At the beginning of November, we travelled to Toronto to check out the Woodworking Technology Days (WTD) event put on by Canadian Woodworking Machinery Distributors Association (CWMDA). This was my first chance to get out there and see these machines in action since joining the industry in February, so I was eager to get out there, meet people, and learn. We spent the better part of the week touring around Mississauga (and Cambridge) to visit Akhurst, Biesse, Felder, Homag, IMA Schelling, Normand, SCM, and Taurus Craco.
I’d been looking forward to this trip. For months, I’ve been learning about these machines and how they work from conversations, product descriptions, and videos, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it in person and chatting with experts. Two main points of conversation came up at each visit. First, how challenging it was to fill the showrooms. Everyone we spoke to said the same thing: everyone in the machinery industry has struggled to get the parts and supplies needed to fill the demand for new equipment. Second, everyone in the woodworking industry is struggling with the labour shortage.
Several distributors pointed out that some of the machines they had on display weren’t actually for sale; to have their floors full for the event, many had to hang onto machines that had already been sold to have options to display. So what does that mean? It means that if you’re thinking of getting a new machine, start looking now. Some mentioned that often when people hear about the wait time to get a machine, they assume it’s a sales tactic. By the time people come back, realizing that all distributors are in the same situation, the machine they were looking at will have sold.
If you can get your hands on a machine, there are automated solutions for just about everything. A couple of locations had robots showing off, a machine that cuts, moves, and sorts all the pieces. There is equipment out there that can turn a board into an organized pile of labeled, sorted pieces, ready for finishing, assembly, or shipping. But there are also low-tech solutions out there. We checked out height adjustable working tables eliminates the need for a second person on the other side of the table to receive the boards after they come through the sliding table saw that frees up an employee to put their skills to use somewhere else in the shop. And, of course, semi-automatic solutions with articulating arms to quickly move large boards from one part of the machine to another, eliminating the need for a second person to help with stabilization.
Regardless of how helpful these pieces can be, adding new machines to a small shop can be challenging. Even in situations like this, there were options. The vertical CNC machines on display were impressive: achieving a lot while taking up little space. While huge plants have every square inch engineered, smaller shops often drop a new machine wherever it fits. Rearranging the setup of the shop can be a game-changer.
Finally, another common theme I noticed was how proud these companies were of their products. That’s something that I see a lot in the woodworking industry, but I was pleased to see that this extends to the machinery distributors. It might have been salesmanship, but it came across as very genuine. Everyone explained in their own way how important it was to help customers properly outfit their shops.
All in all, the trip was eye-opening for a newcomer to the industry and gave me plenty of ideas for future articles. Stay tuned!