There was a time when home appliances would become bigger, brasher and more powerful every year – but there’s been a significant change.
Rather than throwing more resources at the problem, washing machines, fridges and other large appliances are now increasingly being built to be more efficient and smarter. We spoke to Hyesoon Yang, corporate vice president and head of the product strategy team at Samsung’s Digital Appliances division, to see how the company was approaching new products.
The shift in focus to efficiency has come from the knowledge that consumers are more aware of the resources they’re using, and there’s a desire to buy more economical appliances.
“Today, consumers are more conscious that washing machines use a lot of water and energy, and they’re constantly looking for ways to cut back. According to one of our consumer surveys, 39% of German consumers and 29% of UK consumers said that energy efficiency was the most important consideration when purchasing washing machines,” said Yang.
As Samsung explains, while consumers want to use fewer resources, they don’t want to compromise performance, particularly when it comes to hygienic functions. Tackling this problem has led Samsung to use connected features, while also re-engineering its products.
“Our new WW9800T Washer/Dryer Combo achieves top-tier energy efficiency. It also uses enhanced connectivity features to automatically adjust water and detergent levels and to extend or shorten washing times according to a laundry load’s weight and soil level, ensuring minimal waste,” explained Yang.
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In terms of fridge freezers, a large part of how efficient they are is down to how well insulated the appliance is. Making a fridge freezer larger to squeeze in more insulation would either make the units too large overall, or dramatically reduce how much space there was inside for food.
Yang explains that Samsung has tackled this with new technology in its RB7300T refrigerator, which, “uses Samsung’s SpaceMax technology to reach 385 litres of storage while maintaining a standard 600mm cabinet depth”. It’s a change that improves energy efficiency by 30%.
SpaceMax is Samsung’s new thinner insulation, which uses polyurethane (PU) foam installation and Vacuum Insulation Panels (VIP). By decreasing the PU cell size from between 200-300㎛ to 100-150㎛, thermal conductivity is reduced, improving insulation efficiency by 6.5%. In turn, this has allowed Samsung to reduce the thickness of the freezer wall from 60mm to 55mm, and the fridge wall from 45mm to 30mm.
Smart technology is something that all companies are offering, but there are degrees of what can be done. The basic starting point is that the majority of Samsung’s Wi-Fi appliances are now controllable through the SmartThings app, enabling people to take control from anywhere.
To be honest, this is of limited use for many appliances: to turn on a washing machine remotely, you’d need to have it preloaded and ready to go. And, once done, your washing machine won’t empty itself.
Samsung is looking at more automated smart features that work at the point you use an appliance. As Yang explains, the new WW9800T washing machine uses AI to remember your most frequently used settings, presenting these first, so you don’t constantly have to type in a programme. It can also take into account weather information for where you live, suggesting cycles based on that.
And, if you have a DV8000T dryer, the WW9800T can send cycle information to the dryer, which then sets itself for the optimal programme. This kind of interoperation makes much sense, and is a useful type of smart interface that doesn’t rely on the user making decisions or using apps.
Yet, it’s the bigger picture that still needs work, and devices from multiple manufacturers need to be able to talk to one another. Samsung has its SmartThings platform, which brings a certain number together, and there’s a growing variety of devices that work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant – but the truth is that we’re not quite there yet. Still, the ability for appliances from one manufacturer to talk and change settings automatically is a step in the right direction, and when more devices are capable of this, we may see a shift to open communication standards.
Not surprisingly, since Coronavirus, what people are looking for in a home appliance has changed slightly.
“The most apparent trend is high interest in hygiene and health. Our appliances have always had hygienic functions, but in the wake of covid-19, we’ve been aggressively reinventing our products to enhance hygienic lifestyle,” said Yang. “These efforts include strengthening hygiene options and features on our products, such as the Hygiene Steam cycle on our WW9800T washers, which has been independently certified by Intertek and BAF.”
Yang also explains that the push for hygiene has seen the popularity of products in other areas increase, with sales of air purifiers rising 410% and sales in dishwashers rising 27% from January to July this year.