Every year The Furniture Makers Company offer an industry tour to a selection of students from a range of 3D, product and furniture design courses across the country. The trip aims to provide further experience and understanding of the industries that the students are intending to enter into, as well as raising the profile of the furniture livery by inviting each of us to join the Young Furniture Makers (http://www.furnituremakers.org.uk/young-furniture-makers/).

Simon Bulley, a fellow Rycotewood student, and I attended this year’s tour, and found it a completely positive experience. Not only did we gain an insight into a range of design related businesses and factories, but we were able to rub shoulders with like-minded students, and grow our network of designers and makers, with representatives from institutes from the full length of the country; from Northumbria University to Chichester College.

Following our visit to Festool (http://www.festoolproducts.com), one of the leading providers of quality power tools, Simon wrote, “I was particularly impressed by Festool’s different approach to tool development; their long process focuses on innovation and meticulous research.

“They know that it is important to understand a local culture before designing and marketing products in a new country. They have an excellent eye for detail that has led them to focus on areas that other manufacturers have overlooked or only considered as an afterthought, such as dust extraction.

“One of the things I appreciated is that they also understand that the safety and health of the consumers that use their tools is paramount; they have pushed the boundaries to create a market leading extraction system.

“Festool demonstrated to me that marketing is the key to success; they have taken care to develop a strong, recognisable brand with a reputation for quality and excellent customer care”.

In addition to this, I would have to add that the approach taken by one of Festool’s representatives was very militant, and too much of a ‘hard sell’. I wasn’t alone in thinking that the words ‘Hose, Machine, Extraction, Festool’ that we were made to chant at the end of our demo was unnecessary. It is this kind of approach taken by those within the industry that is regressive: putting students down that were picked to demonstrate the power tools, and demonstrations of the tools cared more for the ‘macho-factor’, than being carried out safe and controlled.

Our second visit took us to Harrison Spinks (http://www.harrisonspinks.co.uk), a major competitor in mattress manufacturing, despite their ‘silent branding’. Simon thought, “one of the main aims of Harrison Spinks, which really appealed to me was their aim to make their processes and products as environmentally friendly as possible. Where they are able to, they favour and source natural British materials; they even have their own sheep farm, as well as hemp crops and woodland. I respect that they are attempting to remove as many manmade components from their products as possible; these manmade components include foam, glue and chemicals.

“Their focus on quality really impressed me; all of their mattresses and springs go through rigorous testing to ensure their customers receive high-quality products. Because of this focus on quality, they aim to manufacture as much of their mattresses as possible in-house; outsourcing of materials and manufacturing components is limited.

“Not content with the wire already available on the market, Harrison Spinks developed (in-house) machines to produce their own wire, allowing them to make smaller springs. They have also patented their own pocket spring design; in my opinion, it is this revolutionary spring development process that sets them apart from other mattress manufacturers”.

To anyone who has visited the London Design shows in recent years, the smooth, marble-like surface of Corian is no stranger. This ‘miracle material’ bends like plastic, looks like stone, but works like timber. As Simon explains, “this material can be used in a wide range of applications, from kitchen work surfaces to interior wall cladding. Corian has an almost limitless range of available colours, textures and patterns; it can also be made translucent, allowing it to be combined with lighting (including fibre optics).

“One of the things that really impressed me about Corian was that once heated, it can be easily manipulated, allowing all manner of shapes to be formed with ease (including curves). Corian can be moulded and engraved (e.g. using CNC machinery) allowing full customization to suit a consumer’s needs.

“Corian is 1/3 acrylic and 2/3 natural stone; 5% of the final product is pigments and binders. The natural stone is a by-product of Bauxite processing (bauxite is the world’s main source of aluminium ore). I really like that this material was invented in order to reduce the waste by-product of another process.

“Corian is being regarded as a new super material partly due to how easy it is to repair, and partly due to its low porosity. This non-porous material does not stain and is easily cleanable, making it ideal for any setting where hygiene is key; for example, kitchens or medical environments”.

To anyone who wishes to explore the potential of Corian, their representatives were very encouraging and more than happy to offer students guidance and the training necessary, in order to use this medium (visit http://www.cdukltd.co.uk for more details).

The final visit of our tour appealed mostly to the furniture fans that were present. Knightsbridge (http://www.knightsbridge-furniture.co.uk) are a contract furniture company that makes pieces for a wide range of settings, from offices to hospitality and healthcare. Simon found, “the collection/market that interested me most that I hadn’t considered before was what they class as ‘challenging environments’ – furniture for prisons, hospitals and mental health environments. Making furniture for these environments requires consideration of a lot of unusual features, from security fixings to reinforced frame construction. I was impressed by how much they emphasized the safety of the final user of their designs.

“Their ability to create furniture for these wide-ranging, difficult briefs is exceptional; they manage to make furniture that has a strong design aesthetic while still being functional and practical.

“For me, the key element which stood out when walking around the workshops is how well organised the production line is. They have a strong ethical centre, and the fair way they treat their employees (for example their production target reward scheme) really impressed me”.

In conclusion, the tour was both informative and encouraging. The diversity of students: male, female, young, mature: proves that entering into this industry- no matter your background- is completely possible. And particularly with the support from organizations, such as the Furniture Makers Guild, networks are in place to welcome those starting their career in design and making. The Industries Tour is a great opportunity, so long may it continue!

 

Special thanks to Dami Bamidele for her hard work in organizing the tour.