As we round the corner to 2017, a group of manufacturers on the Stiles European Benchmarking Tour are factoring in their experience abroad to shape their future strategies and growth plans. The annual technology tour through Austria, Switzerland and Germany in September immersed attendees in batch-size-one production, intelligent storage and retrieval systems, robotics, and materials flow offering a personalized preview into trends that are beginning to influence the North American furniture market.
The 2016 tour brought together a wide-ranging group of about 30 North American manufacturing executives of store fixtures, cabinets, closets, lockers, and other furniture to explore the unique processes, strategies, and business plans of five of the most innovative, efficient, and productive manufacturing facilities in Europe. Over the course of a week, participants explored not only technology, but also how these companies overcame challenges, bottlenecks, and cultural changes, and discovered new ways to think about their own business operations.
Plant tours ran the gamut from top producers of kitchen cabinets, medical, commercial, and institutional furniture to store fixtures, including:
• Hali Betriebs GmbH, in Eferding, Austria, is one of the largest office furniture manufacturers in Austria, manufacturing in a 250,000-square-foot facility. The company uses batch size one processes to produce office furniture in more than 48 million possible variations in just 15 days from order to delivery.
• Loosli Küchen AG, in Wyssachen, Switzerland, produces kitchen and bathroom cabinetry using a wide variety of materials, finishes, and thicknesses, with only 7 percent waste. Located in a small, 10,000-square-foot facility, the focus is on creative use of space, including a fully automated 32-level storage and retrieval system to hold finished jobs until shipping.
• Alpnach Küchen AG, in Strengelbach, Switzerland, produces 1,200 different styles of kitchen cabinets in its 6,000-square-foot plant. To produce about 2,000 kitchens per year, the company essentially eliminated the need for material storage by focusing its manufacturing on the cabinet doors and bringing in pre-cut carcasses for edgebanding, drilling, and assembly.
• Kettnaker GmbH & Co. KG, in Dürmentingen, Germany, designs and manufactures high-end modular furniture systems for living rooms and bedrooms using batch size one processes. The plant is notable for using no melamine in its cabinets and applying lacquer and veneer finishes in house.
• Ziefle Koch GmbH, in Waldachtal, Germany, produces furniture for instructional and educational facilities, clinics, medical centers, and restaurants, working in a wide range of unusual materials.
Because European manufacturing technologies and strategies tend to lead those of North American manufacturing practices by five to eight years, the annual technology tour allows North American manufacturers to benchmark themselves against companies in similar business situations and with similar limitations, including limited manufacturing space, density in local markets, and labor challenges. Trends toward efficiency, optimization and automation gave the group great insight to the future of their manufacturing.
About Stiles Machinery Inc.
For more than 50 years, Stiles has been helping manufacturers succeed. As the largest supplier of quality machinery, Stiles provides a Total Production Solutions approach by also offering equipment integration, financial services, education, service and parts. Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., Stiles has regional offices in High Point, North Carolina; Toms River, New Jersey; Coppell, Texas; and Rancho Cucamonga, California. Stiles is a proud member of the HOMAG Group, a global leader in the production of industrial machines for the manufacturing. Visit Stiles at www.stilesmachinery.com.
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