Setting the Bar in Woodworking Standards

Architectural Woodwork Institute

The Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) is the leading woodwork trade association with roots going back over a century. The institute publishes and maintains industry standards, hosts conferences and seminars and operates an education center to encourage young people to enter the profession. Run on a non-profit basis, the institute has over two thousand members and is proud of its long history and prominent position in the woodworking sector.
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“We are viewed as the expert, go-to resource for any matter regarding architectural woodwork,” states Phil Duvic, executive vice president of the AWI.

Woodwork refers to wooden fittings such as mouldings, stairways, paneling and doors in buildings. Standard woodwork products are often mass produced and can generally be installed with minimal modifications. Architectural woodwork, by contrast, is custom made in unique designs.

“Our manufacturers will take a set of architectural plans that are custom designed with intricate detailing and will manufacture custom woodwork to meet the design ideas of the architect. Our members participate primarily in the commercial marketplace and provide woodwork for banks, executive offices, public facilities, schools,” explains Duvic.

Given that architectural woodwork is all about details and superb craftsmanship, it is no surprise that standards and quality are central to the AWI’s mission. To this end, the institute incorporated an entity called the AWI Quality Certification Corporation (QCC) in April, 2007. The QCC is charged with carrying out the AWI quality certification program (QCP) which aims to determine if architectural woodwork manufacturers meet sector standards.

“We will review an applicant’s shop drawings and do plant inspections. We monitor the first two projects done [under the terms of the program] to ensure the quality standard requirement are being met,” says Duvic.

Companies that make the cut receive QCP accreditation, which boosts their standing in the industry. Most manufacturers who have participated in the quality certification program are based in the U.S., though some are located in Canada and as far abroad as Asia and the Middle East.

The AWI has actually been compiling and writing industry standards for architectural woodwork since 1961. It is an ongoing process, as existing standards sometimes need to be updated or new standards introduced.

“We are currently writing the next generation of generation of woodwork standards [based on] the ANSI voluntary process of building standards through industry input. Our new standards will contain performance measures for certain woodwork items,” states Duvic.

In 2016, the institute “established a national testing center where we have been conducting performance tests on architectural woodwork. We suspect that after our standards are published and utilized in the industry there will be a demand for independent testing and verification of woodwork products, hardware and related [products].”

From its head office in Potomac Falls, Virginia the AWI communicates with chapters around the country. There are four separate categories of AWI membership, for manufacturers, suppliers, industry companies and affiliate individuals.

Membership benefits for manufacturers include “technical support on standards issues,” and “a discount for participation in our quality certification program. [Manufacturing members] work with our education director on industry-specific education initiatives such as seminars and workshops,” explains Duvic. For suppliers, membership offers “opportunities to build business relationships with their customers who are the manufacturing members,” he says.

The industry category was “created four or five years ago as a place for industry shareholders who don’t manufacture woodwork but rather act as brokers or middlemen for woodwork products. Sort of like a hybrid between a supplier and a manufacturer.”

Affiliated individuals who join AWI receive “the standards that we publish and communications we send out, including Design Solutions magazine,” among other benefits, adds Duvic.

Design Solutions is the AWI’s main publication. It is issued quarterly in both a print and electronic format and showcases quality custom architectural woodwork made by AWI members. Readership consists primarily of interior designers and architects. The institute also publishes a print newsletter for members and sends electronic notices about industry issues.

As of October 31, 2017, the institute had 1,001 manufacturing members, two industry members, 221 supplier members and 793 affiliate members.

Companies and individuals do not have to belong to AWI to take advantage of the institute’s offerings, including QCP certification and education programs. AWI’s education efforts include webinars, seminars, workshops and demonstrations, typically conducted by industry volunteers. Seminars are “two-day, face-to-face” events held in “classroom settings, to deliver in-depth information and content to a specific audience,” explains Duvic. The seminars cover topics such as financial management and project management for people in the woodworking trade. These are organized by individual chapters and held across the country.

“We’re open to all comers. However, a non-member does pay a slightly higher fee to attend one of our seminars,” explains Duvic.

The AWI can trace its origins to 1914, the year that saw the launch of the Millwork Cost Bureau. This was a trade association founded by custom millworkers who wanted to set up cost accounting procedures and other programs for members. The bureau eventually transformed into the Architectural Woodwork Institute, which was incorporated in Chicago in late 1954.

The AWI currently hosts an annual spring leadership conference and a separate annual meeting and convention for members. The next spring leadership conference is scheduled for Omaha, Nebraska in April 2018, and the next membership meeting is scheduled for Florida, later that same year.

The core purpose of the spring conference “is to bring chapter volunteer leaders together for not only networking but personal growth and development and leadership [training] so they can become better equipped to act as volunteer leaders for their individual chapters. In conjunction with the conference, we have keynote speakers that will speak on leadership and personal growth and development. We generally have plant tours as well,” states Duvic.

The convention allows “our supplier members and manufacturing members to come together. Supplier members have tabletop exhibits. [The convention] gives them face-to-face time with existing and prospective customers. We have education speakers, workshops on various subjects of interest and plant tours. We also have a [program] for spouses.”

In addition to hosting these conferences and membership meetings, AWI frequently takes part in industry trade shows such as the International Woodworking Fair (IWF) and events run by the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers (AWFS), the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), among others. The institute typically operates a booth, networks, hosts educational seminars, discusses industry standards and recruits new members at these trade shows.

The AWI also promotes itself via an online presence, with a website and profiles on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr.

The dearth of young people entering skilled trades has been a challenge to the woodwork sector. “This is an industry-wide battle. It’s not only woodworkers – it’s electricians, painters, any skilled trade out there,” states Duvic.

To address this issue for its own sector, the institute incorporated the AWI Education Foundation (AWIEF), a non-profit training and education group in March, 2008. One of the foundation’s main activities is awarding scholarships to high school and college students who show promise in woodworking classes, says Duvic.

Technology looks to change the woodwork industry, particularly in the form of business information modeling (BIM) software. “I see a shift in the industry going forward. Looking into my crystal ball [I see] technology being leveraged by design professionals and construction professionals. They’ll be utilizing more and more BIM modeling for their architectural projects which will have a trickle-down effect on the entire supply chain in construction,” states Duvic.

Companies will have to decide whether adopt BIM technology or not. Duvic says there could be “a split, where smaller companies just cannot afford or choose not to embrace the technology and have to look at the marketplace in other ways. I’m seeing a bifurcation of the industry that could result from new technologies becoming the standard in the construction supply chain.”

In some ways, this makes the AWI’s current mission to put together a new generation of woodwork standards all the more crucial. Duvic describes this project as “our huge initiative right now.” He expects the first portion of these standards will be ready for release in late 2018, with the remainder released section by section into 2019. Writing this latest round of industry standards reflects AWI’s determination to stay at the forefront of the architectural woodwork sector.

When asked where he sees the Institute in five years Duvic says, “We still want to maintain our position as the go-to resource for architectural woodwork. I do believe we will remain the premier trade association for our industry.”

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.

June 25, 2018, 11:34 AM EDT