From IWF to ligna

7 February 2019


Since it took over machinery distributor Stiles Machinery in North America, both Homag of Germany and Stiles in the US have thrived, as Mike Botting reports

Christian Vollmers, president of Stiles Machinery, gave a presentation at the IWF exhibition in Atlanta last August in which he gave a North American perspective on parent company Homag’s, and Stiles’, progress.

The press briefing by Stiles Machinery, and parent Homag, at IWF, presented an opportunity to announce the next generation of machine design and digital innovation from Homag.

Mr Vollmers pointed out that Homag has changed the style of its machines, with white cabinets featuring the blue Homag logo.

“This new identity will include a modern machine design across all new Homag products, as well as new, consistent product names designed to help customers easily identify the right machine for their specific needs,” he said.

Of course Stiles, which represents nearly 60 European machinery manufacturers, does not just represent Homag and its other partners in the US, but says it has been helping manufacturers throughout North America to increase their efficiency and productivity for over 50 years.

“With world-class machinery, backed by an experienced support team, extensive parts inventory, unique upgrade capabilities and a nationally accredited education and training programme,” Stiles says that it offers solutions which equip companies for success in every area of their business.

“With the support of the Stiles’ team of product and service specialists, manufacturers receive exclusive access to a vast inventory of ready-to-ship parts, the industry’s only accredited university, 24-hour technical support, and the expertise of over 150 field service technicians nationwide, who are ready to go, when and where they are needed most,” says the company.

Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Stiles has regional offices in High Point, North Carolina; Bristol, Pennsylvania; Coppell, Texas; and Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Stiles has been a member of the Germanheadquartered Homag Group, a global leader in the production of industrial manufacturing machinery, since February 2014.

Among those nearly 60 European machinery makers in Stiles’ portfolio of suppliers are many well-known names in the wood based panel machinery sector, notably Holzma, Küper, Wandres, Weeke and Wemhöner Surface Technologies.

It supplies this machinery to the whole woodworking sector in North America.

Returning to Mr Vollmers’ presentation, he said: “The US economy is booming and consumer confidence is growing. We are 15% ahead of 2017’s turnover [as at the IWF in August 2018].

“Service is 10% up and we are predicting an 18% increase over 2017 [in 2018], which was, in itself, a record year.

“There is a clear trend towards integrated solutions,” continued Mr Vollmers. “In 2017, 29% of turnover was linked to these solutions and we are expecting 48% for 2018.

“A lack of skilled labour is a big problem for our customers and this is a strong driver towards integrated solutions.

“As in Europe, there is a trend towards frameless kitchens and this requires different equipment and techniques. There is now a requirement for individual and unique kitchens. We are also involved in the building industry and again there is a lack of skilled labour and a requirement for individualisation.

“We can offer [that individualisation] and our team will provide your solution,” concluded Mr Vollmers.

Pekka Paasivaara is the CEO of Homag Global and presented the company’s views on the future.

“Not only was the 2017 figure healthy, but profitability has also increased,” he said. “We continue to invest heavily in R&D – and to a greater extent than others; we are driving innovation.

“Even in China, automation is increasingly important to save cost and reduce the number of employees. Although western Europe is basically a stagnant market, individualisation is still growing,” said the CEO.

“Many parts of the world are increasing wooden house construction, therefore we have positioned ourselves for the efficient production of wooden house elements.

“In furniture, the current trend is to ‘smart living’. For example, the kitchen is now a living space and requires charging stations for mobile phones, openings for cables, etc. These factors are driving individualisation,” said Mr Paasivaara.

“Consultancy, software, machinery – this is what makes Homag unique. Small batch production? No problem, as we offer a highly flexible system.

“Until recently, we had a gap in our portfolio, but we have now partnered with Makor and we are offering coating through our global cooperation.

“We have also produced the first Autonomous Workshop for a mid-sized customer. This was developed over the last 12 months,” said Mr Paasivaara.

“But our latest development is TRANSBOT, an automated guided vehicle. Customer interest is extremely strong and it’s another first for the industry.”

Digitalisation is increasingly affecting all our lives and industry is not immune to that influence, as Mr Paasivaara pointed out.

“We started a process two years ago, looking at The Cloud. However, a Homag Cloud is not what people want; they want an ‘Open Cloud’ for the whole industry. Digitalisation will change this industry,” said the CEO.

“An ‘Open Cloud’ is far more complex than just a ‘Cloud’: It needs an industry platform with access to all. Thirty of our partners, across the whole production process, are launching it here [at the IWF] and it will go global.”

Another new word in technology circles is ‘tapio’.

But what is ‘tapio’? Apparently it stands for the world's digital platform for the value chain in the wood industry. tapio combines digital products for the entire wood industry with thousands of production machines, as well as a wide range of materials and tools in an IoT platform (IoT = Internet of Things), says Homag’s website (www.homag.com).

"In short, this digital platform completely covers the whole wood industry value chain. The tapio system combines mechanical engineering know-how, service, software and consulting for companies of all sizes worldwide, in order to simplify work and increase productivity and quality."

The result is said to be a set of unique solutions for an extended range of processes, which make individual business processes more efficient, faster and more reliable than ever before, says Homag.

Headquartered in Munich, tapio GmbH was founded in order to operate this cloudbased platform with digital products and data-based services (‘smart services’).

"Therefore, the tapio user is supported in thoroughly exploiting optimisation potential for production and marketing processes," says Homag.

What is possible with tapio? Homag’s website explains that tapio is open to partners and new solutions – because all the technological solutions for the wood industry can be found right here at home.

This includes, for example, a mobile display in real time of the machine's status for the operator. The digital solution space offers open interfaces to all partners, woodworking companies and technologies: So, besides CloudReady machines, older machines can also be integrated into the platform – the same applies to different software solutions, or other manufacturers’ products, says Homag.

“Regardless of whether it is an operation close to the machine, or away from the machine, whether a business process or a production process, it’s more important today than ever before to align all details and parameters along the value chain. In other words, it is essential to coordinate the entire process – from production, to processes, to data flow. And tapio performs all of this,” the company explains.

“This technology will change: the way you receive orders; the way you process those orders; the way you produce your products; and the way you deliver those products,” continued Mr Paasivaara.

Homag assures any nervous customers that data protection is a major part of its offering.

The Ligna exhibition in May 2019 is the launch date for this technology.

All Homag Group machines ordered from Ligna will be ready to provide data to tapio’s cloud. CloudReady machines have the necessary technology to connect to the IoT platform, explains the company.

So we have come from IWF to Ligna in one short journey. Since joining the Homag Group, Stiles Machinery has had access to all its technology, while maintaining its close relationship with the other clients whom it represents in the North American market.

The STORETEQ-S-500 storage system from Stiles' owner, Homag
The Robotwin from Homag's latest partner, Makor
The tapio system offers unique solutions
The Stiles team at the IWF exhibition in Atlanta, US, in August 2018