igeL press conference on 18 Jan 2011
Statement Dr. Lucas Heumann
Lightweight construction: innovation and opportunity for the furniture industry
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’d like to begin by saying a few words about the importance of lightweight construction to the furniture industry as a whole. I’d also like to put this topic within a larger economic context.
Since the start of the new millennium, globalisation has resulted in far-reaching structural changes in the furniture industry. New markets are emerging in distant parts of the world and the above-average pace of growth in these regions is transforming these markets into driving forces for the whole industry. But globalisation isn’t a one-way street. These same markets are increasingly producing effective and competitive players in more established markets, such as Europe.
The dynamic Chinese economy is the most striking example. In the late 1990s, China was still a largely insignificant player in the furniture industry. In the statistics of countries importing furniture into Germany in 1997, China ranked only 19th. Since then, however, the Chinese furniture industry has grown to become one of the largest in the world. Chinese furniture exports have grown year on year, in double figures in the case of Germany. And today – if we take the figures from 2009 – China is the second biggest importer of furniture into Germany after Poland, far ahead of Italy and other European countries. And China isn’t an isolated case. Other countries are also moving into the lucrative western European markets, representing growing competition for European companies.
These market players from Asia’s growth markets enjoy various strategic and economic advantages. They benefit from considerably lower labour costs, a factor which has a particular impact in labour-intensive stages of production. The same goes for transport costs, as the growth in container shipping has made it possible to export over large distances without severe cost increases.
Another factor on the side of manufacturers in these markets is growing product interchangeability – the result of using the same machinery and identical components but also, unfortunately, a consequence of some companies copying the ideas of others. If European furniture manufacturers are to stand up to this increasing competition from Asia’s growth markets, they must recognise the success factors on their side and maximise the potential they offer.
One of these factors is the high standard of logistics in German production and delivery, which is the best in the world. In no other country will you find such high standards of quality, punctuality and reliability in the furniture industry.
The German furniture industry is also peerless when it comes to service. Lastly, the German furniture industry supports its business partners with a wide range of marketing tools, which sets it apart from competitors in emerging markets. But the industry also needs a continual cycle of innovation. The word ‘innovation’ must be understood in two different ways.
In terms of production the German furniture industry must work hand in hand with machine manufacturers, service providers and component suppliers to maximise productivity. Equally important, however, is product innovation. In years to come the definition of new materials and the combination of different materials in product design and definition will become increasingly important.
Lightweight construction will be one of the key technologies in this respect. Reduced weight, with the enormous associated benefits in terms of transport and delivery, is just one of the many factors that speak in favour of lightweight construction products.
Another factor is the possibility of integrating added functions, such as electronic functions, into lightweight design. In the long term, lightweight construction will enable us to create connector systems not only for individual furniture units but also between furniture and structural units, for example in the kitchen and bathroom.
Lastly, lightweight construction will open up whole new areas of design because of the exceptional material properties it has to offer. We hope to give you a glimpse of the exciting possibilities during this international furniture fair in Cologne, by exhibiting prototypes from three main areas at our own stand.
We are grateful for the generous support of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the trade fair organiser koelnmesse. In supporting this initiative, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is underlining the importance of the furniture industry to the region. koelnmesse has once again reinforced its reputation as one of the world’s most important furniture shows and also as a supporter of innovative concepts in the furniture sector. On behalf of the members and board of the Lightweight Construction Association, I would like to thank them for their support. I will now hand over to Hannes Frank – who is standing in for Prof. Stotsch, who is unfortunately ill – who will say a few words about this organisation.
In the third part of the conference, Klaus Goecke, the designer of the furniture and the concept for the trade fair stand, will be talking about both of these things with a focus on “the lightness of design”.
Dr. Lucas Heumann
Deputy Chairman of Interessengemeinschaft Leichtbau (igeL) e. V.