By George Fullerton
Amex Bois Franc hardwoods stands out in the Canadian lumber industry for a number of reasons, including its wide reach for timber.
In addition to sawing only hardwood species, its wood basket extends from New Brunswick in the east to central Ontario in the west, and south into the hardwood forests of Pennsylvania.
The Amex Bois Franc partnership of the Vigneault Family handles everything from log sourcing and delivery, through to marketing lumber globally. The ownership/management team includes David Vigneault, who manages log procurement, and his brother, Pascal, who functions as controller. Their cousins, Daniel and Francois, manage the milling operations.
The VOG sawmill part of the Amex operation is a partnership representing the Vigneault, Offerman and Genest family business interests. The sawmill has been operated by VOG since 1998. Amex markets hardwood lumber globally under the Primewood brand.
The Amex operation is based in Plessisville, situated halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, about 30 kilometres south of the St. Lawrence River and 100 kilometres north of the New Hampshire-Vermont borders. Appropriately for a town with a hardwood sawmill, the community is actually known as the “World’s Maple Capital”—with production of maple syrup and maple products a major industry in the area.
While situated in the heart of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest region, which offers maple, birch, basswood, beech and other hardwoods, Amex sources about 75 per cent of their wood supply from the northeastern United States.
Hard maple, white oak and walnut are Amex’s premier species. Their Primewood lumber brand includes red and white oak, soft maple, white and green ash, hickory, yellow and white birch, basswood, yellow poplar as well as some tropical species. In addition to sawing lumber, Primewood also buys both green and dry hardwood lumber from other sawmills.
Amex has been able to economically source high value hardwoods from distant logging operations in the U.S. by engaging trucking operations which haul flatbed loads from Quebec into the U.S., offering them sawlog backhauls to the sawmill. Trucking operations adapt their flatbed trailers with stake pockets and stakes to facilitate sawlog securement.
Amex operates a web-based dispatch service and assigns a dedicated person to manage it. Logging operations notify Amex when loads of hardwood logs are on their landings and the loads appear on the dispatch site. Truckers can book to pick up the loads, according to their scheduled trip back into Quebec.
Amex goes an extra step to show their appreciation for truck drivers by offering a shower facility and fresh towels.
“Lots of the drivers spend their week living in their truck, and they really appreciate the opportunity to have a shower,” explained David Vigneault.
Amex Hardwood is located in an industrial park in the town of Plessisville. The log yard, sawmill and kilns and corporate headquarters occupy one side of the street, while the opposite side of the street has a very tidy lumber yard and a large dry storage warehouse, including a spacious covered area for loading and tarping loads.
The dry storage warehouse has a capacity for about one million board feet of lumber. Primewood also operates a storage warehouse and shipping operation in Drummondville, which has a capacity of around six million board feet of lumber. Overseas orders are loaded in sea containers at the Drummondville facility.
The Plessisville mill yard is completely paved and very orderly. Similarly, Amex’s building and kilns are well maintained and fit well in the industrial park.
“We pay well for the delivery of very high value logs, so we take very good care of them in our yard,” said Vigneault. “Mobile equipment operates on a solid footing over the year, with no mud and no degradation. We can pile down bark and sawdust in the yard, and we have no mud contamination issues of concern to our customers.”
Loads of logs are piled down and subsequently scaled according to the loggers’ preferred scaling system. In addition to International Scale, Amex offers scaling by Doyle, Scribner, Maine, Roy and Ontario log scale rules at the log producer’s request.
Amex accepts mixed species loads as well as loads made up of logs from more than one producer.
“We have a good working relationship with our suppliers,” explains Vigneault. “They know what quality of logs we require, and they are set up to load the trucks we send to their landings. If we get a call from a new supplier, we query them about what they have and how logs are produced.
“If we have some questions about the logs, we will ask them to send photos so we can be assured of the quality.”
Logs can be unloaded 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Logs are graded/scaled on special steel frames which allow scalers to roll the logs with little effort, to assess all faces of the logs. Once scaled, logs go in piles according to species. In hot seasons, some species have water spray to maintain their quality (cracking, stain).
Logs are sawed by species batches. Wheeled log loaders with trailers move logs from piles to the infeed deck.
Logs are debarked by a Nicholson cambio debarker and immediately pass through a metal detector; if metal is present, logs are kicked out of the mill and piled down in a segregated pile. Subsequently “metal” logs are scanned with a portable metal detector and once the metal is located, it is cut out with a chainsaw, and the logs are then processed in the mill.
“We see all sorts of metal from spikes and nails to staples. Metal lowers the value of the logs and creates additional work to find and remove the metal objects,” said Vigneault.
On the breakdown line, logs are separated by length. Eight and ten-foot logs go to one USNR set-up and over twelve-foot logs to a second USNR carriage and double-cut bandsaw. When the supply of twelve-foot logs gets low, shorter logs will fill the supply gap.
Amex’s neighbours in the Plessisville industrial park include USNR and Carbotech manufacturing facilities, so log processing technologies are close at hand for the company.
The sawing strategy is to saw the log faces to make a cant, and then saw quality lumber from the best faces of the cant. The sawyer turns the cants and selects a saw program and moves the cant to a deck facing the carriage, and concentrates on inspecting the next cant for the quality face.
As the evaluated cants load on the USNR carriage, the program for the cut is executed and the lumber heads down the process line and the cant comes back around to the sawyer for evaluation and is programed for another trip on the carriage. Depending on the log quality, cants are sawed down to either seven by nine inches for railroad ties or to three by four to supply pallet and other markets.
Similar to the quality control of logs in the yard, quality lumber recovery is the primary goal in the sawmill. Breakdown includes resawing the outer boards and edging to recover quality (least amount of defect) lumber. Additionally, trim decisions are made by an operator with the focus on trim to make the highest value grade from each piece of lumber. Total sawmill production is 21 million board feet, annually.
In addition to buying logs, Primewood also buys both green and kiln dried hardwood lumber from other sawmills. Some may be resold as green lumber and some is kiln dried.
The Plessisville facility also includes a T-shed with curtains, to store sawed green lumber in order to maintain quality (cracking and stain) until it is scheduled for drying or shipped to customers.
Lumber movement in the sawmill and sort bins is supplied by Machinage Piché, which are manufactured in Daveluyville, Quebec.
Lumber from the sort bins is automatically stacked and is stickered if lumber is to be dried, or without stickers if lumber is to be sold green.
Amex operates 24 kilns, all of which are Brunner Hildebrand, with total capacity of 1.2 million board feet. The first BH kiln was installed in 1998, and six additional BH kilns were installed three years ago. There are curbs along the kilns to minimize contact with kiln walls by forklifts and snowplows. Energy supply to the kilns is from a combination of wood biomass and natural gas.
“We maintain a very large inventory of lumber and it allows us to meet customer demands for species and dimensions,” explained Vigneault. “When a customer places an order, they want to maximize load space in the container. If we can not supply one specific size in a species, the customer is likely to cancel the entire order. Consequently, we maintain a very large inventory to be able to meet the needs of our customers.”
Amex offers some lumber value-add manufacturing including ripping and dressing to meet certain customer requirements.
The company stuffs seacans that deliver their high quality hardwood lumber around the world.
Because Amex relies primarily on shipping to customers world-wide by sea containers, they are very concerned about labour issues and transportation logistics to the Port of Montreal.
“Labour issues have caused us some problems in recent years,” says Vigneault. “In the next few years, there will be major construction in the highway tunnel that the majority of trucks use to access the port, and we fear that will result in shipping delays for us.”
Meeting customer needs extends beyond meeting lumber species and dimension and delivery schedules. Vigneault explained that certain customers can distinguish quality differences in lumber, according to where the trees grew.
“For these customers, maple lumber from New Brunswick logs is not the same as maple lumber sawed from Vermont logs. Customers recognize the difference and will specify where their order should be sourced from, in order that they can maintain their unique manufacturing and marketing strategy.”
The Amex operation employs eighty people operating two shifts.
For Amex, teamwork is the key to their success. “Without everyone’s efforts, we could not be successful in our field,” says Vigneault, noting they work hard to have a positive work environment. “The smiles on our employees’ faces speaks volumes about the attitude and respect that prevails among us. We thank all our employees for their dedication and passion for
a job well done,” he says.
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