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issue: February 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Everything, Including the Kitchen Sink

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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

As designers strive to differentiate their dishwashers with winning features and styling combinations, some companies are beginning to think outside the 24-in wide, single-door box.

The briva dishwasher from KitchenAid (Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.) reflects a departure from conventional thinking with its in-sink design. Available in 36- and 42-in configurations, there is room for up to five place settings.

More Innovative Dishwasher Designs

Miele U.S.A.
Washing Dishes Without Water
Integrated Dishwasher

Dishwashers, like other major appliances, risk being commodity items if they all look and perform the same. While there are similarities between today’s models, dishwasher makers seem to be successfully resisting “commoditization.” Much of their success is due to their willingness to target and design for specific market segments. One global company, BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte (Munich, Germany), reports having more than 1,000 models.

Still, dishwasher makers—and their customers—all start with two givens for their models: they clean well and work reliably. Nearly as important is that models are both water and energy efficient. Quiet operation is also a requirement in many markets. Getting all of these features—clean-ability, reliability, energy efficiency, low water use, and quietness—into one package is no easy task. For instance, adding more water can help clean dishes, but heating that water uses energy. Higher water pressure spray can also assist in cleaning, but adds to noise levels.

In built-in dishwashers, another virtual requirement has been a uniform size and configuration. Most units are made to fit in a 24-in (60-cm) width and under a kitchen cabinet, and have a single door. There have long been exceptions, of course, including narrower 18-in (45-cm) models and built-in compact units.

Of course, there are now other non-standard units on the market. The unique DishDrawer models, developed and manufactured by Fisher & Paykel (Auckland, New Zealand), are single or dual units in sliding drawers within a 24-in width. Similar drawer models are being introduced this year under KitchenAid (a brand of Whirlpool Corporation, Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.) and Dynamic Cooking Systems of Huntington Beach, CA, U.S., which was recently acquired by Fisher & Paykel. Dacor (Diamond Bar, CA, U.S.) launched 30-in wide models in 2003, and Electrolux (Stockholm, Sweden) this year is selling 90-cm (36-in) built-in and freestanding AEG and Electrolux models.

Meanwhile, KitchenAid has taken the built-in dishwasher concept from under the cabinet and placed it in the sink. The briva, which comes in 36- and 42-in configurations, is a dual-purpose, two-tub stainless steel sink with added dishwasher. The company says up to five place settings or large pots and pans can be accommodated. The model uses an integrated, electronic touch panel and has flexible and movable tines for different loading patterns. This premium model is aimed at those wanting a second kitchen dishwasher, or as a stand-alone solution in small kitchens or secondary clean-up areas.

Tests and Sensors

Electrolux (Stockholm, Sweden) launched a line of 90-cm (36-in) wide built-in and freestanding dishwashers in Milan, Italy, in April 2004. Shown here is an AEG model.

Because of concern about over-use of energy resources, many markets have energy-use labeling requirements and/or standards for dishwashers. In the European Community, for example, dishwashers are given letter ratings based on their energy-efficiency class (“A” being highest). and similar letter ratings are given for washing and drying proficiency. Consumers searching for low energy use and excellent washing and drying could, for example, choose a model ranked “AAA.” A large number of models now meet the top standard in Europe, and Electrolux said it expects to eventually see that 80 percent of all dishwashers will meet the AAA standards.

In the U.S., dishwashers carry EnergyGuide labels, allowing comparison of models’ annual energy consumption. In calculating this, the average cycles per year has recently been lowered from 264 to 215. Also, test procedures now include a test for soil-sensing machines. These machines adjust their operation, and their energy consumption, based on the findings of sensors.

It is generally believed that sensor models reduce energy use over non-sensor models. Sensor models have other advantages, notably their ability to simplify control choices for users. Indesit Company (Fabriano, Italy) observes that with digital sensors, new dishwashers can recognize water hardness and the type of items loaded, and then decide automatically what cycle to use. This optimizes (reduces) consumption of energy, water, and detergent.

“A really good dishwasher is going to be flexible for the customer,” says Dr. Stefan Hartung, senior vice president, product area dishwashers for BSH in Germany. “You are going to put in what you put in, not standard dishes with standard dirt. What we and other manufacturers have done is develop sensors that determine how much dirt and how many dishes are loaded. The optimum wash is varied, based on what is put in. The machine can change the water consumption, the program time, and other variables. If it is cleaning fast, it can go to a reduced program to conserve energy. Above all, there are no compromises on cleaning.”

As manufacturers add sensors, the proportion of models with electronic controls has increased. BSH reports 96 percent of its machines worldwide are electronic, and 100 percent of its U.S. models are electronic. Miele and Cie. (Gütersloh, Germany) says all of its models feature electronic controls developed and manufactured in-house since 1999. Some 96 percent of models from Arçelik (Istanbul, Turkey) had electronic controls in 2004, and all models will have them this year.

Sensors are not the only sources of energy savings. Arçelik reports that using permanent-magnet, brushless d.c. motors in its newly introduced dishwasher models has resulted in savings of about 100 W, which is a 10-percent improvement. “The motor is more efficient than conventional synchronous and asynchronous motors, with efficiency of about 82 to 85 percent,” says Turgut Soysal, production and technology group director. “Beyond the energy savings, improvements have been around 11 percent on water usage (down

1.5 L), 20 on noise level, and 5 percent in the washing performance index. Cleaning performance is improved with variable washing pressures and flow rates.”

Energy Carrots

In the U.S., a “carrot,” is used to encourage manufacturers to produce energy-efficient units. Those models that qualify can receive the voluntary designation that they are Energy-Star-qualified, a program affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Initially, Energy Star was intended to highlight a relatively small portion of all models. However, as manufacturers have successfully increased energy efficiency, most or all of some brands are Energy-Star-qualified. For instance, all Bosch (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S.) models meet the standards, as do all KitchenAid models. Shanon Jones, dishwasher product manager of GE Consumer and Industrial (Louisville, KY, U.S.) reports that 92.8 percent of GE’s lineup is Energy-Star-qualified.

While there seems to be no immediate plan to tighten up the Energy Star qualification standards, at least one U.S. state is making a change. In Oregon, dishwasher purchasers that want to qualify for up to a

U.S. $50 tax credit must buy a model with an Energy Factor (EF) of 0.61. The EF for Energy Star is a less demanding 0.58. The state also requires that the model not use more than 6.5 gal of water per cycle.

Quiet, Please!

Many consumers view noise level as an indication of a dishwasher’s quality. “Noise is one of the most important design parameters for dishwashers,” confirms Mr. Soysal of Arçelik. “It is one of the indications of quality and technical perfection of the product.”

Matthew Kueny, manager of Product Development, Miele USA (Princeton, NJ, U.S), adds that quiet operation is the first request from Miele dishwasher customers. “While they were accustomed to the noise in their older dishwashers, it annoyed them,” he explains. “But we believe that, even if it is not always stated, consumers are ultimately most concerned with good cleaning. The reason they buy their dishwashers is to clean their dishes, pots, and glassware, and we don’t want them to be disappointed. For that reason we focus strongly on both cleaning and noise in our designs.”

Whirlpool says that its research shows that noise is very important to consumers, from high price points to low price points, reports Brian Christian, vice president of Global Product Development, Cleaning Category, at Whirlpool Corporation. “Dishwashers have improved so much in this area that consumers are often amazed with the quietness compared to their old units,” he tells APPLIANCE. “However, explaining relative noise levels is difficult at retail. One problem is the lack of a standard comparison method in the industry. In North America, some manufacturers use ‘sones’ while others use decibels to measure noise levels, but an industry standard has not been defined.”

In contrast, Europe has standardized on decibel measurements, Mr. Christian continues. “But neither of these metrics fully take into account sound quality,” he explains. “Some noises, such as gurgling water, may be pleasing to users, while an abrupt ‘clunk,’ at a motor startup may not be. In addition, consumers have a hard time understanding the meaning of decibels or sones. Despite the difficulties, we could see the adoption of a decibel standard in the U.S. market.”

According to Rene Kan, product manager of dishwashers at Bosch, one of the biggest North American appliance retailers, Sears, is moving to use a decibel standard similar to the one adopted in Europe. “The company will be requiring us and other dishwasher suppliers to provide noise levels in decibels for all models,” he tells APPLIANCE. “This will simplify the comparison of models between brands. We already publish the decibel levels for our models, and because they are low, we expect to benefit [from a decibel standard].”

By using permanent magnet, brushless d.c. motors, Arçelik (Istanbul, Turkey) was able to have more energy-efficient cleaning cycles with better cleaning results and less water consumption.

Speed Versus Efficiency

There is a down side to the more efficient, water-conserving dishwashers of today, and that is cycle time. “One of the things people notice when replacing a dishwasher is the longer wash cycles,” says Mr. Kueny of Miele USA . “Models used to spray 12 or 13 gal and didn’t need to take as long to get the job done.”

Manufacturers have responded in various ways, including adding short wash cycles. Miele offers a rapid program for more lightly soiled dishes. To conserve water, the machine analyses the second pre-wash water before draining. If it is clean enough, the water will be used in the main wash cycle, eliminating a fill. The same can be done on the second rinse.

Wash cycle time is important, adds Mr. Kan of Bosch. In addition to keeping standard wash times down as much as possible, its latest models include a cycle in which half the place settings can be done in

30 min. Another option is to do a full load in 60 min, but this involves the use of more water, higher temperatures, and more energy than in a standard cycle.

Says Andrea Grassi, manager for built-in dishwashing at Italy-based Indesit Company, “A key company goal is to reduce washing time, while reducing consumption levels and minimizing product noise. One option we include in all our models is a 30-min cycle. This is ideal for the not-so-dirty dishes. To achieve the benefits of the faster cycles, the consumers are asked to sacrifice by using more water than in a standard cycle.”

Frigidaire, a brand of Electrolux Home Products North America (Augusta, GA, U.S.), hit the fast track last September when it introduced SpeedClean models that do a wash cycle in 50 min, including drying time. The models use technology that lets homeowners choose variable washing pressures. The SpeedClean cycle provides a 30-percent increase in washing pressure and, thus, more rapidly (and powerfully) cleans dishes. A half-load wash cycle does a small load on either the top or bottom rack. An option is a wash silencer, which reduces washing pressure over an extended period to cut sound levels.

“In the old days, the dishwashers used to blast off the dirt with a lot of high-pressure water,” says Tony Evans, Electrolux corporate communications. “The downside was a high noise level, and there wasn’t enough gentleness for some dishes. In more recent years, we’ve been offering a gentler, longer, and quieter wash. With this new model, we’ve added a higher level of wash pressure and more choices for the consumer, not just in wash pressure but in wash time and noise. The wash silencer allows the user an option of extremely quiet operation and extra gentle washing.”

Mr. Christian of Whirlpool adds: “Shorter wash cycles are important to some consumers, but to be meaningfully shorter, they need to be a lot shorter. Ten minutes shorter doesn’t mean much. Currently, most consumers run their dishwashers in the evening and unload them the next day, so cycle time isn’t so important.”

Dish Loading

Given that most built-in dishwashers are designed to fit under a counter, the amount of space available for loading dishes is finite. Despite this, dishwasher designers have had success in reconfiguring the existing space to permit more loading. One way of doing this is to expand the wash tub. Many companies now have models with tall tubs and increased usable space. Indesit Company reports capacities in some cases are 20 percent bigger than in previous years, and loading flexibility is increased to reduce the number of washes.

Some companies have used the extra space to add a third rack. Maytag Corporation (Newton, IA, U.S.) says its Jetclean II models were the first models to offer three full racks. The third racks, on the bottom, are said to be appropriate for such items as casserole dishes, baking pans, frying pans, and utensils.

However, the importance of extra space can be debated. “While dishwasher capacity is a point of differentiation for manufacturers,” says Mr. Kan of Bosch, “it may not be such a big deal with customers. Many people run their dishwashers every other day, or when they run them daily, they are not full. Not a lot of customers, in fact, really need the larger capacity.”

What seems beyond debate is that customers want flexible loading options. Designing racks that work for customers involves experimentation and customer research. KitchenAid conducts multiple usability tests with prototypes. These create different scenarios based on the dishes that its consumers use, such as those from Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma. Mr. Kueny of Miele USA says he goes shopping about once a year for new plates to send to the factory for testing. Arçelik applies field tests with selected customers in the relevant markets to check the usability of its products before their launch. Additionally, the company works with experts from independent laboratories and universities to understand consumers’ needs and expectations.

Bosch (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S.) has developed the INFOLIGHT, an easy way for the consumer to see if the dishwasher is on or off. The device beams a small light onto the floor during operation.

Deceiving Appearances

In North America, integrated designs are popular. Miele USA reports half of its sales are concealed panel dishwashers. “It’s all part of a trend to make utilitarian products go away,” points out Mr. Kueny. “Products like dishwashers that don’t add something to the kitchen are hidden.”

Mr. Christian adds that Whirlpool is spending more time and energy on creating appealing aesthetics for models from the premium to the low end. “Right now, there is no clear consensus developing on whether consumers want the fully integrated look or the convenience of having a full panel on the front,” he says. “We’re selling more of the fully integrated models, but previously there was not a market. We will reach a point of leveling. The stainless exterior look is still important. We’ve even toyed with doing a model with a window. Windows work in cooking and fabric care, but are unproven in dishwashers.”

Equator Corporation (Houston, Texas) has already been selling a compact countertop unit with an oval glass window in the door. Besides viewing the wash cycle, the consumer can use the window as a reminder to remove the clean dishes.

Many dishwasher models have been redesigned to maximize usable interior space in a 24-in width. Shown here is a Maytag (Newton, IA, U.S.) Jetclean II three-rack dishwasher. The third rack in the bottom opens up new space. The rack can hold a variety of odd-sized items usually left in the sink for hand washing.

Global Designs?

While the global oven or refrigerator may not be in the cards anytime soon, what about the global dishwasher? In fact, some companies see this as a realistic possibility. “We see a rapid convergence of regional tastes in durable goods, as in many other categories,” observes Fredrik Ramen, head of product line DishCare and senior vice president of Electrolux Home Products in Sweden. “This will lead to the emergence of completely global products. As a global company selling dishwashers on all continents, we have been able to learn about consumer preferences in different parts of the world. Compared to other white goods products, these preferences differ less within dishwashers.”

One difference pointed out by Mr. Ramen is that U.S. dishwashers have a bigger tub than European dishwashers. Another difference is the inclusion of a salt dispenser in European models to counteract the hard water found in the region. In addition, due to generally smaller kitchens in Europe and parts of Asia, compact or countertop units are more common than in North America.

One dishwasher that appears to be close to a global model is the DishDrawer from Fisher & Paykel. The unit, which is designed and produced in New Zealand, is sold under the Fisher & Paykel name and is also private-labeled. “We market it around the world, but especially in the biggest markets in North America, Australasia, and Europe,” says Bryce Wells, marketing manager at the U.S. operation in Irvine, CA. “We have found that it’s not difficult to adjust manufacturing to take into account local differences. Other than electrical variations, the main difference between Europe and the U.S. is the height of the toe kick. We are also able to make software adjustments to meet various performance requirements of different markets.”

Mr. Christian of Whirlpool adds: “When looking at international markets, it is not always true that a centralized manufacturing location serving multiple regions makes sense, particularly for the larger appliances. But a common design can make sense. When designing, we are focusing more and more on design modularity. We are moving toward faster, less expensive introduction of consumer features within platforms that are more fixed across time and geography. Modularization allows us to bring consumer benefits to the market faster.”

According to Dr. Hartung of BSH, in the end, a dishwasher looks like a dishwasher—the basic principles apply anywhere. “But there are variations in what the consumer puts in the dishwasher, and what features he or she most wants, and these have to be taken into account,” he notes. “For instance, in Europe, many households use very delicate wine glasses, which are almost impossible to load unless you have suitable racks. In France, there is very high concern about dishwasher noise. So, you have to suit your products to the country. Some models have different controls and control locations, some have different racks, some have simple controls, and some have more complex controls for those who want to control more process options. You must adapt to huge variations, so we are currently offering more than a thousand different dishwasher models in total.”

In the U.S. market, Dr. Hartung says BSH was one of the first to come in with a European product. “It was untypical, with low noise, quality appearance, stainless steel interior, and a high value. Over the years, we have changed the product to better meet the needs of this market. We now have bigger tubs and different racks, among other changes. At the same time, the market has changed, and we are not as untypical, but are a well-established premium brand manufacturer.”

He adds that one consideration BSH had to make is where to manufacture for the U.S. market. “In the early days, we produced products in Europe,” Dr. Hartung explains. “We could have set up manufacturing in China, with its low manufacturing costs. But there is not much demand for full-size dishwashers there, so we would have been shipping most of the big boxes to the U.S. In addition, we would have needed good suppliers and excellent material. Even stainless steel that we use, for instance, is not so easy to get. We decided that, with our high-premium dishwashers, it made sense to produce them in the U.S.”

What does the future hold for dishwashers? A lot more technology, including perhaps, connection to the Internet. Some models, such as those from Miele, already have this capability. It also seems safe to expect more experimentation with unusual designs, for more distinct brand identities, and for models to be more precisely targeted toward particular consumer segments. As Mr. Grassi of Indesit Company phrases it, “Our growth will rely on product innovations and the willingness of the consumer to pay for them.”


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