Key Account Manager Home Appliances
at Walter Pack
“Empowering Tomorrow: Our vertical integration in advancing IML / IMF / IME Technologies”
Embracing sustainability wholeheartedly, battling the rising tide of Asian competition in the European Market, and riding the wave of Artificial Intelligence integration – these are the defining currents in today’s landscape. Rafael Navarro, our Key Account Manager for Home Appliances at Walter Pack, identified these as the paramount trends and highlights during his visit to IFA Berlin, the global epicenter of consumer electronics and home appliances. In this dynamic arena, Navarro proudly highlights Walter Pack’s distinctive profile as an all-encompassing solutions provider, empowered by our unrivaled expertise in IMF technology and the seamless production of Cover Lens – the transparent screens that have become the industry standard. These cutting-edge innovations grace the products of renowned brands such as Bosch, Siemens, DeLonghi, the SEB group, and General Electric, to name just a few.
What notable differences have you seen compared to previous editions?
There has been a significant presence of Asian manufacturers, possibly more than ever before. Companies like Haier, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba… have made a strong showing both in terms of exhibition space and product offerings.
What do you attribute this to?
Korean and Chinese manufacturers have made a substantial presence for one primary reason: Asia, particularly China, is experiencing considerably lower growth rates and has shifted its focus beyond its borders. Their aim is no longer solely to serve their domestic markets and supply Europe or the United States; they are now keen to market their own appliance brands abroad, akin to what they’ve done with cars.
The global economic slowdown is evident, but how does the inflation crisis impact the home appliance market?
There’s tremendous cost pressure. We’ve come out of several years of pandemic, during which sales skyrocketed, and manufacturers expanded and diversified their product ranges. However, the sector is now starting to contract. We’re in the midst of an inflation crisis, with rising interest rates and near-zero growth rates. Moreover, there’s intense cost pressure in the supply chain. Consequently, manufacturers are increasingly seeking nearby, stable suppliers with a smaller carbon footprint and advanced technology. This is where Walter Pack can take a leading role.
What trends have you noticed at the IFA Berlin trade show?
In terms of sustainability, suppliers are under more pressure than ever to comply with certifications related to the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. From a design standpoint, there’s a clear distinction between the practicality favored in the North American market, where design takes a back seat; the European penchant for elegance and aesthetic sobriety, and the Asian inclination towards screens and vibrant colors.
Regarding technology, what role do you envision Artificial Intelligence playing in the Home Appliance sector?
Many household devices are no longer just linked to voice assistants; they are starting to learn autonomously. Appliances are now learning from initial user behaviors. You can find washing machines capable of identifying types of clothing, determining detergent quantities, and selecting appropriate wash cycles. Air conditioning units are equipped to detect the number of occupants in a room, adjusting intensity based on factors such as time of day and indoor and outdoor weather conditions. In essence, appliances are becoming proficient in interacting with end-users, learning their routines for enhanced autonomy and efficiency.
How does this technological demand impact Walter Pack?
Our IML, IMF, and IME processes align well with this technological demand as they seamlessly blend functionality and design. Presently, all appliances feature an HMI (Human-Machine Interface) screen for user interaction. Regardless of whether they are toothbrushes or remote controls, these devices feature touch technology, eschewing buttons entirely. They are all designed for interaction with humans, necessitating a control panel—an area where Walter Pack specializes. For us, this technological demand presents an opportunity.
From a design perspective, what would you say are the trends you’ve observed in Berlin?
European manufacturers tend to favor highly minimalist aesthetic lines, with a limited yet dominant color palette: black, grey, metallic, copper. This presents a competitive advantage for Walter Pack, given our comprehensive mastery of these colors, thanks to our automotive industry experience and our Color & Trim department. In fact, we’ve already begun contemplating and designing collections for the forthcoming Home Appliance market, with a keen focus on the specific needs of this sector.
How much importance do major manufacturers place on sustainability?
Sustainability is no longer a mere choice; it has become a prerequisite. Given that these devices are in constant proximity to people, many manufacturers have expanded their lists of prohibited materials and insist on their complete elimination from all products, even conducting internal and external audits to ensure compliance. In addition to manufacturer-conducted supplier audits, major auditing firms are also enlisted to assess adherence to the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. Companies must demonstrate compliance, or else manufacturers impose aggressive deadlines for compliance to join their supply chains. It is now a requirement and a reality, especially for companies involved in raw material transformation like Walter Pack.
Where does Walter Pack stand in addressing this demand?
Walter Pack’s R&D and Purchasing departments have initiated various material recycling projects, even introducing collections of decorations crafted from recycled materials in alignment with Eco-design principles. On the procurement front, we demand certificates and audit and quality requirements as prerequisites for collaboration. Internally, our challenge is to progressively enhance the recyclability of our products, and our R&D department is working diligently towards this objective. Furthermore, we’ve demonstrated our commitment to Sustainability by becoming a part of the United Nations Global Compact, a far-reaching global initiative that champions compliance with the 10 Universal Principles covering Human Rights, Labor Standards, Environment, and Anti-Corruption.
What strengths does Walter Pack possess in terms of sustainability?
All of Walter Pack’s production processes are fully integrated, setting us apart as one of the few global suppliers with such comprehensive integration. We do not outsource processes: we export from Spain to the rest of Europe and from Mexico to North America. In both cases, we maintain complete integration, avoiding lengthy supply chains and large-scale material imports from various continents. Our suppliers operate factories in Europe, and we have the entire process integrated under one roof, enabling us to deliver to the rest of Europe. This represents one of our strengths, with customers highly valuing the reduction in carbon footprint achieved by integrating printing, decoration, thermoforming, cutting, and final injection.
How does Walter Pack confront these challenges with technology? What is your competitive edge?
We possess a clear competitive advantage in that IMF and Cover Lens, the transparent screens now standard in various devices, are products manufactured by Walter Pack. We can design them in collaboration with our end customers and are already producing them in series for major manufacturers such as Bosch, Siemens, DeLonghi, the SEB group, and General Electric, among others. We have the capacity to manufacture internally and collaborate on design in terms of aesthetics, geometry, and functionality. We exercise control over haptics, lighting, day-night effects, and other trends and effects that are already shaping the industry. At the corporate level, Walter Pack is a sturdy and fiscally sound company collaborating closely with major global manufacturers. We offer comprehensive support in Europe and North America, covering design, engineering, industrialization, production, delivery, and post-sales service for Cover Lens and HMI panels.
What lies ahead in terms of challenges?
What is already emerging is the call for electronics integration. There’s a demand for IMF technology to incorporate electronics, capacitive foils for plastronics, due to space reduction, weight reduction, and other considerations. In essence, classic electronics are being phased out in favor of entirely flexible capacitive foils, which occupy less space, employ less environmentally harmful materials, and are lighter. This is something all manufacturers are now requesting as they design with these technologies to enhance usability and the user experience. Electronics integration is a clear trend, and in this regard, Walter Pack is already prepared with ongoing projects incorporating electronics into the IMF production process, specifically in the realm of In Mold Electronics (IME). Furthermore, Walter Pack collaborates closely with its suppliers and the quality and innovation departments of its customers to discover more efficient and sustainable solutions in the domain of component production for appliances and electronic devices.