Lack of know-how, a setback to boost wood working industry | Sunday Observer

Lack of know-how, a setback to boost wood working industry

Chairman, Leema Creations, Channa Wijesekara
Chairman, Leema Creations, Channa Wijesekara

The authorities? should explore the possibility of bringing in foreign volunteers to enhance the skill level of workers to improve the quality of products of small timers in the wood based industry, said founder Chairman of Leema Creations (Pvt) Ltd., Channa Wijesekara.

In an interview with Sunday Observer Business, Wijesekara, a civil engineer, outlines his views on the wood and wood based industry in Sri Lanka.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Can you explain the terms wood and wood based industry?

A: The wood based industry makes an enormous contribution to the economy while generating a large number of employment opportunities.

It comprises five subsectors. Wood processing is generally the first subsector where the raw wood is prepared for manufacturing by kiln drying, log conversion and chemical treatment.

The Interior design and decoration sector? provides design concepts for homes, offices, hospitals and hotels with furniture and fittings made of wood or wood based boards. Rattan based furniture also is a subsector of the industry.??

Q: Are you satisfied with the present structures and procedures related to the industry?

A: Even though large and medium level companies function satisfactorily, more effective steps must be taken to improve the standards.

The main drawback of these small scale businesses is that they are not aware of basic technical processes in timber curing. Most of them use untreated and moist timber planks to make furniture that result in shrinkage. Therefore, a good final finish for the furniture is not possible with the high moisture content.

?They are not adequately aware of selecting good wood. They also lack knowledge on how to select appropriate tools and work with wood processing machinery. The present quality of training in the wood sector does not meet industry needs. This is a heavy negative aspect for the future of the industry.

Q: What are your suggestions to overcome these problems?

A:?Formal and informal training methods should be introduced to provide a good practical-oriented training for youth willing to enter the wood sector.

The authorities must explore the possibility of providing properly designed courses for wood workers already in the field. Training capabilities of State and private training institutes must be identified. A survey should be conducted on the availability of machinery and equipment for training, material, knowledge and skills level of the instructors of these institutions.

The services of foreign volunteers should be obtained for skill enhancing programs.? I am personally aware of those non-fee levying volunteers in Germany and Netherlands. I have brought them several times to train my staff at Leema Creations. I? can certainly invite them again if I am given an opportunity.??

The Government should request private sector companies for assistance in providing in-plant/industrial training where these trainees can be provided employment on completion of training.?

Q: Do we have an export market for wooden products?

A. A huge export market exists for selected products. However, we must be careful when choosing items for export. Exporters are mainly engaged in products? such as montessori equipment, wooden toys and? recreational items.? Some of them export brush and broom handles and other industrial wooden components and furniture. However, the best thing is to avoid furniture made of solid wood with broad surfaces as wood is hygroscopic and heterogeneous and shrinks during shipping transit which may result in cancellation of orders.

Q: What are the obstacles faced by the industry?

A. The main obstacle is the shortage of chemically treated and kiln dried timber planks in the market. This may not be an issue for large players as they have in-house facilities. If treated and dried timber is not available in the market, small timers will use unseasoned and untreated planks to produce inferior quality merchandise.

Another hindrance is that chemical treatment for certain varieties of timber should be done immediately after the trees are felled.

Q: If the government dilutes the regulations governing the transportation of timber, how will it affect forest density?

A.? At present, the Forest Department controls harvesting of commercial plantation forests and issuing permits to transport logs. This policy should be continued. Solid wood needs should be imported.

However, permits for transportation of timber should be limited only to logs and untreated timber planks.? Permits must be obtained when transporting treated and dried planks. If timber is allowed to decay after maturity, it will release carbon dioxide to the environment. If we use mature timber we can avoid this. My opinion is strictly about commercial plantations. We should differentiate between forest reserves and commercial plantations.

Q: You share your knowledge with woodwork instructors and interior designers. Tell us about it.

A. I believe, as an experienced teacher and trainer, that it is absolutely necessary to upgrade the technical and engineering know-how among wood workers and others involved in developing the industry. Our youth are highly capable and a technical and theoretical background must be given in areas such as characteristics of wood, finishing methodologies and machinery.

I feel it is my duty to share my knowledge specifically with the younger generation as a person who has 37 years of experience as a wood work lecturer, industrialist, author of books related to wood technology and curriculum writer on wood work for many government institutions.?

Q: You have had many years of experience with State institutions, particularly in training. What made you to quit government service and set up Leema Creations?

A. The first reason was the defiance I encountered through the bureaucratic red tape and ignorance of the authorities where I was compelled to restrict practising what I learnt from my overseas stints, particularly from very advanced German institutions and later in Thailand and Philippines.? It was frustrating at the time and pushed me to quit.

B. The second reason is that I understood my capacity in the technical aspects of the industry and creativity.

I also had a strong desire to engage in community service as much as possible. Therefore, I thought I can provide employment to people and help them with their lives. Those were the reasons why I relinquished my long career in the semi-government sector and became an entrepreneur.????

?Q: What is the market visibility of the company?

A.Today,? 20 long years after humble beginnings, I have deep satisfaction that I have founded probably the most successful organisation in the interior decor and furniture industry, in which over 300 men and women are employed. My concept of management has always been the family concept where everyone is in a single happy family unit. In the past 20 years, we have provided creative interiors and furniture to many elite commercial entities, homes, offices, hospitals, hotels and government institutions.

We own one of the largest and advanced manufacturing facilities with a floor area of? over 60,000 square feet and an array of computer based precision machinery and equipment. We have an in-house kiln, pressure impregnated chemical treatment and high quality saw mill for solid wood along with aluminum and steel assembly lines for imported furniture.

?Q: What are your future plans??

A. We are expanding the factory floor area and also bringing down more computerised equipment.

We concentrate on improvement of quality for customers. We recently entered into an agreement with Durlax India (Pvt) Ltd., India’s largest manufacturer of 100% UV acrylic solid surface to cater to Sri Lankan consumers. We plan to penetrate the market with this product. We also have plans to establish ourselves in overseas markets.