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issue: July 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Refrigerators
Cooling Trends


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by Kimberly L. LaPat, Contributing Editor

Refrigerator manufacturers are challenged to combine innovative, stylish designs with premium features, upgraded materials, enhanced performance, and improved energy efficiency.

While overall consumer spending might be lower than many manufacturers would like right now, consumers are spending more time at home. This so-called "cocooning" or "nesting" trend has helped the home appliance market remain stable in these shaky economic times.

"The good housing market and turning to the home (cocooning) has kept the refrigerator market strong, especially the market for better refrigerators," says Tony Evans, vice president of Communications for the Electrolux Group in Augusta, GA, U.S. "Consumers are more sophisticated, and know the difference between basic products and those that will better serve them."

Kevin Kacere, vice president of Refrigeration Products for Maytag Appliances (Newton, IA, U.S.), agrees that the current economic situation has actually enhanced the desire for a better breed of refrigerator. "In part, it has been the catalyst for an increased focus on affordable luxury. Across the appliance spectrum, we are seeing manufacturers create high-performance, highly designed refrigerators at lower price points. At the same time, we are also seeing an increased investment in technology and performance at the ultra high-end," he says.


Marvel Industries (Richmond, IN, U.S.) introduces the Modéle Rouge undercounter wine cellar in brilliant rouge. The company says the outstanding feature of the refrigerator is its signature red gloss interior. Its wine racks are brass-plated and meticulously coated to avoid corrosion. A UV-resistant glass door reportedly prevents UV rays from damaging fine wines. Its microprocessor-controlled thermostat and quiet, ultra-efficient 461 BTU compressor are said to ensure perfect wine temperature, while its vibration-free operation maintains the integrity of the wines stored inside. The racks are specially canted to keep corks moist, and its slide-out racks hold standard American and European wine bottles.

Today's discriminating consumers are looking for refrigerators that not only chill, but thrill. As a result, appliance producers have endeavored to design refrigerators that go way beyond the basic box in terms of materials, style, and performance.

"There is fierce competition in the development of materials/finishes and above all in aesthetic design," says Alfonso Patruno, communications manager for Italian appliance producer Merloni Elettrodomestici (Fabriano, Italy). "Consumers are increasingly demanding sophisticated designs with premium materials on the inside and out and properties such as ergonomics and ease of use."

To that end, Merloni's Ariston Opera 70 refrigerator is "a combination of elegance and top-quality materials and finishes, with flush handles for clean lines and ease of use," according to Mr. Patruno. The large-capacity double-door refrigerator features a full metal door on the outside and door shelves in extra thick, clear plastic. A choice of exterior color options includes stainless steel, marble, silver, and pearl white.


The Amana Easy Reach Plus is the company's largest bottom-mount freezer, with more than 25-cu-ft of storage space, enabling the user to store more fresh food at eye-level, where it is best seen and accessed.

Stainless steel exterior finishes have been an option in appliance designs for some time, but their appeal has been growing rapidly in recent years. Electrolux Home Products reports that nearly 15 percent of all side-by-side refrigerators sold in 2002 were in the stainless steel finish - double the pace of 2001. "It is a certifiable trend that people are choosing stainless steel for their kitchen upgrades. The look is distinctive, and it gives a high-end, decorator look to the most used room in the house," says Rick Weiss, head of Appliance Design for the company. The stainless steel finish, he says, once reserved for commercial products or the ultra-high-end segment, was popularized when Frigidaire introduced its Gallery Professional Series® in 1992. The Series made stainless steel finishes available on standard size products at affordable prices. "We now look at stainless steel as another color option, like white, bisque, or black," says Mr. Weiss.

With the introduction of the industry's first 28-in wide stainless-steel top-mount refrigerator, Electrolux has opened up the category even further to serve apartment, condo, and home owners with smaller-sized kitchens. These compact appliances have rounded doors and a fingerprint-resistant stainless-steel finish.

Sub-Zero Freezer Company (Madison, WI, U.S.) recently expanded the selection of finishes available on all its refrigerator products by adding Carbon Stainless Steel and Platinum Stainless Steel options. "The modern kitchen is a showcase of the homeowner's particular tastes and design style," says Jim Bakke, president and CEO for Sub-Zero and Wolf Appliance Company, LLC. "Our goal is to offer the homeowner as many options as possible to complement any taste."

One offering from Sub-Zero is its glass-door option, which, according to Mr. Bakke, is an advance in both design and technology. "The glass door has been popular in the commercial realm, so it made sense to apply it to some of our most popular models in the residential line," he tells APPLIANCE. The glass-door option is available in three models - the 601RG all-refrigerator with 19.9 cu ft of storage and the large-capacity 650G and 611G refrigerator/freezer combination units with a refrigerator unit above and a freezer drawer unit below. The contemporary glass door design incorporates a subdued interior light that can be set to glow softly with the door shut for a warm, arty effect.

In contrast, a retro-chic look is also becoming fashionable in kitchen design. "The resurgence in retro, in anything 1950s or 1960s, keeps gaining momentum," explains Brian Hendrick, vice-president of Sales and Marketing for Elmira Stove Works (Elmira, ON, Canada). "Our customers want the retro look, but they want modern convenience and efficiency."

On the exterior, Elmira's Northstar refrigerators feature rounded corners, chrome "wings" and trims, and 1950s colors like Candy Red, Buttercup Yellow, Robin's Egg Blue, Flamingo Pink, Mint Green, and (Cadillac™) Black. Inside is 18 cu ft of storage space, "Visi" shelving for easy access, and Energy Star® high-efficiency technology.

The Frigidaire from Electrolux Classic Series also features a comfortable, retro appeal which the company dubs "Retro Modern." Four models in the line include two top-mount and two side-by-side units with a high-gloss, smooth finish reminiscent of appliances from the 1940s and 1950s, before textured surfaces became standard in North American appliances. A raised, historic script Frigidaire nameplate is featured on the exterior, which is offered in four colors - white, black, bisque, and the popular stainless steel.

Prominent in the Classic line is an exclusive 7-day meat keeper, which provides a cold setting of 33°F (0°C), allowing food to be stored up to 150-percent longer than with the normal 39°F (3.9°C) setting. Another innovation is the water/ice dispenser with the company's PureSource2™ filtration system, electronic touch pad, and illuminated dispenser paddles. A new "Showcase Illumination" package adds a third row of lights in the middle of the refrigerator to make finding items in the back easier.

Convenient Cooling

Most of the current high-end refrigerator models and even many "standard" refrigerators feature pull-out drawers and shelves for easy reach and cleaning, deep door shelves for storing gallons of milk, in-door water and ice dispensers, and improved ergonomics. In addition, manufacturers are continually looking for ways to gain more interior volume as consumers, especially in North America, desire larger and larger refrigerators.

Another feature being increasingly recognized for its convenience attributes is the bottom-mount freezer configuration. "We've definitely seen an increased interest in bottom-freezer refrigerators," says Mr. Kacere of Maytag. "And for good reason. Our research indicates that people access the fresh food compartment seven times as often as the freezer. The appeal of the bottom freezer is that it puts the most used compartment at eye level, making it easy to see what's in the refrigerator, thus minimizing waste." As a result, Maytag has introduced bottom-mount freezer models for all three of its brands.

"We've found that consumers really like the bottom-freezer platform, but some wanted more storage capacity," Mr. Kacere adds. "We responded by introducing the Amana Easy Reach Plus model with 25-cu-ft of storage capacity."


The KitchenAid (Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.) Pro Line™ series includes a stainless steel built-in refrigerator that is backed by a comprehensive customer care and warranty program - 5 years, which includes an extended service program and priority access to a dedicated Pro Line series customer call center.

The Amana Easy Reach Plus is Amana's largest bottom-mount freezer, offering conveniences aimed at providing extra storage space. A Chef's Pantry™ drawer holds large party trays and deli platters and is more than 6-in deeper than on other refrigerators in the series. The drawer also features a self-opening lid that automatically pops up when the pantry is opened. Extra storage space in the EasyFreezer™ pull-out drawer freezer section enables consumers to store up to 120 lb of meat. A glide-out lower freezer basket with a split organizer helps the user find food items faster. Two models are offered, one with an internal filter water dispenser.

According to Simon Kang, president, Home Appliance Division for LG Electronics U.S.A. Inc. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, U.S.), "Consumers are looking for more convenient ways to cook, entertain, and live in their kitchens. The bottom-mount freezer refrigerator provides consumers with the extra functions they desire without compromising style and quality."

LGE's new bottom-mount freezer refrigerators (models LRDC20731/22731) are available in two designs, the conventional left or right reversible door and the more innovative tilting freezer drawer for easy access. The 22.4-cu-ft tilting drawer model also features the added convenience of an external water dispensing system with a built-in water filter, a feature most often reserved for refrigerators with side-by-side configurations.

Undercounter refrigeration offers a unique type of convenience that has actually brought refrigerators out of the kitchen. Compact, undercounter ice makers, wine chillers, refrigerated drawers, refrigerator/freezers, and beer dispensers have found applications throughout the home and even in outdoor rooms.

According to U-Line Corporation, a Milwaukee, WI, U.S.-based specialist in undercounter refrigeration appliances, the quest for convenience has resulted in an increase in appliance applications throughout the home, designed to make living easy and enjoyable wherever occupants or guests choose to spend their time. The possibilities, the company says, are endless - from an ice maker/refrigerator in the bar area to a refrigerator/freezer providing cold beverages and snacks in the master suite, great room, home gym, or patio.

"More than ever before, homeowners are going to great lengths to create homes that both accommodate their busy lifestyles and reflect their personals tastes," says Phil Uihlein, president and CEO of U-Line Corporation. "U-Line's two distinct product lines, the Échelon™ Series and the Origins Series, exceed the design possibilities and functionality of the homeowner's every refrigeration need."

The Échelon Series offers a broad product assortment, including two ice makers, one Frost-Free Combo® ice maker/refrigerator, one Frost-Free refrigerator/freezer, and two refrigerators, plus a variety of specialty appliances like wine chillers. The series has a sophisticated look which, according to U-Line, allows endless applications both inside and outside of the home. The appliances are designed to accept a full overlay custom panel and feature spill-proof glass shelves, crisper drawers, and adjustable in-door storage that can accommodate 2-L bottles. The company says the units are engineered with advanced technology to assure outstanding performance with quiet operation capabilities and the greatest energy efficiency achieved in undercounter ice making and refrigeration.

New to the Echelon Series is the model CLRCO2075 Clear Combo® ice maker/refrigerator that offers the luxury of clear ice and the convenience of refrigeration. According to the company, it is the first of its kind on the market.

"Never before has a manufacturer achieved clear ice and refrigeration in one unit because of the engineering challenges that clear ice production presents. Now that we have accomplished this feat, we can offer consumers two outstanding products in one exclusive appliance," explains Mr. Uihlein. The desirable clear ice capability and refrigeration combination is achieved by using two independently controlled evaporators, one uniquely designed for clear ice production.

The Origins Series from U-Line is a collection of standard models, including two ice makers, a combo ice maker/refrigerator, and three refrigerators. The models are available in a variety of finishes and will accept a 1/4-in custom door panel.

Marvel Industries (Richmond, IN, U.S.) also offers a complete lineup of undercounter refrigeration products. "Undercounter refrigeration can be anywhere in the house. A trend we're seeing is satellite kitchens. Often refrigeration units are hidden behind cabinets and in armoires to serve the needs of the homeowner throughout the home," says Julia M. Uribe of the company. The company's overlay doors enable the consumer to match the refrigerator model to its surrounding cabinetry so that it virtually disappears into its surroundings. Overlay glass doors are also offered, which accept an overlay frame made of wood to match the surrounding cabinetry, but show off the interior of the refrigeration unit.

Marvel's new Modéle Rouge undercounter wine cellar features a decorative etched glass door and a unique red interior accented with brass racks and trim for an elegant aesthetic appeal.

"We wanted to offer discerning wine connoisseurs an exciting and unique choice for storing and protecting their precious vintages," explains Gordon Stauffer, president and CEO of Northland Corporation, the parent company of Marvel.

Jenn-Air®, a brand in the family of Maytag Appliances, recently introduced its first built-in wine chiller, a clear-cube ice maker, and an undercounter refrigerator. "Jenn-Air owners are people who really love to entertain," says Bill Deter, vice president of Jenn-Air. "For these people, products like wine chillers, undercounter refrigerators, and ice makers help make the entertaining process easier and more enjoyable. By offering products like these, we are making it easier for people to live the type of lifestyle they desire."

A Fresh Approach

Style, convenience, and premium features are all desirable, but keeping food fresh is a refrigerator's main priority. "There's a strong challenge in terms of length of duration of food," says Mr. Patruno of Merloni. To address that challenge, Merloni recently fitted an Ever Fresh vacuum preservation system into its Ariston Opera 70 Series no-frost combos. According to Mr. Patruno, the Ever Fresh system can increase preservation time up to four times that of standard systems.

LGE's new bottom-mount refrigerators feature the company's multi-airflow system, a cooling system in which all refrigerator shelves are outfitted with its own venting ducts for optimal cavity cooling and food freshness. "Our research indicates that consumers shopping for new refrigerators look for ones that cool efficiently, maintain temperatures evenly, minimize spoilage, and are whisper-quiet," says Mr. Kang of LGE. The company's new top-mount refrigerator offering also features door-cooling technology. The Ice Beam™ system keeps foods stored on the door as cool as in the rest of the refrigerator.


 

The Internet Refrigerator from LG Electronics U.S.A. Inc. combines all the best in refrigerator design and quality with built-in Internet browsing, TV, and communications capabilities.


Sheer Energy

Perhaps the greatest challenge to be met by appliance producers has been to reduce the energy consumption of appliances. Consumers want to keep their food fresh, but they don't want to pay enormous electric bills. At the same time, government regulations have demanded an increase in energy efficiency, driving OEMs to revamp appliances and prompting consumers to replace their old, outdated, energy-guzzling refrigerators with models that use significantly less electricity.

"Consumers are aware of operating costs and will pay attention to the Energy Star label," says Mr. Evans of Electrolux.

According to a report from the Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association, Major Appliance Industry Trends & Forecast 2003, "Energy Star models will experience significant sales growth as consumers trade in older models for highly efficient ones in an effort to minimize energy consumption while helping the environment."

Mr. Patruno of Merloni believes there will continue to be a sharpening focus on consumption and running costs, especially in Europe, where "as of January 2004, there will be a law mandating the upgrading of energy classes. C-class and below will disappear, leaving A+ and A++ as the absolutes. The market is continually offering higher class energy consumption products at substantially stable prices, obliging manufacturers to offer increasingly high-performance products at increasingly lower costs," he explains.

To help improve a refrigerator's insulation and energy performance, thicker walls are often used, according to Steven Schilling, principal scientist for Bayer Corporation (Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.). However, the thicker walls can also increase the foam's k-factor and reduce the foam's density, while increasing its demold swelling and perpendicular compressive strength.

Bayer Corporation conducted a systematic study of the effects of important variables on the processing and physical properties of rigid polyurethane foam insulation blown with three different third-generation blowing agents - HFC-245fa, HFC-134a, and cyclopentane. They also included HCFC-141b, the blowing agent that was phased out in the U.S. at the end of 2002 for use in foam blowing. Bayer was interested in how foams would be affected by common processing variables and parameters, given the vastly different physical properties of these next-generation blowing agents.

"All of the factors studied had a significant effect on at least some of the foam properties we evaluated," says Mr. Schilling, "but the mold thickness stood out as the most important factor for a number of different properties. We believe this is because the mold thickness had such a large influence on the foam density, which in turn affects other properties.

"Manufacturers must now meet more stringent government energy efficiency requirements in the U.S. while also trying to minimize their overall costs," he continues. "We suggest that they carefully consider the effect of wall thickness on the properties of the rigid polyurethane foam insulation when designing new appliances."

Way Cool

More consumers are willing to trade their boxy, inefficient old refrigerators for today's more stylish and more environmentally friendly offerings. A select group of consumers is also willing to go one step further by upgrading to a breed of "way cool" refrigerators that take innovation to the extreme.

"For Maytag, the stand-out product in terms of an innovative, category-changing introduction is our first foray into the built-in market with the Jenn-Air Luxury Series built-in refrigerator," says Mr. Kacere of Maytag. "This is the first and only refrigerator that can be personalized on both the exterior and the interior," he explains. "On the exterior, the refrigerator accepts any array of custom panels. On the interior, it is the first and only unit which enables owners to personalize their storage components to meet their own individual needs."

The Luxury Series, which is available in 42- and 48-in configurations, is equipped with a precision temperature management system, the heart of which is an industry-exclusive variable speed compressor, according to Mr. Kacere. "The system uses a number of sensors that constantly monitor the refrigerator and freezer compartments' internal temperature. Then, when the temperature fluctuates even slightly, the compressor kicks in, ensuring that the temperature stays within 1 degree of its target at all time - easily the tightest temperature control on the market."

Another refrigerator innovation gaining interest among elite, discriminating consumers are refrigerators with Internet capabilities. Although these unique appliances come with a hefty price tag, they are finding a niche in the "Me first," market, says David Purcell, marketing manager for Home Appliances, Samsung Electronics America, Inc. (Ridgefield Park, NJ, U.S.). "Another key market area is for builders who are using the appliances in their showcase homes."

According to Mr. Purcell, Samsung's HomePAD™ Internet side-by-side refrigerator is marketed in more than 55 stores. It features a detachable LCD TV screen and Internet browsing capability. "With a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 90 min as well as a power adapter, the detachable tablet can be removed from the fridge and brought to the dining room table, countertop, or wherever is convenient," he explains.

The appliance offers an endless array of the latest communication, entertainment, and information features, according to the company. Consumers can send and retrieve e-mail, do online shopping and Internet surfing, send text or video messages to family members, watch TV, display and share digital pictures, organize the family's schedules, store important phone numbers, and organize and control all refrigerator functions with ease.

LG Electronics shipped almost 300 units of its Internet Refrigerator, said to the be first of its kind, in the first month and a half of its release in October 2002.

"Until recently, the kitchen and home computer were kept in separate rooms in most households," says Mr. Kang of the company. "While the Internet refrigerator is not meant to take the place of the home computer, it does bring multimedia technology and Internet connectivity into the kitchen."

Refrigeration Diversification

With extreme options like Internet refrigerators and custom refrigerators finding niche success, and with undercounter refrigeration applications becoming increasingly popular, demands in the refrigerator market are becoming increasingly diverse.

"The markets around the world are highly differentiated," explains Hans-Kersten Hrubesch, director, head of Product Marketing for Bosch in Germany. "Even in one region, demand can be very heterogeneous. Appliances have to fulfill very carefully the consumer needs in each region and even each country."

Among Bosch's new products, its Table Top "easystore" concept is a good fit for Central Europe and England, according to Mr. Hrubesch. "Our bottom freezers do well in Europe and China, and our top freezer XD is suitable for Turkey and Southern Europe."

Mr. Hrubesch says that exterior and interior design are important considerations, but cannot be seen as global. "Refrigerator designs must be reconsidered for each region's consumer habits, functions, and tastes."

Distributed Refrigeration Systems Will Change the Way Stores Look and Work - and Their Cost

Today, new technologies and design concepts from many disciplines are converging that promise to change future store designs substantially - and reduce their costs significantly.

For insights into new design trends, Fresh Ideas, a publication of Emerson Climate Technologies, interviewed Allan and Clive Samuels, principals of Clive Samuels & Associates Consulting Engineers. The following was taken from that interview.

Conventional refrigeration systems have followed a centralized design plan. Often, a single refrigeration room, typically in the rear of the store, houses multiple compressor systems. In this format, suction and liquid piping extends throughout the store to feed cases and coolers. This centralized design approach includes inherent costs that could be substantially reduced with a distributed design concept, which involves the application of multiple smaller rooftop refrigeration units, targeted directly at fixtures. For example, a distributed system offers the following cost-saving opportunities:

  • reduced structural requirements due to lower weight rooftop equipment
  • significantly reduced piping and refrigeration because compressors are targeted or co-located adjacent to refrigeration fixtures
  • opportunities for enhanced equipment efficiencies and control efficiencies

Distributed design offers lower construction costs as a result of the greatly reduced piping and structural steel requirements. Distributed design also can mean lower operating costs because of the targeted nature of the design, which reduces piping and creates the opportunity for lower pressure loss, which has a large impact on the system's energy efficiency.

While emphasizing that costs depend on many variables, Clive Samuels said, "We believe a distributed design refrigeration system can offer a 10 percent reduction in their overall construction, equipment, and installation costs, and we estimate a potential for about 5-percent reduction in operating costs.

"A distributed system provides the advantage of simplicity," Mr. Samuels pointed out. "That means a reduced installation requirement resulting in shorter time to market for new construction.

"Also, by definition, a distributed system means that all your eggs are not in one basket. So, a failure is limited rather than system wide, as it is with centralized design."

 

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