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With the market for engineered wood I-beams expected to grow substantially, a new $21-million plant in Ontario looks to have a bright future. 

By Dave Lammers

A new $21-million engineered wood I-beam plant which opened this past fall in Northern Ontario is the result of a unique cross border partnership between Canadian forestry giant Domtar and US-based Anthony Forest Products Company. 

A unique part of the design of the new 88,000-square-foot I-beam plant-shown under construction-is that it is contained in one building, built all on one floor.

Anthony-Domtar Inc is built on 10 acres next to the site of Domtar's current hardwood sawmill and transformation and recovery mill in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The 88,000 squarefoot facility will eventually employ approximately 50 workers on two shifts and is expected to produce 54 million lineal feet of I-beams annually. 

The mill is a 50/50 joint venture between the two companies: Domtar's end of the bargain includes supplying spruce lumber to the mill and handling its day-to-day operations, independently from other operations; Anthony Forest Products will market and distribute the finished product, to be sold mostly in the United States. 

The partnership came about as a result of the American company, based in El Dorado, Arkansas, wanting to expand its line of products and Domtar looking for strategic alliances to expand transformation of its softwood lumber, explains Jim Boniferro, general manager at Domtar Sault Ste Marie Division. Anthony Forest Products currently operates a group of lumber and wood chip mills as well as two engineered wood laminating facilities in the southern US. 

Domtar has 16 sawmills and two remanufacturing plants. The new mill produces flange I-joists-called Power Joist-to be added to Anthony's line of "power" products that already includes beams, headers, planks, columns and logs. I-beams, used for floor joists, replace 2x10s and 2x12s in the traditional market and, according to Boniferro, are growing in popularity. "Engineered I-beams have been in the marketplace for 20 some years. But it's certainly a much more accepted and recognized way of construction today." 

The mill has the capacity of producing I-beams from 12 to 64 feet in length, with a depth range of 9 inches to 24 inch. The beams are made from 2x3 and 2x4 solid sawn lumber supplied by Domtar sawmills. OSB is purchased on the open market to provide the web stock and the product is finger jointed and constructed on site and shipped out of Sault Ste Marie. 

Being right next to the US border, the location is seen as ideal for distribution to both Canadian and American markets using rail cars and trucks.

Being right next to the US border, the location is seen as ideal for distribution to both Canadian and American markets using rail cars and trucks. Initially, the mill had only US certification and the company was planning to seek Canadian certification shortly after start-up. This new plant joins a number of other facilities in meeting the needs of a fast growing market. 

"There are numerous I-joist plants," says Boniferro. "In Ontario itself there's a plant in Thunder Bay, a plant in Bolton and in the Ottawa Valley. We are certainly different in our strategy-how we assemble the product and how the plant operates. But the product itself has had 20 years of maturity in the North American marketplace. "You have an engineered beam that is specifically tested for application, span, strength and straightness," he adds. "The quality is very rigorous. You can span better than solid, sawn wood. You can have engineered drawings to associate specifically to the product base." 

For builders, that means quieter, straighter floors with increased strength for longer spans and no shrinkage, he says. The mill is unique in its design, which Boniferro describes as a "one piece flow." "A lot of planning and engineering went into the design. We're committed as a company and as a philosophy of manufacturing to a one-piece flow. So it was very necessary to ensure that each portion of the process was synchronized to specific times of the machine preceding it and the machine after it." 

Jim Bonieferro (left), general manager of Domtar's Sault Ste Marie Division, and Steve McManus at the construction site of the new joint venture facility, which has now been completed.

Two finger joint profilers, purchased from Doucette, infeed to the mill; lumber then goes through two Doucette crowder lines to a curing table and through curing ovens. The flange is then introduced and assembled into the I-beam of the OSB web on an I-joist assembly line purchased from Globe Manufacturing. From there, the product is once again run through a series of conveyors to curing ovens and then cut to length and packaged. 

"We chose Globe because they came up with the most appropriate solution to be able to run at sufficient speeds, to feed the crowder line and to feed the Globe high joist line running at capacity," says Boniferro. "Globe is the recognized I-joist assembly manufacturer. This is not new technology for them. I believe our machine is number nine. 

So it's proven, established in the marketplace as a piece of machinery that will meet capacity. The Doucette equipment, on the other hand, is somewhat modified to be one of their first models to be running at the speeds we require them to run." 

The project has not been without its challenges, Boniferro admits. "We found that the way we aligned the equipment and assembled the plant presented numerous challenges to ensure each machine and station performed to its capacity and to meet the demands of the station previous to it and the station after it. "We've worked very hard in the design process to eliminate all waste at each work station-to avoid any level of waste whether it be excess inventory, excess movement by the employees or excess maintenance requirements." 

Another unique component of the design is that the entire production facility is contained in one building, built all on one floor. "Other I-joist operators may purchase their flange stock outside-just bring in the finger jointed flange and do the assembly," says Boniferro. "So the fact that we're doing it all on site and the fact that it's all part of one continuous process-we believe the benefit is that you get used to the requirements for inventory. "The process produces a product from start to finish. 

From the time you introduce the lumber to the process to the end result, it eliminates the need to build inventory, to have accumulations," he says. The market certainly appears bright for the product. According to the company, the market for I-joists has the potential to expand to more than $2.5 billion a year from the current $1 billion.

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