issue: August 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine
42nd Annual Cooking Report
Engineering Intelligent Cooking
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by Lisa Bonnema, Senior Editor
Appliance engineers are building their designs around one of the most important ingredients for success—the consumer.
A Design Award-Winner
- An Electrolux cooktop that earned a design Mark from the Australian International
Reengineered Wall Oven
- GE reconfigured its wall oven to put two ovens in the space of one.
Flashy Glass for Cooktops
- Flashy glass allows appliances designed with more colorful cooktops.
Oven Hinge Meet Shock Absorber
- With a touch, an oven door can open softly - even without handles.
- A heat-insulating partition divides an Indesit oven into two separately functioning
Thermador launches the new version of its patented StarBurner.
Design Edge for Artisan Appliances
- Italy’s cooking
appliance producer De Manincor eliminates prototyping and cuts time
to market with product lifecycle management software.
Smaller Oven, New Factory
As cooking appliances get smarter, it seems logical to assume that technology is the driving force behind the latest innovations in ranges, ovens, and cooktops. But that assumption would be wrong. While sensors and other electronics are certainly enabling new features, appliance companies like AB Electrolux (Stockholm, Sweden, www.electrolux.com) are quick to point out that the consumer comes first, then the technology. “All product development at Electrolux starts with a consumer insight,” says Christoph Walther, European product manager, electric built-in ovens. “Focusing on manufacturing and technology alone would not bring success to our company. We try to understand the needs and wants of the consumers, and develop products that meet these demands. That is why we keep our focus mainly on the consumer—not only on the technology.”
There’s no difference in the physics of induction cooking technology from manufacturer to manufacturer. “What separates the different manufacturers are the controls, and more importantly, how the units are constructed,” says Oliver Schmidt, product manager for kitchen appliances at Miele (Princeton, NJ, U.S., www.miele.com).
Differentiation is extremely important. Schmidt explains that Miele’s induction cooktop (pictured) uses individual modules for each burner, whereas many competitive models use a single module for all burners or modules for two burners. “This means that if one burner fails on a Miele, it can be replaced by itself, whereas others will have to replace all burners associated with that module,” he says.
Putting the consumer first is certainly not a new concept, but the latest cooking appliances entering the market seem to have truly turned this idea into good design. Take the latest trend in consumer cooking: the at-home chef. With cooking shows available 24 hours a day and celebrity chefs becoming household names, consumers want to experiment, and more importantly, they want to cook well. The dilemma? Time.
Enter the Inspiro oven from Electrolux. The oven is designed to automatically select the correct temperature and cooking time for each dish. Consumers simply push a button, and the oven makes precise calculations based on data about what’s in the oven and makes the appropriate adjustments. According to Walther, the idea is to offer consumers a function similar to the autofocus and autoexposure features on a camera. “For the oven and for the camera, it is all about pushing one button to ensure a professional result,” he says.
A New Way of Cooking
Based on three years of research and development, Walther says the Inspiro manages heat in a completely different way than conventional ovens. “Rather than just measuring the air temperature with a thermometer and regulating it with a thermostat, the way a conventional oven operates, Inspiro uses a sensor to calculate the precise combination of energy consumption and time needed to bring the food to the correct temperature,” he explains.
Pulling from a database of professional cooking experience gathered by Electrolux, the oven determines what the correct final temperature of the dish should be and chooses the appropriate heating mode—baking, grilling, or convection—or a combination of modes. It even determines what rack the food should be on, and whether or not the consumer should use the built-in oven probe.
So how does it work? The oven undergoes a four-hour calibration sequence when it is installed. During this process, the oven heats up and cools down several times. Walther explains: “At each cycle, the oven calculates the incoming voltage to determine the precise amount of energy required to change the temperature and compensate for variations in incoming current. It also adjusts to account for the effect of surrounding walls and insulation.”
When cooking, the oven starts with an initial fast heat-up. Within five minutes, the appliance informs the user of the approximate time needed to cook the dish. The oven then heats up a second time, but this time with only one dedicated heating element. According to Walther, this lowers the total amount of power, but enables “a more precise correlation to the food-heating process.” Then the normal cooking process begins. When the oven is just about finished, the user is alerted to check the result, and he or she has the option of fine-tuning the food manually. Walther says this is an important feature because it provides busy users with a simple cooking solution that does all the thinking, but still allows ambitious consumers to be creative.
This type of “intelligent cooking” is also finding its way into cooktops. Thermador, a brand of BSH Home Appliances Corp. (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S.; www.boschappliances.com), introduced electric cooktops that use an infrared sensor technology called Sensor Dome to prevent overcooking and overboiling. A retractable sensor dial utilizes an infrared beam to continuously measure the heat from cookware. The electronic circuit compares the actual temperature of the pot with the programmed temperature and regulates the element accordingly. The sensor then automatically shuts the burner off, as well as cycles it on and off, to maintain the precise temperature needed. This not only ensures a good cooking result, but also is more energy efficient since it is using the exact amount of energy needed.
Christian Gallitz, cooking product marketing director, says this allows the cooktop to perform operations previously reserved for ovens or microwaves. “It is the first time that a cooktop is regulated by a program,” he says. “It took a lot of engineering creativity to develop this technology. The goal was to develop a sensor which is not distracted by humidity or heat coming from the element.”
To overcome this design challenge, BSH worked closely with Fissler, a cookware manufacturer that actually invented the technology. The final design was perfected and introduced in Europe under the Siemens, Bosch, and Neff brands. It is now being offered in the United States as part of Thermador’s Masterpiece series. “This technology is popular in Europe, but was only positioned in the high-end market and offered for a price not accessible for the majority,” Gallitz says. “Thermador is the first company that offers this technology at an accessible price.”
According to BSH, meeting the ultimate consumer need—low cost—while offering advanced-technology features continues to be the main challenge facing today’s appliance engineer. “The future of cooking technology is making smarter appliances with sensors and electronics that will cost less,” says Mario Elizondo, a design engineer in BSH’s cooking engineering department. “There are technologies available today that are not cost-effective. Changes in the costs of electronics, sensors, and such will eventually come into the market once they are more cost-effective. Finding alternative materials, fabrication processes, and new designs that will result in less cost to the appliance and [have] no impact to the perceived quality in the market are also a constant focus.”
Offering consumers cooking versatility is another design focus, Elizondo tells APPLIANCE. “There is no new technology here,” he notes. “However, the consumer sees added flexibility as an innovative
approach to cooking.”
U.S. manufacturer GE Consumer & Industrial (Louisville, KY, U.S., www.ge.com) is tackling this need with its GE Profile 30-in. single/double oven. The company has reconfigured the design of its wall oven to offer two ovens in the same space of a single oven. By placing the control panel on the oven door, GE engineers were able to free up the space usually occupied by traditional panels. The resulting two-oven design provides 5.0 cu ft of capacity and allows users to cook two dishes at two separate temperatures.
To provide even more flexibility, the lower 2.8-cu-ft oven offers both convection and slow-cooking options. According to GE, the convection system utilizes reverse-fan technology and takes up very little space, leaving room to cook a 22-lb turkey.
Whirlpool Corp. (Benton Harbor, MI, U.S., www.whirlpool.com) has combined the consumer need for easy cleaning with the growing concern for the environment by offering the SteamClean option in its Gold series electric ranges. The feature gives consumers the option of “spot cleaning” light spills on the bottom of the oven cavity. “The average consumer cleans the oven only twice a year—either by hand-scrubbing with chemicals or using the energy- and time-consuming self-clean setting,” Vikas Sharma, senior cooking category manager, tells APPLIANCE. “When used routinely, the SteamClean option reduces the need for frequent self-clean cycle use.”
To use the feature, consumers pour 12 oz of water into the bottom of the oven cavity, close the oven door, and push the SteamClean button. At the end of the cycle, users wipe out the bottom of the oven to remove oven soils.
The ovens also use the cooking industry’s first Energy Save mode. When not in use for five minutes or more, the appliance dims extra features like the digital clock and display to conserve energy. Touching any control on the console brings the power back. Whirlpool estimates the appliances to be 290% more efficient than its previous ranges.
A ribbon element is situated beneath a glass covering (pictured) to create the RapidHeat Bake Element from Dacor (Diamond Bar, CA, U.S., www.dacor.com). “The glass covering helps make the difference in increased conductivity for faster preheating as radiant energy passes into the oven through the glass,” explains Bob Lewis, Dacor vice president of product development. “The advantage to the chef is not just visible response, but faster heating with the glass barrier in lieu of the usual oven floor of steel and porcelain.”
Sharma adds that Whirlpool considers the environment during the production process by working closely with key suppliers. “The glass ceramic on Whirlpool electric ranges is supplied by Schott Ceran,” Sharma says. “The company has changed the manufacturing process to eliminate heavy metals and avoid contributing to the use of arsenic to the tune of approximately 60 tons each year.”
Paolo Bertazzoni, president of Italian cooking appliance maker Bertazzoni (Guastalla, Italy, www.bertazzoni-italia.com), says the environment is “a paramount guideline” in his company’s appliance designs. This includes making burners as efficient as possible. “One key parameter of the burner efficiency is having the right distance between the casserole bottom and the flame tips,” he explains. “Usually, efficiency is improved by reducing this distance, but this increases the emission levels of carbon dioxide.”
Bertazzoni says the company’s uniquely sealed burners achieve very low carbon dioxide emissions, enabling the ideal distance of flame tips to the pot. “This achieved higher efficiency means faster and more-precise cooking, and less consumption,” he says. “A by-product of these three factors is greater attention paid to the environment in everyday use.”
Keeping It Clean
Fisher & Paykel Appliances (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S., www.fisherpaykel.com) has designed a “gas-in-glass” cooktop that addresses the consumer’s top complaint about gas cooktops—cleaning. Mixing the performance of gas with the easy cleaning of ceramic cooktops, the new CookSurface cooktop features independently operated gas retractable burners and pan supports. The appliance is designed with a frameless piece of black glass that supports three individual burners. When not in use, the pan supports and burners lay flush with the cooking surface. To start the cooking process, users push an intuitive knob to lift the pan supports and burners into place and turn the dial to ignite the gas flame.
Scott Davies, product manager, says there are two main technology advancements behind the new cooktops—a completely new burner system and a unique lifting mechanism.
The company’s patented AeroBurner system utilizes a fan burner and airflow technology that is said to provide improved performance, efficiency, and heat-up times compared with conventional burners. “AeroBurners use a fan to provide combustion air and improve circulation in and around the sides of the burner head,” Davies explains. “This creates an improved gas mixture. At high heats, this air mixes with gas to get clean combustion. At low heats, the air is used to dilute the temperature on the bottom of the pot, leading to effective lower turndown.”
Each burner is designed with its own lifting mechanism that consists of rugged aluminum castings. An electric motor and leadscrew arrangement ensure that the castings move smoothly, and a crank mechanism brings up the control knobs at the same time.
Davies says safety was a key consideration when developing the new cooktop. “We have incorporated an electronic flame-failure reignition system, which ensures that if the flame has gone out, it will relight or turn off the gas,” Davies says. Key lock, hot-surface indicators, and electronic overheat protection have also been incorporated into the design.
Even the layout of the burners is a safety feature. “Developing three burners in a row not only is an ergonomic advantage, but also ensures that the user isn’t moving pots and pans over burners as they do in traditional two-by-two burner cooktops,” Davies says.
Finding the Formula
Most appliance companies would agree that designing for the user is a simple concept, but certainly not an easy task. As brand managers strive to identify the latest consumer need, engineers are working hard to develop cost-effective technology to meet those needs. Together, innovation is born and, hopefully, success is achieved.
“Every company must find its own path to be a winner in the competition,” notes Walther of Electrolux. “We strongly believe in our strategy—building a strong global brand and developing products based on consumer insight. And we can see that it is working.”
New gas cooktops from Thermador are equipped with the next generation of the company’s patented StarBurner. Working with Chattanooga, TN, U.S.-based Burner Systems International (BSI, www.burnersystems.com), the appliance maker improved the Btu power from 16k to 18k on the strongest burner.
“It is much more difficult to achieve good carryover and low turndown with the star shape, but in doing so we created much better pan coverage, especially while simmering,” says Christian Gallitz, cooking product marketing director.
“As for the overall design, a lot of thought was put into the porting system, as well as the distribution and mixing system within the burner (venturi) in order to have the correct mixing of gas and air to optimize efficiency, flame spread, noise, combustions, etc.,” he continues. “Just as demanding was determining the burner locations and overall cooktop design to optimize pan spacing, burner performance, and pass all CSA temperature standards for built-in cooktops.”
Another design focus was making the burners easier to clean. “The burner sits slightly back on the volcanoes, so there are no cracks where food could get in,” Gallitz says. “Also, by having the ports in the burner base instead of the burner cap, we have improved cleanability.”