Technology impacts every industry in a variety of ways: from presenting new possibilities for sales and marketing to enabling companies to reduce their impact on the environment, digital innovation is changing the way people work, create new products, and live their lives. For furniture companies, technology has become a crucial consideration in not only advertising, selling, and delivering products to consumers, but also in creating new items efficiently.
While the $25 billion US furniture industry continues to expand, driven by a surging housing sector, it still has room to grow. According to IBISWorld, increasing foreign imports prevent it from reaching its full potential, and for many firms, technology presents an exciting new growth opportunity:
The advent of advanced 3D imaging tools and, more recently, virtual reality has unlocked a new world of possibilities for furniture prototyping. Rather than expending the time and resources to create physical models of their products, furniture designers can now create digital representations of them. This promises to add a great deal of speed and flexibility to the overall product development process. In addition to improving speed to market, virtual prototypes also allow designers more freedom to correct mistakes, test new ideas, and customize items to meet consumer preferences.
The potential for greater personalization is one of the most significant benefits of virtual prototyping. In addition to enabling furniture companies to more easily create products to unique customer specifications, virtual modeling also provides high-quality media for use in 360° models and interior design tools. Beyond enhancing the interactivity of a furniture company’s e-commerce platform, virtual prototyping can present new marketing opportunities while cutting costs on traditional advertising photography.
Advanced cutting machinery is one of the most significant innovations to recently impact furniture manufacturing. Capable of processing a variety of materials from woods to plastics and composites, computer-controlled cutting machines known as CNC routers allow furniture manufacturers to create products with greater precision, speed, and quality. On a basic level, these technologies work by processing CAD designs into g-code, which provides directions for the automated manufacture of physical products. In this way, computer-controlled machinery has enabled manufacturers to save valuable time and money and can have a positive impact on both a company’s customer service and bottom line.
A number of furniture companies have recently made sustainability a core component of their business strategy. Sustainable manufacturing is important to these companies not only because of its cost-saving benefits, but for ethical reasons as well. It’s also increasingly important as consumers shop with a growing amount of social consciousness.
Furniture manufacturers can increase their sustainability in a variety of ways. By assessing the life cycles of their products, they can minimize the environmental impact of each stage in their supply chain. Organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council work to help companies establish safe, sustainable lumber supply chains.
Additionally, the Sustainable Furnishings Council has issued several guidelines on sustainable furniture production. These promote the use of formaldehyde-free materials composed of recycled and/or recyclable content whenever possible. The organization advises upholstered furniture companies to use organic fabrics such as soy-polyurethane blends or latex rubber, as well as batting and packaging materials containing materials such as down or organic cotton rather than petroleum-based substances.
At the same time, the responsible manufacturing standards established by the International Organization for Standardization guideline ISO 14001 provide further sustainable best practices for energy use, waste management, handling hazardous materials, and resource consumption in the manufacturing sector.
Furniture companies are also considering sustainability in their overall design philosophies. By creating furniture that is highly durable and intended for long-term use, they can limit the need for replacement and reduce the amount of resources consumed by the industry over time.
Recently, the Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) conducted a survey of the top Asian, European, and North American upholstered furniture manufacturers. Designed to explore the most pressing challenges and leading solutions in the industry, the study revealed prevailing opinions about emerging manufacturing technology in the furniture sector, as well as how companies plan to harness these new tools.
The final report shows that 47 percent of manufacturing leaders hope to increase their company’s use of technology, while 70 percent report having a medium or high likelihood of increasing investments in manufacturing technology in the coming years.
However, 28 percent of manufacturers said they had only a minor propensity for making technology investments. Around 11 percent who do not use advanced digital solutions said they planned to implement them in the near future, while 12 percent reported that they had no plans to adopt advanced or automated manufacturing solutions.
There is no doubt that there are benefits to advanced technology for furniture manufacturers, but many barriers can stand in the way of implementation. In addition to concerns over initial installation costs and training resources, some firms struggle to convince their employees to get on board with advanced or automated technologies. It is possible that, in the future, it will be necessary to change this perspective to avoid being left behind. As technology continues to become the standard in furniture manufacturing, many of these companies may begin to innovate not only to increase their efficiency and competitiveness, but also to attract a new generation of tech-empowered workers.