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Hard & Fast

Leading composite panel producer SierraPine has wasted no time in adding a hardboard line to its MDF plant in Rocklin, California.

By Joni Sensel

In less than two years, a business expansion for SierraPine Ltd's Rocklin, California medium density fiberboard (MDF) plant has gone from concept to commercial product. The plant, originally constructed during the 1970s, recently added a hardboard production line that will produce its first product for customers this spring. "We're proud of that timeline," says Rick Grimm, of the company's marketing division. "We've been able to achieve it because SierraPine Ltd is structured with few management layers, enabling us to make fast, sound decisions and to implement them quickly ."

Grimm isn't merely spouting corporate rhetoric. SierraPine, with headquarters in Roseville, California was formed in 1991 when it took ownership of the Rocklin MDF plant formerly owned by Bohemia. Since then, SierraPine has grown quickly to become the third largest composite panel producer in North America. Its holdings have expanded rapidly, primarily through acquisitions, including a Georgia Pacific particleboard plant in Martell, California; a Medite Corporation MDF plant in Medford, Oregon; and five Weyerhaeuser MDF, particleboard or plyveneer plants in Moncure, North Carolina, Springfield, Oregon and Adel, Georgia. The company also built a greenfield MDF molding plant near Sacramento.

The hardboard line includes an L42 Sunds refiner, a MEC dryer and a Convey-Keystone handling and stacking system equipped with Progressive Systems saws. The new line will turn out more than 43 million square feet of hardboard annually on a 3/4 inch basis.

The company's growth has been uppermost in the mind of Grimm. During a 1998 trade show in Atlanta, Grimm learned-through an acquaintance working for machinery manufacturer Kvaerner-about a reconditioned hardboard press that needed a new home. Kvaerner was acting as the sales agent for an Australian company that no longer needed a press and production line. Interested, Grimm and other SierraPine representatives traveled halfway around the globe to take a look.

The press was in the possession of CSR Limited, a major construction and building materials company with operations in Australia, among other countries. CSR had purchased the press used, reconditioned it, and installed it in a plant just outside of Sydney, Australia, in 1990. After approximately half a dozen years in service, the press was decommissioned again when the CSR plant installed a new line. The SierraPine executives made the decision to buy the equipment and bring it to California. "We're probably the third owner," Grimm says, noting that the original owner might well have been a European company.

The globetrotting press was dismantled for its next journey. "Dismantling, packaging and shipping the production line equipment from Australia was one of our significant milestones," says Grimm. Today all equipment for the addition is at the Rocklin site. The last pieces were installed during January. "We made our first board and officially began startup during February," says Grimm.

The fibre that the Rocklin plant will turn into new hardboard is predominantly pine, sourced from various secondary manufacturing plants throughout California.

The forming line and single-opening, eight-foot-wide continuous press have been completely upgraded. The hardboard line includes an L42 Sunds refiner, a MEC dryer, and a Convey-Keystone handling and stacking system equipped with Progressive Systems saws. "The material handling, stacking, and sawing equipment was specifically designed to meet our criteria, but was based on proven engineering principles," Grimm says. "All systems will be operated with state-of- the-art computerized controls," he adds. "Production is completely controlled by digital input-output, and computers provide the human/machine interface to all the operating equipment. Using data acquisition of process parameters, we will apply Statistical Process Control (SPC) methods to assure product consistency ."

Computers will also allow SierraPine to use a bar code system for its warehousing. The new hardboard line will run around the clock, seven days a week, just as the plant's MDF operations do already. The new line will turn out more than 43 million square feet of hardboard annually on a 3/4 inch basis. That will boost the plant's total current production capacity by nearly 50 per cent to more than 130 million square feet from 90 million square feet per year.

The fibre that the Rocklin plant will turn into new hardboard is predominantly pine, sourced from various secondary manufacturing plants throughout California. The plant's raw material includes urban wood from the municipal waste stream originating from the Los Angeles Basin, the San Francisco Bay area, and the Sacramento region. "Our resource manager has sourced urban wood from these regions for years," Grimm notes with satisfaction. "And as a result, all of the products from our Rocklin and Martell, California, operations, as well as from our Medford, Oregon, MDF plant, have been certified by Scientific Certification Systems for use of 100 per cent recovered and recycled fibre ."

Grimm says the addition of a thin-board line was a way to round out the SierraPine product line. "It complements our existing MDF products manufactured in Rocklin and will increase our level of customer service," he explains. The company declines to disclose the cost of the upgrade, but Grimm does say the work is proceeding on budget. Obtaining environmental and building permits were among the project's greatest challenges, he notes. "It was just a long process," he says. "I've talked to plant managers from all over the United States, and it's a little bit tougher in California ."

The state's air pollution control laws, in particular, require close attention to pollution control equipment designed to reduce or eliminate production line emissions. "We installed a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) to eliminate volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, and we employed Best Available Control Technology (BACT) on all pneumatic conveying systems," Grimm says. "Concern for the environment played a significant part in our planning and budgeting ." Although local pollution control standards are admittedly challenging, there's a flip side to being in California. "The Los Angeles market for wood products is huge," says Grimm. "The amount of industry that goes on here is mind-boggling ."

SierraPine's Rocklin plant plans to take advantage of that insatiable market by supplying it with hardboard as well as its current line of MDF. "We saw the growth potential for a thin, low-cost fibre product ideally suited for furniture and cabinet applications as well as for the interior door skin market," says Grimm. The Rocklin plant team also plans to sell its hardboard to other customers along the West Coast and across the United States. To run the new line, the company hired 38 additional employees, who join the 160 people already working on the plant's management team or in its MDF production and finishing operations.

Grimm notes that the plant's general manager, Matt Matteson, and superintendent Tom Moore have been key players in the addition. SierraPine hired Moore specifically to build and run the hardboard line. "Right now our biggest challenge is to get through the startup and achieve full production capacity," says Grimm. If the remainder of the project moves as promptly as its planning and construction, however, trucks should be hauling SierraPine hardboard from Rocklin in no time.

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