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January 1, 2001

8 Min Read
Market Focus: Appliances

Cost-cutting pressures on automotive molders have reached an all-time high, yet perhaps an even tighter squeeze is being applied to those in the appliance industry. OEM consolidations and supply base optimizations have forced molders to reduce prices or lose business. With consumer spending shifting down as the great boom economy slowly puts on the brakes, demands for lower pricing originate from the top: retailers. 

Commenting anonymously on this chain of shrinking margins is a midwest molder who says that firms such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and Sears are forcing appliance OEMs to make their products more cheaply. In turn, the OEMs ask molders to share the cost burden. 

"On a corporate level, they [OEMs] are asking for price reductions, but then at the local level, they're still asking for cost improvement projects," explains the molder. These projects involve moving certain operations from the OEM to the molder—for example, redesigning a part to lower cost. However, appliance manufacturers are not as willing to share the savings from productivity improvements any more. "It used to be that's how you managed to hold your costs down or offer the customer cost reductions, but now reductions are demanded up front," he says. 

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Figure 1. Appliance shipments, 2001 forecast
Source: Appliance Manufacturer



This is not good news for consumers, either, according to the molder, because with the demand for cheaper parts has come the trend to select cheaper materials, which may compromise quality. Also, he says designers are being forced to focus on cost improvements instead of product design. 

The molder sees one bright spot for his peers in the appliance industry that remain standing after OEMs chip away at their supply bases. "There's a possibility that volume might be better, so as margins get squeezed, maybe you can at least maintain some semblance of profitability through increased volume," he offers. 

Still, in spite of these mostly gloomy forecasts, the appliance market is expected to be somewhat stable in 2001. As reported by Appliance Manufacturer magazine and echoed by Agostino von Hassell of The Repton Group (see p. 28), molders of appliance components can expect a solid 2001, with a slight drop in total unit shipments—around 1 percent—to 64 million. Anticipated growth of .5 to 2 percent in plastic consumption for appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes dryers and washers also points to a stable year (see Figure 1). 

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Figure 2. New privately owned housing ubits started
(Seasonly adjusted annual rate)
*estimate, as of October 2000. Source: U.S. Census Bureau



Of course, new home starts are closely linked to the appliance market, and the housing forecast for the next four years shows an annual decline of 1 percent from 1999 to 2004, according to The Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland, OH). The market research firm attributes this slow decline in part to a reduced home-buying population in the 25- to 34-year-old range. However, The Dismal Scientist (West Chester, PA), another research organization, states that such data signal stability, which will help the economy land gently (Figure 2). 

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Metal moves over in mini oven 
To cook by convection, steam, or a combination of the two, a compact oven for small food service establishments has been introduced by Electrolux AB (Stockholm, Sweden) that is said to get the job done 30 percent faster than conventional ovens. Designers aimed for curves and smooth lines, including a cabinet curved from top to bottom and side to side. Plastic offered more design flexibility than metal, and also provided a cool touch. In addition, the manufacturer wanted the ability to assemble the appliance with snapfits instead of screws, color with no finishing, avoid sharp edges, reduce part count by integrating elements, and recycle scrap. 

The Mini Combi, as it has been named, has a 1-cu-ft capacity, 13.8-by-20.9-inch footprint, and is 18.3 inches high. Electrolux worked with DuPont to achieve a design that would enable the large, complex parts to be molded without warp. For the oven's external door frame, the appliance manufacturer chose DuPont's Crastin PBT to resist cooking oil and food, maintain color stability up to 150C, provide good aesthetics in textured and gloss finishes, and accept pad printing or laser marking. The base and back cover are also made of Crastin. 

Measuring 18.3 by 13.8 inches, the inner door frame required more stiffness and higher temperature resistance than the PBT components, so Rynite PET thermoplastic polyester was selected. Parts located in the most demanding environments—the valve tube grid (which is exposed to 200C steam), inner control panel, and steam control—are molded with Zytel HTN nylon for its resistance to heat and moisture, low warpage, good dimensional stability, and aptitude for snapfit assembly. 

0101i61c.jpg U.K.-based M+H Tools made the mold and produced the first samples of the inner door frame. Jiloplast (Sweden) now molds the part. 

DuPont Engineering Polymers, Wilmington, DE
Phone: (800) 441-0575
Fax: (302) 999-2311
Web: www.dupont.com/enggpolymers 


0101i61b.jpgCarpet cleaner staves off defects with copolyester 
Whether you're an end user or a molder, cracks and frosting on clear plastic look ugly and spell trouble. For the new Dirt Devil Easy Steamer carpet cleaner, the manufacturer selected a material for the dirty water recovery tank and nozzle that it felt sure would not succumb to the harmful effects of cleaning agents and stress. 

"A floor appliance undergoes a lot of abuse, so the plastic we selected had to be highly impact resistant in addition to being chemical resistant," says Terry Zahuranec, product engineer at Royal Appliance Mfg. Co. (Glenwillow, OH), which makes the Dirt Devil. The company used Eastar copolyester DN004 from Eastman in another product, the Mop Vac, and, finding that it performed to the required specifications, opted to use it in select components of the Easy Steamer as well. 

Royal Appliance reports that its carpet cleaner has the power and convenience to perform both large- and small-scale cleaning. Clean and dirty water reservoirs have built-in carrying handles that allow for easy removal from the base. North Liberty Plastics (North Liberty, IA) designed the tool and molds the parts. 

Eastman Chemical Co., Kingsport, TN
Phone: (423) 229-2000
Fax: (423) 229-8595
Web: www.eastman.com 

0101i62a.jpgSmart changes in PS dehumidifier take honors 
Acurved, updated design was the goal when W.C. Wood Ltd. (Guelph, ON) switched from steel to plastic in the outer casing of its Millennium line of dehumidifiers. To give the product a new look, W.C. Wood initially designed a tool for ABS, but was driven to look for another material due to cost concerns. 

"The resin needed to be strong enough to stand up to shipping and the wear and tear of daily use," says Joe Suljak, product engineer for W.C. Wood, which also molded the appliance. "But we were also looking for a resin that gave us some design flexibility. Moldability and coloring options were important, as well as gloss." 

Impact strength (5.0 ft-lb/in notched Izod) and good aesthetic appearance led W.C. Wood to select Dow's Styron A-Tech 1110 polystyrene. The material also has a melt flow rate of 3.0 g/10 min, which reduced cycle time for the molder by 20 percent over ABS—down to 45 to 70 seconds. Styron A-Tech is now used in about 50 percent of the appliance, including the cabinet, front grilles, and water bucket. 

Because of the redesign, the Millennium received runner-up honors in the HVAC category in Appliance Manufacturer magazine's annual design competition. 

Dow Plastics, Midland, MI
Phone: (800) 441-4369
Web: www.styron.com 

0101i62b.jpgColoring with masterbatches refines cleaner's look 
It's the prerogative of a consumer to change his or her mind, and when a manufacturer is trying to appeal to this fickle buyer, it must be prepared to regularly update the appearance of its product. Bearing in mind this rule of selling, Bissell Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI) recently shifted to a more subdued color palette on some of its higher-end products. The ProHeat Clearview Plus upright deep cleaner is now housed in a plum-hue ABS with charcoal gray trim and knobs, instead of the bright colors previously used. An additional customer-driven new feature is a clear window that allows users to see the dirt being removed. 

Because of the fluctuating marketplace, Bissell chose to use masterbatches from Clariant to color the ABS rather than order resin precolored. "When our industrial design department gives me a new color that has been approved, I need a quick and accurate color match," says Steve Darcangelo, a senior buyer for Bissell. "We may need to go from approval directly to production." He notes that Clariant can match colors in a day, when necessary. Also, seven components of the cleaner are produced on seven different machines, so color must be precisely matched. 

Clariant Masterbatches Div.
Charlotte, NC
Phone: (401) 438-4080
Fax: (401) 438-4680
Web: www.clariant.com

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