CNC machines started to appear in Australia in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. However, it wasn’t until the first AWISA fair at the Yennora wool stores west of Sydney that the new technologies started to have a major impact on the industry.

Early CNC machines were expensive when compared to traditional machinery in use at the time, and often difficult to learn or even understand. Claims of a machine replacing eight skilled workers fell on deaf ears as manufacturers clung to traditional production methods. It was a big thing to alter the way you worked, while at the same time holding on to your precious customers.

In July 1988 the first ever AWISA fair was held at the Yennora wool stores. Vicky Cammiade and Maureen Horne, publishers of this magazine all those years ago, won the tender to organise the fair and coined the show theme “bringing technology to the trade”. Looking back at the last thirty-odd years, this statement appears somewhat visionary, and heralded the flow of technology into this country. One wonders if many people really kn CNC machines started to appear in Australia in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. However, it wasn’t until the first AWISA fair at the Yennora wool stores west of Sydney that the new technologies started to have a major impact on the industry.

Early CNC machines were expensive when compared to traditional machinery in use at the time, and often difficult to learn or even understand. Claims of a machine replacing eight skilled workers fell on deaf ears as manufacturers clung to traditional production methods. It was a big thing to alter the way you worked, while at the same time holding on to your precious customers.

In July 1988 the first ever AWISA fair was held at the Yennora wool stores. Vicky Cammiade and Maureen Horne, publishers of this magazine all those years ago, won the tender to organise the fair and coined the show theme “bringing technology to the trade”. Looking back at the last thirty-odd years, this statement appears somewhat visionary, and heralded the flow of technology into this country. One wonders if many people really knew what the impact of technology would be way back then, and that Australia would become per capita one of the largest users of CNC equipment in the World.

Early Days

Some of the brand names are long-forgotten and at the risk of boring you, here are some early machine brands we remember. Anderson, Andi, Alberti, Bacci, Biesse, Busellato (Casadei), Conquest, CMS, Cosmec, Esseteam, Heian, Homag, HolzHer, IMA, Jonsdorf, Maka, Masterwood, Morbidelli, Onsrud, Reichenbacher, Rye, SCM, Shoda, Shinx, Scheer, Thermwood, Vitap, Weeke, Wadkin, Zangheri & Boschetti. Later, Weinig entered the CNC machining sector, along with Felder Format-4, Tecnica, KDT and more recently, Wood Tech Group’s NCG/P/B brand. There have also been plenty of excellent low-cost alternatives from Thatcher, Leda, and many others.

Since 1952 when the first CNC machine was displayed, the technology has become one of the most important assets a furniture manufacturer can have. Today, no one can argue the benefits of Nested Based Manufacturing to the kitchen and bathroom industries, or the ability to economically produce small batch sizes for the solid timber furniture manufacturer. CNC equipment is essential in harvesting the power of computer aided design and manufacturing.

By The Numbers

In the mid-1980’s a few companies were already deeply committed to producing CNC machines. Biesse, one of the forerunners thanks to the efforts of the guy’s at Allwood Machinery, had their Rover 16 out in time for AWISA 1988 for $80,000 including one routing spindle. They followed this with the Rover 13, 18, 23, 36, 49, 321, the popular 322 and 36, the 335, 316, 336, 325, 342, and the monster 464 machines, all with rails and pods for single-panel machining. Morbidelli also had a huge range, as did Weeke, SCM and several others. We had better stop printing numbers right here because they’re all just numbers, right?

Not really, each new machine or model had something new to offer, and not just another table size. Back then the numbers represented drilling spindles mostly. The ultimate pod and rail CNC machine was shown at AWISA 2000 by Morbidelli. The ‘Planet’ had two independent work heads, plus a centrally-mounted edge banding unit. It cost a million dollars! And then, something happened. Machines were being offered with a choice of basic (pod and rail) and flat tables. Weeke (now Homag) and HolzHer, both German companies, called theirs a ‘matrix’ table, describing a flat table that could be sectioned off to hold either small parts or whole sheets.

Nested Based Manufacturing

The result was that nesting became popular very quickly and soon dominated our market, reflecting the huge number of kitchen manufacturers, estimated to be well over 90% of the ‘furniture’ industry. The decline of the solid wood furniture manufacturing industry in Australia meant that traditional, heavy CNC routers were fast becoming obsolete. Companies like Chiswell and Parker would soon be out of the market, leaving very few companies needing traditional pod machines. Another factor was the introduction of software that made programming a machine relatively easy. The ability to process designs from CAD programs was also a factor.

And then, in the early 1990’s, a revolution hit with the introduction of what most call the flatbed router. Mostly made here in Australia in Queensland, NSW, South Australia and West Australia, these machines were low-cost, easy to program, easy to set up and use. Early machines had the tool inserted manually, but very soon they were made available with modest tool changers, sectioned tables and later, automatic sheet loading and unloading. Over the years a number of players have emerged including ART, Andi, Flexicam, Genesis, Impact, JKR, Multicam, Proform, Procam, Tekcel, Toughcut, Woodtron, Woodplus, and a few odd ones thrown into the mix, but not all have survived.

New Technologies

Around 2010 Bre.Ma. (Now Biesse Group) brought out a vertical CNC machine, saving an enormous amount of floor-space. Biesse followed that up with their Skipper vertical CNC and HolzHer countered with a machine they called Evolution. Other supplies have these machines, including Homag and Casadei. Around the same time the Homag Group presented the BAZ machine with onboard edge banding of panels. A stand-alone CNC edge banding machine called BAK was also sold for a while. You can still get a machine like this from Vector Systems in New Zealand, who have a few installations here in Australia.

Tooling for CNC machines is one way a manufacturer can increase production output. The Global Woodworking CNC Tools Market Size was USD449 million in 2020 and it is projected to reach USD556 million by 2027. These are tools specifically for CNC woodworking machines. With CNC machinery designed to go faster than ever before, tooling designed with improved chip loads and long service life are not just a sound investment, but mandatory to get the most out of a high-performing CNC machine.

The definition of high performance has been blurred with the advent of improved high-speed cutting. Two companies have recently started to make some noise with exciting developments in actual processing (cutting) speeds. HOLZ-HER’s EPICON series offers the ideal basis to “Ensure perfect precision and flawlessly machined workpieces while simultaneously allowing extremely high acceleration and cutting rates.” High-speed machining is the goal of every manufacturer and “HOLZ-HER delivers with their high precision direct servo-drive, wear-free couplings and covered, precision linear guides.”

The Rover B FT HD nesting machine is available through Biesse Group and production trials here in Australia have showed a significant increase the number of sheets processed per shift. Biesse Group has worked to deliver the benefits of higher speeds, acceleration/deceleration, and angular speeds to their customers by “Re-thinking the nesting process from the ground up.” It’s called Biesse High Dynamics.

The demands of the furniture and cabinet industries in 2022 are high productivity while maintaining quality of product; quick delivery times; the ability to quickly respond to customer’s designs and specifications, and the replacement of workers leaving the industry or entering as apprentices and trainees. As the world comes to terms with the digital or information age, CNC equipment will play an even greater role in manufacturing. Every major manufacturer has made significant investments in CNC equipment to future-proof their business and remain competitive. For many manufacturers, CNC machines have changed their business entirely.