The design of a washing machine looks more or less the same as it did 50 years ago: a white box with an opening in the middle some 60 cm from the floor. This is ergonomically impractical however and means that elderly people are no longer able to do their laundry at home. According to researcher Nicole Busch, this problem can be alleviated with a few simple adaptations. An important, unexpected result of her graduation research was the fact that one standard height for the opening was comfortable for both tall and short people alike. Usually, a degree of adjustability is required, as with bicycle seats or office chairs. Busch received her TU Delft PhD degree based on this research subject on November 22.
The design of a washing machine looks the same as it did 50 years ago: a white box with an opening in the middle some 60 cm from the floor. Loading and unloading the washing machine requires one to bend over. This is uncomfortable and results in great stress being placed on the backs of elderly people, people with back problems, and people who must do laundry often, such as those who have large families or those whose work involves laundry servicing.
Improving the design of washing machines has nevertheless been neglected. Very little scientific research has been conducted in this area, researcher Nicole Busch discovered. In a research laboratory experiment, Busch studied the loading and unloading of a washing machine. For her experiments, Busch used a washing machine 'mock up', whose height and angles could be adjusted. Then, in a 'real life' test, her laboratory research findings were verified by people doing the laundry at home. The test subjects were asked to load and unload the elevated washing machine. From this, Busch determined the specifications required for an ergonomically improved washing machine.
According to Busch, the most important design specifications for a washing machine to adhere to are as follows:
- The middle of the opening for loading and unloading should be 100 to 105 cm from the floor.
- The axis of the drum should be angled at 30 degrees from the horizon, which makes loading the washing machine easier.
- There needs to be a stand for placing the laundry basket on, so that laundry is located close to the opening.
Busch believes that a washing machine based on this new ergonomic concept and combined with an innovative design can be a great commercial success. Washing machines of elevated heights and with rotating drums have recently emerged on the market. This proves that the design is achievable. All three design specifications however have not yet been combined in one product. This then represents a commercial opportunity for washing machine manufacturers, Busch believes.
During her PhD research, Busch also researched how the laundry is done around the world. This was necessary in order to determine in which regions of the world an improved washing machine would be suitable for the laundry-washing process. No global laundry-washing culture exists. Local needs and uses differ, and this is true even for countries that border each other. In most countries, an improved washing machine would fit in well with the way the laundry is done. However, sometimes various factors must be considered, like color (rose for parts of China) and dimensions (the washing machine must fit on balconies and in small flats, and be able to be moved). Globally, there are 500 million washing machines in use.
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