Whirlpool needed to service its residential, over-the-counter microwaves quickly, and it wanted to do this with only one service technician. Servicing was done inside homes. However, the microwaves can weigh over 70 pounds and can be very hard to reach.

The standard service solution required a two-man installation crew, regardless of whether the crew was installing a new unit or replacing an old one. Either way, the only reason two installers were needed was to lift up the unit. One person could install all of the hardware and mounting brackets. If the installation was a replacement model, then two people were needed so that they could remove the old unit and lift the microhood.

The repair that needed to be done on the microwave involved removing the old stirrer cover and discarding it. The stirrer blade was removed, and the wave guide and surrounding area was cleaned. The unit was removed from the wall and the microwave cabinet. The stirrer motor was removed. The new thermal cutoff was in-stalled and wired in place. The microhood cabinet was reinstalled, and the unit was reinstalled. The original stirrer blade was installed using the silicone that was provided with the kit on the new stirrer cover. The stirrer cover was then installed. Finally, the unit was tested.

Whirlpool contacted Edgewater Automation LLC (St. Joseph, MI) for a solution to reduce the two-man crew to one person. Edgewater provided a microwave lift tool that enabled one technician to do the repair.

This request was challenging, because the tool had to be designed and in production in 2 weeks. Several thousand of these tools needed to be manufactured and shipped all over the United States in less than 6 weeks.

"The design guidelines we used [for] the lift were that it needed to be easy to use and carried, and manufactured out of standard components as much as possible," says Charles Jones, vice president of global consumer design for Whirlpool. "We listened to input from our service technicians to generate design requirements and made a tool that matched the job. Once we had the design concept, we approached Edgewater to work with us to refine the design and ensure it could be manufactured easily."

The lift tool is 24 inches by 24 inches and weighs less than 37 pounds. Powered by only a cordless drill, the lift holds and positions the microwave while it is taken down and serviced. The tool uses a screw to drive a set of scissor lifts and allows up to 14 inches of vertical lift. It carries a maximum weight of 90 pounds.

The lift was developed with a true team approach, and Whirlpool’s willingness to make decisions quickly allowed the project to succeed. There were several key factors in the quick turnaround of this project, and one of the most important was the decision to use standard components in the lift. Making everything at either of the companies would have slowed the process. If a part was designed that could not be acquired fast, it was replaced with one that could.

Those involved in the manufacturing process understood the tight time schedule, and every detail was followed up on. "We had a truck waiting at a supplier’s dock if it meant we could build additional units for the line," says Jim Grandholm, manufacturing project leader.

The Internet and e-mail made design research and procurement faster and easier. Constant communication with a win-win attitude was a big factor in making this project fast and successful.

For more information on lift devices, call 616-983-1300 or visit www.edgewaterautomation.com.