About the company
Steelcase began in 1912 as The Metal Office Furniture Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company received its first patent in 1914 for a steel wastebasket -- a major innovation at a time when straw wastebaskets were a major office fire hazard. Today, Steelcase has some 13,000 employees and more than 600 dealer locations around the world, and offers solutions addressing the three core elements of office environments: interior architecture, furniture and technology.
Like other design-focused companies, Steelcase has long relied on powerful, expensive software applications like Pro Engineer, Micro Station and AutoCAD to model products. These applications use significant computing power to render very highly detailed models, and so aren’t ideal for creating and modifying less-polished design concepts. Steelcase wanted a more streamlined design solution, one that would make it easier to iterate concepts on the fly.
In 2004, Steelcase began using SketchUp. SketchUp made it simple to render basic models using desktop computers. Suddenly, Steelcase designers were able to create models of preliminary design concepts much earlier in the design process, without having to power up a supercomputer. According to Karl Mead, Principal Designer at Nurture, a Steelcase company focused on developing workplace design solutions for healthcare companies, “SketchUp let us see what products would look like, or model complete worlds full of many products, using our existing Macs and Windows machines.”
Today, Steelcase designers use SketchUp to develop and share design ideas at all steps of the product development process – from R&D to concepting and prototyping product ideas to developing final product specifications. According to Mead, “We can start solving problems very early in the product development process and get to better solutions faster.” And because SketchUp’s simple enough that non-engineers can use it, it makes it easy for designers to solicit and integrate feedback from customers and sales and marketing folks. According to Robin Bowles, Principal Designer, Workspace Futures, “People download SketchUp, and with little training, validate products before we go into hard engineering.”
SketchUp has also become central to Steelcase’s sales and marketing efforts. Salespeople access an extensive library of images of the company’s products, which Steelcase stores in 3D Warehouse, to show customers specific product features, or to create custom models of complex solutions in a matter of seconds. Marketing people also use the company’s image library, to create marketing materials. "Steelcase maintains 36 catalogs that include 45,000 images. In the past these images have been drawn from engineering information by an ad agency at 100.00 an hour. Today new drawings for new catalogs are created using the Industrial Design Sketchup files", says Michael Kanoza, Consulting Graphics Analyst. "The drawings for the catalogs are started sooner in the process and at a significant cost reduction.”. Also thanks to SketchUp, today the company starts training dealers and pre-selling new products fully three months earlier than before.
With SketchUp and the 3D Warehouse, Steelcase develops and markets new products more quickly and cost-effectively than ever. As Mead puts it, “SketchUp is a critical factor in our success.”