While bandsaw sales in North America have remained static, in Europe Wood-Mizer is enjoying increasing demand. And, according to Dan Laskowski, chief operating officer and son of the Wood-Mizer inventor, new markets like Asia-Pacific and Africa are bringing in new revenues.

He added that the company’s relatively healthy position worldwide stems from several initiatives – in particular an aggressive programme of product development in response to worldwide market research. This has resulted in both smaller and larger band sawmills, extending the Wood-Mizer range to eight basic mills. As each is offered with choices of power source, log handling equipment and trailer packages, there are in effect more than 24 versions.

Changing trends

The company is also building on changing trends in Europe. Richard Vivers, who handles European marketing and sales, explained: “It’s likely that a trend towards the use of narrow-band sawmills in stationary production settings with fairly high production wood processing – rather than in ‘traditional’ mobile operations – is going to accelerate.

“The example of our customers in Russian speaking countries, where nearly 1,000 operate and which turn out around 4 million m3 of sawn timber a year, is setting the tone,” said Mr Vivers.

He estimates that about seven million m3 a year is sawn by European mills, of which more than half is cut in static operations. In central and eastern Europe, between 80-100% of the mills are used as a stationary basis for timber processing.

In the UK and western Europe, 20% of mills are stationary but the mix is changing as more small scale ‘industrial’ processors see the increasing sophistication of band sawmills, like those of Wood-Mizer, as the key to profitable ‘added-value’ operations.

Based on research among operators of Wood-Mizer’s 3,000 mills in Europe, the company predicts that half of its British mills – and a similar share of those in western Europe – will be used for fixed production by 2005. These findings have galvanised the company into producing larger ‘industrial’ machines primarily aimed at higher-volume stationary timber processing, while taking care not to lose sight of its roots in, and the benefits of, portable band sawmills. It is anticipated that these mills will be able to process around 20 sawn m3 per eight-hour day with two operators and a board edger.

Observers of the small wood processing world will not be surprised by Wood-Mizer’s latest moves. In recent years it has unveiled products and services which together amount to essential kit for a commercial operation converting logs to saleable timber.

Wood-Mizer claims it has responded to the trend with a twin-blade edger designed to work seamlessly with its mills. In addition, it is developing integrated conveyor systems designed to work with the handling characteristics of their mills. The aim is not to try to compete with the large scale chipper-canter type sawmill.

Richard Vivers cites the experiences of his Wood-Mizer colleagues in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine where almost 1,000 of the mills are in operation. Of these, all are operated in stationary settings involving two or three mills plus ancillary equipment.

Initially the sawmills were set up to cut standard construction materials. However, as Russian markets have developed and large-scale investors have constructed high throughput modern sawmills, the Wood-Mizer owners have shifted away from standard dimensions and are focusing on non-standard quality products, maximising profitability. They are concentrating on grade recovery for quality pine logs and are also starting to process more and more high grade hardwoods.

Specifically, margins are typically higher as a result of less waste, greater sawmill flexibility and increased grade recovery. Although the individual units are small, total throughput is high and production is easily adjusted in response to changing conditions.

They can cut hardwoods even easier than softwoods. Although most Russian operations cut pine, the European trend for solid hardwood flooring, trim and furniture has encouraged some Russian operations to switch to these products from building materials.

The fact that a bandsaw-based operation can be relocated easily enables operators to exploit shifting geographical markets.

“In western Europe large sawmills tend to be inflexible, ‘running to stay still’, whereas the smaller flexible band sawmill is the opposite,” said Mr Vivers. “We’re still going to see people here using them as portable kit but also many more setting up stationary operations around them, to develop high value local markets.”