Woodworking Going Digital – IWF 2014

Ron Gilboa and Mark DiMattei
Sep 18, 2014

The International Woodworking Fair (IWF) took place from August 20-23, 2014 in Atlanta, GA. This event brought together woodworking equipment manufacturers of all kinds, and a wide range of related product manufacturers. The event was split between two main halls: one for equipment producers and one for product manufacturers. This show drew attendees from North America as well as from 70 countries around the world. With almost 1,000 exhibitors (of which, 200 were international), the show catered to over 22,000 attendees looking purchase, learn, and explore new innovations in woodworking-related equipment, materials, and services. Key themes at the show were the growing desire for innovation; automation; and the need for education in new business opportunities, technologies, and applications.

IWF Atlanta Exhibit Hall

IWF Atlanta Exhibit Hall

The IWF is co-owned by two organizations that are invested in the promotion, development, and growth of the woodworking industry: the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association (WMIA) and the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America (WMMA). The professionals at the show come from a broad range of related industries, including cabinetry; architectural; home furnishings; business furnishings; as well as the related material processing machinery, supply, and service industries. This year, IWF continued its tradition of innovation and education by actively promoting digital printing and 3D printing as emerging technology sectors that are influencing the woodworking industry. This resulted in an educational session on digital printing and 3D printing by InfoTrends.

There were two main concepts evident throughout the show: 1) the desire of residential and commercial end users to have cost-effective custom designs and 2) the desire of producers to address those needs through innovation, automation, and the development of new surface materials. Naturally, digital printing is increasing in its viability as the next closest technology that can augment and (in some cases) displace the traditional technology used in the creation of decorated surfaces.

There was a dazzling array of wood finishing processes on display at the show. These were split among three main categories we have observed: Direct coating, laminates, and direct printed decorations.

  • Direct coatings are materials that are applied to wood to enhance its natural grain using varnishes that provide a rich look as well as physical protection. Direct coatings could be applied using simple brushes or in automated robotic systems that move the decorated items through several stations where design, stains or paint, and protective coats are applied. Direct coatings are most common in the production of items such as kitchen doors, furniture, and high-end office furniture.
  • Laminates are one of the most versatile surface decoration methods, where a decorative layer is printed on a laminate material that is affixed to a surface. This category is brimming with solutions, ranging from companies providing high pressure laminates with high durability to polypropylene film type laminates that provide a flexible application to a range of materials. All these laminates are typically printed in central locations, using conventional printing technology such as rotogravure printing.
Abet Laminati - Digital High Pressure Laminates

Abet Laminati - Digital High Pressure Laminates

  • Directly printed decorations allow rotary printers and screen printing technology to decorate a range of surfaces with elements ranging from graphic designs to extinct wood grains that are no longer viable as natural products. In many cases, UV curable materials are used to create the image as well as the texture through curing technology such is LED or electron beam curing.
Direct Digital Printing at Cefla North America Booth

Direct Digital Printing at Cefla North America Booth

Digital decorative printing has been a fact of life for many years now, but it has long been the domain of wide format printers emerging from the sign and banner industry. The latest developments in technology–including inks, printheads, transport, and workflow–are now rapidly enabling digital decoration of a wide gamut of materials used in woodworking applications. The implications in terms of manufacturing processes, material usage, and end users are far reaching.

Barberan Digitally Printed Wall Laminates

Barberan Digitally Printed Wall Laminates at the Kleiberit Booth

From a manufacturing process perspective, we will likely see tension between lamination versus direct-to-surface printing alternatives. These two key approaches will impact the range of materials used for printing, and allow for the development of new applications. Additionally, we already witnessed the development of competing product lines aimed at one or the other approaches, or a product portfolio spanning all common manufacturing technologies.

Greenline Embella Digitally Printed Wood

Greenline Embella Digitally Printed Wood

From an end user perspective, architects and designers are no longer bound to mass produced materials and now have the option to create cost-effective, made to order decorative surfaces. With abundant range of materials, such as laminates or directly printed surfaces, the sky is the limit.

As we compare the impact digital printing has had on adjacent industrial applications, such as digitally printed textiles, InfoTrends believes that strong growth for digital printing in wood and related décor materials is inevitable.


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