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Sept 2003 - Panel Products

Meadow Lake’s OSB plant starts up

The $200-million Meadow Lake OSB plant has now started production, and is modeled closely after Tolko Industries’ Alberta OSB plant.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Meadow Lake OSB plant manager Richardo Hillmann.

Saskatchewan now has its second oriented strand board operation, with the recent start p of the new $200-million Meadow Lake OSB plant. Given the number of parties involved in the plant’s limited partnership, it appears that the province’s famous co-operative spirit is still alive and well. Participation in the OSB plant also represents a significant milestone for many of its partners. Managing and operating partner Tolko Industries Ltd now has forest enterprises in all four western provinces. It has a 75 per cent interest in the plant.

Tolko is a family-owned, BC-based company, with over 2,300 employees. The OSB plant also represents a notable breakthrough for the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC), allowing it to make the leap from sawmilling into composite wood products. MLTC consists of nine aboriginal communities, and owns and operates NorSask Forest Products in Meadow Lake.

The strander at the Meadow Lake operation was supplied by CAE. This equipment is now produced by Carmanah Design and Manufacturing Inc, which acquired CAE Wood Products earlier this year.

Furthermore, participation in the Meadow Lake OSB plant constitutes a move forward for North West Communities Wood Products Ltd. (NWC). Owned by seven northern Saskatchewan communities, the plant investment goes a long way to meeting NWC’s objective of fostering co-operative development of the forest resource in their area. The final partnership member is Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan, a company holding interests in 10 commercial Crown corporations, representing a large and varied portfolio of publicly-owned investments.

The Meadow Lake OSB plant is located along a rail spur about 25 kilometres southeast of Meadow Lake, which itself is about 250 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. Plant manager Richardo Hillmann says there were two major reasons for locating the OSB plant in Meadow Lake. The area has a large under-utilized timber resource, which is critical considering the plant’s fibre appetite. It will consume about 900,000 cubic metres of hardwood and softwood annually, with a diet of about 80 per cent aspen and 20 per cent pine.

Secondly, the community has considerable experience with the forest industry and is enthusiastic about welcoming another investment into the area. “We found the right environment from the community point of view and the government point of view,” says Hillmann. “Even though Meadow Lake is a smaller community, it was prepared to support an industrial environment like ours.” The community’s experience with NorSask Forest Products as well as with local pulp plant operator Millar Western Forest Products has had a significant impact on local public awareness related to the forest industry.

The project has experienced a trouble-free construction program that has given preference to local contractors and suppliers, all things being equal. The project is on schedule. UMA Engineering designed the plant, WABI Development Corporation was the mechanical contractor and building construction was handled by Colony Management of Vancouver. “This is the best project that I’ve been involved in,” says Hillmann. “We haven’t had any major problems during construction, we are not having any problems now doing the commissioning, and we haven’t had any lost-time accidents, which is really amazing. We have very, very good relationships with the design company, the suppliers and the vendors.”

The forming line, leading to the press, at Meadow Lake. Once the plant ramps up, it will produce 530 million cubic metres of OSB annually.

One way that construction companies have started to reward workers for no lost-time accidents is to offer prize draws if the job site achieves no lost-time accidents throughout the construction phase. For example, a new truck, camper, and quad were among the prizes offered by contractors at the Meadow Lake OSB plant construction site. The relationship between Tolko and the other limited partnership members has also been positive, with board meetings taking place on a monthly basis. Tolko has established a benchmark of about 30 per cent aboriginal employment at the plant, although it has no obligation to give preference to aboriginal job applicants.

All partners agreed that the best people overall would be hired to fill each of the 121 positions available, although there is a preference to employ qualified local people. As a recent arrival to Meadow Lake, Hillmann says he has noticed how the plant is having a significant impact on the community, with a number of new houses under construction. The plant has also attracted technical expertise from around the globe and across Canada. Hillmann’s most recent work experience was at the Footner OSB plant in High Level, Alberta, but he began his career in Argentina, where he worked as plant manager in a medium density fibreboard (MDF) plant. He then moved on to work as plant manager at an MDF plant in New Zealand, before coming to Canada two years ago.

AT the end of the forming line, specific dimensions of carefully layered material are fed into a 12-opening cartridge, which fills the Dieffenbacher 12-opening press (above) at the end of each pressing cycle.

The Meadow Lake OSB maintenance manager is also from Argentina, but most recently was employed in the United States, while the production manager is from South Africa and was working in England before landing in Meadow Lake. The plant produced its first OSB panel in August after 14 months of construction, and began commercial production shortly after.

Once it fully ramps up, it will produce 530 million cubic metres of OSB annually, based on three-eighths inch thickness. At the outset, the plant will produce panels that are seven-sixteenths of an inch thick in 4x8 dimensions for use in building construction, primarily in the north central United States. The plant itself is closely modeled after Tolko’s only other OSB plant—located in High Prairie, Alberta—in design, equipment, and production capacity. Logging will take place nine months of the year, with logs coming from a variety of both public and private sources within a 300-kilometre radius of the plant.

Bark accumulated from the debarkers is incinerated in the GTS energy system. It generates heat for the entire operation, including providing hot air for the dryers and heating the oil for the press.

They will arrive in the yard cut to 16-foot lengths. As they enter the plant, the logs are deposited into ponds. This is to thaw them in winter and to bring them up to a constant temperature. Logs are then debarked and stranded, with equipment supplied by CAE (this equipment is now produced by Carmanah Design and Manufacturing Inc which acquired CAE Wood Products, a division of CAE Inc’s former Forestry Systems business unit, earlier this year). Bundles of logs are fed into one of two stranders, 27 inches at a time. The strander consists of 44 sets of knives, which determine the length, width and thickness of the strands. The objective is uniformity.

Tanguay PL460 stationary log loaders feed bundles of logs into the two CAE stranders. Bark accumulated from the debarkers is incinerated in the GTS energy system, which generates the required heat for the entire operation, including heating the building, providing hot air for the dryers and heating the oil for the press. Green strands are fed into the Buttner dryer, which has an internal temperature of about 600 degrees Celsius and an outlet temperature of 120 degrees. Strands destined for the panel core are dried to a moisture content of between two and five per cent, while surface strands are dried to between six and eight per cent. Air from the dryer travels through an lectrified filter bed to clean it before itis emitted. Dried strands are blown into storage bins.

Strands exiting the bottom of the storage hopper are co-mingled with a specific resin recipe in Coil blenders, then carefully placed on the Dieffenbacher forming line. It consists of four forming heads, two for the surface and two for the core. At the end of the forming line, specific dimensions of carefully layered material are fed into a 12-opening cartridge, which fills the Dieffenbacher 12-opening press at the end of each pressing cycle.

The raw material is pressed for around 120 seconds. The pressure and heat generated from the 220 degree Celsius hot oil circulating through the press reacts with the resin in the layered board to create OSB. At full capacity, the press will work at 28 cycles per hour. After pressing, the panels encounter the Globe finishing line, which first trims the panel into 12x24 master panels, and then down into 4x8 sheets.

This part of the plant also contains a master panel collection area, so that if the finishing line is experiencing a mechanical problem, the plant can continue to produce master panels. The panels simply accumulate and travel through the finishing line once it is back in working order. It is also at this point that panels are randomly tested to ensure that they meet industry quality control standards. After trimming and sawing, the panels are strapped and cured overnight, then shipped out.

About 80 per cent of finished product is transported to market by rail. Hillmann says the philosophy of the partners going into the project was to use proven technology. Tolko’s experience in High Prairie has served as an excellent model in that regard, with the only real difference between the plants being the dryer technology.

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