When you are used to IFA Berlin, Europe’s prime consumer electronics and home appliances fair, visiting Eurocucina in Milan (last April) is a whole new experience. Because Eurocucina is part of Salone Del Mobile, the world’s largest furniture fair, and because you are in Milan, design capital of the world, the whole environment is different. There are mainly designers, architects and not so much engineers and hardware oriented people as in Berlin. And Milan is more international, and bigger: all the 23 halls of the Milan fairgrounds are occupied but there are also a lot of additional events in Milan itself, especially from smaller companies. You really need to focus otherwise you’ll drown.
Being a design event, the focus and accompanying language is also different. Not the appliance is the focus, but the concept. The language is much vaguer and it is quite normal to discuss trends in a three- to five year time frame, where hardware people only discuss current offerings. If you can’t think in concepts, designers will not trust you. First connect on the conceptual level, and then drill down to the details, seems to be the golden rule. This is what you can see in for instance the Electrolux design competition, where the idea is the most important. Whether you can actually use the idea for an actual product is sometimes secondary.
The best example of this perspective was the Whirlpool stand. There were just a few products, totally different from what you see in Berlin. It was about concepts and their visualization. The most visible idea was the app for load management, where you can set start times of your appliances according to cheap electricity. Everybody has such an app, but Whirlpool avoided the spreadsheet-like look and showed an interface with little twinkling stars where the colors would indicate what to do, green stars highlighted the most ecofriendly running start time. It is called Sixth Sense Live. The presentation was conceptual also: not just the product but there was a kind of theater for it. Another concept was Sixth Sense Lighting: the appliance has white indicator lights to explain what to do. If you touch a button on the cooktop, the button and the corresponding burner both light up in white. The oven shows you at which position your oven meal needs to be placed. But the most revolutionary was the oven with added induction. You put your pizza or pasta plate on an extra, removable induction generator inside the oven, and the cookware is heated much faster. Whirlpool claims 30 percent lower electricity use, mainly by shortening cooking time. It took a lot of effort to design a removable induction plate which was suitable for the hot environment. Last year Whirlpool announced this idea, but not in detail, so everybody was very curious what it would be. Now we saw it and we were stunned.
Another idea was the refrigerator with a water reservoir on top of the motor, so the water is heated by the heat when the motor is running. The water then can be used in the dishwasher. Integration and thus using heat from one appliance in another is the concept. Both ideas were developed in the development center in Cassinetta, near Milan, and will be on sale this year.
This very Italian brand is one of the three companies originally from the Merloni family. In a typical Italian way, the three sons of the founder could not agree on working together, so the original company was split in three, in 1975. Merloni Termosanitari does a lot in heating components, Merloni Elettrodomestici (Italian for appliances) is famous for the Indesit brand and later renamed the company after this brand, and Antonio Merloni is the smallest and did not prosper in recent years, it went through bankruptcy and the remains were sold. Indesit was present in Milan with their three brands: Indesit for mass products, Hotpoint-Ariston (Hotpoint is originally a UK brand) for midrange and original French brand Scholtès for high end. Scholtès has many interesting products: a built-in vacuumizer and a chiller, many cooktops in dazzling designs (again, this is Italy, after all) and new vertical-flame burners, for higher efficiency. Some cooktops have sensors, to be attached to the pan, allowing precise control. There are ovens with special programs allowing for cooking vacuum sealed food, at 95 or 120 Celsius.
The most interesting part was the Hotpoint Innovation Area. The newest trends were on display, and yes, there was an app for load management. And also another interface for a large touch display which showed recipes, ingredients and preparation tips. A fun idea was the redesigned user interface for large appliances: as you use a tablet to set the program, a simpler interface will do, such as a dot-matrix display over the full width of the appliance, which also functions as a self-opening handle, reacting on sensors. Professor Darlo Ratti of MIT participated in the project. Again, these kind of futuristic designs are unknown in Berlin’s IFA.
For the Hotpoint brand there was Active Oxygen: a cleaning process applied in cooling and dishwashing. A very Italian feature is the induction cooktop with maximum power limit. In many areas of Italy you cannot use any kind of power you want; many households have a 3 kW limit. Therefore most brands offer appliances where you can set a maximum on power; an induction cooktop will arrange its generators accordingly. One can understand that electric cooking is not very popular here. Finally, Italy’s most famous designer Giorgetto Giugiaro designed a built-in range for Indesit, with a special handle as visual identity.
Ultra German premium brand Miele presented something new in connected appliances. Together with SMA Home Technology, a company which is strong in inverters for solar panels, they presented the Sunny Home Manager. This is a load manager which synchronizes appliance use with solar panels. Using weather data, the start times of the appliances are optimized. This fits the desire of many customers to use the solar power in their homes, instead of delivering back in the grid. Very popular is the combination of a hybrid car with solar panels.
For connecting with the outside world there is a new project together with Deutsche Telekom, power companies E.On and EnBW and hardware maker eQ-3. The QIVICON is a universal gateway who connects the home with the power companies, over the Deutsche Telekom network. You can connect Miele as well as Samsung appliances, and (again) use the tablet or smart phone as user interface. In products, a few general trends were to be seen: invisible hoods, hidden away in the upper cabinets; circulation hoods who are optimized for low energy homes, low-profile gas cooktops which mimic the flat look of induction models, and steam ovens. Next to normal steam ovens there are also pressurized steam ovens, and Miele (and sister brand Imperial) are the only manufacturer of models for domestic use, and as a detail these products are quite popular in Belgium. No problem here to mount a special 400 Volt/3 phase connection. In other countries you’ll never see this. Remember that the European market is very fragmented in consumer taste, tradition and preferences, which can be a nightmare for large, global manufacturers (Whirlpool!).
Last year at IFA the AEG brand saw a massive redesign called New Collection (AEG is a very established German brand) and now the main Electrolux brand got a new look. A horizontal line with a middle part vaguely copied from a dishwasher handle, it is called Flow Line and it looks quite familiar, yet distinguished. It offers glass panels using touch controls. A new combi steam oven combines steam with hot air, a feature copied from professional appliances (Electrolux is the only major European appliance maker who has a professional cooking and laundry division). Another cooking novelty is the Inspiro oven, with recipes from a great number of top chefs. The GemLine domino cooktops have ‘Ethnic cooking’ modules: a Paella Zone and an improved Teppan Yaki with a thin film heating element. In dishwashing there is Dual Circular lower basket spray arm, with a separate satellite spray arm which can reach the most hidden places (no pun intended).
Siemens, one of the two major BSH brands demonstrated the full-surface induction cooktop, having 48 (!) small induction generators to allow for every type and size of cookware. It looks spectacular: you place a pan on the surface and the touch screen displays its size and location automagically. This high end feature was last year announced for top BSH brand Gaggenau, and it was expected to appear under other BSH brands. A nice little feature (which detail-obsessed Germans love) is the projector in the fully integrated dishwasher which shows a color status screen projected on the floor. First you hide your dishwasher, and then you need a display. No problem. Next door at Bosch a comparison was made between a fridge-freezer of 25 years ago (yearly use 500 kWh) and a current A+++ model (160 kWh). Just as new dishwashers from Whirlpool, water usage was down another liter to 6 on some programs. Imagine that there are still a lot of dishwashers who use 15 or 20 liters. Bosch also showed induction cooktops with a 3kW power limit, for Italy.
Design-crazy Italy is clearly leading in one special category: the hoods. Nowhere in the world you can buy hoods in the shapes, materials and colors the Italians have to offer. Square, rounded, circular, modern, traditional, you name it. Market leader is Faber, a subsidiary of Swiss brand Franke. Next to all these (sometimes crazy) shapes and colors there are several interesting technologies, and Franke is said to have the widest range available. At the stand there were five. First is active noise control. Not unlike noise canceling headphones, the SIL-K ACT system uses a solid bass speaker within the hood, an amplifier of course and microphones connected to a control unit. Roughly a quarter of the noise is compensated for, or 13 dBa reduction. Supplier is Israeli Silentium, and you can also user their system in airco’s or car engines. Second is the Domoplasma air purifier from Dutch supplier aXiair. It uses electrostatic discharge to process smelly carbohydrates into oxygen and carbodioxid. Third technology is a firefighting system: the hood has a water supply and spray jets and can prevent fires. This is required in Norway, with its wooden housing. Also South Korea uses the system. The hood can also switch off the cooktop.
Fourth is a hood with built-in air conditioning. An indoor unit is built in, with a separate air flow and a traditional outdoor unit, both supplied by Olimpia Splendid. And number five is new: High Filtering Hood, a circular, dual layer filter based on carbon, used in recirculation hoods. It has a combination of high efficiency (95 percent) and washability: you can wash it about six times, while keeping up efficiency.
Reflecting, the Milan fair with its wide range of products and companies can be overwhelming. Visually, kitchens and furniture of course have a lot more to offer, compared with the white boxes from the appliance sector. But the conceptual level offered by some white goods companies is really worth the trip, despite the expensive hotel rooms and the overload. And it is the only chance to see Whirlpool on a trade fair…