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Major Reman Play

MB joint-ventures with reman specialist Hudson Mitchell on construction of Mid-Island Reman at Nanaimo

By L. Ward Johnson
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Along with declining wood supply in BC is decling wood quality. Mills that have had to learn to do more with less now have less of the right quality of timber as well to produce the high-grade products they have in the past. Since this is not likely a temporary scenario, some major producers have looked at remanufacturing as one solution. Within the last few years, several large BC forest companies have built remanufacturing facilities, one of the newest being the Mid-Island Reman facility at Nanaimo, BC, on Vancouver Island.

Mid-Island Reman is a joint venture between a Surrey, BC company, Hudson Mitchell Holdings Ltd., and MacMillan Bloedel. Situated on a 23-acre site on Nanaimo's Duke Point, Mid-Island Reman is located in the heart of the Vancouver Island sawmill community. It is also only a short distance from MB's Island Phoenix sawmill, which will be one of Mid-Island's main customers. The plant started up in January after about one year under construction.

Heading up the operation is Jim Chisholm, a former MB manager in custom processing and marketing. Chisholm sees a bright future for remanufacturing and, while he says it isn't a panacea for the industry, he says this operation is committed for the long run. Chisholm believes this marriage between the two companies is a good one; MB brings fibre and marketing expertise, while Hudson Mitchell, mainly dependent on small-business timber for its wood supply, brings remanufacturing expertise. Hudson Mitchell is a specialist in cut stock and finger jointing.

According to Chisholm, Mid-Island Reman is intended as a fee-for-service operation and, although MacMillan Bloedel will be the main customer, Chisholm says the plant will also offer custom-cut services to other operators as well. The mill is designed specifically as a lumber remanufacturing facility.

Mid-Island Reman is intended to produce high-grade remanufactured products, including shop and better, from a whitewood mix of approximately 65 per cent Douglas fir and 35 per cent hemlock. Initially at least, dry and resaw flitch stock will be brought to the plant from MacMillan Bloedel Vancouver Island Sawmills at Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Chemainus. The lumber will be used to produce window and door stock and full-scale dimension in 1'' to 4-1/4'' thicknesses - in both species - and when fully processed will be marketed primarily to Italy, Germany and to other parts of Europe, by the MB marketing department.

Chisholm says the aim of the plant is to produce the highest quality products they can make, both for the two partners and for other operators who wish to utilize the service. The plant is planned to produce approximately 2.5 million board feet per month in dry material, and another three million to four million board feet per month from the green program. The plant presently has 30 hourly employees and six staff members, and works on a two-shift basis.

At this time, the processing line consists of two 5' Flare resaws, an LM Equipment hula saw for defect trimming, extensive sorting capabilities, and sticking and packaging stations. Chisholm says the plant is simple but flexible and they can get to every machine centre from any machine centre on the floor. The whole plant is under PLC control. Chisholm says the remanufacturing business is driven by economics, so they designed the plant to be as flexible as possible, with the ability to respond quickly to market changes.

Although processing operations at the plant are simple, the company invested heavily in dry kilns. Chisholm says drying is the most critical part of a remanufacturing operation. By doing a good job of drying, you lessen the possibility of degrading the original material. "Douglas fir and hemlock are especially prone to checking during drying, which makes them two of the most difficult species to kiln," he says. "Since we will be working primarily with these two species, it makes sense to do the best drying job we can."

The plant has four 98' double-track and two 44' side-load kilns. The Mahild kilns were built with aluminum and stainless steel construction and use a GTS Energy gas-fired thermal oil heat transfer system. The fully automated computerized dryline controls were supplied by Lignomat USA; Progressive Mill Supplies of Richmond BC coordinated the project utilizing the Gisborne Group for site and mechanical work tied to American and European equipment suppliers.

Chisholm says they spent nearly half of their capital budget on dry kilns but believes it will pay off in the end. "We're starting slowly and running conservative schedules to begin with, until we get familiar with the equipment. We need to build a good foundation in drying if this plant is to be successful."

When Mid-Island Reman was conceived, the idea was to build the plant in stages. "Our first objective is to get this initial phase up and running properly. Once we get to that stage we may look at further increasing our processing and upgrading capabilities. Future phases could include trimming optimization, edge gluing, finger jointing, and whatever else we may need in response to market demand."

Chisholm says the idea of the operation is to take in sawn material and upgrade it to produce high-quality, value-added remanufactured products. That requires the capability to not only turn out the highest value possible, but also to process by the best, most efficient means possible.

"To achieve these objectives," says Chisholm, "we need full capabilities to make products that are in demand, and we need the best in technology and equipment to maintain the highest quality output. To that end, we are starting slowly, establishing a good initial base, then gradually adding capabilities as we gain expertise. We think that's the way to go in a remanufacturing operation."

Chisholm says markets and wood supplies are changing all the time and that means the operation has to be flexible. "There are other suppliers with faster growing, lower cost wood, who have just as good a product. Both wood and operating costs in BC are among the highest in the world and that means we've got to be sharp. The only way we can compete is by putting top-quality products on the market at competitive prices. There's nothing new about this concept."

Chisholm says this is the basic idea behind the move into remanufacturing by many BC companies. "This industry can't compete in all cases with all products, but perhaps by upgrading products and adding value to them, we can maintain a viable position in the marketplace. We believe adding value to our products through a remanufacturing process is a promising way to ensure survival in this new market economy and that's why we built this plant. We think remanufacturing has a bright future and we want to develop a solid basis in it now."

Down the road, Mid-Island Reman intends to look at any remanufacturing opportunities that may present themselves as products and markets change. "We think we can meet the challenges if we have the right equipment, a high degree of flexibility, and the expertise to produce and deliver high-quality products," says Chisholm.

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