Milan, Italy

Dishwashers have been a key battleground at EuroCucina this year as brands such as Miele, Bosch and Smeg compete for the fastest wash cycle using the least amount of water.

While Smeg appears to have the fastest turbo wash cycle at 16 minutes, Bosch is claiming the superior water consumption at around 6 litres. Both these brand names were spotted earlier this week when Appliance Retailer visited the former’s dishwasher factory in Bonferraro, an hour south of Milan.

Fully owned by Smeg, which itself is still a family-owned business, this factory manufactures dishwashers and laundry appliances for Smeg and a small number of OEM clients.

The first thing that strikes you upon entry is how clean this factory is. Although not as impeccable as some previously visited Japanese flat panel plants, this factory shames the Chinese appliance factories Appliance Retailer has toured.

There are two production lines for dishwashers at this factory; one for 60-centimetre machines and one for 45-centimetre models. Operating at full capacity, the considerably busier 60-centimetre  line can produce 1,500 pieces per day.

At the start of the line, several robots work in unison to prepare, shape and process the metal sheet casing of the dishwasher. This stage is fully automated, the excess scrap metal collected and recycled.

With the sheets pressed and fitted into the cube shell of the dishwasher, the process then continues through several stages of robotic and human fitting.

Once the collection of metals and plastics begin to resemble a dishwasher, the human involvement becomes much more significant. Every dishwasher is tested before leaving the line, with any faulty models analysed for future improvement. Random models are taken off the line for further detailed and intense testing.

Many of these processes have been observed in factories from other brands and of other products around the world. Where this factory stood out for this reporter was in the behind the scenes activities aimed at continually improving Smeg products.

Smeg keeps selected models in its dishwasher range for 10 years to continually conduct life cycle testing. The smell in this room was not particularly pleasant, due mostly to the years of eggs and spinach that have been thrust upon plate after plate in testing. Smeg sources said there was a similar room hidden in the bowels of the factory running the same continuous testing on all the competitor brands.

Then there was the frankly bizarre sound room: a square enclosure completely padded with foam pyramids jutting out from the four walls and ceiling. When in this room, the pressure on your eardrums becomes noticeably intense. The purpose of this room, it was said, was to test and improve the noise levels of dishwashers.

The overall fault rate at this factory so far in 2012 in 1.05 per cent. Smeg export area manager Anthony Giliberti said the target for the year was to get this figure down to 0.73 per cent. He said that in comparable European factories, the fault rate was 2-to-3 per cent, while globally the figure was around 3-to-5 per cent.