Brief History of Fisher & Paykel Top Loading Autowashers [4]: SmartDrive

So last post I took a look at the ECS, which was Fisher and Paykel’s first electronic washing machine, and it was an interim design that was produced between the Hotpoint based machines that F&P produced under license in NZ from probably the 1960s until around 1985 when ECS came onto the market. The next big thing has been the SmartDrive, the first model of which appeared in 1991, and since it’s now 2021, that is an amazing thirty years of history that the SmartDrive machines now have in production. I am attempting to document as much as I know of that history, but there are a few gaps in the available information, so I will just do the best I can.

Fisher and Paykel documents the series of different machines produced as “phases” starting with the very first machines made in 1991. The following is the documentation for Phases 1-5:

  • Phase 1: Years produced 1991-1993. Models GW500, GW600, GW700, MW050, MW060, GW650, MW070.
  • Phase 2: Years produced 1993-1995. Models GW501, GW601, GW701, MW051, MW061, MW071, LW015.
  • Phase 3: Years produced 1995-1996. Models GW503, GW603, GW703, MW053, LW035
  • Phase 4: Years produced 1996-1998. Models GW508, GW608. GW708, MW058, LW085, AW085.
  • Phase 5: Years produced 1998-2001. Models GW509, GW609, GW709, MW059, LW095, AW095, IW509, IW609, IW709, IWL10, IWM10, IWC09, IW710, IW810.

Phase 6 machines were produced during a period including 2003. Model numbers are GW511, GW611, GW711, GW512, GW612, GW712, GWC11, GWC12, GWL11, GWL12, GWM11, GWM12, IW511, IW512, IW611, IW612, IW711, IW712, IW812, IWL11, IWL12, IWM11, MW511, MWC12.

The dates for Phases 7 and 8 are unknown at the time of writing. However, Phase 7 includes the Aquasmart series of machines, whose model numbers include WL37T26CW2, WL37T27DW2 and WL37T26KW2 (for US market) and model years include 2010. The GWL15 produced around 2005 is also a Phase 7 model.

Phase 9 machines were produced during a period including 2011. Model numbers include MW513, MW613, WA55T56G, WA70T60G, WA80T65G, WA70T60F, WA80T65F, WA55T56MW, WA75T56GW, WA85T60GW, WA10T65GW, WA85T60F, WA10T65F. F&P closed down NZ production and opened their Thailand factory around this time frame and it is possible these were the first series of machines produced in Thailand. Most models have two different product codes assigned to them, for unknown reasons.

The phases since then, or the current phase, are unknown, and no phases are directly reflected in the model number designations. There are different series of machines, for example “series 11 and 12” which are Phase 6 and which are reflected in model numbers like MW511, MW512. The letters GW, MW, AW, LW and IW reflect the specification. In NZ the most commonly seen models are GW (higher spec) and MW (lower spec). MW machines would typically have 4 cycles, 3 water levels and time based warm fill control, whilst GW would have additional cycles, favourite cycle, delay start, extra water levels, water saver, temperature based warm fill control and other functionality.

The major changes in the Smartdrive are more electronic controls and a simplified drive train. Compared with the belt drive in the ECS, all Smartdrives have a direct drive with a flat (“pancake”) motor which is 3 phase brushless DC attached directly to the end of the agitator driveshaft. The clutch system in the Smartdrive replaces the dog clutch on the ECS with a spline clutch which is engaged very cleverly with a bowl that floats up and down depending on the water level. So when the bowl is filled with water for washing, the bowl’s flotation chamber at the bottom, with air filled compartments, causes the bowl to float up and disengages the spline, so that the bowl can rotate freely and independently. When the water is drained out, the bowl sinks back down and engages the splines, so that the bowl can be turned by the agitator shaft. The engagement of the spline clutch is checked by the controller stepping the agitator a short rotation and measuring the speed it turns, which produces a characteristic thudding sound heard near the end of the drain phase of a spin or rinse cycle. Bowl flotation is the means by which the automatic water level selection can be determined on machines with this feature. Another change is in the lid switch, which from Phase 3 was changed from a mechanical switch (like the ECS) to a magnetic reed switch, and from Phase 6, the whole lid safety system was changed to a lid lock, which engages during spin cycles and prevents the lid from being opened. There was also a change in the way the hot cycle temperature was regulated; some models still use a time based cycle (MW series) which can be adjusted electronically, but the new innovation for Smartdrives is that the more expensive models measure the actual water temperature and control the valves to produce that temperature. Out of balance condition was measured by a physical switch in phases 1-5, phase 6 eliminated this by electronic (vibration?) detection.

The Hotpoint machines (Part 2), so far as is known, were only produced in one size, which from memory was 4 kg (9 lb). From the start of ECS production (part 3) the machines were produced in a 5 kg size. Smartdrive production has from the beginning made machines that have sizes of 5.5, 6.5 (or 7) and 7.5 (or 8) kg, with a wider and higher cabinet where needed. All Smartdrives have an agitator that can be removed by the user for cleaning.

There have been incremental changes in the design of the models but mostly these follow the familiar form and features. The one exception to this has been the Aquasmart model introduced around 2010. This model was an innovative design that was intended to reduce water usage of the machine by introducing a “high efficiency” mode. In this mode of operation, a reduced water level is used and water is continuously recirculated in the machine by being pumped out of the bottom of the machine and sprayed back onto the clothes at the top. The most unusual feature of this machine is the low profile agitator (similar in appearance to a pulsator as seen on other brands of washing machines, notably those of Asian design). Aquasmart technologies were first introduced out in the Phase 5 “Intuitive” series machines from 1999 but with the conventional agitator. A diverter valve is fitted to the pump to enable the water to be recirculated. The Aquasmart machines replaced the conventional pump with a “Smart Pump” which is reversible and uses a flapper valve in the pump body instead of a solenoid control in the Intuitive models. The flapper valve, just as in the old Hotpoint machines, automatically activates depending on which direction the pump is rotating in. Aquasmarts also have up to 5 water inlet valves – as well as hot and cold water fill valves, the extras dispense detergent, fabric softener and bleach into the machine, as some models have dispensers for these built in. Although users of the early Aquasmart models sometimes found them challenging to operate, the technogies and overall design have been carried through into today’s premium “Cleansmart” model range. For users of the lower end models, water saving can be achieved with the “Eco” feature which replaces the standard deep rinse (fill and agitate) with a series of small spray rinses which use much less water but at the cost of less rinse efficiency overall.

It was originally intended to add some images to this post but as none are currently to hand this will be skipped in favour of getting the post out.