A major product launch.
A customer with an offshore supplier let down.
Fixed in 6 weeks.
A dynamic, well-respected and growing company known for designing and manufacturing institutional furniture had an ambitious project to introduce a new line of healthcare tables and chairs at a major international tradeshow, but an offshore supplier’s failure jeopardized it all.
One of the "featured" chairs our future customer wanted to launch required a supply chain partner who could provide custom design support, build tooling, and manufacture the chair’s key component; a large 30” x 30” black integral skin part with an overmolded metal substructure that provided a durable armrest support and acted as a major structural part.
Since the company already had an existing relationship with an offshore supplier who was providing them with “off the shelf” components for other products, and the tooling and part prices seemed very attractive with manageable lead times, they decided to engage the supplier further to assist with the chair’s custom integral skin components.
The offshore source guaranteed their full support through the product design and tool-up phases. They worked with the client intimately on product design, which included the design of a large steel substructure made up of multiple components welded together.
Since the part’s design was very ambitious from the outset, the supplier greatly underestimated the key engineering elements affecting manufacturability and process tolerance. Nonetheless, the offshore supplier tried to push forward with developing and building the tooling, but struggled with very high scrap rates and could not overcome its manufacturing problems.
Deadline after deadline to produce the required components to spec was missed and tension was mounting for the client. What had seemed like an abundance of lead-time in the schedule to prepare the new chair for its grand unveiling at the tradeshow began to evaporate.
With the tradeshow deadline looming, the offshore supplier could not deliver the foam components required to build the first chairs; leaving the possibility for paid empty booth space, a damaged reputation, and a serious loss of new sales orders.
The client had to find a manufacturing partner, who was an expert in integral skin components, could offer a cost effective solution, meet its specifications, and be adaptable enough to deliver the parts required for the tradeshow in a short period of time. That’s when the phone rang at Custom Foam Systems.
The Component Challenge:
The challenge was to preserve the unique features and look of the chair’s design intent, while maintaining all of the structural integrity without changing the outside shape. This would require reengineering the inner frame to overcome the molding problems and meeting the client’s strength and cosmetic requirements. New mold and frame fixtures would need to be built, as well as producing enough components for the tradeshow in only six weeks!
With such an aggressive deadline, our advanced technical team got right to work by meeting with the client to review all aspects of the chair program to gain clear insight into the situation, project goals and expectations. We analyzed the CAD data, part samples, and the chair assembly’s key attachment points. We also engaged key supply chain partners for metal fabrication and tooling to obtain valuable input and metal manufacturing expertise.
Using this advice, as well as tapping into our years of part design, tooling and foam processing knowledge, we helped the client understand the technical details of where the issues lied with the original design.
There were several elements that had to be addressed in the redesign. Some of the key ones included:
- Establishing a metal substructure part design that could be predictably manufactured and made within tolerance every time.
- Developing tooling which pushed the boundaries of the reaction injection molding due to the size and complexity of the component. We solved the challenge by:
- Incorporating key attachment points into the mold (poka yoke). If the frame didn’t fit the mold, it wouldn’t fit the chair.
- Adding a number of forming operations to the frame manufacturing to center the metal in the foam to allow for the required flow to travel the 60” from gate to vent.
- Reformulating the foam to react slower to allow a complete and void-free fill, while at the same time increasing the hardness of the formulation to ensure the most durable arm surfaces for demanding environments.
- Utilizing a hydraulic mold clamp capable of 75 tons of clamp force and a 60” x 40” capacity to ensure a precision parting line seal for high quality cosmetics and maintaining a cycle time that ensures safety and cost competitiveness.
- Manufacturing and scrutinizing precise prototypes to achieve the component’s accuracy and consistency that the offshore supplier failed to deliver.
- Developing permanent tooling for the metal insert and qualifying it en route to a pilot run of 100 units.
The pilot run was a success by meeting all output and scrap metrics, along with 100% customer acceptance.
Using our APQP process, we successfully met the 6-week turnaround on tooling and part production, as well as delivering a cosmetically superior product for the tradeshow; one that met very high durability specifications, with cycle times and scrap rates that hit the program’s targets.
Our customer was thrilled to unveil its “feature” chair at the tradeshow and showcase a truly unique furniture arm design that enhanced the chair’s looks, form and function. While our assistance helped them achieve many successful product orders at the show, it also gave them a reliable, long-term production solution that would ensure quality and delivery so they could feel confident in growing their sales and fulfilling their orders. Today, we continue to successfully manufacture the components in batches of 100 parts in three colors; black, taupe and grey.