Mr Budi Taruno, managing director of PT. Karyabhakti Manunggal (centre) at Ohnemus, Germany.
To know how far Europe’s woodworking industry has advanced, Asia only needs to turn to Germany for a glimpse of the future.
In a German-run factory, the air is clean, work tops and floor are almost spotless, the sound of machines is always whirring in the background and, hardly any workers in the picture.
Such is foresight and strategic planning, followed by many months of consultation with solution providers like Weinig.
Take Ohnemus Gmbh for instance. The 40-year-old sawmill is located near the French-German border and sources hardwood logs from forests within a 100km radius. It gets oak, beech, alder, maple and ash from France and Germany depending on what is “in season”.
About 60 – 80m3 of wood is cut at the band saw per day, giving an annual total of 16,000m3 of air-dried lumber, panels and random length wood components.
For such a high output, only 12 workers are required on the production line.
All the work is taken care of by machines. Low quality lumber that cannot be sold as graded lumber goes to a Raimann rip saw, flows down to an optimising saw and finally sorted by an automatic sorting system and sold to furniture and flooring manufacturers.
At another station, wood lamellas go to a Weinig Powermat 500, a four-sided planer. It is then put together and pressed into a panel by a Weinig ProfiPress T3500 HF in under five minutes.
Preparing wood lamellas for the optimising saw
In this press with an automatic glueing application, heat is only applied to the glue. The rest of the panel remains unaffected. The total gluing time takes under five minutes.
Ohnemus also has a very well-disciplined practice of maintaining all machines and cutting tools. There are always spare saw blades so that the worn-out one can be replaced and sharpened during break time.
It is the opposite in Southeast Asia where processing wood is labour-intensive work. Work is also usually processed in sections and then moved on manually to the next and the next.
“It is very time- and material- consuming,” Budi Taruno, managing director of PT. Karyabhakti Manunggal, says. “And we also use a lot more forklifts, which you hardly see in Germany.”
He is one of the 32 participants for this year’s Weinig Asia tour organised by the German machinery company. Every year, SEA’s woodworking industry is invited on a trip to see how wood processing factories maximise mechanisation in Europe.
“The factories we have seen so far are very well-planned and well-calculated,” Mr Taruno added.
The Asia delegation on the Weinig trip
The automatic sorting system sorts out random length wood lamellas
It is a huge investment that may not reap immediate returns, but the results of automation are undeniable—fewer errors, more consistent wood products and cost savings in the long run.
For some, applying the same may even be impossible due to differences in business culture, mentality, material availability, labour conditions and education level.
Labour is after all, still very affordable in Southeast Asia, Aung Kyaw Moe, director of Yangon-based Wood Deiwi says.
But the learning is not lost for those who want to grow their business in the future.
In the long run, entire lines in Southeast Asia may even go the way of full automation, something that is on the cards for Mr Moe, as well as for the over 30 participants on the trip.
Catch the full coverage of the tour in the July issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.