Zena Forest Products is a family owned business located in the Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley. The Deumling family has managed the forest since 1987 and the sawmill since 2008. The Deumlings operate both aspects of the business with a strong focus on maintaining a healthy and diverse ecosystem in their forest. Zena is a mixed hardwood and conifer forest, containing several endangered habitats including Oak Savannah and Oak Woodland. The parcel is FSC certified forestland and spans 1300 acres.
Ben Deumling, the owner, works in partnership with his mother, Sarah, to maintain his family’s tradition of harvesting Oregon White Oak, Western Big Leaf Maple and other native hardwood species. This is a departure from traditional lumber mills in the area that tend to use Douglas fir trees, which grow rapidly, whereas oak can take many more decades to mature. As a result of the longer maturing time, oak is more durable and harder than woods like fir, making it ideal for flooring and furniture. Zena Forest Products produces durable solid hardwood flooring (the longest lasting on the market), as well as lumber for cabinet and furniture making.
Sarah is responsible for forest management, and Ben runs the daily operations at the mill. “Sustainability is the most important part of what we do, says Sarah Deumling. “We have it all – sustainable forest management practices and profitability. We don’t have the high lifestyle of CEOs at other big lumber companies, but we have tranquility. The industry is starting to pay attention to the need for sustainability in timber management after 30 years, because they see now that both are possible.”
Zena Forest Products recognized the value of their flooring product in the marketplace and asked OMEP to help them develop their manufacturing system capability to enable the broader availability of the offering. They are also expanding their product offerings to reach a broader customer base and are looking to improve the conversion of waste materials as a second product category.
“We maximize the output from what we have. Many companies just toss away what the market doesn’t want and bring in new raw materials. That’s not what Zena Forest is about. But being sustainable is difficult. It requires more work. We need to educate our customers so they understand this is part of the value they are purchasing.”
Working with an OMEP consultant, Zena Forest Products built a large and detailed value stream map that captured their manufacturing processes, product lines, inputs and production outputs. “This was a huge eye opener for me,” said Ben. “It helped put things in perspective to see all the processes fit together.”
After mapping out processes and product lines, Ben and Sarah implemented significant changes in their manufacturing process. With an emphasis on lean philosophy and fundamentals, they identified areas for optimization in the site layout, and built a plan for continuous improvement, particularly as it relates to capacity.
One of the barriers to working more effectively were the kilns. After sawing and stacking lumber, it is placed in a large drying shed for about 6 months. Oak tends to retain quite a bit of water, so the drying process is imperative to a successful end product. After the oak planks dry in the sheds, they are placed in a kiln to reach specific temperatures. Space in the kilns can be maximized by batching the plank size and length to completely fill each kiln.
Building the batching process out to meet the kiln space requirements has allowed Zena to realize capacity gains, which reduces downtime and increases first time quality. Through proper planning capacity calculations, they have worked with OMEP to re-arrange the cutting and milling operations to be more efficient by making use of all waste materials. Sawdust is shipped to local mushroom growers. Scrap wood is used to fuel the on-site kilns.
One of Zena Forest Product’s largest focuses has been on employee engagement and training. The owner, Ben, has worked to personally bring new hires on board in a welcoming manner, coaching and training them to embrace the company’s mission and values, as well as to work safely.
“My growth ideas are now about becoming more effective instead of growing more. What Zena does is important, in more ways than I recognized.”
Through training and coaching, Zena is now more effective, with its mission tied directly to its operations. They continue to improve operations and maintain a sustainable forest practice that allows them to deliver superior quality of product.
“I came to OMEP with a list of tangible physical equipment that I thought I had to put money towards to increase production. Instead we’ve worked on implementing lean philosophy to increase capacity through our processes and improve the capability of our employees. It has completely changed my perspective.”