Lessons from Poor Corn Popper Development

(The purpose here is to teach by examples of how not to do something. For better news about business, including good products, see http://www.keithsketchley.com/goodnews.txt.)

Popcorn all over the place
(Caution - pedantry to follow.)
A hot air corn popper should be easy to make, right? Wrong, not for the designers of a Toastess model, bar code 6128330197. It throws many of the kernels out before they are popped, and throws popped kernels laterally so they miss the bowl (unless it is washtub sized).
Did they test it before pushing the buttons to make thousands?
(The design has a well, at the bottom of which is a series of tangentially oriented air outlets, to agitate unpopped kernels and provide airflow to push popped kernels out the top chute. What could go wrong?

Well, in the hands of the designers of this Toastess model, something fundamental. It looks as though some kernels are popping while in the chute or beyond, having thermal inertia, and even popping in the bowl. That popping tends to throw unpopped kernels out of the chute at high velocity and popped kernels out of the bowl - given that the machine throws unpopped kernels out thus they can pop in the chute or beyond.

I am experimenting with variations in use. Using quite a bit of popcorn prevents popped and unpopped kernels from flying out except near the beginning and end of popping the batch, because kernels stay in the well by the unpopped and popped kernels above them. However, another design flaw is emphasized: as bowls are round, the popper does not have an exit lip, and the chute has no bottom, many popped kernels fall outside of the bowl (but not too far away). So if you really want to keep bothering with this incompetently designed appliance, make a light bowl of thick aluminum foil that conforms to the front of the popper and has high sides. Or perhaps you have a large deep pot with lid that you can sit the popper in, with cord running between pot and lid, or at least an oval chicken roaster pan preferabley a deep one. (Metal material is needed as unpopped kernels are hot enough to scar soft plastic material (I have not tried a hard plastic bowl).)

I suspected air velocity is too high but now doubt that. (The marketing weenies who wrote the text on the box claim it has a "unique airflow design" but the only thing I notice is slots in the back and top of the chute - slots almost large enough to let undersize kernels escape.) I wondered if the problem is more of variation in popping energy of kernels, but rejected that thesis. I considered that popped kernels can bounce within the width of the top chute such that they ricochet off the side near the exit thus move laterally at a shallow angle, and that the sides of the top cover are somewhat curved, so kernels or puffs that slide along it will have some sideways velocity to miss the bowl, but think those mechanisms are at best secondary to configuration of the well and chute (and both would be avoided by a long chute that points down into the bowl).

Corn poppers are a simple concept. The vertical configuration with outlet chute of this one is common, I've owned them before without having such problems, but there are also models with an enclosed bowl. I suspect the problem is a combination of an exit chute that is too limited and something wrong with the shape or size of the well in the machine. I looked briefly at a similar model of different brand in the store but didn't see obvious differences. (I don't remember details of poppers I've owned before, but friends recommend the Presto brand.)

So my new thesis is that the design throws unpopped kernels out of the well. Why? What is different from other models of this concept that I've owned? Regardless, there is a basic question to be asked:
>> Did anyone test this specific design before ordering production of tens of thousands of units?
And you might ask if a corn popper is worth the effort. If you've now spent your budget, perhaps it is. Otherwise you might just throw it out and buy a better brand - Presto has been recommended by friends - and never buy anything else named Toastess. Would it have been worthwhile in hindsight for the designers of Toastess? Not if the business didn't reward them for good work. The business itself? I suggest the returns from retailers and the loss of business because of slow sales and customer complaints would eliminate future profit, which is where the money is to be made given high startup costs and ongoing fixed costs.

I gave up and purchased a Presto PopLite machine.
It has a longer outlet chute but still has the lateral-dispersal problem to some extend.
But for some reason it pops more of the kernals - less waste.
And it has a good instruction book, not only on use and care of the machine but on popping corn in general - for example, the effect of moisture content.
All for half the price of the Toastess machine!

Recently I acquired another Toastess popper of similar configuration, model TCP-1. It works much better than the Toastess I had earlier and the Toastess. Noteworthy is slots in the top of the chute. It has the same revolving corn well with circumferentally-oriented air inlet slots as the earlier one I had, whereas the Presto has only a screen in the bottom so air goes upward.

Overall, though, I suggest the designs with a large bowl and dome cover - takes more counter space but less sweeping up.

Keith Sketchley's intellectual property, version 2013.04.02

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