Sunday 20 March 2011

It's Not About Radical Design But About Moving Things Forward

A behind the scenes look at AGA's Coalbrookdale operation to find out just how its stoves are designed and tested.

At the heart of the Coalbrookdale site sits the AGA Foundry where quaker Abraham Darby discovered cast iron 300 years ago. Beneath the exterior of this historic site beats the heart of a modern and thriving foundry where David Carpenter, AGA's technical director and Tim Evans for Think Product Design are charged with creating AGA's latest stoves.

As Tim Evans put it, " With such an iconic name, you have to be faithful to the brand and show sympathy with the materials. Working with AGA isn't about radical design departures; it's about moving the products forward slowly so they appear to evolve. It's also a combination of both process and materials"

"For example, when we design using cast iron we want it to look like cast iron. The form, the ability to cast in fine detail and chacteristics of the material must not be hidden away, but rather worked with to give the products their unique appearance."
When asked if the marques world renowned cookers had any influence on the woodburning stoves he replied.
"Without wanting to sound too pretentios, when we started work on the new range of stoves for AGA we wanted to transport some of the DNA from the company's famous cookers. The simple lines, the honesty of the materials and solidity and timelessness of the designs were all important to us."
Tim Evans clearly believes that typical AGA customers, whislt design conscious, also tend to be traditionalists, so says the company has to find the right balance. "The stoves we were designing could not be ultra modern but, on the other hand, not overly decorative with scrolls, pillars and floral relief."
The resulting stove, the new Ludlow, retains mich of the charm without being overly fussy. But what about the interior? How do they deliver the cosy warmth that people expect? David Carpenter, AGA's technical director was characteristically succint. "Everything we do at AGA is tried and tested and improved until it achieves 'best in class' standards. It's exactly the same for one of our stoves. It needs to deliver the heat into the room effectively, the glass needs to be kept really clean, and most of it it needs to be efficient so that the homeowner gets the most out of their fuel."

A stove begins its life on the drawing board. Following a brief from AGA, Think Product Design works closely with AGA's product development team to complete initial concepts, discuss ideas and evolve the design. Once this stage has been reached, the drawings are transferred into a CAD package and more detail is added on the computer screen.
At this point, David Carpenter's Telford based research and development team join the process creating the internal structure of the stove and creating all the baffles and channels which guide the combustion process and deliver the fuel efficiencies and the air wash system. Once the CAD drawings are completed, a rapid prototype is made in plastic to see what the stove will look like in reality.

David adds "If we've reached this point and we're happy with the plastic prototype, we will invest in the toling and casting moulds to actually build the stove in cast iron. And when we've got the prototype cast iron stove, we can begin the testing process."
Testing is a rigorous process and one that the team at AGA is surprisingly passionate about. In a tone that few would argue with, David says, "There are so many companies offering lower costs and unapproved stoves, as well as stoves over the Internet and inferior copies, that some homeowners simply don't know what they're having installed. It's quite scarry how people will just go on price alone when they choose a stove. It might look like a nice product, but the quality just isn't there. Poorly design, badly manufactured and with no evidence of third party approval, no efficiency rating and very little attention paid to compliance and testing."

So what kinds of tests does AGA put their stoves through? Unsurprisingly they go through rigorous testing at AGA's research and development department overseen by the company's technical team. When AGA is happy that the stove reaches the manufacturing quality standards and efficiency it needs, it is then sent to GASTEC at CRE for european approval and, on some models further work is undertaken to achieve Smoke Exempt status, such as the Little Wenlock SE.
David adds " To reassure both our suppliers and homeowners the approval is clearly marked on the appliance data plate and all AGA stoves are HETAS listed - It means that all the salient information is in one, clearly visible place."
Once all the tesing is complete the team is happy that no modifications need to be made, the stove is handed over to the marketing team to launch, promote and add to the AGA range.

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