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IWF unites industry enthusiasts

For lack of a better, less-cliché phrase, the universal proverb ‘birds of a feather flock together’ is my blanket observation of the crowds and happenings at the 2022 IWF in Atlanta. Featuring all things woodworking-related, from educational and networking programs to a host of products ranging from simple fasteners to automated machinery, there was truly something for everyone to explore.

An upbeat, action-packed event, there was an unyielding momentum on the immense show floor that occupied three buildings about the size of football stadiums. In speaking with attendees and exhibitors, the overall feedback was positive, with lots mentioned about quests for solutions to streamline operations to help manage backlogs and deal with labor issues.

Live demonstrations, many being quite theatrical, made the show hum. Material handling, sawmill cutting, CNCs and robots – machines in motion drew particularly large crowds. The Stiles booth, for example, featured staired scaffolding for viewers to watch non-stop production in action. I stood on this platform for a scheduled presentation with woodworking educator and Woodshop News contributor Ted Bruning. We watched in amazement how operators flaunted the abilities of various machine combinations to build entire cabinetry packages in place of multiple workers.

The commentator at the Stiles demo had half the audience in stitches when he noted the machines’ willingness to work any shift, not call in sick, and not bring petty issues to work environments. All joking aside, he, as well as demonstrators at other booths, addressed such automation as being a solution to the labor shortage.

My visit to Universal Robots addressed the same issue. On display were several cobot setups resembling futuristic human arms with attachments performing sanding, part moving, and more. Joe Campbell, senior manager in strategic marketing and application development, discussed the company’s in-depth research indicating labor shortages being a top reason customers seek its products. He also let me test-drive a UR cobot. With oversight from a technician, I plugged in a few commands on a touchscreen to move the arm in several directions of my choosing, then did the same programming for the grabber attachment. With the press of a button, my mock application came to life. The experience was fun and sure made automation seem attractive.

The featured shop in this issue takes an interesting step in another direction from computerization. Fourth-generation period furniture maker Jeff Headley discusses the decades-long journey he and business partner Steve Hamilton have led, following their passion for making classic reproductions with minimal equipment. While visiting their facility was like stepping back in time compared to being at the IWF, it’s nice to see they share the same joy of woodworking as their automation-seeking colleagues.  

This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue.

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