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Articles & Stories

Thin-kerf sawmilling gaining ground in Asia

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Thin-kerf sawmilling gaining ground in Asia

In early 2016, I spent two weeks traveling throughout the jungles of Sri Lanka, three distinct regions in India, and then up to the mountain kingdom of Bhutan, each day visiting sawmillers who have recently adopted thin-kerf sawmills into their companies. In Europe and in the United States, I’m accustomed to hearing sawmillers give me any one of a host of answers to why they chose a thin-kerf sawmill – just starting a woodworking hobby, need a small sawmill on the farm to repair buildings, want to diversify my logging operation, etc.

To my great surprise, as I interviewed sawmillers from Sri Lanka all the way up into Bhutan as to why they were implementing a different kind of sawmill, as opposed to the traditional sawmills used for so many years, their reasons were surprisingly similar.

Chorus of agreement regarding thin-kerf benefits for the market

I asked each of them why they chose a thin-kerf sawmill imported from Europe over a cheaper, locally produced bandsaw or frame saw machine, and their answers focused on higher yield, lower electricity consumption, additional safety features, and the lower blade costs that thin-kerf sawmills provide.

Upul Ekanayake - Sri Lanka

Upul Ekanayake is one of the directors of ElectroRef Engineers in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 10 years ago, his company bought a sawmill for their own timber production, and as a result began importing thin-kerf sawmills from Europe and selling them in Sri Lanka. 

“In Sri Lanka the price of electricity is very high. The Wood-Mizer is the best option to achieve low consumption of electricity. We have expensive hardwood materials, so if you gain another piece of sawn timber by using thin-kerf blades, the savings is great for everybody.”




Mr. Ranasinghe from Gampola , Sri Lanka (center)

Mr. Ranasinghe from Gampola , Sri Lanka operates a sawmill that processes custom-sized timber for local construction companies. He started with a small LT15 sawmill years ago, and now has eight Wood-Mizer machines in use in his company. 

“They save wood and give me more profit. If you compare them with circular saws, they save lot of wood!”



Mr. Mahawatta

Mr. Mahawatta from Aturugiriya, Sri Lanka, owner of Sampath Sawmill, shares - 

“You can get 85% yield from a good quality log if you use a thin-kerf sawmill. In the old days, we were only getting 50-60% yield from our logs. I spent five million Sri Lankan rupees for this [LT40] sawmill. In one and half years, I have earned my investment back three times.”

 



Mr. Karma Thinley, Building Project Director for the Royal Academy in Bhutan

High on a Bhutanese mountain ridge at around 3,000 metres in elevation, I interviewed Mr. Karma Thinley, Building Project Director for the Royal Academy in Bhutan, which will require 28,000 cubic metres of timber over the course of eight years to complete, all of which they are sawing on-site. In order to meet their objectives for timber production, they added an LT70 sawmill, after already having a swing-blade sawmill on site.

“In Bhutan, traditional design means lots of timber is going to be used.” Mr. Karma Thinley shared. “Prior to the Wood-Mizer we had a [different] portable sawmill. We find a difference of almost 15-20%, in terms of waste reduction. And when we did a calculation on the costs of the wastage of timber, we found that approximately one third of the total timber requirement for the project, just from the waste alone, we can recover the costs of by investing in the Wood-Mizer.”

No small sum when considering the project calls for 28,000 cubic metres of timber!


I was especially privileged to hold an interview at the Bhutan Natural Resources Development Corporation, the company solely responsible for forest management and logging in Bhutan. All logging, log prices, and log sales are managed by this company. Deo Kumar Biswa, General Manager of their Marketing and Business Development Division, sat with me over a hot cup of tea with milk to explain why their corporation was now getting into sawmilling themselves with a Wood-Mizer LT70 sawmill, instead of remaining satisfied with supplying logs to existing sawmills.

Deo Kumar Biswa, General Manager of their Marketing and Business Development Division - Thimphu, Bhutan

“We have a very lofty ideal set by the constitution of Bhutan – at any point in time, we should maintain 60% forest cover,” Mr. Biswa shared. “The government thinks that somebody should do this value-addition properly, and cater to individual customer requirements. That is the whole reason why Natural Resources Co. had to come up with a sawmill. Value addition is something that we are very mindful of and we feel that this is the best technology, in terms of recovery percentage, and in terms of the robustness of the machines.”




Mr. Vikas Choudhry from Sree Rani Sati Overseas - New Delhi, India

In Delhi, Mr. Vikas Choudhry from Sree Rani Sati Overseas shared that their company was already using thin-kerf sawmills in Africa, when they decided to import a sawmill to their Delhi factory as well -

“In teak wood we have to saw small sizes like 25 mm. The traditional bandsaw that we are using in India, the thickness of the blade is 3 mm and something. And [the LT15] consumes only 1.5 mm. That is the basic reason we imported this machine. I would advise sawmillers who are using the local bandsaw machines in India that they should go for this, because whatever the cost is, I know we can recover it within a year. ”


D.P Singh, from Sylvan Plyboard in Kolkata, India

D.P Singh, from Sylvan Plyboard in Kolkata manages a massive sawmilling and plyboard manufacturing company – employing upwards of 1,500 people and processing 700+ cubic metres of timber daily. He uses eight different thin-kerf sawmills ranging from small manual sawmills up to industrial sawmills and multi-head resaws, such as Wood-Mizer’s latest HR700 resaw.

“What we get from the machine is better, because the blade thickness is very good,” said Mr. Singh. “The blade thickness is around 1.5 or 1.6 mm, so in every cut we get 1 mm recovery, so that is our big achievement in this machine. So we can recover the cost of the machine within one or two years.”


Thin-kerf suppliers have a positive outlook

James Wong, Wood-Mizer’s regional manager for Asia

James Wong, Wood-Mizer’s regional manager for Asia, gave me a big picture perspective, coming from his experiences managing thin-kerf sawmill sales into the whole of Asia. “We are using narrow-band saw thin kerf and when timber is becoming more expensive, increasing the yield becomes important. In addition, due to their customers pressing for lower price for their products, most manufacturers are trying to find ways to increase the yield and cut down number of processing to produce their product.”

As well, with labour costs rising, another thin-kerf benefit is that fewer labourers are required.

“In today’s market, labourers are becoming more and more expensive,” James says. “Therefore, manufacturers are looking for some form of modernization in their sawmills and to minimize labour requirements.”

The thin-kerf formula, although still not welcomed with open arms by many traditional sawmillers, is catching on, James says, especially among manufacturers pressured to make changes to improve their overhead, and younger sawmillers taking up the business operations from their fathers.


“[In 2015], we had the best year for India,” James shares. “We managed to put five machines in a timber market in Delhi. For India, manufacturers are finding ways to cut down their production cost as most of their wood is imported – teak, African hardwood, Pine from New Zealand and Europe.”

Traditionally, thin-kerf sawmills have been proven in softwoods and for low to medium-production levels, but according to Mr. Wong, that is changing as Wood-Mizer adds more industrial sawmilling equipment to their product range, and is now supplying carbide-tipped blades for cutting tough hardwoods.


“We worked with Wood-Mizer USA to manufacture Carbide blades to cater to this market,” James shares. “Recently we have installed a WM3500, HR700 4 head resaw, LT40 and HR500 resaw in South India.  Another notable installation will be the HR700 4 Head resaw, and three LT20B sawmills being installed in West India. There are also 2 upcoming installations, the WB2000 (the 1st in Asia) being installed in the Philippines and also the LT70, SLP Smart Log Processing Line together with LT40 which will in installed in Central Java, Indonesia.”

Thin-kerf looking forward

In regard to next additional steps for the future, Mr. Wong insists that thin-kerf multihead resaws hold huge potential for India and the rest of Asia.

“As more countries are banning the export of logs, our Horizontal Resaws are becoming more important for the market,” James says. “There will also be demand for our Smart Log Processing Lines as plantation timber are becoming smaller.  Therefore using labour intensive traditional bandsaws will not be productive.”

Thin-kerf sawmilling benefits conservation objectives

Mr. Passang, a sawmiller and sawmill sales agent

From Bhutan, Mr. Passang, a sawmiller and sawmill sales agent, is certain that thin-kerf sawmills are the answer to the challenges the wood industry faces there, and even insists that sawing with a narrower bandsaw blade is in line with Bhutan’s famous GNH governmental policy.


“GNH means ‘Gross National Happiness’. This was one of the ideas from our former King of Bhutan,” Mr. Passang shares. “The whole idea is to make the maximum out of our resources. And this particular technology – thin-kerf technology – is actually saving our resource. Because to build a house, for instance, we may require 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.”


Mr. Mahawatta from Sri Lanka advises, “My advice for the Sri Lankan sawmillers is that people should be educated on how to use Wood-Mizer sawmills to meet their sawmilling requirements. We have limited forests in Sri Lanka, so you need to save wood and not waste it unnecessarily.”

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