LAS VEGAS - It was a simple concept: a conference presenting fresh ideas on wood industry materials and technology, presented with flair, and heavy dose of peer to peer networking and audience interaction.

Intended to be more visionary than tactical, the Woodworking Network Leadership Forum launched July 18, the day before AWFS Fair 2017 opened. So how did it go?
 
Designed as a TEDx-style program for the wood manufacturing industry, it was ambitious and exciting, especially for presenters. Sessions were divided roughly along two lines: theoretical look at future landscapes of wood manufacturing - this include sessions on the integrated manufacture of Virginia Tech's FutureHaus, a session on modular construction of mass wood buildings, and a look at augmented and virtual reality for operations management. 
 
The other side of the coin was joint developments of technology by industry suppliers, and wood manufacturers. Here exciting presentations by Decore-ative Specialties and North American Plywood were real breakthroughs for the audience. 
 
North American Plywood's Don Kuser described his firms roll-out of the DesignPly plywood product - a 5x10-foot sheets of Baltic birch veneer plywood that are inkjet printed with high definition veneer images in 90 seconds - hoisted in and out by robots programmed to integrated to the Inca Onset printer. Kuser was joined by the VP of Fuji, which makes the inks and printing heads; and the managing director of Inca, who flew from the U.K. to Las Vegas for the presentation, telling listeners he believes the wood industry is on the  cusp of a transformation to digital painting and staining. In the ceramics market, which operates similarly, inkjet now accounts for 60 percent of graphics on tile. Kuser's presentation was so detailed and compelling that the entire room rose to examine samples of digitally stained panels that he brought to the room. 
 
Manufacturing FutureHAUS, presented by Joe Wheeler, Professor of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech University,  was extremely venturesome. The ambitious four-year project developed a revolutionary prototype for the home of the future, with designs that lend themselves to modular room manufacture, complete with cabinetry and furniture.  Over the past four years, prototypes for the kitchen, bath, living room, bedrooms and home offices have been developed and shown at KBIS, with 25 industry partners, including Sherwin Williams and California Closets, providing design expertise.  
 
Those sessions give  flavor for what the Woodworking Network Leadership Forum was like, guided by the vision of Tim Fixmer, CEO of CCI Media, the parent of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine.
 
"It is positioned as a top-level conference aimed at executives from North America’s 300 largest woodworking companies," says Fixmer. "The goal is to examine business, technology, and material trends that will impact the design and production of cabinetry, furniture and interior millwork over the next decade."
 
Leadership Forum speakers are a mix of early adopters, and the materials and technology developers supplying them. 
 
"It's intended to put innovators who are first out of the gate, and have gained and are willing to share that initial experience on wood processing advances," says Fixmer.   
 
A session on Wood Skyscrapers: CLT &  High-rise Buildings is a good case in point, and was well received - the subject has been very popular at Woodworking Network - despite the fact that neither of the originally scheduled speakers could make it. Iain MacDonald, the TallWood Design Institute manager, was in a bicycling accident two days before (he has quite recovered now) and the demanding claims of a burgeoning CLT wood manufactury kept DR Johnson Lumber CEO Valerie Johnson away - but her operations manager filled in ably for both presenters.
 
These wood buildings are manufactured in modules that seem much like case goods, with components cut and notched for joining - except on a very, very large scale. The business development has the backing of the USDA and with that assurance Oregon State and University of Oregon formed the TallWood Design Institute, naming MacDonald to lead it. Eighteen-story buildings and massive condos, hotels, and schools have already been built in North America, including a 50,000 square foot warehouse and a new 14 story highrise in Portland, Oregon. During the conference, results of a seismic and ballistics tests demonstrated mass wood construction can withstand earthquakes, fire and explosions. 
 
The afternoon sessions, focused on joint developments with suppliers and wood manufacturers, featured Decore-ative Specialties VP Todd Shapiro and Bacci America’s Joe Berry recounting the two-year joint development of a custom CNC cabinet door sanding system, versions of which are now on the market. Shapiro, who presented an abbreviated version of the development for suppliers during the Wood Industry Conference, when into greater depth an detail, including a description of mock-up machines and virtual test runs enacted at the plant to see how it would fair. This was definitely a blockbuster presentation. 
 
Several sessions on factory data led of with wood industry data expert Mick Peters and author of Love Thy Data presented an overview. Initiatives to mine manufacturing data are providing insight into production issues, far more analytically than casual observation. This data, increasingly gleaned from the Industrial Internet of Things, provides a basis for business strategy and sales growth, and supports initiatives such as Industry 4.0.  RCS Millwork’s Dan Keller and millwork firm Wilkie Sanderson president Marc Sanderson, sppke about their development of a plant-wide management system with Innergy, to integrate sales, machinery and processes. Virtual Reality Too Reality - Linking to Industry 4.0 found software expert Roger Shaw and developer Dick Hullin detail a new platform of visualization software fusing immersive 3D. It caused a sensation at LIGNA. This application will roll out to the consumer marketplace for many applications in coming months, and will find applications within the manufacturing environment as well.
 
The Woodworking Network Leadership Forum also intends to distinguish itself by focusing on materials. In addition to digital staining and cross laminated timber and panel, Digitally Printed Laminates was presented by Stephanie Richardson, Design Manager, Schattdecor, which explained the technology and applications behind global decorative surfaces leader Schattdecor's move into its emerging digitally printed surfaces. Schattdecor operates its major U.S. production facility near St. Louis. The closed-guarded technologies employed were detailed in a revealing session. Flame Finished Wood was presented by Taylor Young, regional manager for Kebony USA. He detailed the development with Delta Millworks of a new line of stylish wood that is finished using the trending Japanese Shou Sugi Ban flame finishing technique. This has been among the most viewed subjects at Woodworking Network.com for several years. 
 
Finally a topic that everyone can agree is of key concern, the session, Changing Workforce: 40 Under 40s Take Charge was moderated by Dean Mattson, director of the new MiLL National Training Center, this prequel to the evening Wood Industry 40 Under 40 Awards program (sponsored for 2017 by Stiles) polled some of the industry’s best and brightest rising talent. You'll learn how differently they think, and pain points they encounter as they try to change their organizations, and their industry. On the panel are (from left): • Jon Wenger, CEO of Genesis Products; • Tyler Bell, VP Marketing & Sales, Bellmont Cabinets; Jonathan Zublena, Marketing Manager, Sauder Woodworking.
 
The next Woodworking Network Leadership Forum wakes place August 21 near the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The day-long program will include a networking luncheon and the Leadership Reception, at which the 2018 Wood Industry 40 Under 40 Awards will be presented. 
 
The Leadership Forum program, which brings together senior managers, business owners, and experienced leaders in wood products manufacturing for high-level, interactive programs throughout the year, is now being developed. It is aimed at executives from North America’s 300 largest woodworking companies, and will examine business, technology, and material trends that will impact the design and production of cabinetry, furniture and interior millwork over the next decade. 
 
The Leadership Forum features speakers who are early adopters - innovators with experience and insight on processes and policies impacting wood processing manufacturing major industries: cabinetry, furniture, fixtures, millwork, closets, components, and more. Woodworking Network is introducing Leadership Forum as part of its mission as North America's #1 resource for product information, business news, and best practices in the wood industries
 
For more information about the program or to propose a presentation, contact Conference Program Director Harry Urban
For sponsorship opportunities contact Marketing Manager Carroll Henning