We tend to take our ap­pli­ances for granted and ex­pect them to keep on work­ing, no mat­ter what. But, if you’re a man­u­fac­turer, how do you en­sure your prod­uct can stand up to the real world? If you’re Fisher & Paykel, you give the DishDrawer a proper bat­ter­ing, try your best to make it fail, and en­sure the of­ten strange be­hav­iour ex­hib­ited by un­pre­dictable and de­mand­ing hu­mans is taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. In the 20 years Fisher & Paykel has been pro­duc­ing and re­fin­ing the DishDrawer, it has learnt plenty about the tech­ni­cal el­e­ments re­quired to pro­duce a premium kitchen ap­pli­ance. By lis­ten­ing to and learn­ing from cus­tomers and then adapt­ing its prod­ucts to fit their needs, it has also learnt plenty about the quirks of hu­man na­ture – and, specif­i­cally, our of­ten-poor treat­ment of ap­pli­ances.

Craig Boon, chief en­gi­neer for the DishDrawer – which is now in its ninth gen­er­a­tion – says he is con­stantly in­trigued by how cus­tomers op­er­ate and what they de­mand from their ap­pli­ances. So to en­sure they are de­signed to with­stand life in the kitchen, the com­pany has built a rig­or­ous test­ing regime for its sys­tems, parts and prod­ucts.

There are two main types of test­ing for Fisher & Paykel: test­ing for stan­dards in the lab that reg­u­la­tors from dif­fer­ent mar­kets re­quire man­u­fac­tur­ers to meet, and test­ing it does of its own vo­li­tion to en­sure re­li­a­bil­ity, per­for­mance and us­abil­ity.

For dish­wash­ing, Boon says the stan­dards tests of­ten use “pre­scribed loads that are stacked per­fectly” and use crock­ery that isn’t al­ways re­flec­tive of what reg­u­lar house­holds might use.

But the real fun be­gins when it at­tempts to repli­cate the beat­ing the ap­pli­ances take in the real world. Here, it’s all about striv­ing for the worst case sce­nario, so they stress test per­for­mance through ex­tremes of wa­ter tem­per­a­ture, dif­fer­ent wa­ter hard­ness, de­ter­gent types, ex­ces­sive force and changes in volt­age and load weight.

Watch and learn

Build­ing a com­pre­hen­sive un­der­stand­ing of how cus­tomers use the prod­uct is es­sen­tial: “Some cus­tomers have lit­er­ally filled the tub, stacked ev­ery­thing on top of each other, and have mis­matched sets of crock­ery and cut­lery,” Boon says. “The ex­pec­ta­tions around an ef­fec­tive wash can be re­ally chal­leng­ing. It's

amaz­ing how much some cus­tomers can fit in the prod­uct.”

There are some very spe­cific tech­ni­cal tests re­quired for var­i­ous parts, but one of the eas­i­est tests to vi­su­alise is the push-pull test. The DishDrawer is fully loaded with max­i­mum weight and a rig opens and closes the drawer 50,000 times, Boon says. Then the an­gle on the han­dle is changed and the test is re­peated.

“As we get to the end of the test we in­crease it to what we'd call a slam, and it's pretty abu­sive,” he says. “We re­ally try and stress it, to un­der­stand the limit … There's no point treat­ing this prod­uct nicely be­cause not ev­ery­one does that.”

Lau­ren Palmer, the chief de­signer for cook­ing and dish­wash­ing, says the com­pany has seen “peo­ple slam­ming them, kick­ing them shut with their feet, kids climb­ing on them, all those sorts of things. So we're try­ing to repli­cate some of that real world use in the test space here.”

Out­stand­ing in the field

As well as test­ing in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment, Fisher & Paykel also runs an ex­ten­sive field test pro­gramme in New Zealand and the US.

“They might be a cou­ple with grown chil­dren, it could be a young fam­ily, sin­gle peo­ple … we want to cover all of those bases,” says Palmer. “From that, we get thou­sands of pho­to­graphs of how they've loaded the prod­uct. We get feed­back on their sat­is­fac­tion with the wash per­for­mance, and how easy or in­tu­itive the user in­ter­face was. That's re­ally valu­able in­for­ma­tion to have.”

They also get to see what peo­ple put in­side a DishDrawer. So what stands out as the strangest?

“Cook­ing a sal­mon in the DishDrawer,” says Palmer. “That is def­i­nitely the weird­est thing I've seen some­one do. Other than that I’ve seen peo­ple clean­ing their kitchen cloths, tooth­brushes and kids toys.”

Boon says he’s seen a huge ar­ray of filthy bar­be­cue grills and grates go in. But it’s not just greasy steel that cus­tomers ex­pect to be cleaned. Many cus­tomers also de­mand a del­i­cate wash, and it has ref­er­enced that de­sire through a re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion with pot­tery artist Felic­ity Don­ald­son, of Wundaire. Palmer says the DishDrawer is a pre­cisely de­signed, skill­fully man­u­fac­tured, high-tech prod­uct, but ce­ram­ics are “beau­ti­fully im­per­fect hand­made cre­ations so the jux­ta­po­si­tion of both was re­ally in­ter­est­ing”.

“It just re­ally high­lights that we're in­ter­ested in de­sign­ing for real life. A lot of us do have stuff like that at home, and we do want to put them in the dish­washer, we don't want to have to hand wash. So we de­vel­oped a del­i­cate cy­cle in the DishDrawer that can cope with those sorts of things and be­cause of the flex­i­bil­ity of the rack­ing, it can ac­com­mo­date some of those slightly more quirky or non­stan­dard-sized items.”

No sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence

Us­abil­ity is also a key part of the test­ing regime, says Palmer, and the in-house test­ing for us­abil­ity starts with a vir­tual user in­ter­face – a large touch­screen where peo­ple come in and are asked to set a wash, a de­layed start, or lock the con­trols.

“That way we can see where the pain points are. Equally, we're get­ting feed­back from the field testers. We've also got prod­ucts in the kitchen [at Fisher & Paykel] that we're us­ing ev­ery day and then a lot of staff have got the prod­uct at home … It's a com­bi­na­tion of all of those in­stances that go into cre­at­ing a great user in­ter­face. Then on the ac­tual me­chan­i­cal side of things, we'll test the but­tons to 100,000 presses. We want it to be re­ally ro­bust, but we also want it to be easy to use.”

Al­ways im­prov­ing

Aes­thet­ics are very im­por­tant these days, es­pe­cially if you’re play­ing in the premium sand­pit like Fisher & Paykel. But con­tin­u­ally find­ing ways to use less wa­ter to wash and less en­ergy to dry is also para­mount.

“En­ergy and wa­ter ef­fi­ciency in dish wash­ing is a big, big driver, so we look for ways for it to be more ef­fi­cient … The mar­ket doesn't stand still,” says Boon.

The chal­lenge is that it also needs to en­sure it per­forms to cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tions with “all the crazy loads that a cus­tomer will put into it”.

Boon says cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tions have in­creased a lot over the years and, as a re­sult, so has the bru­tal­ity and ex­ten­sive­ness of the DishDrawer test regime.

“And it will con­tinue to do so … The ex­pec­ta­tion for us is not to meet our pre­vi­ous model, it's to ex­ceed it. It's not a case of ‘that's good enough’ be­cause we're al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to fur­ther im­prove our prod­uct re­li­a­bil­ity. We’re al­ways striv­ing to make it bet­ter.”

We see peo­ple slam­ming them, kick­ing them shut, kids climb­ing on them, all those sorts of things. So we're try­ing to repli­cate some of that real world use i n the test space here. Lau­ren Palmer

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