-- Hardwood Sawmilling --
HTM Industries new mill and operation successfully brings together elements from three different business areas.
By Harold Hatheway
Establishing a new, $10-million sawmill in the job-hungry former coal town of Minto, New Brunswick, is no small accomplishment, especially when it involves bringing together three previously unconnected investors and specialists in forestry, business operations and marketing.
The key for HTM Industries has been the shared vision of the potential for combining the huge North American demand for furniture components with an under-utilized hardwood resource in south-central New Brunswick.
Although it is largely self-financed, HTM Industries did benefit from some $2 million in repayable federal and provincial loans, including $1 million from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
HTM is a classic development story. Patrick Hill, company president and CEO, is a grandson of a founder of Hill Brothers Realty and Investments Ltd., a home-building and development firm established in the 1940s. John Thurston, vice-president marketing, is a principal of the John Thurston Corp. value-added plant in Bethel, Maine and a veteran of supplying material for the multi-billion dollar US furniture industry. Horace Mean, vice president operations, and his son Elwood, vice-president forestry, own and operate Horace Mean Forest Products in the Minto area.
Two years ago, Hill and the Means shared their dreams, joined forces, and set out to see if a market existed for their product, visiting trade shows and plants along the eastern seaboard of the US. Not only did they conclude that their hunch was valid, they met John Thurston, a virtual mine of practical information about a very specific market for hardwood components for furniture manufacturersand the partnership fell into place.
"It turns out that big furniture companies have turned to outsourcing cut-to-size hard- wood components and mouldings, and thats our niche," explains Hill.
The up-and-running result is an ultra-modern plant designed to meet the company objective of being known in the industry as a "high volume, high quality, low cost producer". Vertical integration of the forestry, mill and value added divisions is fundamental, and HTM has taken full advantage of the established forestry operation.
The Means have years of experience in the Minto area, logging their own limits, purchasing timber from local woodlot owners, thus ensuring HTM a guaranteed quantity and quality of wood. In addition, the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy has guaranteed the company 50 per cent of its requirements from Crown land. Wood is being trucked in from a radius of approximately 160 kilometres.
Along with white and yellow birch, sugar maple and other hardwoods, HTM will make extensive use of poplaroften of veneer quality. The white wood is best, but the balance is suitable for such things as painted mouldings. The log storage yard bears out claims of both quality and size, some of the latter quite impressive by East Coast standards. Birdseye maple may have moved into the stratosphere, but watch out for "fleck birch" when HTM puts it on the market.
The Means have already set a policy of long-term, sustain-able harvesting, aware that their future rests not only on maintaining future fibre supply, but on an ability to meet increasing consumer demands for a "green" product.
Its forestry division equipment includes: two new Timberjack processors a 608A with a 762B head and a 608B with a 762C head Timberjack forwarders; a 1996 BWS 48 pulp and log trailer equipped with a Prentice boom and Rotobec grapple; an 850 John Deere dozer; and a 9200 International Truck. More trucks are on order to replace current hired haulage. "All the Timberjack units are equipped with over-size floatation tires to minimize soil compaction and regeneration damage, and all our operations are carefully planned with sustainability in mind," says Elwood Mean.
The forestry divisions workers, equipment and "fix-anything" abilities essential to any successful forestry operation also gave HTM a major jump-start on the hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical requirements of the sawmill component installation in a brand new building. Assistance from the manufacturer was kept to a minimum and installation was largely done in-houseinvaluable experience for when future routine or special maintenance is required.
All logs are scaled in the yard and data is processed so that yieldon almost a log-by- log basisis available. Loads are sort-ed by species and quality, with quality logs stored in a large sprinklered area, so moisture levels can be controlled to prevent checking. Much of the handling and storage area is, or will be paved, to minimize foreign substances in the mill chain.
While the actual system is convention-al, the new, 6,000 square metre mill interior presents a striking contrast to traditional layouts. New dark green Cardinal equipment, with high-contrast safety markings, is up on a nine-foot Stiltz support system, creating ideal access for hydraulic and electrical conduits, and safer maintenance and operation. Operator control points for the highly-computerized sys-tem are located in comfortable, sound-proofed cabs. There is minimal need for workers to intervene manually.
Logs move from the conveniently located storage to a Morbark 6-40 debarker with a 25-foot infeed and 35-foot outfeed, then on Strand live decks to a 48-inch diameter circular saw, resaw, bulledger, unscrambler, trimmer and a 58-inch chipper, as applicable. At startup, only the first chain was in place, with a single shift capacity of 5,000 board feet, but everything is laid outand transfer systems are already in placeto install the second chain to enable a three-shift production of 30,000 board feet. Lumber can be sold as it comes from the mill, forwarded to the kiln for drying and sale, or moved on to the value added division.
Hog fuel from the debarker moves efficiently from the mill to a second new building, housing the boiler and kiln. Some of the sawdust and chips is used as kiln fuel, but the bulk goes to a Georgia Pacific pulp mill in Maine. The kiln, manufactured by FEI Energy Quebec, has a 250,000 board feet capacity per discharge and is laid out with side-loading doors, avoiding the problems of access to partial loads encountered with end-loading kilns.
Finally, wood moves to a renovated sawmill building, serving as plant head-quarters and the value-added division, where it is processed by state-of-the-art Weining and Grecon moulders and dimensioning equipment into solid hardwood furniture components, door framing, flooring, wainscoting and moulding according to supply and demand. A unique feature is the "on site" ability to grind custom moulding cutters for viable runs. "Send us a profile of what you need, and well be ready to start the job in a day or so," says marketing manager Brian Whitters.
The conservation ethic extends beyond the Forestry Division into the overall operation. In addition to using self-produced hog fuel and selling sawdust and chips, Hill says they plan to utilize every possible bit of wood. "For example, the American market is really anxious to get what is called cottage and tavern grade flooring, with lots of knots, for character."
Hill also sounds a co-operative note on controversial native logging rights. "The welcome mat is out for aboriginal loggers, as long as their product and practices respect provincial laws. Ill take whatever they throw at us, as long as it is legitimate and cut sustainably."
First year sales are estimated at a conservative $12 million, but an aggressive marketing plan, including Internet marketing and sales, is aimed at matching the predictable five per cent sales growth in the US furniture industry. With North American sales established, HTM will set its sights on Europe and continue to maximize an under-utilized resource while providing an important source of jobs in an area with chronic unemployment.
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