‘Industry 4.0’ is the new reality now

As technology providers push digitisation and automation, furniture manufacturers big and small seem to be toeing the line, writes Dhananjay Sardeshpande

The adoption of ‘smart’ technology on the factory floor was very much in evidence this time.

The world’s leading trade fair for woodworking and wood processing technology, Ligna this year (in Hannover, Germany) made me realise that the vision put forth by the trade show in 2015 has become a reality, with furniture businesses big and small latching on.

It must go to the credit of technology providers, machinery and tool suppliers and the Ligna team that what was once only wishful thinking in the concept of ‘Industry 4.0’ is now a proven production methodology that will change the way furniture manufacturing takes place in the years to come.

The focus on digitisation, automation, robotics and augmented and virtual reality was evident even during Ligna 2015 (I missed the 2017 edition) but the adoption of “smart” technology on the factory floor was very much in evidence this time.

According to the management of Ligna, some 40% of visitors were either upgrading their existing machinery or considering the purchase of new machines to reap the benefits of ‘Industry 4.0’ technology.

A total of 1,500 exhibitors from 50 nations presented their impressive solutions for the future, making innovations tangible and easy to grasp for users from every sector of the industry, on a scale unrivalled throughout the world.

More than 90,000 visitors from over 100 countries came to Hannover to check out the industry’s latest advances and find exactly the right technologies and approaches to help them stay competitive and grow their businesses. Over 40,000 trade visitors came from abroad, with a noticeable increase in the number of attendees from South-East Asia.

Trends & innovations

Manufacturers of wood processing machinery for solid and engineered wood concentrated on automation and integrated systems, especially on modular technologies as a gateway to digitisation. The approach is end-to-end digitisation – with concepts spanning from planning and design to production and monitoring – as opposed to island solutions.

The other notable feature of these new digitisation technologies is that they are as easy and intuitive to use as smartphones. Another key trend is the use of augmented reality – most notably the use of virtual reality headsets and tablets to visualise work-steps and machine status.

Robotics is increasingly becoming the norm across all areas of industrial manufacturing, from materials handing to collaborative processing by humans and machines, right through to surface finishing. The surface-finishing link in the value chain is becoming increasingly integrated into the overall production system.

Automated guided vehicle systems are optimising materials flows. Advanced central system control modules are intelligently managing associated data and aggregating it quickly and efficiently for even the most demanding of single-batch production scenarios.

‘Plug & Work’

Cloud-based data management has now fully made the transition from proprietary systems to digital ecosystems. Thanks to a growing array of digital assistance solutions, the use of production data for preventive maintenance and production planning is getting more efficient all the time.

Another vision that is getting closer to becoming reality relates to networking based on standardised communication protocols for all machines. The European Federation of Woodworking Machinery Manufacturers (Eumabois) and the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) used Ligna to present a framework for a new ‘Plug-and-Work’ standard through a joint project by eight leading European manufacturers of woodworking machinery.

This year’s trade show also presented “all-in-one” solutions that can efficiently bring together multiple standalone machines to create integrated process flows. The highlights of the wood-based construction area included the world premiere of a 6-axes aggregate that can process work pieces on all sides without repositioning.

In the forestry technology section the spotlight was on climate change, ‘Forestry 4.0’, digital machine integration, supply chain tracking, timber flow management, the use of VR headsets for machine control, and apps for various in-forest operations.

The next Ligna will run from 10 to 14 May, 2021, in Hannover, Germany.

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