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December 2003 January 2004

QUEBEC SAWMILLING

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

The Daaquam sawmill, located southeast of Quebec City near the border with Maine, has an annual capacity of 150 million board feet.

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.

Quality control supervisor Christian Dionne notes 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.

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.”

Logs get a dip in a hot pond before entering the mill for debarking.

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 equipment line-up on the Daaquam saw lines include Comact twin band saws. Cants from the twin saws are broken down by optimized Comact bull edgers on the small and mid-sized lines.

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 VisuaScan automatic grade stamping system (above). “This is the first time that VisuaScan has adapted their grade stamping systems to lumber and we are pleased with its performance,” says quality control supervisor Christian Dionne.

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.

Daaquam acquires the largest portion of its wood from the US

In terms of woodlands operations, Daaquam annually requires more than 500,000 cubic metres of tree-length and cut-to-length timber. The wood supply is primarily spruce and balsam fir, and about 80 per cent is actually sourced from the United States. The largest portion of the US supply is delivered from the Maine North Woods, a vast tract of private land (multiple ownerships) managed for timber and recreation.

A bridge across the Daaquam River, which runs adjacent to the mill site, and several kilometres of road to the Canada-US border facilitates delivery by off-road trucks. US wood is also delivered by conventional highway log trucks and some of the most distant wood is delivered on staked lumber trailers as a backhaul load. In addition to Maine fibre, Daaquam also purchases some wood from private woodland producers in New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania.

Nearly 20 per cent of the wood supply comes from Anticosti Island, situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Anticosti is approximately 200 kilometres by 50 kilometres and is noted for its herd of white-tailed deer, with a deer population estimated at 125,000. Daaquam’s agreement with the Quebec government on forest management focuses primarily on deer habitat management, with timber as a secondary objective. As part of the management plan, Daaquam built 60 kilometres of fencing last year to exclude deer from cutover areas. Without fences to keep the deer out, all of the regeneration is eaten by the deer.

 

Planer mill features prototype wrapper.

The Daaquam planer mill hasbeen outfitted with a prototype wrapper system—Autoraptor—which has been developed by J Desco of Chambord, Quebec. The system claims a sixty-second cycle time to wrap a twelve-foot bundle.

 

Quality control supervisor Christian Dionne admits there were some technical challenges with the prototype on start-up, but the system has proven to be very effective and has helped Daaquam meet a customer request to reduce the amount of staples used for securing lumber wrap. “Our customers asked us to reduce the amount of staples on the wrapping and we took on that challenge.

We installed this prototype wrapping system which uses a plastic wrap with a welded seam, and eliminates the requirement for staples. The outside of the plastic wrap has a rough surface which reduces the amount of slippage and possible injury to workers that have to climb on top of packaged lumber,” said Dionne.

 

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