Wood & Wood Products

talks to industry executives to gauge their expectations for 2007 and the trends affecting the machinery industry.

By Wade Vonasek and Matt Warnock

Technology is in a state of constant change, and the technology that drives woodworking machinery is no exception. New innovations and end user demand lead to smaller, more flexible machines that are faster and require less operator involvement. Woodworking machinery manufacturers must strive to remain on the cutting edge of industry demand to enhance business growth.

As 2006 draws to a close, many companies will take stock of their machinery needs and budget for 2007 accordingly. Many woodworking machinery manufacturers predict the coming year will see a trend of growth.

Richard Hannigan, vice president of sales for Holz-Her U.S. Inc. says "business will remain strong through 2007."

Jeff Davidson, president of Weinig America, agrees, saying, "We are looking forward to 2007 being at least as good as 2006, if not better."

"I think [2007] will be pretty much the same [as 2006]," says Steve Craven, senior sales executive for Solid Wood Systems. "I don't see any large decreases at this time."

Despite the prevailing optimism, some are taking a more cautious approach to the coming year.

The amount of business in 2007 will depend on the state of the economy, changing interest rates and the U.S. dollar/Euro exchange rate, says Riccardo Azzoni, president of Atlantic Machinery Corp.

According to data from the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Census, exports of woodworking machinery have been on the rise since 2002, with an 8.9 percent increase from 2004 to 2005. In 2005 Canada was the number one importer of woodworking machinery from the United States, totalling $126.8 million in imports. Mexico and Australia came in a distant second and third, importing $23.9 million and $18.9 million worth of woodworking machinery respectively.

Imports of woodworking machinery also have been increasing since 2002, with an 11.1 percent increase from 2004 to 2005. In 2005, the United States imported a total of $1,754.6 million worth of woodworking machines. China, Taiwan and Germany were the main sources of imported machines, with $396.0 million, $356.6 million and $255.2 million worth of machines imported respectively.

U.S. Bureau of Census data lists machines as the number one type of woodworking equipment exported from or imported to the United States. Cutting tools are second in both imports and exports, while parts and accessories are third.

Doing More with Less

When asked what technology is currently attracting attention from customers, those interviewed offered a variety of answers.

"Flow-through panel processing, five-axis routing and specialized sanding are areas of particular interest," says Karl Frey, vice president of the Advanced Wood Division for SCM GROUP USA.

"CNC horizontal bore and dowel machines are an area getting a fair amount of attention," says John Park, vice president and general manager of Delmac Machinery Group. "These machines can be equipped with grooving saws, top drilling and hardware insertion, which make them

perfect candidates for lean manufacturing cells."

"I think CNC technology seems to be making the biggest impact," says Paul Green, owner of Solid Wood Systems. "I'm seeing a lot of single-sided CNC machines also. In the past it seemed like all the CNC technology was for larger machines. I'm seeing it for smaller machines now. CNC technology has just trickled down, all the way down to little chop saws even, with touch screens, inputs, rapid stops and so on."

Steve Waltman, vice president of strategic sales and marketing at Stiles Machinery Inc., concurs on the subject of smaller woodworking machines. "The large CNC routers are receiving less interest than they have in the past," he adds.

Not only is machine size becoming a factor, machine versatility and simplicity are also sought-after elements. Ken Susnjara, chairman and CEO of Thermwood Corp., says the move from a high-speed machine making scores of identical parts, to a highly flexible machine that can quickly and easily make varied parts, is happening. Machines that will, essentially, do more with less, are what both customers and manufacturers are striving for.

"In this world of ever increasing technical complexity, our customers seem to be asking for systems that are flexible, that do a lot of things, but are really easy to use," Susnjara says. "They want to make their current products faster, with less effort and they want to add new products and capabilities with the least amount of hassle and effort possible."

"In the past, customers would set up a machine for large production runs, but that just isn't in our market any longer," adds Green. "Now, flexibility and the ability to go from one product to another product very rapidly is the key. They want faster setups."

"Technology that allows the user to control his inventory, offers increased productivity, and reduces scrap even as the orders are smaller and delivery times shorter, is most attractive to our customers," says Davidson.

Software Makes it Simple

Innovations in software are also driving advances in woodworking machinery. Many interviewed agree that an intelligent machine makes operation simpler, and that the cost is easily justified with payback through reduced labor costs and waste, less downtime and increased production.

Waltman and Hannigan both agree, as automation develops into an important issue for numerous companies, computerization and robotic solutions are becoming an integral part of a successful woodworking business as well.

Spencer Dick, president of TigerStop, says "The innate intelligence of systems is allowing simplification of the user interface, thereby speeding up training of new users and providing more constant output with lesser skilled operators."

"What strikes me the most in the emerging generation of woodworking machinery is their relative mechanical simplicity," adds Andre Masse, marketing manager of Doucet Machineries Inc. "In many instances, highly responsive servo motors driven by axis controllers are doing the job that [once] required several standalone machines and human operators. Furthermore, once a system has been installed and commissioned, it is easy to optimize its operation without having to make any mechanical changes."

"Computer and software technology has driven the value curve, so machines today provide more and cost less than their predecessor models," says Park. "Good software is critical to a successful machine installation and in many cases, the defining aspect of a machine's true productivity. Programming should be easy yet powerful, connectivity with other programs must be clean, and the software must be robust not fickle."

Machine maintenance also has been simplified with technological and software advancements. Self-diagnostic systems, as well as remote monitoring and support, are making life easier for companies and operators.

"Our machines grease and oil themselves on predetermined intervals, which is controlled by the PC," says Park. "If they run out of oil, they tell the operator. They keep track of tool life, spindle hours and various component hours. They also identify faults and assist in maintenance troubleshooting."

"The software records the runtime of the machine, can flash maintenance intervals and procedures on the screen, plus provide onscreen diagnostics and parts manuals," adds Davidson.

"With CNC technology, so many of the mechanical components are gone out of the machines now, so maintenance, and the overall cost of ownership for the end user, is less," says Green. "That's a great thing for them and for us."

However, diligence is still essential in regards to machine maintenance, according to Azzoni. "There may be less maintenance required on some new design equipment, but it remains the number one cause of malfunctions and breakdown of machinery, together with abuse or misuse," he says.

Among the advantages to advanced woodworking machinery are fast changeover and set up, more accurate adjustments and user-friendly interfaces.

Photo courtesy of Holz-Her US Inc.
Safety on woodworking machines takes many forms. Shields and drapes protect the operator from flying debris while air hoses connected directly to the cutting apparatus prevent dust from accumulating in the air.

DMG photo by Jessica Sanchez

The Lean Machine

Thanks to new developments in technology and better production techniques, the lean movement has swept through the manufacturing world like wildfire, fueling continuous improvement, waste reduction, flexibility and increased levels of competition. The impact of lean on woodworking machinery has end users calling for machines that will do more with less. Machine sizes are decreasing, set-up times are getting faster and CNC technology is drawing more interest than ever. As demand in the market changes and the cost of production rises, more companies are turning to lean manufacturing.

"Lean is driving most globally competitive companies," says Dick. "That said, the nature of equipment is getting smaller. Smart global producers are looking at multiples of smaller machinery to meet their requirements."

"In addition to the companies currently making a conscious and concerted effort to implement a lean strategy, others are headed in that direction as they react to changes in the marketplace that demand shorter runs and faster deliveries," says Davidson.

With many companies producing smaller runs of more customized products, flexibility is key. CNC machining is one area that has been a large target in the lean movement.

"Lean is having a positive impact on the machinery business, particularly on the CNC segment of business," says Frey.

Susnjara says, "The [machines] need to be flexible, able to perform any job at any time, with little or no setup. These have been basic requirements that have driven CNC machine design for some time now."

Park agrees, saying, "CNC routers and working centers are perfect machines to put in lean cells as they greatly reduce or eliminate setup, combine

machinery operations and are extremely accurate and flexible."

Aside from flexibility and a faster setup, the reduction of material waste is another large part of the lean philosophy. A significant reduction in waste through better material usage can create a positive impact on a company's bottom line.

"Optimization of materials is taking on a greater urgency," says Dick. "Properly implemented, optimization can reduce scrap by as much as 50

percent. This can be the difference between making money and losing it in a global environment."

Working lean is not the only way to save money through woodworking machinery. Today's machines are safer, resulting in savings in insurance and workman's compensation.

Stepping up Safety

New regulations concerning operator safety are making more of an impact on machine design then they have in years past. Matters of safety have gone beyond protecting users from lacerations. Issues such as respiratory and auditory wellness also are changing regulations as new information on

woodworking hazards is made available.

"Safety is making its step-by-step influence," says Dick. "Lungs, ears and the body are becoming areas of distinct concern more and more, where just the issue of lacerations had been the concern for many years."

Remaining compliant with safety regulations often translates into increased price tags on woodworking machinery. However, when compared with the costs associated with employee injury, the decreased risks can be well worth the price.

"While safety regulations may have a direct impact on the capital cost of new machinery, adequate safety is a necessity and the added cost is more than offset by the avoidance of accidents and the ensuing litigation," says Masse.

Standards differ across international lines, and in the case of safety, executives say regulations in the United States are not as strict as those in Europe.

"The ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards governing woodworking machinery are currently in the process of being updated and will be very similar to the CE standards that have existed in Europe for some years," says Davidson.

"Any machinery manufacturer operating in Europe, either buying or selling equipment there, has already implemented many of the new safety regulations that are coming into the U.S. market," he adds.

Since many woodworking machines are now automated, "there is no real interaction between the operator and the machine when it is running," says Susnjara. "The machine is loaded and the processes occur without the operator being involved until the cycle is complete and the machine stops."

However, Masse adds, "Achieving a safe working environment is a two-way avenue. Machinery designers and manufacturers cannot do it alone; the [company] and its employees must adopt safe working practices."

End Users Sound Off

Wood & Wood Products surveyed the Woodworking VIPs, an online community of readers that act as advisors to the magazine, to gauge their plans for purchasing new machinery.

Of the 264 respondents, 39 percent said they plan on spending about the same on woodworking machinery in 2007 as they did in 2006 and 35.6 percent said they plan on spending more in 2007. A little less than half said they would spend less than $25,000, nearly 1/4 said they plan on spending between $25,000 and $99,999, while the remaining 1/4 plans on spending $100,000 or more. The majority of respondents want to increase productivity with new machinery, followed by improving quality and reducing labor.

To find out more about becoming a Woodworking VIP, visit www.woodworkingVIP.com.
Source: Vance Research Services

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