The typical customer of today wants individual products on the one hand, but on the other hand also wants low prices. However, these two goals seem to contradict each other: The diversity of customer wishes leads to a high variance of products and thus to increasing complexity of production. However, there is a solution – customized mass production or mass customization.
The trend towards customized mass production is not only evident in the automotive industry, where customers have long been able to choose between countless extras, but also in the furniture market. This is particularly true for bathroom furniture, which often has to be installed in a narrowly defined space and where a wide range of dimensions, colors, and surfaces are offered. Another complexity is added by the technical conditions, i.e. the number, shape, and size of the washbasins and the number and design of the siphons.
Most furniture manufacturers would be overwhelmed by the task of converting their operations or production facilities to customized mass production under their own steam. But fortunately, there are specialists for such tasks, such as the company MBFZ toolcraft GmbH from Georgensgmünd in South Germany. The company is a pioneer in advanced technologies such as individual turn-key robot solutions. MBFZ toolcraft GmbH, which has received several awards of excellence, was founded only in 1989 and now employs around 400 people. Its customers include market leaders from the semiconductor industry, aerospace, medical technology, the optical industry, special machinery as well as motorsports and automotive.
Required by the customer: Production with “batch size 1“
To meet the market requirements for customized mass production, a well-known manufacturer of bathroom furniture asked MBFZ toolcraft GmbH to develop a robot system for the automated assembly of drawers for bathroom furniture. The drawers, with or without siphon, were to be of various sizes, from the smallest drawer with 170 mm to the largest with 1450 mm.
The furniture manufacturer also demanded the production of a wide range of variants with individual material and color selection with “batch size 1”; i.e. it should be possible to produce each piece of furniture as a custom-made product if required. With modern production technology, even batch size 1 can be profitable for the manufacturer and affordable for the customer.
Before automation, assembly of the drawers was carried out manually with hand tools; the drawer frames were pressed to the floor using a pneumatic press. The new plant was designed to enable production in two shifts; it was to facilitate manual processes and automate monotonous activities.
The production line was planned entirely virtually with Visual Components
Following the customer’s request, a feasibility study and visualization were carried out in the concept phase. For this purpose, MBFZ toolcraft GmbH used the factory planning and simulation software from Visual Components. With Visual Components, the company uses an ideal system, because, with the software for 3D factory simulation from the Finnish company, Toolcraft can design, simulate, optimize, and validate customized production systems.
In the newly designed system, the component data are recorded and processed by a scanner after they have been placed on a conveyer belt. A robot feeds the individual components to an automatic assembly station where they are screwed or pressed together. Then the fully assembled drawers are placed on a conveyor belt by the robot and transported to a station where they are manually removed and picked or stored.
The special feature of this project: It is the first plant for a “batch size 1” production in furniture manufacturing. The planning, implementation, and construction of the plant took about a year and three months.