A vision for 2035: How will the timber industry produce?

Industry 4.0 is also being implemented in the wood industry. When looking into the future, however, it is not primarily about machines, but mainly about the interlinking of material and data of entire production flows. The focus is on small and medium-sized companies, so that the digital transformation can take place in a way that is comprehensible to all employees. An insight from BFH expert Stefan Jack.

Many activities currently run in isolation in woodworking companies. The company’s ERP software is not automatically linked to incoming orders, orders are placed with suppliers “by hand”, and for the assembly of cabinets and prefabricated elements, plans are printed on paper and the products are assembled manually. Feedback on actual production times is hardly ever fed back into the quotation process. This is due to the small average company sizes, which range from 6 to 19 employees for carpenters and from 10 to 49 employees for joiners.

Fortunately, the interlinking of neighbouring processes has increased in recent years, as the following examples show:

  • Fully automatic transfer of design data to the processing machines
  • Automatic reading back of tool data after grinding
  • Support of employees who lift heavy loads by exoskeletons
  • Electronic display of assembly information through augmented reality glasses
  • Fully automatic data exchange between the customer’s and the supplier’s company software


Sustainability and closed cycles in the construction industry are not a trend, but a necessity. The first pioneers in the industry are already taking into account the ecological footprint that the components used will have before the concept of a building is created. Accordingly, they plan for easily degradable and reusable or recyclable materials and produce prefabricated elements in highly automated factories. In addition, waste can be greatly reduced during panel cutting by cutting larger quantities of panels together (nesting). This means that the proportion of grey energy in the building is as low as possible.

Market development

The construction industry demands to be able to build affordable space quickly, to achieve faster returns for the customer and to remain competitive with foreign countries. Efficiency along the entire value chain must therefore be increased, for example by avoiding media discontinuities. This concerns material and data processing, which consequently has to evolve from island to flow manufacturing.

Fig. 1: Interlinking of production in timber construction

There is a great demand among timber construction companies for prefabrication of elements and room modules. Carpentry and plumbing companies are increasingly required to prefabricate cabinets, kitchens and wet rooms and deliver them directly to the 3-D modules for assembly. Leading land development and construction companies want to be able to handle buildings as products in the future, instead of as projects as they do today. This places high demands on the continuous planning of producibility.


Increasing process automation is evident in production lines and more attention is being paid to material logistics. This has an effect in:

  • automatic feeding systems for beam and panel cutting,
  • automatic intermediate storage in high-bay warehouses,
  • automatic transport of beams and panels, and
  • increasing automation in assembly, such as gluing, stapling, insulating and screwing.

In the future, data integration will continue to increase as many processes are seamlessly connected and artificial intelligence supports humans in ordering and plant management. The characteristics of production equipment will be taken into account as early as the design phase, and production data will flow back to make quotations more accurate and to make better use of tool life.


Today, the woodworking industry has a good command of manual and automatic processes. The challenge is the seamless interlinking of material and data flows.
The job profile of technicians and graduates in wood construction is changing and is constantly being enriched with skills in the areas of automation, robotics, informatics, requirements and project management. Manufacturing with wood is a megatrend. It promotes sustainable development, provides sustainable solutions for society and contributes to humane digitalisation. For the latter, the wood industry needs the appropriate training at all levels, new job profiles that prepare employees for changed value-added processes from the start, and an awareness that older employees must be actively involved in the change process and taken along.

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AUTHOR: Stefan Jack

Stefan Jack is Professor of Mechanical, Process and Manufacturing Engineering at the Institute for Digital Construction and Wood Industry IdBH at BFH. His research topics are digital manufacturing, smart factory, industry 4.0 and industrial digitalisation.

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