ST. PAUL, MN

- "This is not a photo, it's CAD/CAM," said Craig Yamauchi, 20-20 Technologies executive VP, as he spoke at the woodworking industry's Executive Briefing Conference Tuesday. Yamauchi was showing a hyper photo-realistic rendering of a kitchen cabinetry design, which spoke for itself in terms of being a sales-clinching presentation.

Yamauchi noted that today's plentiful availability of wide internet bandwith means woodworkers can reach customers, then link to production, through a multitude of platforms - from cell phones, to iPads to design center computers. And they can capture sales through compelling showings of what the finished work will look like.

New wood technologies presented at EBC
 20-20 Technologies Craig Yamauchi addresses EBC 2011; a project rendering below.
 New wood technologies presented at EBC

"You can now look at a kitchen cabinet design that looks like a photo, while online," said Yamauchi. "This is because of the large bandwidth."

Yamauchi then presented a live feed of  streaming video to the audience, showing his colleague speaking directly to the assembled group at the 3M campus. The application Yamauchi showed is livestream.com, for which 20-20 technologies pays $300 a month licensing fee for 10 channels.

He said similar applications such as justin.tv, make.tv, and ustream.tv allow for the same thing: getting a sales presentation across live online, which seems to captivate audiences much more than pre-recorded video. Analytic software that shows audience numbers and select demographics about them are also readily available, with some applications available at no charge, Yamauchi says.

20-20 technologies is now doing live streaming video at most trade shows it attends. It will have it at the Kitchen & Bath Industry KBIS show in Las Vegas. And 20-20 technologies teamed with Woodworking network to stream seminar speakers live from last summer's IWF show.

"Are you leveraging live streaming to influence your customer sales?" he asked. "There is an enormous benefit to streaming technology." With streaming media, "It is sending your video to hundreds of customers simultaneously."

At event, over 10,000 customers watched streaming video that 20-20 Technologies established with a video camera and studio set-up, for an investment of under $2,500. "The quality is decent, and its real time," Yamauchi said.

Gary Wernlund, sales manager, office furniture manufacturing, Stiles Machinery, focused on time, labor and materials savings as the focus for improving profits. Getting  "double duty" from new machinery was a recurring theme in justifying technology investments. In one example, Wernlund presented steps to automated panel processing, including use of mixed sized stacks inventories right next to the nesting cutters,  from which CNC machines can automatically materials in any order and size required. The approach reduces labor and increases flexibility. In such cases, buffering and sorting become necessary, says Wernlund. "If we are going to let the software drive the efficiency, sometimes things will get produced out of sequence."

He showed robotic infeed of panels with simultaneous offload of cut nested panels. Dual-sided suction feed arms allow the robotic system to pick up a cut panel and drop off a fresh panel for cutting in a single fluid motion.

"This is a technology that is used widely in Europe, and not so much in the United States." Wernlund said. An added bonus is a blower on the robotic arm to move away sawdust from the spoil board on the bed.

Among other technology clips Wernlund shared:

Sequential Synch Programs--mixing various sized cut pieces in a one-piece flow through an edgebander.

Visual Operator Guidance - a program to show cutting machine operators through intuitive graphics the sequence of activities they must perform and the status and location of materials as they are processed. 

Cryokinetics - with fine grained sanding  belts, sawdust build up on the belt can require frequent stops for cleaning or changing. Cryokinetics freeze clean blasts the sanding belt to remove the sawdust from within the grit on the belt. "The  beautiful thing about it is it can run while you run the job," Wernlund said.

Spindle Monitoring - A damaged tool could indicate a damaged spindle, as well. This application monitors the bearing itself  "so you can change bearings preventatively rather than have a catastrophic failure," Wernlund said. Replacing the bearing sooner can save the housing, for example.  "The monitor can also measure vibration problems due to out of balance tools,"  he noted. Power draw information on the spindle can also indicate problems or anticipate bearing failure. And the price is right: "This is less than $2,000," said Wernlund.

Residual Panel Material - for offcuts and residual wood. "To try to keep our yield up and our waste down, you have to have a storage area. . .that was the best way to deal with the waste," said Wernlund. A plant in Europe automated utilization of residuals, barcoding then and using a return conveyor to send barcoaded offcut pieces for scanning and return to automated inventory. "The technology becomes more affordable when you can find additional justifications for it." A single system can integrate the residual offcut inventory with main inventory management.

Wernlund talked about customer-focused innovation, and showed digital printing  on wood, including inkjet printing on MDF. Printing on wood was historically done on gravure; now it is being done with digital inkjet printing systems.

Veneer matching was one example he presented, with a true veneer on one side of a board, with the backside inkjet printed to simulate veneer, suitable for less visible applications. He also noted IKEAs use of lower quality veneers overprinted to look like exotic species. UV-cured lacquers over a printed veneer adds durability.

A laser edgebanding technology update was also presented. The systems are becoming more available in the U.S. Stiles introduced its LaserTec edgebanding the U.S. last fall, and the first three have now been sold, said Wernlund, with two going to an office furniture manufacturer and another (the first) to be installed the second half of this year at an institutional furniture components and contract manufacturer.

Laser edgebanding requires a pre-glued edgeband material that is activated by the laser during the edgebanding process. At ligna will be seen and then Stiles will introduce to the U.S. a precoating system allowing wood manufacturing firms to precoat conventional edgebanding material

Andrew Campbell of Eastern Millwork Inc., Jersey City,  NJ, talked about his company's intensively computer-driven approach to theater renovation and build-outs and isntallations within Lincoln Center, Goldman Sachs, Madison Square Garden and the Hearst Center, as well as airport check in counters, among other large scale projects. Campbell explained his firm's use of Autocad and information flow to facilitate a concept of "high velocity manufacturing," in which Eastern Millwork perfects the plans before it cuts, and reather rather than adjusting fit on site, where labor costs are prohibitive in the New York market.

Multi-story atriums and soaring interior wood theater spaces are the firm's hallmark. The production approach uses 3-D modeling and Building Information Modeling.

In the plant, a "chaotic" arrangement of stacks of various sized panels are pciked up on demand to load the nesting CNC lines. This minimizes inventory space and puts materials adjacent to point of use, readily available to the CNC line to pull, with a robotic assist, panels in whichever order or size it needs. All production for these massive jobs is packed into 15,000 square feet.

"Real estate is at a premium and labor costs are high," said Campbell, explaining the need to automate and maximize productive floor space. "We try to link all our information together," Campbell said. "We use barcoding of all our parts; then we relable the finished product."

To ship to a job site, everything is placed on a pallet or cart, and shrinkwrapped. With labor at $90 per hour plus workman's comp, "One of our biggest cost centers is the labor we perform on the jobsite," says Campbell. Eastern Millwork uses Tradesoft, Microvellum and an iConnect server to link these activities together. Chronicled in Custom Woodworking Business in 2001, Eastern Millwork  remains at the leading edge of applying technology to the woodworking business.

"Employees need to have more of an emphasis on technology than on the craft," said Campbell when asked how he retrains and hires for his high tech operation. "Now we want to have an employee who is tech savvy and we teach him the wood business."

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