The world’s leading woodworking machinery trade fair LIGNA 2019 made it amply clear that technology users are now “getting smart” with regard to digitisation and automation.

These were the big overarching themes at Ligna in Hanover at the end of May, with some 1,500 exhibitors from 50 nations exhibiting and around 90,000 visitors from 100 countries visiting.

The background to this show saw the main machinery maker associations such as the VDMA in Germany and Acimall in Italy flagging up a decline in demand for new technology over the first five months of 2019 after an extremely positive five-year cycle.

However, even if attendance numbers were perhaps slightly down, the overall response from exhibitors was of high investment activity and serious enquiries by timber product manufacturers across the value chain. Many spoke of Ligna 2019 being more positive than the preceding show in 2017.

“By focusing on digitisation, automation, robotics and revolutionary surface technology applications, LIGNA’s exhibitors played a major role in driving technological advancement,” said Deutsche Messe managing board member Dr Andreas Gruchow.

“Technologies considered to be visionary at the previous LIGNA have now become reality,” he said.

Over 50% of LIGNA visitors rated the importance of Industry 4.0 – which translates to enhanced data transfer and increased machine connectivity – as being “high to very high”.

Some 40% of them, say Ligna organisers, were either upgrading their existing machinery or considering the purchase of new machines to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 technology.

As an example, Swedish sawmiller Moelven Industrier AB said it attended primarily to draw inspiration for new work processes and as a springboard for getting into digitised manufacturing.

Another key trend in the woodworking and wood processing industry is augmented reality – most notably the use of VR headsets and tablets to visualize work-steps and machine states.

Show highlights included a world premiere of a six-axis machine for the timber construction sector that can process workpieces on all sides without repositioning. There was also a newly developed membrane press that can handle curved and uneven surfaces. And in the digital printing part of the LIGNA surface technology showcase, visitors witnessed a new software that can generate even extremely challenging decorative laminate layers in a single pass while maintaining a high level of quality.

Visitor investment

Leading solid wood machinery producer Weinig Group demonstrated 55 machines on its 5,000m2 stand and by the show’s end reported that 273 machines and systems of Weinig and Holz-Her were sold – a 20% growth on Ligna 2017.

Weinig UK MD Malcolm Cuthbertson reported an order of over €1m from a timber mouldings manufacturer looking to grow capacity. He also said the company has sold over 10 Rondamat CNC grinders in the past 12 months to the UK and Ireland.

Weinig’s new planing/profiling developments included the new Hydromat moulder generation, with speeds of up to 300m/min thanks to feeding via the new SF 200 accelerator.

Also demonstrated was the facility to offer 3D profiling on the Powermat, capable of producing items such as table legs and chair components, effectively combining highspeed moulding with furniture component production.

This advance is made possible by the addition of vertical heads to profile wood from the side.

Jack Daniels whisky maker Brown-Forman has ordered several Powermats as part of a large investment to automate production of its oak barrel staves.

Mr Cuthbertson said Weinig Opticut 200 series optimising crosscut saws used in tandem with EasyScan were proving popular, with the system featuring artificial intelligence to learn.

Not to be outdone, Biesse’s sprawling 6,000m2 stand attracted €40m worth of incoming orders. Its “Digital Hub” guided customers on a journey through the various phases of construction for the Factory 4.0 by means of a simulation of all the processes.

Three completely automated process lines showed customers the results that can be achieved with customised, flexible production. The stand saw the debut of the new Stream A Smart and Akron 1100 edgebanding machines, the new Uniteam RC machining centres for housing, and the new FPS (Feedback Positioning System) work tables for the Rover machining centres.

Sawmill technology

UK sawmill machinery specialist Stenner once again enjoyed a successful Ligna. Visitors to the stand exceeded the numbers of 2017 and the quality of enquiry was very good.

On display was a three head MHS9 Horizontal Resaw line and a stand-alone ST100R Vertical Resaw.

The MHS9 goes to OTC in New Zealand to process thermally modified Radiata Pine and the ST100R is installed in Lithuanian company Akadas. Also on display was the latest Stenner Spray Lubrication System and orders for 20 units were taken on the stand.

An ST100R was sold to Australia and an order was agreed to supply an Iseli Grinder to a client in Ireland.

“Good enquiries for a wide mix of machines came from all over the world with the MHS9 range continuing to attract strong interest from clients wanting to improve volume throughout and recovery in a market which is challenged by rising log and stagnating sawn timber prices” said Stenner MD Syd Mather.

German sawmill machinery producer Linck reported a lot of sawmill investment plans, pinpointing France, Austria, the Czech Republic and Lithuania as hotspots.

New for Linck at Ligna was its profile unit VPM 350 – basically a smaller version of the existing 450 machine – profiling one sideboard on each of the two lateral sides of a two- or four-sided cant.

It opens up the same technological advantages of the 450 but to a wider range of customers

The VPM 350 has options for pivoting and tilting axes suitable for active curve profiling and diagonal profiling. The saw blade technology also eliminates tear-out, improving surface quality.

The unit’s overall dimensions mirror those of the VPF profiler unit, allowing the machine to installed in sawlines with limited space. It can be installed directly at the outfeed side of a chipper canter or in front of a saw unit.

Fellow German sawmill machinery producer EWD displayed a Quadro bandsaw machine in pride of place – destined for GP Wood in Ireland after the exhibition.

EWD announced it was relaunching an in-house handling, sorting and stacking equipment division to be a one-stop shop for customers. It formerly offered this some years ago, but the project enquiries it is receiving are becoming more and more complex with project calculations needing to very precise, so offering both sawmilling production technology and handling equipment made sense, it said.

Meanwhile, sawmill and panel processing equipment specialist USNR reported higher quality leads at Ligna.

“Times have been good for the industry for a number of years so I think they have money to spend,” said a representative.

Some of USNR’s new machine features include “smart debarking” with the Cambio 800D debarker. Advantages cited include higher speeds, reduced noise and operating costs, easier maintenance and also a longer life.

Other technology interesting visitors included Logmaster HP high-speed thin-kerf curve-sawing bandmills; Catech highspeed edgers; Transverse High Graders; and Optimisation software (using True Shape 3D scan data).

UK customer A&J Scott recently commissioned a new primary breakdown line and edge line supplied by USNR at its Mill 7, resulting in a significant increase in production capacity.

Saw technology maker Paul presented an automatically linked rip and cross-cut system and a further developed C11 optimising crosscut saw.

The C11 has been provided with a watercooled high acceleration servo motor, which combined with a maintenance-free toothed belt and a revised saw rocker, improves productivity of the system.

First show

Poland-based semi-automatic crosscut saw manufacturer Salvamac, led by Christian Salvador and Ziemowit Dolkowski, demonstrated its new Salvastop 100 at its first Ligna.

An evolution of the numerically controlled length stop and pushing positioning system, the SalvaStop 100 is designed to cut labour costs, productivity waste and measuring human errors.

Salvastop can be installed on the Classic 40, Classic 50 and Classic 60 models, transforming substantially entry-level models into real semi-automatic cutting centres.

“We worked a lot to create the exclusive software [for Salvastop],” said Mr Dolkowski. “It’s very easy to use thanks to immediately understandable and effective graphics, complete, powerful and flexible.”

SCM Group’s 4,000m2 stand was one of the busiest at the entire event and featured a 12m long table in ancient kauri wood at the centre for networking.

Its Smart &Human Factory generated interest with its flexible and modular automated cells, integrated with industrial and collaborative robots, unmanned shuttles and state of the art IoT digital services and software.

The new CNC Hypsos and Balestrini power machining centres for solid wood technologies were well received as was the Oikos x for carpentry work, thanks to its 6-axis machining heads, designed to perform all the machining operations necessary for the production of structural beams, wall panels and insulating panels at high speed.

Timber construction technology specialist Weinmannn, part of the Homag Group, demonstrated an innovation to solve the issue of inserting insulation in automated element production.

Its multifunction bridge WALLTEQ M-380 insuFill uses a combination of blow-in plate and multifunction bridge to insert loose insulation material into timber frame elements in a logical and fully automatic process.

Timber treatment

The Timber Preservation Technologies (TPT) brand was launched by Tweddle Engineering at Ligna to emphasise its expertise in timber preservation technology and due to an increase in demand for the latter.

The company reported good feedback to its launch at the show, reporting good conversations with a number of European companies, including enquiries about hot oil treatment.

TPT promoted its services including low pressure treatment plants; high pressure treatment plants; hot oil treatment plants; fire retardant treatment plants; control systems; and pilot plants for testing new products.

IWT-Moldrup, the long-established supplier of wood treatment plants (since 1978), introduced Ligna visitors to its Melamikasystem, which uses a combination of resins and starch to give thermally modified wood a much harder surface layer and resistance to termites as well as fungal attack in humid areas like decking.

IWT-Moldrup, which has more than 1,300 plant installations worldwide, has supplied wood modification equipment to Lignia Wood Company in Wales. Lignia is the UK’s first producer of modified wood.

Meanwhile, among enquiries reported by multi-directional forklift truck manufacturer Combilift was one from IKEA Lithuania, while Croatian sawmiller Auric Timber ordered a vehicle at the show. Safety and saving of space are important considerations reported by its customers.

“For Combilift, we have not saturated any industry, there are so many opportunities for growth,” reported Combilift MD Martin McVicar.

New at Ligna was Combilift’s patented Container Slip-Sheet, a solution for fast and safe unloading of containers, featuring a sheet of steel which is hydraulically pulled into the container.

Combilift says the system can unload a 40ft container in six minutes compared to up to an hour by normal methods.