Published in Manufacturing
As companies integrate new features into office furniture, lighting products may soon be packed with a variety of smart technology ranging from wireless charging to sensors that adjust the color of the light based on the user’s mood. For example, Light Corp.’s Amble can be outfitted with USB charging and occupancy sensor technology. As companies integrate new features into office furniture, lighting products may soon be packed with a variety of smart technology ranging from wireless charging to sensors that adjust the color of the light based on the user’s mood. For example, Light Corp.’s Amble can be outfitted with USB charging and occupancy sensor technology. Courtesy Photo

Office furniture manufacturers take divergent approaches to technology integration

BY Sunday, June 26, 2016 11:10am

As the footprint of workstations continues to shrink, office furniture manufacturers are focusing on integrating new technology into their products to drive value. 

To date, their technology integration has taken on a plethora of forms, ranging from wireless charging capabilities in workstations to allowing mobile applications to control functions in meeting rooms.

The trend has created a growth market for companies such as Grand Haven-based Light Corp., which produces a variety of lighting products used by office furniture manufacturers. Fresh off a corporate rebranding, the company wants to capitalize on a shift in workplace lighting that positions lamps to be much more than just a source of light. 

Light Corp. plans in the near future to integrate wireless charging into the base of its lamps, said Rick Smith, the company’s vice president of business development. 

“Tables are smaller in footprint so what you’re finding is an increased need for lamps to have embedded features,” Smith said. “The base itself, rather than just an object to hold it, can have charging mechanisms, wireless charging or other features that are going to add value to that space.” 

With a background in the technology sector, Smith also sees opportunities to improve workplace engagement and employee satisfaction by controlling different hues and the colors of lighting. 

“You start talking about circadian rhythms and how people feel throughout the day, and I think there are some opportunities there,” Smith said. “In the morning, you could have a particular color to increase worker output. Maybe in the afternoon, if you’re fatigued and tired, you can put a little different color in. If you’re going to have someone in your office to collaborate, you can soften it, or brighten it if you need to read a document.” 

The company also is considering embedding sensors into its lighting products that could measure stress levels by picking up the pitch of a person’s voice and adjust the light accordingly to be calming, Smith said. 

“We think increasingly there’s going to be technology embedded in (lighting),” he said. “How do you get an individual who is going to spend two days in a shared work (environment) to feel like they’re at optimum comfort?”

Despite the potential opportunities with technology, not all furniture companies are as eager to follow the trends and incorporate more electrical components into their products.

While Grand Rapids-based American Seating Co. has built USB capabilities into its products, the company doesn’t believe charging technology, in particular, will become a future growth market. 

“Technology has its place … but we don’t see a lot of growth with that because the life of batteries keep increasing,” said Gary Bialk, vice president of sales and marketing at American Seating. “It’s a demand that needs to be met, but we don’t see it growing because battery life is a lot better in all devices.”

Moreover, office furniture makers also have expressed concern over how rapidly different technologies change. For example, USB is now the ubiquitous connector for devices, but that could soon change, said Kevin Kuske, president and CEO of Spring Lake-based Izzy+.

To compensate for the rapidly changing nature of technology, Izzy+ has integrated its charging infrastructure under its tables and lounge products to allow users to easily change it out or customize it to meet their needs. That way, the infrastructure is out of sight and easier to swap as tech trends shift.

“One of the things we’ve done differently is we haven’t embedded (technology) into the upholstery,” Kuske said. “Five years ago, no one had USB, and now USB is everywhere. Who knows what the next five years will bring. We took the approach of having it under the lounge. You can put as much as you want under the lounge, but the lounge is timeless. We’re having to think about (technology) in every environment.” 

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