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What about before internet shopping and having to trawl around shops to find the best deal, or even to find something that was in stock. These days you know all the places that have what you want and who offers the best deal, all without leaving your sofa.

From a business perspective there is no holding back technological advances either.

At the Ligna biennial exhibition for the forestry and timber industries, it was obvious a clear move towards digitalisation and the “smart” factory is under way. All the major manufacturers of timber sector machinery have realised that the so-called Industry 4.0 (the next stage of data communication) will change the face of factories in the future.

The world’s largest woodworking machinery manufacturer Homag unveiled its Tapio cloud-based platform at Ligna. An operator equipped with a smart watch and tablet demonstrated how he had complete visibility of 50 machines on the exhibition stand – ranging from when machines would need raw material feeding, the energy-efficiency of operations and when maintenance was needed.

Basically, it gives live information on the production progress and the status of all workstations. The machines communicate with each other to provide end-to-end automated, smart production.

Italian machinery giant Biesse said a third of its orders at Ligna were “Industry 4.0 ready” lines.

One UK machinery executive told me this type of technology would definitely come to UK timber processors of all shapes and sizes. He said the appetite was there among customers.

Of course, all this talk of machines becoming smarter does turn your thoughts towards science fiction. But I’m told by the Industry 4.0 boffins at Ligna that we shouldn’t be worried, though it’s generally accepted that smarter production will mean less staff.

However, one note of caution was sounded at a press conference. With cloud based systems storing details of production processes, who owns the data? “Legal questions need answering,” said one German tooling technology executive.

Such thorny questions are being thrashed out by the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, which hopes to develop a common position on the issue. Elsewhere in this issue we give significant space to Sweden’s sawmilling sector, following a recent TTJ visit to four mills in the south of the country.

There is a clear message coming from these companies – strong global demand means UK buyers need to commit to orders to secure their timber. Several said they were looking at reducing UK volumes in the future because of the market situation.