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issue: November 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Think Differentiation

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Tim Somheil, Editor

There seems to be a concept appliance boom underway. That’s a good thing.

At the 2004 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show, Whirlpool Corporation showed off its Biologic Washer, making use of living plants to clean water and clothes through a process called phytodepuration. The plants absorb the chemical pollutants from the clothes. They also clean through bacterial degradation and antibiosis, breaking down gray water contaminants. This wash method is auto-regenerative, non-polluting—and slow. Whirlpool has no plans to sell the washer anytime soon.

Early this year we heard about the Rockpool waterless dishwasher, which cleans dishes using “super-critical carbon dioxide” instead of water or chemicals. The student-designed appliance won top prize at the 2004 Electrolux Design Laboratory. Editor Lisa Bonnema described it in an earlier APPLIANCE Line editorial (“A New Generation of Design,” January 2005), and made mention of the U.S. $400,000 price tag. At that price, it’ll never fly.

More strange, expensive, impractical concept appliances have emerged in recent months. MIT student Leonardo Amerigo Bonanni has his Dishmaker, a kitchen appliance designed to do away with dishwashers. It’s essentially a plastic thermoforming appliance for the home—a dishware manufacturing system to produce plates, bowls and cups again and again from the same recycled thermoplastic. There are all kinds of reasons you’ll not be seeing a plastic molding appliance replacing your dishwasher any time soon.

And yet, Bonanni does have a compelling rationale for posing the concept of a home fabricator. In his MIT Media Lab paper Dishmaker: Personal Fabrication Interface, writing with co-authors Sam Sarcia, Subodh Paudel and Ted Selker, he says, “Personal fabrication could one day produce everything we need locally, replacing the transportation of atoms with the digital transfer of designs.”

Whether any of these concept appliances can be practically commercialized is unknown. The purpose of these concepts, however, isn’t limited to realizing a new technology—their very existence helps spur enthusiasm and create a design climate that fosters new appliance possibilities.

This concept appliance is the $400,000 Rockpool waterless dishwasher, developed by students from the University of New South Wales, Australia. It won the top prize at the 2004 Electrolux Design Laboratory competition in New York.

From Blue-Sky To Doable

The appliance industry needs to embrace a forward-thinking attitude to developing exciting, innovative appliances—now more than ever. Consumers are not going to be satisfied with the same-old domestic equipment. Users today are accustomed to rapidly evolving hardware.

As electronic suppliers drive down costs and offer more powerful controls (see Contributing Editor David Simpson’s report on control panel and display technology on page 42), and as the appliance industry becomes increasingly skilled at exploiting electronics’ potential, I believe we will see appliance models develop distinctive personalities. Clever designers will find ways to program the graphical user interface (GUI), combine it with unique decorative schemes and tactile elements, and give an appliance a truly unique character. Different models will be made with individualistic traits to create a greater emotional response in the buyer—and a stronger attachment to the brand.

There’s more to innovation than an appealing GUI, and appliance companies need to keep looking for new ways to reconfigure the basic physical shape of appliances—even a highly mature design like the wall oven.

Oven Elite, a small appliance OEM in Fort Lee, New Jersey, U.S., isn’t afraid to tinker with tradition, and this year launched the Door-a-Way™ wall oven with a retractable door. The door opens and slides into a housing underneath the unit, giving the user unprecedented access to the oven cavity. This has obvious benefits to physically challenged cooks. Meeting the needs of those with less-than-perfect range of movement will have to be one of the primary drivers of new appliance configurations in coming years.

This issue of APPLIANCE magazine happens to feature a number of examples of traditional products that have been reconfigured into very non-traditional appliances. Associate Editor Jill Russell’s assembled a trio of unique hearth appliances in her HVAC report, including the Heat & Glo™ Cyclone®, a decorative appliance with a tornadic flame that looks nothing like any fireplace you’ve ever seen. Dimplex North America’s electric fireplaces take the perception of hearth products’ negative impact on indoor air quality and turns it on its head—it actually cleans the air. Finally, another Heat & Glo appliance, the Aqueon™ burns hydrogen that it creates from water—the first appliance of its kind.

Appliance companies need to keep the innovations coming. We may not anytime soon be washing clothes using phytodepuration, cleaning dishes with super-critical carbon dioxide or molding our plastic table settings on the fly, but we can expect to see the influence and lessons of these and other concepts turn up in commercialized appliances in the coming years. The blue-sky concept appliance of today can lead to viable appliance innovations tomorrow.

In February 2006, APPLIANCE magazine will explore the theme of Concept Appliances—how they spur design, drive technology development and ultimately impact appliances on the market. We’ll take a look at some of the concept appliances of the past that have led to marketable designs, and those that were simply too far ahead of their time. We invite you, in the industry, to tell us about your concepts. E-mail editor@appliance.com.

We’ll also be reporting on more blue-sky appliances very soon. This year’s Electrolux Design Lab competition has a whopping 3,040 submissions, from 88 countries, and the winner will be announced on Nov. 15, 2005.


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