In the past several years since Simpson Timber Company’s venerable Shelton, Washington plywood plant was sold to Olympic Panel Products big things have happened all through the busy production lines – including a large production boost.
As Simpson gradually pared down its six plywood facilities to just the Shelton operation, it consolidated Shelton, which became the world’s largest overlay facility under one roof. And that roof covers 10 acres.

The plant wasn’t actually up for sale, but several potential owners approached Simpson, including Atlas Holdings, Greenwich, Connecticut, which added 120 people to the payroll after buying the mill two years ago.
Plant manager Frank Langenberg said: “We bought the equipment and leased the building and land for 14 years.We buy services, such as steam, from Simpson.We share common area maintenance and consolidated rail service. [Simpson still operates a large adjoining sawmill]. This is a union operation and we have a common labour agreement.
“On our product mix we are still on the same track as Simpson.We use 72 different overlays, mostly Dynea phenolic paper. About a year ago we increased our production by about 45%.We have probably taken a more aggressive approach in our marketing. We export 8% to 10% of our volume with sales to Canada, Central America, the UK and minor amounts to the Pacific Rim.”
Most of the sales staff work out of Shelton, but there is a representative in Florida. Surprisingly, this is not because of building storm damage caused by hurricanes, but because of so many US ‘baby boomers’ retiring there and seeking housing.
Mr Langenberg said sheathing is a byproduct, commenting: “Last year when the sheathing market was running wild, we did look for opportunities, but we did not back away from our core overlay business as some did.”
Olympic buys only log grades specific for its uses. It looks at many dry veneer species that will meet overlay requirements. This includes softwoods, domestic hardwoods and offshore species.
General manager Fran Eck told WBPI: “We have put a good deal of money into the mill since 2003. The scanning and stacking systems are state-of-the-art. We were the first in the world to put in a VDR computer system to grade for roughness. Now we have the third generation of the machine.We use that to measure roughness not only for inner plies, but also for faces for the overlays. It’s a great tool for helping us control our field quality and panel quality. It’s much more accurate than hand grading.
“On our lathe line we put in new scanning and a clipper system to improve recovery and quality. Our veneer-programming model gives us more insight. It can take millions of variables where the human mind can take only a few.”
He said panel defect analysis does a lot for the operation, with two units on each of the saw lines; only 10 panels out of 2.5 million came back last year.
“Our tolerances are probably the tightest in the industry,Mr Eck said. “We size our panels to tolerances of 0.005in or less.
He has 37 process control teams throughout the mill, working with an employee roll of 320. There can be anywhere from one person on a team to l8 or 20. The largest team is lay-up. Simpson started the system in 2001. The new owners saw value and took it to another level.
They have a CCI (customer complaint investigation) process. After all the information is written up, the appropriate team discusses it and provides feedback to the customer. This could include a phone call from someone on the mill floor.
Mechanised lay-up is more adapted to long runs of a particular product. It would have marginal value for such a specialized operation as Olympic’s, but the innovative Mr Eck said: “I would never say never about a lay-up line, although it might not be your standard lay-up line. A few years ago you would never say you could grade veneer with cameras. There’s technology out there, but it’s a matter of how to integrate with our raw material.”
Olympic operates entirely on purchased logs, mostly from within 50 miles, but a few rafts have come from Canada this year. Most of the logs come from Green Diamond Resources (Simpson’s timber management company) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Douglas fir is preferred, but the mill also uses hemlock and other softwoods.
The company’s timber buyer looks at many timber sales to learn what’s available and when it gets sold.
Logs are dry decked and only about three weeks of inventory is kept on hand. Cat 988 and 950 machines handle logs and blocks.
A Nicholson ring barker is followed by Nicholson circular chop saws producing block lengths. Then they go to the 12 hot water vats for about an hour per diameterinch. The goal is a 130oF (54oC) at the core.
The mill has a Coe 10ft lathe, but this is used only about 10% of the time.
The eight feet Coe 247 lathe is the main veneer production unit. Mr Langenberg said: “It has all the state-of-the-art equipment – Coe 784 x-y charger, power roller bars, power back-up roll, hydraulic carriage and an Elite Automation 32-scanner system. The concentrated camera array produces highly accurate block orientation for peeling. The mill uses logs in the 6in to 30in diameter range, but the average log diameter for the first half of the year was 9.5in.
Common veneer thicknesses are 1⁄8in and 1⁄10in with some 1⁄6in peeled.
Three 100ft trays feed the Raute rotary clipper, preceded by a Ventek Vision camera system and moisture meter. The 54s, wides, and half-sheets proceed to the Raute  automatic five-bin stacker while strip and random goes to a manual green chain. The green end has three moisture sorts to maximize dryer efficiency.
The mill has three older, but rebuilt, Coe dryers and a newer Raute dryer. All are equipped with Delta T controls which continually monitor veneer moisture content, temperature and timing during drying.
The veneer is graded and stacked and then can be dispatched to the presses, or inventory, to Raimann patching, or to composing on the 8ft Raute or 10ft Hashimoto.
Globe spreaders first feed the Globe prepresses and then the panels are loaded into the presses, all with American loaders and unloaders.
A Williams-White 4ft x 10ft 24-opening press is a specialised installation for overlays, however one-step pressing can be done on all three presses. The others are Williams-White 5ft x 10ft, 30-opening and a big Williams-White 4ft x 8ft, 50-opening which occasionally produces sheathing in a good market.
Production is in three to 15 plies and thicknesses from 5⁄16in to 11⁄2in.
In addition to mediumand high-density overlays, the mill uses phenolic surface film and, of course, its hardwood face stock.
After one run through the press, two-step panel blanks are sized by a Globe saw. A Raute polyurethane patch line and Kimwood six-head tight-tolerance sander follows, and offbears to five sorting bins. The sanders first two heads are opposing, to size to the proper thickness. The two top and bottom heads clean up the panels. To limit noise, the sander is completely enclosed. From the sander, the panels go either to a Raute film press or back to the 24-opening press.
After passing through Globe saws, panels go through an Ultrasonic Arrays bond analyser, through a stencil spray booth or oiler and on to the two Signode strapping stations.
Two indoor rail spurs each hold two cars for loading. There is a van loading area and indoor and outdoor truck loading. The mill ships the equivalent of six rail cars daily.