Like most industries, the global crisis was especially hard on the timber and sawmilling sectors. Many large sawmill corporations could not adapt quickly enough to diversify their products, or scale their productions to a size better suited for riding out the storm, and unfortunately are no more.
Some good news is found though in a company that for many years built its reputation on serving the needs of small scale sawmilling operators. Wood-Mizer Industries introduced the concept of thin-kerf, narrowband processing to Europe in the 1990s, and their successes for the small-scale producer showed them that many of their innovations could also scaled up and applied in settings that are more industrial.
For over ten years, the company has been growing in their industrial sawmilling product range, although many from the established industry viewed those efforts with varying degrees of scepticism. However, the crisis itself has shown that some of the benefits touted by Wood-Mizer of industrial thin-kerf sawmilling are well founded, and narrow band industrial sawmilling is becoming an alternative route for consideration.
Post-Crisis report with CEO Richard Vivers Wood-Mizer’s new president and CEO, Richard Vivers, is a native of Scotland who ran his own timber business for many years. He was using wideband sawmills for processing, and happened upon Wood-Mizer equipment by accident at a forestry exhibition in Northern England in the 1980s.
"I walked around a corner in the forest, and I saw this funny little orange machine cutting a very big oak log and doing it very easily and very accurately. I stood and watched it for probably a half hour before I even went to speak to the people who were demonstrating it."
That was the beginning. Richard bought his own LT40 sawmill and began performing mobile sawmilling services locally. This eventually resulted in him selling his wideband-based business, as he became Wood-Mizer’s agent in Scotland. His involvement with the company continued more and more through the years. In 2006, he was appointed CEO of the European operations, and more recently president and CEO of the company globally.
"My belief," Mr. Vivers explains, "was that this was an alternative to the traditional circle or very wideband sawmills which necessarily result in expensive foundations, heavy equipment, high-energy consumption, and large capital expenditure to get started. My desire has always been to offer a parallel universe to the traditional sawmilling industry, doing the same thing, but doing it in a different way. I believe this way is more cost effective…"
Although Wood-Mizer’s message that it was offering a better method for profitability was timely, the crisis affected them initially as it did almost everyone else.
"[2008 and 2009] were difficult times. It brought into sharp focus two or three things from a strategic management point of view. One was to diversify our presence geographically because typically, during a crisis, there is only a short period when every country in the world is ‘shut down’ all at once.
"We also determined that we would expand our product offering… through to industrial installations. Again, not every part of the industry is closed down at the same time.
"Internally we decided that we would redouble our efforts to be the best we could. We took a conscious decision not to downsize any of our R&D staff. We continued the commitment to developing product during that period. That was also the time that we really focused very hard on implementing lean manufacturing principles.
"We are trying to create a corporation that can withstand the economic ups and downs of the future, and we are keeping up with that fairly strenuous ‘keep fit’ regime. We have been able to make the expansion investment and continue along the strategic path we have set. I think that the new investment is a very tangible measurement that is a result of the strategic decisions that we have taken."
New production hall expands the company’s capacity to develop bigger products In January, Wood-Mizer Industriescelebrated the grand opening ceremonies of their newly completed 4,250 square metre production hall at their European headquarters, which almost doubles the company’s sawmill production area.
Richard Vivers shares that the vision for the expanded production met a growing need for more space, and sets the stage for further growth. "Growth in overall sales volume and product range were both causes for the expansion. Over the years, we started getting more involved in industrial installations of bigger machinery. As we developed into Asia and Africa, where they have long, large tropical logs, the machines became bigger, and you simply need more floor space to be able to build bigger machinery."
Designed by AiG Architects and constructed by BUDREM, the new building will allow Wood-Mizer’s production team to be as flexible as possible with future material flow.The roof can support heavy overhead cranes anywhere in the building, and the concrete floor is 30cm (11.8in) thick, enabling heavy machines to be moved anywherein the building without additional reinforcement. New offices will house Wood-Mizer’s production and purchasing teams. The building also features a large modern kitchen, large conference rooms, and expanded employee break and locker rooms. A new access road from the main highway and expanded exterior parking and equipment staging areas also played a significant role in the project.
The opening ceremonies were well attended by government officials, business partners, board members, and Wood-Mizer’s international management team. Entertainment was provided by ROMA, one of Poland’s most well-known and award winning theatre groups from Warsaw.
"The guiding principles focused on flexibility, expanding production to a new level, and creating a good working environment for our employees," Mr Vivers shares."The architects have designed a stunning building around our practical needs. The expansion of our European headquarters gives us a solid base to move up to the next stage in the sawmilling industry globally."
Alternative industrial sawmill products for a post-crisis industry From small, hobby-sized sawmills to a sawmill that can cut a tropical 1.7m diameter log smoothly through the centre, the company is seeing growth in all product categories post-crisis – demonstrating there exists a definite need for thin-kerf processing around the world.
"Until recently, we were generally perceived by the sawmilling industry as a rather curious little thing that ran around the countryside cutting logs. That is now changing significantly. To some extent, the difficulties of the recent recession have helped. During that period, all our customers with industrial units were able to be far more flexible and had lower capital costs and lower commitments than many of the traditional mega sawmills. Very few of our owners actually went out of business."
Richard remarked that their engineering and R&D departments are close to completing several new projects that continue to expand Wood-Mizer’s range, and that their team continues to grow.
This article was published in the 'Wood-Mizer Today' company newsletter.
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