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Sun 1 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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Silver streak hits home

The development of new features such as silver nano bacteria-fighting technology and an increased focus on ‘smart’ appliances is revolutionising the washing machine sector. ECN profiles some of the most innovative models to hit the market.

While washing machines have in the past been typically ignored when it comes to technological enhancements, the development of new home networking applications has forced vendors to rethink their approach to the market.

Whitegoods including refrigerators, ovens, washing machines and dryers, can be intrinsically linked in a home networking environment and are benefiting greatly as a result, with major vendors committing significant funds to research and development (R&D) in a bid to expand their presence in the burgeoning sector.

Importantly, R&D has not been restricted to making home appliances ‘intelligent’. Significant resources are also being committed by the industry’s biggest players to developing new cleaning solutions designed to tackle everything from bacteria to safeguarding delicate clothing items during the wash cycle.

Chief among developments aimed at protecting the health of consumers is silver nano technology. South Korean home appliance manufacturer Samsung introduced the first silver nano-equipped washing machines to the Middle East market in 2005. The company claims the washing machines “provide a ‘healthy’ and ‘green’ choice for environment and health conscious consumers”.

According to the president of Samsung Gulf Electronics (SGE), J. H. Park, the company invested more than US$10 million and spent three years developing the technology. He claims that silver nano is the first technology that combines the disinfectant and antibiotic properties of electrolytic silver nano-particles (Ag+) in washing machines to remove 99.9% of bacteria.

“Silver Nano technology, which ‘naturally’ kills bacteria, mold and germs, helps prevent bacteria from growing in washing machines in addition to refrigerators and air conditioners,” explains Keun Yoo, director of SGE’s Home Appliances division.

“The interior of Samsung washing machines are coated with nano-sized silver particles that offer antibacterial and deodorising benefits.”

Samsung claims the development of silver nano technology marks a major leap forward in washing machine design, and will transform consumer perceptions of a much-neglected product category.

“Following the outbreak of SARS and other viruses, newer features and strong design are simply not enough to satisfy consumer demands,” explains Sanjay Gajamer, senior manager of SGE’s Home Appliances division.

“In addition to enhanced designs and features, consumers also expect products to protect them from hidden bacteria that can pose a serious threat to their health and well-being.”

Samsung’s flagship Hauzen silver nano washing machine boasts 10kg capacity – which it claims is the biggest of any machine currently available in the Middle East – and other features including ‘intelligent’ wash cycles and the company’s patented Bigwash 4D (digital detergent dissolving device) technology. The 4D system directs detergent into a chamber where it is quickly dissolved. This concentrated mixture is then sprayed into the tub ensuring an even and thorough penetration of detergent for a more effective wash.

The Hauzen also boasts a washing cycle of just 98 minutes, which Samsung claims is the shortest required period for normal cotton wash programmes. Following Samsung’s lead is South Korean archrival LG Electronics, which has focused its R&D efforts on developing its flagship Steam Direct Drive washing machine. LG claims the machine is a world-first, developed over three years and borrowing heavily from industrial cleaning techniques.

The machine effectively doubles as a steam press. Once the washing cycle has been completed, the machine steam blasts clothing in the washing tub for up to 20 minutes in a bid to remove creases.

LG claims the machine also demands 35% less water and 21% less power usage than traditional rivals, in addition to preventing shrinkage and generally being gentler on garments during the wash cycle. The Steam Direct Drive range also boasts a strong focus on aesthetic design. Consumers can select from a range of body colours including pink, blue and black, in addition to panels featuring various graphic designs.

The president of LG Electronics, Middle East and Africa Operations, K.H. Kim, says the company is also committed to expanding its range of appliances featuring silver nano technology.

“LG is increasing its R&D investments every year to reach US$3.38 billion in 2007 and more than US$5.1 billion in 2010. Our customers are becoming health conscious and we are committed to developing products designed to meet these needs.”

Meanwhile, Electrolux has taken a somewhat more novel approach to developing washing machines targeting specific consumer requirements.

The company’s Communication washing machine confirms users’ actions vocally. It also offers ‘advice’ relating to the various washing machine programmes available, and talks the user through the entire washing or drying process, indicating operational errors and making the entire process much simpler, Electrolux claims. Washing machines equipped with Communication technology greet the user with a ‘jingle’ of four notes when the appliance is switched on. If more than six seconds pass before the start button is pressed, the machine will suggest pushing this button or choosing one of the options available.

The machine will also indicate if the door has been left open or if the tap has not been turned on and con- firm when the programme is completed. If an option is selected, the machine will describe the key features of that particular programme. For example, if the Easy Iron option is chosen, the user will hear the message ‘’helps prevent creases to make ironing easier’’.

Electrolux also recently introduced a new cycle on some of its AEG-Electrolux branded washing machines, which the company claims provides consumers with an easy way to take care of dirty athletic shoes.

The ‘sports shoe’ programme is a mild washing cycle featuring a higher water level and longer washing time compared to ‘normal’ programmes.

A high-speed spin cycle dries shoes quickly, while two coarse woven bags, which are designed to protect shoes from damage during the cycle, are also supplied.

While the relative merit of a talking washing machine remains questionable, such developments indicate the efforts being installed by some of the industry’s biggest players to provide a point-of-difference to their competitors. Such technological innovations spell good news for the home appliance channel sector, with retailers standing to gain considerably from the increased consumer interest generated by the launch of these new products and increased competition in the sector in general.

“Consumers now expect products to protect them from hidden bacteria that can pose a threat to their health and well-being.”
Samsung

A pioneer in the development of silver nano technology designed specifically for washing machines, South Korean vendor Samsung offers an extensive portfolio of washers boasting the feature. Samsung claims the feature, officially marketed as Silver Wash, is an advanced washing technology with superb bacteria killing capabilities, boasting 99.99% sterilisation and lasting antibacterial capabilities of up to 30 days post-wash cycle. Furthermore, the company claims Silver Wash helps to protect sensitive skin and prevents dermatitis with anti-bacterial protection for all types of fabrics (17 types of fabrics tested in the lab). While rival vendors use a silver ion coating on the washing machine drum, Samsung claims its approach is more effective as it ensures that all clothing items are penetrated with the silver ions.

Nikai

Dubai-based consumer electronics and household appliance vendor Nikai primarily markets a range of entry-level semiautomatic washing machines, which have generated strong sales for the company in emerging markets across the Middle East and Africa. Nikai’s semi-automatic washing machine line-up includes simple 1.8kg capacity models to large twin-tub machines boasting a capacity of 10kg. The company also markets four highly specified models: two top-loading and two front-loading washing machines. Nikai’s top-of-the-line front-loading washing machine boasts a capacity of 6kg, an LCD monitor featuring an intuitive menu display, multiple washing programmes, a programme memory function and washing mode selector, and a low-power, energy efficient design.

Whirlpool

Already one of the household appliance industry’s biggest names, US-based Whirlpool further consolidated its position in the washing machine sector with the acquisition of former rival Maytag earlier this year. The commercial might of the merged entity has seen it increase its share of the market, while achieving cost savings by rationalising its manufacturing capabilities. Whirlpool markets a range of proprietary technologies in the washing machine sector including a programme known as ‘6th Sense’ which collates the size of a washing load and automatically adjusts the machine’s cyclce to suit. Whirlpool claims the technology ensures savings of up to 30% in terms of time, water and energy.

Electrolux

Household appliance giant Electrolux is one of the world’s largest washing machine manufacturers. The company has worked to differentiate its product portfolio by developing a range of machines boasting innovative features – otherwise known as gimmicks. Chief among these is its ‘Communication’ washing machine, which in true ‘my favourite robot’ style, talks back to the user confirming washing cycles and offers guidance when selecting pre-set washing programmes. Electrolux claims it developed the model to help consumers who “do not always benefit from special functions” or find “household appliances complex in operation”. No word on its life-affirming capabilities, however.

LG

LG has been another vendor keen to cash-in on the perceived health benefits provided by silver-nano technology in the development of its washing machine range. Applying the attributes of silver (anti-bacteria) and carbon (deodorisation) nano particles, LG’s frontloaded washing machine range boasts a washing tub coated by silver nano particles (Ag+). The antibacterial properties of these silver nano particles has enabled LG to secure quality and safety certification from accredited bodies, such as the U.S. FDA, U.S. EPA, SIAA of Japan, and Korea’s Testing and Research Institute for Chemical Industry. The company claims the silver nano particles “ensure antibacterial action and sterilisation of clothing during the washing and rinsing processes. When clothes are washed and rinsed, the bacteria contained in the water are sterilised as they come into direct contact with the silver nano particles on the surface of the washing tub”.

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