Smart Appliances Enabled by Intelligent Product Development & Advanced Material Solutions

By Matthew Chang, Global Market Strategy Manager for Appliances

Smart appliances are already here to some degree. However, volumes remain low as consumers contend with weighing up the value that they bring to their lifestyles and environments against value for money and privacy. Similarly, product manufacturers are supporting their design and engineering teams to balance these consumer concerns with innovative new features enabled by continuous technology advancements in the fields of AI, machine learning and connectivity. It is the latter of these - otherwise known as the Internet of Things (IoT) denoting a network of physical objects that are embedded with sensors and software that enable the collection and sharing of data with other devices and systems over the internet.

In terms of design and engineering, the goal is, ironically, to work smarter with these emerging technologies and embed them within smarter manufacturing and production environments that are themselves benefitting from greater connectivity to produce aesthetically pleasing and highly functional products in a way that adds value to the consumer.

The key drivers for adding such value for consumers and thus increasing the appeal of smart appliances in the future to further increase growth include comfort, convenience, security and sustainability. For design teams there has to be a cohesive approach to developing smart appliances that intelligently combines the physical components (including the aesthetics of the outer casings as well the product's mechanical and electrical parts) with the smart components (software, sensors, data collection / storage) together with the connectivity components.

I believe the growth potential for smart appliances is huge in the future. Some forecasts predict millions, if not billions, more smart devices and appliances being connected to each other around our homes and further afield. One such indication can be found in a survey by which indicated that more than "60% of respondents [who were product development specialists] are at least evaluating adding IoT capabilities to their products."

The value of such products in 2021 is predominantly centered around the convenience provided to the consumer through features and functionality of the product itself. However, challenges remain around data capture, the secure storage of the huge volumes of data involved, how that data is used, and thus individual privacy.

Be in no doubt the transition to the IoT is well underway, but consumer trust is one of the issues that remains a barrier to adoption of smart appliances by a wider audience. If we take a single smart appliance as an example - say a refrigerator - it is not hard to see how a smart variation of this appliance compared with a traditional model could add value to a home. Smart refrigerators are already able to monitor temperature based on internal and external environmental factors, and alert the owner if temperature deviates too high or too low, with the user being able to adjust the temperature in person or remotely via a smartphone app. Moreover, they have the capability to alert owners if the door is left open (admit it, you've done it), access online recipes and produce grocery lists based on the contents of the refrigerator.

However, the smart refrigerator is not yet commonplace in most households. They remain relatively expensive, and while the smart functionality is undeniably useful to an extent - wider connectivity to other appliances remains an area of development. Functionality would greatly increase if - imagine for a moment - the smart appliance was connected with other smart appliances within the kitchen and home environment, such as the oven, hob and/or microwave.

Moreover, the smart capabilities could extend well beyond the home environment to support national or even global initiatives such as sustainability and food waste. According to the United Nations, more than 1.3 billion tons of food is currently wasted every year globally. Now imagine if smart fridges were connected allowing restaurants and supermarkets to sell surplus food, that would otherwise be thrown away. Or if a refrigerator could alert users that food was near the end of its shelf life through scent-based sensors that recognize when food is going bad.

It's a compelling proposition, isn't it?

As hardware prices continue to fall, connectivity becomes more widely acceptable and data security issues are addressed, I believe smart appliance manufacturers will see increased and increasing growth on a global level.

One area that often goes under the radar but will greatly enable this growth is that of materials, and particularly advanced materials, including adhesives, that will facilitate production and assembly. Advanced adhesive materials provide the crucial conduit between all of the necessary components of a smart appliance as outlined above and include applications for bonding, protection, embedded electronics, thermal control and more. If we take just one of these applications - bonding - and consider how the touchscreen of any smart appliance is pivotal to functionality and provides the primary user interface then the importance of how the touchscreen is inserted and fixed in position in the appliance becomes critical to performance and reliability as well as aesthetics. This requires a bonding layer and it is not overstating things to say that the engineering expertise required to develop advanced bonding adhesives that provide OEMs with the quality and efficiency they need for the assembly and integration of their smart appliances is a small, often overlooked but vital part of the equation. Working with a trusted partner to achieve innovative solutions with advanced adhesives can provide the bridge for manufacturers of smart appliances by enabling their applications to function and look as intended - reliably.

About the Author

Matthew Chang currently serves as Global Market Strategy Manager for Appliance and HVAC within company's Adhesive technology business group, where he is focused on developing segment strategy, portfolio innovations and marketing guidance to capture purposeful revenue growth.

In 2018, Matthew joined Henkel as Head of Product Management lead the regional PM team strategically drive the operational efficiency and then moved to Global Market Strategy team in 2020. Prior to Henkel, he is with extensive cross functional experience from supply chain, global/regional marketing, business development and sales in various markets including Semiconductor, Display, Consumer Electronics and Commercial security at both 3M and Honeywell dedicated to provide the best-in-class solutions to customer through strategic marketing and innovations. Based in Taiwan, Matthew holds the Master degree in Industrial Engineering from University of Southern California and Bachelor degree in Bio-Mechanical Engineering from National Taiwan University.

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