|   Rosenheim / Schopfloch   |  Germany

Digitalization: How will the production processes of woodworking shops look in the future?

proto_lab: The collaborative research project between TH Rosenheim and HOMAG

Digitalization—also known "digital transformation"— is currently a hot topic in the wood industry. While some companies work with tablets and adopt digital tools, others work with handwritten order lists. Every production process has its pros and cons, but how can woodworking shops find the optimal solution to take their production to the next level? There are probably as many approaches as there are companies — and this variation was both researched and validated by the "proto_lab" research project conducted by TH Rosenheim (Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences), in collaboration with HOMAG and other partners. Over the coming months, HOMAG will present ideas that have already been tried and tested at prototype stage.
At LIGNA 2019, HOMAG will present the ideas that have been developed, including concepts for individual machine modules, hardware, and apps that can communicate with each other. Such concepts will enable every company to devise a solution that is customized to their requirements. One particular highlight is the new focus HOMAG is placing on offering hardware that supports processes, such as intelligent sorting shelves.

Opportunities for woodworking shops

The key question is: what concrete possibilities does digitalization already offer small and medium-sized businesses today and how will they develop further?
There is a wide range of possible answers.

  • Transferring production data to machines, for example a panel dividing saw, in the form of optimized cutting patterns is already a reality for many companies, and many also use CAD/CAM software to create CNC programs and parts lists. Nevertheless, it is still common practice to print countless production documents and haul them through the machine room and bench room manually on a clipboard.
    However, what would happen to the entire production process if these drawings and parts lists were one click away and available anywhere in a digital job folder?
    Suddenly, even manual and semi-automatic machines, or manual workstations in the bench room, could be supported by "smart devices" (smartphones, tablets, etc.). Even on construction sites, the drawings and part lists for a customer's order would be available with one click. The data would be available everywhere and could be viewed by employees regardless of their location.
  • Assistance systems are also significantly simplifying work processes. For example, HOMAG is developing it range of "intelliGuide" operator assistance systems for machines: these systems show the operators of panel dividing saws, edge banding machines and drilling machines the next steps to take and how to execute them.
  • The next step is software-based assistance systems for manual workstations...
  • ...and therefore, using such digital developments should give companies a real chance to tackle the shortage of skilled workers, which is currently a significant problem for the industry in general.

The proto_lab project: from theory, to concrete research, to product ideas

So, what will production actually look like in the future? To answer this question, a team of experts recently worked on the collaborative research project named "proto_lab" (production tomorrow laboratory). Over the course of the project, the experts experimented, analyzed and predicted in order to develop practical digitalization solutions for assistance systems and semi-automation. The team for the interdisciplinary research project consisted of participants from four faculties at TH Rosenheim and experts from the HOMAG Group, as well as participants from other partners in the furniture industry and the Seeoner Kreis (a regional alliance of industry professionals).

In concrete terms: the flexible production cell

During the proto_lab project, one of the key focus points for the research was the "production cell of the future." The participants explored a number of ideas for the introduction of a flexible, customizable production cell, implementing the most relevant ideas and approaches as hands-on prototypes. These prototypes were tested in the project's own laboratory and finally validated in collaboration with customers. This approach to research and development is new to the furniture industry, offering incredible potential for numerous practical developments.

HOMAG: from validated product idea to finished product

A project such as proto_lab is particularly exciting for HOMAG; as a manufacturer of machines, software and digital products, HOMAG not only benefits from new ideas — it can also use the findings to produce practical, validated prototypes that address the currently requirements of the wood processing industry.

HOMAG has taken the best ideas to date, developed them further, and is now turning these ideas into reality as marketable products. As a form of field testing, many of the prototypes are already being used in live production situations by customers — and their feedback flows directly back into product development. Coupled with existing HOMAG software and HOMAG digital developments, whether already implemented or still in the planning stage, HOMAG is able to offer small and medium-sized businesses integrated solutions and concepts that are impressive in practice.

Step-by-step: an overall concept built from single parts

Integrated solutions from HOMAG mainly consist of four components in various combinations: production cells, machines, software and logistics. However, there is one key factor to these solutions: the customer does not have to buy an entire system — instead, they can buy individual machines, hardware and apps that can communicate with each other. Thanks to this approach, interest in digital solutions is increasing among woodworking shops.

Unprecedented solutions: intelligent sorting shelves

In addition to the apps, HOMAG also offers woodworking shops appropriate hardware for supporting processes that the customer can manufacture themselves. One example of this is intelligent sorting shelves that assist the user with sorting components for the bench room. The documents required for building the shelves, such as parts lists, drawings and MPR programs, could be obtained from HOMAG free of charge. The electronics required, as well as the app that manages the shelves, can also be obtained from HOMAG.

LIGNA 2019: taking small steps into the digital world

From the theory of digitalization and the research process, to specific products: The results of the research will become reality in hall 14 at LIGNA. HOMAG will present the new findings live in action — with two integrated end-to-end concepts for woodworking shops, consisting of various combinations of machines, hardware and apps.

  • Concept 1: This concept focuses on joineries in which one employee handles an order throughout the production process rather than working collaboratively
  • Concept 2: This concept focuses on woodworking shops that take a more collaborative approach in the machine room

Each concept offers a different focal point — and each business can choose the right components and digital products.

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