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Traditional Strengths of the Wood Industry

Dr. Bruce Lord identified Pennsylvania’s wood industry as having annual shipments amounting to $16.6 billion and an estimated total annual economic impact of $27.7 billion statewide. Much of this gain can be attributed to manufacturers in the more rural counties, where there is immediate proximity to high-value timber. But these regions are also augmented with an excellent workforce.

Dr. Judd Michael, associate professor of wood products business management, has identified various performance levels and skill sets indigenous to this labor force and has further identified ways and means for sustaining the integrity of their output and enhancing the management-labor communication network. Dr. Michael has further established outreach programs for this industry group aimed at improving the employment capabilities of this work force and building greater rapport with employees.

Dr. Paul Blankenhorn, professor of wood technology, has focused much of his research on the processing needs of this industrial group, particularly from the standpoint of gaining efficiencies in the lumber drying process, evaluating wood emissions, and gaining greater yields from the timber resource. His work has provided considerable gains to industry with reference to advances in kiln schedules for Pennsylvania’s valuable hardwood species and appropriate means for reducing possible injurious emissions from oak species. Recent research on small-diameter hardwood logs underscored probable gains in certain sizes and species, added costs and degrade, and allied net results.

Earlier research on using red maple to manufacture laminated bridge members for secondary road applications was spearheaded in the early 1990s by Dr. Blankenhorn, Dr. John Janowiak, professor of wood products engineering, and Dr. Harvey Manbeck, professor of agricultural engineering. Their concerted efforts brought forth proven designs for such structures, national design standards, and the completion of several trial bridges within central Pennsylvania. Their work also led to incorporating red maple beams within the new Forest Resources Building.

Dr. Paul Smith, professor of forest products marketing, initiated research on extruded wood-plastic composites (WPC) as advanced products for the rather docile residential decking to the more demanding requirements of wharfs and piers along salt water settings. This project, funded by the Office for Naval Research, is a joint project with Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory at Washington State University and Penn State’s Wood Products program, has successfully combined natural wood fibers and thermoplastic polymers. WPC products combine the favorable performance and cost attributes of wood with the processing characteristics of thermoplastic polymers. This past fall, the new and innovative structural WPC profiles developed by this research project were used to build a deck on the green roof of the new Forest Resources Building.