By: Robert Grace
October 17, 2013
DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Celanese Corp. might be excused if it were to say such a thing to its competitors, at least on the basis of one of the centerpiece displays on its K 2013 stand (Hall 6/ A7, B7).
The Dallas-based chemical giant chose the show to highlight a year-long collaboration with Brazilian design firm Indio da Costa A.U.D.T. that has yielded a one-piece, metal-free cooking module with an induction hot plate molded from Celanese's high-temperature, chemical-resistant polymers.
The stylish concept product, essentially a plastic oven and hideaway cook top, represents potential metal replacement in an application that has been solidly metal for as long as anyone can remember.
Guto Indio da Costa, director of the Rio de Janeiro-based firm, was on hand Oct. 17 to discuss the collaboration, along with one of his designers, Till Pupak, and Celanese's Tilo Vaahs, global director of the consumer business unit.
The single-piece module, injection molded from Celanese's Vectra- and Zenite-brand liquid-crystal polymers, requires about a 1,200-ton injection press to make and each consumes about 2 kilograms of the high-end LCPs, said Indio da Costa in an interview on the Celanese stand.
"The appliance market does all the same thing," he said, with each brand owner largely repeating the same configuration, at least in the oven sector. The concept and construction of his oven offers additional flexibility and user benefits.
Vaahs said they have discovered that the plastic oven has better insulation properties than its traditional metal counterparts, which allows both for more consistent heating as well as up to a 30 percent savings in energy, since the oven needs to heat up less mass. Additionally, Vaahs noted, one needs less space to bake a pizza than a big cake or a roast. The design allows the user to move the mobile heating element up from its usual place on the oven's bottom and slide it into higher positions within the cavity, meaning one needs only to heat the space required to cook the food in question, thereby speeding the process and saving more energy.
Indio da Costa said one of his goals with the design was to create a compact appliance for use in the smaller living spaces common in megacities such as his native Rio. One result was the slide-out tray beneath the oven cavity that houses a two-burner cook top. The oven door itself slides out and up, which keeps it out of the way of anything that might be on the cook top. When not in use, the pull-out induction cook top, with its tiltable front control panel, disappears beneath the oven and provides a sleek, integrated look.
The oven is not entirely metal-free, of course. The circular heating element is metal, and likely would be insert-molded with the LCP. But the primary module is seamless plastic, does not oxidize or corrode and is available in colors, noted Celanese.
The next step is to attract the interest of appliance brand owners, to see if any want to advance the design past the concept stage. Vaahs said Celanese invited some of its appliance OEM customers to visit its booth on the show's first day, but did not tell them why. They then showed them the oven, and he said some expressed great interest.
The oven could operate at temperatures frequently exceeding 300° Celsius. But Vaahs said Celanese has a proven track record with Vectra and Zenite LCPs in high-temperature backing pans and microwave oven frames. The firm also has had industrial baking pans molded of Vectra LCP in almost continuous use since last August at one customer's shop, with no performance issues.
And, as an additional feature, a glass-fiber LED in the back of the oven cavity displays the room temperature when the oven is not in use, and displays the operating temperature when the baking chamber is closed. The module also can be operated with a smartphone, Indio da Costa said, and a tiny camera located inside the cooking module, in the front, upper-left corner, provides a live feed of what's cooking, and that also can be monitored remotely.
The 44-year-old Indio da Costa studied at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and graduated from the Art Center in Switzerland. His 50-person firm does work beyond product design, to include architecture and the creation of design elements for urban life, such as bus stops for the city of São Paulo. About half of his firm's work is in polymers, and the designer — who also has created a high-end plastic chair using Celanese polymers — said he values the lightness, resilience and processing diversity of such materials.