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Visiting Las Vegas, one can't ignore the sheer volume of natural resources that are consumed to maintain this artificail oasis. But driving into town from the north nowadays, that impression is beginning to change. About 30 miles up I-15, and stretching from the highway to the distant mountains, an ocean of more than three million solar panels now flows across the plain. This is the brand spanking new Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, a 250 Megawatt generator that's capable of collecting enough clean power for more than a hundred thousand homes. It covers an area roughly the size of 450 football fields! This is the first large solar power plant on tribal land, and it officially opened in March to sell electricity to Los Angeles, which is about 250 miles away. The project provides lease revenue for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, and also employed many band members during construction.

Speaking of huge projects, the Las Vegas Convention Center (above, shown hosting AWFS 2017) now boasts two million square feet of exhibit space! It's a terrific venue for what was the largest woodworking show in the U.S. this year, and the mood at the event was decidedly upbeat. The show attracts over 15,000 attendees and hundreds of exhibitors from throughout the United States and abroad. Click here for a very short video that helps give a sense of the scale of the room.

The major theme for larger exhibitors this year was Industry 4.0, which AWFS describes as "the technology that will heavily influence the future of manufacturing, including artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IOT), and the Internet of Services (IOS)". It was exciting to see where woodworking is headed, and a little disturbing, too. The picture being presented was of an industry that will soon resemble the vast caverns of Detroit, where robotic arms have replaced those of auto workers. There was a very interesting piece recently by CBS News on excatly this scenario. If one buys into the concept, the woodshop of the future won't have any woodworkers... and that future, it seems, is just about upon us. Smaller custom shops will continue to ramp up the purchasing of pre-finished, flat-packed, RTO cases and components from increasingly automated and digitally driven factory shops. It's all a bit Orwellian, and hard to envision an industry that is so dedicated to diversity becoming that conformist. The truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in-between: we will continue to automate, and also continue to customize and cater to taste.

And, indeed, for most of the small and medium-sized exhibitors, the emphasis was less on technology and more focused on physical products that can help a woodworker churn product out the door. Most booths had something new to offer, whether you were part of a large corporation or just running a one-man shop. And we'll continue to feature those products in our NEWS section over the next several weeks.

Stay tuned...

The Voorwood booth had the M15 Edge-Milling Machine (at left) and an A515 Feed-through Shaper Sander (center) on display.

Pics from the show
• Click the images for larger versions.
• Click the links below them for more info.

In the Supply Hall, one could find companies such as Accuride, Salice, Hafele, Blum, Grass and Hardware Resources.

Timesavers LLC had its 2300 series rotary brush sander on display, while Dubois Equipment Company demonstrated an automated spray system.

One of the many pieces of equipment at the Stiles Machinery booth was the Ironwood S113K wide belt sander with a 36" single head.

Among the offerings at Laguna Tools is the new SmartShop LD4 that bores and inserts clips, such as Lockdowel connectors.

In its impressive and, well, huge booth, Biesse showcased the Rover K processing center, among numerous other machines.

Schmalz Inc. demonstrated the JumboErgo vacuum tube lifter for loading CNC machining centers

Mereen-Johnson's has a new Roll Feed Rip Saw (Model 524 RF/SR). And up front in the booth was a fixed arbor gang rip saw.

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