I am a sales engineer who has worked in the CNC machine industry for 10 years. I started selling my automatic fabric cutting machine in the sofa manufacturing industry in 2014. It has been five years since today.
This article will let you know about my experiences in the sofa industry. I had the opportunity to have a close-up view of the industry’s transformation from mass production to customized. If you are dealing with the problem of customized sofa production and small batch production, I believe this article will help you solve it.
As I prepared this article, we were sending an automatic laser fabric cutting machine from Qingdao Port to a sofa factory in Canada, and an automatic cutting machine and plywood cutting machine were being installed at a sofa factory in China. I was writing this article in March, and the order for our automatic fabric cutting machine had been scheduled for May.
Compare that to my experience five years ago when I contacted potential customers:
“Hello, sir, we are a factory that offers fully automatic fabric cutting machines. Do you have a need?”
“I don’t need it. I have three cutters. I don’t need the machine at all.”
“Have you thought about the advantage of reducing the cost of cutting workers by using automated equipment?”
“Buzzzzz . . . .”
He hung up. I did not have a chance to guide him, even if the situation was that the fabric cutting needed to be done manually and he actually had no need for machine cutting.
So why are our fully automatic sofa fabric cutting machines so popular today? I will quote a predecessor of mine: “As long as you think that your product can help others, you will succeed if you insist on it.” Of course, this is inseparable from the revolution in sofa production. The mass production of traditional sofas does not meet the needs of those customers who want customized sofas. So we should say that it is our insistence as we await the revolution in sofa production.
Change can be difficult. You not only have to change long-held habits, but you have to adapt to new rules so that your business remains viable. We like to maintain the status quo, to stay in our comfort zone.
So how does the revolution in sofa production happen?
I once went to visit the owner of a sofa factory. When I found him, he was on the phone with his agent.
“Wang, I have C8152 in stock. I don’t have the color you want right, so I will not be able to deliver it at the time you said.”
“But my client wants that color for a sofa that measures 2.8 meters. That is the only color that they like.”
“Wang, this is really difficult. I’ve said before that these small batch orders are very difficult for us to do.”
“I know, my brother, but I can’t just refuse these orders. I want to sell the traditional styles in the showroom, but those are not always what the customers want.”
“Wang, if you buy model C8152, I will discount it for you and then you can recommend it to customers.”
“This is impossible, younger brother. The C8152 style is 3.2 meters in length. We can’t reduce the size of the customer’s living room, so the sofa would have to be resized, the style of the armrest changed . . . .”
The owner of the sofa factory is negotiating an order with his agent. It’s only natural that we prefer to evade change. Maybe we feel if we ignore new things, they will go away. Not going to happen! The owner likes to pick up regular orders for batches. When faced with the customized small-volume order, his initial instinct is to refuse it. And he can do that once, twice, three times, maybe more, but as he receives more and more small-volume orders, can he afford to keep refusing them and remain in business?
You have been working hard to meet the new needs of your customers, but you have become weary. You must be doing something wrong, you think. It’s frustrating knowing that there is a problem, but not knowing how to solve it. Many sofa factories are fulfilling small orders, knowing that small orders will be increasing. Yet, you are still using traditional production methods. What are the consequences?
When you are faced with the mass production of sofas, use artificial nesting, even though the nesting time takes a long time. After all, a set of layouts can be cut in multi-layer batches, and the boss is willing to pay the high wages of the cutters. Tailoring workers do not need to work overtime and get a salary that is satisfactory. As long as things develop in this way, the relationship between the boss and the cutting workers will be very good, and everyone will be happy. But what happens when this production method encounters small batches and customized orders?
A sofa factory owner once told me, “I want to buy an automatic cutting machine because I am fed up with my cutting machine.” He has various nesting problems, and I tell him that the automatic cutting machine will not only be accurate, but it will reduce production time. The first step in the sofa factory is cutting. If the cutting workers take time off, then the sewers, sponge workers, and packagers cannot do their jobs, and the order will be delayed. He didn’t want to blame the cutter for mistakes, but it went on so long that he could no longer tolerate it.
“How long has your cutting worker been working for you?”
“More than three years.”
“If he has always been responsible for this kind of waste of fabrics, why did you wait until today to fire him?”
“He worked very hard before and worked well. He did not spend a lot of time talking. Then many sofa orders required a change in size or style, sometimes the color, and he neglects to make those changes. At first, I understood. But it kept happening. He wastes a lot of fabric. When I spoke with him about these things, he became defensive. He did not obey overtime work arranged by the company. He took time off. In the past, a cutting worker could cut more than 10 sets of sofas a day. Now, with changing the size and style, he can maybe cut three sets a day without overtime. We can’t complete the orders.
“You also need to understand that the style of the sofa is changing too fast.”
“Understood. I used to give him $4.00 to cut a set of sofas. Now I give him $8.00. I have already raised his salary. What more can I do?
“Why don’t you recruit a tailoring worker?”
“I thought about it, but experienced cutting workers are too difficult to recruit. Women in their 30s are simply not willing to work on fabric cutting. It feels too hard. They sometimes prefer to work as sales staff in a mall.”
Cutting workers are difficult to recruit and difficult to manage. This seems to be a management problem. It is actually a contradiction caused by the fact that a factory’s traditional production methods cannot be customized. In the past, for a set of sofa models, cutting workers only need to typeset once, lay 12 layers of fabric and use scissors to cut 12 sets of sofas at one time. Now, there is a one-page version, which may be used to produce only one set of sofas, and repeat the nesting work according to the size or template.
This kind of repetitive and complicated working style is somewhat contrary to human nature. Just like a boss I know asked his staff to clean the concrete floor, but no matter how hard the staff worked, he always felt it was not done well. He did not reprimand his staff. Instead, he had a layer of ceramic tile installed on the concrete floor. The staff could then wipe the tile clean easily. When I asked him why he tiled the floor, he said, “Management must be in line with human nature. It is easy to wipe the tiles perfectly clean, but difficult to clean cement.” When your employees do not want to work overtime, become emotional or are difficult to manage, it might not be that they have problems. The problems may be with production and management. So, think, “Pave a layer of tiles,” as a solution and let your employees do their work easily. The problems rarely appear independently, but rather emerge like a swarm of bees. A dichotomy between between production and market will not only cause problems in the internal management of the enterprise, but also cause serious accumulation of conventional goods. When the supply does not meet the demand, it’s a counterproductive situation. It entails a loss of energy within the company as well as the obvious loss of revenue.
The problems stem from the urgent need for a new way of sofa cutting—automation.
When the owners of the sofa factory finally decided to change the traditional way of production, they began to seek a new way of processing. This is not an easy process. It’s a matter of trial and error. Many sofa factory owners make a mistake by investing a lot of money and purchasing automated cutting equipment, but they have not solved the existing problems so new problems are generated. The bosses then begin to doubt the benefits of automated cutting and will return to the traditional manual cutting method. They join those who believe that automation is useless and miss out on the trend toward industrial automation processing.
When the trend has been set, you have to have a firm belief in the path of change. Although you will make some mistakes, you will find the right path if you persist.
In the process of seeking automatic cutting of the sofa, I can’t help you avoid mistakes entirely, but I can help you reduce the cost of those mistakes. This is why I am writing this article today.
The factory owner can expect to find the following three types of mistakes as he searches for an automatic fabric cutting machine.
The first type of mistake: Not finding equipment that is suitable for the production conditions of the factory.
Some owners are guided by the equipment that their peers have chosen. This is not a bad idea, as long as it is only a guide and the owner is not inclined to blindly follow what works for some other owner. Each factory has different production conditions. When you decide to choose an automated cutting device to solve the tailoring work, you have to choose according to your own annual output and order type. For example, you need to meet the production of 2000 sets of sofas every year, and 60% of the orders need to be resized or small batch orders (about 5 sets). Then, you can’t choose the same equipment as factories that produce 20,000 sets of sofas per year.
Why do sofa factories choose a machine according to their actual conditions? Because the rationality of input and output is always an important basis for a businessman to make decisions.
What are the differences in input and output between high-volume automatic cutting machines and small-volume machines?
The first is the difference in input costs: The purchase cost of large-scale automatic cutting equipment is 4 to 5 times that of small-batch automation equipment. If the annual output of your factory is more than 15,000 sets of sofas, purchase large-scale cutting equipment. If the annual output is around 5,000 sets of sofas, we recommend a small-batch automatic cutting machine, which will not only meet the capacity requirements of the factory, but also reduce the capital investment in purchasing equipment. In addition to the capital input cost, we also need to consider the output of different automatic cutting machines.
The second is the comparison of the output of different types of machines. Many owners, when considering the purchase of automated cutting equipment, consider that the use of a single device can meet the requirements of large-volume cutting and small-batch or customized cutting. This is a mistake. As of this writing, this problem has not been resolved. The sofa factory owner who doesn’t truly know the equipment will find this difficult to understand. However, one thing you must understand is the cost of using the machine. Without getting into too many technical details, I will explain the different ways in which these two machines work and the difference in cost of usage. Large-scale automated cutting equipment requires high-power vacuum adsorption, laminating and paving. It takes 2-3 people to operate it, and the operating cost of the machine is as high as $6-$8/hour (in Chinese sofa factories). Factoring in the cost of the machine and the cost of labor, the number of layers of cloth cut at one time cannot be fewer than 25 layers. Otherwise, the factory cannot sustain such a high cost.
So, what is the cost of using a small-batch automated cutting machine?
Take the AMOR brand 1630 laser fabric-cutting machine as an example. A 1600X3000mm-size laser fabric-cutting machine consumes fewer than 4000KW per hour, and the machine’s consumable cost is $.20 per hour (in Chinese sofa factories). Since it is equipped with an automatic feeding system, only one worker is needed to complete all the operations of the machine, and he can complete 10-12 sets of cutting work within 8 hours. This cost of use is acceptable to any sofa factory.
Based on the above two points, we recommend that, if your annual output is more than 15,000 sets of sofas, mainly in batch orders (more than 25 sets of sofas), you purchase high-volume automatic cutting machines. With an annual production capacity of around 5,000 sets and many small or customized orders, we recommend that you purchase small-batch automated cutting machines, such as the AMO1630. (Note: In fact, the AMO1630 machine can also help the factory produce batch orders faster. I will explain below.)
Let me tell you about a customer of mine. Although his annual output is more than 10,000 sets of sofas, his product orders are mainly based on small orders of fewer than 20 sets. I suggested that he choose a small-batch automated cutting machine, but he always thought that the large automation machine must be better than the small. He spent more than $60,000 to buy a large machine. The value of the machine was excellent. But in a month or so, he called me to complain that this high-volume machine was costing too much to use. At least half of the fabric had to be cut at one time to justify the expense. Because most of his orders were under 20 sets, the bed is not at all suitable. It is painful to him that he spent so much money for a machine he can’t use. He ended up returning the machine to the equipment factory at a discounted price, and then chose to work with me. He has been with us for three years and has 2 AMOR 1630 automatic laser fabric cutting machines.
There is no good or bad for large and small cutting machines. Large machines are more suitable for large-scale cutting; the more layers cut, the lower the cost of usage. The smaller cutting machine is more flexible and can handle a large number of scattered small orders.
The reason we recommend different machines for different sofa factories, in addition to the influence of production and order types, is the different problems that factories face. The large factory may have a low turnover in cutting workers and consistent management, but it may be necessary to invest in an automated cutting machine to standardize the production processes and improve the company’s competitiveness. A small sofa factory may have a high rate of turnover for cutting workers and ineffective management. The cost of labor is high, and the attitude of the cutting workers will adversely affect the development of the factory. Therefore, the small sofa factory purchases the automatic cutting machine and replaces the workers with intelligent equipment, thereby solving the difficult problems associated with recruitment and management.
There is a story that happened in a client’s factory that illustrates the difficulty of managing the tailor. My client needs to produce more than 200 sets of sofas each month. He hired four cutting workers, because his orders are mostly custom or small-batch orders that often need changes in size and type. The cutting machine cuts 2-3 sets a day. Among the four cutting workers, one of the experienced workers not only cuts fast and rarely makes mistakes, but his output saves material. His commission is $7.50, while the other three tailors are $6.00 per set of sofas. This made the other three workers react badly, take off early from work and not associate with the experienced worker. The factory owner chose our equipment, and then he could keep the one worker and dismiss the other three. The experienced worker was easy to manage, efficient, diligent and kept the whole production process running smoothly.
The second type of mistake: Not fully understanding the equipment results in purchasing the wrong machinery.
In the development of automatic cutting equipment, there have been two types: the AMO1630 laser cloth cutting machine commonly used in sofa factories, and the ultra-long stitching laser cutting machine that is gradually phased out. These two different types of equipment exist, because the outer fabric of a set of sofas is divided into bracket cloth and seat cushion cloth. If it is then divided again into two color combinations, each color needs about 8 meters of fabric. If a single color is used, it takes about 15 meters of fabric.
If you want to use the AMO1630 laser cutting machine, you must solve the problem of continuous feeding precision. At first, everyone chose the ultra-long stitching laser cutting machine and didn’t worry about the feeding. Then they began to discover the drawbacks:
• The equipment takes up too much space. The ultra-long laser cutting bed needs to cut the fabric a width of 9 meters, so the whole machine needs more than 10 meters of space, which results in high rental costs. Moreover, once the customer needs to cut a single color sofa, the length of the 9-meter platform cannot meet the output length of the sofa. It needs to be cut twice, which greatly decreases the cutting speed and increases the amount of cloth wasted.
• The equipment consumes a large amount of power. Since the work surface is too long, in order to ensure a proper processing environment, the machine needs one exhaust fan per meter with a considerable increase in its cost of usage.
• The structure of the machine is unstable due to the splicing of the cutting bed. The overall welding is not completed, and the long-term operation of the machine results in a platform that is out of alignment. The cloth then is not cut adequately and needs a secondary manual trimming.
• The cost of maintenance is high. Due to the long working surface and the instability, the belt is easily damaged, the service life of the laser tube is reduced and the aging of the motor is accelerated. There is an ongoing need for expensive maintenance.
Many sofa factories initially considered these machines to solve the problem of sofa cutting. That was not wrong in itself, but they chose the wrong machine. Later, they found that it did not reduce dependence on cutting workers, and production costs increased. In about six month, these machines sat idle or were sold at a low price. Some customers began to believe that a machine could not solve the problem of sofa cutting. Is that really true?
AMOR has always stood by the development of the automatic cutting machine. While there is the problem of accurate feeding, we firmly believe that only the automatic cutting equipment can solve personnel problems. Therefore, we worked hard to solve the problem of accurate feeding by dispatching our technical research and development team to the sofa factory to study how the equipment performs during actual use. After a month, we developed a feeding bracket that can automatically correct any deviation, even if the fabric roll is fed continuously. The feeding error is controlled within 8mm. This is the main reason why AMOR laser cloth cutting machines are widely used in sofa factories.
We recommend that the customer choose an automated laser cutting machine because it increases the stability of the production process, and automatic feeding allows the production of different sizes of sofas. At the same time, it solves personnel problems in the factory.
The third type of mistake: Too much attention is paid to the cost and not enough to the importance of specialization.
Compared with other fabric cutting, sofa cutting entails various patterns and many different kinds of fabrics. Therefore, the requirements for automatic cutting machines are higher and the need for the device greater for a complete set of cutting solutions. Although it seems to be a similar machine, when it is put into use, problems arise, including waste of fabric, and the machine cannot be used for production.
More than a few customers make this kind of mistake. One of my customers bought an automatic cloth cutter, but it had no vacuum suction plate, so the fabric cannot lay perfectly flat during the cutting process. Also, the environment is poor where the machine sits, and the workers complain. Another customer bought an automatic cloth cutting machine without an automatic feeding system with a correction function. The fabric cannot be cut continuously every time, so it needs to be corrected manually—an inefficient process and additional work for the cutters. There is also equipment that uses a roller to draw the material through, causing the material to be stretched out of shape. We use a cylinder to press the material to prevent stretching. The customer also selects a cooperatimg manufacturer for the processing of the sofa. I, for example, don’t know everything, such as how to change the size of the sofa, how to realize the fusion of two sets of sofa models, how to set the direction of the layout, and the like. The customer cannot use the machine immediately. We at AMOR promise that the technical engineer will arrive at the customer’s site, install the equipment and cut a complete set of sofa covers within five hours.
AMOR automatic cutting machines are sales leaders in the sofa industry due to our professionalism. Also, not only are our machines super easy to use, but we have in-depth experience in sofa automation processing. We pride ourselves on ensuring that customers make a rapid and smooth transition from manual to machine production.
You now know the three mistakes that customers tend to make. I hope to help you avoid the mistakes and, therefore, avoid the expense those mistake incur when you are looking for an automated cutting solution.