September 15, 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.

Fisher & Paykel Struggling – Whirlpool Not Buying, But Sears is Selling

Appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel’s debt is predicted to rise to next month as a result of the depreciating New Zealand dollar and a drop in sales. Its profits were expected to drop up to fifty-four percent.

The New Zealand company told investors in February that it was in talks with a number of parties in a bid to raise capital to help with debt levels, Whirlpool was thought to be one of the contenders.

David Graham, Whirlpool general manager of marketing for Australia and New Zealand, told the New Zealand Herald his company would not be the white knight. “At this juncture we are not seeking to acquire Fisher & Paykel New Zealand,” he said.

Commentators said there was only a small chance Fisher & Paykel would find a cornerstone investor to help take on more than $500m in debt when many companies were struggling themselves.

A Government bailout was unlikely and a capital raising from shareholders was the only real option for Fisher & Paykel, they said.

At the same time, Fisher & Paykel Appliances will launch a new brand of home appliances at Sears outlet stores beginning in April. The new Elba by Fisher & Paykel brand will be manufactured in Fisher & Paykel’s North American facilities.

Commenting on the new brand launch in the U.S., Mike Goadby, North American president for Fisher & Paykel Appliances, said, “The company is adapting a strategy it employed in the New Zealand market for the past 12 months with promising results. Fisher & Paykel’s decision to extend its brand is necessary to continue to promote company growth.”

Whirlpool’s Eco Kitchen Line

According to the US government, kitchen appliances use the bulk of our household energy consumption. In addressing the need to save energy, Whirlpool has introduced their Eco Line.  The line is designed to be as much as 290 percent more efficient than previous models and includes a Resource Saver refrigerator, Resource Saver dishwasher and Energy Save range.

With energy use equivalent to powering a 60-watt light bulb, the Resource Saver refrigerator exceeds Energy Star standards by 10 percent. To help stretch the dollar even further and better preserve food, the refrigerator’s 6th Sense technology automatically adjusts cooling to bring existing food to the desired temperature in half the time. A Fast Cool button immediately drops the refrigerator and/or freezer temperatures to accommodate new food additions, such as hot leftovers.

The dishwasher uses one-third less water and energy than dishwashers manufactured seven years ago. The savings is the result of greater water pressure to break up more food more efficiently. Synchronized spray arms clean dishes on the upper rack first, followed by the lower rack, resulting in enhanced cleaning performance.

Also in the Eco Kitchen line are two ranges equipped with an Energy Save mode. The feature conserves electricity when the oven is not is use. Similar to a computer’s sleep mode, it dims extra features such as the digital clock and control display.

The dishwasher retails for about $800, the range $700 and the refrigerator, which will be available in March, for about $2,000.

Study Shows Consumers are Interested in Smart, “Connected” Appliances

In the not too distant past, it was the stuff of science fiction for people to have “smart” homes – those houses that lit up and co-ordinated timers, alarms, coffeemaker and dinner each day as you awoke in the morning and arrived home at night.

Today a study by Connected Home Research Council (formerly the Internet Home Alliance), the research arm of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), shows that the number of Web-connected households in the United States that consider the idea of a connected home “definitely appealing” has held steady since 2005.

One important finding of the study is that consumers would like their appliances to be part of this web-based system. Consumers are less interested in “automated” homes than having the appliances and electronic devices within their residences communicate and interact with one another.
“What consumers want most is an easy, seamless way to integrate their smart-home devices, their mobile device, their TV, their appliances, you name it,” said Whirlpool senior manager Carol Priefert.

Some findings from the study show that while many households have high speed internet access, not everyone is prepared to have their household appliances communicatiing yet.

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.

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.

Washing Machine Care From Whirlpool

Last year at this time, Whirlpool introduced Affresh, the tablet that cleans the inside of high efficiency washers, helping to reduce the musty smell that some washers get.  Now, Whirlpool introduces the Affresh washer cleaning kit. The kit includes Power Puck tablets and Grit Grabber cloths to more effectively remove and prevent odor-causing residue than using bleach alone. The Power Puck tablets use oxygenated bubbling action to penetrate and remove residue that can accumulate where it is hard to reach — behind the washer drum. The specially formulated Grit Grabber cloths give consumers added power to clean where they can reach by breaking up residue around the rubber door seal and detergent dispenser and locking it into the cloth.

“While not every washer will experience odor, it’s possible in all washers. Due to their efficient design, modern HE machines seal more tightly and use less water than older, less efficient washers which increases the potential for residue to build-up,” said Mary Zeitler, home economist for the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science.

Odor may occur when residue from detergents, lint, sloughed off skin cells and soil accumulates in areas of the washer where water cannot rinse. The new Affresh kit offers a comprehensive approach to odor-causing residue by enabling consumers to clean both around the washer door and hard-to-reach areas behind the washer drum. Use of the new Affresh kit should not replace routine washer maintenance recommended in the washer’s Use and Care Guide. Routine measures such as leaving the door open after each load and using only high-efficiency detergents in the proper amount can also help reduce the occurrence of odor.

The Affresh washer cleaning kit includes three septic system-safe Power Puck tablets and six pre-moistened hypoallergenic Grit Grabber cloths and is packaged in a reusable container to make routine maintenance a snap. It is available at retailers nationwide with an MSRP of $10.99. For more information, please visit www.affresh.com

Bread Bakers Can Use the Microwave

Now that my title has your attention, I’ll be a little more specific.  Whirlpool suggests that it’s Speedcook microwave can be used as a proofing box for maintaining an appropriate and steady temperature while proofing breads.  Home bakers who are trying to create their own artisan breads often find the loaves rising either too quickly or too slowly depending on the ambient temperature of the room.  Whirlpool suggests these steps to help bakers keep a proper temperature:

Using the convection setting:
Place dough in a lightly greased ovenproof bowl, and cover
loosely with shortening-coated wax paper.
1. Place a shallow, ovenproof container, such as a pie plate,
filled with 2 cups (500 mL) boiling water on the turntable.
2. Place the convection rack on the turntable, and then place
the bowl of dough on the convection rack and close the door.
3. Touch “Time/Temp/Power” on the Main Menu, then select
“Bake.”
4. Follow instructions on the display to program the proofing
time (about 45 minutes).
5. Touch “Temp 350°,” and then set a temperature of 100°F
(38°C) using the “-” control or number pads.
6. Touch “Start Preheat,” and then touch “Skip Preheat.”
7. Touch “Start” on the touch screen, or START control.
The display will count down the proofing (baking) time.
Check dough after 20 to 25 minutes. Proofing time may vary depending on
the type and quantity of dough. Proofing time may be
changed during the countdown by touching “Adjust
Settings,” and then following the instructions on the display.
When the cycle ends, the end-of-cycle tones will sound,
followed by reminder tones.
When proofing is done, remove bowl of bread dough and continue with your recipe as desired.

If you own the Speedcook and would like to let us know how this works, we’d love to hear from you.