Materials: a look at the world of research


In the kitchen environment, the choice of materials is important both at a functional and aesthetic level. This is true for furniture as well as for household appliances, with innovative proposals that make it possible to offer consumers a variety of solutions and greater customization.

Elica Haiku Island 180 (courtesy Elica)

by Elena Corti

Research on materials allows to explore new possibilities, offering ideas for future developments. In particular, in the field of synthetic and hybrid materials, proposals are multiplying, even with applications in the world of kitchen. To understand in what direction research is moving, we interviewed the director of Materioteca, Diana Castiglione. Materioteca is a structure born to create connections among the world of research, designers and companies. It carries out a technical-scientific dissemination activity (largely free of charge) on synthetic materials and in its Milanese headquarters it hosts a permanent exhibition with samples and objects capable of capturing the sensoriality of materials. In addition, upon request, it also organizes exhibitions outside its headquarters (for years, for example, it has collaborated with Senaf, the organizer of MecSpe fair).

Diana Castiglione, director of Materioteca. (photo Giuseppe Secreti)

As far as kitchen environment is concerned, where is research on materials orienting?
There are trends in place that also affect materials. First of all, kitchen has changed a lot in the last few years and that change has accelerated recently. From an aesthetic point of view, this environment has passed from being a space in which every element contributed to express the concept of cleanliness (as if kitchen were a sort of candid and white “operating room”) to becoming a place of “refuge” “. This resulted in a change in the choice of colors which became darker. Furthermore, kitchen environment tends to occupy a larger space and merge with living room. In addition, on the front of household appliances, the transition from gas to induction cooking is underway. In the field of materials, this has led to a great proliferation of solutions, so much so that it is difficult to report a single trend. Tendentially we see the abandonment of the most classic materials and the multiplication of hybrid materials (ie materials consisting of an organic and an inorganic part). There is a considerable variety of “solid surfaces”: from softer materials (because the inorganic part is softer) to those that withstand abrasion better because the inorganic part contains quartz, for example. These materials, then, allow for multiple color variations, even if the shades that currently dominate are anthracite and gray. It is a trend due to the fact that generally these are kitchens sold in a global market: “non-colors” have a more universal language than stronger colors that can be perceived differently according to local cultures.

Nowadays people talk a lot about air purification: is there any innovation regarding materials?
I can cite the example of the Plados Telma Group, which produces sinks and home appliances. We have collaborated with them and of we exhibit one of their products right in the permanent exhibition of Materioteca. The Group, which includes the Delta company (dedicated to R&D and production of materials), has developed the AriaPura technology, currently applied to sinks and hobs. It is based on the addition of a catalyst in the composite material which, in addition of being suitable for contact with food, is also able to interact with the kitchen environment, reducing air pollution. Specifically, this material contains anatase titanium dioxide in nanometric dimensions: the light (natural or artificial) triggers a photocatalytic process thanks to which the air is purified, the surfaces are disinfected from molds, fungi, yeasts and bacteria and the organic molecules, including which of the air (source of odors), are decomposed. The Plados Telma Group is an innovative Italian company: in addition to AriaPura technology, it has also created a range of sinks made with 100% recycled materials.

Sustainability is among the most current issues: in the field of kitchen products, and in particular in household appliances, is the use of recycled materials a promising way?
The topic of recycled materials is certainly interesting and, as far as synthetic and hybrid ones are concerned, I could know some innovative solutions, even if not directly related to the household appliances sector, but which can still represent an interesting hint. I am thinking, for example, of the materials obtained from Krill Design, a reality that creates circular economy projects and eco-design products starting from food waste. Using coffee grounds and squeezed orange peels, Krill Design has created new generation biopolymers, with which different types of furnishing objects can be 3D printed. I believe this is an exciting path that can open up new possibilities in the field of hybrid materials.

Another important issue for the kitchen environment and appliances is the ease of cleaning the surfaces: what is research working on in this area?

A lot of research is being done on self-cleaning materials. For example, there are studies concerning the lotus flower leaf because it has a structure that is self-cleaning. In practice, when a drop of water falls on it, it does not remain stationary on the leaf but rolls and drags away with it the impurities it intercepts. By being able to reproduce this type of structure, a surface could be obtained that can be easily cleaned only with water, without the need for detergents. The ‘lotus effect’ is already being studied and applied to the exterior of buildings (glass and front panels) but it could also be interesting in other areas.

Does research on materials contribute to product innovation?
Research on materials generally goes hand in hand with the discovery of new technologies. Let’s think about induction for hobs or microwaves for ovens: research applied on materials has evolved together with new technologies.

The Plados Telma Group, manufacturer of sinks and household appliances, is present in the permanent exhibition of Materioteca. (photo Giuseppe Secreti)

The choices of appliance manufacturers
Kitchen appliances, just for the environment in which they operate, must guarantee solidity, resistance to scratches, stains, wear and high temperatures, as well as hygiene, ease of cleaning and aesthetics capable of integrate itself with furniture and satisfy consumers’ tastes in terms of shapes, colors and style. In all this materials play a significant role and, among the different types of appliances, hoods are among the products that have been the object of the greatest innovations. Elica, for example, offers several interesting solutions. “Today kitchen is the place that, more than any other domestic environment, represents the style of people who live it – explains Fabrizio Crisà, Elica Design Director -. In this scenario, when designing new products the choice of material plays a fundamental role in both aesthetic and functional terms. Metal and glass are certainly the most common materials on our products and are used in many forms: steel, aluminum, treated or painted metals, transparent or silk-screened glass alongside ceramics. In the last two years, the use of black has established itself strongly, tendentially with a soft matte finish. Outside of the so-called “standard” materials, I always try to introduce materials in line with the trends of kitchens and furnishings in general. The Open Suite model is an example of this: it has an architectural structure designed to be more than a hood, but rather an innovative piece of furniture, out of the ordinary, which does not exist in the furniture scene. A modular system of elements that can give life to infinite compositions. A metallic structure, soft matte black, combined with elements with cast iron effect and shelves in various materials: wood with canaletto walnut finish, metal mesh, compact metal, extra-clear or smoked glass and finally the possibility of customizing shelves at will.”

“The aesthetic part of a material – Crisà adds – is undoubtedly very important because it is what characterizes a product. In the case of household appliances, it must be taken into account that they will be placed in kitchens with different styles, colors and finishes; therefore search for materials that offer versatility and integration is fundamental to obtain stylistic homogeneity. On some of the latest models I have designed, such as Rules and Bloom-S, I have chosen Dekton black Sirius, a material that is generally used for the realization of kitchen tops. Aesthetics, resistance to wear, scratches and high temperatures make Dekton a perfect material for hoods. I chose the most common finish on the market to offer the possibility of having the “total look” in the kitchen. In other cases, such as for the Haiku hood, I chose white Krion with a silk effect, a material with extraordinary surface characteristics, regenerable, but above all antibacterial thanks to the photocatalysis that is activated with natural light. In the case of Bio and Lullaby, the use of aged oak gives products that warm and romantic taste, evoking those pleasant sensations to the touch that only wood can give. In other cases it is the shape that dictates the choice, as for the Ye hood, made of Cristalplant, a solid surface that is cold injection molded. In recent years, the desire for customization has grown a lot to have products adapting to personal needs and that can be unique. For this reason I have designed appliances such as Illusion, Rules and the GetUp which, in the “naked” versions, leave the choice of covering material to the user.” Elica focuses very much on research as a way to innovate, exploring new possibilities also in terms of materials. “Continuous research and a vocation for innovation are part of Elica’s DNA and, as a designer, I am constantly looking for new ideas that often involve the use of original materials – Crisà says -. Unfortunately, in the world of household appliances and in particular of kitchen hoods, the choice is very limited because all materials must have specific functional and mechanical characteristics, as well as resistance to high temperatures, vapors, scratches and stains. Elica uses an internal laboratory, EPL (Elica Propulsion Laboratory), a state-of-the-art and certified center at European level, able to carry out all types of tests to guarantee and approve the characteristics of the materials we use, in line with the most stringent regulations about it.”

“I believe that for a designer it is crucial to have a deep knowledge of materials, transformation techniques, innovations and continuous evolutions. This allows us to realize what was unthinkable until the day before" (Fabrizio Crisà, Elica)
Soft Edge wall-mounted hood by Faber, made with Fenix coating.

Still in the hood sector, the choice of Faber-Franke Home Solutions consists in proposing “traditional” quality materials and at the same time doing research, experimenting with new solutions such as Fenix. “Hood plays an extremely important role in the kitchen and must win a great challenge every day – declares Giorgio Grassi, Head of Global Category Management Hoods at Franke Home Solutions -. On the one hand to characterize and enrich the aesthetics of the environment, on the other to guarantee appropriate performance. It is an appliance subjected to continuous stress – especially if activated in intensive mode -, it must withstand high temperatures and humidity and maintain its functionality over time. The growing tendency to open kitchen to the living room has transformed hood in a decorative element of great impact. Hence our choice of making products with “precious” materials, such as stainless steel and glass, and at the same time investing in R&D. An example is Franke Mythos, a vertical crystal hood characterized by graphic elements and patterns able to make the product a real central design element inside the kitchen, which does not require any compromise in the performance of suction and purification of the air. Equally innovative is the Soft Line by Faber, made of Fenix, able to integrate perfectly with the design of furniture and wall units made more and more frequently with this material, that guarantees an absolutely unique touch & feel, as well as extraordinary performance in terms of resistance to wear, scratches and high temperatures.” The company invests in innovation and also has collaborations with the university world and with external laboratories. “We constantly invest in the search for innovative materials that are not only capable of guaranteeing very high standards of quality and resistance, but that are able to support the promise of the brand. This stands as a design, technological, sophisticated brand and able to satisfy the multiple needs in terms of style and functionality – Grassi explains -. All this means, on the one hand distinguishing ourselves, on the other reassuring consumer that he will be able to identify the right product in our range that will contribute to a harmonious and balanced design result. We continue to work on existing materials, in particular steel and plastic ones, to increase their ductility and performance. To this aim, it becomes essential to invest to improve coatings and surface treatments, with particular focus on nano-coating; this is for increasing the resistance to scratches, abrasions and high temperatures but also for improving the ease of cleaning and the aesthetic result, while maintaining the finishes and colors unchanged over time. Another area that sees us busy is that of colors. In particular, our commitment is aimed at significantly reducing the use of paints – substances with a high rate of pollution – in favor of alternative treatments capable of maintaining full production flexibility and perfect aesthetic result.”

“The Franke group stands out for its high rate of investment in innovation, a central development asset also for Franke Home Solutions division and our range of hoods. A constant commitment that we carry out both within the company and through collaboration with third parties, starting with some prestigious Italian universities including the Milan Polytechnic and the University of Siena. In the development of new materials, on the other hand, we collaborate with external certified laboratories, concentrating the activities of analysis and testing of the various solutions - for example the evaluation of the resistance of materials or the resistance of colors over time - within our Italian and Swiss laboratories recognized as 'avant-garde’ ones" (Giorgio Grassi, Franke Home Solutions)
Baraldi proposes the combination of Lumina hood and Elegant hob, both in the Luxor version with an elegant golden stripe underlining the controls.
"Our research goes towards new declinations and combinations of style, color and finish for induction hobs also with matching hood, to go beyond the standard of the black induction hob - the one that can be seen extending to infinity in large appliance shops, making it impossible to differentiate at a glance; the market offer from a stylistic point of view is very compact and uniform” (Lorenzo Baraldi, Baraldi)

Another company in the hood sector committed to innovation is Baraldi, which is focusing on finishes. “We are studying new applications of materials to obtain metallic finishes not yet used in the world of household appliances – explains Lorenzo Baraldi, co-owner of the company -. The production of these new finishes has a reduced environmental impact compared to previous productions and allows us to be at the forefront with respect to the design of standard appliances.” Furthermore, Baraldi is working to renew the style of the induction hob. In fact, it is often difficult to differentiate these products (mostly black and with a similar design), so the company focuses on new combinations of style, color and finish (also in terms of matching with hood) to overcome uniformity which generally characterizes induction hobs. The company also collaborates with external realities to carry out its research activity. “We are pushing to explore unconventional areas in the combination of materials – Lorenzo Baraldi concludes -. For this reason, our internal research and development office collaborates with specialized companies and is carrying out projects in various sectors, including 3D metal printing. Consumer’s purchasing choices are changing towards a more inclusive and open use of kitchen space, where kitchen becomes an area less isolated from the rest of the house than the traditional floor plan (by now it is often in communication with living room, to create a large, open and bright living area). With this in mind, cutting-edge materials and particular combinations are required to customize and coordinate the appliances in order to guarantee a studied glance.”
If aesthetics is certainly a central theme when we speak about materials applied to hoods, no less important is the issue of sustainability.

“Hive and Link are part of the collection of kitchen hoods made in collaboration with the city of Deruta. Every single piece is created entirely by hand by the master ceramists of the Umbrian town, renowned all over the world for the fine workmanship of ceramics. Despite the unlimited potential of the material, however, industrial designers have always considered ceramic a material that belonged more to sculptors, and - apart from sanitary ware - there are few examples of ceramic applications to produce industrial forms. The curiosity to experiment with new languages in a purely industrial environment such as that of household appliances has pushed us further. It pushed us to break down the boundaries between art/craft and industry. We have created objects with a technological soul which, despite being mass-produced, maintain the typical characteristics of a single piece." (Giacomo Fava, Sirius)

Sirius, for example, focuses heavily on this aspect, choosing solutions that combine beauty and respect for the environment. «Research on materials is fundamental for our company – says Giacomo Fava, Creative Director of Sirius -. We conceive a product by taking care of its entire life cycle: conception, design, sale, use, not neglecting disposal once its function is exhausted. We believe it is necessary to think of new objects in a circular economy perspective, minimizing waste and planning to reuse materials in subsequent production cycles. A material that is aesthetically beautiful and with performing technical characteristics, but which cannot be easily recycled, is not a good material for us. On the other hand, a material that manages to find the right balance among aesthetics, technology, feasibility and that has the possibility of being reused in a subsequent production cycle is an excellent material for us. Ceramic, for example is a material which can be easily recycled, besides being an extraordinary material, with unique aesthetic, physical and mechanical properties allowing it to be used in the most incredible and advanced applications (even in extreme environments such as the Space Shuttle coatings).” Sirius also underlines the importance of doing research by dealing with realities outside the company. “There is no innovation without research – Fava says -. We are aware that in the globalized world in which we live, in order to be competitive on the market it is necessary to innovate. From the early stages of the project we create a multidisciplinary team to create a dialogue among the various sectors of the company, sometimes making use of external collaborators. From dialogue and, in some cases, from the “contrast” between different realities, new ideas are born which will then lead to new products.”

Urbantech gas hob by Fulgor Milano with matt brass burners.

For many Made in Italy companies, then, research on materials is combined with high craftsmanship, the result of a wide know-how in the processing field. Among these Fulgor Milano, a brand that produces different types of kitchen appliances and that combines quality materials, attention to design, craftsmanship and technology. “For us the choice of materials has always been linked to the design of our appliances, the sustainability of their production and the availability of materials on an industrial scale – Paolo Mainardi, Brand Manager of Fulgor Milano, explains -. For example, today we are working with types of steels that can be treated with opaque or bright colors; in the near future, design will be increasingly correlated with the encounter among high craftsmanship, sustainable materials and technology. As far as Fulgor Milano is concerned, the activity of our R&D is always aimed at offering solutions combining the industrial production cycle with the craftsmanship of some details, all to satisfy the wishes of the most aware and sophisticated consumers: such as the white glass ceramic surfaces (CeraWhite) or the textures on the black glass ceramic surfaces (CeraBlack), the use of glossy and opaque brass for the gas burners and AISI 316 stainless steel for our products intended for outdoor use.”

"Research on materials is one of the many aspects of product development which we deepen with our best national and foreign suppliers at the beginning of the design phase of our new models. The professionalism gained by these industries in the search for innovative solutions allows us to make proposals that otherwise would have no chance of being born, given the huge investments required" (Paolo Mainardi, Fulgor Milano)

Bertazzoni too can count on a long experience in the production of kitchen appliances (from Cooking to Cooling, etc.) and on a vast expertise in the treatment of materials and in combining technology and craftsmanship to meet the needs of end users. “Over the last few years kitchen has become a more convivial place, with solutions increasingly similar to those that once belonged to the living room – Valentina Bertazzoni, Head of Style and Communication at Bertazzoni, underlines -. For the kitchen space, the heart of the house, an increasingly widespread attention to detail and personalization emerges. Bertazzoni carries out a continuous search for the highest quality of functional materials such as steel, glass and cast iron, as well as the distinctive materials to characterize products. In fact, the company proposes to the most demanding users four special finishes inspired by the excellence of the industrial and artisan tradition that made Italy internationally famous for the creation of refined and distinctive kitchens: Metals, Automotive Paints, Enamels, Embossed Paints. Each Bertazzoni special finish is the result of in-depth research and is designed to best interpret the personal style in the kitchen. Furthermore, for each series of the brand (Professional, Modern, Heritage, Master) a complete suite of appliances with a coordinated design is available.” Going deeper in the details of the choices made by the Emilian manufacturer in the field of materials, Valentina Bertazzoni highlights how the company has always focused on the research of materials linked to the functional part of the kitchen environment and at the same time on that dedicated to style.” As for the first – the manager explains – our attention is focused on improving performance and resistance to wear: Bertazzoni appliances are made mainly of stainless steel, minimizing the use of plastic and non-recyclable materials. Materials used for the products structure are selected to maintain their integrity when they come into contact with the main common substances in the kitchen. An increasingly important functional aspect is also that linked to cleaning and hygiene: our research is constant in this field as well, as in the case of the fully removable aluminum and glass drawers of our new refrigerator column (recently presented in Italy at the Fuorisalone in Milan). They are treated with crystal powder to eliminate any porosity, obtaining the best antibacterial solution, ensuring the safe storage of each food and the long life of the appliance. As for our search for innovative materials to create a distinctive design, Bertazzoni metal finishes are applied by expert hands on the decorative elements of the Modern Series built-in ovens. For the freestanding kitchens and the bult-in ovens of the Professional Series, a special paint finish is available using the same process used for the Italian luxury sports cars. Bertazzoni Heritage Series, then, is inspired by the original wood stoves that Antonio and Napoleone Bertazzoni built in the 1930s: already at that time the enamelling process made the first kitchens unique objects. Furthermore, automotive paints have a palette made up of bright and classic colors, with a glossy or matte finish: all are made by industrial bodiworks companies specialized in the sector.”

"Research on new materials is continuous: our choice is to collaborate constantly with our suppliers or identify new ones to pursue the maximum innovation together, in the name of the perfect combination with technology and Made in Italy design that distinguish our company globally. We are very proud of our numerous collaborations in this field: it is as if we had created a large "extended laboratory", a Bertazzoni Lab in which the different realities (Bertazzoni internal development team, designers and external suppliers) contribute, with their own skills and creative ideas, to carry out a process of innovation and research that never stops. Our best solutions are the result of a common creative project. Such as, for example, the metallic finishes of the Modern Series: every aspect of the process is done manually, following traditional methods, with results that make our appliances as unique as works of art, which tell all the skill and expertise of those who created them. "(Valentina Bertazzoni, Bertazzoni)
Grundig: a nylon-based compound from the recycling of fishing nets
Using recycled materials to produce new objects is highly topical issue which is linked to the important subject of sustainability. A significant example in this direction is that of Grundig, that obtains material for the construction of components for ovens from disused fishing nets. “Technological innovation with respect of the planet resources is what has always characterized our path - Michela Lucchesini, Marketing Manager of Grundig Italy, explains -. We at Grundig want to be the spokesperson for a new culture of responsibility, which embraces the word "respect" in all its nuances (respect for environmental, food, social resources) as the center of any improvement action and which starts from home - in line with our claim ‘It starts at home’-. We pursue sustainability through a concrete approach, a virtuous design and a circular production, which is fulfilled in our appliances and technical features. It is not just a question of designing high quality appliances that meet the highest energy saving standards or that minimize water consumption; it is a question of implementing solutions and innovations that make it possible to limit ‘hot’ problems at a global level. Our production philosophy is based on the concepts of circular economy and upcycling, which sees waste as a great resource to be recovered and transformed. Old fishing nets, which pollute the sea and trap marine animals, find an alternative life with us by becoming components for ovens. Every year several tons of fishing nets and lines are lost in the sea: by transforming them, together with industrial textile waste, we have created a nylon-based compound with mechanical strength and thermal resistance for the production of some parts of the oven. With this in mind, 65 tons of fishing nets were recovered and reused in 2018. Not only that, we increasingly use bioplastics in the aesthetic and functional components of our appliances (such as dryer chassis, plastics applied to dishwasher baskets)."
Lapitec Chef, the invisible hob

Product innovation is also born thanks to the use of innovative materials, as demonstrated by Lapitec Chef, an induction cooking system hidden under the sintered stone kitchen top. This is a new solution, patented by Lapitec (the company that launched the homonymous material consisting of 100% natural sintered stone) and developed in collaboration with the University of Padua for the electrothermal part. The operation of Lapitec Chef is simple: by positioning the special silicone pad on the hob, the touch controls are activated allowing the system, with two or four burners, to be switched. In the absence of the pad, however, the induction hob and its controls are inactive: the kitchen top therefore remains free, distinguished only by a display and small engravings. Furthermore, Lapitec is not porous, is non-absorbent and is resistant to chemical agents. And the cooking pad, apparently a normal silicone mat, is actually an appliance, equipped with magnetic sensors and a hidden coil. It is compatible with induction pots and is dishwasher safe, as well as allowing operation in bridge and childlock mode.
The dishwasher with Microban Antimicrobial Technology

Combining materials with appropriate treatments can allow to give the surfaces of the products antimicrobial properties. GE Appliances recently presented the GE Profile UltraFresh System dishwasher integrateing Microban Antimicrobial Technology, a special surface treatment allowing to reduce bacterial proliferation, particularly in the points that are most frequently touched (such as handle, control panel, baskets, in addition to the filtration system). The product was born from the collaboration with Microban International, a specialist in the production of antimicrobial additives and odor control solutions.
Research on materials also in the Sda sector
Research on materials does not only concern large kitchen appliances but also small domestic ones (Sda), where the use of new solutions can contribute, for example, to increasing the practicality of the product. As in the case of R.G.V. which has chosen to use Tritan for some components of its slicers so that they can be washed in the dishwasher. “Most of our slicers - explains Marco Di Leo, CEO of the company - are made of aluminum, a material that guarantees product stability and quality. However, to offer end users more and more advantages in terms of ease of cleaning and ease of use, our choices on materials also include new alloys derived from plastics, such as Tritan, or chromed plastics that allow us to have components that can be washed in the dishwasher avoiding consumer to wash by hand." As regards research on new materials, R.G.V. collaborates with external suppliers who interface with the company's technical office.