CHARLOTTE, NC - Wood industry execs gathered last week for the 10th annual Executive Briefing Conference were treated to a rich mix of economic forecasting, and best practices gleaned from the wood manufacturing industries, as well as other business segments.

Wood Manufacturing Gets Visionary: Executive Briefing Conf. 2012Charlotte, NC, home of the NASCAR racing museum, made a fitting setting for Stiles Machinery's 10th annual wood industry technology and business forum. Robert Stevenson, in his keynote "Manufacturing at the Speed of Change," played on the racing theme as he kick-started the program. The author of How to Soar Like and Eagle in a World Full of Turkeys encouraged managers to transform all employees into representatives of their company's core values, and their brand.

During a press conference, Stiles Machinery president Peter Kleinschmidt offered his outlook on the wood industry business, and the trend to insourcing. He called on U.S. manufacturers to reinvent their products and retool their production lines.

BIM, or Building Information Modeling, was the "surprise" technology focus at this year's EBC. (Similarly last year it was Eastern Millwork's "Chaotic Storage" inventory system.) This time Dr. Charles Eastman, professor at Georgia Institute of Technology Colleges of Architecture & Computing (he's also director of their Digital Fabrication Lab) spoke about the benefits of BIM in construction and remodeling projects.

Considered the father of BIM, Dr. Eastman explained how it creates a transparent platform for coordination of efforts among building contractors and subcontractors, including electricians, plumbing, HVAC and architectural millwork providers.

A McGraw Hill study found 73 percent of contractors use BIM sometimes; 32 percent use it on more than half their projects.  Dr. Eastman was interviewed by Eastern Millwork's president Andrew Campbell. Using BIM allowed Eastern Millwork to prefabricate the luxury boxes for New York's Madison Square Garden, cutting its on-site labor costs in half.

In another provocative technology session, I had the opportunity to interview Steve Smith, president of Fred Smith Store Fixtures.

The 105-employee, Depauw, Indiana-based Fred Smith Store Fixtures manufactures a wide range of wood components for the office furniture industry, also selling into hospitality and dormitory furniture markets and to fixture manufactures.

Fred Smith Store Fixtures was among the first  U.S. firms to purchase a Homag lasertech edgebander. The lasertech can provide a seamless edge with no visible glue lines on curved or flat edges. (The lasers activate a pre-glued surface to affix the edgebanding to the panels.) They were also one of the first U.S. companies to invest in a BAZ to accurately machine curved components in small runs.

High speed digital printing for decorative surfaces was another technology presentation stand-out. Paul Clark and Scott Flom of SFC Industrial Imaging talked about their Toledo, Ohio firm's capabillities of digital imaging for in-store displays, printing on everything from foam core to lightweight wood panel.

SFC Industrial also integrates digital printing technology into industrial production lines for various industrial applications. For the wood industry, for example, this could open the door to "finishing" composite by inexpensively inkjet printing images of wood grain, instead of laying down a veneer. It also allows individualization for production runs of single items - the ultimate in mass customization.

Because EBC was held in Charlotte, we had the opportunity for two great plant tours: hardware manufacturer Blum Inc., and Holzma, a division of Stiles. 

Blum has been expanding and investing in its Stanley, NC U.S. plant, spending millions on production lines to produce concealed hinges and tandem drawer slides domestically. These had been produced at its Austrian plant. Blum's facility is a model of order-fulfillment automation, from inventory management, to stock picking with robot assists to packaging and shipping orders.

Holzma's cabinetry and casegoods production integration uses optimized materials handling and production workflow, built on modular cell production approaches. To ramp up capacity, cells can be duplicated. Individual workers are able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. The tour showcased three work cells - for custom, mid-range and high production - which are scalable and more flexible for adapting to changes in production volume levels.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.