The “Dark Factory” is now state-of-the-art and has already been successfully implemented in practice. However, this trend is currently limited mainly to the panel furniture industry. Solid wood furniture manufacturers are facing greater challenges, as Peter Hartmann of Schuler Consulting explains in his article.
Challenges due to high complexity and variance
In addition to the fundamental challenges, manufacturers in the solid wood sector are confronted with special challenges when taking the step towards automation. The furniture industry differs from many other branches of manufacturing industry primarily in the characteristics of product variance, i.e. in material, shape, construction and surface design. These characteristics apply to both the panel and the solid wood furniture industry. So why is automation more advanced in the panel sector?
The reasons for this are mainly due to the comparatively heterogeneous raw material and the resulting need for a more extensive value chain within production. However, the sometimes higher complexity and variance of products and processes as well as the more elaborate logistics along the value chain also play their part. Even if the requirements in the various segments of panel furniture manufacturing (kitchen, bathroom, office, etc.) differ from one another, the basic process sequences and the components to be processed are very similar. This makes it possible to develop standardized manufacturing concepts, which can be adapted comparatively quickly to the special requirements of a customer with his product portfolio.
In contrast to the panel furniture industry, the solid wood furniture industry has few trivial geometric shapes of the components. Instead, complex, customer-specific component shapes with different profiles and wood types are the normal production portfolio. In this individual and complex spectrum of furniture parts or their modules, basic machines can often be used. However, most of the other process-relevant machine equipment such as feeding, stacking, clamping devices and tools usually have to be adapted to the portfolio on a customer-specific basis. Standardization and development of general automation concepts for a wide range of applications is much more complex.