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December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

PANEL BOARD

An OSB Giant

The Peace Valley OSB mill—a joint venture of forestry giants Canfor and Louisiana-Pacific—is a giant of its own, with the capacity to produce 820 million square feet of 3/8ths inch OSB panel annually, and a wood appetite to match.

By Jim Stirling

 

The view from Scott Goodland’s office window is spectacular. You can see the Rocky Mountains shimmering across the prairie. But Goodland has little time to admire the scenery. His attention is focused on what’s going on beneath him. Goodland is an operator on a towering portal crane and his work station—his office window—is suspended 75 feet above ground level.

The cranes glide electronically up and down a half-mile of track. A yawning grapple unloads incoming logging trucks, decks the deciduous wood and feeds the mill. Everything is big. The mill yard has a 550,000 cubic-metre capacity. The sprawling mill building encloses around 500,000 square feet of space. Inside, a technologically sophisticated process and dedicated work force produce 18 rail cars of oriented strand board (OSB) every day. That 18 rail cars a day is enough product, on an annual basis, for 75,000 new home starts. To put that in perspective, Canada’s total annual housing starts are around 150,000.

Scott Goodland (above) in his work station, high above the timber on one of Peace Valley OSB’s two Andritz portal cranes.

This is the larger-than-life world of Peace Valley OSB. In an era of super sawmills running around the clock, Peace Valley is the OSB equivalent. By capturing economies of scale to drive down unit costs, the company is poised to assume a leadership role in the North American panel industry.

In the late 1990s, two major forest companies were eyeing the potential of the deciduous component of the Fort St John Timber Supply Area forest profile in British Columbia’s North Peace region. Both Slocan Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific (Canada) Corporation developed plans to build OSB plants in the region. Then they decided to co-operate rather than compete. The result was the formation in 2000 of the Slocan-LP OSB Limited Partnership with Ike Barber and William Hebert representing the respective companies.

With its acquisition of Slocan, Canfor Corp is now in the 50-50 partnership with Louisiana-Pacific. The name change to Peace Valley OSB was made in 2005.

“The partners decided they would be successful by working together. It makes sense for long-term viability to construct and manage one large mill,” explains Chris Baby, Peace Valley’s personable general manager. As well, the companies utilize each other’s strengths to maximize the efficiency of the business, he notes.

Each of the portal cranes is fitted with a 75-foot Mack grapple that can deck up to 60-foot heights. The mill yard has a 550,000 cubic-metre capacity.

The monster mill has the capacity to produce 820 million square feet of 3/8ths inch OSB panel annually. And therein lies its strength. The high capacity mill, designed to run continuously, positions Peace Valley to accommodate the ups and downs of OSB demand and competition from other new plants that will come on stream in the next 18 months, says Baby. OSB has sustained healthy price levels although analysts are predicting a slowdown in 2006 housing starts in the US, where up to 90 per cent of Peace Valley’s product is marketed, he adds. The ravages of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma may skew that expectation.

The operation met a tight construction schedule from groundbreaking in June 2004 to pressing the first board in November 2005. “One of the things we’re very proud of is we recorded no time loss accidents during about 1.2 million manhours of construction,” reports Baby. The goal as an operating plant is to maintain that focus.

Construction did have its problems, however. A doubling in steel prices, increases in concrete costs and skilled labour shortages accounted for about 75 per cent of the increases that boosted project investment from about $220 million to $240 million, points out Baby.

On the positive side, the approximately 140 jobs Peace Valley OSB creates is a major diversification for the regional Fort St John economy, he adds. The city is at the heart of BC’s super-heated oil and gas production and exploration industry. The project encompasses an interesting people aspect. There’s a discernable sense of ownership among both hourly and management people, says Baby. It’s part of being involved with a major undertaking literally from the ground up.

In an era of super sawmills running around the clock, Peace Valley is the OSB equivalent. By capturing economies of scale to drive down unit costs, the company is poised to assume a leadership role in the North American panel industry.

 

But it’s also part of the partners’ attitude toward a new mill. It was reflected in training regimes and encouraging people to get to know each other, he explains. “There are no borders between people—that’s part of the philosophy. People have been involved from the getgo.” A benefit is the creation of qualified operational teams that can function well together, he adds.

The OSB production process begins in the log yard with the two Andritz portal cranes delivering logs to three separate ponds for conditioning. (See sidebar story for more information on Peace Valley’s woodlands and log yard operations.) Logs remain immersed in the ponds until they attain a uniform temperature for good flaking and recovery.

Each of the three lines has a Fuji King 60-foot drum debarker. Material is then fed to three Carmanah Design & Manufacturing, 44-knife rotary stranders with 82-inch inside diameters on the rings. The knives work with the wood grain to produce longer, stronger flakes and improve recovery. Strands are transported to three Precision green bins for
storage and surge capacity. Each line features a single pass Buttner dryer, manufactured in Germany.

Flakes are reduced to moisture content around four to five per cent from their super-saturated states in the log ponds. The drying heat source is generated in three GTS Energy furnaces fired by hog-bark—and each capable of producing 120 million BTUs/hour.

The system also heats the log ponds, provides building heat and energy for the press with thermal oil as the heating agent. The mill is energy self-sufficient, apart from electricity, important with the soaring costs of natural gas.

Dried flakes pass through an air-driven cyclone system with the ability to screen out fine, medium and coarse strands. Super fine particles are recycled. Flakes are delivered to three dry bins. Meanwhile, US-produced, TurboSonics wet, electro-static precipitator systems provide the pollution control equipment.

Next stage is delivery to three USmade Coil blenders where resin and wax are added to the flakes. The material is transported to the top of the forming line where six heads re-size the flakes to make the intermediate core surface and also orient the flakes to provide the product properties required. A continuous mat is formed and cross-cut sawn to panels 12 feet wide and 34 feet long.

Peace Valley’s massive Siempelkamp press has 12 openings, the largest number of any press in the world. The panels’ widths and lengths allow the press to service the nine- and 10-foot high-end panel market without recovery losses. Panels from 1.25 inches to 3/8ths thickness can be produced.

The panels emerging from the press go through primary and secondary finishing lines and quality control checks. Material for specialty products, like tongue and groove panels, is extracted.

Bundles of panels are edge sealed (instead of being wrapped) to prevent swelling, painted on the outside and the logo is stencilled. The bundles are strapped, dunnage is added and the product is taken to inventory.

The forming, pressing and finishing lines are all supplied by divisions of the German manufacturer Siempelkamp.

Peace Valley OSB’s project management team, under project manager Roger Laterell and construction manager Glen Spearing, included George Kenno, Derek Stewart and Gilles Sauve. Don Soderlund is maintenance manager. Electrical engineer on the project was Matrikon Inc, of Vancouver with the main electrical contractors being Pyramid Electrical,
Westwood Electric (Kelowna, BC) and K2 Electric Ltd (Prince George). Wabi Development Corporation of New Liskeard, Ontario was the main mechanical contractor and engineering services were provided by CPM Consultants of Vancouver. The Gisborne Group of Burnaby provided fire protection equipment for the mill.

 

Keeping a very hungry OSB mill fed

Peace Valley OSB’s fibre supply side has the challenge of keeping pace with a very large, very wood-hungry mill.

The venture’s two partners, Canfor and Louisiana-Pacific, both have deciduous wood quotas of around 330,000 cubic metres annually in the Fort St John Timber Supply Area. The mill requires about 1.1 million cubic metres, meaning nearly 40 per cent has to be purchased. Fibre sources include the BC Timber Sales program, private land, oil and gas right-of-ways, salvage and wood from neighbouring Alberta.

Canfor’s expanded woodlands division is responsible for the procurement and timely delivery of wood for the OSB plant. It also supplies wood to Canfor’s softwood sawmill in Fort St John and its pulp mill at Taylor, 19 kilometres to the south.

Aspen is primary feedstock for the OSB mill, with about 10 per cent cottonwood and a minimal birch component. The aspen is harvested in 100 per cent cut-to-length mechanical systems with preferred lengths of six metres and some three-metre stems. Multiple log trailer configurations are used, with eight-axle rigs common for the on-highway hauls.

The winter harvesting system is in high gear by December and around 200 truck loads a day are delivered to the OSB plant with another 150-170 a day to Canfor’s sawmill (currently harvesting about 30 per cent cut-to-length), reports Greg Saugstad, operations manager.

Tax credits and high demand have encouraged the oil and gas sector to invest heavily in infrastructure like roads, explains Saugstad, and that’s allowed them to access areas that were just winter ground. The traditional winter harvesting season can also be extended by summer decking and using intermediate sort yards. “We’re trying to avoid the boom and bust cycles so contractors know our needs well ahead of time.”

It’s a similar story with other interests and resource users. A district specific plan has been developed that tries to provide regional farmers and ranchers with a six-year forest operation schedule. Peace Valley OSB took an innovative approach with regional First Nations groups, inviting them to submit proposals to participate in the harvesting/trucking and log yard/mill sides of the operation. On the woodlands side, an aggregate of 500,000 cubic metres/year was on the table, Saugstad says. At the time of writing, three First Nations had signed memorandums of agreements (MOA) with Peace Valley OSB, two were close to signing and another was considering options, he adds. “What we’ve seen here with the MOA and the Treaty 8 members is a positive thing. They get involved in a meaningful way and have a say in their raditional areas,” he comments.

The Treaty 8 First Nations, through Six Nations Ventures, are involved in running support equipment—like hydraulic loaders— in the mill yard and other functions related to weigh scale operations, says Doug Mitchell, log yard team leader.

The true workhorses in the yard are the two 25-ton Andritz portal cranes. Mitchell says after logging trucks have crossed the scales and passed through the dewrapping station, crane operators direct them where to go in the expansive log yard. Cycle times are critical, to keep trucks moving and out of the yard promptly and efficiently and the mill fed. Each crane is fitted with a 75-foot Mack grapple that can deck up to 60-foot heights. And they’re nimble giants: gantry speed is around 600 feet/minute.

“Everything is done by weight,” explains Mitchell. “Essentially the goal is to keep an accurate check of what volumes are in the yard and what’s going into the mill.” Sampling tracks log drying. Mitchell says when the mill is fully operational, it will consume 3,000 cubic metres of logs a day.

 

 

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