Robots are taking over! Just kidding…
While we’re not in any danger of robot attacks yet, they have been popping up more frequently in woodworking and especially in smaller shops. Technology moves so fast. One second, you’re cutting edge, the next second you’re antiquated.
It’s funny to think that when I first stated in the woodworking industry, it was an uphill battle to convince shop owners of the merits of nested based CNC machines. They thought I was crazy. Why would I buy a machine that only cuts one sheet at a time instead of this other machine that cuts five sheets at a time? It was a tough conversation, but here we are today where most CNC machines being purchased are now nesting machines. Many shop owners now see the merits of nesting, but it’s been 22 years.
So, what is the nesting machine of today? What are the early adopters buying and how are they setting up their shops differently?
I see many changes happening simultaneously. Clearly, robots are quickly gaining momentum. We’re seeing them in various applications such as sanding, loading/unloading machines, sorting and many times they’re performing several different tasks.
As a technology advocate, I’m not surprised by how far the robotic arms have come, but I’m surprised by the fact that so many are showing up in smaller shops.
The same goes for material retrieval systems. It seems like just yesterday we connected to the first one in Canada and now we’re connecting to them on a regular basis. It’s harder and harder to find people to work in the shop, especially to lift heavy sheets all day. At the same time, machines are becoming more and more affordable and versatile. These material retrieval systems are not new, but they had been only spotted in large shops with big budgets and high volumes. Now, they come in all sizes and are accessible to even the smallest shops.
There’s so much more technology going into shops today and the trend is not slowing down, it’s moving faster than ever. Part of this is driven by the labour shortage, part of it is fueled by machines being more cost effective and I suspect that part of it is due to the products becoming more complex. Materials, styles, hardware… there are so many things out there to choose from, we need software and technology to be able to efficiently manufacture these days.
My only concern is that I’m not seeing the future of trade shows. We all know that shows are having a harder time attracting major exhibitors and attendees as well. How will shop owners see the new stuff? Will they need to travel to all the machinery showrooms? Even then, that’s only machines… Then they need to travel to all the hardware showrooms? What about finishes? Tooling? And on and on… Maybe the future of trade shows is in the Metaverse… You sit on your couch with a beer, and you virtually walk through all the woodworking related showrooms worldwide and see all the new stuff. No planes, no costs to machinery vendors having to move huge machines into a hall for four days.
Maybe there’s something in there… For now, let’s take full advantage of shows and all that technology in one spot!