Tan Poh Fah, operations manager for B.K.B. (BKB) Hevea Products, located in Ipoh, Malaysia, checks material source labeled as Oak in the company’s warehouse.
B.K.B. Hevea Products: A Hardwood Flooring Case Study In Malaysia
By Michael Buckley
Ipoh, Malaysia–There are many interesting aspects to specialized wood flooring producer B.K.B. Hevea Products Sdn. Bhd. (BKB), located here, in terms of its use of technology, sustainable materials and diversity of finished products. But the most impressive are its organization of production, records and traceability of every single piece of material within the manufacturing process. This provides BKB with the confidence to offer products that meet the increasingly demanding international standards of quality and environmental criteria, as well as trading laws, such as Lacey Act.
Hardwood species used by this company include: American White Oak, Ash, American Cherry, Hard Maple and Black Walnut, European Beech, African Iroko, and of course Malaysian hardwoods, like Rubberwood and Merbau. This provides a huge choice for the many markets to which BKB is now promoting. The products are 100 percent engineered hardwood flooring, but produced in many specifications and wood species, including American, African, Asian and European woods – all of which are from known and well recorded sources.
BKB’s plant employs about 270 people, of which 55 percent are local Malaysians and the balance of 45 percent are almost exclusively from Nepal, many of whom are long-term employees.
The plant employs about 270 people, of which about 55 percent are local Malaysians and the balance of 45 percent are almost exclusively from Nepal, many of whom are long-term employees, which speaks volumes for employee conditions and remuneration. The company’s past and present have consistently been linked to the recycling of plantation woods, such as Rubberwood,after the trees have passed their economic life in the supply of latex, but its development has been based on the use of many other species suitable for use in flooring. In fact, despite the name of the company (Hevea), Oak is said to be the ‘bread and butter’ species, accounting for as much as 50 percent of its face material to meet export market demand for this preferred flooring hardwood. The company places emphasis on investing in high tech equipment and people.
The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur-Kepong Bhd (KLK), a publicly listed company on the Bursa Malaysia Securities Bhd. It commenced production in 1994 with the factory located in Ipoh on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The manufacturing facilities have a built-up area of more than 28,000 square meters and feature some of the latest state-of-the-art engineered hardwood flooring technology from leading European wood machinery and equipment manufacturers. Its core product is European-style parquet with 3-layer construction, normally engineered with sustainable hardwood on the top and supported by Rubberwood (Hevea) hardwood or Pine in the middle and softwood veneer as backing.
BKB meticulously maintains its organization of production, records and traceability of every piece of material within its manufacturing process.
“As a testimony of our commitment to quality, BKB has been certified to MS ISO 9001:2008 and offers environmental certification such as PEFC and FSC, as well as Green Label accreditation,” said Executive Director N.K. Lee. The company is also working towards ISO 14001:2004 standards of environmental management. Claims on quality are said to be well within the accepted norms in the industry.
Besides producing low formaldehyde emission products with E1 specifications, the company also produces for special markets formaldehyde-free products meeting the F4 Star of Japan and CARB of the U.S. The product also received National Technical Approval by DIBt Germany on meeting emission test requirements of formaldehyde, VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and SVOC (Semi-Volatile Organic Compound). Since 2008 all finishing has been based on water borne lacquers from Bona, a world-renowned brand. In recent years the fashion in many markets has changed and BKB now places more emphasis on one-strip flooring rather than three-strip, which was the previous norm.
The markets that BKB supplies are diverse. Exports to Europe have always been important, but the economic downturn in Europe has put a damper on sales there. Japan, China, Australia, India, Middle East and the SE Asia markets are becoming important quality markets and the recent upturn in the U.S. market is causing some new interest in exports there. BKB is a member of the National Wood Flooring Association. For the home market, projects are the main areas where BKB’s engineered wood floors are specified.
The green mark on the label means this cut American White Oak is quality approved.
The traceability of material in BKB’s production is the key to the company’s ability to give comfort to environmentally-concerned buyers, which must now place it ahead of less well organized competitors. All wood material is color-coded and computer-classified with a unique traceability code and number at every step of the production, according to its source. BKB is a model for the Due Diligence process necessary in purchasing and tracking material, especially now for products destined for the EU, U.S. and Australia. The audited tracking system, through bar coding, gives total traceability. In the case of Rubberwood, bought locally from approved suppliers, that is relatively easy. For raw material PEFC-certified in Europe, or MTCC-certified Malaysian material endorsed by PEFC, that is also plain sailing. All material gets marked blue for certified or yellow for uncertified, but of known source. Red is used for unproven, although responsibly-sourced material, as far as is possible.
As the company representative said, “Responsible use of natural resources is our way, and frankly the only way to go forward.” While the new laws of the U.S., EU and Australia require all suppliers to tick the boxes of legality and sustainability, BKB is ticking a lot more boxes than just those two.