When most of us think of innovation, the first thing that comes to mind is new product. The invention of a new widget, product enhancements, new software features – things we can patent. At Legrand, we definitely do a lot of this, but we also innovate in manufacturing, quality assurance, and even sales!
For the most part, shades have been made the same way using the same processes for 20 years or maybe even longer. It's not a place where we see much innovation. Unfortunately, shade manufacturing contains a lot of what we call “tribal knowledge”. When you walk the production floor of most shade manufacturing facilities and ask one of the employees, “Why do you do it that way”, you may be surprised at the answer. Some may say, “It’s the way I was taught” while others “It’s the way its always been done”.
In the winter of 2018, I traveled with our manufacturing team to Europe in search of a cutting-edge (no-pun intended) fabric cutting table to bring improved processes, and more importantly improved quality, to our production floor. We found a partner who was willing to roll up their sleeves and build a machine that they’ve never built before – and as of this writing, it’s the only one like it in North America.
We were in search of a machine that could do it all…one that would take all the “tribal knowledge” once required to cut shade fabric and make it accessible to anyone – from someone who has been cutting fabric for 20 years, to a new employee. In the past, there have been dedicated cutting machines depending on what type of knife was required to cut the fabric. Today there are three technologies that are primarily used, and this machine is capable of cutting with all three. We wanted to be able to prevent workplace injuries caused by employees having to lift heavy rolls of fabric – so this machine holds enough rolls of fabric in its storage to be able to cut multiple day's worth of orders before reloading – and it brings the fabric to the workers when it's time to cut.
This state-of-the-art fabric table pretty much does it all, but what we are most excited about is the efficiencies that it brings to our manufacturing process to improve quality and enable us to increase capacity without having to add additional manufacturing lines. Every morning the table downloads a day’s worth of orders. It optimized cuts based on shade size and fabrics used, which minimizes scrap further reducing our footprint. It cuts on two axes, eliminating the need for our production team to cut one side of the fabric and then spin it around to cut the other. Because orders flow right from our order processing software to the machine, we’re eliminating human errors that get introduced by manually typing sizes into our machinery. And lastly, having all 3 cutting technologies in a single machine allows us to pick the right tool for the job, ensuring the highest quality cuts possible.