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Office Furniture: Managing an Increasing Amount of Color Variation

Steelcase, a global, furniture manufacturing and design company, based in the United States, has been making furniture since

1912. Steelcase is the global leader in office furniture, interior architecture and space solutions for offices, hospitals, and

classrooms. To achieve such success, Steelcase adapted their processes through times of depression, war and industrialization

while maintaining a superior quality product. That trend continues today as the company has adapted to the current era of

manufacturing capabilities by offering customized products and solutions, on demand. Customized solutions are a great way to

personalize products to meet the exact needs of the customer, however as Steelcase found out, customization can be quite

stressful for maintaining quality control.

Founded and headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase has expanded and now has many plants throughout the

United States. Their largest manufacturing facility is located in Athens, Georgia and this particular facility manufactures

everything from large custom walls to tiny mounting brackets. To ensure everything runs smoothly, the company employs people

like Ken Newton, a Q-10 problem-solving leader, to handle the various challenges and issues that arise within the company.

Before his current position, Ken worked at the facility as a Quality Engineer which had similar responsibilities to his current role,

solve problems facing quality control in Athens plant.

Customization Concerns

One of the ways Steelcase creates their custom solutions is providing their customers the option to powder coat their steel

products to any color of their choice which, as Ken could tell you, created an unforeseen amount of control issues. Before custom

manufacturing was the norm, controlling product paint color had a relatively simple formula. Create a color you want for your

products; write down the exact procedure conducted to create that color and repeat it. Since the original process was only a set

amount of colors and the same materials were used for the recipe after the initial development period, a simple colorimeter was

the only instrument needed to check the color. However, when the option to have an endless amount of color variations are

added, this process falls apart because there just is not enough time or workforce in the budget to match a color with the trial

and error approach for each individual order.

Ken found that the simple ‘yes or no’ answer to the question "Is this the same color as everything else we have ever produced?”

no longer applied. He needed to know answers to much more complex questions like “Is this the exact color that our customer

is requesting?”, “How do we create this color?”, “How do we standardize the color across the whole order?”, “Was the color

off?” and if so, “Why, and by how much?” or “How do we correct it?”.

At the time, unfortunately Ken was not using a Konica Minolta Sensing product which meant the quality control process was not

the best it could be and to make matters worse, there was little to no support in terms of finding a solution from its manufacturer.

Alas, Ken was on his own.

Finding a Solution with Konica Minolta Sensing

When the number one priority of your job is maintaining and controlling product quality, losing

control is simply not an option. While many begin to worry in this situation, Ken stayed calm and

proved why his role as the Q-10 Problem Solver at Steelcase was well earned. Ken investigated

his options and spoke to people outside of Athens facility. A colleague in the Michigan headquarters

who had worked with Konica Minolta Sensing in the past, intelligently recommended that Ken give

us a call. Once Ken explained his issues and all the parameters unique to his situation, our color

experts recommended the use of one of our more multi-purpose devices; the CM-700d

Spectrophotometer. Ken's experience with Konica Minolta did not end once the purchase was

made, a few weeks later, we called back to check up on him, which seemed to be a surprise to

him; When we spoke to Ken, he had some praise to give about the CM-700d, such as the ergonomic design, the portability of the

device, and the consistency of results;

"The L*a*b* values are very repeatable."

As much as we love to hear what people like about our products, that was not why we kept following up with him again. Ken's

job was not finished, he had answered some of his pressing questions mentioned above but not all of them and of course, some

new ones popped up along the way. One issue we hear a lot post-purchase, which is not unique to Ken's situation, is that

despite the team’s ability to use the device correctly, they struggled implementing it into their process.

At Konica Minolta Sensing, we know that color measurement is not always a "plug and play" solution. The measurements are

only half of the equation, the other half is putting together a process that eliminates as many variables as possible to give the

truest , and most repeatable color readings of whatever sample is being measured. In Ken's case, we helped him discover that

the largest variable afflicting his team’s process was the paint’s thickness and how his spectrophotometer readings correlated

to his previous device’s measurements which was not a complete shock to us. In general, when it comes to paint/material

thickness for color formulation many use a mathematics model (Kubelka-Munk) which uses an important assumption: the

sample is opaque. If measurements over white do not equal measurements over black, the samples require additional layers

to achieve opacity. Other formulation models cannot formulate colors that do not hide and cannot predict the color and opacity

at a prescribed thickness. Since working with Ken and the Athens facility, we have continued to work with Steelcase at some

of their other facilities to help them with other unique challenges.

To learn more about Steelcase, please visit them online at;

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