Herman Miller Inc. is reinventing the office chair again and has turned to plastics once more to make it all work.
The company is introducing the Embody chair this month. Plastic features include a series of interlinked plastic springs that help the seat conform to each individual user's body. The springs are at the middle of a three-layer design, which the company calls ``pixelated,'' intended to make a seat that's more comfortable for office workers spending hours in front of their computer screens.
``The sitter side of the computer-and-sitter interface has never been adequately addressed,'' designer Jeff Weber said in an Oct. 1 news release. ``In fact, accommodating technology at the expense of people has become the priority in creating work environments.''
The Embody represents a new way to make office chairs while making life more comfortable for cubicle dwellers, said Herman Miller spokesman Mark Schurman.
Fine-tuning the seat through materials and the molded shape allows it to fit each individual differently, while the plastic springs also are designed to provide extra support at pressure points.
``You're not going to feel in this chair the same way that someone else is going to feel in it,'' said Inga Balke, a BASF AG applications engineer who worked with Herman Miller and its molding suppliers as it developed the Embody.
BASF supplies nylon and its Ultraform acetel, used for the springlike inner layer in the seat.
The Embody does not just use plastic in the seat. The back has a visible center column that matches the natural curve of the spine and ties into a molded framework providing both support and 56 individual flexor points.
BASF began working with Herman Miller on the chair about three years ago to find the right type of materials that also could be molded into the right shape, but also hit the company's targets for recyclability at the end of its life, said Deck Andrejczak, BASF field development manager.
The seat concept had its own hurdles. Each spring matches up with a disc-shaped plastic top layer and must stand up to hours of use, but has to revert to its original shape once the user stands up.
``This truly is active seat support,'' Balke said.
But something that flexible would be hard to mold, which led to additional issues for the companies, she said, and prompted extensive mold-flow and mold-filling studies. In addition, the structural elements also are visible, which added aesthetic requirements to the final parts.
The finished product, though, should be worth it. Not only are Herman Miller chairs high-profile design icons, the company expects to build off of the manufacturing and visual cues of the Embody in future programs.
``Herman Miller is a trend setter,'' Andrejczak said.