Pekka Kopra of Westas Oy: Finnish sawn timber is a valuable end product

Pekka Kopra of Westas Oy: Finnish sawn timber is a valuable end product

Finnish sawn timber has a good reputation among end users. This reputation is based on the timber's high quality, which makes it suitable for demanding uses, and on the reliability of deliveries and customer service in the industry. The roots of the Finnish wood processing industry are in the sawmill industry, which has produced high quality sawn timber for the world market for over 150 years. Family-owned sawmill companies, whose competitiveness is based on long-standing customer relationships, flexibility and high quality end products, operate alongside the large wood processing companies.

Westas Oy in Southwest Finland is a company with two histories. Founded in 2004, the company continues the sawmill operations of the Ahlström-owned 140-year-old Pihlava sawmill and the 110-year-old family-owned Raunio sawmill. The company has a turnover of 121 million EUR and employs 150 people. Westas produces 450,000 cubic meters of sawn timber annually, of which 85% is exported to 35 different countries. The company acquires 1.3 million cubic meters of raw wood annually, which is all used for sawmill products and bioenergy raw materials.

The quality of Finnish wood serves as a brand around the world

According to Pekka Kopra , owner and CEO of Westas Oy, the company has made a strategic choice to focus on sawn timber rather than further processing the wood. - Our customers are industrial wood processors and have the expertise to produce value-added products. We do not want to compete with them. Instead, we concentrate our operations on exporting unprocessed planks and providing excellent customer service.

- Since downstream processing is often country and culture specific, we would not know how to manufacture end-products in Finland that would be competitive in different markets. Whenever people bring up the importance of doing more processing, they do not seem to understand that Finnish wood in itself is already a valuable end product as sawn timber.

The quality of Finnish softwood lumber is practically already a brand outside of Finland. Kopra points out that a service can be built around the export of sawn timber to meet customer needs, starting with the right dimensions, and the reliability, speed and quality of deliveries

- Finland produces and exports the world's best timber. It has the best value for money when it comes to timber from soft coniferous trees such as pine and spruce. The sawmill industry should not waste time seeking projects that use cheap materials – it would be best served concentrating instead on sites that require high-quality wood.

According to Kopra, Finnish wood is a particularly attractive choice for industrial further processing. - It does not pay to hide Finnish wood away. Rather, it should be left visible in the site. The strength of Finnish sawn timber does not differ significantly from that of Central European sawn timber, but Finnish straight sawn timber has the advantage of being suitable for demanding visual applications such as exterior claddings, doors, windows, furniture and furnishings. When a Finnish tree is processed, the branches remain in place and do not shred when planed. The tree is long and straight, which makes processing and surface treatments easy.

- We do not want to be a sawmill for bulk goods. Instead we take the needs of the customer's end product into account already when procuring the wood. Since raw material for further processing is our main product, we make what the customer really needs in a customer-driven high quality manner.

Kopra characterizes the company as small enough to be flexible and customer-oriented, but large enough to serve customers who want wood from the Nordic countries.

Trust in Finnish sustainable forest management and wood procurement

The three key markets for export-oriented companies are China and Japan in Asia, Europe and North Africa, the last mentioned being the main export destination for pine sawnwood. - China and Japan use Finnish sawn timber for projects with a high level of further processing, such as for machined building components or furniture. Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia use pine for doors, windows and laths. Europe is the most significant export market for spruce timber, due to Central European spruce not being as well suited for exterior finishings.

- The sustainability of Finnish forests is known to our customers. Although environmental organizations criticize logging, our customers trust and appreciate the way we manage forests and procure timber. Finnish engineers are good salespeople in the sense that they stick to the facts and do not resort to excessive praise, says Kopra.

Westas Oy is part of the PEFC and FSC forest certification systems. - The PEFC system should be highlighted more actively as it is more suitable for the family-owned forests typical of Finland. Our wood procurement is in accordance with the certification principles.

- I think the ecological aspect of wood construction could be highlighted even more because these values are everywhere. Since all the studies show that conventional construction materials such as concrete, steel and plastics produce emissions and are environmentally harmful, wood has an excellent opportunity as a renewable material.

Finnish sawn timber in high-value projects

Kopra believes that France is a forward-looking country in wood construction, as it has a strong goal of shifting its construction to using renewable materials. - Other countries could learn a thing or two from France. Since construction is primarily local and based on different local laws, the French forward-leaning attitude towards promoting wood construction is in keeping with today's ecological values and needs.

– Finnish wood exports are also used directly or indirectly in construction in the destination countries. In many countries nowadays, there is great interest in the use of high-quality timber for external cladding on buildings, which provides residents with pleasant living environments. Construction is always the driving force for sawn timber exports, Kopra reminds us.

According to Kopra, Finland's remote location creates added pressure on transportation costs for finished sawn timber. “This has been true throughout the history of the Finnish sawmill industry. Freight costs are important, but not necessarily decisive. They are outweighed by the customer's desire to get a specific type of Nordic timber. Often, we supply customized loads directly to the customer instead of preparing entire shipments.

- Considering the potential uses and the quality of Finnish sawn timber, it is by no means expensive. The nominal price of sawn timber has remained the same for decades, with some fluctuation due to the general economy. The important thing is to find valuable projects for Finnish wood and to nurture customer relationships that have already lasted for several decades, Kopra says.

This article is part of a series by Markku Laukkanen and Mikko Viljakainen. The series presents a variety of best practices and trends in the Finnish wood industry. The aim is to spread information about best practices and solutions in the Finnish wood industry to increase its competitiveness and make Finnish expertise more widely known. The articles will be published in Finnish and in English. They will be made freely available for use as source material and for publication as they are. The articles will be distributed as Puuinfo newsletters and will also be published on the puuinfo.fi and woodproducts.fi websites. The article series is funded by the Ministry of the Environment's Wood Construction Operational Program.