Interview Reinhard Mäser about innovative fittings
Mr. Mäser, you worked for the hardware manufacturer Blum for 40 years, 25 of them as head of development for the innovation of fittings for kitchen furniture. During this time, the company has grown from 250 to approximately 6,000 employees. How did this succeed?
From the very beginning, the secret of our success was to drive innovations forward. We have had the fitted kitchen since the 1950s, primarily the materials, surfaces and details have changed. Against this background, we as a hardware manufacturer had the opportunity to become an innovation driver not only for our own industry but also for kitchen manufacturers. We developed improvements, showed them to our customers and then incorporated them into their product design.
What was the starting point, what were the first steps of innovation?
When I started, we already had the patented concealed hinge with multi-axis system, which we built under licence, combined with the magnetic catch. First, we replaced the zinc die-cast pot with deep-drawn sheet steel to reduce friction and abrasion. This has significantly increased the longevity. This was a great success, because the shelf life of the products hadn't been a big issue until then. Our goal was to further increase it; research and development were the way there.
How do you do research on kitchen fittings?
By exploring the kitchen as a whole, and this from a human perspective: Which movements take place where and how often in the kitchen? Where are the burdens on people, where are the burdens on furniture? For this purpose, we installed laboratory kitchens in the company, where we alternately cooked for the colleagues, recorded it on film, measured it and evaluated it statistically. In the test kitchen, we have not only observed our products for years, but have also installed our prototypes. We were able to further refine the test methods and use them to identify the potential for improvement. In doing so, we also put standardization on an empirical basis - before, we had only advised, now we measured exactly.
What further innovation steps have followed?
First the self-closing hinges, initially with feathers visible from the outside. In the 1980s, we adopted a new method of quality assurance from Japan, which led to major cost savings: Until then, the finished product had only been checked at the end, now we ensured the quality at every single workplace. The following theme was design - even if innovative fittings were inside, they should not be ugly, but please the eye of the customer.
How did your kitchen research subsequently influence kitchen manufacturers?
The new division of the kitchen into five functionally differentiated zones was essential: Storing, storing, rinsing/disposing, preparing and cooking. The studies on the movement sequences have shown how these must be arranged in relation to each other in order to minimize the effort of the cooking customer. These insights have shaped modern kitchen design and led to several programs that can be applied according to the typical requirements of a household. The size of the kitchen and its individual elements in relation to each other is adapted to the life form, because it makes a big difference for the use, whether there are children, how big the family is and for which age the kitchen is intended.
How do you see the current situation in the hardware industry?
Automation and electrification are progressing, but they are serving less the benefit than the prestige. The automotive industry is driving this development forward, other industries follow suit and then the oven door must also be opened and closed automatically by an electric motor. Even though many household appliances today consume less electricity than in the past, this energy saving is being compensated for by a growing number of power guzzlers in the kitchen.
What challenges are there in the kitchen area for the innovations of the future?
On the one hand, the topic of waste and recycling, and on the other, how energy consumption can be reduced while maintaining the same level of comfort. The big goal would be the energy self-sufficient kitchen. There are already visions for this, such as the use of photovoltaics in the interior. Or the dance project...
Dancing in the kitchen?
No - in a disco the kinetic energy of the floor vibrations was once transformed into electricity. There is also a lot of movement in the kitchen. Perhaps one day it will be possible to develop a floor covering that uses the kinetic energy in the room to supply the kitchen appliances?