You know how some kids just can’t resist taking everything apart to see how it works from the inside out? Fortunately most kids learn pretty quickly to resist that urge, but sometimes you have to admit, you’re curious. In part one of this series, we gave in to that desire and went behind the scenes at the Philips Sonicare Innovation Site facility. Now we’re giving you another inside look, peering into the parts that make their power toothbrushes tick. They work unlike any other, giving you a fresh and brilliantly clean feeling that’s unmatched. The newest member of the team, the slick Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum, is no different. It comes with nine total brush combinations, reducing gingivitis and removing plaque to give you the ultimate clean. To find out how, we took a deep dive into the inner workings of the power toothbrushes themselves, talking to the engineers and designers who make that fresh feeling a reality.
Bart Massee, Philips Sonicare’s Creative Director, is charged with the difficult task of making oral care sexy. The company does this through their state-of-the-art design, with the design team involved in innovating the power toothbrushes. For example, they have helped develop ergonomic nozzle designs, improved bristle shapes, and brush head trim profiles. As we learned in part one, Philips Sonicare’s power toothbrushes are inspired by trends in technology, beauty, and fashion, designed to stay at the cutting edge of lifestyle products. Philips Sonicare products set new trends, shifting the paradigm of what an electric toothbrush can be. Design Director Raymond Wong’s goal is to create a power toothbrush with strong customer appeal that you can leave out when guests come over. Thus, the Philips Sonicare teams all have high ambitions and continuously try to think outside the box. No team is an island, though. Damla Ozcan, Global Consumer Marketing Manager at Philips Sonicare, thinks of each team like soccer. “Different departments may have the ball but we continue to pass it all the time until we score the goal,” she explained.
Inside the Philips Sonicare power toothbrush, an electromagnetic starter switches currents, causing the motor to move the brush head back and forth 31,000 times per minute. The team works hard to engineer a product that will reduce waste, both in terms of movement and space. On new models, all mechanical pieces are inside the handle, rather than previous models where some moving mechanical pieces were inside the disposable brush head. This helps reduce waste and lessens the number of overall pieces manufactured.
The new models also reduce overall vibration and unnecessary movement by phasing the electromagnetic current so the movements offset each other. They also have a sensor to determine how hard the user is brushing. If the pressure applied by the user reaches a certain threshold, the motor changes “operating modes”: this alters the vibration and sound slightly in order to help train the consumer to brush at a safe and optimum load. The motor is essentially the same across all models (with the exception of the PowerUp toothbrushes) — the only differences are the extra modes available on the higher-end products, like whitening and deep clean.
Each element of the brush goes through rigorous testing before designs are finalized. As we saw in part one, a friendly robot named Robbi helps with testing the power toothbrushes against various stresses and brushing patterns. The engineers even try products on themselves — some brush their teeth more than ten times a day. Consumers are at the forefront of every step, from engineering, to design, to the testing process. They are shown drawn designs to judge details like color and shape, and later, they’re given 3D-printed models and prototypes. By prioritizing customers in the design process, Philips Sonicare has been able to respond to consumer needs. Take their brush heads, for instance. Each one is composed of specific elements that respond to a variety of needs and concerns, like gum health or sensitive teeth. You can see all your options here.
Aleksandro Grabulov, Philips’ Director of Innovation and Development, described one such back-and-forth, which resulted in a revolutionary new brush head design, the AdaptiveClean (shown on the far right in the image below). The AdaptiveClean marks a huge step forward in the evolution of customizable oral health care. When testing a brush head with flexible sides, he explained, the original designs had green rubber to differentiate it from the white plastic. In feedback, consumers reported that the plastic looked cheap, so designers went back and attempted to use a transparent plastic. The design did well in consumer feedback, but they ran into several problems during efficacy testing. The transparent plastic didn’t hold up as well, and they had difficulty keeping the bristles in place. It took quite a long time to go back and forth between consumer design testing and material testing to find a material that communicated that the product worked, held up in efficacy testing, and still provided the winning in-mouth experience for the consumer.
There are many parts within the Philips Sonicare that all come together to make brushing more than just a chore you have to do twice a day. For more information on Philips Sonicare’s range of power toothbrushes, head here.
Images by Ryan Russell.