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issue: August 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Cover Story: 43rd Annual Report on Cooking Appliances
Where’s the E in Cooking?


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Lisa Bonnema, contributing editor

With no stringent energy standards in place, cooking appliance engineers are using in-house ingenuity to make cooking as efficient as possible.

In an effort to “spare our resources,” design student Ciprian Mihai Frunzeanu of Romania has developed a concept appliance that has taken an entirely new approach to combining the cooktop and oven into one unit. The reconstructed oven is a series of flat cooking plates that can be used like a traditional electric and/or induction cooktop, or the plates can be reconfigured to form an oven on top of the cooktop. The concept appliance was presented at Electrolux’s Design Lab 2009.

Who would have thought the term “green” would ever mean more than cost to the appliance industry? Sure, cost is still a top concern—and always will be—but for today’s appliance engineers, the design roadmap seems to lead to one place: energy efficiency.

Of course, getting there is far from a quick trip, especially for cooking appliance engineers. Cooking isn’t exactly known for its green potential. “We’re challenged because there are currently no Energy Star ratings for cooking appliances,” notes George Simadiris, vice president of engineering at Dacor (Diamond Bar, CA, U.S.; www.dacor.com). “So manufacturers are left to their own devices in determining the most efficient practices for wall ovens, cooktops, etc.”

Even in eco-friendly Europe, cooking is not an efficiency priority. “Cooking appliances have been kept slightly aside in the struggle for extreme energy labels,” Nicola Boari, product marketing director at Indesit Co. (Fabriano, Italy; www.indesit.com), tells APPLIANCE magazine.

However, the growing trend to be environmentally responsible is pushing manufacturers to find new ways to make cooking more efficient. Perhaps the easiest way that cooking manufacturers can wave their green flag is with induction. Manufacturers like BSH Home Appliances Corp. (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S.; www.boschappliances.com) are quick to tout the technology’s efficiency, telling consumers their induction cooktops are 30% more efficient than competitive technologies. “Induction is the most energy-efficient cooking technology,” Malte Peters, cooking product manager, BSH Home Appliances, says. “We project demand for induction cooking will be on rise in the coming years.”

Boari of Indesit agrees: “Induction hobs represented a quantum leap in terms of energy efficiency, and further improvements are expected.”

And, so far, the eco-angle seems to be working. After years of failed attempts, consumers are finally starting to accept induction, a “new” technology that has actually been around for decades.

But not everyone feels the technology is as environmentally friendly as the industry is claiming. David Ward, a senior scientist at the European Commission–Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy, feels cooking engineers still have a lot of work to do. “Induction has that ‘Star Trek’ appeal, but once this wears off, it is a technology that devours energy (directly and indirectly), has serious RFI [radio-frequency interference] issues, and forces the consumer to behave in a way that is often not easily accepted.”

Ward agrees that induction can save energy in terms of performing certain tasks; however, that is only part of the formula. Industry often forgets about the energy spent to make the parts to assemble the cooktop. “The core technology of induction units is both complex and advanced,” Ward notes. “It requires sophisticated RFI filters and cooling and precision plastics, which impose special heat-insulation techniques and/or technologies, especially when the cooktop is installed above an oven. Moreover, the space taken up between hobs also limits the overall exploitation of size, shape, and density of hobs. Often the energy needed to provide such a combination is not taken into account.”

Ward thinks the industry might be better served to look outside of the traditional boundaries of cooking. “If we look at the whole food-preparation process, we can really make an impact, as well as create much more business opportunities,” he says. “Also, consumers need to know not just about calories, but also watts and joules. Many recipes are good for your health, but what about energy consumption?”

 

A zeolite filter to absorb steam particles is one of three filters integrated into the Electrolux Professional Libero Point, a compact, mobile counter that also holds one or two Libero Line appliances. The integrated ventilation system solves a major mobile cooking problem—that of undesirable cooking odors being released into ambient air.

Induction Gets Interesting

For now, most manufacturers are focusing on developing appliances that show consumers that not all induction has to look the same. Viking Range Corp. (Greenwood, MS, U.S.; www.vikingrange.com) made its mark this year by introducing the first commercial-grade induction range for the U.S. premium market. Carrying a $6250 price tag, the 30-in. custom series induction range is 90% efficient and is self-cleaning.

Dan Lyvers, Viking’s vice president of engineering, describes numerous difficulties associated with developing the high-end range. “Some of the bigger challenges associated with this project were temperature management, space considerations, and agency approval,” he tells APPLIANCE. “Only through extensive design and testing was Viking able to overcome the temperature and space challenges.”

One specific temperature challenge was keeping the induction elements from being damaged during the high temperatures used during the self-clean cycles. “Viking overcame this challenge by providing the proper amount of airflow and insulation between the oven and induction elements to keep the temperatures within acceptable limits during the self-clean cycle,” Lyvers says.

Another critical factor, he adds, was challenging suppliers to help Viking develop components that met the requirements of the product. “With limited standards or procedures available, Viking had to work concurrently with established agency contacts when the data for certification of the induction range was submitted,” he explains.

Induction’s expense has limited the technology to high-end appliances, but increased popularity and greater economies of scale are helping nudge down the cost to manufacture. Despite its advantages, some consumers are reluctant to give up the conventional gas or electric cooking technology they’ve used all their lives.

The strategy of Electrolux Major Appliances, North America (Augusta, GA, U.S.; www.electroluxappliances.com) was to meet the reluctant consumer in the middle by offering its Induction Hybrids. “The target was to create a product that consumers can use seamlessly to enjoy the benefits of multiple cooking modes,” says Mike Longe, product manager, freestanding ranges. “It is a good means to give consumers the value added of induction while maintaining the comfort of more-traditional cooking methods.” So far, the cooktop is receiving “strong response” in the marketplace, he adds.

According to Longe, combining standard electric cooking and induction in one cooktop required some creative engineering. “Keeping the heat from conventional elements separated from the induction elements is a challenge in designing a cooktop using both technologies,” he tells APPLIANCE. While the design solution is proprietary, Longe does say the key was drawing on the experience of its global engineering and design network. “From our professional foodservice business, our designers and engineers are very familiar with the technology,” he tells APPLIANCE.

Reluctance to embrace induction can also come from its cookware requirements. The electromagnet induces heat in the cooking vessel itself, not in the cooktop, so cooking vessels with magnetic properties are required. Steel and cast iron work well. Aluminum, glass, and ceramic do not.

BSH is addressing this concern by including a cooking vessel with some of its Bosch electric and induction cooktops. In fact, the OEM has built its AutoChef cooking technology around an aluminum core pan. The technology uses a platinum sensor to measure the temperature from the bottom of the pan. Software then evaluates the temperature-
measurement performed by the sensor and applies the necessary heat to the element. The cooktop heats the pan to the desired temperature and makes an audible sound when it’s time to place the food in the pan. “Since AutoChef is such a precise cooking technology, and each pan on the market is different in terms of components, we selected a premium pan and engineered our technology to precisely respond to it,” Peters explains.

In fact, it seems that manufacturers shouldn’t underestimate the role that cooking vessels can play in increasing product performance. Cookware manufacturers like Eneron (Palo Alto, CA, U.S.; www.eneron.us) are investigating new pot designs that may help make ranges and cooktops more efficient. For more information, see the technical paper on page 20.

 

Sharp Electronics’ AX-1200S SuperSteam Oven uses an LCD display and is operated with a jog shuttle to navigate through 43 automatic settings in just two to three steps. The consumer selects one of four cooking methods—SuperSteam convection, steam, convection, or microwave—and the display tells the consumer exactly what to do, step by step.

Green Design, Green Manufacturing

Even as consumer acceptance of induction grows, the industry is faced with the task of making traditional cooking technologies more efficient—even if it’s one percentage point at a time. Indesit says it is taking a holistic approach toward energy-efficiency improvements. “We believe that an advanced control system without high-quality components specifically designed for energy efficiency is not enough to obtain the best results,” Boari of Indesit says. “So we work on mechanical components, optimizing thermal and fluid-dynamic efficiency, and on electronic control.”

Specifically, the company is reengineering its heating elements—gas, electric, and induction—to ensure efficiency maximization in any use conditions. “Also, extensive use of computer-aided engineering allows us to design and refine heat management, to minimize energy waste,” Boari says.

Indesit is also looking beyond glass fiber for thermal insulation, which Boari believes is one of the most important elements in increasing energy efficiency. “Several solutions are under evaluation,” he says. “Besides the drive toward energy efficiency, [European] legislation is foreseen, heavily limiting the possibility to use ‘traditional’ fibrous materials, implying a whole new scenario for oven insulation, with no indications at the moment of the winning technology.”

Miele (Gütersloh, Germany; www.miele.de) is also focusing on using innovative and efficient insulation materials. Winfried Luthe, head of R&D for ovens, says the company is working on developing intelligent concepts to reduce standby power, intelligent controls for consumers utilizing relatively smaller amounts of energy, the use of residual heat during cooking programs, and technologically advanced coating of the glass doors.

Sharp Electronics (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.; www.sharpusa.com) is focusing much of its efforts on lighting. “It’s been a high priority for us to evaluate the energy efficiency of each component in our appliances,” notes Harry Hessen, senior director of product planning, design, and marketing. “Sharp has a unique advantage of being an LED company now, and we’re looking at applications that would both increase energy efficiency and brighten lighting. We’ve also taken steps to reduce energy consumption by incorporating a sleep mode on our LCD displays.”

Dacor is maximizing gas cooktop efficiency using sealed burners that require less energy to heat than traditional burners. In addition, the company’s wall ovens use a patented bake element, which is hidden beneath glass, to reduce preheat times for faster cooking.

However, Simadiris says that designing efficient appliances goes beyond the key features of a particular product. “It also includes how the product was manufactured, what materials were used in the manufacturing process, and the overall efficiency of the plant in which it was manufactured,” he tells APPLIANCE.

Simadiris says all Dacor products are shipped with 80% postconsumer-recycled materials; all water from its manufacturing plant is treated to remove harmful materials, chemicals, and waste; and all scrap steel and stainless steel is resold and recycled. In addition, the company is developing an internal Green Council, which will include team members from various disciplines within the company to focus on establishing and achieving energy reduction goals and implementing overall sustainable business practices.

“From a manufacturing standpoint, we would like to source more parts from within the United States, and we are currently researching an alternative solution for the chemical etching process,” Simadiris adds.

 

Winner of the Good Design Award from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, the Multiplo from Indesit Co. is an induction appliance designed with integrated cooking vessels. It can perform five different cooking tasks and, with the seven included accessories like steam baskets and pasta drainers, users can perform two different cooking tasks at the same time.

Consumer Usage Trends

In terms of consumer usage trends, Sharp believes the U.S. appliance industry may see a shift toward smaller ovens, ranging from 1.5 to 2.0 cu ft. “I do think people are beginning to recognize that appliances are big energy users, and as such are moving toward smaller appliances,” Hessen says. “In Japan, the mind-set is very different, where the majority of the population cooks using smaller ovens. The U.S. has typically had a different mentality, where everything is centered on Thanksgiving. With the rise of baby boomers, consumers are not requiring large ovens and are instead turning to smaller ovens.”

Hessen says that with smaller ovens, consumers can cook an entire meal using much less energy. At 1.1 cu ft, the company’s SuperSteam oven, for instance, offers a Balanced Meals function, which allows consumers to cook one of the preprogrammed meals in less than 25 minutes without the use of any other appliances. “This is surely one example of how one appliance can eliminate the need for multiple appliances to be used for cooking, cutting down on energy usage,” Hessen says.

As part of a new suite of Energy Management Enabled Appliances, GE Consumer & Industrial (Louisville, KY, U.S.; www.geappliances.com) is developing ranges and microwaves equipped with Smart Meters that can communicate with local utilities. Consumers will be notified of a rate change or of critical peak pricing on a display on their appliances, letting them know when higher rates are in effect. Appliances will be programmed to avoid energy usage during that time, but consumers may choose to override the program.

The appliance maker is currently undergoing a pilot program with Louisville Gas and Electric Co. (LG&E) and is still seeking utility companies to collaborate with in the lofty endeavor. In a recent statement, Kevin Nolan, vice president, technology, for GE Consumer & Industrial said: “We believe that peak load reduction is the next opportunity in energy-saving appliances. We believe that smart, energy-management-enabled appliances will be the next phase of innovation.”

Sharp is working on something similar. “At Sharp Laboratories of America, in Camas, WA, U.S., our R&D team is working on solutions for appliances to be able to work with smart meters,” Hessen states. “In the future, we foresee your oven being able to tell you how much power it’s using or even alert you to off-peak hours for more-energy-efficient cooking.”

Although most companies agree that displaying consumption data is a good energy-saving opportunity for cooking appliances, Luthe of Miele feels anything more than that might not be an effective strategy for this category. “Shutting down cooking appliances during peak times will not be a promising development because it would involve a major reduction of the possibilities to use the appliances,” Luthe says. Indeed, a hungry consumer will most likely be pushing the override button on their smart-meter range come 5 p.m.

 

Energy Challenges Come to Cooking

The fact is that cooking appliance manufacturers are faced with a unique challenge as they try to attack an issue that, up until this point, has really been more about other appliance categories. In the United States, no Energy Star ratings exist for cooking appliances yet, but companies like Dacor and Sharp say they would be in favor of such a program.

In Europe, energy requirements for cooking appliances have not been a major focus, but both Indesit and Miele anticipate more-stringent minimum-energy-efficiency requirements for the category in the coming years. “The requirements are becoming even more strict, which is why the compliance with these regulations is one of the most important focus points for future developments,” Luthe says.

What is clear is that the issue of energy usage is not going away any time soon. “Energy efficiency and environmental responsibility should be a concern of every manufacturer—from how their products are engineered, manufactured, and shipped; how they perform during their lifetime; and how they’re eventually recycled,” says Peters of BSH. “Energy efficiency is most notable in appliances that are constantly on (refrigeration) or use water, electricity, and/or gas (dishwashers, laundry). However, we are continually looking for ways to increase efficiency across all appliance categories, including cooking.”

Adds Simadiris of Dacor: “It’s no secret that we all need to become more conscious of our impact on the environment, and energy efficiency should be a greater concern in the cooking category.” 

 

 

 

 

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