Always Connected: Whirlpool Leads with Smart Appliances

Fred Bellio

What does it mean to be connected?

In today’s world we’re constantly communicating with one another through the software we own. We’re also able to connect on a new level with the “things” in our lives. We can use an iPhone app to communicate with our coffee machine from the bedroom. We can tell our car to turn on its engine as we leave the office, and then find the best route home via a great Chinese restaurant as we drive. We can remotely control the lighting and heating in our homes.

And it’s a two-way street. Products are talking back to us, sending us notifications when things are wrong. Our cars can ping us when we need to visit the auto shop, for instance.

It’s this kind of technology that consumers have come to expect, said Fred Bellio, CIO of Whirlpool’s Global Product Organization, speaking this week at the PlanetPTC Live conference in Orlando.

Whirlpool’s new Maytag Maxima line of washers and dryers—made up of one-third software—signals a new era for what used to be purely mechanical appliances. The company’s Connected Appliance Platform will allow users to monitor their appliances from their smartphones. Soccer moms everywhere will be able to check from their iPhones whether their kids have shut the refrigerator door properly.

Consumers have higher expectations of the products they own, said Bellio. They want to know how a commodity will work in their own home, how much it will cost throughout its lifespan and what the manufacturer will do to manage that. People are also more educated about environmental issues and want products to be green.

Enter the Smart Grid. The savvy homeowner wants to connect with the Smart Grid and run their appliances at the optimal time of day, avoiding brownouts. New Whirlpool products allow consumers to see and regulate the cost per cycle of their washing machines, saving money and the environment.

And with advancing technology, Whirlpool and others like it can keep tabs on their products throughout the lifecycle; a huge benefit for all parties. Maintaining connectivity allows manufacturers to record and analyze what actually happens to a product when it’s in use. While diagnostics and preventative maintenance cut down on product downtime and make life much easier for the consumer. “The goal is to not interrupt the customer,” explained Bellio.

Bellio concluded on a cautionary note. While software apps might be the wave of the future for home appliances, one has to allow the consumer to choose the way they want to connect with the product. Forcing a connection won’t work. The younger generation will be most comfortable communicating with appliances through their iPhone, but grandma might not be so sophisticated. The key is to make connectivity as “simplistic” and seamless as possible said Bellio.

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