As machinery suppliers, we face the same challenges as any other company regarding labor. It is always hard to find qualified labor, but it helps to have a core of motivated people and always try to make them feel part of our success or defeats. Anything that helps to improve their/our work will be good for the business in the end. Our overall age level is low (around 35 years of age), so while most of our staff have joined us after finishing their studies or degrees, we still provide them with a full apprenticeship or training from the start.
The next generation comes with more “digital” skills than “hard work” values. We need to prepare for these new workers. For example, if a teenager today can use a computer better than anyone from the 70’s, why couldn’t they program a collaborative Robot to load boards into a nailer in a few years’ time? Schools in many parts of the worlds are already teaching robotics, programming, coding and mechatronics. In a few years’ time, we'll perceive the hand-nailing or hand-feeding as we perceive the (fax) facsimile… (and faster than we think).
Automation in the European pallet industry has grown rapidly over the past 10 years, and possibly for different reasons: a higher quality product from newer and more advanced sawmills (automation processes), higher wages on labor (social care and taxes), higher and unpredictable costs and availability of the raw material, heavier and tougher restrictions on health and safety regulations. The need to reduce costs forced companies to look at other areas instead of just finding cheaper labor.
The U.S. market may not be that far away from Europe in the diagnosis but it may be in the pain. The lack of consistency in labor will provoke an inconsistency in daily volumes, and force companies to look elsewhere. Automation may be a solution but it will require some time to accommodate the mentality and the reality of the pallet-lumber business in the United States. Although the pallet lumber quality has not gone as far as it did in Europe (yet), the current technologies that allow lumber to be graded while going through the manufacturing lines comes at a cost. The cost for scanning technology is still too high for many small-medium size volume companies.