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Solid Ground

An Ontario particleboard plant now appears to be on solid ground with its purchase by Uniboard and a planned $7.5 million upgrade. 

By Tony Kryzanowski 

It's taken 10 years, but the particleboard plant in Haileybury, Ontario is finally living up to its potential. After a decade of shaky finances that sometimes made it appear like the plant's foundation was built on quicksand, new ownership has provided it with a solid foundation. Uniboard Canada, a subsidiary of Germanbased Kunz, purchased the plant two years ago, and plans to invest about $7.5 million over the next three years to improve plant efficiency and production. 

Although this is Uniboard's first plant outside of Quebec, La Belle Province is still visible across Lake Temiskaming-the Ontario plant is located on the western shore of the lake. Former owner and now general manager Marcel Landry says Uniboard's diverse interests in medium density fibreboard, paper for the laminating process and high density fibreboard flooring make it a good fit for owning the Ontario particleboard plant. In fact, about 50 per cent of the plant's production is shipped to other Uniboard plants, forming the basis for the manufacture of valueadded products such as cupboards, entertainment centres, and office furniture. 

This market usually follows the construction industry. "We tend to lag a bit behind, until houses are built and people start shopping for cupboards and accessories," says Landry. The plant's main ingredient is spruce and pine sawdust and shavings from nine sawmills within a 250kilometre radius of its location. He says the Bison continuous press provides the mill with a unique market niche: meeting the needs of customers who require particleboard cut to odd lengths. The Uniboard plant produces a continuous ribbon of particleboard up to five feet wide that can vary in thickness from threeeighths to one and fiveeighths inches thick. 

At the far end, Globe cutoff saws custom cut the fresh particleboard to customer specifications. The plant started operations under the name of Rexwood Products, with the ownership group consisting of a number of individual investors. In 1988 they decided to replace two existing production lines with stateoftheart equipment. "The whole new line never really worked to its full capacity and consequently they had a difficult time commissioning the equipment," says Landry. "However, they had disconnected and removed all the old equipment." 

 

Uniboard's Marcel Landry (above) says the equipment lineup at the company's mill in Haileybury allows it to fill a unique market niche: meeting the needs of customers who require particleboard cut to nonstandard lengths.

A severe market downturn after the installation- coupled with the owners' commissioning problems-caused the company to endure many financial difficulties. The company's lender, the Australia/New Zealand Bank, brought in a number of financial experts to assist in turning the company around. Landry arrived as plant manager in 1992, charged with bringing the new line up to speed. Although the press was now operating more efficiently, the company's heavy debt load forced the bank to put it into receivership. They tried to sell the plant, but ended up selling the debt instead to the Hong Kong Bank of Canada, who in turn also tried to sell the plant. 

This went on for more than four years until Landry and a Toronto business partner who owns a laminated plant made a successful bid to purchase the operation in 1998. Soon after, Uniboard began looking to acquire more particleboard production to satisfy its internal needs. "The company wanted a foothold in Ontario because it is a large market," says Landry. "Consequently, with the effort we had made here with the old Rexwood plant, we became a saleable product." Since acquiring the operation, Uniboard has determined that it is not properly equipped to efficiently custom cut particleboard to multiple custom lengths. 

Therefore, they have decommissioned and removed an existing custom cut line and are about to enter a new particleboard market. Landry says they see significant market potential supplying particleboard door cores, and will install a door core manufacturing line as part of Uniboard's $7.5 million capital investment plan. "That's going to be our value-added," says Landry. "We are sending out samples now. The line will be installed before the end of 2000." Initial capital investment will focus on more efficient management of their raw material. 

Relocating the plant's truck dump is an immediate priority. Primary material screening will also take place at the pad instead of at its current location within the production facility. Screening is the process of segregating the raw material according to size. "We've found that approximately 60 per cent of everything we bring in does not have to be machined," says Landry. "So we want to send that directly to the dryer instead of being machined." He adds that they will also have the ability to recycle some of their customers' waste particleboard. "It is a good fit with our customers because they have to dispose of it. When we make a delivery, we will pick up their byproducts." They have also relocated a cyclone from the dump site to the plant site and married it with bag houses so that they can capture "off gasses" to meet environmental standards. 

Uniboard has a strong commitment to protect the environment, particularly because the plant is located on the banks of Lake Temiskaming. "It's our lake and it's our environment too," says Landry. At the present time, material is blown from the truck dump to three silos where it is machined with hammer mills prior to entering the dryer. It starts at about 45 per cent moisture content and must be dried to about two per cent. They use a Productization dryer that was installed in 1989. Within the next two years, they plan to install another dryer that has become surplus equipment at Uniboard's plant in Val D'Or, Quebec. Further capital investment in this area of the plant will include a new Geka dust burner. Sander dust that is currently being shipped to the landfill will replace bark as furnace fuel. The dust burner is being added to the existing furnace. The dust burner system will recapture about 10 million BTUs for plant use, such as heating the oil for the press. Once dried, the raw material is conveyed through the existing Alghier screening system. 

Two types of material are required to manufacture particleboard, surface material and core material. A four deck screening process separates the core material from the surface material, and redirects oversize material for refining. It will become a secondary screening process once the primary screening is relocated to the truck dump. This change will effectively double the plant's screening capacity, contributing greatly to their plan to increase production from the current level of 120,000 cubic metres to 150,000 cubic metres annually. After screening, surface and core material is sent to storage silos. 

The silos dispense material as needed to the Italian made Imal gluing station where it is blended with resin and catalyst and transported to the forming line. The line begins with a bottom surface head, a core former and a top surface head. "We have installed a system to recapture the trim material on the forming line, and it is reinjected at the core head," explains Landry. "Consequently there is a saving in the resin and all the refining process." He adds that they have also installed a new tracking system for the 180 foot forming belt so that the material stays centred as it is transported. 

It passes through a magnet to remove any metallic objects and then a nuclear transversing isotope to measure the mat's density. It now proceeds through a radio frequency oven to increase core temperature by 15 degrees prior to entering the press. Immediately before entering the Bison hydrodyne press, the material is squeezed using a Demetz prepress so that the mat measures only 1.5 times its final thickness. The stainless steel press belts float hydraulically on a bed of silicone oil, which is heated to 185 degrees Celsius. 

There is also a layer of teflon inside the press, which is why it is typically called a soft press. "Its efficiency is very good," says Landry. "We get 4.5 to 4.7 seconds per millimetre curing, which is very fast." The press consists of four pressure zones, starting at 3000 psi and ending at 1350 psi. Once it is pressed, the particleboard encounters the Globe flying cutoff saw that cuts it to customer specifications. It is also trimmed using two Globe edge trim saws and placed on a Globe cooler. This system is ideal for the company's plans to manufacture door core. "We can have final door lengths precut at the press instead of having a secondary cutting station," says Landry. After cooling, the particleboard is stacked and placed in the warehouse where it continues to cool for 24 hours. The next day, the boards are sanded-using a Coe six head sander-graded and strapped. 

Considering the mill's struggles in the past, the future now looks more positive for the Haileybury mill under Uniboard's ownership. Capital investment plans include the installation of a plant humidifier because particleboard has a large thirst for moisture and Uniboard has also identified 10 plant projects aimed simply at improving plant esthetics. Employees are also on a new wage bonus system based on the plant's return on investment. 


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