New plywood lay-up plants aren’t popping up all over North America these days. Lowering housing starts, OSB competition and even raw material supplies are the leading factors limiting the plants.
Thompson River Veneer Products’ plant, just east of Kamloops, British Columbia, has a completely new drying system, combined with equipment obtained from a mill in southeastern US. It opened last year in its new 75,000ft2 building.
The mill buys and sells both green and dry veneer as well as plywood, with the proportions depending totally on the market. Plywood sales are in Douglas fir and Canadian softwood sheathing.
Suppliers truck Douglas fir, spruce, hemlock and balsam fir veneer to the mill in 1’7in, 1’8in and 1’10in thicknesses. Five acres of outside yard space provide storage; the climate is dry so outside storage is not a problem. A 9,000lb Toyota forklift services the storage.
"It’s all market-driven," said Charlie Tate, production superintendent. "When dry veneer market prices are low enough, we’ll certainly buy the dry and forgo drying the green. When we can dry the green cheaper, then we do the opposite. This mill is intended to play the marketplace and take its profit from there. We don’t have to go with the punches."
Product is sold mainly in British Columbia with some in the Pacific Northwest of the US.
Regarding OSB competition, he said: "A plywood guy will always buy plywood. Plywood is probably the old-fashioned way of doing it – and a better way to do it. Every piece of wood you buy, when it gets out there, wants to bring moisture back in. With OSB, it’s a little more so".
Thompson buys most of its veneers from one main supplier in BC which delivers it to the mill and generally has a back-haul to Vancouver, which works well. The mill also buys dry veneer from a variety of suppliers.
The mill has a Sweed feeder to a Coe jet dryer, running three shifts, with three heated sections, automatic feeding, and off-bearing to a Metriguard 2800 and a Ventek GS2000 automatic veneer grader.
The Ventek uses its own information, combined with that from the Metriguard and a Sequoia moisture meter, to grade each piece. These go to their assigned bins in an Elite 12-bin automatic stacker.
"We take the grades and apply them either for sale on the open market or use them for our own plywood manufacture," said Mr Tate.
Veneer bundles are strapped or marked for the mill’s use and stored in the indoor warehouse.
Two Globe spreaders serve the press installation: a Globe pre-press, Globe loader, Burrard 30-opening press and Durand unloader. A panel feeder feeds single panels to the skinner and then to the cut-off Globe saw line cutting the 4x8ft panels as required, followed by manual grading and five sorting bins. Plywood production is 4x8ft sheathing in 3’8in to 3’4in thicknesses.
Next step will be to add tongue-and-groove plywood to the product line.
Among the values added to the veneer are LVL supply, concrete form panels, construction and industrial grade panels.
"It’s been a tough market to grab workers," Mr Tate lamented. "Our workforce is new to this whole process. We’ve been training them from scratch. With the economy doing so well, you sometimes struggle to find the right people; we’re lucky to have the people we do." The mill operates with 42 employees.
"I never thought I’d get the opportunity to be involved in a brand new plywood plant – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. It certainly has been challenging, right from the start-up," Mr Tate concluded.