Strong Global Demand for Portable Sawmills
During the bi-annual Austro Show held in June, Wood Southern Africa and Timber Times had the opportunity to do an interview with North American portable sawmill manufacturer Norwood Sawmills president Ashlynne Dale, who made the trip from Canada to attend the show.
Dale says Norwood portable sawmills are well received globally and are used in more than 100 countries. The cost of the machines, their modular structure, the growing demand for thin-kerf sawing and mobility make the machines suitable for a wide range of applications from private use to small and medium commercial operations in first-world and developing countries.
In South Africa and Africa, socio-economic and political environments are driving interest in portable sawmills as more people are forced to create their own jobs and are engaging in new business opportunities to make ends meet.
In some African countries legislation, which bans the use of circular sawmills and the export of logs has been passed and as a result portable bandsaw sawmills have been widely implemented.
Dale explains that in other countries where timber prices are high sawmillers are using thin-kerf saw blades on bandsaw mills to achieve optimal timber yield.
“We have found that the mills do exceptionally well in developing countries where people see the opportunity to run a small business operation using the mills. For instance, a sawmiller in Africa can hire two people to run a portable sawmill and he can still make a decent living doing this, provided he approaches his operation with an entrepreneurial, business mindset.”
Further, Dale warns that the global interest in portable sawmills has also opened the market for unscrupulous products from China.
“Not all products produced in China are untrustworthy, but we have seen real-life examples where people have spent their hard-earned money on machines which have broken down without any support services available to assist these customers. People must be very careful not to place an attractive price above proven and tested quality,” notes Dale.
Dale continues by explaining that she feels very concerned about situations in Africa where foreigners are exploiting land, people and natural resources.
“In my personal capacity and as leader of the Norwood Sawmills group, I find the situation in Africa very worrying. Countries are pillaging and exploiting all that Africa and its people have to offer. Here at Norwood Sawmills we believe that our equipment can, to some extent, empower people to take control of the circumstances and natural resources. We know that when one sawmiller acquires a Norwood mill the whole community benefits from it. Through trustworthy, user-friendly and affordable machines we are making a difference,” notes Dale.
However, Africa has also achieved major successes in the preservation of its natural resources and the creation of wealth. The ban on circular saw legislation is unique to some selected African countries and has proved to be a step in the right direction in reversing damage caused by unregulated deforestation.
“Africa is actually very forward thinking in this regard and with proper implementation and policing, more wealth will be generated and kept in the countries. Apart from this aspect, the logic behind bandsaw mills is simple. Bandsaw mills increase yield and reduce waste while circular sawmills increase waste and reduce yield.”
Other opportunities with regards to sawlog sizes have also arisen in South Africa where trees are harvested at a younger age to compensate for sawlog shortages in the market.
Many formal mills in South Africa are set up only to process large diameter logs, however, with the increased presence of small diameter logs many sawmillers are investigating the implementation of additional portable or stationary sawlines at the mills.
In these situations, the sawmiller can definitely benefit from Norwood mills as these modular machines enable the sawmiller to customise and adapt the mill to his needs.
The modular structure also means that the mill can grow with the operation as additional manual or hydraulic power functions can be added to increase sawing capacity or further ease the operation of the machine.
Dale explains that in its most extreme transformation, an all-manual Norwood mill can be completely configured to an all-hydraulic portable bandsaw mill.
A user can also opt to use manual and hydraulic functions together and can progressively convert his mill as he sees fit for his requirements.
“Norwood Sawmills is the only portable sawmilling equipment company to offer these modular functions. This is a defining aspect of our product offering and it is an essential selling point as most people who buy a Norwood mill for commercial use, will want to increase production capacity at some point.”
Meanwhile, Norwood Sawmills is trained in the art of re-inventing even the simplest sawmill functions. Dale explains that a sawmilling operation basically entails continuously repeating the same processes.
Taking this into consideration Norwood Sawmills spends its research and development time and funds on redefining some of the simplest aspects of the mill.
“Many manufacturers try to improve their products by designing bigger machines, but in reality it is the fine-tuning of all the smaller components on a machine that can make the biggest improvements,” adds Dale.
One such aspect that Norwood redesigned on their mills to improve efficiency was the saw head locking system, which it converted from manual to automatic, resulting in a massive time saving for the sawmiller.
Dale concluded by saying it is small improvements like these that make a world of difference.