--VALUE ADDED --
By Harold Hatheway
"Eliminate waste. Add value." These are the current buzz terms circling throughout the forest industry, which has been plagued by a host of timber constraints and global market swings.
Environmentalists are demanding more responsible use of Canadas forest resources; governments have also embraced this philosophy, viewing it as essential for both the industry and the environment.
But making use of waste and adding value have been integral parts of one of New Brunswicks least-known forestry success stories it has been operating that way for decades. Hidden away in the southeast corner of the province, Flakeboard Company Limited has been using sawmill residue as its basic raw material with more demand than supply and has been 100 per cent value - added since its establishment in 1960.
Flakeboard, located in St. Stephen ,New Brunswick, experienced record sales of $160 million last year. The company provided 270 skilled jobs, used 120,000 Bone Dry Tons (BDT) of sawmill by product, and is currently completing a major $30-million expansion, which will place it as one of the largest producers of thin High Density Fibreboard (HDF) in North America.
The operations primary domestic markets are in Ontario and Quebec, with 40 percent of output sold in the US. A privately owned company, Flakeboard is also a 33% partner with Georgia Pacific in G-P Flakeboard, which operates a particleboard mill in Bancroft, Ontario and a Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) mill in Sault St. Marie, Ontario.
Flakeboards establishment in 1960 all began when two German families decided to establish an experimental "showcase" plant in North America. St. Stephen was well positioned to serve a potential eastern US market, although other locations, such as Windsor, Ontario, could do that and be closer to central Canadian markets.
What ever the reasoning, the New Brunswick border town got the nod; a plant with a single particleboard press and 40 employees was established, and the showcase has lived up to its owners hopes, and has been expanding and diversifying ever since.
Particleboard became well known to consumers as the basis for early knockdown furniture. Since those days a combination of tighter quality control of the raw material and process, plus application of a variety of surfaces, Melamine being perhaps the best known, has made particleboard a major building component in furniture, kitchen cabinets ,office components, flooring and more.
The more recent product, HDF, (High Density Fibreboard) is used to make furniture, cabinets, trim, picture frames, and more. HDFs major advantage is its flexibility, which makes it extremely versatile for manufacturing and in specialized cabinetry installations. Flakeboard has specialized in the production and marketing of a complete line, which presently includes the Melamine "hard" finish in an impressively wide range of plain colours, wood grains, abstracts, earth tones and textures, paint and decorative paper, and in flat, shiny or three-dimensional finishes. While much of the output is in traditional 4' X 8' sheets, or the metric equivalent, the company stocks a number of regularly ordered sizes, and can produce special orders if needed.
Pre-expansion equipment included two particleboard lines, one (Thin) Mende particleboard line, two Thin HDF Lines, three sanders, three Melamine lines, a paint line and a paper laminating line. The $30-million expansion will optimize the two HDF Fibrex lines, with a total capacity of 600 million square feet of 3mm board.
Components of the expansion include a new raw material storage and handling building constructed by JD Irving subsidiary CFM, a Sunds Refiner, a MEC Dryer and a new boiler.
The incremental demand for raw material when the new process is in full operation is projected to be 95,000 BDT of sawmill residues, and there will be a resulting labour force increase of 25 direct and 30 indirect new jobs.
The first major expansion into HDF at the St. Stephen plant was in 1991, when a High Density Board Mende fibreboard press was installed, followed by the 1994 purchase of a Hydro-dyn long continuous press. Because the two forming and pressing lines now exceeded the capacity of the front end to handle and mix the raw chips and resin, the older line was temporarily mothballed and the new, faster unit produced the companys full fibreboard requirement.
The current expansion is the next logical step in what is clearly Flakeboards long-range plan. The major improvement in storage and handling, plus the addition of a sophisticated system for sorting and control of raw material, will enable the plant to run at full capacity on both lines, doubling the HDF output. As well, it will largely eliminate raw material losses and "foreign substance" problems resulting from open air storage. Until now, the raw material has been trucked from sawmills within roughly 335 km, stored in an open yard until needed, and then moved, with dozers and front-end loaders, to the start of the processing line.
Raw material has been largely restricted to spruce/ fir planer chips and shavings, but with the completion of the $10-million storage facility, handling and control component, the sawmill by product will include sawdust and additional species such as cedar and pine. Incoming truckloads will be delivered to a covered storage area, where, instead of being simply stored until needed, the material will be moved by conveyers to multiple piles of known species composition, making possible the vital homogeneity for a consistent, dependable final product.
While this is an obvious plus for Flakeboard eliminating waste and potential spoilage of raw material it is also significant for the supplying sawmills. The Flakeboard purchases have always been important to many smaller mills because the demand is consistent year-round, as opposed to endless seasonal and political ups and downs of the lumber market. Now, with an increased demand for raw material and a market for sawdust and additional species, mills can look for an increased cash flow, which is especially welcome during the periods when lumber demand is down, and more efficient waste disposal.
Devon Lumber Co., near Fredericton ,is a long-time regular supplier of mill residue to Flakeboard and spokesperson Dale Gilby was quick to agree on the welcome consistency of demand from Flakeboard. "The Flakeboard sales are quite important to us. There really isnt any other market, and without it we would have to dispose of the waste some other way." Would the increase in demand make a significant difference? "Not really," says Gilby, "Theyre taking pretty much all we produce now, so well just have to wait and see what develops."
The bulk of Flakeboards sales are made to central Canada and the northeastern United States, to manufacturers who expect quick delivery "on demand", and who often want a variety of products in the same load. That means road transport, but larger, long-haul shipments often go by railcars, loaded on Flakeboards weather-protected siding inside its huge stocking area at the end of the processing line. While rail lines have been severely cut back in the Atlantic provinces, this area of New Brunswick is still served by what is now known as the Southern New Brunswick Railway, a portion of the CPR purchased by the Irving conglomerate and converted to a successful freight-only operation.
An interesting sidelight of the Flakeboard operation has been the establishment of a plant, owned and operated by WoodChem, specialists in manufacturing the resins used in producing particleboard and HDF. The plant was deliberately sized, designed and located next door to the Flakeboard operation, eliminating shipping and handling costs, and creating a symbiotic relationship that allows the companies to work together to ensure the ideal formulation and quantities of resin are always on hand.
For many of the employees, Flakeboard is where they started and where they want to spend their working lives. General manager Mike McAloon takes obvious pride in managements efforts to develop an involved, "team" approach. A tour through the office and plant suggests they have succeeded, as employees made suggestions to McAloon, whom they address on a first-name basis.
With the current expansion, Flakeboard employees can likely look forward to a more secure future in an industry that is well known for its many ups and downs.
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