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March 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal




Joist joint venture

The partnership between Abitibi-Consolidated and Louisiana-Pacific— Abitibi-LP Engineered Wood Inc—has started operations at its second I-joist manufacturing facility in Quebec.

By Martine Frigon

The joint venture company created by two giants of the forest industry—Abitibi-Consolidated and Louisiana-Pacific—has created its second engineered wood facility for the production of I-joists in Quebec.

Abitibi-LP Engineered Wood Inc is the name the two companies chose to operate this partnership. The new installation, in a facility in St Prime, Quebec that originally belonged to Abitibi-Consolidated, is said to be the most sophisticated plant of its kind in North America. The first such alliance between the two companies was in 2003, when they opened an engineered wood products line in an Abitibi- Consolidated mill in Larouche, Quebec.

The new St Prime installation has an annual production capacity of 75-million linear feet and represents an investment of about $13 million. It is 104,000 square feet in size. Although operational since August 2005, the official opening took place this past November.

The new St Prime facility has annual production capacity of 75 million linear feet of I-joists and represents an investment of $13 million. A Globe automated saw (above, inset) cuts joists to the lengths required by customers.

About 85 per cent of its production is slated to be used by contractors in the United States, with the remainder to go to their Canadian counterparts. Mill management is optimistic about the operation’s future, as they foresee a healthy increase in I-joist demand in the coming years.

Yves Laflamme, vice-president, sales and marketing, wood products and value-added operations at Abitibi- Consolidated, says the new facility features a brand new high-speed, state-ofthe- art I-joist assembly line. “St Prime now has one of the fastest and most hightech I-joist lines and is the largest producer of solid-sawn I-joists in North America.”

The St Prime finger-joint mill belonged to Abitibi-Consolidated before the partnership with Louisiana-Pacific began. Before that, it was owned first by Maboco and then by Donohue. The mill used to specialize in flange production. The flange production equipment, which is about 12 years old on average, remains in the mill and is still used by Abitibi-LP Engineered Wood Inc.

The new equipment for I-joist production at St Prime came from Globe Machine and Doucet Machineries, the latter a Quebec company that specializes in equipment for the secondary wood processing industry.

Up to 100 employees work on four flow lines: the MSR line, the stud line, the finger-jointing line and the assembly line.

The first step involved in I-joist production at St Prime is wood testing on the MSR line, mainly with 2x3 black spruce.

The mill produces two grades, 1650 and 2100. The wood comes from Quebec sawmills, from the Saguenay- Lac-Saint- Jean, the North Shore and Abitibi regions. The wood goes to the MSR line and is then forwarded to the glue jointer, and then to the structural line for manufacturing into flanges, in sizes varying from 34 to 64 feet.

“The line produces 370 feet per minute with a factor of 94 per cent efficiency, and all pieces pass by a tension tester,” explains Pierre Gauthier, mechanical engineer and general superintendent at the mill. Both the MSR line and the Tension Proof Test Equipment was manufactured by Metriguard Inc. of Pullman Washington.

At this point, raw material from the MSR that is off-grade and breaks in the flanges’ tensions is forwarded to the jointing stud line to minimize losses. The next step leads the flanges to the Globe and Doucet Machineries’ equipment.

“We bought their standard equipment, but we made several modifications and adjustments to the machines. For example, since the beginning of our operations at the end of August 2005, and until the beginning of this past December, we made more than 500 changes to improve performance,” Gauthier notes.

The flanges are then led to the I-joist line. Grooves are made in the flanges, and OSB panels are inserted. These panels are made by Louisiana Pacific’s Chambord factory near St Prime—just one of the advantages of the association between the two companies. Using the Globe “vacuum feeder,” the flanges are sucked up and then put down in a transfer area. The Globe “flange feeder” then channels the flanges, one by one, toward the assembly line.

Equipment from Doucet Machineries unstacks the OSB panels in strips of either 7.5 inches, 9-7/8 inches, 12 inches or 14 inches. Following this stage, the strips are profiled and glue is applied with Hexion equipment, using an SRT pasting machine.

The new I-joist facility was said to be built—and is operated—in a spirit of partnership between the union and the company. Right, from left to right: Donald Gagnon, heavy equipment operator; Stephane Tremblay, structural line operator; and Pierre Gauthier, plant superintendent. Both Tremblay and Gagnon are officers of the union.

Both parts are then forwarded to the Globe assembly machine, which has a capacity of 450 feet per minute.

“We aim for a production of 18,000 feet per hour. We’re not there yet, but we should reach this performance in the near future,” Gauthier says.

The Globe flying cut off saw is particularly impressive and cuts I-joists to the lengths required by customers. The assembled I-joists are then led to an MEC oven, whose interior mechanical pieces were provided by Doucet Machineries. It’s designed to be operated with natural gas, at a temperature of 170 degrees F (77 degrees C).

Finished products are then classified using Doucet Machineries equipment. Material is packaged and shipped using the “nester” pile system, and off-grade pieces are sent for recycling.

The four production lines in the mill run on different shifts. The MSR line operates on a day shift, eight months a year. The stud line operates on a day shift all year long, the structural line runs on three shifts and the assembly lines on two shifts.

Grooves are made in the flanges (right) for the insertion of OSB panels. Flanges are produced in lengths ranging from 34 to 64 feet.

All workers are unionized, with the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union. According to the union, the new section of the mill has maintained the 100 jobs that were there before the creation of the new installation. “If there had been no addition, there would have been job losses, particularly on the MSR line, because of the legislated 20 per cent reduction in the annual allowable cut (AAC) for forestry companies that operate in the province of Quebec,” explains Luc Blouin, president of the mill’s union. “With this new installation, the number of employees has remained the same.”

The 20 per cent reduction in the annual allowable cut could still create problems, according to Yves Laflamme. “We will have supply difficulties if our production increases considerably. This reduction will hit us as much as other Quebec sawmills.”

However, employees and management remain optimistic. “We have been experiencing growth in demand for solidsawn I-joists, so the addition of the St Prime facility is good news for our customers,” says Patch Bonkemeyer, LP’s-engineered wood products general manager, located in Tennessee. “This is the Formula One of I-joist mills in North America,” Gauthier says.

But most importantly, he adds, it’s also the result of teamwork with employees to reach the same goal: to make a product that’s in high demand and, in the process, conserve jobs.



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