"Another task for the design is easy understanding of functionality," he
adds. "You need to show clearly what the appliance can do. Buttons must be
large and self-explanatory, the carrying handle should be easy to recognize,
and replacing the bag must be a one-step operation. To achieve soft surfaces
for grip areas, we had to modify the injection molding machines to use two
materials, just as the toothbrush manufacturers did."
Another sales trend is target group models. The market leaders are the parquet
models that are designed for hardwood floors. The best-selling Bosch model
is called ProParquet; it has a bright yellow color to match the color of the
wood floor. It has large wheels with soft rubber surfaces that can roll easily
on hard floors and do not scratch. The appliance also has a special parquet
nozzle (extra wide, with hard floor brushes), next to the universal, switchable
nozzle. It also has a carpet lifter that allows the user to reach under the
edges of loose carpets. Other target group models are for consumers with allergies
(extra filtering), people with pets (a different brush design and an extra
odor filter), and models that are extra quiet and that have accessories for
"Then there is the Power Race," Mr. Schwalme adds. "Whether actual performance
gets better or not, customers tend to see electrical wattage as a single indicator
for product performance. Many would like to see an end to this trend, because
it leads nowhere, as it makes no sense to only use motor power as indicator
for product quality, where actual performance is determined by many other factors.
So the new energy labeling system of the European Union, with real performance
categories offers new possibilities to distinguish well-engineered appliances
from cheap imports. As one of the criteria is energy efficiency, customers
can compare actual performance."
A feature that has disappeared is the swivel hose. As most vacuums now have
three or four castors, they move easier (the switch to hard floors helps as
well), and the flexibility offered by this feature is no longer needed. Another
reason for the swivel hose was that the hoses could not withstand the mechanical
stress. Now, new materials are much stronger and hoses seldom break anymore.
Thus, the designers can do away with the disadvantages of the swivel hose:
it reduces suction power and objects become stuck in it.
The bagless cleaner, so important in the UK market, never really caught on
in other European countries. The status of the "must-have appliance," which
got James Dyson English market leadership (mainly at the expense of Hoover)
would not cross the Channel. Continental Europeans discover that you still
have to replace the motor filter and that emptying the canister is a dirty
job. Still, manufacturers wanted to have an answer, so the dual-system was
developed, where the customer can choose. To work without a bag, a special
cartridge is inserted that replaces the bag.
"A special challenge is the two brands we use," Mr. Schwalme tells APPLIANCE. "Somewhat
simplified, Bosch stands for tradition and emotion, where Siemens represents
innovation and design. Bosch targets the hard floor target group, where Siemens
offers so-called Family & Pets models. As we want to broaden our market presence,
we have to differentiate the brands, so more customers can be reached. With
identical products, most retailers will not offer both brands. And, next to
all these demands, the brands must be next to each other in the market, and
represent equal value."
Innovation in Development
"To match the speed of the market, we improved our design process," Mr. Schwalme
says. "First, the process is now fully in CAD; only a few wood models are made.
This was done only recently because the new design software handles visual
aspects (color, surface structure, look-and-feel) much better than before.
Next, all parts are laser sintered, so the feedback for the designer is much
faster. Third, development is parallel and not sequential, like before: all
aspects are designed next to each other. All of these improvements helped us
to obtain a 1-year cycle (from design decision to the start of production).
The laser models also deal better with the different regulation bodies: they
can see much faster what we want to do, and we can incorporate their demands
during the design phase itself, not afterwards. Also, assembly tests are performed
earlier to analyze the planned manufacturing processes."
Innovation in Production
The layout of the Bad Neustadt factory will eventually be changed. Currently,
BSH occupies two halls at the site: one for the two motor assembly lines and
the final assembly, and another hall for injection molding. Despite the fact
that the molding is just across the street, this is inefficient. So the injection
molding machines will be connected directly to the assembly line; the first
two molding stations are already in place. This spring will see a complete
move of most injection molders.
An important aspect of daily production is that vacuum cleaner sales are
seasonal; sales in autumn can be twice as high as in the spring. BSH matches
production capacity by flexible labor contracts. Employees can work overtime
on the weekends, and the working hours can be transferred throughout the year.
"We want to achieve flexibility mainly with the same staff, not with ever-changing
seasonal workers: our quality and efficiency demands can only be met with experienced
and motivated staff," Mr. Schwalme says. "Normally, our lot size is about 1,000,
but we can make batches as small as 250. We currently have about 190 models."
Innovation in vacuum cleaners has to reckon with the fact that the vacuum
cleaner industry has a number of important suppliers for hoses, bags, cable
winders, and nozzles, who supply all manufacturers. Therefore, some innovations
are shared by everyone and cannot always be used to distinguish a single brand.
This effect is enhanced by the fact that traditionally a relative large share
of the vacuum cleaner is supplied for all manufacturers. Most suppliers operate
as system suppliers: their development is synchronized with their customers.
Regarding the in-house motor factory, one would wonder why BSH still makes
its own motors, where most competitors have this outsourced? Says Harald Schellenberger,
head of the Motor Factory, "We believe our motors offer the best combination
of performance and reliability for the high power level (2,000 kW) we need.
Within BSH, vacuum cleaner motors are defined as a core competence. Of course,
the Asian competitors have a price advantage, but they have yet to match the
features. There is a lot of third-party business, and we sell the same motors
to others. For us it means extra revenues and better occupation of our factories."
The Bad Neustadt injection-molding factory employs more than 100 workers.
During the factory's busy season, the facility runs 24 hrs a day, 7 days a
week. In slower times, there are 6 days of production. The large machines are
made by German manufacturer Demag and have 650 tons of press power.
Martin Steinhorst, head of the Injection Molding facility, says, "We want
to deliver more different colors. Happily, the plastics suppliers simplified
the color mixing so we can now mix 30 colors ourselves, and we are using fewer
pre-colored plastics. If a new color is needed, we can start production in
about 6 weeks."
As with many injection-molding processes, 80 percent of machine time is about
cooling the object, down from 220°C. For about half of production, color mixing
is performed right at the machine. To accommodate the soft materials of the
vacuum cleaners (for grip surfaces), several machines are dual-use: they first
mold the casing and after cooling, the soft plastic is injected.
Production of motors in the Bad Neustadt factory is about 3 million. The
appliance motors have the same casing, and the power varies between 1,100 and
2,000 W. Internally, the length of the stack and thickness of the motor's wiring
determines the wattage. The motor is cooled by the airflow from the dust bag.
The much higher fan speeds make balancing the rotating parts very important,
so the unbalance of each motor is measured and by cutting, balance is restored. "The
plant has the volume to allow a fully automated production line, and labor
costs become less relevant," says Mr. Schellenberger. "Several changes were
made for our current motor. It offers the same performance, but due to a change
in fan design, less material is needed. Higher power is achieved by higher
speed while maintaining the same durability. Demands regarding EMC (Electromagnetic
Capability) now are incorporated into the design, so no additional components
A very important factor in high-speed motors is balancing, and this is done
by equipment from German manufacturer Schenck Rotec, which measures the unbalance
for each individual rotor and corrects it by shaving off slight layers of material.
The Assembly Process
Assembly at Bad Neustadt is organized in six production lines and each have
up to 12 assembly stations. A line is then divided into three or four sub-lines,
having three or four stations each. Smaller vacuums can be assembled in three
stations, while the top models require four. Additionally, there is one repair
station. This layout allows for maximum flexibility.
To detect missing parts (some vacuum cleaners are shipped in large boxes
with many accessories) the package is weighed to ensure accuracy.