As an industry leader in home furnishings, all eyes are on IKEA. A chair, for example, should not only be comfortable to sit on and look good, it also needs to meet legal and safety standards in all of IKEA’s markets globally.

“If one country tightens its rules, we introduce these new regulations in all IKEA markets, whenever possible,” says Lars Almblad, specialist in IKEA’s material and technical department at its Swedish headquarters.

Over the last few years, he has noticed increased demands from customers regarding the environmental impact of IKEA’s products, as well as questions related to sustainability. It’s not just of interest to customers; media, authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also taking a closer look at these issues.

“This is a positive development as it helps us improve our routines and offer customers more sustainable and better products,” adds Almblad.

For several years, IKEA has pioneered the use of high strength steel in some of their products, in an effort to match customers’ demands for smart and environmentally friendly home furnishings. Today high strength steel can be found in the legs of the Tobias chair, the Engan bedside table and in the Skorva’s bed beam, to name just a few examples.

“We have chosen this grade of steel for the development of the product as it helps us to achieve the right strength and quality at a lower weight. This reduces the environmental impact and distribution costs of these products,” explains Almblad.

In addition to the high strength steel products already on its shelves, IKEA has also developed a new product with the same materials that will come into production in spring 2012. This product is a direct result of MetalPro – a special training program in steel and other materials that around 80 engineers, designers and material purchasers at IKEA have attended since it started in 2010. The program was developed by Pallco AB – a Swedish company that manufactures customized products and components made of metal – in cooperation with SSAB which has contributed by sharing its knowledge of high strength steel.

“Together with SSAB we educate organizational functions connected to product development and purchasing, to create a better understanding of how high strength steel can improve everyday life for a lot of people,” says Almblad.

The training has helped to create a large pool of competence and knowledge of high strength steel within IKEA, and, as a result, several interesting and innovative projects have come out of the program. With their new-found skills in high strength steel, it’s likely that IKEA will be able to produce even more efficient products in the future.

“We actively work to reduce the weight of our products, and high strength steel is a natural way to ‘create more from less,’” says Almblad.

This intensified collaboration with IKEA is just one part of SSAB’s drive to market high strength steel to customers that manufacture consumer products made of steel, including the furniture industry. “We have identified around 30 different product groups that could benefit from using high strength steel,” says Joakim Nyström, sales manager EMEA Industries, who is responsible for developing SSAB’s offerings across the EMEA region. “We need to broaden our customer base and find new markets that may be of interest. The Industries team’s job is to lower the threshold and make it easy for the SSAB sales team to work on these new segments and applications, such as the furniture industry,” he adds.

IKEA, he believes, is at the forefront of its industry by looking not just at costs but also because it considers how it can use high strength steel to improve its products ergonomically and environmentally. “The fact that IKEA invests in high strength steel in their products shows what a good alternative it is from an overall economic point of view,” says Nyström. “They have a holistic view of production.”

In the future, SSAB hopes to further develop its cooperation with IKEA, and other companies within the furniture industry, by offering high strength steel as an alternative to products that use aluminum today. “I see great potential in offering a product that matches the weight, strength and stiffness of aluminum, but at a lower price,” concludes Nyström.