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issue: August 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

European Report
Global Energy-Saving Possibilities


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by Paul Roggema, Europe Correspondent

An interesting global cooperation project was announced on June 20.

American Infinea Corporation (formerly Stirling Technology Company), Dutch company Enatec, and Japanese company Rinnai will be co-developing small Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units based on the Stirling principle. Infinea, a leading manufacturer of Stirling motors, and Enatec, a research firm in the energy field, together conducted extensive field
trials of a Stirling-based microCHP system for residential use in 2003 and 2004. By joining forces with Japanese heating market leader Rinnai, who is expected to contribute its knowledge in developing and manufacturing, as well as its vast Asian sales network, a true global product is foreseen.

Of all the renewable energy technologies, the Stirling engine is currently the least applied. Still, several manufacturers are designing prototypes. The Stirling principle is based on the fact that gas will expand when heated. In a closed circuit, a free piston is mounted and moves up and down in its casing. The gas moves from the “hot” to the “cold” side and expands, thus powering the movement of the piston, which is connected to a linear generator.

A typical unit has a 50-Hz frequency; the current Infinea engine has 1,000 W output and is a free-piston type (no crankshaft). Compared to a CHP unit driven by a combustion engine, the Stirling engine is said to be maintenance-free. The efficiency (heat input towards kinetic output) is slightly lower. Earlier field tests at Eneco led to improvements in burner control, reduction of vibration, and in the control software for connecting to the power grid.
The huge potential savings of CHP units are based on the low efficiency of current central electricity generation. Stirling engines are also used in submarines because of their low vibration levels and tested by NASA for use in their spacecrafts as an alternative for solar panels.

Less and Less Premium in Germany?
Life in Germany used to be easy for the premium white goods brands: consumers were willing to pay extra for the “Made in Germany” label, so manufacturing in Germany could be profitable, despite the high labor costs.
But in recent months, several companies have announced plant closures and staff reductions. Premium brand Miele announced earlier this year a 10-percent workforce reduction (about 1,100 jobs) and started a washer assembly line in Czech Republic, a lower-wage region. BSH announced that its Berlin washer/dryer factory is being closed next year, eliminating about 600 jobs. BSH production will be shifted toward the nearby Nauen plant, which is not running at full capacity. More recently, Electrolux said it is considering the fate of its Nuremberg plant, where high-end brand AEG appliances (washers, dryers, dishwashers) are manufactured by 1,750 workers.
What is going on? Some speculate that European consumers are increasingly switching to mid- and low-priced offerings. Another factor is the consolidation in the retail sector: heavy competition leads to cutthroat pricing. European consumer electronics and appliance retailer Media Markt is leading the way and opening up new superstores all over Europe.

New BSH Dryer Platform
The all-new dryer platform for the BSH brands will be recognized immediately by consumers: it has a window. To match the looks of European washers, and because consumers obviously like it, BSH redesigned their dryer platform with a glass door window. The filter is now below the door, and the door hinges have been strengthened. The controls are touch-type (non-moving) for a modern appearance. The laundry is rotated sideways, and the inner surface of the drum creates an air cushion effect so wear and tear is lower.

This report is filed by Paul Roggema, European correspondent, APPLIANCE magazine.

 

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