JASPER, Ind. - A Day of Wood at Vincennes University drew wood manufacturers from Herman Miller, Haworth, Kimball, MasterBrand, OFM, Jasper Group and others to the recently opened Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing in Jasper.
Attendees had a chance to see and try a virtual spray finish training system, and heard some unexpected news: that hospitals do not necessarily support efforts to coat surfaces with antimicrobial chemistries. (It may actually contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bugs.)
More than 90 registered for the event staged by partners at the Forest Products Laboratory at Purdue University, the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturing Association (BIFMA), Underwriters Laboratory, and other partners, including FDMC magazine.
Developed for the military and popular with automotive and aerospace firms, VirtualPaint training is being used by eight wood manufacturing companies.
Among many, many highlights were presentations on the role of product design in avoiding liability issues; creating healthy hospital furnishings; and finishing including LEED v. 4, powder coated wood, and training on spray finishing.
According to Dan Cassens, professor at Purdue University, the program was largely developed by wood manufacturing companies themselves, based on surveys by of area manufacturers. Jasper, Indiana, has one of the highest concentrations of large-scale wood manufacturing firms in the U.S. The companies receive strong business development support from state and county organizations as well.
A presentation on California's Prop 65 rules by Underwriters Laboratories' Joseph LaGrow outlined impacts of an updated list of restricted chemicals that was published by state regulators last month.
Later in the morning, Lauren Kleinman from the Healthier Hospitals organization outlined chemicals in furnishings that interior architects and institutional furniture manufacturers should avoid. These include chemicals linked to negative health and environmental impacts, including formaldehyde, flame retardants, and perhaps surprisingly, antimicrobial coatings. It is believed antimicrobials coatings can lead to the develop of drug-resistant bacteria, a continuing challenge in hospital settings.
The listing, compiled and posted at HealthierHospitals.org, includes the chemicals placed off limits by 11 furniture manufacturers, including Kimball Office, David Edward, Exemplis (SitOnIt Seating and IDEON), Herman Miller, Haworth, KI, Knoll, La-Z-Boy/Knú, National Office Furniture, Naturepedic, and Stryker.
Also examined were progress in developing furniture manufacturing standards under programs for ANSI and ISO. David Panning, technical director and manufacturing expert from BIFMA - the 300-member Business & Institutional Furniture Manufactures Association - lead off the program with an update on the state of the commercial furniture manufacturing industry, which continues to see robust growth as the economy expands demand for office, hotel and educational furniture. A big contributor to sales of commercial furniture is the growing healthcare market, and a rise in institutional furniture for schools.
Business and institutional furniture saw 4.8 percent sales growth in 2015, and is on track for 4.5 percent growth in 2016, Panning said. U.S. production is $10 billion; and imports total $3.3 billion. About $670 million in such commercial furniture is exported by the U.S. Imports represent 25 percent of commercial furniture sales, with China, Canada and Mexico the top three sources. U.S. export represents 7 percent of total output.
Panning identified a number of macro trends in the business and institutional furniture markets, including :
- Rise in demand for healthcare furniture
- Increased demand for business furniture (office vacancy rates are falling)
- Chairs are getting bigger as are workers
- Green and sustainable furnishings matter to buyers
- Benching as an office seating solution is on the rise
- Hotels are growing in number
- Height adjustable furniture is popular, as is "perching" to work
Among the technical challenges are producing furniture sustainably, including finding the right materials and reducing energy inputs in production. "It's largely accepted that flame retardants do more harm than good," Panning said, and since offices are safe environments - far less prone to fires than residences since smoking is prohibited - flame retardant chemicals aren't needed.
BIFMA is also active in setting international standards, so that exports and imports can be manufactured to the same specs. "We woudl like to see harmonization of standards," Panning said.
After Panning, a lengthy presentation by Randall Goodden, a specialist in furniture and other product liability, covered product liability and the role of engineering and design in mitigating claims by buyers. Goodden advised furniture and cabinet manufacturers to have a game plan ready if a product should fail in the field. Internal missteps in communications can be very costly, and damage reputations, if it keeps manufacturers from responding quickly to claims.
An example cited by Goodden was the recall by IKEA earlier this year of some 29 million dressers that were prone to tip over, following deaths of three toddlers. That recall was followed by 6 million in Canada and another recall forced on the company after consumers in China complained.
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