On the hot seat at work

When Dean Mouradian strolled into his office one cold December day two years ago and noticed his office manager struggling to stay warm with a sweater and space heater, he set out to find a better way to help her warm up.

With a heated office chair in mind, Mouradian, owner and president of Brookfield-based U.S. Automation Inc., browsed the Internet before turning to a local patent attorney to lead a more extensive patent search for such a piece of furniture. But when neither search led to the kind of chair Mouradian was looking for, he decided to build his own prototype.

He launched a second company, Radian Corp., to support the heated office chair, which he envisioned would be rechargeable and cordless.

“Primarily (the chair) was out of necessity but in addition to necessity we recognized it as immediately being a fantastic idea and saw a niche that wasn’t being filled,” Mouradian said.

With a group of employees from U.S. Automation, Mouradian constructed six prototype chairs before he felt he had developed a product worthy of manufacturing.

The team dove into the prototype process by applying existing heated car seat technology to an existing office chair.

“We decided to leverage the existing technology rather than reinvent the wheel simply because these folks have gone to great lengths to create existing car seat heaters that are safe, that are efficient, that are effective and reliable,” Mouradian said.

The team internally designed the schematic and the wire harness and worked with suppliers to sample different components in assembling the chair.

With each prototype, Mouradian and his team tested their designs, reaching out to other area businesses to test drive their chairs and offer feedback on features they liked and those that needed improving.

The initial prototype chair had heat functions only in the seat with limited adjustability of temperature and lacked comfort, according to those trying it out. The final design has heating elements in both the seat and lumbar, which operate independently of one another with 10 temperature settings.

The heated office chair, dubbed the Malibu Heated Executive Chair, also has thermistors built into each of the two heating elements that monitor the temperature to ensure the chair never overheats. The chair can heat up to a maximum of 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It looks exactly like a standard office chair with the exception of a small switchbox located on the side of the chair and a black battery box located under the chair, which is barely visible,” Mouradian said.

The battery, which is charged by a small direct current charging port on the side of the chair, can continuously run about eight to 12 hours depending on the temperature settings of the chair. Users turn the chair on and off and adjust its temperatures with the switchbox.

An occupancy sensor will be integrated into future models of the chair, cutting power to the chair five minutes after a user has vacated it to help save battery life.

In designing the chair, Mouradian directed much of his attention toward women.

“It seems that most of the offices that I’ve gone into I find that women are often cold and they’re often the ones with sweaters draped over their chairs and space heaters next to their desk,” he said. “It just seems like men and women have different body temperatures.”

The heated office chair also eliminates the fire hazard that space heaters often present through its thermistor technology and has energy cost savings measures, Mouradian said.

For every $1 in electricity that the chair uses, a space heater will draw approximately $50 worth of electricity, according to his calculations.

And consumers who find themselves cold in their air conditioned offices throughout summer can easily regulate their body temperatures with the heated chair, he said.

The Malibu Heated Executive Chair, which is currently in a patent-pending state, premiered in June in Chicago at the NeoCon show, an annual event that features new products in the contract furnishings industry. Radian Corp. has partnered with California-based Boss Office Products, a division of Norstar Office Products, to manufacture the chair. The innovation, currently in production in China, is featured on the cover and first page of Boss’ 2013 catalog and will hit the market this month with plans for international distribution.

A smaller task version of the heated chair will debut at the NeoCon show this June.

With a list price of $900 and an anticipated retail price in the $500 range, the executive chair will be available at furniture dealers in Wisconsin like Office Furniture USA, Bern Office Systems, Interior Investments LLC, and Steinhafels.

Boss Office Products hopes to sell about 1,000 units per month.

“I think there’s a real need for it,” said Darren Abe, president of Norstar Office Products. “I see the success that heated car seats have had, and people spend a lot more time on their office chair than they do in their car.”

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