Most engineering advances used to fabricate contemporary designs rely upon industrial processes and repeatable means of production. Examples of rigorously tested and technologically sophisticated furniture can be seen in the office seating designs that have entered the marketplace during the past 20 years. The Aeron chair, the Freedom chair, the Leap chair, and the Equa chair are contemporary office icons that depend on the workmanship of certainty and technological production. These chairs are examples of significant advances blending ergonomics, sustainable design concepts, new materials, and complex systems engineering. A popular office chair such as the Aeron chair is produced in vast numbers, with each chair made exactly like the one before it. The ability to repeat the process without deviation in any regard is key to the economic success of mass-produced design. In this regard, workmanship of certainty is mandatory. Precision tools and CAD machines are used to minimize variances between individual pieces. The idea that machines can cut, punch,
and assemble with speed and accuracy gives designers the opportunity to design specifically for these industrial and digital production processes.
In 2006, French designer Patrick Jouin used a type of rapid manufacturing—select laser sintering (SLS) to fabricate the One shot. MXG stool (Figure 8.58). The stool is a sintered nylon, manufactured by Materialise NV, Belgium. The laser sintering allowed the entire piece to be precisely fabricated in one process (thus the furniture’s title). With the SLS process, a laser solidifies powdered nylon into the finished form. The process requires no assembly. There are no wasted materials or forms required in its production, resulting in a highly efficient method of manufacturing. This technology has potential to be a significant influence in manufacturing as well as a tool for expressive designs and experimental processes of design.
The engineering systems behind mass-produced office furnishings also employ extensive testing. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA) describes guidelines and procedures for testing contemporary furniture. Established in 1973, BIFMA International is a not-for-profit trade association of furniture manufacturers and suppliers addressing issues of common concern. Examples of BIFMA testing include lateral force, caster and glide testing, upholstery, and flame resistance testing.
Between furniture crafted by hand and furniture fabricated by machine, some qualities are lost and some are gained. Many aspects of design and fabrication become critical in terms of their societal and economic impact. Consider the cost of human labor relative to the value of a single piece of furniture. A custom furniture shop may charge $50 to $60 an hour for labor, which can easily result in hundreds or thousands of dollars of labor for a single piece. In this model, low production runs are the norm, yet the model employs a relatively large number of skilled craftspeople, and this, in turn, has a broad impact on a nation’s social and economic life. The craftspeople circulate the company’s earnings back into the local economy. Automation and machine fabrication minimize the need for a large employee pool trained in craft techniques. This results in fewer employees in the furniture industry and a higher investment in technical equipment and facilities. This, too, impacts the local economy. In a different way, the emphasis becomes more about the economic development and competitiveness of the industries.
1. www. brainyquote. com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins103652.html.
2. Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio Estero, The Italian Chair (Rome: n. d.), p. 30.
3. David Pye, The Nature and Art of Workmanship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 4