Richmond Plywood Corporation : Growth and Sustainability

Michael SommerfieldCallam WallerLucy Pilgrim
Michael Sommerfield - Project Manager Callam Waller - Head of North American Operations Lucy Pilgrim - Senior Editor
Richmond Plywood Corporation Growth and Sustainability

Bhavjit Thandi, Chief Financial Officer of Richmond Plywood Corporation Limited, tells us the company’s story of perseverance and adaptability to become a highly successful plywood co-operative that places quality at the heart of its operations.

GROWTH AND SUSTAINABILITY

Founded in 1956 and born from a dream of self-sufficiency through hard work, Richmond Plywood Corporation Limited (Richply®) emphasizes a can-do attitude in its origin, having been established by 300 investors who strived to transform the Canadian plywood industry.  

“Collectively, the investors purchased a large tract of farmland on the banks of British Columbia’s (BC) Fraser River, where logs from one of the world’s most prolific coniferous areas could arrive by tow and be lifted onshore to a massive manufacturing plant,” introduces Chief Financial Officer, Bhavjit Thandi.   

From here, the dream came true, and Richply® was established. The company’s initial success took careful planning from a group of industry experts at the helm, as well as a carefully elected Board of Directors.  

The result of this management team was a winning combination that steered Richply® into its position as one of the only surviving coastal plywood mills.  

Today, the company is not only surviving but thriving and has become a leading manufacturer of high-quality plywood products for customers worldwide, with over 400 employees – 250 of which are shareholders.  

Operating in Richmond, BC, the business operates a 26-acre facility along the banks of the Fraser River. Its products range from plywood to high-end specialty panels.  

“At Richply®, we stand at the forefront of the industry and take pride in turning BC wood into high-quality, world-renowned Canadian plywood,” emphasizes Thandi.  

In the manufacturing of plywood, the company ensures the highest standards of sustainability and environmental stewardship.  

As such, Richply® operates a new, state-of-the-art log processing facility equipped with the latest environmentally-friendly technology in efforts to minimize natural gas consumption and reduce the mill’s carbon footprint.  

The company in the past 10 years, has invested in many different projects, such as a new debarker, log conditioning chests, and lathe line in response to government policies, as well as a new backup boiler system.  

As a result of these investments, Richply® has been able to use fiber more efficiently, increase production speed, and reduce waste.   

“We’re bringing forth new machinery to reduce our carbon footprint, increase efficiencies, and modernize our workplace,” Thandi adds. 

DRIVING INDUSTRY INNOVATION

The Plywood manufacturing market is a high-value, high-growth space and is expected to experience significant growth between now and 2027.  

To take hold of this progression and drive industry innovation, the company’s most recent projects are the implementation of a new patch line, lay-up line, and composer to enhance its value-added manufacturing process and improve the quality and efficiency of its plywood.   

Moreover, these projects will contribute to the forestry industry by offering sustainable solutions as a key driver for economic growth.  

However, high-quality fiber, known as old-growth fiber, is becoming increasingly sparse due to recent BC government policies surrounding forestry, which prohibit manufacturers from using old growth fibers. As such, this scarcity is expected to continue to impact businesses’ ability to rely on high-quality fiber for production.  

Recent government legislation has also led to Canadian products and labor being significantly more expensive on the world stage, specifically compared to competitors in South America, China, and Vietnam.  

In light of this, the projects and innovative technology of the company’s manufacturing line become highly relevant and advantageous as it offers a solution to the changing availability of fiber sources.  

“We’re enhancing the value and usability of second-growth fiber by streamlining the repair and upgrading processes, reducing wastage, and improving overall productivity.  

“The new machines will also allow us to produce high-quality, value-added products using second-growth fiber,” expands Thandi.  

Therefore, by embracing the projects and aligning its production processes with BC government policies, Richply® can ensure the sustainability of all its jobs, drive operational efficiency, and promote eco-friendly practices.  

In recognition of its efforts, the company is receiving CAD$2.3 million towards its patch line, lay-up line, and composer from the BC government in the form of the Manufacturing Job Fund, providing ample support.  

Grounded in the context of the plywood sector, the project will also drive innovation within the wider forestry industry, as it aptly demonstrates sustainability practices and encourages the adoption of similar technologies across the industry.

ACHIEVING HIGH STANDARDS

The Canadian plywood industry’s main competition is uncertified and unregulated wood from South America, China, and Vietnam. Unlike the US administration, the Canadian government has not placed tariffs on international wood supply, meaning that the US protects its domestic supply.  

In contrast, Canada doesn’t have this form of legislation and still imports from abroad, so Richply® is consistently competing with less expensive, international products.  

“Global plywood producers can be cheaper because they do not follow the same rigorous standards that we do in Canada, therefore, they are able to acquire and produce products that are less expensive and less reliable,” explains Thandi.  

However, Richply® remains successful thanks to its commitment to quality, as well as its long-standing relationship with Indigenous-owned and operated forestry and logging companies.  

Richply® proactively fosters economic empowerment with various Indigenous communities as direct log suppliers for organizations, which mutually benefit from the company’s increased product and output.  

“By aligning projects and objectives with Indigenous values and sustainable forest management, there will be a higher demand for eco-friendly forest management and a mutually beneficial partnership between the industry and Indigenous communities,” expresses Thandi.

EMPOWERING EMPLOYEES

As a collaborative mill, the company’s staff have the chance to buy a share of the business and work in the mill, and with that share, employees can obtain a higher salary, pension plan, and profit sharing, amongst other benefits.  

“Our people are the key to our success. The workforce is highly motivated since most of them are shareholders, so they understand it is in their best interest to focus on producing quality, value-added products.”

Moreover, because Richply® is 100 percent employee-owned, staff turnover is low. This allows it to maintain a stable workforce, which fosters reliability and consistency for its customers and markets.  

Evidently, the longest-serving employee has been at the company for 52 years, whilst many others have celebrated their 30th and 40th anniversaries.  

“A lot of people have been here since they were 16 years of age, and never left because they enjoyed the company so much,” emphasizes Thandi.  

In aid of its employee retention, Richply® is committed to fostering a workforce that is empowered and prosperous, as it provides long-lasting, well-paying jobs by investing in its team through extensive, on-the-job training and skills development.    

Meanwhile, over 80 percent of the company’s staff base comprises visible minorities, and it is actively working towards increasing representation in this area. As part of its nurturing of local talent, Richply® creates significant opportunities for Indigenous and First Nations businesses.  

“We have a strong commitment to our workers’ safety, community integrity, strategic development, and excellence, and these values guide the company’s operations and underpin our commitment to providing top-quality products for our customers across North America and beyond,” asserts Thandi.

Bhavjit Thandi, Chief Financial Officer of Richmond Plywood Corporation Limited

“We have a strong commitment to our workers’ safety, community integrity, strategic development, and excellence, and these values guide the company’s operations”

Bhavjit Thandi, Chief Financial Officer, Richmond Plywood Corporation Limited

MAINTAINING SUSTAINABILITY

Richply® is acutely aware of the increasingly significant influence of environmental policies and regulations on wood manufacturing and the impacts they are having on the sustainability of wood. 

This has led to the development of international regulations like the Lacey Act in the US and the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), which requires operators placing wood products into the market to perform due diligence in regard to their legal origin. This is in response to the rising global demand for sustainably sourced wood products.  

Richply® has pledged to comply with these laws and regulations by engaging in monitoring and enforcement activities within the legislative framework of BC to achieve sustainable forest management.    

“We strive to follow strict forest governance, complemented by forest certifications such as PEFC and FSC. “This ensures that Richply® products originate from well-managed, non-controversial sources that are harvested responsibly, sustainably, and in accordance with applicable legal requirements,” concludes Thandi.

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By Michael Sommerfield Project Manager
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Michael Sommerfield is a Project Manager at North America Outlook Magazine. Michael is responsible for sourcing and bringing together corporate stories from the Automotive, Aerospace, Defence, and Maritime sectors across North America.
By Callam Waller Head of North American Operations
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Callam Waller is Head of North American Operations at North America Outlook Magazine. He is responsible for showcasing leaders, c-suite executives and corporate success stories from across North America.