By George Fullerton
You could easily say that GL Wood Products targets their lumber products to a very unique market niche—and the company has had its hooks in that market for quite a while.
The reman mill is located in the community of Haute Aboujagane, about 40 kilometres from Moncton in southeast New Brunswick. It was established by Gaston and Marita LeBlanc in 1982, and supplies lumber components for fish boxes that are used to ship smoked and salted fish to foreign markets, primarily in the Caribbean.
Wooden fish boxes continue to be a major product for the reman operation, with an expanded operation supplying pallets to industries throughout the Maritime Provinces. GL Wood Products also manufactures dunnage products for a variety of manufacturers, as well as stickers and lath to the lumber industry.
In the early years, Gaston supervised the operations of GL Wood Products, with Marita keeping the books and managing the office and administration tasks. Over the past several years, management responsibilities have been transferred to their daughter Nicole and son-in-law Guy Donele.
The southeast region of New Brunswick has a major herring fishery, with a good deal of the fish being smoked and shipped to Caribbean and African countries. The preferred, and traditional, method to ship smoked fish, which is very oily, is in wooden boxes, spruce being the favoured species.
Currently, fish box components make up nearly 30 per cent of GL Wood Products’ production, with the balance made up by other products.
The company is a significant employer in the area. The plant currently employs some 60 people on double-shift basis
Through its history, the operation has gone through several equipment upgrades and expansions. The original plant measured 80 x 140 feet, then added an 80 x 200 foot expansion, and later on another 80 x 100 addition, and most recently a 70 x 170 foot addition.
The product line, in addition to fish boxes, includes crates for berries and potatoes, pallets and pallet components, kiln stickers, lath, shipping dunnage for an array of manufactured products and packaged kindling wood. The reman operation utilizes about 600,000 board feet, or 15 truckloads, of lumber weekly.
One of the major changes to the breakdown equipment at GL Wood Products occurred in the mid 1990’s when they purchased a Wood-Mizer six head horizontal resaw.
“It was at a time when Wood-Mizer was just beginning to adapt their portable sawmill technology to industrial type breakdown and processing machines,” explained Donele. “We realized Wood-Mizer had a great reputation for their portable mills, and the six head unit they offered was very compact. The unit is about forty feet long, compared to their closest competition, which offered a unit closer to seventy feet long.
“The Wood- Mizer also brought thin kerf, which allowed us to recover an entire board when we broke down a dressed two-inch plank,” added Donele. “That extra recovery was major for our bottom line.”
Donele contends that thin kerf, and the increased throughput of the Wood-Mizer saws, gained them a good 20 per cent in their production, compared to their previous equipment.
“We’ve been very happy with the performance and reliability of the Wood-Mizer product. Over the years, the only service it has required has been the replacement of wear products, such as bearings and blade wheels,” he says.
The success they witnessed with the Wood-Mizer resaw led them to purchase a second six head unit from Wood-Mizer in 2005.
Each individual saw is powered by a 25 horsepower, 200 amp electric motor. They run 1.25 inch wide blades, have 34 inch band wheels, and feature hydraulic blade tensioners, a steel conveyor belt and powered hold-down rollers. The newer Wood-Mizer resaws material up to twelve-inches wide.
Blades are changed twice daily. Blades are sharpened at least six times before they are disposed of.
“We considered one-use blades, but found that it was more economical to sharpen blades and get extended life out of them,” says Donele. “We have very few blade breakages. For the past two years we have been using a fully automatic sharpening system manufactured by Wood-Mizer and it works flawlessly, and adds a lot of efficiency to our operation.”
The operation relies on a variety of cut-off saws, mostly purchased used or in auctions and adapted to their specific needs.
Profiling and additional reman tasks are handled by a tried and true Yates A20 planer.
“The Yates is an older machine, but it is very versatile and reliable,” says Donele.
Sawdust and shavings control is handled by blowers, which transfer material into bins, which is picked up by local farmers for bedding.
A portion of the residual scraps of lumber are cut to length and bagged as kindling wood and marketed to various retailers. Additional residue is fed into a boiler for heating the plant through the cold months.
GL Wood Products sources primarily heat-treated SPF from a number of sawmills in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Sexton mill in Newfoundland.
“We also source a good deal of lumber from mills in Quebec. We have also used lumber from British Columbia. We watch for opportunities to get deals on lumber,” said Donele.
Spruce is the preferred species for fish boxes because it is stronger than fir and pine. Planks are broken down into five ¼” slats, which make the sides, bottoms and tops of the box. The ends of the boxes are resawed to a thickness of 9/16”.
GL Wood Products has a printer which stencils the shipper’s name and other information on the ends of the boxes. All the fish box components are strapped and packaged and shipped to customers, who employ their own crews to staple the components together.
Donele pointed out that wooden fish boxes are a tradition, and they have the ability to absorb oil from the fish. A good deal of the smoked and salted fish is delivered to countries in the Caribbean and less developed countries elsewhere, and the wood is re-used for other purposes. The company also markets fish boxes to Scandinavia.
All the lumber utilized for fish boxes and crates for other food products—as well as all their pallets—is required to be heat treated in order to meet phytosanitary regulations, whether it is used domestically or for shipping goods out of the country.
In recent years, GL Wood Products has seen a sharp growth in demand for oyster boxes.
“The Maritimes produces a lot of oysters and customers increasingly want them shipped in wooden boxes,” says Donele. “It’s become somewhat fashionable to display and sell this very special food in wooden boxes.
“We make up more orders for oyster boxes all the time. Some customers have us stencil the ends, and some use their own stencils when they assemble the boxes, in order to ensure their brand is handled as they wish.”
Pallets make up close to one-third of the plant’s overall production. There are three individual pallet machines, which are in operation continuously.
“We have about fifty set designs we manufacture for our customers. We’re always ready to set up for a new design, and we can quickly make modifications to a set design to meet customer needs. On average, once a week we will get an order for pallets with a particular change or modification on one of our standard designs.”
Having a highly motivated work force and good processing equipment, these requests are met and filled, and then delivered on schedule, says Donele. “We always keep a stock of common sizes so we can move to fill an order very quickly. We use a variety of local trucking and transport companies to ship products to customers in a timely fashion.”
The GL Wood Products plant is situated just a half-hour from Moncton and Prince Edward Island, and is well served by highways to move materials in, and products out to customers.
Safety is a serious business for GL Wood Products.
“Safety is our priority. We consider safety with every process and action in our plant,” explains Donele. “We want to be assured that all our employees go home to their families following their shift.
“We have a joint Heath and Safety Committee, and we have monthly meetings to look at any concerns or issues raised by employees or staff. We closely observe lock out procedures, and make sure everyone follows safe practices while carrying out their tasks.”
While visiting the GL Wood Products operation, it’s plainly evident that there is a lot of effort and attention directed to making the workplace, inside and out, very tidy and clutter free.
Lumber and product handling in the yard is handled by a Cat 924 wheel loader. The wheel loader is serviced by the Toromont dealership in Moncton.
Handling material and product inside the plant are four 5,000 pound capacity Toyota forklifts supplied by Liftow Ltd., also based in Moncton.
“We have an excellent relationship with our Toyota forklift dealer,” says Donele. “The machines perform very well and the service is excellent. And we find our Cat loader a very versatile machine—the quick attach function allows us to switch between buckets and forks seamlessly. That kind of performance keeps operations moving smoothly.”
And keeping operations running smoothly means they can focus on customers and an evolving market for their wood products.
“We are continually attracting new customers and adding new and innovative products to their product list,” says Donele. “We have a highly motivated production crew and a dedicated administrative team. GL Wood Products is service driven and we take pride in
meeting all our customer needs.”
On the Cover:
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New Brunswick’s GL Wood Products has established a very unique market niche: producing lumber components for fish boxes for shipping smoked and salted fish to overseas markets.
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