In to the frying-pan, or at least the manufacturing floor. An early start (the Greenhouse has one production shift, unlike the other facilities, which runs 6a-2p) jumping onto the production floor to follow an operator—the name for those who work on assembling the chairs. It was a great opportunity to look up close and personal at the assembly process, the method of assembly of the chair itself and to interact with the workers of all levels to hear their thoughts and feelings.
During the day, I was lucky enough to come across an engineer who was prototyping a new housing for materials as they come to the operators. Although this was a small part of the day, it was very interesting to see her work and hear her interactions with the operators in terms of treating them like the client and ensuring that their experience is improved. I'll be open and honest (probably not to my benefit) to say that I wasn't actually that interested in the assembly of the product, but more in the social side of the process. I found the system Herman Miller has in place to be strong and obviously very focused in its need to address efficiency (one of the chairs is produced on the lines every 30ish seconds).
Herman Miller definitely seems to take care of its employees well. They have a a stretch session in the morning, and the HMPS (Herman Miller Performance System), who would have known—an American corporation with a love for acronyms—seems to promote a desire for "facilitators" (zone or section managers) to jump in to help where needed. From its Japanese context, it was definitely interesting to see Americans interacting with a system which isn't natural to them as much. The stretch session for example, was seen as more of a opportunity to talk than a mandated health break which could help prevent situations like carpel tunnel. I wonder also how Toyota deal with their staff at lunch time—whether they force them to eat healthily or to perform certain actions, rather than allowing them to eat pulled pork sandwiches and sit on their phones. This isn't meant as any kind of scathing attack (no matter how much it might sound like it), and I don't think that a company should be able to force it employees in some of these things, but more its meant as an observation of the potential gulf between Toyota Japanese and Herman Miller Midwestern culture. It was definitely interesting to see where the line for design and engineering is for me—I'm inclined to see the construction and assembly of the product as the job of an engineer and don't tend to think about it in my design. Hopefully this will help me in the future, although I doubt I will have to design something quite so complicated for a while.