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October 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

SHINGLE MANUFACTURING

SHINGLE SUCCESS STORY

From modest beginnings, British Columbia’s Titan Ridge has grown to become the largest shingle mill operation on Vancouver Island.

By Paul MacDonald

While Ed Pilatzke is an easy going guy, he has by his own admission a bit of a stubborn streak—and that’s something the 100 people employed by British Columbia’s Titan Ridge and its contractors can be thankful for.

“When I was looking at setting up Titan Ridge, people were telling me that you can’t locate a large cedar shingle operation on northern Vancouver Island, there’s no labour there, that you need to be in the Fraser Valley because that is where the shake and shingle industry is,” says Pilatzke.

“When someone tells me I can’t do something, that’s a driving force right there for me to go out there and try to do it,” says the president of Titan Ridge, which has its mill near the northern tip of Vancouver Island, in the community of Port McNeill.

The company is a division of the BCbased Teal-Jones Group. Titan Ridge was initially set up as a small shingle operation five years ago, but the business has grown to the point that it now employs 75 people directly and another 30 through suppliers and contractors. And it recently expanded further, adding another mill on its site, giving it a total of 16 shingle cutting machines.

Titan Ridge wants to be able to offer its customers one stop shopping for products, to essentially be their “go-to” source for shingles. The company can produce just about any shingle product that is available now, or has been produced in the past.

Although it is a large operation now, Pilatzke initially had something else in mind with Titan Ridge. He envisioned a small operation, perhaps employing five people.

When you look at the growth of the company, the cliché about necessity being the mother of invention comes to mind. Titan Ridge—being a small operation— was going to hog its wood waste, and dispose of it inexpensively.

“We were going to be a small operation, and I didn’t want to have a chipper and the extra staff that would be involved,” explains Pilatzke. But that arrangement fell through, literally at the last minute. “It was a nightmare,” he says. “I thought we were finished before we even got started.”

Pilatzke’s resolve kicked in, however, and they were able to deal with the hog fuel situation. They also installed a 66-inch Precision chipper. To make the chipper operation viable and make sense of the capital expenditures and labour involved, they scaled up the mill operations and installed a log deck, cut-off saws and other support equipment.

To facilitate the expansion, a relationship was forged with Dick and Tom Jones of the Teal-Jones Group, who took over Titan Ridge as one of their divisions, and supplied the capital needed to feed Pilatzke’s stubborn streak.

This is when the slow growth of Titan Ridge escalated to a fevered pitch. Over the next year-and-a-half, Titan grew in leaps and bounds to become the largest shingle mill operation on Vancouver Island.

That scaling up has continued with the latest expansion. The centrepiece of the new mill is a customized high strain horizontal double cut bandsaw produced by Diasaw Manufacturing of Maple Ridge, BC, which scores high marks for getting value out of the wood and being productive. “Their saws save on kerf versus circular saw technology, and with the double cutting, you can feel the higher feed speed. We’re able to get good production out of the machine.”

Among the features on the Diasaw are touch control setworks which allow operators to cut up to nine pre-set board or shingle products without stopping the machine, a variable speed hydraulic carriage, quick change saw guides and an automatic saw oil system.

Titan had previous experience with a Diasaw, having picked up a used machine which is still working steady in the first mill. “It’s performed well for us. We get good recovery and it can cut any thickness of butt.” With the second unit, mill staff sat down with Diasaw to draw up a specialized design for the saw, and it has paid off, says Pilatzke.

The challenge that Titan Ridge sometimes faces is customers who are looking for 32-inch, 36-inch or even 38- inch length shingles for heritage homes. “The new Diasaw is built to allow us to cut up to a 38-inch shingle, and we’re the only company, to my knowledge, that can do that.” So when a customer is looking for longer shingles for a heritage home, Titan Ridge can turn out product to fit the bill.

A customized high strain horizontal double cut bandsaw from Diasaw Manufacturing was recently added to the used Diasaw that is already in place at Titan Ridge.

Pilatzke notes that the new Diasaw equipment aside, Titan Ridge works with proven shingle cutting equipment that has been around the industry for decades. The production of shingles from western red cedar is generally labour intensive. There have been some advancements in technology—with belts and gears being replaced by drive units, for example—but you still need people to cut shingles from cedar blocks, trim them, and to sort and package them, he says.

The mill’s production flexibility, and a focus on turning out quality product, serves the Teal-Jones Group very well. “Teal-Jones has its own reman operation, and for that you want to have a very good quality shingle,” says Pilatzke. “From the get-go, quality has been emphasized at Titan Ridge so that it can be carried through the reman process.

“There are a lot of mills in the market that produce a generic shingle that you can put on a roof. And that’s fine, but it’s really not the right product when it is going to be used on a high visibility sidewall.”

Titan Ridge wants to be able to offer Teal-Jones and its customers one stop shopping for products, to essentially be their “go-to” source for shingles. “With our equipment, we can make just about any product that is produced now or has been produced in the past,” says Pilatzke.

In terms of equipment, the original mill operation was purchased used further south on Vancouver Island, and moved to Port McNeill. But following the tradition of the shake and shingle industry—which is well known for its resourcefulness in utilizing equipment from mill “boneyards”—Pilatzke has drawn a portion of the equipment at Titan Ridge from sawmill boneyards on Vancouver Island and around Vancouver. Dick and Tom Jones at Teal-Jones have been most accommodating in that respect, as has Western Forest Products.

These days, Titan Ridge has its own boneyard, three acres of assorted equipment, in Port McNeill. “When we are thinking of making some changes to the mill, I go back to our boneyard and have a look through the equipment, and take a piece here or there, and make it work in the mill.” Any rebuilding of equipment is done in-house.

While Titan Ridge has been Pilatzke’s project, he is quick to defer credit for its success to employees, suppliers and the Teal-Jones group. “We would not have been able to do what we’ve done without the support of Tom and Dick Jones from Teal-Jones,” says Pilatzke.

Since Titan Ridge became a division of the Teal-Jones Group two years ago, the expansion has increased Titan’s appetite for raw logs and blocks threefold. Since the beginning, Rich Lungren, Trevor Boniface, and Western Forest Products as a whole have been a vital element in keeping the mill running with a steady, cost-competitive log sort, says Pilatzke. Western Forest Products, through all of its own corporate changes, has been a primary supplier to keep Titan’s 75 employees working steady.

Titan Ridge recently expanded its operations, giving it a total of 16 shingle cutting machines.

As Titan’s needs have grown, Canfor and Lemare Lake Logging have also stepped up to supply shingle and utility western red cedar. The company also received financial support from the local Community Futures Development Corporation.

The employees at Titan Ridge have been the key drivers in the success of the company, Pilatzke says. The company has added employees as it has grown over the last five years, and done a lot of training, rather than hiring people who have experience in the shake and shingle industry. This has probably been in their favour, says Pilatzke, since they work with low quality cedar logs and blocks.

“We need to be able to work with low quality logs and still produce a high quality product. Someone who had already worked in the industry might be more used to working with high quality timber from the start. But our employees know that we have to work with what we get and still turn out quality product.” He estimates they’ve trained upwards of 85 per cent of their employees.

Although he is expecting a tight cedar supply situation in the next year—due to uncertainty in the BC coastal industry— the future still looks positive for Titan Ridge.

“The challenge,” says Pilatzke, “has been going from what I hoped it was going to be—a small operation—to where it is today, a much bigger operation.

“I would have liked to have stayed small, but it turned out it wasn’t going to work if we went that way, so we’ve adjusted on the fly.”

 


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