Vitamix Blends Tradition and Innovation with NFC
Household appliances rarely make the electronics trade press headlines. However, high-performance blending equipment specialist Vitamix is creating quite a stir with its innovative blenders that use built-in NFC technology from SMARTRAC.
Vitamix’s all new Ascent and Venturist blenders utilize NFC to excel in terms of both functionality and safety. With NFC readers built into the appliance base and SMARTRAC’s custom-built NFC tags in the supplied and separately sold containers and cups, Vitamix is breaking new ground in blending technology.
First of all, the NFC tag in the container can change multiple parameters (up to 140!) of the machines. This is all done automatically, by simply placing the container on the appliance base. The NFC tag is able to modify program settings, button functions, ramp rates or maximum time settings. It has never been easier to prepare steaming-hot soups, frozen sorbets, delicious smoothies and so much more, resulting in a novel culinary experience. The NFC tag could also modify machine settings and operating windows for attachments that have not yet been invented, underlining the power of the concept.
On top of that, the consumer experience has never been safer, as the NFC tag, which utilizes an NXP NTAG 216 chip, plays an important part in various critical safety functions, for example imposing button restrictions for safety.
Focused on Safe Operation
For Vitamix, NFC is a key element of a sophisticated wireless interlock system for the blender, alongside reed switches that control the NFC tag antenna and coil. The reed switches (reliable electrical switches actuated by magnetic fields) allow the NFC tags to be read and to transmit data to the base of the machine.
This highly reliable and safe mechanism enables the machine to identify the container and determine if the interlock is engaged. Since the container and its attributes can be identified, the machine’s base unit will react according to the container, effectively eliminating unsafe operating conditions. For example, the soup program will be deactivated when the To-Go Cup is placed on the machine.
The quest for optimum safety was a major element of the development. Dave Kolar, Senior Engineering Manager at Vitamix, and his team spearheaded a project to develop a wireless interlock system for the company’s blender jars. They wanted to avoid electro-mechanical rods and switches placed in the container, since these trap dirt, look rather unattractive and, more importantly, can jam and get stuck, causing serious safety risks. Initially, Vitamix created a system that operated similar to a mobile phone charger and that transmitted power though the jar and then back down to the base. This concept was simple in theory, but was riddled with technical challenges to make it work reliably.
Kolar was working with a startup in San Francisco when he heard about SMARTRAC’s air coil RFID tags for the first time. When he got back from that trip, he and his team created the first prototype that worked more reliably on first use than the other concept had after months of work. Kolar knew immediately that the concept was not only viable, but was also a potential game-changer.
The full-sized Vitamix container (left-hand side); the tamping device for insertion into the full sized container; the model A250 blender with smoothie cup and blade base assembly attached; and the Bluetooth scale, which takes the container data from the tag via the Vitamix NFC reader built into the motor section, and translates into recipe proportions.
Benefiting from SMARTRAC’s Can-do Attitude
Once the NFC/reed switch-based interlock system was proven to work successfully in a test environment, another challenge arose: developing NFC tags that not only interact properly with the reed switches, but also can be molded in the container housings, plus survive the molding process, years of heat and vibration under use, and the thousands of brutal dishwasher cycles to come.
SMARTRAC passed that test to Kolar’s utmost satisfaction with its air coil NFC tags and – maybe even more important – with its overall “can do” approach. “When I was in Thailand for a family vacation, I had the chance to visit the SMARTRAC facility that manufactures the air coil transponders, the day before Christmas Eve. I thought I’d get a 10-minute tour, but they took me through all the production areas and gave me a lot of details. The product development team there was very supportive, and took this project under its wing immediately, almost as if it was a personal challenge. I knew then I was dealing with professionals, and that these were the guys we wanted to team up with,” Kolar remembers.
“Air coils can easily be made larger than standard NFC/HF inlays - in the Vitamix use case 81.25 mm diameter - which in this application affords a read range beyond what any standard inlays could provide. In fact, the air coil we’re using for Vitamix is the biggest coil we have ever made - a quite unique design and a perfect fit for their ring tag concept. From a design viewpoint, this freed up restrictions on the position and orientation of the NFC reader/antenna in the blender motor section. The reader/antenna could be moved to an easy-fit location away from the air-coil carrier within the container, further than a standard-range NFC/HF inlay would have permitted,” explains Art Barton, Sales Manager Americas Region at SMARTRAC.
Bright Prospects – Technologically and Commercially
For Vitamix, the two NFC-enabled blender models and the supplied and separately sold containers and cups launched at the end of December 2016 are just a starting point, though a quite important one, as the company expects to sell more than a million units over the next three years.
“With our new products we are really elevating the culinary experience of our customers while complying with the strictest safety regulations of today and tomorrow,” Kolar says. “Furthermore, we have barely tapped into what’s possible with NFC. In the near future, there will not only be other blender models and containers with that technology, but also smartphone apps and all-new functionalities which take our customers’ experience to the next level. I’m sure SMARTRAC with its amazing willingness to take on new concepts and its attitude to say ‘yes, and…’ instead of ‘yes, but...’ will remain the perfect partner for Vitamix.”
For further information, please contact SMARTRAC’s sales and customer service team.