Designing a Refrigerator at 55mph

I have purpose.  Purpose is good.

I’m building a refrigerator.  The question I get asked most often is, “Why don’t you just go buy a refrigerator?”.  They just don’t get it.  I understand that it is an unusual hobby, but maybe I’m just an unusual guy.  Honestly, I spend most of my waking hours pondering the construction and guiding principles of the design, and I have more trouble thinking of a reason NOT to build one.  This is by far the most satisfying work I have ever done.  Little concern is paid to the cost of tools to build my machine, as the rewards are worth several times expense.  I only wish it was summer again, when I was getting the most work done; the cold rain, wind, and short days discourage me from spending time in the shop- leaving me with a dissonance between the design in my head and the design on my bench.

The days are getting longer, and soon warmer.  In a few days I will have a TIG welder for the next phase.  Between that and the other metal working tools I have acquired recently, there will have to be a lot of experimentation and practice before I can proceed with the design as planned.  The current fridge is still built upon the same platform I made six months ago.  The next model will be completely made from scratch, and will incorporate welded stainless steel heat exchangers, a hyperboloid condenser, a better glycol evaporator (with drain and fill plugs to facilitate the change-out of solutions easily), an adjustable mounting system for the DC compressor, integrated circulating fan for the glycol tank, a finished looking control panel with gauges, and if I don’t get too excited to slap everything together, a plastic welded mating system with integrated insulation to mount everything into the refrigerator cabinet.

It is all quite a tall order, and will be very taxing on me over the next few weeks, but I am most excited to get to work.  I have solved many of the problems having to do with the general organization, serviceability, and the construction techniques required to assemble it.  The things that aren’t known have to do with the proportions and final dimensions.  I have to do some tests with stainless steel fins first to see if my theories hold up.

The strange thing is that I can keep the hole thing together in my head without drawing it, aside from one or two quick sketches to assist in a hurried explanation to the few that are polite enough to listen to me ramble out an outline of my thoughts.  A thorough explanation would take hours.  This is the first I’ve written of it in any detail at all.  Most of the real design work occurs at work while I’m driving around a delivery truck, hauling heavy equipment.  I keep a mental list of problems which need solving, and I’m sure a fly on the window of my truck would see me talking to myself as I check-mark each one solved and each one I need to put a pin in for later.

I spent some time thinking of a name for the project, but nothing has really satisfied my requirements.  One word reached the top of the list: Benchmark.  Although it is kind of clunky, as my wife reminds me, it does say a lot about my values as I go deeper into this.  No design is ever going to be perfect, and I always want to be striving for something better.  Each new model sets a higher benchmark from the last.  If this project is ever going to be a success, that is, if anyone is willing to shell out a few bucks for my machines, then it allows me to continue improving on my designs to get these things out there into the world.  I also view the word benchmark as appropriate because it could also represent a standard by which someone else views the integrity of a design.  I’m certainly not so deluded as to think I have the best ideas in the field of refrigeration, but I want it to be clear that every facet of the design is done for important reasons; they may not be novel or new, but they are value based, having nothing to do with profits.

Another word I’ve considered is “Heirloom”.  Although it sounds a bit too pretentious, like I’m trying too hard or something to make something that people would like, my hope is that I can build a machine worthy enough to keep in a family or community, rather than discarded to the rubbish heap or hocked on Craigslist for $50- you pick up.

I shouldn’t worry myself over a name, as the construction of the machine is most important, but since so much of my efforts are value driven, a name is kind of important.  As of this date it is just “Mechanized Chilling Module” or MCM.  It’s simple and descriptive, but lacks any soul.  It’s one of those things I work on when I need a break from mental construction, and will work itself out in time.

I’ve written a lot about the guiding principles of designing a decent refrigerator in the past, but I have much more to say on the subject.  Perhaps next time.

-M.C. Pletcher

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Posted in Philosophy, Refrigeration, Refrigerator

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