West Kootenay region mass timberBIG-TIME - B.C. added value—with Mass Timber

A new $35 million production facility is nearing completion in B.C.’s West Kootenay region, a project that will take family-owned Kalesnikoff Lumber into a brand new—and exciting—market: Mass Timber.

By Paul MacDonald

Forest company Kalesnikoff Lumber has a great deal of history, with the fourth generation of the Kalesnikoff Family now running the company and mill operation, in British Columbia’s West Kootenay region.

The latest chapter in the company’s 81-year history is now being written, and it’s a very exciting one: the company has invested some $35 million in a Mass Timber production facility that began turning out product earlier this year, creating 50 new technology-centered, local jobs.

The new plant will be North America’s most advanced, vertically-integrated, multi-species Mass Timber facility. With a state-of-the-art 110,000 square foot plant, the company will be producing CLT panels, Glue-Laminated Timber panels, and glu-lam beams that are at the centre of a growing revolution in building with wood in Canada and the U.S.

West Kootenay region mass timberChris Kalesnikoff (left), the company’s Chief Operating Officer, with Kallesoe Machinery Site Manager Tommy Nielsen beside part of the glulam press at the new plant.

“We see Mass Timber as a natural and exciting innovation and next step for our company and team,” says Chris Kalesnikoff, Chief Operating Officer of Kalesnikoff Lumber.

“We’ve done extensive research to ensure our new world-class equipment will create exceptionally high-quality CLT and glulam beams,” Chris explained. “Our focus will be on full integration from the forest through cutting, drying, and manufacturing to the final finished and delivered products.”

Cross Laminated Timber is well established and widely used in Europe where green building technology is much further evolved than in North America. But leading architects, engineers, designers and project managers in Canada and the U.S. are increasingly seeking high-quality, custom Mass Timber products to create sustainable, stunning and energy-efficient buildings here. The new Kalesnikoff plant is one of only a handful of CLT production facilities in North America.

The project has been well-planned out.

West Kootenay region mass timber
The new Kalesnikoff plant in B.C. is North America’s most advanced, vertically-integrated, multi-species Mass Timber facility. With a state-of-the-art 110,000 square foot plant, the company will be producing CLT panels, Glue-Laminated Timber panels, and glu-lam beams that are at the centre of a growing revolution in building with wood in Canada and the U.S.

“It’s been five-plus years that we’ve been working on the CLT project,” says Chris. “With myself and my sister, Krystle, now involved in the business, we wanted to continue to grow the company and add value for the generations to come.” Krystle Seed is Chief Financial Officer of the company. Their father, Ken Kalesnikoff, is Chief Executive Officer.

“We knew that with the timber supply shortage in B.C., we needed to continue to grow and add value to the wood that we already harvest,” added Chris.

With its well established sawmill, the company manufactures lumber using what is known as the Kootenay Mix of timber that grows in this southeastern part of the province. The Kootenay Mix includes a wide variety of coniferous tree species. While the mill has a strong focus on Douglas Fir, they also utilize a variety of different species including Lodgepole Pine, spruce, hemlock, and Western Larch.

With this kind of timber mix, this region of B.C. has been largely unaffected by the mountain pine beetle which has had a huge impact on the timber resource in other areas of the province.

West Kootenay region mass timber“In our area, we are fortunate to still have a fairly healthy forest that has not been impacted by the pine beetle or wildfires as significantly,” says Chris. “But there are still constraints on the land base, that limit how much harvesting is available—and there are still a lot of sawmills operating in our area, so there is more competition for fibre.

“We may have some different dynamics than what other areas of the province are dealing with, but timber supply is still a leading issue.”

Getting maximum value from the timber they harvest—and their sawmill—has been a focus for Kalesnikoff Lumber throughout its decades of operation, Chris notes.

“It’s really in our culture and values as a company to bring as much value to the timber as we can,” he explained. “It’s something I remember from my grandfather, and a value that my father has always preached—and something that my sister and I strongly believe in.” And that approach has allowed the company to successfully supply global markets with wood products over more than eight decades, and four generations.

“I think Mass Timber and CLT are a perfect fit with our desire to continue to be integrated, and add more value to the timber.”

It also aligns nicely with the wood they have to work with. “We have some of the best softwood timber in the world, both for strength and aesthetics, with the Kootenay Mix,” he says. “And with our expertise in manufacturing, and kiln drying, when you blend that all together, Mass Timber is really something that fits our company.”

West Kootenay region mass timberKalesnikoff Lumber used its own internal resources in developing and executing the plan for the new CLT plant.

“We’re proud of the fact that our team spent the time it took to understand the equipment, and was able to come up with a plan on how we saw the new building coming together, and designed and built the plant, especially since it was a greenfield project,” says Chris. The company was the general contractor on the project.

“We designed the plant, but we definitely aligned ourselves with some great equipment manufacturers, and they were very influential in the plant design.”

When the company first started planning the CLT project, a five-year timeline was not necessarily carved in stone.

“We really never put a hard timeline on it,” says Chris. “We kind of pegged 2019/2020 as what we saw as optimal growth years for Mass Timber, when expected building code changes would take place and there would be more groups getting excited about Mass Timber projects.

“The Mass Timber market was fairly juvenile when we first started looking into it—there was enough volume being produced then to cover the number of projects being built. We really tried to take the opportunity and time to invest in the right type of plan, to learn things about the market and build relationships with the idea that by 2019/2020 we would start to see some really exciting growth—and that our plant would be operational around that time. All things considered, it’s been a pretty successful timeline.”

Kalesnikoff Lumber management took the time to visit a lot of Mass Timber production facilities in Europe as part of the planning process—the majority of equipment suppliers are European.

“There are several different concepts and ways to build a Mass Timber plant—we chose to go with high-frequency technology where we are curing our products, rather than cold setting them with adhesives,” said Chris. “We felt it was the leading edge technology, and really allowed us the most flexibility for the end customer.”

For that technology, they chose to go with Kallesoe Machinery, a company out of Denmark.

The high frequency (radio frequency) press from Kallesoe Machinery is said to represent the most efficient installation on the market for the production of pre-fabricated CLT elements. Their press is a highly efficient production unit with high capacity and very short pressing times.

Their CLT press line handles pieces up to 18 meters long and every line is custom built.

Kallesoe, like Kalesnikoff, is a family-owned business, Chris pointed out, and the companies share similar values.

“We’re really excited about the technology they bring to the table. They were the first core supplier group we selected—from there, we purchased support equipment from other groups throughout Europe.

“There are several groups in Europe that now offer turnkey Mass Timber/CLT solutions, but for us, because we were so hands-on in the design of the plant, we had very specific needs for all of the equipment, so we chose to go to different suppliers for the equipment, so we could build the facility that we wanted.”

To borrow a food term, this à la carte approach allowed them to order the individual equipment pieces that would work best for them.

The equipment is all located within a 110,000 square foot, climate-controlled Behlen building, which was constructed by Norsteel Building Systems.

Pre-graded and pre-sorted lumber is brought into the building from the adjacent Kalesnikoff sawmill. Using a Microtec scanner, they do all the necessary trimming and cutting. The wood is then finger-jointed in lengths up to 60 feet.

They have two core equipment lines, the CLT line and the glu-lam line, both of which can be fed from the finger jointer, and turn out product up to 60 feet in length.

“We have an assembly line where we produce the long layers and cross layers, and the wood is assembled with our adhesive—we then move the product into our high frequency press, and basically cure the product based on its size and length,” explains Chris.

With glu-lam product, lamellas come from the fingerjoint line, are laid up and assembled for glu-lam beams based on an order file, and then go through high frequency curing.

The CLT goes into a finishing section, where the work carried out is project specific. Some customers are looking for raw billet material—so Kalesnikoff produces the CLT and transports it to the customer, where they will do their own finishing.

“But with many projects, we will do a lot of the complete finishing in-house,” says Chris. “We have two state-of-the-art CNC machines, and we can do custom cutting and any kind of milling that is required into the panels and beams, and then sand and finish the product with sealants or top coats.” They can also do factory installation of acoustic materials or water protecterant on the top side of the CLT product.

“Sometimes we are also factory installing steel connection details—there are lots of things that are going on in our finishing side. Essentially, we have two different sections: the manufacturing section, which is producing the CLT, and the finishing side, which is just as comprehensive.” Their CLT panels can be as large as 12’ wide and 60’ in length.

In terms of major suppliers, as mentioned Kallesoe Machinery supplied the main line, CLT and glu-lam high frequency press lines. Microtec supplied a Goldeneye 501 Quality scanner with vision defect scanning and optimization, which communicates with the downstream chop saw system. The lamella and beam planers came from Ledinek, Uniteam/Biesse supplied the five-axis gantry CNC machine, and five-axis beam CNC machine, the CLT/glu-lam sander is from Costa Sander, and the glue applicator came from Oest. Westwood Engineering was the electrical engineer, Martech did the high voltage installation, Konecranes supplied a15-ton overhead crane, and Vortex Pneumatics did the bag house and dust extraction.

Chris agreed that it may take some extra time and effort to marry all this equipment together vs. a turnkey operation, but in the end, they get exactly the equipment set-up they want.

“One of the good things about the Kallesoe Machinery group is that they took responsibility for making sure that all the equipment in the plant is communicating,” he said. Kalesnikoff is running a good deal of electronic technology in the plant, some of it quite different—each supplier has their own preference on PLC controls, for examples. “There could be some obstacles there that you run into when you go à la carte with equipment rather than going turnkey—but Kallesoe took on the responsibility.”

There is a huge co-ordinating process that takes place from when lumber first enters the plant to when it leaves as CLT or glu-lam that a specific customer is looking for—it all has to mesh and run well. “With all of the suppliers we chose to work with, we had a strong trust and belief in them. And most of the equipment suppliers do factory run-offs, so they are testing the equipment at the plant, before it’s sent to us,” said Chris.

“So when it comes to the site, we are looking at a matter of weeks for installation, rather than having to do a lot of work from scratch on site—we’re not having to do a lot of the electrical wiring, for example, since most of that has already been done at the factory, and been tested.”

And each supplier was responsible for their own installation. So Kalesnikoff had the experts who produce the equipment installing the equipment—and it’s in the equipment suppliers’ best interest to make sure their people are doing the installation as efficiently as possible on site, notes Chris.

Outside of that, most of the work on the new facility was carried out by Kalesnikoff employees, though, as noted, some local companies were also involved.

The glu-lam line was up and operating this past December, and passed certification early this year. The CLT line is currently being installed and will be commissioned this summer. “We still have a couple of months ahead of us, and commissioning, before we are 100 per cent complete,” said Chris.

But he said they are pretty much where they want to be schedule-wise, despite dealing with some new work regulations around the COVID-19 virus. “Things have come together well, in spite of COVID,” he says.

“Our people have done an outstanding job—we expect to have the project built and commissioned within the expected timeframe.

“And with the lead equipment supplier, Kallesoe Machinery, they are delivering equipment exactly to the day they promised two years ago, when we signed the contract with them. We couldn’t ask for a better partner to be working with.

“For our group, that was very important,” he added. “For us to take on this size of a project, at $35 million, by ourselves as a family-owned business, we need everything to come on line as expected—and so far it has, so we have been very fortunate.” But a lot of that result has been due to hard work and strong relationships both within Kalesnikoff Lumber, and its suppliers, Chris added.

This summer, Kalesnikoff Lumber joins a small, select group of CLT producers in North America. But Chris noted they will be building on the work of other companies. “I wouldn’t say we are pioneers in CLT—we have tremendous respect for groups like Structurlam and Nordic who are the true pioneers in Mass Timber.

“But we are excited to join the Mass Timber marketplace, and I think we are really unique in what we can offer from our product line, our species and specialties. I think we are going to help grow the marketplace.”

And there is a tremendous sense of pride on the part of Chris, Krystle and their family, in positioning Kalesnikoff Lumber for the future.

“It’s a risk taking on a project like this for our business, but it’s something we strongly believe in—and there is a desire for Krystle and I, the fourth generation of the family, to have a positive impact on the company and our community and set it up well for the next generation. We’re excited about taking on the challenge of growing our business forward.

“Our family has been here for 80-plus years, and our roots are here,” says Chris. “We love the community we are in, and we have an incredible team here. When you put those things together, it really drives you to continue to grow the business, and be successful for everybody.”

Past sawmill upgrades positioned Kalesnikoff well for CLT

Chris Kalesnikoff, Chief Operating Officer of Kalesnikoff Lumber, notes that the Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) project did not require any upgrades to their sawmill, which feeds wood to the CLT plant. The company has done a number of upgrades over the past decade, positioning the operation well for CLT, he explained.

In 2012, for example, USNR equipment was installed as part of a sawmill modernization. The new equipment included a primary breakdown line comprised of a quad arbor sawbox, vertical double arbor gang, TriCam scanning, MillExpert optimization and PLC control system.

The modifications on the edger line included retrofits to the existing edger, upgrading the transverse scanning system with USNR’s BioLuma 2900L sensors, MillExpert edger optimization and PLC controls.

The trim/sort line modifications included two radius back unscramblers, a lug loader, multi-track fence, 70-bin pusher lug sorter top and sort bin modifications, along with USNR’s WinTally sorter management, MillTrak lumber flow monitoring, MillExpert trimmer optimization and PLC control system.

Ridgemill Design of Kelowna provided mechanical and structural detailed design on this project. Timber Line Mill Construction was the main mechanical contractor, and Martech Electrical Systems was the main electrical contractor on the project. Hollins Industries did the lumber transfers and log decks, and New West Industries did the residual conveyors. Arrow Speed Controls supplied all the variable frequency drives.

Mass Timber, including CLT, getting plenty of traction in construction

Mass Timber such as what Kalesnikoff Lumber is producing is definitely getting plenty of traction. For example, the city of Vancouver recently agreed to allow Mass Timber construction up to 12 storeys for residential and commercial uses, doubling the previous height limit of six floors.

The city joins 13 other B.C. municipalities that now endorse taller wood buildings more than a year after the B.C. building code was modified to allow tall wood buildings. And there is plenty of other Mass Timber building going on elsewhere in North America.

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