Thursday, April 9, 2020
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 Guided by the Light

How light is playing an integral role in intuitive kitchen interfaces


Light evokes an emotional response. This principle guides nearly all facets of design, whether its homes, aircraft interiors, automobile dashboards, or electronic products. The right lighting can bring designs to new heights.

The design of appliances is no exception to this rule. But finding new ways to infuse light into appliance design has struggled in comparison to other consumer products. The ability to transmit light has taken a back seat to other considerations, such as the need for materials that insulate or remain dimensionally stable under high heat.

Take for example, the glass-ceramic cooktops found in electric or induction cooktops. Their black look, clean lines and uncluttered surfaces set the stage for a modernist trend in kitchen design.

One little known facet of that material was that it struggled to transmit most colors except red. Lighting applications beyond the classic red 7-segment display have been difficult to implement due to the special transmission behavior of the glass-ceramic material.

Now, material sciences have advanced to create glass-ceramic material that allows crisp, brilliant transmission of blues, whites, and other colors. This development is unlocking stunning new design possibilities. Designers now have access to a full palette of color.

Light-optimized glass-ceramic is ideally suited to blue and white displays. It allows white light to shine through four times brighter than through conventional black glass-ceramic, and this light is finely contoured and evenly transmitted.

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 A Quick Primer on Materials

Glass-ceramic, the material used in cooktops, seems like ordinary glass, but it is not. It is a special material prized for its resistance to thermal shock, near-zero thermal expansion, extremely durable and made with no harmful metals like arsenic or antimony, among other things.

These properties stem from the way glass-ceramic is made. Essentially, the raw ingredients are much the same as ordinary glass. When molten glass is cooled slowly, then heated again, it encourages the formation of crystalline structures. Amorphous glass structures also remain. When heat is applied, the amorphous structures expand while the crystalline structures contract. This means that a glass-ceramic cooktop does not change shape under high temperatures. If it did, that could lead to cracking as the panel strained against its frame. Altering the raw ingredients slightly, or the amount of heat applied during a ceramization phase, is what make glass-ceramic superior for high heat applications rather than tempered glass.

SCHOTT CERAN glass-ceramic cooktop was first introduced in 1971. At the time, it unlocked new design possibilities in the kitchen, and it continues to be a leading solution in induction and electric cooktops today. For the past several years, innovation in cooktop panels have pushed kitchen design forward by changing the color of the panels, or through prints allowing patterns, glossy, or matte effects. More crisp lighting has largely been elusive, until now.

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 Designing With Light

The crisp transmission of color through cooktop panels is the result of advances in the development of light filters and coatings. These advances allow white light to shine four times brighter through a black panel. With them, home-appliance manufacturers can implement innovative operating technologies with light into their devices.

This is paving the way for a sea change in appliance design, with consumers reaping the benefits.

Designers want flexible lighting options, such as allowing adaptable light indicators in the control and cooking zones, and light displays that follow a pan when it moves across the cooktop.

Appliance designers will be able to use LEDs and other light sources to develop intuitive interfaces that use light to provide a wider range of visual feedback. One promising area of design allows users to control their cooktop with a mobile device such as a smartphone. In these instances, home cooks might receive confirmation that the stove is functioning through undermounted LEDs.

For example, new lighting could be used to not only signal hotspots on a cooktop, but also warm spots and cool spots - providing both a margin of safety, but also a visual reference that aids in cooking.

Likewise, these lighting options allow the integration of high resolution monochromatic TFT displays. Home cooks could use these to display recipes right on the cooktop.

And while functional uses of new lighting options sit at the top of the mind for designers, lighting could also be deployed for decoration purposes.

In recent years, the industry has seen kitchen designs that emphasize a uniformity among appliances, countertops, and cabinets - even coffee machines are selected for ‘fit’ into overall designs. Lighting can be used to reinforce this as well, as when cooktop displays are designed to match the connected refrigerators that have been introduced to the market recently. Additionally, when the cooktop is turned off, the black glass can return to its original form, retaking its place as part of a cohesive whole in the design of the kitchen.

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 Versatile Design Possibilities

One need to only look at the growth of TV shows, blogs, and magazines devoted to food to know that cooking and entertaining have become central pastimes in the U.S. The kitchen remains a central focal point for any home. Homeowners are using design as a central expression of their style.

By unlocking new design possibilities for induction and electric cooktops, appliance designers can respond to consumer demands for more choice and more expression of personal taste. The past few decades have seen a revolution in electronic products.

Smartphones and connected kitchens were once the subject of science fiction. Now, they’re expected features of modern life. As new materials push the boundaries of home design by using light as a design feature, innovative materials are maximizing and diversifying the quality of appliances.