Fibreline’s filling station
In upholstery, comfort matters – so it’s crucial to get the fillings right. Fibreline, best known for its Encore Feather, Fibre and (now) Foam cushions, is the UK’s largest independently owned upholstery cushion fillings manufacturer, and the go-to supplier for a growing number of manufacturers and retailers, explains MD Richard Prudhoe …
When did your involvement with Fibreline begin?
Having graduated in Production Engineering, and having spent a year working in a foam conversion business, producing foam insulation products, I joined Fibreline in 1992 to help my father (the MD) on a short term project … 27 years later, the project appears still to be finished!
How important is cushion filling manufacture to the wider upholstery sector?
Furniture design and fabric choice are clearly the initial requirement to grab a potential purchaser’s attention. But they will not buy the furniture if the level of comfort that the fillings provide does not meet their requirements.
The sit sells. The sit has to be right. Also, the performance of the fillings over the lifetime of the furniture is vitally important. It has to ensure customers are satisfied with the product they have spent their hard-earned money on.
For these reasons, Fibreline has an extensive range of fillings, to cater for the various types of sit that a furniture manufacturer may want to achieve. In addition, its high-performance Encore range of quality foam, fibre and feather cushions give a range of options for look and feel, with the reassurance of engineered performance over time.
Can you describe the breadth and scope of your customer base?
With such a large product range, we supply furniture manufacturers right across the UK, and right across the price range. Our standard fibre, feather and foam fillings are inside a high percentage of UK manufactured furniture. And our Encore products can be found in furniture in all leading furniture multiples and many of the high street independents.
Many are using our Encore PoS literature and cushion cross-sections to show the benefits of the engineered Encore construction.
What’s your favourite of the three?
Of course, all three are great, but the one I have at home is Encore Fibre. It’s designed to look and feel like a fibre cushion. You get that sink-in feeling of a fibre cushion, but with the engineered recovery performance of a foam insert, preventing flattening. But I have to admit the fillings on my sofa at home change frequently, as I like to try any new products being developed.
What are the advantages of sourcing solely from you as a one-stop shop?
With increasing pressure on all within the supply chain to operate lean businesses, working on JIT deliveries, Fibreline’s ability to supply all three main filling components required for a sofa means that customers place one order, with one supplier, receive one delivery, with one delivery note and one invoice to process.
This leads to efficiencies for the customer, and also enables Fibreline to offer very competitive pricing across all fillings, as they arrive on one vehicle.
Can you share some of the feedback you’ve received from retailers?
Manufacturers and retailers are increasingly looking for points of differentiation to their competitors. Fibreline’s ability to produce high-performance FIRA Gold award-winning Encore fillings, and more customer-specific combination fillings, means that Fibreline has become the cushion manufacturer to work with.
It’s especially relevant to designers looking for that edge over the competition. Customer feedback has confirmed that the Encore range produces a sit unmatched by other products, and when used has resulted in a noticeable reduction in customer complaints related to the cushion fillings.
Many retailers have also found the Encore PoS material is not only helpful in selling the advantages of the filling, but also in explaining the engineered makeup in comparison to more standard fillings.
Encore fillings are increasingly offered by retailers as an upgrade option, clearly indicating their confidence and satisfaction with the products.
What are they saying about Encore Foam in particular?
Encore Foam was developed in conjunction with customer feedback. On the back of the success of the Fibre and Feather Encore fillings, customers wanted to see a similar quality step in a 100% foam cushion. They wanted the uniform look and recovery of foam, but with the soft sit of fibre.
Traditional foam core seats have relied on high-loft polyester wadding to add plumpness and a soft sit. But this always results in the fibre flattening over time, and causing bagginess in the cover.
Fibreline developed an innovative 100% foam topper with a CNC-cut profile to provide loft, but softness as well. The removal of any fibre from the product produces a very uniform look, with a soft sit, but with great recovery performance. As with Fibre Encore, the Foam Encore was put through rigorous testing at FIRA before being awarded the FIRA GOLD award.
What turnaround times do you offer?
We have been able to consistently grow the business over recent years, through product and process innovation. We now produce fillings for about 4000 sofas a week, and offer a one-week turnaround on orders most of the year.
What does the incorporation of robot technology mean for your output?
We have now introduced robotic drilling of foam and robotic spraying of adhesive into the business. Both systems were the result of years of research and development, working with universities, research centres and robot integrators. The result has been a doubling of productivity in the areas where they have been deployed, and a step change in the consistency and quality of the products that we can produce.
Why have no other cushion manufacturer taken this route?
Traditional machinery suppliers to the industry have, I believe, failed to identify the need and the opportunities in this area of the industry. The cost of the research has been significant, and to accommodate the technology we have in some cases totally altered the way production worked. Neither of these things is easy or cheap.
I don’t really worry about what my competitors are doing, I just know what we as a business need to keep doing to meet our customers’ needs and expectations going forward.
What are your R&D people looking at right now?
On the manufacturing side we have just added a vision system to the drilling robot. This gives it the ability to see the product, identify it and confirm the required program.
On the product development side we are working closely with a number of manufacturers to develop bespoke combination fillings for particular briefs given by retailers.
How might a no-deal Brexit affect your supply chain?
Like most in the industry there is little pre-emptive action we can take. We can try and hold a bit more stock. But, with such a volumous raw material and finished product, we are limited.
We already trade with the rest of the world for many raw materials. Where our supply chain has a European element we are talking regularly with suppliers and have good supplier relationships. When we know what Brexit actually means, we will have a better idea of the implications.