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Evolution or revolution?

Evolution or revolution?


The electric fan is a "must-have" household item in tropical Singapore.  It is also one of the most boring white goods commodity since the industrial revolution.

A Brief History...

The 2nd century Chinese inventor Ding Huane (fl. 180) of the Han Dynasty invented a rotary fan for conditioning the air. It was seven wheels 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter and manually powered.

In the late 19th century, according to wikipedia, Omar-Rajeen Jumala built one of the first workable mechanical fan in the world. These mechanical fans were introduced and successfully tested in coal mines and factories in 1832-1834.

When Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla commercialized electrical power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the public, the personal electric fan was introduced.  Between the years 1882 and 1886, New Orleans resident Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invented the first electric fan. It was commercially marketed by the American firm Crocker & Curtis electric motor company.  And in 1882, Philip Diehl introduced the electric ceiling fan. (Source: wikipedia)

More Power. More Shapes. But Evolutionary.

Despite all the improvements made to the electro-mechanical fan since the 1880s, ranging from the creation of the ceiling fan to the tower fan or the introduction of a more efficient electric motor, these improvements were often cosmetic in nature and evolutionary improvements at best. Different shapes and designs of the fans were introduced and embraced by the burgeoning middle class consumer market.

Increasingly powerful motors were used to generate stronger air flow, certainly, but mostly as a consequence of the evolving electric motor technology.

Most of these improvements, however, are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Revolutionary Approaches

In contrast with these brute force approaches to product innovation, the first modern electrical air conditioning unit was invented by Willis Haviland Carrier in Buffalo, New York.  After graduating from Cornell University, Carrier, a native of Angola, New York, found a job at the Buffalo Forge Company. While there, Carrier began experimentation with air conditioning as a way to solve an application problem for the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, New York, and the first "air conditioner," designed and built in Buffalo by Carrier, began working on 17 July 1902.

Air conditioners leverages on the refrigeration cycle (technically described as the vapor-compression cycle) to cool the air passing through a fan.  Carrier's air conditioning technology was applied to increase productivity in the workplace, and The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America was formed to meet rising demand.

This is a completely revolutionary approach in contrast with the brute force approach of amassing power in the electric motor.

Dyson "Bladeless" Fans

Over the course of the past 100 odd years, refrigeration technology and fan technology have continued to evolve.  Improvements in the refrigeration/air-conditioner compressor and insulation technology has made it possible to lower temperatures in freezers, fridges and rooms efficiently.  Electric motors for fans have gotten more robust, stable and powerful.

In October 2009, Dyson - often seen as the Apple equivalent in the White Goods market - introduced their approach towards fan design and proclaims that it is their first step towards challenging air-conditioner technology.

Solving My Pain Point

While technically not bladeless (the fan blades are located in the lower canister, much like how Dyson's vacuum cleaner works), Dyson's new design shows an uncanny empathic understanding of what has irked fan owners (like me) for ages - the need to remove the metal grills and blades to clean off dirt/dust accumulation regularly.  Dyson has accurately anticipated my (and many others') pain point and has given me reason to place an option value on their new product.

Evolution or Revolution? You tell me!

Acknowledging that the inducement-entrainment ("Air Multiplier") technology claim is an interesting one though certainly not a technology break-through from a basic sciences point-of-view and ignoring their marketing spiel about eliminating the "buffeting" effect, would YOU consider this new product design evolution or revolution?

Relevant references, both critical and positive ones:


Categories: Design Thinking Product Management


Tagged as: design product



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