Behind the scenes

Worcester, Bosch Group launched its Greenstar CDi Compact boiler last month. Installer speaks to Martyn Bridges about the work that goes on behind the scenes ahead of a new product being brought to market.
The reasons behind introducing a new product tend to vary from business to business. At Bosch, there is a very strong emphasis on product management and market requirements, whereby products are manufactured in response to market demand. To maintain this ethos, there is a team of people tasked with keeping an eye on the market drivers, looking at the way technology is developing, upcoming changes to legislation, and installer and end-user habits. All of which combine to enable us to make an informed decision to develop a new product.
By contrast, a number of other manufacturers do it differently, deciding to manufacture a product before attempting to create a demand around it. Apple is an example of one such manufacturer. Nobody knew they wanted an iPod or iPad before these were introduced, yet these technologies are now some of the biggest selling in the world. In the case of the heating industry, however, product innovation works differently, and it is clear that the demand for a product must come first.
The journey for the launch of our Greenstar CDi Compact began back in 2006, in anticipation of the ErP regulations. This was a new set of Europe-wide regulations that were being introduced to almost every energy-using product ranging from street-lighting systems to boilers. The initial publications had just been released, and although they were some way from being finalised, their introduction gave us a clear insight into the direction this legislation was set to follow and how far-reaching its requirements were set to be.
At this point, we knew that if we were to meet these requirements we would have to begin work on things such as a new gas-to-water heat exchanger fairly quickly to give us the two to three years of winter field trials we wanted to have completed before launching the product.
Key processes
Similar to every business under the Bosch brand, we adhere to a globally-approved product introduction process, which ensures the product we plan to introduce will meet the needs that have been identified during our initial market research. As with
any investment in a new product, we then have to substantiate the costs to ensure the product will not only sell, but that it will also be profitable.
The market quite rightly asks for the earth when it comes to the features of a new product, so part of our process is to find a ground where we can balance the features on offer with a justifiable price. There is, therefore, some lengthy communication between the market and the engineering department to reach a middle ground between various unique selling points and affordability.
We then go through another extensive process where we manufacture working product samples that are trialled, assessed, re-designed and re-supplied, repeating this procedure until the product meets our desired performance criteria and also the needs of our customers.
Whether the product is a power-drill or a boiler, the process is more or less universal. That said, when it comes to boilers, requirements can be much more regional, which means we have a certain number of region-specific requirements we have to adhere to. For example, a boiler designed for the UK market would not necessarily prove a success in Germany or Italy because trends across the respective populations and construction industries can often differ significantly.
The length of time from the initial design of the product concepts through to the product launch tends to depend on how many new components are being incorporated within the product itself. The introduction of the Greenstar CDi Compact is an example of one of the longest product journeys Worcester has embarked on. This is as a result of the three new principle components – a new heat exchanger, a new electronic control system and a new hydraulic block – each of which had to be thoroughly tested before it was made widely available.
It is also our common practice to trial each new boiler through at least two (and quite often more) full winters. The first Greenstar CDi Compact was actually installed back in 2007, demonstrating just how much testing had taken place ahead of the product’s launch in January 2013.
However, the initial prototype was actually designed some 18 months prior to the first trial installation taking place, which came as a result of the hard work of some 70 development and design engineers who progressed the initial prototype into a working product to be trialled in real homes across the country.
In the case of the Greenstar CDi Compact, hundreds of the boilers were fitted in properties around the UK as we needed a strong volume of the products installed in order to thoroughly test the new components. At Worcester, we employ a dedicated team, tasked with overseeing field trials, a large number of which take place in our employees’ properties.
We have over 2,000 employees, many of which are located all over the country and at any given time we can have approximately 500 field trials of each product taking place. With this in mind, the team that oversees this area of our business is constantly monitoring performance and upgrading the product to improve its performance.
Thanks to the global presence of Bosch, we are in the additional fortunate position of being able to run field trials in countries such as Chile, where winter conditions occur at the same time as our summer period. This accelerates our field trials by ensuring we can run each of our boilers through two winters in one calendar year.
Each of our products remain ‘on trial’ for three or four years after the product is launched, which gives us a total trial period of around five years. This enables us to keep an eye on the product and a sizeable head start when the new product is launched. Particularly, with the increasing trend and consumer demand for longer warranties, it is essential that we can rely on our products to perform for the duration of the warranty period and beyond.
Given that the aim is for Worcester boilers to last some 12–15 years (if not longer), it is crucial to make absolutely sure that each of the components is robust enough to stand the test of time. As a result, taking risks when it comes to enhancing the reliability or durability of a new boiler is ultimately a futile exercise.
The role of the installer
At Worcester we believe the installer is king as they are the ones who advise us on which direction we should take. They also inform us of shortfalls within our current product range and advise us of the new features they would like to see incorporated within our product portfolio.
Prior to the Greenstar CDi Compact going on general sale, we had around 100 installers fit the product across our different samples. Our first trial product is referred to as our A sample, which is installed and reported on prior to our B sample being created in light of this feedback. This process continues until we have a zero-series, which goes into full production.
In addition to the installer insight, we firmly believe that the customer is naturally another important part of the supply chain, so we strive to take as much feedback on board as possible. This may ultimately lengthen the product development process, but it makes absolutely certain that the product we bring to market is right for installers and, in turn, their customers.
We have a panel of trusted installers across the length and breadth of the country who tell us their true feelings about the products we ask them to trial. It is absolutely crucial that we have access to installers who tell us not what we want to hear, but the honest truth about our product. It is always nice to hear positive feedback about our products, but the constructive criticisms are what really allow us to improve our products.
[author image=”” ]Martyn Bridges began his career as a heating and plumbing apprentice and has grown up with a strong knowledge of the technical side of boilers. He joined Worcester, Bosch Group in 1986 as a Technical Service Engineer and worked his way through the ranks to become Director of Marketing and Technical Support in December 2004. [/author]