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Dec Jan 2004/2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

SALVAGE SAWMILLING

Cutting the beetle kill

A new $10 million mill in the BC Interior—S & P Forest Products—has been designed primarily to convert dead and dry beetle-killed timber into dimensional lumber for offshore markets.

By Jim Stirling

Pal Singh Nijjar (top) with son, Kash Nijjar, at the S & P Forest Products mill in Williams Lake, BC.

Pal Singh Nijjar hesitates a moment and looks back at his new sawmill, shimmering in the Cariboo sunshine. He then allows himself a quick smile. And so he should. S & P Forest Products Ltd represents a significant achievement and a good news story on several levels. To begin with, the new enterprise has evolved from modest beginnings. The sawmill is distinct in that it is designed primarily to convert dead and dry beetle-killed lodgepole pine into dimension lumber destined for predominantly offshore markets.

The approximately $10 million investment will preserve existing jobs in S & P’s affiliated companies, create new ones and generate significant economic benefits for the city of Williams Lake in British Columbia’s Interior. And it’s good news on another front. S & P Forest Products is testament to and a reminder of what can be accomplished by hard work and family support. “We work every day, every month and we grew the company,” explains Nijjar, making a complex process sound simple. (The S in S & P is for Sahib Nijjar. “He is my partner,” says Pal with a smile.

And with Sahib just three years old, differences of opinion between the partners are minimal.) The North American segment of Nijjar’s story began in 1969 when he visited Toronto from India. He knew from the outset he liked Canada. After a year in Vancouver, he migrated to Williams Lake in 1970. He got a job working in the Pinette & Therrien sawmill. He stayed there for the next 19 years. S & P’s niche in 2004 is processing dead and dry beetle-killed timber. But the marketing opportunity Nijjar identified in 1989 was cutting and selling firewood, to which he and his family turned their hands with marked success.

The mill produces about 150,000 board feet per eight-hour shift (300,000 board feet/day). Timber for the new mill is being harvested cut-to-length by area logging contractors and delivered to the mill in lengths eight to 20 feet.

Their first business, Pal Lumber Co Ltd, was on its way and remains very much a going concern. Adding a re-saw opened the door to more custom remanufacturing. including re-sawing 2x3s for his old employer, P & T. Pal Lumber’s product lines began to diversify. One product still selling well today is the box cleats they manufacture for the California fruit market. The addition of a planer provided options for more custom work and the creation of Pal & Son Custom Planing Ltd. Acquisition of a second planing machine —another Woods unit—further developed and refined product lines, including the manufacture of bed and furniture framing. A feature of Nijjar’s operations is an adherence to reducing fibre waste and maximizing utilization.

For example, planer shavings are collected and bagged and used primarily for animal bedding. Pal Premium Softwood Shaving Co Ltd sells the product to customers in California and Eastern Canada. Similarly, sawdust is sent to local plants for utilization. Between them, Pal Lumber and Pal & Son Custom Planing create 55 full-time jobs. Last year, the Pal family of operations was faced with a quandary. A major custom planing client decided to introduce planing equipment into its own facility.

Pal Singh Nijjar with son, Kash Nijjar of S & P. Core equipment for the mill includes a 20-inch Mark II chip ‘n saw for primary breakdown and a 12-inch vertical arbor edger. A second chip ‘n saw to be added later will do service on the mill’s small log line.

Nijjar needed a way to keep the companies moving forward. S & P Forest Products is the solution. The mill—with its unique fibre focus—will have two production lines, one initially. S & P will eventually create 60 to 70 new jobs, says Nijjar. The mill will have sufficient output to keep Pal & Son Custom Planers busy and provide feedstock for Pal Lumber. About 80 per cent of the anticipated 50 million board feet a year of production will be shipped to established markets in Japan (blue stain free), China, Korea and Taiwan, with smaller quantities into Canadian and US markets, says Nijjar. The remaining 20 per cent will be sold to Pal Lumber. Beetle-killed timber is well suited to Pal Lumber’s product lines because it cracks and splits less when nailed, stapled or screwed.

Pal Lumber expects to double its production of remanufactured wood products within about two years and is investigating new product possibilities including mouldings. Log requirements for the new mill are 250,000 cubic metres a year. S & P is looking to acquire a long-term tenure to harvest dead and dry (grade 3) beetle-killed lodgepole pine in and around the Williams Lake area. The company is also pursuing BC Timber Sales, beetle wood from First Nations, community forests, woodlots, private and salvage wood sources and will entertain log purchase agreements with major licensees. S & P is also working hard with the Ministry of Forests to encourage the marketing of more dead and dry beetle wood in the Williams Lake region under the expressions of interest call by the ministry. Up until recently, the emphasis has been on harvesting green attack wood as a means to help prevent the rate of infestation spread. But the wood left in the beetle epidemic’s wake is ideal for S & P. Barry St Cyr is part of the extended Nijjar family.

He’s S & P’s manager, and oversaw and co-ordinated the project during its construction and development stages. St Cyr says the mill will produce about 150,000 board feet per eight-hour shift (300,000 board feet/day). Timber for the new mill will be harvested cut to length by area logging contractors and delivered to the yard in lengths from eight to 20 feet. Timber is debarked on a 20-inch Cambio machine and delivered to a 56-inch cut-off saw where it is processed to the mill’s preferred lengths. Logs are sorted by length and diameter and directed to the appropriate bins. St Cyr says the flow design allows two extra sort bins to be added at a future date.

Logs from the sort bins are unscrambled for presentation to a 20-inch Mark II chip ‘n saw and primary breakdown. A second chip ’n saw to be added later will do service on the mill’s small log line. A 12-inch vertical arbor edger follows downstream. The trim table has the ability to sort dry and green, adds St Cyr. Short lengths, about 20 per cent of production, are stacked from a green chain. Other equipment includes a 76-inch CAE chipper, large enough to provide S & P with the flexibility to chip pulp logs in the future. Chips from the operation go to Canfor’s Howe Sound Pulp & Paper. Sawdust and bark are sold to TransCanada’s Williams Lake power plant. For much of the past year, S & P has been scouring sawmill auctions to seek out equipment suitable for its new operation. About half was acquired in that manner, with the balance designed, built and fabricated in-house.

The sawmill equipment purchased at auction still required adaptation to meet S & P’s requirements. The chip ‘n saw, for example, had been used in a coastal application geared to larger wood. Significant modifications were required for it to process the smaller pieces of beetle wood faster. The design concept for S & P’s mill was done in-house with the detailed design work done outside. The company used its own crews for mechanical installation, supplemented when necessary with local labour, and acted as its own general contractor. Other key partners on the project included Mueller Electric of Williams Lake as the electrical contractor, with electrical design from Associated Industrial in White Rock, BC. Kronyk Construction in Williams Lake was responsible for the foundation and building construction.

Nijjar is proud that most of the construction supplies and services came from the local area. The construction work provided about eight months of steady work for 25 to 30 qualified local contractors. “It’s good to make jobs for people,” says Nijjar. He knows first hand the importance of getting a job and having the opportunity to move ahead.

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