Furniture

Four tips on how to implement an Industry 4.0 cutting room

The furniture manufacturing industry is going through a period of rapid change, driven in part by emerging technologies but also by changing customer demands.

Four tips on how to implement an Industry 4.0 cutting room

People are owning furniture for shorter periods and expect new designs and models to be constantly released. In addition, there is growing demand for customization and personalization, resulting in a more complex manufacturing process.

Furniture manufacturers are turning towards digital cutting rooms, embedded with Industry 4.0 technologies, in order to achieve the speed, efficiency and agility required to address these challenges. But upending manual processes and embracing digital technology comes with its challenges. Importantly, it is crucial to understand that digital transformation is not just a technology play; it requires significant preparation and planning across the organization. We look at some of the key success factors for making implementation of an Industry 4.0 cutting room a success.

Strategic buy-in across the company

When it comes to technological implementation, people remain the most important element. Change comes from the top, so before starting an Industry 4.0 cutting room project, it is essential that the company gets buy-in from senior leadership. Internal champions can ensure there are adequate resources for the project and align teams towards the end goals.

Communication is vital and should be continuous. Employees need to understand the project vision and what it means both for them and the company as a whole. They may have questions. Will their jobs be changing? Will digitization allow them to focus on more high-value tasks? It is the responsibility of the senior project leaders to be clear and transparent at all stages of the process. They should also define a clear ramp-up period where employees are progressively switched from the old system, which may include manual ways of working, to the new one. To be successful everyone involved in the project has to be pulling in the same direction.

Document your processes

One of the first stages in implementing a digital transformation process should involve auditing and documenting existing processes. Doing this gives companies clear visibility over current operations and provides opportunities to optimize processes or eliminate them if they are considered obsolete. Even small changes can make major differences to productivity. It is a good discipline, as instead of seeing the cutting room as one function, planners will start to see the separate component parts. Once processes have been documented they can then be streamlined, replicated and migrated to the new system. However, many companies don’t have clear documentation for core functions. Working with a partner can be useful at it can provide an outside view and help the company to become more structured and consistent in their approach and implementation.

It is also important to centralize and structure key data. When designing digital workflows, you need to be able to draw on data from all parts of the organization, as this will maximize efficiency and ensure seamless processes. Having information stuck in different systems or departments, can create a silo effect, which must be overcome. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, or other IT systems, can be used to integrate data from across the company and make it accessible.

The lack of a single operating platform, coupled with a failure to standardize processes, could result in delays to the project, or disjointed systems that fail to deliver the efficiency gains promised.

Consider a modular approach

Digital transformation can be daunting for many companies. Large-scale change can require significant investment and might involve re-platforming or disruption to operations. Faced with this scenario, many projects fail to get off the ground. But a modular approach is possible, where digitization is completed in stages. Automating certain processes early on can result in immediate efficiency gains, which build momentum and confidence in the project. This approach also allows staff training to be done in stages, as the project develops. Rather than having to learn everything at once they can get comfortable with a single function or workflow before moving to the next.

Measure progress with KPIs

As the management thinker Peter Drucker once said, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.’ In order to make sure the new systems are delivering the promised improvements, it is important to use key performance indicators (KPIs). Yet, according to a survey by Gartner, almost half of all CEOs have no metric for digital transformation.

KPIs should be defined at the start of the process and should be easy to measure and not overly complex, or they become difficult to manage and their value is limited. All people involved in the project should be able to understand them. For furniture manufacturing, example KPIs could include reduced lead times, or increased production capacity. Alternatively, the focus may be on material usage or other important indicators like customer satisfaction. Having operational KPIs for each process will enable management to understand quickly if there is a problem and resolve it. Each KPI should also be tied to a specific business outcome. Getting transformation metrics right will help improve the success rates of the project and will also allow companies to describe that success to key stakeholders or investors.

With these tips as a starting point, you are on your way to making your Industry 4.0 implementation a success.

For more information, read our e-guide: Success Factors for Industry 4.0 Cutting Room Implementation