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WSRI Today: Changing Times

by  Steve Carruth, WSRI Executive Director

The Wood Supply Research Institute (WSRI) just held its 20th annual meeting in New Orleans, LA.   A lot can change in anyone’s world in 20 years.  No organization is immune from the need to wrestle with and adapt to changing perspectives, realities, and expectations.   WSRI has spent a lot of time over the last 18 months reviewing its value proposition, considering its structure, and identifying worthy options for investing the resources of its members.  Results of these efforts include the development of a new strategic plan, an improved WSRI website with more access to information than ever before, the completion of a major research project and the start-up of two new projects that will yield results before the end of this year.  The following is a summary of what we have recently done, what we are doing now, and some speculation about the future.

Any summary of where WSRI is and where it may be heading deserves a quick acknowledgment of the mission it has set out to accomplish.  WSRI was formed to bring members of the wood supply value chain to together to review opportunities and discuss points of inefficiency in a professional manner.  Member-selected third party research is supposed to prioritize the areas of opportunity and offer side- boards to what can be inherently emotional topics.   

In the early years, project selection was relatively easy.  In a vertically integrated industry, a new, inspired organization like WSRI was able to rapidly hone in on viable research topics.  Today that task is not as simple.  Given the new reality, WSRI is proud of where it currently stands in terms of the “research” projects it has completed and commissioned over the last 18 months.  Let’s review them. 

In February of 2018, we released a final report entitled “A Lean Logistics Framework: Applications in the Wood Fiber Supply Process”. WSRI worked with Virginia Tech to explore using a Lean Logistics approach to the evaluation of wood supply systems.  Lean is applied widely to value streams in manufacturing, including the manufacture of forest products.  The formal application of Lean Thinking techniques to the wood supply value stream is relatively undocumented.  Some key observations from this work include:

  • The holistic approach that Lean Thinking uses can expose waste and opportunity in the wood supply value stream.
  • Formalizing a system for improved communications up and down the value stream is highlighted as being of critical importance to the reduction of potential waste.
  • The application of Lean Thinking in manufacturing includes the definition and tracking of “Perfect-Order Execution Metrics”. Tech researchers noted that the definition and tracking of these metrics was lacking in the wood supply case studies they evaluated.
  • The literature review that was done for this project included some previous reports done for WSRI. It was interesting that Tech researchers independently observed potential wastes while collecting their case study data that have been previously documented by WSRI.  Apparently, the opportunity to improve doesn’t end with the publication of reports.

Going into 2018, the value proposition associated with new project selection was first and foremost on the minds of WSRI members.   Projects had to hold the promise of generating potentially actionable information and they needed to have short completion timeframes.  Two projects now under agreement will meet these objectives.

The first one deviates from the traditional WSRI model of defining an area of wood supply chain opportunity and commissioning a third party to investigate it from a research perspective.  The challenges facing the trucking part of the wood supply chain are significant and our members recognize that.  However, the question of how we might contribute to any improvement through research kept hitting brick walls.  The more we reviewed the situation the more we began to believe that the best way WSRI might bring quick value to its members regarding the challenges associated with trucking was to help facilitate the work TEAM Safe Trucking (TST) was already poised to tackle.  To that end, WSRI and TST signed an agreement in February to support the development and deployment of truck driver safety and awareness training modules for use by our industry.  TST is on track to meet the deliverables specified in its agreement with WSRI.   WSRI’s contribution to this effort has clearly brought needed energy to this important initiative.

WSRI’s other new project, commissioned with James W. Sewall Co. in April, is entitled “Value Assessment of Certified Logger Programs”.  To clarify, “Certified” programs are not to be confused with the common state logger training programs that most people involved in forestry are familiar with. Certified programs audit actual performance. This research will explore the value proposition of the American Loggers Council Master Logger Certification© program and other certified logger programs with an emphasis on determining actual benefits, if any, to forest landowners, logging businesses and consuming mills in states where the program has been implemented.  The research will also review states where the program has an approved template, but no certified logging businesses, and provide insights into the current and future potential of those programs.

Detailed information on all of the above and more is available on WSRI’s new website at wsri.org.

A quick note on the future of WSRI is in order.  After 20 years in a changing industry, the pressure on WSRI to somehow adapt to new realities is obvious.  Volatility, fragmentation, evolving identities and short attention spans within the forest industry are a fact of life.  The question going forward is perhaps the same as it always has been.  How do we shine light on areas of opportunity along the wood supply value chain and legally facilitate action that mutually benefits the stakeholders?  If the WSRI model is outdated, what replaces it?  Answers, anyone?

Image 1 WSRI Today Changing Times

Steve Carruth
WSRI Executive Director

June 2018