Bright Wood Corporation: Exceptional Company, Exceptional Quality Control

Brightwood Mill

Written by Wagner Meters, published first by TimberLine Magazine (March 2015 issue)

1960 was an eventful year in the United States. The laser was invented, Joseph Bellino won the Heisman Trophy, and a new company called Brightwood Corporation was started in an old three-walled lumber planer mill in Madras, Oregon with an $18,000 investment by Carl Peterson, Ken Stovall, and Jack Stockton.

Innovation was an early watchword for Brightwood. Instead of hand-stacking its wood products on rail cars, the new company used palletized units to save time. A profit-sharing plan was set up for employees, something seldom available in the wood products industry at that time. College scholarship programs were also instituted for the children of workers.

In 1978, Ken purchased the majority of the company and changed the name from Brightwood to Bright Wood. Continuing to think outside the box, in the 1980s Ken went overseas to Chile and New Zealand to obtain supplies of radiata pine to augment the shrinking U.S. pine supply.

Over the past decade, the company has used its innovative management style to become more of an engineered wood products company, wrapping low-cost finger jointed wood profiles with vinyl and wood veneer, allowing it to reduce the use of clear wood.

In 1997, the use of sophisticated scanners, cameras, computers, and software to maximize lumber yields earned Bright Wood recognition from the Smithsonian with an award for “visionary use of information technology in the field of environment, energy, and agriculture.” This focus on yield in both its rough cutting programs and downstream operations have also reduced costs and streamlined production, allowing Bright Wood to save customers over $10 million through product re-engineering alone, all of which positions the company to come out of the current housing slump stronger than ever.

Quality Is King

In early 1991, Ken Stovall embarked on the effort of Total Quality Management (TQM) to expand the processes of continuous improvement in order to drive the company into the future after his retirement.

At the heart of Bright Wood’s success is a focus on quality control. “We’re an ISO 9001 compliant company,” explained Cameron Stovall, Corporate Quality Manager, “So we have established, published, and audited all critical work processes and procedures.”

Each production plant is audited at least annually in accordance with ISO 9001:2008 requirements and the audit results are maintained in an electronic database, available for review upon request.

New product roll-outs involve two critical processes often required by many customers: a Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) and Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). Both have become valuable proofing tools to streamline new product rollouts.

brightwood employee inspecting lumber“The Quality Staff is afforded responsibilities that include direct communication with customers and customer complaints,” Stovall continued. “We hit the shop floor and include line personnel to research and determine the root cause of problems and develop and specify corrective actions to prevent them from happening again. To ensure sustained results, we perform 30, 90, and 180-day audits of all corrective actions.”

“We have a series of auditors in the Quality Department who do rounds through each one of our plants, checking product and process compliance quality, including preserving samples of the outbound products. Quality also performs process control audits to verify that checks are being done at required intervals and that all process controls are being performed as required on the shop floor,” he added.

Practices like these have earned Bright Wood a Window and Door Manufacturing Association’s (WDMA) Hallmark Certification for laminated, finger jointed, and preservative-treated products. As part of that certification, Bright Wood has to allow audits of their production processes.

“WDMA audits twice a year,” said Scott Schierling, who is a Quality Engineer. “We were just audited a few weeks ago and we’re waiting to hear back on the results. When they were here in January they didn’t find any discrepancies.”

“We are FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] controlled wood certified as well,” Stovall added. This is a stringent certification that, for the past 20 years, has aimed to meet the current need for forest products without compromising the health of the world’s forests for future generations.

Wood Moisture Meters are Critical

Before timber leaves New Zealand for the Bright Wood mill in Oregon, it is kiln-dried.

“Kilns in New Zealand are required to dry the wood at 160° F just to kill bugs,” explained Inbound Lumber Quality Control Manager Bruce Burson. “But the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that a medium heat kiln be set to 200° F for 4-6 days, depending on the species of pine.”

“After that, they seal it in containers so nothing [including moisture] gets in there. When shipments come in from any sawmills, the Quality Department will spot check the lumber – not only the grade, but also the moisture and the tally scale, before it goes into the rough mill or cut plant.”

Why the focus on wood moisture?

brightwood employee inspecting lumber“If lumber has too high of a moisture content, it has negative effects on such things as the milling of the finished product,” Stovall revealed. “Generally, the biggest problem is that the grain gets fuzzy when it gets hit with a moulder knife.”

“Gluing it, laminating, finger jointing can all be affected by moisture content,” Schierling added.

However, there is a more serious problem caused by incorrect wood moisture content.

“We are required to hold tolerances in the range ±.008 to ±.015,” Stovall explained. “Running a part higher in moisture content can have significant dimensional repercussions downstream, even when they are qualified to be in spec immediately after production in Oregon.”

Looking at a chart of Atmospheric Moisture Averages (AMA) for Minneapolis, Minnesota, which reflects much of the climate of most of Bright Wood customers, the city can experience an AMA of between 11.9% and 14.6%, depending on the month. The AMA in Madras, Oregon, where Bright Wood is located, can range between 7.4% and 16.5% during the year. But how does that affect the actual dimensions of the wood?

Using a dimensional change coefficient formula with ponderosa pine, for instance, shows that with only a 3% differential in wood moisture content on a 2” wide part there can be a variance of as much as 0.00798” in radial shrinkage and 0.01296” in tangential shrinkage, which puts it perilously close to the customer’s dimensional tolerance range. Small differences can add up to big headaches for Bright Wood.

“Moisture meters are critical to the process to keep moisture under control,” said Stovall. “We have multiple checks before lumber or cut stock ever make it to the next process. We perform moisture content checks on 100% of all random width lumber planks as they enter our rough mill cutting plants, just before our initial process of ripping lumber to our various rip widths. Then, we separate out all high moisture lumber for future drying.”

wagner L622 moisture meter“We are using the Wagner L622 digital recording moisture meters, which allow me to change to different species because we also run some hardwoods, so it’s radiata, it’s ponderosa, Hem-Fir, white fir, Doug-fir, it’s all kinds of species,” Burson added. “I can find out real quick whether the specific gravity is correct.”

“I’m WWPA [Western Wood Products Association] certified, and their standard is 85% of the lumber must be at 12% moisture content, while the other 15% can be up to 15% moisture content. After separating out high moisture, we utilize a small fan dryer where we can re-dry the lumber.”

“For 5/4 and thicker lumber, moisture meters are set to 13%; for 4/4, it’s set to 14%,” Burson explained. “But when you run 1-2% of about 1.5 million board feet a week, you can generate a lot of wet lumber.”

“We use the Wagner L601-3s on the inbound lumber checks,” Schierling pointed out. “The Wagner L601-3s check all of our random width lumber as it goes through the rip saw, so with the pre-rip [not processed through a rip saw] we purchase, the process is to utilize the handhelds to verify those for moisture content.”

Calibration Is Key

As with any quality product, calibration of the devices is critical. “We calibrate the Wagner handheld meters in-house and we have a procedure that our electricians follow for the in-line meters,” Schierling said. “Calibration of meters is dependent on where and how often the meters are used; most of our handheld meters have calibration checks between six months and twelve months.”

“Scott maintains our database, which documents all corporate calibration, including verifying all the calibrated tools on the shop floor, including the Wagner moisture meters,” Stovall added.

Looking to the Future

Even though Bright Wood is already one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wood components and millwork, it isn’t resting on its laurels. It continues to develop new sources of timber and adds more facilities to service the market.

“Bright Wood has a sawmill in New Zealand, but we also buy timber from other sawmills there,” said Burson.

“We have expanded our customer service skill sets by developing customer-specific Vendor-Managed Inventory [VMI] warehouses in Menomonie, Wisconsin (2001) and Dubuque, Iowa (2013) to provide Just In Time [JIT] inventories,” added Stovall. “This JIT inventory sequence is much like an auto factory where each component is delivered directly to the assembly line on an hourly basis.”

Quality product as a result of quality processes overseen by a top-notch quality control team will continue to be the centerpiece of the family-owned business, which prides itself on its record of quality, innovation, on-time delivery, and total dedication to customers and suppliers.

Last updated on April 10th, 2024

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