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issue: April 2004 Appliance Magazine Special Section: BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgerte GmbH

BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH
Vacuum Cleaners

Sweeping Up the Competition

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by Paul Roggema, European Correspondent

BSH's vacuum cleaner manufacturing facility in Bad Neustadt, Germany is employing traditional manufacturing techniques to manufacture high-quality, modern vacuum cleaners for mostly the European market.

Where most of BSH's business is large appliances, it also has Europe's largest vacuum cleaner factory, located in Bad Neustadt, Germany, not far from the former border with Eastern Germany. Before World War II, Siemens Corp. opened a large motor factory in Bad Neustadt, which made heavy, high-powered electrical motors.


APPLIANCE magazine traveled to Bad Neustadt, Germany to report on BSH's vacuum cleaner factory.

In 1974, a new factory began production of vacuum cleaners. In l981, an injection molding- and an assembly line was added. Ten years later, the importance of the location was confirmed with the move of the vacuum cleaner design department to Bad Neustadt. Then, as BSH felt it needed a tighter grip on the factory, ownership was transferred from Siemens Corp.

Georg Schwalme, head of the Bad Neustadt factory, says, "We have a better control over the factory now. This can be seen in much better financial results and in innovative, high-quality products with short lead times coming out of a factory focused on consumer products."

Bad Neustadt is one of the six BSH small appliance factories. It produces about 3 million motors and more than 1.7 million vacuums each year. Other BSH small appliance plants are in Traunreut, Germany; Slovenia; Spain; and soon in China.

The Market and the Products

There are numerous developments in consumer preferences that influence the design and production of vacuum cleaners. The main difference with the U.S. market is that Europeans (except for the English) generally prefer cylinder or canister models without a power nozzle. Competition on price is fierce, with mass retailers pushing no-brand Chinese imports at bottom prices and influencing average price levels.

Pictured are the casings for the Bosch Pro Parquet vacuum series, which are manufactured at the Bad Neustadt plant.
The main competitors in Europe are Electrolux, Philips, and Miele. One has to remember that the origin of Swedish Electrolux was door-to-door sales of vacuums, so there are strong brands with which to compete. Geographically, the highest shares have been achieved in the Northern European markets (except the UK), where more customers prefer medium- and premium-priced offerings. In the key German market, about 17 percent of all vacuums sold are products coming from BSH brands.

So what are the market and product trends the industry must meet? First and already mentioned is the price competition. The average appliance price continues to fall, and BSH can only maintain market share (and healthy price levels) when new, innovative products are offered.

An important trend in retail is the sales shift to fast-moving sales channels, especially in Germany with the likes of Mediamarkt. This influences not only the price, but also the design: the design of the appliance becomes more important in communicating the functionality and brand values to the customer. The product will fail if it cannot distinguish itself on the shop floor, next to 25 competitors.

So how does design adapt to these new demands? One of the key design aspects is color (once considered a non-issue for vacuums). "This is much more important than before," Mr. Schwalme says. "We offer 32 colors at the moment; and a certain color only lasts for about 18 months. Not only the color itself is important, but also the finishing: the design trend toward lacquered, high-gloss casings is a challenge for us. The plastic parts must be spray-painted, but the durability demands for the paint are the same as in automobiles, so we use the same suppliers. As the casing is quite voluminous, it means high transport costs to ship the casings to and from the paint shops, but we feel that it enhances product value. Next to high-gloss, translucent is in, fueled by general design trends, but also by the see-through design of the bagless Dyson products.

Preventing unbalance is the main challenge in reliability for vacuum motors. Here the imbalance is removed after fully automated balance testing.

"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 car cleaning.

"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.

The Brands

"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."

Injection Molding

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.

Motor Manufacturing

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 are needed."

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.



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