By Tony Kryzanowski
When it comes to I-joists, Calgary-based manufacturer PinkWood believes that there is definitely room for improvement to enhance the fire resistance of these building products used in floor construction. It has a chemical solution called PKShield.
The company hopes that the Canadian building code will soon follow the American example, requiring fire-resistant I-joists in homes with unfinished basements.
More business for PinkWood is good news for Canada’s primary wood product manufacturers because the company is a consumer of Canadian softwood lumber and oriented strandboard (OSB). They produce a line of fire, mildew, and mold resistant I-joists as well as untreated I-joists in depths from 9.5” to 24”, primarily for the residential and multi-family sector. They are distributed exclusively through Taiga Building Products.
PinkWood is a privately-held company that ramped up to full commercial production in 2014, establishing a highly mechanized I-joist manufacturing plant in Calgary and aiming initially to serve the Western Canadian market. Since then, however, the company has made significant inroads into the U.S., taking advantage of the recent change in the American building code.
Bradley Parsons, company president, says that PinkWood has been very strategic in its development and expansion into the U.S. He adds that the move into the U.S. was well-timed because of the exchange advantage that has occurred for Canadian manufacturers over the past two years and considering that the number of building permits has dropped considerably in Alberta over that same time.
“We now have wholesale distribution relationships almost coast to coast in the U.S.,” says Parsons.
The company is owned by Richard Dettbarn and another private investor and is capable of producing about two million lineal feet of I-joists per month. It employs 60 people. Dettbarn was the former owner of a large engineered wood building products company called Nascor, which manufactured trusses, walls, and I-joists in plants in Calgary and Edmonton. He sold Nascor in 2008 to a company wanting to absorb it into a larger conglomerate. Nascor was sold just before the American housing crisis, and later was forced into receivership.
Realizing that a lot of Nascor’s I-joist equipment was now available through the receiver, being heavily invested in research and development in the engineered coatings industry through a company called Cano Coatings, and also considering that there was a considerable void in the local supply of I-joists, Dettbarn and his partner established PinkWood. Their goal was to provide the market with a value-added I-joist product. As part of the company’s strategic development, PinkWood purchased some of Nascor’s I-joist manufacturing equipment for use in a pilot plant to streamline the application of its proprietary fire, mildew and mold resistant chemicals to its I-joist product.
Parsons says that during its early development, PinkWood was already attracting considerable interest from builders and product sales were growing. This led to the decision to make a full commitment to a high production facility when Taiga came on board. That plant in Calgary came on line in February 2014.
The name ‘PinkWood’ came about during a company management brainstorming session; they were looking for ideas on how to set their I-joist product apart from competitors, who were already well-known for delivering their products with certain color schemes.
“We wanted a color that was a reflection of the corporate culture that we have,” says Parsons. “We chose pink not only because it is a bold color, but we also wanted to associate ourselves with a good cause. When we mentioned breast cancer, just about everyone around the table knew someone going through it.”
So PinkWood now makes a financial contribution to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for every litre of its fire resistant chemical that it sells. Pink is the color of a paraffin end seal solution used in the I-joist, with the web portion of the I-joist coated in a tan color. Cano Coatings has left the door open to market its proprietary chemicals to primary wood producers, if they see a value in adding those chemicals to the products that they manufacture.
As an I-joist supplier, PinkWood is unique, given its ability to add its proprietary protective spray for what Parsons describes as “pennies per lineal foot”, while adding a measure of safety that gives homeowners more time to escape a fire. It also provides firefighters with a greater level of security that the floor they may have to walk on to instigate a rescue won’t give way. Parson says that while engineered I-joists offer great structural support, the firefighting community in particular has a genuine concern with the lack of fire resistance currently offered by manufacturers of untreated I-joists.
But PinkWood understands that changes to the Canadian building code to require fire-resistant floor joists will take time. In the meantime, it offers its customers both treated and untreated I-joists.
PinkWood worked with a company headquartered in Salem, Oregon called Lewis and Clark to design and procure equipment for its manufacturing plant. What’s unusual about their production floor at the Calgary plant is the lack of structural pillars, which allowed the company to design production flow for large spans of finger-jointed lumber and I-joists with greater ease.
Some material handling equipment for the new plant was procured from a shuttered mill in Florida. They were also able to acquire a second-hand radio frequency (RF) tunnel, which is used to cure the joints on the finger-joint lumber. However, the press and web lines to produce the I-joists are brand new and were all custom-designed for PinkWood.
“Rather than a hydraulic press, we have an electric press,” says Parsons. “The web system is from Globe machines and the press was designed and installed by Lewis and Clark.”
The lumber processed through the finger-joint plant to create the flanges for either side of the I-joist is purchased in dimensions from 2” X 3” to 2” X 6”, in lengths anywhere from 8’ to 16’, with a preference for longer lengths for better throughput efficiency. All the wood processed by the plant is acquired through lumber broker Canadian Engineered Wood Products, coming from Western Canadian dimension sawmills.
The lumber first proceeds through a manual grading system, where the graders pull material not meeting the specifications for PinkWood I-joist production.
“We buy standard lumber grades and a lot of machine stress-rated lumber,” says Parsons, adding that PinkWood’s graders look for particular defects to avoid, which often leads to a value uplift for specific use in a finger-joint and I-joist application. Because I-joists are used in a horizontal load application, selecting lumber with excellent strength properties and few defects is important.
Approved material proceeds through the plant’s finger-joint line. It creates the mesh pattern at the end of each board, applies the glue, and joins the lumber, while maintaining pressure on the joints through a series of rollers, as the lumber span proceeds through the RF tunnel for the glue to cure.
The continuous ribbon of finger-jointed lumber is cut to 58’ lengths using a flying cutoff saw, and then each span is stacked to cure. After curing, the finger-jointed lumber is unstacked and processed through a Weinig moulding system, which rips the lumber vertically to create the flange components of the I-joist, and also cleans off any excess glue from around the joints. The next step is an inline tension tester, to test the joints to ensure that they meet PinkWood’s performance and grade requirements. Those passing inspection proceed to the flange manufacturing line. It has a left and right feeding system and as the flange components proceed forward, routers cut the groove into the flange, and apply glue into the groove. The flanges then encounter the OSB, or ‘web’ centrepiece component of the I-joist, at the Globe-brand web assembly machine.
“We use various lengths of OSB to optimize the panel cuts,” says Parsons, with the goal to produce I-joists commonly used by builders. The most common size is 11-7/8” I-joists, representing about 80 per cent of the market. The OSB is typically 3/8” thick, with some commercial I-joist product 7/16” thick.
“This is not exterior grade sheathing,” Parsons adds. “It’s web stock. So we provide the OSB supplier with certain performance characteristics that we require to maintain our physical properties. All of the I-joist suppliers generally have their own recipe.” PinkWood’s main OSB suppliers are Norbord and Tolko.
The Globe assembly system combines the flange and web components and prepares the web component for assembly by dovetailing the ends. It applies glue to the ends so that assembled I-joists can be pressed and joined together as one, continuous ribbon. At the end of the continuous I-joist assembly process, a flying cut-off saw rips each joist at about 58’. The final step is heat applied in an oven to finally cure the finished I-joist.
“As it is going through the press, we have an inline proprietary system, where the I-joist can be kicked through another process loop to apply the protective coating,” says Parsons. “It comes back to the oven. Not only does the oven cure the glue, but it also cures the coating at the same time.”
He believes that PinkWood is the only I-joist manufacture to have an inline application system like this in North America. The technology was proven at their pilot facility.
The oven cures the glue for about 15 minutes. The cured I-joists are then stacking and strapped in a ‘nesting’ pattern to allow PinkWood to stack more joists per bundle. The 58’ bundles are then cut to the customer’s length requirements using a bundle cut saw, wrapped and prepared for shipment.
PinkWood is interested in other engineered wood products, and is investigating the market potential for innovative new products like cross-laminated timbers (CLT). It has a highly qualified staff with the technical knowledge and experience to move in a new direction.
“We understand engineered wood,” Parsons says, “and we know how to develop products and commercialize them.”
On the Cover:
Successful sawmill owners are always seeking ways to improve their operations and make them run more efficiently. If an upgrade in one area of the mill contributes a positive ripple benefit elsewhere in the process, that’s so much the better. That’s exactly what happened with the installation of the first Brunette Machinery Retract-To-Load (RTL) log singulator unit at Carrier Lumber’s Tabor mill operation near Prince George, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Carrier Lumber).
Goin’ south—with PinkWood
Calgary’s PinkWood, which sets itself apart by producing a fire-resistant I-joist line, was initially set up to serve the market in Western Canada, but is now making big inroads into the U.S. market—which is good news for the mills that supply it with lumber and OSB.
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The Last Word
The ITC decision on Canadian softwood lumber duties is pure theatre, says Jim Stirling.