Modular Hospital Furniture With thinkdesign

By on August 25, 2009

Images of America (IOA) Healthcare Furniture offers a family of motion and stationary hospital furniture designed to simplify and bring harmony to the process of providing and receiving healthcare.  The family-run business is based in the heartland of furniture-making in America, Thomasville, N.C., where the company designs, fabricates and ships a unique line of custom and standard hospital furnishings for acute care settings, patient rooms and lobbies.

The firm almost exclusively serves a client base of architects and interior designers, creating aesthetically pleasing, yet highly functional and durable furnishings for new hospital constructions and major renovations.  IOA Healthcare’s specialty “motion” furniture includes recovery recliners – for post-surgical patients; maternity wards and premature infant care; convertible furnishings for patient rooms; and modular lobby seating.

IOA Healthcare’s new, signature Kangaroo chair has fast become one of the company’s most popular products.  Designed initially for neonatal intensive care and maternity units, the chair provides a nurturing, “cocoon-like” environment for mothers, fathers and/or caregivers to hold and care for premature infants during the early stages of life, when constant human touch has been proven to drastically reduce the mortality rate for tiny patients.  The chair has also found its way into post-surgical orthopaedic settings (e.g., hip replacement).  For other kinds of post-surgical recovery, the company offers a line of recovery recliners that are well suited for this purpose.  The recliners make it easy for patients to get in and out of the chair, and for physical therapists to put patients into the exact positions required for treatment.

Functionality and durability are equally important for hospital settings, so every piece of furniture created by IOA Healthcare is designed to function 24 hours per day.  During the day, patient room furniture serves as chairs or sofas.  At night, it converts into beds, providing overnight accommodations for family members, a particularly popular item for children’s hospitals.

IOA Healthcare Moves from “Pencil & Paper” to 3D Computer Aided Design

In mid-2000, IOA Healthcare Furniture began making the transition from using strictly “pencil and paper”, to 3D computer aided design.

“For more than 20 years, every single product designed by our company was sketched by hand and handcrafted,” explains IOA Healthcare Engineering Manager, Jim Austin.  “It wasn’t even AutoCAD; it was all drawings.  I’ve got hundreds of paper drawings.  We built multiple prototypes before obtaining the ‘right’ design, a time consuming and error prone methodology.  There wasn’t a lot of precision and when you’re dealing in a completely flat 2D world, there are always things that come up that you don’t anticipate, which require changes along the way.”

Austin brought extensive background in 3D design with him to IOA Healthcare when he joined the company in 1999.  “I’d used SolidWorks and Pro/E, as well as AutoCAD in the past.  I recognized the tremendous benefits we’d get out of working in 3D, so I set out to evaluate the commercial CAD packages on the market to see which one would be best suited to our needs.  I became interested in thinkdesign after trying out the company’s video game-based learning tutorial, The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy, and a demo CD of thinkdesign.

“After taking a look at SolidWorks, SolidEdge and Inventor, it was immediately apparent that thinkdesign was the one we were going to use.  It fitted the way we work here, whereas all the others were strictly solid modelers at the time.  We liked the creative freedom we get with the surfacing capabilities and it just seemed to have better functionality overall for what we do.

“So, thinkdesign was our top choice.  It was easy to use, an important factor since one of the other users is brand new to CAD.

“We also needed to be able to communicate with outside suppliers, who work strictly with AutoCAD.  For instance, our foam supplier cuts foam patterns for the seats, keeping his patterns in AutoCAD.  When we have a new design, we’ll be able to send the profiles to him in .dwg format so that he can cut them right away.  The same with our plywood frames.  This way, there’s no re-keying data, no long process, and we get what we need exactly how we asked for it.  Eventually, we’d also like to take the hundreds of ‘paper and pencil’ drawings we’ve done and put them into the system.  We were satisfied that thinkdesign fit the bill in both areas.

“Also, it was priced right for us and the subscription pricing was a natural fit for us.  Given how rapidly technology improves, we thought it wiser to go on a subscription plan rather than purchase software.”

First Project: “Kangaroo” Neonatal Recliner

The Kangaroo recliner for neonatal intensive care was the first project IOA Healthcare tackled using thinkdesign.  “We were approached by a neonatal intensive care unit nurse to design something for what’s known as ‘kangaroo care’ in the medical community.  Of course, we had no idea what that was at the time.  Soon, we found out that this form of treatment for premature babies was first developed in 1983 in Bogota, Colombia, where they were struggling with a 70 percent mortality rate.  Out of desperation, they began experimenting to find out the impact of parents and caregivers holding the babies all day rather than keeping them in incubators.  What they discovered almost immediately was that using this technique, the mortality rate dropped to 30 percent.

Another of IOA Healthcare's products -- the 419-50 Matteo Sleeper recliner fully extended.“So, our design challenge for the Kangaroo chair was to create a chair that you could move in and be comfortable in for very long periods of time.  Out of the hundreds of designs that we’ve produced over the years, we knew that none of them would be quite right for this particular product.  We knew we couldn’t use just traditional construction and that it couldn’t be a traditional recliner.”

Austin and his colleagues began by tossing around some ideas and sketches on the white board.  “First, we threw some shapes up on the board, then used thinkdesign to turn those shapes into a steel frame to form the inside of the chair.  From an outside shape, we worked backwards toward an inside shape to make it really soft, inviting and comforting chair that would wrap around the adult and child.  With the structural and aesthetic attributes in place, next we built a mechanism – a gas cylinder – that would allow the back and leg sections to be manoeuvred independently in an infinite number of positions.  The goal was create a chair that you could sit in all day with a soft and generous back cushion to provide comfort and a sense of security for the parent or caregiver and infant, allowing them to find and safely remain in the most comfortable position at any given time,” says Austin.

The design team achieved that goal in just 90 days, from concept to manufacturing, says Austin.  “With thinkdesign, we saved 50 percent in design time on our first project!  The finished product operated just as prescribed by the customer – and it worked the first time.  Based upon our ‘trial-and-error’ experience with a traditional 2D methodology, I have no doubt this design would have taken twice as long and the first prototype wouldn’t have worked.

IOA Healthcare Expects to Bring 4X More Products to Market This Year

Within weeks of using thinkdesign, the IOA Healthcare design team was up and running, and highly productive in 3D, according to Austin.  “It couldn’t have been easier,” he says, “nothing like any of my previous experience with CAD products, which were all very difficult to learn and use.  Since the president of the company still likes to sketch, I have a large white board in my office where he can sketch and I can enter the ideas straight into the computer, capturing what he wants right from the beginning.”

Internal framing configuration for the Kangaroo recliner shown in thinkdesign.Over the past six months, IOA Healthcare has already produced more than 10 products using thinkdesign, which is more than double the number of designs completed in the same timeframe last year.

“At this rate, we’re on track to bring more than four times the number of products to market this year than we did last year.  So, we’re definitely saving lots of time on the initial design.  With thinkdesign, we usually only build one prototype – and it works as expected the first time.  We used to build several prototypes to ‘fix’ design problems.

“Where thinkdesign is really paying off, is in the second time we have to build a product and it’s slightly different.  Since all of our designs are captured in the system, it’s easy now to reuse elements of them in subsequent designs.  We’ve done it on several pieces already.  Since our business is largely custom-order, we never really build the exact same thing twice.  Now it’s easy to change shapes and to customize width and depth and seat heights.  On an interior designer or architect’s whim, we can make a change that makes the end product a little bit more unique for the hospital setting, something they really appreciate.  All we have to do is take an existing design, make changes to the assembly file and save it off in a different part name.”

IOA Healthcare: At the Forefront of Hospital Furniture Design

IOA Healthcare Furniture interacts with architects and designers to market their products, but the company also communicates closely with healthcare professionals who provide valuable input on patient needs.  Fifty percent of the company’s product offerings on its website and in its catalog were originally custom orders designed in close collaboration with physicians, nurses, and physical therapists to address special patient requirements.

Breakthroughs in medical procedures and surgical recovery plans have continued to influence the evolution of healthcare furniture design for companies such as IOA Healthcare.  “We like to think that we are at the forefront of designing furniture that affords patients and healthcare professionals a high level of comfort and reassurance in a product line that’s very practical, yet aesthetically appealing,” says Austin.

Furthermore, today’s hospital rooms barely accommodate the patient’s bed, let alone additional furniture.  Size restrictions and furniture function are big issues for IOA Healthcare.  “If a piece of furniture can be used for sitting by day and reclined at night to accommodate an overnight guest, all the better,” notes Austin.  “Yet, the pieces can’t be too big to get in the way of medical procedures or nursing attention, or be too heavy so that cleaning crews can’t move it.  There are a lot of parameters to consider when developing new furniture products for the healthcare industry and we’re extremely excited about the role that thinkdesign is playing to help us meet – and exceed – the expectations of our clients, while at the same time providing a valuable service to hospital patients and their families.”



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