RICHMOND, Virginia — Suppliers of the forest products industry attending the Richmond Expo overwhelmingly reported doing brisk business as loggers and sawmills take advantage of soaring lumber prices to boost production.
It was the 37th version of the East Coast Sawmill and Logging Equipment Exposition, a leading trade show of the industry that normally is held biennially. The expo was scheduled to be held in 2020 but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expo is co-sponsored by the Virginia Forest Products Association and the Cooperative Extension Service at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. It was held May 20-21 in Richmond, the first of the leading trade shows to be resurrected since the pandemic.
Although the number of exhibitors was down by about 100, Lesley Moseley, executive director of the Virginia Forest Products Association, was pleased with the turnout. Canadian companies were still on travel restrictions related to the pandemic, she noted, and many corporations still have travel restrictions in place. In addition, Virginia did not ease restrictions on gathering until 10 days prior to the event. “I think being down 100 wasn’t so bad,” she said.
Lesley and other association leadership spoke with every exhibitor, and they reported “phenomenal” feedback, she said: sales and excellent leads for more sales.
Visitor attendance was 4,000 people, down from 6,000 in 2018. “Due to the circumstances, I’m very pleased,” said Lesley.
The expo will be held again in 2022 and then will resume its biennial schedule.
Suppliers who were interviewed at the event universally reported doing strong business with loggers and mills. Some reported record lead times for equipment orders stretching to the end of the year and even into next year.
Business is booming for their customers, companies in the forest products industry. Prices for lumber have soared, and demand for lumber is strong, notably driven by the surge in remodeling and home improvement projects that took hold during the pandemic.
Suppliers are facing two challenges during the boom: availability and pricing of materials and parts, and labor. The availability of steel and pricing of steel particularly have been challenging as well as hiring skilled employees.
“We’re excited,” said Jack Hebert, sales manager of Smith Sawmill, a distributor of sawmill supplies. The company has been challenged by the availability of products and accessories because business has been so strong.
Smith Sawmill recently became the exclusive North American distributor for the line of Turbo Sawmill portable circular sawmills, which it demonstrated at the expo. The Texas-based company also recently opened its third location at a site in Polkton, North Carolina. Smith Sawmill also is a distributor of Morbark equipment and parts, including pole peeler heads.
Gary Gorscak, a cutting tools specialist for Quadco, called the outlook for the rest of the year “very positive.” He added, “Demand for land clearing and logging is high.” In addition, the lumber industry is strong, and there is good demand for new houses. Quadco exhibited its new line of Quantum teeth for all major grinders and its new QPS series of teeth for disc saws.
Business will be good “at least until the end of the year,” predicted Jeff McLaughlin, regional sales manager for Precision Husky, who pointed to high lumber prices. His company has been particularly challenged by labor issues and retaining qualified employees.
Lead times for orders are strong, reported J.P. PIerson, president of Pitts Trailers, which sells through dealers and also direct. Like other suppliers, Pitts Trailers is challenged by labor issues and rising costs for materials.
Pitts exhibited its new Lock ’N Go landing gear, which it introduced 18 months ago and now is standard on all logging trailers. The innovative feature enables the driver to secure both legs of the landing gear from the driver’s side of the trailer.
Rotochopper experienced its best year in 2020, and the level of business in 2021 is even better, reported Jody Parker, mid-Atlantic sales manager. Like other suppliers, it is challenged by supply chain issues. The company has several new products under development and expects to launch them in the fourth quarter.
Kiln-Direct, a manufacturer of kilns for drying lumber and firewood and heat-treating pallets, has doubled production in the past 12 months, said Niels Jorgenson, president. The company, in its 25th year, is expanding its production facilities. Kiln-Direct is experiencing its biggest backlog of orders. “We don’t like it,” said Niels.
Dustin Williams, sales manager for KNL Holdings, maker of Peerless trailers, said the company has orders through the end of 2021. “The market has blown up,” he said. “It’s wide open for us.” Availability of vendor parts has been an issue along with labor, he added.
“We’re very, very busy,” said Peter Taylor, president of HMC Corp., a New Hampshire-based manufacturer of sawmill machinery and equipment. “The market is very strong.” The company has a “healthy backlog” of orders, he added. It faces similar challenges in the labor market and for pricing for steel, which is subject to change after 72 hours.
Jewell Machinery, an authorized dealer for Barko and located in Rocky Mount, Virginia, also has begun representing LiuGong and its line of wheel loaders, excavators, and skid steers, which it had on display. The company also represents Dressta bulldozers. Sales are strong, a representative reported, and the outlook for 2021 is “very good.”
Randy Benson, a representative of Bilt-Rite firewood splitters and processors, called the outlook for 2021 “pretty good” and said the Vermont company also has been challenged by labor issues and parts availability. Bilt-Rite, which has a new facility, exhibited a new 8 hp splitter and the firewood tumbler system it introduced in recent years.
Stacy Mellot with Pennsylvania-based Mellot Manufacturing, which produces sawmill equipment, said the outlook is “exceptionally well.” She added, “We have plenty of orders for the rest of the year and into 2022.” Mellott has expanded its product offerings to include band saws and linebar resaws. Like other suppliers, it is challenged by material pricing and availability as well as hiring qualified skilled labor.
“Sales are way up for parts,” said Jim Lingeman, a sales and marketing representative for Ryan’s Equipment, a Michigan manufacturer of attachments for tree care and forestry equipment. The company has been challenged by supply chain delays, he said.
Sales have been steady and consistently strong, reported Matt Dubitsky, vice president of Timberwolf firewood processing equipment. “We’re trying to cut down on lead times,” he said. The company is challenged by the availability of parts and is doing more in-house manufacturing. It plans to introduce a new mid-size firewood processor later this year.
Jared Dunn, a representative of Weiler Forestry, which acquired the Caterpillar line of purpose-built forestry equipment in 2019, called the outlook “very positive.”
“Everything is on an upward trend,” he said, and the company forecasts strong markets for at least the next 12-18 months. The company has been challenged by rising steel prices and is manufacturing more parts and components in-house or sourcing them from U.S. vendors to serve their customers efficiently. It also has expanded the availability of service parts from its facility in LaGrange, Georgia.
Weiler has made numerous upgrades and improvements to its line of equipment and also has begun launching new machines. For example, it has made improvements to grapple skidders, wheel feller bunchers, track feller bunchers, and knuckleboom loaders, and it has launched a new line of stationary electric knuckleboom loaders for mills.
The outlook for Menominee Saw is “really good,” said Chris Easler, a sales representative. “Everyone is busy.” The company is challenged by the steel shortage and labor, he reported.
Jeremy Pitts, a representative for Nyle Dry Kilns, said the company has orders that will keep it busy into 2022. “We’re having some of the best business we’ve ever had for dry kilns,” he said. Nyle has doubled the size of its manufacturing facility.
Nyle Dry Kilns has introduced new service and controller packages. The company also has been conducting informational and marketing sessions via the Zoom online meeting platform during the pandemic and has published a series of educational videos on YouTube.
“Customers are still spending money,” said Steve Dagenhart, a sales rep for Air Systems Mfg., which makes dust collection and air filtration systems. “Or they’re talking about spending money.”
Air Systems Mfg. has increased production capacity in recent years. It has been challenged by the availability and pricing for materials and equipment.
Michael McAvoy of McDonough Manufacturing called the outlook “very good,” citing strong demand and prices for lumber. “All our customers are happy with the lumber market,” he said, and want to invest in machinery and increase their production.
The company has been challenged by manpower and issues related to vendors and its supply chain. “Some things you cannot get,” he said.
“This year looks good, very good,” said Frances Cooper with Cooper Machine Co. “We’re really busy.” The company is particularly busy in the pallet industry sector because pallet manufacturers are investing in new sawmills, she added.
Cooper has introduced a new slab edger and made improvements to its other edgers, which are now all-electric with electric actuators. The company also has introduced a new Vertical Saw Arbor for the pallet industry for slab recovery.
Jerry Johnson, president of PawTawJohn Services Inc., which supplies sawmill control systems and related products, expects 2021 and 2022 to continue to be strong for the wood products industry and suppliers. “A lot of mills are making money, and they want to invest in equipment,” he said. The company has been upgrading its technology for edgers and head rigs and will be introducing a new product later this year.
Business is “busy” for B.H. Payne & Co., which manufactures saws and offers mill supplies. The biggest challenge the company faces is the availability of steel and pricing along with availability of other materials.
Keith Manufacturing, makers of Walking Floor unloading systems, will be “covered up if it doesn’t slow down,” said John Harris, a sales and product training specialist. The company has introduced its new Lean Line conveyors along with the Freight Runner system for warehouse distribution operations.
Brian Turlington, vice president of SII Dry Kilns, said business is good. “Extremely good,” he added. “There’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve been very encouraged by the number of people here.”
Rising prices for materials may be the biggest challenge the company is facing, said Brian.
Cleereman Industries, the Wisconsin-based manufacturer of sawmill machinery, has orders booked for 14 months into the future, said Fran Cleereman, president. “It’s never been this far,” he said.
Cleereman exhibited a new optimizing edger and has introduced new controls and scanning technology.
Wood-Mizer, which manufactures portable sawmills, wood processing equipment, and saw blades, is busy, noted Terry Ballard, marketing specialist. “We’re trying to maintain production and keep up with demand,” he said. Sourcing parts from some vendors has been a challenge, he indicated.
“It hasn’t been this busy in three or four years,” said Patrick Jenks, president of Forestry Systems, a developer of software and technology for the hardwood lumber industry.
The company exhibited a new handheld device that uses laser technology for scaling logs and cruising timber. Jenks called the product “ground-breaking.”
“It’s been received like nothing we’ve seen before,” he said.
The company’s biggest challenge is controlling growth, he added.
Chris Fehr, Eastern region sales director for UC Coatings, said 2021 will be “fairly strong if we can weather the labor shortage.” The company also is working through some supply and raw material challenges.
UC Coatings acquired a company last year that produces water-based stains for treated lumber, and it has new products under development, said Chris.
Multitek, a Wisconsin manufacturer of firewood processing equipment, is having a strong year. “We’re almost filled up until the end of the year,” said Jason Hartmann, sales and marketing manager. The company expects to launch some new products by year’s end, he added.
Multitek is facing the same kind of challenges as other suppliers of the forest products industry, said Jason.