research engineers


A dire situation

By the end of the last millennium the European vacuum cleaner market was in a complete turmoil. Asian products with incredibly low prices and possibly even lower quality were flooding the EU market. Their main selling point was 'power', with advertised values up to 3000 Watts. Even though a large part of consumers soon found out that their 'bargain' was breaking down in only a few years, European manufacturers were struggling and were forced to enter the 'power-play' to survive. Consumer associations tried to warn consumers that more electric power input does not necessarily mean more suction power output, but lacked hard proof. In short, the sector was in dire need of a yardstick for vacuum cleaner performance to safeguard consumers, industry and environment alike.

Transforming the market

Industry experts set out on a challenging task to deliver an accurate and reproducible test, a process that took many years, tests and heated debates. In parallel, European industry also needed an effective communication vehicle and --more than 10 years ago-- approached Energy Label policy makers to gauge their interest. In the whitegoods (fridges, washing machines, etc.) the Energy Label had proven to be able to radically transform the market and this was exactly what the vacuum cleaner industry needed.

VHK was involved in the very first and the very last stages of the process, as technical assistant and contractor for the impact assessment. In between, a preparatory study by AEA Ricardo (2009) confirmed that vacuum cleaner energy use was rising rapidly and average product life had become no more than 3 or 4 years. It was still not at the top of the energy bill, but was approaching energy usage levels of the best bigger appliances like washing machines where the Energy Label had drastically improved energy efficiency over the preceding 15 years.

The rest is history: the Ecodesign and Energy Label (Delegated) Regulations entered into force in May 2013. It caused quite a stir in certain parts of the press, voicing that consumers were again being deprived of choice by 'Brussels'. Some politicians jumped on that bandwagon. Consumer associations and the vast majority of EU industry, on the other hand, welcomed and defended the measures. In September 2014, before the label appeared in the shops, the availability of cheap, low-quality, energy guzzling vacuum cleaners practically stopped. Consumer association test reports showed the best performing products to use up to two-thirds less energy than the market-average just a few months before.

A win for Europeans

Ecodesign requirements not only drive ambitious minimum energy efficiency levels, but also set demands on durability of main components. Consumers are now better informed, not just on energy and dust pick-up, but also on noise and dust re-emission. In short, benefits from 'Brussels' for all, not in the least for the many thousands of EU-workers in the vacuum cleaner industry that can still hope to retain their jobs.

Review by VHK

In 2016 VHK is the lead contractor for a special review study on surveillance/testing aspects of the durability requirements. It follows from Art. 7 (2) of the Ecodesign Regulation and is a vital part of ensuring effective enforcement and surveillance of these requirements in the legislation, starting in September 2017. Furthermore, VHK is monitoring for the European Commission the development of the new EN test standard by Cenelec TC59X/WG6 that deals with technical measurement methods underlying the legal framework.

Website of the special review study:

Download the Commission's 2012 vacuum cleaner impact assessment report here (PDF, VHK assistance contract)

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