The supplier role continues to evolve in heating elements and ignition systems, forcing many to work harder and smarter, while providing value-added services to appliance OEMs.
Combine appliances that are more user friendly, provide more features, and operate with improved control, performance, product quality, and reliability while maintaining a competitive price position, and one can see why there is a need for new and innovative hot surface igniters and ignitions that address market needs and appear in a timely fashion. With many companies able to provide much of the basic technology, often the way to differentiate a company is through a partnership with an appliance OEM.
Saint-Gobain Igniter Products (formerly Norton Igniters) in Milford, NH, U.S. is one supplier company that works to keep abreast of its customers and the markets needs. Says Paul Seibold, director of Sales: "An example of how we respond to customer feedback deals with our original CRYSTAR® igniter product," Mr. Seibold says. "A comment about our original CRYSTAR® igniter was that sometimes it exhibited a relatively short service life in the harsh environment of the newer self-clean gas ranges." Therefore, Saint-Gobain Igniter Products embarked on a concerted R&D effort to make the CRYSTAR® igniters service life longer. The addition of a new "impregnation" process that reduced the igniter's electrical "aging" ultimately, led to the Aging Resistant CRYSTAR® (ARC™) igniter that yields at least a 40-percent increase in igniter service life in harsh applications.
Furthermore, says Mr. Seibold, Saint-Gobain's entire family of MINI Igniter products, covering 12-240 V, are a direct result of the company's response to the "wants" of the marketplace. The products reportedly exhibit improved strength, lower power consumption, speed to ignition temperature, excellent reliability, and flexibility of design.
Mr. Seibold says that Saint-Gobain Igniter Products recently has become much more market driven and focused. It has conducted customer surveys to help determine where it could improve as a supplier. "These surveys pointed out the typical concerns such as on-time delivery and pricing, but also pointed out the OEM's need for new products, better products, and better product support," he says. "We decided as a company to increase our focus on the 'value added' aspects of what we do for our customers. Today, we have a working applications lab where we can test a wide variety of appliance and HVAC products. We can do full application work and testing of our hot surface igniters in the actual customers products. We also conduct customer specific testing for performance and reliability along with certifying agency related testing."
Shorter Deadlines & More Engineering Involvement
Resistance heating element manufacturer TUTCO has taken the same value-added approach in its role to appliance makers, and believes that this trend will continue.
In many cases, TUTCO, based in Cookeville, TN, U.S. has worked with OEMs to completely re-engineer products - and manufacturing processes.
"That's part of the business today," says Tom Lenart, director of Sales and Marketing. "We anticipate shorter deadlines and more involvement in engineering and production. It's just part of what you have to do."
In some cases, TUTCO has scrambled to make sure that an Asian plant opened on time by compressing a new heater design and development schedule to 6 weeks. Its engineers have figured out ways to put heating elements into plastic composite air-conditioner cabinets, with less than 1-in of clearance. It has helped its customers secure UL listings for new designs.
"You could make a good argument that our biggest investment in marketing over the last few years has been in technical support," Mr. Lenart says. "The appliance makers have been under pressure to turn designs faster and solve problems more efficiently, and sometimes, their in-house departments need extra help."
Speed is becoming more of an issue, and programs like TUTCO's TutQuote online estimating system for duct heaters has proven to be a useful tool for specifiers. The TutQuote system allows the user to immediately specify and quote duct heating elements and packaged heat products. Quotes are confirmed by e-mail or fax in minutes. Prices are guaranteed for 6 months.
A More Efficient Supply System
"It's another piece of the puzzle," Mr. Lenart says. "The ultimate goal is more efficiency in the system. Information exchange is an area of cost control and speed that we're just beginning to develop. We've scrutinized product components and production so effectively that future gains in this area are going to be small, as a rule. Where we can look to new levels of efficiency are in communication and in managing the technical support process."
The same can be said for Dekko Heating Technologies, Inc., in North Webster, IN, U.S. Its engineering team works with OEMs to re-design heating elements with new technologies and building sub-assembled components, permitting appliance makers to put thousands of dollars on their bottom line. "Results are everything," reports Stu Coverstone, Dekko VP. "Dekko's engineering team takes a systems approach to problem solving. Someone can always quote a cheaper component, but Dekko looks at the total value picture."
An important emphasis for many OEM suppliers is value-added applications engineering services. "For a small to medium sized company, we might be their electrical engineers," says Gordon Swanson, controls engineering manager for Kidde-Fenwal in Ashland, MA, U.S. "We have an applications lab where we can take a customer's appliance and try to help them come up with cost-effective and innovative ignition and temperature control solutions. It's a collaborative process."