When Herman Miller Inc. introduced the Aeron, a form-fitting, plastics-intensive executive chair, it redefined its niche.
Now with the Mirra, the office furniture company is looking to re-create the midlevel chair and is relying on environmentally friendly plastics in the process.
The chair has an all-polypropylene seat back supported by a glass-filled nylon Y spine, with resin supplied by BASF Corp. Other key suppliers included material supplier DSM NV and molders Royal Plastics Inc. of Hudsonville, Mich.; Cascade Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Illinois Tool Works Inc.'s Aim Components unit in Rockford, Mich.
Working under the guidelines of the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry system, the company dropped PVC, using nylon or thermoplastic elastomers in its place. The chair is designed for easy disassembly for recycling in addition to comfort during its work life, the firm said.
``This is the most advanced launch we've done with the implementation of our `Design for the Environment' protocols,'' said Mark Schurman, a spokesman for Zeeland, Mich.-based Herman Miller.
The chair took home a gold medal in the Best of NeoCon awards June 16 during its major market launch at the office furniture industry's annual trade show.
``We know from working with Herman Miller that environmental issues are very important to them,'' Mark Minnichelli, BASF's director of global commercial technology, said June 24 at NPE. ``They are the leader for environmental concerns, at least in the furniture industry.''
BASF has worked with Herman Miller through many of its designs and is a supplier to the Aeron.
Herman Miller launched its environmental design initiative, DfE, to provide guidelines that engineers and designers must meet at every stage.
For the Mirra, that meant considering not just the types of resins used, but the individual breakdown of each chemical element - 200 in all, including the stabilizer in the nylon and the pigment for the PP, said Gabe Wing, a chemical engineer assigned to DfE.
``This is not just a cursory evaluation,'' he said.
The effort even affected the overall manufacture and design of the chair.
A typical chair back support has structural steel with an overmolded plastic skin. Likewise, any adjustment mechanisms include overmolded screws and springs. That simply is not environmentally responsible, Wing noted, since the mixture is nearly impossible to recycle.
So instead, Mirra designers - Studio 7.5 of Berlin - along with engineers, decided on a structural nylon. The movement is supported by a composite leaf spring and uses solely nylon in the controls. A nonfilled nylon webbing provides additional lumbar support, Minnichelli said.
``There's a lot of engineering that goes into a part like this so that it's got the right look and feel,'' he said.
The entire back can be disassembled for recycling within 30 seconds.
The cooperative launch extended through the supply chain, with companies given a chance to bring their best products to the table, said Mike Valz, Cascade president.
Cascade came to the project with proposals to make three components for the Mirra. It ended up winning contracts for seven, and a continued appreciation for the furniture maker's way of doing business.
``This is an example of how the value stream can work,'' Valz said.
Even while improving environmental aspects, Herman Miller still met its other criteria in cost and time to market, Wing said.
``Being green doesn't always cost you money,'' he said. ``We want to be able to achieve a true quality-of-life initiative in what we're doing.''