HFA: The Design Lab

In December 2016, the owners of HFA cut the ribbon on the new Design Lab, a workspace of high-quality, high-tech equipment that could be used by staff members to build projects for themselves and our clients. The ribbon-cutting was a culmination of nearly a year of planning, design and execution. This is the story of the HFA Design Lab.

Design Lab ribbon cutting, Dec. 9, 2016

The Concept

When HFA acquired the former National Home Center in Bentonville for its new corporate headquarters, the purchase included a large warehouse in the back that previously had been used for storage. Staff members quickly began tossing around ideas on how to utilize the space.

Then in early 2016, several staff members came up with the idea of a design lab where staff members could work on special projects for themselves and others. Four creators of the concept ─ Steven Baker, Jake Grandon, Matt Sanders and Philipp Richter ─ describe the origins and concept in the video below.

The architects set about designing a workspace complete with everything one would need for a wood-working or metal-working project. The design went through several concepts before final renderings were made to present to HFA's owners in hopes of turning the idea into a reality.

Early renderings of the Design Lab (click to view).

Once the concept was explained in detail, the owners took to it right away, seeing the project as a way for employees to explore their creativity outside of their work projects. The one requirement was that those who used the D-Lab would undergo safety training for each tool. The designers agreed to take that task upon themselves and become foremans for the D-Lab.

"The lead designers did an outstanding job presenting an opportunity for our employees to express their creativity and craftsmanship. That presentation developed into a new milestone at HFA - our new Design Lab," said Larry Lott, President and COO. "We can't wait to see what all is crafted. The possibilities are endless."

The plan was given the green light, and the HFA D-Lab was born.

The D-Lab

The D-Lab is set up with three main work areas for wood projects and an area for metal-working. In addition, the lab contains rooms for a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) router, a laser cutter and a 3D printer system.

Philipp Richter, one of the designers on the project, describes the metal-working area, where his expertise came in handy during the planning stages.

On the wood side, the lab includes a variety of power tools that would take a project from its broad beginnings to its tiniest design finishes. Jake Grandon describes the starting point for wood projects, as well as the areas of the Design Lab he likes to use the most.

From there, wood projects could be fine-tuned in the next section of the D-Lab. The area and its tools are described by Steven Baker, who also explains how the entire D-Lab concept was easily accepted by the owners.

The final section allows for intricate details in wood-working projects. Matt Sanders explains the tools in the area and how surprisingly easy it was to get approval for the quality equipment in the D-Lab.

The Design Lab includes two more rooms with very specialized tools: a 3D printer and a CNC Router. Take a look at both in action in the videos below.

The Construction

Design Lab framing, July 2016

Work began on the Design Lab construction in July 2016. The final plans called for an open studio for the state-of-the-art power tools, as well as two extra rooms. One room would hold a 3D printer station and laser cutter, and the other the CNC router. Both of these were set up by working closely with HFA's IT Department.

Construction on the main portion of the Design Lab ran until September 2016. The 3D printers and CNC came next, and by late fall 2016, the Design Lab was ready for its first project.

Design Lab construction, July-September 2016

Working in the Design Lab.

Today, nearly half of the Bentonville staff has been trained in the D-Lab, and dozens of projects have been created. The D-Lab has proven to be an exceptional outlet for the creativity of HFA's staff. The D-Lab continues to evolve and expand, providing more tools and the opportunities to use them for our talented staff.

The D-Lab at work.

The Projects

Here is a sampling of some of the projects that have been built by staff in the D-Lab.

Mug shelf - Andrew Shassere
Mailbox stand - Jake Grandon
Closet shelves - Kevin Hayre
Patio benches - Philip Briggs and Steven Baker
Panda jigsaw puzzle - Steven Baker
Entertainment Center and Coffee Table - Zach Hollingshead
Cajon and Salt Pot - James Harris

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