Growing on Success
East Fraser Fiber's finger jointing plant in BC has met with success and the company has expansion plans.
By Jim Stirling
"Everyone in the finger joint plant is essentially a lumber grader and everyone makes a call on each piece. We believe in quality. We live or die with recovery and we live or die with our people," he says. About half the staff at East Fraser Fiber have voluntarily taken lumber grading classes to better analyze and sort the differing quality, lengths and widths of pieces. "We try to do more right things than wrong things in our plant and we've certainly done that," adds Glazier.
Witness the trend in plant production. Five years ago, the independently owned value added plant produced about 11 million board feet of product. In 1999, the output was 26 million board feet. East Fraser Fiber utilizes pieces from eight inches long to produce quality finger jointed studs to 10foot lengths. It's a high piece count/high speed operation. The finger joint line can run at 175 lugs per minute. The work is intense, requiring dexterity and concentration. For example, two people will handle 30,000 pieces of wood through the plant's ripsaws in a seven and a half-hour shift. It is also interesting that individual crewmembers-not supervisors-decide at coffee or meal breaks if and when they rotate between the wood sorting and handling stations.
The operation requires 18 people per shift (including quality control) and runs three shifts a day. More than half the employees are women. The company pays IWA sawmill rates rather than the reman plant pay scale. Training is in-house and plant manager Brian Sebelius estimates it takes two to three months to get up to speed-literally and figuratively- on piece handling and quality assessment requirements. Staff turnover is less than five per cent, he adds. East Fraser Fiber has developed mutually rewarding and cooperative working relationships with Mackenzie's big three forest companies. It receives its raw materials under long-term contracts from Slocan Forest Products Ltd and Donohue Forest Products Inc. Slocan also markets East Fraser's lumber products under the name Parallel 55. Fletcher Challenge Canada Ltd's pulp mill buys chips from East Fraser, including product from its whole log 60-foot drum debarker and chipper, which operates in the spring and summer months.
The finger joint plant accepts everything from trim blocks to sawdust from the planers at Slocan and Donohue. Receiving a range of material gives East Fraser the opportunity to appraise each piece to maximize recovery. The raw material is delivered by contracted trucks and deposited under weather-protected cover into one of four large bins. Pieces from the storage bins are manually oriented lengthwise and smalls and sawdust are further separated and removed as material flows along a vibrating conveyor. East Fraser recently expanded the plant building to accommodate a second chipper and rescreening system.
The additional machine maintains production during downtime and facilitates maintenance. The re screen system reclaims merchantable fibre from rejects. On the mill's mezzanine level, pieces are further graded, sorted, oriented and prepared for rip sawing. Each block dictates what it will make-2x3, 2x4, 2x6 or whatever. A third rip saw location helps keep product flow ahead of the finger jointing process.
Pieces are delivered to bins according to size. Each bin can hold about 30,000 pieces and all four can require emptying during a 24hour operating period-that's high piece count. Pieces from the bins run on a conveyor for the approach to the PLC operated finger joint line. Any missorts are taken out and stacked, and pieces are oriented and trimmed to square if required. A trim saw ahead of the finger joint machine removes knots, wane and other defects.
The finger profile is incised and white glue applied. The finger jointer is an overhauled Western Pneumatic machine. Downstream are crowder rolls, the flying cut off saw and trimmer. The product is dressed in a planer before delivery to stacking and wrapping stations. The Parallel 55 wrap neatly reflects Mackenzie's geographical location and the straight, no warp, no twist character of the studs. Finished products are loaded on rail cars or trucked to customers. Glazier credits electrician and millwright Jim Martin for keeping the line operating around the clock at up to 175 lugs per min. He's nursed, cajoled and convinced the hydraulic pump and drive systems to keep working under pressure.
And he's completed numerous mechanical and physical adjustments to equipment to keep product flowing. In his spare time, Martin has trained five apprentices. Tracy Rommel is also kept busy. She conducts a series of stringent quality control tests to ensure East Fraser's products maintain the consistency and quality required under NLGA rules. These include edge and flat bending to simulate vertical end use stresses. A 20 piece sample of each dimension is tested every two hours and must achieve an average minimum standard to be accepted. Hourly delamination tests on the products check glue lines.
This involves placing a piece in a vacuum for an hour, immersing it in water for two hours and baking it in an oven for another 11 hours. After all that, only a five to 10 per cent glue separation is permitted. Moisture content is also checked and the quality control testing and grading itself is also monitored and assessed by the Northern Forest Products Association. East Fraser's activities are impacted significantly by US restrictions on imported Canadian softwood lumber and the resultant, much accursed quota system. The plant produced drilled and notched finger jointed studs until the US changed the rules and made the products part of the quota. Consequently, new markets are being sought for East Fraser in Canada and with J grade and metric sized products.
"We didn't have a big presence in the Canadian market but we've got good raw material and high quality products and that's helping lead to more reorders," says Jerry Deere who recently joined the East Fraser team after taking early retirement from Canfor. Deere is well known and respected in BC forest industry circles. East Fraser's marketing efforts in Japan (through Slocan) involve paying close attention to the end user. "We think when we ship the product and let them try it, they will find it as good or better than solid grade timber," adds Deere. Last fall, East Fraser was offered a six-year licence to harvest 640,000 cubic metres of timber in the Mackenzie Timber Supply Area. "Security wise it's good, but time will tell how valuable an asset it is," says Deere. "A lot depends on the quota issue.
We want to sell the wood to local sawmills." East Fraser committed to creating 18 jobs, which it's well on the way to doing with the increase in shifts and its $1.8 million investment in the plant. Installing a rip and chop line to remanufacture lumber was viewed as a method to increase production and maintain it in the event of a quota induced reduction in trim block material supply from the big mills. However, Donohue has made a similar proposal to the Ministry of Forests to build a value added plant and create 23 new jobs as a strategy to get their five per cent Annual Allowable Cut reduction reinstated.
The reduction was caused by the company's acquisition of the balance of Finlay Forest Industries Inc. Whatever transpires, East Fraser will create its new jobs and invest the $1.8 million in its plant. An advantage of being a small company is the ability to make decisions and implement them quickly. And East Fraser has another ace in the hole: its involved and skilled people.
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last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004