"It's like when you go into a restaurant and order a hamburger."
Trent Still, the owner and director of California-based design studio Lahoma, says as he walks me through the process of how his line of custom furniture is made on-demand. "Every day, we check for new order tickets, and basically hit go."
In most ways, Lahoma's strikingly beautiful furniture is a world apart from something as humble as a hamburger, but there is something perfect about the metaphor. Both items are highly customizable yet rely on a fundamental structure.
The recipe for Lahoma's furniture is a digital one. But as you look over their collection of heirloom quality tables and chairs, hewn from solid wood and machined brass, you're unlikely to glimpse the math behind it all. Trent assures me, though, that each piece originates from parametric modeling in Autodesk's Fusion 360. Parametric design allows Trent to automatically adjust Lahoma's core pieces for every customer's whim. "I've been making things professionally for 15 years, and there is not a single product that has democratized the future of making the same way that Fusion 360 has," he says. "As a business owner, why wouldn't I invest in something that democratizes my potential?"
Need a coffee table that's just a little wider? A side table that's just a few inches taller? The parametric designs of Lahoma's Cove collection can be adjusted thousands of ways, automatically generating the appropriate amount of supports and hardware to service both the structural and aesthetic demands of the design.
"With Fusion 360, all of our pieces are confined parametrically," Trent notes. "That means anytime we change one dimension, it's referenced or linked to some other relevant information in the design."
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By creating a line of affordable, customizable, flat-pack furniture, using quality materials, Lahoma is carving out a surprising niche in a crowded industry. They're finding customers who are ready for designer furniture that's built to last but unwilling to spend a fortune on either off-the-shelf solutions, or the sometimes stodgy look of traditional, handcrafted designs.
It's a market that has largely eluded furniture makers, if only for the simple reason that the talent and training of local woodworkers can't scale to meet widespread demand while keeping prices down. Lahoma's strategy is to use the tools and automation strategies typically reserved for the big guys. "I call it consumer driven manufacturing or consumer input manufacturing because we're finally starting to get to this world where mass customization is actually attainable," Trent says.
While it's true that each piece of Lahoma's furniture is finished by hand, Trent admits that the majority of the fabrication work is handled through automation. "Our business was built on Fusion 360 for a couple reasons. One, we saw a clear pathway for growth into new spaces, like ECAD or projects needing simulation. But the bread and butter comes from the design and modeling space and its parity and interoperability with the manufacturing space." He's also quick to dispel the notion that this automation leads to an inferior product. "It takes just as much effort and craft, and a real grasp of your process, to have parts come off a machine with a surface that's ready for a finish to be applied."
All this preparation and attention to process puts Lahoma in an enviable position, with a manufacturing formula that has the potential to scale in a way most competitors can't. For now, though, Trent is proud to see that the level of automation afforded by designing and manufacturing with Fusion 360 allows him to create furniture he can be proud of, at prices that are attainable compared to established designer brands.
It's a story that bears repeating to designers and fabricators in other industries. Using a similar approach, could Fusion 360's parametric modeling and API enable customer-driven customizations for other products? Can small, agile studios like Lahoma drive a renaissance in domestic, custom manufacturing at competitive prices?
Time will tell if Lahoma's recipe for success can be replicated across other industries, but it's exciting to consider the possibilities -- a more personalized future made possible by smarter tools. Learn more about the ways Fusion 360 can improve your design and manufacturing workflow here.
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