Marquardt: Control panels make household devices smarter
The smart home helps its residents to get through everyday life in a relaxed and comfortable way. Household appliances contribute to this with multiple benefits, as mechatronics manufacturer Marquardt GmbH (Rietheim-Weilheim, Germany) shows with its new control panels. Not only do they look good, they also adapt to the habits of their users. Almost all household appliances can be equipped with the visually high-quality and technically innovative control panels – from washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, cookers and ovens to coffee machines. Marquardt is thus heralding the next evolutionary stage in the operation of white goods.
Living space is expensive and becoming increasingly scarce. In some cases, for example in apartment blocks, neither cellars nor laundry rooms are available. Washing machines and tumble dryers, i.e. classic white goods, therefore often have to be installed in the kitchen or bathroom. In future, they should blend in even better with the interior design. A utility item will become a smart, chic piece of furniture that should function as if by itself. Marquardt calls this approach of unobtrusive, harmonious integration into the living environment “harmonious homification”. This is exactly what the new control panels, which Marquardt has developed in two versions, “Better” and “Best”, for demonstration purposes, stand for. They are suitable for the user interfaces of washing machines, for example.
The mechatronics specialist relies on a common technology platform that links panels with sensors and switches and bundles the company's various competences: from display and lighting to electronics, connectivity (NFC, Wifi) and software. “Our approach saves time and money, and it also allows manufacturers of white goods to produce almost any shape and component size,” says Alexander Resner, Product Manager at Marquardt. During development, the focus was on the customer perspective: “We went through the entire customer journey and implemented it in our new control panels.” Depending on requirements, Marquardt supplies household appliance manufacturers with everything from individual components to complete control panels from a single source.
The control panels are based on a surface finishing process called Transferfinish and are equipped with a sensor foil provided by specialist and partner LEONHARD KURZ. The elegant panel of the Best version in 16:9 format has a glossy black appearance and can be operated like a smartphone or tablet thanks to PolyTC touch sensors from KURZ subsidiary PolyIC GmbH & Co. KG. All functions can be controlled and individual washing programmes preset via a seven-inch TFT display, regardless of the viewing angle. Marquardt uses its S3 sensors for the Best version, which well-known car manufacturers already use in their door handles. They recognise touch and proximity by measuring the electrical capacitance on the surface, which prevents malfunctions. For example, the washing machine cannot switch on because a drop of water has touched the on/off button.
In both the Better and Best versions, a radar sensor recognises when a user is approaching. The sensor can differentiate between an adult and a child or animal, which increases safety. As soon as the sensor recognises an adult user, it starts the washing machine display and activates the welcome message; if desired, it also reduces the spin speed and thus the volume as soon as a person enters the room. Thanks to NFC technology, which is reserved for the Best version, specific users can even be identified via mobile phone or NFC tag – a practical feature that comes into its own when several people share a machine in a block of flats, for example. The washing machine then automatically calls up preset individual settings when it starts. When the appliance is switched off, it switches to “dead front” mode: apart from the elegant, glossy design surface, no buttons or displays are visible. The transfer finish from LEONHARD KURZ makes this “disappearing effect” possible in both versions.
Light plays a major role, both as a design and functional element. This is because the backlit panels of the Best and Better versions make all conceivable colour variants possible. A circumferential LED light strip indicates the status of the washing machine in different colours, such as red, green or a dark blue, as well as possible malfunctions.
The most striking distinguishing feature of the Better version is the haptic rotary push button Knob HMI from Marquardt, which serves as the central control element on the wood-look panel and enables a simple, familiar operating concept. A round display integrated into the switch surface shows the status of the machine. Other functions, including childproofing, can be set using a touch slider. Capacitive PolyTC touch sensors are used in this variant.
Marquardt's analysis of customer behaviour has shown, among other things, that networked solutions are also in high demand in connection with white goods. Users can connect their household appliances to their smartphone via the Marquardt control panel, either via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Notifications and messages about the status of the washing machine, for example about its booking when used by several people, can be transferred to the smartphone – a practical addition to the operating menu on the panel.
Not only the shape and size, but also the surface design of the control panels can be customised almost at will. In addition to backlit foils, corresponding control surfaces made of real wood, stone, leather, carbon, glass or textiles are also possible in order to fulfil the user's preferences. There are virtually no limits to the design options. At the same time, Marquardt's platform technology significantly shortens the product development cycle and utilises cost synergies for manufacturers. Marquardt is also working on applications for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as there is also a recognisable trend towards elegant and stylish control elements in this area.
Caption: The new Marquardt Control Panel can be used to equip numerous household appliances - from washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, cookers and ovens to coffee machines (photo: LEONHARD KURZ Stiftung und Co KG)