ARCADIA, Wi. - Ashley Furniture, number 1 on the FDMC 300 and the largest furniture maker in the world, has installed 3D printing capabilities at two of its manufacturing facilities.
"We're doing 10 percent more business out of our Arcadia facility alone with probably almost 15 percent less labor," said Vaughn Pieters, senior director of casegood operations. "Automation has really allowed us to remove some of that heavy physicality that manufacturing has had the stigma of over the last 50 to 60 years. We don't have employees doing that heavy bulk work all day long anymore."
Ashley is using 3D printers from Formlabs, a Boston-based 3D printing specialist, to produce around 700 3D parts. Ashley says it has cut the cost of alignment pins in half by 3D printing them. The company also save time by not having to outsource the necessary parts.
“We had been previously sourcing the pins from a machine shop with a large minimum order quantity of 1,200. They were turned on a lathe out of nylon. Now, we’re able to circumvent that and literally cut the price in half,” said Brian Konkel, Ashley Furniture production engineer.
The company has also implemented a universal fixture system that utilizes 3D-printed parts to make product changeovers easier. This completely eliminates the need to spend machine shop resources to build each new fixture from scratch.
“With 3D printing, it’s obviously easy to replace parts, but we were also surprised of the longevity; some of these parts were getting three times what we originally expected, nearly nine months before they required a replacement,” Konkel said.
Ashley will run two 3D printers for 4o hours every week. Konkel said that in-house 3D printing has opened up more opportunities for employees to creatively solve problems and increase productivity on the factory floor.
Last month, the company began installing solar energy systems at its ten largest manufacturing plants.
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