While the panel saw itself has not changed much in recent years, the trend toward mass customization and shorter runs has resulted in changes to the machine’s usage and requirements. Almost unanimously, equipment experts agree that increased flexibility, speed and efficiency now head the list of requirements by today’s wood products manufacturers when it comes to choosing a panel saw.

“They’re demanding speed and efficiency because they are dealing with a lot of different sizes today, as well as book heights, which are lower than they were. To achieve that same output they had before requires faster movement and shorter cycle times,” said Mark Craig, general manager of Giben America Inc.

Rene Fritz, regional sales manager for IMA/Schelling America, agreed. “Speed is the number one requirement, especially in high production. Flexibility is also key in terms of features.

“It used to be all about batches, but that has gone away,” he added. “Now, manufacturers are trying to achieve the same output as with batch cutting, but with single sheets. In the last three or four years, every panel saw manufacturer has had to come up with a feature to do more parts per cycle,” Fritz said.

Arnie Hopkins, sales manager at Holzma U.S., a division of Stiles Machinery, and Don Shearer, president of Joos USA, which sells Mayer saws, agreed.

“Flexible is the new buzzword,” said Hopkins. “Customers are not having the long runs they had in the past, so flexibility is key,” Hopkins added.

“Large volume, high stack height cutting has been replaced in many shops with lower volume, more customized part cutting,” said Phil Bryant, product manager at SCM Group USA. “As a result, customers want their saws to process smaller batches quickly. A customer who would have traditionally purchased a large rear load saw with high capacity may now choose a smaller front load saw for flexibility,” Bryant added.

Randy Jamison, North American Selco product manager at Biesse America, agreed, adding that machinery manufacturers continue to improve existing technology in order to meet customers’ needs. “The panel saw market has changed much in recent years. It all relates back to speed of cycling, because batch sizes are getting smaller,” he added.

“We’re also seeing concerns with yield and efficiency. The saws need to be as functionally efficient as possible,” said Rick Hannigan, vice president of sales for Holz-Her U.S., a member of the Weinig Group.

As an example, Hannigan said, the blade can only move through the material at a certain pace. Therefore, he explained, the equipment manufacturers look for ways to increase production speed by making other operations, such as the raising and lowering of the beam for example, as efficient as possible.

The other saw manufacturers agreed. “In many cases, customers are asking for features that support the ability to process a higher percentage of customized parts in a shorter amount of time,” said Bryant. “Features may include high speed movement in the saw carriage, pusher and side aligners, optimized saw operation, dual pushers for crosscutting, automated material handling and software integrated with other machinery operations,” he said.

“Another hot button is for programming to download information to the saw and generate labels to the saw,” added Hopkins.

Fritz said Schelling also offers a saw with automatic label application “where the labels are placed where they need to be for cutting.”

Along with increased capabilities and batch flexibility, customers are also demanding improved programming as it relates to ease of use and improved efficiency, said Eric Johnston, product manager at Casadei Busellato. “The mindset is different today, where you have a lot of young employees that know computers and understand them. They want programmable features that make things as easy as possible, including being able to set up quickly,” Johnston added.

With many wood products manufacturers also concerned about sustainable manufacturing, energy consumption of these large workhorses can also be a concern. According to Craig, many of the equipment manufacturers already have, or are developing, machines that incorporate kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) to “create” comparable power.

“The engineering challenge you have with all this, is to target the product right, with all the features customers want, at a price they’re willing to pay,” Craig said.

Versatility Desired on Verticals
Users of vertical panel saws also are demanding increased efficiency, versatility as well as ease of use in the machines.

“Customers want ease of use so multiple operators can use the machine without extensive training,” said Dave Bull, Striebig product manager at Colonial Saw. “They also want the machine to be able to do several things, such as cut small parts as well as large, to cut angles and to cut a variety of materials (i.e., laminate and wood).”

Increased levels of automation are also in demand. Among the requested features on vertical saws are repeat functions, laser alignment and auto positioning on the X axis.

“Vertical and small [horizontal] saw users are also becoming more interested in option packages, including more digital positioning of the stock,” said Hannigan. “Digital readouts are options that can be retrofit later,” he added.

“We’re trying to expand the flexibility of the saw to different markets. The ability to cut different materials and other changes in the saw are helping make it more flexible,” Hannigan added.

Even the manual versions are becoming more flexible, said Tom Houska, marketing professional at Safety Speed Mfg.

“For us, the main thing customers are looking for is durability and precision. They want accuracy built into the machine and to be able to achieve tight tolerances,” Houska said.

Like Bull and Hannigan, Houska also noted that laser alignment and repetitive stops are among the options of interest to users of vertical panel saws. Other capabilities, such as cutting dadoes and rabbets in panels, also are being requested. The company offers large as well as smaller vertical saws, though price and portability often result in customers choosing the smaller models, he said.

Automation on Small Horizontals
Although price continues to be a consideration, many customers want increased automation on the smaller horizontal saws as well.

“Customers want more digitizing and more customization,” said Torben Helshoj, president of Laguna Tools. “I think people are going away from manual panel saws because the automatic ones save time and are more efficient, with higher accuracy.”
Ryan Akhurst, sales and marketing manager at Cantek America Inc., agreed. “They’re primarily looking for more automation: three-axis programmable rip fence, blade height and blade tilt,” he said.

The majority of people who buy a sliding table saw are cabinet or small production shop users. “It also lends itself to small cell or specialty areas,” Akhurst added.

Flexibility is Key to Market Growth for Panel Saws 
With mass customization so prevalent, panel saw users are looking for machines with the
flexibility, speed and efficiency to quickly and easily change from small to large book heights,
and adjust to width variances. Photo: Giben saw.

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