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Atlantic Premiere

A new industry show on the East Coast lived up to its billing of being a showcase for a wide variety of equipment.

By Harold Hatheway

Atlantic Canada’s first Tech Wood  Expocom held in September lived up to its promise of being an in depth showcase for machinery, equipment and supplies for sawmilling and secondary wood manufacturing industries, combined with a product showcase for local manufacturers aimed at architects, designers and buyers from the northeast United States, Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. To the delight of organizers, 95 per cent of participant feedback was very favourable, stating that the biennial show clearly fills a major gap in both categories, with participants looking forward to the 2001 show and future growth. First attempts at shows are always tricky: equipment manufacturers and service suppliers are a pretty sure bet, but how many secondary wood products producers would participate. And there was the question of how many buyers would actually make the time consuming trip to the city of Moncton—hardly a household word in Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Overall visitor attendance was about 1,700, somewhat below expectations, partly because it takes time for a show to build a following and also because an exceedingly dry summer came to an end with record rainfalls, just before and during the first two days. However, while the weather put a damper on the outside displays of machinery, both suppliers and secondary manufacturers were out in force. Organizers and industry leaders were cautious, but generally pleased with the results.

Former New Brunswick Natural Resources Minister Alan Graham, on hand as chair of a $500,000 fund being raised for the New Brunswick Community College’s Woodworking Centre of Excellence, said he was “very impressed by both the efforts and the results”. “Value-added has always been close to my heart—that’s where the jobs are,” said Graham. Barry Nelson, industrial development project officer with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy, was pleased with the outcome. “It’s a good show for the primary sector, both buyers and smaller operators, but it takes time to make a show like this a regular feature on everyone’s calendar. “We’ve been into value-added for four to five years now because traditional hardwood products are facing potential countervails and there are problems with the European market. We have to look at alternatives. In fact, I see industry making this move even without government involvement. It’s a matter of survival.” The 100-plus equipment exhibits from across North America ranged from huge wheeled woods machines to an almost pen sized laser unit, through multiple versions of CNC (computer numeric control) router units, dry kilns, portable sawmills, computer hardware and software for the latest sophisticated processes, debarkers, chemical recovery systems and even a firm vigorously offering bargains in used equipment of just about any conceivable type.

Booths offered expertise and information, on a consulting basis from the commercial exhibitors or free from government agencies such as Forintek, ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) and the New Brunswick Community College’s Woodworking Centre of Excellence. The Maritime-based Wood Products Group’s show-within-a-show provided a forum for 31 of its value-added wood product manufacturers. An intensive preshow campaign encouraged members to participate and invited potential buyers from much of eastern Canada and the US. Exhibitors ranged from New Brunswick-based HTM Industries and WestWood Industries, both combining quantity production of furniture components with millwork and other reman activities, through a number of smaller millwork, craft and specialty firms. Organizers, targeting the architects, designers and buyers who make up much of the industry’s market, weren’t particularly concerned about low “off-the-street” numbers. The Products Showcase was intended to provide an opportunity for potential bulk buyers to see what was available and for members to check out new equipment and techniques, exchange information and build the organization.

If the first would take time to build, the second was paying off right away. In addition, the Wood Products Group had laid on tours of nearby secondary manufacturers, and a series of seminars on topics of practical value to many members of the organization. Steve Lawser, executive director of the Wood Component Manufacturers’Association (US and Central Canada) led off with an industry overview, followed by purchasing of computer numeric control equipment for small and midsized furniture plants led by Dr. Rado Gazo of Purdue University. Market opportunities and standards for composite flooring were covered by Dr. Robert Beauregard of industry research outfit Forintek Canada Corp., while strategic marketing and building sales programs presentations were led by Carol Chapman of Hawk Communications Inc. A workshop on green finger jointing and finger jointed structural components was led by Caroline Verreault and Richard from page 5 The TechWood Expocom show held in Moncton featured a number of value-added wood product manufacturers from the East Coast.

 

Desjardins of Forintek. The seminars, in spite of the excellent speakers and advance paid registration, were a disappointment to the organizers, but not due to lack of interest. Many registered participants simply found themselves too involved with an equipment dealer or experienced colleague to attend, a situation which quickly became “priority number one” on the list of changes for the 2001 show. Beneath the enthusiasm, there were some serious concerns about the future of the industry. Wood Products Group numbers and markets are currently expanding rapidly, with most Atlantic manufacturers now making the move to new technologies, and there seemed to be no end to the demand for reasonably-priced quality products. But will the raw material be available to meet market demand? The current supply situation is, to put it mildly, confusing. Representatives of forestry, pulp and paper, sawmills and the newer secondary manufacturers agree that the Annual Allowable Cut is completely taken up. Yet Andrew Clark, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, said: “We are having the worst pulp delivery crisis in a decade. Chips are available from sawmills and the companies can get whatever else they need from Crown land. Woodlot owners are being used as the shock absorber for fluctuations in the market. The companies have no obligation to do otherwise.” The previous government rescinded short-lived regulations requiring companies to buy first from woodlot owners. Clark agrees, however, that sawlog demand is, and probably will continue to be, high. It’s easy to get bogged down in discussions about whether these concerns relate primarily to hard or soft wood—but the reality is that both must be dealt with at the same time.

Much of the specialty reman industry uses hardwood—but not all—and the larger scale furniture component plants use both. The fact is that competition for raw material goes right across the board, and will affect government, industry and raw material suppliers. Yet, when asked if the new job-creating, home based and profitable secondary sector will need or should have priority of supply, there were few realistic responses. This is undoubtedly because such a step appears to suggest taking raw material away from the traditional “bulk” consumers, the pulp and paper mills and, to a lesser extent, the sawmills—a scenario no forest manager or politician wishes to deal with. New Brunswick’s Barry Nelson cautiously suggested that wood supply would somehow be redistributed in response to “market demand”. “This offers a very important market for woodlot owners,” says Nelson. “I hope they are here to see what material is in demand, and to see that while we have traditionally cut 12 to 16 foot logs, 90 per cent of the products shown here use wood under two feet, for composite flooring, furniture components and specialty items. The Woodlot Marketing Boards should get together with the Wood Products Group to exchange ideas and information.” There’s much to be said for his point. Between one-quarter and one-third of the forest land in the Maritime Provinces is privately owned, a significant part of which is not managed effectively, and an equally to page 8

Nova Scotia’s Julimar Lumber, profiled in the August issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, has purchased the assets of Mac Timber Ltd to add value to wood produced at their operation. Julimar will use Mac Timber’s facilities in Debert, Nova Scotia to dry and dress lumber produced at their mill in Brookfield. Company vice-president Terry Saleh says Julimar intends to hire more than 30 people at the drying and dressing facility and operate on a two-shift basis. “This is definitely a good news story for area residents,” he adds, concerning the number of additional jobs that will be created in an area suffering from high unemployment. This move follows on the heels of much controversy as a result of a voluntary bankruptcy declaration by Mac Timber last January. According to newspaper reports, Mac Timber received over $540,000 in combined federal and provincial interest-free aid to establish a lumber remanufacturing facility in Debert. A number of secured and unsecured creditors were reportedly left in the lurch. Saleh says that Julimar was looking to improve the value of its green lumber produced in Brookfield and were intending to expand facilities. When the Mac Timber opportunity arose, it made sense to pursue that alternative since drying and dressing facilities were already in place only a short distance away. However, they wanted to ensure that all legal issues regarding Mac Timber’s bankruptcy were looked after before they purchased the assets.

That occurred in mid-July. The assets include two Coe Manufacturing direct propane-fired kilns with a capacity of 70,000 board feet each. The kilns have a 30-hp steam boiler for conditioning. Mac Timber had also purchased a Wadkins six-head moulder which Julimar will use initially to plane their lumber. Other pieces of equipment include a Ram-Tech double-length trim system, an Ogam multirip saw, and a Baker resaw. Saleh says the wide range of equipment could result in other value-added wood remanufacturing endeavours in future. Julimar Lumber will produce between 28 and 30 million board feet of dimension lumber this year, shipping to North American and Middle Eastern markets. Maritime Mill Adds Value significant part which is not harvested at all. Clearly there is a theoretical potential for some increase in fibre right away, and for a significant overall increase over the years ahead. However, this depends on the development of a structure which persuades owners that it is practical to undertake effective and sustainable management of harvesting, and marketing. Unfortunately that particular issue, involving land rights and requiring cooperation among thousands of notoriously independent owners, is at least as “untouchable” as the question of redistribution of existing fibre. Not surprisingly, in a region already wrestling with the implications of native cutting rights and a potential budworm outbreak, there is no sign of action in the immediate future.



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