Wood technology integration from design through delivery added a new buzz term -"cloud manufacturing" for the wood industry - at the February Wood Tech Summit. Though touched on only briefly during a sometimes free-wheeling question and answer session, the topic is gaining interest across many industries.

"Cloud computing" is familiar in information technology circles, and even among consumers. The "cloud" broadly defined refers to storage of data and applications on shared servers, usually widely distributed. Google and Amazon maintain their data in "cloud" structures of servers. In the woodworking industry, Laguna Industries was recently lauded for its adoption of cloud computing. The term refers to computer capacity distributed across multiple servers working tandem, though not necessarily all at one site. This "virtual" computer substitutes for in-house computer capacity.

In manufacturing, production applications and ERP programs are often provided on a "software as a service" model, or SaaS, and this is run on a remote basis by the software provider. Since you have neither a server nor the application on your premise, you are outsourcing your computer services to a "cloud" of remote servers harnessed by your software provider.

"Cloud manufacturing" extends the concept to driving production, linking multiple production lines, or whole factories, to each other  through data and applications stored in the universally accessible "cloud computer." This cloud requires lower investment. Software bloggist Derek Singleton says applications including Infor Syteline and SAP ByDesign have found their way into the lumber and forest products industry.

For those earlier on the curve of integrating computer automation for wood manufacture, presenter Russ Wheelock of TradeSoft, one of the speakers at Wood Tech Summit, addressed some of the global issues involved.

"If you are going to implement automation, you have to rethink workflow," Wheelock said, noting that some smaller firms can be very visionary in this regard, perhaps because there is less to move mechanically than in a big factory setting.

"The biggest problem we have is that data is not being shared. We see this all the time," Wheelock said. Procurement and estimating are not connected, for example, though they should be, and as a result, errors occur. "These are problems that you will see unless you have a comprehensive database."

Every time data must be re-entered or rediscovered for an order can generate unnecessary and even recurring mistakes - items corrected at one stage aren't communicated further along of fresh data is gathered for at subsequent stages of production.

"The answer is you have to have one database, one system" Wheelock said. "And then the information will move through that pipe." Sometimes companies that want to automated manufacturing have been limping along with a barely adequate business operations computing system, one that is not up to the task of automation. "A lot of times we go in to do analysis and find they have a mid-range accounting system."

 Wood Tech Summit
2011 Presenters
 Michael Cassel  Holz-Her
 Erik Delaney
 Stiles Machinery
 Cesare Magnani
 Biesse America
 Andy Turner
 C.R. Onsrud
 John Liedl  Eurosoft
 Shawn Mabery
 John Murphy
 Russ Kahn
 20-20 Technologies
 Russ Wheelock
 Ted Trebour  Planit Solutions
 Cloud Manufacturing of Wood Products  

Wood Tech Summit was co-located with the Closets Expo in Charlotte, NC driven by the location - with its concentration of U.S. furniture manufacturing and related CNC machining suppliers. The nexus of these firms and the enabling software companies provided the starting point for what turned into a thoughtful discussion on wood industry manufacturing trends.

At the Wood Tech Summit stage CNC machinery presenters included representatives of firms involved in the most recent NexGen event; they were joined by software suppliers - all of them exhibitors at Closets Expo. Read more about Wood Tech Summit 2011.

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