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March 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

SOUTH AMERICAN SAWMILLING

Southern opportunities

A recent trip to South America left a BC equipment supplier with the conclusion that the Chilean forest industry offers potential to Canadian high-tech suppliers, including the manufacturers of software and controls.

By Jim Stirling

It was a timely reminder. When Bruce Sutherland told an audience of Peruvian sawmillers recently that he’d be back for a return visit, the reaction was polite but reserved. They’d heard that before only to never see or hear from the presenter again. But Sutherland is planning a return follow-up visit and soon. He believes the business development potential exists for Canadian suppliers of forest industry equipment and services in the neighbouring South American countries of Peru and Chile. Sutherland says that from what he’s seen and heard so far, the opportunities are worth the needed investment and commitment. Sutherland is vice-president sales and marketing for PG Mill Supplies Ltd, a company offering a range of forest industry equipment and fabricating services based in Prince George, British Columbia. Sutherland’s eye-opening trip due south came about with a delicious twist of serendipity.

Bruce Sutherland (right) of PG Mill Supplies and the company’s marketing co-ordinator, Christie Ray.

By chance, he’d met a sawmiller from Concepcion, Chile at the Wood Technology Clinic and Show, held in Portland, Oregon. And he knew about an embassy-level trade mission to Peru. Those factors combined with an interest in the south Pacific region—emanating from business dealings in New Zealand—set the wheels in motion, he recalls. Sutherland and Christie Ray, PG Mill’s marketing co-ordinator, began organizing an itinerary for the Chilean half of the exploratory venture. Ray says it was surprising—and helpful—that other industry types in and around Prince George share an interest in and knowledge of that part of South America.

And it did no harm that Sutherland, who’s president of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, was able to meet with his counterparts in Santiago, the Chilean capital. “I wanted to get to meet the people and get a feel for the culture,” outlines Sutherland. “And I wanted to get a feel for what they need. Prince George is very similar to places we visited in both countries, which helped us to recognize their issues.” Sutherland says he adopted a one-on-one approach when feasible and extended a how-can-we-help message with larger groups. He avoided the “this-is-the-way-it’s-done” tack. “People in both countries are open and friendly and are thirsty and hungry for knowledge,” he adds.

The two countries are, of course, different with the Chilean forest industry being more mature and having the involvement of more global players. Sutherland says the Chilean sawmills and wood plants he visited were clean with decent, if generally older, equipment. But they don’t always run efficiently, he notes. “At PG Mill Supplies, we make retro-fits that try to optimize efficiency and we talked about that, especially in the planers and saw filing ends.” Training and preventative maintenance are key components that to Sutherland are natural accompaniments to acquiring new equipment. “We recognized from dealing with smaller sawmills in the northern prairie provinces that you should take the training along with the equipment.

There are lots of reasons for it, but you’re going to need it. If you’re going to work in South America, I think you need to have that in the pocket,” he adds. Sutherland thinks the Chilean forest industry offers potential to BC’s high-tech suppliers including the manufacturers of software and controls. “I think sawmillers there are turning an eye to Prince George for quality and efficiency.” Sutherland notes another factor expected to influence Chile’s forest industry direction in the near future: a glut of wood from plantations ready for harvest at the same time.

Sutherland feels the Peruvian forest industry is not yet prime for a major technology hit. One factor in both countries—but especially in Peru—is cheap labour costs. Sutherland says lumber handling, for example, is more likely to be done manually than with mechanical or electrically driven chains and transfers. Canadian technology has been driven in part by high labour costs, he notes. Sutherland says Canadian wood products research group Forintek was involved closely with organizing the Peruvian trade mission. Accompanying him on it were representatives from Woodpro Engineering of Prince George and the local development agency Export Prince George.

Alberta’s Forest Industry Suppliers and Logging Association also participated. Sutherland says PG Mill has developed strategic alliances with other forest industry related companies in the Prince George area through the years. He anticipates those alliances will help as business development patterns in South America gather momentum. And after his last trip south, Sutherland planned on talking to local remanufacturers and flooring companies about fibre availability and requirements. If there’s one thing a trip like Sutherland’s reinforces, it’s that you don’t close your mind to anything and you keep your eyes open for everything.

 

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