OSB Fast Track
Summary: Ainsworth Lumber's second new OSB plant, built for $140 million in just over a year, boasts one of the largest production capacities in the industry.
By Tony Kryzanowski
The startup process at Ainsworth Lumber's new OSB plant at Grande Prairie, Alberta has been something like getting a heavily loaded tractor trailer up to highway speed _ it takes a while to go through the gears, but once it does, stay out of its way.
This thoroughly modern, highly efficient plant could put a few older plants out of business once it hits cruising speed. Located about 20 km south of Grande Prairie, this is the second mill built in the past three years by Ainsworth, a family -owned company. The first was a smaller plant located in 100 Mile House, BC. Ai nsworth earned its Alberta aspen wood supply over other competing multi-nationals.
Plant manager Lee Armstrong says they are pleased the wood basket is near Grande Pra i ri e. The area has solid forestry-related support industries, many local residents have forestry experience, and the quality of life makes it easy to encourage prospective employees to move to Grande Prairie.
It also made economical sense to build a larger plant. "We have a larger wood basket here than in 100 Mile House, and there are certain economies of scale to a bigger plant," he says.
"A lot of your overhead costs are the same, yet your production goes up." Ainsworth won the wood allotment over others because they included a value-added component to the plant. They will use up to 10 per cent of their OSB for I-beam components, and will bring in short pieces of 2X4s from other mills to produce finger-jointed products.
They have yet to organize that section of the plant, but it will begin operation later in 1996. "I think it was quite clear that the government was looking at any value-added components," at the time of selection, says Armstrong. He says Ainsworth had the value-added component as part of its original proposal to the provincial government . Armstrong says they plan to achieve 50 per-cent OSB production by mid-March, and about 92 per cent by next February. Their projected annual capacity is for 547 million board feet, based on three-eighths- inch product. That 's nearly 65 per cent more production than most other North American OSB plants. They can also produce thicknesses of 1/4'' up to and including 1-1/4''.
There are 160 plant and support employees, with as many as 80 more coming on board once the finger-joint section is operational. The plant cost Ainsworth $140 M and took just over a year to build. It has a larger capacity than originally envisioned, says A rm s t ro n g, due to their selection and combination of manu-facturing equipment.
Armstrong also brought Ainsworth 's 100 Mile House OSB plant into production. They opted for a smaller plant in BC because of fewer opportunities to buy aspen on the open market. However, both plants operate similarly, seeking high efficiency and recovery. Ainsworth Grande Prairie is designed to produce 12'X24' strand boards that can be sawn to various dimensions fur-ther up the line. That's 3' wider than the 100 Mile House plant, reflecting their North American market focus.
Product from the BC plant heads for overseas export markets, given its closer proximity to seaports. The company's Alberta aspen supply co-exists within a Forest Management Area owned jointly with Weyerhaeuser Canada.
Weyerhaeuser harvests conifers , while Ainsworth uses the aspen. They will harvest about 800,000 cubic metres annually: 570,000 from crown land and 230,000 from private land. The log haul is seasonal, from November to March, with an average 80-km round trip. The yard will receive about 160 loads per 24-hour day. They expect a 70- to 80-year rotation on their wood supply.
Log yard team leader Darryl Dechant says the trees average 65' and are cut to 16' lengths. They will accept any diameter from 4'' to 27''. He manages a fleet of Cat yard equipment for unloading and stack-ing, with decks stacked as high as 35''.
Once the logs are ready to enter the totally enclosed, nine-acre manufacturing plant, they are fed onto an Exco log deck, and directed to holding bins. Prior to debarking, the logs enter conditioning ponds where they sit for up to eight hours. Once conditioned, the logs are conveyed indoors, passing through metal detectors, and then through one of two Nicholson 27'' ring debarkers. Given its mandate for maximum recovery, the production line transports waste from debarking to a hot-oil energy system. It is tuned to generate maximum efficient burn of both wet and dry waste. Energy produced heats the press, drier, conditioning ponds and the overall plant. Once debarked, the logs are stranded by two Pallman batch - fedstranders. Ainsworth's target is for strands 4. 5'' long, 3/4'', and .025' ' thick. Next, the strands travel to wet bins in preparation for drying.The drying process is one area where Ainsworth Grande Prairie feels it has made significant improvement over other installations. They use a Babcock single-pass rotary drying system, a large metal drum that measures 78' long and 18' in diameter. This, as opposed to a triple-pass rotary dryer, which uses higher temperatures and creates more opportunity for strand breakage.
The Babcock system gently tumbles the strands at a lower temperature, says Armstrong, producing fewer fines and better recovery. Also, use of shakers on the output end of the rotary dryer instead of trommel screens is also expected to encourage less fibre damage and fewer fines.
Once dried, the strands collect in a dry surge bin prior to enter-i ng four Concord blenders. Once in a blender, they mix with l iquid phenolic resins and emulsified wax, which is distributed by six high-velocity spinning disks in each blender.
The mixture is fed to the top of a Schenck former, and through the careful placement of four distinctive layers, creates extra board strength . Once formed, two flying cut-off saws cut 24' lengths.
This process removes a 6'' waste piece that gets sucked back for recycling. Prior to entering the press, the formed board enters a reject mat area, giving the operator the option of rejecting product showing inferior density. A double-tipple conveyor loads the loading cage, which in turn loads the Dieffenbacher 12-opening press.
Here, the strand board is cooked at 210ø C. Time will vary depending on thickness. Once pressed, the board passes through a Grecon ultrasonic blow detector and a thickness monitor to listen for low-density problems before the boards reach the cooling elevator.
Any requirement for custom cutting will occur on the subsequent finishing line where boards encounter trim saws, edge sealers, strappers and stencilers. Part of the cost savings realized by OSB plants versus many plywood plants is in manpower.
By far the majority of Ainsworth staff work outside the actual manufacturing plant. There are 25 plant employees each eight-hour shift. Only two employees run the forming line. The manufacturing process itself works in assembly line fashion monitored and controlled from a central control room.
In addition to the main computer system, Ainsworth operates a separate trouble -shooting computer and a PressMan system to keep tabs on real-time press performance. This completely enclosed manufacturing plant, is built with Canadian winters in mind.
All duct work is indoors, with little outside exposure to internal equipment, except when venting is necessary. Ainsworth depends on truck transportation for shipping product to its American Midwest and Eastern markets.
Most product will funnel through Edmonton. Armstrong makes no apologies for their attempt to supplant plywood as the building material of choice for American build-ing contractors .
"The main focus of our industry is to take over where plywood was used," he says. "OSB will do the same job as ply-wood. You can produce it a lot more eco-nomically now, just because of the labour it takes in plywood plants. And, your wood for plywood is a lot more expensive."
The value-added component of the Ainsworth plant will produce finger-jointed studs most visible to consumers as door casings and door jams. They will produce either finger-jointed studs or I-beams that include an OSB component.
Value-added manager Don McGladdery says Ainsworth has a few surprises in store from this division, indicating it involves using standard equipment in new configurations.
Among the more interesting aspects of the value-added division is its use of a DART, Machine Stress Rating (MSR) machine, the first of its kind in North America.
The DART machine, under trial during our visit, will be the subject of a closer look in our May issue _ Editor
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A $17 million upgrade produces a 12-percent recovery gain
Ainsworth opens its second OSB plant in as many years.
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Last modified 6/10/96
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