“It’s actually taken us six years right from the brief to today,” said Martin Peek, a senior design engineer at Dyson, during a recent visit to Ferret to explain the company’s new line of vacuum cleaners.
“Which is a lot longer than normal, normally we take three to four years for a product, but this was such a technical challenge that it took us a little bit longer to achieve.”
And the challenge? What Dyson says is the first ever filter-free vacuum. After reinventing the product – founder Sir James Dyson famously took over 5,000 prototypes to do so – two decades ago and ditching the bag, the British firm has done away with another component.
The technology uses 54 oscillating rubberised cyclones, which shake even very fine dust particles off and mean that a filter is not needed in the new DC54 range. According to the company, which released the range (and a new cordless vacuum) at the beginning of this month, filters were a common issue among users.
“We knew from our research that people don’t maintain their filters,” said Peek.
“Essentially the engineering brief behind it was to create a machine without a filter, because all vacuum cleaners have some sort of filtration in them, whether that’s a bag or an electrostatic filter or in Dyson’s case, we used to have a kind of spongey filter that would sit in the middle of the machines.”
Dyson said in a statement that it took $11.5 million and six years of research to create Cinetic, which went through more than 50 prototypes.
After prototyping and finding a solution, Peek – who has been an engineer at the company for 15 years – said that making the manufacture of the product achievable was the next issue.
The company’s machines are assembled in Malaysia (founder Sir James Dyson explained earlier this year the controversial decision to outsource a decade ago was due to not being able to expand its English site) with the motors created at the company’s new facility in Singapore, which can produce up to four million units a year.
The heavy R&D takes place in England.
“All our products start off in the UK and are taken through to a certain stage and once they’re at a certain stage they get transferred to our other engineering teams in Singapore and Malaysia,” explained Peek.
“In about 94/95, James Dyson, the founder of the company took a risk and decided we needed to make our own digital motors, because he didn’t think anyone could make ones that were good enough for us.”
Dyson’s V6 motors, which power the company’s new DC59 cordless product, are a point of pride for Dyson. Peek claimed that despite the motors’ small size, they allow the new cordless vacuum to function as well as a full-size canister product.
“Some of the complexities we had is that it spins so quickly, the motor in this product spins at 110,000 RPM, which, even if you’ve got an impeller this size, the forces that are on it are huge, so we have to use very specialist glass fibre-reinforced materials, because the forces are so high on this,” said Peek.
Dyson is a famously innovation-focussed company, with over 1,200 engineers on its team. It spends, according to Peek, about $2.4 million in R&D each week at its UK centre, where he began work straight after finishing university.
Currently based in Japan, his company’s second biggest market (the US is first, with the UK third and Australia fourth, according to BRW), Peek says there are noticeable differences in the needs of each country, and one size does not fit all.
The UK and US have bigger homes, for example. Japanese abodes are known for their compactness, with a vacuum’s operations and size needing to match this. Also, surfaces vary between markets.
“In Japan it’s pretty much hardwood throughout and tatami and things like that that are unique to that country,” offered Peek.
Before his visit has concluded, we asked Peek if there’s any news on the development of the long-awaited robot vacuum. The engineer told us that one could be demonstrated “tomorrow”, but it just wouldn’t be fit to display the company’s name.
“We’d love to launch a robotic cleaner,” he said.
“We’ve done plenty of testing on the products that are out there on the market and whilst the theory is fantastic, having an autonomous product that cleans your floor and we’d absolutely love to have a product that works like that, the problem with the ones at the moment is they’re very superficial. It goes against what we’re about.
“We wouldn’t be happy because we’d know people were using it in their homes and it’s not actually doing what it’s supposed to do, which is cleaning the floors. James is very particular like that. If he wasn’t happy it wouldn’t go out”