Another Year to Remember or Another Year to Forget? 2021 in Review

Another Year to Remember or Another Year to Forget? 2021 in Review

Looking back on 2021, one thing is clear: the lumber and wood products industries, like much of America and much of the world, is still contending with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 was a year in which lumber prices skyrocketed and then dropped. It was a year of unpredictable financial dynamics that saw industry leaders facing unique challenges, seizing new opportunities, and trying to catch up to demand. It was, in short, a topsy-turvy year. Let’s look back.

Coming out of a legacy of loss
In 2020, the forestry sector was contending with an estimated loss of $1.1 billion. In addition to shutdowns due to the pandemic, disasters such as wildfires in the west and Hurricane Laura in the southeast wreaked havoc. Workers remained at home. Nobody was harvesting logs to be cut into lumber. Some mills remained closed. Those that opened needed to implement new safety protocols and acquire personal protective equipment. Some had to cut back production as workers got sick.

But at the same time, home buying boomed as consumers with money to spare left cities for the suburbs seeking a second home or a new remote working situation with space for the family to spread out. Others stayed in their existing houses but built home office additions or took care of long-delayed renovation and expansion projects. Restaurants, meanwhile, were busy building outdoor dining areas. These trends continued in 2021.

Easy Money
Driving demand, at least in part, were historically low interest rates and a flow of easy money as people tapped their 401(k) accounts to fund renovations and snap up new homes. One result was that the price of lumber soared from approximately $400 per thousand board feet in February 2020 to an all-time high of over $1,600 in early May 2021. When prices reached 300% above pre-pandemic levels, buyers balked. By summer, prices bottomed out, bringing buyers back into the fold – which helped drive up prices again.

Meanwhile, the escalating value of lumber saw an increase in theft. As thieves hit more and more job sites, companies sought to increase security. Police in several states warned contractors not to purchase lumber off Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace due to an increased chance of it being stolen.

Uncertainty and opportunity moving forward

Throughout 2021, experts monitoring the wood products and home construction industries sought to explain the reasons for undersupply. Many pointed to industry-wide misreadings regarding the economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions, combined with a ten-year period of under-building of new homes.

Today, these experts expect a new price level for 2022 of approximately $600 – but uncertainty abounds. Factors that could potentially impact the price include labor shortages, recent flooding in Canada affecting the transportation system, the US doubling its tariffs on softwood lumber, low interest rates that make housing more affordable, and warm temperatures in the US that enable homebuilders to keep building.

As it stands as of this writing, projections for 2022 suggest that supply chain challenges will persist and the US will not hit 2 million housing starts – due primarily to a lack of production capacity, low availability of lots, and higher cost of building materials. But on the bright side, these same projections suggest no recession for the coming year, an unemployment rate that will continue to go down, productivity increases due to hybrid work models, interest rates that will not exceed 4%, and a US South that will continue to be an attractive migration area.

So, was 2021 a year to remember or a year to forget? And what about 2022? The picture may be mixed, but no matter what the future holds for our industry, we at Crow are ready to support you and your operation. Give us a call (503) 213-2013 or email us to help your business grow in 2022.


Is Your Fabricator All That? Three Keys for Measuring Value.

Is Your Fabricator All That? Three Keys for Measuring Value.

At Crow, one of our goals is to be the first-place mills turn to improve their operations. Traditionally, we’ve pursued this goal by providing capital and maintenance project support services. Now – after acquiring Automation Industries Corporation (AIC), now Miloptic – we’ve added custom metal fabrication to our portfolio of offerings. Custom fabrication is an art – one that requires more than machines and technology for bending, forming, and cutting. Thus, as part of this acquisition, we were particularly pleased to incorporate many talented people with years of fabrication skills into the fold at Crow.

If you are looking for a metal fabricator, you might want to learn from our own acquisition experience. Here are three key points to consider to make sure your fabricator can deliver the value you expect.  

1. Equipment and materials

Does your fabricator have top-of-the-line equipment such as welders, millers, and CNC machines? And do they utilize the highest quality materials and alloys?

As a metal fabricator, it is important to supply precision metal products, heavy structural steel and plate fabrication, and sheet metal. A good fabricator offers services such as cutting, fitting, welding, testing, finishing, painting, and assembly.


2. Engineering skills

Does your fabricator have skilled engineers that pay attention to details and ensure that the equipment and parts are made specifically for your application?

Offering added services such as engineering and custom design to the fabrication is a plus. Make sure the fabricator has designers who work from any standard engineering drawings or plans and provide industrial design services.

3. Installation and turn-around

Can your fabricator install and deliver with a short turnaround?

If a project requires both fabrication and field installation, choose a fabricator that has the capabilities to tackle many types of projects as well as emergency repairs, training, and calibration. Also, keep in mind that choosing a fabrication shop that is centrally located will allow you to have more control of your products and lead time.

If you need conveyor modifications, hoists, catwalks, platforms, safety upgrades, and other fabrications for your expansion plans, be sure to tap the kind of expertise that can help you avoid mistakes, minimize costs, and ensure success.

Give us a call (503-213-2013) or email us ( to schedule a consultation and understand your fabrication needs.

Improving productivity with PLC programming

Improving productivity with PLC programming

If you need to upgrade or improve your PLC systems, start by collecting detailed field notes of equipment, wiring, functions, etc. This will give you a detailed list of components that need to be supported by your PLC systems as well as catalog of necessary parts such as new control processors, modules, remote racks, motion control components, network switches, console components, and more. Another essential task to do before the configuration of an automated control system is PLC programming.
Read more about how your operation can improve productivity with PLC programming


Improving productivity with PLC programming

In simple terms, a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) is a robust computer with a microprocessor – but without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. It is used to control industrial equipment and monitor condition states regarding temperature, moisture, dust, and more.

A PLC uses protocols and ports to communicate with other systems. After receiving information from connected input devices and sensors, the PLC processes the data and triggers required outputs per pre-programmed parameters. Based on these inputs and outputs, the PLC monitors and records runtime data regarding machine productivity, temperature, and other parameters. It can also generate alarms when machine failure occurs and initiate automatic start and stop processes – just to name a few capabilities.

To interact with a PLC, users require a Human Machine Interface (HMI). These can take the form of touchscreen panels or simple displays that allow users to input and review PLC information in real time.

When Crow works with clients seeking to improve or upgrade their PLC systems, the first activity we propose is to conduct a PLC assessment to collect detailed field notes for equipment, wiring, functions, etc. The result of such an assessment is a detailed list of components to be supported by the new PLC system – along with a list of necessary parts such as new control processors, modules, remote racks, motion control components, network switches, console components, and more.

The critical importance of programming

Another essential task is PLC programming. A PLC program consists of a set of instructions, which represent the logic to be implemented for specific industrial projects and applications. At Crow, our PLC specialist and skilled industrial electricians provide essential programming services for new PLC, HMI, and motion control systems. We study existing programs to replicate functionality, write new logic based on existing systems, and design new HMI applications to replace existing implementations.

Proper PLC programming is essential for making equipment and operations faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective. Program functions include initiating the conditions for starting a specified task, executing interruptions, and handling errors. When programmed correctly, PLCs play a critical role in enabling automation, minimizing power consumption, increasing system control, keeping records, and redistributing the available workforce to increase productivity.

Our PLC specialists also have the skills and assistance of our engineering group at their disposal. They can quickly order up needed drawings (layout drawings, control power drawings, or I/O drawings to detail device connections to new PLC) or request project management to ensure vendors and contractors are on track and deadlines are met. We also have the resources to commission equipment – and we always stick around to train technicians and operators on how to get the most out of the new system.

Why a PLC upgrade?

If you deal with reoccurring equipment nuisance issues daily, there’s a good chance these can be resolved through minor changes in your PLC Logic. Your personnel may consider these nuisances to be a simple fact of life – but with some critical observations and the right information, Crow can help you illuminate the underlying cause standing in the way of improved productivity and operational efficiency.  

Let’s say you have a minor issue that causes your line to stop five times a day with a loss of two minutes each stop. Maybe this seems like something you can live with – but, assuming a seven-day operation, you’d lose 60 hours of production per year. When your PLC is not working properly or is down, your machines stop running – causing delays that reduce productivity and cut into revenues. Crow can help. Call (503-213-2013) or email Crow ( to schedule a consultation. Our PLC specialists can provide an assessment, programming, and recommendations to improve your process.

Many investments and upgrade projects continue to emerge in the US South

Many investments and upgrade projects continue to emerge in the US South

As home construction grows, lumber consumption in the US and Canada will increase from 59 billion board feet (BBF) in 2020 to 70 BBF by 2025. Anticipating increased demand and seeking to capitalize on an extraordinary surge in lumber prices above $1,000 MBF in 2021, lumber manufacturers are making significant investments to expand manufacturing capacity. The US South – the largest softwood lumber producing region in North America (20 BBF) – is seeing most of the investment. Simultaneously, smaller lumber producers and much larger corporations will exceed 4 BBF of softwood capacity by 2022 due to many mill modernizations, reopenings, and greenfield projects to increase production capacity. The following are the recent major investment announcements:

  • Interfor
    March 2021, Interfor acquired WestRock’s sawmill in Summerville, SC (125 MMBF) for $59 MM (included log and lumber inventories). Interfor will invest $30 MM to increase production up to 200 MMBF annually. Also, in July 2021, Interfor purchased three sawmills from Georgia Pacific in the US South: DeQuincy, LA (200 MMBF) to be restarted in the first half 2022, Bay Springs, MS (140 MMBF), and Fayette, AL (160 MMBF). The acquisition of these three sawmills plus a sawmill in Philomath, OR were cash purchases for $372 MM (including working capital). Interfor plans to invest up to $8 million to revive the DeQuincy sawmill curtailed by Georgia Pacific in May 2020.
  • Hunt Forest Products and Tolko Industries
    In July 2021, Hunt Forest Products and Tolko Industries announced a project to build a 320 MMBF sawmill in Taylor, Louisiana ($240 MM). Construction of the new facility is expected to start in early 2022, with commercial operations starting in early 2023.
  • Roseburg and Canfor US South
    Also in July, Roseburg announced a $200 MM investment to build a 400 MMBF sawmill in Weldon, NC., and Canfor US South announced a 250 MMBF greenfield sawmill near DeRidder, Louisiana ($160 MM) with startup projected in late 2022. Since 2013, Canfor US South has had over 300% growth.
  • Georgia-Pacific
    September 2021, Georgia-Pacific announced the modernization of its lumber complex in Pineland, Texas with a $120 million investment. Construction is expected to begin early 2022 and is scheduled to be completed in late 2022. Currently the mill has the capacity to produce 380 MBF of dimensional lumber each year, but when the new mill is operational and running at full capacity the production will increase to 450 MBF.
  • West Fraser
    October 2021, West Fraser entered into an agreement to acquire Angelina Forest Products lumber mill located in Lufkin, Texas for approximately $300 million (financed with cash on hand). This sawmill began construction in 2018, commenced operations in late 2019, and is expected to progress toward full production capacity of approximately 305 MBF over the next three to four years.

The industry knows that the US needs to add about 1.5 million new homes per year to keep pace with population growth and replace existing homes. Forecasters indicate that lumber capacity in North America will fall short of new demand by close to 7 BBF which is equivalent to more than 20 large-capacity sawmills. At Crow Engineering we are currently involved in many mill assessments, modernizations, and capacity expansion projects. With more than 50 years of experience, it is Crow’s  honor and privilege to serve mills and lumber companies. Contact us if your company is planning to take advantage of the current market. We would love to help you make the right decision and achieve your goals.

The time is now for a structural assessment

The time is now for a structural assessment

To ensure safety and minimize the risk of operational shutdowns at a time of high demand, many mills commission a structural assessment of critical facilities. Such assessments typically involve an analysis and evaluation of foundations, framings, and associated construction systems and details. The objective is to determine existing load capacity, identify structural deficiencies, and assess the causes and impacts of potential structural failures.

The extent of such an assessment depends on the condition and complexity of the resource examined, its current or intended use, and the amount of information available or attainable. But whatever the particular circumstances, mills want clear recommendations to correct structural deficiencies – or a new structural design with specific engineering solutions.

Expertise needed

It’s important to investigate thoroughly and know what you’re looking for. For example, in a recent review for one customer, a Crow engineer investigated the performance and construction of bowstring trusses. What initially appeared to be a tension (bottom) chord failure was actually a symptom of a more serious issue: the failure of the compression (top) chord. READ MORE

Essentially, the top chord was compromised and shortened. This caused the more noticeable failure of the bottom chord.

Using an animation, our engineer, simulated on-site conditions and showed what would happen to the truss if the compression chord failed. The animation made it clear that as the compression chord failed, it shortened – causing the tension chord failure. While applying a tension chord splint would alleviate the secondary failure (bottom chord), it would also increase load to the compression chord and exacerbate the primary failure mechanism.

To ensure the safety of this truss chordcompression (top) chord needed to be supported. Critically, it was determined that supporting the truss through the bottom chord only (and only on one side of the shoring tower) would have increased the load in the web members, causing the failure of web members,  shear plates, and strap plates. These conclusions led our engineer to recommend a shoring design to be put in place as soon as possible.

The three levels of a structural assessment

Structural assessments vary. Generally speaking, there are three varieties:  

  • Cursory Assessment
    Visual overview of the general condition of the building envelope. It is often used for screening multiple buildings to establish priorities for maintenance and repair or further study.
  • Preliminary Assessment
    Site visit to identify problem areas, review available documents, interview of involved parties, and generate a preliminary report of findings and recommendations.
  • Detailed Assessment
    Review of documentation, component classification, field investigation, testing, analysis, and report.

Each assessment should be supplemented with a structural assessment report. Such a report looks at working conditions and makes recommendations for immediate and short-term repairs – all based on visual observation, measuring, video/photography, sampling, testing, analysis, and documentation depending on the level of the assessment.

Faulty construction, unsafe structural conditions for gravity and wind/snow loads, substantial structural damage due to deterioration – all of these can be identified with a structural assessment. Addressing these issues can help prevent further facility damage, collapse, equipment loss or damage, and – most importantly – accidents and fatalities.

Do you have structural questions? Call (503) 213-2013 or email Crow to schedule a consultation. Our registered Professional Engineers (PE) can provide a structural assessment and report to evaluate your structural conditions and needs.

Forest Product Expo 2021
Can’t Fill Your Manufacturing Jobs? Read This Before It’s too Late: 3 Keys to Attracting and Keeping Manufacturing Employees

Can’t Fill Your Manufacturing Jobs? Read This Before It’s too Late: 3 Keys to Attracting and Keeping Manufacturing Employees

It would be difficult to argue that American manufacturing is in a slump. In March 2021, activity in the sector surged to a 37-year high.

Yet at the same time, an estimated half million jobs in manufacturing remain unfilled. Across the spectrum – from low-skilled entry-level positions to specialized roles such as welders and machinists — factory operators find it increasingly difficult to find the workers they need.

According to a study published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030. At the same time, approximately 2.7 million workers are expected to retire over the coming decade while business growth will result in the need for 700,000 new jobs.

Manufacturing executives cite two main reasons for the current predicament. The first is obvious enough: there simply aren’t enough workers with the skills and training needed for modern manufacturing.

The second reason has more to do with the expectations of today’s American workforce. Younger workers, for instance, reject factory jobs as stationary, low-knowledge work with few prospects for advancement. Many believe manufacturing jobs are obsolete and will be replaced by robots and overseas competition. Other options – such as technical or professional pathways in other industries – seem more attractive. And, of course, there’s always the side hustle alternative. Increasingly, workers can find flexible and fulfilling work through options such as Uber, social media, freelancing, and more.

Adding to the mix is the phenomenon of the great job migration, where many employees are reevaluating their work and leaving their current employers to find more desirable jobs elsewhere. If your company is facing these headwinds, consider the following tips for attracting and keeping valued manufacturing employees.

Show them the money
Many manufacturing positions require fairly basic capabilities – such as following directions, willingness to learn, and follow-through. Think of positions such as assemblers, production work helpers, and hand-held tool cutters.

Traditionally, these jobs may have been categorized as entry-level and minimum wage. Things have changed. Today’s factories compete with entry-level talent from warehouses and distribution centers run by the likes of Amazon, Costco, and Walmart who pay $15 per hour or more. To keep pace, factory employers are aggressively boosting pay to attract the best employees.

Manufacturers also are increasing the shift differential paid for work on second and third shifts – the jobs often assigned to new hires out of respect for the preferences of more tenured employees. Higher second and third shift pay rates can aid recruitment, without increasing labor costs on the traditionally coveted first shift. FedEx Express, for example, is adding $2 per hour to the wages of night operations employees at its World Hub in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Bring sexy back
If manufacturing jobs seem unattractive for today’s workers, maybe it’s time to bring sexy back. To attract employees, many companies are initiating sign-on bonuses after the successful completion of a probationary period (typically 60-90 days). Others are adding or increasing bonuses paid to current employees who refer successful job candidates.

Schedule flexibility is attractive to new hires as well. Some companies offer flex schedules where fulltime may not be a requirement and the ability to move between shifts is facilitated. Others offer flexible vacation schedules so that employees can take a day off here and there to take advantage of the good things in life – like the beginning of hunting season, a child’s school event, or maybe the chance to go to a ball game on short notice.

To keep employees motivated (especially younger workers with the right skill sets), smart manufacturers are also investing in worker training and focusing on career growth. During the hiring process, these companies set realistic career expectations for new employees – with clear roadmaps and timelines regarding pay raises, promotions, and training opportunities.

When it comes to attracting and retaining good and loyal employees, the role of company culture should not be overlooked. Companies can minimize turnover and show that they care about their employees with straightforward measures such as maintaining a comfortable, clean, and safe environment. If employees are still quitting, managers need to initiate open up the lines of communication. Managers who encourage input and feedback aren’t just building stronger teams, they’re building strong company cultures.

Personal touches count too. Celebrate team milestones, host a quarterly barbeque, provide positive feedback, and encourage creativity. Foster respect, encourage a healthy work-life balance, connect with team members, and provide the tools they need to succeed. “Little things” like these can play a big role when it comes to keeping employees happy and productive.

Know where your workforce is coming from
Many manufacturers are implementing strategies that target specific populations with a tailored recruiting approach. Some pursue military veterans, others help to enroll students at nearby trade schools and community colleges. Trade associations are also helping their members by establishing relationships with schools and workforce organizations.

Historically, companies have required a basic grasp of the English language. Today – particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic – many companies have dropped this requirement, thus widening the available pool of potential workers. To attract Spanish-speaking workers, for example, some companies are placing Spanish-language billboards throughout their cities and are sponsoring events such as Hispanic Festivals to speak about employment opportunities.

Finally, to rebuild the employee pipeline, many manufacturers are revamping their hiring requirements across a range of areas. Traditional requirements – such as marijuana screenings and drug tests, disqualifying convictions, high school diplomas, and prior experience – are now being deemphasized or eliminated entirely.

You can’t control everything, but you can be proactive
In normal times, people quitting jobs in large numbers is a sign of a healthy economy with plentiful jobs. But these are not normal times. The pandemic has led to a massive recession here in the U.S. Millions of people are still out of jobs. Yet, employers now face severe labor shortages – even as pandemic life recedes.
The younger generation is leaving jobs in search of more money, flexibility, and happiness. Many are rethinking what work means to them, how they are valued, and how they spend their time. Rather than clock in at the same company for 40 years, today’s workers are more willing to switch jobs frequently if it means getting the income they need and a schedule they want. And if their current position won’t let them pay down debt or fully support their lifestyle, today’s workers now have the means to add a side hustle to earn extra money.

Ultimately, there is no way you can control every aspect of your team’s work experience. If someone wants to leave, there is little you can do. That said, proactive measures as described here can do wonders to keep employees happy in the first place – while improving the performance and cohesiveness of your workforce. The result is increased employee satisfaction and loyalty.

At Crow, we’re here to help you in such efforts. We can provide operational and maintenance training to support your employees and management team. We can also help with training to your Spanish-speaking personnel. Need a hand? Give us a call and learn more about how Crow can help: (503) 213-2013.