A few days ago, my wife and I were discussing some possible changes to our kitchen, or what I call “the family gathering place.” As we were looking at options for countertops, including the various colors, materials, and edges that are available, my wife asked about recent changes I had seen in the cabinet industry.
Now that’s something I can talk about all day.
Like all industry segments within manufacturing, the wood industry is also dealing with general and industry-specific issues. Consumers demand more input in the final product and want to see what they are actually getting or how the interior of a new home might feel. Kitchen and bath designers, cabinet makers, and furniture builders are pushed to not only provide a blue print, but also to show how the new living or gathering space will feel.
To meet this demand, the industry adapted computer aided design (CAD) many years ago. This allows the representation of the final product to be viewed by the customer from a variety of angles, giving them a special picture of the new space.
In today’s world, that is no longer enough. Customers want to experience what the space will look like and feel like. This is where virtual reality is coming into play.
Virtual reality (VR) is helping design studios and wood shops show customers what to expect before physically building anything. VR has existed since the early 1960s when Morton Heilig tried to improve moviegoers’ enjoyment with the “Experience Theater,” but is now gaining traction.
The video and gaming industry has made VR popular, which is bringing the cost way down. Large companies like IKEA and Lowe’s are now rolling VR technology out in their stores to give customers the instant feeling of how their new space would look and feel.
This trend isn’t just for the big box players. It can easily be brought into your cabinet or furniture shop. Using VR can help ensure your customer gets what they really want and not just what they thought they wanted.
By simply allowing them to put on VR glasses and “move” around in a computer-generated image, they get a feeling and sensation similar to what they would get walking into their new kitchen or one of their rooms filled with new furniture. You can add some touch by placing different materials in the area, allowing the customer to touch the countertop material and feel the difference between a laminated wood top, Corian, or granite.
New materials are also making their way into shops. Many of the new materials today are manmade. This started years ago with laminated flooring and composite decking materials. Environmental concerns and the cost of solid wood items have continued the push for new materials. Bamboo is gaining acceptance not only for flooring, but also for furniture, cabinets, music instruments, and more. Wood plastic composite (WPC) is also on the rise. WPC is often made from recycled material, which provides a benefit to the environment by reducing waste for landfills and the need to cut real trees. Another benefit is that many WPC products can be ordered to size, reducing the machining time within your shop. WPC can help you save money by reducing tooling, setup cost, and the need to add equipment.
Another technology that is finding its way into cabinet and furniture shops is 3D printers. 3D printers can print a variety of items, including prosthetics, cars, and small things like gears or even airplane parts. Have you ever thought of 3D printing furniture?
As you are reading this blog post, it is already happening! 3D printers could revolutionize your shop. 3D printing allows you to print a prototype quickly and relatively inexpensively. You don’t have to build a whole kitchen with cabinets and hope that someone will stop in and buy your model.
You can even print full-size or scaled-down models of cabinets and display them in your store. This way you allow customers to see the real look before you start production.
The last piece of technology we will look into is water jets. This technology allows you to cut wood dust-free at very high rates, as well as cut some very interesting and intricate details into the wood. The accuracy of water jets has improved over the last few years, which has led to its rise.
The ability of water jets to cut many materials might open up new business opportunities, such as custom cutting of solid countertop materials like Corian, granite, or Silestone.
So, after telling my wife about all of this new and exciting technology in woodworking and machining, she got right back to the updates to the gathering place and asked if I wanted beveled or rounded edges on our countertops.