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High Producer 

Production has now started at the Footner Forest Products OSB plant in Alberta-the highest production OSB plant in North America.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Footner Forest Products-the world's widest continuous flow oriented strand board (OSB) plant-is making daily progress towards its full production goal. In fact, the plant, located in High Level, Alberta, is expected to reach its full production capability this December, less than a year after it turned out its first panel in October 2000. Once full production is achieved, this single plant will turn out a stunning one billion square feet of OSB annually, based on three eighths inch thickness. The sheer size of plant production and its related numbers are impressive. 


The Footner OSB plant was a mammoth construction project with a total cost of $265 million. Footner is jointly owned by Grant Forest Products and Ainsworth Lumber.

Consuming 1.2 million cubic metres of aspen annually, it will produce the most volume of any OSB plant in North America and operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The total construction cost was $265 million. Its technological standout is a 12foot wide Dieffenbacher continuous flow press, a full two feet wider than the next largest continuous flow OSB press, located in Poland. Other than size, Footner's continuous flow OSB press is not unique to the industry. Norbord operates one in eastern Canada and two are being constructed in the eastern United States. A number are in operation in Europe. Footner Forest Products is owned jointly by Ontario based Grant Forest Products and BC's Ainsworth Lumber. 

Grant Forest Products has a 29 per cent stake in Ainsworth. The plant employs no sales force of its own. Production is divided equally between the two partners, who in turn sell their allocated OSB through their individual sales forces. The OSB plant has had a big impact on this extreme northern Alberta community of 4,500 residents. However, unlike many other remote resource communities, it is not the only engine driving the local economy. Oil and gas exploration has kept the region's hotel rooms full and the pace of business brisk. Footner Forest Products will provide 125 permanent positions and the spin off effect will create 450 more. 

The plant is expected to reach its full production capability this December, less than a year after it turned out its first panel in October 2000.

"It has had a significant impact on the community in the sense that it is another stable employer," says the plant's human resources manager Wayne LaGroix. "Filling staff positions here hasn't been any different than it would be in any other remote resource based community. What I've found is that High Level has a lot more services to offer than a lot of communities of comparable size because it is a regional centre. That's offset somewhat by the fact that we're 170 kilometres from the Northwest Territories border, so you have to weigh the two ." Like many other Alberta companies, it is still actively searching for trades people to fill some remaining staff positions. 

However, LaGroix says the mill was fortunate, with good quality local talent available. "The local community had people with a lot of skills, abilities and talents that they brought to the mill," he says. The mill will also potentially help area farmers who can supplement their income with OSB plant jobs to help keep their farm businesses afloat during tough times. Despite its northerly locale, the High Level area has a strong agricultural base. The growing season is short, but a compensating factor is that the area receives almost 24 hours of sunlight in June. While the process of hiring staff, training and ramping up production has remained steady, there have been a few distractions. 


While High Level, Alberta is not close to the major markets for OSB, Footner Forest Products management believes the huge size of the plant and its production efficiencies will help to level the competitive playing field against other OSB producers who are closer to markets and have lower freight costs.

For one, deregulation of the electrical industry in Alberta has resulted in what the government says is a temporary spike in electrical costs and Footner Forest Products has not escaped unscathed. As far as the high cost of providing heat using natural gas, the plant will be self-sufficient, as they have installed a GTS wet bark energy generating system. LaGroix says staff are proud of what they have accomplished so far, pushing this stateoftheart facility close to its full capabilities. One of the plant's main challenges was to build up the plant's inventory of aspen. 

Because of the area's muskeg terrain, logging has traditionally only occurred for three months a year in winter. They will unload as many as 400 trucks a day at the height of the logging season. There are some distinct advantages to operating a continuous flow press versus a multi-opening press. The first advantage is speed. When producing a 7/16ths panel, the press is capable of manufacturing between 650 and 680 mm of OSB per second. With a continuous flow press, there is a lot less of the start/stop action. 


Demand for OSB produced by mills such as Footner is heavily driven by housing starts, most importantly in the US market. OSB has taken a huge bite out of the plywood market in home construction, a trend that is likely to continue since OSB represents a lower cost alternative.

Also, caliper control on a continuous press is much finer than on a multi opening press. That is not only true of OSB, but is also the case for particleboard and medium density fibreboard. The manufacturing process begins in the yard with the use of two Hendricks porter cranes. One unloads trucks and stacks the wood. The second feeds the 16foot logs into four conditioning ponds. The logs average four to six inches in diameter. The conditioning ponds are between 200 and 300 feet long. 

Once the logs are conditioned and forwarded, a Tanguay mobile crane picks them up and feeds them into a CAE Fuji King rotary drum debarker. The debarked logs gather at a surge deck where another Tanguay mobile crane feeds the logs into CAE ring stranders. The wet strands are stored in wet bins before being conveyed through the massive Buttner single pass dryer. Heat for the dryer is provided by the GTS wet fuel energy system tem that burns bark residue from the logs. 

From the dryer, the dried strands are conveyed to a cyclone and dropped through rotary screens provided by Raute Wood, where the fines are screened out. Anything smaller than 3/16ths drops out and anything larger is accepted as usable product. The strands are then stored in dry bins before advancing along a weigh belt. The data collected on the weigh belt indicates how much resin and wax needs to be applied to the strands as they circulate through the blender. From the blender, the treated strands now enter the forming line. Dieffenbacher provided the forming line equipment as well as the 56foot long continuous flow press. 


At full production, the Footner OSB plant will be turning out a stunning one billion square feet of OSB annually, based on three eighths inch thickness and consume 1.2 million cubic metres of aspen. The plant is very energy efficient in these times of expensive natural gas-heat for the dryer is provided by a GTS wet fuel energy system that burns bark residue from the logs.

The forming line has six forming heads-two for the top surface of the OSB panel, two for the core layer, and two for the bottom surface. The heads are responsible for orienting the strands. The top and bottom strands are oriented in the machine direction, while core layer strands are oriented in the cross machine direction. The layered mat passes below a metal detector and finally onto the continuous flow press. Once through the press, the OSB travels through a second imprint press that places a non slip surface on the panel so that it can be used as roofing. The master mats are all 12 feet wide and 24 feet long. 

The panels are inspected under a blow detector. Stacked three feet high, they are transported to the Italian made Giben booksaw area. The 12x24 panels are cut to nine stacks of 4x8 panels. Now the panels are ready for painting, strapping and shipping. Footner Forest Products has the ability to cut OSB panels into a variety of dimensions, depending on customer specifications. While distance to markets is a concern for the company with its location in northern Alberta, very few OSB plants are located near markets simply because they require such large wood baskets. Footner Forest Products' management anticipates that the huge size of the plant and its production efficiencies will help to level the competitive playing field against other OSB producers that may enjoy cheaper freight rates.


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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004