Four legs good

Today we publish the second profile of a nominee for our Australia’s 50 Most Innovative Manufacturers list. Brent Balinski speaks to Miheer Fyzee from Workspace Commercial Furniture.

As this series gets started examining innovation among Australian manufacturing businesses, we expect to be overwhelmed by the complexity and sheer volume of what can be and is being improved.

Even if we just zoomed in on one company, we’d expect the same thing.

At Workspace Commercial Furniture, a 112-year-old business headquartered at Melrose Park, Adelaide, they give an estimated 40 items up for discussion in their R&D department at any given time as an example of their commitment to innovation.

As with any well-functioning manufacturer, many innovations at Workplace begin as ideas fed from customers to salespeople and then back to the company.

“This [particular] feedback came to me from around the time of the pandemic, with social distancing in place and the need to keep a lot of space between people and yet have co-working opportunities for people to continue to be able to work together in teams,” Miheer Fyzee, Product Development Coordinator at Workspace Commercial Furniture, tells us.

“It was understood that we needed a large table that had the capability to just have a team around without having to join too many tables together. Because I think the customers felt like they wanted to avoid clutter under the table with too many legs.”

The recently-released Forza range meets a need for a very large table with only four legs. It’s an incredibly simple concept on paper, but that overlooks many considerations that went into its development.

There’s a “very tight balance” to be struck between making the table strong enough through reinforcement yet maintaining comfort and freedom from unnecessary clutter, Fyzee points out. 

Steel beams for reinforcement had to be available locally, which ruled out certain options.

Being large and heavy, it was assumed users wouldn’t or couldn’t move it. What if, for example, two electricians need to work on a light? Then the table had better be able to support them.

Besides more formal tests, Fyzee decided to use one driven by his gut. He arranged for a dumpster bin to be taken by forklift and left on a near-final-iteration Forza over the summer holiday. He returned three weeks later, pleased to see the table structurally intact, still holding up the bin.

Another gut-driven decision was to take customer input, but only up to a point.

“We didn’t have too much discussion with customers, because often that can lead to a lot of chaos,” explains Fyzee.   

“Sometimes customers are just looking for their particular fitout point of view, and that may not be entirely relevant to what we’re trying to achieve with the table or with a product that fits more scenarios than just one fitout.”

Every manufacturer has their own problems to solve and their own approach to — and definition of — innovation.

For example, in @AuManufacturing’s series launch webinar, the founder of another Adelaide business, Peter Torreele from 3RT, gave a fairly radical take: innovation should be seen as different from optimisation.

From Fyzee, there’s a very different answer. It’s possible to respect both.

“To me, innovation is the continuous and iterative process of improving a product or service. And this is a cyclic process, because a product or service has always got scope to improve. So to improve something, go through a process by which that product or service is now better, and then get feedback on ways to improve it further based on new demands in the market or based on the fact that things keep evolving. And then go back and improve that once again through the same process. So, to me, that is innovation.” 

In this special episode of @AuManufacturing Conversations with Brent Balinski, you can hear more from Fyzee, who tells us about Workspace’s efforts to keep their productivity high by investing in new machinery, the importance of trade skills, and — of course — their approach to innovation.

Episode guide

0:58 – An introduction to Miheer Fyzee.

2:05 – An introduction to Workspace Commercial Furniture, an Adelaide-headquartered business established in 1911 as TH Brown Australia.

3:05 – The importance of trade and other skills. “We try to recruit about six to eight apprentices annually.”

5:32 – Recent upgrades, such as a recently-purchased third nesting machine – which feed edge banders – and multi-axis drilling machines.

7:15 – Understanding innovation

8:33 – The new Forza range, its origins in the pandemic, and what has gone into its development. 

10:28 – The challenges during the development process. Can be over 4 metres long and 1.8 metres wide. Top can be timber or stone, so it is heavy. Frame considerations.

12:02 – A little discussion with users during iteration. Too much, however, can lead to “chaos”. How the team knew to trust their own wisdom on certain choices.

12:38 – An unusual strength test.

13:28 – The point of the unusual strength test.

14:08 – Response to Forza from the market so far.

Pictures: supplied

Further reading




Is your company one of Australia’s 50 most innovative manufacturers? We want to hear from you.



Australia’s 50 Most Innovative Manufacturers is a new campaign by @AuManufacturing. It has been made possible by the generous support of  MYOBSMC Corporation Australia, and Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions. Be sure to check back at this website for regular updates  including profiles of nominees and other information.

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