Case Study: Product Configurator for KILO’s Designer Furniture

"Make My Life Easier"

In September 2020, Jan Paul “JP” Koning approached Salsita with a simple request: make my life easier. JP is co-founder and head of design at KILO, a Dutch furniture manufacturer. Demand for their customizable furniture was growing rapidly, and with it the need to create precise manufacturing diagrams for individual pieces by hand. He wondered whether Salsita's 3D Product Configurator Framework might allow them to automate this process as they continued to scale up their business.

KILO has a unique approach. Their extensive range of designer furniture is all built from a single material: laminated birch plywood. Their manufacturing process uses a single tool: a high-tech CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine that reads in a digital description of the piece to be built and cuts a plywood board to the exact dimensions required. Because of the low tolerances involved, furniture can then be assembled without tools, screws, or glue.

THE KILOJOULE TABLE AS SEEN ON KILO'S WEBSITE.

Thanks to this automated approach, their products are highly customizable. Have you fallen in love with the kiloJoule, a small table with a clean, minimalist design… but need to tweak the dimensions to fit in your space? A few adjustments to the design that is fed into the CNC machine can tailor the table to your exact requirements in terms of height, width, and depth.

It was time-consuming to perform these changes by hand. What's more, the manual process meant that customers had to come in person to KILO's retail stores in Amsterdam or Antwerp to order customized items. Online sales represented the fastest growing part of their business, but only standard pieces could be ordered from their e-shop.

In his initial discussions with Salsita CEO Matthew Gertner, JP and his partner Peter Smit made their pain points clear. "In talking to JP, it was clear that KILO was a victim of their own success," explained Matthew. "He was overwhelmed with drawing and drafting work. And he and Peter were sure that they were leaving significant revenue on the table by not offering customized furniture online."

I've never experienced the high level of professionalism the Salsita team brought to the table. - Jan Paul, CEO at KILO

Customizing the Configurator

JP and Matthew quickly converged on a game plan. Salsita would adapt its 3D Product Configurator Framework to accommodate the exceptional level of customizability afforded by KILO's manufacturing process. The configurator would then be deployed on KILO's e-shop, with designs submitted by customers fed directly into the CNC machine. In this way, customers would be able to order highly customized pieces online while greatly reducing the amount of manual intervention required to fulfill each order.

A couple of weeks later, the Salsita team kicked off the project with a Design Sprint to spec out the planned configurator and how it would be integrated into KILO's existing web presence. Before the start of the week-long design workshop, JP completed an in-depth questionnaire to more precisely assess the project's goals, the strengths and weaknesses of the current e-shop, key characteristics of the current business, customer profiles and notable competitors. Salsita's UX team used his answers as the basis for drafting Jobs to be Done (JTBD), detailed descriptions of the various personas targeted by the configurator along with their goals, needs and motivations.

The Design Sprint itself began with interviews of key stakeholders (including KILO management), the creation of a User Journey Map, and short demos of similar apps that could provide inspiration. Each workshop participant then sketched key portions of the planned implementation. The sketches were merged into a storyboard that served as the basis for a clickable prototype implemented in a single day by one of Salsita's UX engineers. The prototype was used for a round of user testing to validate key design decisions.

The Orders Dashboard looks absolutely amazing. I’m flabbergasted. I don’t know what to say. I’m very impressed. - Jan Paul, CEO at KILO

The implementation itself was undertaken by a team of two full-stack developers (including Jiri Stanisevsky, Salsita's Chief Architect), a UI developer, a UX engineer, a project manager, and a QA automation engineer. The bulk of the work involved implementing support in the Salsita Product Configurator Framework for parametric models that would enable millimeter-precise specification of the furniture dimensions with a 3D rendering of the resulting design. Moreover, parametric model support would allow Kilo to bypass manual design work and create a “last-mile” connection between the customer’s design and the manufacturing CNC.

"Finding the right way to model the furniture was the biggest challenge," said Jiri. "It's pretty rare to find a configurator with this level of versatility, and parametric models like Grasshopper are far too complex and difficult to create. In the end, we came up with a simple domain-specific language in JavaScript that makes it easy to design the models while providing all the flexibility we needed."

Two months later an initial version of the configurator was ready for testing. Another month was spent fine-tuning the implementation and integrating it seamlessly into KILO's existing e-shop.

Throughout the project, Jan Paul was impressed by the skills and experience of Salsita's designers and developers. "I've never experienced the high level of professionalism the Salsita team brought to the table," he said.

An Automated Manufacturing Process

The team has now embarked on a new phase of the project, integrating the online configurator into KILO's manufacturing process. This involves implementing an Order Dashboard allowing KILO to map the designs automatically onto the laminated plywood boards. The resulting design specifications will then be generated automatically and fed directly into the CNC machine.

As with the configurator project, the new phase kicked off with a Design Sprint. Once again, the team found creative solutions to a number of tricky design challenges. "The Orders Dashboard looks absolutely amazing. I’m flabbergasted. I don’t know what to say. I’m very impressed," said JP.

The kiloJoule configurator is now live on the KILO e-shop, with plans to extend it to cover additional KILO products. The Order Dashboard and fully automated manufacturing process are slated for deployment by the end of Q1 2021.

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