This year’s Show, some 45 years after my first, brought some amazing revelations. The most awesome sight was an actual working truss plant on the Show floor. The most intriguing experience was being transported inside a robotic plant. And, the most welcome sounds were good economic projections specifically targeted to our business.
MiTek’s truss plant brought before our eyes automation of the entire assembly process: picking, cutting, and delivering parts to truss tables without a human touch, via our Component Delivery System (CDS). Unseen, but essential to its success, is its ‘brain’, the advanced shop floor software, MiTek’s Virtual Plant (MVP). When Larry and Sheryl Dix, owners of Apex Truss, watched from the elevated observation platform, they were awestruck by this display, and its promise for the future.
Trussmatic’s virtual reality experience took us to Finland, via VR goggles, and stationed us right next to their fearsome robotic assembly machines, a viewpoint we could never safely attain in their plant. Robotics is now being deployed in the U.S., and by the next BCMC we will know much more about its applicability to our business.
The economic forecast, by Todd Tomalak, provided some welcome practicality. His firm, John Burns Consulting, has gained success observing housing on the grassroots level. Their thesis, that “all housing economics are local” can be confirmed by most component manufacturers. B. J. Louws, for instance, reports strong demand in his Seattle market today, but sees the rapidly declining affordability of local housing clouding his future. Contrarily, CMs in the South observe more modest demand, but take comfort in the lack of overbuilding. Burns Consultants do see the lack of developable land holding back housing growth in most major markets for the next 2–3 years. However, they also observe that 12.5 million new household formations between now and 2025 will ramp up housing demand in a few short years.
Mr. Tomalak closed by highlighting the increased value of (no surprise) pre-made components, particularly wall panels to address labor shortages. To answer his call, several semi-automated nailing bridges and plate markers were arrayed on the show floor. While both systems have been exhibited previously, they now have been deployed with great success across the country. The bridges operate with a fraction of the tools, and they staple or nail automatically at preset spacings after being manually positioned. Generally, their advantage is not blazing speed, but improved accuracy and less complexity than their 30+ tool predecessors. In addition, top and bottom wall plate-marking and cutting is now addressed with multiple ink-jet marking solutions. Unique to this application is the incorporation of easily-changeable ink-cartridges in the Hornet system.
The 1972 Show presumed that housing would be built with modules on a moving assembly line with lots of manual labor. The 2007 Show projected that housing will be built with components made on an automated assembly line with little or no manual labor. During both shows we sold a record amount of truss equipment. During both shows we heard generally optimistic economic forecasts, but were concerned about the sustainability of the housing expansion. What’s different is the exuberance (I still recall) that we felt leaving Louisville in 1972, and the cautious optimism we experienced leaving Omaha this year. What’s also delightfully reassuring is that, in 2017, we have only half the housing starts that we had in 1972, while we have twice the number of household formations and fifty percent more people. Steady growth ahead until an even better 2018 BCMC in Milwaukee.