CONTRACTOR Publisher and Editorial Director Bob Miodonski and Plumbing Columnist Dave Yates both attended the ISH show in March in Frankfurt, Germany. Miodonski attended the show with a group of Americans and Canadians sponsored by Viessmann Co. Yates traveled with a group sponsored by the National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers.
Click here to read part 2 by Dave Yates.
BY BOB MIODONSKI
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
The themes of wellness and conservation that dominated this year’s ISH show in Frankfurt, Germany, stood in stark contrast to what was happening elsewhere in the world.
The world’s largest plumbing-and-heating show ran from March 25 to 29, starting less than a week after U.S. planes began bombing Baghdad. At the same time, reports of the SARS outbreak gave second thoughts to international travelers around the world.
Foot traffic in the 10 halls on the Messe Frankfurt grounds was perceptibly lighter than in previous years, although the drop in overall attendance was not as steep as some exhibitors thought. The actual decline for the five-day show was close to 8%, according to ISH officials.
Surprisingly, the same officials attributed much of the decrease to fewer German visitors, although not as many Americans attended as in 2001. The proportion of foreign attendees actually rose from 20% of the total to almost 25%, officials said. Nearly 180,000 people from 93 countries found their way to Frankfurt.
“Our members clearly felt the decline in visitor numbers, especially those from the USA and Asia, which we put down to the Iraq War,” said Dieter Rangol, general manager of the German Swimming Pool and Wellness Association.
Wellness in the bath
Bath products in several booths emphasized the soothing effects of flowing water.
“We’re taking a holistic approach to the bathroom; it’s not about the product,” said Oliver Bleich, marketing communications manager of Dornbracht USA. “The products all are in a minimalist design. The shape of the faucet emphasizes the flow of water.”
The bath has evolved into a room where more living and self-contemplation takes place, Bleich pointed out. Minimalist designs, such as the MEM faucet where all the technical features and valving are concealed, doesn’t distract the person in the bathroom. The trend toward designing contemporary furniture specifically for the bath also indicates that people are spending more time there, he said.
Kohler’s contribution to minimalist design came in its Puristic collection where the center of attention was a mirror that had water coming from it. The faucet within the mirror collected in a vessel, which could overflow into a concealed drain underneath, said Klaus Gunther, Kohler’s German-based commercial director. Supporting the wellness theme was a Kohler tub equipped with chromatherapy, which featured eight different colors to match the bather’s changing mood.
Among major manufacturers, some of the more radical thinking could be found in the spacious Ideal Standard booth. Again, the emphasis was not so much on individual product design but on the effect that could be achieved with the products.
“The bath is about how we present mood or a way of life, not product,” said Marc Sadler, Ideal Standard’s European design director. “It’s an attitude in the bath.”
Sadler is mixing different styles in the bath and yet still wants to attain a coordinated look.
“This is not necessarily a suite of products, but it could be a new fitting with an old suite. We want to push creativity further,” he said. “We see our catalogs much more as guidebooks. This is more about how you do the combination of products than in how we design the products themselves.
“It’s like the alphabet, it’s what you do with the combination of words.”
Sadler, a French designer whose studio is in Italy, has worked with Ideal Standard for a year. If all goes smoothly, he said, some of his design concepts should appear within two years in the United States under the American Standard label.
Offering bath products that look as though they belong together is also a priority for Hansgrohe.
“Our big theme is the coordinated bathroom,” said Chris Marshall, president of Hansgrohe’s U.S. operation.
To that end, Hansgrohe was showing both its Axor Citterio and Axor Steel collection of products at ISH. The company believes that the Citterio designs particularly will appeal to architects for high-rises, hotels and residential applications.
Perhaps drawing the most attention in the huge but crowded Hansgrohe booth was the Raindance display. Raindance is a shower system that mixes a small amount of air with the water to produce a rain-like effect for the bather.
Two companies hope to market U.S. pressure-assisted toilet technology in Europe based on water conservation. Both Geberit and Sloan’s Flushmate believe that the appeal of their product to Europeans will be water savings over performance.
Europeans did not experience the problems that Americans endured with the first generation of low-flow toilets, explained Tom Beh, product and key account manager for Geberit, so performance isn’t an issue. In its large and busy booth, Geberit devoted space to its wall-hung toilet that includes a pressure-assist unit developed by W/C Technology. Swiss-based Geberit acquired W/C Technology from Masco last year. The Geberit model on display can flush with either 6 liters of water or 4 liters.
“The reason for being here is to get information on how pressure-assist would fit over here,” Beh said. “We’re collecting information in a survey in our booth.”
Sloan’s Flushmate division also was showing a wall unit that can flush with 6 liters or 4 liters of water, although it plans to market the 4-liter model in Europe later this year, said Paul DeBoo, sales and promotion manager.
“In Europe, toilet design is radically different - they’re all wash-down bowls, not siphonic,” he said. “It’s the flush-brush-flush syndrome in Europe where you flush the toilet, use a toilet brush on the bowl and then flush again. We offer cleaner, more efficient flushes.”
Europeans are fussy about noise and actually regulate sound levels in multifamily buildings in some countries. Noise could be a problem for pressure-assisted models - especially in wall-mounted units in apartments. Both Beh and DeBoo said, however, that the Geberit and Sloan models operate within acceptable sound limits.
Another company pushing its water-saving product was Franke. Best known for its sinks in the United States, Franke is expanding into water closet products in Europe through acquisitions, noted Walerich Karl Erne, export manager/consumer products division.
On display in its booth was a waterless urinal that utilizes a mechanical rather than a chemical solution, Erne explained. The urinal features a rubber strip that has to be changed after a year.
“When you look at it, you can’t believe it would work,” Erne said. “But our first project was an installation at the airport in Amsterdam two years ago, and it worked from the first day.”
While German TV screens outside the ISH halls were showing images of black, billowing smoke from oil burning in Iraq, inside the ISH halls for heating equipment the emphasis was on saving fuel and reducing emissions. Related trends included more emphasis on solar power and regenerative fuels such as wood and pellets.
“The Energy Savings Act passed in Germany last year,” said Martin Viessmann, owner of the Viessmann Co. “Vitotec meets the requirements of the law. The future belongs to the condensing boiler.”
Vitotec is Viessmann’s line of oil- and gas-fired condensing boilers. The Vitoplus 300 wall-mounted boiler has a two-stage blue-flame burner that’s characterized by low emissions and reliability, the company said.
The wall-hung unit promises easy maintenance, serviceability and cleaning for an oil-fired boiler, but don’t expect to see it in the United States anytime soon, said Richard Trethewey of the “This Old House” TV show and RST Inc., a manufacturers rep firm that handles the Viessmann line.
“It will never come to North America until Americans put limits on the sulfur in their heating oil,” Trethewey said.
Buderus, Viessmann’s German rival, also displayed an array of energy-efficient condensing boilers. On the residential side, Buderus exhibited the new generation of its wall-hung, gas-fired condensing boiler. On the commercial side, the company had on display its full line of gas-fired, condensing boilers - the SB315, SB615 and SB735.
Buderus expects to introduce the SB615 to U.S. customers this summer, said Vice President Lou Vorsteveld.