Technology, supplies and hardware were the focus for a trio of woodworking industry trade shows: last month’s AWFS Fair in Las Vegas; and in Germany, Ligna in Hannover in May/June, and interzum in Cologne, at the end of May. The Association for Woodworking & Furniture Suppliers’ AWFS Fair, while smaller in scale, offered a combined emphases of the German shows, with a first U.S. look at some technologies (i.e., laser edgebanding and vertical machining centers).

Ligna, which focuses on machinery, drew 90,000 visitors and 1,765 exhibitors; interzum, covering wood, furnishings materials and hardware, drew 52,400 visitors with 1,434 exhibitors. Attendance at both was about 13 percent ahead of 2009, when they were last held.

Fair News: Wood Shows Recovered
Paul exhibited rough milling at the 2011 Ligna, in Hannover, Germany.  
Fair News: Wood Shows Recovered 
Servo motors (Hafele E-Drive is shown) were plentiful
at interzum, with power channeled through hardware,
connectors and edgebands.

AWFS Fair, which hasn’t yet released official attendance figures, was predicted to draw 19,000 to its show floor, set in two halls of the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center. It also marked the return of several large capital equipment exhibitors who skipped the 2009 edition, including Stiles, Weinig and Biesse. “We were glad to be back,” said Biesse president Federico Broccoli.

SCM and Delmac exhibited together for the first time since the acquisition of Delmac. Weinig and Holz-Her, also merged since the last AWFS, showed the Weinig Cabinet Door Cell comprised of the Powermat 1000 moulder, a Raimann KM moving blade ripsaw with a ValuRip III+ optimizing, infeed, a Dimter S-90 optimizing cross-cut saw, and a Holz-Her ProMaster CNC center all powered by Weinig’s MillVision software.

Along with its return to the North American trade show scene, Biesse America was among nine winners of the AWFS Fair Sequoia New Product Awards for creativity and innovation as well as leadership in green/environmental product development. The list of Sequoia winners includes:

Biesse America: Viet HP Sanding Pad
SCM Group North America: Stefani ONE TOUCH
Graco Inc.: ProMix 2KE sprayer
Oneida Air Systems: Smart Pro Dust Collector
Micro Fence: Plunge Base & Edge Guide Package
Leitz Tooling Systems: RipTec Cutting System
Planit Solutions: Stand Alone Screen-to-Machine Center
M.L. Campbell: EnviroVar
Hardwoods Specialty Products: Red Grandis

Overall, exhibitors reported positive results at these shows. For example Homag Group, whose equipment is distributed by Stiles Machinery in the United States, said its Ligna orders were 20 percent ahead of 2007 levels; and 50 percent ahead of the depressed 2009 Ligna.

In Germany, a huge array of promising innovations filled the 13 halls of Ligna and seven halls of interzum. “Many businesses sync their innovation cycles with Ligna,” said Stephan Kühne of show operator Deutsche Messe, with “breakthroughs unveiled here.”

Ligna Highlights
Biesse, Homag, SCM and Weinig — arguably the world’s largest woodworking machinery makers — were among those that presented innovations geared to facilitate more energy-efficient and flexible factories at Ligna 2011.

Ligna show managers say manufacturers of woodworking equipment and machinery have responded to current concerns such as environment issues, cost of raw materials and the 2009 downturn with innovations that deliver efficiencies and cost savings — such as stripped down CNC machinery that reduces cost of entry. This theme continued at AWFS Fair, where machinery on the floor included leaned-down, yet still very automated models.

Fair News: Wood Shows Recovered 
AWFS Fair saw the return of large equipment exhibitors.
Stiles Machinery featured first-time showings of
its latest innovations.

In terms of sawing equipment, Ligna continued the trends toward more highly automated machines that can import and independently optimize cutting patterns. Even very small panel sizing saws now come with integrated cutting optimization software. Camera-assisted scoring saw positioning on horizontal panel saws was also shown.

CNC machining systems are now much more affordable, and are also easy to use, even for beginners, thanks mainly to highly user-friendly software interfaces. A whole new generation of mini machining centers, as well as compact machining centers that have a footprint of less than 100 square feet, were on view at Ligna. (Along these lines, Stiles showed the Holzma Optimat vertical machining center at AWFS Fair.)

Five-axis CNC technology, previously a high-end product, was shown in very small machines at Ligna, allowing for sophisticated machining projects. A growing number of multifunction machines are coming onto the market, some that can machine multiple workpieces at once.

Lasers are making woodworking easier in many areas, marking planks and panels in cut optimization planning as well as assisting the actual cutting process. There are now four-sided planing machines that use lasers to project the spindle positions onto the workpiece for optimization, improving yield. At Ligna, Giben, best known for panel saws, showed LaserNest, a compact system that can cut extremely intricate parts at speeds up to 140 meters per minute. Mark Craig, Giben North America GM, suggested the possibility of a laser nesting system machining full sheets of MDF or particleboard, as they are now on CNC routers.

On the surface finishing front, oblique sanding systems are now sized for small woodworking firms. Also, new halogen drying units that dramatically shorten curing times can even be used on mobile equipment.

Ligna exhibitors tackled two huge issues affecting wood products companies around the globe: they have reduced energy consumption and enhanced flexibility. Growing interest in bioenergy from wood comes as woodworkers discover the potential profit in selling woodwaste to use in fuel pellet production, or even install their own systems. It was a hot topic at Ligna.

“Bioenergy has become an attractive component in the energy mix, and is a high-profile and critical issue,” said Arno Urbanek, applications and sales engineer at Untha Shredding Technology. (It operates domestically in Hampton, NH.)

Becoming more energy efficient addresses rising fuel and electrical costs, and also offers companies a way to become greener manufacturers, lowering the plants’ carbon footprints.

Homag expanded the ecoPlus concept that it introduced at Ligna 2009 among a limited line of its Holzma panel saws. One of the central components of ecoPlus is the standby function: the machine idles in standby mode and puts energy-consuming systems into hibernation.

Biesse and Weinig, along with Holzma, touted the concept of producing residual energy when running the machine by switching from pneumatics to servo motors. Practically every type of machine can be made more energy efficient by as much as 35 percent, from edgebanders and panel saws to CNC routers and moulders.
Another trend is flexibility. For some, it means having a machine that is capable of doing multiple functions with zero or minimal manual adjustments. Prime examples are five-axis routers, which Biesse, SCM and others noted are now being offered in entry-level models at greatly reduced prices. Biesse, for example introduced the Rover A S 1325, a five-axis router that can quickly be changed from flat panel nesting to five-axis routing of solid wood. The machine, which uses the same Biesse software of its nearly twice the price big brothers, can select from up to 10 tools.

Among its many new offerings, SCM displayed the Morbidelli Universal HP, a CNC machining center with built-in contour edgebanding capability. It features a five-axis motor and new glue system that applies the glue directly to the profile of the panel. In addition to complex router and edgebanding capabilities, the machine features 26 independent drill spindles and rapid tool change at 10 positions.

Weinig showed off a new CNC machining center for routing solid wood bearing its logo, but developed and produced by Holz-Her, which it purchased last year. (The firm exhibited at AWFS under its new branding.) Weinig also highlighted new concepts for producing textured moulded parts in a consistent pattern in one pass. Weinig showed the textured process could be applied to MDF parts or solid wood.

Homag displayed a wide range of new flexible machines, frequently showing side-by-side concepts that would be used for “batch of one” production versus high production. A lot of emphasis was placed on showing how processes traditionally requiring multiple operators could reduce headcount. One example: a Bargstedt storage and retrieval system feeding into a Holzma panel saw.

Laser and even plasma-fired edgebanding is one of the bigger stories for Ligna. Biesse showed its new EcoLaser, integrated to Biesse’s top of the line Stream edgebander; IMA show its latest laser and a new plasma edgebander; and Homag showed its latest laserTec edgebander, also on display at the AWFS Fair, and which is now headed to Fred Smith Store Fixtures in DePauw, IN.

New at interzum
At interzum, the materials side of the laser edgebanding equation saw Rehau and Doellken exhibiting the specially extruded polymer edgeband that allows the banders to run without gluepots. (Doellken-Woodtape showed this material at AWFS.) The technology produces near-seamless contours and panel edges using edgebanding co-extruded with an adhesive layer activated by lasers in new edgebanding machines.

Also at interzum, functional hardware was a big part of the story, with advances in plug-and-play servo motors to open cabinetry doors and drawers. Improved runner systems able to bear heavier loads were on display. And improvements in connecting hardware (several tool-less snap-together connectors, a hollow and thus lighter S300 connector bolt for Häfele’s Minifix housing) were introduced. Salice, Häfele, Blum, Hettich and Sugatsune were among those that displayed functional hardware that could handle wider doors and drawers and take on heavier loads.

Also emphasized were electrically conductive hardware powered servos and LEDs: Hettich panel connectors ran an iPod center; Rehau edgeband underlay illuminated LED drawer fronts; and the Häfele servos powered were via glides.

interzum also saw advances in laminates, veneers, edgebanding and lumber. Schattdecor showed digitally printed panel surfaces for one-off high resolution images for retail displays or home décor murals. Doellken showed inkjetted edgebanding. Schorn & Groh showed flexible EASiWOOD veneer with fleece backing for 360 degree coverage.

Other European styling and design movements that continue include cabinet drawers with tempered glass sides and high gloss door fronts in bright colors, as well as black, white and gray.

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