Any design process is a way to express your creativity and achieve satisfaction and self-realization. Furniture design is not an exception. Nowadays, most experienced carpenters design their products on a computer before producing it. Moreover, no one is surprised that such design process takes place in 3D space. There are various CAD system on the market today, which offer a wide range of design possibilities – from universal CAD systems like SketchUp and AutoCAD to specialized for furniture design software. Working with a universal CAD system you can create a pretty decent 3D furniture model. Modeling allows clarifying the structure of your creation and how it must be produced and built. Perfect, right? At least it would be if not the following largest pains that furniture designer runs into?


I. Dimensions, dimensions, dimensions

When the idea is clearly expressed in 3D models it’s time for not that joyful work – information preparation for manufacturing. Anyone who ever encountered cabinet furniture production knows what we are talking about.

It all starts with good old part lists of all parts that the furniture model contains. These lists must accommodate not only the quantity or parts but their sizes too. That is minimal information needed to cut workpiece from the panel. So how does this work with a universal CAD system? Designer interprets 3D model or drawings and line by line puts down data of each workpiece to the list. This list is normally created in the Excel type of files. Like some sort of help, the tables in it might be enriched with various Macros, which facilitate the specification of the product. Nevertheless, the point remains the same – you need to measure model in the CAD system and transfer those measurements to specification (Bill Of Materials). When the design objects are large it becomes a very tedious task which is also a source of mistakes. Moreover, while working on it, a designer must evaluate edge banding, grain direction, oversize, etc. This is another place where mistakes usually sneak in and sabotage the whole process. Then follows the material consumption specification and other information.

All in all, the specification generation can add up to 50% time which was spent on 3D modeling. And it’s incredibly boring! Therefore, all CAD systems that specializes in the furniture design sector firstly implement a solution for automated workpiece measurement.


II. Joinery and design changes

If the designer has a task to provide holes coordinates of various hardware/ironmongery elements for CNC processing, then he must design connections for the parts. In other words, he must design the holes. The average amount of time needed for one connecting component design is from 15-30 sec. not taking into consideration that hardware must be placed in these holes. Let’s look at the example:

Simple office cabinet contains around 130-150 units of holes.

Even if you are a huge optimist it sums up to 15sec*150/60sec equals to 37 minutes. Such an amount of time is very significant considering how small this part is in the whole process context. Not mentioning complex projects which take 2-5 times longer. Therefore, the CAD system dedicated to furniture design has one or other mechanism for faster connections design implemented.

Another aspect of this problem is the changes in management. One of the largest pains for furniture designer is to make changes after construction is done. For example, in order to change the height of a cabinet, you must change the size of side parts, the positions of shelves, etc. Therefore, what seems like a simple adjustment must be synchronically made in at least two parts. The most common mistake is when changes in one part aren‘t repeated in the other. Parametrical design systems like Inventor, Solid Works, Solid Edge, etc. allow solving this problem using skeletal modeling or linking dimensions thru parameters. Unfortunately, universal design systems do not ensure such linking and the probability of such mistakes highly increase. How specialized design systems solve this problem depends on which the main CAD engine is chosen as a basis. But anyway such a specialized system ensures automated synchronization when changes are made.


III. My beloved templates

Repetition is characteristic in the furniture design process. How? For example – either you take a cabinet, a shoe box or wardrobe – you can see that essentially, it’s the same box with different parameters. Naturally, the necessity to create template designs rises. Using templates in everyday work can save tons of time. Parametrical design systems in its nature have the features which provide a possibility to create templates. And specialized systems offer additional mechanisms which increase the convenience of templates usage.


IV. Drawings

Simple furniture production can be executed with a part list (which includes workpiece sizes and edges that must be edge-banded). But if the parts’ shape is complex the production will require a document according to which it will be manufactured and its’ quality controlled. In other words, you’ll need the drawings. Drawings contain not only drawing of part/product form but also lots of additional information: measurements, holes position table, technical requirements, specifications, information about materials, etc. 3D model can’t serve as such document yet and, so far simple printed 2D drawing is the king in workshops.  That’s why 2D drawing is an important part of the information bundle needed to overcome production. Even in Autodesk, they say that 2D drawing processing adds 30-70% time which was spent on 3D modeling. It should be considered that the furniture part contains loads of additional information like grain direction, edge band markings, etc. and to provide this information additional time is required. Specialized furniture design software offers a solution which generates drawings according to 3D furniture model. Parametrical design systems additionally provide automatic 2D drawings synchronization when the 3D model is modified.


V. CNC my pain or gain?

Since the prices of CNC technologies relatively decrease, small companies now can allow purchasing their own CNC machines. Therefore, furniture designer acquires an additional task of generating CNC program for the machine. Normally the designer, technologist or CNC machine operator reads the part drawing and transfer the required geometry to CNC program. Those can be specialized CNC programs like Woodwop, Biesse Works, etc. or written special text file which can be interpreted by machine management system – controller. Again, it’s pretty significant time expenses which can be equated to 2D drawing preparation expenses. Same as in the case with measurements this is a wide field for mistakes. It’s great when you make a large series and a few spoiled details, while adapting the program, doesn’t change the world. But what if it’s custom furniture production where there’s no time for adapting each part and every mistake counts? Furniture design software might be equipped with a CAM module which solves this problem by automatically generating CNC programs.


VI. ERP my (not)friend

Company workflows are always followed by information streams, that serves for various processes in the company. The best-known part of such stream is the bookkeeping. Especially we all love the part of it when the salary calmly lies down into our pockets. Unfortunately, that is not the only process which requires some work done in the company. The biggest piece of pie goes to the information needed for manufacturing management. It includes production process planning, various specifications needed to order materials, the logistics of manufactured products, etc. To attend these processes, companies use ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems. For those systems to properly function they need to be fed with information about the products. And where that kind of information appears from? That’s right – in the design chain. So, once again, our designer receives another task to enter all the information about the product to the ERP system. And if you think that it is in any way interesting or satisfying task you are painfully mistaken. It’s logical that if specialized furniture design software is capable to generate various specifications, then those specifications automatic transfer to ERP systems significantly facilitates designers’ life and reduces chances of mistakes.    


It doesn’t have to be your pains

So, these are our top 6 pains of a furniture designer. Want to see it illustrated? Click here!

Good news for those who kept nodding while reading this article – there are solutions which could save incredible amounts of your time. Quite a few actually. We encourage you to look and find your day savior and stop doing the same boring tasks of specification, drawing or any other information generation that drives you crazy. Find a solution that works for you and dedicate your time for actual design and concept creation.


Dr. Saulius Dereškevičius

Position. UAB „Čeli APS“ – Woodwork for Inventor software architect. Past. More than 20 years experience in Mechanical CAD solutions engineering and providing. Life moto. Listen, be flexible, but don't lose your way.

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