Windshield wipers are used to clean the windshield of a car so that the driver has an unobstructed view of the road. A typical wipe angle for a passenger car is about 67 degrees. The blades are 12-30 in (30-76 cm) long with lengths increasing in 2-in (5-cm) increments.
The history of the windshield wiper began with the invention of the automobile. Most transportation vehicles did not have wipers. Horse-drawn carriages and trucks moved at slow speeds, and glass was not needed to protect the driver or passengers or to act as a windbreak.
The first windshield wipers were brushes. Inventor J. H. Apjohn came up with a method of moving two brushes up and down on a vertical plate glass windshield in 1903. In the same year, Mary Anderson devised a swinging arm that swept rain off the windshield when the driver moved a lever located inside the car. Anderson patented her invention of the mechanical windshield wiper in 1905, and it became standard equipment by 1913. Electric motors were not used yet to power automobile essentials or accessories, and Anderson's device had a drawback. Without another power source, a driver had to use one hand to move the lever. The driver's other hand steered the car (with either a wheel or steering tiller) and worked the stick-mounted gear shift and brake grips standing on the floor of the car or outside the driver's side on the running board.
Rubber strips replaced brushes as the cleaning tools on wipers in 1905. Unfortunately, the hazardous need for drivers to wipe windshields while driving was not eliminated until 1917. The solution was to use an electric motor to move a single wiper with a long rubber blade back and forth. Hawaiian dentist Dr. Ormand Wall invented the automatic wiper by placing an electric motor in the top center of the windshield so the wiper arced down over the hood of the car in a semi-circular or rainbow shape. Wipers were one of the first electrical devices in automobiles after the electric starter was developed in 1912. Most wipers on cars before 1930 were paired and hung down from the top of the windshield. They were moved to the base of the windshield as electrical systems became more complicated.
Windshield washers were added to the wiper on/off levers, and these required spray nozzles in front of the windshield, a tank for washer fluid in the engine compartment, and electrical connections to coordinate these operations. In 1962, Bob Kearns invented the intermittent wiper with intervals and speeds that the driver could change. The advent of electronic systems with fuses and circuit breakers to operate, regulate, and coordinate electrical components expanded the possibilities for more diverse wipers. Wipers were added to headlights in the 1980s, requiring connections between the lighting and wiper systems. In the 1990s, microsensors were built into windshields to detect rain on the windshield, activate the wipers, and adjust speed and intermittent use for the amount of rain.
The manufacturer purchases all of the parts from companies that specialize in fabricating parts from aluminum and steel, rubber blades, plastic bushings for the linkages, and the motors. Windshield wipers and windshield wiper systems (with motors) are different assemblies; some manufacturers make both, and others produce wipers only.
The connecting and drive links and the pivots that move the wipers are made of galvanized steel. Galvanization is the process of applying zinc coating to steel to protect it from corrosion. Drive arms for boats and vehicles used in the marine industry are made of stainless steel that resists damage from salt water. The wiper suspension and claws are also galvanized steel. The galvanizing zinc coating is easier to paint than uncoated steel. Steel is also the material in the small parts of wipers, such as washers, screws, nuts, springs, and brackets.
The blade frame is made from aluminum. The blades are made of natural rubber or synthetic compounds. Some rubber blades are composites of soft rubber on the wiping edge (the squeegee surface) and firm rubber that supports the wiping edge in the rest of the blade.
Other materials that comprise parts of windshield wipers are rubber for washers in the pivots and plastic bushings that line holes for connecting parts of the linkage. The wiper suspension is typically painted black. If the wiper manufacturer also builds wiper systems, motors are purchased from subcontractors. The motors are contained in steel housings and include permanent magnet motors wound with copper wire. Each housing has connections for the electrical wires that are part of the vehicle and wiring harnesses are furnished specific to operating the wipers. Each motor also contains one or more electronic circuits depending on the sophistication of the system that the motor controls.
Windshield wipers are designed and made to clear water from a windshield. Most cars have two wipers on the windshield, and they may have one on the rear window and one on each headlight. The wiper parts visible from outside the car are the rubber blade, the wiper arm holding the blade, a spring linkage, and parts of the wiper pivots. The wiper itself has up to six parts called pressure points or claws that are small arms under the wiper. The claws distribute pressure from the wiper along the back of the blade. This is described as a balance beam with a suspension system, where the wiper is the beam and the claws are the suspension components. The claws keep the blade flexed against the windshield to distribute even pressure to clean the glass all along the blade. More claws usually distribute the pressure better and are suited to large or highly curved windshields.
Although the rubber is the familiar part of the blade, the blade actually includes a metal strip called a blade frame with a slot along the length of the frame and replacement holes in the frame. The replacement holes provide access for replacing the rubber blade with a refill. The blade on its aluminum frame can also be changed as a unit.
The standard two windshield wipers are usually operated as a single-motor, tandem scheme with one wiper on the driver's side and one positioned near the middle of the windshield that moves across the passenger's view. The wipers are secured to pivots. A wiper and pivot are mounted on brackets at both ends of a long rod called the connecting link, and, as the force from the motor pushes on the driver's end of the connecting link, it in turn moves the other wiper. The connecting link is attached to another long rod called the drive link near the wiper motor. A slender spring linkage ties the pivot to the drive link to return the wiper to its resting or park position, hug the wiper close to the windshield, and keep it attached to the car if the links are damaged.
Between the motor and the drive link, a linkage system consisting of a cam (another short rod) and pivot, a gear output shaft, and a worm gear controls the force of the motor delivered to the drive arm. The worm gear slows the speed of the motor while multiplying its torque (force). The gear allows a small motor to produce enough force to move the blades across the glass. This description is based on using a single motor to drive both wipers. If one motor powers each wiper, more links are needed to move the two wipers together in a so-called unitized motor system.
This multiplied force is required to accelerate the blades from being stopped at both
The tandem scheme is the most common because the blades produce overlapping cleared areas on the windshield with the greatest overlap in front of the driver. An opposed scheme with two blades begins with both blades on the windshield toward the sides of the car, and the blades overlap as they both pivot toward the center of the windshield. A single wiper that swings in an arc from the center of the windshield is also used. The single-arm controlled wiper is the most complex; as it sweeps over the glass, the wiper arm lengthens toward the car sides and retracts again as it points straight up at the middle of the windshield. Each of the two wipers in the tandem and opposed operating schemes and the one wiper in the single-wiper scheme make an arc with a single radius and so are called radial arm wipers. The single-arm-controlled wiper produces a multiple-radius arc.
The electric motor, worm gear, gear shaft, cam, drive link, and pivots are built into the underside of the dash. The connecting link and wiper pivots are located below the windshield and behind the trim molding. Wipers called depressed wipers also rest behind the molding when they are not being used. Non-depressed wipers are above the windshield trim molding even at rest and are visible from outside the car and from the passenger compartment. In the passenger compartment, the wiper's on/off lever is usually attached to the steering column. When the wipers are turned on, an electronic circuit inside the wiper motor starts it. When the wipers are turned off the circuit stops the power to the wiper motor. Intermittent operation of the wipers is basically short on-and-off periods for the wiper motor that the circuit also regulates.
The separate boxes are bundled together and packed in shipping cartons if the customer ordered several items.
During assembly, the workers observe the conditions of the parts during their work, but their only specific quality control activity is to check the operation of the motors by turning them on to make sure they start and by listening to the sounds they make as indications of performance.
The last inspection is performed when the assemblies are complete and before the wipers and systems are packed. The manufacturing director or final quality control inspectors look at the general appearance of the assemblies, confirm that the wipers have been sized and angled correctly for their sweep, and check that the assemblies are in the park position. The director or inspectors also check to see that the correct accessories are ready to be packed with the assemblies.
Small quantities of steel and aluminum scraps from trimmings or rejected or damaged parts are collected in bins and sold to salvage dealers who, in turn, sell them to metal manufacturers who melt the scrap down for recycling. Packaging from received parts is also collected and recycled.
As of 2002, windshield wipers and wiper systems are evolving because of changes in automobiles and other vehicles, technical improvements, and consumer demand. Wiper blades are as much as 30 in (76 cm) long, creating more resistance as they clean the windshield. Night-vision screens for windshields are in development, and these also increase resistance and change the dimensions needed for wipers. Blades are being improved with increasingly flexible rubber, so-called "boots" that fit around the blades to keep out ice and snow, and nonstick coatings on the squeegee edges of the blades to keep oil and wax from adhering and aging them.
Motor systems are also being increased in voltage to power longer wipers and more accessories. Engineers are investigating fully automated systems that do not require any actions by drivers to start and stop wiper systems. Inventors expect the capabilities of the rain-detecting sensors available in the late 1990s to widen to prompt the wipers to clean dirty windshields with no rain, for example. Windshield wipers are among most reliable automotive devices—the design life of a wiper system is 1.5 million wipes.
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Gillian S. Holmes