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Automating custom furniture production for small and medium-sized businesses
The automation of design and production processes is not just for large furniture factories. Small and medium-sized businesses can benefit from it by saving time and using it for development, taking on more orders, and serving additional customers.
Custom furniture manufacturing requires preparing the facility for a variety of dimensions and plate processing. Automation in this area typically involves integration with systems such as CAM, ERP, and PDM.
What additional automation processes are implemented by small and medium-sized businesses?
- Generating programs for machines in the facility
- Automatic optimization of panel saw cutting
- Counting material costs through an MRP system
- Implementing roller conveyor systems
- Labeling: barcodes, QR codes
- Reporting performance on individual slots.
The beginning of any automation is the implementation of a CAD system.
Does automation of furniture design make sense?
This is a frequently asked question during our meetings at fairs or furniture consultations. Small and medium-sized furniture production companies usually start the automation process by investing in wood and plate processing machines. The software for production in this case includes machine operation and visual design. Automation of furniture design makes sense when it is properly implemented.
This means that it is worth starting with the automation of designs at the very beginning as a starting point for production. This order allows for the detection of errors and material savings before it is used, planning efficient work and obtaining files directly intended for production processes, e.g. DXF or programs in the native language of a given machine.
What is furniture design automation?
Furniture design automation involves replacing manual development of repetitive design tasks with a generator that creates operation plans based on software settings and output data from the model.
What does it look like in practice?
The first step is to create a parametric furniture model, meaning a model with variable dimensions. A change in, for example, width does not cause the model to fall apart or require it to be recreated. Additionally, within such a model, you can have any number of configurations, i.e., different dimensions and proportions in one model.
Automation in design also means quick element insertion in the software by automatically searching for reference. In the 3D CAD furniture design software WOODEXPERT, this function is called “Find Walls.”
Another aspect is the automatic generation of production drawings. 2D drawings are essential when reading the edge-banding sides of plates on the production line, both in small and large plants. Creating drawings for all parts of furniture can take several hours even for an advanced designer.
Describing materials in the legend and assigning them to specific plates is also an important but time-consuming process. Automatic material assignment also minimizes the risk of missing a given edge or plate, whose number in large furniture projects is very high.
Production reports allow you to obtain a summary of materials or cut elements in the project in a matter of seconds, which allows for efficient verification of the order and calculation of its cost.
Automatic DXF and PDF files allow for sending them for production or for direct approval by the client.
What characterizes custom furniture production in small and medium woodworking workshops?
Differences in the furniture production process between large and small workshops can affect their cooperation, material processing time, and the quality of the end product. Knowledge in this area can be useful when considering implementing automation in one’s own company and adapting it to one’s capabilities. What else characterizes a large and small woodworking workshop in terms of furniture production?
The machine park often differs depending on the size of the company, both in terms of the quantity and quality of the machines. Small companies often rely on panel saws and manual drills, while medium-sized companies can afford to purchase panel saws, edge banders, and machining centers. Medium-sized companies often opt for higher-end equipment, which can serve as a basis for expanding the production plant, such as machines from companies like BIESSE, SCM, or HOMAG.
Small companies often do not have a defined production process. A large portion of the work is done manually, such as cutting, edging, or drilling. Due to the lack of appropriate equipment, it is necessary to send components for processing to cooperatives, such as medium-sized companies that have a richer machine base and are able to perform tasks such as milling or painting fronts.
Medium-sized companies often have a defined production process, which is not always correct and optimal, but allows for saving a lot of time and money. Thanks to a diverse machine park, they are able to cut large quantities of boards on panel saws, which are then edged on automatic edge banders and machined on machining centers.
The production profile is another difference between small and medium-sized businesses. Small companies mostly rely on individual orders from private customers, while medium-sized companies, with a well-defined production process, can afford to equip networks of stores, offices, subcontracting for large companies, or even orders from business customers (e.g., shops).
Regarding quality, there is no rule, often a carpenter in their own company is able to produce better quality furniture than in a medium-sized company, but this results in a large amount of work, which in turn leads to smaller profits. In medium-sized companies, with properly calibrated machines, much better quality can be achieved, e.g., in terms of edged or milled elements.
The growing role of 3D CAD software in furniture production automation
3D CAD is an opportunity to change the structure of a workshop from small to medium, and from medium to large. Changing the work style, focusing primarily on automating design, allows us to focus on finding new production solutions rather than introducing corrections resulting from errors during standard design, such as manually preparing drawings.
We have created software that meets the needs of small, medium, and large businesses
WOODEXPERT, with its modules, allows for smooth design and documentation generation at every stage: 2D drawings, material lists, or CAM data generation. Material assignment to the model takes less than a minute, as does machining or report generation.
How does WOODEXPERT support the automation of furniture production and design?
How did we translate the idea and definition into real functionalities? First and foremost in the area of the modules: design, drawings, bill of materials and CAM. Their interdependence further indicated to us the need to automate them. Hence the concept of generators: i.e. systems for producing variables without the need for an external signal – in this case, manual input from outside the model.
Another space for automation is the shared SQL database. The ability to have the same settings in terms of an assembly makes it easier to work on a shared project and eliminates the need for repetitive steps on each separate workstation.
Full integration with SOLIDWORKS – basing the WOODEXPERT furniture design software on SOLIDWORKS functionalities allows us to take advantage of huge possibilities in terms of automation: global variables, parameterisation, equations, a palette of design properties allow us to create any customised furniture.
Additional WOODEXPERT automation functionalities:
- assigning support and finishing materials
- generation of production reports
- automatic machining
- generation of CAM data
- rebuilding of materials
- collision detection of elements in the model.
From small to medium and medium to large, 3D CAD is a way to change the structure of a furniture factory. How does it work? Check it out! Free DEMO download
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