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Closed for two years under its previous owners, GP Flakeboard's particle board plant in Bancroft – upgraded for $54 million – is now run with a dramatically different management style.

Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Ontario is one example where a combination of mechaniza-tion and skilled managers has revitalized a forest industry that dates back to the early 1800s.

Consider the average age of managers at the Domtar sawmill at White River, the Jager strand board OSB plant in Wawa, the MacMillan Bloedel MDF plant in Pe m b ro ke, and the GP-Flakeboard particle board plant in Bancroft: it is somewhere between 35 and 45. All are extremely computer literate, and can call up production numbers instantly for the last day, week, month and year. Plus, the plants operate with only a handful of managers.

Sure, GP-Flakeboard invested $54 million to restart the Bancroft particleboard plant located in east central Ontario. But they also lured a 17-year veteran in panel board production from Domtar to operate the mill. Managers like GP-Flakeboard’s David Cope provide the leadership that builds trust with employees, in communities that depend entirely on the forest industry.

21st Century “We run 75 per cent of the time without any management in the plant at all,” says Cope. “We do have a core of management people in key positions who are just here during the day. They are really just co-ordinating the efforts of the shifts, and making sure that the shifts have what they need.”

This is a far cry from the previous owners, Combi-Board, who had management supervision around the clock.

“It’s a management style,” says Cope. “We are trending toward the team concept here. There were unfriendly labour relations under Combi-Board, and I think we have gone a long way to settle those things down.” Cope has worked hard with the union to develop a team concept, and they have worked together on a plant design. The previous owner made employees walk nearly half a mile from their parking lot to work. Now, they can park next to the plant. Cope knows that it’s the little things that help.

GP-Flakeboard purchased the plant from Combi-Board in October, 1993. The plant had gone bankrupt and had been shut down for almost two years, causing severe economic hardship in Bancroft.

Part of the reason why Combi-Board failed was because it was a single-owner company with limited financial resources. “During construction of the original mill, as money started to get tighter and tighter, I think there were things that got shaved from the project,” says Cope. “There were things that should have been done that weren’t done, and I think that came back to haunt them.”

After purchasing the plant, GP-Flakeboard spent nearly a year on plant re-engineering, new construction, modifications, upgrading, maintenance and training. The particle board former and press, the refining area, three inside dryers, the finishing line, and the single truck dump all existed. GP-Flakeboard invested heavily into the plant’s front-end raw material delivery system byinstalling a large storage building, a large raw materials in-feeding system, and two pre-dryers. They also converted the inside dryers from single pass to triple pass.

“With the work that we did on it, I think that we took out a lot of the bottlenecks and inefficiencies of the plant,” says Cope. “The previous plant had a lot of fires and explosions because they had to dry green material just prior to their screening, and operated with only three inside dryers.”

GP-Flakeboard went into full particle board production at Bancroft in November, 1994. Since then, they have effectively doubled production of the previous plant, operating with 115 full-time employees on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-per-week basis.

This is also a major change, as the pre-vious plant operated only five days a week, and with fewer employees. “My belief is that you just can’t run a particle board mill that way, not effectively,” says Cope. “This thing has to run and it has to run seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If you shut down on Friday, and try to start up on Monday, you normally end up with more like a four-day week.”

That’s great news for the community, as it means more jobs. Plus, GP-Flakeboard has worked hard to address the community’s concern about plant noise disturbance.

“One of the biggest expenses that we did,” says Cope, “was noise abatement with all the existing equipment.” They have changed all dryer and heat plant fans to Robertson radial tip fans. They also put an experimental muffler system on their pre-dryers. “It’s been very successful. The neighbourhood tells me that there has been a vast improvement.”

Noise is metered by the Ministry of Environment, and the noise abatement program is ongoing. GP-Flakeboard consumes about 200 million metric tonnes of sawmill residuals annually. It comprises 40 per cent sawdust and 60 per cent chips, gathered from a 500-km radius and 70 suppliers.

The ratio of softwood to hardwood residuals going to produce particle board is 50/50, derived mostly from poplar and white pine. They produce 140 million square feet of industrial-grade par-ticle board annually, based on 3/4''. Thicknesses range from 1/2'', 5/8'',3/4'', and 1''. They also produce small amounts of 11/16'', and 1-/8'' thickness particle board.

They operate a 12-opening, 5' x24' multi - opening Dieffenbacher press. Particle board is produced in various multiples of 24, such as two 12' lengths or three 8' lengths. Fibre enters the plant at the scalehouse. This area has become an integral part of management’s quality control. In addition to weighing the fibre, the scalehouse has a computerized testing and inventory control station. Fibre is tested for moisture content, bark content and grit levels.

The entire plant is heated using a two-celled Wellons furnace, that uses waste bark as fuel. “The fuel-feed system was complete-ly redesigned and relocated for the new plant,” says Cope, “and incorporates a new stoker-feed bin, hammer hog and internal stor-age bin to remedy past problems.”

The truck dump area has been modified to operate fully auto-matically, using computer read-out cards from the scalehouse so that fibre is automatically placed in the proper storage bin. The raw material storage area consists of 10 separate storage bins fed by two truck dumps located above them. It has a roof, and the area has been paved to avoid grit contamination.

Fibre enters the process through a stoker- fed re-entry bin dedicated to each raw material type. Each stoker bin feeds to a metering box which is relieved by a metering chain conveyor controlled by the central processor in the control room.

“This system allows us to accurately set and maintain a con-sistent recipe of species and type to the process,” says Cope. Material headed for core or surface pre-dryers passes under self-cleaning m agnets, disc screens and hammer hogs to prepare it for the upcoming p rocess.

Two new MEC pre-dryers drop the moisture content of raw material by 50 per cent prior to initial grit screening, storage, flaking and refining.

Initial screening is performed prior to flaking and refining to remove grit and reorient material. Core material is passed over an Algaier screen while surface material is exposed to a drum screen. Four large, stoker-feed storage bins are placed between the initial screening process and the flaking and refining process in preparation for processing, as needed.

Once put into process, material is screened for grit and exposed to magnets prior to entering the flakers and refiners. All core material passes through one of three Pallman flakers while all surface material is refined by one of five Pallman PSKMs.

The Core and Surface SHW feed bins between the flaker/refiner process and the finish dryers are new and were added to provide consistent feed to the finish dryers, and to provide additional process flexibility.

Material then enters the finish drye rs , which GP Flakeboard converted into a triple-pass system.

GP Flakeboard made modifications or completely changed out equipment throughout the manufacturing process, from the blenders and glue kitchen, to making the forming, loader, press, cooling line, and finishing stages more efficient and reliable.

But from a technology standpoint, among the most significant changes was in the control room.

Under the Combi-Board operation, most of the controls in the dryer / fo rm e r / p re s s control room were analog or push-button based. Now, older PLC systems have been, or are in the process of being, converted to the latest Allen-Bradley Contro l - Vi ew technology.

“ Low - grade, single-purpose software and hardware has been replaced with high-end, state-of-the-art, multi-purpose, infor-mation and control systems,” says Cope.

“This evolution is ongoing as our electrical department works to convert older, ‘black box’ technologies to a more user-friendly format.”

About 70 per cent of Bancroft particle board production is exported to the US; the product is used mostly in cabinetry and ready-to-assemble to furniture.

Cope describes particle board as the ‘workhorse’ of the engineered wood industry, in terms of its usage by furniture manufacturers.

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