One-of-a-kind Customer Experience Lab puts water heaters through their paces

Customer Experience Lab 620 x 240

Water heaters end up in all sorts of wacky places.  They may be installed in a garage in Las Vegas, where summertime temperatures can get as high as 140 degrees (F).  They may be used on a ranch in Alberta, where the water in winter enters the house at a frigid 40 degrees.  But no matter where the water heater is installed, the customer has one expectation:  that it will work reliably, day after day. 

That’s why A. O. Smith has been an industry leader in implementing reliability testing programs for its residential and commercial water heaters.  Unlike performance testing, which is focused on design and safety certification, reliability testing gets at the interactions of all the components that go into a water heater.  A. O. Smith’s engineers conduct accelerated testing on the components and assemblies, tests based on customer usage patterns, to make certain the water heater will hold up, even in the toughest application. 

The company has taken reliability testing one giant step further with its one-of-a-kind Customer Experience Lab in Ashland City, TN.  The goal of the Customer Experience Lab, Vice President-Product Engineering Darrell Schuh explains, is to look at the quality of the water heater through the eyes of a customer.  The difference is that the engineers in the Customer Experience Lab can replicate more than a year and a half of water heater performance in as little as 90 days. 

Lab Technician Chip Keeler not only conducts the tests, he’s the lab’s “secret shopper.”  He buys the units anonymously so that no one knows which water heaters are being tested at a given time.  After he buys the product, he’ll check it over as if he were a customer, making certain the carton isn’t damaged and that all manuals are included with the water heater. 

Satisfied, he will install it in a test fixture that can mimic the usage pattern the water heater would experience in the home.  Each heater is run through 2,500 cycles, the equivalent to 1.6 years of cycles in the average home. 

“Our goal there is to see if anything breaks early or do we have a supplier that’s changed something,” Darrell observes.  “We’re looking for variation in our own processes and our supplier processes.”  If the CEL team finds anything, they report it to the plant that manufactured the unit and to residential product engineering. 

Once the water heater completes the test regimen, Chip will disassemble it to evaluate the wear and tear on components and assemblies and look for any signs of premature failure. 

The Customer Experience Lab has the capacity to run gas and electric units simultaneously and tests products 365 days each year.  Since the lab opened in 2012, the team has tested more than 1,000 residential water heaters.  They also conduct frequent tours for customers, contractors, and service technicians so they can learn about the testing that goes into each A. O. Smith water heater. 

So while A. O. Smith can’t turn down the heat in Texas, it can at least rest assured its water heaters are designed to take it.