PRINCETON, NJ — Participants at the seventh annual Executive Briefing Conference, conducted by Stiles Education, received a glimpse of what’s on the horizon for woodworkers, both in the immediate and the more distant futures. 

Themed “What’s Next?,” the event was held April 16-18 in Princeton, NJ. It was created as a venue for industry professionals to explore new ideas, find out about new technologies and discover new business opportunities in a non-commercial environment.

In opening remarks, Peter Kleinschmidt of Stiles Machinery encouraged companies to use challenging economic times to their advantage and develop strategies that will move them forward as soon the inevitable upswing starts to happen. “Now is the time to use the slow economy to find new ideas and get ready for a new manufacturing environment,” he said.

The impact of the green movement and the importance of lean manufacturing were discussed by several presenters, including Andrew Winston, author of the best-selling book, “Green to Gold.” Winston noted how strongly consumers are embracing the green movement and pointed out some of the efforts that “big business” heavyweights like IKEA, DuPont and Shell Oil are making to be more environmentally friendly, noting that companies can be green and profitable at the same time.

Other speakers discussed some of the various vehicles that woodworking companies can employ to become more green and lean, including more sophisticated optimization of their materials and the potential for using waste products as an energy resource, i.e., bio mass fuel. 

In fact, speaker John Bradfield, director of environmental affairs for the Composite Panel Assn., commented that, “The price of wood in any form will soon have to reflect the value of that wood as a fuel source.” However, wood’s increased usage as an energy source will mean that the same wood materials will become less available for use in particleboard, MDF and other substrates, Bradfield added. He discussed this and other challenges faced by the panel industry, including an update on the California Air Resources Board’s urea-formaldehyde regulations.

A glimpse a little farther into the future was presented by Dr. Paul Winistorfer of the Dept. of Wood Science and Forest Products at Virginia Tech, who spoke about recent developments in nanotechnology. Scientists already are hard at work and receiving grant monies to explore wood’s properties and potential uses when viewed at the molecular level, he said. Wood flour, wood fiber and cellulose offer advantages in strength and flexibility over other materials and could have far-reaching applications. Winistorfer predicted that nanotechnology will become one of the key issues of the future, equaling the level that green has reached today.

The EBC also examined more day-to-day matters, including production technologies and management strategies to help companies become more efficient and increase sales. Bill Bundy, president of Trendway, shared his philosophy as the leader of a successful office furniture company, while Tom Anderson, head of Masco’s Retail Cabinet Group, explained the nitty-gritty aspects of his company’s software system for tracking, evaluating and managing equipment maintenance in a lean manner.

New this year was a series of case studies, where woodworking company executives shared their experiences in implementing new technologies. These informal on-stage interviews highlighted the practical application of some of the theories provided in the briefings.

The two-day EBC program ended with an overview of the economy, presented by economist Alan Beaulieu, senior analyst with the Institute for Trend Research. Although Beaulieu predicts a downturn for 2009 that will not recover until 2010, he noted that the current state of the economy is actually much better than most people realize, with U.S. productivity, exports, and goods and services growing. He echoed Kleinschmidt’s advice, pointing out that companies experiencing a downturn should see it as an opportunity to prepare for the upturn that will always occur. “Those that plan, prosper,” he said, emphasizing that they can emerge in a position of strength.

The EBC is held annually as a not-for-profit event, with any proceeds above costs donated to WoodLINKS-USA. For information about next year’s event, contact Steve Waltman at (616) 698-7500 or [email protected].

Alan Applegate of Paladin Industries, Grand Rapids, MI, explains his company’s implementation of robotics during an interview with Helen Kuhl, editorial director for CWB and W&WP magazines. A series of case studies was a new element in this year’s EBC.
Andrew Winston, author of “Green to Gold,” delivers the opening keynote address at the 2008 EBC.

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