Spotlight on Engineering Manager: Chris Raby

Flexiform manufacture office storage for companies within the UK. This month we’re celebrating Flexiforms huge range of office storage by chatting to our behind the scenes staff who design, create and analyse all things storage. We caught up with a longtime Flexiform employee and expert in all things Flexiform, Engineering Manager, Chris Raby, who (amongst many other things) designed our Freestor, Credenza and Jot storage ranges. 

Hey Chris, how long have you been working for Flexiform?

It’ll be 22 years in September 2019. Prior to this, I spent several years working on building sites, from general labouring, engineers assistant and team leader for a company that did on site fabrication of water and gas membranes. At Flexiform, I’ve been the Engineering Manager since 2014.

You’ve been here a while! Can you explain what your job entails?

I oversee and distribute the workload within the department, including BOM (bill of materials) requirements, new engineering, design work, new product development, technical support for customer services and sales, designing and engineering products, I’m also on hand to advise customers on product choice and any bespoke design work that may need doing. In addition to training (and inspiring) our new starters, with a view to bringing the next generation of designers through Flexiform.

What process do you go through when designing storage units?

It’s very much a team effort, we take a look at the current market and get a feel for any interesting trends out there, and of course checking out the competitors and suppliers, looking to identify products, materials and technologies that excite us. The design process then follows a natural path which we have formulated over years of designing – sketch design, 3D modelling, panel drawing, programming, prototyping, prototype approval, costings finally, productionising.

3d furniture office furniture design
What is the most important aspect/ feature of designing storage?

Ensuring that we fulfill or exceed customers’ expectations, as well as making sure it fits into our manufacturing capabilities and moves forward in terms of advancing our techniques. It must also be interesting and exciting for us, new products create challenges.

What was the inspiration behind the Credenza?

The idea was to showcase our capabilities. A standalone product that would comfortably sit in a boardroom, whilst complementing our other furniture. The curved end panels are a nod to our Fleximetric cabinets of old (these had a radius top and side panel) whilst making a visual statement to say this is what we can do with the manufacturing and production skills we have at our disposal. Along with our Ferro range amongst others, I believe it is just one of those things that helped Flexiform compete in the A&D (Architect and Design) sector and Private sector.

How do you think storage in the workplace has changed and how does that influence the designs you create today?

There has been a shift from the traditional lateral storage cabinet, steering more towards temporary personal storage, with a domestic feel to it. Traditional personal storage would usually be a pedestal, but now it’s a locker, reflecting the transient nature of the modern workplace.  

Office furniture storage - Credenza
From the huge range of Flexiform storage which stands out?

In terms of storage – Jot lateral, Freestor lateral, Freeestor/ Accent lockers and the Credenza! Out of that collection, the most important product for us was the Jot lateral range as it was probably one of the biggest steps for us. This product revolutionised how we manufacture our storage cabinets. A monocoque carcass replaced the traditional bench assembled cabinet, this alone had a huge impact on manufacturing. We quickly saw improvements in fabrication, handling, and painting. That’s the beauty of working as a full furniture manufacturer, creating a beautiful product, then production engineering it, just making it work as a product and as a manufacturing exercise. Once we complete one product, inevitable the journey inspires the development of many other products and ranges. 

Personally, my favourite unit would be the 3 door Credenza in Ferro, on ‘A’ legs, that’s the one I would most like to own – if I had somewhere to put it!

How do you find designing in steel? Do you think it adds to the design?

Interesting, challenging and at times exciting. It’s a versatile material and its important to understand its properties, how adding folds to a flat sheet adds structure. Ferro’s clear coat lacquer finish took the material aesthetics to a new place and really highlighted the qualities of each individual sheet of steel. It sounds like a design cliche, but when working in a particular material, you really get to know it – the nuances, and exactly what you can do with it – that said we are always pushing ourselves to do more things – we are not frightened to try something new!

Thank you Chris for filling us in on everything that happens behind the scenes at Flexiform. We look forward to seeing your future office storage designs.