It was the 34th trip down the aisles for visitors to this traditional show in Portland, Oregon. Portland was, for many years, a capital of the US forest industry, but federal timber harvesting clamp-downs, along with a weaker wood market, knocked a few jewels off the crown.

Nevertheless, about 3,300 attendees (including 900 exhibitor staff) toured the 68,000ft2 of exhibition space, where somewhat more than 200 equipment manufacturers and suppliers showcased their products, order books held hopefully in their hands.

They were ready to talk business and they did, although it was more apt to be for overseas mills. China, South America and Russia were all in the discussion mix.

Show participation (down 20% from the 2006 gathering) somewhat mirrored the industry drop-off caused by declining industry markets and exacerbated by the weakened US economy.

Yet manufacturers came from throughout North America with specialities such as forming lines, chippers, coating machines, conveyors, dryers, debarkers, log sorters, energy equipment, stackers, fibre processing and storage, glue rooms, grading and printing, shredders, lift trucks, dryers, materials handling, optimisers, cranes, panel manufacturing, process controls, screens, sensors, stackers, storage bins, strappers, wrapping and myriads of others.

Spring rains kept participants inside and close to the shop.

Wood Tech Clinic sessions, where manufacturers present new ideas to producers, were abbreviated. This year there were 10 clinic sessions, compared with 36 at the last show in 2006. This once annual show is now held only in even years.

The sessions were held in the impressive new wing of Portland’s huge convention centre where train services provide frequent free transit from downtown hotels.

The show sponsor name changed again with the purchase of the previous producer by Nielsen Business Media, New York. Nielsen retained the former staff, including Cory Smith, group show director.

Exhibitors continued the industry march towards increased electronic controls and measuring systems that result in higher and better quality production; sophisticated modelling and simulation systems provide nearly instant suggestions for machine operators.

The streamlined clinic had a dozen presenters, leading off with Jim Reeb, Associate Professor, Oregon State University, who took a look at computer-aided manufacturing involving process modelling and control and scanning.

Professor Reeb stages an annual plywood manufacturing short course at Oregon State University for middle management and operators.

He and his associates specialise in process modelling and control for primary and secondary manufacturing. His scanning work is primarily optical and colour-based, ultrasonics and dielectrics.

He said the actual system can be studied through direct experimentation or through a physical or mathematical model. © p54 ß p52 mathematical model can be used for analysis or simulation. However simulation is imprecise and this cannot be directly measured.

Computer simulation can measure the impact of changing from traditional manufacturing to cell manufacturing in a value-added wood processing factory.

Animation shows how people work. In a cell installation a few machines are set up in a U-shape. One piece goes from machine to machine. With a computer simulation, any chain of events can be visualised.

As an example Professor Reeb used a log unscrambler conveyor. For large log sizes the headrig is the limiting factor, but for small log sizes the unscrambler is limiting. Increased capacity allows a gang-saw to work more efficiently and increase overall production.

The US is in a state of tight money supply and Jack Winsten, President of Threshold Financial, Crestline, California, had some tips for cash-strapped mills.

He advocated leasing rather than purchase, using as an example a five-year lease cost of US$360,346 for a US$450,000 piece of equipment, compared with US$452,000 for cash purchase. Both of these were net cost, after taxes. He calculated a US$397,370 cost if bank financing was used.

Reid Smith, Saw Control Systems, said: “science has become a necessity in today’s mill environment as production, recovery and market share determine who survives”.

Mr Smith’s presentation was addressed to sawmillers, but some principles could also be applied to panel mills.

He quipped: “wood has a mind of its own and you learn to expect the unexpected.”

He explained that a sawing machine centre is a complex process between wood and steel. The saw blade is affected by the mass of the machine with all its rotational forces.

In another presentation directed to sawmills, Terry Brown, Lumber Quality Control Institute, Corvallis, Oregon, said size control provides immediate feedback of sawing accuracy, a historical record to document process improvement, and creates the image among personnel that lumber is produced with precision.