Productivity Progress Report:

Room for Improvement

An exclusive Wood & Wood Products survey focuses on readers’ plans to boost their manufacturing processes.

By Rich Christianson


The woodworking industry has long been stigmatized by the notion that the technology it uses lags way behind what is employed by automotive, metal, plastics and other manufacturing sectors.

This technology gap closed considerably during the 1990s as CAD/CAM, CNC routers, point-to-point drilling centers, improved particleboard and MDF and other technological advancements and enhancements sprung forth.

Yet, in spite of the wood products industry’s efforts to replace hard-to-find labor with machines, most woodworkers see much room for improvement when they gaze across their plant floors.

According to a new study commissioned by Wood & Wood Products, 36% of readers involved in furniture, cabinet and fixture manufacturing view the “production automation level” of their plants as “average.” Sadder still, 24% of our readers describe their plants’ automation as somewhat below average with another 11% indicating they believe their plants to be “well below average.”

On the upside, 8% dub their operations as being “state of the art” and 20% view theirs as “above average.”

(It’s interesting to note that these tallies pretty much mirror the results of a 1998 W&WP study in which the same question was asked. The biggest change is that only 3% of readers in 1998 viewed their plants as being “state of the art.”)

When asked which area they would target for increased production levels, respondents most commonly answer finishing, 15%; followed by milling, 7%; and assembly, 7%.

Shopping List

The study sheds light on some of the actions companies planned to take to increase the efficiency of their production operations.


    Bullish for the New Year

Seventy percent of the respondents in the new Wood & Wood Products Reader Profile Study expect to do better than $1 million in gross sales in 2000. This percentage includes the 21% anticipating $20 million or more.

Looking ahead to 2001, 63% percent are anticipating sales to exceed those of 2000. Only 5% anticipate a downturn in sales.


2001 sales will be better than 2000 sales: 63%

2001 sales will be about the same as 2001 sales: 30%

2001 sales will be worse than 2000 sales: 5%

No response: 2%


Better than one-quarter of respondents say they planned to spend $100,000 or more on machinery in 2000, including 12% who planned to invest more than $250,000. (One-third of survey participants declined to supply a dollar value of their intended machinery purchases.)

CNC routers are at the top of the machinery shopping list, with 20% of readers saying they plan to buy at least one of them within the next 12 months. Next on the list are widebelt sanders, 17%; moulders and spray booths, each at 14%; and edgebanders, 13%. The next highest ranked item — profile sanders at 12% — indicates companies’ eagerness to automate one of their most labor-intensive operations.

Singling out responses from shops with more than 250 employees, CNC routers top the shopping list at 43% followed by moulders, 30%; widebelt sanders, 23%; and spray booths and CNC panel saws, each at 20%.

On the cutting tool front, 25% of all survey participants say they planned to spend $10,000 or more on cutting tools in 2000, including 9% who plan to spend $50,000 or more. In another manufacturing-related category, 28% of readers say they planned to spend more than $10,000 on new computer systems hardware and software with 8% planning to invest $50,000 or more.

A Helping Hand

Outsourcing of parts plays a major role with many of the surveyed companies. Seven percent say they planned to job out $500,000 or more on parts, while another 11% planned to outsource $100,000 to $499,000 worth of components.

In this same vein, 16% of respondents job out 25% or more of their parts including 8% that job out half of their parts. Twenty-eight percent say they purchase no components from outside specialists.

Among those who outsource components, cabinet parts, including doors and panels, are most frequently purchased at 40%. This category is followed by drawers and drawer parts, 12%; mouldings, 5%; and countertops/tabletops, 5%.

Solid Surfacing on the Rise

Solid surface materials like Corian, Avonite, Surell and Gibraltar are being fabricated by 37% of the shops included in the survey. Another 6% indicate they will likely be using these materials that look like stone but cut like wood in the future.

Other Survey Highlights

Among other things, the survey finds:

  • Twenty-six percent planned to spend $250,000 or more on board products, including 13% that planned on spending $1 million or more.
  • Thirteen percent planned on spending at least $10,000 on edgebanding materials.
  • Eleven percent planned on spending at least $100,000 on decorative laminates.
  • Forty-nine percent personally use the Internet for business; 8% do not have Internet access.

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