27 Jul 2016

Emerging trends in bathroom design


Martin Walker, CEO of Methven UK, looks at the future of the bathroom industry and how new technologies and materials can offer a wide range of benefits to end users.


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With the global population set to rise by almost three billion to 10 billion by 2050, the need to ensure we can cope with the increased strain on the planet’s resources is paramount. As such, designers and product developers working on new technologies are taking into account the highest areas of demand on natural resources.

The challenges surrounding water usage are well documented, with demand for water set to accelerate by 55% in the next 30 years, so advancements in water efficiency need to be very creative to help the cause.

We are already seeing an increase in innovations informed by biological mechanisms, including the materiality of plants and animals. Biomimetic materials – those that mimic the properties of natural substances – are becoming increasingly used in everyday life for things as diverse as clothing, medical applications and the prevention of soil erosion.

In the bathroom sector, a great example of biomimicry being well utilised is the lotus leaf. For years, scientists have studied the plant’s hydrophobic (water-repellent) properties which allow it to self-cleanse. The micro and nanoscopic architecture of the leaf means that water droplets are not absorbed and instead collect on the surface and gather dirt before running it off the edge. This has now been mirrored in manmade materials and applied in product development – including in our patented Aurajet technology. The impinging surface, which the water jets onto, is made from Polypropylene, chosen specifically for its low surface energy, meaning it acts in a hydrophobic manner – repelling water and preserving spray-quality – saving water and energy, but delivering a great shower experience. It also resists limescale build-up, reducing the time needed to clean.

Mimicking nature is not an easy option though and took our R&D team more than 200 different iterations in the design process to perfect the final version.

While water efficiency remains a priority, protecting the quality of water will also be key in the future. Eco Brass – a lead and heavy metal-free, high-strength brass alloy with excellent forgeability – is being used in fastenings, fittings and valves across the globe. But it is its enhanced corrosion resistance and lead content, below 0.1%, that has led to its use in taps. With legislative pressure to reduce or remove the lead content from brasses, particularly in water fittings and especially from drinking water fittings and systems, we chose to use Eco Brass in our Aio brassware range.

The revolution in new materials is not the only advancement set to change the industry. 3D printing has already had a sizeable impact in many areas of engineering and manufacturing, and the bathroom industry is no different. Its use, particularly when printing metals, will offer benefits to both manufacturers and consumers in the future. Using 3D printing makes the manufacturing process more agile with faster production and easier-to-tweak designs, so products are available quickly and changed at the click of a button. It will be more cost-effective for manufacturers than traditional machining methods, as low volumes of individually tailored products can be produced in one run.

Both manufacturers and retailers will also benefit from the quick production time, allowing for expensive stock levels to be reduced. In turn, consumers will get a strong and robust product in a single piece of metal, without joints or welds. Installers will benefit too, with the products being more manageable and easier to install due to their lightweight construction.

Experts also predict widespread adoption of advancements through the ‘internet of things’, with appliances and applications connecting and interacting with one another. And, whilst the internet can’t increase rainfall or improve water provision across the globe, it is estimated that by 2025 consumers will be accessing real-time data regarding their energy and water usage, with technology allowing them to alert users when a certain level of consumption is reached.

With smart metering and household energy management software already popular, and delivering energy reductions as high as 60% per household, allowing consumers to drill down further in order to access real-time information per application is an important next step and encouraging manufacturers to make products that deliver water efficiency.

With the pressures and concerns related to water consumption set to increase and the bathroom accounting for two thirds of household water usage, it is vital that the bathroom manufacturing industry places itself at the front of the technological curve. By adopting technologies used in other industries, bathroom manufacturers can address one of the most pressing concerns facing the planet.

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