WMIA: Helping Maintain a  Competitive Wood  Products Industry Founded in 1977, the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association is a trade association representing importers and distributors of woodworking machinery and ancillary equipment in North America to help companies to compete profitably. WMIA also helps link equipment manufacturers with reliable U.S. importers and distributors.

According to Executive Vice President Riccardo Azzoni, there are approximately 150 members in the association. Along with importers and distributors which are the primary membership base, the WMIA also includes associate companies which sell products or services related to the woodworking industry, such as software or equipment leasing.

“Our primary goal is to help to maintain a healthy and vibrant wood products industry in North America,” says Scott Mueller, Edward B. Mueller Co. and WMIA vice president. “We do that through a variety of programs for members, and through working to help manufacturers of wood products in the North American market understand the importance of investing in technology in order to maximize their own success.”

Education and Technology

WMIA: Helping Maintain a  Competitive Wood  Products Industry WMIA assists North American wood products companies in overcoming challenges encountered in running a plant or business. To accomplish this goal, Azzoni says the association utilizes a two-pronged approach: education and technology.

“As you know, our industry is coping with a lack of skilled workers,” Azzoni says. “In the past there were technical schools out there that would teach young kids the woodworking trades, but a lot of those schools and institutions have closed their doors. There was no interest on the part of the young people to embrace the woodworking industry as a career.”

Through the WMIA’s Educational Foundation, Azzoni says the association has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarship funding to students enrolled in wood products or related programs.

In addition to its role in the education of students, Mueller adds, WMIA has several outreach programs and is working with international organizations like ANSI and ISO to harmonize machine safety standards across the world.

That dovetails with the association’s emphasis on technology. Working through its members, the association promotes the benefits of technology and how it can be used to improve productivity and profitability while ensuring a quality product is produced.

“In a nutshell,” Mueller says,”the member companies that make up the WMIA work with North American woodworkers to improve their profitability and success – as importers and distributors that is our day-to-day business, helping our customers succeed.”

According to Azzoni, the advances in woodworking technology have been “an evolutional process, where the machines are becoming more and more sophisticated and capable of manufacturing tasks that before would have taken a number of steps for individual machines to perform — with a number of people to operate them.

”Right now, the efficiency is coming down to the point where, in some cases, you might have one person operating a piece of CNC equipment that can do all these tasks by itself. The gain is not just in the fact that it reduces the manpower cost to the company, but also that because these machines are so sophisticated, the quality of the finished product is consistent. The margin of error is very limited,” Azzoni says.

Production and Quality Gains

“With the increase in sophistication of the equipment came, automatically, an increase in productivity,” Azzoni says, “A, by eliminating human error for the most part, and B, the fast turnout of the finished product. When the operation is done, you have all the finished parts done by one machine in one place with one operator. That’s a typical example of speeding up the operation.”

According to Mueller, the goal of any capital investment by a company is to either increase production or quality, or to make a task simpler or safer. Improvements in any of these areas naturally leads to an increase in profitability by lowering the cost per part. By investing in new technology, companies also give themselves a leg up on competitors who are still struggling with the old way of doing things.

“The example that everyone used to use was a fax machine – when it was first adopted by businesses it was a game changer,” says Mueller. “But technology keeps advancing, and anyone who does business solely by fax machine would be considered hopelessly archaic by today’s standards.

“The same is true in our industry. For one simple example, it wasn’t that long ago that only the most progressive companies were using CNC equipment at all,” Mueller continues. “Now, it’s not enough to have a CNC machine – people are working on making the process around that CNC machine more efficient through automating the feeding and offloading, as well as using labeling technology to maintain control of all of the parts as they move through the factory.”

Planning for the Future

In the future, woodworking technology may see more advancements in software than the machines, Azzoni says, becoming more sophisticated and faster. For an idea of what is around the corner for the woodworking industry, looking at the finalists for the IWF Challenger’s awards is as good a place as any to start.

“If you look at the IWF Challenger’s award finalists over the last couple of shows, you will see technology like small, vertical CNC machining centers, automated inventory management systems to handle the raw materials that are needed for production, and zero-joint edgeband technology getting more and more attention,” says Mueller. “Each of these emerging technologies promises to reduce costs of production and management of production, or improve quality, or both, by the entrepreneurs that embrace them.

“Some of these technologies have been in more widespread in Europe and other places with higher labor costs for years, and we are now reaching a tipping point where I think you will start seeing a much wider adoption of some of these ideas in the U.S.,” he adds.

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