DETROIT – Three top-notch plant tours, a number of top quality speakers and a group of innovative and forward-thinking wood products companies added up to a successful event for the Executive Briefing Conference April 25-27.

EBC 2017 was held by Stiles Machinery and invited attendees from top millwork, cabinet and other wood product companies to rethink manufacturing.

The EBC was held in downtown Detroit at the historic Westin Book Cadillac hotel.

What may have struck some as an unlikely location for such a conference turned out to be an appropriate place for several reasons, including Detroit’s role in manufacturing history, and in its future.

Cars, components and robots

Ford’s River Rouge complex is one of the most famous manufacturing locations in the world, and has been making vehicles since the 1920s. The Dearborn complex includes a steel mill, glass plant and assembly operations. EBC visitors saw the assembly line for the aluminum Ford F-150 truck in motion on a Sunday evening.

JB Cutting, Inc. in nearby Mt. Clemens rolled out the red carpet to welcome industry visitors from the EBC event. The company makes theromofoil doors and other components, and has a good range of modern technology including CNC machining centers, large routers and edgebanders, boring machines and presses. The company makes components for cabinets, closets and retail displays, and has grown significantly in recent years.

EBC participants also toured the large robotic operation of Fanuc America in a wooded setting in suburban Rochester Hills. The company makes manufacturing robots for many different automotive applications, and is seeking new opportunities in other industries such as wood products manufacturing. Visitors saw demonstrations of robotic finishing, testing or systems, and a very large robot showed off its strengths.

Be a disruptor

Josh Linkner, a native of Detroit and an author and entrepreneur, suggested in his opening keynote address that executives be the source of disruption rather than having it be forced upon them. The obsessions of creative people include being curious, craving what’s next, defying tradition, getting scrappy and being a quick adopter.

Linkner said that brainstorming was a great way to get mediocre ideas, because the best, and craziest, ideas are not offered up in such a meeting. He challenged participants to find one idea for creative destruction in the next seven days.

Stiles Machinery’s Gary Wernlund has always been a popular EBC speaker. He outlined lessons from the Ford River Rouge plant tour, compared automotive and wood products manufacturing and looked at opportunities for robotic applications.

Wernlund’s technology bytes presentation offered quick looks at new equipment innovations in wood products manufacturing, such as smaller machine footprints, a better way to manage offcuts, more textured laminates, improvements in zero seams and quality improvements in edge milling. (We’ll have more details on

Case study: Closets by Design

Charles Waterman of Closets by Design provided an interesting and frank discussion of how his company has grown since it was started in 2004. The Exton, Pennsylvania, company, focuses on reducing defects, cycle time, and cost, and has used technology to boost its efficiency in its making of closets for customers in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Waterman said that wood product manufacturers should have a plan to use technology, that pain drives gain, and change eats culture for breakfast.

FDMC Magazine and are planning additional coverage of this company.

Skills gap and social media

Jennifer McNelly of 180Skills encouraged wood product companies to be involved in the Woodwork Career Alliance, to hire veterans for their experience, to leverage current employees as ambassadors for potential workers, and to take part in events such as the annual manufacturing day.

What kind of social media strategy should a company have? Aaron Miller of Herman Miller, consultant Denise Bahs and Nic Schiffer of NS Builders offered real-world examples of what to do and what not to do when trying to attract attention on social media. This is a subject that some companies don’t know a lot about, or have kept at arm’s length.

Schiffer offered examples of his deep involvement in social media, including frequent posts about installations and work in progress.

Rick Siewert of Siewert Cabinet & Fixture Mfg. Inc. in Minneapolis started a business a few years ago to recover urban trees that were being cut down and sent to the chipper. Siewert created Wood from the Hood to recover these valuable trees and use the wood in furniture.  The company uses a Wood-Mizer sawmill and inexpensive sawblades since there is metal in almost every tree. There is big demand for large, live edge slabs.

Jurgen Koppel of Leitz Group discussed smart tooling, how tooling data is being used, and the development of communication between the tool and machine.

Other speakers included Bill Henderson of Siemens on synchronizing system communication, Jonathan Adams of Innergy on managing big data, Mario Bobsin of Fritz Egger GmbH & Co. on Eurolight lightweight material, and Dick Diller of Stediwatt on protecting against electrical threats.

Sunny days for economy

To wind up the conference, Alan Beaulieu of ITR Economics pointed out the many positives in the economy. Always a popular speaker in this industry, Beaulieu discussed the role of technology and immigration in the economy. Overall, he sees a strong economy in the United States for the next dozen years, with a mild recession in 2019.

Housing, energy prices and foreign investment in the United States are all positive factors. But, rapidly rising federal spending, borrowing and the aging of the Baby Boomer generation will lead to an economic depression by 2030.

More information on these presentations will follow on The next EBC will be held in San Jose, California, April 14-16, 2019.

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Top: JB Cutting plant tour; Middle: Reception at Ford Rouge complex; Bottom: Technology presentation at EBC.