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July August 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Hokcey and High Value Added

In addition to being home to the World Pond Hockey Championships, the village of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, is also home to a very innovated value-added hardwood operation: Briggs Engneered Wood Products.

By George Fullerton

Plaster Rock, a cozy little village on the west bank of the Tobique River in northwestern New Brunswick, has a reputation as a wood processing centre, a reputation that dates back to European settlement in the early 1800s. In 1901, Donald Fraser built a mill on the eastern bank of the river and more than 100 years later Fraser Papers operates one of New Brunswick’s largest softwood sawmill complexes on virtually the same site.

The Plaster Rock community hosts a variety of noteworthy events. Fiddles on the Tobique, the Fiddle Head Festival and the World Pond Hockey Championships lead the list. Every spring, freshly emerged ostrich ferns, which resemble the scrollwork of a violin neck, are collected along stream banks and cooked up for a gastronomical delight. And this year, the fourth annual World Pond Hockey Championships attracted 96 teams to play on 48 rinks cleared on Roulston Lake in the municipal park. The teams came from across North America, the Cayman Islands and Europe. An FYI for hockey-starved fans: Boston took the 2005 Championship.

Danny Briggs (above) with a new flooring product—Puzzle Flooring—developed by Briggs Engineered Wood Products. The flooring is created by the CNC cutting interlocking puzzle pieces from 5/8-inch thick, edge glued panels. The company’s lobby is the home, in the off season, of the Pond Hockey Championship Cup (right).

In the off-season, getting a look at that Pond Hockey Championship Cup would lead you to the offices of Briggs Engineered Wood Products. In the lobby, the cup, a magnificent bird’s eye maple turning nearly one metre in height, resides in a glass case against a wall of glory that illustrates the hockey heritage of Plaster Rock and the Briggs family.Danny and Nina Briggs, in addition to being sponsors and volunteers for the Pond Hockey initiative, own Briggs Engineered Wood Products, an innovative hardwood, value-added operation.

The operation is typical of the rapidly developing wood-based, value-added industries in New Brunswick that are major employers and major contributors to the provincial economy. The Briggs’ value-added operation, for example, currently employs 20 people.

The Briggs started the operation in 1995, sourcing hardwood lumber from regional mills and remanufacturing it into high-value furniture and cabinet dimension products and edge-glued panels, which they market throughout eastern North America and Europe.

Briggs hardwood products range in lengths from 13 inches to a maximum of eight feet. Dimension stock ranges from about one inch square to hardwood flooring blanks at a maximum four inches wide. They manufacture a variety of lengths of edge-glued panels in widths up to 32 inches. The market can be demanding: tolerances on dimension stock supplied to North American markets are 1/32 inches and less than one millimetre for European customers.

“I had worked in pulp and paper and sawmilling since the 1980s and saw a lot of opportunity in our hardwood resource,” says Danny Briggs. “I grew up in the local community and I have an entrepreneurial mindset that led me to develop the business.”

In 2000, Briggs started sawing sugar (hard) maple and yellow birch logs in an effort to ensure a secure supply of quality hardwood lumber. Danny designed and built a circular saw head rig and carriage system that is designed to handle logs between 3.5 and eight feet long.

The small log mill saws about 7,500 cubic metres of logs per year. Briggs purchases
between 50,000 and 100,000 board feet of lumber to fill the mill’s needs.

The mill is a straightforward, low speed operation, where skilled workers focus on maximum recovery from every log. From the head saw, lumber goes to a Morgan horizontal band re-saw and then to a Valley edger. Boards are hand-piled from the green chain and stickered, ready for kiln drying.

“Most of our lumber is cut to produce 4/4, but we also produce 5/4 and a variety of metric sizes depending on the customer’s individual specifications. Every order we fill is a custom order, generally for high-end cabinet and furniture manufacturers,” explains Briggs. “These manufacturers are generally decreasing their involvement in procuring and milling lumber. Instead, they are sourcing the components and dimension stock, and focusing their expertise on assembly and marketing their finished products.”

The first step in the value-added manufacturing begins with kiln drying the lumber in a conventional 30,000 board feet, oil-fired, steam kiln.

“We constructed the kiln ourselves using Nyle hardware and controller equipment,” says Briggs. The manufacturing operation has outgrown the kiln, and there are plans to increase kiln capacity and to convert to wood residue energy. Currently, the company contracts drying capacity with regional mills.

The value-added production line begins with a Normand two-sided planer. Boards are then chopped to length, and moved on to a horizontal ripsaw operation that breaks down the boards, eliminating defects. A worker at the ripsaw outfeed visually inspects each piece and either feeds it back to the saw operator for another cut, or moves it on down the production line.

In the case of dimension stock, pieces move on to a sanding machine and are packaged for shipment. For edge-glued panels, the stock continues along the production line to workers who lay out the random pieces into dummy panels, ensuring consistency for uniform colour. Once the panel assembler is satisfied with the quality of the panel, it is caulk marked across the assembled boards and placed on a live roller glue line, which applies glue to the edges of the stock.

The glue clamp operator then reassembles the stock, referencing the colour matching caulk mark, and places the panel in a 20-section Doucette clamping machine. Each panel spends at least 30 minutes in clamps. They are removed, and then placed into vertical slots of two-storey carts for 24 hours to allow the glue to cure.

Final machining is a two-pass sanding operation, which is common in the industry. Two passes allows operators to spot and address defects and ensure quality control. Finished panels are packed on pallets, shrink-wrapped, ready for shipment. Product is shipped to customers on a “just-in-time” basis, about 75 per cent to the United States, and the balance to Canada and Europe.

The most technically advanced piece of manufacturing equipment in the Briggs operation is a CNC machine from C R Onsrud that allows them to handle detailed manufacturing work such as cutting and drilling drawer fronts. The CNC led Danny to develop a new flooring product, called Puzzle Flooring. The Puzzle Floor product is created by the CNC cutting an interlocking puzzle piece from 5/8-inch thick, edge-glued panels.Puzzle Flooring is manufactured, cut (with +/- .0005-inch tolerance) and edge sealed at the plant in Plaster Rock and then shipped to a plant south of Montreal, where the show surface is sanded clear, prior to the application of a ten-step finishing process that provides the choice of 13 colours in a UV-cured urethane with aluminum oxide coating.The finish ensures a very durable, trouble- free finish. Briggs is currently setting up a US and Canadian dealership network for Puzzle Flooring.

A Cat 924 moves logs from the yard to the mill (above) at Briggs Engineered Wood Products. About 70 per cent of their wood supply comes from Fraser Nexfor freehold operations.

Wood supply is a perennial challenge for manufacturers that rely on high grade
hardwoods. The bankruptcy and closure of the St Anne Nackawic hardwood kraft
mill in central New Brunswick in the autumn of 2004 has aggravated an already strained hardwood market.

“The nature of the hardwood resource means that a large volume of low quality hardwood is harvested in order to select the low volume of high quality hardwood that we need,” explains Danny. “We are very dependent on steady markets for the low grade wood. Every hardwood user in New Brunswick has to be very concerned about the situation with St Anne.” The shutdown of the St Anne market has caused contractors and freehold operations to avoid cutting in hardwood stands, if at all possible.

Briggs Engineered Wood Products is a sub-licensee to St Anne Crown Licence #8, but has never received their full Crown allocation. Danny believes that the problem is mainly logistics, and that if he had a person working in the licence, it would ensure that contractors made the effort to sort out the full allotment. Danny explains that his operation is too small to carry the cost of providing staff to the licence.

About 70 per cent of the Briggs’ wood supply traditionally comes from Fraser Nexfor freehold operations. Danny says good relations with Nexfor personnel and contractors have assured a good supply relationship. Briggs’ ability to handle logs between four and eight feet means that slasher operators can often slash out a short Briggs log, in order to remove sweep in a stem or badly flared butts, and make high quality (value) logs that otherwise would have gone to low grade markets.

About 20 per cent of Briggs’ wood supply comes from private woodlot owners, primarily the Carleton Victoria Forest Products Marketing Board, whose members
are within about two hours trucking distance from the mill.

“The Carleton-Victoria organization has been very supportive in supplying wood to us,” says Danny. “They have established three concentration yards that receive random length hardwood that is bucked to supply veneer and saw log markets. They have made a good effort to inform woodlot owners and contractors about producing
high quality hardwood logs.”

Like a Pond Hockey championship team, value-added manufacturing requires a good captain and good teamoriented employees. “The key to our success is our staff. We have a very good local workforce,” says Danny. “They are keen about doing a good job and they know the value of producing the very best quality product. I give them a lot of the credit for helping to make us a success.This kind of operation can only succeed as a team effort.”



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