Wood Industry Technology: Why Using, and Training for It Matters

by Phil Bowers

I recently saw an independent study that said there were 4,900 casework and millwork manufacturers in the United States. 4,900! Talk about competition.

The study continued to say that about 85% of the business is done by only 5% of the industry! How crazy is that? This was a private study, conducted by a private firm so I’m not going to name any names.

This economy has weeded out a lot of the competition (bittersweet, eh?) but now, in this high tech world that we live in, even a great economy will weed out more and more of the competition. Why?

Because 90% of our industry was started in a garage by a guy who was good with his hands and nowadays you don’t have to be good with your hands to build a woodworking business, they make machines for that.

The more high tech our industry gets, the less being good with your hands is going to matter. But what will matter is an organization’s leadership and ability to run a lean operation. I also see a future of a lot less garage woodwork start-up operations.

I believe that because today’s employees are being trained less and less for hands on wood working, and more on how to operate machines, value-engineer products, and use complex manufacturing processes and software (not to mention the younger generation doesn’t even have shop class anymore; very sad).

The new “hands on” factory worker is one with a mechanical engineering or design degree. So if something were to happen and that employee was let go, it would be a lot harder for him to start his own wood working company because he would need a lot more than just his hands on skills.

So, studying the state of the industry and the state of the economy is wonderful, but what’s it look like 25 – 50 years from now? I haven’t seen that study (if you have one, please send me a copy), but I would venture to guess that this industry will be taken over by manufacturers who are concentrating on and implementing technology into their production, engineering, and estimating methods.

The days of pencil estimating and handmade drawings are so far gone. I also see the industry being taken over by the companies who are investing in bringing in a younger generation who are tuned into social media, technology, design, engineering, and marketing.

What’s my point? My point is that we, as an industry, need to raise the bar. We need to push design and engineering in the woodworking industry forward. We need to embrace technology and weed out the laggards. It’s time our industry makes the leap and it’s going to be the people reading this (myself included) who need to do it. As Mitt Romney famously quoted “Corporations are people” well…yes. Corporations are made up of people, and without those people you don’t have much.

So, company leaders and influencers, let’s empower our people and challenge them to keep pushing our industry forward. Don’t try to do it all on your own, you need to harness the drive of the people you surround yourself with. And you know what? People want to be challenged and want to make a difference and if they don’t, send them to your competition.

We need to build great companies that provide superior products that can ratchet up our species to make this a better world. That’s our job. Let’s work together, utilize the synergies between our companies and drive the industry forward.