By Tony Kryzanowski
Ontario specialty wood products manufacturer Lavern Heideman & Sons Limited is expanding operations and consolidating manufacturing processes in one location to improve efficiency and better position itself to satisfy a growing market demand for its wide range of products.
The company has made a $17 million investment in a new production line, which the owners expect will increase volume by 60 per cent. Their total annual production will increase to about 50 million board feet.
Previously, their sawmilling was done near Eganville, while finishing, planing and marketing of their white pine products occurred in Pembroke. By moving all operations to Eganville, the company will now be able to saw, kiln dry, plane, market and ship all their lumber products from one location.
In terms of the Eganville location itself, the expansion project situated both their large and small log lines under one roof. Prior to the expansion project, the company operated two separate saw lines in two separate buildings. Both were equipped with their own manual sorting systems. Now, both saw lines will operate in the same building that currently serves the small log line. There was enough space to situate the new large log line, supplied by Lindsay, Ontario-based, TS Manufacturing, in that one building, which was expanded slightly to accommodate a new automated sorting and stacking system that serves both lines.
Because of its new automated Piche 123 bin sorter and stacker, the Heideman operation has been able to increase overall production. It also provides them with many more sort options versus their old manual sorting system, which helps from a marketing standpoint, as it gives them more flexibility with their customers.
Despite switching from a manual to automatic sorting and stacking system, all existing employees have remained with the company and 20 more jobs have been added as a result of the expansion project, for a total complement of 110 employees working on a two-shift basis, five days a week.
Although the expansion project has added more employment, company co-owner Kris Heideman says that sorting automation has allowed them to increase throughput by that 60 per cent without requiring a lot more labor. He adds that the company was constrained by its manual sorting system because it was only capable of about 20 sorts at each sawmill location versus the 123 bins in the new system. Finally, the automated system also addresses the challenge of finding enough employees to work in the manual sorting area.
With the extra cost of sawmilling in one location and finishing in another location, as well as the constraints of the manual sorting system, Heideman says that he and his father and business partner, Eddie, realized that their situation wasn’t sustainable over the long term. There was an obvious need to modernize to protect existing jobs.
Lavern Heideman and Sons has been in business for nearly 45 years. It was launched in 1974 with Lavern Heideman and four of his sons as owners. Today, one son, Eddie, and his son, Kris, continue to own and operate this growing business.
What finally made the expansion project feasible was their success in securing more wood in 2016. They became members of the group harvesting merchantable timber in nearby Algonquin Provincial Park. This added 50,000 cubic metres to their total, meaning that they will now process about 215,000 cubic metres annually.
The company is fortunate to be located in a region with one of the most diverse wood baskets in Canada, with their species mix including red pine, white pine, hard maple, yellow birch and oak. Their product line includes red pine squares and timbers destined for pressure treating and eventually the landscaping market, white pine lumber for appearance applications, and green hardwood lumber sold to C. A. Spencer Inc in Laval, Quebec, which sells finished hardwood lumber products to both domestic and international producers of flooring, doors and cabinetry.
Most of their red pine comes from a private land management program where they have supply agreements with over 100 landowners. They also acquire red pine offered through municipal harvesting tenders. Other wood species processed at the sawmill come from several surrounding provincial Sustainable Forest License (SFL) areas, as well as Algonquin Provincial Park.
Kris says the timing of the sawmill expansion was good because there is growing demand for their products, at a time when the market for wood products generally is doing well. This is quite a change from when they initially expanded operations with the purchase of International Lumber and Pembroke Lumber Company in 2014. At that time, their customers’ businesses were just starting to pick up steam after a recession precipitated by the housing downturn in the United States. The reason for that purchase was to provide the Heideman operation with direct control over their white pine lumber finishing, drying and marketing.
“The bulk of our new production is going to be consumed by our existing customers,” says Kris. “They are very supportive of our project and we had extensive conversations with them before we started into this. They wanted the wood and they wanted us to produce the wood for them. So we are excited about that.”
The expansion, consolidation, and relocation project began in April 2017 and is expected to wrap up completely in November 2018.
The entire new sawline conveyance infrastructure was provided by TS Manufacturing. Logs entering the sawmill first encounter a Nicholson R2 ring debarker, leading to the TS slant carriage and then either to the double cut band headrig or diverted to the repurposed, TS band resaw from the old large log line. Carriage controls and optimization technology was provided by Autolog.
“We do just enough log breakdown on the carriage to capture some of the high grade hardwood lumber or to size the cants for the resaw,” says Kris. “Both the double cut band headrig and the resaw are cutting all the time.”
Wood products are then processed through the TS Canadian style trimmer.
Heideman says that they chose TS Manufacturing as their main supplier because they had experience with the company when installing their small log line in 1997 and a band resaw unit on the large log line in 2005. They were pleased with the products and services that TS Manufacturing provided. It was also beneficial to have a supplier headquartered reasonably close by for quick customer service response, if required.
After primary breakdown, wood products from both the small and large log lines merge into the new Piche 123 bin sorter and stacker. Logitech provided the sorting software technology for this system.
“We can sort by dimension and/or grade,” says Kris. “We can sort for value, we can do more width sorting, we can do more length sorting, and we can separate grades that we previously put together.”
The only modification made to the small log line as part of this expansion project was the addition of a Piche lug loader which feeds into the Piche sorter.
They purchased two new propane-fired Cathild dry kilns as part of this project for their white pine products, each able to dry up to 60,000 board feet in one charge. Prior to this investment, all wood products were air dried.
“We still air dry a high percentage of our lumber, but the kilns have allowed us to manage our inventory much better,” says Kris.
While the planer mill is being moved entirely to Eganville into a new building, there was no requirement to spend additional capital on it at the present time, only to move it closer to sawmilling and drying operations to save on transportation costs.
Kilmarnock Enterprises from Smith Falls, Ontario provided installation and project management services on the expansion project. Renfrew-based Valley Automation and Control Inc. was the electrical contractor, Jamieson Mackay Forming and Construction Ltd was the concrete supplier, and Cornerstone Builders worked with Kilmarnock to provide building erection services. RJ Selle & Son Sand and Gravel Ltd provided site preparation services.
“Overall, with a project of this size, we’ve been quite happy with the scheduling as well as remaining on budget,” says Kris. “We have been very pleased with everything that we have started up so far. Pretty much everything has met or exceeded our expectations as far as production capabilities, efficiency, and improvement in working conditions.”
They have also been very satisfied with the service support and training provided by the various suppliers to the project to familiarize employees with the systems that monitor production and sorting control to ensure quick and appropriate response to any issues.
With completion of the planer move to Eganville, the focus will then be on fine-tuning the entire production flow. Both Eddie and Kris are eager to witness the entire operation working according to design, as the company enters a new phase in its evolution.
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