Fitting-out in the quest for new markets!
The fitting-out trade is changing and quickly. New materials, digitalization, customization, European competition—these trends were at the core of the recent Eurobois trade show. We take a fresh look around with Postforming Industries, a fitter-out that regularly renews its production equipment with its partner SCM.
A competitive context with an increasing European dimension
Some years ago, the lowering of European borders disrupted the fitting-out market. Competition from Eastern Bloc countries grew due to unbeatable labour costs. French fitters-out suffered from this openness, but some were quick to take up the challenge through technological evolution and by industrializing their workshops.
SMBs began acquiring equipment equivalent to that of the big furniture manufacturers at affordable prices. One such firm is Postforming Industries, a fitting-out company that conceives, makes, and fits out spaces for industry, service, and retail. Based in France’s Indre et Loire department, the company was founded 30 years ago by Emmanuel Brigand, a cross-generational timber specialist. On the equipment side, he began closely collaborating with SCM right from the outset, and that was his key to addressing market changes. Today, it’s a company that fights on behalf of “Made in France”, with equipment as good as that of Europe’s biggest.
High-tech equipment for penetrating new markets
“I’ve always striven to make relevant investments and make them early. 10 years ago, determined to keep production in France in the face of stiff price competition from Europe, I decided to industrialize my workshops. My ambition was to configure my business to meet the needs of large accounts. We replaced all the old woodworking machines by 5-axis machining centres. We work with a whole range of materials from metal to Plexiglas to Corian®, so we must have access to extremely versatile, adaptable equipment that can make single parts and large batches alike.” These acquisitions soon enabled the company to offer competitive prices and thus enjoy quick payback on the investments.
“There weren’t any real productivity gains; it was more the new work organization that enabled us to open up new markets in which prices were very low.” That was how Postforming Industries was able to win contracts with hotels, stores, community homes for the aged, as well as internationally with McDonald’s restaurants South America and the USA, hotels in Cameroon and Gabon.
SCM, a jointly-constructed collaboration
The collaboration with SCM is very regular and works well. “I link directly with the head of SCM. We review matters at least once a year. The idea is to anticipate equipment at a one year maximum. Their staff analyses our requirements and we work together to find the most appropriate solutions. Our machining centres are virtually bespoke, modelled to our requirements. Features relevant to our markets are plugged into a single base platform. On the after-sales side, they have just developed 3D glasses, a maintenance tool for troubleshooting and visualizing breakdowns. It’s a big technological step in maintenance,” explains Emmanuel Brigand
From manufacturing to service business
When Emmanuel acquired his new production lines, he also defined an investment policy to consolidate his technological lead. Every 3 years, the company renews its cutting-edge machines, namely 5-axis machining centres, as well as all the software.
“Our business is in total transformation; we are transitioning from manufacturer to service provider. There’s no point trying to stop this trend; we have to swim with the current, or else with everything moving so quickly, we’ll soon lose our competitive edge. Therefore we have to keep providing new offerings, solutions, services. Previously, our trade waited for customers to tell us their requirements. Now it has to anticipate, to show imagination and creativity, to use the new communication and marketing tools—putting sales catalogues on line, for example—or to be active on the social networks.”
Fitting out in a search for skills—and motivation
This upheaval is also affecting the workshops, where trades themselves are changing. Machines are gradually replacing joiners and cabinet makers, know-how that is becoming scarce.
“When a complex wooden stairway needs designing, drawing, and making, the 3D modellers in the drawing office and the 5-axis machines do the job. The work is then finished by fitters and assemblers. Our drawing office has been strengthened accordingly over the years. 4 or 5 persons work with Solidworks for programming the machining centres.”
As in many sectors, shortage of labour is a big challenge for fitting-out firms, who are now seeking people with motivation rather than skills. One recruitment path is apprenticeship. Emmanuel Brigand nonetheless observes a big gap between what schools teach and what companies need.
“Young people arriving at our firm as apprentices are often badly prepared for our requirements. Training centres don’t keep up with the market. And they are always sectors “reserved for youths who failed at school” and it’s a shame. The ideal profile as far as I’m concerned has experienced manufacture before going on to higher education. Germany is the model to follow. They have an excellent approach that bears fruit.”
Key facts & figures:
- 50 employees
- A community of 150 partners in the Tours region
- 4 workshops
- 7 machining centres, 3 of them “5-axis”
- 2 edge veneer applicators
- 3 NC saws and 5 central dust extraction units
Photo credits: Post forming