Expanding market reach is not limited to region or continent for Willamette Valley Company, a major supplier to the wood and composite panel industry.

Willamette Valley Company (Wilvaco) was established in Eugene, Oregon, in 1952 as a janitorial supply house.

Company vice president Tony Vuksich provided some background: "We were a distributor that concentrated our efforts in the growing softwood plywood industry.

"As the industry grew outside the Pacific Northwestern part of the US, so we established our presence. We expanded into western Canada and then down to the Southeastern part of the US. In the early 1970’s, we decided to manufacture many of our own chemical products".

Expanding the company’s product mix was the key, Mr Vuksich said.

"We had been selling wood patches for plywood repair when new synthetic patching products were introduced and we became a distributor of some of those products. Because the products were a two-part polyurethane, dispensing equipment was also included. Competition was a stimulus," Mr Vuksich added.

"After a period of time, there were several companies selling urethane products and there were different dispensing equipment producers as well. It was then that we saw an opportunity," he said.

Bringing product manufacturing inhouse moved the company to another level.

Mr Vuksich said: "We started to produce our own urethane products, made the dispensing equipment, and offered a complete service package to our customers.

"That started us on the path we are on today. We have chemical manufacturing locations throughout North America, a plant in Chile and distribution all around Europe. Besides urethane products, we manufacture speciality coatings, primers and sealers for wood.

"We are also one of the largest, if not the largest, wood putty manufacturers in the world. We sell both the urethane and putty products into Europe. Business has slowed in recent times, due to the economy, but new opportunities continue to arise. We also have distribution in China, Australia and New Zealand, Korea and, most recently, Russia.

Twenty percent of the company’s sales are outside North America, the bulk of which is in South America. But Europe is the next place the company is looking at to sell its products.

"Our products’ focus is to enhance our customers finished product," said Mr Vuksich. "We also sell into the OSB, LVL, moulding, lumber, particleboard, MDF and laminated beam industries.

"Much of our company’s business is also in the railroad industry for the repair of wooden ties, or the correcting of rail-seat abrasion in concrete ties.

In-plant CNC manufacturing is a major component in the company’s success story.

"Our robotics expertise is in developing systems for the dispensing of our chemical products, such as robotic spray booths for OSB and plywood, as well as partnering with different companies for automatic plywood patching and robotic veneer plugging."

What began with a focus on solutions for the wood products industry has now spread to numerous other businesses and trades. In fact, adapting successful technologies and innovations for other applications is one of the company’s trademarks.

Wilvaco offers wood products solutions in the industry, including patches, fillers, extenders, coatings, inks, abrasives, tapes, and a wide variety of application equipment and parts.

"One of the foundations of our business – our solutions for wood moulding products – spans paints and primers, fillers and sealants, to speciality tapes, sand papers and gloves," said Mr Vuksich.

The Willamette Valley Company built its reputation in wood products and today has a wide array of solutions for flooring products, from patches, fillers and extenders, to sealants, repellants, coatings and adhesives.

Automated Systems
Some of today’s most flexible automated turnkey solutions come from the company’s PRETEC division, where it builds custom and pre-engineered robotics, from multi-axis robot arms and end-of-arm tooling, to conveyance systems and safety hardware — backed by all the support, training, programming, and maintenance.

Willamette Valley Company is a privately-owned multinational corporation that manufactures and distributes a wide variety of custom products and services throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, Asia and South America.

"While our roots are in the wood products industry and go back to our inception in 1952, our expertise and solutions now encompass innovative coatings, fillers, adhesives, robotics, parts, engineering and much more, across more than a dozen industries and specialities," said the vice-president.

Diversity is at the core of the company’s product and marketing mission, he added.

"With a mission to leverage our core capabilities in polyurethane filling and patching materials; water-based primers, sealers, putties, and paints; adhesive extenders, high-performance coatings and containment barriers; and precision metering, dispensing and application equipment, we have built a reputation for dependable, state-of-the-art, money-saving ideas and solutions backed by legendary service," said Mr Vuksich.

"Our worldwide manufacturing sites use the latest product technologies and highly trained teams to consistently deliver high quality, efficiency, and timely delivery."

Tony Vuksich was then asked a number of questions regarding his company’s history and global strategies.

WBPI: How did you get into the European and the global market?
TV: We were approached in the 1990s by Ulrich Leubert, who was distributing products for Dyno and calling on European markets. "Do we need that product in Europe? I’d like to distribute your product in Germany and Europe." We’d been looking for European distributors. We’re one of the biggest wood putty manufacturers in the world.

WBPI: What do you offer in terms of products in Europe and elsewhere around the globe?
TV: Poly patching, wood putty, epoxy, water-based sealers on OSB and plywood on edges, in South America, North America and Europe.

WBPI: Do your European products differ from what you sell in North America?
TV: Same products, although we need CE certification on equipment sold in Europe. We do have one plant in Chile.

WBPI: How are your products marketed and sold in Europe?
TV: Europe is our next site for a manufacturing plant and then possibly China. The plywood industry there is somewhat disjointed but we’re having some good success.

WBPI: How have you weathered the economic storm for the past three or four years?
TV: Fortunately, we’re diverse. Some parts of our business stayed very steady – railroad industry for wood ties and concrete ties. Diversity – we work very hard in our sealers and water-bases for OSB. That has helped us a lot. The OSB industry as a whole has diminished somewhat, but our business has increased because of the quality of business we’ve maintained.

WBPI: Was your customer base in Europe hurt as much as the North American market?
TV: Most definitely and in some cases more so; we could tell by our volume of products going into Europe that 2011 was down a lot from 2010. Although we did open up some new accounts, people weren’t producing so much product.

WBPI: Does shipping product overseas have much of an impact on pricing?
TV: Freight costs, yes; products are sold delivered, freight is included. That’s why at some point when the business grows we’ll have a manufacturing plant that will help lower those costs tremendously.

WBPI: How do you deal with the exchange differential issue with the Euro?
TV: It’s difficult because it seems to fluctuate so much. We try to remain consistent in our pricing. As the US dollar gets stronger, we suffer. We really don’t make too many adjustments. We do tend to work with our distributors so they won’t feel the exchange differentials. Sometimes we take it on the chin. For example the Chile exchange rate has dropped. You can’t stay completely on top of it.

We offer the same products in Europe – plywood number one, OSB number two, engineered wood products, three, moulding four. Adhesives – some mixing equipment, finger-joint glue heads, no glue as such.

"Worldwide we’re seeing more demand for automation. Robotic more and more is a focus in terms of capital dollars.

For automatic patching of wood edges, we’re manufacturing the robotic products and outsourcing the robotic arms. We also write the software. We’re partnering with several companies on robotics: Routec, FILL, Argos, Globe and Ventek are a few major partners. We partner on auto-patching and plugging. They all need to work with us because we’re the one for patching of plywood; we’re the most expert in the world, we feel.

Patent issues apply. Retrofitting and complying with those rules in the EC is essential. You have to use the right parts. We’ve hired people to help us comply with those rules.