My journey with Philips
I first joined Philips in the year 2000 to work within its mobile phones division. Mobile phones represented the pinnacle of technological design at the time and so I was thrilled to have landed the position straight out of university.
I remember being somewhat anxious about the transition from classroom to workplace. But Philips ran a great nine-month training program that helped me and the other graduates who joined the company at the same time to get our practical knowledge and skills up to speed. We learnt a lot and made some friends along the way. It was exactly what we needed to help us overcome the apprehension that naturally accompanies one’s first step into the corporate world.
Just one year later, however, poor sales dictated that the company close its mobile phones business. It was a major disappointment. There was so much hype surrounding the industry at the time, and I didn’t want to turn my back on it.
The door to my dream career was slammed shut in my face. But, fortunately for me, another door opened. In the wake of the mobile phones division’s closure, I was offered positions in the audio, television and garment care divisions.
To my father’s dismay, I chose the latter.
“What could you possibly do to improve an iron?”
he asked at the time.
It was a good question because it didn’t have an obvious answer. But where he saw a career of mind-numbing boredom, I saw an opportunity to surprise, shock and bewilder. There was something irresistibly appealing about creating something special from something so seemingly ordinary.
Of course, there was a little bit more to it than that. My background was in mechanical engineering and garment care had a greater need for those skills than audio and TV. But the prospect of using state-of-the-art technology to dramatically improve the usability and performance of a household product that many perceived to be incompatible with innovation was ultimately what got me hooked.
I wanted to reinvent the wheel.
What it takes to make a simple iron
Seventeen years and multiple irons later, it’s safe to say that Philips’ Garment Care Innovation Center in Singapore has proven the answer to my father’s question is “lots”.
That’s not to say that innovation in this field comes easy – far from it. While innovation and smartphones go hand in hand, generating ideas on how to improve an iron requires far more creativity than people commonly realize. Because the role of the iron is set in stone, only certain types of innovation are appropriate.
It also takes a diverse set of skills to transform those ideas into reality. The manufacturing and development team alone include specialists from the fields of mechanical, electronics, thermodynamics and chemical engineering. Then there’s the project managers, product quality leads, product research consultants, procurement engineers, product designers, and commercial marketing managers to name but a few of the essential roles that make what we do possible.
A broad range of skills are required because building an iron is no simple feat: it’s made up of numerous, highly technical components. In fact, from its inception, the humble iron has somewhat defied the laws of science: against all odds, it proved that water and electricity can get along after all.
Ultimately, everything we do at the innovation center is guided by the feedback we receive from our customers because, at its core, innovation is motivated by dissatisfaction: dissatisfaction at the way things are and faith in one’s abilities to make things better.
That’s why we spend hours poring over comments made by our customers on the internet in an attempt to find ways we can improve our products. We take no satisfaction from producing a well-designed product packed with innovation that fails to efficiently carry out the functions expected of it. Customer experience is everything. And so, innovation ultimately begins with an unmet need.
Why Philips is the world’s leading iron brand
Such was the case when we began work on the
PerfectCare Elite Plus steam generator
, which was released last year. That project started with the realization that requiring users to hold down a trigger to ensure a constant supply of steam while ironing was inefficient, uncomfortable and tiresome. We decided to prove that there was a better way.
And so, we set to work exploring ways to build an iron that produced steam automatically, as and when required. Acceleration sensors seemed to be the solution.
After a few iterations, we produced an iron that uses motion-detectors similar to those responsible for expanding a video to fullscreen when you rotate your smartphone horizontally. There were a few hiccups along the way, but, by combining our collective talents, we were able to create an iron that produced steam as soon as the user required it.
The release of the PerfectCare Elite Plus was a proud moment for me and my team, as was the launch of our OptimalTEMP technology a few years ago, which was likewise created in response to an unmet need.
While irons were invented to make us look our best, I’m sure most of us can recall a time when they’ve burnt a shirt or blouse while ironing. More often than not, such tales of sartorial torment seem to unfold minutes before someone intends to leave for a special social event or particularly important day in the office.
And so, in 2011, we made fabric burns at the hands of our irons a thing of the past. By delivering and maintaining the perfect combination of soleplate temperature and high pressure steam, OptimalTEMP technology allowed users to iron any ironable fabric material without needing to ever adjust the iron’s temperature, eliminating the risk of burning. It provided users with peace of mind, allowing them to simply get on with the business of ironing.