GRAND RAPIDS — For nine years the Office Furniture Industry Council of The Right Place Program has been bringing office furniture manufacturers and suppliers together to enhance their relationship and push for continual improvements in the industry.
The Right Place Program convened the Office Furniture Industry Council (OFIC) in 1992 at the request of the area’s office furniture community.
The OFIC is a voluntary industry council without member dues and is unique among other furniture councils in that respect, said Michelle Cleveland, OFIC facilitator.
The council is made up of 12 North American office furniture manufacturers (OFMs) and 20 of their suppliers. It meets six times a year and attends annual industry conferences, using industry feedback and council members’ input as the basis for its strategies.
“We handle the production side of the industry, working with people in the purchasing, quality and manufacturing areas of the OFMs and working with the suppliers to assist in the manufacturing of the final product.”
It’s all about eliminating waste and adding more value to the manufacturer-supplier relationship, Cleveland said. OFMs, their technical counterparts and the suppliers work together to devise and recommend a set of actions that will support the development of a standard.
“It’s the process of the council to insure that we are reaching consensus between OFMs and suppliers about what’s critical to take waste out of that relationship,” Cleveland said. “It can take six months to two years to develop a standard because it’s all volunteer work.”
Over the past nine years the council has developed standards for packaging and labeling, color evaluation, supplier quality and EDI/electronic commerce.
Launched in 1994, the supplier quality initiative, or OFI 9000, took the criteria upon which ISO 9002 was based and altered it to suit the needs of office furniture manufacturers.
That gave suppliers a single set of quality system expectations to focus on, rather than separate, often redundant, quality system expectations requested by the various OFMs.
Among the council’s recent initiatives was setting a new standard by which office furniture suppliers submit initial sample parts to office furniture manufacturers. The Initial Sample Inspection Requirements (ISIR) was patterned after the Automotive Industry Action Council’s Production Part Approval Process (PPAP).
The ISIR process establishes the criteria by which the supplier and manufacturer agree to manufactured-part repeatability, according to Dennis Johnson, chair of the OFIC Supplier Quality Assurance Subcommittee and manager of Supplier Certification Corporate Quality at Steelcase. It begins with a new product design or when an engineering change occurs to an existing part.
Typically, the manufacturer notifies the supplier of a new part design or engineering change and defines the criteria that will be required to produce it.
In some cases, it may be the supplier who wants to change a manufacturing process on an existing part, in which case the supplier must notify the manufacturer, Johnson explained.
Suppliers are required to validate that their manufacturing processes and controls are capable of producing the parts in a production setting.
Suppliers agree to all the OFM’s design and engineering specifications and complete the activities necessary to fulfill the requirements, then “signs off” on their ability to produce the part to specification. The manufacturer then reviews the criteria and related documentation and validates the process.
The ISIR represents a cost savings to suppliers because they previously had to follow similar but varying submission processes and standards that were unique to each manufacturer.
Now one common process is used across all OFMs and is formally documented and available to any supplier to the industry, Johnson said.
The council is now working on a supplier rating process and a supplier diversity initiative, Cleveland noted.
Furthermore, the OFIC formed a textiles subcommittee earlier this year that’s building a proposal around four quality issues, namely, fabric flaws, bow and skew tolerances, yardage accuracy, and increment of measurement, said Margaret Dunford, a co-chair on the textiles subcommittee and president of Guilford of Maine.
The subcommittee’s next step will be to draft a standardization policy and present it to the OFIC for a vote.
Standardization policies are minimum standards that OFIC members agree to, but individual manufacturers can raise the standard above the floor that the OFIC sets, Dunford added.
“The bottom line is that we’re trying to make this whole system less wasteful.
“Standardization takes out some of the redundancy in the supply chain and helps everybody concentrate on meeting the same goal,” Dunford said.