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Robotics or Artificial Intelligence?

The sawfiler’s role may have changed, but the need for the sawfiler’s knowledge has not.

August 15, 2022  By Paul Smith

Photo: Annex Business Media

Robotics are now available for our filing rooms. Sawfilers can now depend on robotics to do the repetitive work, day in and day out. However, it seems robots with automation in the filing room may be a little misunderstood by a few. Robots are programmable machines that are usually able to carry out a series of actions and repeat the same series of actions over and over. In my opinion robots get this done via sensors and actuators that are determined and set by a human. Artificial intelligence (AI) is when a computer is programmed to complete tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence.  Robotics does not require any intelligence because the robot will never change what it is doing nor will it make a decision to change. AI has not yet been integrated in saw filing equipment and automation. This is the reason we as an industry should support the filer and filing room. 

Therefore, filing rooms need experienced and seasoned sawfilers more than ever. The sawfiler’s role may have changed, but the need for the sawfiler’s knowledge has not. An experienced sawfiler will take this change and make it work for both filer and mill. When a filer embraces this change and allows the robotics in his filing room to do the recurring task, it not only relieves the filer to do other tasks, but also helps prevent health risks associated with labour-intensive and repetitive jobs. Just as the head filer would train and oversee an apprentice, he still will need to program, set and keep watch over the robot. This is a never-ending process. 

Robotics can not determine for themselves how a tooth should be configured, nor can a robot know when parts need to be replaced or aligned. Because robotics must be programmed, it may help with retaining some of the filer’s knowledge of saw measurements and requirements to perform its best run. Almost everyone can relate to walking in the filing room and seeing writings on the walls that a filer would reference to –  how much back a band needs, or what tension worked better for what saw – but information had to be kept to allow recurring success in the filing room. I can remember hearing often a filer saying, “do not erase that chalk on the wall.” Today this information is retained in programs that are written for robotic filing equipment by sawfilers. 

Mill owners and managers would not take a non-experienced sawfiler off the mill floor and have them operate robotics in a filing room. No more than a race car owner or manager would pull a licensed driver out of the stands to drive their race car. 


However, we do have our filing rooms filled with new high tech CNC machines with robotic capabilities that have made the sawfiler’s job not only easier but also possible to acquire an accurate cutting performance that has never been achieved with repeatable performance.  In the last five years we have seen big advancement with machines and technology in our filing rooms. This is a good thing because right outside our filing room doors, on the mill floors, we are seeing machines that require the saws we build and repair to turn faster, run straighter, while taking feed speeds we never thought possible. We now find, not only do we have to keep the saws standing up fast while in the cut, but also keeping them standing up without waving to side, shifting on the fly, pretty much at the blink of an eye. 

We are faced today with not enough seasoned sawfilers for our mills. The filers we do have are experiencing a movement with new and advanced machines to help get the saws repaired and sharpened. These machines need well-trained and knowledgeable filers to operate them. We do have these machines but we do not have AI; we do have intelligent saw filers that will have a job in the filing room for as long as we have a wood industry.

A good sawfiler will ask for this advanced, high-tech equipment along with the best saws available that will allow them to provide the saws needed to run in today’s sawmills. Good sawfilers have always stepped up to provide for the latest thin kerf, fast running moneymaking machines that are outside our filing room doors. Good mill managers will support their filers while finding ways and funding to support them with the right equipment and personnel needs. Good vendors will continue to provide information on products to the filing room, help with return-on-investment needs and ideas, while providing knowledge of both the pros and cons of new machines being considered for the filing room. 

Paul Smith is the owner and CEO of Smith Sawmill Service LLC with locations in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Reach him at paul@smithsawmillservice.com.

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