STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office

The art of project management on contour cushions

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The horseshoe-shaped seating for an aft cockpit required an elaborate checklist to ensure that all the customer’s requests were fulfilled.

Terri Madden’s July/August 2016 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

You can browse the PDF, or read the text version below.

Marine fabricators are a unique group of craftspeople and business owners. Many of us are familiar with the notion that creative pursuits are right brain activities, while math and logic are left brain activities. As marine fabricators, we utilize the right sides of our brains for design solutions that meet customers’ aesthetic and practical expectations. At the same time, we utilize the left sides of our brains for business activities like managing shop operations, doing complicated mathematical calculations, and making sure that all project specifications are completed.

The two sides our of work come together through good project management skills, so each person on the team knows what he or she is responsible for and the corresponding deadlines. My business has been fortunate to have an inspiring coach who repeatedly stresses, “Any project that we don’t plan will take us to hell!” Most fabricators would agree with this motto.

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Sketch and measurements for seven seats and four bolsters

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The pattern for the cockpit cushions

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The side view and front view of a single aft seat

Detailed spreadsheets

We use an Excel spreadsheet to list the job details from start to finish along with realistic timelines. The details we include are:

  • Travel to the job site.
  • Patterning at the vessel with all cushion perimeters marked and all identifications noted as well as photos.
  • Materials needed. If necessary, include your research time to identify customers’ preferred choices. Check for stock items, submit purchase orders. Follow up with local suppliers or on items being shipped.
  • Production card planned with name of team member(s) and their respective tasks and processes.
  • Team review with photos to discuss scope of job, time frame, and assigned tasks.
  • Examine the patterns for all necessary indicators such as notches, zippers, seam joins etc. For the project described in this article a non-skid backing was included.
  • Layout diagrams for materials and foam.
  • Cutting directions for material.
  • Sewing details, including any training, if required.
  • Inspections and daily review to insure accuracy and timing.
  • Foam cutting and Dacron toppers.
  • Foam inserted into covers.
  • Inspection of new cushions before delivery
  • Transportation and installation at vessel.
  • “After” photos to post on Facebook, other social media sites and newsletters.
  • Job review with team members

Reviewing this list of everyday responsibilities can be eye opening. Depending on the size of your business, you may have separate personnel handling these tasks, or some employees may have multiple tasks.

Verify that all of the details are noted on the final pattern, to insure that each component of your project will be delivered in a timely and profitable manner. As you know, any forgotten detail will cost you time and employee frustration.

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6-7. Early and final patterns for a single seat cushion. 8. Notched contour area for accurate joining of top and bottom faces. 9. Bottom face with non-skid fabric and zipper installed.

Planning sleeker contour cushions

A recent fabrication project involving contour cushions for a 43-foot catamaran drove home the importance of project management. For this seating project, the scope and sequence of the project was complex. By thoroughly detailing every aspect of the job, I could accurately project the time needed for the production schedule, including the purchase of materials.

Our creativity was unleashed on this project as we experimented with a sleeker contour for the new catamaran cushions. The captain of the vessel had forwarded sufficient details with an area layout along with material preferences and requirement dates. That was enough information for us to provide an estimate.

We commenced to pattern the horseshoe shaped seating of the aft cockpit, which we learned is the most used seating area of this vessel.  We prepared a checklist to review with the captain during our visit to confirm the details for the following:

  • Cushion design. See sketches and final pattern indicators for a sleek contour at tubing locations.
  • Total number of cushions.
  • Materials for top and bottom material.
  • Thread type and color, topstitching details.
  • Zipper color, size and slider location. We like to place slider tabs on the inside for cushions that won’t be opened frequently.
  • Foam type and density.
  • Dacron toppers.
  • Nonskid base.
  • Piping, ties, snap tabs, Velcro and other components.
  • Starboard base. For the captain seat we supplied a new ½-inch panel of starboard.
  • Bolsters and accent pillows, including quantity and sizes.

All of this information was used as the guideline for filling in our job spreadsheet. We entered all data and updated the spreadsheet for a final accurate job cost. Keep in mind that job sheets can act as templated guides on future projects; we can tweak similar spreadsheets for new projects with just a few changes.

We include the following:

  • All job materials.
  • Separate pricing for all components and percent mark up.
  • Quantities.
  • Shipping costs.
  • Task times for each phase (total labor hours) for a final accurate job cost.

After the seating project was started, the boat owner requested the patterns with the job. In the past we have been asked to retain patterns, and we keep a 2 percent inventory of material in case the owner needs an emergency replacement. Currently, many projects are digitalized and it is easy to maintain or provide a duplicate for any item. Company policies vary for storing and providing job patterns. Terri, what is your policy? Only one design co has asked us to retain patterns for  1 year.

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10. Inside view of notch indicators at contour and zipper detail. 11. Outside view of cushion at a corner contour for tubing and topstitch detail to hold seams in place. 12. The first step involves sewing the outside edge of the zipper tape to the inside of mesh. 13. For the second step, on the outside of the mesh, cut open the mesh along zipper teeth. For the third step, fold the mesh toward the tape edge and top stitch.

Encouraging your employees 

Project management includes encouraging and coaching your employees. Shop owners and managers need to ensure that employees have the skills to thrive under pressure, and that requires communication, training, and recognition. We need to cultivate new employees by exposing them to small projects where they can gain confidence. All employees, no matter what their length of service, need to be recognized for their skills that result in a well-executed project.

At the end of a project, ask your employees what their biggest learning experience was. Point out aspects of the work that you appreciated. Build on their strengths and coach them on their weaknesses. It is essential that team members feel satisfaction for contributing toward a successful project.

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14. Don’t be fooled by the clean look of new cockpit cushions; the elegant outcome is the result of detailed planning and execution.

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Author: Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Sand Sea and Air Interiors is the foremost creative and cutting-edge textile studio in the Caribbean. We pursue the design and construction of a sophisticated style focused on quality, comfort and durability, and specialize in unique applications, from dramatic seating and shade solutions to tasteful tote bags for tropical environments. – Terri Madden, owner of Sand Sea and Air Interiors (SSA), is a Bachelor of Science in Textile Design from Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, Philadelphia, PA, and possesses extensive experience and ability in design and fabrication. Nowadays, as an active member of the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA), Madden speaks professionally at national seminars on subjects such as yacht interiors, cushion construction and window treatments. Madden also frequently contributes articles for Marine Fabricator Magazine. – We'd love to hear from you at info@sandseaair.com!

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