Ashley Furniture plans to add 500 robots over next two years
MENOMONIE, Wisc. - Ashley Furniture is gearing up on the technology front, with plans for adding 500 robots to supplement the workforce on its production lines.
Todd Wanek, president and CEO of Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., presented the high-tech profile of the world's largest consumer furniture manufacturer as he delivered "Leadership and Innovation in Changing Times,” on October 26 -  the 2017 Cabot Executive in Residence Lecture at his alma mater, the Universty of Wisconsin, Stout.
With sales over $4 billion, Ashley numbers 700 IT professionals on staff, and is aggressively moving into e-commerce it prepares to protect its markets from inroads by online sellers, like Wayfair, and especially Amazon. The company just broke ground on new distribution centers in Mesquite, Texas (872,320 sq.ft.) and in Leesport, Pennsylvania (465,000 sq.ft.). Ashley is headquartered in the central-Wisconsin town of its founding - Arcadia - but now has massive plants in Mississippi and South Carolina, and internationally as well. 
Wanek joined his family's business shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a degree in Industrial Technologies. He moved to Asia to serve as the general manager of Ashley Furniture Industries Taiwan. He continued to live and work in Asia from 1989- 1993, establishing and managing Ashley Furniture Industries business development in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia. 
Wanek returned to the 1994, spearheading the purchase of an upholstered furniture manufacturing operation in Ecru, Missippi, as he assumed responsibility for Ashley Furniture Industries upholstery production as well as the company’s growing international operations. Two years later, Wanek was promoted to President and Chief Operations Officer, assuming responsibility for worldwide operations. 
In a wide-ranging talk followed by questions, spanning nearly 90 minutes, Wanek described Ashley’s growth internationally, how it has kept pace with technology, and the demands of leadership, while looking at the future of manufacturing. As part of the daylong program, Wanek met with students, faculty, and staff and toured several campus industry and technology labs. Ashley recently donated six robots and financed faculty training at Western Tech College in LaCrosse, Wisconsin
Ashley Furniture president and CEO Todd Wanek, left, tours the woods lab at the University of Wisconsin, Stout, with Professor Jerry Johnson. 

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Bill Esler | ConfSenior Editor

Bill wrote for, FDMC and Closets & Organized Storage magazines. 

Bill's background includes more than 10 years in print manufacturing management, followed by more than 30 years in business reporting on industrial manufacturing in the forest products industries, including printing and packaging at American Printer (Features Editor) and Graphic Arts Monthly (Editor in Chief) magazines; and in secondary wood manufacturing for

Bill was deeply involved with the launches of the Woodworking Network Leadership Forum, and the 40 Under 40 Awards programs. He currently reports on technology and business trends and develops conference programs.

In addition to his work as a journalist, Bill supports efforts to expand and improve educational opportunities in the manufacturing sectors, including 10 years on the Print & Graphics Scholarship Foundation; six years with the U.S. WoodLinks; and currently on the Woodwork Career Alliance Education Committee. He is also supports the Greater West Town Training Partnership Woodworking Program, which has trained more than 950 adults for industrial wood manufacturing careers. 

Bill volunteers for Foinse Research Station, a biological field station staddling the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, one of more than 200 members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations.