Monday, June 10, 2013

Peeking thru the Lens: A look at FPRDI’s Wood Identification Service

WOOD IDENTIFICATION is the process of determining the correct identity of a wood material based on its macro and micro anatomical characteristics (Escobin 2012). It is especially useful in the construction, builders’ wood works, furniture, and handicraft sectors that require the correct identity of a wood material for their specific end-uses and applications.

In the Philippines, the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) has been providing this service for almost five decades already. This is made possible thru the Institute’s technical expertise and wood library, which hosts 16,348 specimens of Philippine and 5,274 foreign woods.


 The historic Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite houses many wood species that have been previously undocumented. Thru a collaboration with the local government of Kawit, Cavite, Department of Science and Technology Region IV-A, and Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau, FPRDI experts identified on-site the wood species in the Shrine.

A total of 177 pieces of antique furniture and woodcraft from the Shrine’s 10 rooms and three halls were inspected.These were found to be made from 16 wood species such as narra and kamagong. A few were of non-wood species such as tree fern used as ceiling and post ornaments, and rattan as “solehiyas” and whole furniture. Foreign wood species were also identified from presumably imported furniture.

FPRDI’s wood anatomists were also commissioned to identify the species of the wooden antiques and religious images displayed at the San Agustin Church’s PAGREL Museum in Intramuros, Manila. Once identified, the wood items can be better appreciated by enthusiasts and antique collectors visiting the church, according to Forester Arsenio B. Ella.

Built in 1571, the San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. It was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. A total of 60 statues were identified, with principal species belonging to molave (Vitex parviflora Juss.), kamagong (Diospyros spp.), batikuling (Litsea leytensis Merr.), narra (Pterocarpus indicus Willd.), makaasim (Syzygium spp.), santol [Sandoricum koetjape (Burm. f.) Merr.], maranggo [Azadirachta excelsa (Jack) Jacobs], kamatog [Sympetalandra densiflora (Elmer) v. Steen.], among others.

FPRDI’s wood identification service has also been instrumental in pursuing legal cases against illegal logging operators in the country. FPRDI experts have been tapped by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to verify if the lumber species seized at the Manila North Harbor come from natural/residual forests or plantations.

Executive Order No. 23 strictly bans cutting and harvesting of all trees in natural and residual forests; only trees grown in industrial plantations may be harvested. It mandates the DENR to lead the anti-logging campaign, togetherwith FPRDI, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Bureau of Investigation- Department of Justice (NBI-DOJ), and Bureau of Customs.

The Institute’s reports serve as evidences in court when DENR files charges against illegal loggers and ship owners that transport the confiscated lumbers.

In addition, the country’s maritime industry benefits from the wood identification service. The MBB Marinewealth Industrial Corp., a Manila-based maker of steamship bearings, had samples of Lignum vitae (known as iron wood) authenticated by FPRDI’s wood anatomists. Lignum vitae, said to be the hardest and heaviest wood in the world, has great strength that makes it fit for tube bearings used in steamship engines. It also produces a special kind of lubricant that renders it a preferred material for underwater use.

Thus, the company can assure its clients that it uses genuine Lignum vitae for a particular set of tube bearings, which is critical in maintaining the company’s credibility (Escobin 2012). ### (Apple Jean C. Martin and Maybell Mariella A. Amador, 03 May 2013)

DOST scholars find niche in RFID tech for sports

Technopreneurs’ race to success

By Luisa S. Lumioan, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII

 When most graduates make seemingly endless rounds in business districts or endure long  lines in job fairs in hopes of landing  their dream jobs, Deogracias “Gary” P. Villame took the road less taken.

Fortunately, it  led him to become Chief Executive Officer of a tech company.

A graduate of Electronics and Communications Engineering from University of the Philippines Diliman, Villame and his former classmates founded Itemhound, a tech start-up company that provides sports timing solutions to running and motor racing events through the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) hardware and applications.

Challenging headstart

Interestingly, the successful start-up company began as just a college thesis  of Villame and  his thesis mates John Paulo Adaoag, Roy Flores, Mark Gil Manalansang and Joe Cris Molina in 2006.

Seeing the study’s potential, their thesis adviser, Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr. encouraged them to join Philippine Emerging Start-ups Open, a business plan competition organized by Ayala Foundation.  They won the competition and saw the prospect of creating their very own company. However, even with the prize money of Php 100,000, they felt that they were not ready yet. “Parang di pa naming kayang pangatawanan (We were not ready to handle it yet),” Villame recalled.

Soon after graduation, Villame, Adaoag, Flores, and Manalansang pursued graduate studies in UP as scholars of Engineering Research and Development for Technology, a program of Department of Science and Technology.  Molina, on the other hand, went abroad to work.

Meanwhile, the start-up plan took a backseat; but they never totally gave up on the idea.

Until the year 2009 when  the four, who were still pursuing their graduate studies,  were asked by UP to do a study for a big company on RFID applications.They  took on the project and this  made them realize that the time was ripe for their start-up company.  Molina, then still working abroad, also welcomed the idea.

Soon, they pooled whatever they  had saved from their stipends and other sources and made their first tough decision.  In January 2010, Itemhound was formally incorporated.

 “Hindi na drowing to, hindi na puro laway lang (This is reality, not just pure rhetoric),” Villame mused, referring to the competition they won a few years back.

Overcoming the hurdles

But like most ventures, starting up can be an uphill race.

Their biggest hurdle was penetrating the market. Villame revealed that even the company that commissioned them to do a study never became their client.  Wooing a big company when they were just starting out did not come easy for them.

They also had to contend with being cash-strapped. “For the first nine months we practically did not have any revenue,” Villame recounted.

In the end, they figured that they needed to identify a market that is easier to penetrate.  That  period saw the growing popularity of fun runs, marathons, and other racing events. Villame and his team saw it as a big opportunity. They also found it easier to relate to the sporting community because of its less formal atmosphere.

In the last quarter of 2010, they had their first big break. Itemhound finally had its first client.

Racing towards success

Since then, the company has been on a dash in handling  the timing of  various running and motor racing events as it continued to develop its own timing products.

One of these is the Strider® system  which can be used in both high volume races such as marathons and small fun runs alike. The company was also the first to introduce paper-based timing tags in 2010 which have made it possible to provide more affordable timing to larger races without sacrificing accuracy.  Strider® has figured in big running events in the country such as NatGeo Earth Day Run 2013, Alaska Iron Kids Philippines, Columbia Eco Trail Run, Merrel Adventure Run among others.

For motor sports, Itemhound has developed Racer®, a race timing system designed for closed-circuit motor racing that uses economical reusable timing tags.Racer® has been the official timing system of the Yamaha MotoGP series for three consecutive years and was the official timing partner of the Yamaha ASEAN Cup 2012.

Lessons learned as local technopreneurs

The first lesson they learned: “You need to be flexible. Your original plan might not work out so you need to be agile, to adapt,” Villame said.

As the CEO, Villame also has to deal with a lot of stress  to make sure  the company is able to stand the pace.  “Many people depend on you, not only in terms of money.  I don’t only look after my own career development but also that of my colleagues. When things get hard I have to help boost their morale.”

In spite of the difficulty of establishing  and keeping a start-up firm  afloat, this self-made technopreneur is not giving up. “There’s something fulfilling in creating your own products, in creating your own business.”

He added, “Kagaya ng laging sinasabi ng DOST, kailangan natin ng entrepreneurs.  Ang laki ng natutulong. Ang laki ng multiplyer effect.  Malaking fulfillment din sa amin na nakakapagbigay kami ng trabaho (As what the Department of Science and Technology or DOST always says, we need entrepreneurs. They are very useful. They create a huge multiplier effect. The fact that we provide employment also makes us fulfilled),”

In retrospect, he never really found it attractive to work abroad or even in the local industryafter hefinished his graduate studies.  “I was very exposed to entrepreneurship because my father is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship was my first choice for my career path; but, if I did not end up as an entrepreneur, I would probably teach or work in the government,” he said.

For those who are considering   the technopreneurship track, here is his advice:

“Expect that you will do a lot of mistakes; but you don’t have to beat yourself over them.  What is important is that you learn from them fast.  For me, it is not a good sign if you’re not making mistakes anymore; because it means that you’re not trying hard enough.”