Furniture manufacturing resource efficiency
Furniture manufacturers use a number of resources including raw materials, energy, water and transport. Reducing the amount of resources your business consumes, and the amount of waste it produces, can have a range of benefits. These include better production efficiency, cost savings, reduced disposal costs and presenting an improved environmental image to stakeholders such as customers and investors.
There are key areas your furniture manufacturing business can focus on to use resources more efficiently. These include adopting eco-design and improving your purchasing, storage and handling of raw materials, and looking closely at your manufacturing processes to reduce waste and the cost of its removal.
This guide describes how you can save money by using resources more efficiently in your furniture manufacturing business. It will help you tackle key areas such as reducing waste, packaging, solvent, water, energy and transport.
Reducing environmental impact of furniture manufacturing
The main ways to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing furniture include:
- product design and purchasing
- reducing raw material use
- secondary machining losses through cut-offs
- spraying and coating
- assembly, packaging and returns
For your environmental improvement plans to be effective you should seek management and staff buy-in.
Use an environmental management plan in furniture manufacturing
The most effective way of improving your environmental performance is to use a systematic approach rather than a series of one-off ideas and projects. The most comprehensive method is to set up an environmental management system (EMS).
If you don't have the resources to implement a full EMS, you can still use some of the same steps to manage your resources and environmental impact. These include:
- getting the commitment of senior management to improve environmental performance
- reviewing your existing environmental performance to establish a baseline measure improvements against
- identifying areas for improvement
- creating an action plan of what will be done, by who and when
- setting targets and objectives for improvements
- regularly reviewing performance
For more information see on how to carry out an environmental review of your business.
Furniture manufacturing design and purchasing practices
One of the most effective ways furniture manufacturers can reduce resource use and waste production is to look closely at design practices, material suppliers and manufacturing processes.
Ecodesign in furniture manufacturing
Ecodesign is a process that enables your business to consider each aspect of a product in detail to identify where you could eliminate waste from the production process. Aspects that you should focus on include:
- suitability of materials - you may be able to use cheaper, more sustainable materials for some product components
- quality checks - to ensure minimum waste is produced
- volume of materials - cutting the amount of material used in a component could mean a significant reduction in costs and materials
- rationalisation of your product line - reducing product lines or changing product designs can enable you to use fewer, more sustainable materials
- life-cycle assessment - you can use this technique to analyse environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of your products
For more information see ecodesign for goods and services.
Purchasing raw materials
Your business can improve its environmental credentials by reviewing how - and from whom - it purchases raw materials. You should consider:
- how much stock your business is holding - just-in-time stock control can be a highly effective way to reduce storage costs
- purchasing raw materials in different quantities to reduce handling costs
- buying better quality raw materials as they will need less processing
- whether the quality of your goods is high enough to avoid short life cycles and reduced functionality
- buying partly processed components to save on-site energy, labour and maintenance costs
Furniture manufacturing process optimisation
The manufacturing processes your business uses can be a major source of cost savings. Using certain systems and technologies can minimise waste, increase process speed, reduce set-up times and improve product consistency - see process efficiency to cut waste.
Furniture manufacturing product assembly, packaging and returns
Product assembly, packaging and returns are key areas that furniture manufacturers should focus on to reduce costs and waste.
Typically, your business will manufacture 2 per cent more components than are actually needed to assemble your finished products. Even a small reduction in the number of components discarded during assembly can lead to substantial savings. Ways of reducing waste include:
- checking that the components your business buys are of the correct standard
- ensuring components are not damaged before assembly
- raising staff awareness of the value of components they are handling
Product packaging and returns
Most furniture manufacturers spend between 1 and 3 per cent of their turnover on packaging. Reviewing your product packaging can have a significant impact on costs as returns are minimised. However, you should avoid overpackaging. Effective methods to reduce product packaging include:
- rationalising your packaging use by using automated systems and transparent packaging, enabling operators to recognise easily damaged products
- training to ensure operators correctly handle products during packaging and transport and that they understand the true cost of returns to your business
You should also ensure you're aware of the legal responsibilities you have regarding the packaging your business uses - see packaging and packaging waste management.
Furniture manufacturing handling and storing materials
Although it's often overlooked, materials storage and handling can make a significant contribution to cost savings. Furniture manufacturers can minimise waste in storage areas by:
- reducing exposure to water and dramatic changes in temperature
- maintaining supplier-recommended levels of temperature and humidity in your materials store
- carrying out good housekeeping that minimises damage, spillages and spoilage of stored raw materials, such as by installing a well-designed racking system
You can reduce waste from materials handling by:
- developing systems and procedures that reduce the risk of accidents and materials damage
- using the correct equipment to move materials
- ensuring delivery staff are fully trained and can carry products on and off vehicles safely and efficiently
You can reduce waste from materials processing by:
- using good dust extraction systems
- controlling process waste on the shop floor
- ensuring solvents and other hazardous substances are managed safely
- separating materials to ensure the safe use of bins and skips for waste
Dust is a major issue for all furniture manufacturers. You must have efficient dust-extraction systems to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.
Installing small wood-combustion plants and wood-burning boilers is a cost-effective way of reusing wood waste. Ensure that any installations meet legal requirements such as emission limits and permits.
Dealing with furniture manufacturing waste
Furniture manufacturing processes can generate high levels of waste. Any action you can take to reduce or even eliminate waste can save you money and reduce your business' impact on the environment. Where your business does produce waste you need to decide the best option for dealing with it.
Reuse furniture manufacturing waste
After elimination and reduction, reusing waste products is the next best way to use your business' resources more efficiently. You should ensure that the maximum volumes of waste are reused, for example by:
- identifying the smallest usable component in your manufacturing process - any waste material below this minimum size will not be reusable
- redesigning your product range to incorporate waste materials as either an essential component or a design feature
- producing a new product from waste materials
- processing waste to incorporate into another product
- using waste as packaging materials for finished goods during shipping and transporting
If you can't reuse the waste your business produces on site, look closely at the other businesses in your supply chain - your waste could be another organisation's raw material.
Furniture manufacturing waste to energy
Investing in a combustion plant can enable your business to generate heat from wood waste. The benefits of wood combustion include:
- a reduction in your reliance on outside energy sources
- reduced fuel costs
- lower landfill and waste disposal costs
- increased self-sufficiency
You must ensure that the waste you use in a combustion plant doesn't contain any halogenated materials that include PVC edgings or chlorine. Burning these materials will mean that your plant does not comply with the strict emissions regulations that are in place. This would also produce acid gases that erode ductwork.
Furniture manufacturing solvent use reduction
Furniture manufacturers are likely to use solvent-based substances for a number of purposes, eg coatings and adhesives. Reducing solvent use can help you cut costs and reduce the impact of your business on human health and the environment. To reduce solvent use you should:
- ensure all tins are completely empty before disposal - this can save substantial amounts of money
- ensure two-pack materials are handled correctly - mixing these correctly minimises the amount of waste materials produced
- ensure thinners are only used when absolutely necessary
- use water-borne stains and lacquers - these can cost more per litre, but you can use significantly smaller volumes to coat a surface, saving on overall cost
- use water to clean spray lines instead of thinners - this can significantly reduce the levels of solvent waste to be disposed of
- train staff so they know how they can help secure long-term solvent reductions
- use powder coatings - these are solvent free and can have their overspray collected and reused
- use advanced coating equipment to reduce solvent use, increase productivity and improve working conditions for operators
- weigh up whether to use hand spraying or automated coating hand spraying or automated coating systems - this is likely to depend on the quantity of coating required
- use spray lines with solvent-borne or water-borne UV-cured coatings for moulded and profiled panels
- accurately control curtain coating processes and collect excess material for reuse
- use vacuum coating for components that can be placed into a regular flow - this enables transfer efficiencies of 98 per cent to be achieved
- capture dirty thinners - if it is your business' standard practice to clean spray lines and guns by running solvent through them, collecting this material for reuse can offer consistent cost savings
- use on-site solvent recovery - if you send more than 1,000 litres a year off site for recovery you may find it more cost-effective to clean dirty solvents on site using a solvent recovery still, enabling solvents to be reused several times
Furniture manufacturing water use and effluent reduction
Furniture manufacturers are likely to produce a wide range of effluent (liquid waste) including:
- boiler blowdown
- air compressor condensate
- vehicle wash-down water
- veneer press wash-down effluent
- water back booth effluent from coating booths
- hazardous waste water from solvents, oil and separator sludges
Eliminating and reducing effluent is usually the most cost-effective option and the best for the environment. However, where this is not possible, you should consider other options for dealing with it such as reuse and recovery. Look at your processes and analyse where you can change these to reduce effluent production.
You must ensure you have appropriate consent to discharge effluent into surface water drains or sewers.
Reduce water consumption in furniture manufacturing
You are likely to use water in a number of ways in your business. Reducing your water use will lower the costs you pay to get water supplied and wastewater disposed of. You should establish an action plan that prioritises which areas of your water use you should tackle first.
If you use significant quantities of water in washrooms, catering facilities or for vehicle cleaning, see how to save water at commercial premises.
If you use significant quantities of water during rinsing, cleaning and other industrial processes, see how to save water at industrial premises.
Furniture manufacturing energy efficiency
Energy efficiency has become an increasingly important issue for furniture manufacturers as energy prices rise and the UK has introduced policy measures such as the climate change levy.
Your business should have a detailed plan, including targets, to reduce its energy consumption. Areas within your business to look at closely include:
- compressed air
- extraction systems
- lighting and heating
- office equipment
Motors and drives account for two-thirds of the electrical energy used by industry. As motors can cost up to 100 times as much to run over their ten-year life as their initial purchase cost, it is worth choosing higher efficiency motors. You can also make savings by:
- switching off the motors when they are not in use
- reducing the load on individual motors
- reducing motor speeds as variable speed drivers can potentially save 30 to 50 per cent in many businesses
As compressed air is very expensive to generate and only has a 10 per cent efficiency in a typical situation, it is worth assessing how many compressors your business actually needs to operate on a day-to-day basis.
You should also educate and train your workforce to ensure that air is not taken for granted, but is seen as a precious resource.
You may need to meet requirements of emissions trading schemes.
You may need also to comply with legal requirements relating to the energy efficiency of buildings.
Furniture manufacturing transport efficiency
Transport within the furniture industry is a necessary expense. Your business can reduce its vehicle costs by:
- optimising trailer sizes to reduce the number of journeys required
- improving your overall supply chain to minimise the amount of time vehicles are not carrying a load
- improving the efficiency of your vehicles via regular maintenance and servicing
- using sat-nav technology that can suggest alternative faster routes to optimise journey times
Within the transport component of your business, fuel is likely to be the most expensive resource. In addition, because road fuel is more heavily taxed, its contribution to your business' overall energy costs is even greater. Steps you can take to reduce your fuel use include:
- reducing journeys by better planning of multi-drop deliveries to customers
- monitoring fuel consumption against driver performance
- improving the overall quality of your products to avoid returns that have to be collected
- minimising environmental damage from exhaust emissions, oil and fuel leaks
- considering whether you could save money by using an external delivery company