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issue: October 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Laundry Appliances
Drum Line

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by Erin Biesen, Assistant Editor e•mail: erin@appliance.com

After deciding to transition from stainless steel to plastic washing machine tubs, Slovenian appliance maker Gorenje looked to Meccanica Generale for a complete turn-key system.

Gorenje selected Meccanica Generale to help it switch from stainless steel washing machine tubs to plastic tubs, with an expected production volume of 500,000 per year.

Gorenje, located in Velenje, Slovenia, determined that using plastic would give it advantages over stainless steel, such as fewer component parts, reduction of the production time and lower costs.

In outsourcing its research and development, Gorenje was able to focus the various requirements. “We wanted to achieve major reduction of the production costs and produce high performance washing machines in accordance with the environmental requirements, such as energy and water consumption, noise and recycling. This required an innovative approach to product development,” explains Bostjan Sovic, technical manager for Gorenje. “It can be quite difficult to meet all these requirements with your own technical specialists. In that case it is a reasonable decision to use outsourcing.”

Changing production to accommodate the part change can be a challenge as well. “For some complex parts, such as plastic tubs, it is highly recommended to have the development process supported by the external specialists in order to integrate their know-how and experience,” Sovic continues.

After evaluating three other companies, Gorenje decided on Meccanica Generale Srl (San Paolo di Jesi, Italy) to create the new product. Having worked on over 45 plastic washing machine tub projects in the past 10 years, Meccanica Generale offered expertise in plastic tubs and mold development.

In using Meccanica Generale’s expertise, Gorenje was not only able to reduce the possibility of unexpected modifications, but also pay attention to other issues from recycling to energy consumption.

Technically Speaking

Gorenje worked with the Domestic Appliances Technical Team (DATT). This team of technicians at Meccanica Generale assists companies following a co-design philosophy, which hinges on the two companies working together to create product ideas. DATT is a technical department within the organization and is dedicated to the domestic appliance market. Services range from product development to laboratory testing.

Stefano Mancini, technical director for Meccanica Generale, explains that the appliance market requires improved performance, shorter time to market and reductions in product cost. “Such challenges require innovations and expertise in electronics, mechanics and plastics, which is beyond the abilities of any one company,” he comments. “DATT has been created to support domestic appliance producers during the development of a new product, by working out and checking the choices of the customers and, more importantly, by proposing new ideas and solutions.”

The structure of DATT includes four different areas. DATT Coordinating oversees DATT R&D and Laboratory, DATT Computer Aid Engineering (C.A.E.) and DATT Project Managing and Outfits.

The R&D and Laboratory area has a fully equipped testing laboratory. Washing machine tests include analysis of the deformations and mechanical resistance of the drums and tubs, reliability testing and noise analysis. DATT C.A.E. is used to create simulations for structural and dynamic analysis of the product. Project Managing and Outfits manages the domestic appliance projects.

The first step in the process is to define the targets, specifications and features of the project. Product development is the next step, in which technicians use C.A.E. to develop 2D and 3D models, analyses and prototypes. The team defines the optimum geometry, designs and manufactures the prototypes, and then has a trial of the prototypes. It then checks and optimizes the product and the outfits by testing samples, dimensional controls and CTR.

Production start-up is the next step, which includes production of the first series, optimizing production parameters and final production. When final production starts, the laboratory test center performs a complete analysis of the performances and reliability of the products.

Teaming Up

One important element needed for a successful outcome is communication between the two companies. According to a paper by Marco Montevecchio, sales and marketing director at Meccanica Generale, “Integrating competences coming from different partners requires major initial efforts to organize and plan information exchange. Communication must be reliable, fast, and confidential.”

Gorenje defined the technical specifications of the washing unit and Meccanica Generale worked from there. The product development process was efficient and only took 3 months. “During that phase it was necessary to completely define tub and drum geometry, choose plastic tub material, define all appurtenant components and balance the washing unit,” says Sovic of Gorenje. Designing the mold started prior to the complete development of the plastic tub, and together the two processes lasted only 7 months.

Following this was testing and the production of the actual product. The entire project took roughly 16 months. Meccanica Generale took control of the product development phase, the manufacturing phase and the production start-up phase, while Gorenje had control during performance testing.

Immediately after starting production, Gorenje realized the benefits of using plastic tubs. With fewer components, assembly is simplified. “The production technology and process are less complicated, which results in significant reduction of the production time,” Sovic comments. “In addition, the product costs were considerably decreased. In the present-day competitive environment, this is the most important result.”

Co-designing allowed Gorenje to successfully reach its goal to start production of plastic tub washing machines and educate itself about the development of plastic parts. “The washing unit is a vital and quite complex part of a washing machine,” explains Sovic. “It has a relatively high manufacturing cost as well. Engineers need to pay attention during the development phase in order to design a reliable and cost effective product.”

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Meccanica Generale S.r.l.

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