2019 Annual report of the Center for Products Business

2019 Annual report of the Center for Products Business

Dear Colleagues:

Hello from your Center,

It is hard to believe that another year has passed and we will soon be welcoming 175 students back to our department.  Many of you have hired them for summer internships and I want to thank you for helping us with their education.  The department remains committed to have our students prepared to “hit the road running” when they graduate, and your internships are vital for them getting experience in the forest products industry.  We currently have one of the largest undergraduate enrollment in the department’s 40 year history.  We graduated over 50 students last May, with most of them finding employment within the industry. 

Cochran Fellows during their visit to Chips Inc. sawmill in June.

As you are probably aware, the new generation of student (and future employee) is somewhat different than when I started in the industry in 1974.  While the baby boomer generation was interested in finding a long-term career and moving up the ladder, students today have different goals (and maybe better).  They are more concerned about social responsibility, sustainability, serving society, and participating in decision making, than the bottom line on the balance sheet.  They tend to stay with companies for less time and are more mobile than my generation.  To help meet this changing need, the department hired a new faculty in the area of the circular economy that started this August.  She will be focusing on the life-cycle analysis and recycling as it applies to the biomaterials’ industry.  I share this with you to let you know we are adjusting our departments’ instructional techniques and classes to meet this new student.  Our classes focus on hands-on learning techniques and team building skills so they know how to effectively work with others in a job environment.  Repeatedly, when we ask employers what do students need to be successful, it is their social, leadership, communication, and organizational skills that rate higher than their technical skills to be successful in your organizations.

On a personal note, in preparation for my retirement in 2021, I am stepping down at Department Head the end of this year.  There is currently a job search being conducted to find my replacement. We hope to have someone in place by January. It has been an honor to serve in this role for seven years, and now I must plan for my next adventure in life.  I want to thank you for your continued support of our programs.  I hope you will contact us with your needs for employees or summer interns.  Many of our classes have projects and if you need a short specific project investigated, please contact me and I will see if we can work it into a class.  Please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions to improve the program (rsmith4@vt.edu).  Again, thanks for your support of our students and I wish you a successful year.

To access the full report, please follow this link.


Bob Smith

FSMIP/USDA project report on wooden social housing in Latin America

By Henry Quesada, quesada@vt.edu

A wooden social home in Costa Rica made with Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) imported from the United States.

Sustainable housing is one of the fundamental necessities for socio-economic development. Yet a considerable population of the developing world is living in substandard houses. On the other hand, developed countries like the United States have substantially improved the residential construction sector by engineering new materials and developing efficient systems.

This study attempts to link this supply capacity of the system built wood construction sector in the United States to urban low-income housing markets in the Latin-American region. Expansion to new markets and diversification to new products can rejuvenate this industry in the U.S. Linking the manufacturer with potential buyers overseas would need efficient production, logistics and marketing systems. This research is focused on product development for bottom-of-the pyramid buyers to give them an affordable yet sustainable alternative to traditional systems. Interviews and survey tools were used to assess key aspects of housing deficits in target demographics of the South and Central American regions. System built wood construction manufacturers in the U.S. were assessed to identify barriers and incentives for internationalization and how they differ from exporting to non-exporting manufacturers within the same industry. Findings indicate that developing products for social housing programs can provide access to potential untapped markets. Lack of existing wood construction in some of the selected markets indicates the possibility of resistance to acceptance but also assures no local competition. The learnings can also contribute to opening of new markets for exports of prefabricated wooden buildings in other housing sectors.

Click here to download the full report.

2013-2014 Annual Center Report

Center Members and Friends:

Bob Smith and Henry Quesada, Director and Associate Director of the Center for Forest Products Business

This year marks the 35th anniversary as an independent department in the College of Natural Resources and Environment that focuses on the efficient management and utilization of our natural resources. Established in 1979 as the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products with 4 faculty, our department has grown to 16 faculty and over 130 undergraduate and graduate students. In 2012 we changed our name to the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials to better reflect our faculty’s expertise and to broaden our appeal to a changing student population. In the past 35 years, the Commonwealth has moved from primarily a rural population to an ever expanding urban population. It is estimated that over 75% of our citizens and students now live in urban areas. Historically, a large portion of our departments’ students came from rural areas where they were regularly exposed to our natural resources and the importance of the forest products industry to Virginia. This is not necessarily true with today’s incoming students. We know that the forest products industry is the leader in the sustainable management of our natural resources. Our new name is meant to reflect that to our incoming students, and attract them to the great careers that this industry holds for them.

2014 also marks the establishment of two separate degree programs in the department. The Sustainable Biomaterials degree (which reflects our past Wood Science option) remains to focus on teaching the fundamentals of the processing, manufacturing, drying and marketing of wood and other biomaterials. These includes lumber manufacturing, secondary processing, wood based composites and other natural resource based chemical industries, wood engineering, domestic and international marketing of forest products and business management as it applies to our forest products industry. The second degree is in Packaging Systems and Design. Packaging and pallets remain the largest use of wood fiber in the country and this program is one of only six offered in the U.S. This program emphasizes the importance the sustainable use of packaging materials, how packaging can enhance product performance and markets, and how new uses of wood fiber can be used to replace petroleum based plastics. Our undergraduate program currently has over 90 students, with 15-20 graduating each spring. Nearly all students find jobs in manufacturing, quality control, research, marketing or sales.

Your center has had a good year. Our faculty accomplishments are listed later in this report. The Center is in its 22nd year thanks to your continued support. We awarded over $20,000 of scholarships in the fall of 2013 and will award nearly that amount again in fall of 2014. We remain one of the largest forest products program in the United States. We have updated our website to provide more information, so please visit us at http://www.cfpb.vt.edu I thank you for your continued support of our center. If there is anything I can do, please feel free to contact me at 540-231-7679 or rsmith4@vt.edu

To access the full report please follow this link.

Center Focus: Spring 2013 Newsletter

Hello Center Members and Friends:

As we get close to spring break on campus (in two weeks) it is im-pressive to see the growth of our program and the energy of the stu-dents this semester. We have 80 students now in our department and many are majoring in Forest Products Business. Firms are al-ready on campus interviewing for summer internships and full-time positions. I think this is a great indicator of our economy’s and the industry’s resurgence. We will graduate around 25 students in the spring, so if your companies are looking for full time employees, please contact us to set up interviews.

On a personal note, last fall our department head in Sustainable Biomaterials stepped down and the dean has asked me to take it on for a while, so I am currently acting as in-terim department head of our program. It is nice to be working regularly with my colleagues in the department again and seeing students on a more regular basis. Students are busy with the Wood Enterprise Institute where they will be designing, manufacturing and marketing 3 different products this year. The packaging science program continues to grow and students are learning to efficiently design and build packaging for the products we ship around the world.

Currently our faculty are working on such items as energy savings in mills, international marketing efforts, lumber use in the pallet industry, secondary manufacturing issues, and a variety of topics in the area dealing with cellulosic chemistry. It always amazes me the breadth of our research areas in the department. But, they all have one common theme: Assisting the forest products industry in the sustainable development and use of our natural resources. Whether it is new products using cellulose, increasing manufacturing efficiencies in your mills, or developing new markets, our research efforts try to assist our industry in increasing its competi-tiveness.

In this newsletter is a listing of upcoming continual education classes, some industry news and a short article on energy savings research that Dr. Quesada and his students are doing in a secondary mill. There still remain a lot of areas in which mills can reduce their energy costs and this research shows another way to tackle the problem. If you have any questions regarding this newsletter or the Center, please feel free to contact me at 540-231-7679 or rsmith4@vt.edu.

To read the full news letter, please follow this link.