4 years on, Karo’s exclusive chair design for Unilever is still on the shopfloor.

3rd Nov 2019 in Chairs, Ergonomics, Quality

Karo’s Idonsa industrial chair solved a problem at Unilever!

Unilever’s Indonsa Savoury factory had a recurring and expensive problem: industrial chairs that kept breaking and needed replacing every three months. Their chairs were also failing to meet the necessary hygienic health and safety requirements required in a food producing environment. Furthermore, productivity was negatively affected by the chairs’ bad ergonomics.

In 2015 Unilever turned to Karo.

Beverley van der Berg, the Senior Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Unilever SA Pty Ltd Indonsa said, “We turned to Karo because we needed robust, H&S compliant, chairs that were ergonomically designed, by people with knowledge and expertise.”

Industrial Chair Range

Karo designed a tailored chair solution, the Idonsa, to specifically deal with the challenges of Unilever’s factory environment:

The chair design needed to satisfy the following needs:

  1. Specific ergonomic requirements for different workstations. These included: height adjustability, stability and offering the operator back support.
  2. The new chairs needed to be robust and existing chairs needed to be upgraded to a higher spec to endure the 24/7 factory environment.
  3. Chairs needed to be easily cleanable to comply with the hygiene requirements of Unilever’s food production environment.
  4. No standard foam or fabric could be used as bacteria would get inside too easily.
  5. Chairs were being used in different production areas and needed to be uniquely identified as belonging to the respective production areas.
  6. The workstations were higher than normal, thus sturdy footrings were required for the majority of the chairs.

Karo’s goal was to design and supply 141 of these specialized chairs to Unilever.

As John Karle,  a director at Karo said, “ With industrial chairs, one size does not fit all. A thorough analysis needed to be done of the current working environment together with the customer’s requirements before a solution could be obtained.”

The design process:

Karo went through a rigorous process to create the Idonsa Industrial chairs of a correct standard.

Overall Karo designed a series of 7 prototypes to develop the final design. Through close communication with Unilever’s Health and Safety department, Karo reworked initial designs until Unilever was satisfied. John Karle described the outcome, “We combined the gaming chair strength and aesthetics – this is an industry we have a lot of experience in – with the adjustability and expertise acquired through the creation of our standard office chairs.”  Karo took the strength from the casino chairs and made the steel components wider and thicker, made the backrest hairpin stronger than their standard spec, and significantly thickened the wooden seat support.  “All of the components are hardier,” said John.

John added, “There should also be a reduction in staff absenteeism – with the ergonomic design that helps with the repetitive movements. Added to this, it’s easy to show the people how the chair works. Ours had simple adjustments and lumbar support on the backrest and was designed to fit most body types. Adjustments needed to be quick and easy as there is more than one user per chair.”

The details of the upgraded components:

  • For the seats, Karo used their in-house manufactured flexi-molded polyurethane foam, which is much harder wearing. The same foam is also used in automotive seating.
  • Imported heavy duty vinyl, which is used overseas for taxi seating. This ensured that the complete chair could easily be cleaned.
  • Additionally, the chairs were colour coded per production section to keep track of where certain chairs belonged.
  • A unique “Nugen” footring which offered the operator continuous leg support.

The result 

During a recent trip to Unilever, three years later, all of the chairs were still on the shopfloor!

This is a substantial accomplishment in such a hard-wearing industry where chairs were normally replaced four times a year or more. Barring some backrests where the fabric had torn due to the backrest being knocked against the production lines, the chairs were still working perfectly.

Unilever’s Beverley van der Berg added, “The Karo Idonsa chairs last much longer due to the material used to manufacture them – and they look good and are easy to clean!”

Thus Karo’s specialised design and industry knowledge, combined with the use of heavy duty materials has led to a robust chair creation that has fulfilled all of Unilever needs.

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