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Reinventing the fan

Product Stories: Chapter 03

Background of “GreenFan” development

For the first five years after its founding, BALMUDA maintained an intense focus on creating products just as it envisioned them. After this came the sharp realization that it would also have to create products that appealed to a wider range of people. With the very business at risk of collapse, Gen ruminated on what really mattered. Finally he made his decision: If the company’s end was at hand, then this was one last opportunity to develop the kind of product he had wanted to for some time.

That product was an electric fan. Gen had long been interested in this category, partly driven by awareness of climate change and energy issues. Perhaps, he mused, a new fan would be needed for the coming age, to help people get through hot summers using as little energy as possible.

He also knew, however, that to realize this idea it would be necessary to fundamentally overhaul existing fan technology.

“The value a fan provides is ‘coolness,’ but it isn’t comfortable to be directly in the airflow of a conventional electric fan for too long,” he explains. “That’s why they swivel from side to side. But this only reduces the time the user is in the airflow, which also reduces coolness. What I wanted to make was an electric fan that would create airflow as pleasant as a natural breeze coming in through the window.”

New technology to create
a pleasant breeze

BALMUDA products always begin with a specific idea: This is what I want to make. At this point, Gen began doing as much research as possible.

He began by reading technical books on fluid aerodynamics and wing profiles. From these he learned what wing shapes had the lowest air resistance, but none offered any techniques for recreating a natural breeze. Perhaps no one had ever taken up this challenge before.

In that case, Gen decided, he would have to start by studying those breezes, and set out with wind gauge in hand to collect data from nature. He also studied the movement of air from existing fans.

The breakthrough came when he recalled something he had seen at one of the workshops he regularly visited. The artisans there would aim their fan at the workshop wall. This broke the spiral of wind and caused it to rebound as a two-dimensional plane. And this, in turn, was very like a natural breeze.

The question, then, was how to mold the wind from an electric fan into that form. One day, when watching a television program with thirty children running a “thirty-one-legged race,” Gen was struck by a sudden realization. The faster children are dragged back by the slower ones. Maybe the same thing happens in fluids . . .

If he put two airstreams rotating at different speeds side-by-side, would the faster one be dragged back by the slower, causing the two to collide? This idea led to an entirely new dual-blade design. Gen experimented with dozens of blade types, carefully testing the movement of each. He even used a theatrical smoke machine to observe airflow inside a garage.

Finally, in April 2010, the GreenFan was complete. The technology it used was unique and entirely new.

Not only did the GreenFan offer fundamentally different “airflow quality,” it also used a DC brushless digital motor to reduce power consumption, on the lowest fan setting, to as little as 4 watts per hour (at the time). This newly developed silent motor kept the noise of the fan to just 13 decibels or less. As an electric fan, the GreenFan was unprecedented.

Many people were drawn to the GreenFan as a new way to create a pleasant breeze while keeping energy usage low. Despite a retail price above 30,000 JPY—unthinkable for an electric fan at the time—the GreenFan sold out its entire production run in both 2010 and 2011.

A low-power, low-noise electric fan that creates a natural breeze: This was the next stage for BALMUDA, which was still a three-employee company at the time. 

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