Sophisticated choices abound for today’s users of drawer slides and systems.

In addition to soft-
closing and self-closing features, today’s
consumers are requesting electric, automatic drawer openers that can be activated by a light touch on the drawer front or a light pull on the handle.
Photo courtesy of Blum Inc.

Ease of installation, reliability and soft-closing capabilities were among the trends noted by hardware experts when queried about the recent developments which have helped to improve the efficiency and ergonomics of the drawer slide.

Drawer slide properties must appease two different customers: the cabinetmaker/installer and the end user, said Susan Kearns, creative services specialist for Accuride. “Cabinetmakers are looking for a drawer slide that provides reliable performance, minimizing the occurrence of call-backs from the customer. Another aspect is the ease of installation. Can the slides be installed in a reasonable amount of time to ensure maximum productivity? Other desired properties include fluid movement, minimal operation noise, and durable performance for several years,” she said.

“Our national sales manager made a list of things customers are looking for in drawer slides, according to the type of slide,” said Dean Bradshaw, marketing/customer relations manager for Ferrari America Inc. “For epoxy, price is the big factor, also strength of material depending on the steel thickness; strength of wheel and the way it is attached on the members. Hole pattern, hole shape and silence factor also are factors. For ball-bearing full extension, customers are looking at price, ease of opening and closing the drawers, hole position, quietness, number of ball bearings used and existence of a ‘dimple’ that locks in place the bearing holder plate while disconnecting the members. For undermount drawer slides, customers look for the quality of the cylinder [noise, speed, etc.] and ease of sliding with least amount of noise and friction. They are concerned with ease of initial opening, hole pattern plus universal drawer material thickness [3/4 inch, 5/8 inch, 1/2 inch, etc.] and openings that include half, full extension and over travel,” said Bradshaw.

“What properties are most in demand? Functionality,” said Mark Mrozik, national sales manager for Hettich America L.P. “When it comes to drawer slides, customers today are looking for increased functions and lasting quality. They want drawers that roll the same on day one and 10 years later. Increased usage of drawers is on everybody’s mind. Full access of the drawers offers complete use of the entire drawer box. Smooth rolling mechanisms, along with silent-system closing, offers the quietest performing drawers,” said Mrozik.

“Performance is very important when it comes to a drawer slide,” agreed Mae Holler, product manager for Häfele America Co. “Drawers are becoming larger and heavier and this requires drawer slides to be strong and durable. Consumers are also looking for soft and silent mechanisms [dampeners] to be integrated into their drawer slides. A soft and silent feature, once seen as an upgrade, is now becoming standard.”

Hardware companies are offering drawer systems that not only open with a soft touch, but enable drawers to be electronically controlled independent of each other and as a group. Photo courtesy of Grass America.

Easy, Soft-Closing Features

Kearns said that aside from ease of installation, there are also the expectations of end-users who desire special features such as soft-closing capabilities, or aspects related to aesthetics, such as concealed slides or inset drawer fronts without knobs. “End users want to see the easy-closing action integrated into more and more products — not just in kitchens and bathrooms — but other parts of their daily routine as well. This desire is also driven by the perception that this is a ‘high-end’ feature. We’ve seen this desire for the easy-close action as a trend in commercial environments as well,” said Kearns.

“The quality perceived from soft-closing drawers goes beyond the actual slide and imparts that the entire cabinet has a high quality level,” agreed Mrozik.

Dennis Poteat, marketing communications for Blum Inc., also said he sees customers looking for quiet closing, smooth-running action and full extension. “These three things used to define the high end, but now products are penetrating the market across kitchens in almost all price ranges,” said Poteat. “We attribute the success of these products to their ‘wow factor,’ but also because of their reliability.”

Grant Nuckolls, director of purchasing for Hardware Resources, agreed with those who cited soft-closing and self-closing as among the most popular features with customers. “While we used to offer a spring-loaded slide, we now offer dampeners in our undermount and ball-bearing slides. These allow the slide to smoothly and quietly self close once triggered a certain distance from the cabinet. We are shipping these by themselves, but we also include them in our high-end vanities as well as an option in our new drawer box program,” said Nuckolls.

“The combination of the undermount drawer slide with wood drawers is still predominant in the industry,” said Jan Fitzpatrick, customer and market relations manager for Grass America Inc. “At this point, most manufacturers are offering a soft-close feature as a standard to their drawers or the option as an upgrade. With the customer/end-user being more educated about the various functionality of drawer slides, they determine the trend with emphasis on the smooth motion of the drawer, the ease of pull when opening a drawer and the automatic closing action of a drawer,” said Fitzpatrick.

New system developments include sliding drawers with total extraction capabilities and an integrated dampening mechanism. Photo courtesy of Häfele America.

According to Kearns, slides with a self-closing feature offer efficiency by ensuring drawers are fully closed and preventing them from bouncing back open. “There is also a safety factor associated with this feature. When used in institutional or retail environments, the self-closing action may prevent collisions with, or interference by, drawers that remain ajar,” she said.

The growth in popularity of the self-closing and soft-closing features offer an added-value feature to today’s drawers, Bradshaw said. “Many
manufacturers are finding ways to incorporate soft-close mechanisms into the slides to provide a nice high-end feature, but the challenge is to keep the costs as low as possible so that they can be more widely marketed,” he said.

“Soft and silent mechanisms have definitely helped to improve the drawer slide because they made life easier,” agreed Holler. “They guarantee that your drawers are closed, which helps maintain an aesthetically pleasing and safe environment. They also prevent your drawers from slamming, which helps to decrease noise.”

Ease of Use

According to Rick Arnold, senior marketing manager for Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Co., “Customers are looking for products that make their lives easier. The value proposition for customers today include products that are easy to use and access their storage items; utilize space efficiently, such as full extension drawer slides, blind corner pull-out shelves, and top shelf pull-down units.”

Arnold said customers also want drawer slides that are smooth and quiet in operation and safe and secure in supporting the load levels customers expect. “By incorporating a balanced spring and dampener technology, we virtually eliminate drawer slamming,” he said. Also on customers’ wish lists is “clean design for improved aesthetics and products that are environmentally sustainable.”

Joey Shimm, marketing director for Outwater Plastics Industries Inc., agreed that desired functionality is mostly responsible for the development and implementation of new drawer slides being introduced into the marketplace.

“Years ago, drawer slides were largely viewed as generic, or rather, all-purpose in that they were generally employed in a wide range of disparate applications based solely on their physical attributes and weight bearing capacities. Today, drawer slides have significantly evolved and are designed and manufactured at many price points to address and meet particular criteria for specific products or applications, as opposed to yesteryear, when specific products or applications were commonly designed and manufactured taking the physical limitations of the drawer slides into account. By and large, there is a drawer slide for practically every type of application,” said Shimm.

According to Mrozik, there is a growing customer awareness that drawers can have not only a luxurious feel, but also the internal organization that goes beyond standard plastic trays. “Various elements of steel and wood can offer organizing possibilities like never before.”

Slides with full extension and soft-closing features are in demand for all types of drawer options, including lazy Susans. Photo courtesy of Knape & Vogt.

Even lazy Susans are being offered with undermount slides and the soft-close technology, Arnold said. “The new premium lazy Susan system puts an innovative twist on an old idea. The slide-out Susans are designed for convenient accessibility and storage capacity and are available in full-round or kidney shaped. The design allows easy access to items stored toward the center or side of shelves and provides adjustability to accommodate different sized items plus features full extension, undermount slides with soft close technology,” he added.

Both Holler and Fitzpatrick also cited double-wall drawer systems as an important innovation for the U.S. market. “The double-walled system isn’t a ‘new’ development as it has been popular in Europe for many years, but consumer interest is rapidly increasing in the U.S.,” Holler said. “The systems are aesthetically pleasing with their modern design and quick, simple and cost-efficient for cabinetmakers to assemble and install. They are also easy for homeowners to clean because you simply remove the drawer front and wipe away any debris which may have spilled into the drawer or accumulated over time.”

Fitzpatrick agreed, adding that, “Double wall drawer systems have helped manufacturers realize new opportunities as these systems represent quick assembly, lower manufacturing cost, use of less material and the newest technology in precision performance,” she said.

Fitzpatrick also said that the introduction of drawers with fully electronic opening and closing systems, as well as power-assisted opening systems, have given the wood products manufacturer and end user a new dimension in drawer hardware. “With a single touch of the hand, the knee, the foot, a drawer can be opened or closed. This is especially important for the population including the disabled as well as the elderly, as it creates an ease in drawer operation with a slight touch,” she said.

Kearns added that the development of a touch-release feature also promotes ease of use as it allows users to open a drawer by pushing instead of pulling. “This provides an appropriate solution for elderly or disabled users that may have difficulty grasping knobs or handles,” she said.

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