Robotics or Artificial Intelligence? – Wood Business


Robotics is now available for our filing rooms. Sawfilers can now rely on robotics to perform repetitive tasks, day in and day out. However, it seems robots with filing room automation can be a little confusing to some. Robots are programmable machines that usually perform a series of actions and repeat the same series of actions over and over again. In my opinion, robots do this through sensors and actuators defined and set by a human. Artificial intelligence (AI) is when a computer is programmed to complete tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. Robotics does not require any intelligence because the robot will never change what it is doing nor will it make a decision to change. AI has not yet been incorporated into saw filing equipment and automation. This is why we as an industry must support the filer and the filing room.

Therefore, filing rooms need experienced and seasoned sawfilers more than ever. The role of the sawfiler may have changed, but the need for sawfiler knowledge has not. An experienced sawfiler will take this change and make it work for both filer and mill. When a filer embraces this change and allows the robotics in his filing room to do repetitive tasks, it not only makes it easier for the filer to do other tasks, but it also helps prevent health risks. associated with labor-intensive and repetitive jobs. Just as the head filer trains and supervises an apprentice, he will still need to program, set up and monitor the robot. It is a never-ending process.

Robotics cannot determine for themselves how a tooth should be configured, nor can a robot know when parts need to be replaced or aligned. Since the robotics must be programmed, it can help retain some of the filer’s knowledge of the saw’s dimensions and requirements to make it run at its best. Almost everyone can relate to walking into the filing room and seeing the writing on the wall referred to by the filer – how much a band needed, or what tension worked better for what was seen – but the information had to be kept to allow repeated success in the filing room. I remember often hearing a filer say, “don’t erase that chalk on the wall.” Today this information is stored in programs written for sawfilers’ robotic filing equipment.

Mill owners and managers are not going to take an inexperienced sawfiler off the mill floor and have robotics operate them in a filing room. No more than one race car owner or manager will pull a licensed driver out of the stands to drive their race car.

However, we have our filing rooms full of new high tech CNC machines with robotic capabilities that have made the work of the sawfiler easier but it is also possible to obtain precise cutting performance that has never been achieved before – repeat performance. In the last five years we have seen great progress in the machines and technology in our filing rooms. It’s a good thing because right outside our filing room doors, on the mill floors, we see machines that need the saws we build and repair to turn faster, run faster straight, while taking a feed speed we never thought possible. Now we know, not only do we have to keep the saws standing fast while in the cut, but also keep them standing without wavering to the side, moving quickly, almost in the blink of an eye.

We are now faced with insufficient experienced sawfilers for our mills. The filers we have are in motion with new and advanced machines to help repair and sharpen the saws. These machines require well-trained and knowledgeable filers to operate them. We have these machines but we don’t have AI; we have talented saw filers who will have jobs in the filing room as long as we have a lumber industry.

A good sawfiler will require this advanced, high-tech equipment along with the best saws available that will allow them to provide the saws needed to run today’s sawmills. Good sawfilers are always moving forward to provide the latest thin kerf, fast running money making machines right outside our filing room doors. Good mill managers will support their filers as they find ways and funding to support them with the right equipment and personnel needs. Good vendors will continue to provide information on products in the filing room, assist with return-on-investment needs and ideas, while providing knowledge of both the pros and cons of new machines being considered for filing room.


Paul Smith is the owner and CEO of Smith Sawmill Service LLC with locations in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Reach him at [email protected]

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