North America’s Largest Woodworking Event | Tuesday–Friday | August 6–9, 2024


IWF Woodworking Today

Success—in the Form of Automation


March 7, 2023 | Dan Wellens

I graduated from high school in 1999—a year early. I was 17 and eager to enter the U.S. Navy. I had been preselected to attend Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training (BUD/s) and on my first day of training, to say that I was intimidated would have been an understatement. I had heard the stories and can say what is portrayed in the movies will never prepare you for the reality of the challenges brought on each day.

Our class motto was, “The only easy day, was yesterday.” We took each day, one day at a time, preparing for the unexpected. Our goal was to anticipate what was coming next. As I reflect on my time spent at BUD/s, I can tell you that owning a business involves many parallels. I have learned to keep my eyes on the horizon, anticipating and preparing for what is next.

One area of business ownership involves a clear understanding of the power of automation. In my day-to-day production, I have learned to flip the script with the help of automated tooling. Assessing where I was then and where I am now, my work load has become more efficient and tasks that took days are completed in hours.

Video from Dan’s YouTube Channel, The Voice of Woodworking

I was recently interviewed on a podcast when the host asked, “How do you feel about robots taking over the world?” My reply was swift and straightforward, “I love it!” As I see it, there are two viewpoints. The first viewpoint declares the glass is half empty and automation will take jobs and put millions of people out of work. This is definitely debatable! The second viewpoint writes a new story of a glass half full where automation increases possibilities we never thought were possible.

So what do you think? Are robots taking over the world? Maybe you are you a generation X business owner who is apprehensive and dabbling with the technical automative aspects or maybe you are a millennial who understands technology but are hesitant to implement it due to the financial capital requirements. Whatever your reservations may be, know that it’s normal to be a little hesitant. From my own experience, once you take that first step, you can finally stop saying “The only easy day was yesterday.”

So how do you know what machines are right for you?

Take my current situation. I was recently approached by a national retailer and invited to launch a wooden home goods décor product line. Branding and manufacturing 5 -10 signature pieces. I can tell you first hand, business can move fast, so fast that many might pass on such an opportunity. Strangely enough, I am not concerned with the pressure of manufacturing of these goods. I know exactly what type of machines are needed and their capability.

Did you know IWF has a great virtual tool to assist you in taking the next step you can’t afford not to take? With over 900+ exhibitors, each manufacturer has a niche in the industry and the fully searchable IWF Product Finder tool will help you identify and locate the best manufacturer for your business. I often say the biggest flaw in our industry is machinery exposure. The IWF Product Finder fixes that.

But understanding specs written on technical sheet is great. I still always like to see and test the machines in person. “Kick the tires” if you will. Early on in my career, I was in need of an industrial bandsaw. I did what everyone does, I Googled “industrial bandsaw.” Let’s just say, Google and I had opposing opinions. After researching numerous machines, I ventured to a local woodworking store to “kick the tires.” It was the biggest model they carried. The employees working there talked it up and told me it was the best of the best.

Fate would have it that the IWF trade show was just around the corner. I waited on making a purchase and am I glad I did. The first day of the trade show, I went around to every exhibitor. I focused on what I considered were traits of industrial equipment: Bearing size. The longevity of a machine often runs parallel to its components and coming from a farming background, I knew this was indicative of quality machinery. When I visited with the manufacturer SCM, I was very impressed with the SCM Minimax 24” Bandsaw. This machine possessed the largest bearings of its class and at minimal additional cost. I am happy to report that my SCM Bandsaw has been running every day for years, never skipping a beat. I can’t express how grateful I am that I did not purchase that first bandsaw. My advice: Do your automation homework way before it’s time to buy. And use that acquired knowledge to make the right purchase for your business.


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