Procter & Gamble may be the top dog in the global laundry detergent market, but that distinction in automatic dishwasher (ADW) detergents goes to the British firm Reckitt Benckiser. With well-known brands like Electrosol, Finish, and Calgonit, Reckitt has a global ADW market share of about 40%.
Harald Magg is Reckitt's worldwide director of product development for hand- and automatic-dishwashing detergents. A Ph.D. chemist, Magg is based at Reckitt's R&D center in Ludwigshafen, Germany, where his job is to come up with innovations that keep his company's market share at its consistently high level.
Most ADW innovations do seem to spring from Europe, where hard water has long necessitated adding water softeners to automatic dishwashers. For many years, softening salt was a stand-alone product, but more recently, companies have been incorporating it into single-dose detergent tablets. Starting in about 2000, these two-in-one tablets have evolved into three-in-one, four-in-one, and even five-in-one products, most of which Reckitt takes credit for pioneering.
In October, the company announced its latest ADW innovation: Finish Quantum, which contains a softening salt, a rinse aid, and a glass protector in one single-dose product. And thanks to what Reckitt calls a revolutionary design and intellectual-property-protected technology, Finish Quantum is also the first ADW product to combine three physical forms: powder, gel, and the firm's Powerball cleaning sphere.
According to Reckitt, these forms can coexist because they are hived apart in a three-chambered capsule made of water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol. The chambers isolate otherwise incompatible cleaning agents and release them at the right stage of the dishwashing cycle, the company says.
One of the ingredients being kept separate is a self-activating bleaching agent called 6-(phthalimido)peroxyhexanoic acid, or PAP for short. Magg says PAP bleaches away stains more effectively than does the traditional ADW combination of sodium percarbonate with the activator tetraacetylethylenediamine.
PAP is not a new molecule, Magg says, but it hasn't been used in ADW products because it can become unstable and attack other ingredients. He says Reckitt worked with a raw material supplier to develop a granulation size and coating material that, combined with the chamber system, overcame these limitations. "You can't just buy PAP and put it in," he says.
When collaborating with chemical company partners, Magg says Reckitt tries to capitalize on technology breakthroughs by lobbying for exclusivity in the ADW category for a specified amount of time. Negotiating mutually satisfying joint development terms is tricky, he acknowledges, but is worthwhile for both parties.
"Innovation comes more and more from cooperation," Magg says. "Our competence is understanding the market and the consumer. So we are open to saying, 'Look, you are the expert on how to make the raw material, and we are the expert on how to integrate it into a consumer good.' "