When Constructa introduced its first washing machine onto the market in the summer of 1951, Konrad Adenauer was the Chancellor of West Germany and Theodor Heuss was the President. In East Germany, Wilhelm Pieck, Otto Grotewohl, and Walter Ulbricht were in power. It was the year that marked Germany’s economic boom, which first expressed itself through a consumer push for household appliances.
With its front-facing ‘porthole,’ Constructa’s washing machine was the first front loader available on the market. Back then, the company proudly advertised how a Constructa washing machine rolled off the line every 50 seconds, and it was sold to a new customer at the same pace. The ad included the claim in the typical sonorous sing-song cadence of the time: “Millions of other people won’t rest until they own one, too.”
Fast-forward 65 years: The Constructa brand now belongs to BSH Hausgeräte GmbH, one of the industry’s leading manufacturers. All developments pay careful attention to the specific needs of consumers, which range from economical use of resources and ease of use to intelligent design features. It takes continuous research and development work to constantly adapt to changing customer needs.
From Berlin into the wide world: R&D site
BSH has operated a special laundry technology center in Berlin for all of the company’s brands since 2011. There, developers work on country-specific designs for textile care appliances that implement new features, work efficiently, and save natural resources, in addition to quality management and global IT operations. Martina Wöbkemeier, Head of Materials Technology in Berlin, explains, “Consumers prefer to wash more at lower temperatures in Asia and the U.S. And for India, we sell appliances that include a special laundry program for saris.” In addition, people in Asia demand appliances that work silently. “Building space is limited so appliances are located in living spaces. It means the vibrations cannot be transferred outward.” The expert calls this high-quality sound design.
Interior design – washing with a personal touch
In terms of visual appearance, these products have long been termed ‘white goods,’ because refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers are predominately white. Robert Winter is in charge of global steel purchasing at BSH and also makes sure that all locations have the specific materials they need. “Of course, there are also high-quality stainless-steel appliances, products with a laminated stainless steel design, and special metallic-look designs,” he says.
Axel Pohl, who is in charge of all of thyssenkrupp Steel’s organic coil-coated pladur® products and sales to the appliances industry, agrees. “For years, our two companies have been closely cooperating on R&D projects. We are no longer just an important partner for white painted products. We are also the point of first contact when it comes to high-quality and premium niche products.”
The introduction of the new Constructa special models marks yet another expansion of the BSH Hausgeräte family of products. Last year the ‘Classic 65’ was launched in an exclusive design. This year there are four limited-edition ‘Deluxe 100’ models available in an array of colors. The retro look of the washing machines features a front panel in sunny orange, turquoise, or grayish brown. There is also a model with a black and white floral design. The special attraction is the fact that consumers can color in the flowers with permanent markers, making their own unique design.
Turning an idea into a product: long-term project
It will be several years before BSH’s location in Nauen, Germany, will be manufacturing the first washing machines with this coating. Knowledge, passion, and dedicated employees are needed before an idea can be transformed into products. This also requires the right material from thyssenkrupp, which is called pladur® Aesthetic Print. One thing is an absolute must in a household appliance: “It needs to have an absolutely perfect surface,” states Robert Winter.
The business ties to the Duisburg-based steel company stretch back to the early 1990s. Both companies have been successfully cooperating throughout this time – especially on developments related to the introduction of the coil-coating process.
Requirements: flawless appearance and perfect craftsmanship
The criteria for the material are demanding. It needs to be corrosion-resistant and formable. The paint coating must not crack during forming or lose brilliance or its tactile properties. “It needs to look like it did on the first day, even ten years later,” explains Harald Pietsch, who works in the Berlin technology center as a materials technician and keeps close tabs on the surfaces. “The material is subjected to enormous pressures when it is formed,” says Michael Schulte-Zweckel, Head of the Sales team for the appliances industry at Steel. “No matter whether it’s a refrigerator door or a front loading washing machine.”
Furthermore, the sheet needs to be easy to process. Sascha Haas adds, “Minimal machine downtimes and rejects are also important aspects.” Mr. Haas is Head of Research and Development in the textile care plant in Nauen, and he is a staunch supporter of implementing and using the pladur® Aesthetic Print product. He explains, “It’s a great pleasure for us to be able to manufacture appliances with a unique look. The development of this innovation is in part due to the dedication of our employees.”
In addition to the Product and Design department and Materials Technology, Christian Grebe, Manufacturing Planning Designer, and his team from Nauen also work for BSH there. “In the beginning, it was definitely a challenge to apply Colaminat to the machine. But now we are extremely pleased with the product and cannot complain in the least,” states Mr. Grebe.
Teamwork – understanding is good, trust is better
Alfred Bierhoff closely followed the introduction of the product at thyssenkrupp’s steel manufacturer over many years. “The first prototypes were available in 2010,” explains the technical customer service associate from Siegen-Kreuztal, Germany. “You must never give up and you need to continually show customers new possibilities. My job is to recognize difficulties and find solutions.” Teamwork is decisive here: in interactions with the customer, the supplier, and with one another. Mr. Bierhoff adds, “Mutual trust, which is a product of long years of cooperation, has helped greatly. Of course we have had tricky situations, which makes it all the more important to stay in close touch.”
The critical stage was achieved around two years ago, and gave rise to a partnership with another company: a thermal sublimation printing company. The color and design are produced in the material by the thermal sublimation method. It enables a high level of color saturation and definition, and it is an important feature of pladur® Aesthetic Print. There needed to be a massive transfer of know-how from all involved for this project to be successful. Together, it was possible to develop a premium product that can be used for washing machines and other appliances. The ‘Classic 65’ was the first limited-edition model available, which was a recipient of the 2016 Red Dot Award for product design. And it is already sold out.
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