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October 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Step by step

Domtar’s Val d’Or, Québec sawmill has invested in new high-tech production equipment through step-by-step upgrades, the most recent involving Comact optimization equipment.

By Martine Frigon

Although Domtar has a large number of sawmills in Québec, the mill in Val d’Or is known as being a solid lumber performer, year-in, year-out.

Located in this town of 35,000 in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, some 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal, the sawmill has been in operation for 32 years. Previously owned by Forex, it was acquired by Domtar in 1989. It now employs 120 workers, who work two shifts operating two production lines for stud production, three dry kilns and a planing area.

Mill management have long been advocates of ongoing plant modernization, which has resulted in several equipment updates. One such major update in 2002 resulted in the sawmill being given an award by the Val d’Or Chamber of Commerce for its $5 million investment and improved performance, including a 12 per cent increase in production after a new saw line was installed. It currently has annual lumber production capacity of 110 million board feet with annual chip production totaling 102,000 dry metric tons.

The equipment at the Val d’Or mill includes three Salton dry kilns. With its two saw lines, the mill has annual lumber production capacity of 110 million board feet.

Today the big challenges for the sawmill include a 20 per cent reduction in volume imposed by the Québec government earlier this year, the strength of the Canadian dollar and global competition.

But perhaps the thorniest challenge lies in negotiations with the Algonquin First Nations group concerning ancestral rights on a part of the sawmill’s supply contract of the Timber Supply and Forest Management Agreements, commonly called CAAF (the acronym for Contrat d’approvisionnement et d’aménagement forestier).

That challenge, which centres on forestry operations on Twin Rapid Road, came to a head last fall when a barricade was set up by the natives in a bid to stop Domtar workers and forest sub-contractors from reaching the site. The case is still in dispute, but the blockade has ended, allowing normal forestry work to resume.

Domtar’s 1989 purchase of the sawmill was a good move, according to the union representing its workers. The union is affiliated with Québec’s Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), the union organization that manages the sawmill’s collective agreement. An article in the CSN’s archives details the problems with the former owner, including a 16-month closure that began in 1985 and 200 to 300 grievances being registered annually.

Mario Tremblay has headed the Val d’Or sawmill operation since last year. He was previously production manager of Domtar’s Matagami sawmill, hundreds of kilometres further north. The native of Baie-Comeau, on the North Shore of Québec, has a tremendous amount of forestry experience despite being only 35.

The sawmill operates two saw lines: one for small logs and the other for larger logs, as well as three Salton dry kilns. “Each dry kiln takes 45 hours to dry 250,000 board feet, which is approximately 2,000 board foot per pack,” says Tremblay.

Upgrades at the Val d’Or operation have included the installation of a new HewSaw saw line that can be programmed to handle a variety of log sizes.

The sawmill has been updated gradually over the years, including the 2002 installation of a new saw line specializing in small logs. The HewSaw saw line, model R200MSATS, has four colour cameras that can be programmed to handle a variety of log sizes. “The forest determines the programs we will use and the sizes we have to cut,” jokes Tremblay.

“We handle approximately 14,000 logs every 10 hours,” he adds. The equipment is able to handle wood diameter ranging from 2.5 to nine inches. A Comact optimization scanner was added to the large saw line, a canter twin, which processes an average of 10,000 logs per 10-hour period. Although it’s been in operation since 1991, the canter twin has seen several updates over the years.

A Comact linear optimized table was also updated in July 2004, when the scanner and software were changed. The company also added a Comact optimized board edger and Comact optimizer, which handle boards with readers at every inch.

Domtar invested $2 million to install this equipment. The scanner is programmed to find the most advantageous cutting for the sawmill, with every block scanned, with a frequency of 115 pieces per minute.

Domtar has made several other investments in the sawmill. “In 2001, we updated the planing area. Classifications are still done visually, and we manually check for diseases, but for shape and appearance we settled on a new, leading scanner. The Optifor scanner has a system that can do follow-ups and put invisible codes on each piece,” says Tremblay.

Mario Tremblay (left) heads up the Val d’Or sawmill. “We want our employees to feel involved and feel that they are the reason for our strong results,” says Tremblay.


The sawmill allows employees some leeway in the work methods they can use. For example, the Japanese continual improvement method Kaizen and the “5 S” methods (sort out, straighten up, shine, standardize, sustain) are particularly appreciated by mechanical department employees. Visitors are immediately struck by the workshop’s neatness and cleanliness. Everything was well thought out in term of efficiency and safety. “I am really proud of the team,” says Tremblay.

A clearly visible screen in the factory displays real time production and shows safety messages. “We want our employees to feel involved and realize they’re the reason for our strong results,” he adds.

The sawmill’s surrounding wood supply is ensured by a CAAF (Forest Management Agreement) covering 474,000 cubic metres of timber, predominantly spruce, but also pine and fir. Forest management practices are certified ISO 14001 and the sawmill is certified ISO 9001: 2000.

In terms of dressed products, the sawmill produces lumber of six feet to 10 feet in 2x3, 2x4, 2x6, 4x4, 5/4x6, in premium, stud, #1-2, #3 and economy grades. It also offers rough products of 1x3 and 1x4 from five feet to 10 feet, and 2x3, 2x4, 2x6 in five and six feet. Everything is transported by B-trains, semi-trailer or rail by CN.

“Our clients are big-boxes that specialize in building materials, hardware stores and distributors in the United States and Canada,” explains Tremblay. Everything produced at the sawmill is used; shavings are shipped to another Domtar plant in Lebel-sur-Quévillon, a little to the north in the Abitibi region. Bark serves as fuel for the boiler and the balance is sold, along with sawdust and shavings.

The mill’s equipment upgrades include a Comact optimization scanner (above) added to the large saw line, which processes an average of 10,000 logs per 10-hour period.

One of the major concerns of management and workers at the Val d’Or sawmill is the results of current negotiation between the Algonquin in Abitibi and the Québec government. Domtar obtains its supply from the 083-875 common area, particularly from the Twin Rapid Road sector as well as La Vérendrye Provincial Park—a 150 kilometre total radius. The dispute centres on Twin Rapid Road, the territory claimed by the Algonquin.

In August 2004, the Long Point and Lake Simon Algonquin intensified pressure in the dispute by setting up a blockade that limited access to the wood. This, of course, greatly slowed down forestry operations in the region. “We are not the cause of this problem, but rather the victims,” says Richard Descarries, the Domtar spokesman, at the time of the blockade.

While tensions have eased of late, negotiations remain at a dead-end. Still, a certificate authorizing Domtar to harvest on the territory claimed by the Algonquin was approved by Québec’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife. It’s an issue that will definitely have to be followed closely in the coming months.


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