At an ever-increasing pace, technology is transforming most of our life -- at home and work. The chart above illustrates how digitization permeates every aspect of our world. At home, we control heating, lighting and the security system with our smartphones. Businesses such as Uber and Amazon are revolutionary game changers, completely changing the business landscape. The Internet of Services (IoS) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will not go around our industry; it will go right through it!

Industry 4.0 or The Connected Factory will transform the woodworking and furniture industries as it will all other industries. We believe the only choice we have is whether we are leaders and early adopters, or late adopters. There is no waiting on the sidelines until this “phase” is over.

The subject of Industry 4.0 is complex and one, or a series of articles, will not cover all of what needs to get done. Industry 4.0 touches all aspects of the business so, in order to prepare for The Connected Factory, we need to look at all facets of the company.
At Lignum Consulting, we have identified 7 key areas that all need to be addressed in order to get your company prepared. The areas are interconnected and need to be aligned:

  • Strategy
  • Product
  • Technology
  • Logistics
  • Data integration
  • Organization
  • Human Resources
The 7 key areas that need to be addressed to prepare your company for adopting Industry 4.0.

By analyzing these seven subjects, you create a snapshot of where the company is now. Gaps will show up, and future investments can be evaluated on the impact they make. In Part 2 of this series we focused on “Strategy”.  In today’s article, we will do a deep-dive on “Product."

Design for Manufacturing
First, the product needs to be appealing to the customer. The value proposition needs to be right. In order to be commercially successful, the product design needs to find the right balance between price and cost. Most of the manufacturing cost is linked directly to the design. The manufacturability needs to be an integral part of the design process. The company needs to find the right balance of allowing creativity and freedom of design but consider economic constraints and technical abilities. For example, the drilling pattern can be processed in one pass and does not require a second pass to complete. Certainly, CNC technology makes drilling processes more flexible, but dependent on the batch size traditional feed-through machines may be more cost-effective. The company must have a structured, defined product development process in place.

Product Variant Management
One important fact in the furniture and kitchen cabinet industry is product variety. For example, in kitchen cabinets, if you calculate how many variations you can produce of the same cabinet you will be surprised. If you take a base cabinet 24 in. wide with one drawer and one door, for example, you have material options (plywood, melamine white, melamine hard maple…) left or right hinged door, the drawer box (melamine, two types of metal box, and a solid wood dovetailed version…), the hardware can be regular or soft-close. We are now at 48 variants of the same cabinet. As you multiply this by the different base styles (integrated, separate frame, legs…), laminate colors and solid wood doors (style, wood species, stain color…) we can reach over ten thousand. Multiply this with the handle/doorknob options (type, finish, location…) you might reach a million! And this is just for one size and type of cabinet. When you then multiply this number by all the available (standard) sizes in the catalog, you realize how important it is to manage the product variants. Some companies explode their variety even more by allowing custom sizes…, you get the idea. It’s a big number.

Traditional, static BOM (Bills of Material) can usually not keep up with such product variety. This then often leads to poorly maintained BOM’s, bottlenecks in processing orders in the engineering department, or a slow down in product development. Companies with such massive product range and offering, need flexible product configurators to manage the product lines.
There are production benefits if product variants are managed by creating variety later in the value stream (i.e. produce the parts/product and add customer-specific color at a later stage …).  Is there an active process in the company to manage product variants?

Products and variants are added to the offering on a regular basis. However, many companies missing a regular process to eliminate features and options if they are not selling well enough. Keeping a product “active”, requires maintaining the BOM’s, maintain the supply chain for the raw material, and keep and manage the inventory.

Design and Construction Standards
As companies grow, they are implementing new products and product lines. When new designers or product engineers come on-board, often design principals are changed. When design principals are changed with little regard for the existing product lines, the product variety increases.
For example:
Board material:    Almost every commercially available board thickness and size is used in one of the products.
Hardware:     Different product lines using different hardware with similar functions is used requiring different drilling patterns, assembly templates, and inventory management.
Case design:      Product lines using different design details such as dowel construction or Dado connection, KD hardware etc.
Drawer Design:      When analyzing the existing drawer box sizes available in your company you might find size differences so small that there is no practical justification. The value to the customer does not change by having a few standard sizes.  Having standards will allow you to have benefits throughout the operation.
The more these and other design details can be standardized, the easier the entire product offering can be managed.

Good examples of non-standardization!

Rule-Based Construction
The product design follows some logical algorithms.  The geometry of parts can be expressed in mathematical formulas. For example, all part dimensions are derived by a formula starting with width, height, and depth of the final product. Even design details such as single door or double door can be linked mathematically to the outside dimension of the product. The number of shelves can be mathematically expressed linked to the height of the cabinet. Such rule-based construction is essential when digitizing the product line.

Product Data Model
Is the product database built logically and does it accommodate all features, options, and variations? Does every variation of the product require a completely new bill-of-material (BOM)? For example, every time you add a new color to the offering, do you need to change all BOM’s or is your database flexible enough to handle such changes automatically? Are the products grouped in logical categories to allow you to manage the database easily?

Module /Product Platform Strategy
Are the products designs based on a repeating design platform? Product differentiation can be achieved by allowing standard base designs. For example, a kitchen cabinet manufacturer has very different kitchen design lines, but the case is based (all or in part) on the same case platform.

Standardized parts with the same drilling patterns will be used in different products.

Where Do You Start?
At first glance, all the above do not appear very connected to Industry 4.0 and its high-tech approach. It is however important so that your transformation will be placed on a solid foundation. The product design is an important element of overall performance. Understanding the above implications and setting objectives for future product development, as well as including the existing product when possible, is a great starting project.

You Don’t Have To Be Perfect
It does not matter where you are currently on the scale of “product”. The important thing is that you baseline it and get better at it.  Start with baby steps. If you already have a system in place – make it more robust, and meaningful. Apply the system of continuous improvement. The most important step is to get started.

We will continue to write about Industry 4.0 and the seven key areas of Industry 4.0. The next article will focus on technology and equipment in the Connected Factory. We welcome and encourage your feedback, and you can reach us at

Georg Frey
Sepp Gmeiner

About the authors

Georg Frey is the president of Lignum Consulting. Sepp Gmeiner is a partner at Lignum Consulting.  They can be reached at


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