Craft business at a digital crossroads Digitalisation - a key challenge for craft trades

Digitalisation has become a reality in wide range of craft trades. While some can longer imagine a working day without using digital tools, others have not yet begun this technological transition.  

However, digitalisation is a major game-changer and offers numerous benefits for a company in terms of work processes and management. In 2019, the Chamber of Skilled Trades and Crafts conducted a survey among its members. It revealed that many companies are betting on digital, even though they remain cautious. 

Social networks soaring

Despite the fact that craft businesses are adopting more and more digital communication tools, there is still progress to be made. While 76% of craft business have a website, it is mainly large companies, especially those in the communications (89%) and mechanics (81%) sectors that have a presence on the Internet. At first sight, this figure may seem large, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done according to the Chamber of Skilled Trades and Crafts in its report. And for good reason, as this figure has barely changed since 2017; in fact, it has even declined slightly in the meantime.

Actually, the number of websites has declined marginally in favour of social networks, where we have witnessed the increased presence of craft businesses. Facebook is the most popular network with 92% of craft sector business opting for this platform, followed by Instagram and LinkedIn. Food (74%) and fashion, health and hygiene (73%) sectors are the most represented on social networks.  

According to a survey by the Chamber of Skilled Trades and Crafts conducted in 2019, craft businesses are still not making sufficient use of the vast possibilities offered by the various digital tools available on the market. However, the data shows that the efforts over the last two years have paid off.

Digital tools: more decisive action needed

Fifty percent of businesses have already used mobile applications in their day-to-day activities, but they are using these tools in moderation. The study reveals that craft businesses are not yet embracing the huge potential offered by the various digital tools in existence.

In reality, many employers among the 1,053 questioned are not yet representative of the typical 4.0 craftsman, with each business adapting at their own pace: only a third of companies have implemented remote access, the digital capture of their employee's time accounts or geolocation of their fleet and tools. This number is even smaller when it comes to digital inventory management (26%) and in terms of the administration of their Google my business account (25%). Zero-paper companies remains a distant reality, with only third of those questioned using electronic invoicing.

While a large number of businesses (84%) carry out their banking transactions online, the majority do not use the government platform (32%), which would enable them to process a significant amount of administrative procedures virtually.

A lot of work ahead

In comparison with the 2017 survey, digital tools are becoming more commonplace but have yet to become widespread in the industry; the situation is similar for digital production processes (CNC machines, 3D printing, robots, etc.).

One reason for this delay could be the lack of digital skills to bring about a change in the company. After all, only 45% of businesses (38% in 2017) revealed that they had these type of skills available. This figure varies according to the size of the business; 75% of the businesses with more than 250 employees report that they have these type of skill-sets in their company. The communications sector has the highest level of digital skills (67% of businesses).

Companies' knowledge in terms of cybersecurity and data protection have changed a great deal in recent years, but there remains a significant amount of work to be done.

Craft businesses are surfing the digital wave! Fully conscious of the challenge that lies ahead, craft businesses have made major strides in the digital transition compared to previous years. Their progress is still hampered by a sense of hesitancy but the will to adopt digital tools as part of their daily activities is clearly evident.  

We contacted three employers who have taken a leap of faith in terms of digital transformation. And their efforts have begun to bear fruit!

Menuiserie Kraemer - the digital carpentry workshop

While some companies have not yet embarked on the journey to digitalisation, others have lead the way in digital transition over recent years. Menuiserie Kraemer is one business that has embraced the digital age, as revealed by Patrick Elsen, Managing Partner

Actually, digitalisation began in the carpentry workshops a few years ago. As a result of the digitalisation of production processes, the company has witnessed a 20% increase in efficiency and productivity, explains Patrick Elsen. The error rate is much lower because the operators receive better information, he stated.

Since the carpentry business digitalised its workshops, all the machines have been connected to each other and to the control station. Tablets have replaced paper and the cutting sheets move faster from the office to the CNC machine. 'Before the digital age, the manufacturing of our products such as doors, stairs or furniture was much more tedious', declared Patrick Elsen, 'because the plans were printed, then coded before being sent to the workshops'.

Even from an administrative perspective, digitalisation has led to the optimisation of the company's organisation and efficiency.  

© Menuiserie Kraemer

Menuiserie Kraemer

Miroiterie Origer -

For the past few years, Raoul Origer, the director of the eponymous mirror manufacturer has employed tablets and robots as his co-workers. It all started with designing an app to enable him to better manage staff, such as recording the entry and exit of its employees digitally, monitoring their activities and providing them with increased levels of mobility.  

Since that day, the company, which mainly produces windows, facades and doors, has picked up the pace of its digital transformation and is gradually working towards paperless carpentry. 'Our goal is to achieve a fully digital manufacturing process - from client orders to payment', such is Raoul Origer's belief in its benefits.

The elimination of paper has already proved successful in the workshops. Manufacturing plans, assembly sheets and other documents that used to be on paper now exist in digital format only.

Digitalisation has also been adopted on the assembly line:  product design and manufacturing as well as the interconnections between the different production stations have been digitised. Similar to an automobile assembly line, pieces of wood pass through 12 to 15 stages before being completely assembled. Tactile screens are used at each stage of manufacturing; they serve as a guide for the operators while providing the information necessary for each piece and apply a barcode to each item.

According to the boss of Miroiterie Origer, digital technology manages 90% of administrative tasks. Raoul Origer indicates that the benefits have been significant, despite the financial investment. From his point of view, digitalisation has provided more transparency, and optimised organisation and efficiency as well as increasing output.

Raoul Origer aims to go one step further. In order to manage the sites more effectively, the assembly teams will also benefit from digitalisation. 4.0 innovative artisans step this way!

À la miroiterie Origer l'écran tactile fait partie du quotidien.
© Miroiterie Origer
La digitalisation, notamment l'écran tactile, s’est également imposée à la ligne d’assemblage.
© Miroiterie Origer

Veiner Weissert

For Gil Roger, the digital transition began two years ago with the Fit 4 Digital programme. Despite the huge financial outlay in terms of investment, he is pleased with his decision to take a digital leap of faith. From his point of view, digitalisation is no longer an option but an obligation for any business aiming to secure its long-term future.  'If a company wants to survive, it must embark on its digital journey', he claims.  

In his opinion, the first step in the digital transition is open communication with the company's personnel. Access to the specifications and architectural plans is made solely via tablets. The same applies to order forms and deliveries; all these processes are carried out digitally.

"Il est crucial pour une entreprise d’entamer le chemin de la digitalisation, si on veut survivre" - Gil Roger, gérant de l'entreprise Veiner Weissert
© Veiner Weissert

He also affirms that the management of staff has benefited greatly from digitalisation. For example, team management has been considerably streamlined.

Prior to digitalisation, the 16 teams (consisting of 35 persons) met each morning in the offices before heading to the respective sites. 'Currently, site planning is managed via tablets. The workers now just travel directly from home to their place of work (and vice-versa). They no longer need to come to the office to receive their list of tasks from me. In addition, I have a site-by-site overview; I know exactly where each employee and machine is located at any given time', he explains. 

If digitisation is a genuine blessing for Gil Robert, it is also thanks to the efficiency of his ERP software (enterprise resource planning). All documents are centralised, the procedures are meticulously managed and each action easy is to track.  'Nothing gets lost', he declares. He added that the only downside of his digitalisation system would be the elevated investment cost.

However, the icing on his digital cake is the 3D planning and visualisation program; all the craftsmen from the different trades have access to this program when planning site works. The plumber, electrician, carpenter, painter and many others trades can create a complete virtual turnkey construction on a tablet before presenting it to the customer.