JDD Furniture teams up with Aston University

A Birmingham-based business has joined forces with Aston University in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to address production time and efficiency issues brought on by a post-pandemic return to the office.

JDD Furniture specialises in commercial furniture. Their banquettes, easy chairs and roofed ‘sofa dens’ enable businesses to bring workers together to collaborate, or alternatively find privacy, in open-plan offices. They design, hand make and install their products, which come in a wide range of fabrics and finishes.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate. The UK-wide programme helps businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. Aston University is a sector leading KTP provider, with 80% of its completed projects being graded as very good or outstanding by Innovate UK, the national body.

The business, amidst rapid expansion driven by the post-Covid return to workplaces, is keen to make strides by implementing a cutting edge production system. This system will help with the tracking of individual furniture piece production times and the ability to identify inefficiencies. The company is seeking a digital production data capture system that can focus on this as well as real-time visibility into production stages, machine utilisation and addressing production time and efficiency issues. 

The company is working with Aston University’s Professor Ben Clegg (academic lead and supervisor) from Aston Business School and Dr Chao Liu (academic support) from the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Professor Clegg is a professor of operations management, and a specialist in systems thinking and the development, adoption and implementation of digital technology. Dr Liu is a lecturer in digital manufacturing whose research focuses on theoretical development and practical applications of various smart manufacturing technologies.

Completing the team in the KTP associate position is Balint Turcsanyi, who has degrees in electronics and artificial intelligence, as well a background in industrial manufacturing.

James Mercy, director of JDD Furniture, said: “Taking this route will lead to two outcomes; firstly, a purely business-focused way of tracking production and reducing inefficiencies, developed just for us: and secondly, genuinely new and creative innovations. 

“This production-focused KTP is giving us access to a very qualified and very capable individual that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to a company of our size. We’re expecting real impact will come from this work, which is essential for us as we continue our growth plans.”

Ben Clegg, professor of operations and information management at Aston University, said: “In addition to technical skills it is important to bring general systems thinking skills into the analysis, design and implementation of any socio-technical system such as a production system. 

“Aston University has developed a unique approach, known as PrOH modelling, to address such a challenge. I am confident that JDD will be another successful application of PrOH modelling giving practical benefits and useful research insights into the application of new technologies.”

Balint Turcsanyi, KTP associate, said: “I’m enjoying being the bridge between the company and the university and coming up with ideas that we can develop. This is the ideal role for me; a job in automation research uses my experience and skills, as well as my manufacturing experience. I’m hoping that once we have all the data systemised, machine learning will be the next step in AI decision-making for this project.”

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