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issue: September 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

58th Annual Report on Laundry Appliances - Feature
An Expanding Laundry List


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by Erin Biesen, Assistant Editor

Laundry appliance manufacturers are working to make laundry appliances more convenient to change the way consumers all over the globe look at the tedious task.

The laundry list of issues that consumers have with their washers and dryers seems to be getting longer. Some companies note that consumers want products that will make their lives easier and more enjoyable. Others are changing the sea of white into a rainbow of colors so consumers can design the laundry room with color and style. Efficiency is yet another topic that manufacturers are taking into consideration to meet both consumer and legislative demands.

Some of these lists vary depending on what area of the world consumers are located. Manufacturers then need to respond to these issues on a geographic basis. For example, the U.S. wants larger capacity, Europe wants to care for a variety of fabrics in their homes, and in Asia, sanitization of clothes appears to be the focus. Yet, as the appliance industry continues to become more global, cultural trends are moving across borders, leaving manufacturers with a long “to do” list.

Miele introduced its new Innovation M, which features a Honeycomb™ drum design that is reportedly easier on clothing and allows consumers to wash a variety of delicate fabrics.

Global Demands

If there is one universal demand when it comes to laundry, it’s making life easier for the consumer. Bo Kylin, senior vice president of Product Line Fabric Care for Electrolux based in Stockholm, Sweden, says, “Large capacity, fast spin speeds, digital displays, ‘A’ rated performance, and an exhaustive menu of programs are now standard offerings.” He also notes that consumers are demanding solutions that offer convenience. In response, Electrolux released a talking washing machine called Communication. After doing research, the company discovered that consumers do not take the time to learn all the different benefits and features of advanced washing machines. The washing machine acts as a talking instruction manual that informs the consumer about the various push-button options. A consumer selects an option, and after waiting 6 sec, there will be an explanation of its benefits. There are also alerts if the user makes a mistake such as selecting an option that is not compatible with the chosen program, forgetting to close the door, or if there is a malfunction such as a clogged drain. According to Electrolux, adding the feature required incorporating components such as a voice synthesis module, amplifier, and a loudspeaker.

LG Electronics also aims to make life easier for consumers by adding a remote monitoring system to its laundry appliances. Operated by power line communication (PLC) technology, the system can be plugged into any electrical outlet in the house, and the consumer can monitor the washing, rinsing, spinning, and drying cycles, as well as how much time is left in the cycle. A buzzer signals when the machine has reached the end of each cycle. The system, which can be purchased as an accessory to new LG washing machines, is currently available in the U.S., Canada, and Korea, and the company is looking to introduce it to additional countries in the future.

Winner of the Industrial Design Excellence Award, the Whirlpool Fabric Freshener is an affordable solution for consumers who want to bring dry cleaning into their home.

Fabric Solutions

Trying to accommodate the European trend toward washing machines that have the ability to clean more fabrics, Electrolux is working with detergent manufactures to develop new applications that optimize the performance of detergent and washing machines. “Historically, appliance manufacturers have been too focused in their activity, leaving much of the total fabric care ‘ground’ to the detergent manufacturers,” explains Mr. Kylin. “Consumers have fabric care problems and look for an answer in products not offered by appliance manufacturers. Electrolux is looking to take back some of that ground.”

Not only are washing machines being created to accommodate other fabrics, but so are dryers. A new dryer being released by Electrolux is based on the company’s previous heat-pump dryer technology, which was developed 8 years ago. According to the company, Sensidry, which is currently being introduced all over Europe, offers more effective and gentle drying for items such as silk and lingerie. Using a heat-pump dryer means that whatever heat is generated is not wasted as it would be in a standard dryer. Instead, the heat remains inside a closed drying system. According to Mr. Kylin, the dryer works like a “refrigerator in reverse” and uses a compressor. “The cooling area, corresponding to the cooling surface inside a fridge, is used to cool the drying air and condense the humidity,” he explains. “The heating area, corresponding to the grid on the back of a fridge, is used to heat the drying air.”

The heat-pump system retains the heat inside the system and results in half the energy consumption of a normal tumble dryer. Mr. Kylin continues, “An important advantage is the lower drying temperature of a heat-pump dryer, some 20°C to 25°C lower than normal. This in itself gives an unprecedented delicate drying process for all textiles.”

The Sensidry system incorporates this technology along with a different motor technology. Instead of using one motor to drive both the drying air fan and the drum rotation, the Sensidry dryer uses one motor for each. “The Sensidry system means that the drum will just gently turn over the delicate garments from time to time while the airflow dries them continuously,” comments Mr. Kylin. “This extremely gentle mechanical action, like a hand-wash program in a washing machine, ensures gentle drying of silks, for example.”

Turkish appliance maker Arçelik is also producing heat-pump dryers, which the company says are quite energy efficient. “The motivation behind these new designs are the saving of global natural resources by using less energy, chemicals, and water, without any loss in the performance of products,” says Emin Bulak, product development manager. Like the Electrolux model, Arçelik’s heat-pump dryer combines a condensing dryer and an air-conditioner. The evaporator of the heat-pump system dries the saturated air while the condenser heats that air in order to thoroughly dry the laundry, which creates an efficient use of energy. The dryers are available in Central and Western Europe in markets such as Germany, Belgium, and Austria through Arçelik’s Blomberg and Elektra Bregenz brands.

New programs and different cycles are also allowing the consumer to clean different fabrics in the home. “In Europe, we see a trend toward full-service laundry care in private homes, and dry cleaners would become less important,” says Martin Melzer, manager of Laundry and Floor Care International for the Gutersloh, Germany-based Miele. “There are special programs for gortex, micro-fiber, and other new modern garments offered in household appliances.”

Miele has released a new washing machine called Innovation M, known as Touchtronic™ in the U.S. market. The appliance features a new drum with a Honeycomb™ design that is said to extend the longevity of garments. According to the company, the pattern creates a network of water passages that form an evenly distributed thin layer of water to protect and clean the garments. In the dryer, the design creates air pockets, which cushions garments while they dry, producing more even drying and garment protection. In the U.S., Miele doesn’t offer the Honeycomb pattern in the dryer; however, it will have a model available soon.

Also looking to extend the lifecycle of garments, LG Electronics has developed a steam washing machine that has already been released in Korea and will be released in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2006. Sanitization is a major issue in Asia, and now LG is bringing the health-conscious idea to the U.S. The washing machine has a steam generator inside, which is connected to the tap water. “The steam generator makes a hot spray, which allows for better penetration of the fabric and sanitary functions,” explains TJ Lee, product manager for Seoul, South Korea-based LG.

The product’s steam spraying technology allows the consumer to treat old wrinkles from garments and remove odors. This function minimizes the use of water as well. According to the company, this washer also uses less water and energy consumption and prevents shrinkage.

The laundry list of consumer issues also includes ridding clothes of all microorganisms. Arçelik sees the consumer interest in sanitization of clothing on the rise in Europe and released hygienic features on its washing machines last year. The Sensorinse feature is said to have better rinse efficiency, which helps to protect sensitive skin from allergic reactions. The company also notes that this trend is becoming popular due to less water consumption and lower temperatures used by the machines.

Steaming It Up Not only are washers and dryers making new and improved changes in laundry, but so are irons. Sunbeam, located in Boca Raton, FL, U.S., will be releasing the new Heritage iron (pictured) in October. The appliance has been designed with several new features said to allow for an improved product that will last longer. One feature is an anti-calcium system that is beneficial for areas that have hard water or water with a higher concentration of mineral deposits. As time passes, deposits can build up and collect on the side of the steam chamber and vents. “Using the Self Clean feature on the iron every 60 to 90 days will help remove these deposits from these areas, keeping the steam performance at the ideal level,” explains Christina Griffith, Sunbeam’s group product manager for Irons. “The anti-calcium system is an advanced cleaning system that actually breaks down the calcium deposits in the water so that they don’t stick to the hot surfaces of the steam chamber.” This process, she explains, will avoid the possibility of these deposits clogging vents or ending up on the garment. Rowenta, a housewares company located in Medford, MA, U.S., launched the new professional iron in January 2005. The 1,500-W unit has a large water tank of 12.7 oz, and the steam on this machine reportedly lasts longer due to the new technology in the steam chamber. “There are two chambers so that a burst of water goes first into a small chamber, where it is transformed into steam and then that steam goes into a larger chamber, and it is transformed again,” explains Sebastien Alegre, senior product manager. This, he says, eliminates water drops from reaching the clothing. The two chambers project more steam onto the fabric, which penetrates deeper into the fabric to remove wrinkles from thicker fabrics such as jeans. Another feature of the iron is the design of the sole plate, which allows for a wider distribution of the steam from the front of the iron to the back of the unit and decreases ironing time.

Growing Options

In the U.S., bigger is better when it comes to cars, homes, and now washing machines and dryers. Two of the trends in the laundry industry that are literally growing are capacity and laundry rooms. Maytag is responding to the larger capacity request with its new Neptune® front-load washer. The appliance now has an increased capacity of 3.81 cu ft from 3.34 cu ft, which the company says allows it to wash a king-size comforter, 28 towels, or 20 pairs of jeans. “Capacity continues to be important when people are busier, and they need to make sure they do lots of loads at once so they are not wasting as much time doing their laundry,” says Rachel Kelley, brand manager of the Newton, IA, U.S.-based company. “Capacity will continue to be something that’s going to come into play because people are wanting larger and larger, but they are not wanting larger exteriors.” In order to achieve the increased size, the company optimized the diameter and the depth of the tub to fill the cabinet, increasing the depth of the machine by just 2 1/2 in to 30 3/4 in.

Electrolux is noticing that European consumers are also requesting increased size and has released a new larger capacity washing machine, Solution 6kg, in Italy, Ireland, France, New Zealand, and Australia, with other markets expected to follow. The 6-kg capacity allows the consumer to reduce the frequency of what many consider a tedious task. Notes Mr. Kylin of Electrolux, “A key driving trend is bigger capacity machines to offer the user more flexibility in size, quantity, and type of items they can launder.” The company increased the drum size by 20 percent by modifying the rear wall of the cabinet, which increased the total depth by less than 3 cm.

BSH Home Appliances notes another growing trend—the focus on the laundry room itself. “The laundry room is becoming the next status room,” comments Ms. Miranda. “We’re seeing that an average consumer is spending between U.S. $30,000 to $50,000 to upgrade the look of their laundry room.” BSH recently released the Bosch Nexxt Premium Platinum Edition washer, dryer, and pedestals to accommodate consumers who want to add a silver, chrome look to their laundry rooms, matching many of the appliances seen in kitchens toda

Once confined to the basement and hidden for all to see, the laundry room is emerging as the new room to design and showcase. Since many laundry rooms are now located near living areas where people tend to entertain, manufacturers are trying to reduce the noise level of washing machines and dryers. Ms. Kelley of Maytag says the new Neptune front-load washing machine follows this trend. “The decibel level has changed quite a bit so it’s much quieter for people who have them on their main floors,” she comments. “We don’t want to interrupt their day if they’re entertaining.”

Maytag adjusted several design aspects of its washing machine to reduce the noise level. “The washing machine contains noise better by using thicker metal in the cabinet and base, as well as padding between the pump and base frame,” explains Randy Karn, director of Laundry Product Management. “In addition to these features, the top-of-the-line MAH9700 model also has a direct-drive motor that uses fewer parts for quieter operation.”

For those consumers who don’t have a lot of space, Equator Appliances, located in Houston, TX, U.S., has designed a compact washer/dryer combo, the EZ 3710 CEE, that still offers premium features. This ventless unit can fit under a counter or can be built into a kitchen or laundry room cabinet, and has a capacity of 11 lb (approx. 5 kg). There is also a self-cleaning pump with a stainless-steel tub and drum. Still focusing on design, the unit is available in platinum color. There are eight wash programs with a half heat option, a half load option, and a no spin option.

Also seeing a need for space-saving washer/dryer combos, Sanyo released the AWD-GT961Z for the Japanese market within the past year. “The laundry industry is continually looking toward innovations like the combo unit to make the chore of laundering more convenient for the consumer,” says Eric Burr, marketing manager for Home Appliances. “In addition, more condos are being built in urban areas, and the combo unit is the perfect answer when space is at a premium.”

The combination unit incorporates steam in both cycles to remove dirt, prevent static electricity, and reduce wrinkles. Eight sensors automatically determine which processes, such as water level and drying time, are necessary for each load. This unit also uses a ventless condensing drying system, eliminating ductwork and outside venting. There is also a large capacity of 19.8 lb (approx. 9 kg) for washing and 13.2 lb (approx. 6 kg) for drying.

BSH Home Appliances, located in New Bern, NC, U.S., released a liquid propane dryer to meet the needs of U.S. consumers that do not have natural gas coming into their homes. Typically, families need to buy a conversion kit and schedule an appointment with a technician. The WTMC3510 dryer is ready to go right out of the box and needs no conversion kit or appointment.

Moving Front and Center
While the front-load washing machine is by no means a new concept, it still is not the typical washing machine found in most U.S. laundry rooms. Slowly, the U.S. is becoming more aware of the European trend and switching from the traditional top-load to the front-load style. Maytag sees the front loader making its way out into the U.S. market more each year. “I think people that had top-load before are getting more comfortable with the front-load,” says Ms. Kelley. “It’s already grown significantly in the past few years, but I see it continuing to grow.”

Typically thought of as a premium, high-priced product, BSH Home Appliances says it is changing the way U.S. consumers look at front-loaders by offering the new Nexxt Essence line. Ms. Miranda explains that U.S. consumers are still learning the benefits of a front-loading washing machine and continue to use the top-load models because that is what has traditionally dominated the market, and they tend to be less expensive. “That is the reason why we launched the Essence, to help people who are migrating from a top-loader mentality to a front-loader mentality,” she says.
In order to make the front loader more affordable for the average consumer, the company reduced the amount of programs from 15 to 11 and took away some of the cosmetic features, such as changing the color of the ring around the outside of the door and the inlay along the top of the door from gray to white. The company says the changes did not take away from the quality of the washing machine, but reduced the price to the same cost as a high-end top loader.

Watered Down

Another trend that continues to trickle down to the U.S. is energy efficiency. An important feature to European consumers for decades, the issue is becoming of greater importance to U.S. consumers. In the U.S., water shortages are now a common occurrence in the summer, especially in states like Nevada and Arizona. According to Ms. Miranda, a top-loader washing machine can use between 40 to 50 gal of water. As a result, BSH Home Appliances has specially designed its drum to lessen the amount of water required for washing. “With the inclination of the drum, you have water pooled in the bottom so you don’t need that much water to clean your clothes, you just have to have the right amount. Once it is pooled at the right level, the clothes then rotate around the water and this allows for efficient water usage,” explains Ms. Miranda.

Although most manufacturers have already focused their R&D on energy efficiency, the U.S. Department of Energy is pushing efficiency by redefining the water and energy requirements laundry manufacturers must follow. A Modified Energy Factor (MEF) of 1.04 was required for all washing machines sold on Jan. 1, 2004, and as of Jan. 1, 2007, all U.S. washing machines will be required to have a MEF of 1.26. Maytag is working to meet the new standards with the Neptune front load washer. Mr. Karn explains, “We have several new high-efficiency washers that not only have a MEF factor of greater than 1.80, and they also have a great water factor of less than 4.2 WF that will reduce utility costs up to $185.”

Whether the demand is increased capacity or efficiency, it seems the consumer’s desire for more is growing no matter where they live. Ms. Miranda of BSH Home Appliances sees changes in areas such as efficiency and convenience as exciting times in the laundry industry. “It really is because of all the technology that is coming into play, and we’ll watch how the market grows and how consumers react to getting more efficient machines,” she explains. “I think that’s really exciting, how people’s minds are changing, and how we are becoming so much more eco-friendly.”

 

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