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Leitz Symposium focuses on new ways into furniture manufacturing

 Friday, July 5, 2024

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Leitz focuses on new ways into furniture manufacturing in Leitz Symposium

Organising an event like the Leitz Symposium on 15th March in Oberkochen requires several key elements: excellent networking within the wood industry, a keen understanding of pressing issues, and connections with top experts who can engage a knowledgeable specialist audience with their solutions. The team led by Leitz CEO Jürgen Köppel and Research and Development Manager Andreas Kisselbach successfully accomplished all of this.

The starting signal was given by Heiner Strack, Head of Technology, Environment and Standardisation at the German furniture industry. He demonstrated how meticulously the furniture industry is preparing for the challenges and opportunities of the circular economy, as mandated by the EU Commission. The Circular Economy Action Plan is central to the EU Commission’s strategy for stimulating markets in terms of securing resources, reducing the CO2 footprint, and minimising waste generation. However, Strack highlighted a rather sobering current state of the circular economy in the EU: “In 2022, only 8.6% of the economy was ‘circular’.” The environmental expert from the German furniture industry illustrated the critical importance of the circular economy for the climate and ecological footprint with some striking figures: “By doubling the global circular economy to 17.2% (based on 2022 levels) within the next ten years, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 39% by 2032 and the CO2 footprint by 28%.” Strack concluded by emphasising the significant impact of circularity on the furniture industry.

Strategies for more sustainability

At first glance, this may seem like a modest effort for substantial progress in combating global warming. However, the details present significant challenges, prompting the Furniture Industry Association to consider numerous actions. Key concepts in the circular model for furniture include the so-called R strategies. For extending the service life, these include: rethink/reuse, repair, refurbishment, and remanufacturing. Regarding prevention and recycling, Strack explained how the R strategies of Reduce and Recycling contribute to the circular economy’s goals. He also discussed the availability of the valuable resource, wood.

Annually, around 8 million tons of waste wood from building materials, exhibition stand construction, pallets, and furniture are generated in this country. Currently, much of this ends up as bulky waste. The challenge of using wood comprehensively and ecologically remains significant. According to Strack, ‘closing the loop’ has not yet been achieved: “The availability of waste wood is insufficient, and cascade use is not yet functioning.” As it stands today, energy use takes precedence over material use. Given current energy prices, this is lucrative, but from a circular economy perspective, burning waste wood ranks below recycling for furniture.

Strack suggested that an industry-wide take-back system for old furniture could help close the loop on wood use. This would involve returning waste wood material to wood-based material production. He concluded that much work remains for the circular economy, and it must be approached systematically. “In other words, slice by slice, like eating an elephant,” remarked Leitz CEO Jürgen Köppel in his closing comments on the significant challenges and opportunities currently facing the wood industry.

Simply click furniture together or disassemble it

Välinge is a Swedish IT and R&D company that has made a name for itself as a pioneer in the flooring, surface and furniture industries. Martin Beeh presented an innovative solution at the Leitz Symposium to show how this is reflected in terms of sustainability: Treespine click furniture technology simplifies the assembly and disassembly of furniture. “Recycling, reusing or recycling can become a matter of course thanks to the simple disassembly,” explained Beeh. The patented technology enables intuitive and quick installation with three connections. The assembly does not require screws, nails or eccentrics. Wooden dowels, Pinlocks and Rotalocks are the connection components that are already integrated in production. The assembly is simple with only a low risk of damage. After his presentation, Beeh demonstrated that furniture remains stable even without eccentrics and screws. The wooden dowels inserted by hand at a 45-degree angle are also responsible for the enormous stability. Touching it was encouraged, and the expert audience was able to see for themselves how perfectly it held. “It holds like a rock,” marveled one visitor.

The path to a sustainable company

How the craft industry in particular can score points with environmental protection and sustainability was the topic of Florian Wölfle, the managing director of Moser. Since 2017, the company has had an environmental team that thinks about how to become a sustainable company. “Getting the eco-audit, the ISO14001 certification, was a laborious undertaking. The first attempt in September 2022, with two external consultants, we failed miserably,” Wölfle recapitulated. The second attempt at the audit was successful. “But we are not resting on our laurels and have, for example, taken on electricity consumption and have already saved quite a bit. In 2024, we reduced total consumption by 4.5% through a central vacuum pump. With our frequency control and a buffer storage, we ensure a saving of 45,000kwh,” he calculated. The recycling of residual materials is also showing success: recycling or compression on site saves transport costs and gasoline.

The amount of waste also fell by 40% (70t) between 2021 and 2023. The window and interior design company is particularly lauded for sustainability in the recycling of panel materials. For 50,000m² of panels made of wood-based materials, Wölfle calculates 25% offcuts – that’s the equivalent of 2.5 football fields. 20% of the offcuts go into thermal recycling and only 5% is given a new life as furniture. “Here we work with Florian Öschger’s Restemöbel company,” explained Wölfle, and asked the visitors to the symposium: “Just look at the pieces of furniture you brought with you!” This proved that the second life of a panel can result in a refreshing furniture design. High-quality furniture that is handcrafted and locally made from leftover materials from furniture production is impressive. Wölfle has repeatedly found that sustainability also proves its worth with customers. He himself also judges his suppliers according to these criteria. “We have changed our paint supplier. The new one is not cheaper, but he cleans his used paint drums instead of throwing them away.”

Circular economy in the office furniture industry

According to a 2021 study by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, 45% of all CO2 emissions are generated by the production of materials. This is particularly concerning given that 90% of unused furniture ends up in landfill or is incinerated, notes Felix Kröncke from Royal Ahrend Office Furniture. At the symposium, he championed Circular Interiors, a concept within the office furniture industry focused on reducing the CO2 footprint of furniture.

One innovative solution his company advocates is Furniture as a Service, where customers rent refurbished furniture tailored to their specific needs. “This approach to circular office management can reduce the CO2 footprint by up to 87%. Over ten years, Furniture as a Service can save 7,392 tonnes of CO2,” Kröncke calculated.

Intelligence leads to success in woodworking

A joinery or carpentry workshop becomes a smart factory at the latest with intelligent nesting – “and with that, digitization and with it the sustainable production of furniture are moving into a traditional medium-sized company,” said Bendeguz Füredi from Holz-Her. Using application examples, he described how the change to the smart factory is taking place and the key role that the in-house Holz-Her software Automation Pro plays in this. “High productivity and sustainability through digitization are part of the overall package here,” explained Füredi.

Software supports sustainability in furniture manufacturing

“CAD software also makes a major contribution to greater sustainability in furniture manufacturing,” said Markus Herberth of Palette CAD. He described how the 3D planning software in carpentry shops promotes sales, saves time, helps avoid errors and helps conserve resources. “The fact that it promotes sustainability and supports the recruitment of employees are far more than just welcome side effects today.”

Mastering upstream processes

Prof. Christian Kortüm from the Technical University of Rosenheim demonstrated impressively that practical applications in areas such as edge banding are well-supported by scientific research. He highlighted the extensive research underpinning edge banding, explaining the implications of various factors. Kortüm illustrated how scientific findings complement practical experience, detailing the consequences derived from specific test results.

Practitioners also find it valuable to understand how upstream processes impact subsequent stages and the final product quality. Ultimately, delivering high-quality products is crucial for customer satisfaction.

Strategies for challenging materials during machining

After theory comes practice – at the Leitz Symposium, Christian Wimmer from host Leitz took on this role and presented solutions for perfect results even when faced with major challenges, such as those that arise with new materials. These solutions are used where the edge quality is often no longer sufficient after a short time using conventional methods. He explained the possibilities of using newly developed tools to increase edge quality and tool life. Theory and practice were thus perfectly combined in the interests of satisfied customers.

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