Added value: EACOM’s Nairn Centre sees payback with new MSR machine
By Ellen Cools
In the past years, EACOM Timber Corporation has made a number of investments in its mills. As part of that investment plan, the company acquired an I-Joist manufacturing facility in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Previously a joint venture between Canfor and EACOM, EACOM acquired the facility in 2017.
“This was an important and strategic investment for us because it allowed us to diversify our product offering,” Christine Leduc, EACOM’s director of public affairs, tells CFI.
In order to grow the I-Joist business and make sure the facility has enough wood supply, the company looked at opportunities to upgrade its mills. EACOM’s Nairn Centre, Ont., mill has recently seen several upgrades, including the installation of a new machine stress rating (MSR) system. The new MSR machine is a MetriGuard 2350, and the benefits were seen almost immediately, says Bob Banchero, EACOM’s general manager for Ontario sawmill operations.
“We’re very pleased with it. Right away we saw at least a 10 per cent uptake in our MSR lumber production,” he says. “Over a period of a few weeks, we’ve seen now upwards of 30 per cent increase in MSR with this newer technology.”
Banchero expects to see payback from the MetriGuard MSR machine in less than a year. The MSR system grades dimension lumber, measures the lumber’s stiffness to determine the modulus of elasticity and applies stress to the lumber to remove any weak pieces.
Previously, the Nairn Centre mill used an MSR machine from DynaVision, which Banchero says performed well for its technology, but was several years old.
A smooth process
This is the not the first time EACOM has installed a MetriGuard MSR machine. Just over a year ago, the company installed it at its Val-d’Or, Que., sawmill.
“We already had experience installing this type of technology,” Banchero says. “There were some minor adjustments that we did for Nairn Centre but overall it was a very smooth installation that occurred over a weekend.”
The Nairn Centre installation was led by Craig Burdeniuk, EACOM’s process and control optimization specialist, and Pierre Bois, Nairn Centre superintendent. To execute capital investment projects, EACOM has established a project team consisting of experts from different fields with a mandate to research and implement all projects. In this case, the project team worked with Nairn Centre management to install the MetriGuard system.
Before choosing the MetriGuard system for the Val-d’Or mill, Banchero says EACOM looked at a range of different machines. Ultimately, MetriGuard’s MSR machine was “the machine that we felt had the highest value for us,” he says. “MetriGuard is well-known in the industry for MSR machines, and it performed very well for us in Val d’Or. To keep the synergy within our own mills, we decided to proceed with the MetriGuard system at the Nairn facility.”
This also made training Nairn Centre employees easier. Employees from the Nairn Centre mill visited the mill in Val-d’Or, where they received training and learned best practices about the MetriGuard system.
“Our experience in Val-d’Or provided us with a benchmark, and there was an ability to transfer knowledge between the Val-d’Or and Nairn Centre teams, so we were well-equipped to proceed,” Leduc explains. “The installation was effective and another good example of collaboration between EACOM and the vendor.
“We’re proud of this one – it was another well-done project. It’s really important for EACOM, as we continue to invest in projects, to make sure that we do our research and execute them well,” she says.
The MSR machine is not the only new piece of equipment installed at Nairn Centre in the past year. The company recently installed an Autolog ProGrader. Once again, this equipment had been installed at other mills before installation at Nairn.
“We did a lot of due diligence with the Nairn team going to our other facilities and learning the system,” Banchero explains. “So, when we installed it here at Nairn, it quickly met all of our goals for productivity and grade yield improvements. Autolog does a very good job.”
Impact on culture
Installing new technology not only helps boost the mill’s production, but also improves employee retention and workplace culture.
“These types of projects make us more competitive and people feel good about being a part of that operational improvement,” Banchero says. “It’s not enough to put in new technology – how do you engage your people as part of that mission? We always have to work on getting better.”
The successful investment project – on time and issue-free with immediate results – fuels momentum for EACOM’s focus on continuous improvement, Leduc adds. “That’s definitely important in terms of the employee retention, in terms of the culture that we’re trying to instill, but also in terms of our ability to recruit, because we’re confident that this will attract others who want to join our team.”
EACOM’s Nairn Centre is slated for a number of additional improvements, including the installation of a new trimmer-scanner optimizer to help with fibre recovery and a tensioning system at the planer to help the process flow. Like with the MSR machine and Autolog grader, EACOM will use technology that has been tested and proven in other facilities.
“We’re familiar with optimizers and planer tensioning systems. We’ve been successful with them at other mills so it’s just another opportunity to transfer knowledge and maximize our gains from what others have done within EACOM sawmills,” Banchero explains. “We are confident these next investments will be successfully installed at Nairn Centre.”
This method is “thorough and it’s very measured; we do our due diligence to make sure that by the time we’re ready to install new equipment, we know what to expect,” Leduc adds.
With the acquisition of the Sault Ste. Marie I-Joist facility, the company is looking to grow its I-Joist business and will be looking at other opportunities to ensure internal fibre supply. However, EACOM is being cautious about future modernization projects because of the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.
“Until there’s a resolution, we’re subject to a 20 per cent duty on all our shipments to the U.S., and for EACOM that’s about 60 per cent of our production. All of that cash that we’re paying in duties is being held at the border unavailable for us to use for capital investments,” Leduc says. “We’re definitely hoping that we’ll get that money back.
“So, while we have big investment plans, we are proceeding with caution until there is a resolution to the trade war. Despite this, we’re committed to making strategic investments, and the focus on continuous improvement is even more important in light of these challenges. It’s about finding that balance and making sure that investments are strategic such that we get the best results allowing us to weather any uncertainty in the market.”