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Editorial: Innovate or die

March 23, 2018 - For a while now I’ve been thinking about a recurring statement made at the B.C. Truck Loggers Association convention in January: Innovation is central to survival.

March 23, 2018  By  Maria Church

Presenters candidly discussed challenges faced by B.C. loggers, such as shrinking allowable annual cuts, consolidation, retiring workforce, and public opposition, but all seemed to agree that these challenges aren’t about to change anytime soon. If contractors are going to make a profit, according to multiple presenters, they have to find new ways of being more efficient with what they have. Innovate or die was the underlying message.

One presenter went so far as to ask: Why are the latest steep slope systems not coming out of B.C. where loggers face some of the most challenging slopes in the world? The answer, I’m sure, is complicated, but the question is worth pondering.

The necessity of innovation spans the entire forestry sector from coast to coast. It’s already apparent that those companies that are excelling are the ones that are changing the game. New products, new processes and new technology are out there, but they require gutsy first adopters to test them out. Sometimes there are failures, but even those are lessons that can make a company stronger.

Luckily the forest products sector attracts innovative minds. The owners, managers and employees I’ve met are all problem solvers. When something breaks in the bush, you don’t just sit tight until the mechanic shows up — you come up with a fix to keep producing. When the factory standard machine won’t cut it at the mill, you work with the supplier to find a custom solution.


Our issue is chock-full of stories about companies that have stuck their necks out to learn new techniques or install new technologies and are now reaping the rewards.

In northern Ontario a contractor took part in an FPInnovations-run diagnostic and contractor training program to improve the business side of the operation, including management and supervision. The program allowed the previously stretched-thin husband and wife team to better co-ordinate their 60 plus employees and brokers. 

In Nanaimo, B.C., a veneer mill has grown to be one of the largest dedicated veneer facilities in North America thanks to employee ingenuity and a license to create solutions in-house. Coastland Wood Industries has undergone impressive upgrades over the past several years, and this year is taking on one of the biggest since opening: a complete retrofit of its log deck line, which will be the first complete Springer-Microtec system in North America.

“We like to be creative and innovative in everything we do. It makes it interesting for everyone who works here,” operations manager Doug Pauze told me during a tour of the facility. “If you think you can do it, go ahead and try it.”  

These stories are inspiring, but even more innovation is needed if companies are to survive increasingly challenging conditions in Canada; challenges that unlike volatile market conditions are here to stay. Learning from each other is the best place to start and for many that is already happening. Share your stories and listen to others, look beyond our borders for ideas, and take a chance on something new.

Our annual OptiSaw Optimization and Automation Forum is a prime opportunity for sawmillers to get a snapshot of what’s coming down the pipeline and how it can help their operation. The preliminary program is already announced and will include sessions on artificial intelligence, automatic species separation, X-ray scanning, drones, and much more. Be there June 5 in Richmond, B.C. Get all the details and secure a seat at www.optisaw.com.

Want to share your innovation story? I want to hear it. Email mchurch@annexweb.com or call me at 226-931-1396.

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