Future of the Sector: In-Depth Panel Discussion With CKCA

The Canadian kitchen cabinet industry is always changing, especially in this digital world. The Canadian Kitchen Cabinet Association (CKCA) work diligently to ensure all business owners and employees in the sector are up to date on the future. On January 25, CKCA hosted a live panel discussion with four industry-leading kitchen cabinetry experts organized by the executive director, Sandra Wood. The panel allowed the experts to have an open and influential discussion about all imminent industry-related factors, positive and negative. It’s designed to help businesses within the sector make informed decisions.

This year, CKCA’s panel presenters included Luke Elias, president of Muskoka Cabinet Company, Jason Varelli, vice president of Systems Biesse Group, Peter Mate, owner of Planit Canada, and Tommy Gagnon, CEO of AutomaTech Robotik and were led by moderator Stephan Kleiser of Woodworking Canada. Digitization and automation were the two most pressing topics on each industry leader’s minds at the panel.

Digitization and Automation Lead the Panel Discussion

“The labour shortage is killing us in this industry, so it is a matter of survival right now and we need to automate, everybody needs to and it doesn’t have to be robotics right away, it depend on what level you’re starting from” states Elias. He finishes stating how “there are a lot of things that can be done on the production floor and especially in the cabinet business just to streamline and cut down on the need for labour.

Mate adds to the discussion saying “we all come from a place where it’s not uncommon to be in a woodworking shop where you see paperwork and clipboards, but the goal is to put all of that in a software system that can then house all of that information in an electronic format that can spit it out to a CNC or MES software.

Canadian Kitchen Cabinet Association

Varelli speaks of his experience with automation in small woodworking companies and the importance of using software explaining “I’ve gone into situations where big companies, just like small companies, want to buy big automation and they don’t have software or use the software they do have and without even ERP, it’s very hard to implement this software.” Many shops require support for starting up the software and having it work effectively with their business. It’s equally as vital for an enterprise to have a designated individual to set up and manage date and automation.

Mate elaborates “100 percent you need someone to champion the data and if that’s the person who’s entering the bulk of the materials while they come up with the convention, it becomes a lot easier if it’s one person or a small team of two or three so not everyone has their hands in the pot because then there’s more risk of error.”

Shifting the Focus to Funding, ROI and Investments

The panel transitioned the conversation to focus on funding next. Kleiser asked the most pressing question on the minds of many businesses which is “is there funding available and if so where, and what kind of funding?” To which Elias answered, “we’ve obtained a lot of funding over the years because we were ‘inventing technology’ and there’s big money from the government for that but there are smaller programs that I’ve used several times including IRAP, which is a division of the national research council and they have programs that will give you up to $50,000 in a grant to implement technology and it’s a federal program right across the country.

Gagnon shifted the focus back to investments, automation, and ROI. He explained “for most custom shops, the return on investment and advancement of technology will pay more. The mentality five or ten years ago was that you need to be big to automate which is not the case anymore. A company with 20 to 30 people on the shop floor can have a big automated system that will give them value because of the intelligent material handling that the automation can provide.

The industry’s future is highly focused on how essential automation, robotics, and digitization are to the industry. The CKCA panel concluded by emphasizing the importance of commercializing automation in the kitchen and cabinet industry and how the industry is struggling to do so. Elias mentions how “this automation piece, that we haven’t been able to commercialize to bring us to the level of an automobile factory. I think the next ten years are going to be incredible and this is the time to be in this business.”

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