Drying timber in-field improves logistics

An innovative project by the Weatherboard timber sawmill in Creighton, KwaZulu-Natal has boosted efficiencies, saved fuel and reduced environmental impact for the sawmill and its parent company – global supply-chain giant CHEP.

Known as the ‘Raw Material Air Drying Project’, the initiative reduces the moisture content of cut timber to minimise the weight of sawn logs, thereby increasing the volume of timber that can be loaded per truck. Instead of the timber being delivered wet off saw to local CHEP service centres, the timber will be air dried for six weeks before it is transported. This reduces the moisture content of the wood from 55% to less than 30%, making it lighter, and allows trucks to accommodate more timber per load.

“The project is about maximising the volume of repair timber that can be loaded onto every truck,” says Jeanne Hugo, Senior Supply Chain Director for CHEP. “Timber is delivered to our service centres to repair damaged pallets returned from our customers, but the amount of repair timber on each delivery is limited by the maximum weight a truck can carry.”

“Wet off saw timber has a high moisture content, which makes it heavier, and trucks reach their maximum weight limit when there is still additional loading capacity available,” added Erica Stewart, Transport Manager for CHEP. “With air-drying, we can optimise truck capacity by reducing that moisture content before transporting the timber.”

The project, launched in July 2021, has meant around 20% fewer trips, fewer trucks on the road, lower transport costs and reduced carbon dioxide emissions. It has also improved efficiencies for customers by reducing the number of trucks arriving at busy CHEP service centres, shortening queues and reducing waiting times.

In partnership with the 18 timber plantations that CHEP owns, Weatherboard sawmill produces timber for the repair of CHEP pallets for the company’s pool of supply-chain platforms in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The timber backward integration strategy in South Africa was initiated in 2006,” says Hugo. “We can now supply our own sawmill with enough logs to meet up to 60% of CHEP’s current annual requirements.”

CHEP’s pallets underpin many of the world’s supply chains, including in South Africa. Due to the efficient, circular nature of the business model, in which pallets are not sold but rented out to customers, then collected, repaired and re-used again and again, they have an extremely low environmental impact.