CHICAGO — Embracing workplace trends of flexibility and collaboration, office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller Inc. at NeoCon 2015 displayed reconfigurable office furnishings made of a plastic foam.
Metaform Portfolio is a system of lightweight expanded polypropylene blocks and corresponding accessories that can be rearranged and reconfigured to suit an office's changing needs. First shown as a concept at NeoCon 2013, the product line was made available for order in June.
Designed by Berlin-based firm Studio 7.5, Metaform Portfolio includes work surfaces and a series of add-on accessories that can be used to hold work tools or personal items.
EPP is commonly used in automotive applications and in impact-absorbing products like bike helmets. Studio 7.5 chose the material to create configurable office spaces because of its durability and lightweight nature, the firm wrote in an email. The system was designed to be self-explanatory, so employees can change their work environment without needing tools or lengthy instructions.
Metaform Portfolio components are made with 36 to 47 percent recycled material, a portion of that post-consumer, according to environmental information from Herman Miller.
“From a material perspective, the concept of discovering existing materials from other industries — like EPP — and introducing them to residential and office applications is a quintessential tradition at Herman Miller,” Studio 7.5 wrote in the email.
The firm worked to understand the material and develop a surface that would be attractive and appropriate for an office setting.
“Achieving an attractive surface for the blocks was the biggest challenge in the program, which we knew we needed to tackle in a rather systematic research effort,” the firm wrote.
After studying the manufacturing techniques and constraints for EPP, Studio 7.5 tested different valve and texture combinations on a series of small tools to find a combination that would yield the desired properties.
“It is a very different process compared to a traditional assembly where you can fix things later,” Studio 7.5 wrote in the email. “With the blocks it's more like baking a pie, in that you have to throw it away and start over again if something isn't perfect.”
The company believes it is using one of the world's largest EPP mold to produce Metaform Portfolio.
This fall, Studio 7.5 is expected to present a line of 3-D printed accessories and tools for Metaform blocks at the 3D Printshow in Pasadena, Calif. Metaformtools come in several color, material and texture options, and users will have the option to order from the product's website or download plans and print at their home or office.
“Metaformtools are a logical extension to the user-centered design approach of Metaform,” Studio 7.5 wrote. “The fact that virtually all professions are using the same digital tools (computer, laptops, monitors, smartphones) doesn't mean that we're all the same. Most professions have specific needs, and many work places require special tools. Metaformtools is all about designing and customizing your workplace.”