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Freres Lumber Representatives Visit Japanese Wood Products Manufacturers

One of the best aspects of our industry is how open and inviting other producers are to visitors. It is a fact that in the wood products industry some of our fiercest competitors may also be our best customers, which encourages companies to be open and helpful. Visiting mills can often be the best way to build relationships, learn about new production processes and equipment, and develop partnerships. This is not only true for North American producers, but also foreign producers.

In January of this year, representatives of Freres Lumber learned this first-hand. Invited by Taihei, a Japanese equipment manufacturer, Freres Plant Manager Bill Childress, Chris Harpole our Plywood Maintenance Manager and myself traveled almost 24 hours to Japan for a whirlwind, five-day tour of manufacturing and equipment fabricating facilities. There was much to learn and much to see.

In a production line the magic is often in the small details, but we noticed some large differences between U.S. and Japanese production processes right away. From the start of the production, many of the blocks were conditioned in nominal 12’ lengths. A standard metric sheet of veneer or plywood is 1-meter x 2-meter, or about 3’ x 6’. Blocks this size would be difficult to handle, so they kept full length and cut in half at the lathe.

Japanese veneer processing lines are not unheard of in the States, and in fact Swanson Group, a local Oregon manufacturer has a Japanese Meinan lathe. These lathes are known for their precision and how few people are required to operate the line. They also have a substantially different philosophy in handling random veneer, which was not only evident on the veneer line, but also in the plywood workstations.

U.S. production on lines typically add the people they need to handle small, random pieces. Japanese producers crowd, stack, and compose the random veneer instead. It varies from plant to plant whether or not random veneer is composed green or dry.

Read more of this article from Kyle Freres at

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