Change is occurring rapidly in the wood products industry, not only with regards to products and layouts for the home and office, but in the woodworking plant itself. It is in the plant that we see already how new technology is enabling companies to do more with less — manufacturing faster and with less waste in the process.

Inside the Plant
For many large, and even medium size production shops, the increased usage of “intelligent” technology appears to be the direction for the future. What I mean by intelligent goes beyond “traditional” CNC technology. I’m talking robotics and other technologies that allow for 24/7, worker-free involvement in the woodworking plant.

Although robotics have been around in other industries, the technology has been slow to move into the woodworking arena. Which is why it was news when Kansas-based cabinet manufacturer Custom Cupboards became the first in the nation to use robotics in conjunction with bar coding and RFID technology in the production process. (Read Custom Cupboards Goes Robotic, W&WP August 2010, at WoodworkingNetwork.com)

It’s not the only company to lean its operation by using robotics. In this issue, read how Massachusetts-based furniture and casegoods manufacturer ModuForm uses robotics to streamline its material storage and retrieval system, and improve the overall productivity of the manufacturing operation.

According to ModuForm president Bill Weissman, information relayed to the IntelliStore system triggers it to retrieve panels — even from a chaotic stack — and deliver them to the correct machine. Not only will the system work 24/7, but Weissman says it has eliminated the non-value added “fetching of material” operation from the manufacturing process.

See new technologies on display in North America at the AWFS Vegas Fair, July 20-23 in Las Vegas, and at WMS (Woodworking Machinery & Supply Expo), Oct. 27-29 in Toronto.

In the Office
Now that I’ve covered manufacturing, here’s what I think the new office will look like:

• The workplace will be a healthy one. Not just because of LEED, OSHA, etc., but from the increased use of fully integrated treadmill/desks, such as Steelcase’s Walkstation, which debuted a few years ago. Workers will ubertask while burning calories and eliminating stress.

• I don’t foresee IPADs or other tablets fully eliminating desktop and laptop computers, especially for data entry and other essential functions. That means worksurfaces/workstations will continue to be essential.

• I read one article that predicted the advent of the “smart” chair, complete with sensors that would recognize the onset of muscle tension or strain and initiate a pain-relieving massage. If not already in prototype, I predict we’ll see one quite soon.

• We’ll see more “movable” office space. Examples of this were at NeoCon last year, though not in full production. The izzy+ Project Nemo flexible open workspace concept is one example that comes to mind — a 24-foot, bar-like structure with a semi-enclosed seating area, creating three distinct collaboration zones: extrovert, social and private. Check out the 2011 NeoCon, June 13-15 in Chicago, for a look at more trends to come.

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