A race against the clock
In the last five years, upholstered furniture production has risen by 24% across the world and by 67% in China, where 47% of all upholstered furniture is made today. In Europe, production has shifted towards Poland and Romania, and is enjoying a new dynamic in North America. Looking towards 2017, consumption is clearly on the rise for the furniture industry, but it will be localized: +6% in China and India; +3% in the United States, Poland and the rest of the world; less than 1% in the rest of Europe.
Upholstered furniture manufacturers are engaged in a race against the clock. Slow to embrace modernization, today they are aware they must automate production to boost flexibility, and take manufacturing into account at the very start of the design process to control costs and delivery times. In order to differentiate and to entice consumers, many manufacturers are reinforcing design activities. Their objective is to offer original, customizable models in a wide range of materials. Environmental criteria are also increasingly taken into account.
Adopting new technology – from design-to-cost solutions to automated cutting – varies greatly between regions. In North America, production – already automated – is entering a new phase of modernization; in Eastern Europe, the key challenge is to cope with the lack of a qualified workforce; and in China, profitability is propelling the shift from craftsmanship to industrial production thanks to automation.
The Millennials are forging change for the furniture industry. They represent a massive market: they move frequently, they change furniture when they move, and they want furniture to reflect their personality. Manufacturers are inspired by how Millennials are living. They are adapting their offer for smaller accommodation, for example, with compact and modular furniture. Millennials, Not wanting to wait months for furniture they’ve ordered, are also driving the trend towards ‘fast furniture’. The pace of collections and delivery times is accelerating, shaking up traditional supply chains.
Manufacturers are looking for technologies that help them to produce increasingly attractive models, faster and in a profitable way. Even if Industry 4.0 factories remains quite far on the horizon for the majority of furniture manufacturers, automated production lines will improve efficiency and productivity. The increasing potential of previously unprofitable industrial models, such as mass customization, is a further result of modernizing technology. It enables companies to manage a growing choice of styles, materials and configurations.
China exports 40% of production and the country continues to gain market share. However, longer delivery times are not in the country’s favor and its manufacturers’ grip on the global supply chain is weakening. By contrast, the domestic market, growing to the rhythm of the burgeoning Chinese middle-class, remains private turf.
In order to alleviate the lack of skilled labor, to differentiate themselves by using automated manufacturing and to satisfy increasingly demanding Chinese consumers, Kuka turned to Lectra’s expertise, technology and support. The company transformed its design and product development processes with DesignConcept 3D and automated leather cutting with Versalis.
B2B furniture manufacturer Godfrey Syrett aims to almost double its turnover by 2020. Its design-led projects strive to make upholstered products much more modular and better adapted to the way people work nowadays with computers. Thanks to automated cutting equipment and processes, the British company has increased production by 70% compared to manual cutting, saved £150,000 a year by using fabric more efficiently, reduced time to market and improved product quality.
(2016 Annual Report)