It Was All About Change
By Bill Tice
It was a day packed withinformation for almost 50 attendees at an FPInnovations seminar held in early March at the organization’s Vancouver research and office facility. The audience for the event, which was called “Facing Change in the Wood Manufacturing Industry,” included a number of operators from the value added side of the business. Throughout the day they picked up some valuable tips on how to survive during the current market and into the future. They also had an opportunity to network with other attendees and the presenters over lunch. Topics on the agenda featured everything from market trends and upcoming opportunities to the benefits of new CNC technology.
By Bill Tice
Roland Baumeister of FPInnovations provided the opening remarks, followed by an informative and forward-looking presentation by Dave Fell, a market advisor with the organization. In his remarks, Fell discussed a U.S. National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) 2006 survey that depicted what the home building landscape would look like in 10 years. One of the biggest findings was that home sizes would likely decrease by an average of 200 square feet, but with that reduction would come an opportunity for better and more prominent finishing.
“We are seeing the elimination of the living room and a move to more of a great room, which gives the illusion of more space,” explained Fell. “Visually, that means we will have a more open concept and you will see more of the cabinets, so the finishing needs to be better. You will see more built-in cabinets that need to be of furniture quality and character and you are going to see an increase in the number of bathrooms in a house, which will also create demand for cabinets.”
Fell said the demand for wood products won’t be limited to the cabinet shop. “We are also going to see 9 and 10 ft. ceilings becoming the standard and 12 ft. ceilings in premium homes, so that is going to create a need for adjustments in the primary mills that are currently geared towards 8 ft. studs.” In addition, he said this trend will have an impact on doors and windows, with consumers favouring higher priced products manufactured from wood that are sized in proportion to the higher walls.
In addition to the new single family home and condominium markets for products such as cabinets, doors and windows, Fell also discussed the renovation market. He told the audience “to frame their products in under $5,000 and $10,000 chunks,” especially for the Canadian market. “Consumers dealing with amounts under $5,000 generally don’t need bank financing and projects up to $10,000 could be eligible for the Canadian home renovation tax credit introduced this year,” he explained.
Sustainability and environment are also starting to play a role in the choice of materials for new homes and renovations, said Fell in an interview following the seminar. “An increased awareness of sustainability issues along with health and environment concerns are becoming decision factors in purchasing. We are getting more and more enquiries about certified wood, especially from offshore companies looking for logs, cants and lumber and we are seeing movements by LEED towards having the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification programs recognized in their standards.”
LEED already recognizes the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and Green Globes recognizes all three. “When offering certified products, sometimes you can get a premium, and sometimes you can’t, but you can definitely be in more markets if you have certified products,” added Fell.
The presenters switched gears late in the morning with Jeffrey Beacom of Business Development Canada (BDC) talking about tax incentives and financial tips, followed by a keynote address by Art Raymond of A.G. Raymond and Co. and afternoon technical sessions on software, new tooling improvements and automation and CNC.
In his CNC talk, FPInnovations industry advisor Alain Albert discussed the benefits of automation and CNC equipment in today’s business climate. “The major benefits include increased productivity, lower costs, increased flexibility, reduced set-up time, shorter cycle times, increased yield, reduced waste and increased profits,” he explained.
Albert suggested suppliers of wood products look at a “new manufacturing model” that keeps customers involved, even if they are located thousands of kilometres away from the manufacturing site. “This might require a couple of ingredients,” he explains. “You might start with some industrial design and then take a lok at ‘lean manufacturing’, which is a new philosophy of trying to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process. Consider using a bit of mass customization, which is a mix of mass production and individual customization, and consider the whole question of sustainability, especially if you want to be a part of the next generation of business.”
Albert told the audience that once all of that was in place, incorporating new technology such as photogrammetry, 3-D CAD programs and photo modeling can help to create 3-D templates, while photorealistic presentation software can showcase the results for clients. When its time to produce the products, he said today’s CNC machines are capable of much more than older versions of CNC equipment, including nesting, which allows for all of the machining to take place in one pass, creating complicated joints, and replicating complex carvings. “And the progress can be monitored using real-time radiofrequency identification tags and production can be viewed by the customer on webcams,” he added.
Albert also said there are some interesting developments happening in the construction industry with CNC. “Huge panels that are 10 feet high, 40 feet long and up to 8 inches thick could be cut on a large CNC machine, delivered to the site and assembled in place,” he explained.