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Bringing value and durability to furniture manufacturers

Black office chair with red seat cushion undergoes durability test at Holland, Michigan lab

November 28, 2017

Purchasing furniture is a significant investment for most people. Add the words “depreciating asset” to the mix and you may understand why an organization wants to get not only the best value for their money but also the product that is most durable too.

Asset depreciation, which allows a business to use a tax-write off to pay for fixed assets, lets a company asses the value of an object over time. The organization then uses that information to report actual asset expenses compared to the cost of purchasing the asset.

In laymen’s terms, businesses want to see a return on their investment. Was the purchase of Betty Smith’s desk worth the money? Did they get good use of the furniture?

And while it’s fairly easy for a business to gauge how well a piece of furniture performed in retrospect, it is far more useful to know this information before making a purchase.

Fortunately, UL’s lab in Holland, Michigan puts a variety of commercial office furniture—everything from desks and chairs to cubicle panels—to the test. With over twenty different types of fully-automated, custom-built machines, the lab can replicate the effects of expected usage to gauge the safety, durability and structural integrity of commercial furniture.

The lab not only reviews industry standards but also develops Standards and customized test programs that help its customers demonstrate the quality and integrity of their products.


For example, explains Joe LaGrow, global strategic account manager, the seating impact test that was developed by the industry, is used to replicate a person getting in and out of a chair. A separate test is performed on the chair’s caster, back and so forth.

Showcasing Quality

The UL team has over 100 years of experience testing and delivering quality solutions with a focus on efficient service delivery. They help develop test programs beyond industry standards for the residential and commercial space and build the test equipment that is used by many in the industry.

Some tests are performed according to Business Institutional Furniture Manufacturer's Association (BIFMA) standard which covers normal, single shift usage of one person using the equipment for eight hours a day over ten years.

The equipment runs 24/7 with each test taking approximately 3 ½ days to complete or about 20 cycles per minute.

More Than Testing

What’s really interesting about the lab is that they not only build equipment for use within their facility but they also develop and sell custom testing equipment for in-house use.

As Michael O’Hara, director of UL’s Global Furniture Business Unit, explains, “Our UL facility in Holland is very well located because of the high volume of furnishings manufacturing being done in western Michigan, so the facility is really that center where we build and construct machinery.”

For manufacturers who opt to make a long-term investment in their product development strategy by selecting furniture testing equipment that improves product development and speed to market, there are benefits in choosing UL for testing equipment, including:

  • Validate prototypes
  • Validate first production runs
  • Verify manufacturing production
  • Verify customer complaints or failures
  • Validate components changes to existing products
  • Validate test results from third-party test lab or manufacturer
  • Develop and conduct custom tests

“Our testing gets logged every morning for every machine that’s running,” according to Dan Kolean, lab manager for the facility. The machines, which have a degree of intelligence built into them, are set with parameters such as a distance of travel or so many weight drops per second.

“If the machine detects that the chair has dropped more than an inch or two, it will suddenly stop,” explains Kolean


“As a purchaser and a person making that buying decision, they want to have as much information as possible about how well the product performs. Buyers want to mitigate as much risk as possible and people have more peace of mind when they see the UL Mark or UL test report that says this product meets industry standards,” says O’Hara.

And, when money is on the line, it is often essential for purchasers to buy quality products that meet rigorous performance standards.

Is this type of furniture testing required by law? No, but going through the process clearly demonstrates that the manufacturer wants to make sure that their products meet not only their own stringent company guidelines but adheres to industry standards as well.