Miele is reinventing the cooking experience
BY MIRJAM DEBORA MARSCHALL
Over and over again, the desire for innovativeness and creativity is a driving force for science and business. These two factors decide over entrepreneurial success and are indispensable in today’s fast-changing age. One of the most successful companies that elegantly and easily overcomes these challenges is Miele. Since its establishment in 1899, Miele has stood for timeless design and quality in a class of its own. As the most sought-after brand in the home appliances sector, Miele continuously sets new standards. We spoke with Dr Stefan Breit, Executive Director for Technology at Miele, about the pioneering spirit and the new M Chef technology that will revolutionise the way food is cooked.
Dr Breit, Miele has been selected as the best product brand of all sectors on the German market. What, in your opinion, were the main factors that led to this honour?
I think the factor of trust plays a decisive role here. People trust their Miele appliances to do everything that matters to them, and they expect to enjoy their appliances to the fullest for many years to come. Our products simplify and enrich their lives, too. Technical features – such as the cutlery tray on our dishwashers, or the honeycomb drum on our washing machines – have been unmatched for decades. In the vacuum cleaner segment, we are the market leader in Europe, and among discerning gourmets with style, built-in appliances by Miele are the first choice in the kitchen.
How has Miele managed to rank among the leading technology brands for decades?
Since the company’s creation, Miele has pursued its quality promise – ‘Forever Better’ – which the two founders wrote on their first machines. The slogan means two things: ‘Forever Better’ than the competition, and becoming ‘Forever Better’ than one already is. Convincingly delivering on this high promise over and over again requires foresight and a sense of proportion, a clear course and stamina. Of course, you also need first-class people who identify with the company, the brand and the products. The aim is to maintain the tried and true and seek out unknown terrain at the same time – in digitalisation, for instance. We attach great importance to what is commonly referred to today as this ‘strategic ambidexterity’.
Thanks to this strategic ambidexterity, your products stand for top class and the pioneering spirit. How is this successfully practised and promoted in your firm?
With us, the hierarchies are flat and the decision-making paths short. Here at Miele, young talents get an early opportunity to take responsibility and are encouraged to amass international experience in one of our more than 40 sales subsidiaries or one of our four plants outside of Germany. And unlike what is often seen in the automotive industry, for instance, our developers, engineers and designers always work with the entire product in mind, rather than spending months or even years always brooding over the same components.
What factors are indispensable to the task of developing an innovative idea?
To begin with, there is the stamina I mentioned a moment ago. For this, in turn, it is important not to become dependent on the often short-term needs of external sources of funding. With this in mind, Miele finances its investments exclusively with its own funds, so it has to make wise use of its resources. This is one of the reasons why we concentrate on our traditional business. Specifically, this consists of household appliances manufactured to the highest standards, along with appliances derived from these for commercial use, medical facilities or laboratories. But we are also increasingly enriching these appliances with useful digital solutions – with even better results, greater ease of use, safety and energy savings in mind. This, too, requires the right conditions – such as a creative working environment with a test lab and workshop atmosphere, instead of a classical office landscape.
What major role does design play, alongside functionality?
Our chief designer, Andreas Enslin – who is also Vice President of the Association of German Industrial Designers (VDID) – has a clear stance on this: Good design forms the relationship between a person and a product. It shapes, and at the same time caters to, the expectations customers have of our Miele brand products. What this means in particular is that an appliance has to be easy and intuitive to use, with a high-quality feel and free from unnecessary frills. Our world today is complicated enough already. An appliance designed with this approach then harmonises with its surroundings, and the user views it as timelessly elegant and modern, not trendy. Fashion comes and goes, after all – and a person wants to feel at home in his or her kitchen for many years to come. Incidentally, to accomplish all of this, many years before market launch, our designers have to develop ideas of what future customers will want in their household appliances.
With the Dialog oven, you once again present a world first that will revolutionise the way food is cooked. Please explain the concept behind this innovative technology.
The Dialog oven combines conventional modes of operation, such as top/bottom heating or convection, with electromagnetic waves. Unlike microwaves, for example, electromagnetic waves use comparatively low power to penetrate deep into the food to provide gentle, even and quick distribution of heat. At the same time, the Dialog oven constantly measures how much energy the food has absorbed and continuously adjusts the cooking process in progress – hence the name ‘Dialog oven’. This interplay permits first-class results in an unparalleled short period of time. Even the seemingly impossible is possible; for instance, all the ingredients of a complete menu – a roast, potato wedges and asparagus – can be placed fresh on the baking sheet at the same time and then cooked to perfection at exactly the same time.
The M Chef technology was seven years in development. What were the greatest challenges you faced there?
The basic technology – using deep-penetrating electromagnetic waves as the source of heat – was initially in use only in transplantation medicine, where cooled donor organs have to be brought back up to body temperature with as little loss of time as possible, but also without causing any damage to the organs involved. Developing this technology to the point where it could be used for cooking food in the home required years of tests and adjustments. A role was played, not least, by the fact that the Dialog oven works with more than a single frequency. In fact, it can apply around 1,000 different combinations of wavelength and phase difference between the waves of its two antennas, combinations that are selected over and over again as the food cooks. Even the space required to integrate high-frequency technology in a fully-equipped oven posed a major challenge. As a result, the appliance was redesigned from scratch.
What dish do you yourself most enjoy conjuring up and serving with the Dialog oven?
Naturally, the dishes that we presented when introducing the Dialog oven are fascinating – for instance, the fish we baked in a block of ice without melting the ice. For everyday use, though, I think the most important feature is the combination of perfect results with the speed of preparing sophisticated meat dishes such as fillet of veal or leg of lamb. Both of these take only a good half-hour to prepare – which is almost twice the speed of a conventional oven.
What clientele do you want to appeal to with this world debut?
First and foremost, the Dialog oven is designed for ambitious hobby chefs. But professionals were also impressed by the presentations we’ve had to date. I am convinced that this appliance will not remain a niche product, and that, like the steam cooker introduced decades ago, it will gradually come into its own in a broader market as a new product category.
Household appliances are growing smarter all the time. The Internet of Things is a major market that is gathering steam and picking up speed. How does your technical product development keep up here, too?
For us, the Internet of Things plays a major role particularly when it comes to the topic of networked home appliances, where we’ve been the pioneer for many years. To continue to extend this position, we are currently forming a new ‘Smart Home’ division, with technology and marketing under a single roof and mixed teams working in the inspiring environment I described a moment ago. Parallel to this, we are networking with creative young companies that we are helping in a variety of ways to turn their ideas into marketable products and create customer contacts. Investments of capital are possible here, too. We are all in here, too – as in the case of our new subsidiary, Miele Venture Capital GmbH, which maintains close ties to the innovation hubs of the world, which of course also includes Silicon Valley.
Dr Stefan Breit
Dr Stefan Breit (born 1967) began his industrial career in 1999 with Kostal, the electronics and mechatronics specialist in Lüdenscheid, Germany. With a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering, he joined Miele in 2007 and was later placed in charge of the plants in Bielefeld and Gütersloh. He was appointed Executive Director for Technology in late 2016. Breit is married and has two children.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q4 2017. Picture credit © Miele