September 2, 2014

How Whirlpool Gets It’s Newest Products

Ever wonder how that new Whirlpool, Kitchen Aid or Maytag appliance with all the newest technology came to the marketplace?  Well, Whirlpool, the parent company has formalized a process to sort through the thousands of ideas that, at any one time, are percolating up from product groups, new business development teams, and i-mentors — employees trained in innovation who have been deployed throughout the organization to identify promising ideas. From that first grab-bag of concepts, managers green-light several hundred for study, giving each a slice of an innovation budget that  ballparks at several million dollars for North America this year.

Ultimately, almost half of those flow into its innovation pipeline, which currently numbers close to 1,000 products. On average, 100 are introduced to the marketplace. “Every month we report pipeline size measured by estimated sales, and our goal this year is $4 billion,” says Norena. With Whirlpool’s 2008 revenue totalling $18.9 billion, that would mean roughly 20% of sales would be from new products.

Beginning Affresh

The process has helped Whirlpool find such innovations as Affresh, a hockey puck-shaped tablet that consumers can toss into front-loading washers for a cleaning cycle. In less than two years, Affresh, which works with any brand of appliance, has grown into a line of four products that Whirlpool expects to be an $80 million to 100 million business by 2015. Taking Affresh as a guide, here’s a look at how the Benton Harbor [Mich.] appliance maker evaluates new ideas.

Affresh came out of regular consumer research a few years ago: Water and chemical residues caught in the seal of the door of front-load washing machines, customers told Whirlpool researchers, were causing odor problems. [Not all of Whirlpool's concepts emerge from customer research; Garage Gladiator -- a line of storage containers and appliances for garages and workshops -- was conceived in a sales and marketing brainstorm about how Whirlpool might develop products for rooms beyond the kitchen and laundry room.]

For an idea to be considered for development, it has to meet Whirlpool’s three-pronged definition of innovation: It must meet a consumer need in a fresh way; it must have the breadth to become a platform for related products; and it must lift earnings. [Add-on innovations are expected to deliver results within months, while new-to-the-world ones are given three to five years.]

Charles Martin, director of strategy and marketing for new business development, who led the Affresh development, already knew there was a consumer need. Four to six weeks of research and concept development convinced him he could clear the second hurdle too, by expanding into kitchen appliances too. And Whirlpool had good reason to expect profits. Sales of front-loaders are on the rise — 1.91 million will be sold this year, according to IBIS World — and the machines are expected to eclipse top-loaders in three to five years.

Clearing the Hurdles

Research findings are written up in a document Whirlpool calls an “opportunity brief.” The brief is reviewed by a 15-member panel of innovation experts and regional managers from across the organization, including marketing, sales, customer service, and engineering. This i-board meets monthly to review potential projects, and allocate funding. Martin’s team was granted several thousand dollars to continue development of the Affresh idea.

Roughly 40% of ideas that make it to this stage end up in the innovation pipeline. Those that don’t get tripped up by the next hurdle: the i-box, a three-page scorecard that forces innovation teams to be very concrete about expected factors such as revenues, technical feasibility, relevance to the brand, and market trends. “The i-box needs to make the case that there is a consumer need, that the concept meets it, that it does it better than existing products, and so on,” says Norena.

The i-panel then reviews the i-box, with each member scoring how well the concept meets each criterion on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the strongest. The averaged scores determine whether a concept will be funded [at which point it officially enters the pipeline] or shelved. “Everything checked off,” says Martin of the Affresh i-box.

Whirlpool currently has some 1,500 projects shelved for a variety of reasons. An idea to create an “on the move” appliance for campers, for instance, was held because it strayed too far outside of Whirlpool’s home-focused comfort zone.

Thumbs-Down on a Steam Dryer

Ideas can also be held simply because of overall resources and priorities. Every year, Whirlpool sets a goal for innovation-related revenue for each product team. “We might say we want 80% of new revenues to come from innovations to core products, 15% from innovations that leverage or expand the core, and 5% from totally new innovations,” says Norena.

A concept for a dryer with a steam function, proposed in 2004, ended on up the shelf because it didn’t match up with that year’s priorities. Three years later, when the fabric care team began working on a relaunch of Whirlpool’s Duet line, the innovation manager for the laundry team reviewed the shelved concepts for features to include in the new machines. Duet dryers came to market in 2008 with the steam function. [Concepts can also be resurrected by the i-board, which reviews all active innovation projects and shelved ideas during an annual pipeline cleanup.]

Once Affresh and other new concepts officially enter the innovation pipeline, they go through Whirlpool’s standard stage-gate process. Affresh’s development differed only in that it was developed in partnership with an outside partner, a chemical company that Whirlpool won’t identify, one of Whirlpool’s first open innovation projects.

The first Affresh product — a three-pack of tablets for cleaning front-load washers — showed up in appliance stores in September 2007 at a suggested retail price of $6.99. Whirlpool won’t reveal specific numbers, but says that first-year sales exceeded Martin’s estimates by 200% and were robust enough for the company to expand distribution to national grocery chains such as Kroger Markets. Building on that, Whirlpool developed a more efficient product for service technicians and, coming next month, an Affresh-branded dishwasher and disposal cleaner.

KitchenAid Introduces High Performance Commercial Style Cooking Line

KitchenAid’s new Commercial-Style series includes high performance cooktops, dual-fuel ranges and powerful ventilation hoods, all designed to enable chef-worthy results at home, according to Debbie O’Connor, senior manager of brand experience for KitchenAid.

Premium features in the new collection include KitchenAid’s 20,000 BTU Ultra Power Dual Flame Burner, the most powerful burner among leading manufacturers. Its dual-flame stacked burner design with two flame levels is versatile enough to handle both the high temperatures needed for quick searing and the precise, low temperatures required for gentle simmering. Additional burners found on all models include 15,000 BTU professional burners and 5,000 BTU simmer/melt burners that can be lowered to as little as 500 BTUs.

Cooks will also appreciate an Even-Heat True Convection System that combines a 1600-watt hidden oven element and unique bow-tie shaped baffle design to promote more even airflow. This system allows for consistent temperatures and even cooking whether using one or all three racks simultaneously in the oven.

Steam-assist technology offers yet another way to help cooks achieve professional results in a full size oven. The easy to use Auto Steam function introduces steam into the oven at precise intervals and offers preprogrammed settings for everything from meats, fish and vegetables to desserts.

“The steam-assist function makes it even easier to achieve professional results at home by eliminating the need for manual steps like spritzing and basting for breads and roasts or having to use a water bath to evenly and gently cook cheesecakes and other custard-based desserts from center to edge,” notes O’Connor.

A new Even-Heat Chrome Electric Griddle option features a chrome-infused steel surface with a 1320-watt element that provides even heat distribution at temperatures of 150ºF to 500ºF. The durable chrome finish, similar to commercial restaurant quality material, is easy to clean, retains its bright appearance after use and creates less radiant heat to help keep the kitchen cooler. An 18,000 BTU Even-Heat gas grill option combines a log burner, flame spreader and wave tray to provide powerful and even heat distribution. Blue indicator lights on both the griddle and grill show when desired temperature is reached.

All the cooktops feature low-profile grates with a new single grate design for easier lifting when cleaning. Additional design features include die-cast metal knobs with precise alignment and a commercial style handle with die-cast end caps. A full-width oven door on the ranges has a large window for easier viewing of foods as they cook. A glass-touch menu-driven LCD display provides an easy-to-use interface.

Scheduled to begin shipping to retailers in the second quarter, the new dual fuel ranges and cooktops will be offered in 30-, 36- and 48-inch configurations. Options for a grill or griddle will be offered on 36- and 48-inch cooktops and 36-inch ranges. The 48-inch model ranges will be available with a

griddle option. All sizes of the new dual fuel ranges will offer the option of the KitchenAid brand’s dual fan convection with steam-assist technology and the 48-inch range will offer the industry’s only double oven range with steam-assist technology available in both ovens. Suggested retail prices will range from $4,099 to $9,299 for the dual fuel ranges and from $2,099 to $3,399 for the cooktops.

New Commercial-Style ventilation offerings will include wall-mount canopy hoods available in 30-, 36-, 42- and 48-inch sizes, and island-mount canopy hoods available in 36-, 42- and 48-inch sizes. Commercial-Style wall and island canopies will feature powerful exhaust systems with 3-speed fan control ranging from 600-1200 CFM. Select models will include two warming lamps to help keep cooked food warm while plating to serve. Other features in the latest KitchenAid ventilation line include an all metal Pro Motor, halogen lighting for better visibility and heavy-duty dishwasher-safe filters. Available in stainless steel, suggested retail prices will range from $2,099 to $2,999.

Sometimes You Really do Get Customer Service

Here at Appliance.net we get a lot of comments (read: complaints).  People want to vent their frustration about their broken dishwasher, inept repairman and customer service that isn’t.  Our forums are great place to share what has worked for you and of course, what hasn’t.  Sometimes we find a tip that just needs to be shared.

Customer Service representatives have a responsibility to both the customer and to their employer. They are the link between consumers and the manufacturers.  Here’s a great story from a woman who called Kitchenaid’s customer service department regarding her stand mixer:

Hi, just thought I’d share my experience for the benefit of those who just ran into problems with their KA.

 I had a KA Ultra Power, purchased about 15 years ago.  Used it on and off through the years, but really cranked up use the last three months or so when I discovered bread baking.  I prefer whole grain breads so have been experimenting with these heavy doughs.  My machine started to smell funny about a month into my bread baking venture and has been sounding funny ever since.

 Last weekend, I basically resigned myself to saying sayonara to an old friend.  I called up KA because I wanted to see if it could be fixed first.   I had planned on getting a Bosch, but the price tag just made me heartsick.  I described to the rep how I had been using my machine.  Even though my machine was 15 years old, the rep said that she was concerned about the smell my machine was emitting.  She offered to replace the machine…granted with a refurbished one, but that’s better than having to buy a whole new one outright!  She upgraded me to an Artisan level machine with a choice of colors. 

Customer service, not always the oxymoron we might think it is.

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KitchenAid”s New Retractable Down-Draft Vents

KitchenAid is adding to their retractable down vent line by including 30 and 36 inch widths in their Architect Series II design line. Retractable vents are installed flush to the countertop behind the cooktop, pop up for use and retract out of sight when not in use. Many homeowners look for this type of vent for island cooktop installations. The new motor design allows for more storage underneath the counter.

These models feature a higher 14 inch downdraft with an exhaust capacity ranging from 600 CFM (cubic feet per minute) with and internal blower, to 900CFM with an external blower that clears grease heat and odors out of the kitchen. Integrated electronic controls blend into the vent.

Suggested retail prices range from $699 to $959.

KitchenAid Standmixer Video

If you’d like to see how the KitchenAid Artisan mixer looks in action before you buy, check this out and then check out our reviews of the Artisan Mixer and the Professional 600 Series.