Kohler Corporation: Plumbing, Innovation and 3D Printers
Charles Goulding and Andressa Bonafe of R&D Tax Savers discuss Kohler's work in 3D printing.
With over $6 billion in sales and 32,000 global associates Kohler Corporation is a power house in bath and kitchen plumbing equipment as well as a major player in the electricity generator industry. Kohler is at the forefront of innovation including functional products and sustainable design along with cutting-edge integration of new technologies including voice-enabled, smart home capabilities and 3D printing. Kohler's innovative strategies can be supported by R&D tax credits.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
Kohler's KALLISTA 3D Printing Initiative
Kohler's KALLISTA division has used 3D printing technology to push the boundaries of manufacturing, masterfully combining cutting-edge design with high-standards of functionality. In collaboration with 3rd Dimension, an Indianapolis, Indiana-based industrial 3D printing company, KALLISTA utilized direct metal printing (DMP) equipment from 3D Systems to turn its innovative vision into reality. With a minimalist and geometric design, the Grid faucet was voted “best of show” at the 2018 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS).
While stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing had been used as a design visualization tool for years at Kohler, large-scale metal additive manufacturing was the real game-changer. DMP helped overcome the limitations of classic manufacturing approaches, allowing for unprecedented design freedom. Major challenges included the creation of interior channels that allow water to flow through the faucet, despite its unusual, geometric outline. Metal 3D printing enabled the integration of highly accurate, miniscule channels that could not be achieved with traditional manufacturing.
KALLISTA utilized 3D Systems’ ProX DMP 320 with Laserform 316L stainless steel, which avoids rust and corrosion and provides an optimal base for the powder-coating, matte black finish. The Grid sink faucet is the first of its kind within KALLISTA’s portfolio. It undoubtedly points towards the future of design in the kitchen and bath industry.
It is always beneficial for a multi-product-line company to have one business unit experimenting with important new technology, as is the case of Kohler’s KALLISTA. One can expect the remaining business units to greatly benefit from the initiators’ learning curve and challenges. Kohler’s competitors are also investing in additive manufacturing; for instance, American Standard has used selective laser sintering to create its DXV collection of 3D printed faucets.
Other product line competitors also have 3D printing experiences, including Kohler’s Wisconsin neighbor Generac, manufacturer of backup power generation products, and Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins, which is also a manufacturer of power generation products and has pioneered the application of 3D printing in the production of diesel engine parts.
In addition to its 3D printing initiatives, Kohler has targeted the smart home. The company has recently unveiled the KOHLER Konnect line of bathroom and kitchen appliances featuring voice-enabled technology. Compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit, the innovative line also allows consumers to personalize their interaction with Kohler products by setting up tailored preferences and monitoring water usage through the Konnect mobile application. Kohler’s groundbreaking collection of smart kitchen and bath products includes:
- Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror, the first mirror with Amazon Alexa built-in.
- Sensate kitchen faucet, with hands-free voice control for turning water on and off as well as dispensing measured volumes of water.
- DTV+ showering system, designed to provide a customized showering experience, which includes voice commands for adjusting water temperature as well as controlling showerheads and body sprays, music, lighting, steam and shower duration.
- PerfectFill kit for an automated bath experience, including voice-controlled depth and temperature setting as well as auto-fill and auto-drain capabilities.
- Numi intelligent toilet with hands-free control and various customizable functionalities, including heated seat, foot warmer, ambient colored lighting and cleansing.
- PureWarmth toilet that allows for the control of temperature and duration of heat through the Konnect application.
- Touchless Response flush technology, which can also be activated through the Konnect app.
With a longstanding commitment to innovation, Kohler advocates the dramatic exploration of design ideas. To this end, the company has a Design Center in Wisconsin, as well as an Experience Center in New York City. Located in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, the 10,000-square-foot center allows customers to test out fully functioning products. The initiative also focuses on Kohler’s global reach, providing industry professionals with a suite of international products as well as resources and experts that take into account the variability of kitchen and bath needs and standards throughout the globe. Besides the NYC location, Kohler has Experience Centers in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Bangkok, and Taipei.
Kohler has also held Pecha Kucha events in NYC, India, Thailand, Australia, and Singapore, in which designers and architects are invited share their experiences utilizing an innovative presentation format.
3D printing promises to revolutionize the kitchen and bath industry, helping overcome many of the most common manufacturing barriers that hinder design breakthroughs. Kohler’s KALLISTA Grid Faucet illustrates how innovative companies can utilize to 3D printing to implement even their most complex design ideas adding great value to the production environment. R&D Tax Credits are available to support plumbing and power generation companies investing in 3D printing technology as well as new and improved smart home and global reach product lines.