Once upon a time, a Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association lumber inspector would show up at a facility for a regular inspection. He would complete the necessary forms—in triplicate, using carbon copy paper. The three copies of the inspection report would be distributed: One for the inspector, one for the facility, and one for the NELMA office. The inspector would carefully fold the office copy, lick an envelope, and send it off. Where it might arrive as much as two weeks later.
Dramatic changes have come to the inspection process since those days, and Cumberland, Me.-based NELMA has led the charge.
“When it comes to integrating technology into our system, it’s all about streamlining what we do to maximize efficiencies and lowering the cost of doing business as an Association, “ said Jeff Easterling, NELMA president. “The ability to evaluate critical information and provide important feedback to our members and customers is paramount to our core activities.”
Founded 85 years ago in 1933, NELMA is the rules writing agency for eastern white pine lumber and the grading authority for other commercially important Northeastern and Great Lakes softwood lumber species, to include the eastern spruces, Norway spruce, balsam fir, jack pine, and red pine. NELMA is also a leading agency for export wood packaging certification and the marketing voice for its lumber manufacturing members. As such, NELMA directs and maintains a wide range of grading programs:
Lumber and timbers: NELMA develops and publishes grading rules to assist in the uniform marketing of Northeastern and Great Lakes softwood lumber products, and is accredited by the American Lumber Standard Committee to issue grade stamps and approve grade marks at lumber and timber manufacturers that demonstrate their ability to maintain the quality standards set by NELMA and ALSC.
On-demand lumber and timbers grading program: Grading options for non-members that may need inventory graded and certified to meet local building codes for specific construction projects or general consumer sales.
Wood packaging inspection program: For companies that require IPPC ISPM 15 certification, verification, and stamping of wood packaging used in export shipments, NELMA provides extensive inspection services.
On-demand wood packaging stamping service: For companies not IPPC ISPM 15 certified to manufacture wood packaging items out of solid wood material for export purposes, the NELMA on-demand service is the answer to a need. The service is available to facilities where full facility certification isn’t economically justifiable and the need for IPPC-stamped wood packaging is required less than six times per calendar year.
Phytosanitary certificates (HT certificates) for softwood lumber exports: Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Agreement with the USDA APHIS, NELMA is an established certifying agency that has approval to issues a Heat Treatment Certification to its manufacturing member mills that ship direct or sell softwood lumber destined for non-European Union overseas customers.
“Given the wide range of inspection services we provide, and the fact that the industry is changing and transactions are happening faster, remaining ahead of the technology curve—so we can accomplish what we need to accomplish as fast and as accurately as possible—is a priority,” commented Matt Pomeroy, director of inspection services for NELMA. “It used to be that completing the inspection forms on-site was labor intensive and time consuming; we’re always looking for ways to streamline the process and offer a higher return on investment for members.”
NELMA took a big leap out in front in October 2010 when the association introduced a self-designed proprietary iPhone app that was used by wood packaging inspectors for years, resulting in NELMA becoming the first and only grading agency to utilize an Apple-based app.
Over the years as it became challenging to update and maintain the app, the association began looking elsewhere for the next level of technology assistance. Pomeroy began working with an app developer and found the hardware solution in the Microsoft Surface Pro. “We wanted to give our staff a tool that bridged the gap between a cell phone and a laptop. The tablet option was the perfect answer: it’s lightweight, easy to use and carry, and can be integrated into other aspects of the job beyond inspection reports.”
The proprietary browser-based app was created by Pomeroy and a developer, and is designed to work best on a tablet, but can also be accessed via any browser on a laptop or desktop. NELMA inspectors now have at their fingertips larger, easier-to-read forms that represent an ease-of-use via touch screen and maneuverability not seen before in the industry. In addition to effectively eliminating long pauses between the inspection and the report, the app allows for more information and more details on the specific inspection to be shared. Where once a finite amount of information was allowed due to physical report constraints, the new app results in a more complete and in-depth report than ever before provided. The forms are streamlined and efficient, and represent leaps and bounds of progress from the old iPhone app. Once submitted, the inspection report is received by the office immediately to be reviewed, approved, and photos added where necessary.
While previous technology iterations were used only for wood packaging inspections, the new app will include the ability to conduct and report on lumber mill inspections, something rare among other grading agencies in North America. In a nutshell, the app makes easy work of the multiple details created in a mill inspection: It completes necessary math for the inspectors, taking mistakes out of the equation.
“No more carbon copies, no more waiting on the mail,” concluded Pomeroy. “Technology takes the time factor out of the picture when it comes to response time. Reaching this level of technology proficiency in the lumber grading industry has been our brass ring for several years; having all inspection programs utilizing the same technology streamlines outcomes for our members and customers in ways we never imagined.”
Don’t expect NELMA to sit back and rest anytime soon; according to Easterling, “We are always searching for the next technology option to help us provide the fast, efficient services our members and customers need and deserve.”