Pressing ahead with garment-care innovations

Mr Ching Boon Khian, who heads the Singapore- based team which designs Philips garment-care products for the global market, oversees the entire design process for irons.
Mr Ching Boon Khian, who heads the Singapore- based team which designs Philips garment-care products for the global market, oversees the entire design process for irons.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Philips veteran has devoted most of his career to making better irons

Most people don't give much thought to irons except when they have clothes that need pressing, but Mr Ching Boon Khian has devoted more than 25 years to making them better.

The 51-year-old joined Philips 26 years ago as a young engineer designing steam irons. He now heads the Singapore-based team that designs Philips garment-care products for the global market.

Mr Ching oversees the entire design process for irons - from conceptualisation to designing the product and working with factories to get it manufactured.

Singapore is Philips' only site globally for the innovation and development of irons - a function that used to be carried out at the company's headquarters in the Netherlands but was moved here in the 1980s.

"I joined at a time of growth and, hence, opportunity," said Mr Ching, who was tasked with developing a new iron in his third year with the company and led a project a couple of years after that.

In 2003, he was posted to the United States for three years to join a team designing electric toothbrushes.

"We look back on those years fondly... The kids were growing and we bonded a lot as a family in a foreign country," said the father of two. He returned to Singapore in 2006 and has since overseen a number of new developments in garment-care innovation.

In 2011, for instance, Philips introduced an iron that allows garments made of different materials to be ironed one after the other, without having to wait or to adjust the temperature dial. This innovation came out of consumer insights data which showed that people wished they did not have to adjust an iron's temperature to suit different materials, said Mr Ching.

"In the past, we used to rely on the business side to give us ideas. Now, we try to initiate ideas and come up with ideas for the business."

Feedback from consumers "gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride", he said. "When consumers like the product, it's an affirmation of the impact we have."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Pressing ahead with garment-care innovations'. Print Edition | Subscribe