Friday, 11 March 2016

ACIAR project providing opportunities for Lao and Australian wood manufacturers

As part of an ACIAR project in Laos local designers and students took part in a furniture design competition in November. The competition aimed to encourage Lao to develop innovative furniture designs that could provide opportunities for Lao wood manufacturers to better compete in international furniture markets. Winners of the competition were presented awards including a trip to Melbourne to undertake a furniture design course at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. 
Dr Barbara Ozarska presenting the furniture design award          

The awards were presented at the National University of Laos (NUOL) along with a ceremony to mark the commissioning of the new spindle-less lathe research facility at the university’s Faculty of Forestry. A spindle-less lathe was handed over to the facility thanks to the forestry project, Enhancing Key Elements of the Value Chains for Plantation-Grown Wood in Lao PDR (FST/2010/012). Australian Ambassador to Laos, H. E. John Williams gave a speech to mark the occasion. He said the commissioning of the facility marked an important milestone in the project as the technology will enable Lao wood industries to improve the efficiency of processing techniques. The lathe will help build local capacity and knowledge in how to add value to teak timber and produce high quality manufactured wood products, for which there is a strong demand in international markets.

The project – managed by Dr Barbara Ozarska from University of Melbourne and the in-country coordinator Dr Latsamy Boupha from the University – is an example of how Australian researchers engaged in ACIAR forestry projects are able to use their experience from working in various countries to identify innovative technologies as solutions. The project involves equipment installation and training for Lao researchers to use the equipment.

One of the greatest challenges for teak farmers in Lao is the absence of markets for small-diameter trees. This inhibits the implementation of tree-thinning programs which are run to maximise economic value of tree plantations. The advantage that the spindle-less lathe technology has over rotary processing is that it can more efficiently process small diameter logs to enable more sustainable farming practices.
Lao farmer with his 15 year old teak trees near Luang Prabang

Unlike Laos’ neighbouring countries like Vietnam and China, Lao wood industries have not adopted innovative veneer processing technologies and still rely on saws as the main way of processing timber. Dr Henri Bailleres; team leader from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ (QDAF) Forest Products Innovation research facility in Brisbane; leads another ACIAR forestry project on veneer processing in Vietnam. His researchers are also participating in an ACIAR veneer processing project in Fiji where they were able to identify and source the most appropriate spindle-less lathe for processing small teak trees in Laos. 

Spindle-less lathe in operation near Hanoi, showing the small diameter logs being processed and the small residual core that is left at the end of the process

ACIAR projects not only seek to benefit small holder farmers overseas but also to generate benefits for Australia from the research. For example, as a result of its collaboration with QDAF researchers, an identical spindle-less lath facility has now been installed at Big River Timbers veneer facility at Grafton in northern New South Wales. For many years the NSW facility had utilised rotary veneer processing machinery in its factory and now reaps the benefits of research partnerships between Australia and overseas.

By Dr Tony Bartlett, Research Program Manager, Forestry, ACIAR

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