Among the many highlights was the launch of hot air edgebanders, a lower-cost alternative for achieving a zero-edge glue line than laser edgebanders. Other highlights included Batch Size 1 production and touch-screen operator interfaces.
Some of the technology themes that are continuing to play out revolve around energy conservation, reduced machinery footprints, nested-based manufacturing, automated material inventory management systems and integrated software to improve information flow from order entry through delivery and every step in between.
On the finishing front, automated systems are becoming more affordable to small and mid-size shops. The advent of LED UV is making systems more efficient and energy saving. Meanwhile, digital printing is gaining momentum, opening up the potential of custom designs on wood only recently thought unimaginable.
THE INVISIBLE EDGE
Still relatively new to the North American market, laser edgebanders, debuted at LIGNA 2009. The laser activates glue that has been pre-applied to the back of the edgeband. The result is an aesthetically pleasing seamless edge with no visible glue line. At LIGNA 2013, at least a half dozen different makes of more affordable hot air edgebanders were displayed, opening the potential of invisible edge technology to a wider swath of the wood products industry.
The ability to edgeband ever-more complex-shaped parts continues to improve, especially with feed-through edgebanding machines. One of the secrets is the improved automatic flush trimming of interior edges. This capability eliminates re-work, greatly increasing productivity flow.
SMART CNC NESTING ROUTERS
More and more cabinet and casegoods producers are adopting nested-based manufacturing--producing cut-to-size parts from a full sheet of particleboard or MDF on a CNC router. Such is even the case in Europe, where woodworkers were slower to embrace nesting options than their North American counterparts. The next generation in nesting technology is what Thermwood has dubbed "smart" CNC routers capable of doing more than just cutting parts. Smart routers also focus on things like preparation, programming, hold-down, sorting, scrap removal, assembly and error handling that are traditionally the responsibility of the machine operator. Smart CNC routers reduce the required skill level of the operator because they "know" what needs to be done to complete each job.
Woodworking manufacturers of all sizes and stripes are not only looking for ways to reduce labor costs by investing in technology, they are often looking for eguipment that will take up less space on their shop floors. Machinery manufacturers are accommodating their customers' needs to free up space by offering CNC routers, edgebanders and other woodworking machines with reduced footprints. The quest to provide machines with smaller footprints has led to the recent introduction of vertical CNC machining.
DIGITAL INKJET PRINTING ON WOOD
The revolution in digital printing is rapidly making its way into the world of wood. Tremendous strides have been made not only in the speed and image quality of digital printing on decorative laminates, but on wood substrates as well. Machinery suppliers have demonstrated the ability to reproduce virtually anything from wood grains and abstracts to masterpiece paintings and corporate logos on solid wood and composite wood panels. Multipass and single-pass systems are available and can also be used on other materials such as plastics, metals and more.
5-AXIS MACHINING CENTERS
The lines between CNC routers and CNC machining centers continue to blur. Woodworkers who do a lot of 3D profiling will still find it advantageous to invest in 5-axis routers. But for companies that only need that capability on occasion, the availability of five-axis router capability on a "point-to-point" can fill the bill.
Rising energy costs, the need to reduce production costs and the will to be leaner and greener is driving machinery makers to design and engineer equipment that consume less power without sacrificing operating performance. One of the main ways this is being accomplished is engineering machines that go into idle when they are not processing parts. The idle mode reduces energy consumption but also allows the machine to quickly ramp up to begin processing again as needed.
Woodworking machinery makers are taking equipment operation to new heights of standardization and enhanced operator friendliness by incorporating touch-screen technology, Using monitors that can withstand the elements of a manufacturing environment, machine operators can program a part or batch of parts by "touch," and can see more graphics of finished parts and the machine steps that are required to produce them. Touch-screen technology not only helps speed part processing selection on the shop floor, but also is helpful in diagnosing a machine malfunction and for cross training operators on various types of machines that operate on a common platform.
MATERIAL INVENTORY MANAGEMENT
Automated panel storage systems, such as the Bargstedt IntelliStore, or Biesse WINStore help optimize material flow and maximize use of off cuts because the system keeps track of the availability and location of unused cut-to-size parts. The panel retrieval system can be used in a workcell, feeding parts and can operate in a lights-out setting.
BATCH SIZE ONE
Mass customization of wood products on steroids is one way to describe the Batch Size One Production. Parts of different size, shape and color can be fed one after the other through a highly automated and flexible panel processing system. At the hear of these systems is a multi-coil edgebander that can change from one color to another on the fly.
FAST EQUIPMENT CHANGEOVERS
It's no secret that shorter production runs has driven the need for faster adjustments to equipment set ups. Today's wood moulders, for example, allow push-button adjustment of the machine settings and use tool locking systems that dramatically reduce the time it takes for tooling changes. Even profile wrappers are coming into the 21st century. It can typically take 90 minutes or more to manually change a setup on a profile wrapper. At LIGNA, however, Cefla displayed the RoboWrap which uses up to 50 multi-axial industrial robots to change the profile in-feed guides automatically.
CNC MACHINE AGGREGATES
Just as there seems to be an app for virtually everything on a smart phone, there is an aggregate that can perform specialized operations in woodworking. Adding aggregates such as mortising tools, abrasives and saws, turn machining centers into virtual Swiss army knives, extending the potential of custom parts that can be processed. The trend to add more "aggs" to a CNC machine can up the ante for automatic tool change device requirements.
CUTTING TOOL EVOLUTION
Advances in cutting tools are never-ending. Ongoing research and development efforts are not only focused on improving cut quality and tool longevity, but also on keeping up with the high-tech advances in machinery. The mixed bag of results includes new high-performance coatings that extend tool wear; growth of PCD tooling and the advent of lighter weight tooling that facilitates faster tool movement along the X, Y and Z axis of CNC machining centers.
Building Information Modeling is a collaborative computer-based program that allows multiple companies involved in a project to share views and real-time changes to a project. Eastern Millwork of Jersey City, NJ. for example is using BIM technology to engineer large-capacity, custom projects as well as track and distribute information to all the necessary entities through the entire construction and installation process. Crews use hand-held barcode scanners on the jobsite to help track and manage data and drawings that are shared with all contractors involved in the project.
ERP, short for Enterprise Resource Planning, is catching on as more software providers have introduced products that provide end-to-end solutions for helping a wider range of wood product companies manage their businesses. ERP software can integrate seamlessly with CAD systems
allowing users to automate all facets of their operation from order entry through product design, manufacturing processes and delivery.
Using Radio Frequency Identification as an alternative to bar code labels to process and track parts was a hot topic at the Stiles Executive Briefing Conference nearly a decade ago and is slowly but surely catching on in the wood products industry. Northern Apex. for example. is working with large cabinet manufacturers who are using RFID for process control. inventory control. shipping and more. Using RFID eliminates human error. provides real-time data of production progress and helps control the flow of part movement throughout a manufacturing plant.
UV LED CURING
2D and 3D curing of parts is being accomplished with more energy efficient air-or water-cooled LED modules. These curing systems produce virtually no heat. require almost no activation time and can cure finishes in a much smaller footprint than traditional ARC lamp UV curing systems.
AUTO SPRAY FOR SMALLER SHOPS
Like CNC routers. automated, feed-through spray systems are becoming more affordable for medium and small wood shops. Some of the same features found in larger systems--reciprocating spray guns. material recovery, etc.--are now being featured in down-scaled models.
3D LASER SCANNING
3D Laser Scanning: Field measurements for cabinets. closets. store fixtures. etc. are being made easier by high-speed 3D laser scanning devices. Lasertech Floor Plans. for example. says its system can measure up to 976,000 times per second but typically scans at 250,000 times per second. The result is not only faster more accurate field measurements. but the capture of dimensions that can be readily uploaded into CAD programs
READERS' CHOICE TECHNOLOGY
The following machines, tools and software products generated the most page views at Woodworking Network this year. For more, visit WoodworkingNetwork.com/Technology.
1. Excalibur Deluxe Router Table Kit from General Intl has a heavy-duty router lift and is designed to fit all fixed-base router motors.
2. The Betterley PVC Trim Router can flush trim and radius PVC edgebanding in one pass.
3. The Biesse Klever CNC router is a PC-based machine geared to increase production at small to medium size shops.
4. NAP Gladu's RCN tooling series is a collet nut system designed to enhance dust extraction in CNC routers.
5. Grizzly Industrial 's portable welders are designed for convenient production of bandsaw blades.
6. SketchList 3D woodworking design software is a tool for sales and shop planning.
7. DanAm Air's expandable air piping system for deliver compressed air.