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Plans for the Austrian sawmill industry

FAO Technical Assistance Officer in Austria

A radical program is now under way to modernize Austria's long-established sawmill industry. To Austria, and to its traditional export markets in other European countries, the fact that there was no technical and industrial development in the sawmill industry during the war and postwar years has been a matter for serious concern. Today, with the aid of counterpart funds accruing from Marshall Plan dollar credits, a planned approach has been mapped out to switch over from old to modern methods, based on the proposals made by the FAO mission for Austria in 1950.

The importance of the industry to Austria is obvious when one considers that no less than 38 percent of the land area of the country is under forest. The total amount derived from forestry and forest products accounts for roughly 9 percent of Austria's gross annual income. In the international market, Austria ranks third, after Sweden and Finland, as an exporter of sawn wood. Last year the country exported about 2.37 million m3, a slight increase over 1950.

Austria's significance as an exporter of sawn timber derives in part from the fact that its highly industrialized neighbors require large quantities of timber for further processing. Italy, long a traditional market, absorbs at least 50 percent of Austria's sawn wood exports. Other important outlets are Germany, Switzerland, and the Mediterranean countries. In addition to its continental neighbors, Austria is now finding markets in areas overseas where softwood supplies are short. Austria's sawn timber is particularly in demand in foreign markets because of the dimensions it can supply.

These substantial exports naturally have their effect on the supply available for domestic use. For example, the exceedingly Competitive market conditions caused by external demands have made it difficult for domestic woodworking industries to satisfy their own requirements at reasonable prices. Because of this, only very little of the sawn timber produced this year is expected to be used by domestic secondary industries. Of the 1,005 million schillings' worth of sawn wood remaining, the bulk will probably go for export.

Sawmilling is the oldest of all the woodworking industries in the country, and, while other industries (such as wood pulp and wallboard manufacture) are increasing in importance, it remains the largest consumer of roundwood. The 1952 estimates envisage a total consumption of raw timber worth 868 million schillings. Of the 2,874 Million schillings' worth of finished and semi-finished goods to be produced, substantially more than a third will be in the form of sawn wood.

The Investment Program

In its program to reorganize the sawmill industry along modern lines, Austria is striving to effect reforms without interfering with current production, economic stability or labor, and particularly without waste of capital. The effort to re-equip and to modernize the industry is part of a long-range plan embracing all of the major industries concerned with wood and wood products. This plan, involving extensive investments and subsidies, was proposed by the FAO Mission for Austria, working in conjunction with the Austrian administration and with the U. S. Economic Co-operation Administration.

The following investment figures suggest the scope of the plan:

Millions of schillings



Manufacture of containers and crates


Prefabricated houses and parts


Furniture industry


In order that the production of standard construction parts and furniture should develop along modern lines, the modernization and expansion of other wood-using industries is also essential. Investment plans therefore also cover the following industries:

Millions of schillings

Wallboard manufacture


Plywood and panels




Of the 157 million schillings proposed for the sawmill industry, 80 millions are to be spent in a three-year period, according to the present approved investment program. For an industry with an annual production of over 1,000 millions this can only be considered an initial step, and new means of financing must be found in the future.

Reorganization Problems for the Sawmill Industry

For centuries sawmills were the only significant primary forest industry in Austria. The problems it faces in reorganization are, therefore, far more complicated than those of relatively much younger industries. The industry is characterized by a large number of small, independent units. 'There are few highly capitalized mills supplied with the latest equipment such as exist elsewhere in Europe.

In all, Austria has 6,000 sawmills with approximately 2,400 complete frame saws and 3,800 single frame saws. The theoretical processing capacity is 8 to 9 million m' of roundwood, but the maximum efficiency is only 45 to 50 percent. This low utilization is chiefly due to the fact that a large number of mills are operating only on a part-time basis, manufacturing sawn wood for local use. They are owned by farmers, proprietors of small forest tracts, who run their mills only when water is abundant and labor is not more profitably employed elsewhere. The large number of these local mills is due to the physical character of the country, with its numerous narrow valleys between high mountains. Many areas are, indeed, still partly inaccessible, which renders the transport of logs to central industries extremely costly and difficult.

In working out the modernization plan, it was seen that an effort to modernize the many small mills would only result in serious social and political difficulties, and the idea was therefore abandoned. The program is instead confined to large mills producing sawn timber on an industrial scale for home use or export. But even here loans are being granted only to selected firms operating sawmills of various types and sizes which can serve as models for the others. Some of the newly-built mills have been visited by workers from all parts of the country.

School for Sawmill Workers

Firms within the sawmill industry are being encouraged to work together to their mutual advantage. Cooperation of this type is a characteristic of the American lumber industry, and has also played a significant part in the postwar reconstruction of Finland's industry. In Austria, credit for the foundation of a school for sawmill workers is due principally to an association recently set up by the industry to solve common problems. Financed by ERP credits, this school will fulfill the functions carried out in other countries by the big industries themselves. Besides teaching new methods and techniques to workers, it will test the latest types of machinery, so that sawmill owners can learn what modern equipment would best suit their purposes.

The courses and training facilities of this school are to be as follows:

1. A Technical Training School for sawmill workers, providing the following courses of instruction:

(a) Three-year apprenticeship. When the experimental sawmill has been completed, a training school will be opened giving 3-year courses for 45-60 apprentices. Apprentices will be admitted when they have finished their elementary education and will be given a complete theoretical and practical training in sawmill techniques.

(b) Course for supervisors and foremen. After passing an examination for skilled workers and completing a year's practical experience, selected men can take advanced training in preparation for a supervisor's certificate.

(c) Industrial and commercial course. Such a course is compulsory by Austrian law for every sawmill apprentice. During his 3 years' apprenticeship every man must complete an 8 weeks' commercial training course. The annual number of students will be approximately 300.

(d) Special training courses. Advanced courses intended to provide information on experiments and new sawmilling techniques to experienced workers, as follows:

15 one-week courses for skilled sawmill workers
4 one-week courses for sawmill managers
5 one-week courses for foremen and graders
4 one-week courses on work organization and efficiency
5 one-week courses on book-keeping and calculation

Each course will cater for 25 students, and further courses, meetings and lectures will be provided as necessary. There will, therefore, be around 35 training and special courses attended annually by between 800 and 900 pupils.

2. A testing and experimental institute for sawmilling techniques.

This will be a government institute for sawmilling techniques; it will form part of the school and hence have the benefit of the experimental sawmill, the machine pool and the teaching facilities.

3. A complete sawmill for instruction and experiments.

4. Students' lodgings.

This has accommodation for 100 apprentices and is equipped with a technical and scientific library and a study with a radio and film projector. In addition, there are lodgings for students attending the special courses, as well as for guests.

This school should prove a great boon to concerns which have obsolescent equipment and no funds to cover depreciation costs, since by taking advantage of the school's facilities, these concerns should be able to raise their productivity by as much as 20 percent without additional capital investment. The school can show these firms how to improvise with their existing equipment (for example, how to accelerate the speed of a frame saw). They should thus be able to compete with the most modern mills in their own localities.

This program for modernization of the Austrian sawmill industry does not require the widespread erection of new plants. There are, of course, substantial arguments for such a move: lower production costs, with a better quality product; the possibility of a more efficient use of waste by the pulp and wallboard industries, and of shortening the period between felling and the arrival of timber at the sawmill. But in an industry which has so firm a structure, innovations must be introduced by degrees, taking care that the machinery and power plants now in use are not rendered obsolete too quickly.

The drawing above shows a schematic view of the proposed new sawmilling school being established in Austria.

The numbered buildings, etc., are as follows: 1, experimental station; 2, log yard; 3, experimental sawmill; 4, planing mill and drying kilns; 5, sorting works; 6, lumber yard; 7, ramp; 8, students camp (additional living quarters); 9, experiment shed; 10, playing filed; 11, teaching workshop; 12, engine shed; 13, main building.

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