits user access to the refrigerated interior space; a door assembly that selectively closes off at least a portion of the access opening; wherein the door assembly includes a perimeter structure that is movably mounted to the insulated cabinet structure for movement between open and closed positions, the perimeter structure defining a first outer perimeter and a door opening through a central portion of the perimeter structure, wherein the door opening is significantly smaller than the access opening, wherein the perimeter structure includes an outer wrapper and an inner liner that is secured to the outer wrapper to define a ring-shaped cavity extending around the perimeter structure between the outer perimeter of the structure and the door opening, and wherein the ring-shaped cavity is filled with closed-cell foam insulation; wherein the door assembly further includes at least one shelf supported by the perimeter structure, and wherein the shelf is disposed in the door opening; wherein the door assembly further includes a vacuum insulated outer door that is movably mounted to the perimeter structure whereby the outer door can be moved between open and closed positions relative to the perimeter structure when the perimeter structure is in its closed position to selectively close off at least a portion of the door opening, wherein the vacuum insulated outer door defines a second perimeter that is significantly smaller than the first perimeter.

18. The refrigerator of claim 17 wherein: the perimeter structure includes at least one shelf extending across the door opening.

19. The refrigerator of claim 17, wherein: the perimeter structure defines a vertical outer side face, and includes a handle on the outer side face.

20. The refrigerator of claim 19, wherein: the vacuum insulated outer door defines a second vertical outer side face, and includes a handle on the second vertical outer side face.

21. The refrigerator door of claim 1, wherein: the inner and outer layers of the vacuum insulated door are planar, and wherein the vacuum insulated door is constructed without shelves.
Description



BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] Refrigerators typically include an insulated cabinet structure, an electrically powered cooling system, and one or more doors that are movably mounted to the cabinet structure to provide user access to the refrigerated space within the refrigerator. Known cabinet structures may include a sheet metal outer wrapper and a polymer inner liner. Closed-cell foam or other suitable insulating material is disposed between the metal wrapper and the polymer liner. Refrigerator doors often have a similar construction and include a sheet metal outer wrapper, polymer inner liner, and foam disposed between the sheet metal wrapper and polymer liner.

[0002] Refrigerator doors may include one or more shelves that are configured to hold food and/or other items such as jugs of milk and/or other types of cans, jars, and the like. These items may be quite heavy, and refrigerator doors and hinges are typically therefore rigid and structurally sound to support the loads.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0003] One aspect of the present invention is a refrigerator including an insulated cabinet structure defining a refrigerated interior space having an access opening that permits user access to the refrigerated interior space. A cooling system cools the refrigerated interior space. A door assembly selectively closes off at least a portion of the access opening. The door assembly includes a first door structure or perimeter structure that is movably mounted to the insulated cabinet structure for movement between open and closed positions. The perimeter structure defines an outer perimeter and a door opening through a central portion of the perimeter structure. At least one shelf is supported by the perimeter structure in the door opening. The door assembly further includes a vacuum insulated second or outer door that is movably mounted to the perimeter structure whereby the outer door can be moved between open and closed positions relative to the perimeter structure when the perimeter structure is in its closed position. The outer door thereby selectively closes off the door opening without moving the perimeter structure or the shelf. The vacuum insulated outer door includes inner and outer layers that are spaced apart to define a vacuum cavity. Porous core material may be disposed in the vacuum cavity.

[0004] These and other features, advantages, and objects of the present invention will be further understood and appreciated by those skilled in the art by reference to the following specification, claims, and appended drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0005] FIG. 1 is an isometric view of a refrigerator according to one aspect of the present invention;

[0006] FIG. 2 is a partially fragmentary isometric view of the refrigerator of FIG. 1 showing an outer door in an open position;

[0007] FIG. 3 is a partially exploded cross sectional view of the refrigerator of FIG. 2 taken along the line 2-2 FIG. 2;

[0008] FIG. 4 is a cross sectional view of the refrigerator of FIG. 2 taken along the line 4-4; FIG. 2;

[0009] FIG. 5 is fragmentary cross sectional view of the outer door of FIG. 4;

[0010] FIG. 6 is a partially fragmentary isometric view of a refrigerator according to another aspect of the present invention;

[0011] FIG. 7 is a partially exploded cross sectional view of a refrigerator according to another aspect of the present invention taken along the line 7-7; FIG. 6;

[0012] FIG. 8 is a cross sectional view of the refrigerator of FIG. 7 taken along the line 8-8; FIG. 6;

[0013] FIG. 9 is a partially fragmentary isometric view of a refrigerator according to another aspect of the present invention;

[0014] FIG. 10 is a partially exploded cross sectional view of a refrigerator according to another aspect of the present invention taken along the line 10-10; FIG. 9; and

[0015] FIG. 11 is a cross sectional view of the refrigerator of FIG. 10 taken along the line 11-11; FIG. 9.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0016] For purposes of description herein, the terms "upper," "lower," "right," "left," "rear," "front," "vertical," "horizontal," and derivatives thereof shall relate to the invention as oriented in FIG. 1. However, it is to be understood that the invention may assume various alternative orientations and step sequences, except where expressly specified to the contrary. It is also to be understood that the specific devices and processes illustrated in the attached drawings, and described in the following specification, are simply exemplary embodiments of the inventive concepts defined in the appended claims. Hence, specific dimensions and other physical characteristics relating to the embodiments disclosed herein are not to be considered as limiting, unless the claims expressly state otherwise.

[0017] With reference to FIGS. 1 and 2, a refrigerator 1A according to one aspect of the present invention includes an insulated cabinet structure 5 including upright side walls 6A and 6B, rear side wall 8 (see also FIGS. 3 and 4), and a generally horizontal lower side wall 10. The cabinet structure defines a refrigerated space or compartment 12 having an access opening 14 to provide user access to the refrigerated compartment 12. Insulated cabinet structure 5 may include a metal outer wrapper or skin 7, a polymer inner liner 9, and a foam core 11. The polymer inner liner may comprise a multilayer thermoformed structure or it may comprise an injection molded structure with high barrier properties. This type of cabinet construction is known in the art, and the details of this construction are therefore not described in detail herein. The insulated cabinet structure 5 may include a divider panel 16 (FIG. 3) that forms a freezer compartment 18 having an opening 20. In the illustrated example, the refrigerated compartment 12 is disposed above the freezer compartment 18. However, it will be understood that insulated cabinet structure 5 may be configured such that the freezer compartment is above the refrigerated compartment 12 or alongside the refrigerated compartment 12. The access opening 14 is selectively closed off by one or more door assemblies 24A, and the opening 20 to freezer compartment 18 is selectively closed off by a freezer door 26. Freezer door 26 may have a conventional construction including a sheet metal outer wrapper 27, a polymer liner 29, and a closed cell foam core 31 as shown in FIGS. 3 and 4.

[0018] The refrigerator 1A includes a cooling system 22 that selectively cools the refrigerated compartment 12 and freezer compartment 18. The cooling system 22 may comprise a conventional electrically powered refrigeration system including a controller, sensors, compressor, condenser, and evaporator. Alternatively, the cooling system 22 may comprise thermoelectric cooling elements or other suitable devices.

[0019] With reference to FIGS. 1-4, refrigerator 1A includes one or more door assemblies 24A that are configured to close off the access opening 14 of refrigerated compartment 12. Each door assembly 24A includes a first door component or structure such as perimeter structure 30A and a second or outer door 32A that is movably mounted to the perimeter structure 30A to selectively close off door openings 44 of perimeter structures 30A. Each perimeter structure 30A includes a horizontal upper section 34 (FIG. 3), a horizontal lower section 36, and upright side sections 38 and 40 that extend between and interconnect horizontal upper and lower sections 34 and 36, respectively. The horizontal upper and lower sections 34 and 36 and upright side sections 38 and 40 form a quadrilateral outer perimeter 42. Door openings 44 through perimeter structures 30A may also be generally quadrilateral in shape. However, door openings 44 may have virtually any shape as required for a particular application. Perimeter structures 30A have a generally ring-like or hoop-like shape. The shape of perimeter structures 30A may also be somewhat similar to a picture frame when viewed from the front. However, it will be understood that the size, shape, and configuration of perimeter structures 30A may vary as required for a particular application.

[0020] The perimeter structures 30A are mounted to the insulated cabinet structure 5 by hinges 28 or other suitable structures for rotation about vertical axes between open and closed positions. The perimeter structures 30A may include a metal outer wrapper or skin 46 and a polymer liner 48 that form a ring-shaped cavity that is at least partially filled with closed-cell polyurethane foam insulation 50 or other suitable insulating material that is disposed between the metal outer wrapper 46 and the polymer inner liner 48. The perimeters of the outer wrapper 46 and the polymer inner liner 48 may be joined/connected utilizing known techniques. One or more supports such as shelves 52A-52C extend horizontally between the upright side portions or sections 38 and 40 in or across door opening 44. Opposite ends 53 of shelves 52A-52C (FIG. 2) may removably/adjustably engage the perimeter structure 30A to permit removal of shelves 52A-52C and/or adjustment of the vertical position of shelves 52A-52C. Alternatively, the opposite ends 53 of shelves 52A-52C may be fixed to perimeter structure 30A. The shelves 52A-52C may be configured to support jugs of milk or other items. The perimeter structure 30A preferably comprises a rigid structure having sufficient strength to support significant amounts of weight on shelves 52.

[0021] Outer doors 32A are movably mounted to the perimeter structure 30A for rotation about vertical axes by hinges 54 (FIG. 1). The outer doors 32A have an inner side face 56 that may include a resilient seal 58 that sealingly engage outer side faces 60 (FIG. 1) of perimeter structures 30A. Perimeter structures 30A include ring-shaped inner side faces 62 (FIG. 2) that sealingly engage a resilient seal 64 secured to outer face 65 of cabinet structure 5 when perimeter structures 30A are in their closed positions. It will be understood that seals 64 may alternatively be secured to inner faces 65 of perimeter structures 30A.

[0022] With further reference to FIG. 5, outer doors 32A comprise an outer skin or wrapper 66 that may comprise sheet metal (e.g. steel) or other suitable material. An inner liner 68 is made of a polymer material that may be thermoformed, molded, or otherwise fabricated to provide the required shape/configuration. A perimeter 70 of outer skin 66 may be in the form of a flange that is connected to a perimeter 72 of inner liner 68 that may also comprise a flange. Perimeter 70 may have a quadrilateral shape corresponding to door openings 44. A cavity 74 is defined between the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68. A vacuum core panel 76 is disposed in the cavity 74. The vacuum core panel 76 comprises a porous filler material whereby the cavity 74 can be subject to a vacuum without collapsing the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68.

[0023] The vacuum insulated outer doors 32A may be constructed in various ways. For example, the core panel 76 may comprise porous filler material 80 that is disposed inside of a gas impermeable wrapper or envelope 78. Envelope 78 may comprise polymer and/or metal layers that are impermeable to gas. Various suitable envelopes are known in the art, such that the details of envelope 78 are not described in detail. The porous filler 80 may be positioned inside of the envelope 78 prior to assembly of door 32, and the filler 80 may be subject to a vacuum prior to sealing the envelope 78. The core panel 76 can then be positioned between the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68 during assembly, and the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68 can be secured along the perimeters 70 and 72, respectively utilizing adhesives, mechanical connectors, or other suitable means. In this configuration, the envelope 78 provides an airtight, gas-impermeable layer such that the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68 do not necessarily need to be impermeable, and a seal along the perimeters 70 and 72 of outer skin 66 and inner liner 68, respectively, is not necessarily required.

[0024] Door 32A may also be constructed by placing solid filler material 80 between the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68. According to this aspect of the present invention, the porous filler material 80 comprises a solid block of material that is preformed (e.g. pressed) into a shape corresponding to cavity 74, and a wrapper or envelope 78 is not required. After the solid block of porous filler 80 is positioned between the outer skin 66 and inner liner 68, the perimeters 70 and 72 are sealed together utilizing adhesive, heat-sealing processes, or the like. The cavity 74 is then subject to a vacuum to remove the air through a vacuum port such as opening 82 in liner 68. The opening 82 is then sealed using a plug or the like (not shown) such that the cavity 74 forms a vacuum.

[0025] An outer door 32A according to another aspect of the present invention may be fabricated by first assembling the outer skin or wrapper 66 with the inner liner 68, and forming an airtight seal at the perimeters 70 and 72, respectively utilizing adhesives/sealants, a heat sealing process, or other suitable process/means. Porous filler 80 in the form of loose powder such as fumed silica or other suitable material is then deposited into the cavity 74 through opening 82 or through a feeder port on the wrapper (not shown). The opening 82 is then subject to a vacuum to remove the air from cavity 74, and the opening 82 is then sealed.

[0026] Referring again to FIG. 4, the perimeter structures 30A of door assemblies 24A have a thickness "T1" that is significantly greater than the thickness "T2" of the vacuum insulated outer doors 32. The vacuum insulated outer doors 32A may be constructed without shelves or the like such that the vacuum insulated outer doors 32A are not subjected to significant loading. Because beverages and other items are stored on the shelves 52A-52C of perimeter structure 30A, the weight of these items is carried by the perimeter structure 30A and hinges 28, not the vacuum insulated outer doors 32A. Because the perimeter structure 30A includes metal outer wrapper 46, polymer inner liner 48, and polyurethane foam or the like 50, the perimeter structure 30 may be very rigid and structurally sound. Also, this construction does not create issues with respect to potential leakage of vacuum panels in perimeter structure 30A. Because the vacuum insulated outer doors 32A are not subject to significant loading, the integrity of the outer doors 32 is maintained and potential leakage with respect to the vacuum cavities is avoided.

[0027] In use, a user can grasp the handles 33A of outer doors 32A to thereby open the outer doors 32A without moving the perimeter structure 30A relative to the insulated cabinet structure 5. A user can then remove items positioned on shelves 52A-52C without moving perimeter structure 30A relative to the insulated cabinet structure 5. As shown in FIG. 2, the door opening 44 may be significantly smaller than the access opening 14 whereby opening outer door 32A reduces the amount of cold air lost from refrigerated compartment 12 (FIG. 3) relative to opening a conventional refrigerator door to thereby open the entire access opening 14. If a user needs to gain access to the refrigerated compartment 12, the user can open the entire door assembly 24 by grasping handle 35A on perimeter structure 30A and rotating perimeter structure 30A about hinges 28. The outer doors 32A may remain in a closed position relative to the perimeter structure 30A while perimeter structure 30A is opened. Shelves 52A-52C can be accessed from the inner side 25A of door assemblies 24A when perimeter structure 30A is rotated to an open position. Thus, outer doors 32A can be left in a closed position, and door assemblies 24A can be opened and used in substantially the same manner as conventional refrigerator doors if a user so chooses. Seals 64 (FIG. 3) between perimeter structures 30A and cabinet 5 may include magnets that retain perimeter structures 30A in a closed position. Similarly, seals 58 of outer doors 32A may also include elongated magnets tending to retain outer doors 32A in a closed position relative to perimeter structures 30A. The magnetic forces of the seals 58 and 64 can be selected such that perimeter structures 30A remain closed when outer doors 32A are opened.

[0028] With further reference to FIGS. 6-8, a refrigerator 1B according to another aspect of the present invention includes a refrigerated cabinet structure 5 that is substantially the same as the cabinet structure 5 described in more detail above in connection with FIGS. 3 and 4. Refrigerator 1B includes at least one door assembly 24B that includes a perimeter structure 30B having substantially the same construction as the perimeter structure 30A described in more detail above. Door openings 44B formed in perimeter structures 30B are selectively closed off by vacuum insulated outer doors 32B. Outer doors 32B are movably mounted to the perimeter structures 30B for rotation about a horizontal axis by hinges 84 positioned along or at lower edges of outer doors 32B. A plurality of racks or shelves 86 extend across the openings 44B of perimeter structures 30B. The racks 86 may include upwardly-facing cylindrical surfaces 87 that are configured to support cans or other beverages on their sides. Alternatively, racks 86 may be in the form of shelves that are configured to support jugs of milk or the like as described above in connection with FIG. 2. Beverages on racks 86 can be accessed by pulling on handle 33B to open the outer door 32B, without opening perimeter structure 30B. The outer door 32B comprises a vacuum insulated structure that may be constructed as discussed in more detail above in connection with FIG. 3A. Handles 35B may be mounted to ring-shaped vertical outer side faces 37 of perimeter structures 30B whereby a user can pull on handles 35B to open perimeter structures 30B. As perimeter structures 30B are opened, outer doors 32B move with perimeter structure 30B, such that door assemblies 24B can operate in a manner that is similar to conventional refrigerator doors. When perimeter structure 30B is opened, racks 86 can be accessed.

[0029] With further reference to FIGS. 9-11, a refrigerator 1C according to another aspect of the present invention includes a pair of door assemblies 24C. The door assemblies 24C include perimeter structures 30C that are substantially similar to the perimeter structure 30A described in more detail above in connection with FIGS. 1A, 2 and 3. Handles 35C are disposed on outer side faces 37C of perimeter structures 30C. Each door assembly 24C includes a pair of outer doors 32C that are movably mounted to the perimeter structure 30C by hinges 88 for rotation about vertical axes. A plurality of racks or shelves 90A-90E extend across the openings 44C to thereby support beverages or other items on perimeter structure 30C. The outer doors 32C may comprise vacuum insulated structures that are constructed in substantially the same manner as outer doors 32A as described above in connection with FIGS. 3-5.

[0030] In use, one or more of the outer doors 32C may be opened using handles 33C without moving perimeter structure 30C relative to the insulated cabinet structure 5 if a user needs to access items on shelves 90A-90E. Alternatively, a user can move the perimeter structure 30C relative to the insulated cabinet structure 5 by grasping handles 35C and rotating the perimeter structure 30C about hinges 28.

[0031] It will be understood that the features described in connection with the various embodiments of the present invention are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, a refrigerator having an insulated cabinet 5 could include combinations of perimeter structures 10A-10C and outer doors 32A-32C as required for a particular application.

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