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issue: December 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

European International Report: On Location in Berlin at Appliances at IFA 2009
IFA Report


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by Paul Roggema, Europe correspondent

IFA 2009 included more appliance halls with more OEMs exhibiting.

Philips engineered the Robust line with materials like shockproof glass and plastics and die cast metals.

Indeed, in Germany the crisis can be more easily ignored (if one doesn’t work in the auto industry). Some reports show the white goods sector may achieve a solid plus of more than 4% (2008 to 2009). Much of the crisis in Europe is centered in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain, which have all suffered a downturn in housing construction, and a few days of denial in Germany did wonders for the spirit. And free coffee was everywhere.

Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel gave an opening keynote presentation and her rational, low-key attitude was surely appreciated in the business community. About half of the total 225,000 visitors (up 14% over 2008) were trade visitors, who placed orders exceeding €3 billion. There were six instead of three halls for appliance exhibitors, with the extra space primarily filled with small appliance makers. BSH, Electrolux, Miele, Liebherr, and Philips were present; Whirlpool and Groupe SEB were not. The Korean OEMs had a much stronger presence this year in white goods, and Samsung even had its own separate small hall.

Overall, it was a strong showing for Appliances @ IFA considering that appliances were only added to this consumer electronics trade show in 2008.

This year, APPLIANCE magazine found several appliance makers focused on bringing higher levels of capacity to traditionally sized appliances.

 

BSH mounted the compressor and the condenser with fan in the base of its new refrigerator, giving it a high level of energy efficiency without sacrificing interior space.

A New Refrigeration System Configuration

As in 2008, BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH, with its main brands Bosch and Siemens, exhibited perhaps the widest range of new products. A completely new refrigeration platform was presented with built-in models offering a solution for a typical European problem: lack of space.

The standard openings for refrigerators are just 60 × 60 cm and they typically come in three heights: 140, 160, and 180 cm. When engineers want to combine all the current features (such as 0°C drawers, no-frost operation, and A-40% efficiency), it often has to be done by limiting interior space. But a new design approach changes this: BSH mounted the compressor and the condenser with fan in the base, behind the skirting board. This bottom-mount design may be common in the United States, but not in Europe, where a passive, back-mounted condenser is standard. BSH offers 12 models in different sizes and cool/freeze combinations. Combined with interior features such as LED lighting and soft-close, the products are positioned above the current built-in line, but below the full-sized built-in line also sold in the United States. Prices are between €2000-3000.

Why did BSH wait so long? “The base height is just 10 cm, and we needed a totally different design and a new compressor to fit in this small space,” Dietmar Maedler, Siemens product manager for cooling, told APPLIANCE magazine during IFA. “The compressor is an inverter type, quite new here, and the required dimensions were so rare that it could not be found in Europe.”

While BSH normally uses both the Siemens and the Bosch brands to showcase its engineering innovations, a product is sometimes reserved for one of them. The Siemens brand, which in many European countries is focused on built-in appliances, showed a new way to operate an induction hob (cooktop).

Customers like the flat look of induction cooktops, but some users do not like the touch controls. BSH has offered magnetic knobs in the past, but they were seen as too big. A new magnetic control is called discControl and features removable discs that allow for a rotary movement in a separate aluminum ledge. As an added safety function, the cooktop switches off if the discs are removed.

 

The MaxiSight is a color TFT control panel on Electrolux’s AEG brand, displaying the power setting for each cooking zone as well as timer settings and user instructions.

Small Appliance Innovation

Philips, Europe’s second-largest small appliance OEM after Groupe SEB, showed its complete portfolio of white and brown goods in their own hall in chic blue and white colors. Next to the 21:9 flatscreen TVs and Senseo coffeemakers, Philips’ new Robust line of small appliances captured a lot of attention. Philips spent a full year interviewing 3500 hobby chefs about their wish list for small appliances, and another two-and-a-half years on actual product development. As the name suggests, a primary need was for better robustness. Price seemed less an issue, and Philips used materials like shockproof glass and plastics, die-cast metals, and Zytel, a plastic that is used as a metal replacement in automobiles.

Visually, the blender steals the show. It has two counter-rotating blades to suck food downwards. The glass jar is designed to be unbreakable. The food processor has a new axis coupling system that helps enlarge the volume and provide ease of use. Two kilos of dough can be kneaded in less than 2 minutes in the unit. The hand mixer has a new, full-metal transmission to provide more mixing power.

Philips’s Alessi design collection proved there was demand for high-end small appliances—but some felt the line was more beautiful than practical. The new products, in metal and gray, are geared more towards people who really cook (including men).

Coffee Everywhere

Coffee was everywhere this year at IFA. And in the coffee community all the talk was about Philips’ recent takeover of Italian coffeemaker OEM Saeco. Saeco still had a separate exhibit space at the show but presented itself as part of the “Philips Group,” a label not widely used before.

Among the Saeco product launches at IFA was the Xelsis line of fully automatic, bean-to-cup coffee-makers. Unique features include a color LCD screen with large illuminated touch buttons for basic functions. Also new were personalization functions allowing separate settings for up to six users. “The new design is simplified, from plastic to metal, and in more basic shapes, for the international markets,” Visser said.

“As we are redesigning Philips into a leading company in health and well-being, coffee is clearly a product in the latter category as it is very important in social connections,” Vidya Sagar Gannamari, Philips’ product manager—beverages, told APPLIANCE. But Philips knew it had no strong position in the premium espresso maker market, aside from selling some espresso makers manufactured by De’longhi. Philips was ready to take action to get a strong position in this market.

“Now you have to realize that the espresso market is quite difficult as there are many patents covering most of the product spectrum, held by a small number of companies,” said Gannamari. “Still, Philips is the perfect mother for an espresso maker who is ready for globalization: we are ready and willing to bring new espresso products to the global market.

Premium brand Miele surprised attendees with a new category: the hybrid vacuum cleaner. A 3x29.6 V battery pack allows for 20 minutes cordless operation at 600 W, enough for most tasks. The immer-pleasant Ms. Reinhild Portmann explained: “Miele designed a new way of driving the motor: when operating on ac, both coils are powered. But the total dc of the battery pack (88.8 V) is enough to drive one coil, directly on dc.” She said the system was developed and is produced by Miele. The control unit for the automatic recharge is provided externally, as is the battery pack.

In the lively demonstration area, your APPLIANCE correspondent took on the challenge to display his ironing abilities using a classic Miele product: the rotary ironer. It is bulky and expensive, but perfect for fast ironing linen and softening your bed sheets. Men’s shirts are ironed just as fast with these machines. You just need to know a few simple tricks, and while you sit comfortably, the machine does the work for you.

Premium cooling brand Liebherr focuses on the top segment; they are the first European manufacturer to offer large fridge-freeze combinations with French doors and freezer drawers. Another unique product is the special refrigerator for vegetable-lovers: All the drawers have the 0°C capability. Liebherr calls the feature BioFresh and it has become much more popular in Europe in the last couple of years.

A bit confusing was the coverage of the refrigerators’ use of vacuum panel insulation in the press materials: these panels are not explicitly mentioned as a product feature. The reason is that Liebherr, and some competitors, hesitate to commit to vacuum panels. The technology is expensive and the same improvement in efficiency might be achieved with a new compressor type at much lower cost; the industry wants to keep its options open.

Electrolux highlighted its German AEG brand, of course, and exhibited a new user interface for cooktops. The MaxiSight is a color TFT display that shows the power setting per cooking zone and timer settings, and displaying user instructions replaces the need to refer to a users manual.

Notable this year was the prominent presence of Korean producers. LG had a spectacular stand, and Samsung showed their white goods in a special, trade-visitors-only showroom. In Germany, both brands—as well as Japan’s Panasonic—have had several hit appliances, mostly by offering premium features for mid-range prices.

LG exhibited two engineering achievements: a European-sized washer (60 × 60 cm) with 11-kg capacity and a new linear-drive refrigeration compressor.

The 11-kg washer is a significant increase in capacity over the 9 kg offered by most competitors. “We separated the drum from the tub,” explains Mr. Tristan Yoon, European marketing manager, washing. “The tub is now fixed to the housing and the 78-L drum moves within it. On the back there is a large rubber seal between the drum axis and the tub. The drum is held by a special triangle arm with a new balancing geometry. For stability there is the Dual Ball Balancer weight compensation system, where steel balls move around the drum inside a round tube. The movement of the balls is dampened by oil, and gravity forces them to compensate for the washing movement. Finally, the vibration sensor is combined with the superior speed control of the inverter motor, achieving faster reaction.”

The updated linear compressor is a promising development. Brought to market by LG in 2001, the third generation was introduced in Korea in April of this year. Since the linear motor drives the compressor piston directly, there is no more conversion of rotary-to-linear movement and thus less friction. LG claims energy savings up to 30% and plans to sell this compressor to other OEMs as well. The current version saw improvements in piston diameter and stroke performance, allowing for better capacity modulation. There is also a pressure suppression pulsating silencer for lower noise levels. The compressor has auto load detection, allowing self-modulation without a signal from the refrigerator.

Samsung impressed attendees with a well-designed strategy for succeeding in Europe. In refrigeration, its side-by-sides are already famous. In washing the strategy is simple: offer unique and premium features for a very competitive price. Direct drive, larger capacity, hot-fill, and the Silver Active feature have been convincing, but the icing on the cake for the company was the reliability score of “very good” for their washer, given by Germany’s consumer magazine Test. A new cooking appliance launch was the Twin Cooking Oven, which can be divided in two and operated with separate controls. This is especially of interest for the UK market, where double-cavity ovens are popular.

Panasonic has a different strategy. Fewer models are offered, with premium features and at a higher price point than the Korean OEMs but still lower-priced than premium European models. The features are impressive: its bottom-freezer refrigerator has inverter technology and vacuum insulation (both quite uncommon in Europe), combining A-40% efficiency and no-frost operation for about €1000. The washer range has inverter technology and a tilted drum for reduced water usage. Some say the design looks even more “German” (i.e. minimalistic) than the German brands.

IFA is Europe’s biggest consumer electronics trade show and the appliances segment was certainly bigger this year. There were more halls, with more small appliance manufacturers than in 2008. Still, Whirlpool and Groupe SEB (with German brands Krups and Rowenta) were very much missed, as were Italy’s Indesit and Candy, Spain’s FagorBrandt, and Turkey’s Arçelik. Some of those companies don’t compete in Germany and have no good reason to exhibit in Berlin, where the customers are mostly German.

Another issue for the appliance industry may be the frequency. IFA itself is an annual event. That may be good for the rapidly developing world of consumer electronics, but smaller appliance companies are sometimes not able to present new products every year. In general, however, the presence of the white goods at IFA seems to be a future-proof formula.

 

Read our expanded IFA report:

Saeco and Philips Discuss Post-Acquisition Brand Strategy

BSH Vacuums Go Bagless

 

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