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Innovation Award: Three H Furniture Systems

Growing on its history of fine craftsmanship, Three H established a reputation of quality and reliability in the office furniture market.

Three H Furniture Systems was founded in 1973 as a family-run business – and nearly 40 years later, the New Liskeard company still very much is.

Based on European design, Three H builds their furniture to the inch, to easily accommodate any custom request.

Over the years, the company has gone through several changes.

Most notably, the switch from producing hand-crafted wood for residential customers, to manufacturing furniture exclusively for the commercial market.

With the boom in cheap furniture becoming the norm from big box retailers, Three H made the choice in the late 1980s to stay away from that market and move towards a new one.

Growing on its history of fine craftsmanship, Three H established a reputation of quality and reliability in the office furniture market.

Three H furniture can be found in the North Bay Regional Health Centre, Temiskaming Shores city hall, the Victor M. Power Airport in Timmins, an RCMP detachment in Red Deer, Alta., Winnipeg's Red River College, Canadian embassies in Uganda and Afghanistan, and in the White House.

"We specialize in small offices, in boardroom tables, reception areas and mail rooms," said Patricia Willard-Inglis, the company's senior analyst. "Within the last five years, we've also developed multi-station office furniture where the units can be re-configured if need be, to change the design and look of your office."

Three H not only supplies Northern Ontario with its products, but partners with other companies in the North to help manufacture, package and deliver them.

"We buy from our Northern businesses," said Willard-Inglis. "We're a Northern business supporting Northern businesses."

Based in New Liskeard, and with showrooms in Toronto, Chicago and Phoenix, the company has a combined workforce of 85.

It was at Chicago's NeoCon Show, this past June where Three H unveiled a web technology they've been working on for more than two years.

RED, which stands for Rapid, Easy, Design, is a proprietary software extension for Google Sketchup that allows anyone to design and price layouts for free.

It was developed by Three H's design team.

Three dimensional models can be produced within minutes.

"It really blends well with Three H," said Willard-Inglis. "The intuitive system is a built-in intelligence that will tell you when something won't or can't work. If you're building something, it actually tells you if you're doing something right or something wrong."

When somebody builds a piece of furniture, it's linked to their production facility and produces all the parts needed to complete the project.

"This way, you can't make a mistake between quoting and production," she said. "The production report is exactly what's on screen."

RED helps Three H just as much as the public, said Willard-Inglis.

Three H used to design furniture through one person drawing a line diagram, and then having them go through their database to pick individual parts.

"You can imagine that if you're having a bad day, or if you're very busy, you might forget a part," she said. "Then when they go to put it together, they're missing something that would result in an emergency order. This alleviates those problems."

The software is complete, and is available at Three H's website. They're consistently updating and improving it, said Willard-Inglis.