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September 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal




While they have faced challenges such as a rising Canadian dollar, Jim Boniferro and Tom Fox have been successful in building a new hardwood business in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, buying existing mill facilities from Domtar, adding an investment of $4 million, and lots of energy and enthusiasm.

By Marg Turner


Eating turkey soup out of the back of a van may not seem glamorous, but it wasn’t glamour that Jim Boniferro of Boniferro Mill Works was going for when he celebrated the mill’s second anniversary with his 49 employees earlier this year.

Boniferro’s hardwood sawmill is located in the heart of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The tailgate lunch on April 1, 2005 represented the relatively new company’s down to earth relationship with its employees. It was the culmination of two years of change and hard work, and a chance to enjoy each other’s company.

Boniferro and his staff have been through a lot in the past two years and have cause for celebration. The first year of operation went beyond expectations. “Our first year of operation was wonderful; in fact better than anticipated,” says Boniferro, the company’s president and CEO. “I was very happy with the transition.”

The sawmill—built in 1948 by Roddis Veneer and Lumber Company—was purchased by Boniferro and his partner Tom Fox of Hamilton, Montana in 2003. In the past, this mill and site have seen a few owners: Weyerhaeuser Canada, G W Martin Veneer, Lajambe Forest Products, E B Eddy Forest and Domtar.

“This was previously a multi-species mill but now it is predominately hard maple, so we’ve been investing in equipment that better suits our needs,” says Boniferro. “We bought an old facility and the equipment was definitely not stateof- the-art,” he adds.

Some employees have worked on this site for more than twenty years. Although they are used to change, there was the usual sense of apprehension when faced with new ownership and restructuring.

But with Boniferro’s commitment to the viability of the mill and to his staff, there was an underlying sense of excitement.“This was rewarding in the first year,” says Boniferro. Boniferro Mill Works and IWA-Local 1000 had a collective agreement to 2008 and, in the spring of 2005, extended this agreement to 2010.

In an effort to bring a sense of “stateof- the-art” to the aging mill, Boniferro invested heavily in several equipment purchases and improvements to its infrastructure. In two years, an investment of $4 million was made on various projects throughout the facility.

The first order of business was the addition of a new million-dollar twin tenfoot band saw. The MEM Tele-Twin Scragg saw, manufactured in France by M E M Le Minaret, began operating last December. It is capable of producing up to 26,000 board feet of lumber per shift.“The twin machine combines flexibility and performance,” says Boniferro.

The saw’s end dogger has the ability to process smaller diameter wood. This allows the mill to be more flexible in supplying the quality and volume of products they need to meet customer demand.

Since the purchase of the hardwood mill, Fox Lumber Sales in Montana has built strong ties with hardwood customers who are requesting a wider range of products. Boniferro’s partner is excited about the opportunities the expanded operations in Sault Ste Marie are offering.

Products manufactured from the Boniferro production line include: hardwood flooring, cabinets, brooms, brushes, furniture and furniture components, pallets, boxes, musical instruments, trophies and plaques, bowling pins, and recreational floors.

A 4,000 square-foot building adjacent to the sawmill was renovated to house the new saw. New infeed and outfeed systems were fabricated by Superior Sawmill Services Inc. Braultech Incorporated installed and programmed the PLCs, optimizers and electrical instrumentation.

Opertech provided an upgrade to the optimization system. A new Chip Pac manufactured by Morbark in Michigan was also added to the new saw line.

The front end of the saw line feeds into the old mill. To make things work better here, Boniferro invested some dollars in workflow. Modifications were made, including the repositioning of conveyors to change the wood flow. Now wood can bypass the resaw and go directly to the edger if required. This eliminates wasted steps, increasing production.“It was important that we develop our process around what’s available, and that’s wood supply that continues to be made up of smaller diameter fibre,” explains Boniferro.

Having made investments in mill improvements and mobile equipment over the last two years, Jim Boniferro (left) says current plans call for maintaining current equipment and rebuilding the log deck at Boniferro Mill Works.

All logs enter the mill and are debarked with a Nicholson 35-inch debarker. Based on specific log characteristics, the wood is sent to one of the three sawing lines. Wood can be broken down on either of the two carriages or sent directly to the twin scragg line. From there the flow goes to a horizontal resaw or directly to a three-saw board edger.

Cants are sent to a multi-saw bull edger to be further sawn into 4x4 pieces.

The final process is carried out on a three-saw trimmer before the boards are sent to the grading station and then to a manual boardway for sorting and packaging.

The workflow changes complemented the third line and helped increase production quality and yield. This allows the facility to manufacture its various hardwood species (hard maple, yellow birch, soft maple, and white birch) in pieces from 4x4 to 4x12 more efficiently and effectively. Products come in four- to sixteen- foot lengths. Once the boards leave the mill, some products go to the six dry kilns, which can dry up to six million board feet of hardwood lumber annually.

The kilns, which are custom built and equipped with Wellons Canada controls, are fueled with steam produced by a Clayton package boiler that was added last year.

Fox Lumber Sales sells the product rough or dressed on two sides at the planing mill on site. Shipments leave the mill on various modes of transportation from tandem and B-train highway trucks, boxcars, centre beam flat cars, containers and vans. Boniferro Mill Works re-loads various other products including softwood lumber, engineered wood products, MDF, plywood, OSB, cardboard, steel components and various building materials. This is done through a 70,000 square-foot warehouse with complete indoor loading facilities.

In conjunction with the mill upgrades and modifications, Boniferro was also upgrading his mobile equipment. “Some of our mobile equipment was vintage 1970s,” he explains, “but one strength we had was the on-site knowledge and experience to fix and maintain that machinery, which was a godsend.”

They had to purchase new mobile equipment more suited to the task, he explains. A new Volvo L180 wheel loader for the log yard handles the smaller pieces properly and increases efficiencies in reloading and material handling.

The 300 horsepower L180 is an efficient log handler. Its load-sensing hydraulic system increases operating efficiency by giving precisely the right amount of flow when and where needed.“This new machine has been very helpful in increasing our abilities in the log yard,“ says Boniferro.

A Daewoo machine was reconfigured for ultimate usability. Bateman Heavy Equipment Attachments designed a fork attachment, with hydraulic forks that move in and out.“This allows us to handle different size loads safely and easily,” says Boniferro.

Boniferro also purchased a Hyster 290 forklift and a Hyster 150 forklift. These machines are better suited for the handling of the hardwood lumber products produced on site.

In addition to the equipment purchases and upgrades, Boniferro says he spent about $240,000 on infrastructure. This included new roofing, siding, windows and doors. The payback has not only increased efficiencies but also brought a sense of pride, which Boniferro felt he owed his employees. With the increasing cost of energy (electricity and natural gas), the improvements have certainly paid off. Energy savings are also realized by using different lights, installing timers and resizing motors.

It hasn’t been all wine and roses for the new mill. “We have been faced with some challenges in our second year of operation,” admits Boniferro, “but the decisions made in year one helped us stay in a positive cash flow. We made all the right decisions in upgrading.”

One of the major challenges facing the mill has been the strengthening Canadian dollar. When Boniferro took over the mill, the US dollar was worth $1.47 Canadian. The Canadian dollar has risen substantially since then. Since the company sells 100 per cent of its product in US dollars, this has had a huge impact. “From September until now we’ve had a difficult time on the revenue side because of the value of the dollar,” says Boniferro. “However, on the positive side, our logging contractors are excellent and the market is good and strong.”

Improvements at the sawmill included the installation of an MEM Tele-Twin Scragg saw (above) which began operating last December. “It combines flexibility and performance,” says Jim Boniferro.

Boniferro describes the mill’s second biggest challenge: the requirement for a strong, quality wood supply. The company has worked very closely with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) in the past two years and appreciates the support and co-operation they have received to ensure the mill’s future. The reconfigured three-line operation falls within the company’s current Ministryrecognized operating level. The log specifications are consistent with the approved business plan and MNR approved the
gain in production capacity as conforming to the plan of record.

The mill is a shareholder in Clergue Forest Management Incorporated, which holds the Sustainable Forest Licences covering the Algoma Forest. Boniferro Mill Works, together with Domtar, Levesque Plywood (Columbia Forest Products), St Mary’s Paper, Midway Lumber Mills, and Weyerhaeuser, make up the six partner companies that are partially dependent on timber from the Algoma Forest.

“We are in our first year of a five-year plan based on a 20-year forest management
plan with the MNR,” says Boniferro. This 20-year renewable licence makes the licence holder responsible for all aspects of forest management planning and renewal, with the MNR setting the standards for planning and renewal. In return, the licensee has more secure access to a long-term wood supply and greater control over forest operations.

As for the future, 2005 will basically be a maintenance year at the company. Boniferro plans to rebuild the log deck and maintain the existing equipment. He’ll look to his partner at Fox Lumber for direction before introducing any new products or further processes.“But we certainly are committed to the long-term viability of this mill, he proclaims.

“When we purchased the company, we believed its strength would not lie in the assets and equipment, but rather in our people. The employees have shown a true commitment to their jobs and have worked very hard to ensure continued growth. That is why we are investing in a future together with them.”




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