How customers, clicks and robots helped make better curtain rails
At IKEA, we want to create innovative solutions for a better everyday life that's easier, too. Take curtain rails, for example. Over the years, we've learned from customers that our curtain rails are good quality but assembling them can be complicated and take hours. In challenging ourselves to make a better solution, we never expected robots would be involved.
Product development engineer Martin Bo Zhang has worked with curtain rails for more than a decade. He uses lots of gestures and body movements when he talks. Martin lifts both arms over his head like a ballerina. He's showing how hard it can be to keep a curtain rail in place while assembling it at the same time."There are 30-50 small screws," Martin says. He brings his thumb and forefinger together, leaving space for a grain of rice. "This small." He keeps one arm up and reaches toward the floor with his other arm. "If a screw falls on the floor, you can't find it," he explains, "and good luck if you have a high pile rug." So how did Martin, designer David Wahl and a team of many at IKEA figure out how to improve curtain rails? First, they researched what customers and co-workers said about curtain rails that had been returned. They had workshops with lots of IKEA colleagues, too. Then they started looking at anything and everything but curtains.
A concept that clicked
Buckles, belts and sports equipment—that's where David and the team got some unexpected ideas for VIDGA curtain rails. "By looking at solutions from different fields of products, you can get inspired to find new ways of solving problems," he explains. That's how the team came up with the concept for VIDGA to click together using as few tools as possible. And there aren't any rice-sized screws to lose. "You still put it together yourself," Martin says, lifting an arm into the air like he's holding a curtain rail against a wall. "But you don't need to spend an hour and a half with your arm like this." So now you know how customers and clicks helped improve curtain rails. That just leaves the robots.
Bring in the robots
Where are the robots, exactly? About an hour north of the IKEA home base in a town called Åseda with a population of roughly 2,500. A supplier there won the worldwide bid to produce VIDGA curtain rails, built a new factory and hired more than two dozen new employees. "Going from talking about the small things to being in the factory, looking at the conveyors going around the robots continuously working, is a mind-blowing experience," Martin says.
The team was able to automate production with the robots because they designed every piece of VIDGA from scratch. In fact, since nothing like VIDGA exists on the market, we're applying for a global patent for the whole system—a rare step for IKEA. Will you need to call in a high-tech robot to assemble VIDGA curtain rails for you? Nope. You'll just need a simple allen key. Sometimes a better everyday life starts with a click.