Water softener abstract
A system is provided for monitoring the status of a water softener
at a remote location. The system includes a water softener controller
with a control processing unit for determining the status of the
water softener. The system also includes a water softener transmitter
and a water softener indicator. The transmitter is coupled to the
controller and transmits the status of the water softener to the
indicator. The water softener indicator receives and displays the
status message. The system is capable of determining whether the
water softener is operating normally, whether the salt level is
low or whether the water softener needs servicing.
Water softener claims
What is claimed:
1. A system for monitoring the status of a water softener, the
system comprising: a water softener controller; a water softener
control valve that controls the flow of water in the water softener;
the water softener controller having means for determining the status
of the water softener including whether or not the water softener
is operating properly, said means for determining having a switch
coupled to the controller and indicating the position of the water
softener control valve, said determining means monitoring said switch
to determine whether said water softener is operating properly;
a water softener transmitter, the water softener transmitter coupled
to the water softener controller and having means for transmitting
the status of the water softener; and a water softener status indicator,
the water softener status indicator having a means for receiving
from the water softener transmitter the transmitted status of the
water softener, and means for displaying the status of the water
2. The system of claim 1 wherein the water softener transmitter
includes an oscillator tuned to a transmitting frequency, the water
softener status indicator includes a receiver, the receiver being
tuned to the transmitting frequency.
3. The system of claim 2 wherein the water softener controller
generates an oscillator enable signal, the water softener controller
includes an enable output which provides the oscillator enable signal,
the transmitter oscillator includes an enable input, the enable
input is coupled to the enable output of the water softener controller,
the oscillator being enabled with the oscillator enabled signal
provided by the water softener controller.
4. The system of claim 2 wherein the water softener controller
generates data indicating the status of the water softener, the
water softener controller having a data output which provides the
status data, the transmitter includes a modulator, the modulator
having a data input, the data input is coupled to the data output
of the water softener controller, whereby the modulator receives
the status data via the data output.
5. The system of claim 1 wherein the switch having an open circuit
position and a closed circuit position, the position of the switch
corresponds to the position of the water softener control valve.
6. The system of claim 5 wherein the status determining means
includes means for determining the position of the switch, and means
for determining whether the switch changes position as anticipated,
the controller generating a water softener fault signal if the switch
does not change position as anticipated.
7. The system of claim 5 wherein the status determining means
includes means for determining whether the switch changes position
within a predetermined time, the controller generating a water softener
fault signal if the switch does not change position within the predetermined
8. The system of claim 7 wherein the controller includes means
for developing the water softener fault signal at the controller
data output and an enable signal at the enable output, whereby the
water softener fault signal is transmitted via the water softener
9. The system of claim 5 wherein the status determining means
includes means for determining whether the salt level of the water
softener is below a predetermined level, the controller generating
a low salt signal if the salt level is below the predetermined level.
10. The system of claim 9 wherein the controller includes means
for developing the low salt signal at the controller data output,
and an enable signal at the enable output, whereby the low salt
signal is transmitted via the water softener transmitter.
11. The system of claim 1 wherein the status displaying means
includes a means for indicating that the water softener is operating
normally, means for indicating that the water softener salt level
is below a predetermined level and means for indicating that the
water softener needs service.
12. The system of claim 11 wherein each of the indicating means
is a light emitting diode.
Water softener description
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The invention relates, generally, to water softeners and, more
particularly, to systems for monitoring the status of water softeners.
Domestic water softeners remove hardness from raw water by passing
it through a tank containing a liquid treatment medium bed, typically
formed of resin beads. A salt solution, that is brine, is passed
through the resin bed to restore its softening capacity. The brine
is formed in a container which is connected by a liquid flow passage
to the tank containing the resin beads. The flow of liquid through
the liquid flow passage is regulated by a control valve which is
actuated by an electronic regeneration control circuit.
Salt, typically in the form of chunks or pellets, is placed in
the container. Under the control of the electronic regeneration
control circuit, the control valve allows a predetermined amount
of water to enter the container. Provided enough salt is present,
the water and salt form a saturated salt solution, or brine, which
is the regenerant for the resin bed. Again, under the control of
the electronic regeneration control circuit, the control valve is
actuated to cause the brine to be withdrawn from the container and
circulated through, and thereby regenerate, the resin in the tank.
The amount of salt remaining in the container is reduced each time
a portion of the salt is dissolved to form a regenerant. The supply
of salt will become exhausted after a number of regeneration cycles,
unless additional salt is placed in the container. Such that the
salt supply will not become exhausted, it is desirable to provide
some type of alarm to indicate that the salt supply is close to
being exhausted. Such an alarm may be formed as a part of the electronic
regeneration control circuit.
U.S. Pat. No. 5363087 is assigned to the instant assignee and
discloses an example of an apparatus which detects a low level of
salt and generates a corresponding low salt level alarm and is incorporated
herein by reference. U.S. Pat. No. 5363087 discloses an apparatus
for providing a regeneration solution to a regenerable liquid treatment
medium bed including an electronic regeneration control circuit
for controlling the regeneration of a liquid treatment medium bed
with regenerant solution formed in a container by dissolving a quantity
of solid material in a liquid. The container in which the regenerant
solution is formed is provided with indicia spaced apart in a vertical
direction. The indicia are observable with respect to the top surface
of the quantity of solid material received in the container. An
electronic control circuit includes a manual input means for entering
the amount of solid material available in the container in terms
of the observed indicia most closely corresponding to the top surface
of the solid material. The electronic control circuit includes means
for electronically reducing, each time a quantity of regenerant
solution is used to regenerate the liquid treatment medium, the
electronically stored indication of the amount of solid material
remaining in the container. The apparatus includes an alarm means
which is actuated to provide an alarm when the electronically stored
indication of the amount of solid material remaining in the container
is less than a predetermined minimum amount.
The prior art systems require the user to observe the display panel
located on the water softener. However, the water softener may not
be conveniently located near the user. Thus it is desirable to provide
a remote water softener indicator located at a convenient location
for the user.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, the present invention provides a system for monitoring
the status of a water softener. The system includes a water softener
and a water softener controller with a means for determining the
status of the water softener. The system also includes a water softener
transmitter that is coupled to the water softener controller. The
water softener transmitter transmits the status of the water softener
to a water softener status indicator. The water softener status
indicator receives and displays the status message. The system is
capable of determining whether the water softener is operating normally,
whether the salt level is low or whether the water softener needs
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a water softener and a system for
monitoring the status of the water softener in accordance with the
FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the water softener controller and
the transmitter of FIG. 1.
FIG. 3 is a schematic representation of a switch of the control
valve of FIG. 1.
FIG. 4 is a block diagram of the water softener status indicator
of FIG. 1.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of the present system 10 for monitoring
the status of a water softener 12. The water softener 12 includes
a resin tank 14 and brine tank 16. A control valve 18 controls the
flow of water into and out of the resin tank 14 and brine tank 16.
Untreated water is supplied to an inlet 20. Treated water is supplied
by the resin tank 14 via an outlet 22. A water softener status indicator
24 is also shown in FIG. 1.
A control housing 26 is located on the water softener as seen in
FIG. 1. The control housing 26 includes a display panel 32 a controller
28 and a transmitter 30 as shown in FIG. 2. The display panel 32
includes the increase key 34 and decrease key 36 of FIG. 2 which
are used for entering the amount of solid material or salt available
in the brine tank 16. The display panel 32 further includes the
salt level display 38 and low salt indicator 40 of FIG. 2.
FIG. 2 shows that the controller 28 includes a central processing
unit (CPU) 42 an input buffer 44 memory 46 and an output buffer
48. The input buffer 44 includes an input 50 coupled to the increase
key 34 an input 52 coupled to the decrease key 36 an input 54
coupled to a fill water flow rate 56 an input 58 coupled to a micro
switch 60 and an output 62 coupled to the CPU 42 via a line 64.
The CPU 42 is coupled to the memory 46 via line 65. The CPU 42 is
also coupled to the output buffer 48 via line 66. The output buffer
48 includes a data output 68 enabled output 70 and motor control
The transmitter 30 includes an oscillator 72 having an input 74
coupled to the enabled output 70 and an output 76 coupled to an
input 78 of an amplifier 80. The amplifier 80 has an input 82 coupled
to an output 84 of a modulator 86. The modulator 86 has an input
88 coupled to the data output 68. The amplifier 80 has an output
90 coupled to an antenna 92. The transmitter 30 receives a message
in digital form from the controller 28. The message is modulated
to a 418 MHz signal by turning the oscillator 72 on and off.
FIG. 3 illustrates the micro switch 60 that operates the control
valve 18 which controls the flow of water in the tank. The micro
switch 60 includes an arm 94 which toggles the switch 60 between
an open circuit position and a closed circuit position each time
the switch arm 94 is toggled. The switch arm 94 is in physical contact
with a cam 96 of the control valve 18. The cam 96 is driven by a
control valve motor 98. The motor 98 is driven by a motor interface
100 which is coupled to the controller's output buffer 48 via the
motor control output 71.
FIG. 4 shows a block diagram of the water softener status indicator
24. The status indicator 24 is a stand alone device that operates
at a distance from the water softener 12. The status indicator 24
is battery operated and mounted in a plastic case. The status indicator
24 may be moved to any convenient location as long as there is good
The status indicator 24 includes a receiver 104 which includes
an RF demodulator circuit 106 having an input 108 coupled to a receiver
antenna 110 and a data output 112 coupled to an input 114 of a receiver
data decoding circuit 116. The data decoding circuit 116 includes
an output 118 coupled to an input 120 of a master control circuit
122. The master control circuit 122 provides an output 124 which
is coupled to a power switch 126 to control the power sent to the
RF demodulator circuit 106 and the data decoding circuit 116. The
master control circuit 122 also includes an output 128 coupled to
a first light emitting diode (LED) 130 an output 132 coupled to
a second LED 134 and an output 136 coupled to a third LED 138. The
first LED may be green and when illuminated indicates normal water
softener operation. The second LED may be amber and when illuminated
indicates that the amount of salt has fallen below a predetermined
level. The third LED may be red and when illuminated indicates that
the water softener needs service.
The controller 28 is capable of determining the level of salt in
the brine tank. When a user adds salt to the brine tank, the user
may determine the level of salt by examining the transparent window
140 having indicia 142 (FIG. 1). The manner in which the level of
salt is determined is not as important as determining an accurate
level of salt. The user adjusts the level of salt indicated by the
salt level display 38 by adjusting the increase key 34 and decrease
key 36 until the level displayed by salt level display 38 corresponds
to the level indicated via the transparent window 140. Thereafter,
each time the water softener enters a regeneration cycle, the controller
28 monitors the fill water flow rate 56 to determine how much water
is being added to the brine tank 16 and consequently how much salt
is being used. Each time the controller 28 determines the amount
of salt being used, the amount of salt displayed on the salt level
display 38 is adjusted. The memory 46 includes a predetermined level
of salt representing a minimum desired amount of salt in the brine
tank 16. Upon detecting that the salt has fallen below the predetermined
minimum level, the controller 28 activates the low salt indicator
40. In addition, a low salt signal is provided at the data output
68 together with an enable signal at the enable output 70 and sent
to transmitter 30. (See FIG. 2)
The controller 28 is also capable of testing the micro switch 60.
During the micro switch test, the motor 98 is activated and the
controller 28 anticipates when the micro switch 60 will change positions
due to the cam action of the cam 96 and the arm 94. In the event
the micro switch 60 does not change positions as anticipated by
the controller 28 a water softener fault signal is generated at
the data output 68 together with an enable signal at the enable
output 70. The motor and power are also tested in this manner. In
the event the test determines that the micro switch 60 changed positions
but not at the time anticipated, there may be a problem with the
motor 98 or motor interface 100.
Each time the controller 28 determines that the water softener
is functioning properly and that the salt level is adequate, the
controller will generate a normal operation signal at the data output
68 together with an enable signal at the enable output 70. However,
in the event the controller 28 determines that one of the tests
failed, the controller 28 will provide the appropriate signal at
the data output 68 together with an enable signal at the enable
output 70. (See FIG. 2) If there is more than one test which failed,
the controller 28 will prioritize the failed tests and send an appropriate
signal at the data output 68 corresponding to the highest priority
of the failed tests, together with an enable signal at the enable
The signal at the data output 68 is coupled to the modulator 86
and modulated together with the signal from the oscillator 72. The
transmitter 30 transmits the modulated signal via the antenna 92.
The receiver 104 receives the signal via antenna 110. The transmitted
signal is digital and consists of a series of 1's and 0's. The message
is transmitted to the receiver by turning on and off a 418 MHz radio
frequency (RF) signal for a specified amount of time. A "1"
consists of 250 microseconds (.mu.s) of RF signal OFF followed by
500 microseconds (.mu.s) ON. A "0" consists of 500 .mu.s
of RF signal OFF followed by 250 .mu.s RF signal ON. Turning the
RF signal OFF during the message does not stop the signal completely
but reduces the signal strength to a low enough level to be considered
off. After the message is received, the RF circuitry 106 is shut
down until the next message is sent.
The digital message consists of four parts. The first part of the
message is the solid carrier. The solid carrier consists of a RF
signal that is ON for 1250 .mu.s. Then the message consists of a
preamble of "0110." Next, a 4 bit Id code is transmitted
followed by a 4 bit Data code. Finally, the Id code and the Data
code are repeated to reduce the possibility of the receiver improperly
decoding a message. The complete digital message lasts approximately
The Id code is derived from the serial number of the water softener.
The water softener has a unique serial number that consists of approximately
32 to 48 bits that are implanted on the softener's printed wiring
assembly by the manufacturer. The Id code is made up of 4 bits and
is used to keep the receiver 104 from accepting a message from a
different softener. Once the initial message is accepted by the
receiver 104 messages with other Id code's will be ignored. The
Id code also establishes the time between message transmissions.
The time between transmissions is [60+0.25 (ID code in decimal format)]
seconds. The value of the Id code in decimal format can vary from
0 to 15. Therefore, the time between transmissions varies from approximately
60 to 63.75 seconds in 0.25 second increments.
The Data code also consists of 4 bits. The system is configured
to only accept the following data codes: "0000" which
means that the system is working, "0001" which means that
the salt level is low, "0010" which signifies check the
system, "0011" is a test message, and "0100"
is a manufacturing message. Only one Data code can be transmitted
at a time so the messages are prioritized. The manufacturing message
is only sent when the system is in manufacturing mode and no other
messages may be sent at this time. "Check system" has
the highest priority followed by "Salt level is low" and
"System working." The Test mode is not accessible while
the system is sending the "Check system" message but the
test message takes priority over the "Salt level is low"
and "System working" message.
When the system is connected, the microprocessor goes through an
initialization routine. Part of the routine is to flash each LED
sequentially for 0.5 second. This gives an indicia that the system
is functioning normally. After start-up, the receiver 104 goes through
an initialization routine and then enters a listen mode. The RF
demodulator circuitry 106 is turned on for a maximum of 15 minutes.
During that time, the receiver 104 listens for a valid message.
As soon as it receives the valid message, it adopts the Id code.
As discussed above, the receiver 104 will only accept messages with
the original Id code. Any message with a different Id code will
be ignored. The receiver 104 will now shut off until the next message
is scheduled to be sent.
While waiting for the message the status indicator 24 flashes the
appropriate LED based on the data field just received. To conserve
power the LEDs flash briefly every 5 seconds. Only one of the LEDS
will be on at a time. If a low salt condition exists in conjunction
with an error code only the red LED will flash.
The transmitter 30 communicates with the receiver 104 of the water
status indicator 24 in three different modes. One of the communication
modes is the normal mode. In the normal mode, one of the LED's coupled
to the master control circuit 122 flashes every five seconds. The
transmitter 30 sends a message and depending on the message, one
of the LED's will flash. As discussed above, in order to conserve
power, the majority of the circuit is shut down via power switch
126. The power is shut down until just before a message is scheduled
to be received as determined by the Id code. The receiver 104 turns
on for 0.25 seconds to receive the message and then shuts down until
the next message is expected.
If a signal is lost while the system is in normal mode, the receiver
104 will attempt to recover a connection by extending the amount
of time it is fully powered. If the receiver 104 misses two signals,
the receiver 104 will stay on for two seconds. If more than three
signals are missed, the receiver 104 stays on for 70 seconds but
shuts down for a longer period of time. The length of the shut down
time is increased as the number of missed signals increases. The
period of time the receiver 104 is shut off can extend up to 24
hours when the receiver 104 has missed more than eight signals in
The transmitter 30 and receiver 104 may also communicate in a test
mode. The user can test the system by selecting the test mode on
the softener controller's menu and on the status indicator 24. The
purpose of the test mode is to enable the user to find a location
for the status indicator 24 that will provide reliable reception.
During the test mode, the transmitter 30 sends a message every 3
seconds. If the status indicator 24 receives and accepts the messages,
it flashes the LED's in the opposite of the start-up order and then
shuts down and waits for the next message. The transmitter 30 continues
to send test messages for about 15 minutes unless the user turns
off the test mode. The transmitter 30 sends one normal message returning
the system back to normal mode.
If a signal is lost in the test mode, the receiver 104 will flash
the red LED twice in rapid succession. The receiver 104 than shuts
down and waits for the next valid message. This process will continue
for two minutes or until the receiver 104 receives a valid message.
If the receiver 104 does not receive a valid message, the system
will shut down completely until it is restarted.
The transmitter 30 and receiver 104 also communicate in a manufacturing
mode. The transmitter 30 sends the manufacturing message every second
continuously until it exits from the first stage. When the receiver
104 receives a valid manufacturing message it flashes the LED's
in the same order as the test mode.
If a signal is lost in the manufacturing mode, the receiver 104
will not turn on any of the LED's. Instead the receiver 104 will
shut down and wait for the next valid message. This process will
continue for two minutes or until the receiver 104 receives a valid
message. If the receiver 104 does not receive a valid message, the
system will shut down completely until it is restarted.
While preferred embodiments of the present invention have been
illustrated and described, it will be understood by those of ordinary
skill in the art that changes and modifications can be made without
departing from the invention in its broader aspects. Various features
of the present invention are set forth in the following claims.