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BILLY bookcase factory

WRITER: KAJSA-STINA KALIN

A man overlooking the machines that produces the BILLY bookcase.

He has been around for nearly four decades. Most of us have either lived with him or gotten to know him at a friend’s place. Come along and meet BILLY at his countryside birthplace where about 4.5 million BILLY bookcases see daylight each year.

It’s often said that it’s hard to be a prophet in your own hometown. This is however not true for BILLY - the iconic IKEA bookcase. In a rural part of Sweden, in a small village with about 400 inhabitants, almost everyone has an unusually close relationship to BILLY. The bookcase has been produced by the Swedish IKEA supplier Gyllensvaans Möbler since 1978. About one in six villagers are employed by the company and many more have at one time or another worked here.

A machine that puts the assembly instructions into the packages.

“Our strength is that we have a strongly united team with a great sense of togetherness. Most of our employees live in the surrounding area and we have invested a lot in the village to make people like it here,” says Erik Gyllensvaan, the company’s CEO.

He exemplifies with the swimming pool that they’ve built on their premises, which the local school uses free of charge. Gyllensvaans also run the local grocery store despite the fact that it isn’t profitable.

“We do it to keep the village alive. Otherwise the villagers would have to drive many miles when they run out of milk and other staple products,” says Erik Gyllensvaan.

 

Tradition meets innovation

His dad, Nils, started the family-owned company and Erik joined the business in 1974 directly after finishing elementary school. At that time Gyllensvaans had 30 employees. Today they have more than 200 employees producing about 4.5 million BILLY bookcases each year. Besides BILLY, Gyllensvaans also makes other products like FINNBY bookcases and GNEDBY shelving units.

In all, about 7 million pieces of IKEA furniture leave the factory each year. This means that each co-worker produces on average 33 000 products per year, more than twice as many as 15 years ago. The rapid production increase has been made possible by heavy investments in robots.

“We have always tried to stay at the forefront of technological development. Automation has been a necessity to us. You can’t produce in a high-cost country and sell to the rest of the world unless you invest in efficient production set-ups,” says Erik Gyllensvaan.

 A woman putting more shelves into a large machine.

Eyes on the future

Today, Gyllensvaans is one of the most automated IKEA manufacturers in the world and it’s constantly seeking for new and better technologies to improve employee satisfaction, quality and productivity. For example, the factory is running a pilot test on robots with optical sensors that enable a faster and more adaptable production. Although BILLY is soon turning 40, he continues to inspire some of the freshest design ideas in the world. With dozens of heights, widths and finishes to choose from, there’s a BILLY for every style and purpose. The latest BILLY doors can even be customised with images or fabrics to fit any décor.

 

Facts

DID YOU KNOW?

IKEA manufacturer, Gyllensvaans, produce 30+ BILLY units every minute?

The BILLY bookcase and the BILLY bookcase factory share remarkably similar paths. Both have stayed true to their heritage, while developing bold and unique ways of keeping the BILLY tradition in tune with times - and maybe even a little ahead of them!

A woman with headset walking through the factory.

BILLY bookshelf past and present

When Gillis Lundgren designed BILLY, he wanted to create a timeless design. Nearly four decades later, it’s clear that he has succeeded. Today, BILLY is still loved by millions of people all over the world. Originally designed for books, BILLY is now used to organize and display collectibles, housewares, clothes, and more. With dozens of heights, widths, and finishes to choose from as well as optional solid, clear-glass, or etched-glass doors, there’s a BILLY for every style and purpose.

And some more highlights…