A Green Lumberjack
By Sean Roth
Real Estate Editor
Selling lumber is one of the world's oldest professions, right behind hunting and farming. And like other industries, it has steadily changed with the advent of technology.
For close to half a century, Al Bavry has watched his industry search for new products that would increase productivity, worker safety and efficiency. In the past five years, the president of Nokomis-based Kimal Lumber Co. - one of Sarasota-Manatee's largest lumber vendors - has seen a startling transformation in his work place.
New technology trends have changed the products put under the saw to the "hands" that guide the saw's cuts. Technology has changed the lumber industry so much that for the first time in Kimal's history, the company has a full-time staff devoted to studying new products, and the company is developing a learning center to help new employees and new and existing clients.
"We used to just deliver basic construction materials to the job site," Bavry says. "Our first goal now is to train our people better. This is not an industry you can just walk into anymore. The effect of computers and technology has been pretty huge. We used to be pretty reactive to technology, but now we are trying to be proactive - to be way ahead of the curve."
The company, which had net revenue of $43 million in 2004, ramped up its commitment to new technology about five years ago. To deal with a changing marketplace, Bavry created three positions for marketing and development. Those three people (Bob Hewitt, Tom Geriak and Debbie Liscum) are charged with finding the next big thing, whether it's a new product or tool to cut the product and/or process it.
The team tries out new products, Hewitt says, adding, "Most manufacturers are just dying to the get the products in our hands to work with."
"Their job is to separate the wheat from the chaff," Bavry says. "They are the first filter. They take the tremendous spectrum of new products that come at them and narrow it down. Of the 10 news things, here are two that are really good and make sense for our region."
At about the same time that Bavry was creating the new division, he and his company became involved with the Council for Sustainable Sarasota and the Florida Green Building Coalition. Both groups have led Bavry to focus more on elements of green building and environmental sustainability.
"I think in the past too many people thought that (environmentalists) were on one side and builders were on the other," Bavry says. "That's not really true anymore. Greater green building and sustainability should be the goals of both groups. This is what consumers care about, and if you are in the industry this is what you have to care about."
One of the biggest changes in the lumber industry, Bavry says, has been the steady advances in manufactured wood. Regulatory controls on logging over the past 20 years have forced the industry to focus more on composite materials. Most of the early entries into composite materials involved compressed wood chips recast as a single wood piece, such as plywood and the trademarked Masonite and Homasote.
"Unfortunately, in that first wave, the glues that were used were generally not good for the environment," Bavry says. "One of the glues was urea formaldehyde. The glues gave off gases that were not good for people or the environment."
In the third and most-recent generation of manufactured products, small sections of wood are stretched with extremely hot steam and combined into other wood sections.
"These products are far more environmentally-friendly," Bavry says. And the products are more sophisticated in terms of quality, level of uses and application.
While Kimal Lumber's products are changing, so is the technology used to handle the materials.
New technology is being adopted as Kimal Lumber builds new facilities on about 20 acres on the south end of Venice. The company completed a 40,000-square-foot truss plant in January of '04 and is constructing a 27,000-square-foot window/exterior door manufacturing and shipping facility. At the same time, Kimal Lumber is at work on a 7,500-square-foot office for the truss plant and learning center.
At the truss plant, Bavry has added two new self-contained, computer-driven precision saws. Up until about two years ago, sawing was primarily done by employees who relied on computer-calculated angles. Designers using computers would create the needed angles and that information would be given to an employee who would actually cut the wood to that angle with a five-head saw. Now, designers save their angle cuts on a memory stick, which is then plugged into what looks like a large metal box. An operator inputs the size of the wood and feeds it into a machine, where a single blade cuts the wood to the proper angle. The cut wood is even stamped with a job number. According to Bavry, the new process is quicker, more accurate, quieter, safer for workers and less wood is wasted.
"That single 500-pound head and blade moves as fast as we are talking," Bavry says.
Bavry also purchased a compressor, which he describes as a worm drive. The compressor, quieter and more efficient than older compressors, filters moisture out of lines connected to machinery, reducing wear on the equipment. That moisture is collected and filtered to irrigate the grass outside the truss facility.
In case of a fire at the truss plant, a diesel pump would suck water from a nearby retention pond to feed the sprinkler system.
At the end of the day, not only is the new truss plant more environmentally friendly, but the cost savings in efficiency are dramatic. The computer-controlled saws have increased production by at least 15%, Bavry says. And the truss plant's monthly electric bill has been cut in half to about $1,000.
Bavry also plans to use more cutting edge office technology in the new learning center/office building to save money and promote environmental sustainability.
The bathrooms will have water-free urinals designed to save about 50,000 gallons of water a year. Somewhat more remarkable, the center also expects to operate a water fountain that runs purely on moisture.
"There won't be any water connection," Bavry says. "With the humidity of Florida it should generate two to five gallons of water a day."
The floor and roof of the new building is being built with insulated panels, which will give the building greater energy efficiency.
"We kind of joke that you will be able to cool that building with an ice cube," Bavry says. "This just ties into our whole concept of efficiencies and building for sustainability."
The company also has plans to purchase a machine to grind up waste wood and mowed grass into mulch.
As for future technology decisions, Bavry says, his customers shouldn't be surprised if light product deliveries are soon done with hybrid trucks. Bavry is also considering the addition of GPS systems to his delivery trucks.
"A few years ago we would barely have been able to put one of these in a truck," he says. "Now prices have come down so much we are looking at putting them in our entire line. That way we can make use of the equipment much more efficiently and burn far less fuel."