Largest furniture makers push latest product efforts

June 8, 2009
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West Michigan’s tie to the office furniture industry will forever be linked to the Big Three: Steelcase Inc., Herman Miller Inc. and Haworth Inc. While it has been an off year for the industry by anyone’s standards, all three companies will be showing off their new goods at this year’s NeoCon.

Steelcase: Steelcase will mostly expand on some of its showstoppers from last year, such as media:scape and c:scape. The theme for both of these lines is flexibility — creating an environment that is open and easily reconfigured. That same theme runs right through the company’s new raised access floor: nesso.

“Wires and cables are not going away. Historically, to distribute all that, (companies) have had to use panel systems,” said Brett Kincaid, manager of design at Steelcase. “While panel systems still have a lot of value, when you use a raised floor, it allows companies to get rid of those panels and connect people in a way they haven’t been able to before. It really does support the strategy we’ve put in place with c:scape and media:scape, as well.”

Nesso hails from an Italian manufacturing company called Nesite, which began in 1964, specializing in using high-quality materials for access flooring such as granite, marble, stone, slate and more.

Besides aesthetics, the two main benefits of nesso are its ease of placement and its solid structure. Panels lock into place to create a solid feel with very little or none of the bounce that many raised access floors have. Panels can be removed and resituated very simply with the use of a suction cup lifter. This allows the user to rearrange power sources beneath the floor to match up with a changing floor plan.

Haworth: Also in the access floor market, Haworth will showcase its new TecCrete product, and also will feature its new Planes Height-Adjustable Tables solution, as well as enhancements to its Compose desking and benching lines.

Perhaps Haworth’s most notable product at NeoCon, however, is the multi-purpose LED light called Light in Motion, or LIM. Designed by Pablo Pardo of Pablo Design and Ralph Reddig of Haworth Design Studio, LIM is meant to cross over into many industries, including office, institutional, hospitality and residential.

LIM looks to adapt to both closed and open office systems, fitting in with desk tops, slat or panel mounting, floor mounts, under work surfaces and studio table solutions. The aesthetic and functional diversity of LIM falls in line with Haworth’s Castelli portfolio of multi-setting furniture.

LIM is created with a simple aluminum extrusion profile, a magnetic and pivot platform for 180 degrees of rotation, and LED technology that allows it to perform for up to 50,000 hours of use.

Herman Miller: Out of the West Michigan “Big Three,” this year’s Herman Miller products seem to earn the most excitement.

“I’m pleased with what Herman Miller has rolled out,” said Brian Bascom, founder and CEO of Velocity Partners, a Holland-based market research and strategy firm. “They’ve got some nice products coming out … rock solid designs, which are really nice to see.”

HMI is expanding on its Vivo office system with the creation of Intent, made to extend from private office systems into open floor plans. The company is also unveiling Flute and Twist, two LED lighting solutions meant to fit a variety of settings.

Building off of last year’s Embody chair is the Envelop desk. The standout feature is its shifting work surface. User’s can pull the front of the desk forward to better fit their needs when reclining and connect them with their technology. The front edge has a cut-out, somewhat like a high-chair, which allows the user to get a snug fit with the desk surface. Envelop is also lightweight and is available with rollers so desks can be easily moved around the office.

Multi-purpose Setu chairs feature a simplistic design and a wide variety of bases including five-star, four-star and butterfly. The chair family has only one mechanical adjustment — for height — and the rest is done by technology that uses “math in place of mechanisms,” according to Pete Phillips, Herman Miller product manager. “Our intent with Setu is to do a simple chair that is comfortable — instantly comfortable.”

In a slight shift from Herman Miller’s traditional products, Energy Manager is an electrical circuit control system, making it somewhat of a stepchild product for HMI. Not office furniture, but still an office solution, Energy Manager oversees the relationship between an individual workstation’s power and the office building’s power. Energy Manager is surrounded by a deep moat of patents and only works with Herman Miller workstations.

A workstation typically has four power circuits running through it. Two of those circuits are used to power things such as task lights, printers and cell phone chargers. Using a heat sensor that mounts on the underside of a work surface, Energy Manager supplys power to such devices only when a user is in that space.

“As soon as you sit down in your chair, those circuits turn on. When you get up and leave, there’s a 15-minute delay and then those turn off, so we’re talking about electrical savings,” said Todd Thompson, advanced development manager for Herman Miller. “When you go to lunch, when you go to meetings, certainly at night, we capture all that electrical savings.”

Thompson said the expected ROI for Energy Manager is three years.

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