Making furniture quality measurable

DIM – the German Furniture Technology Institute (Deutsches Institut für Möbeltechnik) which is situated at the Rosenheim Polytechnic – has specialized in the quality assessment of furniture, mounting hardware and other furniture supplies. In an interview with the SOLUTION magazine, Professor Thorsten Ober, the director of the technical and scientific service provider which operates on an international scale, talked about his institute. 

   

Mr. Professor Ober, what was the reason for the foundation of DIM three years ago? 


Due to my professional activities in the furniture technology field at the Rosenheim Polytechnic, I automatically work in close collaboration with the industry and trade. We have found from talks with the industry in the past years that companies would appreciate faster and also more individualized support in the quality and product safety fields. I think this development is based on the fact that, particularly as a result of new technologies, material innovations and design developments, the industry does no longer only continue on the tried and tested path but turns to innovative pathways. And for these visionary developments, quickly an essential question arises: what about quality and product safety? At the same time, environment & health plays an increasingly important role in more and more people’s lives. Hence, it becomes more and more important for furniture manufacturers to make qualified statements in this context. We feel very honoured and privileged to be able to support the manufacturers in this respect. 
Since furniture testing has an over 40 years old tradition at the Rosenheim Polytechnic and all important equipment is available here at the laboratory for furniture technology, furniture design and furniture testing, it was a logical decision at the time of foundation in 2016 to set up the Furniture Technology Institute directly at the Polytechnic. Last year, we also brought into being the “environment & health” competence centre with the eco-INSTITUTE in Cologne – a second DIM site that allows us, for example, to test products for health-relevant toxic concentrations or undesirable odours.

Which are the Institute's key strengths? 


I believe our strength lies with our specialization in the furniture industry. Being a small testing institute, we can respond fast to the questions and inquiries from the industry and provide very flexible solutions. For us it is important in this process that the designers and the quality control staff have direct access to our project managers and test engineers. Through this direct and personal communication, we simply achieve our goals faster and more securely. 
In addition to the standardized tests, we are also repeatedly faced with very complex and challenging problems. Here the Rosenheim Polytechnic shares the technical know-how in the relevant disciplines with us, ranging from material science, through wood technology, surface technology, climate technology and computer science, to ergonomics – just to mention a few fields. But also fundamental questions in chemistry and physics arise. The Rosenheim Polytechnic has reached an incredible diversification in this respect and supports us in an excellent manner. 
Moreover, companies also frequently need assistance with the development of products. We use to pass these enquiries on to the research & development department of the Polytechnic. The specialists in wood technology, furniture construction, interior design and product design are always glad to help us find new and innovative solutions. This interdisciplinary cooperation provides benefit not only to our customers but also to the students of the Rosenheim Polytechnic who are trained with a much more profound and practice-oriented approach. 

Which are the services that DIM offers to its customers? 


Our customers place great demands on the safety and quality of their products. We test furniture, furniture components and mounting hardware from all fields. Our scope of applications ranges from living, bedroom through bathroom and kitchen furniture, to office and commercial furniture. Being a provider of testing services, we test all designs and types of furniture such as cabinets, tables, chairs. mattresses, etc. To do so we first have to know and define the applicable requirements placed by standards and common technical regulations which shall be checked later on. We offer our customers assistance during the entire process of product development together with accompanying tests. 
In many cases, new products are only tested in a final acceptance test at the end of the development. In this way, customers make sure that their new products meet all safety and quality requirements. To this end we carry out mechanical tests as well as emission and toxicity tests in accordance with international standards (DIN, EN, ISO, RAL GZ 430, AMK, BS und ANSI/BIFMA). Of course, this also includes special tests such as the testing of new types of products which have not yet been laid down in standards. Furthermore, we assist our customers with testing the ergonomics, user-friendliness, user acceptance (design, functionality) and the product information such as mounting instructions. In addition to the product test, also monitoring through manufacturing inspections or factory tests is a service field that is of great importance for the certification of products.

Which certificates is DIM authorized to issue? 


In the B2C field, the “Golden M” of the German Association of Quality Furniture (“DGM”) is of supreme importance in Germany. This certification is given by the DGM. Here we perform the necessary tests and factory audits for the furniture manufacturer and, if the test result is positive, we certify the required conformity in accordance with RAL-GZ 430. Moreover we assist our customers with getting all important quality certificates from our partners, from the “blue angel” environmental label to the “FEMB Level” sustainability standard. With the help of our partners, we can offer our partners an incredibly large number of all important certificates. 
For the B2B field, we certify products according to our special DIM testing programme. This quality certificate stands for the particular quality of the product. Furthermore we assign “Type Approved” certificates which confirm that the product complies with defined standards. 
In addition to furniture and single components such as mounting hardware and mattresses, we also certify particular characteristics of a furniture. At the end of last year, for example, we have laid down comprehensive quality and testing rules for an edging tape certificate that proves the quality of laser edge banding – an interesting topic for every producer who utilizes edge banding machines with a laser unit from IMA Schelling. These rules define very clearly the requirements that apply to the laser edge banding process and the conditions to be met for a product to get the certificate. Here, not only the technical product parameters but also the processes in the company and in particular on the edge banding machine play an important role. 
For all our certificates we make certain that the quality of the certified products is constantly kept at certificate level, and we carry out periodic inspections of the products and the factories of the certificate owners. In this way we ensure that the certificate is only given to products of verifiable quality. 

Which is the benefit for companies having these tests and certifications performed by DIM?


We accompany our customers through the entire testing process. In particular when it comes to technological innovations, we assist fast and efficiently. And even if the test results are not as desired, we give our customers orientation and confidence. 
Our expertise, our tests and certifications but also our training shall be crucial success factors for our customers and partners. In this process, we cooperate fast and directly with the contact persons of the companies and respond to their needs on an individual and personal basis. 
And also in a case of emergency, we will help in word and deed to solve the customer's problem. Not every company has the possibility of having all products tested. In the event that, despite the measures laid down in the company to minimize risks, a product should cause damage in practice, it is important to us that this will be analyzed with the required care and calmness. This analysis will as soon as possible provide a solid basis for a decision on the next steps to be taken in the company. 

What else is part of the scope of work offered by DIM? 


In addition to the product tests and certifications, we also offer active know-how and technology transfer. On the one hand, we participate in the work of all important DIN and CEN standardisation committees and hence contribute our expertise to the development of new standards and further development of existing industry standards. On the other hand, we explain the applicable safety regulations to our customers or inform them about safety-related tests for newly developed products. This support is usually provided in a totally simple and informal way – by telephone or email. Furthermore we are continually faced with the development of new test methods to allow verification of specific product characteristics or initial risk analyses for rapid identification of possible risks of products or for the CE certification of specific furniture products that fall under the Machinery Directive (e.g. electrically adjustable TV chairs or slatted frames). 
We also offer workshops and advanced training courses, often in cooperation with our partners. Our topics range from defined product groups to special challenges in ergonomics, quality and product safety. Usually everything revolves around the question of which requirements are placed on different furniture products, such as upholstered furniture and mattresses, and how are the quality and safety characteristics measured or verified. For April and October 2020, seminars on environment and health are scheduled. Target groups of our seminars and training courses vary depending on the topic; among them are quality engineers, developers and designers but also qualified experts on furniture as well as deciders in companies of the furniture industry and trade. 

What are your plans for the future of DIM? 


Right now, we are looking forward to the pending accreditation as a testing and certification institute by the German Product Safety Agency (“Zentralstelle für Sicherheit”). After the accreditation is granted, we will be authorized to issue the GS certificate for furniture. The GS mark means “Tested Safety” and is of particular importance in so far as it is the only legal label in Europe that confirms the safety of products in accordance with the Product Safety Act. We are currently going through the accreditation process. The documents have been submitted, the audit is in the pipeline. Presumably we will be fully accredited in the second quarter of 2020.
Moreover this year we are greatly expanding our spatial capacities on the premises of the Polytechnic, we are also going to increase human resources slightly and engage in further research and development tasks designed to explore how product properties for which testing principles are not currently available can be tested or measured.

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