Investing in technology: What are furniture manufacturers' spending plans?

How are upholstered furniture manufacturers currently using technology in production? Are they planning to invest in it more in the future? And if not, could that decision prove costly?

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Demanding consumers, increasing costs, tighter delivery deadlines...

Demanding consumers, increasing costs, tighter delivery deadlines and calls for more customized designs are all making it harder for manufacturers to remain profitable while still producing high-quality pieces of furniture.

One key way to streamline their processes and meet these challenges is through adopting automated technology, like virtual prototyping or CNC cutting machines.

As such, it’s no surprise that 47% of upholstered furniture manufacturers say they want to use more technology than they currently are. This certainly seems to be backed up by their current spending plans, as over 70% say they have a medium or high propensity to invest in it over the next few years.

These are some of the findings from a recent study, Researching the Global Upholstered Furniture Manufacturing Industry. For the survey, the Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) questioned leading upholstered furniture manufacturers in Europe, Asia and North America to determine their key challenges and what they’re doing to combat them. The report also shows how manufacturers view the use of technology in manufacturing, what part it plays in their business, and what they’re planning on investing in.

With virtual prototyping, designers can determine design feasibility much earlier in the process and reduce the number of physical prototypes they need to produce. This can help to significantly reduce costs, improve time to market, and it also makes creating customized furniture a more viable option.

Similarly, by using CNC cutting machinery, manufacturers can avoid costly errors, reduce non-quality costs and optimize fabric use from the start. This all helps to streamline production, improve margins and increase profitability, while maintaining quality.

Propensity to invest

Forty-seven percent of upholstered furniture manufacturers use CNC or virtual prototyping technology for some processes and plan to increase their usage in the future. Research shows that the industry as a whole is keen to invest in more technology. However, despite the many advantages these technologies can bring, 28% of manufacturers say they only have a small propensity to invest. So, what’s holding them back?

For some, there’s a clear cost barrier. Twenty-eight percent of manufacturers say the cost of implementing virtual prototyping would be too high (22% say the same for CNC). Rather tellingly, however, 10% of manufacturers say the biggest barrier to adoption is that their workforce will simply not use virtual prototyping (9% for CNC). Moreover, 15% believe the cost of training will be too high (13% for CNC).


Save now, pay later?

This small minority of manufacturers might see it as a sensible option to delay spending and concentrate on options that the current workforce are happy with and are already trained on. But do they risk being left behind? Failure to modernize means manufacturers are also failing to take advantage of the cost reductions and process improvements they could gain. Therefore, they’re failing to optimize their profitability.

As their current workforce leaves the business, they could find it harder to attract the designers and engineers of the future, who are only interested in working in a modern environment with the technology and tools they’ll come to expect. So, small savings now could mean big costs for the future.