Dyson launches all-in-one hand-drying Airblade water tap

Media caption,
Sir James Dyson demonstrates his company's latest invention, the Airblade Tap hand dryer

Dyson - the British engineering group - has unveiled a device that combines a high-speed hand dryer with hot and cold water outlets.

The Airblade Tap builds on the firm's success with its existing standalone cold air hand driers, but is more expensive at £1,000.

The firm's founder, Sir James Dyson, said that the device offered long-term savings over hot air dryers and towels.

However, one expert said its appeal might be limited until its cost fell.

The machine consists of a unit placed underneath the sink containing a motor, an air filter and sound-silencing equipment; a pipe that carriers the water, electrics and air to the tap; and a stainless steel head unit from which the water flows and unheated air jets out at 430mph (692 km/h).

Infrared sensors detect where the user's hands are - if placed under the tap's centre water comes out, if under its sides the air nozzles are triggered.

The firm said that the technology was protected by 110 granted patents with another 100 pending.

Dyson's existing Airblade range - launched in 2006 - has proved a money spinner for the firm. It said that to date the hand dryers had been installed in more than 250,000 locations worldwide.

High-speed motor

Although the minimalistic hybrid water-air tap head is the device's signature feature, Sir James said that the "secret" of the machine was its motor, which had taken seven years to develop.

Image caption,
Dyson said that its latest motor had taken more than 100 engineers over £26.9m to develop

It uses an electromagnetic field, rather than carbon brushes, to accelerate from standstill to up to 100,000 revolutions per minute within 0.7 seconds. That was about four times the number of revolutions per minute that motors its size typically produced, Sir James said.

Software run off a built-in computer chip then makes about 6,000 adjustments a second to maintain optimum efficiency, and the unit is mounted on springs to prevent vibrations being passed on to the rest of the equipment.

The motor is guaranteed to last for five years, and the firm estimates over its lifetime it should be able to pump the equivalent amount of air needed to fill 26 million party balloons.

Companies such as Hyco, Warner Howard and Airdri make much cheaper hand driers - with basic units selling for between £50 and £80. But Sir James said his latest product offered advantages in the long run.

"If you had a hot air hand dryer you would have five times the [running] cost, and if you had paper towels you'd have 15 times the cost," said Sir James.

"So actually although the initial cost is expensive it saves you money and you use a lot less energy with it."

He added that his firm would initially target the device at restaurants, hotels, airports and sports stadia, but added that he thought it ultimately "ought to be in everybody's house" as it was more hygienic than using and re-using hand towels.

Will Dunn, news editor of Stuff Magazine, described the new dryer as "impressive" but suggested that unless there was a radical price drop its appeal was likely to be limited to businesses willing to pay a premium for stylish design.

"It would fit into the home because it doesn't look obtrusive and doesn't take up much space," he said.

"But it would take a long time to pay for itself because the idea of spending £1,000 on a tap is unrealistic for most people beyond the very rich."

Image caption,
Dyson's other Airblade dryers have been updated to use the new motor

However, he added that it would now be interesting to see what other more affordable uses the firm would have for the motor.

"What Dyson always do is invent new technologies that then trickle down into lots of different things."

Made in Singapore

Sir James confirmed that while the research and design of the new dryer had been carried out at the firm's facility in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, the company was going to build the taps at its new plant in Singapore.

Dyson began shifting production to Asia in 2002 when it announced it was cutting jobs to build its vacuum cleaners in Malaysia. 550 posts were lost. At the time the union Amicus - now known as Unite - condemned the move, accusing the firm of having "betrayed" British manufacturing.

But Sir James said the past decade had proved the move had been justified.

"The problem for us is that all the components [involved] are made in the Far East," he said.

"The important thing is that all the research and development is here in Britain... all our exports are done from Britain and all our tax is paid in Britain and we employ large amounts of people - 2,000 of them - down in Malmesbury."

In addition to the Airblade Tap, Dyson is also refreshing its existing hand dryer range to take advantage of the new motor. The new machines will be made available in 37 countries.

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