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July August 2004

SAWMILLING

Keeping an eye on remanufacturing

A new $6 million white birch sawmill in Temagami, Ontario opted for a Cardinal sawmill system to do primary manufacturing, but also has an eye to do remanufacturing down the road.

By Tony Kryzanowski

When the Milne sawmill near Temagami, Ontario closed in 1990, and 150 people were thrown out of work, the municipal reeve at the time swore to area residents that one day a sawmill would return to the community. Fifteen years later, Ivan Beauchamp is personally delivering on that promise. Beauchamp and his business partner Aurele St Jean have invested $6 million to build Temagami Forest Products, said to be the province’s only white birch sawmill. It was built on the same site as the Milne sawmill, and has brought back 62 jobs to the community. Beauchamp and St Jean are more than just men on a mission to revitalize a community that was further devastated in the early 1990s with the closure of an iron ore mine and the local Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) office, resulting in 625 more job losses.

They are also out to demonstrate how forest product manufacturing should be done in this country. “We see the sawmill as a necessary evil to get into remanufacturing,” says St Jean. “We want to control our supply of wood, and then get into remanufacturing. That way, we know that we will be guaranteed the wood.” Whether that remanufacturing takes the form of flooring, Popsicle sticks, baseball bats, or spindles, only time will tell.

The official opening of the new Temagami Forest Products sawmill earlier this year.  Company owners Ivan Beauchamp and Aurele St. Jean constructed the sawmill with about 40 people, who have since become employees of the mill.

To start with, the sawmill will produce graded and dried hardwood lumber, pallet stock, packaged firewood and wood chips. St Jean says Canada as a whole could benefit greatly should the country’s lumber manufacturers evolve into more than just producers and exporters of raw commodities. “I think we have overlooked the fact that we could be creating thousands and thousands of jobs across Canada by going one step further into remanufacturing,” says St Jean. “I think this is where we have been missing the boat for many years.”

He says that rather than exporting primary wood products particularly to the United States—where it is remanufactured and often imported back to Canada as finished wood products—there is no reason why some of that remanufacturing couldn’t occur in Canada. He adds that Canadian forest companies are also using too many saw and veneer quality logs for pulpwood. If companies in Finland or Sweden attempted to do that, they’d lose their licences, he says. Beauchamp and St Jean began seriously planning the Temagami Forest Products sawmill about seven years ago. There was a large white birch resource in the area that was only being used for firewood and pulp.

Other than that, it was left to rot in the forest. Initially their plan was to build a firewood and pallet manufacturing company. However, the concept grew to where they had a plan to establish a full sawmill. “In 2000, we applied for 30,000 cubic metres per year of white birch from the Temagami management unit operated by the MNR,” says St Jean. “When we got the approval 10 months ago on condition that we build a sawmill, we decided to go ahead.” They were the only company to bid for the wood resource offered by the provincial government, which is located within 65 kilometres of the mill. The sawmill is actually capable of processing 80,000 cubic metres per year.

The owners will purchase additional white birch from private landowners, other sawmills, and logging contractors to reach their production target. It is practically unheard of for individuals with no hands-on sawmilling experience to invest large sums of money into sawmill projects. However, that is exactly what has happened at Temagami Forest Products. St Jean is a business consultant and Beauchamp is a general contractor with some experience hauling logs and some understanding of forestry practices.

Realizing their inexperience, the partners spent a considerable amount of time working with MNR to evaluate the quality of the wood resource and learning about sawing and adding value to birch. “We did some destructive analysis,” says St Jean. “We also actually brought loads of logs into our yard and scaled them and measured them to see what kind of production we could expect. We feel very confident that we can achieve the numbers that we have for our projections.” The sawmill will not handle the logging itself. There are two company employees who will respond to notifications from loggers working in the Temagami management unit that a stand of white birch is available.

They will evaluate the quality, and then the sawmill will negotiate a price with the loggers. On the hands-on side at the mill, the owners also hired a number of experienced sawyers and have six trained lumber graders on staff. Beauchamp and St Jean are also partners in a construction company, so they leveraged that experience and constructed the sawmill themselves. “We hired our own people, and these people have remained with us as employees at the sawmill,” says St Jean. “We hired about 40 people last fall and they’ve been with us through the whole construction—from doing the site preparation, to digging two wells, installing three septic systems, erecting the building, installing the electrical and plumbing, and so on.”

After construction was completed, the company hired another 22 employees. St Jean says being able to construct the sawmill themselves was a huge financial advantage. They also felt that it was important for their employees to become familiar with all aspects of the business. Construction began in October 2003 and was completed in June. There are specific challenges to manufacturing wood products from birch. In summer, logs must be processed within three weeks of harvest to avoid stain and discolouration. Logs are also not particularly straight, so Temagami Forest Products slashes the logs for value before they reach the infeed deck. The mill can process log lengths from 6 feet 6 inches to 12 feet 6 inches. Downfall material will support the firewood branch of the company’s operations. Birch logs from the Temagami management unit average nine inches in diameter, but can grow as large as 18 inches.

The sawmill itself can process logs as small as six inches in diameter. The owners investigated sawmill equipment from five different suppliers before eventually settling on Cardinal’s line of equipment. Cardinal is headquartered in northwestern Quebec, in the community of Angliers, a little more than an hour away from Temagami. So close proximity to the sawmill worked in their favor, meaning Temagami Forest Products does not have to keep a large inventory of spare parts on hand. “They brought us to see their equipment in operation at several mills and we determined that they were probably the best supplier of equipment for what we wanted to accomplish,” says St Jean. “They also worked with us to help us achieve what we wanted to achieve.” Cardinal supplied the debarker, two high-speed carriages, an edger, bull, and trimmer.

After the logs are processed through the sawmill’s primary breakdown zone, boards collect at a sorting table. They are manually inspected, and any requiring edging are sent back through the edger. After sorting, the boards are trimmed anywhere from four to 12 feet in length. After trimming, the boards are graded, then manually stacked according to grade. “This is not a high tech sawmill or a sawmill geared to high production,” says St Jean. “It’s mostly to get the maximum quality out of each log. One aspect of white birch is that you grade for colour. Your sapwood is very, very white and you want to maintain that white colour.” The buildings for Temagami Forest Products’ oil-heated, dehumidification kilns were supplied by a company from the Czech Republic, while the kiln equipment itself was supplied by Nyle Corporation from the United States.

Furniture grade lumber is dried to customer specifications; this takes eight to 10 days to achieve under normal conditions. Lesser lumber grades are dried down to between 12 and 14 per cent, or again to customer specifications. After drying, the lumber is once again graded and sorted before being shipped to customers. The company hopes to have its planer installed within a year. St Jean says that white birch lumber products are in high demand at the present time. They market their product through a marketing consultant in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, and expect that for the first few years, most of their product will be sold in Canada and the northern states in the US.

While the company is very interested in developing export markets, they want to make sure that they can supply the quality and the quantity that is required. The owners expect that it will take about a year before the mill is running at full production capacity. There are no plans to diversify into other wood species, as the sawmill is focused on specializing in sawing and remanufacturing white birch. They plan to operate the sawmill 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round.

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