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Branowski, B., Starczewski, K., Zabłocki, M., and Sydor, M. (2020). "Design issues of innovative furniture fasteners for wood-based boards," BioRes. 15(4), 8472-8495.

Abstract

A methodical approach to designing new furniture fasteners for lignocellulosic materials will uncover new sources of innovation. This paper presents an example of such a design procedure and its results. The outcomes are new concepts of mechanical fasteners for wood-based boards used in frameless furniture. At first, the requirements based on the furniture users, furniture manufacturers, and fastener manufacturers viewpoints were identified. These design criteria were analyzed, and as a result, seven ideas of fasteners with innovative features were created. The invented fasteners provided a starting point to generate prototypes. The prototypes were subjected to multi-dimensional methodical developed evaluations. The purpose of this paper is a detailed presentation of the pathway leading to solutions that are potentially beneficial in terms of product performance and of the identified design limitations. Two main conclusions were made. First, all mechanical furniture fasteners always are a combination of two functional subsystems, anchoring and drive. Secondly, there are a limited number of their design solutions. Despite the wide variety of market offerings, only four anchoring methods are used, and only two drive methods are used in all fasteners.


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Design Issues of Innovative Furniture Fasteners for Wood-based Boards

Bogdan Branowski,a Karol Starczewski,a Marek Zabłocki,b and Maciej Sydor c,*

A methodical approach to designing new furniture fasteners for lignocellulosic materials will uncover new sources of innovation. This paper presents an example of such a design procedure and its results. The outcomes are new concepts of mechanical fasteners for wood-based boards used in frameless furniture. At first, the requirements based on the furniture users, furniture manufacturers, and fastener manufacturers viewpoints were identified. These design criteria were analyzed, and as a result, seven ideas of fasteners with innovative features were created. The invented fasteners provided a starting point to generate prototypes. The prototypes were subjected to multi-dimensional methodical developed evaluations. The purpose of this paper is a detailed presentation of the pathway leading to solutions that are potentially beneficial in terms of product performance and of the identified design limitations. Two main conclusions were made. First, all mechanical furniture fasteners always are a combination of two functional subsystems, anchoring and drive. Secondly, there are a limited number of their design solutions. Despite the wide variety of market offerings, only four anchoring methods are used, and only two drive methods are used in all fasteners.

Keywords: Furniture; Design procedure; Design strategy; Engineering design; Furniture fasteners; Wood-based boards

Contact information: a: Digitouch sp. z o.o., ul. Różana 6, 62-002 Suchy Las, Poland; b: Faculty of Transport Engineering, Poznan University of Technology, ul. Piotrowo 3, 60-965 Poznań, Poland; c: Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology, Poznań University of Life Sciences, ul. Wojska Polskiego 28;

* Corresponding author: maciej.sydor@up.poznan.pl

INTRODUCTION

Furniture fasteners should contain joints with features that are beneficial to furniture users and manufacturers. A furniture user expects aesthetics values, functionality, and reliability, while a manufacturer expects low cost of manufacture, the versatility of application, load capacity, durability, and easy installation (Eckelman 1978; Bartashevich and Trofimov 2006; Smardzewski 2015; Podskarbi et al. 2016; Hitka et al. 2018; Langova et al. 2019; Máchová et al. 2019). The complex load in combination with the specific material properties of wood-based boards results in semi-rigid characteristic of furniture joints in frameless furniture (Joščák 2000; Branowski and Pohl 2004; Joščák and Langová 2018). A furniture joint fastener is usually loaded with internal forces (assembly clamping force – Fas) and with external forces (Fig. 1). Analytical modelling of the effects of these loads is rendered difficult by the diverse and time-variable strength characteristics of wood materials as well as the presence of co-existing pin joints, glued joints, and joints between the rear wall and the furniture body. A typical approach for obtaining the structural dimensions of furniture joints is the description of the structural properties of the connection using an experimentally determined relationship between the angle of relative rotation of the joined elements (Θ) and the bending moment (M) or the load force (F). This makes it possible to determine the actual load capacity and stiffness of a furniture structural node. The issues related to experimental studies and theoretical modelling of joint with fasteners in frameless furniture applications have been described in literature (Branowski and Pohl 2004; Sydor 2005; Smardzewski et al. 2016).

Fig. 1. Furniture joint with typical load patterns (M – external bending moment, Fas – assembly clamping force, Q – shear force, P – plane force): a and b – uniaxial stress; c and d – multiaxial stress

The specific design features of each furniture joint therefore depend on many variable factors. These features are determined by the material and geometric properties of the joined elements, the material and geometric properties of the fasteners, and the mounting sockets present in the joined components. The features also depend on the course of the assembly process; they can vary in time depending on the conditions of use (relaxation external load, plastic and elastic deformation, changes in ambient temperature and humidity). Expertly designed and correctly manufactured fasteners are a delicate compromise between the technological capabilities of the manufacturer, logistic efficiency in the fastener’s distribution, its ease of installation, and the performance of joints made using the fastener.

All relevant information available to the furniture designer is probabilistic (Tarnowski 1997). Consequently, designing a robust product involves making decisions in conditions of uncertainty with serious consequences for error (Asimow 1962). According to Taguchi (1993), a robust solution is a cost-effective and effective in use solution, i.e., a poly-optimal solution. One way of avoiding potential errors is to analyse some proven-in-use products with the same function, with respect to the applied detailed engineering design. The analysis can offer grounds for a creative design synthesis producing new, proprietary concepts of furniture joints. All new concepts need, at the pre-implementation stage, a multi-criterial evaluation and a resulting selection of the best designs (Asimow 1962; Branowski 1999; Cross 2008). The article analyses the current state of knowledge on furniture joints and presents the results of own design work aimed at developing new furniture fasteners with favorable performance features.

IDENTIFICATION OF PROBLEMS IN THE DESIGN OF FURNITURE FASTENERS

Analysing the Engineering Structure of Furniture Fasteners

The primary technical function of the furniture fasteners “TO CONNECT” can be broken down into a structure of several partial functions: “TO SET” the position of the joined board components of the furniture “TO TENSION” the elements “TO TRANSFER” the forces “TO ENSURE” the rigidity and load capacity of the furniture under variable conditions “TO DISCONNECT” the connection.

Table 1. Structural Decomposition of Furniture Fasteners

The engineering structure of furniture fasteners can be analyzed by considering two primary criteria of classification: the method of fastening to the panels (fastener anchoring system) and the method of ensuring the assembly clamping force during the assembly of furniture (fastener drive) (Sydor 2018). The classification is presented in Table 1 and includes two main methods of anchoring the fasteners to the board and four methods ensuring the assembly clamping force between the joined components. It may serve as a basis for listing all the possible solutions in a table, typical for General Morphological Analysis (GMA) developed by Zwicky (1967).

Anchoring the Fastener in the Joined Components

There is moderate diversity among the fastener anchoring methods; it is possible to use direct fastening (in the form of screwed in, nailed or glued mandrel) or indirect fastening (screwed or nailed in screwed or expanding muff) methods (Table 1). Other anchoring solutions (e.g., glued, directly frictional, shape-frictional (Branowski et al. 2018) or expanding – with catches pulled out from the body when the fastener is closed) are used less often for fastening connectors in the furniture, the most common way to anchor the furniture fastener is to use a thread (Sydor 2019).

Fig. 2. Sample engineering designs of mandrels and couplers: a – mandrel with driven in polyamide muff, b – mandrel with screwed in steel muff, c – directly screwed in mandrel, d – mandrel with brass coupler expanded by polyamide ball, e – screw connector of INVIS fastener, f – threaded mandrel with a coupler expanding cone, g – threaded mandrel with two coupler expanding cones, h – slidable mandrel with coupler expanding cones

Figure 2 presents some examples of engineering solutions of fastener anchoring systems in furniture. They provide connections with a strong local concentration of stress, connected with the transfer of forces from one joined element onto the other. The distribution of stresses is uneven along the length of the thread because of a very small elastic deformation of the threaded metal mandrel and nonuniform elastic deformation of the mounting sockets in the joined furniture panels made of foamed lignocellulosic fibrous composite (Sydor and Wieloch 2009; Sydor 2019; Chen et al. 2019). The material of the steel mandrel of the fastener (either extended or compressed) is much more rigid than the material of the lignocellulosic board; the concentration of load is at the end of the mandrel and increases with the increase in the Et/Ek ratio of the Young’s modulus of the mandrel and the wood composite board (e.g., the Et/Ek ratio is approximal 75 for chipboard and approximal 20 for oakwood). Generation of the assembly clamping force (Fig. 2c, d, e) or initial radial compressive stresses by self-threading or tight-fitting fastening results in a welcome change to the distribution of load.

A polyamide ball, the principal function of which is to expand the coupler in the mounting socket (Fig. 2d) during the installation, exerts an axial force perpendicular to the end face of the mandrel, which favourably affects the distribution of load on the respective coils of the thread (an evener distribution). A screwed-in coupler with glue increases the extraction force many times over. Designs shown in Figs. 2f, 2g, and 2h are commonly used in building construction anchoring systems. The two-cone solution can easily be used in expansion fastening of two panels of furniture at the same time.

Methods of Tensioning and Adjusting Assembly Forces in Furniture Joints

A fastener and joined furniture panels are subjected to a force necessary to ensure assembly clamping and furniture working load. The positioning and fixing the panels to be joined force is usually applied using a mechanism that is externally driven. The input of a rotary drive into the angular joint is positioned perpendicularly to the joint tensioning direction. Therefore, it needs an intersecting axis gear to translate the rotary motion of the drive (ROT – rotation) into mandrel travel (TRANS – translation). Table 2 presents commonly used types of fastener gear drives.

Table 2. The Main Types of Fastener Gear Drives

Gear drives used in fasteners are self-locking devices thanks to the series connection of two gears: toothed and friction gear. The gear drives are characterized by:

  • small wheel dimensions due to a small assembly opening of the pinion and wheel, fitting into a 10 mm (approx.) outline;
  • the kinematic (not force-related) character of the rotational motion from the manual or mechanic screwdriver onto the screw;
  • a lack of synchronised motion, which is typical of toothed gears. Interruptions in the motion are caused by a need to overcome some above standard inter-teeth play at the so-called contact ratio  < 1 (lack of cooperation between two pairs of pinion and wheel teeth during teeth engagement and disengagement);
  • a small number of teeth (e.g., z1 = 6, z2 = 7) on the cooperating gears prevents the involute profile of engagement. A simplified cycloidal profile, crown gears and simplified engagement of a worm gear with helical teeth are used more frequently;
  • reduced precision of manufacture and, most frequently, tooth contact of the cooperating gears, which limits the value of the transferred torque; also limiting the durability of the gear, which is not required in the furniture industry.

Types of Fasteners Used in Practice

Fasteners available on the market use different methods to ensure the assembly clamping force (Fas). Cam fasteners (Fig. 3) are generally used in self-assembly furniture. Easy assembly – even for a non-professional end-user of furniture – and favorable prices contribute to their extensive use. Their main disadvantages include high visibility in the joint, lack of possibility to have them preassembled by the manufacturer, and high proneness to assembly errors (Branowski and Pohl 2004). Eccentric fasteners fulfill the partial functions of “TENSION” and “ENSURE” to a limited extent only.

Fig. 3. Examples of cam fasteners: a – the view with mandrel and coupler, b – different design methods to secure the cam insert and mandrel against joint slackening

Figure 4 presents examples of fasteners with a gear drive (Fig. 4a and 4b), electromagnetic drive (Fig. 4c), and an innovative eccentric drive (Fig. 4d and 4e).

The fastener with bevel gear (Fig. 4a) features a unique combination of a slidable gear wheel (2) with screw (3), which makes the assembly with a coupler (5) easier, thanks to elastic support. Fasteners with toothed gears (Fig. 4a and 4b) feature metal bodies (4), divided and riveted once the fastener is assembled. Figure 4c shows a fastener featuring an electromagnetic drive, hardly ever used in the furniture industry, which makes the fastener almost invisible in the joint. In this case, the assembly force pressing together the joined components results from the action of an external rotating magnetic field onto a rotor (8) with permanent magnets (Fig. 4c). The rotation of the rotor is transferred onto the screw of the threaded insert via an impact clutch. When sound effects generated by the clutch cease, the joint tensioning process is finished, and the change of the direction of the external magnetic field allows one to disconnect the joint.

Fig. 4. Engineering drafts of selected innovative fasteners of well-known European companies: a – fastener with bevel gear by O.M.M. model GN501, b – fastener with crown gear by Italiana Ferramenta srl model target J10 (EP 2980423 B1), c – fastener with external drive by Lamello Verbindungstechnik GmbH model Invis Mx2 (magnet driven connecting fittings), d – fastener with eccentric mechanism by Effegibrevetti (models: roto and rostro), e – fastener with cam mechanism by CAR srl BLU 12 with cone clamp (1 – pinion, 2 – gear wheel, 3 – screw, 4 – divided body, 5 – coupler, 6 – nut, 7 – spring, 8 – rotor, 9 – enclosure, 10 – body, 11 – elastic anchor, 12 – anchor gear cluster, 13 – circular cam, 14 – mandrel)

In the fastener with a mandrel-eccentric mechanism (Fig. 4e), one eccentric drive (13) moves the mandrel (14) with wedge-shaped surfaces, expanding two surfaces anchoring the fastener’s body in the joined panels. The plastic, divided body (4) has a plastic hinge and catches which close the body into one whole. In another metal fastener with an eccentric mechanism (Fig. 4d), an elastic anchor (11) opens out under the action of a circular cam-driven (13), anchor sliding change gear (12).

All engineering designs, shown in Figure 4, fit into a 13×64 mm cylinder (most frequently 12×50 mm). They are manufactured using mass production technology usually with large dimensional tolerances, which translates itself into certain operational flaws. However, it ensures the competitiveness of the cost of manufacture and convenience of fastener assembly in the furniture.

NOVEL, PROPRIETARY CONCEPTS AND ENGINEERING DESIGNS OF FASTENERS

Fastener Design Search Methodology

The search for a solution to the fastener started with a need’s identification (development of requirements) and an analysis of the current state of the art. Product design began by dividing the design issue into two subproblems (anchoring and drive). The search for a new concept was conducted by the small product development team. It was expected that because the organisation was small, creative discussions and a creative attitude of the team, and in particular the team leader, would boost new ideas. The team was to be a pillar of creative enthusiasm and belief in success. However, some typical differences in the creative commitment of the respective team members were present, resulting from their over-specialisation, fear of criticism, and desire to quickly apply ideas, as well as failed experiments and frequent changes to essential solutions. The joint-design process begins with the recognition and analysis of needs. This creates an initial object model, which is highly abstract, described by requirements. Defining and understanding the requirements is an essential precondition for the economic success of the designed object.

In product design methodology there are some requirements, called requests, which absolutely must be satisfied and other requirements, called wishes, which should be satisfied (Pahl and Beitz 1984; Branowski 1999; Cross 2008). The requirements for fasteners have been defined as follows:

  • (R1) user-friendly assembly of furniture fastener ((1) small number of assembly tools, (2) possible pre-assembly by the manufacturer, (3) only typical tools necessary, (4) small number of assembly operations, (5) convenient location of the mounting point, (6) short time of assembly, (7) small proneness to errors);
  • (R2) friendly assembly of the fastener at the level of its mass production ((1) small number of parts (to be assembled), (2) number of assembly operations, (3) difficulty of assembly and time of assembly, (4) functional integration of parts);
  • (R3) possibility to disconnect the joint for furniture disassembly or reconfiguration purposes ((1) proneness to damage at re-assembly, (2) number of operations for disassembly and assembly, (3) socket wear level);
  • (R4) fastener dimensions adjusted to the thickness g of the joined panels ((1) external diameter d < (0.75 to 0.8)g, (2) depth of socket h ≤ d, (3) gi dimensions in the horizontal and vertical panel, (4) possibility to use the fastener in boards thinner than 15 mm);
  • (R5) invisibility or low visibility of the fastener on the external furniture surfaces (partial visibility or invisibility) ((1) the fastener protrudes from the horizontal panel on the outside, (2) the fastener protrudes from the vertical panel on the inside, (3) level of visibility, (4) possibility to use a hole plug identical with the joined material when visible on the external furniture surfaces);
  • (R6) embedding the fastener in a furniture component using a technologically secure frictional or shape-frictional joining method while maintaining self-locking (without adhesive connections);
  • (R7) obtaining considerable assembly clamping forces in the joined panels and the possibility of their adjustment (clamping force during assembly Fas > 60 N),
  • (R8) transfer of considerable furniture working loads (in cooperation with the sidewall and pegs) in a quasi-elastic respect; elasticity of fastener tension (counteracting the relaxation phenomenon and advantageous for short-term loads occurring in fitted furniture);
  • (R9) low costs of manufacture in mass production conditions ((1) number of components which need to be manufactured (non-standardized), (2) mass of components, (3) a large proportion of components manufactured using single-step methods (injection, extrusion));
  • (R10) high fastener design quality ((1) aesthetics, (2) number of various elements for packing, (3) possibility to easily swap the setting elements when the joined elements are changed, (4) aesthetic packaging, (5) aesthetic appearance after application, (6) distinctive, unparalleled handling properties, (7) ergonomic grip during assembly) (8) customized to match the manufacturer’s specificity;
  • (R11) minimal negative impact on the environment during production, use and recycling ((1) low energy consumption and emission during production, (2) biodegradability of materials, (3) number of used construction materials, (4) possibility to use recycled materials in production, (5) number of assembly operations, (6) opportunity for mass recycling);
  • (R12) fastener innovativeness ((1) original design, (2) producibility of design, (3) patent, (4) European utility model, (5) awards (medals, diplomas, awards on international innovation shows);
  • An additional design wish (R13) is the possibility of repeated disassembly and reassembly of furniture with the applied fasteners, without the deterioration of the structural properties of the joint (anticipated number of assembly cycles without socket damage).

The subsequent team sessions produced several innovative fastener design ideas. The team members were blessed with an abundance of creativity – a psychological term describing a uniquely human feature manifesting itself as perception, intuition, and fluency in reasoning, which led to an excessive number of ideas that were difficult for the team to analyze critically. Therefore, it seemed only natural to adopt a trial and error approach and, through the success or failure of a modification of design concepts in terms of a fastener’s material, form, structure, improved producibility and transfer of forces, arrive at a solution. Well-known inventive approaches were adopted: analogies to known objects, integration in combining the form and function of components, and adaptation to material changes of the joined panels.

Characteristics of the New Concepts and Designs of Fasteners

After one year of work, the team produced over a dozen new concepts of fastener designs. Not all of them were brought into the phase of a working prototype due to manufacturing difficulties or unsuccessful application of the technology. Fastener tensioning and force adjustment drive during assembly were the basis of every new concept. Depending on the method of operation, all the developed innovative fastener designs have been categorized into seven groups and marked with symbols from S1 to S7.

The S1 solution presented in Fig. 5 (granted patent (Starczewski 2019b)) features two racks (2 and 3) which are driven by a pinion (1). The racks have cones at their ends. These cones expand the muffs 4 and 5. The muff 5 is embedded in vertical panel P1, muff 4 is embedded in horizontal panel P2. There were issues with the development of a claw clutch inside the pinion (1) with the ability to release its lock at joint disconnection. Such a clutch is necessary because the fastener drive mechanism lacks self-locking properties. Unfortunately, with the required small dimensions of the pinion (71) (outside diameter of the gear approx. 5 mm), no effective engineering solution to the mentioned clutch issue has been found.

Fig. 5. Innovative fastener S1 driven by a rack and pinion: a – view, b – exploited cross section, c – cross section in joint (1 – pinion, 2 – rack A, 3 – rack B, 4 – expansion muff A, 5 – expansion muff B, P1 – vertical panel, P2 – horizontal panel) (based on Ref. (Starczewski 2019b))

Fig. 6. Innovative fastener S2 based on a worm drive (1 – worm screw, 2 – worm wheel, 3 – axis of worm wheel, 4 – wheel bearing coupler, 5 – fastener coupler, 6 – worm bearing)

The S2 solution with a worm drive presented in Fig. 6 features a steel worm screw (1), which drives a brass worm gear (2). The shaft of the worm wheel (3), with a threaded end, screws into the coupler of the fastener (5), generating the assembly clamping force on the joint. In the manufactured prototype with a worm gear and features given in Table 3, the self-locking condition of the fastener drive is fulfilled.

Table 3. Characteristic Features of a Worm Gear

In the structural design, the worm screw is seated in the tip of a manual or mechanical screwdriver and is a part of the assembly tool, not a component of the fastener. The self-locking quality of the fastener results from the natural self-locking property of the threaded pair (5). A prototype of the fastener was made, and preliminary tests, consisting of joining two perpendicular furniture panels of thickness g = 30 mm, were conducted. A fully functional joint was obtained, with a large force pressing down the joined panels, but the time of assembly was recognised as too long. It took over one minute to screw in five threads of the shaft ending into the coupler (100 rotations of the worm), and the assembly required putting intense pressure on the screwdriver against an axial force, pushing the worm out (equal to the circumferential force of the wheel). A screwdriver with the worm can be screwed out without changing the value of the assembly clamping force. Further development of the S2 concept requires a reconstruction of the bearing system and the use of a worm screw with a high thread inclination angle, so of a lower gear ratio at a higher efficiency, smaller number of teeth and worm wheel diameter.

Another concept, designated as S3, is shown in Fig. 7 (not filed with the patent office). This fastener can be used to connect panels in either a parallel or perpendicular way. The fastener drive has been designed in the form of a conical toothed gear (2 and 3), which drives a turnbuckle (4). The rotation of the screw moves the nuts (5 and 6) and they attract two connected panels to each other. A simulation of the movement of a conical gear, made using CAD software, shows that this particular design of the profile of teeth of conical wheels with the same number of teeth z2 = z3 = 7 at small dimensions is hugely vulnerable to jamming when making small changes to the geometrical parameters of the teeth. Technological difficulties in the precise execution of teeth were the reason why the development of this concept was abandoned.

A fastener S4 shown in Fig. 8 (not submitted to the patent office) uses a dynamic, spring-actuated beater. The released potential energy of the spring (4), through the rotation of the pin (5), transfers kinetic energy onto the beater (3) with a spring (4) system. This energy, when the beater (3) hits a rod (1) with an expanding cone (6) generates friction when the rod (1) with the expanding cone (6) is moved into the body (2) and clamp of the anchoring element (P1), bringing together two connected furniture panels. The disadvantage is a unidirectional character of energy conversion in the fastener, making fastener disassembly impossible.

Fig. 7. Innovative fastener S3 with the conical toothed gear with turnbuckle mechanism and two nuts: a – view, b – gear (1 – body, 2 – driven gear, 3 – driving gear, 4 – turnbuckle, 5 – nut anchored in the face of first panel, 6 – nut anchored in the side of second panel)

Fig. 8. Innovative fastener S4 with a percussive beater spring drive to move the expanding cone: a – view, b – cross section (1 – rod, 2 – body, 3 – beater, 4 – spring, 5 – spring releasing pin, 6 – expanding cone, P1 – body thread anchoring fastener in the vertical panel, P2 – body thread anchoring fastener in the horizontal panel)

The fastener presented in Fig. 9 (design S5, not filed with the patent office) is based on a mechanism of a rotating disk with two spiral grooves (3), which drive slidable racks (4 and 5). The components of the fastener are made from a steel strip in various metalworking technologies (cutting, bending, stamping, embossing). The rack’s movement, generated by the rotation of the disk (2), makes the anchoring elements (P1 and P2) expand through the expanding cams (B4 and B5). The mechanism is self-locking.

Fig. 9. Innovative fastener S5 based on a mechanism of a rotating disk with spiral cams at both sides (Archimedean spiral) driving the slidable racks (1 – body (partial view), 2 – drive element, 3 – disk with spiral grooves, 4 – bottom rack, A4 – bottom rack spiral groove, B4 – bottom rack expansion element, 5 – upper rack, A5 – upper rack spiral groove, B5 – upper rack expansion element, P1 – anchoring teeth in the vertical panel, P2 – anchoring teeth in the horizontal panel)