issue: September 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine
59th Annual Report on Laundry Appliances
Washing Away the Competition
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by Jill Russell, Senior Associate Editor
Efficiency—be it with energy, water, time, or space, it is the driving design force as laundry manufacturers attempt to clean up with their latest garment care appliances.
To increase wash efficiency on its units, Siemens Home Appliances integrated a slanted tub design in its ultraSense™ Laundry System in combination with specially designed drum paddles. “The paddles are moving the clothes forward, the tilt in the tub is moving them backward and then of course, the drum is moving them around in both directions,” Chris Shanley, product manager for BSH Home Appliances, explains. The unit also features sensor “smarts” that optimize wash cycles based on water temperature, running time and suds level.
Keeping the competition at bay is the goal of any industry leader, and in the world of fabric care, appliance makers are focusing on making washers and dryers more efficient with cleaning technologies that include steam, modified agitators and drums and advanced electronics. And while efficiency is key around the globe with escalating standards and regulations, laundry appliance makers also are focusing on aesthetics and quiet operation. This is in response to the increasing number of laundry rooms in the home and the need to integrate the appliances in smaller spaces such as closets, the kitchen or bath space.
“There is more interest in having a good-looking laundry pair and in colored laundry as consumers move their laundry rooms from the basement to the second floor or to a room adjacent to the kitchen,” Tim Kavanaugh, director of merchandising for Korea-based LG Electronics, tells APPLIANCE. “We see it as efficiency on the one hand and new designs and features on the other that are driving growth in laundry.”
Whether it is in its own room or shares space with other appliances, one thing is certain—the laundry industry, which has seen several spins in technology in recent years, is using that momentum to create new solutions for current and anticipated consumer needs.
The latest U.S. Energy Star requirement—a voluntary efficiency standard that goes above and beyond the “required” efficiency level for all products—is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2007. The new level raises the Modified Energy Factor (MEF) to 1.72 from 1.42 in 2004 and 1.26 in 2000.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy is raising the minimum required MEF on all U.S. units. As of March 1, 2007, every washing machine has to comply with what was the 2000 Energy Star standard, 1.26 MEF, as opposed to the previous 1.04 level.
Although many companies pride themselves on the fact their products have and will continue to exceed both U.S. and international requirements, the standards are spurring efficient designs. “The standards are pushing development and development is being driven by standards,” Matt Sinclair, brand manager for Fisher & Paykel, explains. “One of the greatest challenges we face is maintaining our extremely high internal performance standards.”
Front-load washers have long been known to provide high efficiency in terms of both resources and cleanability. Despite front-load’s large hold on most of the European market and its recent popularity in North America, top-load washers still prevail as the market share leader in the U.S. and Canada. Also, horizontal-axis top loaders are still widely popular in France and OEMs around the globe are designing new technologies for the top-load market.
In fact, one company is combining the horizontal technology with a top-load design to meet several consumer needs. Equator Advanced Appliances introduced its Cobra-Hybrid—a full-size, top-loading, horizontal-axis combo washer-dryer. Atul Vir, president of the Houston, Texas, U.S.-based company says the design was spurred from European horizontal-axis top-loaders, which requires the user to open three doors—the initial machine housing, the outer drum and the inner drum—to place or retrieve clothes. With the Cobra, one touch opens the unit with the help of a door lever. “We started with a blank page for the Cobra design,” Vir says. “We questioned everything and in each case, we came up with an answer.”
And answer they did. In addition to a one-touch, one-door system, the Cobra is reportedly the first laundry appliance to utilize an automatic detergent dispensing system that allows the unit to store an entire bottle of detergent, a feature called Intellifill™. Based on the amount of water in the wash cycles, a proportional amount of detergent is dispensed. A sensor located at the bottom of the reservoir indicates when a refill is needed.
Sensor technology also enables the Cobra’s Load-Sensing Adaptive Fill. “The machine is so highly automated and controlled by electronics, it knows when you throw in one handkerchief or 10 towels,” Vir tells APPLIANCE. “Weight sensors determine how much water is needed for the ideal wash cycle based on the weight of the load.”
Wash cycles are carried out automatically with one-touch start and drying functions, including anti-wrinkle features, start automatically and immediately after the wash cycle ends.
Second-generation Cobra models will even boast Internet connectivity, which will eventually be based on Bluetooth technology. This, according to Vir, enables remote diagnostics and increased usability and control. When connected to the Internet, the unit is linked to the company’s servers and automatically reports service issues and orders replacement parts and repair. Vir says an added benefit is the users’ ability to start or stop the unit while outside the home over the Internet connection.
Connected or not, the 3.6-cubic-foot-capacity unit displays alerts on an LCD touch screen that also shows an interactive owner’s manual and help features, and will eventually contain multiple language modules, making it a truly global appliance. Equator says it plans to release the Cobra to the U.S. market later this year and has plans to offer it in other markets afterwards.
China-based Haier Group is also emerging in the top-load market with Haier America’s introduction of the Genesis™ washer. The company says the project is the result of 5 years of R&D and represents a U.S. $10-million investment. Steve Milz, general manager of product management and engineering for Large Appliances at Haier America, says the convergence of global technologies with top- and front-load units and efficiency requirements spurred the Genesis design.
The washer features what Haier dubs the double drive system—a pulsator in the center of the drum that runs in one direction while the inner tub, equipped with agitator blades, operates in the opposite direction. “We have a shower of water that, with the movement of the tub and pulsator in one direction and the pulsator in the other, creates a tremendous amount of agitation. The wash is basically throwing the dirt off the clothes and not redepositing it,” Milz explains.
The Genesis reportedly consumes 44 percent less energy than other Energy Star-rated products with the use of an electronically commutated motor, and uses 50 percent less water than traditional top-loaders with a 45-minute average wash cycle. This is in addition to a 35-percent increase in cleanability compared to other units, Haier says. Set for release in four different washer models, two dryer models with moisture sensors will also be available for a complete set.
Following the success of its Kenmore Elite front-loaders, Sears, Roebuck and Co. introduced its Oasis HE™ line of top-loaders earlier this year. “In the U.S., consumers want larger capacity units than the ones manufactured in Europe, so we’ve taken European technology and applied it to American needs,” Dan Pigatto, buyer of Laundry Products for Sears Holdings, says.
Instead of traditional agitator, Sears integrated its Invizible™ Agitator, a wash plate at the bottom of the drum that “rolls” clothes instead of dragging them against the drum wall. The wash plate is also said to help increase wash capacity and the Oasis boasts a 4.5-cubic-foot-capacity according to International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards. Coined Canyon Capacity, Pigatto says the unit can clean 23 bath towels in one load and even king-size comforters.
Additionally, the unit automatically calibrates itself for the ideal wash, rinse and spin cycles depending on the fabric type or cycle type the user selects. The unit is said to use 47 percent less water and 53 percent less energy, and a spin speed of 1,000 rpm adds to faster drying times.
The washer, featuring a glass lid, is paired with the Oasis dryer with a glass window door, in addition to a dual, direct-drive motor design. One motor powers the airflow and the other the drum rotation. Aware that the look of laundry appliances is gaining in importance, Sears made the Oasis available in Pacific Blue, Black Diamond and white-on-white color options.
“Our job is to develop products that can extend the life of clothes, be able to wash more of them and reduce the number of trips to the dry cleaner,” Pigatto says. “At the end of the day, it’s clear that high efficiency is here to stay and ‘conventional’ will continue to decline.”
Whirlpool Corporation, another player in both the front- and top-load markets, introduced its agitator-less top-loader—the Cabrio™. Using what is dubbed the 6th Sense™ system, fabrics are moved in a wave-like motion and with the Variable Wash Motion, a wash plate measures the load size and calculates a series of algorithms to determine the correct amount of water and time of wash cycle. As the wash plate moves, it then automatically adjusts the amount of motion needed depending on the fabric saturation level. The sensor technology, in addition to monitoring all aspects of the wash cycle, also measures the water inlet temperature, ultimately adding to the unit’s 55 percent energy efficiency rating and 41 percent water savings.
The Cabrio washer also helps to reduce drying times with a spin cycle that reaches up to 1,000 rpm. The dryer also incorporates AccelerCare technology—a sensor that monitors airflow and moisture levels to optimize the drying cycle.
“We placed the necessary information into a heat transfer algorithm and it allows to predict with a higher degree of accuracy, the dry time,” Mark Kovich, brand director of Fabric Care for Whirlpool, says.
Electrolux chose to improve the cleanability of its laundry products with a new line of washers that feature the patented Jetsytem—a wash system that the company describes as laundry taking a shower as opposed to a bath. The technology reportedly reduces washing times by 23 percent while driving 14 percent more water through clothes without increasing water consumption. Electrolux says this combination reduces wash and rinse cycles while preventing any fabric friction.
Laundry OEMs are also updating front-load technology with sensor “smarts” to increase efficiency and take the guess work out of
Miele is one such company that is integrating electronics in its products to surpass required efficiency standards. The company is gearing up to release a redesigned line of front-load washers and dryers in the U.S. on Jan. 2, 2007 based on its 60 cm by 60 cm European appliances that are converted to U.S. power. “The fact that European machines required a 240-V power supply limited the number of people that could experience Miele,” Matt Kueny, senior product development manager for the company, tells APPLIANCE. “Our goal was to achieve the appropriate cleaning results, but make the unit accessible to a broader audience in the U.S.”
To do so, Miele focused on controlling the four core components of laundry: mechanical action, chemical action, time, and temperature, for optimum results. Although the company can’t give away too many of its product secrets before the launch, Kueny did say the latest Miele machines will feature specialized wash programs controlled by specific algorithms and electronics—much like the ones found on its MasterChef ovens, but dubbed MasterCare—for specific fabrics that automatically modify water temperature, spin speeds and extraction cycles, according to the items being washed.
Miele also updated the look of its units, changing the control panel and overall style and shape. Inside, Miele integrated a patented fiberglass housing with a counterbalance molded directly into the drum. “Traditional systems have concrete and other materials mounted to the outside for stabilization, but they deteriorate over time,” Kueny explains. “This is completely contained and sealed inside the actual shell of the outer drum.” The direct-mount technology has reportedly allowed Miele to achieve an additional 7 to 8 other patents on the machine.
Electrolux’s Frigidaire® brand is also making waves in the front-load arena with its intelligent Affinity™ line that features advanced “smarts” by way of sensors and electronics. Frigidaire says it focused on ease-of-use on the units, which are available in a variety of colors, including glacier blue, platinum ice and arctic white. iCare™ Ultra, iWash™ Ultra and iDry™ Ultra settings work together to provide an optimized wash cycle from start to finish. iCare and iWash utilize a pressure switch to automatically determine and fill the drum with the ideal water amount and temperature. The setting also features a deep-cleaning sanitary cycle.
On the dryer side, iDry uses a moisture sensor to monitor saturation levels and avoid over-drying, which helps improve the longevity of clothes. In combination with a high airflow, it allows the dry time to equal the wash time, according to the company. “The washers get up to between 1,050 rpm and 1,110 rpm, which means we spin out more moisture. This means the dryer has to work less, which helps to balance the wash and dry times,” says Tom Bennett, laundry product line director.
Whirlpool is continuing to invest in front-load technology and recently introduced a smaller version of its Duet® pair. The Duet Sport™ HT is 2 inches shorter and shallower than its parent and, as such, can stack in narrow closets or slide under custom countertops. Whirlpool’s Kovich says the size change came after consumer research revealed some users thought the original was too large and wanted to fit the units in smaller spaces or on second-story installations.
Knowing that noise was a factor in such installations, Whirlpool developed a six-point suspension system to absorb off-balances. The system’s four shock absorbers and two support springs are said to eliminate any noise that typically resulted from vibration translating to the floor. The Duet Sport is smaller in footprint, but the HT model still offers a 3.6-cubic-foot capacity and can clean a queen-size comforter. A base model is 3.3 cubic feet.
Additionally, the Duet uses a heater for its sanitary cycle, raising washing water to 153°F (67°C) to kill bacteria. A quick wash cycle also cleans a load in a mere 28 minutes. That, paired with the 1,100-rpm spin cycle, helps to reduce overall laundry time.
High spin cycle speeds and sensors are also allowing Slovenia-based Gorenje to receive positive reactions. The company recently released its version of an intelligent washing machine that achieves a 2,000-rpm spin speed. Sales of the unit have reportedly soared in the drought-pending southeast United Kingdom as the washer calculates water levels based on weight via electronic sensors. Additionally, the unit’s UseLogic® computer monitors the rinse cycle and automatically shuts down when the load has been adequately rinsed, also with the help of sensors.
Miele will introduce three tumble dryers in its commercial laundry line that feature Timetronic controls or Profitronic M controls—time and sensor controls. According to Miele, temperatures and times are programmed using separate rotary switches and the respective drying time then counts down on a digital display. Drying times can be entered in 5-minute increments up to 1 hour. The dryers are available in 8 kg, 10 kg and 14 kg capacities and are said to be especially suited for smaller laundries.
aundry OEMs are also taking an entirely new spin on laundry, introducing products that launder products with new cleaning technology.
One such company is Samsung. The company released its SilverCare™ technology washing machine in Asia and Europe last year, although under the SilverNano™ name, and the unit is now available in the U.S. and Canada. The 3.79-cubic-foot-capacity unit is said to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria by releasing silver ions into the wash cycle.
“We’re not doing some kind of bio-engineering or molecular engineering. We are using material that is already naturally available in the environment,” Jeff Armstrong, senior marketing manager, explains. “The sanitizing power of silver has been known for generations and very simply we’re just applying it to laundry.”
To create the ions, a voltage is applied to two silver bars that are set parallel to each other. Water then runs through the bars, which carries the ions into the drum. The patented process carries a 10-year warranty and a technician replaces the silver when the material eventually erodes away.
Samsung also integrated design changes to its unit. The front-loading drum is tilted back 10 degrees to make loading and unloading easier. Additionally, the drum features a two-step baffle process. Water flows through the baffles to help saturate clothes quicker and “pushes” the clothes towards the front of the drum to compensate for the 10-degree tilt and prevent clothes from getting stuck in the back of the drum.
Definitely diverse on a technology standpoint, Samsung says it aims to win consumers over by creating awareness. “During the next several years, I hope we can ride the wave of momentum and consumers will see the benefit of silver very clearly,” Armstrong tells APPLIANCE.
Instead of silver, LG is utilizing steam. The company says steam is used both as its own 20-minute-long cycle to reduce wrinkles or refresh clothes without water or detergent and as an added component of the wash cycle to improve cleanability. “Not only is the water and detergent washing the clothes, but the steam is infusing the clothes when they are above the water line and there is more continuous cleaning,” Kavanaugh explains.
The washer also features a spin speed of 1,320 rpm. This, combined with the LG’s two-sensor dryer technology, provides efficient wash and dry times. In addition to a humidity sensor, LG’s latest dryer features an additional semiconductor-based sensor to detect humidity more accurately. “Sensors can detect humidity inaccurately and stop the dryer prematurely, especially if it is a small load,” Kavanaugh says. “We apply another sensor, not just a touching sensor [a pressure sensor that ‘feels’ the moisture level of the fabric], but a semiconductor sensor that really senses the humidity level [of the air] in the dryer.
Another way the company is optimizing time is with its remote monitoring system that is enabled with power line communications (PLC). The portable, hand-held device updates users on the progress and remaining time on the washing, steam and drying cycles.
Sweden-based Electrolux is also infusing its latest laundry products with steam and remote capabilities. The Electrolux Iron Aid dryer is set for release in Europe early next year and uses steam to clean even “dry clean only” garments. The company developed several cycles around steam technology, including a cycle designed to remove creases from dry clothing and one to gently clean wools or silks.
Electrolux is also helping users manage their time. The Electrolux Time Manager washing machine allows users to time their laundry to their schedule. “We are turning the logic upside down,” Nora Larssen, senior vice president for Fabric Care, Europe, tells APPLIANCE. “Rather than users asking for a program and the machine telling you how long it will take, uses tell the machine how much time they have and the machine indicates what is the best load to use for the available time.”
According to Alessandro Pellis, product business director for Front Load Washing Machines, this is achieved by the combination of several components, including electronics, the motor and sensors to monitor water level and temperature.
Indesit Company released its Platinum Collection under the Ariston brand. The 24-inch washers, dryers and combination units, pack quite a punch in the smaller package with a 16-pound capacity and spin speeds soaring up to 1,400 rpm—and all during a quiet operation at 46 dBa. The units feature super wash, pre-wash and soaking options, in addition to a sanitary cycle and a daily wash cycle that can reportedly clean a load in 30 minutes.
A Global Chore
Laundry appliances are going global, despite regional size, capacity and power differences. “You can see a certain convergence that is starting to occur and the consumers are now starting to appreciate the best features from all over the world,” Milz of Haier tells APPLIANCE.
Of course, companies are banking on what products and technologies will take off based on their recent investments. Some companies are pushing the efficient, resource-friendly front-loaders, while companies that have spent millions researching and developing close, if not equally, efficient top-loaders are confident the technology will remain the most popular in North America. At the same time, companies are taking a structured global approach and are offering products for all regions and preferences.
“The overall needs are clearly globalizing and we are clearly developing some common global technology platforms, but to respond to specific consumer needs is the best way to ensure a successful technology and product,” Larrsen of Electrolux says.
OEMs haven’t yet found a way to eliminate the chore of laundry altogether. Until they do, they’ll continue innovating to wash away the competition in the spinning laundry arena.
“Laundry remains a real chore for most consumers,” Sinclair of Fisher & Paykel says. “While the industry is being driven by water and energy usage, consumers’ time has become a precious resource. Speed is important and is going to become more important in designing laundry appliances.”
Pigatto of Sears agrees: “We’ve seen more change during the last 4 years to 5 years than we’ve seen in the last 50. At the end of the day we’re seeing a whole array of products that are designed to save water, energy, time, and money. In every case, these machines clean better than the conventional machines we’ve been selling for many years, and we’ll continue to improve.”
Internet Home Alliance Pilots Smart Laundry
Internet Home Alliance, the connected home group behind the Mealtime study to test how a connected kitchen can simplify meal preparation, is embarking on a new study to see how technology can ease another time-consuming home chore: laundry.
The Laundry Time study will determine how effective a networked laundry solution can be at simplifying and saving time. The study will also examine consumer attitudes about remote access and control of laundry appliances. The study includes products, services and consultation from Whirlpool Corporation, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Panasonic, and Procter & Gamble.
The study started in homes in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. and ends early this month. Laundry Time is built around a connected laundry solution that links a washer and dryer to a home network and sends text messages about the laundry’s progress to a computer, TV and/or cell phone. This technology enables consumers to manage the laundry process from remote locations such as a grocery store or soccer game.
“Doing laundry forces consumers to spend between 8 hours and 20 hours during the day or two stuck at home managing the laundry process,” Carol Priefert, senior product development manager for Whirlpool, says in a statement. “Laundry Time promises to ease the laundry burden in a meaningful way, enabling consumers to spend more quality time together where and how they want to.”
Whirlpool Corporation is providing front-loading, regular capacity washers and dryers and technical support. Hewlett-Packard is providing Digital Entertainment Centers and customer support services. Microsoft developed the Laundry Time software and is furnishing the pilot team with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, general technical support and coordinating cell phone service. Panasonic provided development around the transceivers, TVs and consumer insight research. Procter & Gamble provided consumer insights, focus groups facilities, consumer screening and development lab facilities.
The results of the Laundry Time study will be available to Alliance members in the fall of 2006 and the public in early 2007.
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