By Tony Kryzanowski
Resolute Forest Products’ three sawmills in northwestern Ontario are firing on all cylinders—supported by continuous investment over the past few years—just in time to take advantage of current unprecedented high lumber prices.
The company has invested about $250 million in its manufacturing facilities in northwestern Ontario over the last decade.
One of their more recent investments was $5.6 million at the company’s planer mill near Thunder Bay on Fort William First Nation land.
The overall effect of these investments is combined increased production capacity of 50 million board feet annually, and the creation of 25 new jobs. Many of these jobs were created by adding a shift at the planer mill.
Six years ago, they launched a new $62 million sawmill just east of Atikokan, representing a major financial boost to this community, with 90 new jobs. In 2004, the company spent $30 million to completely rebuild the Ignace stud mill, and more recently, they also invested $9 million to build a new wood pellet plant in Thunder Bay. It has a 10-year agreement to supply 45,000 tonnes annually to an OPG power plant west of the city, in Atikokan.
Resolute has also built a biomass co-generation plant in Thunder Bay to provide heat and steam for its pulp and paper processes, electricity for internal use, and exporting electricity to the Ontario power grid. Another investment was made in a TMP-Bio facility in Thunder Bay in partnership with FPInnovations, to develop new ways to efficiently produce innovative and commercial biochemicals from wood.
All told, Resolute provides about 900 jobs through both its production and logging operations in this part of Ontario.
The planer mill project included installation of a replacement for the old unstacking system with a Carbotech double-action unstacker, leading to a new high-speed Gilbert planer, a PLC lug loader, a USNR multi-track fence in advance of the trimmer, and an additional IBC bar coding unit.
Because the Carbotech unstacker is a double unstacking system, both sides are in constant motion so that there is regular flow of lumber to the planer mill. While one side is unloading to feed the planer, the other side is loading the next bundle and preparing to feed the planer once the first load is empty. Deploying this unstacking system means that Resolute can achieve maximum production through its new high-speed planer.
Maxime Langlais, Vice President responsible for Resolute’s Ontario, Abitibi, and Outaouais sawmills, says this investment in the Thunder Bay planer mill has increased throughput by about 10 per cent from a maximum production of about 200 boards per minute to 216 boards per minute.
“The goal of the project was to improve our planer mill capacity to be able to take more production from the Thunder Bay sawmill and also to dress some lumber from the Ignace sawmill,” he says.
It was an important strategic investment because prior to making this capital investment, he says that the sawmill was forced to slow production or take downtime so that the planer mill could catch up. Essentially all of the capital investment in the Thunder Bay planer mill was made to accommodate the high-speed planer, leading to improved overall production.
The planer mill is also equipped with a Comact GradExpert computerized lumber grading system. Resolute installed a new Comact machine-stress rated (MSR) unit as part of the planer mill project. It is currently spending another $1 million to install a second DO2 lumber wrapper in Thunder Bay.
The DO2 RapidWrapper is said to be industry leading technology in the automatic wrapping of wood products. The DO2 team offers fully integrated outfeed solutions according to customer needs, with each wrapper project fitting a mill’s specific production. The latest installation in Thunder Bay is the company’s fifth machine with Resolute Forest Products.
A side note: the team at Resolute’s Thunder Bay sawmill celebrated an important milestone last July 16, when the mill shipped its four billionth board foot of construction-grade lumber.
Turning to the pellet plant, Resolute has invested about $800,000 in a shavings recycling system. The shavings are collected in a silo at the dry kilns and a blower, cyclone and screw system propels them over to the pellet plant. They are metered into the sawdust prior to pulverizing to ensure a proper mix.
“Now we are able to place more shavings within the sawdust to produce pellets,” says Langlais.
The Thunder Bay sawmill produces lumber in dimensions from 1” x 3” to 2” x 6” in lengths from 6’ to 10’. Annual production capacity is about 310 million board feet. The Sapawe sawmill near Atikokan produces mainly 2” x 3” to 2” x 6” in 8’ to 16’ lengths with 150 million board feet annual production. The stud mill in Ignace restarted in February and is expected to be back in full production by August on two shifts. It shut down temporarily in 2019 because of poor market conditions and issues with the sawmill’s dry kiln structure. Once fully ramped up, annual production will be 85 million board feet. It also provides 65 jobs to the community.
Depending on markets, between 50 to 75 per cent of production is exported to the United States with the remainder in Canada.
Resolute invested $1.7 million this year to resolve the dry kiln issue in Ignace. So they are able to dry lumber at that location but it is transported to Atitkokan or Thunder Bay for planing. Langlais says they can maximize value from the lumber produced at the Ignace sawmill with this approach.
He adds that Resolute has a consistent capital investment program for improvements to all its sawmills. For example, in 2020, they installed what he called a USNR ‘cut-in-two’ system after the trimmer at their Atikokan planer mill. This allows them to cut a 16’ board into two 8’ boards to capture more value.
By co-ordinating production to some extent between the three sawmills, Resolute is able to log its wood basket efficiently to ensure that the right size log goes to the right mill. For example, 16’ logs measuring 5” diameter or more are channeled to the Atikokan sawmill while 10’ logs as small as 2.7” diameter at the top are transported to Thunder Bay because that will produce 2” x 3” boards. It also accepts tree length logs to support their pulp mill. Being a stud mill, Ignace processes 9’ logs.
Where logs are transported also depends on the log haul distance, but generally logging contractors sort logs in the bush for use at a specific sawmill.
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