It's the last day at Bernhardt, and time to head over to plant 4. Plant 4 is an interesting one—only opened a few years ago, it operates under plant 3 (wood) and 7 (seating and upholstery), doing some of the pre-manufactured pieces for both, some of the larger pieces, like conference and task chair assembly.
The first thing to notice is that its a much larger and much more modern environemnt than the other plants. Its more of a classic warehouse, which allows for lots of verticle space. Everything that comes into the plant is greeted by the QC department, which inventory everything from vendor, who are spread all over the world. This usually starts with a 10% check, followed by another 10% if it fails—meaning 1 in every 10 boxes pulled. Certain things require a little more observations, so all glass and corian is 100% inspected, to make sure that it meets Bernhardts standards. Regarding tracking quality, it starts with a photo inside the receiving truck, to look for damage to pallets from shipping and transport or packing. Once boxes are opened and inspected, the inspectors take photographs of damage and imperfections and record them to allow them to track problems, zeroing in on where the problem lies (with packing or with manufacturing process), and to work on developing processes to improve. Here they are inspecting pretty much every material Bernhardt deals with: corian, glass, veneers, wood, foam, chromed metal parts, all which carry their own characteristics.
On one side of plant 4 is the plant 3 side (wood), where a large inventory of stock of furniture which is produced/assembled elsewhere is held. Once ordered, this is then finished (and if it is a conference table, it is uv treated) and either sent through to further assembly, where conference and modular pieces are fitted with brackets and grommets, or straight through to shipping. At this point for conference tables, the hand cut metal extrusions are added, and if customer requests staging to check they will. On the other side of plant 4 is the plant 7 side (seating), where all the task chairs are assembled by hand. This includes foam, upholstery, and assembly, with sewn parts coming from plant 7. This is all followed by standard QC and one in every large order is pulled for testing at the test facility. The packing section was pretty interesting in the sense that, as mentioned before these large surfaces and pieces of wood can get damaged fairly easily as they are pretty heavy. Shipping them can be a pretty big deal and to stop them being dropped in transit but the blame landing at the plant they use these nifty little things called shockdots, which show rough handling.
And that was pretty much it, so maybe its time for some final thoughts on Bernhardt design? Well, the obvious things first—they're a huge company, and whilst they seem less corporate, the divisions make things seem pretty red-tapy and confusing from the outside, and they obviously care intensely about design and quality. The weirder things I've caught myself thinking about—a conversation about a more "Southern" design aesthetic in which pieces are part of an environmental aesthetic-pieces combined to greater aesthetic (rather than more loud, individual pieces which scream for attention). Spending longer on the manufacturing floor has also made me think about anther really interesting problem which is larger than one specific company or area and is something which manufacturing as a whole faces, which is to do with skill, experience and age in respect to the available workforce. This is due to many issues: a rising level of education, a reduction in the desire to work in manufacturing, the lowering of the conception of manual labor as a respectable career, through to things like engagement with younger generations at younger ages, drug addiction, draining of communities from rural environments, and even the effect of large stores like Walmart on local communities and economies.