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issue: September 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

60th Annual Report on Laundry
Globalizing Laundry


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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

Laundry appliance producers are using energy efficiency, quietness, and improved appearance to boost their brands and models around the world.

Fisher & Paykel Appliances’ laundry line includes an efficient top-load washer and a unique top-load dryer. The AquaSmart clothes washer features a low-profile agitator, automatic water level selection, and temperature sensing for the most efficient use of detergent. According to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, a nonprofit public benefits corporation, the washer falls into a category that means it saves at least 341 kWh of energy per year annually over a washer meeting the 2007 U.S. federal standard.

The AeroSmart large-capacity dryer has a drum that tumbles in forward and reverse, which is said to reduce creasing and tangling. The dryer is designed with a self-cleaning lint screen and a lint reservoir that does not have to be emptied for up to 15 cycles.

With brands in multiple countries, today’s laundry appliance producers are concentrating their design efforts on the features that count in their markets. Almost universally, one of these features is energy efficiency. Consumers are more aware that efficient models are less costly to operate, their awareness advanced by public information programs and rankings of washers’ energy and water efficiency.

Quietness is another important multinational design goal. More homes have laundry appliances sited close to living areas than in the past, and washer and dryer noise is less tolerated by consumers.

“The trend toward moving the laundry closer to the living areas of the home seems to be happening in all our markets,” observes Scott Davies, product manager at Fisher & Paykel. “Our customers want good-looking products that are quiet enough to use at night without waking the family.”

As Davies implies, more-prominent locations for laundry appliances are encouraging OEM efforts to add punch to appearance. Producers have designed control panels that are sleeker and more eye-catching. They have added bright colors, chrome, and stainless steel for panels or trim. Washers and dryers have often been designed to be a matched pair, with coordinated appearance. They are now sometimes matched in terms of function, as well, with drying cycles timed to be the same length as wash times.

Despite these near-universal laundry appliance design trends, regional preferences add variety to the market. In North America, larger capacity is more important than elsewhere. Different regions and countries have preferences on top-loading versus front-loading washers. Manufacturers also continue to cater to specialty appliance needs with products like nontumble dryer cabinets, combination washer/dryers, and even top-load tumble dryers.

A Big Difference

With a 3.8-cu-ft stainless wash basket and 7.0-cu-ft dryer drum, this GE front-load laundry pair is said to be big enough to handle 23 full-size bath towels. The washer exceeds 2007 Energy Star guidelines by 16%.

Size matters, at least in the North American market. Homes here generally have more room for laundry appliances than in Europe and Asia, and consumers take advantage of this space. Consumers for years have been presented with washer models with capacities ranging from “large” upwards. Bigger capacities mean less loading and unloading of machines.

Some newer kids on the block, namely front-loaders, are making big noises about capacity. Whirlpool Corp. points out that front-loading washers have a capacity advantage since they do not require an agitator like conventional top loaders. This permits consumers to fit more clothes in the cavity. The company says its Duet washer is 23% larger than a conventional top-loading machine, with an equivalent capacity of 3.8 cu ft.

Meanwhile, at this year’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), LG Electronics USA showed a line of washers with capacities of 3.5 cu ft and 3.83 cu ft, and a 4.0-cu-ft model that LG says is the largest front-load washer available for home use.

Front-loader capacity of 3.5 cu ft is one of the features of the Frigidaire Affinity line, from Electrolux Home Products in the United States. Besides observing a consumer desire for large capacity, “Electrolux research confirms a growing trend toward larger and more-visible laundry rooms or areas in today’s homes,” says Dean Brindle, product manager. “The Affinity design was fashioned with smooth, clean, contemporary lines that add a touch of elegance to the laundry.” In addition, the company added three colors—arctic white, glacier blue, and black diamond.

BSH Home Appliances provides both 27-in.-wide and 24-in.-wide washer models in North America. “Global platforms are preferred from the manufacturing and engineering point of view,” points out Gotthard von Hundt, director, product management. “However, in order to best serve the needs of our local customers, we must have regional platforms. For example, the 27-in.-wide front-load laundry with their capacity is what the U.S. customer wants. In Europe, the consumer is mainly purchasing 24-in.-wide units. Regional platforms give us the opportunity to offer products tailored to the needs of the U.S. consumer. Nevertheless, innovations may be the same in 27-in. and 24-in. platforms.”

Efficiency Programs

Electricity and water resources are limited, and it is in the public interest to minimize resource use while maintaining or improving washer and dryer functions. The European Union, the United States, Australia, and several other markets have programs that provide point-of-sale and media in-
formation about energy efficiency and, sometimes, performance. While more-efficient appliances often come at a higher price than their less-efficient competition, electricity and water savings may offset the price. In some areas, consumer purchases are subsidized by rebates.

In the United States, a two-tiered system is in place. A federally mandated minimum efficiency level is required for washers. The level was raised in March from a 1.04 Modified Energy Factor (MEF) to a 1.26 level. According to a U.S. consumer product-testing magazine, some agitator models are having a hard time maintaining good washing performance while meeting the new minimums.

The voluntary Energy Star program has set a higher level of 1.72 MEF as of Jan. 1, 2008. Energy Star washers were 14% of the market in 2002, but grew to 38% in 2006, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).

Much of the increase in Energy Star shipments has been because of the growth of front-loading washing machines. These are usually more efficient than conventional top loaders. AHAM reports that shipments of front loaders grew from 9% in 2001 to 29% in 2006. In a market that has traditionally preferred top-loading agitator models, front-loading washer saturation was up to 14.5% in 2006.

BSH points out that all its models have an Energy Star qualification in every category that the program rates. By pushing the green EcoOption button on the new front-loading Nexxt 500 plus and 800-series washers, the consumer decreases the temperature and amount of energy used during the wash cycle by up to 20%. In order to not sacrifice performance, washing time is extended.

Europe has long had voluntary agreements on reporting of energy efficiency of household appliances, including clothes washers. However, in April, European appliance industry association CECED announced that agreements will not be updated. A key issue, highlighted in an Appliance Line editorial (May 2007, APPLIANCE, page 7), is fake efficiency credentials used by some companies. CECED supports a worldwide approach to product energy efficiency.

“Achieving ambitious energy efficiency objectives and ensuring effective enforcement of laws are two sides of the same coin,” observes Whirlpool vice president Irene Bellew. “We can’t meet and deliver on environmental targets without effective global action against dishonest producers and free riders.” She also highlighted the need for the World Trade Organization and the World Bank to promote energy efficient technology globally.

Are measurements accurate in the North American market? One appliance representative, who did not want to be identified, indicated some concerns.

From the standpoint of AHAM’s Jill Notini, director, communications and marketing, “Currently, manufacturers measure energy consumption, which includes a capacity measurement, according to the DOE test procedure. There is no outside verification process for energy testing. However, manufacturers do self-certify the energy results to DOE (U.S. Department of Energy).”

According to Fisher & Paykel’s Davies, the Australian market may be even more driven by water and energy issues than the North American market. “Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world and is struggling with a 100-year drought. Nearly 75% of New Zealand’s power is hydroelectric, and it was only a few years ago when the lake levels had dropped by approximately 55% due to dry weather. Australia and New Zealand have mandatory water and energy labeling, which requires meeting quite difficult performance standards. This means that not only do washers need to be very water efficient; they must also pass a difficult rinse-performance test.

“This is the challenge for all appliance manufacturers,” Davies adds. “Saving water without good rinse performance drives our customers to press the Extra Rinse buttons, which of course negates water savings. We are at an advantage in this area because our home market is leading the way with performance standards linked to water consumption.”

Top Loading

Samsung Electronics America focused on style and stealth in the design of its new VRT front-loading washing machine. The washer’s Vibration Reduction Technology cuts vibration and noise from unbalanced loads during the spin cycle. The washer comes in colors such as Onyx Blue, and the washers can be placed side-by-side on pedestals or stacked with a paired dryer. The company’s SilverCare technology is an option for cleaning delicate and colored fabrics, and is intended to remove odor-causing bacteria in cold water without bleach.

Probably the biggest split in washers is between top-loading vertical-axis and front-loading horizontal- (or sometimes tilted- ) axis washers. While most of the North American market still uses top loaders, the traditional designs with agitators are at an efficiency and capacity disadvantage. To serve those consumers that prefer top loading but still want better energy efficiency, some manufacturers are marketing models that dispense with the full-size agitator and use a stainless-steel wash basket. Prices tend to be several hundred dollars higher than for the more traditional top-load designs.

The results have been striking. Whirlpool markets a Cabrio model with a 4.5-cu-ft capacity. The GE Profile Harmony washer, from GE Consumer & Industrial, has a 4.0-cu-ft capacity and direct communication with a matching dryer. Sears, Roebuck & Co. has Oasis models that feature a tempered glass lid and 3.8 cu ft of capacity. Haier offers a 3.5-cu-ft Genesis top-load washer.

Fisher & Paykel markets top-loading washers and dryers in North America and elsewhere. “We have always believed the top-loading format is the ultimate solution for ease of use,” observes Davies. “In the majority of our markets, the top-loading washer format is the most accepted; the only exception to this is the European market. The key advantage to the front-loading format is the efficiency you can achieve. However, with our technology we have proven that a top-loading product can achieve similar efficiencies. We strongly feel that the future of washing platforms will combine the advantages of both formats, which we are beginning to see through our AquaSmart products.”

Fighting Wrinkles

Adding steam to a washer is not an intuitive development, considering that one of the goals of a washer is to drain water prior to clothes unloading. However, the LG SteamWasher, from LG Electronics USA, does just that. Steam can be incorporated into the wash cycle in one of two ways. The first is through the SteamWash function, which feeds hot steam particles into the top of the wash drum through a spray nozzle. The steam deeply penetrates the fabrics to remove dirt and stubborn stains and dissolve cleaning agents better, improving total wash performance while increasing energy and water savings. The second option, the SteamFresh cycle, injects steam via a pump-and-cartridge system into the tub, freshening and reducing wrinkles on dry clothing without water. The result is said to be less ironing and fewer trips to the dry cleaner.

At this year’s K/BIS, LG added a SteamDryer, which also incorporates the SteamFresh cycle, reducing wrinkles and removing odors from clothing. The laundry pair, in stainless steel, is scheduled to be available in the third quarter with suggested retail prices of about US$3500 each for the washer and the dryer. The dryer will also be available in the third quarter in white and wild-cherry finishes. Suggested retail prices range from about $1150 to $1400.

Whirlpool also introduced a steam dryer to the North American market. The Duet steam dryer delivers the benefits of steam technology, which relaxes wrinkles and removes odors inside the dryer. It uses the water line from the washer to spray a fine mist on clothes, and the water vapor penetrates fabrics to lift out odors and relax wrinkles while tumble drying. Clothing reportedly comes out refreshed and dry, ready to wear. The dryer is scheduled for fall availability in shades including diamond dust, white, biscuit, black, and white with sapphire blue.

The Driron from Fagor in Spain is billed as the first appliance that irons as it dries. Users hang their garments on hangers, weighted down with clip-on attachments, inside this wardrobe-like machine, and switch it on. Two hours later the clothes are said to emerge looking fresh and pressed. The system also comes with a drawer for placing smaller articles of clothing that don’t require pressing, such as socks and undergarments. The appliance uses a condensation system to extract humidity from laundry items.

Energy efficiency can be even more important to owners of commercial laundry appliances. This 30-lb capacity T-30X2 Express stack dryer is said to offer store owners lower operating expenses. It is designed for 21% faster drying, 6% less gas usage, and 16% less electricity used per cycle than the previous model. Dexter Laundry Inc. achieved this improved efficiency by incorporating better airfl ow into and through the dryer, as well as increased recirculation. The new right-shifted lint drawer allows the dryer to hang onto heated air longer. Integrated venting and dual-voltage motors and terminal block allow for quicker and easier installation. To enhance dryer durability and reliability there is an improved spider, shaft, and bearing assembly and a lint-free computer and coin-drop area. Easier access to the heat chamber and burner housing permits simplifi ed cleaning.

While the appliance does both drying and ironing, the latter is the main function, reports Lide Errarte, Driron marketing manager. “The Driron guarantees a good result for 85% of clothes, although obviously, that figure will depend on how demanding the person is at ironing. Marketing has begun in Spain, Portugal, the UK, The Netherlands, and Austria. In France we launched under our Brandt name.”

Ions and Free Radicals

Silver ions are used in SilverCare washers from Samsung Electronics America. The ion system is designed to kill bacteria and clean without the potential clothes damage that can result from immersion in hot water and bleach. There are also significant energy efficiency advantages with using cold water.

Top Loading

“We use SilverCare technology from about the middle of our washer line up,” says James Politeski, vice president of sales and marketing, home appliance division. “We are including the technology in washers worldwide under different names. We use ionic silver created through an electrolysis process. We have tested this technology significantly and don’t see any environmental issues with the use of silver ions. There is a tiny amount of silver ion in the rinse water and washer water. As soon as the ions get in the drain line, they bond and become inactive.

“The U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is looking into the effect of silver on the environment,” he adds. “Silver comes in a lot of forms. We are working every step of the way with them to help them understand the effect of our washers’ silver ions. The EPA could have a statement by the end of next year.”

Probably farther down the road, one laundry concept from the Electrolux design labs is the KaionWave washing system. This one-of-a-kind washing system uses ultraviolet-C light and free-radical oxygen for cleaning nanocoated fabric. Many hypothesize that this durable and stain-resistant fabric will be used to make the clothing of the future. The light can penetrate every article of fabric to kill bacteria and viruses, while the free-radical oxygen acts as a powerful oxidizing agent that can break down dirt into carbon dioxide and water, thus sanitizing the fabric. Functioning as both a washer and a dryer, the washing system is ideal for houses where space is limited. No water or chemicals are necessary to run this washing system, and it uses wireless electromagnetic induction technology. The waterless and chemical-free design requires minimal maintenance while the intuitive user interface is said to be safe and easy to operate.

An over-the-top concept? Well, maybe. But look at the pace of change and variety of features coming on the market now. You may not want to bet against new concepts becoming reality in the not-too-distant future.

 

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