Stages in the life of an office chair, Part 4 Tool and fixture making
In the first three parts of this series, my colleagues explained the timeline followed by a new Klöber office chair, passing through the Product Management, Design and Technical Implementation departments along the way. My job? Tool and fixture making.
As the name of my department suggests, I have two areas of responsibility here in the tool and fixture making department.
1. Tool making
My colleagues on the assembly line need precision tooling to manufacture custom-designed office chairs for which new functions are being developed all the time. But I don’t mean screwdrivers, spanners and the like – I mean specialised equipment, for example a punching tool. This can be used to punch precision holes in the top of a chair back for the headrest to be attached later on.
My role here at Klöber is to design and build tools like this. The engineering drawings from our drawing office serve as a basis for this. The first step is to create a tool prototype in balsa wood. Once everything’s right, the second step is to make it in sturdy aluminium or steel.
At Klöber we are also able to make our own simple injection-moulding tools for plastic parts and foaming moulds for upholstery foam. However, complex large-scale tools for injection moulding of plastics or die-cast aluminium are usually specially made by external suppliers to our own specifications.
As you might guess, the production of a particularly complex tool, such as the one required for our Mera backrest frame, for instance, can be quite time-consuming and it can take four to five months. Our heaviest tool weighs almost eleven tonnes! So it obviously isn’t going to be cheap. Depending on the chair model, the tooling required can easily command a budget of around 1 million euros. If you look at it like that, tooling has to be the costliest part of office chair production.
2. Fixture making
Precision tooling is one thing, but the other piece of the puzzle in my work is the fixtures used with these tools. One key aspect of fixture making is the theme of safety in the workplace: a fixture that brings quick results but has an inherent injury risk is not something we would use.
Our fixtures are designed to be efficient and safe in equal measure. Here are two examples: where a fixture is used for the final assembly stages of heavy office chairs, we are especially careful that the chairs can be raised and lowered easily by hand. This ensures that our employees do not suffer back muscle strain. With punching or press-in fixtures we are meticulous in ensuring that there can be no injury to our workforce.
But once an assembly fixture is finished, my work is by no means done – you see, with high-volume office chair manufacturing we have to assume that the fixture will need replacing sooner or later. As it’s a unique piece of equipment developed by our own team, it’s particularly important to replicate them using a PC. This is done using a CAD drawing, in other words with the help of design software.
To sum up, you might say that my job here at Klöber is 75% engineering and the other 25% is desk-based. It’s a great mix, I think.