A Case Study in Innovation
Founded in 1999, Verbois manufactures high-end contemporary furniture made exclusively of solid wood, glass, and brushed aluminum. The Rivière-du-Loup-based company distributes its products through significant furniture banners across the Canadian market.
Since 2008, Verbois has been engaged in innovation that has enabled it to automate and robotize a large part of its processes. In June 2021, the founder, André Boucher, sold the SME, which currently has 55 employees, to five new shareholders who are beginning an expansion plan that will continue to rely on innovation to stand out from the competition.
1) Defining your needs at the outset is essential to making the right choices
Given the many options for technological tools available on the market and the size of the investment required, it is essential to define your needs beforehand to make the right choice,” advises Étienne Gagnon, Director of Operations. This requires precise identification of the problems to be solved and the results to be achieved. Also, the further the company advances in its digital transformation, the more planning becomes essential.
2) The team must take the time it takes to integrate innovation successfully
At Verbois, the integration of its first robotics cell was spread over a few years, from 2017 to 2020. As this was the first project of its kind, there were many challenges, including programming, which required months of work by the internal team supported by a consultant. Fortunately, as the innovation projects progress, the expertise within the team develops, which accelerates the implementation of the technologies.
3) Innovation cannot be achieved without employee involvement
It is one of the critical factors in the success of innovation projects. This requires constant communication to make people understand the digital transformation, i.e., to make the company more competitive to generate growth and secure jobs.
“No one is worried about losing their job at Verbois anymore,” says Marie-Ève D’Amours, General Manager. “For each project, it’s a question of specifying the gains sought: speeding up production, reducing waste, eliminating repetitive tasks without added value, etc. The manufacturer also ensures that all employees have their say before the projects begin to benefit from their expertise – a practice that promotes commitment.”
A fast-growing company, Verbois has begun its digital transformation to improve its manufacturing performance. The new management team, aiming to develop new export markets, is continuing along this path. Several projects are underway to optimise its machinery and further integrate new technologies to reduce its production costs further.
Verbois, which manufactures its furniture from A to Z, has automated most of its processes. Robots are now used for cutting, drilling, and, in part, sanding. In addition to being operational 24 hours a day, they have made it possible to standardise operations and thus improve quality. Robotic cells feed the machines, optimise the production flow, and reduce labour requirements. The technologies have also enabled the company to eliminate routine tasks and improve health and safety.
To continue improving productivity, the company is acquiring other technologies, including a geolocation system (currently in the testing phase with supplier FP Technologies Group) that will make it possible to track each production stage for better control of the workflow. It also wants to improve machine connectivity to gather valuable data for decision-making to react quickly to market needs. By 2023, it will add a second autonomous robotic cell once the 10,000 square foot addition to the plant is completed. Another robot will handle glued parts in this new cell, freeing employees for more specialized tasks.
Key steps in an innovation process
- Define the innovation targets.
- Develop an action plan.
- Form a dedicated internal team.
- Identify the problems likely to hamper the process and remedy them.
- Choose your project portfolio.
- Determine realistic deliverables for each.
- Find the necessary funding to implement the projects.
- Develop the selected projects.
The conditions for success
The secret lies in the planning of the transformation. The time spent upstream in defining the need is time well spent, according to Verbois’ managers. Another critical element is to solicit the production team’s expertise to identify unsuspected issues. This also helps counter resistance to change, as the team feels more involved in the process. Calling on external experts is also a good way of accelerating integration. Finally, it is essential to take stock of each project to take stock of what went well and what could be improved. After all, mistakes are a necessary part of learning. It makes the team more mature in the continuous improvement process.