Niche marketing is one of the strongest weapons to help overcome a weak general market and States Industries in Eugene, Oregon has plenty of such niches.
States owns or buys no timber but marries purchased softwood veneer (most from the Pacific Northwest) with ultra-thin hardwood face stock from all over the US; and some imported from tropical countries (about 15% of the total raw material).
The availability of FSC-certified wood is currently greater offshore than domestically and will undoubtedly result in increases in imported plantation material.
And States does much more than manufacture panels. Cut stock is on the order sheet, but such things as ceiling tiles and drawer components, all pre-finished, are all there, too.
Face and back hardwoods are mostly maple and oak from around the Great Lakes in central US, cherry from the north east, walnut from the midwest and birch from the north east and Canada.
Most of the raw material and finished products move by truck.
The first product for States, now 42 years old, was pre-finished wood wall panelling, sold through home centres and lumber yards.
Environmental considerations rate high in States’ production. Ultraviolet curing allows 100% solid coatings, eliminating the release of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). This was extended to industrial panels in 1992 under the NOVA brand. A stack scrubber cleans volatile gases from the veneer dryer and wood residues go through an Energex system producing dryer heat. No added formaldehyde resins are the rule.
ArmorCore panels combine the low weight and high strength advantages of veneer cored panels with the superior flatness and higher density of MDF. They are stiffer, lighter and stronger than composition panels of the same thickness and have excellent machinability. These are primarily five-ply with MDF cross-bands and weigh 25% less than particleboard, with an MoE (modulus of elasticity) 50% higher.
States marketing manager Bill Powell said the face veneers are quite thin, requiring a uniform colour underneath; it’s important not to have voids.
He said the faces are 1⁄46in or 1⁄48in, depending on wood value, although some are still 1⁄36in. Some of the Asian wood has faces as thin as 1⁄80in.
An interesting product is ApplePly, a premium veneer core panel with uniform laminations of 1⁄16in alder or birch, produced in 8ft or 10ft lengths. The substrate is 1⁄16in hardwood veneer. The solid edge has few voids and can be finished. It is available in four stock colours with various finishes: Standard clear top coat, re-coatable, silk screenable and a low silicone finish for use with automatic case clamps.
States’ primary markets are kitchen cabinets, furniture, residential furniture, store fixtures, architectural millwork, manufactured housing, recreational vehicles, retail lumber yards and home centres. Wall panelling products are sold to regional distributors who sell them to retail lumber yards and home centre stores.
Production of the main mill is 62m ft2 surface footage of panels and 26m ft2 of pre-finish.
Mr Powell said: “We do a lot of drying. Most of what we dry in the west is fir.”
Operations manager Bill Sanders said: “We buy face veneers in certain grades and virtually everything we buy gets graded by our 10 graders.
MDF comes in thicknesses from 2.5mm to one inch-plus; States produces lots of thin panels. Mr Powell said 40% of the production is 1⁄4in or thinner, with another 40% 3⁄4in.
The firm started out making wall panelling, so the mills are set up for thin product. Mr Powell said: “Other mills don’t like to do it, so you find your niche. Now they’re more willing because everybody is trying to do everything”.
“The big thing now with composite products is the glue standards. With CARB (California Air Resources Board) and the US Green Building Council, board producers have gone crazy trying to meet all these standards.
“Our standard product line is low fuming urea that meets CARB. Our tests show that we will meet the CARB formaldehyde emission standards,Mr Powell said.
States’ veneer core glue is low fuming urea. It also has a proprietary soy glue and uses polyvinyl acetate (PVA). Melamine urea formaldehyde is its type 1 glue.
“The market is so fluid with everyone working on it. Leaving urea is a challenge. We don’t want to put out a product that adds to the toxicity of things,he added.
States has both SFI and FSC certification and is in its 10th year of FSC.
Most of the Eugene mill’s output goes to Washington, Oregon and California, as well as Canada. There are no exports.
Mr Sanders said the mill’s eight-deck, 14-section gas dryer was changed over to use wood waste for heating. Douglas fir and hemlock are the main species dried and in main thicknesses of 1⁄6in and 1⁄7in.
A Raute 10-bin stacker handles dryer output. Globe spreaders, pre-press and two Siempelkamp 30-opening 4x8ft hot presses do the primary work. The presses were converted from 24-opening units. The spreader operation is more labour-intensive than many, due to the quite thin veneer and number of species. Globe saws, one equipped with an auto-feeder, trim the panels. An ATM machine sands.
The panels go through a grading station and then to a four-bin Durand-Raute stacker that will handle panels from 4x8ft up to 10x10ft. Domino inkjet printers service the line.
A 350ft-long finish line, running at 182fpm starts out with a buffer, then a filler, cure, buff again, top coat. More than 20 machines can be rolled in and out of the line, depending on the desired finished product. These include reverse coaters, direct coaters, fillers and others. The water-based processes can be cured with natural gas, forced air, or infra-red heat.
Mr Powell said: “About half our products are finished. Of that half, about two thirds is clear and the rest is custom-coloured. We colour and then apply a top coat.
Each time a panel goes through a wet section to apply a finish, it goes through a buffer, a dryer and then another buffer to take care of the fine fibres which are raised.
One cedar wall panel product is brushed to take out the soft wood, leaving a textured face.
Stock selected for component manufacture is first cut-to-size on a Selco saw and then directed to a Holz-Her Accord edgebander equipped with belts which return the pieces to the feed end for successive edges to be banded.
Unfinished and pre-finished blanks and components, such as drawer parts and ceiling tiles, are handled here with machining operations such as edge-boring and rebating. Every product has an operations plan and the machine operators set up the programs.
An example is a wood-surfaced fire-rated acoustic ceiling tile with a particleboard core. A machine punches the face and an edge is machined into it, followed by edge-banding.