By Renette Rier, Strategic Innovation Manager
A couple of weeks ago I attended a great conference that, to my surprise, some in my industry hadn’t heard of before, PELICE (Panel & Engineered Lumber International Conference & Expo). It is produced and hosted by PanelWorld. It distinguishes itself as not as a grand expo, not a time to spend lots of money and give away swag bags, but a chance to talk business. Leading companies in the industry share insight on strategy to hire well, optimize operations, adopt new technology, and develop innovative new offerings. The absence of in-person conferences during COVID made me begin to think conferences and trade shows are all alike, but PELICE reminded me that that’s not the case.
They offered keynote panels each day and then several tracks of informative sessions from Quality Control to Fire Prevention to Innovative Products.
Here are my key takeaways from PELICE 2022:
1. Culture is the bedrock
Several of the keynote panelists emphasized that establishing and staying true to their established company culture has brought success. Roseburg’s own Jake Elston spoke about how our value-driven culture has enabled us to diversify in products and geography by more than 100% in the last 10 years.
Culture was key to making companies like EGGER, Roseburg, Coastal and Swiss Krono successful and safe throughout the pandemic. This looked different across the companies; for EGGER in Lexington, NC, this meant creating a team that comprises 98% local employees in an EU-based factory. Roseburg, meanwhile, leaned into our mottos “Safe to the Core” and “Saw Dust in Our Veins” to diversify our product offering, diversify geographically, and work on building new mills and renovating existing ones in a safe and cohesive manner. Coastal’s culture-centric philosophy meant that they focused their efforts on being cutting-edge in people-orientation and safety-orientation, all while driving productivity. Lastly, at Swiss Krono, they broadened their definition of “culture” as the company underwent the challenging task of merging European and American ways of wood manufacturing and doing business. These stories demonstrated that even during the past few years of unpredictability in our industry, culture is key in maintaining the safety and productivity we have today, and is integral to a growing and profitable future.
2. Innovation Doesn’t Stop
Companies large and small shared about something that’s opening up new opportunities in structural and mass timber: innovation in what and where products are being used to diversify the already superior carbon footprint of the wood industry when compared to other structural products. . Cross –laminated Timber (CLT) and Mass Plywood Panels (MPP) are being used in place of concrete and steel beams to enable faster and more sustainable construction. There was also a session supported by Georgia Research Institute and others that focused on innovative scrimber technology to make beams, which leverages small and underutilized logs that might otherwise go to waste.
Overall, it’s a thrilling time to be in the wood products industry. Homeowners, commercial and multi-family developers, and designers/specifiers are looking for solutions that reduce carbon footprint, meet budget and availability targets, and satisfy aesthetic preference for natural materials. The industry is well poised for disruption as new solutions are developed to address these modifications.
3. Over 100 years in and Still Optimizing
Several sessions focused on sources of long-term viability in wood products companies, and how to maximize productivity, often thanks to automation. Some of these sessions went into detail about the ways companies are able to collect and analyze more data than ever before; for example, sessions by LIMAB, Inc. on in-process board measurement and on automatic grading presented their work on optimizing the lathe and veneer process. These companies analyzed and redesigned their veneer layup lines to better distinguish flaws and make more high-quality board.
There were also presentations on how safety improvements like automatic lathe blade replacement, which reduces human contact with the 100-pound lathe blade that is often replaced multiple times per shift, can increase the safety profile of that individual part of the manufacturing process.
4. Market Dynamics – How the Wood Industry is Shifting with Them
Throughout the conference, organizations talked about how they are managing through the tight labor market. Economist Dr. Roger Tutterow explained that the market will probably remain tight due to a reduction in the labor force participation rate. The percentage of people desiring to work is reduced due to priority shifts brought on by COVID, including early retirements and child-care needs. Factors that will enable the long-term viability of our organizations in the midst of these changes include the wood industry’s focus on culture, an increased emphasis on communicating career opportunities to a more diverse audience, and adoption of increased automation.
Lastly, the American Wood Council’s Jackson Morrill gave great information about the work that they and their peer organizations are doing on the industry’s behalf. Everyone from AWC and the National Alliance of Forest Owners to NAHB and EDF, and everything in between, are working to communicate the benefits of wood in a clear and fact-based manner to government leaders and the general public alike. One of their key talking points is how the use of wood in structural and non-structural applications sequesters more CO2 and requires less fossil fuel usage than concrete, steel, and other similar materials. As the markets are shifting toward a more conscientious approach to carbon emissions in construction, and customers increasingly focus on their own individual carbon footprints, the wood industry continues to support sustainable forestry, high-efficiency construction, and increased carbon sequestration.
Did you attend PELICE? What were your top takeaways?
The Panel & Engineered Lumber International Conference & Expo (PELICE) is held every other year at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta. It caters to structural and non-structural wood products producers and technology suppliers, and generally attracts 500 management personnel. The event features 50 presentations and 100 exhibitors. It is produced and hosted by Panel World magazine. The ninth PELICE will be held March 14-15, 2024.
About Renette Rier
Renette is Strategic Innovation Lead at Roseburg Forest Products, where she is helping to mold and sustain a strong culture of innovation and the corresponding returns. As a strategist, marketer, innovator and doer, she has helped private and public manufacturing companies turn ideas into profit for the past 20 years. With 8 granted patents and both an MBA and a ChemE degree, she has made diapers drier, introduced healthier insulation and helped wood manufacturers run faster. She believes strategy and innovation are often made out to be overly complex and she seeks to change that.