Dutch design in Dubai, high quality production in Pakistan



Interview with Frank Merks, Senior Manager Tent Structures, Product Management, Design & Engineering at NRS International

Interview with Frank Merks, Senior Manager Tent Structures, Product Management, Design & Engineering at NRS InternationalHow did you become an expert in tent design?

After finishing my Land & Water Management degree, I couldn’t find a job I liked. So I turned my hobby into my profession. I had always loved travelling, mountain climbing and adventure sports, but I wasn’t happy with the performance of the gear. So I started making my own equipment. Over the next 25 years I launched my own outdoor brands and worked as a designer and product developer for internationally-recognised brands.

How did you enter the humanitarian community and join NRS International?

I became quite well known for designing special arctic and mountaineering tents for expeditions, including for the first unsupported crossing of the South Pole by two Belgian adventurers. This resulted in the development of a lightweight medical tent, commissioned by the Belgian Special Forces, that could be easily airdropped and deployed. This product generated a lot of interest, and led to the establishment of a company that developed special shelter solutions for disaster management, medical and humanitarian aid. I crossed paths with NRS International at industry events and ultimately joined in 2013. I now focus solely on designing and developing aid and relief products.

What shelter trends do you discern in the aid and relief community?

I do not only see a need for emergency shelter, but also for a temporary shelter solution. The displaced population is ever-expanding and the average stay in a camp is 17 years. This requires a specialist response, respecting human needs. We at NRS International are specialists in high volume and cost-effective production, using state-of-the-art technologies to fabricate products from fabrics, plastics, steel and aluminium. I am confident, together with the humanitarian community, we can develop affordable, safe and comfortable temporary housing solutions.

How does an average workday look like?

I work from my office in The Netherlands, our office in Dubai and the factory in Pakistan. Mostly, I work on the design and development of new products, in collaboration with our Business Development & Sales team. Once a new product is approved by our clients, I work with the production, procurement and marketing teams to progress from sample to production status. In addition, I help the factory optimise production flow and quality by researching new materials, machines and production methods.

Interview with Frank Merks, Senior Manager Tent Structures, Product Management, Design & Engineering at NRS InternationalWhat are the latest products developed by your team?

This year we focused on four new developments: two lightweight family tents for UNHCR and IFRC; our HuggyPRO multi-purpose tent; and our Rex Hall mobile storage units (MSUs). I am especially proud of the last. In two years we developed the aluminium and steel engineered MSUs, set up the production facilities and trained the staff to fabricate according to international standards. And the hard work paid off. We now have long-term agreements with major players such as WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR and Oxfam.

I do not only see a need for emergency shelter, but also for a temporary shelter solution. I am confident, together with the humanitarian community, we can develop affordable, safe and comfortable temporary housing solutions.

Interview with Frank Merks, Senior Manager Tent Structures, Product Management, Design & Engineering at NRS InternationalHow do you ensure product developments meet beneficiary requirements?

This is teamwork. It starts with the conversations between our business development managers and our clients. Requests for new products, such as refugee shelter, disaster relief supplies and other non-food items, come from our clients or from internally. Their field experience combined with our own experience, research and working with external knowledge centres, universities and other industry partners, allows us to develop the best possible products for beneficiaries.

What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation is about big and small ideas that improve lives. Innovation is at the heart of what we do. Creating new ideas and products, whilst improving our production and logistic processes, choice of materials to reduce energy consumption, waste management and carbon footprint.

How do you include sustainability into designs?

Sustainability is very important for NRS International. It starts with product design. The majority of the tents that we produced are primarily made from Polyethylene (PE) fabric, and this has environmental advantages. We produce these fabrics in-house. We don’t source them from elsewhere, and so reduce transport energy. All production waste goes straight back into the PE fabric production and is recycled and reused. Most importantly, these materials use a lot less energy to produce, last longer and are safer to dispose. The factory invests heavily in reducing waste and energy consumption. Not only because it is good for our planet, but also because it saves money, reduces product cost and maintains competitiveness.

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