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.”
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