"As one might expect of the world's leading trade fair for woodworking and wood processing plant, machinery and tools, LIGNA will showcase the full range of smart technologies that leverage end-to-end data integration for optimal outcomes. Because in today's competitive environment, integration is the key to success. Next year's LIGNA will give wood industry professionals a truly unique overview of all the possibilities of fully integrated production," commented Christian Pfeiffer, Deutsche Messe's Global Director LIGNA & Woodworking Events.

Manufacturers and wood fabrication firms looking to meet rising market demand for a more diverse materials mix and custom products are increasingly turning to automation in order to remain competitive. Sophisticated electronic systems are the key in this regard. Digitized production is already a working reality in many industrial-scale companies. Small companies too – such as cabinetmaking and joinery firms – are beginning to see the main benefit of digitization: efficiency. At LIGNA 2019, companies of all sizes will find solutions that complement their individual business models.

Pfeiffer: "Digitization is driving innovation in the wood industries today. Connectivity will be a unifying theme throughout the demonstrations and presentations at next year's show, featuring in displays of everything from fully automated single-batch production systems to fully integrated, individually configurable power tools. Visitors can expect to see innovations across all display categories, from forestry technology, furniture and window manufacturing, through to tooling systems and surface technology.

The latest generation of wood industry plant and machines is characterized by an open architecture and, in many cases, universal interfaces. Process steps that have traditionally been discrete are now converging to produce integrated process flows spanning everything from production planning and product design to manufacturing, distribution and sales. More and more products by leading technology providers are "digital ready". The data generated by such products are stored on cloud-based IoT platforms, where they can be accessed for further processing by a diverse range of industry-specific software. Apps allow users to monitor their operations from anywhere on their mobile end devices. Not surprisingly, the efficiency-boosting potential of these new integrated solutions is immense.

In today's digitized manufacturing systems, production is continually monitored by laser and camera-based sensors and actuators, enabling users to track production status in real time. Big-name providers of RFID, barcode and chip coding systems will also be in Hannover to showcase the state of the art in parts tracking solutions.

To become truly integrated, wood processing and woodworking companies need to digitize their upstream and downstream processes as well. That is why robotics systems are becoming increasingly commonplace at many LIGNA exhibition stands, especially in Hall 16. The latest robotics solutions can be fully integrated into the overall production process, with many playing key roles in upstream and downstream materials handling, where they perform tasks ranging from stacking/destacking timber to assembling three-dimensional timber modules. In fact, today's robotics systems can produce entire building modules with next to no manual labor input.

Optical inspection systems are also gaining in importance, particularly when it comes to assuring seamless, fault-free processes. Hall 27 will feature scanner-based automatic defect detection and sorting systems that boost timber quality and yield and are thus becoming more and more widely used.

Intralogistics solutions are at the forefront of innovation in the wood-based industries. State-of-the-art handling systems, in particular, are a critical part of process optimization in integrated manufacturing plants. Fully automated panel storage racks, for instance, not only speed up and simplify industrial-scale manufacturing operations; they also represent an important step toward high-efficiency digitized production in the wood-based trades.

Upstream of the production line, CAD is increasingly merging with CAM. With today's CAD/CAM systems, transferring complex product designs to the machines that will be turning them into real products can literally be done at the click of a mouse. And that's just one example of how integrated software solutions can shorten throughput times. Many software providers are now providing networked data solutions that span all key processes in manufacturing operations, from administration, scheduling and design, right through to production, marketing and distribution.

The next phase of digital transformation is already in the pipeline in the form of interactive assistance systems designed to help human operators ensure quality-assured processes with the aid of integrated application monitoring. One example of such a system is cloud-linked VR headsets that allow joiners to keep track on all production processes in their workshops in real time. Ernst Esslinger, Director Methods/Tools at HOMAG GmbH, Germany: "Joiners and cabinetmakers don't have to be IT experts to use and benefit from Industry 4.0 technologies. Today's software applications are designed to be intuitive and minimize the risk of human error." By overlaying real products with virtual data, augmented reality systems will soon open up new efficiency-enhancing potential in a wide variety of areas, including sales, assembly and repair. Earlier this year, the world's first fully automated production cell was launched – a major milestone for the woodworking industry. The key to networked communication within the cell is a production control system that communicates with the subordinate control systems of an automated edge banding machine, a robot and a driverless vehicle responsible for handling the parts logistics. The self-organizing factory, it seems, is well on its way to being a reality.

However, while many industrial-scale operations are well down the road to realizing this vision, others have yet to embark on their digitization journey. That's why technology providers offer modular solutions and custom packages that meet the unique needs of manufacturers at different stages of digital transformation. Gregor Baumbusch, Chief Sales Officer at Michael Weinig AG, Germany: "For our customers, cost, availability and efficiency will always be key determinants for purchasing decisions. It's our job to provide the right information at the right time; that is, information which helps our customers make commercially sound decisions, scale their capacity in a timely fashion, control their production and conduct preventive maintenance measures."

Next year's LIGNA will feature the full range of wood industry technologies, from fully automated and customizable solutions for batch-size-one production to "digital ready" machines for companies that are gearing up for a fully integrated future. Industry professionals from around the world can look forward to a wealth of captivating high-tech highlights.