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Research Job To Dream About

Clear Day


Designers at a Tauranga company have the job dreams are made of – searching for a better night’s sleep.

The latest piece of research from design and manufacturing company, Design Mobel, led by company senior designer Timothy Allan, will lead to a functionally advanced, technologically-based sleep system. In layman’s terms - a better base, support system and mattress - that could put an end to tossing and turning and thumping pillows, and instead help ensure the best night’s sleep possible.

Design Mobel knew that to compete in wide-awake international markets they had to develop a complete system that would move from using unsustainable resources through to substituting them with sustainable and recyclable resources. They also wanted to develop and own valuable intellectual property that would give a competitive edge in international markets.

”We felt no-one had really looked at the whole concept of sleep systems from the bottom up, nor worked out a way to make better use of modern recyclable resources and concepts in full production,” says Timothy Allan.

“We wanted to test out some ideas and we set about searching where the best expertise might be.” That search took the company to ergonomics specialists and sleep experts, as well as involving the University of Auckland. Forest Research also became a research partner, developing new materials for use in the sleep system.

The project was assisted by Technology New Zealand, whose funding enabled the company to firstly test the technologies involved, then continue with the development of the project.

Technology New Zealand also awarded a Technology for Industry Fellowship to Mark van Rij, an engineering graduate from the University of Canterbury, to begin a research Masterate. Now working alongside the University of Auckland, Mark is looking at ways of adding value to the Design Mobel product through technology.

His research, several months on, is focussing on providing a simple means of adjustability – a way of refining the rake and pitch of a bed for ultimate comfort whether sitting or lying down.

The outcome of the various components of the research, according to Timothy Allan, is being held very close to the corporate chest, but it will help catapult the company into the $US3.3billion pa US bedding market. The European market, which is more philosophically related to Design Mobel’s slat support system, is also expected to be highly receptive.

“It has been a real balancing act,” he says. “We’ve had to measure subjective comfort (what’s regarded as a ‘good’ bed by someone will be a nightmare for someone else) and maintain ergonomic integrity. We looked at using a variety of different materials in different ways to come up with something that would provide the best support possible.”

The research project was initiated within Design Mobel as a means of growing its business through new technology. Timothy Allan says the company’s product designers try to use technology that enables designers to speed up the process of concept to market, whether in solid modelling or rapid prototyping.

“As the person responsible for R&D at Design Mobel, it is a great thing to be able to tell your Managing Director that we can get the project onto the fast track. And, even better, that we can get funding through Technology New Zealand and support for a Technology for Industry Fellow to bring in new expertise.

“From a product designer’s perspective, it has allowed me to get another skill set into the company,” he says. “ It’s important for a company to have a pro-development philosophy and in Design Mobel that comes right from the top down. We found the Technology New Zealand connection to be very helpful, as was our association with those at Forest Research such as Armando Macdonald and George Hooper.”

Tony Hadfield, at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, says Design Mobel’s approach to a technical hurdle is a classic step-by-step process. “First of all they tested out the technical feasibility and we supported them with a very small amount of funding. From that, they went on to an investment through the Technology for Business Growth scheme and we also supported Mark van Rij’s involvement in the research initiative with a Technology for Industry Fellowship.

“This type of practical, step by step approach sets a good basis for overcoming large technological hurdles by breaking them down into bite-sized chunks.”

Timothy Allan agrees: “this project represents the great value to a company having design interacting with science and research-related fields at an early stage. We’ve been able to create original solutions to problems with a minimum of backtracking.”

Design Mobel now has a sleep system that combines the approaches of ergonomics and clinical sleep measurement with New Zealand material innovation, and the results should be on the market next year. The 11-year-old, privately owned company is expecting to develop relationships in the more sophisticated international markets, particularly in Europe as well as the US in the next year upon completion of the product


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