August 21, 2014

Small Appliance Design

In today’s economy, with consumers watching their spending, manufacturers of countertop appliances are evaluating how these conveniences are used in our homes and what will spur us to buy their brand when a new one is needed. We all want to feel we are getting all we can for our dollar.

With this in mind, many manufacturers aim to make a statement with their products to justify the price. The first step often is to start asking questions. What colors and materials are popular? How do you present controls that are functional and user-friendly? Is there a technology used in one kind of appliance that can be successfully transferred to another? Does it make sense to bring in a design firm, or have consultations with parts and materials suppliers? How could a new design bring down manufacturing costs? How can consumer opinions be vetted during the design process?
“The most important points we consider when making a new product design are the needs and wants of the customer, for example, ease-of-use and new features,” says Jo Gruetzke, director, industrial design USA, BSH Home Appliances Corp.
In the never-ending search for new product ideas, sometimes a company can draw upon a brand’s history. That’s certainly an option for the company that has a lineup of several iconic brands, as does Jarden Consumer Solutions (Boca Raton, FL, U.S.; www.jarden.com). Jarden brands include Mr. Coffee, Oster, Rival, Holmes, Sunbeam, and many others.

Another less obvious example of a nod to history is found in the company’s Sunbeam clothes iron line. Last September, Jarden introduced a hot-storage case for irons. “We got the idea for the storage case from a copy of a 1910 print ad displayed in a Jarden executive’s office,” remembers Lisa Knierim, senior director, global appliances. “The ad showed a Sunbeam Princess iron, complete with a stainless-steel storage case. One day, we suddenly realized that the box met a real consumer need. A hot iron could be put in the box immediately after ironing with no need to cool down, ensuring the iron is safely stored away from children and pets.”

Starting from this original concept, the company explored how it could develop a modern version that was safe, convenient, and flexible. It designed a heat-resistant, translucent hard-plastic case with silicone parts where the iron’s sole plate rests. Incorporated in the design is a cord storage area, while an interlocking handle and lock keep the iron secure when the case is closed. The case can be installed on a wall or door with included mounting brackets, or placed on a flat surface.

“The environmental or green movement certainly seems to have been the hot topic of 2007,” says A.J. Riedel, senior partner of Riedel Marketing Group. The rising cost of fuel, energy concerns in states such as California, and former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” all have pushed the issues of global warming and the environment to the forefront for many consumers.

Not surprisingly, houseware products with environmental claims abound. Energy efficiency is sometimes trumpeted, particularly when a product sports an Energy Star label. In the case of air purifiers, Stockholm-based Blueair (www.blueair.com) reports that its ECO10 Energy Star–qualified portable unit runs on just 10 W, making it nearly 10 times more energy-efficient than the minimum performance for Energy Star. Most savings are made possible by using an electronically controlled fan motor. The purifier’s HEPASilent filtration system, with low pressure drop and high efficiency, makes it possible to use low-pressure fans and still get good performance. Other environmental advantages the company points to include an easily recyclable powder-coated metal housing, nontoxic polypropylene filters, a long lifetime, and no ozone generation.

How does a company differentiate its cordless vacuums, products that are often seen as low-cost commodities? The question is an important one to multibrand OEM TTI Floor Care North America Inc. (Glenwillow, OH, U.S.; www.ttifloorcare.com).

One answer has been to mix contemporary style with rechargeable vacuum functionality in its Dirt Devil Designer Series by Karim Rashid. The line was launched in late 2006 with the Kone hand vacuum. Since then, the line has added the Kurv hand vacuum and the Kruz hard floor cleaner. Newest are the Brum, a rechargeable broom that vacuums as it sweeps hard floors, and the Kwik, a desk utility vacuum that includes a detail brush and crevice tool.

A more-technology-driven tack is being taken on the just-released Dirt Devil 15.6-V AccuCharge vacuums. The units are engineered to incorporate a microprocessor and software that regulate battery charging. The result is significant energy savings and extended battery life. The new capability was achieved without requiring much of a premium from consumers: The stick vacuum will have a suggested retail price of $59.99, and the hand vacuum $44.99.

“Cordless vacuums include a wall adaptor that charges the battery,” explains Mike Mullins, TTI engineer. “Due to cost constraints, no energy management is usually included. The main problem here is that, when the vacuum battery is charged, the adaptor continues to send power. The extra power is expended as heat. Not only is this wasteful, but the heat is detrimental to the chemicals in the battery. This shortens the battery life.

“We have taken a different route by including a microcomputer and custom software. They regulate the current draw, so that the battery doesn’t overheat. When the battery is fully charged, the power is reduced to a trickle mode to maintain the vacuum’s charge and readiness. This technology enables energy savings of more than 70% for the life of the vacuum. Because of this energy savings, we were able to work with Energy Star to incorporate cordless vacuums into their ratings. Our Accu Charge models are the first to get the Energy Star approval rating, which is widely accepted by consumers.”

It seems that appliance manufacturers are paying attention to their consumers and that if you find yourself in the market for a new coffeemaker, mixer or hand-held vacuum, you will find some new features to try out. You can read more about designing and manufacturing for today’s market here.