June 23, 2017

Archives for December 2008

Appliance Manufacturers are Aiming at Boomers

What’s next?  The Baby Boom generation is everywhere.  As a child of the 60’s I’ve often had mixed emotions towards them – annoyance at how much attention they get combined with gratitude that they cause so many changes that I will benefit from in the future.  One of those changes is happening now in the appliance manufacturing business.  As boomers age, they are increasingly staying in their own homes and have the income to modify those homes accordingly.  Appliance manufacturers want to get a piece of that.  According to the Wall Street Journal, changes are being made.

In the kitchen, General Electric Co. is designing ovens with easier-to-open doors and automatic shut-off burners. A joint venture of Germany’s Bosch and Siemens AG has introduced a glass cook top for its premium Thermador brand designed to prevent boil-overs. Minnesota-based Truth Hardware reports booming sales for its remote-controlled window motors.

“This population is far more demanding and will refocus designers” on individual consumers, says Joe Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, which studies design and engineering for an aging population.

Among appliance makers, Whirlpool Corp. has long tested products with potential customers who are deaf, blind or arthritic. The testing with arthritis patients helped prod the Benton Harbor, Mich., appliance maker to offer pedestals that raise the height of washing machines and clothes dryers for customers with back problems.

[Whirpool dryer with pedestal] Whirlpool

A pedestal beneath this Whirlpool dryer reduces stooping when removing laundry.

Whirlpool also offers washing machines with large knobs that make louder-than-usual noise when they’re set, for customers with limited vision or arthritis. “It’s not one of those little prissy knobs,” says spokeswoman Audrey Reed-Granger. One model introduced last year plays musical chimes to indicate washing temperature or other features.

At GE’s consumer and industrial headquarters in Louisville, Ky., designers use “empathy sessions” to help develop new refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers. Industrial-design intern Joanie Jochamowitz, 22, wraps her knuckles with athletic tape and wears blue rubber gloves to simulate arthritis. She shoves cotton balls in her ears to simulate hearing loss, dons special glasses to simulate macular degeneration and puts dried corn kernels in her loafers to simulate aches and pains. She grabs a walker. Then she tries to peel potatoes.

“I don’t want to get old,” she says, as she hobbles around the kitchen, fumbling with potato peelers and stove controls, and nearly spilling a pot of boiling water.

GE began the empathy sessions last year so its young designers could better appreciate how consumers use appliances. “When you’ve got designers that are 25 or 30 years old, it’s very hard for them to understand what someone in their 60s or 70s experiences,” says Kim Freeman, a spokeswoman for GE Appliances.

The company also arranges focus groups where consumers cook a meal in a GE model kitchen while staffers watch through cameras and one-way mirrors. And GE videotapes appliance users in their homes. The summaries from these tapes are used in brainstorming sessions about design changes.

“We note what they are doing. We see if those behaviors happen more than once and why,” says Marc Hottenroth, industrial design leader for GE’s Consumer and Industrial unit.

These efforts have prompted several changes in GE product designs, including brighter LED lighting that improves visibility inside new models, such as one with a French-door refrigerator atop a bottom freezer. This year, GE introduced a single-wall oven with two cooking spaces that can operate at different temperatures. Its research shows boomers cook and entertain more frequently and like the two-ovens-in-one concept. Some models can be raised off the ground for easier access. “You don’t have to reach in as far,” says Ms. Freeman. She says it prevents people from stooping awkwardly, losing their balance and burning themselves on the hot stove.

GE has new dishwashers and washing machines that allow users to put in an entire bottle of detergent a few times a year rather than a smaller amount for every load. The machines are designed to reduce confusion and make housework less of a chore, particularly for older consumers.

GE product-development

GE

At an ’empathy session,’ members of a GE product-development team tape their knuckles to simulate impaired dexterity.

Appliance manufacturers hope these design changes will buoy revenue. Sales and profits in the U.S. appliance industry are down this year because of the housing bust, the stock-market slide and the economic slowdown.  But for the long term, the appliance industry expects big returns because of baby boomers and hopes of a housing rebound.

Made in China – PR Problem?

“Made in China”  I search for this phrase daily now as I shop for my family.  When my son was only three, he would search for it on his toys and we would all joke about how everything we owned was made in China.  Now I’m trying to avoid these imported products.  I, like so many Americans have become leery of China’s goods.  Tainted milk and fish have marked all Chinese products and so even high quality  small electronics are being avoided.  Tim Somheil of Appliance Magazine writes more:

The appliance industry sources huge numbers of small electrics, consumer electronics, and even white goods out of China. The vast majority are high-quality appliances, well made, certified to international safety standards, and—because they’re made in China—they offer a cost advantage that enables the consumer to get a better product for the price.

Of course,it is a vast overgeneralization by the public to associate well-made appliances with tainted milk, but that association is reality.

China—for the good of all the enterprises that manufacture consumer goods within its borders—desperately needs to take a more honest approach. When there’s a crisis involving Chinese-made products, of any kind, the country needs to embrace that problem immediately and publicly.

Consider how pleasantly surprised consumers would be if they saw China demonstrate willingness to take ownership of a crisis, without hesitation, and provide full disclosure on the problem’s cause and scope.

And consider what the impact would be if offshore consumers saw this approach consistently. The credibility of the government as a spokesperson for the “Made in China” brand would grow—and China would get real credit from the public for its considerable product safety efforts.

Maybe the best possible scenario in the next few years is to move many consumers’ perception from negative to neutral. That’s still a huge step in the right direction for all manufacturers with “Made in China” stamped on their products.

At this point I really have very little confidence in the integrity of Chinese manufacturers.  I’m no longer incredulous when I hear of a problem product out of China – instead I sigh and hope for the safety of those effected.

Consumers are Letting it be Known – They Want Green Electronics

If you’ve been searching for a greener television, help might soon be at hand.  The consumer electronics industry is listening to research from a September 2008 study:

Going Green: An Examination of the Green Trend and What it Means to Consumers and the CE (consumer electronics) Industry. This study  finds that 89 percent of households want their next television to be more energy efficient.

“Consumers are now beginning to associate terms like recycling and energy efficiency with consumer electronics products,” said Tim Herbert, the Consumer Electronic Association’s  senior director of market research. According to the study, price and features continue to be the primary purchase drivers for CE products, but green attributes will increasingly be a factor. In fact, 53 percent of consumers say they would be willing to pay some type of premium for televisions with green attributes.

Effectively communicating the green attributes of CE products continues to be an obstacle for manufacturers in particular. Though the study indicates high consumer awareness of logos like EPA’s ENERGY STAR®, the absence of a single indicator for other “green” attributes leads to consumer confusion. The study finds consumers desire an easy way to determine if a product meets environmental standards, such as logos and descriptions printed on the product packaging.

“With 74 percent of consumers saying that companies should do more to protect the environment, it’s critical that CE manufacturers and retailers clearly communicate with customers regarding the environmentally-friendly products and programs offered by the industry,” notes Parker Brugge, CEA’s vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability.

If the manufacturers are listening, we should soon be able to walk into our local electronics store and easily identify a hi-definition, flat screen, surround sound, environmentally friendly television right away.  But- will it be on sale?

Thinking About Deep Fried Turkey? Think Again.

Underwriter Labs certifies the safety and proper use of many products including small appliances. There’s one product that they won’t certify under any circumstances. The Turkey Deep Fryer. Check out this safety video from Underwriter Labs.

GE Delays Sale of Appliance Division

The on again off again sale of GE’s appliance division is off once again.  (Say that three time fast.)

As we have been following the story here at appliance.net, GE  put its appliance sector up for sale last May.  There have been rumors of purchase offers, including one from Chinese manufacturer Haier who retreated in November as the US economy stumbled.  Now GE has announced its plans to hold off on any sale or spin off, citing the deepening recession.

Company spokeswoman Kim Freeman said GE executives “still feel the strategy is the correct strategy. It is just the wrong time.”

“The challenging economic environment makes a spin or a sale now extremely difficult,” the GE statement said. “Remaining part of GE and staying totally focused on operating the business effectively is the best move for the business as we prepare for what is shaping up to be another very tough year in 2009.”

The company offered no indication of when it might pursue breaking off the division. A statement on the decision said GE would “aggressively align our business with the current market.”

Last week, GE began laying off salaried workers at the division as part of a 5 percent reduction in Consumer & Industrial’s global work force of about 45,000.

GE also said it plans to continue paying a dividend in 2009, offering investors 31 cents per share each quarter.

Nokia’s Smart Home Solution

Is this an idea who’s time has come? 

The Smart Home.

The new Nokia Home Control Center, a Linux-based platform that will control your house’s resources via your mobile phone.

According to Nokia, the platform is open allowing third parties to integrate their own smart home solutions and services; its core consumer value is the plug and play experience across all solution areas with high security levels built in. All solutions based on the platform can be used through a smart phone or PC locally or remotely. Consumers can monitor and control their electricity usage, switch devices on and off, and monitor different objects, such as temperature, camera, and motion. In future, entire systems within the home can be connected to the Nokia platform, including security, heating, and ventilation systems.That way, you’ll rarely come across an incident where some new smart home tech you bought doesn’t actually work with your main controller. NHCC works with Z-Wave, ZigBee and KNX, three of the most common command languages for home networks.

Further, Nokia has started working with a number of companies to define and create a solid basis for building the next generation of products that will introduce a new kind of mobile access to intelligent systems at the home. These collaboration partners include Danfoss, Delta Dore, Ensto, and Meishar Immediate Community (MIC) and Zensys. The Nokia smart home partner program is structured around five key areas which mobile access will open up, creating new opportunities for the next generation smart home. These are security, energy efficiency, wellness, construction, real estate, and smart home solutions.

The Nokia Home Control Center will be launched some time in 2009.

LG to Compensate Customers of French Door Refrigerator

Earlier this month we wrote here about LG’s french door refrigerators losing their EnergyStar rating.  Now, in agreement with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), LG will also compensate owners, modify unsold inventory and remove five current models from the Energy Star program.

LG Electronics has offered to make in-home modifications on French door refrigerator models that were improperly certified as Energy Star compliant.

Under terms of an agreement with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), LG will also compensate owners, modify unsold inventory and remove five current models from the Energy Star program.

Affected models include 10 LG-branded SKUs and 12 Kenmore-branded Trio units designed and manufactured by LG and sold by Sears.

Current LG models include the LFX23961, LFX25971, LFX21971, LMX25981 and LMX21981, all with in-the-door ice and water dispensers.

Five discontinued models include the LFX25950, LFX25960, LFX21960, LFX25980 and LFX21980.

The affected Kenmore units have in-the-door ice and water dispensers and model numbers beginning with 795.

Under terms of its agreement with DOE, LG will offer to modify consumers’ refrigerators at the company’s own expense. The modification, which involves replacing the ice maker’s circuit board and reprogramming the fridge, will make the units more energy efficient but not Energy Star compliant.

LG will also provide consumers with a one-time cash payment covering the difference between the energy rating listed on the original EnergyGuide label and the restated energy rating, plus annual payments for future incremental energy usage for the expected useful life of the appliance, up to 14 years.

LG said it will attempt to contact all previous purchasers of the affected units, and has established a special hotline — (888) 848-1266 — and Web site (www.lgrefrigeratoroffer.com).

The company is also modifying all unsold inventory, changing all labeling and marketing material to reflect the new energy ratings, and will introduce redesigned, Energy Star-rated ice-and-water dispensing French door refrigerators early next year.

Stop Playing Games and Save Energy

We’re all trying to save money these days.  Using less energy by turning off lights and lowering your thermostat are goo ways to cut down on your energy bill, but here is a small step that can help you save a little more – Turn of your Wii, or Xbox when you are done playing.

Video game consoles nationwide use about as much electricity in a year as every home in San Diego combined, and can significantly add to consumers’ electric bills, according to a new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Much of this energy use is consumed by machines that are left on, but not in use.

“If you leave your Xbox 360 or Sony Play Station 3 on all the time, you can cut your electric bill by as much as $100 a year simply by turning it off when you are finished playing,” said NRDC Senior Scientist Noah Horowitz. “With so many struggling in today’s economy – it’s important to realize there are simple steps gamers can take to lower their energy costs. And if manufacturers make future systems more energy efficient, they’ll be doing the right thing for consumers’ pockets, for our clean energy future, and for the environment.”

Looking at the “big three” video game consoles – Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBox360 and Nintendo’s Wii – the report measured the amount of power they use when they are active, idle and turned off. It found these systems use nearly the same amount of power when you are playing them as they do when you leave them on and walk away. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 also operate as high-definition video players. When they are used this way, the consoles continue to operate at nearly peak energy levels, even after the movie ends, unless the device is turned off.

National video game energy use is growing as more and more homes have these devices and additional features are added. The report offers solutions for individuals to cut their game console-related energy costs and offers recommendations on how manufacturers can dramatically improve the efficiency of the next generation of consoles that are being developed. NRDC is working with the leading video game hardware and software designers to help make these improvements. In particular, NRDC is working to make sure users will be able to automatically save their settings and place in the game before they shut down the systems.