December 2003 January 2004
Staying a low-cost producer
Quebec-based Daaquam Lumber, purchased recently by forestry giant Canfor, has stayed a low-cost producer by carrying out ongoing upgrades, including a very recent, and very extensive, planer upgrade.
By George Fullerton
At forestry giant Canfor’s annual general meeting held this past spring in Vancouver, company CEO David Emerson said that the acquisition—for $50 million—of the Daaquam Lumber operations in Quebec fit very well with Canfor’s plans to create the dominant lumber franchise in North America. The company’s announcement in November that it plans to take over Slocan Forest products no dought furthers that goal. The 150 million board foot capacity Daaquam operation is located in St Just-De-Bretenières, southeast of Quebec City on the Maine border.
The package seems attractive; Daaquam has established a reputation as one of lowest-cost lumber producers in Quebec. It achieved this enviable status through a commitment to continuous upgrading with advanced production technology. Other reasons for its success include maintaining a far ranging and innovative wood supply, and an aggressive and responsive marketing strategy that served markets all across the continental United States. In their announcement of the deal, Canfor said that the acquisition fit nicely into their plans to improve service to eastern US customers.
The Daaquam operation is a platform strategically located to supply eastern US customers. In addition to its established Quebec operation, Daaquam had for some time been working on a plan to build a state-of-the-art stud mill on the former site of the defunct International Paper sawmill in Costigan in eastern Maine. The Daaquam acquisition also brought the two company owners to work on the Canfor team. Richard Bélanger, former president of Daaquam, joined Canfor as senior vice-president for eastern operations and corporate development. Yvan Pouliot maintains his position as operations manager in the Quebec operation. Bélanger and Pouliot began working for Daaquam in 1987, and acquired control of the company in 1995.
With Bélanger’s management and lumber industry expertise and Pouliot’s proficiency in milling operations, there was major growth for Daaquam, with investments of more that $30 million in optimization and other mill production technology. Asked how the purchase by Canfor had come about, Bélanger commented: “Well first of all, Daaquam was not for sale. We had enjoyed a good business relationship with Canfor for many years. But, as we looked at how the lumber industry was changing, we became convinced that in the future the industry will be dominated by big retailers who will be looking for very large and reliable supply from large low-cost lumber producers. “In the past Daaquam found a premium in market niches and was able to operate profitably. But it will not be that way in the future. We became convinced that consolidation in lumber production will continue, and we came to the conclusion that the Canfor opportunity was good for Daaquam.”
In the yard, log- and tree-length material is handled by Arbrofer loaders. Logs get a dip in a hot pond before entering the mill and debarking by one of four Cambio (now part of USNR) debarkers. One operator handles two 18-inch Cambios that feed to small log lines, and a second operator handles another 18-inch and a 30-inch Cambio, which handles large diameter logs. Quality control supervisor Christian Dionne explained that the Daaquam mill pays particular attention to debarking quality and runs weekly test samples to determine the amount of wood fibre in bark residue. “We make adjustments to the debarkers based on the analysis. In the winter, when debarking is more difficult, we increase sampling to as much as three times a week and adjust the debarkers accordingly to keep the optimum quality.”
The smallest logs (three to six-inch diameter) go through Comact twin band saws with five-foot wheels and 10-inch bands. The second saw line (also Comact) is designed to handle three to 10-inch logs, and has six-foot wheels and 20-inch bands. The large log line is a Forano carriage and Comact 11-inch double cut band. “Although the (mid-size) line can handle down to three-inch, we want to see logs six to ten-inch primarily, and the smaller logs sorted to the small log line,” said Dionne. Cants from the twin saws are in turn broken down by optimized Comact bull edgers on the small and mid-sized lines. The most recent major upgrade to the Daaquam facility has been to the planer operation. Construction of the new planer mill started in May 2002 and was completed in September 2002. The operation has the capacity to handle 500,000 board feet per shift and has a best shift record of 530,000 board feet.
The current goal is to sustain production of three million board feet per week. “This planner operation is the current benchmark for all of North America,” said Bélanger. “We have a lot of people in the industry that have come to see it.” Gemofor from Normandin, Quebec supplied equipment for the planer mill including tables, double-tilt hoist, conveyors, re-sawing, and grading and trimming equipment. The Gilbert planer at the heart of the system runs at 2,000 feet per minute. The bull edgers have sweep sawing capacity and run guided, 0.095-inch blades with 0.125-inch kerf on the small line and 0.135-inch on the mid-sized line. Flitches from the saws are handled by a Comact top head edger and a Gilbert edger.
The trim line was manufactured by Carbotec of Plessieville, Quebec, and features an Autolog trimmer optimizer. It currently runs at 110 feet per minute, with a capacity to run up to 125 feet per minute. All the conveyors, the 110 bin sorter system, unscrambler and stacker were also manufactured by Carbotec. Pulp chips are handled by a conveyor system that loads directly into railcars and trailers for delivery to Southern Quebec pulp mills. The chip handling system focuses on providing very clean and fresh product and as such has only minimal capacity to pile chips. Bark is sold to Southern Quebec operations, primarily to co-gen operations. Daaquam operates three Cathild kilns, using mill residue for energy. Two 225,000 board foot kilns are energized through a 250 horsepower boiler fired by sawdust and shavings.
The third 250,000 board foot kiln has a 350 horsepower boiler fired by planer shavings. Gemofor also provided the automatic grader system, which identifies grades of individual pieces with UV ink. The ink remains visible on the lumber for only a few minutes. The UV grade identification is in turn read by a scanner before pieces are directed to one of three human graders (situated on elevated stations) who double check the assigned grade. They correct it, if necessary, before the lumber continues to an automated grade stamping system, which was supplied by VisuaScan. “This is the first time that VisuaScan has adapted their grade stamping systems to lumber and we are very pleased with its performance,” said Dionne. Final trimming is handled by two Gemofor trim saws. In the first saw box, saws are set for one-foot lengths.
The second saw box has moveable saws for any custom length orders that customers may require. The graded lumber is sorted in a 50-bin sorter system. Finished bundles are strapped by a Signode automatic pressure strapping system. Obviously keenly interested in staying one of Quebec’s lowest-cost lumber producers, the company constantly looks at the latest technological advances and innovations. The Daaquam mill staff is currently working on a three-year upgrade strategy, which will be assessed by a Canfor team. Prior to being acquired by Canfor, Daaquam had purchased a currently defunct studwood mill at Costigan, Maine, with a plan to build a new mill on the site. “Daaquam had initialized a deal to rebuild the Costigan stud mill,” Bélanger explained. “Now Canfor is considering continuing with the plan to build a state- of-the-art sawmill that would produce 150 million board feet per year on a two- shift operation.”
Bélanger said that with Canfor’s approval, construction of the Costigan mill could start in 2004. The combined operation of the two mills would give Canfor an additional 300 million board feet per year, a pretty good platform for its goal of serving markets in eastern North America. The Daaquam acquisition, along with the Slocan deal, gives Canfor a solid lock as Canada’s top softwood lumber producer, in terms of production.
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