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Forest Products Manufacturers are Entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Are They Ready?

Hardwood parts for cabinet doors being manufactured in a U.S. woodworking facility

Industry 4.0, known for the digitization of manufacturing, enhanced automation, smart factories, and data-driven production systems, promises to bring rapid change to the forest products industry. Are woodworking manufacturers in the United States ready?

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution’s introduction of steam power and mechanized production and continuing with linear assembly lines and programmable logic control, forest products manufacturers have adapted to change many times over the past 150 years. Now they are facing Industry 4.0, the fourth major industrial advance to affect U.S. industry. Wood products manufacturers, many of which are somewhat small in scale, must be able to apply Industry 4.0 principles to remain globally competitive in the 21st century. Research by Northern Research Station scientists and their partners found that few U.S. woodworking companies are familiar with the term “Industry 4.0.” However, that did not mean they were not making decisions about, investing in, and implementing digitization and computerization in their manufacturing operations. Well over half of study respondents (64 percent) indicated that their firms have made a significant investment in digitization or computerization, or both over the past 3 years. Several respondents described software and technology integration as the most unexpected problem encountered, and that skilled labor is difficult to find. Perhaps the greatest challenge to implementation will be the lack of a strategic plan, as just 19 percent of smaller firms indicated having a vision of how digitization might affect their business. This suggests that few companies are systematically thinking of the changes Industry 4.0 will bring. However, doing so will help maintain a viable U.S.-based wood products industry.



External Partners

  • Urs Buehlmann, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Karl Forth, Woodworking Network