War in the World of Woodworking

Interwood had been waiting a long time for the chance to get a look at what's going on at LIH WOEI CARPENTRY MACHINE CO., LTD., and finally we got the chance. Before we got to take a tour of the factory Mr. Wei, Chin-hsiang introduced the latest model and explained a bit about how it came to be. The range of models available from LIH WOEI is extensive. The company builds anything from special purpose machines to copy shapers and CNC routers. What they wanted to focus on this time is their new CNC machining center. In the face of challenging economic times and reverse engineering, LIH WOEI developed this model as a viable solution for those needing a fast and reliable machine built to last a lifetime, yet priced so the buyer wouldn't even consider sourcing from China. This model, the LH-5102 5' by 10' machining center, is designed for processing solid wood doors and wall cladding, or anything inside five by ten feet and 25 centimeters thick. Complex parts, cabinet doors, computer desks and panel type furniture are some other examples. It is the result of 2 years' R&D. CUTTING COSTS WHERE APPROPRIATE With most CNC machining centers, the most expensive component of the machine is the control system. LIH WOEI decided to circumvent this burden and actually emphasizes the fact that they incorporate a much cheaper system. Most in the industry go with very expensive brands from Japan or Germany, systems that cost around ten thousand US dollars. Being that a lot of the functionality provided by these systems would actually be wasted (spherical shaping, etc.) on a machine that does 3D relief carving, LIH WOEI went with a Taiwanese supplier. This system is fashioned after German style systems, yet simplified to have just the functions appropriate for the LH-5102's range of applications. The manufacturer of the software has been in business over thirty years, and the system is extremely reliable. What's nice about this set up is twofold: one, it puts the price of the machine way down and two, the user is not reliant on third party NC software suppliers. SPENDING MORE WHERE NECESSARY Another approach that LIH WOEI takes is basically, to over-engineer, and they are happy to spend the extra money to do it. While other manufacturers who build a machine of this size incorporate, for example, linear guides that are 25mm wide, LIH WOEI opts to go with 30mm by Taiwan's top linear guide manufacturers, ABBA Linear Tech and HIWIN. The spindle is by Italian HSD. Servos used by others are typically 1 to 1.5 kilowats, while LIH WOEI insists on 2 kilowats and even more. This allows for X and Y axes travel up to 60 meters a minute, and 50 meters a minute while cutting with accuracy inside 0.02mm. MINIMIZING MANUFACTURER OBSCURITY In the past, machines built by OEM manufacturers and sold under brand names in the States did not specify on the specs plate which company actually built the machine. It would simply say where the unit was built. "Things have changed," says Mr. Wei, Chin-hsiang. "We want it to be very clear that the machine was built by a quality Taiwanese manufacturer and not some obscure one in China that cannot be found." He told one story of many, in which a particular company across the Straights attacked LIH WOEI by undercutting its prices and claiming their machine could perform the same. What happened in essence was virtual suicide. The company got the money, delivered a machine that did not work, and ruined its own reputation. Now the company cannot be found. It's as if they stepped on their own landmine. "If you want to call yourself a professional machine manufacturer, you can't sell machines that have the slightest of problems. It's wartime in the world of woodworking these days. To win, you have to find ways to deliver solid performance, lifetime durability and reliable service at a low price." He went on to explain that the reason manufacturers in China manage to stay afloat is that they sell machines inferior to those from Taiwan at higher prices to their own people. Extreme import tax is the culprit that allows this to happen. A WALK THROUGH THE SHOP One could tell that this factory has seen the creation of all sorts of machinery over the decades. Well worn and fully equipped, it resembled a kind of radical mod shop for automobiles, yet each of the various projects underway was an actual machine. First, we got to examine one of the ten machining centers they were fine tuning before shipment. He said that the one in front of us was fit with an auxiliary 9 drill boring unit, with each independent L type head pneumatically powered. The gantry can also be fit with heads for sawing, planning and sanding. Jokingly he said you can even fit an auxiliary chainsaw, but that there would seldom be a need for it. The cutting head on the spindle whirs up to 24,000 rpm and swivels up to 90 degrees. The table sucks the workpiece down so there's no need for clamps, is made of a waterproof composite softer than aluminum to prevent damage to the cutter yet rigid enough to keep accuracy, and is machined to spec by the actual machine it is installed on. Dust is eradicated via 6 vacuum zones, the self lubricating system prolongs service life, and four hydraulic pillars stabilize the gantry. They engineered this stabilizing system to be very light to minimize stress on the motor. The ATC swaps tools over within 4 seconds, the spindle is fit with standard ISO-30shaft with ER-32 collet taper, and it's equipped with an automatic tool locking system. Also, the control case is rugged while aesthetic, and can be moved to suit the operator's comfort. THE SECRET WEAPON LIH WOEI takes pride in its innovative prowess, and although the focus here has been on its latest machining center, one other project underway snagged our attention. What it was looked like a medieval torturing contraption, but it certainly was not. A massive bandsaw with a blade maybe 5 inches wide was fit on either side of its table with chain link type bear trap teeth. You could almost say they took the tracks off of a tank and welded a series of nasty steel snaggle tooth tiger teeth to each plate. They were busy modifying the machine so that rough logs could be fed through and kept from shifting. We made sure not to get too close and thought, "Copycats better beware."
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