Efficiency is an indispensable condition that must concern all smart machines that enter our homes. Under several respects: energy efficiency, dimensional efficiency and operation efficiency are aimed at obtaining the best results also through the connection with other household appliances.
by Sabrina Piacenza
Smart, eco and friendly, these in short the characteristics of the most virtuous refrigerators: it is no longer sufficient to conserve at best but it is necessary to consume little energy, to be silent and to keep food properties unchanged. Targets that can be achieved only through a constant research and development activity carried out by manufacturers to supply solutions that can satisfy demands but also favour healthy and conscious habits.
The introduction on the energy label has been the essential step to inform consumers about the energy used by household appliances, to allow their more rational use and to favour the energy saving and the reduction of the atmospheric pollution.
In 2003, the success of the labelling scheme led the European Union to the introduction of two new classes for the household appliances belonging to the refrigeration ambit (A+ and A++), ranking above the A class, to satisfy a growing demand for environment-friendly products and to boost producers to develop more and more sustainable products. In the meantime, the new energy labelling has come into force and this has urged designers and producers to an even stronger commitment to the product innovation.
We have asked the leader manufacturing companies in this sector to tell us on what aspects they are working to improve the efficiency of their appliances and if this new engagement has changed some of their priorities or strategies.
On behalf of BSH Group, Marica Giacalone, Product Manager Bosch and Siemens Refrigerators and Davide Barbirato, Product Manager Neff and Gaggenau, have illustrated us the actions undertaken by the German Group concerning this issue: “Our company has always worked to improve the energy efficiency of our household appliances using forefront technologies, therefore we deem this matter a priority, irrespective of the energy label change. In autumn, for the Neff brand, for instance, we will introduce two freestanding models based on a completely upgraded technology and in A+++ energy class, besides a new aesthetics: essentially, we aim at integrating into the kitchen a very efficient product able to provide an additional touch of design. The two models at stake are KG7493B40 and KG7493I40, both consume only 202 kWh yearly. Concerning Bosch and Siemens brands, this year we have widened the range of no-frost combo-refrigerators with 70x200cm sizes, with energy classes up to A+++ and with unique designs such as black stainless steel by Siemens”.
The constant improvement of the energy efficiency of its appliances is a goal daily pursued also by Candy, through the constant research of performing components. Francesca Benegiamo, Cooling Appliances Product Manager Candy Hoover Group told us that “In line with what approved, we are working to reach a higher and higher efficiency, we propose a broad and deep range of refrigerators, devised and implemented to satisfy the requirements of users, who pay growing attention to the energy efficiency.
For this reason, we constantly assess more and more performing compressors and insulating materials, and the optimization of the refrigerating circuit in its whole always remains the focus of the development of our platforms. On top concerning the hardware development, we offer our customers the possibility of using smart setups to reduce consumptions drastically: the “eco” function allows setting the temperature of the refrigerator/freezer at level 2 (+5/-18) to avoid wastes, the “holiday” function allows switching off the refrigerator compartment when we are on holiday or away from home for a long period and to switch it on through App (wake-up mode)”.
The commitment to a constant improvement of the energy performances is a business priority also for the brands Electrolux and Aeg, confirmed by Marco Muci, Product Line Manager Food Preservation and Dishwashers Electrolux «Especially in the case of an appliance like the refrigerator powered by the current all day long. Concerning this, we have already developed appliances A+++ -10% and -20% that feature a consumption profile already in line with the maximum classes provided for by the new label. The work for a higher efficiency of the energy performances of our fridges is enabled by the use of innovative materials like the vacuum panel and new inverter compressors able to offer high performances with low consumptions». Great research and innovation come also from Liebherr, a company that has always invested huge resources to develop appliances with top performances in terms of energy efficiency. “The range BluPerformance by Liebherr is fully composed by models in efficiency class A+++ or A+++ -20% – explains us Luca Montevecchi, Manager of BSD Marketing Division, exclusive distributor for Italy of the German brand – Numerous are the technical aspects that have led to this result. The entire refrigerating system has been positioned in the base of the appliances and we have used a ventilation system that cools the condenser, this shares in making the thermal exchange more efficacious. This is coupled with the use of VCC (variable capacity compressors) that operate at a lower and more constant rate. Moreover, to maximise the system we have used a stepper valve that allows keeping the gas under pressure even in those few occasions when the compressor stops: in this way, less energy is necessary to restore the pressure in the circuit. Besides, we have improved the insulation through the use of vacuum panels that have also allowed reducing the wall thickness to achieve more inner volume. Finally, we have optimized the profiles where the seal performs its function, to improve the thermal tightness of the appliances”.
Has the appointment of the new energy label approved by the new European Frame Directive changed any of your strategies? «The study of high-quality, functional, innovative and more and more efficient appliances is part of the company’s customary flow of development and engineering. The meeting with the new energy label, then, has become part of our development plan without changing our priorities».
The commitment to optimize the energy class concerns Miele, too: “The more efficient refrigerating circuit and modern insulating materials allow reaching the best energy efficiency classes A++ and A+++ with higher performances and more flexibility. In this way, it is possible to save while preserving the natural resources, every day, 24 hours a day. Factors like the inner Led lighting (FlexiLight) that allows a perfect visibility with very low consumptions, the No Frost system that permits the automatic defrosting and a very low noise level contribute in the attainment of the best energy results”, told us Ana Barreda, Head Product Management Miele. “We have worked for a long time to be ready for this date –Federico Ferrini, Product Manager Cold and Built-in of Samsung is proud of specifying – to reach the triple + class for both freestanding and built in models. It is important for us communicating that saving does not mean only energy label but also a series of functions that allow modulating the refrigerator use, making it a virtuous appliance in terms of efficiency. We equip our appliances, for instance, with the Twin cooling, a double cooling circuit that allows customizing the cold degree. We also use Inverter compressors, a factory brand of Samsung, which allow modulating the power according to real needs (then not only the on-off function
Volume and capacity
From the dimensional point of view, it is useless to deny that very often each centimetre of the kitchen environment is becoming more and more precious. The room dimensions decrease but especially the number of appliances that crowd them is rising. Therefore, each household appliance is required to increase its storage capacity while maintaining the same footprint, i.e. optimizing its inner volumes. An operation made possible just intervening on the engineering itself of the elements and the components that constitute the fridge, also considering the need of differentiating the inner space according to the different food requirements. How can we do that? In the opinion of Marica Giacalone, for Bosch and Siemens, and Davide Barbirato for Neff and Gaggenau “From the point of view of volumes, with the new models we provide a broad inner space of 435 net litres distributed along a height of 200 cm and a width of 70, creating also some dedicated spaces. I explain better: we reserve a compartment organized on 3 volumes, where it is possible to adjust precisely wetness and temperature, to the foods that need more humidity and lower temperature, such as meat, fish and vegetables. Such products feature extractable shelves and balconies adjustable in height on the false door or detachable in case of need (for deeper cleaning, too). A relevant factor is instead represented by outer volumes, i.e. the space the fridge takes up inside the kitchen. Our state-of-the-art refrigerators have the peculiarity of being inserted into a niche or directly approached to the wall without arousing ventilation problems, all that for a better integration into the environment. This allows achieving more inner volume and lower consumptions thanks to the positioning of condensers on the refrigerator’s side”. Utmost attention to the internal space-management also for Candy Hoover Group, as reminds Francesca Benegiamo: “Even maintaining the same outer dimensions, we always opt for the new cabinets that assure higher litre capacities/volumes. The inner space-management is fundamental, “maximum comfort for your food” is the message we launch to tell that the refrigerator is devised to grant the highest space optimization. Drawers with controlled chiller temperatures for meat and fish and crispers for fruits and vegetables have different temperatures, suitable for the food they must contain. The wine-rack, of wood or metal depending on the refrigerator models, is a valid space saver, the balconies on the false door are conceived to host all that is needed in a light refrigeration and the beauty compartment is dedicated to products for the make-up. We are currently working at the development of new configurations”.
Marco Muci by Electrolux underlines that all aspects must be necessarily intertwined “There is a ratio between inner volume/outer insulation and energy class. When the insulation increases to reach higher energy classes, the inner enjoyable space decreases. Nevertheless, thanks to the use of new insulating materials, such as the vacuum panels, we have succeeded in diminishing the space taken up by the insulator while keeping performances and volume unchanged. Talking about versatility and space management, we have patented solutions such as CustomFlex: thanks to tracks installed on the inner door side and to some containers with different shapes and sizes, consumers can fully customize the door layout according to their needs. This solution not only allows exploiting the inner space better but it also gives users the possibility of customizing their appliance easily”.
Luca Montevecchi faces the theme telling Liebherr’s strategies: “BluPerformance appliances by Liebherr are characterized by the use of a refrigeration system positioned at the bottom of the appliance. Eliminating the condenser from the back of the appliance, it was possible to optimize the inner capacity. Besides, we have reduced wall insulations thanks to the use of vacuum panels. This system, besides permitting us to recover storage volume, has allowed reducing the energy consumption remarkably. Vacuum is in fact the best thermal insulator today available. These solutions have led us to obtain appliances that, even keeping standard external sizes, have increased the internal volume by even 20% compared to the previous generation”.
Increasing the space, or better optimizing it, can also mean to use it flexibly according to the different requirements, as underlines Ana Barreda from Miele: “Our range is mainly composed by 180 or 200 cm but the optimization of the internal space is more important. With Miele fridge-freezers, thanks to VarioRoom, a variable space concept, it is possible to enlarge the freezer interior flexibly. Glass drawers and shelves can be comfortably extracted, therefore in a glance you create all necessary space. Another feature to optimize the capacity you can find in some Miele models is the inner XL room, which offers more space and comfort for foods. The bigger depth of the refrigerator allows storing even big and bulky objects like baking trays”.
The largest capacity is achieved through a perfect management of the inner space, in the opinion of Federico Ferrini from Samsung “We can offer the best capacity in standard sizes. We have worked at the side walls of some models, inserting an insulating panel with low thickness that has allowed us to recover space up to 30%. It is important for us to give customers the possibility of customizing the internal organization, according to their needs: the model Serie 9000 Food Showcase for instance, this year produced with improved aesthetics, revolutionizes the refrigerator concept thanks to the complete reorganization of inner spaces. This refrigerator is equipped with double door, in the Showcase door you can arrange the foods more frequently used in its extractable shelves while it is possible to conserve all other foods inside the Innercase fridge compartment. The Innercase door avoids then opening the fridge room whenever we need something”.
The smart home is nowadays a reality, a consolidated trend that results in a cosy, functional and always connected home. We are now acquainted with digital and smart appliances and the initial mistrust has gradually turned into curiosity and today into reality. Several companies pursue this course and it is undeniable that the next future will witness a more and more widespread diffusion of connected household appliances for a fully remote-controllable house.
Among the various household appliances, the refrigerator represents an item of extraordinary experimentation and innovation, in which companies are hugely investing to obtain high-tech but easily managed appliances. We are examining in detail how they are committing to connectivity.
On behalf of Neff and Gaggenau, Davide Barbirato illustrates us the next steps of the two brands: “Connectivity is a matter to which our company is paying great attention. Within one year, we will start releasing connected products for Neff brand. Functions will concern the possibility of verifying moment by moment what is available in the fridge with the aid of cameras connected via app with our smartphone. Another important novelty will be the products’ capability of performing a sort of self- diagnosis, communicating when something is wrong. In this way, it will be also possible to solve technical problems through remote service”.
For Bosch and Siemens, the other two brands of BSH Group, Marica Giacalone: «We are already strongly committed to this issue: we have on the market a model of Home Connect refrigerator, with two cameras inside, thanks to which two pictures are taken whenever the door closes, immediately browsed by any device with the app installed. We have then various models, so-called “Home connect ready” that are prearranged for the Wi Fi connection activated by an accessory that can be purchased separately and allows setting various functions, entering directly the instruction manual and attaining conservation suggestions”.
According to Francesca Benegiamo the great bet of Candy Hoover Group is the connectivity of each product to allow consumers to achieve efficiency thanks to a constant dialogue with them: “We reach 64% of the connected product market in Europe and we aim at growing in this segment. Analysing thoroughly the Cooling world, today the range of simply-Fi products is deep and meets the target needs. The smart refrigerator simplifies your life, takes care of your food and it is ready to satisfy all of your needs thanks to the Smart Drink Assistant, the Inventory Assistant, the Super Boost and the Super PurAction. The choice is up to the user, simply, quickly and remotely”. According to Electrolux, the finishing line is very close: «At present we have no connected models but we will soon introduce a new product line that will be controlled from remote. Alarms and notices, access to the main functions will be granted by the connectivity with all devices. The roadmap towards the connectivity will not stop here and additional functions are already under implementation, like the remote diagnostics in case of problems with the appliance, the access to consumption and operation information up to products with embedded camera», Marco Muci told us in preview.
During the last edition of IFA, Liebherr presented instead a detailed project providing that appliances, besides being connected, become part of the Smart Home management system as virtual assistants “Where users can control them in remote through mobile devices – Luca Montevecchi, BSD Marketing Office Manager – In addition to that, the appliance is connected with Liebherr servers, in case of failure it can provide a self-diagnosis to service technicians who can intervene already knowing the problem. On the other hand, the appliances equipped with an accessory internal camera can give information about their content. The exchange between the user and the refrigerator occurs through a vocal system that makes the appliance a real virtual assistant able to satisfy various requests, like for instance suggestions for the next shopping”.
Ana Barreda from Miele highlights instead the smart functions of their appliances: “With Miele@mobile it is possible to connect without problems with the refrigerator or the wine shop. With the Plug&Play function, you can register the appliance in the app and receive the status of the appliance itself immediately. Through the app it is also possible to control the single functions and be informed about possible failures, to switch on/off the Party modality (when we need to cool or to freeze quickly big quantities of fresh foods and beverages or if ice cubes are necessary) or the Holiday modality, a very suitable function if we do not want to switch off completely the refrigerator compartment during the holiday period and it is not necessary to activate a high refrigerating power”.
We end up the connectivity theme with Federico Ferrini by Samsung, speaking of the brand-new Family Hub refrigerator, which belongs to a new category of household appliances provided with IoT technology that offers new modalities to organize the food in the refrigerator, do the shopping and to cook, as well as the possibility of connecting at any time. “The central element is a touch Full HD 21.5 inch screen, a digital and communication control centre that combines exceptional performances and a revolutionary technology that also permits to take notes, to post photos, to share calendars and graphic material, all directly through the touch screen or through the smartphone when we are not at home”.
Among the exceptional performances of the Family Hub, the optimal management of the food contained in the refrigerator. “Inside the room are hosted three cameras that take pictures of the food stored inside whenever the door is closed; in this way, through our smartphone, we can always see the content of refrigerator shelves. Besides, Samsung has started a collaboration with MasterCard to offer a simple service of online purchases precisely through the Family Hub refrigerator. Using the application on the touch screen, it will be possible to find and to buy easily the products from various resellers without leaving our kitchen”.
The Family Hub refrigerator is also a dynamic platform in evolution that exploits at best the potentialities of IoT services by Samsung. For instance, it will be possible to control whether the home doors are locked and to switch off lights directly from the display of the Family Hub.