Why was the Innovo created?
“The main reason for developing Innovo was to expand A.O. Smith’s condensing water heater range. Impending EU Energy-related Products (ErP) regulations promised tighter requirements for the efficiency and emissions of gas-fired appliances. In the BFC Cyclone we already had a successful range of A-label condensing appliances in the higher industrial segment. With Innovo we brought a range of A-label condensing appliances into the luxury household and small commercial segment, and delivered an exceptionally capable alternative to any atmospheric water heater.”
How did development of Innovo begin?
“At A.O. Smith we use the Stage Gate model for project work. This method splits product development into phases. The first step is to assess the market, and to anticipate the effect of future regulations. Once we have a clear picture of future needs, we use that thinking to develop an idea, which is then refined into a design concept. With the help of laboratory and on-site testing, we continue to develop the concept. If the concept does well in all these tests, we proceed with launching it as a product. We always follow every step of this process carefully.
Based on an existing heat exchanger developed by A.O. Smith U.S, initial sketches of Innovo were on paper as early as 2009. The design evolved over the next few years, and in 2012 prototypes made with the current horizontal combustion chamber reached the laboratory. In testing significant technical advantages of the model became apparent, so we pushed forward with development. In the next stage, we developed remaining components and evaluated manufacturing of the heat exchanger. To replicate their full life-span in a compressed time-frame, we placed the appliances under extreme stress in the laboratory. This allowed to put the design’s reliability to the test. The final phase brought other A.O. Smith departments into the project. They helped us draft all the technical documentation, devise an introduction plan, and prepare everything necessary to manufacture and purchase the parts we needed. In that final phase of the project, the whole team worked together to ensure every piece of the puzzle fell perfectly into place.”
When did you know that Innovo was ready for testing?
“Once the development phase was complete, we were ready for testing. With the help of installers and members of the public, we installed 25 Innovo appliances in different test locations including camping sites, care institutions, hotels, dairy farms and individual households. After an exhaustive testing process, we launched Innovo into the Dutch market in September, and into France in October. We are currently rolling the product out across the rest of Europe.”
Innovo test locations
How did the test phase go? How important is feedback from users?
“The test phase went extremely well. We conducted regular inspections of all the locations. In addition to technical data to help us assess performance and reliability, we were eager to understand the experience of installers and consumers. As well as the extremely positive feedback, we actually received a few ideas that were fed back to the team to make immediate product improvements. The experience was an incredibly valuable learning process and benefitted the whole team, not only for this project, but for subsequent projects as well.”
Did you make any changes to Innovo during or after this phase?
“During the test phase we made various improvements. Some were highly visible improvements based feedback received from the test locations, but we also carried out more subtle improvements. In this phase it’s a case of dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” to make sure the product is ready for manufacturing and sale.”
During development, did you make a conscious
choice to give Innovo a sleek design?
“Innovo’s final design was created with the help of an industrial design agency. That division of responsibility allowed A.O. Smith engineers to focus on technical performance and reliability. As this product was intended to be luxury domestic application, we always recognized that design would be important. In this sector, aesthetic appeal plays a much bigger role.”
How did you decide upon the name?
“To find the perfect name for the new range, the A.O. Smith Marketing Department launched a competition. The name “Innovo” was picked from all the suggestions we received. It’s a perfect name for the product. It reflects the innovative spirit at the heart of Innovo, and the way we have managed to get more out of existing technology to achieve maximum efficiency. We were also careful to monitor manufacturing, applying a variety of different technologies to make sure the end product would be competitively priced. By making targeted investments, we’ve been able to develop efficient new production techniques.”
What are you most proud of?
“A.O. Smith Europe is part of the larger A.O. Smith Corporation which operates all over the world. Our European headquarters, based in the Netherlands, is relatively small compared to branches in the US, Canada, China and India. As a result, in the past we often adapted products from the U.S. to make them suitable for the European market.
Innovo is an appliance developed in the Netherlands created specifically for the European market. From the heat exchanger right down to the nuts and bolts this design is entirely our own. The finished product has generated a lot of interest from other establishments? Does this mean competitors?, which is a huge compliment to the entire team.
What I am most proud of is the positive response we’ve had from the market, and the product’s successful launch. The feeling I get when I see a production line of Innovo’s on their way to satisfied customers is the reason I love my job.”
Like the rest of the engineering team, Engineering Manager Herman Michels is not resting on his laurels after Innovo’s successful launch. To find out more about the engineering team’s latest plans, we asked what they’re currently working on.
“We have several new projects on the go to ensure we are fully prepared for the EU’s ErP regulations over the coming years. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal exactly what these projects are about. In the short term, and in readiness for the tightening of the ErP regulations in September 2018, we have a number of product introductions and modifications in the pipeline.”
In conclusion, let’s hear what Ton van der Hamsvoort, Manager Director at A.O. Smith Europe, has to say about the value Innovo had delivered.
“I’m proud of the expansion of our condensing range of storage gas appliances. It allows us to perfectly carter for every requirement – from the lowest to the highest hot water consumption – in the most efficient way possible. Everyone wants to save energy, but not at the expense of comfort.
We would always advise customers needing a replacement to think about replacing older technologies with condensing alternatives. The initial investment might be higher, but depending on consumption, the payback period is invariably short. Customers stand to benefit from following the right advice. This is one way to make things easier, more effective and more sustainable.
The entire Innovo development process, including the market launch ran very smoothly. At different points in the process, different departments from our entire organisation were involved. Looking back, it’s clear that taking time to test and develop every detail was the right choice. That’s still something I’m totally committed to. We strive for the highest levels of efficiency and sustainability. We’ve also made significant investments in our production methods. Just over year later, we are witnessing this new range finding its way to satisfied customers all over Europe. And that’s exactly what we were aiming for. ”
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If you’d like to find out more about Innovo, click here to see all detailed information, including specifications, manuals, energy labels and technical drawings.