In an exclusive interview with ContractingBusiness.com, Rheem representatives provided insight into the rigorous process it followed to design the new 90%+ gas furnace line, and how the heating and cooling giant intends to develop products going forward. (See our story on the new line at Rheem Introduces 90%+ Gas Furnace Platform.)

“It’s been a very exciting time at Rheem, as we will have many products coming out over the next two to three years, with the 90%+ furnace first out of the gate,” says Nitish Singh, director of marketing and product management, Rheem Heating & Cooling Division. “We knew we had to do a solid job in getting customer input, making sure we understood 100% what customers were looking for.”

In developing the new 90%+ furnace platform, Rheem obtained extensive contractor feedback through focus groups, customer panel discussions, and at national meetings, during which Rheem shared design ideas for the new line.

Singh says the most helpful research method that went into shaping the new product line was a Product Excellence Panel, a rather recent process in Rheem's product development program.

“We invite our Top 10 Rheem and Top 10 Ruud contractors from across the country to embed themselves with the product team,” Singh explains. “They in effect become an extended part of the project team. We meet periodically with this group. We met first for a day and a half, all revolving around the new furnace platform.”

The Product Excellence Panel is also attended by cross functional teams within Rheem, including personnel from marketing, sales, engineering, research and development, manufacturing, purchasing, and product quality departments. The event includes information sharing, comparative benchmarking, and a detailed teardown of products by contractors.

“We share detailed plans for our product design, what we have in mind, what features we’re considering, and product positioning. It’s a full-bore sharing of information with contractors,” Singh says.

Most importantly, Rheem listens to what the contractors have to say about the products, based on their in-field experiences.

“Once we gather that feedback, the project goes back to the design board, and we evaluate the input. What makes sense goes into the product design. If we have questions, we reach back to the contractor team and have a back and forth with them so that we fully understand the issue," Singh says. "Once we have six, eight, or 12 months of working on the enhancement, we bring them back for another round. We share the advances we’ve made, and how we’ve incorporated their input into the product design. This has been a very good experience for Rheem in terms of designing the project, and making sure we get it right the first time."

In applying this information gathering method during the 90%+ furnace development process, Terry Stern, product manager, residential heating products, says Rheem asked contractors to describe their “ideal furnace,” including their best “must have,” “nice to have,” and “don’t change” features.

“One thing that stood out and that has become unique in our products is how the Product Excellence Panel feeds into a different design philosophy and approach,” says Stern, who adds that contractors will read more about this approach in new marketing literature.

Mike Branson, vice president, product development, says the process will not end with furnaces.

“Our product development process certainly requires customer feedback, and we’re using it in other platform developments in the air conditioning division and water heating division, as well as with our Raypak pool heater and boiler division. This best practice is becoming standard work,” Branson says.

Rheem’s 360°+1 product development philosophy — which involves the Rheem product development team evaluating every detail of a product — will be applied in three key areas of a product’s lifecycle:

  • 360 Performance
  • 360 Installability
  • 360 Serviceability.

“Those three ‘buckets’ were described as most important to our customers, which includes homeowners, contractors and distributors,” Stern says. “Performance is most important to homeowners. Installability and serviceability are most important to the contractors.”

More  than 30 features from those three areas have been added to the new furnace line. “And, for each of those features, we’ve added a ‘+1’ feature; that’s means it’s something that’s either an industry first, something that can be patented, or something that’s simply smart to do,” Stern says, and he adds that the “+1” feature will continually challenge Rheem product engineers to develop unique selling features that will impress distributors, contractors, and homeowners.