Stages in the life of an office chair, Part 3 Technical implementation/development
A good office chair needs time. Here at Klöber we spend an average of two-and-a-half years on a new product that will be allowed to bear our brand name. Today I am interviewing Christian Roth-Schuler, head of Product Development, to find out what happens during this time.
Christian, what happens after internal market observation, trend research and idea generation?
What makes Klöber stand out is its incredible spirit of innovation. As soon as we have new inspiration, we put our heads together in what we call a “product innovation session”. From 1000 initial ideas we might pick out 100. Ten of these are discussed in depth. By the end we’re left with two or three specific projects, and we work on implementing these. A completely new project generally takes shape over two to three years here. One of the most important deadlines we always have in the back of our minds is Orgatec. For example last time we exhibited, in Autumn 2016, we were in a position to launch three flagship products: Klöber Klimastuhl, Connex2 and Tasso 2.0.
That’s right, it was all go! But let’s get back to the product innovation session: so you’ve picked those two or three new projects – what happens then?
We have a product specification document in which every development project is recorded in detail with all its requirements and figures. You might say this product specification is our “concept formulation bible”. In the kick-off meeting that follows, which involves the interdisciplinary team of engineers and employees from the workshop and prototype build, we aim to find out collaboratively how we can turn these ideas into reality. In this situation we always keep our eyes open to everyday objects. For example a self-inflating airbed inspired our colleague Erwin Klöck to create the now patented celligence system, which encourages dynamic sitting by allowing individual air regulation in the seat.
After the initial brainstorming it’s time to start building the prototype. We create a model of our product-to-be in our workshop on site, abstract at first but gradually taking a more tangible form – and that’s where you come in, Jörg! Yes, even in the prototype building phase I’m deliberating how to incorporate the required functions into the design. There would be no point tinkering around for six months, only to announce: “It’s not going to work like that!” The symbiosis of design and development is hugely important. In my own feature about office chairs I already referred to this concept of “designing from the inside out”.
But let’s come back to you: is there a rough timescale that applies to every new product?
Of course we can’t be too precise at the outset – the unexpected can always happen. But yes: broadly speaking there are seven stages for each chair: presentation of the concept, presentation of the design, presentation of the first prototype, tool making, test and correction phase, pre-series / pilot series, and finally start of production.
So once the prototype has been approved the tooling is made. How would you describe this step to our blog readers?
Tool-making is certainly the most expensive part of office chair production: up to 1 million euro has in the past been invested in tooling depending on the model – not including working hours. If it’s necessary to manufacture a special tool, that can take four or five months as well. Once the tool is ready, it’s put through its paces. We generally need another three correction cycles here. But then we’re ready to start the pre-series and pilot series.
Pre-series? Pilot series? What are they?
The pre-series is like a test run in-house. Colleagues in different departments are given the new chair to try out. This allows us to make further corrections. I’m sitting on one of those test chairs at the moment, actually. The pilot series on the other hand goes out into the world: selected testers, for instance dealers, are also given the chair to test. They use a checklist to examine every inch of the chair, and further improvements are subsequently carried out. The entire correction phase takes around a year. But after that the chair is perfect and production can begin.
Thank you very much for your time, Christian! In the fourth part of this series, Georg Reiswich will take a closer look at the tool-making stage.