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Articles & Stories

Introducing new sawmilling technology to Bhutan

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Introducing new sawmilling technology to Bhutan

Mr. Passang is an experienced Bhutanese sawmiller and woodworker who describes in this interview how he introduced new sawmilling technology to Bhutan to help other sawmillers make better use of their resources and lower costs.


Mr. Passang of Ongdi Timbers and Alpine Builders, near Thimphu, Bhutan


Q – Can you describe what makes Bhutan’s timber industry unique?


A – In the Central and Western regions, we are cutting mostly conifer species. In the Southern belt, it is mixed hardwood species. And in the Eastern region hardwood we have species like oak, walnut, and birch. Bhutan actually is a solid wood market, and considering all the vast Natural forest resources, Bhutan is very ideal for sawmill businesses.

The Natural Resources Development Corporation - the only logging corporation in Bhutan - does all the timber harvesting. After the harvest, timber is distributed among wood-based industries and the sawmillers for onward sales to customer.


Q – How did you become involved with woodworking yourself?


A – My parents used to run a small sawmill. After my schooling, I joined and slowly took over the sawmilling business. The name of the company is Ongdi Timber Industries, and we produce value-added products like furniture, and building components like doors and window frames, shutters, flooring, wall panelling, and ceiling panels from a variety of wood species.



Q – What kind of clients do you serve?
A – Mostly contractors. Then big projects like hotels, and then some high-end customers like the Royal families and Resorts.


Q – Why are you advocating the use of thin-kerf sawmills, versus the traditional sawmills currently used by the majority of sawmillers in Bhutan?


A – First, it is because of the recovery percentage that we get out of the logs that we are sawing. Compared to existing sawmills, thin-kerf sawmills have a vast advantage especially in terms of the waste aspect. The old sawmills are handled completely manually, so it is a very difficult job.

As well, these new Wood-Mizer sawmills provide a good opportunity for our youth to be employed in the sawmill industry. There are many safety issues with the older technology, so those issues have been addressed by the Wood-Mizer sawmills.

Another reason is the rising price of timber… and so the appropriate technology was more important to bring in to conserve. So especially from the conservation point of view, the government fully supports this. Any technology that gives an added input/output is highly appreciated. 


Q – Have you incorporated thin-kerf sawmilling into your own woodworking business?


A – Obviously, yes. If we bought our wood from other sawmills, there would be a lot of timber waste, energy waste, and it is just time consuming. With the extra yield that we are getting, our profitability has increased over time. It is very important that we save labour and electricity, so the Wood-Mizer is playing an important role in our industry.


Q – What are the advantages of your particular model, the Wood-Mizer LT70 sawmill?


A – First, the remote station gives the operator full access to all controls. He does not have to move around much with the remote system.

Second, the hydraulic loading function is helpful, which used to be very labour intensive, and so it saves a lot of time.

Third, because of the timber sizes we require, this sawmill is capable of producing any size we need - bigger, smaller, whatever sizes we require. So the sawmill is very flexible.


Q – How does thin-kerf sawmilling fit in with Bhutan’s famous ‘Gross National Happiness’ policy for development, which also extends to the forestry sector?


A – GNH means “Gross National Happiness”. This is one of the ideas from His Majesty the 4th King. He had this vision for all his subjects, so that no one should be left homeless or hungry even for one day, and things like that. Everything is based on the GNH policy - any projects, policy changes, or investments that come in, – whatever, it goes to the GNH commission.

The whole idea is to make the most out of our resources, and this particular technology – Wood-Mizer technology – is actually conserving our resources. So this is how it fits in, because when building a house, for instance, we may have required ten trees. Now, with this technology, we require eight trees, or maybe seven trees. The remaining three trees remain there unfelled for the next generation to utilise, which will conserve our resources for the future generation. So this is how I see the benefits of thin-kerf for GNH.


Q – Have the sawmills proven themselves on any high profile projects?


A – There is the big fortress, or as called in Bhutan – a Dzong – which is under renovation. A few years back, there was a huge fire in which the entire Dzong was lost. Now the rebuilding has started, and we thought that this was a very important place to place one of the Wood-Mizer sawmills.


Q – What future goals do you have for the company?


A – My son recently completed his MBA and he has just joined the company. For the last one year he has been helping me in the sawmilling and the joinery section. So I hope that he will continue with that for a long time and keep our policy of continuous development moving forward.


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