FPInnovations tackles hardwood issues
By Jean-Luc Bernier
Apr. 14, 2014 - The Canadian hardwood sector is facing significant economic challenges but still represents a source of intense activity: it generates many jobs and economic value from hardwood forests across eastern Canada. Research results from FPInnovations’ Hardwood Initiative demonstrate that substantial benefits will be obtained once every step of the hardwood value chain is tightly linked with user needs.
Transforming the industry
The hardwood sector has been in a vulnerable position since the American housing downturn and many manufacturing facilities have shifted to Southeast Asia. Major changes were needed for the Canadian hardwood sector to remain competitive and be able to adapt quickly to demand fluctuations and shifts in economic power.
“To stay competitive, the hardwood processing industry has to change. Today, secondary manufacturers are focused on acquiring lumber products of the right dimensions and quality that correspond to their specific needs,” explains Torsten Lihra, FPInnovations Technology Transfer Leader.
At the forefront of this transformation, FPInnovations and the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre partnered in 2009 with the industry, provincial governments and Natural Resources Canada through the Transformative Technologies Program to launch an intensive four-year program dubbed the Hardwood Initiative. The objective was to accelerate the industry transformation and improve the sector’s short-term competitiveness by looking at the whole picture, from harvesting to user needs and markets. One of the main goals was to examine how best to shift the hardwood lumber industry from a product-focused into a client-focused industrial structure.
From a push to a pull mode
The plethora of projects and resulting conclusions is impressive. The main conclusion however, is quite singular: Every industry involved from harvesting to marketing should orient their activity towards what their clients hold in highest regard. This means buying or producing only what the users can transform and sell back at the highest price. Seemingly obvious, this represents a radical change within the sector because the challenge has to be tackled by every player at once. How can sawmills inform harvesting operators of their needs in fibre and log characteristics if they themselves do not know the needs of the secondary or tertiary wood manufacturing industries? Only a handful of companies work on an integrated basis, with every operation dependent on the following operation’s needs. Most companies rely on ad hoc communications with clients and suppliers to prioritize operations. The Hardwood Initiative offers conclusive arguments in favour of integrated change in business practices.
A project linking log characterization to user needs, for example, calculated the potential recovery gain obtained by sorting logs according to user criteria instead of sorting with traditional criteria. Potential recovered volume ranged from 20 per cent for flooring components to more than 300 per cent for molding components. This translates in cost reductions between 17 and 75 per cent for these components. These results can be further used to develop silvicultural strategies or merchandizing yard centres that correspond to the sawmills’ fibre demands.
What about lumber grading? NHLA rules are still the basis on which sawmills deal with the second and third transformation manufacturers. These players are increasingly looking for lumber adapted to their processes. For example, there exists a discrepancy between the target thickness required for lumber leaving the mill (one inch) and the target thickness actually needed by wood product manufacturers. One of the projects evaluated the sawmill’s benefits of reducing the traditional one-inch target thickness by 1/16 inch. Benefits of this reduction represents 3.8 per cent in terms of lumber recovery.
This means close to $130,000 in additional income for a mill producing five MMbf/year.
There are many publications and reports available through the Hardwood Initiative website that offer new approaches to ensure better utilization of available wood while growing and improving the hardwood forests for future generations.