Factors Affecting The Selection of Right School Furniture
The purchase of school furniture is an important buying decision for a school. With so many options available, prices can vary a lot. For Government schools the interconnected desk made out of steel pipe and plywood / particle board tops is a popular choice and can cost anywhere from Rs 2500 to Rs 6000 for an interconnected desk (Double desk and bench for two students). For private schools who are looking for Branded furniture which is modern with separate desk, chair for each individual student can vary with several Brands available and costing varies from around Rs 2500 for a desk / chair combo going up to about Rs 8000-9000.
Frustrated with the variety and unsure about the difference, many school owners also look at fabricating their own furniture using carpenters / fabricators or decide to visit China to import the furniture in bulk (especially new schools). While these options might seem cost effective in the short term, over the long term as there are some very important factors to consider while evaluating all the options available.
So, how do we compare all the options available to us and take a decision which is beneficial for us. So, let me explain the factors which influence the cost of school furniture:
- Raw material
- Production method
- Delivery, Installation and After sales service
Raw material: Raw material cost constitutes around 50 percent of the cost of manufacturing school furniture. The main raw material used include steel, wood, plywood, plastic parts and accessories.
Earlier, wood used to be a popular choice but to the scarce raw material availability most of the manufacturers have switched to using particle board or plywood. In terms of cost particle board is cheaper and usually edge banding is used to protect the edges of the particle board top and steel tubes / sheet are used as Raw material for making the frames. The cost of these raw material depends again on the quality of material being used. For example, the plywood / particle board may be used for an A-Grade, B-Grade or C-Grade supplier and therefore the life of the product varies even though the cost differences maybe in the range of 20 percent.
The Edge-banding is used for Particle board tops is PVC / ABS and a glue is used to fix the edge banding to the particle board edge. Here again the glue and bonding material plays a vital role and the cost can vary a lot. In general, the cost of particle board tops can vary anywhere between 150 – 200 Rs per sq. feet.
For our products, we use a 18mm Plywood top and 1mm laminate pasted on top. As the laminate is the outer surface which is subject to most wear and tear, we use a high-quality laminate like AICA (Formerly SUNMICA) and MERINO for the top laminate surface and the Plywood is also from a good company like Green ply or Merino. Instead of edge banding we use a polished melamine coating and mould the edges of the plywood tops itself in order to prevent any damage due to wear and tear of the furniture. This increases the overall life of the tops being used and reduces the maintenance and after sales cost which brings the overall cost of the furniture lower in the long term.
The frame which is the major portion is mostly made out of steel tubes and sheet these days. However, here again the quality and price can vary. For normal mild steel tube (HR / HRPO) the cost of raw material may be only around 35-40 Rs per kg but for high quality CRCA pipes and sheet the cost can be anywhere between Rs 50-60 per kg. And this makes a huge difference in the overall quality of the product. Because often in order to save cost many suppliers end up using the former or second-quality sheet or pipe. Unfortunately, this strategy does not pay off in the long term with the quality of the product suffering. So, we understand that even though using a higher cost raw material from JINDAL, TATA etc and using own only prime CRCA quality steel sheet maybe higher in cost by 15-20 percent in the long run it pays off for the customer.
Production method: The production method for manufacturing school furniture varies depending on where its being sourced from. Carpenters used to manufacture the furniture made out of wood earlier so the quality and design of the furniture was dependent on the skill of the carpenter. The furniture would be fixed together using nails and as most of us would remember using this furniture it would frequently require maintenance which would again be done by a carpenter as and when required. Well moving on with the times, today wood is scarcely available and carpenters are an even rarer breed still.
So, most of the school furniture these days is being manufactured by Fabricators or a Manufacturer.
Fabricators tend to use steel pipes sourced from the local market and these pipes are then welded into frames and painted by spray / hand. The tops are usually made out of plywood which is again cut using manual process and joined with the frames using a combination of nuts / bolts / screws. Since, the fabrication cost is still relatively cheap what we get is a product which lasts for a maximum of 1 or 2 years before maintenance issues like rusting of the pipe, screws / nuts coming out of the furniture, breakage of the wood start cropping up. The maintenance and repair cost are expensive and time consuming. So, even though initially the furniture may cost anywhere between 1000 – 2000 Rs per seat, the total cost of ownership goes up substantially. So, this is a point to be kept in mind.
There are several companies which are manufacturing school furniture in India and outside India as well. The frames are usually made from steel tubes of various shapes and sizes and powder-coated to give them an attractive look and feel. The tops are made out of plywood or particle board and fixed to the frame. The Chairs are also more often being made out of steel tubes bended in various shapes and then welded and powder coated. The back and seat material may be wooden or plastic.
The main things to watch out while comparing the manufacturing process of various suppliers is the process by which the frame is manufactured. In case the manufacturer is using manual bending, the angle of the frames varies from product to product and lot to lot. So, automatic CNC bending machines are now available which allow the same frame shape to be repeated leading to a higher quality product.
The Powder coating and Painting process is also something which impacts the finish of the product. A good modern powder coating plant includes a conveyer line, with a seven-tank pre-treatment process for surface preparation of the steel frame to be powder coated followed by manual /semi-automatic / fully automatic guns which apply the selected color powder to the frame after pre-treatment and then sent into a baking oven. This process ensures that a smooth finish is maintained. A thickness of 60-70 microns of the powder coating is usually good to ensure that it is long lasting. As you can understand this is process has to be controlled and quality checks and inspection needs to be done at each stage to ensure the final school furniture is of the right finish and quality. So, even though the cost may be higher, using such a process ensures a longer life of the product and hence brings down the total cost of ownership leading to less repairs and maintenance issues later on like the paint peeling off and the tube getting rusted.
The other process which is very important is the connection of the frames with the tops. These are the screws / nuts / bolts / rivets which are used by suppliers to join the metal surface with the table tops made of plywood / particle board and Chair back and seat which are again plastic or wooden. This is an important point for safety of the child using the furniture as well as if these screws / nuts come out they can cause serious harm to the child. So only high-quality rivets and techniques should be used for joining the two surfaces.
The manufacturers who are following the above modern processes for making school furniture are able to provide a good quality product which may seem more expensive than fabricators / carpenters but if one calculates the total cost of ownership over a 5-year period the cost is lower due to the lower cost of maintenance and replacement.
Delivery, Installation and After Sales Service: China has been a manufacturing hub for furniture and many school owners may be tempted to go there and import and bring in a container of school furniture for their new school furniture. The products are usually made out of steel, wood and plastic parts and the frames are powder coated. The manufacturing cost has been relatively cheap but in recent times due to the Government of India increasing customs duty, the total cost for imported furniture has gone up considerably. Specifically, the basic customs duty of 27.5% and 18% GST and the high cost of the US Dollar these days compared to INR makes this option less cost friendly than it used to be in the past.
Manufacturing companies in India have been increasing their capability but most of them are still reliant on import of parts like plastic / ABS tops from CHINA. While in the short term this may seem like a good option, one must not forget the long lead times that importing parts / furniture from China involves ocean transportation / customs clearance / inland transportation besides the factory’s production time which can easily stretch from 60 to 90 days or more. There is also the chance of delays due the Indian government becoming very strict on imports from China and this adds to the customs clearance time and cost and can easily add to your cost by another 10-15%.
The above factors are important when placing order to your school furniture supplier. So, do check their stock, production status and past record from existing clients. The normal production time for a factory could vary anywhere between 3 to 6 weeks plus the transportation time. The GST on furniture items is 18% and normally schools may not be able to claim input credit on the furniture leading to the cost going up.
There are other factors which influence the cost of the furniture even after production. The major factors are transportation, installation and service costs.
For transportation cost, what is important factor is to see if the design of the furniture enables it to be stacked while transporting. Modern furniture manufacturers design the furniture so that the frames can be stacked and minimize the transportation cost and assembly is done at the site. The difference can lead to as much as 10% of total cost of the furniture. Since labour cost is still relatively cheaper in India compared to developed countries, for larger quantities of furniture the option of transporting the furniture in unassembled condition and then assembling at the school makes a lot more sense in order to bring down the cost of transportation and installation. Also ensure to check whether installation and transportation cost is included or not in your quotation as this can easily add to the cost.
Another thing to be considered is the after sales service. Most manufacturers offer a 1-year warranty only on the furniture, which means after the warranty period all replacement costs and installation costs are extra. So, do check what is covered in the warranty and what is not covered while making your initial purchase as the replacement part / installation costs can also be high in case parts are imported / not kept in stock by the supplier.
In this blog post, we have tried to highlight the major costs that need to be considered while checking the prices of school furniture. There are a variety of options available and we have tried to explain the major factors including raw material cost, production cost and delivery / installation and after sales cost. We have also explained how these factors have a direct impact on the total cost of the product and hope this helps you to understand the various options available to you and to make an informed decision keeping all the above in mind.
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