Richmond Expo Review: Business Still Booming for Forest Products Industry

The East Coast Sawmill, Logging and Pallet Equipment Exposition, also known as the Richmond Expo, returned to the Richmond Raceway in Virginia in May. The trade show is co-sponsored by the Virginia Forest Products Association and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
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RICHMOND, Virginia — TimberLine published a review of the 2021 Richmond Expo. A year later, talking to suppliers of the forest products industry at the 2022 Richmond Expo, the news is virtually identical. Business for suppliers is booming as the industry takes advantage of high lumber prices and invests in machinery to produce more and improve efficiency.

In fact, only one TimberLine advertiser – of dozens who were interviewed – reported that business was slow: Wallingford’s, which manufactures and distributes tire chains for logging machines. However, its business is normally slow this time of year; with winter and the mud season behind them, loggers do not need new tire chains.

It was the 38th version of the East Coast Sawmill, Logging and Pallet 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.

Organizers staged it in 2021 and again this year. The expo is co-sponsored by the Virginia Forest Products Association and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
The number of exhibitors was noticeably down compared to years past. A number of reasons could have contributed to the decline in exhibitors. Certainly, one is that the trade show was put on in back-to-back years.

Suppliers who were interviewed at the event universally reported doing strong business with loggers and mills. Some reported having enough business booked for the rest of the year or well into next year.

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Business has been 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.

However, just as they reported a year ago, suppliers continue to face two significant challenges: availability and pricing of raw materials and components, and labor. The challenge of hiring skilled employees seems to have abated somewhat in the past year, but suppliers continue to deal with supply chain issues. Those issues have them scrambling, particularly to find other vendors who can supply component parts, buy them in larger volumes if they can find them, and other strategies to obtain necessary parts. In some cases the answer is simply to tell customers their order will be delayed.

Suppliers who were interviewed at the Richmond Expo universally reported doing strong business with loggers and mills.
Some reported having enough business booked for the rest of the year or well into next year.

Brian Lathrop, industrial sales and service specialist for Wood-Mizer, reported the company’s business is doing “very well.” Wood-Mizer is still experiencing some challenges sourcing components from vendors, he said.

Niels Jorgensen, owner of Kiln-Direct dry kilns, said all-stainless steel kilns have been more popular recently, as well as Eagle dip tanks for treating lumber.

Jason Koskinen, mid-Atlantic regional sales rep for Rotochopper, also reported doing good business. Similarly, the company continues to face supply chain issues. Rotochopper exhibited a new stacking radial conveyor on tracks. Offered in two models, the tracked conveyor is operated remotely and improves efficiency by minimizing the need for additional handling and supporting equipment.

Dustin Williams, a sales rep for KNL Holdings, which manufactures the Peerless brand of truck trailers, said the company has orders booked through June of 2023. “It’s hard to get some things,” he said, because of supply chain challenges, “but we find ways to manage.”

Joe Deriscavage, field territory manager for the northeast region for Bandit Industries, said that business is “extremely busy.” In fact, he has worked in manufacturing for 50 years, he added, and has never seen it so busy. “Why? I don’t know.” Like other businesses, Bandit is dealing with challenges related to labor and the supply chain.

Ken MacDonald, the owner and CEO of Tigercat, said the supply chain issues are “frustrating.” Company executives stay busy chasing parts. “They’re expediters,” he said.

One of the ways Tigercat has circumvented supply chain delays is to engineer and manufacture some of the parts it normally gets from a vendor.

Dealers “can sell everything we build,” said MacDonald, whose company exhibited its new Tigercat 920 dozer for the first time as well as a horizontal grinder and a chipper the company began producing in recent years.

Tammi Jewell with Jewell Machinery said business is “very good.” The company is an authorized dealer of Barko forestry loaders, and LiuGong, Wacker Neuson, and Dressta equipment brands. “Our manufacturers have come through,” she said. “We’re pretty well stocked.” The company also recently began representing Trelan by Bandit chippers.

The number of exhibitors was down compared to years past. Certainly, one factor is that the trade show was put on in back-to-back years.

Joel Taylor, general manager of HMC Corp., said the company has a “healthy backlog” of orders for sawmill equipment. Challenges related to labor and the supply chain have changed little from last year, he said. The biggest challenge is sourcing certain components from vendors.

HMC exhibited its MDS-50 drop saw trimmer, which can be readily customized for mills because of its modular design. The MDS-50 is particularly suited for mills that trim material in a wide range of thicknesses.

Justin ‘JP’ Pierson, president of Pitts Trailers, said the company continues to innovate its line of forestry trailers. It has begun manufacturing trailers for Weiler knuckleboom loaders and “made a lot of improvements,” he said, such as a ‘crawler’ suspension. The company’s Lock ’N Go landing gear, which it exhibited a year ago, has been well received and now is standard equipment. The innovative feature enables the driver to secure both legs of the landing gear from the driver’s side of the trailer. Pitts has appointed Carter Machinery, which represents Weiler, as a dealer for its forestry trailers.

Stacy Mellot with Mellott Manufacturing said the labor situation is not as bad as last year but called the supply chain “hit or miss.” Supplies from some vendors have improved.

Those that have proved unreliable are overseas, leading Mellott to source components from vendors in Canada, Mexico, and South America.

Mellott, which exhibited a log flare butt reducer, recently shipped its first linebar resaw to a customer in Michigan and has another machine scheduled for production.

Jeanne Maddox, marketing director for Morbark, called business “good.” Doug Desena, a Morbark engineer, said the company now offers a new Cat 800 hp engine package for the 30/36 whole tree drum chipper.

Morbark is experiencing a 9-15 month backlog for orders, due in part because of supply chain challenges as well as global demand for its products, which has almost doubled.

Jeff Hurdle with Hurdle Machine Works said his company has booked orders through March 2023. Supply chain challenges “certainly have affected things,” he noted. The company exhibited a Hurdle sawmill with Magnum LT carriage and top saw and vertical edger with its new operator cab and joystick controls.

Wayne Brown, a cutting tools specialist with Quadco, characterized business as “good,” notably for its new grinder tools. In recent years the company has begun offering the Quantum series grinder tips. Supply chain challenges are “always an issue,” noted Wayne.

Jason Hartmann, sales and marketing manager for Multitek, said the company’s business is busy. Supply chain challenges are “a little better,” he said. The company works around them by ordering components from vendors far ahead. “For the most part, we do alright,” he said.

Morbark exhibited a firewood processor, a redesigned firewood tumbler and its improved conveyor and also a Wood Beaver model 14 firewood processor.

Paul Cleereman, vice president of Cleereman Industries, said the company has orders for sawmill machinery that will take it into 2024. Supply chain issues have gotten worse, he said. “Terrible.” It is particularly hard to source components like sprockets and chains if they are not built in the U.S.

Cleereman exhibited a dual-head log debarker outside and inside, a three-saw optimized edger and other equipment.

Josh Eller, a technician for Ryan’s Equipment, called business “good” but said the supply chain is causing “lots of trouble.” The company is trying to find alternative vendors for components like cylinders, bearings and hoses.

Jesse Vigil, plant manager for Metal Detectors Inc., said the company is “really busy.” It exhibited information about its new generation of equipment, some with new remote capability. The remote link enables the company to adjust and troubleshoot its metal detectors.

Brian Turlington, vice president of SII Dry Kilns, said the company is “very busy” thanks to good prices for lumber. Kilns for softwood lumber producers have been selling particularly well. Some electronic components are difficult to source, he said, notably components that have some type of computer chip that may be manufactured in an Asian country. For hard-to-get components the company is considering multiple options for vendors.

Dave Trask, sales manager for Wallingford’s, noted that business is slow, although it is typical for this time of year. Obtaining raw material has been challenging, he said. Wallingford’s recently became a distributor for pewag bogie tracks.

Ben Boles, customer support manager for Keith Mfg., characterized business as “good.” The company has orders into next year. Costs and lead times are “way up,” said Ben. Keith Mfg. recently introduced its J-Max steel floor system designed for longer wear when unloading abrasive material.

Bobby Richardson, national sales manager for B.H. Payne & Co., said the supply chain has been troublesome. “Everybody’s out of everything.”

“We sell what we have,” he added.

James Morton, systems manager for PawTawJohn Services Inc., said business is “fantastic.”

The company has orders a year in advance. Systems for optimized carriages and trimmers have been leading sellers. The supply chain “absolutely” remains a challenge, he said, especially for components with computer chips. The company is seeking other vendors for such components. It keeps customers informed of delays and also will ask customers if they want to substitute a used component.

Rodney Williams, Eastern U.S. regional sales manager for Nicholson Manufacturing, said business is “wide open.” It has been a challenge to source hydraulic components and rubber parts, he said. The company has relied on sourcing items from different vendors.

Mark Rackley, a sales rep for Hurst Boiler, said business is “excellent.” Orders are “pretty full” for this year and are going into next year. Earlier this year Hurst introduced its new EGO series boiler, which can be fired with either gas, oil, or electricity. The company has not been significantly impacted by supply chain challenges, said Mark.

April Willoughby, inside sales manager for Smith Sawmill Service, said business is “good, very good.” The company has begun distributing the Northtech brand of up-cut saws, gang rips, and other machines. It has been a challenge to source steel from plants in Europe, she indicated, requiring the company to “plan ahead.”

Jos aan de Stegge with Brunner-Hildebrand said sales of the company’s dry kilns are booked through March-April of 2023. Supply chain issues are making it difficult to source electronic components and motors, he said, resulting in long lead times. “It’s difficult.”

Brunner-Hildebrand offers a new generation of improved kiln controls and Weight Precision Technology for measuring lumber moisture content.

Frances Cooper, CEO of Cooper Machine, said business is “busy, really busy.” The company’s scragg mills have been selling well and, more recently, pole merchandising equipment. The company also is selling more optimized edgers and gang saws.

Cooper Machine has transitioned to replacing some hydraulic systems with electric because of lengthy supply chain delays to obtain hydraulic components.

The company has developed a new lumber sorter and a new slab recovery system.

“Business is real good,” said Travis Shepherd, a senior technical sales and support representative for McDonough Manufacturing Co. The company’s band mills, edgers, and gang saws have been leading sellers.

Like other suppliers, McDonough has faced challenges sourcing some components, particularly electrical components.

John Brock with Menominee Saw and Supply Co., which manufactures and distributes saw blades and equipment, laughed when asked about supply chain challenges. Although steel is more readily available, consumable products for filing room operations are “tough to get,” he said, and there are long lead times for filing room equipment.

Jeremy Pitts, a sales representative for Nyle Dry Kilns, said the company has several innovations in development, but it is not prepared to disclose them yet. Some components are hard to source, he indicated. For example, the company is seeking another source for a switch that it normally obtains from Italy. Components sourced from new vendors have to undergo testing, he noted. Nyle Dry Kilns worked around supply chain challenges by ordering two years’ worth of such components. However, in one year the company sold as many kilns as it normally would in four years.

Brad Michael, a marketing representative for JoeScan, said that business has been “great.” The JS-50 WX lineal and transverse 3D laser scanner has been the company’s leading seller in recent years, notably for edger and trimmer applications. The company has new hardware and software products under development.

Ken King, president of MASS, called business “great.” The company’s simple setworks have been the ‘bread and butter’ of its sales in recent years. Component parts have been a challenge to source, said Ken, particularly those containing computer chips manufactured in Asia. He stocks more than normal and looks for alternative suppliers to work around it.

Pat Jenks, owner and president of Forestry System, said business “is better than it’s ever been.” Leading sellers are the company’s products for scaling logs. “Anything with logs,” he added. The company has been challenged to source chips for some electronic products.

Jeff McLaughlin, regional sales manager for Precision Husky, said business is “booming.” The company has 50 chippers on order, he said, with 36-week delivery. Precision Husky has been making updates to its line of mobile equipment. Supply chain issues have made it a challenge to source chipper knives and some components.