Product lifespan and value engineering

It has happened to all of us!  

We take to the world wide web in search of that perfect item.

A faucet, a chair, a sofa: possibilities are endless. And just like magic, there it is! The perfect one! The price tag seems rather high but wait, there are more! Some look similar but a few look exactly the same and the prices get lower. 

How can it be? Can they be the same? How is it possible that two products  looking  exactly alike are available with one costing so much less?!

Odds are that it isn’t the same! In fact most of the time, if the price difference is noticeable that look-alike is not the same at all. 

However, it is common practice, totally legal and known as valued engineering.



What is Value engineering?

Value engineering  is a term used  to describe the process where a product is evaluated and redesigned from the standpoint of its anticipated product lifespan in relation to end cost. 

The designer creates a new concept drawing for a given product in a style that  meets current buying patterns and trends. Once final design is approved  it is  submitted to a manufacturer for production. At this point, the focus shifts to materials and construction. Costs matter. Prices to consumers will determine profit margins. 

Right here, is where the  process of value engineering quality out of a product begins. Different quality of materials together with alternative methods of fabrication or construction, allow for the different price points.

In order to produce a lower priced product, they have to use inferior quality materials together as well as  sub standard methods of fabrication. The lifespan or  longevity of the given product is significantly altered as a result. Things often malfunction or break way sooner than its higher quality version. The consumer ends up having to replace it more often and it ends up costing more.

It may look the same but is it?

Let’s use upholstery products for example and for the purpose of this exercise let’s examine the much loved  chesterfield or sofa.

In order to produce a high quality sofa, the manufacturer has to construct it using a kiln dried solid hardwood frame.  Kiln drying is a tedious, lengthy process requiring a controlled environment. It costs more but in the future it will not break or crack. 

They will use double dowel construction, corner block reinforcement, together with glue and screws to hold it together.

Your sofa will feature 8 way hand-tied coil springs on both the seat and back or a combination of both.

They will use top quality foam. A high resiliency foam wrapped in Dacron  together with cotton batting depending on style. Edges nicely padded and soft to the touch, not sharp. 

Textiles are carefully selected and have to pass tests for their ability to stand up to the kind of wear they are likely to get in actual use, including fire retardancy, elongation, strength, and colour transfer.  Fabrics must pass a high double rub count, plus have a good rating for lightfastness and stain resistance.

This type of quality means a higher Price tag  but your sofa will remain comfortable and beautiful for a very long time.

Match the quality of materials, workmanship with a carefully selected classic design and that sofa will look good, and in style for a very long time. This is the kind of furniture piece you will want to reupholster because it is so comfortable that you will never tire of it.

But lower prices mean more sales!

Big box stores and retailers know how much their customers are willing to pay for a particular product. They have  preferred price points. Manufacturers supply all types of vendors. In order to meet these various  lower price points they  value engineer quality out of products  to meet their profit margins. More people will buy the cheaper product and profit margins matter.

So, how does all of this apply to the sofa? Often, it  looks exactly identical. Both style and fabric may look the same and  especially when you are searching for it online. The same image but the price is different.

How do you tell?

Well, you cant! The quality is altered on the inside. The frame, springs, foam and construction methods. 

This applies to other products as well. Plumbing fixtures for example, often go through value engineering with some interior components being replaced with the plastic version.

Price discrepancy is usually the first warning sign.

Personally, I am a great believer that if something seems  too good to be true then most likely it is. In addition, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with purchasing the lower quality and less expensive option IF the vendor is transparent with the information and specifications they provide. If I choose to buy a faucet knowing that  the interior components are made of plastic, I shouldn’t be surprised when it starts malfunctioning in six months time. Upset but not surprised.

How do you protect yourself from falling into the knock off trap? 

Value engineering is  common practice. Countless products are affected. It is impossible to

go into details for all of them.

However , If you are looking to purchase a sofa, here are a few details I advise you to get clear on:

1- Is the frame on the lower priced sofa solid, kiln dried hardwood or is it plywood? Is it cut into puzzle-like pieces which are then glued together with staples or screws? Is there any reference to how long it will hold up? What is the anticipated life span? Plywood frames do not last for a long time and do not stand up to daily use.

2- How about support?   Are they  coils or sinuous springs? If sinuous, is it a heavy gauge?  Sinuous springs using a heavy gauge are acceptable in certain applications but are they using  nylon webbing or another sub par system used in low quality furniture? 

3- How about the foam? There is a huge difference in the quality of foams and unless it is high resilience it won’t perform over time. Does it contain any toxic materials? 

4- What about the fabric? The fibre content, the rub count and type of weave? Does it have a special treatment such as stain resistance ? 

5- What is the warranty? Most high quality manufacturers carry a 10 year guarantee on the frame. Fabrics carry a 1 year guarantee.

Now, I am not saying you should or shouldn’t buy it.  I am simply stating that it is not the same product.

Budgets vary and I realize that not everyone is able to spend 5000.00 or more on a high quality sofa. I am simply saying that a low quality knock off is not always the  way to go as it will end up costing more in the long run.  The same applies to plumbing fixtures, wood, tile, electrical, lighting, all your appliances and basically anything you may be purchasing for your home.

As a designer I am an advocate of buying and selling quality.

My goal is to provide my clients with the best quality for the investment they are making.  

As always, if you have any questions, I’m here to help.

Hit I’ll get back to you shortly.