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How robots are cutting costs, time in woodwork

Caption

Imagine walking into a furniture factory and all the work is being done by robots. From cutting, bending, and assembling the different parts to surface cleaning and paintwork, there is no human interaction - just machines working.  

In a span of 25 minutes, a chair has been assembled and is ready for the stores. Robotic automation is inching its way into the international woodworking industry. 

Companies have shifted and are adapting to a more ‘robot-assisted’ technology to produce world-class products. It is a smart move to save costs and ensure efficiency.

And this was evident during the Xylexpo exhibition held on October 12-15 in Milan, Italy organised by the Italian Trade Agency and other stakeholders. The exhibition which attracted over 280 international exhibitors from the woodworking and furniture sectors, offered an occasion to showcase and discover the latest technologies in the industry.

It was a presentation of an end-to-end lineup of advanced technologies, technical solutions and innovations in the industry. Speaking at the exhibition, Luigi De Vito, the general manager of SCM Group noted that they have shifted to a ‘smart and human’ factory to ensure they are producing world-class wood products to meet customers’ needs.

“We are going through a phase of transformation. Besides expanding our facilities, we are also upgrading them. We are offering more robotic and automation systems integrated with the machines, flexible and modular, addressed to big industrial organisations.,” he said.

Human interaction

CMA Robotics, a firm in the wood finishing industry showcased their 3D vision systems with unique spraying equipment that has no human interaction and solely depends on a robot.

“This is an evolution of the self-learning system in which the robot moves manually. There is a special joystick that is used to which the spray gun is attached. The trajectories are acquired by a series of sensors and memorised to create the complete painting programme. In short, the painter manually paints an initial piece so that it can be replicated by a common CMA robot,” said CMA Robotics area manager Luca Gallo.

“No one wants to stand on a production floor for 10 hours a day, picking up a piece of wood and putting it through a sanding machine. The precision that is found by automating tasks like sawing lumber ensures quality by creating uniform pieces of wood,” he added.

Gallo said workers who were in the past exposed to chemicals, sawdust and other hazardous materials are now safe with robots doing most of the work.

“These machines have improved the safety standard of our workers. Further, the robots have ensured efficiency,” he said.

He added that the painting machines save 30 per cent of the time and cycle timing of 90-120 seconds. With changes in the price of wood and alongside new material requirements, some companies like Winstersteiger- an Italian-based company, have invested in scanner technology to improve production.  

“Our current scanner technology offers information on geometry, position, colour and size of a defect, such as a knot or a crack in the wood. Hyperspectral imaging will then inform us about the structure of a defect,” said Markus Weissenbrunner, head of strategic product development.

“Only defects that would cause problems in the downstream process, such as knotholes can be pinpointed and removed. That way, you can achieve a more natural look.”

Another Italian-based company, Omma, which specialises in the production of glueing and laminating machines, showcased its new automated high-pressure roller cleaning system that does the job in five minutes.

“The high-pressure hot water penetrates even the smallest of grooves and allows water-based glues to dissolve quickly and completely. It takes only five minutes. The wastewater and residues produced are collected in the drain pan,” OMMA Executive Director Adria Berry said.

Kenyan-based company, Tilemac Building Supplies Ltd Chief Executive Dennis Nderitu, who was at the exhibition, noted that while Kenya has not reached such levels of technology, there is a need to have collaborations with Italian woodworking companies.

“Some of the machinery showcased at the expo can be a game changer if our government can be keen on supporting growth and assisting local traders in importing them. This can be done through reduced importation tax and credit facilities,”he said.

Italian Trade Agency Desk Officer Beatrice Kilemi noted that they are keen on promoting ‘Made in Italy’ products and also linking the local producers to international markets.

“We offer consultancy, training and connect Italian traders seeking business opportunities in Kenya. Further, we link local SMEs with the Italian market through various business missions. This year’s Xylexpos offered traders in the woodwork sector explore the market,” she said.