issue: September 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine
APPLIANCE Engineer - The Open Door
The Next Breakthrough in Microwaves?
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Bob Schiffmann, owner, R.F. Schiffmann Associates Inc.
Ingenuity is a crazy thing. Sometimes
it leads to innovative products that look good on paper and make
engineers giddy, but more often than not, these products get lost on
consumers and end up in the niche wasteland. Take the Polara
refrigerated oven, which Whirlpool debuted way back in 2002, as an
example. The concept—developing an oven that keeps food cool until a
preset timer tells it to start cooking—is beyond innovative, but
consumers were obviously not ready for it. Or, at $1800, just couldn’t
But once in a while a product that
appears to be nothing more than a late-night infomercial ends up
transforming an industry. I think the Heinz Beanzawave is one of those
products. At the very least, I believe this appliance will be the
impetus for a major change in the microwave oven market.
it is still in the concept stage and is currently just a prototype, the
implications are profound for the entire microwave oven and component
industries. Measuring just 7.4 in. tall by 2.6 in. wide by 5.9 in.
deep, the Heinz Beanzawave oven is the smallest domestic microwave oven
I’ve ever seen. It uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery to power an
all solid-state microwave oven. It plugs into the USB port of a
computer, using the computer’s software to control the oven. The
concept is to give people the ability to heat up a snack or lunch
(i.e., baked beans) at their desk. But I think there is more to the
story. After all, how exciting is a baked-bean oven?
product replaces the magnetron and its power supply with high power
transistors! No more magnetron, transformer, diode, and capacitor. The
commercial implications are huge: lightweight, portable microwave
ovens, even for your car, that use significantly less steel, aluminum,
and copper. These are important benefits for our greening society.
Also, coupling efficiency is likely to be close to 100%, far surpassing
the approximately 50% energy conversion efficiency seen in today’s
From a technical, as well
as practical, point of view, this technology is best suited for
conventionally sized countertop and over-the-range microwave ovens.
Since it is likely that the selection of transistors would be governed
by the industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) radio band
requirements, the frequency of choice would remain 2.45 GHz. This, in
turn, favors larger-cavity ovens that can allow for multiple modes for
better cooking uniformity.
Other new design
features could also be introduced. For example, since less space would
be required for the area now occupied by the power supply, the cavity
could be made significantly wider. Then, by moving the touch-pad
controls from the side panel to the front face of the microwave, a
back-and-forth shuttling platform could replace the ubiquitous
turntable. Such a platform would provide extra convenience for the
homemaker, allowing the use of large rectangular cookware, which
currently is prohibited because their size prevents it from turning
within current ovens. The larger cavity would also allow users to cook
larger dishes such as poultry. It may even be possible to divide the
cavity into fast-cook and slow-cook sections, each fed by its own
transistors to provide the high and low power needed by each section.
The opportunities seem boundless and exciting.
how practical is it? Will it become a reality? It’s still basically
only an idea, and has an impractically high projected selling price of
$160 for a 250-W oven, largely because of the high price of these
transistors. Of course, 250 W would be sufficient to heat that little
tub of baked beans, but to heat a cup of coffee might take 4 or 5
minutes (or more) rather than the 1½–2 minutes consumers have come to
But here’s the thing: Those high
transistor prices will come down. In a recent New Yorker article (July
29, 2009), Malcolm Gladwell, in reviewing Chris Anderson’s book, Free: the Future of a Radical Price,
noted that the price of a single transistor was $10 in 1968, $5 in
1963, and $1 in 1961. And it gets lower. According to Anderson, today
one can purchase 2 billion transistors for $1100—that’s $0.000055 each.
That’s a major price decline.
What drove those
price declines was largely the sales of computers. InfoTechTrends
estimates that 2008 computer sales in the United States was 111.4
million units. Compare that with microwave oven sales of approximately
10 million units that same year. Is that enough to produce a major
decline in transistor prices? That remains to be seen, but keep in mind
that the transistor cost doesn’t have to match the cost of only the
magnetron. Really, it needs to match the price of replacing the
magnetron plus all the other components as well, and with the
additional cost of the rechargeable battery.
my 40-plus years in this industry tells me this little bean oven is
going to revolutionize the microwave industry. It will happen; I’m just
not sure when.
About the Author
Appliance Engineers speak their minds every issue in The Open Door:
- Jeff Varick, founder and president of Brandmotion: Innovate…or Die by Not Trying
- Michael Prince, president of Beyond Design: Industrial Design Meets Engineering
- Richard Topping, president of RFTopping Consultants LLC: Are Regulations Pushing Us Over the Edge?
Read these and more at: ApplianceMagazine.com/ae