As the furniture industry continues to show strong signs of recovery following the Great Recession, many corners of the sector are undergoing transformations. Innovative minds in sectors ranging from software development to genetic engineering are poised to not only change the way consumers shop for furniture, but also usher in evolutions in the way companies source and create their products. The following are some of the major advances that could influence the future of the furniture sector:
Widely Accessible Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) is one of the major technological innovations driving change in the home furnishings industry. By allowing users to overlay, reposition, and resize realistic 3-D models atop images of real-world environments, AR software promises to usher in a new era of home design. AR grants customers greater creative freedom while they shop for furniture, as it allows them to test out how specific products might appear in their own homes. At the same time, AR can aid the efforts of furniture retailers and interior designers by enabling employees to provide more personalized, mobile services to consumers.
Thanks to recent innovations by two leading mobile technology producers, AR design applications are more accessible than ever. The recent release of Apple’s iOS11 operating system included ARKit, which supports more advanced processing capabilities for augmented reality applications, and Android has set out to accomplish similar feats with its ARCore development tool.
These toolkits have paved the way for exciting new applications such as Intiaro. Using geo-mapping metadata, Intiaro enables users to generate full 3-D images of rooms that can be saved and loaded on the go. These images include data specifying the angles of varying planes in the space in the position of the camera, thus allowing designers to overlay and position 3-D images to detailed specifications.
While Intiaro caters to designers, several leading furniture retailers have developed AR design apps for consumers. The recently released Ikea Place, for example, allows prospective buyers to select items from a portion of Ikea’s vast catalogue to situate in a 360-degree recreation of a given room, and additional brands, including Lowes and Wayfair, have unveiled similar products as well. In addition to its AR room-design tool, Lowes has developed an AP that uses similar technology to act as a digital tape measurer.
Developments in 3-D Printing
While still in the early stages of adoption, 3-D printing is beginning to see wider usage throughout the furniture industry. Although equipment expenses have prevented 3-D printing from becoming a cost-effective method of furniture manufacturing, it can speed up the prototyping process and offer designers greater creative freedom. 3-D printing enables designers to create a larger number of high-quality prototypes before sending their concepts to vendors, thereby giving designers the ability to test new products more thoroughly.
Some innovative designers have also used 3-D printing to create elaborate, innovative products that do not require any assembly. Furniture such as the One Shot stool would be nearly impossible to efficiently produce without the streamlined process of 3-D printing. Designed by Patrick Jouin, the elegantly designed piece can fold in on itself for storage purposes and can also expand to accommodate a second person.
New innovations to the basic processes of 3-D printing could make it a viable strategy not only for creating prototypes, but also for generating mass-produced home furnishings. MIT recently partnered with leading office furniture retailer Steelcase to create a new 3-D printing method. The strategy involves injecting malleable building materials, such as rubber or plastic, into streams of supportive gel. Compared to traditional 3-D printing, which creates three-dimensional objects by laying down material in several layers, this new technique could significantly speed up furniture production.
Innovative Manufacturing Materials
Leather furniture is a thriving sector of the furniture industry, accounting for over $12 billion of furniture sales in 2016. However, a growing respect for environmental stewardship has led many consumers to be more discerning regarding the materials and processes required to make their products while encouraging companies to adopt greener retail and manufacturing strategies. Thanks to the innovations of a company called Modern Meadow, which is developing a biofabricated alternative to leather named Zoa, furniture shoppers could soon have the option to buy leather furniture that has a minimal impact on the environment.
By editing the DNA of yeast, the company was able to create a protein that is genetically identical to bovine collagen. Produced in varying colors, textures, and densities, and capable of seamlessly connecting with other fabrics, the genetically engineered material could create new opportunities in not only the furniture industry, but also in the auto and athletics sectors.
Other materials primed for use in innovative new home furnishings include PulpWorks’ Karta-Pack, a sturdy cotton material comprised entirely of recycled clothing. Although Karta-Pack is soft to the touch, its stiffness is similar to that of plastic. In addition to being a potential manufacturing material for upholstered seating, companies could use this unique material in new, sustainable packaging designs.