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Building Resilience: Borates for Treated Lumber and Engineered Wood Products

:: Thursday, October 15, 2020 :: Posted By Leo Jaime
In economics, the Laws of Supply and Demand explain the relationships among consumers, producers, products, and prices. Simply, when the price of a good increases, the supply increases—and the demand decreases. Ideally, producers find a balance of supply that keeps both prices and demand high enough to support their business.
 
In 2020, the lumber industry has experienced a disruption of those laws. Throughout the spring and summer, demand for treated wood products skyrocketed—against all expectations—causing a lumber shortage. However, although prices rose, demand has not abated.
 
U.S. Borax and the lumber producers who rely on our wood preservation and protection products have adapted and responded. And, despite the challenges of this unpredictable market change—or perhaps because of it—the future looks positive for lumber producers and the builders and consumers who rely on their products.

Who knew? Dramatic demand for treated lumber and engineered wood products

The lumber industry carefully plans its operations in response to demand. Although no industry can perfectly match forecast and production, lumber industry predictions are typically excellent. What happened to create this anomaly? The answer is…it’s 2020.
 
This year, lumber producers have experienced multiple disruptions. In the previous year, the housing construction market experienced a slow start after a wet spring. However this year, the housing market started strong—then the pandemic hit and caused the lumber industry to rethink its course.
 
Forecasters predicted a general economic slowdown, indicating that home building would drop off. Demand was expected to drop dramatically as the economy adapted to shutdowns and ongoing restrictions. In response to those expectations and the need to protect their workers, many mills reduced production or shut down temporarily.
 
Those predictions turned out to be wrong. Consumers spending more time at home began to invest in home repairs and remodels, and through both DIY and contractor projects, the construction market took off again. Builders, who do much of their work outdoors, were able to practice distancing and stay on the job. Building projects went into overdrive, contractors experienced a great spring and summer, and the housing market rebounded.

Playing catch up: Responding and adapting

The shortage of lumber, including treated lumber and engineered woods, is still being felt across both commercial and consumer sectors. Lumber mills and wood treatment plants have responded quickly but with limited capacity. As COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, mills are operating with a reduced workforce, adapting and staggering shifts to protect their workers.
 
The need for wood protection treatments is a significant part of the equation for supply recovery. U.S. Borax has responded by working to ensure a ready supply of borates for wood protection and preservation—and enabling timely responses for producers who need them.
 
Any wood that has the potential for exposure to moisture, weather, or insects requires protection from borates.
 
Ensuring the ready availability of these products helps lumber mills optimize production as they strive to help keep their workers safe on the job.

Borax is ready to meet just-in-time demand

U.S. Borax has faced the same challenges as our customers in responding to the rapid changes in our markets. First and foremost, we are focused on the safety of our employees. Our plant and operations managers adapted very rapidly, adjusting production processes without losing efficiencies.
 
Non-production personnel have embraced technology solutions so that we can continue to engage clients—just virtually instead of in-person. We are working remotely. The result is that even during very busy times, we remain in touch and responsive.
 
Our regional sales managers have played a key role in the success of this shift. They have proactively stayed in touch with customers, making sure we are responsive to their needs and that we understand their product demands. Sales team members are actively communicating those demands—and demand changes—to our operations group, ensuring forecasts are up-to-date and production is scheduled appropriately.
 
The marketing group has been active in monitoring emerging market and economic trends, reporting to management to enable quick and effective decision making.
 
In addition, our existing distributor networks have played a key role in responding to customers around the globe. These trusted relationships, built over decades, provide a connected and reliable system for ensuring timely and responsive delivery of the borates that lumber producers rely on.

Built on resilient operations

When you encounter the uncertainty and volatility that we saw at the beginning of this year, it is tempting to begin to anticipate the worst. For residential and commercial contractors, 2020 has been a difficult year, but U.S. Borax has navigated these challenges successfully.
 
The ultimate lesson of 2020 is that regardless of what the next disruption might be, the adaptations that we’ve implemented this year have made us infinitely more agile. We are well positioned to overcome any hurdles that may arise in the coming months.
 
U.S. Borax is ready to respond to your borate product needs. Contact us with questions, concerns, and requests.
 

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U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 500 customers with more than 1,700 delivery locations globally. We supply 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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