Ikea recently launched their NORNÄS line, "a modern collection in raw, untreated, high-quality pine from slow-growing forests in Northern Sweden." When they announced it earlier this year it was a bit of a surprise, for two reasons: One, the company is known for using MDF or particle board more than natural wood; and two—how can they possibly manage, from a resource standpoint? Wouldn't a company doing Ikea levels of volume—the kickoff shipment alone was 200,000 pieces—quickly deforest all of Scandinavia?
To address that second point somewhat tangentially, I want to show you a couple of photos. Last year as I traveled through Helsinki, I passed what appeared to be a massive highway construction project:
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As you can see, it's all framed in timber scaffolding. And yes, Finland is not Sweden, but the two countries are side-by-side and share a common topography. My point is that the construction crew didn't use this absurd amount of wood because they like the smell of fresh-cut timber, but because the region has so much of it that it's the most economical material for them to use here. I.e. if this was in Vietnam, that would all be bamboo.
Before I get you a more satisfying answer, I'll point out there was a third surprise to Ikea's announcement. The NORNÄS line took just 14 months "from the first design sketch to the finished products on the shelves,” according to Ikea Product Developer Roger Olandersson. "Close collaboration between the designers and the production team allowed quick decisions to be made, which helped speed up the process."
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All of this made us very curious. In our previous entries on Ikea, we’ve covered the company’s mastery of production methods—for example, the board-on-frame technology that goes into the Lack table and others, creating a perfectly flat, sturdy, yet lightweight panel. However, working with natural wood brings great challenges: Wood is a more “alive” material that does not always cooperate with being uniformly machined with affordable yields. And veteran furniture makers must all deal with the science of countering wood movement.
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Our interest piqued, we reached out to Ikea to get some more detailed answers. With the exception of one glaring omission, here's what we got back from them. It appears these answers came directly from HQ in Sweden, as there are some slight translation quirks that we left as-is:
Core77: Can you walk us through how one of the NORNÄS pieces is manufactured, literally starting from the tree in the ground and ending with the finished product?
Ikea: NORNÄS production starts with cutting of Pine logs (Pinus Sylvestris) from the sub-arctic region in the northwest part of Sweden where Pine forests are covering huge landscapes. The forests are grown up after plantation or reforestation with Pine seeds.
The logs are cut in length of 2,8 m and diameter from 100 up to 180 mm which means very small logs in purpose to get as much wood with small and fresh knots as possible. This means also that we can utilize a lot of logs from thinning operations and not only clear cutting.
In the sawmill at Glommersträsk the logs are sawn with fix thickness but the width of every board vary in purpose to maximize the utilization of the log. The boards are dried directly to 8% moisture content after cutting in sawmill and then the operation of making glueboard and components starts.
This operation we do in the glue board factory in Malå where the boards is cut in to 2,8 m lamellas and is moulded to their optimal dimension. These lamellas are pressed together to glueboard and then cut to size of different component sizes.
The furniture production in Lycksele starts with glueboard components from Malå where edges are moulded, drilling operations, final surface sanding and the packing in to boxes. The deliveries from the factory goes then either by train or truck.
How has Ikea’s production team managed to streamline the harvesting/manufacturing process of using natural wood?
During the development of the NORNÄS range the technical specification were written according to the natural features of the raw material. Typical for the Northwest Swedish Pine is slow growth with lot of very small black knots like spots and fresh knots with same colour as surrounding wood (red/yellow).
High raw material utilization is crucial not only for sustainability but also prerequisite to be able to reach a price level on the final furniture so that the many people can afford to buy.
The dimensions of the products were also adapted to the length of the logs so that the utilisation of the logs where optimised.
So the NORNÄS range were optimized both from the natural variation and outlook of the Swedish Pine and from the dimensions of logs available in the forest.
What happens to the waste material?
The waste material from the sawmill like the chips and sawdust goes to the pulp/paper industry and the bark is used for heating to the drying kilns. The energy in the bark is used to dry the wood. From the glue board and the furniture factory the waste is compressed to bio fuel products and the sold to the local and regional heating plants.
What steps have Ikea’s designers taken to counter and compensate for wood movement of the final pieces?
[Despite two tries, this was never answered by Ikea.]
What sustainability practices are involved with the NORNÄS line?
Related to production:
- IWAY* at all suppliers (new suppliers have max. 12 months implementation time)
- IWAY Must at critical sub-suppliers (IWAY Must represent the most essential IWAY requirements that need to be in place to start a business relation)
- Supplier development in areas like energy efficiency and energy management, renewable energy solutions, raw material efficiency, the Sustainability Scorecard rate is quite high due to the material.
*By way of explanation, IWAY is the IKEA Way on Purchasing Home Furnishing Products, is our code of conduct. It specifies the minimum requirements we place on suppliers and describes what they can expect from us in return.
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Lastly they sent along this video, which touches on the production while explaining the motivation to pursue more pine: