Woodworking spoke with WMIA leaders about the association’s mandate, current challenges and solutions, the importance of IWF and how Canadian companies can benefitPascal Doucet:
The WMIA is an association representing importers and distributors for woodworking equipment for the North American market.
Our role is to educate people, tell our members about technology. That’s also why we have IWF, the biggest industry event in North America, where we show that technology to people and make sure they are aware of what’s new in the market.
Yes, I think to expand on that a little bit, I think the association’s role in the industry is to have a combined voice and to advocate amongst all of our memers to continue to foster the development of our industry and things like the U-Wood program to promote new people coming into the industry and showing them that it is more than just a woodworking job but some pretty fascinating high tech careers. And spread the word about that as well as promote new technology
It’s our job to educate our members about the latest technology and educate the public.Pascal Doucet:
For example we have a week-long training session, we call it boot camp, where a manufacturer or distributor could send a new hire, such as a new sales rep, to learn about the woodworking process. This is to benefit the industry.
Pascal Doucet: Among the
biggest challenges for the North American industry right now is automation.
Everybody needs to automate either a process or even repetitive tasks. There is a big labour shortage and automation is critical when you can’t find people. This has been an issue before the pandemic already, but now it is even more urgent. And I
think for that people change their return
on investment calculation to justify it.
People work differently today, if
you add a computer to a machine, it makes the job more interesting. They see it as a piece of equipment that helps them do more.James Scarlett:
I think technology in general is so much more important because of what we just went through and labour challenges in general. How do we automate the non-value added tasks in the manufacturing environment and that’s really what we are trying to bring as many of those solutions not only to our customers but also to the association, ways to show them there are new opportunities to help their customers.
There is a lot of growth right now, but even if we automate more, there is a lot of knowledge with the guys that have been doing the job for a long time and so they might have a really good understanding of the workflow and operations and are probably better suited to handle more of a managerial spot rather than loading a machine or something that is non-value added. So even if a company automates more and takes somebody out of that role, there is most likely still a place for them someplace else in the operation.
If you automate, instead of saying this is what you are going to do from now on, they involved the employees in the machine design and customization of design. So by saying you are an important part of this and asking them what they need to accomplish and how, then the employee is motivated and when the change came out, he was a key leader of the project and not the guy you were replacing.James Sclarlett:
It’s also getting easier to operate the new machinery, to the point where I had a few of my customers tell me that if you can run an iPhone you can run this piece of equipment, because it is getting so much easier as far as the interface is concerned. I think that while somebody to maintain and oversee all the equipment is an important key role, until you get to a certain level that’s probably not necessary to have that in house and you can lean on your suppliers or your manufacturers to support that equipment until that in-house person is needed.Pascal Doucet:
I agree, it’s not so much skills, but training, if you show them how to do it. For example set up was a big thing a couple of years ago. If you don’t do your setup right you were not working. Today it’s much easier, it’s automated and there is all kinds of training available and we can create videos for specific training.
James Scarlett: It is also our role to paint a picture of the industry as high-tech manufacturing. The fact that we are working with wood or metal of carbon fibre is really insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I think there is something unique about wood and it does attract a certain type of person, but I also think that the industry as a whole, because of the new technology, is attracting people that are interested in high tech careers and it is a much cleaner environment than it used to be and there is a lot more sophistication and automation.
I came from automotive and it is looking a lot more like automotive these days rather than the traditional woodworking shop with sawdust everywhere.Pascal Doucet:
And wood is green if you think about it. It is renewable so a lot of people will like working with is because it is renewable. And now we are seeing a lot more building with wood instead of steel and concrete so I think it could be sexy even if you think about wood.James Scarlett
: Speaking about IWF in Atlanta, I think you will be seeing more automation. It is growing exponentially and every time you think you’ve seen what there is to see, you haven’t because it changes so fast.
Between the software and the information flow and how that is managed, from collecting an order from a customer to producing it is key.Pascal Doucet:
As a manufacturer, IWF is always like a window and missing that window in 2020 was a big loss. Even for us, we had a new product ready to go out the door and then the show was cancelled. So I’m sure many others are in the same position, although we tried to go with a digital launch, it never had the same reach as going to IWF.
Wood people are certainly embracing technology, but they still value see and touch and by going to IWF they can see and touch the things they may have seen digitally over the last two years.
People are really looking forward to going to the show again. When I talk to my customers, not only are they looking forward to going, but many have already booked their trips.
We have also changed the days of the show, now it will be from Tuesday to Friday instead of Wednesday to Saturday. So that gives people one more day during the week instead of on the weekend.
And with family so important, that allows people to get back home for the weekend and be with their families before they start another workweek.James Sclarlett:
We want to encourage the attendees of IWF to also embrace the technology. There will be a lot of cool new technology to help you navigate the show because it is a little bit overwhelming to find what’s new and where should I go and how do I plan my show attendance to be the most productive. So there will be something to help you with that.