By George Fullerton
Set on the headwaters of the Androscoggin River in Milan, in northern New Hampshire, the Milan Lumber Company sawmill became part of the Carrier Group of businesses in 2008. At that time, in the deepest economic downturn in recent history, many in the forest industry were not making investments—but Richard Carrier saw an opportunity.
“The owners of the Milan sawmill were not making any money and they just wanted out of the business,” says Richard. “When we bought the mill, it was producing between 180,000 and 190,000 board feet per day. We immediately began to make some changes in the way the equipment functioned and flowed.
“We took some equipment out and replaced it—and we currently have daily production running at 340,000 to 390,000 board feet a day,” he explained.
Annual production increased from 36 million board feet in 2007 to 80 million board feet in 2020.
Carrier announced early in 2021 that the mill was ready to invest some $12 million in upgrades to the planer and kiln side, further enhancing the productivity of the milling operation. This marks the third part of a three phase upgrade program to the mill, which firmly places Milan as the most advanced sawmill in New Hampshire.
Richard Carrier, one of 13 children born on a dairy farm at St. Honore, in neighbouring Quebec, has been involved in the forest industry for decades. After a short career in the residential building trades working throughout the New England states, he bought a log truck and set up a log trucking business in Jackman, Maine. Through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the business added trucks and a Barko 160 mobile log loader.
In the late 1980s, the business headquarters moved to Skowhegan, Maine, which provided a more central location to serve forestry trucking throughout the state. Headquarters included dedicated offices and a maintenance garage.
There have been a number of business moves that took the Carrier Group to where it is today.
In 1989, Richard and business partner Ross D’Elia took the opportunity to purchase the HHP Hardwood sawmill and pallet manufacturing plant in Henniker, New Hampshire, which provided increased work for his trucks. In 2017, D’Elia sold his share of the company to Richard’s brother, Marco, and Marco’s son Joseph. The mill produces 13 million board feet annually and includes six, 60,000 board foot kilns. The lumber is marketed across North America, and as far away as China. Log supply is from the northeast United States. In 2020, the mill added four kilns with capacity of 240,000 board feet.
Since 1989, HHP has invested $20 million in its manufacturing facilities. This has enabled the mill to increase productivity and stay at the forefront of the industry.
The investments included a new 6’ double-cut McDonough band saw, they automated the band resaw with a booth and Autolog PLC controls, an automated lumber tally, grading and trimming system with Autolog controls, Cypress grade mark reader and PHL equipment, a 60-bay bin sorter and a new log debarking line with a Nicholson A-6 debarker.
In 1991, Richard, together with his eldest brother Jack, won a contract to supply chips to Boise Cascade, and built their RJ Chipping plant in Shelburne, New Hampshire.
“The paper mill was having issues with their wood room and they needed chips from outside to meet their production demands,” explained Richard.
In 1994, the brothers expanded the chipping enterprise and added Farmington Chipping in Farmington, Maine, to supply chips under a contract with the New Page Corporation paper mill. The expanded operation is able to produce 40 to 50 truckloads of chips per day.
In 2006/2007, Carrier bought chipping plants in Milo, Maine and Costigan, Maine. During the same period, Carrier bought P. R. Russell Mulching in Richmond, Maine and built another mulching operation in Brentwood, New Hampshire. Together, Marco and Richard operate four chipping plants in the northeast U.S.
By 2001, Carrier was also concentrating round wood in the Farmington yard, and delivering to a variety mills on demand.
Subsequently, in 2018, Carrier purchased the Multibois FL hardwood sawmill in St. Augustine-de-Woburn, Quebec, which produces 10 million board feet per year with a wood supply mix of Canadian and U.S. timber. Carrier purchased dry kilns (240,000 FBM) nearby in St. Georges-de-Beauce, which allows them to market kiln dried lumber.
Another investment (2020) was the Saint-Isidore sawmill which utilizes hemlock, red pine and white pine, producing 20 million board feet annually. Production is in dimensional lumber as well as timbers.
In addition to investments in sawmilling and chip production, Jack and Richard own and harvest wood from more than 80,000 aces of woodland.
Currently, Carrier operates some three hundred trucks, in six separate companies, working in Canada and United States. In addition to hauling roundwood, wood chips, mulch, lumber and pallets, they also have dry box trailers to serve a diverse customer portfolio.
As mentioned, the Carrier Group purchased Milan Lumber in Milan, New Hampshire in 2008. The mill was formerly owned by Paul Vallee Lumber, and was producing 36 million board feet of spruce and balsam fir lumber annually.
The mill’s log supply includes timber from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, upstate New York, as well as Canada. Lumber markets for the mill are concentrated in the eastern U.S.
The 45,000 square foot mill is situated on a 45-acre site, with a log yard with capacity to hold 12 million board feet of round logs, about a three-month supply.
Wood is purchased in treelength, and cut-to-length logs. Wood is typically mass scaled, although some suppliers require stick scale logs. In addition to deliveries direct from forest operations, wood is also delivered from 12 concentration yards in the region.
Logs are off-loaded in the yard by three Hood loaders which pull yard trailers to supply the log deck. Treelength slashing is handled by two Pro Pac mobile slashers.
Steve Halle, Milan mill manager, explained that they like to unload logs from trucks directly on to the infeed deck, when possible, in order to minimize log handling.
One of the early upgrades after the Carrier Group bought the mill was to extend the log deck from 20 feet to 60 feet, which ensures a continuous flow of logs feeding the mill.
Logs entering the mill flow through a metal detector, and are directed to either an 18-inch or 30-inch Forano debarker, depending on their size. Debarked logs are subsequently sorted into three bins according to size. Sawing batches of logs from individual bins reduces the necessity to require a wide variance in setting the PHL twin saw.
Logs are scanned by an Autolog system which manages the set of the PHL canter twin–band saw. The cants flow through a recently upgraded infeed to a Comact wiggle box which has skew capacity and chipping heads. The log breakdown line handles eighteen to nineteen logs per minute.
Edging and trimming is handled by PHL equipment.
The Milan mill was sawing 45 million board feet per year when Carrier purchased the mill. Changes were made to the milling process, including to conveyors and lug speed, which helped achieve the 80 million board feet production level in 2020.
The Milan mill uses Autolog technology to separate species of sawn lumber, and sorts it into a 105-bin sorter. It’s necessary to sort spruce, balsam fir and Norway spruce since each species has its own unique drying schedule.
In 2019, the Phase I upgrades to the Milan operation included enclosing the planer mill and new planer infeed. Phase II in 2020 saw a new Gilbert planer, new drop tables, planer infeed, tilt hoist, auto ProGrader and auto stacker. The first upgrades also included some new scanning technologies in the sawmill.
In spring 2021, Phase III upgrades included i-DNA species identification technology by Autolog.
The technology, developed initially in partnership with FPInnovations, uses near infrared spectroscopy. The technology will allow Milan Lumber to realize greater value recovery in their milling operation. i-DNA will reduce costs compared to manual species classification and improve their drying productivity.
In sawmill installations, i-DNA has provided a species recognition rate of 97 per cent, regardless of species distribution entering the mill. The impressive results are a result of Autolog’s decision to modify i-DNA’s underlying decision algorithm to take advantage of the latest advances in Deep Learning. In 2021, Autolog is pushing the i-DNA technology even further, by adding colour vision sensor imaging into the system’s artificial intelligence decision pipeline, with the goal to increase accuracy to 99 per cent.
Milan Lumber will be the first mill in the U.S. to operate the i-DNA technology.
Additional upgrades in 2021 in the planer mill include new outfeed tables, trim saws, auto stacker, lumber press, 45-bin sorter and an auto wrapper provided by Quebec-based Piché equipment.
The new Piché (drop saw) trim saws, will allow long lumber to be cut into either two or three sections, to increase grade and value.
At the conclusion of Phase III, the planer mill will have the production capacity to produce 100 million board feet per year.
The Milan mill currently operates with two MEC and two USNR kilns, each with 160,000 board feet capacity. Phase III will add a SII kiln with 122,000 board feet capacity.
Sawdust, trim blocks and shavings from the Milan mill burn in a biomass boiler, providing 400 horsepower of steam energy. The kilns’ energy demand is supplemented by a 400 horsepower propane-fired boiler. Through most of the winter, both boilers are required to meet the energy demand.
More than a decade after the Carrier Group purchased the Milan sawmill, Richard Carrier continues to take great interest in overseeing the operation. “Richard visits all his operations, and he knows what’s going on in each individual site,” commented mill manager Steve Halle. Halle shared that Richard is very knowledgeable about equipment and production, and is very astute when discussing equipment and production metrics in the Milan mill. “He really does his homework and he has connections in the industry that keep him up to date on current and emerging technology. Richard really keeps his finger on the pulse of his operations.”
And there’s more improvements to come. Phase III will also include the installation of a second set of truck scales.
“The new scales will provide us with inbound and outbound scales. Currently with just one scale there are bottlenecks which slows overall productivity,” explained Halle.
The scale hours and yard workshift is 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The sawmill operates four-and-a-half days per week, and the planer mill works four days. The Milan operation has 64 employees.
Richard Carrier embraces strong family values and has business investments with several of his brothers and their children. Richard and his wife Nicole have four children, three of whom are working in the family businesses. Daughters Isabel and Natasha both work in his business headquarters at Skowhegan. His son Jimmy handles purchasing and oversees maintenance of the massive fleet of mill yard equipment and trucks and trailers from the Skowhegan headquarters. Their third daughter Sandra owns and manages a restaurant in Jackman, Maine.
On the Cover:
New Brunswick logger Marco Caron knows that business success in harvest contracting depends on basics: a well-motivated team, keen business skills and good equipment. In that last area, Caron’s harvesting equipment includes two Ponsse Scorpions. In fact, Caron was so impressed with his 2017 Scorpion harvester that he added a second 2018 Scorpion model to his operation. (Cover photo by George Fullerton).
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New Hampshire mill gets new Canadian technology
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