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Behind the Scenes

Making History with the 360° Iron!

Dec 05, 2011

Irons are used worldwide. And yet, even though ironing is an essential part of daily life, it is probably one of the most disliked of all household chores. Faced with the task of making a different kind of iron, one that people would actually enjoy using, members from Japan and Guangzhou, China, teamed up to create an iron with universal usability - the 360° Iron.

The main feature of the 360° Iron is the leaf-like shape of its soleplate. Unlike the conventional iron, the front and back are symmetrical. This allows it to move smoothly in any direction.

*This article is based on interviews held in July 2010.

A Hit Product in Many Countries and Regions

This highly distinctive iron has attracted worldwide attention since its debut...

In the Middle East...

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Japanese home appliances have a long and popular track record in the Middle East and Panasonic is of course no exception. Our 21A Series Irons have been a long-seller, with a market history of more than 30 years.

What makes the iron so popular? In addition to the fact that our iron is easy to hold and use, on top of that, the soleplate and nameplate sections are luxurious finished with gold coloring, and the cover shell has a finely polished silver metallic finish. This gives the iron a sumptuous style suited for the Middle East market.

In particular, the newest 360° Iron made an especially large impact on local customers who already know about our popular models. The new model debuted with the name "360° Quick" and proposed exactly the same idea as its name, a quick and entirely new an entirely new ironing style that became a hit product instantly.

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    The 360° Quick Model Marketed in the Middle East
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    View of a Store in the Middle East. Stacks of 360° Irons Stand in Front of an Ironing Demonstration Area
And in other parts of the world...
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In Malaysia and North America, too, product launches were covered by a large number of media, resulting in an instant buzz.

Aiming at an Entirely New Shape

The 360° Iron was created at Panasonic Wanbao Home Appliances Electric Iron (Guangzhou) Co., Ltd. (PWHAEIG) in the Panyu District of Guangzhou, China. The team of Japanese and Chinese development members was led by General Manager Atsuhiro Tanaka and veteran engineer Toyohiko Yagi. Smooth communication was enabled by Cai Chunping on the Guangzhou side and Kazuko Shiratani on the Japan side, through a steady stream of teleconferences and videoconferences.

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General Manager Atsuhiro Tanaka / Toyohiko Yagi / Cai Chunping / Kazuko Shiratani

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    PWHAEIG produces mainly steam irons. Its staff of more than 600 people is relatively young, with an average age of 25.
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    View of the Production Line. Steady Flow of 360° Irons Proceeds Along the Production Line.

Irons are considered a mature product in the market and thus, room for improvement has been pretty much narrowed down to the materials for the soleplate and the amount of steam produced. As result, the development members started looking at the shape of the soleplate and asked themselves whether the conventional shape is actually the best there is. Eventually, they decided to rid of old traditions to create a new shape that would catch the eyes of customers in stores and lead them to replace their old iron with a new one.

An elite fifteen-member team was selected from both Japan and Guangzhou to take charge of product planning, technology, design, manufacturing, and other areas. The area of design was particularly interesting because the people in charge had never before worked on iron designs. And it was precisely because of this fact, it led to an entirely new idea of making the front and back of the soleplate symmetrical.

The Greatest Feature Was Also the Biggest Hurdle

When development began though, it became clear that the symmetrical soleplate, which was to be the iron's main feature, was also the biggest bottleneck in the product's design.

The conventional soleplate had a large space inside the back part of the iron on which it stood when placed vertically. This space was used to hold many of the iron's parts. Since the 360° Iron didn't have that space, all of those parts had to somehow fit into the handle instead.

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Because the soleplate is symmetrical, the steam spraying area is 1.8 times as large and the width for each slide of the iron is greater. However the lack of the back portion significantly restricted the design space.

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    A comparison of the 360° Iron and a conventional iron. The contact for the power supply stand is built into the handle of the 360° Iron.

The task was to achieve the most efficient wiring design possible for the space inside the handle, which in comparison to the conventional space for the wiring, was only half! Engineers drew up plan after plan and discussed them in teleconferences with their Japanese counterparts on a daily basis.

Opinions from the production line were also fully reflected. For example, in the assembly work, the wiring contacts were slightly raised for easier handling and greater accuracy. For parts that required manual wiring, the area around the part was left open just enough to let a worker fit a finger inside.

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These photos show two different soleplate interiors from the side. The slightly raised wires are the heater tips. The one on the left is a cord type model with a heater tip angle of 45°, and the one on the right is a cordless model with a heater tip angle of 60°. This single difference in heater tip angles affects almost all aspects of manufacturing, including the production of the dies, the wiring design, and the mass production system.

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In this production line photo, the handle is being connected to the soleplate. This essential part of the production process was also made possible by the innovation of the wiring design team.

The Advantages of the 360° Iron Spread from an "Ironing Dojo" to Stores All Over China

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    Fan Jutien, in Charge of Product Planning

"We wanted as many people as possible in China, where the 360° Iron was being manufactured, to use it so they could see for themselves how quick and easy ironing can be. With this in mind, we established a seminar program called the Ironing Dojo (Dojo means place for training in Japanese) to teach employees and temporary staff the correct way to iron with the new product." Fan states. Fan Jutien from the Guangzhou Plant lectures on the subject daily.

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The Ironing Dojo aims first to show the sales staff how remarkable the 360° Iron is, and to turn these staff members into product specialists. Then it teaches them how to introduce the 360° Iron to families. The program started in Japan, then moved to China, and is now expanding to other parts of the world.

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    These 360° Irons Are About to Travel to Destinations All Around the World
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    Our Versatile Steam Irons Are Shipped Worldwide

We hope you enjoyed learning how Panasonic's 360° Iron came to be. Today, it is approaching the cumulative production mark of 200 million units. We hope you'll also try one of these epoch-making irons for yourself.

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    In the future, we'll continue to apply the best qualities of Japanese and Chinese innovation and knowledge to achieve more manufacturing advances.

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