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High yield Investment
A $30 million rebuild at EACOM’s sawmill in Timmins, Ontario, was a major undertaking for the company, but it’s expected to yield a production increase of as much as 20 per cent.
By Tony Kryzanowski
EACOM Timber Corporation has spent $30 million to rebuild its dimension lumber sawmill in Timmins, Ontario and expects a production increase of as much as 20 per cent once staff become familiar with the new equipment line, largely supplied by USNR.
Most of the sawmill was destroyed by fire in January 2012, except for the trimming, edging and sorting section.
The sawmill project rebuild was handled on a turnkey basis by USNR, which acted as the general contractor on the entire project. Guy Fleury, EACOM Timmins sawmill manager and a longstanding employee at the sawmill, oversaw the entire project. He says operating the new sawmill has been quite a positive experience for staff.
“Capital investment had fallen to maintain business only when the downturn in the lumber market occurred in 2006,” he says. “We were barely keeping up on the maintenance side—but many sawmills were in the same boat fighting for survival. The fire was hard on the employees and company and we would never want to go through something like that again.”
The sawmill produces about 135 million board feet of dimension softwood lumber per year, from 2 X 4 to 2 X 10 in 8’ to 16’ lengths. Nearly 90 per cent of their production is 2 X 4 and 2 X 6. Production is comparable to EACOM’s other nearby sawmills in Elk Lake and Nairn Centre, but those are strictly stud mills. Their goal in Timmins is to eventually achieve 155 million board feet of production annually.
“For now, the volume is the same as pre-fire, but we don’t expect to stay there,” says Fleury. “The recovery mostly due to curve sawing is 10 points better as promised, but there is less wane, which has given us an uplift in our premium grades and a better looking overall product.”
EACOM purchased the sawmill in 2010 from Domtar as part of an $80 million investment in a number of sawmills in Eastern Canada. EACOM’s head office is in Montreal.
“The rebuild of the Timmins mill is certainly a symbol for all of our stakeholders about where our company is going,” says Jeff Weber, EACOM Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “Timmins has already achieved top quartile profitability and it still hasn’t hit 100 per cent of its production targets. The growth and improvement at Timmins has become commonplace at other EACOM mills through the sharing of best practices and adoption of continuous improvement.”
In a relatively short time, EACOM has become a major player in Canada’s forest industry. It owns seven sawmills, with mills in Timmins, Nairn Centre, Gogama, Elk Lake and Ear Falls in Ontario, and Val-d’Or and Matagami in Quebec. EACOM also owns a lumber remanufacturing facility in Val-d’Or, Quebec, and a 50 per cent interest in an “I” joist plant in Sault Ste-Marie, Ontario.
Like the Timmins sawmill re-construction, EACOM itself has been a company built from the ground up. Recently, it successfully made the transition from a public entity to a private company when it was purchased in mid-2013 by a private equity firm headquartered in New York, Kelso & Company. There was also a management change at EACOM in late-2013, with Kevin Edgson taking the position of President and Chief Executive Officer. Former CEO, Rick Doman, has remained as Chairman of the Board. Edgson was formerly Chief Financial Officer at Millar Western Forest Products in Edmonton. Weber joined the company from Stimson Lumber headquartered in Portland, Oregon where he had been vice-president of manufacturing.
“Now that we are back at full strength and working for a new ownership group as well as a new management team that is working to reshape the company and take advantage of a strengthening global market demand for wood products, the worst is behind us,” says Fleury. “Our workforce has a newfound sense of security. It was a lot of work but we are stronger and better now than we were three years ago.”
The sawmill operates 80 hours a week on a two shift basis. EACOM employs 90 unionized workers and 12 salaried staff, which is about 10 per cent fewer people than prior to the fire, primarily because the new sawmill is now less labor intensive. However, Fleury says it does require individuals with more specialized skills to operate.
Logging operations through the hiring of contractors has remained the same, at about 250 workers.
The challenge for EACOM after the 2012 fire and during the construction of the new sawmill was to keep its skilled workforce intact, as Timmins has a vibrant mining industry where these individuals could easily have been absorbed.
“The strategy of keeping all our trades and helping our employees during the fire has paid off,” says Fleury. “We were able to retain 70 per cent of our workforce and hire the other 30 per cent we required, but this has not been easy. We have a lot of competition from the mines.”
The sawmill consumes between 500,000 and 550,000 cubic metres of softwood per year, with two-thirds jackpine and the rest white spruce, black spruce, and balsam fir. The logs average about 7” in diameter. The sawmill can process logs from 5” to 25” diameter. They arrive at the sawmill cut-to-length (CTL). EACOM Timmins has been a CTL mill since the 1970s.
The profile of the logs allows them to produce about 90 per cent 16’ sawlogs and 10 per cent 12’ sawlogs in the bush. The company’s nearby Gogama sawmill is equipped with two HewSaw lines, so smaller 8’ logs down to a 3.5” top are shipped to that location. Given the location of Timmins to the northern boreal forest, the average log haul to the sawmill is about 100 kilometres.
The sawmill has a single breakdown line. At the front end, logs are deposited on to a dry deck and fed into a Comact wave feeder that separates the logs into two diameter classes. Larger logs are processed through a 27” Nicholson debarker and smaller logs are processed through a 17” Nicholson debarker. The logs are sorted into two log decks after each debarker so that they are now sorted into four diameter classes prior to breakdown.
“When they are sorted into four diameter classes in the sawmill after debarking, this allows for tight gap control between logs through the line,” says Fleury.
Logs proceed through the breakdown line starting with a USNR log rotation scanner and then through a USNR quad roll log turner, featuring the company’s latest PGLR scan rotation controls for optimum log positioning for recovery.
From there, the logs are fed into a USNR extra length infeed, complete with two scanners and slew/skew function. Logs are processed at 200’ to 650’ per minute, depending on the diameter. EACOM’s goal is to process 800 logs per hour, with current production at about 700 logs per hour.
“We then chip the two side faces with Andritz 29.5” variable speed conical heads with an Optimil 30 degree V-slide,” says Fleury. “These were the only survivors of the main line from the fire.”
The next step is the new USNR quad arbor sawbox with three circular saws per arbor, capable of removing three sideboards on each side of the main cant in one pass. The sideboards proceed to a USNR edger optimizer. The main cant is scanned by a USNR vertical shape saw scanner before being processed through a USNR double arbor vertical shape saw that chips and profiles the top and bottom of the cant with Andritz drum chip heads. The shape saw is able to curve saw the cants up to 11 pieces of 2 X 10 in a single pass.
The lumber all proceeds to a USNR optimized multi-saw trimmer and then is sorted in a 33 bay, J-bar sorter with USNR controls. From there, they are stacked using a USNR stacker.
“We also have a full chipping system for our edgings and trim blocks, which is also all USNR equipment,” says Fleury.
Timmins-based, Steelworks Inc. provided a lot of the mechanical installation, while SWM Contracting Inc., also from Timmins, provided the building material and constructed the building to house the equipment. Toronto-based 3-T Concrete Pumping provided the concrete work.
While USNR conducted most of the engineering work, primarily on the process controls and equipment, Rivard Engineering, provided some of the civil and structural engineering work. Timmins-based, Accurate Electric, did all of the electrical installation.
The mill has now hit the ground running. “USNR helped EACOM build a very good mill, it has a good fibre supply and the workforce is seasoned and knows how to make lumber,” says Jeff Weber.
He adds that EACOM clearly wants to grow its lumber business and is always looking for opportunities to acquire other lumber businesses in the area that will add value.
“Expansion into Eastern Canada is certainly our primary objective because it is what we know, and where we see the most opportunity,” says Weber. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t consider opportunities elsewhere. In fact, the management team has taken a look at opportunities in Western Canada and in the U.S., but so far have not found the right opportunity that fits the organization.”
The company is also focused on its existing mills for opportunities to add capacity where additional fibre at a reasonable cost is available.
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