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Futon Mechanisms part 2

    In-Depth Primer ~ Futon Frame Mechanisms Page 2

PART 2 - The Metal Age

In part one of this article we outlined the historical past. People like William Brouwer, Ron Massey, and Bob Fireman set the stage for other designers and engineers to bring even better and more efficient mechanisms to market. Many of these early designers were solving problems on the fly and making what they felt were improvements with little or no background in the field of furniture design. As the futon frame evolved two schools of thought developed, both based on the so called “slider” mechanism. Some designers went with mechanics that allowed the frames to convert from the front, while others used mechanics that required the operator to be behind the frame or sometimes at the side of the frame when converting it. Most of the “front” operating designs were wall huggers, to one degree or another.

Both styles of frames employed the use of a horizontal and vertical slider. The horizontal slider, which runs along the inside of each arm stretcher, allows the seat rack to move forward and back during conversion. The vertical slider, which runs along the back leg of each arm, allows the back rest to move from vertical to horizontal during conversion. They also employed a form of the kicker or a pivot bar of some kind. Both of these elements, or fulcrum mechanisms, allowed the seat and backrest to engage each other and move together in the conversion process. (Figure 1) Others, like Pete Dodge and Dave Chadbourn, brought us several designs that employed springs to help their frames convert. Nikita Griegorev's EZ used wheels to ease the conversion process. All of this in the context of breaking new ground. This was a new category of furniture which had no history to build upon. Many of these early designers were solving problems on the fly and making appropriate changes with little or no background in the furniture design field.

In 1987 Nippon of Denmark introduced the first metal mechanism for a convertible futon frame. The arm was fashioned after the very successful Dove arm (Figure 2), but that is where any similarity ended. The mechanism itself was very “European”: elegant, functional, and based on a simple ratchet system. It consisted of the ratchet mechanism attached to the base of each arm. The ratchet mechanism itself consisted of a complex set of interactive arms. The ratcheting function, built into the mechanism, allowed the frame to lock in the sitting or sleeping position and to convert from sitting, to reclining, to sleeping and back easily, from the front.

Though it was revolutionary to the industry at the time, the mechanism's principle had been around for years. The application to a product in a growing category like futon furniture was the key. The metal mechanism attached to the metal base made the frame almost indestructible. The price was another issue. Nippon remained in the market through 1992, but has since decided to focus on the European market. Today Innovation USA, one of Europe's premier futon furniture manufacturers, is recommitting to the US market with their line of Danish metal frames with their own metal mechanism.

The China Syndrome

Promotionally-priced imports from Asia currently dominate most of the metal scene. These frames utilize a very simple metal-on-metal mechanism (Figure 3) which lacks the elegance achieved by the Nippon design. These frames convert easily but their price speaks volumes about their quality and durability. Strangely enough, consumers looking for a simple alternative to the cheapest sofa-beds, have been buying these frames by the container load.

Hot Metal

Today there are four companies vying for their share of the metal futon mechanism, futon frame market. Each company has developed their own unique solution to the mechanism issue. Three of these firms are large players in the bedding business and the fourth is a specialist from Denmark with an American basecamp.

With the most futon experience of the four under its belt, Innovation USA's mechanism is time tested and reliable. Since most of its frames are designed in a very contemporary style the younger consumer they target is getting a great product with none of the typical low-end, promotional baggage attached.

With the most futon experience of the four under its belt, Innovation USA's mechanism is time tested and reliable. Since most of its frames are designed in a very contemporary style the younger consumer they target is getting a great product with none of the typical low-end, promotional baggage attached.

Innovation USA of Baltimore, MD, the American arm of Denmark's Innovation Randers, uses a very similar mechanism to the original Nippon frame. Rich and Cheryl DeBois, the owners of the distribution rights here in the United States, have come to the Futon Expo the past few years and won handily the Best Booth Display with their engineering and marketing marvels. The Innovation frames are designed to appeal to Gen Xers and feature a solid metal ratchet mechanism that works like a charm. The rest of the frame is well designed and built to exacting specs.

Simmons Futon, via United Sleep Products, has been in the market for a while. They use an excellent metal mechanism fitted to a solid hardwood futon frame. Simmons keeps the category's three components working together as a single unit marketing the frame, mattress and cover together. Their one finger mechanism operates as smooth as silk, and affords their customers a product they can understand from a name they can trust. With a well known brand name, the Simmons program works well with traditional furniture dealers as well as specialists.

Two years ago Hickory Springs entered the category with their hybrid seat and back mechanism called the Comfort Lounger®. This mechanism, from a true industrial bedding supplier, was picked up by several manufacturers including Broyhill, who continue to produce a futon frame under the Ridgewood brand name. Crestwood Leisure Products is also making a great line of beautiful, upholstered arm, convertible futon frames. Hickory Springs also introduced its own line of frames featuring the mechanism at the recent fall High Point market.

The unit includes both the conversion mechanism and the seat and back decks.
Fashion Bed Group, a bed frame maker owned by bedding giant Leggett & Platt, has been in the business for several years. But it has only now begun to make a move into the category in a leadership role under the direction of new President Ron Ainsworth. By developing his products around a Belgian made clik-clak ratchet mechanism, called the Triple Ease™, Ainsworth hopes to plant the company right in the middle of the futon frame business with an American made product that will put his company at the highest possible level among the few companies producing high end (retail of $599 and up) frames in the industry.

Several companies have attempted to fit metal mechanisms to wooden frames with varying results. The typical design application bolts the mechanism to the horizontal stretcher on the leg assembly. Today August Lotz, Elite Furniture, Otis and others (including the four companies mentioned above) use some type of metal and wood combination on some of their frames. Each of these companies, though, uses proprietary engineering designed for their use only. We attempted to get drawings of these mechanisms but some of the manufacturers were reluctant to have them printed here.

In our search for information on manufacturers of metal mechanisms for futon furniture we discovered only one. Pat Davis, of RTA Systems, is now the manufacturer of several mechanisms that have been around for many years. Made and marketed by a company called Waterloo Springs, the mechanisms were a standard part for many sofa-bed makers. RTA Systems has purchased the rights and dies from the now defunct Waterloo Springs and is once again making the mechanisms .

The company manufactures several products which will work very well on futon furniture designs. The DH-3 (Figure 4a) mounts to an under seat storage box or wood box frame. The DH-6 (Figure 4b), a second design, operates identically to the DH-3. The major difference between the two is where the hinge mounts to the frame.The DH-6 can only be mounted to an arm or some other supporting structure that is one-half inch from the ends of the seat/back unit. No box base is required underneath; therefore, a pair of “stretchers” that are attached to each arm provide all the stability required when in the seat or bed position. It is the obvious choice for the futon frame manufacturer that wishes to enter the “upscale” market without the hassle of grooved arms or “kicker” blocks. Naturally, upholstered arms can be used on this configuration as well.

By George They've Got It!

Today the negative drag on the industry produced by the $39, all metal, black tube frame from Asia seems to be subsiding. Dealers and vendors alike are finally seeing the light and hopefully now realize that this product will never serve their long term goals of growth and true customer satisfaction. The next generation of metal frames and mechanisms are of a much higher quality and target more substantial price points that keep margins at more traditional levels. The beauty of the cycle is apparent. As more and more quality dealers turn to the true value of a better frame and move away from the quick buck associated with these junk frames, consumers are getting “futons” that work well and in many cases “futons” that they can live with for years to come. We have always applauded quality and value with the understanding that they come at a price. It seems the current players in the metal game get it!

This update of the Futon Primer for 1999, a Futon Life Exclusive, is copyright protected under applicable US copyright laws. It is available for re-print by permission of the author and Futon Life only. It is also available, with additional materials, on the world wide web at http://www.futonlife.com.-Editor

Futon Life Tip:
Testing conversion mechanisms, by putting them through the same kinds of rigors they will experience in your customer's homes, can be accomplished by taking a unit home for a week or two with your family. Making sure those claims are true from personal experience will easily translate to a convincing position when you are trying to close that hard to sell customer.

There are certain aspects of frame construction where we like to experiment, but the hinge hasn't been one of them. We currently use an all-steel mechanism that I've seen used on at least nine of our competitors' products, so it's a real tried and true product. Now, we even use the same hinge on our all-wood bodies, and the results have been just as dependable. It's been an overall solid performer. -Marcus Grimm, Marketing Director, Simmons Futon

The Comfort Lounger metal futon mechanism from Hickory Springs Manufacturing Company has made a major impact, not only on the futon industry, but the furniture industry as well, because it offers the comfort and durability of upholstered furniture while retaining the style and simplicity of the basic futon frame. Hickory Springs has been forming tubular metal since its conception in 1944 so it was a natural fit for the company to begin producing a tubular metal futon frame.

Our design, engineering and operations teams developed many ideas and searched the world for innovative options. The end result was the introduction of a patented mechanism; Fashion Bed Group's Triple Ease. This metal, spring-loaded system, when applied to a wood deck, has proven to be the easiest operating futon mechanism in the business. We call it... 'The Smooth Operator' . -Ron Ainsworth, President-FB

 

 

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