By Heather Hudson
If the walls of the Roseburg Forest Products medium density fiberboard (MDF) plant in Pembroke, Ontario could talk, they’d have a lot to say.
They’d probably start by rhyming off the plant’s several owners over the years:
The American housing crisis forced ATC Panels to shut down the plant in 2008. Although they kept on a skeleton crew to maintain the building, the mill was dark until 2014—when it was reopened as Pembroke MDF.
In April 2018, Roseburg Forest Products purchased the plant and molding production facilities and, today, it’s in full, 24/7 production on a continental four shift schedule, under their management—and it’s also known as Pembroke MDF.
The acquisition was Oregon-based Roseburg Forest Products’ first international purchase and continued the company’s expansion throughout North America. Roseburg is also building a $200 million (U.S.) engineered wood products plant in Chester, South Carolina, scheduled for start-up in mid-2019, and recently acquired 158,000 acres of timberland in Virginia and North Carolina.
“The Pembroke plant and its employees present untapped potential that can be used to better serve existing and future customers of our innovative and versatile MDF product line,” said Mark Avery, Roseburg Senior Vice-President of Industrial Products and National Accounts. “It’s an exciting opportunity for Roseburg to move into the northeastern region and further diversify our operations and meet demand.”
Roseburg currently owns and operates an MDF plant in Medford, Oregon. “The addition of the Pembroke MDF plant means Roseburg customers will have access to a broader portfolio of products from a company with a demonstrated, long-term commitment to the industry,” said Jim Buffington, Roseburg’s Business Director for Industrial Products.
“While this deal represents an excellent strategic opportunity for the company, it also offers Pembroke employees and suppliers the promise of stability and consistency provided by Roseburg’s large manufacturing enterprise,” said Roseburg President and CEO Grady Mulbery. “This is a win-win for everyone involved, and we look forward to what the future will bring.”
The Pembroke operation has a storied history, and through that history it has largely stuck to manufacturing medium-density fibre (MDF) boards and panels for the residential construction industry and furniture manufacturers.
MDF is a popular choice because of how well it can be machined and hold paint. It can eliminate several steps in the expensive and labour-intensive secondary manufacturing process. An MDF sheet with a high-density face and lower-density core works best as overlay.
Pembroke MDF Plant Manager Alexandre Ouellette joined the organization when it was reborn in April 2018, and says they’ve been steadily working to improve and expand.
“We’re looking to grow and invest and make the plant as profitable as we can,” he said. “This includes investing money into new and upgraded equipment so we can find greater efficiencies.”
Today’s operations don’t differ too much from the old MacMillan Bloedel days. With the exception of a molding line, the mill has the same footprint. Then, as now, they buy chips and sawdust from softwood and hardwood sawmills in the Pembroke area and Ottawa Valley and refine it into very fine fibre to make MDF boards and panels.
Their customers include large wood products distribution centres and furniture and moulding manufacturers, plus a number of smaller distributors who sell product to carpenters or smaller OEMS that require just a few panels at a time. “Our MDF is in demand for furniture, molding, cabinetry and other building projects,” said Ouellette.
“The plant has a capacity of processing 145 million square feet a year of board based on ¾” thickness,” he explains. “We’re improving the reliability in our equipment to achieve that capacity consistently.”
The well-designed plant has various zones to accommodate the steps of MDF processing and manufacturing. The main MDF plant is approximately 240,000 sq. ft. The moulding plant is 55,000 sq. ft. And the covered buildings where all raw material (chips, sawdust and bark) are stored is 85,000 sq. ft.
They receive the trucks of chips and sawdust every day from local mills and store the raw materials in dedicated buildings to prevent rain and snow from damaging the materials. Ouellette estimates that 75 per cent come in as chips and 25 per cent as sawdust.
“The trucks come in, we scan what they have in their load and they’ll use the truck dumper to empty the truck. A conveyor will go to the right pile of wood, depending on what the raw material is.”
From there, one of their loaders delivers the material to an area where it’s cleaned and sifted to remove large or fine particles. Then, it’s loaded into one of two refiners that transform the sawdust into a fine, flour-like fibre.
“At this point, we inject resin and dry the whole thing together. This builds a mat fibre, which is then fed into our continuous press. You can imagine a big conveyor belt going forward with raw, loose fibre on top of it and slowly moving towards a hot press where there’s a lot of heat and pressure. Under that, this mat will turn into an MDF panel,” explained Ouellette.
The MDF “recipe” varies depending on the type of materials (hardwood/softwood) and the density and mechanical or physical properties of the board required. “Once it’s refined, the recipe will have an impact on the properties of the board,” said Ouellette.
After the MDF panel is created, each board is stored for 12 to 24 hours while it cools and cures. When finished, each will be sanded to calibrate the right thickness and to create a smooth surface. “We do boards from 1/4” to 1” thick,” said Ouellette.
Then it’s time to cut each board to the size the customer requires. “Everything we do is made to order, so we consult our order file before doing any cutting.”
The final step is packaging, before they’re sent out to customers.
In one day, the plant will use approximately 500 dry tons of wood. Their maximum capacity is 28 tons an hour and they’re working on getting there.
The equipment is standard for most MDF mills, although Ouellette says they’ve put an emphasis on improving and bringing in new technology.
The major equipment includes:
Ouellette says they will be upgrading the press, the heat system and possibly the dryer system, in the future.
With 170 employees, the Pembroke MDF is a bustling place. Most of the staff are major equipment operators, but they also have a sizable maintenance team, about 30 people on the molding line, millwrights, electricians, control tech operators, loader operators, shippers and administrative staff.
Ouellette says they’ve found efficiencies in the plant by buying raw materials like bark and other biomass to burn to produce the steam needed to feed the dryer and heat press. It also contributes to heating the building. “This is part of a connection we have with a local sawmill. In addition to buying sawdust and chips from them, we buy bark for heating as well.”
Two Wellons furnaces burn this biomass and they use that heat to dry the wood, heat the press and produce steam.
The plant’s lab, comprised of eight staff members, is also hard at work ensuring quality control by testing boards to make sure they meet customers’ specifications. “They also test all incoming raw material to measure moisture according to the dry weight of the wood.”
Quality control is a continuous process, he noted. If some properties are not on spec, the board is re-graded, and the process is adjusted to reach the correct specifications.
Roseburg Forest Products is a stickler for safety. “We have a lot of safety programs and tools like SAFER work permits that give every worker the chance to stop and look at the big picture of where things are going to make sure it’s safe,” said Ouellette.
“We are into the process of upgrading our lock out and tag out procedures with a new online process that is more available to employees and easier to audit,” he added. “We’re working on involving employees in safety by encouraging them to report hazards, near misses and property damage to help prevent incidents from happening.”
With increased demand for high-quality, low-cost construction materials, Roseburg Forest Products MDF (aka Pembroke MDF) expects to grow.
The sky’s the limit for this charmed location.
On the Cover:
Tom Fisher Logging conducts selective harvesting in a forest that consists of several high-value wood species, which provides him with the opportunity to tap into a variety of markets for his wood products. Fisher very ably maintains good relations with inquisitive local cottage owners about the sound of logging equipment and resource road traffic as they enjoy their lake properties. (Cover shot of a Tigercat 822C feller buncher with a 22” hotsaw head by Tony Kryzanowski)
A win-win forest management plan
The First Nations-owned Agoke Development Corporation is working on a forest management plan that could revolutionize the economic structure of forest management in northwestern Ontario—and deliver benefits to First Nations communities and the forest industry.
Managing all the moving parts
Veteran Ontario logger Tom Fisher has plenty of experience at managing the many moving parts—including keeping local cottage owners in the know—that are involved in harvesting high value hardwood forests.
Bright future for fiberboard operation
With a steady source of residual wood supply from mill operations in the region, the MDF plant in Pembroke, Ontario is looking forward to a positive future under its new ownership, Roseburg Forest Products.
Taking their logging to a whole new level
Ontario’s Henry Petkau had modest goals when he started Henry’s Trucking—but with his son, Bob, joining the operation, they have now expanded, and added new Southstar processing equipment that has taken timber production to a whole new level.
Getting higher OSB production at High Prairie
With a $50 million capital investment, forest company Tolko Industries has re-opened and boosted the production capacity at its re-commissioned High Prairie oriented strand board plant in Alberta by 40 per cent.
Sorting it all out—log-wise
The Shoal Island logging sort in B.C. truly lives up to its name, doing upwards of up to 180 log sorts, but doing it all with the environment in mind.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Tony Kryzanowski says the Forest Machinery Connectivity project is a good investment in “What If” science.