Spotlight on Engineering – Simon Hall – Flexiform

Simon Hall is a long serving member of the Flexiform team. An all-round action hero, a lover of all things wet Simon is a water skier, a canoeist, and an accomplished scuba diver, who boasts dives all around the world.  When on dry land Simon is part of the Engineering department and an important part of the Flexiform manufacturing process.

Where did it all start?

I’ve been with Flexiform since 1991, but that’s not really where it all started for me. I originally started out with Dalescraft, in the drawing office. When Dalescraft were acquired by Flexiform, I moved out of the office and began working on the shop floor; though at that time we were making wooden furniture for Flexiform.

As a Flexiform employee, I was a machine shop supervisor, for around four years – it all seems a long time ago, so I can’t exactly remember how long I was in this role, but it was a good few years. In the supervisor role, I learned a lot about the Flexiform way of doing things.  Of course, I eventually moved away from working with wood and onto steel products that Flexiform are known for.

In the year 1998, the Bullough Group bought Flexiform, and I moved back into the drawing office, where I began working on new designs and the programming of machines, where I’ve been ever since.

What is programing of the machines?

Basically, I make the calculations for manufacturing our products from the raw materials.  For example – take one of our storage cabinets – the product is made from a flat piece of steel that is bent and punched into shape. I’m the one that calculates the best way to do that from a sheet of steel – working out how to get the most from a sheet – telling the machines where to punch and fold.  It’s interesting stuff really.

From day-to-day, you’ll find me involved in almost every project that comes through Flexiform. Every product needs programming of some sort.

How has your time been at Flexiform?

They’re a lovely bunch at Flexiform. I’ve been here many years now. Like most manufacturers, we have seen our ups and downs over the years. A lot of faces have come and gone over the years, though there are a lot of the people who were here when I first started and are still here now. We’re a great team.

Highlights of this year so far?

Clerkenwell Design Week was a big one for me. I love the energy and enthusiasm that runs through the Engineering, Design and Marketing teams in the build-up to the event. Everybody is so animated – throwing ideas around – scribbling ideas down on paper – prototyping, and experimenting.  We all get involved in every aspect of the process. It’s a great opportunity to get back to the floor and become involved in the product development. There were a few late nights this year, drilling, fixing, cutting and making sense of the Marketing departments crazy ideas.

Once we’ve got the ideas together and have decided the layout of the Gee Street (our London) showroom, I get involved with the build of the new products. Once it’s all put together, it’s immensely satisfying to see.  Even better is when we get to go down to the show and see what we have created and the reactions from customers. This year we produced a bunch of products that were out of our comfort zone. We really pushed ourselves.  Getting out to a site and hearing the feedback really is a great way to end a project.

Best project to date?

Difficult, we have had some challenges over the years!  Barnsley Council springs to mind, totally bespoke personal organisers over 4 floors of furniture. Another more recent one is the design and manufacturing of the HS2 bike shelters, which you might see popping up here and there around major cities.  Basically, we have designed a secure public bike storage unit. This was great to work on, we made a prototype from scrap palettes,  so we could work out the angles, as well as the sizes and door tolerances. It was great fun getting back to basics. All our 3D cad software is great, but you can’t beat messing with materials.

What lies ahead for the future of manufacturing?

The world of manufacturing is moving fast, but whether artificial intelligence plays a stronger role in the production of furniture, I don’t know. It could be useful, but you’ll never be able to replicate the creativity that we have here at Flexiform, as well as the understanding of our customer needs.  Flexiform is successful because we listen to the customers, Flexiform is famous for flexibility and the amount of specials we do.  If a customer wants it, we will do our best to make it.

What are you doing right now?

We are looking carefully at customer feedback we got from Clerkenwell Design Week products.  Our best designers are our customers; they really know what they want. By listening, we can design the customer’s perfect products. Customers always have interesting insights that can help take our furniture to the next level. Whether we’re looking at improving the ergonomic design of something or making it more accessible for a wider variety of people, the information we’ve garnered from displaying our most recent ranges at the CDW festival will enable us to make lots of improvements.

It’s what we like to do here at Flexiform – look at our past successes and think about how we can make things even better. Continuous improvement is a kind of motto that runs through our design team, and it’s something I fully embrace – it makes my future and the future of Flexiform very exciting.