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issue: August 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Finishing & Metal Preparation
Screening the Possibilities


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by Jill Russell, Assistant Editor

Relying on a well-established and continuous relationship with a coatings and ink supplier, Whirlpool Corporation was able to easily tailor appliance appearance to consumer needs.

Considered by Whirlpool as one of its preferred suppliers, American Trim, L.L.C. (Lima, OH, U.S.) has worked on a number of projects with the Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.-based appliance maker. Most recently, the two companies worked together to develop a new washer console design using metallic coatings and inks.

“ We participate in Whirlpool’s innovation process,” explains Fred Turner, vice president of Sales and Marketing of American Trim. “We meet with them periodically throughout the year and discuss innovations that we see in the marketplace or concepts we have that we believe would be applicable to their product,” he says, referring to the metallic coating now used on Whirlpool’s washer consoles.

To ensure Whirlpool achieved the desired results, it worked closely with the supplier from the start of the project. “I spent two informative days locked up in the lab with a coatings specialist. Without his [and all of American Trim’s] support we would not have been able to achieve the appropriate look for the Whirlpool brand,” says Phil Lindeman, lead industrial designer, Global Consumer Design for Whirlpool.

 

An associate applies a metallic coating to an aluminum console through a screen printing process that combines the brilliance of the metal with the color of the ink to produce a tinted metallic look.

Noticing a differentiating trend within the white goods industry, the supplier presented Whirlpool with a metallic coating applied to metal washer consoles. As opposed to developing a coating that only looked different, Whirlpool worked with the supplier to create a coating available in a variety of colors, finishes, and textures. “Whirlpool and American Trim worked together to realize that metallic-looking, textured coatings have a place in the appliance industry and can be used to distinguish a brand and draw the consumer to it,” says Mr. Turner.

“ One of the distinctions they have to try and put into place is the first impression a consumer has when the product is sitting on the retailer’s floor. [They have to] garner attention and interest from a consumer,” he continues. “There’s many things they can do to achieve that, but one of them is the appearance of the product itself.”

Mr. Lindeman agrees. “With more and more laundry pairs moving out of the basement and up to the first and second floors, consumers are looking for products that possess a higher level of design,” he says. “To meet this need, Whirlpool’s Global Consumer Design Group took an unconventional approach to console graphics and specified exposed aluminum, as well as translucent and metallic inks.”

To achieve the metallic look the appliance maker was looking for, its coating process needed to change. Traditionally, laundry consoles are pre-coated with a white base coat and then decorated with the product brand and other design elements. “This simplifies the screening process by minimizing the amount of ink applied to the console. Words, lines, and tick marks are relatively small and easy to print,” says Mr. Lindeman. However, to achieve the desired look, described by Mr. Lindeman as “a certain level of brilliance in the graphics theme,” Whirlpool needed to keep a significant amount of the aluminum material exposed.

In order to do so, the appliance producer eliminated the pre-coat process and implemented a screen printing process in which 95 percent of the aluminum console is applied with the supplier’s metallic and translucent ink coatings to produce a metal-like finished appearance. “American Trim’s internal team of specialists ran multiple experiments on their production lines to refine and evolve this new approach. After a couple of days of adjusting materials and processes, the team made it happen,” Mr. Lindeman says.

To create a product that truly met consumer needs, Whirlpool made adjustments to its prototypes after directly testing the product with consumer focus groups. “Through rapid prototyping, we would build Whirlpool a console, which would then put it on a washer. Whirlpool would then take the prototype to the consumer and validate if they had any interest in it,” explains Mr. Turner. “With each of those [iterations], you would find a better interest and you would keep fine tuning it until you felt you had what they really wanted.” Using consumer feedback, Whirlpool made adjustments to the original designs for 9 months until it felt the console would meet consumer needs.

Because of the forming process, the coating is applied to help provide durability and aesthetic requirements. “The development process is unique not only that it gives you the aesthetic aspect, but that it gives you the durability and the appearance aspect as well,” Mr. Turner tells APPLIANCE.

 

Whirlpool focused on providing a distinct design that stood out among
traditional “white” boxes and could be integrated into several parts of
the home.

The finished product provides the appearance similar to that of bead blasting—a process that results in an even, non-directional matte finish. In the process, sharp or rough materials such as glass beads, sand, or ceramic particles are used to decrease the brightness of the metal by creating a matte look or a smooth finish. Unlike traditional brushed finishes that leave a unidirectional pattern, bead blasting stainless steel leaves a multidirectional finish, which allows it to withstand scratches from scrubbing and use.

Whirlpool has been able to achieve a similar look but in a fast and simple manner. “Whirlpool has invested heavily in design over the last few years. Coatings allow Whirlpool designers an opportunity to provide unique solutions in a cost effective and timely manner. Similar concepts have also been applied to other Whirlpool products that have consoles,” Mr. Lindeman says.

 

More from our August 2004 Feature:
Finishing & Metal Preparation

 

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