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In a few short years, Douglas Manufactured Homes has carved out a niche as Canada's leading exporter of panelized wood frame buildings to Japan. Here's how.

By Robert Forrest
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

In the past two years, Douglas Manufactured Homes (DMH) of Delta, BC has received three awards recognizing the company's achievement in a niche market. DMH is Canada's leading exporter of panelized homes and small commercial buildings for the Japanese market.

The company was recognized in 1996 with a BC Export Award from the provincial government for innovation and excellence in marketing and exporting BC products. Also in 1996, company president and founder Mark T. Ando was honored as an Emerging Award Finalist - Pacific Region by the Entrepreneur of the Year Institute for his efforts in promoting trade with Japan. In 1995, the company received a BC Business Million Dollar Club Award.

Master DMH was set up with the mission to serve the Japanese market. Mark Ando wanted to promote trade between his native Japan and his adopted home of Canada. He felt there was a strong opportunity to export Canadian 2X4 building technology to Japan. He established one of the first Canadian companies to focus its efforts entirely on the Japanese market. Because he understood the buying customs of his customers and the need for accurate communication, his sales force for this specialized market speak fluent Japanese.

DMH produces single and multi-unit homes, apartments, condominiums and small commercial buildings using the latest Canadian panelized wood frame construction techniques. The company produces about 200 homes a year with sales volumes of about $10 million. DMH has about 40 employees including production, office and sales staff. The IWA-Canada unionized production operation is designed to work either one or two shifts, depending on demand.

Executive vice-president Scott M. Ando indicates that, while most units are custom designed, the company also panelizes buildings to standard or basic designs. All buildings are built to the appropriate Canadian or Japanese construction standards. Indeed, DMH was the first company outside Japan certified to build manufactured homes to the tough JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standards) building codes.

Shortly after the company began operation in 1988, Mark Ando recognized the advantages of JAS certification when serving the Japanese market. Houses were containerized for shipment, and the containers were unpacked on their arrival at dockside in Japan, inspected to ensure they met JAS standards, and then re-packed for shipment to the building site.

Mark Ando realized that JAS certification before shipping could reduce extra handling, saving time and ultimately money. He brought an instructor from Japan to train Canada's first six JAS lumber graders within the company. JAS certified lumber graders have since become more common throughout the BC industry. Currently, DMH obtains JAS standard lumber and plywood from all their suppliers. All plywood used in their operation bears the JAS stamp.

Master To further meet the particular needs of the Japanese market, the company imported special manufacturing equipment from Japan. "We have the first, and as far as we know the only, Japanese framing table outside of Japan. The difference between the Japanese and North American framing table is that the Japanese table is set up for an 18-inch on centre spacing," says Scott Ando. The North American standard calls for 16'' centres.

"When we first started, some of our measurements weren't correct," says Scott Ando. "Actually it was the first couple of houses that we shipped. Japanese houses are not measured from the outside of the sheathing. When they measure the floor size, it is from the centre of the sill plate, which is a 4x4. If you look at the dimensions, it is 44.5 mm inside the exterior wall; or, if you include the sheathing, it is 53 mm inside the sheathing. We had to correct that problem."

Although lumber prices have kept the company focused on the Japanese market, changes in market conditions have made it possible for DMH to consider entering the domestic market. They currently ship to Korea as well as Japan. "We've had inquiries from other countries like the Philippines, Russia, China and Germany," adds Scott Ando.

DMH operates out of an approximately 6,000 m2 facility in Delta, BC, south of Vancouver. Until July, 1996 the company had its head office in Vancouver and its manufacturing facility in Chilliwack, east of Vancouver. The new facility houses both the manufacturing plant and the company offices. DMH has a large, well-equipped seminar room on the main floor of the complex where the company gives technical seminars on 2X4 construction. The seminars are generally held once a month and are attended by 20 to 40 people, usually from the Japanese construction industry.

Japanese architects provide both the design and engineering to meet the Japanese code standards. DMH provides the same service, including individual panelizing of custom house plans for their customers. Each house is designed to withstand severe earthquakes. Detailed and itemized instructions are provided to each work station in the panelizing process.

Master "Included in our home packages are windows, doors, cabinets and hardwood flooring. We use Canadian manufactured products almost exclusively," Scott Ando says. "We are strong promoters of Canadian products abroad. We use local suppliers like Allied Windows and Merit Kitchens." All houses are built to R2000 standards. All dimensional lumber used in the home manufacture is kiln-dried BC interior and northern SPF. For the Japanese housing market, lumber must be kiln dried but also stored inside to lessen the possibility of picking up moisture after kiln drying. Wrapping the lumber is not considered enough protection by the Japanese.

"Quality control is number one because that is the expectation of the customer," says Scott Ando. "There are checks and balances throughout the process. Not only do we expect that of our staff, but we also expect it of our suppliers. It carries through the level of service we provide. If there is a problem, it is our problem and we have to fix it. We air freight product to the customer if there is a mistake. We would expect our suppliers to do the same."

"We feel that we are somewhat ahead of the ISO standard without all of the paper work. We're not sure what advantage that would have in the Southeast Asian market. Our suppliers are ISO 9000. We are already there on the production side."

Assembly of the panel units begins with all dimension lumber to be used in the house being cut to size at one time. Scott Ando indicates this is a substantial savings in time and handling. The saw used for cutting dimensional lumber has an extremely fine blade which cuts to 1/2 mm tolerance. The saw cuts four boards at a time. The boards are checked manually for size and then numbered on the ends and side to identify their exact location for use in the panelizing process.

The fine saw blades used exactly yield an end which approaches planer quality for smoothness. Every piece of random-length lumber is cut to get the maximum use of the wood; there is little waste. End pieces down to 450 mm are cut for blocking.

DMH uses their large Japanese-built framing table to make the house panels. The pre-cut lumber is assembled on a table behind the framers, who place the pieces into position on the framing table, nail them in place and send the assembled framed wall down the line to the sheathing station. At full capacity, a panel can be assembled in one minute. At the sheathing table, the outer skin of JAS-standard plywood is added. The plywood is machine-nailed, every 4'' on the outside edge and every 8'' on the inner studs. At every step, the walls are checked for accuracy of size and nailing.

Stair units are put together for installation as a unit. Each riser is attached both to the stringer and to a block which is glued and screwed to the stringer and riser to eliminate squeaking.

Windows are installed in the walls at the Delta plant. Scott Ando indictes that this is done to ensure proper installation. DMH has been shipping walls with installed windows to Japan for nine years without any breakage.

Since the windows are installed at the plant, the exact size is known. Consequently, window trim and sills can be pre-cut and packaged for the specific windows. The windows and trim packages are given the same identification so that on the building site, the packages can be placed by the correct window for immediate availability to the finish carpenter.

There is an area of the plant where components for special walls and areas such as dormers and gables are assembled. Scott Ando points out that gables are very popular in Japan, likely because of the popularity of L.M. Montgomery's novel, Anne of Green Gables.

When manufacture of the panelized building is complete, it is loaded into a container according to the customer's needs. If the builder is equipped with a crane, the panels are packed for crane unloading - roof, second floor, first floor. If a crane is unavailable at the building site, it is packed into the container in the reverse order for easier manual removal and handling at the site.

Each house comes with an assembly manual which tells the builders what goes where. Scott Ando describes the assembly process: "It goes together like a 3D puzzle".

Using a crane, a team of four carpenters can assemble a house ready for interior finishing in three or four days.

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