November 28, 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’s Newest Dishwasher Design

Since a dishwasher is one of those appliances that you only need to buy every ten years or so, (one hopes!) it’s worthwhile to spend time looking for the best dishwasher for your household.  If you are in the market now for a new dishwasher, KitchenAid has added pressure-optimizing wash arms to their new  Superba Series EQ dishwashers.

These wash arms are engineered to provide concentrated wash performance by utilizing a variable speed motor that automatically adjusts power based on water conditions and maximizing energy efficiency while reducing motor noise.

KitchenAid says the dishwasher measures at 41 dBA’s, and has 13 points of sound dampening, to further reduce noise from the motor and wash arms by blocking the path of noise through the dishwasher.  The new dishwasher collection under the KitchenAid name includes the Superba Series EQ, a core Superba Series, and the Classic Series. 

Classic Series models feature four stainless steel wash arms, a 100% stainless steel tall tub, an Optimum Wash Sensor that adjusts the wash cycle to specific water conditions to maximize cleaning effectiveness and efficiency, and a dedicated heating element with a Heat Dry option that heats the tub at the end of the cycle to dry dishes.

This series will be available beginning this Spring.

Who Started it?

We are all so accustomed to having a microwave and dishwasher in the kitchen these days, but did you ever wonder who started it all?

In some cases the answer is Whirlpool, and they are proud of it.  Whirlpool introduced the first the countertop microwave and automatic washing machine. KitchenAid which is now owned by Whirlpool, brought us the automatic dishwasher.  Whirlpool also unveiled high capacity, front-load laundry units in the U.S.

Just a little bit of appliance history brought to you today by appliance.net.

KitchenAid Introduces 72″, Counter-depth, French Door Refrigerator

KitchenAid has introduced a new 72-inch counter-depth model that offers extra space on the inside and a built-in look on the outside.  This latest configuration joins a line that includes freestanding, counter-depth and 42-inch built-in French Door refrigerators. 

“Based on our research, we found that the currently available 69-inch model refrigerators don’t fully utilize the 72-inches of available height space found in many of today’s newly constructed homes,” said Debbie O’Connor, Senior Manager of Brand Experience for KitchenAid.  “Our newest French door model offers those who have this space an even better option to choose from in this increasingly popular refrigerator style.  Not only does our latest 72-inch model maximize space with more room inside the refrigerator, it also offers a seamless, built-in look at a gentler price.”   

 

 

 

The French Door Bottom Mount has a narrow door swing, making it easy to maneuver in the kitchen even when multiple cooks are working in the same space.  Its narrow door swing also allows for design flexibility in kitchen designs where a full door swing would be too tight.  Its wide refrigerator shelves have no interior divisions, allowing significantly greater space for wider items, such as cookie sheets, baking pans and serving trays.  In addition, the freezer on the bottom requires less bending, with more frequently accessed refrigerator items located higher and closer at hand.   

     

    

   

  

 

Premium features found on the latest KitchenAid® French door model include a single-hand interior water dispenser that is strategically located to prevent interference with usable refrigerator space.  A FreshChill™ Temperature Management System features a thermostat in the refrigerator and an evaporator fan that help regulates temperatures to maintain optimal storage and freshness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new 72-inch Counter-depth French Door Bottom Mount refrigerator models will be available in stainless steel, black and white.  Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices will range from $$2,799 to $3,099.   

KitchenAid Introduces its Quietest Dishwasher Yet

KitchenAid is now offering its quietest dishwasher ever. Featuring the new EQ™ Wash System and Whisper Quiet Ultima Sound Insulation System, this latest KitchenAid undercounter dishwasher is exceptionally quiet with a sound rating of only 48 dBA, or decibels, a level close to that of a quiet room (40 decibels) and well below a moderate rainfall (60 decibels).

The EQ™ Wash System provides optimal cleaning performance and noise reduction while also saving water and energy. The system features a true variable speed motor that helps to minimize operating noises by starting slowly and adjusting its operating capacity to deliver the power needed based on the wash cycle. Alternating wash zones focus the washing action while using less water and energy for high performance cleaning. A three-stage filtration system captures food particles as the water circulates within the dishwasher to maximize efficiency of its pump. For enhanced drying performance, the interior of the dishwasher is heated by a dedicated drying element.

“In addition to being our quietest, our latest dishwasher is 58% more efficient than

Energy Star standards,” notes Debbie O’Connor, Senior Manager of Brand Experience for KitchenAid. “Beyond being Energy Star qualified, it also has an efficiency designation from the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), making it eligible for energy rebates in select states.”

Additional features include a welded tall tub with a stainless steel interior, a premium feature found throughout the entire KitchenAid dishwasher line. Other innovations include a ProScrub® Option that provides concentrated cleaning during the normal wash cycle for harder to clean items like casserole dishes with baked on food. An Optimum Wash Sensor adjusts the wash cycle to specific water conditions for maximum cleaning efficiency.

A culinary tool rack, an adjustable and removable upper rack, fold-down cup shelves, an extra-large silverware basket with three lids and a Sure-Hold® Small items pouch offer great versatility in accommodating a variety of dishwasher loads.

Available in stainless steel, white, black or a panel-ready model for a custom panel, the new dishwasher model will carry suggested retail prices of $1,449 for the stainless steel model,
$1,299 for the black or white models and $1,399 for the panel ready model.

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 Adds Induction Cooktops to Series

KitchenAid, is now offering induction cooktops in its Architect Series II Collection. If you are not familiar with induction cooking and the difference between cooking with induction technology rather than conventional heating methods, you can read more about them in href="http://www.appliance.net/2007/induction-cooking-is-hot-and-cool/"> Conduction Cooking is Hot- and Cool and How Food Cooks – Conduction, Convection and Radiation. Induction cooking allows a cook to go quickly from a simmer to a sear. Because of this special electromagnetic process, cookware used with the cooktop must be made of magnetic metals such as steel or iron.
The Architect Series II induction cooktops feature nine heat level settings and a performance boost function that increases the temperature level above the highest setting to quickly bring liquids to a boil. A hot surface indicator light provides a warning if the surface is too warm to touch, even after the burner has been turned off. Another helpful feature is size pan detection that automatically adjusts to fit the size of pots and pans in use, a keep warm function, touch activated controls and a frameless design with beveled glass edges.
The suggested retail prices range from $1,999 to $2499.

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.