After a decidedly positive year in 2018, the best of the past 10 years, the Italian market for wood processing machines and utensils slowed down over the first trimester of 2019. According to a recent survey by ACIMALL (Italian association for manufacturers of wood processing machines and accessories), conducted using a statistical sample representative of the entire sector, there has been an 11% decline compared to the same period last year. Foreign orders have dropped by 10.2%, while the dip recorded on the Italian market amounts to 14.5%.
The orders portfolio is at 3.7 months although there has been a 10.3% growth in revenue, showing that even the price factor is less relevant at a time of fundamental change for the furniture industry.
The positive trend for 2018 was driven by exports, which reached €1,721 million, but it's certainly also worth noting the excellent trend for sales on the internal market, which touched €800 million, a 16.4% increase compared to 2017.
Italy remains in the top positions internationally
The results achieved by our country for the sale of wood processing technology in Europe helped us remain in second place behind Germany. China came in third and continues to reduce the gap with its European competitors, having already taken first place for exports in North America and Africa, though only taking second place in Asia, oddly enough.
Italian technology is greatly appreciated around the world as can be seen by the second place ranking for exports in the old continent and the excellent positions attained by our country in Africa (second place), Asia (fourth place) and North America (fourth place).
The more negative forecasts for 2019 are in part due to a less optimistic climate for Italian operators, who always see the best performance for exports, given that the internal market is at risk of suffering the greater blow.
Still, according to analysts in the sector, the trend is to be considered natural and temporary since the market has already outlined technological trends that will necessarily bring about gradual but inevitable growth.
The course for the digitalisation of production has already been set, for example, and it will take several years of development—engaging an ever increasing number of companies, from the largest to the smallest—before that journey can be considered completed. Looking at the domestic market, the decision to re-introduce super-depreciation and, especially, to maintain hyper-depreciation to encourage digitalisation in the Decreto Crescita [Decree for Growth] can only help the sector regain ground.
The investments sustained over the past few years by manufacturers of accessories for wood furniture and furnishings have all aimed to make their companies more competitive on the market, to meet the growing demand for unique, personalised products.
Automation and digitalisation are the stars of the future
The move away from mass production in favour of mass customisation, which has affected every manufacturing sector over the past decade, has brought about a veritable revolution in the market for wood processing machines and accessories, driving technological innovation toward the ultimate flexibility of production systems and the reduction of machining cycles. This, still ongoing, trend led to the development of automated multitasking machines that are easy to programme and do away with the lack of precision and the idle time that result from the component being moved from one machine to another for processing.
Another aspect of the push for greater efficiency and affordability in the production of wood furniture and furnishings is the increasingly intensive use of robotics, in machines and for company logistics. One example is the increasingly widespread use of collaborative robots known as AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) to simplify the flow of material inside factories, considered an industry 4.0 enabling technology.
Furthermore, thanks to the use of robotics, the surface finishing phases for wood products are becoming more and more part of the general production process.
Industry 4.0 is the most widely discussed topic in every area of manufacturing, and its effects are already being felt in the wood processing machines and tools sector. These machines will need to be able to integrate with a smart company system in which physical and digital systems are online and interconnected. The objective is to collect, analyse and obtain information from the so-called Big Data originating from the production system, to be able to react on the system in real time and manage even individual complex batches.
The current trend is, therefore, to transition towards digitalised production where data analysis, achieved through Cloud Computing systems, can be used for production planning as well as for predictive maintenance and prevention.
It seems obvious, then, that Digitalisation, Automation and integrated solutions are the topics that will drive future investments in wood processing machines, facilities and tools. The main technological innovations offered by most machine manufacturing companies for wood processing are heading in that direction, to meet what has become the pre-eminent demand in the Furniture industry.
According to a survey conducted at LIGNA 2019 it seems that 50% of visitors were interested in Industry 4.0, while some 40% stated that they were interested in purchasing new machines to make the most of the advantages offered by digitalised production.
Digitalisation has become a strategic choice, not just for companies that wish to invest in new process control and management systems, but also for those that aim to continue guaranteeing very high quality products thanks to the efficiency of the new technology available.
For the wood and furniture supply chain, Industry 4.0 is a challenge to be addressed using the best approach possible, one that will also impact the workers of the future. Observers maintain that by 2020 the supply chain will need some 24,000 new professionals who possess new skills and suitable training to fit into this new manufacturing paradigm.