In my first installment regarding Woodworking machinery in Taiwan, I discussed the issues that face the Taiwanese as regards their markets both potential and existing.
One of the strategies that they, as a group, are promoting is to go from individual machine manufacturers who sell their own machines on their own to a cooperative effort where they combine their individual machines into totally integrated, custom systems that manufacture specialized products. Be that wood flooring, finger jointed lumber, panels made from finger jointed lumber, or “plate furniture,” the Taiwanese are boldly venturing into a market approach previously created by the Germans and Italians. This integrated approach has led to increased sales through complete systems in the world woodworking machinery market for the Europeans. For the Taiwanese, these customizable “turn-key systems” are the first to come from their country.
In our three day media tour of Taiwan wood machinery manufacturers, we were able to see both the individual machines that the Taiwanese have as well as to see, in the flesh, the integrated machine systems that they are building.
The flooring system is the simplest and most straight forward. A straight line rip saw creates the width. A cutoff saw chops the boards to length. A two-sided planer does thickness planning. Then a four sided tenoner does the tongue and groove. A wide belt sander will prepare the surface for the finishing process and a custom dust removing machine takes away any residual dust prior to finishing.
A very interesting example of the Taiwanese commitment to customization was shown by the folks at Leadermac, a specialist in moulders large and small. They have come up with a technology that allows them to closely imitate the effect of hand-scraped surface irregularities for flooring that looks as good as the real thing. So if the above system includes one of their four sided moulders, one doesn’t need the two-sided planer. The hand-scraped effect can be turned on and off and be changed as orders demand.
The idea here is to create an all-for-one approach and a one-for-all partnership that will integrate these machines effectively, provide the necessary support for all the machines, and then take those systems to market.
All of these systems keep the wood off the floor throughout the process. Through the use of interconnecting conveyor systems, the raw materials go on a mechanized journey from original infeed to final outfeed. The number of hands that need to touch the material along the way is greatly reduced.
The finger joint line is a system that we saw demonstrated. By listening to their customers and working with their designers and subcontractors, these systems can be tailored to the demands of the individual customer. Short production times are easily met with all systems and the Taiwanese claim to have much faster build and delivery schedules than their European competition.
We see their flexibility of production in the finger jointing system where random length pieces are fed in one end. The length of the sticks that come out the other end can be easily changed by a mechanical stop. The only requirement is to order a machine that will produce at least the longest length that one will ever require. Four and five meter-long sticks are common.
Once the random lengths are joined into sticks, it only takes a trip through a four-sided moulder to prepare them for glue-up into panels. There are machines that will do that with glue set times dependent upon the type of glue used. Then it’s off to the beam saw for panel squaring and a final sanding on a wide belt. Panel size and thickness is as specified by the customer.
For those who build Euro-system cabinets, the plate furniture production line is very efficient and contains a unique twist at the end. Anderson Group has developed the technology that allows them to customize panels with digital painting application. As with other lines of its type, the melamine panels come in one end as raw material. A CNC router cuts the cabinet parts to size and drills the top face. Then, the parts move to an edge bander. Since all parts have a bar code on them from the beginning, the edge bander and its operator work in concert to feed the bander. A quick scan tells the machine how many times to return the panel to the head of the machine. Once the edge or edges are banded, the conveyor whisks them off to a five sided boring machine that drills all other necessary holes.
Here’s the interesting part and an exciting twist on customization. Once the doors are banded and drilled, they can shoot off to Anderson Group’s exclusive printing machine. Would you like the Mona Lisa on your cabinet doors? This machine can do that. Do you want a forest mural? No problem. What about opacity issues? The machine can prime the melamine before applying the appropriate color. How about durability of the paint? It’s UV cured material that’s dry before the door leaves the machine. Some paints have a 5 year guarantee indoors and 3 years outside. Imagine the possibilities in commercial euro-style cabinet installations. And as the process has three-dimensional possibilities, and melamine is not the only substrate, the possibilities for use of this machine in other industries is there as well.
The energy that one feels in the presence of these Taiwanese machine manufacturers is only matched by their determination. Both are infectious and I came away each day feeling impressed by what I had seen. Their belief in the quality of what they build is evident. Their determination to increase their sales and to succeed through offering flexibility in features, strong and precisely built machines, and systems that their customers need will serve them well in the years ahead.
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