Northwest Hardwood interview

In an interview with FDM Asia, Shawn Dougherty, director (Asia) of Northwest Hardwoods shared his insights on some aspects of US hardwood combining with the company’s practice in dealing with this sustainable material.

FDM: How does the company position its hardwood lumber products in the Asian markets?
The company is one of the largest producers of North American hardwoods. We manufacture 14 species of kiln-dried hardwood lumber products and export them to many parts of US,European and Asian countries.

We position ourselves in Asian markets by identifying capable people for leveraging our strategies to marketing hardwood lumber in these segments effectively. The company has operation and sales outlets in some Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. But our biggest presence is in China with offices set up in Guangzhou and Shanghai.

FDM:  Can you elaborate on the ‘Graded for Yield’ concept?
Apart from the standard NHLA grades, we offer lumber grades that are more application-specific. Often, there is a need to identify what we call proprietary grades that have  HYPERLINK "" \l "en/zh/multitude" \t "" multitudes of application for end users. As these custom grades offer more of what manufacturers want and less of what they do not, the concept of ‘Graded for Yield’ is created.

For instance, we divide NHLA’s #1 Common into two grades: Cabinet (a two-face grade) designed for the kitchen cabinet and door industries, as well as Custom Shop (a one-face grade) with lower grade. In this case, we provide an economical option for one-face applications and less waste for customers who need two-face lumber.

The company has accumulated rich experience in understanding market segment needs and identifying what can be done in multiple geographies, creating the best value by establishing specific grade system around that industry segment.

FDM: How is the manufacturing process optimised?
To meet our strict grading standards, we employ advanced technologies and progressive manufacturing processes. If you have state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment but do not execute the best practice on how products are graded or packaged, they would not support grading in an effective way.

Therefore, we have a very strict grading policy so that quality control is measured by accuracy on performance. We look for standardisation and process to make sure that each output and specific grade maintains a consistent quality as those we have produced in the last month and with the one we make a year ago.

In addition, we use a series of fit-for-use machineries. The double-cut bandmills and laser-guided scanning technology improve the yield of each piece of log. In our Western and Glacial regions, abrasive planers deliver clean lumber with fewer splits and less skip. Meanwhile, the latest kiln equipment equipped with advanced and optimised modules is designed to precisely control humidity, temperature and air flow rate during the whole drying process and provide more consistent products.

FDM: How does the company handle the supply and value chain?
It is critical to have a strong supply and value chain for making a perfect product. We spent a lot of time looking at various lanes and avenues on how we can continue to drive cost down by maximising the logistic chain as the company exports lumber products to diversified continents and markets.

I think China and the US have a good situation when it comes to logistics. China ships a lot of goods to the US and in turn, we ship back huge amount of products to China this way. Meanwhile, we are also one of the largest importers of Chinese plywood and has therefore established an efficient ‘two lane traffic’ in this regard.

FDM: What is the company’s approach towards sustainable and environmental practices?
North American hardwoods are among the most plentiful and well-managed natural resources in the world. The preferred method of harvesting is single-tree selection. This provides a sustainable supply and ensures the overall health of the forest.

Currently, nearly twice as much hardwood grows each year as is harvested in the US, making the standing volume of hardwoods in its forest double of the level in 1950.

The advanced manufacturing technologies we employ ensure minimal wood waste and greatest yield of lumber. Virtually every part of the log is utilised as lumber or byproducts, and finished products are recyclable and biodegradable. For example, sawdust can be used to fuel boilers that operate dry kilns and small pieces can be processed or finger-jointed into wood components or other products.

In addition, we apply the strict sourcing and resource management practices to provide PEFC and FSC certified, legally sourced hardwood products to all clients.

FDM: What is the major credential for US hardwoods?
Major strengths of North American Hardwoods are characterised by their diversity in wood species, rational exploration and harvesting of forest resources and highly sustainable management approaches.

We have more trees today in North America than we did 100 years ago, and we have tremendous of mature, harvestable wood that source from sustainable sources, which would support our capabilities to supply hardwoods in the next 100 years.

One can have some insights by checking out the wood sourcing network around the world geographically. For instance, Canada is too far north, so it is not a good supply base for hardwood although this country possesses plenty softwoods.

If you look at Brazil, the country has poor infrastructure, so its supply and availability of hardwoods to the global markets is shrinking. Malaysia has plenty of rubberwood, but they have been increasingly converted to palm wood.

Indonesia is constrained to some extent on its supply chain of hardwood. Although African is exporting lots of wood, its legality of resource is questionable.

Above all, analysis of the global footprint shows that only US has positive surplus in this regard.

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