Back to the future for furniture

Enter the 21st century, where a backlash against the uniformity of mass-produced products has re-ignited consumers’ desire for distinctive, customized products.

A sofa prototype.

Customized goods were the norm in pre-industrialized societies. In the 20th century, manufacturers began to embrace the mass production model and the lure of cheap, readily available goods drew consumers away from the unique pieces that characterized earlier eras. Enter the 21st century, where a backlash against the uniformity of mass-produced products has re-ignited consumers’ desire for distinctive, customized products.

This increasing demand for customization is straining the efficiency and profitability of current manufacturing models. However, companies that are unable to offer the increasingly high levels of customization that consumers demand risk losing revenue and customer loyalty.

So, what can upholstered furniture manufacturers do to adapt to the changing market scenario and ensure that they thrive in a dynamic, global marketplace? Many observers believe that we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, which will provide companies with the means to respond to the growing complexities of manufacturing and enable greater possibilities for product innovation and business model transformation.

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is an umbrella term for a number of digital technologies that are already transforming manufacturing; it represents a new approach to manufacturing and its inevitable future. We live in an era of constant connectivity: tablets, mobile phones, smart homes. It is only natural that this technology would eventually make its way into the manufacturing world. 

Anchored in the digitalization of industrial processes, from creation to production, Industry 4.0 is creating a new organization of factories’ ecosystems. Automation, comprehensive networking of all areas of production and the Internet of Things will drive a digital communication flow between machines, internal and external value chain actors. This networked production system makes it possible to build smarter manufacturing processes and supply chains. It also facilitates the creation of smart factories.

These intelligent factories, where human beings, machines and products communicate with each other as naturally as on a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter, are capable of managing higher levels of complexity, are less prone to disruption and able to manufacture goods more efficiently. 

Benefits of Industry 4.0 for upholstered furniture manufacturers

With Industry 4.0, there is more and more room for large-scale product personalization manufacturing, with greater quality and no added costs or delays. Moreover, thanks to digitalization, IoT, connectivity, companies can easily switch back and forth among the four manufacturing models that require more agility, require more information in order to respond in real-time to a changing demand.

The benefits of an Industry 4.0 approach to manufacturing will extend to multiple areas. McKinsey & Company estimates that using Industry 4.0 levers will allow manufacturers to:

  • Reduce time to market by 20 – 50%
  • Reduce maintenance costs by 10 – 40%
  • Increase productivity by 3 – 5%
  • And reduce total machine downtime by 30 – 50%

In the Industry 4.0 era, static, dynamic, easily reconfigurable production lines will replace today’s static, one-way processes. This will be a boon for manufacturers producing personalized furniture, providing them with the means to efficiently and profitably manufacture smaller batch sizes—even as small as batch-size 1— at a price and lead time comparable to mass-produced furnishings.

A networked, data-rich production system also offers the potential to understand in minute detail the entire production process and what changes are necessary to unlock production efficiencies and savings. The potential gains from advanced analytics range from cost savings due to predictive maintenance operations to smaller work-in-progress inventory through to a more flexible and better-informed business strategy. According to McKinsey Digital, a shift to a big data/advanced analytics approach to manufacturing can lead to a 25% increase in productivity and a 45% reduction in downtime.

Embrace Industry 4.0 with Lectra

Lectra has conceived a new strategy to empower its customers through industrial intelligence and help them succeed as they step into the era of Industry 4.0. To meet the industry’s new challenges, our customers can depend on our existing software and equipment offer, already compatible with Industry 4.0 principles, our deep knowledge of the industrial Internet of Things since 2007, and our expertise in the furniture industry.

Our new offer, capitalizing on data analyses and exploitation, will translate into even smarter, connected equipment and finely tuned integration between equipment, software and services. New industry-specific services will reinforce the offer, enabling Lectra to continually improve customer processes. Initially tested in 2017 with select customers, some of whom have been involved with the offer since the beginning of the design, the new offer will be commercialized from 2018.


Explore the shape of things to come for furniture manufacturers in our new Industry 4.0 white paper