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     December 1996 January 1997 Past Issue

The Eagle Flies

At the site of an abandoned chip mill in Miramichi, Eagle Forest Products turns the key on a new $100 million OSB plant.

By Harold Hatheway
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

When Eagle Forest Products' state-of-the-art OSB mill beside New Brunswick's Miramichi River began to roll on August 17,1996, the target was to produce about 3,500 m3 of board a month, with probably half of that projected to go into the scrap heap during the difficult months of startup.

Astoundingly, quality OSB has been rolling off the line since day one at double the projected quantity, and with not enough scrap to mention.

These impressive results are undoubtedly a reflection of the modern structure, topline equipment and a work force who are openly proud of their new plant and of what has been achieved in getting it onstream. A couple of years ago what was here instead was an abandoned, dilapidated chipboard mill, filled with rusting, archaic equipment.

Eagle Forest Products was just a gleam in John Godfrey's eye in 1991, when a Noranda subsidiary closed the old plant, leaving some 150 mill workers and 300 loggers out of work, and the provincial government as the reluctant owner of a derelict mill. Godfrey, a typically reserved New Englander, explains the trials and tribulations of taking an idea through to construction of a $100 million plant as "typical.''

Representing the fifth generation in timberland and sawmill ownership, Godfrey is graduate of Harvard Business School, has already developed and run two OSB mills; the first in Maine in 1980, and the second, Highland Forest Products PLC in Scotland in 1982. For this project, Godfrey spent two years assembling partners and banks to provide the financing, with "not a nickel of government money," he notes pointedly. He did take the government up on its offer of the old mill and site for $1, on condition, of course, that a new plant take its place.

Partners in the Eagle project include MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., Temple Inland Forest Products, Stone and Webster construction and Eagle Trust, a group of native funding sources brought together by Chief Augustine, a prominent NB native leader. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is a major financial source.

Godfrey makes the remarkably trouble-free startup sound simple, but it involved months of workforce interviews, selection and training, engineering and construction details, and equipment selection. Clearly, his background in building the two earlier mills helped immensely.

OSB The short term problem was finding enough white pine sawlogs from a much larger area to keep the AGAWA sawmill operating. EB Eddy hired more buyers who aggressively pursued more sawlog resources in the Ottawa Valley and the United States. Secondly, they took a much more aggressive approach to trading wood with other companies. Finally, they launched a cooperative private land program, whereby they would make it worthwhile for loggers and private land owners to harvest smaller amounts of good quality white pine on their property.

They developed central delivery locations, the largest being Nairn Centre just east of Espanola, and organized two way transportation where sawlogs went to Sault Ste. Marie, and pulpwood returned to Espanola.

EB Eddy made it worthwhile for loggers to include sawlogs on top of their pulpwood loads. "We told them that we'll set up a convenient drop off point," says Litchfield, "we'll scale the wood, we'll pay you promptly, we'll sort the wood, we'll create loads so that we combine six logs from the independent logger and the seven logs from the First Nation down the road, put them together and send them to Sault Ste. Marie."

That solved the immediate problem. But what about the sawmill's long-term future. EB Eddy is committed to the AGAWA sawmill over the long haul, according to Litchfield. That's more commitment than mill employees have heard in a couple decades.

A tour of the mill is like stepping through a time machine. The mill employs 200 workers, operating a large and small log line dating back to the 1940's. There were a few modifications installed over the past 20 years, but not many. EB Eddy purchased the mill from Lajambe Forest Products in early 1995.

AGAWA operations manager, Juhani Pulkkinen, says the mill operates this way. The mix of 60 percent white pine sawlogs, and 40 percent hardwoods are firstly sorted in the yard for diametre. The mill produces lumber from white pine for two weeks, then hardwood for two weeks. As a result of last year's changes to the supply of crown wood, AGAWA's fibre mix will change to 60 percent hardwood, and 40 percent white pine, representing a two week hardwood, one week white pine production rotation.

The logs are conveyed through a Nicholson ring debarker, and the debarker operator decides if the logs enter the number one or two line, that each feature double cut band saws. The number one line accepts logs 14 inches and up and is used for grade sawing. From there, the logs enter a horizontal resaw edger and trimmers. Logs entering the small log line are simply broken down to a six inch cant, run past a bull edger and trimmers, and then into the green board way. Many decisions and tasks are still handled manually at the AGAWA mill. That is about to change.

Pulkkinen has spent considerable time touring other sawmills and addressing AGAWA's main priority, that is developing a log profile from an extensive inventory conducted on their Crown leases. They want to ensure that changes they make to the mill will reflect their log supply. Among their findings so far is that they can expect considerably more pulpwood and hardwood. They will harvest many more smaller and larger logs than what historically were prime quality pine sawlogs.

What EB Eddy has also discovered is that AGAWA's future depends on the pursuit of quality over quantity.

The future is in manufacturing hardwood lumber in predetermined sizes and specifications for flooring material and special furniture. "We have identified a flooring mill in our capital plan," says Pulkkinen. The future indicates a bountiful supply of tolerant midgrade hardwood logs. "With the volume that will be coming in for the next years, we are going to develop a lot of flooring stock, which means we could supply a small flooring mill with all our own material." Litchfield confirms EB Eddy has had 'very serious discussions' with other companies about the potential of manufacturing flooring material, and how the mill should be designed to accommodate it.

Pulkkinen adds that current production is about 30 million board feet per year, and they hope to sustain that with plant modifications slated to take place over the next two years. AGAWA has already begun its new pursuit of quality. They have trained their own staff on proper log preparation prior to entering the mill, and they have hired a quality control person to conduct random quality control checks in the yard.

The second step is to install laser scanners at the mill's front end. "We're looking at log scanners right now," says Pulkkinen. "It will have the capability to tie into our bands and into our edger. We are looking at optimizers at the edger and head rigs to get the most off the log."

OSB AGAWA will continue to operate their large log line to saw quality logs and maximize value. Most initial changes will occur on the small log line. "We felt that with a drop in log size -- smaller logs, and rougher logs -- that what we require is to replace the number two side with something that would have significant throughput to reduce our costs," says Pulkkinen. "What we are look at is a twin band into a bull edger." They have yet to identify the optimum log size in order to refine their small log line equipment selection. What will happen, however, is that the current manual sorting system will be replaced by either a sling sorting system or a J-bar system.

Pulkkinen says they anticipate some job loss, but those employees would most likely be absorbed in other departments. One area where they will be increasing employment is in their veneer plant. "The veneer plant had been limping along here," he says. "We're going to be bringing it into a full shift, so it will create additional employment. We will add 20 to 30 people there." Among improvements slated for the veneer plant are an X/Y positioner to improve recovery and value, as well as rotary clippers. That is part of the overall modernization, and will cost $3 million.

While the future looked bleak at EB Eddy's AGAWA sawmill, they have simply shifted direction to create manufactured products that more realistically reflect their tolerant hardwood wood supply. Over 200 jobs stay viable in the process.

December 1996 / January 1997 Table of Contents

Evans cited as first code victim
Soaring stumpage fees and Forest Code-inflated logging costs forced Evans Forest Products to its knees. Other mills could be facing the same fate.

Timber Sales Fund Innovative Harvesting Training Program
Eighteen people are learning new harvesting techniques.

Riding the OSB boom
Hedging against a downturn, Weyerhaeuser invests $16 million to improve recovery at its OSB plant at Slave Lake, Alberta.

Cost conscious cut-to-length
Setting up a new CTL show in remote northern Manitoba, Art Riemer wanted dependable equipment - but not at a price that would turn his accountant surly.

Sticking in a Tough Market
At Fort Nelson, the world's largest chopstick plant produces eight million units a day for demanding Japanese buyers.

CCMC Furthering Aspen as a Commercial Species in BC
CCMC is a pioneering company making exclusive use of high-quality aspen.

Tech Update: Cable Yarding Systems
A review of the different cable yarding systems that are available on the marketplace

Helicopter Logging Capability Guide
Heli-logging remains a practical harvesting alternative in many of British Columbia's mountainous regions.

The Eagle Flies
At the site of an abandoned chip mill in Miramichi, Eagle Forest Products turns the key on a new $100 million OSB plant.

New Centre Targets Value-Aded Training
With an estimated 30,000 skilled workers needed in the value-added sector in BC by 2001, the industry has moved to address a potentially serious training shortfall.

Haliburton: A Multi-Use Model
Ontario's Haliburton Forest, a popular recreation site, also hosts extensive forestry research and education programs - and a unique 'one stem at a time' selective logging program.

Yard Handling and Storage Critical to Aspen Quality
Few mill yards contain a fridge for wood, a fibre source to keep a manufacturing plant in business when green production is curtailed.

Northern Mills Address Need for Added Kiln Proficiency
The added market value of kiln-dried lumber is driving a push for new technology and added training for operators.

Supplier Newsline
Trade magazine ads pay off.

Return to the December 1996 - Table of Contents

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