When I was offered the opportunity to head the timber handling division of my previous company, colleagues said I’d be mad to take it. But nearly 30 years on, I can look back on a very rewarding working life in an area where developments, especially in automation, have become so vital for the industry. It is the changing face of technology today.

It was always thought that only high production machines required mechanical handling, but basic systems can also result in tremendous downtime savings on slower machines.

CNC machine setting has been available for many years, but this has taken a giant leap forward too with the introduction of user-friendly PCs. This, coupled with fast or automatic tool changing with data input from toolroom or production department, has cut downtime further.

Another area which has seen major changes is the flow of raw materials to the production cell and removal of the finished product. The main cause of lost time from a planing and moulding machine is the ‘flow’ and, from discussions with producers, it is clear that many do not fully realise this.

Breakdowns never happen with good machines! How many times have we heard this, but it is not true. The biggest problem is diagnosing where the problem lies and there has been a big advance in this area as well. On-screen information can locate the fault or the area it is in. A modem link direct to the machine manufacturer is now the norm on specialised machines, allowing software changes without the need for a visit from an engineer.

A further major development in the past few years has been the integration of more in-line processes and lines for multiple products. Some producers need to be more flexible in their production needs and be able to switch quickly from one type of product to another. Line and management controls now allow this more easily. And the future will bring still more innovative, flexible solutions, with automation evolving to service these units even more efficiently.