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issue: September 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Laundry Appliances - 57th Annual Report
The Spin Cycle


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by Lisa Bonnema, Editor

There’s a new spin on laundry appliances for today’s households—one that emphasizes consumer convenience and personal taste on laundry day.

Laundry appliances have come a long way since 1949, more than 50 years ago, when Maytag launched its first automatic washer. The washer utilized an AMP, an Automatic Maytag Pump, and was designed to be compact and simple to operate. Its success was so great that Maytag built a new plant to meet demand and moved on to build other laundry appliances, like the electric clothes dryer in 1953. Soon, other companies followed suit, and today appliances feature much more than the basic pump, thanks to technology advancements in areas such as electronics.

Not only has washer and dryer technology changed over the years, but so has the consumer’s attitude towards the appliances. Once relegated to the fashion and automobile industries, the concept of personal taste has invaded all segments of the appliance industry, including laundry. Owning a front-loading Duet washer and dryer from Whirlpool, for example, can be as prestigious as owning a Sub-Zero or Viking refrigerator.

Where consumers place their laundry appliances has changed too. Gone are the days when homeowners had to lug their laundry to a Laundromat, down three flights of stairs, or out to a cold, dimly lit garage. In a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) consumer preference survey, 95 percent of respondents said they either desire or “must have” a separate laundry room in their new homes. They want their laundry room to be a living space that is multi-functional, the survey says, and they want it to be adjacent to kitchens, bedrooms, or bathrooms. Some homeowners said they want their laundry rooms to blend in with the rest of the home, with crown molding and hardwood or tiled floors to match adjacent rooms.

 
Convenience was just one of the goals behind the development of Timeline®, a series of washing machines from Swedish appliance maker Electrolux. The washing machines are equipped with Direct Spray, a function developed specifically for delicate and non-iron garments—items that would normally have to be washed by hand. Direct Spray showers the laundry throughout the program, not only using 30-percent less water than older machines, but also saving electricity since less water needs to be heated. The technology reportedly ensures top-quality wash at 40°C and uses 70-percent less detergent. In addition, one of the washers in the Timeline series comes with a night program that replaces noisy spinning cycles with rinses, in which the laundry is kept over night in the rinsing water.

“ Today’s laundry room has moved into the living quarters, and it is spacious, practically rivaling the kitchen in finishes and gadgets,” says Douglas L. Sutton, NAHB’s 2004 Remodelers Council Chairman. “People want comfortable workspaces no matter what activity they are doing….”

The survey also reports that consumers want bigger, high-end appliances, such as washers and dryers that can handle growing wash loads and even two dryers to keep up with the washer.

“ Most consumers don’t want to devote much time or energy to doing the laundry,” Chris Wignall, senior vice president of Sales for Maytag (Newton, IA, U.S.), tells APPLIANCE. “It’s a household chore they want to complete as quickly and efficiently as possible, but they don’t want to compromise on results. Consumers demand exceptional cleaning and fabric care along with enough capacity to handle extra-large loads and bulky items.”

 
Candy Elettrodomestici’s (Brugherio, Italy) new Aquamatic washer 600 is specifically designed for those with space constraints and for small families. Measuring only 20-in wide by 27.3-in tall by 17-in deep, the washer has a 7.7-lb loading capacity and is rated Class A for both washing and power consumption. According to the Italian appliance maker, the washer’s small size and optimal loading capacity allows it to only use 1.5 kWh of power and 11 gal of water. The washer’s porthole is also designed to open 150 degrees, thus facilitating easy loading and unloading.

Jon Jacoby, product manager, Clothes Care, for GE Consumer & Industrial (Louisville, KY, U.S.) adds that the biggest factor affecting households has been two working adults. “Laundry day is not one day, but rather anytime there is a moment to fit it in,” Mr. Jacoby says. “Time management is rapidly becoming a top cue. Laundry rooms are no longer in closets or basements, but multifunctional spaces where one can easily tend to not only chores of folding or ironing, but also provide space for children to do activities or adults to tend to hobbies.”

High-quality laundry appliances are also becoming more important to consumers because they want their clothes to last, Arlene Miranda, product manager for Bosch Nexxt Laundry, Bosch Appliances (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S.), tells APPLIANCE. “One of the new issues out there is caring for the clothes we have due to the investment we’ve poured into them,” she says.

Energy efficiency, high-tech features, function, and quietness are quickly becoming requirements—not features—in today’s fast-paced world. As evidenced by the wide array of innovative laundry appliances on the market, it seems manufacturers are prepared to meet these demands and more.

Leading the Pack

With the educated consumer now shopping from a selection of appliances designed to make their lives a little easier, how does a company differentiate its products and gain market share? Simply put, but perhaps more difficult to achieve, by staying ahead of consumer demands and anticipating consumer trends; trends that consumers may not even want today, but will want in 5 to 10 years.

“ Leading innovations truly begin with having several washing and drying programs that can care for a wide variety of fabric types,” says Ms. Miranda of Bosch Appliances. Fabrics like wool, mohair, angora, cashmere, and raw linen that consumers traditionally bring to dry cleaners can now be cleaned by laundry units. This is important because it not only saves money from the dry cleaner bills, but it saves so much time and effort on the part of the consumer.”

According to Jacob Broberg, vice president of Media Relations for Electrolux (Stockholm, Sweden), washing machine innovations naturally evolve from consumer needs and growing trends. “We know that consumers are looking for appliances that fit better with their ever busier lifestyles,” he says. “They must wash effectively and economically, but quickly. More than quickly, users are wanting to take more control themselves of the washing start and finish times to have the laundry ready when they want it ready. Increasingly, machines are offering them the ability to do this through adaptive washing cycles, programmable interfaces, and remote operation.”

Mr. Broberg says Electrolux’s Timeline washing machine, available in Europe, fits this description. The washer is designed to tell consumers exactly when their wash will be done. A light turns on when the door on the washer can be opened, which is not only helpful for the consumer, but also reduces the chance of damaging doors. Using controls on the LCD display, the consumer sets the program, after which the machine automatically measures the laundry load and adjusts the washing program accordingly. This way, Electrolux says, consumers can save money, water, and electricity without having to think about it. One of the models in the Timeline series even has a night program, where noisy spinning is replaced by rinses and the laundry is kept overnight in the rinsing water.

Dryers have kept pace with technology and consumer needs as well, says Bryce Wells, marketing manager for Fisher & Paykel Appliances (Auckland, New Zealand). “The new issue [with laundry appliances] seems to be clothes care, which is why there is a new focus on the dryer,” Mr. Wells notes. “For years, dryer technology had never really changed all that much, but now the industry has drying stations (Maytag), washers and dryers that communicate with one another (GE Harmony), and now our SmartLoad dryer with reverse tumbling that loads from the top. All of the new features in dryers over the last 6 months surround treating clothes with better care and catering to specific fabrics’ needs.”

 

Through an exclusive licensing agreement with Procter & Gamble, Applica Consumer Products, Inc. entered the laundry appliance category earlier this year with the introduction of the Tide™ Buzz™ Ultrasonic Stain Remover powered by Black & Decker®. The product, which is designed to be used prior to washing, incorporates specially formulated Tide™ Ultrasonic Cleaning Fluid and a Black & Decker-branded stain removal appliance.

According to Applica, stains are erased from clothing using a hand-wand that uses a combination of ultrasonic energy and Tide cleaning fluid, which creates shockwaves to loosen stains and drive them through the fabric onto the disposable Stain Catcher™ Pad. The system is said to be safe for use on all types of fabrics.

The new product was based on findings from Applica’s research and laundry studies, which showed that consumers continue to struggle with stain removal. According to the company’s research, each week, 67 percent of U.S. households had at least one laundry stain. Approximately 80 percent of respondents strongly agreed that tough stains can be frustrating. Dann Provolo, general manager, Home Products Group for Applica, says that the new product will “redefine consumer behaviors by providing consumers the ability to do something that they couldn’t before, easily erase garment stains on the spot, so they know the stain is out before washing.”

Sensing Needs

Helping manufacturers meet consumer needs are sensors, electronic interfaces, and smart motors that can monitor and control increasingly complex parameters in the laundry process.

Electronics technology is helping to provide innovation in two areas: the first area, which is very visible, is the machine/user interface that allows the appliance to communicate with the user in a much more complete, useful, and enjoyable way. The second is less visible—the interior electronics that allow the appliance to take complete care of the users’ laundry concerns, such as which program to choose, at what temperature, and how much detergent to use.

“ Given the importance of expanding improved home clothes care, much time is being spent on all the related subsystems that both improve performance and efficiency,” explains Mr. Jacoby of GE. “Some examples of these dual-role subsystems are automatic temperature control, automatic water level, clothes load sensing, flow-through dispensing, wash and rinse algorithms, in-board heaters, suspension systems, moisture sensing, and overdry protection.”

Mr. Jacoby also confirms that more time is being spent on the human interface used with laundry machines. “Manufac-turers must design controls that keep things simple for the operator while the machine is optimizing washer and dryer performance via numerous sensor inputs,” he says.

The GE Harmony dryer, he says, is a good example of this. “Once the washer load is completed, load information is communicated to the dryer, and the load is transferred to the dryer, the consumer must only push start on the dryer,” he tells APPLIANCE. “The dryer controls take over, continuously adjusting input from dual thermistors, sensor bars, a blower motor, a drum motor, and linear heater. This illustrates a high-technology subsystem [that is] simply controlled, giving consistent, high-quality performance.”

Mr. Wells of Fisher & Paykel adds that fabric sensing is a key feature in today’s washing machine designs. “There are a few machines that sense the load weight and make certain determinations based on that, but the real test is sensing the fabric mix of a load to get the most care out of a wash cycle,” he says. Fisher & Paykel’s Intuitive Eco clothes washer, for example, “senses” how dirty the laundry is and then selects the best water level, wash action, wash time, and spin and rinse cycle for the consumer.

More sensor technology can be found in Bosch’s new Nexxt washer, which was introduced earlier this year and includes the Logixx™ control system. The system adjusts wash drum RPMs based upon fabric selection and automatically adjusts wash cycle time based on size, water pressure, and other conditions of the load. The washer is also quiet at 60 dB due to the appliance’s asynchronous motor with a brushless design and independent suspension.

Bosch’s Nexxt dryer also uses sensor technology. The machine employs the company’s Duotronic™ system, a combination of moisture and temperature sensors that automatically determine when clothes are dry to prevent damage from over-drying.

LG Electronics’ (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, U.S.) new Tromm Front Control Laundry System features a SenseClean system that enables the appliances to sense the weight of the load, and in the case of the dryer, to measure moisture and temperature. The system is said to automatically adjust the water level or dryer heat to optimize machine time and reduce shrinking and pilling.

Italian appliance maker Merloni Elettrodomestici’s new Indesit WIXL 126 washer features a Sensor System function, which employs a series of digital systems to keep the washing machine under constant control by reading information transmitted by sensor. This, the company says, helps guarantee the best possible washing results.

“ We’re using a lot of electronics and extending its scope of application,” says Giuseppe Cavalli, director of Merloni’s Laundry Business Unit. “The massive use we’re making of the tri-phase motor is a good example. It meets consumers’ demands for silence, wash times, and reduction of energy consumption. The technological key isn’t the motor, but its electronic control, which we’ve integrated with that of the machine. The whole guarantees a potential degree of washing system control that was previously unthinkable.”

Beyond the Traditional

 

Drying cabinets are creating a new category in laundry appliances. Maytag’s Drying Center pairs a tumble dryer with an upper drying cabinet that reportedly minimizes shrinkage, speeds up the drying process, reduces wrinkles, eliminates odors, and refreshes clothes. With 24.3 cu ft of total drying space, the company says the appliance can dry up to nine items using special ShapeSaver™ hangers or up to five items dried flat on removable mesh shelves.

The past few years have also seen the introduction of “non-traditional” laundry appliances that go beyond simply washing and drying clothes. With the introduction of the drying cabinet, including Whirlpool’s DryAire™ Drying Cabinet and the Drying Center™ from Maytag, consumers have more laundry options than ever before.

“ We believe that the Maytag Neptune® Drying Center has created a whole new category of laundry appliances—the multipurpose dryer,” says Mr. Wignall of Maytag. Introduced last year, the appliance pairs a traditional tumble dryer with a upper drying cabinet that reportedly minimizes shrinkage, speeds up the drying process, reduces wrinkles, eliminates odors, and refreshes clothes.

“ Our research indicated that almost three-quarters of today’s home laundry users hang-dry some of their clothes, and more than 50 percent flat-dry other clothes items,” Mr. Wignall says. “People had developed elaborate systems to handle items that required extra care. And they were clearly frustrated by the clutter involved in hang-drying and flat-drying clothes wherever they could in their home.”

Maytag’s Drying Center utilizes a BreezeCare Drying System to move air around and through clothes, using low temperatures that are easy on fabrics. Warm air infused with steam passes through multidirectional openings to dry or refresh items in the drying cabinet. Steam is generated with tap water held in a removable container located behind the small door on the front, right side of the unit, while the WrinkleRelease Rod at the top of the cabinet sways back and forth as the clothes dry. Fragrance can be added to any cycle by using a dryer sheet.

Mr. Wignall believes the Drying Center will change the way consumers shop for dryers. “No longer an add-on to a washer purchase, the dryer will become a destination product for appliance shoppers in the same way that washers have been,” he says.

Another non-traditional appliance geared toward consumer needs is the laundry center, which is ideal for those with small spaces. Frigidaire’s new full-size laundry center combines a front-load washer with a full-sized dryer in one appliance. The laundry center is operated by one control panel and has a built-in workspace below the dryer for folding clothes or stacking laundry supplies. In addition, it is said to be the industry’s first front-load laundry center to feature an all stainless-steel interior for both the dryer and the washer.

Also answering the space-saving need is GE Appliances’ Spacemaker laundry center, which measures in at 75 1/2 by 30 13/16 by 27 in. The washer features a One Wash/Spin Speed, three wash cycles, three wash/rinse temperatures, and three Water Levels. On the dryer, an Auto Dry option uses thermostats to monitor air temperature and reduce fabric wear, while four dry cycles offer preprogrammed settings for regular and delicate clothes.

 

Staber Industries (Groveport, OH, U.S.) says its top-load, horizontal-axis washer tumbles laundry like a front loader, but maintains top-loading convenience. Instead of round tubs, the company uses a patented hexagon-shaped inner tub that tumbles laundry into a bottom pool of water.

The stationary outer tub is octagon-shaped, which means the shape between the two stainless-steel tubs is always changing. This reportedly creates a unique water pumping action that gently pushes water through the laundry to clean more effectively and with fewer resources. Using one wash cycle and two rinses, Staber says its washers require an average total of only 15 gal of water per load and about 1 oz of regular detergent.

Energy Demands

Energy efficiency of washers and dryers are clearly impacting the laundry market—not only just because of legislative demands, but consumer demands as well. “Being Energy Star® qualified is important to the consumer because it means substantial dollar savings in an electricity bill,” Ms. Miranda of Bosch tells APPLIANCE. “The Energy Star qualification for manufacturers is a ‘must-have.’”

According to a 2003 survey by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), 49 percent of U.S. households have seen the Energy Star label on washers. Public awareness of the Energy Star label jumped to 56 percent of U.S. households, a 15-percent increase over prior years, and 20 percent of U.S. households knowingly purchased an Energy Star-qualifying product in the past year.

“ As consumers become more familiar with the benefits of Energy Star, including rebates available in many states and television advertisements promoting Energy Star appliances, consumers will vote with their dollars, and this will affect the market share of the different laundry products available and the laundry market dynamics,” says Stephanie Kivett Ohnegian, director of Home Appliances for Samsung. Although the appliance company only exhibited prototypes of washers and dryers at the K/BIS show earlier this year, Samsung plans to introduce products under its own brand in 2005.

Of course, efficiency is not merely driven by the conscience of consumers; in many parts of the world, it is dictated by law. In the U.S., for example, a new, stricter federal standard for clothes washers went into effect this past January, representing just the first stage of the new mandate. By Jan. 1, 2007, the second stage will be in effect, which requires all washers to be 35-percent more efficient. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, which worked with the U.S. federal government and manufacturers on the standard, the result will be overall energy reductions and consumer savings in energy bills.

But most recently, that standard has not been enough. As reported in APPLIANCE magazine’s April issue, some U.S. states are attempting to pass new regulations that would place even more stringent water-saving standards on clothes washers—essentially going above and beyond current federal regulations.

For example, the state of California is currently trying to pass new regulations that would put even more stringent water-saving standards on residential clothes washers sold in the state. The issue is whether or not California will succeed, whether other states will follow suit, and how manufacturers, retailers, and the consumer will be affected.

No matter the outcome, it is clear that manufacturers have no choice but to spend time, and ultimately, money on making their laundry appliances as efficient as possible. The good news is that some manufacturers have already started doing so. GE’s Profile Harmony washer already meets the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2007 standards. According to the appliance maker, the Harmony’s washer ExtrAction™ technology, which uses extraction and temperatures matched to specific loads, is responsible for the energy savings. Whirlpool’s Duet front-loading washer also meets 2007 energy-efficiency requirements, and according to Whirlpool, the appliance uses 68-percent less water and 67-percent less energy than average conventional washing machines.

The new Energy Star-rated Kenmore and Kenmore Elite washers from Sears reportedly reduce 40 to 45 percent of the energy used to wash a normal load, and save approximately U.S. $16 to $20 a year in energy costs. As a result, the retailer says, consumers recoup the cost of the Energy Star technology in just 20 months or less.

Although an increasing trend in the U.S., European manufacturers are no strangers to energy demands. “In Western Europe, it is now almost mandatory to offer ‘A’ scores both for energy and washing efficiency on the Energy Label,” says Mr. Broberg of Electrolux. “Around 60 percent of all washing machines sold last year in Europe were rated ‘A’ for energy and ‘A’ in wash efficiency. We try to go beyond the best classification in the Energy Label scheme and offer a range of washing machines rated ‘A’ plus, which is 12-percent more efficient than the best current ‘A’ energy rating. We are also offering appliances that deliver efficiency combined with faster program times that consumers are demanding.”

The Debate Continues

One of the laundry segment’s greatest debates has been the issue of whether top-loading washing machines or front-loading washing machines will prevail in the U.S. market. According to Aida Torres, associate brand manager, Whirlpool Brand Fabric Care, top-load versus front-load “will continue to be the mega trend in washing machines.”

Adds Mr. Wells of Fisher & Paykel, “The biggest argument for buying a front-loader is that they are more energy efficient, but sales of top loaders that are more energy efficient have been increasing over the last year and [are] taking market share back from the front loaders.”

Where the market for front-load washers will go is anyone’s guess. However, it’s safe to assume that their popularity will increase. According to data from research firm NPD Group and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, in 2003, the saturation level for front-load laundry appliances was 6 percent, versus 90 percent for top-load washers. However, most agree this gap will continue to narrow, but exactly how fast and how much is debatable.

The launch of Maytag’s Neptune washer in August 1997 undoubtedly helped push the U.S. consumer in the horizontal-axis direction. Many industry watchers were certain that Maytag was going down the wrong path—conventional wisdom said that U.S. appliance buyers would not pay a premium for energy efficiency. The success of the Neptune proved that wrong. As of 2004, 7 years after its introduction, Neptune remains a cornerstone of the Maytag product lineup.

“ The emergence of front-load washers and their increasing popularity is a sign that things are changing among consumers who are taking a risk with this new, unfamiliar technology,” says Ms. Ohnegian of Samsung.

 

The 5950 Orbital Washing Machine from Arçelik (Istanbul, Turkey) utilizes direct-drive technology that enables it to operate quieter and with less vibration. The technology also helps the washer to achieve optimum cleanliness with minimum energy and water usage, according to the company. A special Wool Move program allows wool garments to be washed gently as if washed by hand.

The washer offers a choice of programs compatible with the type of laundry being washed and has a 30-min wash program for quick washes.

The Future of Laundry

Where will laundry appliances be in the future—in 5, 10, 20 years from now? Most likely, there will be some dramatic innovations and technologies based on key appliance trends such as increased capacity, energy and water efficiency, noise levels, and styling. Says Ms. Ohnegian of Samsung, “I would not be surprised if one day consumers have super-capacity washer/dryer combinations that fit under the kitchen counter-top, are quiet enough to operate while a family is mulling around the kitchen, and are stylish enough to blend into even the most customized, paneled kitchens.”

Ms. Miranda of Bosch says she’s excited about the potential changes that could take place.”The laundry segment is going to be quite exciting in the next several years, both for front-loaders as well as top-loaders,” she says. “Newer, more efficient models with programs that can handle such a wide variety of fabrics are popping up at different price points. Consumers will have a wide selection from which to choose. So it behooves the consumer to do their homework, compare the models, and choose a set that truly works within the framework of their lifestyle.”

Mr. Wignall of Maytag says growth in the premium product segment will continue to be strong. “Rather than waiting for their existing laundry appliances to wear out, we believe more consumers will be trading up to premium products,” he tells APPLIANCE. “However, at the end of the day, there will have to be real, perceivable benefits that the new technology will provide.”

Ergonomic design will also be key. “Ease of use, in fact, obvious ease of use, will be a theme for the future,” Mr. Broberg of Electrolux tells APPLIANCE. “Already the Electrolux Jetsy/Solution/IZ was the first European washing machine with a door and drum inclined towards the user to offer the easy loading of a top-loader in the familiar format of the European front-loader.” Building on this success, Electrolux is now launching the first European-format inclined drum washing machine with a 6-kg capacity and LCD interface.

The next generation of laundry appliances, according to Mr. Jacoby of GE Appliances, will bring “progress in washing and rinsing clothes in both less water and less hot water.” Due to the widening demand for home clothes care, Mr. Jacoby also believes washers and dryers will behave more and more as a system.

Ultimately, he says, laundry appliances will need to both meet and exceed consumer needs. “As long as the manufacturers can continue to beat the current consumer expectations,” Mr. Jacoby says, “the consumer satisfaction will be high, the repurchase rate will grow, and the appliance market will remain strong.”

 

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