Today's washers and dryers are not necessarily bound for a forgotten corner of the basement. They are just as likely to go on a house's main floor, where everyone can see them.
So when Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. began designing its Cabrio line of washers and dryers, it wanted to create a look for the dryer door that fit a contemporary building.
``The idea was that this would be a frameless piece of glass that would sit flush with the machine,'' said Seth Bixby, lead industrial designer for Whirlpool's Fabric Care products. ``We were thinking back to architecture, to modern art.''
The result - a two-part frameless door produced through two-shot injection molding - has the look the company wanted and introduced the firm to the aesthetic possibilities of two-shot molding. The door also helped the in-house Whirlpool design team to win the Industrial Designers Society of America/Plastics News Design Award at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Alliance of Plastics Processors conference, held April 1-3 in Memphis.
The door also won the event's grand prize, the Conference Award, and tied for tops in the contest's appliance category.
The dryer door was selected from 31 parts in the New Product Design Competition by a team of four designers: George and Antonija Campbell, principals of Nashville independent design firm KeyDesign Inc.; Heidi Graham, senior package engineer for Kenilworth, N.J.-based Schering-Plough Corp.'s health-care products in Memphis; and W. Harry Hessen, senior director of product planning, design and marketing for Memphis-based Sharp Manufacturing Co. of America, a unit of the Japanese electronics and appliance giant.
While the judges noted the strong design of the Trey chair from Sauder Manufacturing Co. and the plastic-body electric scooter from Vectrix Corp. as other contenders, they said the Cabrio door stood out because it took a standard household appliance and gave it a new look.
``It gives it an iPod look. It's very clean,'' said George Campbell. ``It takes a middle-of-the-road product and sets it apart from its competitors.''
``Everybody's trying to make their box differently,'' Hessen said. ``Adding a window to a dryer is a way to catch the eye.''
The door also is symbolic of a trend the judges said they saw in the best parts - the collaboration of concept and manufacturing to produce something that appears pure and clean.
``The manufacturing complexity is increasing, but the design itself appears simple,'' Hessen said. ``The overall look is very subtle. Designers are pushing manufacturers to come up with new ways to do things.''
``But from a consumer's standpoint, they see a beautiful, simple part,'' George Campbell added.
For the door, molder Bemis Manufacturing Co. uses a two-shot overmolding process that first molds a clear copolyester/ polycarbonate blend for its outer layer, then overmolds an interior layer using ABS to provide the color behind the outer skin.
Bemis also molds a separate inner ring and a thermoplastic elastomer gasket. Whirlpool then assembles the final exterior module onto an inner door with metal and glass for heat resistance.
``The outside was an aesthetic-driven design,'' said Gary Vande Berg, engineering director for injection molding at Bemis in Sheboygan Falls, Wis.
Whirlpool's designers and engineers spent a lot of time working out the logistics of creating the seamless, frameless door that Bixby's team pictured. They produced mockups of a frameless door as well as one with a frame and traditional fasteners, said Mark Swanson, Whirlpool's lead engineer of the Cabrio enclosure system.
The company then had to figure out how to produce its vision. Swanson said the engineers met with suppliers to look at ways to attach the clear exterior, but the alternatives - adhesives and welding - always produced visible lines.
So Whirlpool opted for two-shot molding and teamed with Bemis.
And while the end product looks simple and clean, development was difficult. The companies needed to find a resin blend that would stand up to the chemicals used in a laundry area, but still provide the transparency the company wanted, Vande Berg said.
The sheen of the ``wet look'' outer panel meant that any flaw on the inner layer would stand out. That required extensive collaboration between the molder, toolmaker Omega Tool Inc. of Menomonee Falls, Wis., and Whirlpool, to ensure there were no sink marks or other potential problems.
``Obviously the top surface had to be perfect,'' Bixby said. ``One of the things is that this [has to be] very contemporary and clean and somewhat upscale in appearance.
``You have to have this clear layer with some depth to it. It's almost jewellike in its appearance,'' he added.
The dryer door also had to be able to match the Cabrio's washer lid, Swanson noted.
Whirlpool probably will look seriously as other two-shot molding opportunities in the future now that it has experience with the process.
``Some of this was new, and it gives us one more option,'' he said.