Floor care strategy: innovate and conquer; floor care leader pursues product advancements while continuously improving manufacturing techniques
Floor care leader pursues product advancements while continuously improving manufacturing techniques.
Though it is the world’s leading producer of floor care products with 20 percent of the global market, Electrolux is not resting on its canisters, as evident by recent innovations found in new product introductions. Among them:
* Washable filter made of a laminated, polymeric material by W.L. Gore & Associates, Newark, Del., makers of GoreTex[R] fabric used for sports apparel. The washable, reusable Clean Stream@ filter meets HEPA H-12 standards and is found in the company’s top-of-the-line Excellio canister cleaners.
* Cordless hand and stick vacs with cadmium-free batteries. The Minilite Power Plus (hand vac) features a 4-cell, 4.8v battery and the Combilite Power Plus (stick vac) features a 6-cell, 3.6v battery. Both cleaners are engineered for modified power during start-up to improve run time (8-10 minutes for the hand vac, 12-15 minutes for the stick).
* Remote-control functions on nozzle handles of Excellio canister vacuum cleaners to eliminate the need to bend to reach controls on the canister body.
* Dual-system dust collection in Power System Uprights provide a choice between using a paper dustbag or a plastic, washable cyclonic-cleaning cassette.
* Fifty percent increase in suction-power capability (now 425 W) due to a three-year effort resulting in improved motor efficiency and better seals.
Those are just some of the obvious innovations. Others, such as larger air ducts, improved motor mounts and strategic motor positioning, based on recent motor-analyses, have resulted in acoustical noise reductions.
Whereas most vacuum cleaners are at 75 to 80 dB, Electrolux’ high-end Excellio models are at 70 dB, says Finn Lofnes, marketing manager, floor care. “And our goal is to get that down even further.”
But first a word of caution from Ingemar Tarnskar, general manager, floor care: “We know it is technically possible, but if there is too little noise, then the consumer perception might be that the cleaner isn’t performing well. So it becomes a marketing issue.”
Tarnskar oversees Electrolux’ primary floor care plant in Vastervik, Sweden, where Lofnes also works.
Both men are firmly entrenched in the company’s Integrated Product Development Process (IPDP), which involves marketing, engineering and design functions even before a project is given a timetable for development.
It’s no wonder that IPDP is so critical at Vastervik, says Tarnskar. “We were after all the group’s pilot project in 1994.” (For more on IPDP, see “Front-Loading the Future,” page E- 13).
Floor care products under nine brand names (Electrolux, MioStar, Hugin, Wertheim, Progress, Tornado, Volta, Eureka, and Lux) for 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the U.S. and Australia/New Zealand, are made at Vastervik. Given the “fierce, global competition” of the floor care industry, manufacturing strategies are under constant review.
“This is a tough market in which product features will grow in their level of sophistication while manufacturing becomes even more efficient,” says Lennart Sunden, president and product line manager of floor care and light appliances.
And Vastervik’s role is basic to Electrolux, says Tarnskar. “Our primary objective is to maintain our position as the global leader in floor care.”
The Vastervik work force of 750 includes 40 research and development technicians who have at their disposal a noise and sound lab. Efforts to improve the performance and capabilities of motor-fan units, printed circuit boards, filters and accessories such as belts, tubes and hoses, are continuous, says Tarnskar.
A tour of the factory is a showcase of “best practices” in action. Some involve a high degree of automation, some a high degree of manual labor. All reflect a flow-oriented approach to manufacturing.
“We used to strive for full automation,” explains Tarnskar during a factory tour. “But when you commit to full automation, you leave yourself vulnerable to downtime.”
Throughout the Vastervik plant, there are automated guided vehicles (AGVs), a reminder of the company’s earlier emphasis on full automation. “Because they require in-floor magnetic lines and because we’re constantly reconfiguring the factory, the AGVs are restrictive and will eventually be eliminated,” says Tarnskar.
Some manual operations that were once automated include the assembly of cord winders and making motor-to-PCB connections. By reverting back to a manual mode, molded “nest fixtures,” once necessary for robots to locate and position parts, were eliminated.
And by making individuals responsible for continuous flow of parts, more automated equipment was eliminated, says Tarnskar “Our people are responsible for coming to the coded pallets to get what they need for their work cells.”
Vastervik’s semiautomated approach has improved uptime from 65 percent to 80 percent, with the goal being 95 percent, says Tarnskar. “Our focus is on a work-cell approach that makes sense in terms of logistics and uptime.”
Wanted: More consumer input
Overseeing Electrolux’ floor-care business from a marketing perspective is Hans G. Backman, executive vice president and business sector manager, floor care, leisure appliances and complementary products.
The former head of Electrolux’ Frigidaire (U.S.) business sees a need for more consumer input on a global scale.
“There tends to be more consumer research activities taking place in the U.S., though focus groups are used more by Electrolux today than ever before,” says Backman.
During the development of Excellio, for example, 225 women in four countries (Sweden, France, Germany and Switzerland), age 30 to 55 and with children under 16 were surveyed on what they wanted most from a vacuum cleaner. The survey showed suction power as No. 1, followed by high filtration, low noise and ease of use.
“Such efforts are becoming more widespread throughout Europe,” says Backman. “And we are leading such efforts.”
As for growing the floor care market, Electrolux’ Sunden believes there is much potential in new markets in Latin America, “where a substantial retail market is emerging.” And in Asia, once consumers purchase wine refrigerators and cookers. “Then there will be an increasing amount of households wanting floor care products:’ says Sunden. “An advantage we have is that while it is difficult and costly to ship white goods, our product can be shipped with little difficulty, so there’s not a great need to establish manufacturing operations in the specific countries we want to sell product.”
Hans G. Backman was named executive vice president, AB Electrolux, in 1988, and business sector manager, floor care, leisure appliances and complementary products, in 1997. Prior to the appointment, Backman served as president of Frigidaire Co. He joined the company in 1961 and has held various engineering and management positions, including 14 years as president of Electrolux’ Outdoor Products Division.
He holds a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Lennart Sunden has served as president and product line manager, floor care and light appliances, AB Electrolux, since 1993. He joined Electrolux in 1977 as an industrial engineer, and has held a variety of research and development and management positions for Electrolux’ white goods and floor care businesses.
He holds a Master of Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and a MBA from the Stockholm School of Economics.
COPYRIGHT 1998 BNP Media http://www.bnp.com