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Short Strand OSB

Summary: Jager Strandboard boasts some new production approaches - including the use of single-pass drying - to what is typically seen in older-generation OSB plants.

By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Long known as a tourist destination and the recipient of howling winds and flash snowstorms off Lake Superior, Wawa, Ontario also offers one of the most attractive wood baskets still available in the province. That is what attracted a group of investors, including MacMillan Bloedel, to construct an oriented strandboard (OSB) plant 30 km east of this community.

Its called the Jager Strandboard Limited Partnership, owned 82 per cent by H.J. Forest and 18 per cent by MacMillan Bloedel. About 90 per cent of their projected annual production of 400 million square feet will serve the American construction industry. Wawais 225 km north of Sault Ste. Marie on the TransCanada Highway, and has a population of about 4,700.

The forest industry is a relat ively new arrival to the area. Most of Jager Strandboard's 125 employees come from the community. Jager has benefited great ly from a desire among logging contractors to practice single-pass harvesting within the area's predominantly mixed wood stands.

Harvested conifers head to the sawmill, while Jager consumes the aspen and birch. They have a secure wood basket of about 750,000 m 3 and will process about 80 per cent aspen and 20 per cent birch. Plant manager Rick Cretain describes the Jager plant as a state-of-the-art facility, eager to tap into the growing demand for OSB in the construction industry.

Experts predict that OSB will capture about 80 per cent of the construction market, versus the 50 per cent it currently holds down, within a short time. "The one thing that is critical in our minds is the long strand," says Cretain, who has been involved with OSB manufacture since building a plant in Edson, Alberta back in 1982. "We are a six-inch strand plant. We've gone away from the typical triple-pass dryers that are familiar in all the older-generation OSB plants, and have gone with two very large single-pass dryers." The result is improved OSB strength and stiffness. H.J. Forest chairman Harvey Jager discovered the Ontario wood supply about six years ago. He then secured it, drafted a business plan and went hunting for financing and partners. MacMillian Bloedel became involved because of its plan to become a diversified wood products marketer. Their involvement gave comfort to financial institutions looking to finance the project. They arrived later on the scene, but in the end, won out over several other companies evaluating their possible partnership with H.J. Forest.

"MacMillian Bloedel got involved because their primary interest is marketing," says Cretain. "They are the largest marketer in Canada, with well over $4 billion in annual sales. What attracted them about this project was the opportunity to bring OSB to market. Its very, very important to their growth."

MacMillan Bloedel invested $5 million and earned exclusive marketing rights. They formed the MacMillian Bloedel Composite Building Products Group a year and a half ago to market OSB products produced at Jager Strandboard, SaskFor, and Eagle Forest in Miramichi, New Brunswick, as well as medium-density fibreboard (MDF) produced at their joint ven-ture plant in Pembroke, Ontario.

MacMillian Bloedel has launched a number of joint ventures recently, about 15 in total, spanning the spectrum from raw materials to specialized, value-added products derived from engineered wood. Ground-breaking occurred at Wawa in July, 1994, and their first OSB board came off the line on September 30 last year. They are now into full production.

At the time of site selection, finding a level location for the plant was a challenge in this hilly and rocky region of the Canadian Shield. Their eventual location, which is essentially a sand pit, proved doubly attractive, given its close proximity to a rail spur belonging to an American company _ Wisconsin Central.

They considered locating in Sault Ste. Marie, or Chapleau, about 120 km further east.

Wawa won out because it had excellent infrastructure and was more central to their potential wood sources. "We get excellent service into our market area," says Cretain. "And for the domestic market, we are on a major highway. So what we have here is an opportunity to be a low-cost manufacturer, because freight is a major portion of our costs in getting to market."

OSB has two advantages over plywood _ a large wood fibre source, and engineered control to ensure consistent quality. Given his experience, Cretain says that OSB will give plywood a real run for its money. "I built a plant in Alberta in 1982 and there was some question then about market acceptance," he says. "It was a tougher sell. But through that 14-year period, market acceptance has grown. Newer plants, particularly with the quality control that we have in a plant like this, create a very consistent product."

OSB plants take the wood that nobody else wants and convert it into an engineered product, says Cretain. "In a sense, we are a garbage gobbler of wood," he says. "We take it down to an engineered strand. We can control the building block to make our product _ the strand _ in length, width and thickness. So what we attempt to do is take Mother Nature right down to a basic element that we can control, and then rebuild it into an engineered product."

The result is a comparable product to plywood, using a much cheaper material base. Their Siempelkamp 14-opening 8'X24' press can produce OSB anywhere from 1/4" to 1-1/4" thickness. While they can produce a variety of sizes, Cretain says about 98 per cent of their production will be 4'X8' sheets.

Jager Strandboard uses two 980 Cat wheel loaders with Paralift booms to move wood from decks to four 180' conditioning thaw ponds. After conditioning, the logs enter one of two production lines where they first encounter Nicholson A5A debarkers. Once debarked, the logs enter the critical stranding stage, managed by CAE batch - feed stranders. After stranding, the wood fibre is conveyed to two 12,500-cubic-foot green storage and metering bins. Merick weigh belt conveyors, which control the dryer feed, send the fibre into two Radar 80'X20' single-pass dryers . The entire plant and manufacturing process is heated by a Salton 225-million BTU/hour, hog-fired energy system that comes with a 80-million BTU/hour thermal oil system.

Once dried and stored, the fibre under-goes phenolic/slack wax treatment in a coil blending system. It then proceeds to the crucial forming line, where it first encoun-ters Siempelkamp face forming and orienting heads, core forming and orienting heads, as well as a Combiline with side trim saws. The Siempelkamp press is capable of pressing 14 boards at once. After the press process occurs, a Grecon system monitors finished panel thickness, bond integrity and density. The finishing line consists of a Globe trim saw system, with pre-trim saws, scoring saws and an in-line Globe specialty line for tongue and groove that comes with a Steinemann four-head sander. Finally, Jager uses a Burelbach paint sys-tem for edge seal and an Acme strapper.

Cretain says their philosophy for equipment selection was to choose proven vendors to minimize the risk. The Ontario government's only involvement with the Jager Strandboard plant beyond supplying the wood source is to offer some assistance with training.

Cretain says they could operate in perpetuity. Ontario has dictated that they operate on a sustainable basis, harvesting less wood than what is growing. The wood supply could go on forever. In terms of plant life, he says it depends on technology. They expect to operate between 25 and 30 years. While they are definitely interested in any value-added production that can eventually occur at their Wawa facility, Jager's current focus is consistent, full production of their 4'X8' sheets, as well as shipping quality material to market. Staff is non-union. Their emphasis is on team work, coupled wit h competitive wages tied to an incentive package based on individual and team performance. Cretain says there is an excellent labour base available in Wawa.

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