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July August 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

VALUE-ADDED MANUFACTURING

Meeting the needs of new markets

Groupe Savoie is expanding its value-added operation in New Brunswick—with the addition of a new self centring planer and installation of a second rip, chop and sort line—confident that it will be able to benefit from the growth in hardwood markets.

By George Fullerton

It is increasingly common that when modern sawmill and wood manufacturing operations carry out an expansion project involving the installation of new equipment, it generally means there are more logs coming in, greater product recovery and more finished product. The downside is that the upgrade means there are more machines doing the work and fewer people carrying lunch pails through the door and picking up a paycheque every Friday.

Groupe Savoie is one of the largest hardwood milling and value-added manufacturing operations in Eastern Canada.

The exception to this general rule is hardwood value-added, which still relies in large part on skilled workers with well developed perception and dexterity. They can quickly and accurately identify and select product according to finished product potential, dimension specification, and colour qualities to make a high-value finished product.

Groupe Savoie, one of the largest hardwood milling and value-added manufacturing operations in Eastern Canada, is a case in point. The addition of a new self centring planer and installation of a second rip, chop and sort line over this past Christmas break increased employment in the St Quentin plant by six employees, in addition to the related employment required by increased log supply. The village of St Quentin is in the northeast corner of New Brunswick, in the heart of a significant tolerant hardwood resource, and is home to Groupe Savoie.

Jean Claude Savoie started sawmilling with a cedar mill in 1978. After the mill was destroyed by fire in 1980, it was rebuilt to cut hardwoods. The hardwood mill focused on value-added hardwood products used for furniture, flooring and laminated wood paneling, as well as pallet stock lumber.

In 1984 Savoie began assembling pallets at the St Quentin facilities. Over the past decade, Groupe Savoie has continued to expand through the purchase of a hardwood sawmill in Nova Scotia and by establishing a pallet assembly plant in Moncton, New Brunswick. At the end of 2005, the company employed 450 people at St Quentin, another 50 at the Nova Scotia mill and 10 at its Moncton plant. In 2005, Groupe Savoie also began to revitalize a former hardwood flooring plant in the nearby village of Kedgewick and by 2006 was employing 30 people.

The company sources hardwood logs as a Crown land sub-licensee, as well as trading softwood logs for hardwood with other mills. About 50 people are employed in forestry operations that include road building, eight trucks and a number of log loaders. All harvesting and forwarding is done through three contractors and trucking contractors through the year, as required.

The Groupe Savoie mill receives both tree-length and short wood (eight-foot) logs. The tree-length is slashed in the yard, sorting the high quality saw logs from the low grade. The high quality logs, primarily yellow birch and sugar maple, are directed to the hardwood component side of the operation and the low grade logs, including aspen, go to the pallet and pulp chipping side.

The addition of new equipment to the Groupe Savoie operation resulted in six new employees being hired, in addition to the related employment required by the increased log supply.

The pallet mill begins with a Prentice loader transferring eight-foot logs to a slasher that cuts the logs into four-foot bolts, that are in turn fed into a Fuji drum debarker. In the mill, high quality debarked logs are streamed to the saw line that has four diameter sorts, while the low quality logs are fed directly to the 72-inch chipper.

Savoie sells between 200 and 225 loads of chips every week to a variety of pulp mill customers. Since each customer has its own specific quality requirements including species mix, the loader operator is required to feed the slasher a specific species recipe. “The recipe might be two grapples of maple for each grapple of poplar,” explains Roland Dufour, marketing director with Groupe Savoie. “We also supply birch or maple only pulp chips or any other species mix the customer wants.”

The pallet mill has separate small and large log saw lines. The seven-inch diameter plus line consists of a twin saw and a Valley Machine bull edger, and a custom built slab resaw. The trimmer, grading station and 18-bin sorting system were built by Gemofor and installed in 2005. The under seven-inch line consists of a Comact chipper canter, a Valley Machine bull edger, trim saws and grading station, and finally a manual green chain.

Any high quality lumber generated in the pallet breakdown mill is sorted and stickered ready for dry kiln, and is eventually added to the manufacturing stream in the hardwood component side of the operation.

Groupe Savoie’s Roland Dufour (right) with some of the cabinet framestock produced by the mill. The company turns out a variety of value-added hardwood products including edge glued panels, flooring stock and moldings.

Savoie has two large GBN pallet assembly machines and three smaller machines. They also have a manual assembly line for specialty pallets. The manufacturing capacity at St Quentin is two million pallets per year, with storage for 80,000 pallets.

Pallets are sold mainly to Canadian markets, along with a few US customers. “The Moncton plant also reclaims and repairs used pallets,” adds Dufour. “Pallets are a significant cost to manufacturers and shippers, so it is important to have a facility that can provide that service. line that has four diameter sorts, while the low quality logs are fed directly to the 72-inch chipper.

Savoie sells between 200 and 225 loads of chips every week to a variety of pulp mill customers. Since each customer has its own specific quality requirements including species mix, the loader operator is required to feed the slasher a specific species recipe. “The recipe might be two grapples of maple for each grapple of poplar,” explains Roland Dufour, marketing director with Groupe Savoie. “We also supply birch or maple only pulp chips or any other species mix the customer wants.”

The pallet mill has separate small and large log saw lines. The seven-inch diameter plus line consists of a twin saw and a Valley Machine bull edger, and a custom built slab resaw. The trimmer, grading station and 18-bin sorting system were built by Gemofor and installed in 2005. The under seven-inch line consists of a Comact chipper canter, a Valley Machine bull edger, trim saws and grading station, and finally a manual green chain.

Any high quality lumber generated in the pallet breakdown mill is sorted and stickered ready for dry kiln, and is eventually added to the manufacturing stream in the hardwood component side of the operation.

Savoie has two large GBN pallet assembly machines and three smaller machines. They also have a manual assembly line for specialty pallets. The manufacturing capacity at St Quentin is two million pallets per year, with storage for 80,000 pallets.

Pallets are sold mainly to Canadian markets, along with a few US customers. “The Moncton plant also reclaims and repairs used pallets,” adds Dufour. “Pallets are a significant cost to manufacturers and shippers, so it is important to have a facility that can provide that service.

We also supply the Moncton plant with lumber for new pallet assembly.” The hardwood component mill breakdown begins with logs, sorted by species, going through a 35-inch VK Brunette ring debarker. Logs are fed to a twin saw, with slabs going on to an edger and cants going to a Valley Machine bull edger, then on to a trim saw, grading and a 57-bin sorting system manufactured by Gemofor.

The graded lumber (specific species) is stickered and readied for kiln drying. Low grade lumber that will not produce component stock is transferred to the pallet mill. Savoie has 12 Nardi kilns with a total capacity of 50,000 board feet, which gives them an annual capacity of 12 million board feet. They have dry storage for three million board feet of kiln-dried lumber.

Groupe Savoie’s Roland Dufour (right) with some of the cabinet framestock produced by the mill. The company turns out a variety of value-added hardwood products including edge glued panels, flooring stock and moldings.

Savoie uses its own mill residue to fire KMW boilers that heat the kilns and mill complex. Two boilers operate through the winter, one supplying energy for the kilns and the second providing heat to the mill and manufacturing infrastructure.

In the current climate of escalating energy costs, Dufour says that Savoie is looking seriously at the opportunity to generate electricity with its excess mill residue. Currently, the excess residue is sold to pulp mills for co-generation fuel.

Groupe Savoie produces a variety of value-added hardwood products including edge glued panels, flooring stock, moldings, ready to assemble kitchen cabinet components and specialty interlocking left and right pattern flooring sold to European customers. The St Quentin plant operates five nine-hour day shifts and four eleven-hour night shifts.

Over this past Christmas break, Savoie upgraded its component manufacturing, with the installation of an OSI self centring planer, manufactured in St Georges de Beauce, Quebec. “The new planer has the capacity for 20,000 board feet per shift, and provided an 80 per cent increase in our component production capacity,” says Dufour. “This upgrade allowed us to install a second rip and chop line that required us to hire on an additional six workers.”

The hardwood component recovery system consists of a Luxscan scanner, a Mereen-Johnson rip saw and a Weinig chop saw designed to handle 10,000 board feet per shift. The hardwood components are sorted in a 12-bin sorter that was designed and built by Savoie.

The hardwood component stock is sorted and palletized either for shipment to customers or for further manufacturing as edge glued panels or cabinet frame stock in the Savoie facilities.

Dufour indicates that Groupe Savoie will eventually shift most of its yellow birch value-added manufacturing to the Kedgewick manufacturing plant and handle the maple manufacturing in St Quentin.

Dufour comments that hardwood value-added manufacturing has in recent years been significantly impacted by Asian competition. “We have seen a major portion of the furniture manufacturing capacity in North America shut down because of Asian competition, and with that we saw a lot of our markets for dimension stock and components shut off.

“This phenomenon has caused us to shift our marketing focus somewhat. There is still a strong demand for edge glued panels for cabinet doors and we have developed some markets for cabinet frame stock and interlocking flooring. Edge glued panels make up about 50 per cent of our current sales.”

Dufour sees many opportunities for growth and expansion for Groupe Savoie. “The challenge for us is to discipline ourselves to analyze those opportunities and work on the ones that will benefit us most effectively.”

There are several things that have transpired over the past 10 years that have benefited and grown the valueadded sector, he notes. “Environmental complications have made it difficult and expensive for urban based manufacturers to dispose of wood waste from their manufacturing plants. It made more sense to leave the residue at the primary mill.”

The second issue has been the increases in transport costs. “It made sense to take the products closer to finished state to ship. The third thing has been a conscious shift on the part of manufacturers to invest in their assembly lines and market their finished products, rather than investing in a rough mill that has a longer pay-back time.”

Over the next ten years, Dufour expects these trends to continue and have an even greater impact. As a result, he sees the value-added sector continuing to grow and expand to meet the demands of manufacturers.

“Right now we are competing against Asia in value-added. They would rather purchase raw logs, use their technology and labour resources to manufacture components and consumer products and then sell back to North America. But over the next 10 to 15 years as their economies grow, their population will consume more and more products for their own use and then they will become importers of hardwood value-added components. That will open up a huge marketing opportunity.”

 

 


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