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issue: September 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Cover Story: 62nd Annual Laundry Appliances Report
Ease and Efficiency


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Tim Somheil, Editor

Designing laundry appliances is—still—all about making life easier.

The Maytag Bravos top-load washer uses an impeller instead of a traditional agitator, making it the first top-loader qualified at the CEE Tier III level energy standards, the highest level of efficiency designated by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency.

The first “washing machine” was a scrub board, invented in 1797, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). Compared with pounding clothes on rocks, it must have seemed groundbreaking—but laundry innovation was just getting started. Eighty years later, a corn planter manufacturer came up with a washtub with a manually powered inner mechanism to scrub clothes. Sales took off and competitors entered the washing machine business. Two significant, lasting innovations came in 1918, when Launderette launched a washer that extracted water using centrifugal force, and in 1922, when Maytag came up with the concept of an agitator to push waster through the clothes as they were washed. In 1949, just 152 years after the scrub board, the first automatic washing machine hit the market. The chore of clothes washing was easier than it had ever been.

Innovation continued. Bigger models added more convenience. New controls allowed for custom cycles to meet specific clothing needs. Today, product development is shifting more attention to energy efficiency. The engineering challenge is to achieve ever-lower levels of energy and water consumption without sacrificing any of the convenience.

 

Indesit Co. (Fabriano, Italy; www.indesitcompany.com) recruited Italian designer Giugiaro to create the simple, stylish look of its new Prime appliance line. The 8-kg Prime washer automatically optimizes water use, energy consumption, and wash time based on the weight of the load.

Configuration Choices

There was a time when horizontal axis washers were the choice for high efficiency. “Historically, front-load laundry pairs have led the industry in capacity and efficiency,” said Mary Zeitler, home economist, Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science.

But in markets like the United States, consumers were accustomed to top-load washers. As energy efficiency became more important to consumers, OEMs began to innovate. New ways of washing came to market in the form of high-efficiency units that load from the top as well as the front.

Some consumers are not aware that their high-efficiency options go beyond front-load machines. Whirlpool Corp. (Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.; www.whirlpool.com) found evidence of this early 2009 when it commissioned a survey of U.S. consumers. The survey found that 40% of respondents believe that top-loaders use more energy than front-loaders. At one time that was accurate, but no longer.

“As more families look to save on energy, water, and utility costs, it is important to understand that HE washers, whether in a top-load or front-load configuration, can deliver unmatched efficiency, saving time and money in the laundry room,” Zeitler said.

The interest in laundry appliance efficiency varies by demographics. Consumers in the 18–44 age bracket call a high-efficiency washer a “must have” in their dream laundry room. For consumers older than 45, “must have” laundry appliances are more ergonomically friendly laundry appliances. OEMs like Whirlpool have developed laundry appliances that satisfy both priorities.

Whirlpool now offers two top-load washing machines, the Cabrio HE washer and an updated Whirlpool Classic conventional washer, that are Energy Star qualified, as well as selling the front-loading Duet model. Whirlpool Corp.’s Maytag brand achieves high efficiency with its Bravos washer, which operates without an agitator.

Other OEMs are also reaching Energy Star efficiency levels with top-load designs. Fisher & Paykel (Auckland, New Zealand; www.fisherpaykel.com) developed its direct-drive laundry drive motor, called SmartDrive, in the early 1990s, which enabled it to launch some of the most highly efficient top-load washers in the world. Today, the company’s top-loaders still use the latest generation of the SmartDrive to achieve Energy Star efficiency levels.

GE Appliances (Louisville, KY, U.S.; www.ge.com) developed top-load, high-efficiency washers that save water and energy with a unique rinsing system called RainShower. The system rinses clothes by showering them with water instead of soaking them in rinse water. The result is a water savings of up to 15 gal for each load of laundry.

Even as OEMs are engineering laundry appliances that offer new benefits without changing familiar configurations, they are also designing new solutions to old laundry problems.

 

Purdue University student Louis Filosa was a finalist in the 2009 Electrolux Design Lab competition with her laundry appliance concept called Renew, which uses two steam blades to “blast” garments clean.

Washing Today and Tomorrow

There are some types of clothing—like wool sweaters—that simply should not go into a standard tumble dryer. Woolen sweaters and delicate garments are typically laid flat and allowed to air-dry. For a heavy wool sweater, air-drying can be a two-day process. Electrolux (Stockholm, Sweden; www.electrolux.com) says 92% of consumers have difficulties with drying woolen garments, and the company went out to develop a solution. The appliance it developed is the Calima, the first washing machine with an extendable drying board to quickly dry clothes flat. Users can take the sweater out of the washing machine and place it on the drying board, choosing the type of fabric and temperature setting. Fans blow warm air through openings in the panel to dry the garment. The user turns the garment once and it is dry in 60 minutes. It can be used to dry various delicate garments or standard garments that the user needs to wear in a hurry.

Project manager Salvatore Valenti calls it a “consumer insight–driven machine” and says when tested with target consumers it “…is seen as addressing a real need and adding real value to the washing machine and laundry process.” The Calima launched in France and Central East Europe in March and April this year and is scheduled to roll out in Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Russia, and Belgium.

There are other technologies making their way into laundry appliances that, not long ago, would have seemed highly unlikely.

Heat-Pump Dryers

Dryers don’t normally get much attention when it comes to energy efficiency initiatives. In the United States, in fact, there is no Energy Star for clothes dryers. According to the Energy Star program, “there is little difference in energy use between (dryer) models.” Industry, government, and even environmental advocates have often put dryer efficiency standards low on the priority list. Better water extraction at the end of the wash cycle, for example, is often seen as a more promising avenue for improving the efficiency of the drying process than is any practical improvement to the appliance that actually does the drying.

But now technologies are emerging that challenge the idea that dryer efficiency can’t be significantly improved. In Gütersloh, Germany, engineers with appliance OEM Miele (www.miele.com) have integrated heat-pump technology into a clothes dryer as a way to reduce energy consumption. The EcoComfort operates on the principle of two closed circuits: the process air circuit and the cooling circuit. The cooling circuit has two functions. First, heat energy is transferred to process air and, secondly, residual heat from the drying process is recovered, both helping to make the unit exceptionally energy-efficient.

The unit launched with Europe’s A rating for energy efficiency and Miele says that, in fact, the unit is almost 40% more economical than required for an A rating. The unit saves up to 46% energy and CO2 compared with conventional condenser dryers with a B rating. The dryer is also marketed in Australia, where the model T 8627 WP EcoComfort earned a 6-star energy rating and launched as the most energy-efficient condenser dryer on the market in Australia. While the technology gives the heat-pump dryer a premium price, Miele estimates a 3.5-year payback for Australian buyers.

 

Energy Questions

Engineers have been reducing the energy consumption of household appliances year after year, for decades. Energy-efficiency standards and rating systems haven’t always kept up. For the last 15 years, domestic appliance manufacturers in Europe have generally been on pace to increase the efficiency of their products by 20% every four years (without corresponding retail price increases). Europe’s energy rating system, which gives appliances a grade of A through G, became inadequate when a growing percentage of appliances on the market qualified for, and exceeded to a growing degree, the minimum level of the A rating.

A fix for the problem in Europe was adopted by the European Union in March 2009. The upgraded energy efficiency labeling system, for household refrigerators and freezers as well as washing machines, keeps the familiar A-to-G energy efficiency label while allowing appliances surpassing the Class A criteria to be classified by the level of their additional savings. Ratings such as A-20%, A-40%, etc., give consumers straightforward information about the efficiency of the appliance. CECED, the European household appliance manufacturers’ association, welcomed the new label scheme and also approved of plans by the Committee on Ecodesign and Energy Labeling of Energy using Products (EuP) to phase Class A washing machines out of the market by 2013. “The fact that the Committee has already identified dates when Class A appliances will be taken out of the market indicates how urgently we needed a new energy label layout,” said Luigi Meli, CECED director general. “We are pleased to now have a tool that will support our efforts to continue improving the energy efficiency of our products well beyond Class A.”

In the United States, energy efficiency has been spurred by the success of the Energy Star program, developed jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to help consumers easily pick out products that offer energy-efficiency levels substantially higher than the minimum standards.

More-Stringent Standards

The standards for Energy Star qualification are adjusted as minimum energy-efficiency standards are updated. In fact, clothes washer Energy Start criteria changed as of July 1 of this year.

As of July 2009, the federal washing machine standard calls for a minimum Modified Energy Factor (MEF) of 1.26. The MEF is intended to take into account the amount of dryer energy needed to remove the remaining moisture content in washed items.

Under the new Energy Star requirements, washers should have a minimum MEF of 1.8 (up from 1.72 before July 1). Energy Star washers must also have a maximum water factor (WF) of 7.5 (the maximum was 8.0 before July 1). Water factor is the amount of water used in the appliances, measured in gallons per cycle per cubic foot.

The U.S. federal standard for washing machines, and the requirements for Energy Star rated washing machines, will both change on Jan. 1, 2011. The federal standard will continue to require a minimum MEF of 1.26 but will add a WF requirement of 9.5 maximum. To qualify for the Energy Star logo after Jan. 1, 2011, washing machines will need to have a minimum MEF of 2.0 and a maximum WF of 6.0.

Appliance OEMs will continue to drive down washer and dryer energy consumption, even as they seek to bring new ease of use capabilities to laundry appliances.

 

Related Article:

Size Matters

AHAM is developing an industry test procedure to determine clothes washer drum useful volume.

ApplianceMagazine.com/content/2264

 

 

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