By George Fullerton
Javed Mian and his wife, Rajni, achieved a life goal in September 2018, when their fledgling lumber business, Ayat Timbers International, cut its first lumber.
The sawmill and dry kiln operation is located at Penobsquis, near Sussex, New Brunswick, and focuses on milling eastern white pine and loading it into sea containers for shipment to customers in South Asia and the Middle East.
Despite struggling after a fire destroyed a good deal of log and lumber inventory and the dry kiln, they rebuilt, and began sawing just in time to struggle through restrictions presented by COVID-19.
It’s been a long road to that first cut of lumber. Javed and Rajni immigrated from their native Pakistan, arriving in Toronto in 2001.
“Like most immigrants, we were looking for new opportunities,” stated Javed.
Initially, Javed found employment at a variety of manufacturing industries in the Toronto region.
In 2008, the family moved to Saskatoon, where Javed held a variety of jobs, including managing a taxi company. While in Saskatchewan, the couple decided they wanted to become business owners, and began actively looking for opportunities.
Since Javed had experience in the lumber business in Pakistan, a good deal of their search focused on sawmilling and lumber marketing. In Pakistan, Javed had worked in the lumber brokerage business, which imported lumber from a wide variety of sources, and distributed it in turn to a wide variety of manufacturers and industries.
“I love working with wood, and I certainly want to enjoy what I work at,” he says. “If you don’t like your work, your job becomes a punishment. So sawmilling and lumber became our priority.”
Their research in lumber marketing focused on business opportunities in international markets, since North American markets were very competitive and already well supplied.
The Mians initially looked for lumber business opportunities in British Columbia, but decided the business climate was very competitive there, making it tough to get a foothold.
Their focus switched to New Brunswick, which has the second most forest-dependent economy in Canada, and they decided to investigate opportunities there
“By chance, my wife discovered a business called the SNB Wood Co-operative, which had a property and lumber manufacturing equipment for sale. I made contact with SNB, and we arranged a visit to look over the property,” explained Javed.
The SNB (Southern New Brunswick) Wood Co-op is a woodlot owner and wood producer co-operative, and has supported wood marketing and silviculture for its membership since the 1970s. The land and kiln for sale was used for a lumber business which had become redundant for the co-operative.
“The property at Penobsquis, near Sussex, included a good dry lot and a 32,000 board feet Nyle dry kiln which had been mothballed for about fifteen years,” explained Javed. “We immediately began to develop a business plan and started making detailed marketing investigations.”
Javed’s market research determined that there were good prospects for selling eastern white pine lumber into the Middle East and South Asian markets. His research also identified a heathy white pine resource available from private woodlots in southern New Brunswick.
Additionally, Penobsquis is situated about an hour from a deepwater container shipping port in Saint John, and about four hours trucking time to the port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, both providing global shipping connections.
The Mians moved to New Brunswick in 2016, and Javed set to work to develop a comprehensive business management plan. With the business plan in hand, financing was acquired and a deal was struck to purchase the property and kiln in 2018.
The business plan outlined purchase of sawmilling equipment, mobile yard equipment, as well as a new sawmill building.
For primary breakdown, a Select 4221E double cut band sawmill was ordered. The mill came equipped with a 75 hp electric motor and hydraulic log positioning mechanism.
“We settled on the Select mill because it has double cut band saws, which is highly efficient,” said Javed. It has electric power, hydraulic log handling capabilities and a high cutting speed. Select mills are manufactured in Ontario and they offer good technical and parts service. The mill was delivered in June 2018. “We constructed a mill building and log decks as well as lumber conveyors,” he says. “We sawed our first lumber in September 2018.”
Another selling feature of the Select mill was its ability to saw both metric and imperial dimensions. Since Ayat Timber’s market focus was export markets, the ability to saw metric was very important.
Javed and his staff designed and built most of the log and lumber conveyors.
“We figured out, basically, what we needed and then we got some steel and hardware, a chop saw and a welder and went to work assembling the equipment. It has worked out quite well. Our trim saws were basically made on site.”
A Valley edger was added to the production line. Daily production with the mill is eight to ten thousand board feet. The green chain is a manual operation.
The mill does not have a debarker, so the slabs and other byproduct fibre are sold to locals for firewood. Additionally, Ayat Timber supplies an outdoor furnace with slabs to heat the mill building in cold months. Sawdust is held in a covered building and is purchased by area livestock farmers.
Yard equipment is a Chinese-made, Jieli ZL20 wheel loader. Javed explained that the loader was acquired through a private sale and it has performed well. A Cat forklift rounds out the mobile equipment fleet.
Log delivery is by loader-equipped trucks, which handle off loading and piling logs in the yard. Delivered logs are stick scaled by a licensed scaler.
Javed explained that they buy a large supply of logs through the winter to keep the mill supplied through mud season, when deliveries pretty much stop. For the balance of the year, he limits log inventory to three to four weeks’ supply in the yard in order to limit the potential for staining.
Javed began sawing with the Select mill, and gained a good degree of competency after a couple of months. Additionally, he studied and achieved his lumber grading license (NELMA, Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association) rules for white pine through the Maritime Lumber Bureau. They saw 50, 40 and 25 mm and 10, 14 and 16-foot product.
In August 2019, disaster hit—there was a call to the Mian home in Fredericton at 5 p.m. that fire had struck the mill operation. The fire, buffeted by strong winds, travelled across the log and lumber yard, eventually involving and consuming the kiln.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts of several volunteer fire departments, the mill building itself was saved, although the fire intensity was severe enough to melt soffit material on the mill building.
Following the fire, the Mians immediately set to work to get operational. The kiln was replaced with a Nyle HT54 dehumidification kiln, which went into operation at the end of February 2020. The new kiln capacity is 35,000 board feet and the drying cycle takes six to seven days, with lumber finishing at 12 percent moisture content.
In 2020, Ayat Timber constructed a 40’ by 100’ dry storage building to make sure kiln product remains dry and to help facilitate seacan loading.
Ayat ships lumber by seacan through the port of Saint John. Javed explained that loading a 40’ seacan with large awkward bundles of lumber is a task which requires the right equipment, and a couple of workers who are familiar with the process.
The seacans arrive in the yard and as long as things go right, a truck with a fully-loaded seacan is pulling out and on the road in about 45 minutes.
Once the containers are delivered to customers, the lumber goes into cabinet construction and interior residential trim and other applications.
Current staffing at the mill is eight people. Javed pointed out that his wife Rajni manages the office.
“As far as I am concerned, Rajni has the most important job in the whole business. Knowing she is taking care of administration and day to day tasks allows me to focus on managing the milling operation and shipping out loads.”
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