Virtual reality technology set to double turnover for furniture maker

Posted on 30 Jul 2020 by Jonny Williamson

A North East business is expecting to surpass £4m in turnover this year after using advanced simulation technology to redesign its workshop and reduce lead-times.

Funky Chunky Furniture, which manufactures handmade furniture and shelving products at its workshop in Jarrow, revamped its facility last year after receiving support from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project.

The firm reported three consecutive record months during the pandemic – with sales topping £350,000 in June – thanks to the introduction of new machinery and processes allowing it to significantly reduce lead times and increase output by more than 30%.

Michelle Hambleton, business development manager at the SAM Project alongside staff from Funky Chunky Furniture.

Michelle Hambleton, business development manager at the SAM Project alongside staff from Funky Chunky Furniture.

Working with the SAM Project, Funky Chunky Furniture utilised virtual reality (VR) and simulation software to redesign its workshop, maximising the potential output from its floorspace and reducing costs.

This helped the company mitigate the majority of challenges brought about by the pandemic, allowing production to flow seamlessly while the UK home improvement boom led to soaring demand for its products from customers across the UK and Europe.

Kevin Johnston, founder and managing director, said: “The company has grown year-on-year since we launched in 2013 and we’d been considering revamping our processes for some time until we were introduced to the team at SAM.”

Using VR to identify pinch points up front, without having to halt production or move machinery, was particularly beneficial, according to Johnston.

He explained: “Not only did this allow us to continue operating while we transformed the workshop, but it also helped us identify and invest in new automated machinery that slashed sanding and waxing times, while eliminating the bottlenecks across production lines.”

Having reported three record months during the pandemic, Kevin and the team are predicting turnover to double, from £1.9m to more than £4m, and are sparking a recruitment drive in a bid to match their ambitions.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “As an SME that manufactures its entire product range here in the North East, it’s a real success story for the region’s manufacturing sector and Kevin is a perfect example of what can be achieved when business owners embrace new technologies and continue to innovative, even during the most testing times.”

SAM offers four key support functions to businesses that are gearing up to grow: access to technical expertise; support with the development of new products and processes; access to advanced technology and equipment; and financial assistance.

The SAM Project is also in its final couple of months of its ‘phase 1’ grant scheme which includes funding for innovation projects as well as an adapted grant scheme to help SME manufacturers looking to pivot during the pandemic.

The fund provides support to companies that have had to diversify or adapt in order to stay in business and operational during and after Covid-19, with match funding grants of up to £10,000 available, as well as its normal funding stream to support businesses looking to diversify, or improve products and processes in order to grow.

With less than £100,000 of funding remaining in phase 1, companies are advised to apply for funding before the deadline in September 2020.

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing is a collaboration between European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and University of Sunderland, that was set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes.

It was funded with a £2.6m commitment from ERDF and £2.5m from the University of Sunderland, and is aimed solely at manufacturers with less than 250 employees and an annual turnover of less than £45m (€50m).