Manufacturing an Appliance Handle With Flair

Mills Products Develops Signature Oven Component and Innovative Attachment Method

In the early 2000s, Mills Products was approached by a longstanding client, a leading kitchen appliance brand, to design and manufacture a handle for its new oven product line. The campaign revolved around creating a “retro” look that echoed the kitchen appliance designs of the 1950s.

The handle was a crucial component of this redesign. Oven handles from sixty years ago were distinctly contoured—a major contrast to the angular pulls prevalent on contemporary ovens. An oven handle is also a key operating component and one of the first things one sees when facing the appliance head-on, making it a crucial part of any design.

Creative in the Kitchen
The client initially presented Mills Products with a general idea for the handle. Having worked with Mills before, they were confident in the company’s ability to both design and manufacture an effective solution. This trust, along with a 6-month development period, allowed Mills to explore a variety of options and engage in creative problem solving. The result was a superior product featuring an important innovation that was integrated into a number of the client’s product lines featuring similar aesthetics.

The first thing Mills needed to assess for this project was the complex shape of the handle. The distinct curves could be easily and cost-effectively produced using plastic, but Mills and the client wanted to avoid the cheap look associated with the material. They also considered cast metal, but this technique would have resulted in a heavy and costly component, especially since the finishing stage would have required a relatively expensive painting process. Balancing quality and economy, Mills devised a hydroformed stainless steel handle that was cost-effective and could be efficiently painted in-house at their manufacturing facility in Cleveland, TN.

New Ingredients
In the process of designing the oven handle, Mills Products discovered and developed a unique attachment system that exhibited a distinct mechanical advantage and saved the client 20 to 25 cents per unit. The final design connects the stainless steel handle to two plastic end caps that screw into the oven door. While this idea was not entirely novel, the attachment method, which uses cantilever action to secure the handle to its plastic anchors, was an enduring innovation. Without sacrificing durability, Mills’s approach eliminated the need for traditional weld points. By dispensing with this major manufacturing step, the handle would be subjected to fewer processes, thereby saving both time and money.

To design the attachment system, Mills used 3D modeling software, which allowed them to test various ideas and easily review them with the client. Once the approach was approved, Mills worked closely with their suppliers to develop the final design and consulted heavily with the hydroforming tooling personnel to develop manufacturing techniques that further increased efficiency and ensured a high-quality process.

Sweet Success
At the end of this project, Mills Products had produced a well-designed, robust handle that exceeded client expectations, saving them money and resulting in a new, cost-effective attachment technique that has subsequently been applied across multiple product lines. This is the sort of cutting-edge, enduring handle manufacturing work that Mills likes to pursue and — given enough lead time, as it was in this case — can definitely produce.