Interfor Uses Technology to Run its Global Supply Chain
With IntelliTrans’ supply chain execution and visibility platform in place, this large lumber producer can focus on the strategic side of its business and let the technology handle its day-to-day freight management.
As VP of Logistics for Interfor Corporation, Craig Dohm oversees a team that manages all of the organization’s supply chain and transportation needs. With the U.S. as its largest market, the Canadian-based softwood lumber producer owns 16 sawmills in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina. Anytime product is transported to or from these locations, Dohm and his team are involved.
Along with the 75% of product that it ships within North America, Interfor also exports 25% of its lumber to destinations worldwide. With physical presences in Japan and China, the company’s export marketing group stays busy year-round. Domestically, Interfor’s freight transport incorporates flatbed trucks, rail, and some intermodal. When shipping overseas, the company relies mostly on ocean container.
Dealing with External Challenges
When COVID-19 became a worldwide problem in early-2020, Interfor braced itself for a period of low market demand for its products. “We formulated an immediate action plan that included mitigating risk and protecting our strong balance sheet and financial position,” Dohm says. “We managed the business in a way that would accommodate a smaller footprint.”
Then something interesting happened. When government stay-at-home orders went into effect and people began working from home, they realized that their abodes needed upgrading, renovations, and other projects. At that point, Interfor began seeing a significant volume of its products going into those renovations and remodels.
And so, what Interfor thought would be an extended period of low demand for lumber actually turned out to be the exact opposite. “That segment of our business basically took off,” says Dohm, who adds that even when stay-at-home orders were in place, home improvement retailers like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and others were deemed “essential” and kept their operations open. “We’ve been working closely with those retailers to ensure that they don’t run out of product.”
Replacing Manual Systems
For Interfor, well-orchestrated supply chain management is a core focus that the company doesn’t underestimate. But up until 2019 the company relied mostly on manual systems to run its wide-reaching transportation network. “Manual environments are labor intensive,” Dohm explains. “When activity picks up, either from volume or a capacity-constrained standpoint, you end up with a very taxed system.”
Ready to automate and streamline those activities, Interfor went in search of a transportation management system (TMS). It assembled a team that included representation from its IT, transportation, sales, and marketing departments. “We also had a few operational professionals onboard, to ensure that we landed on a good decision for the company,” Dohm says. “While we knew there would be a very focused group actually using the system, we wanted to cover all bases internally.”
Working as a team, these individuals sought out the best platform for the job.
“We researched a number of different systems and narrowed it down to three,” Dohm explains. “We then spent quite a bit of time with the vendors, getting system demos, and poking holes in those systems.”
In the end, IntelliTrans was the vendor that best stood up to those tests. With the selection process behind it, Interfor decided to implement the company’s TMS and supply chain visibility platform.
Focusing on the Strategic Side of the Business
With its new supply chain management platform in place, Interfor has been able to gain efficiencies and give its logistics team members more time back in their busy work days. “We’re always asking more of our associates, so the less time they have to spend cutting and pasting out of Excel spreadsheets, the better,” Dohm says. “Now, they can focus on the strategic side of the business.”
With more of its employees focused on strategy versus day-to-day, repetitive tasks, Interfor can continue to carve out its footprint in a very competitive industry. “That is what’s really going to keep us at the forefront and position us as a leader in the lumber business,” Dohm points out, “and all while delivering on the promises that we make to our customers.”
The platform also helps Interfor readily identify and leverage viable freight opportunities—something it wasn’t managing efficiently with its manual systems. The technology proved especially vital during the early stages of the global pandemic, when uncertainty was roiling the various transportation modes that Interfor depends on to get its products to market.
“We were very pleased to have the TMS in place when COVID-19 hit; it definitely helped us manage the situation more proactively and efficiently,” Dohm explains. “Using our TMS, we were able to find some additional capacity that would have taken us quite a bit more time and effort to find with our previous, manual systems.”