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Shipping mill equipment and–lumber–by container
CN’s new intermodal facility in Prince George has created a container and transportation link to overseas markets for a manufacturer of mill equipment, and offers potential for forest products companies.

By Jim Stirling

Containers are providing at least one forest industry supplier with a competitive edge in developing new offshore markets. Last fall, CN opened a $20 million intermodal terminal and distribution centre in Prince George. The 7,560 square metre warehouse and storage facility allows the transfer and consolidation of incoming products into containers for loading onto rail cars for shipment east or west along CN’s line.                                   

It proved just the answer Del-Tech Manufacturing Inc was looking for to solve its freighting problem. The Prince George-based company is a designer and fabricator of sawmill machinery and equipment, and won a contract to supply a customer in Russia with new laminated veneer lumber equipment. Del-Tech and its partner company, Nechako Mechanical in Vanderhoof, are owned by the BID Group, which has amassed extensive experience in manufacturing equipment and sawmill/planer mill construction. “The equipment needed to be packed in containers, rail transported to Montreal and then loaded onto a freighter for shipment to Russia,” says Del-Tech in a statement. “Contact was made with the helpful staff at CN and everything was arranged.                                   

“The Russia contract will keep the 65 employees at Del-Tech and the 80 employees at Nechako Mechanical working for several months exporting BC technology and equipment to a new customer in Russia.”                                   

The Port of Prince Rupert’s new $170 million container port offers potential for the forest industry. As Asian shippers make use of the container terminal at Prince Rupert, and its rail links, growing numbers of empty containers will become available for use on the return trip.

It was estimated to take 100 containers to ship all the equipment to the customer. The savings in freight by shipping via container through Prince George rather than through Vancouver made a huge difference, says Brian Fehr, co-owner of the BID Group. “We’re bidding on more work in Russia. This puts us into Europe or anywhere.”                                   

By all accounts, the Russian sawmilling market offers all kinds of opportunities as it is experiencing a surge of expansion and the export of raw logs there is being curtailed.                 

At least one other Prince George company has taken the cue and is investigating its possibilities. Winton Global Homes Division was looking at CN’s container system to access potential customers in Russia and Greenland. Winton Global Homes uses primarily locally sawn lumber to pre-build walls, floors and engineered trusses for house construction.                                   

The Del-Tech shipment was the first major forestry-related eastbound shipment for Prince George’s new inland port. But considerable potential is predicted for goods heading west to Prince Rupert’s new $170 million container port. As shippers in Asia make increasing use of Prince Rupert’s Fairview Terminal and the rail access to the North American heartland, growing numbers of empty containers will become available for use on the return leg.

West Fraser Timber is looking at China’s growth and the increasing acceptance of wood as a building material there; the new intermodal facilities could offer a link to the Chinese market, via the Port of Prince Rupert.  

The journey from CN’s intermodal centre to the container port at Prince Rupert takes about 15 hours. And Prince Rupert is closer to several major Asian gateways than other container ports on the west coast of North America. CN has already transported wood products westward for export through Prince Rupert, including shipments from Lakeland Mills and Carrier Lumber in Prince George.                                   

The temporary collapse of the traditional US housing market is driving lumber and other wood product manufacturers to other potential and alternate markets. West Fraser is one company looking at possibilities offered by China’s growth and the increasing acceptance there of wood as a building material.                                   

Wood may have other promising niche markets apart from house construction. For example, China is developing urban parks around its cities, creating a demand for treated wood products like bridges, walkways and ornamental structures.