Shaq's size 22 shoes
How do middle-aged, basketball-loving UMD researchers get court time
with the 7-foot-1-inch Shaquille O'Neil? They
Though most of them are a bit short, can't hit the jumper, and certainly
won't be one of Dick Vitale's "Diaper Dandies," researchers
at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute
(NRRI) and the USDA Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory have played
a highly visible (but let's say "supporting") role in this year's
men's--and women's--National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) basketball
tournament and the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star game.
In fact, they've had a major "impact" at just about all the
big basketball venues.
Though it doesn't get as much attention as the breathtaking athleticism
on court, the wooden floor underneath the action is an important part
of the game. To say it must be durable is an understatement.
The floor must withstand endless pounding (imagine having Shaquille O'Neal
jump up and down in your living room 50 times a day for a few years),
and it must be versatile with a surface that's quick to set up and take
apart—it's not unusual to have a hockey game, a rock concert, and
a basketball game at the same venue in the same week.
One of the oldest and most successful wood manufacturing companies is
the Horner Flooring Company of Dollar Bay, Michigan. Horner has been around
since 1891, the same year James Naismith invented basketball. The company
specializes in making high-end portable hardwood flooring surfaces for
many NBA and NCAA venues. Since 1983, every NBA All-Star Game and NCAA
Final Four has been played on a Horner floor.
Bring on the "Dream Team"
As with the rest of the wood products industry, Horner Flooring feels
the economic pressure of the global market. The company employs more
than 100 people at its headquarters in Northern Michigan and is an important
outlet for the hardwoods from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. However, many
small companies lack the resources to implement the technological and
manufacturing advances of their larger competitors. So, like life on
the competitive basketball court, it's the teamwork that counts. In
this arena, NRRI Forest Products Program Director Brian Brashaw is the
head coach. Facing especially tough overseas competition, NRRI is boosting
the wood industry's regional defense by creating a team of experts,
like the talent at the USDA Forest Service, who can help companies like
Horner improve their bottom line to stay in the game.
NRRI's game plan is to work from the inside. Brashaw says his team
is unlike typical consultants who inspect a business from the outside
and offer recommendations without really engaging the company.
"We truly work hand-in-hand with them," he says. "We
start with folks in the company doing ground level work, who have ideas
about how to improve the process, but don't necessarily have ways to
get them to upper-level management where the change can occur. We also
support their ideas with needed technical and engineering expertise."
So while NRRI focuses on improving the manufacturing process, the USDA
Forest Products Lab works to improve the product. Together, the dream
team helps Horner at the tip-off.
"We were able to come up with an improved flooring system that
was easier to manufacture," explains Bob Ross, a researcher at
the USDA Forest Products Lab. "We improved the connectors that
hold the floor together. We looked at the base and structure—which
is usually plywood or oriented-strand board—products that got
their genesis at our Forest Products Lab. We also looked at finishing
and drying schedules as well as moisture absorption and vibration characteristics."
Ross also says that getting to work on a project like this was a thrill
he won't soon forget.
"You watch some of these games being played, and you think, wow,
I had a hand in that," he quips. "It's a good feeling. And
I also realize this was probably the only way a middle-aged guy like
me was ever going to get on the same basketball floor as Shaq."
NRRI AND WOOD PRODUCTS
The wood products industry is one of the primary economic drivers for
the Western Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin,
employing more than 300,000 people.
The goal of NRRI's Forest Products Group and the USDA's Forest Products
Lab is to help the industry stay competitive while maintaining the overall
health of the forests. Ross says, "To properly manage our forests,
to maintain a proper balance of mature and young trees, we need markets
for the timber that needs to be removed from our forests. What we strive
for is a situation where jobs are maintained, rural economies remain
strong, and forest health is protected."
If you have a forestry-based business and are looking for advice, visit
NRRI at http://www.nrri.umn.edu/
or call 218-720-4294. Contact the USDA Forest Products Laboratory at
The Natural Resources Research Institute was established at the University
of Minnesota Duluth to foster the economic development of Minnesota's
natural resources in an environmentally sound manner to promote private
The USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, located in Madison,
Wis., was established in 1910 with the mission of conserving and extending
America's wood resources. Today, its research scientists explore ways
to promote healthy forests and clean water, and improve paper-making
and recycling processes.
Posted April 5, 2005
Cheryl Reitan, Publications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
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