Wood Business

Features Mills Sawmilling
Better performing saw line

March 27, 2024  By Guillaume Roy; Translated by Jean-Francois Gingras

Photo courtesy Groupe Martel.

Nestled in the heart of Quebec, Groupe Martel stands as a beacon of tradition and innovation, preserving the rich legacy of a family enterprise while simultaneously embarking on a transformative journey towards modernization.

Seamlessly blending age-old craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology, Martel Sawmill epitomizes the harmonious coexistence of tradition and innovation in the timber industry.

With the installation of a new Inotech saw line during the summer of 2023, the $10-million modernization project at Groupe Martel’s sawmill in Alma, Quebec, is now completed.

“We wanted to speed up the line while maximizing our lumber recovery,” explains Groupe Martel president Raynald Martel.


 “With the new saw line, we generate less chips and produce a higher yield of finished products,” he explains

The impact of the new line is palpable, Raynald says, and after a few months of operation, the result just keeps getting better.

Groupe Martel president Raynald Martel. Photo courtesy Groupe Martel.

“We have met our targets and stayed within budget,” boasts Raynald. With this new line, the mill is not only enhancing its productivity, but also ensuring that every piece of timber is utilized. Before the new saw line, the facility was producing around 200 board feet per cubic metre of lumber. With the new installation, the sawmill now yields 260 board feet per cubic metre.

Designed by Inotech, Groupe Martel has invested over $5 million in this new saw line that incorporates an Autolog (Carbotech) optimizer.

“It’s a four-head canter line with a log positioning system that provides an outstanding cant surface,” explains Michael Dufour, sales manager for Inotech, adding that whatever the client needs can be met by creating custom-designed solutions. “Even if it doesn’t exist, we’re ready to invent it.”

Paying off the investments

Because of the rock-bottom lumber prices, it has been challenging to recuperate the investment as was initially planned.

“The prices are currently so low that we prefer to keep more finished products in inventory and hope to sell them at a later date when prices have recovered,” states Raynald. With certain lumber dimensions, the prices are acceptable, but for 2×3 and 2×4 studs, it’s useless to sell them at a loss, he says.

However, the experienced sawmiller is not losing any sleep because he knows that prices will eventually come back to profitable levels as they have regularly done over the past decades.

“Lumber prices swing up or down like a roller coaster – nobody knows exactly when, but prices will surely come back up at some point”.

Photo courtesy Groupe Martel.

Developing value-added niche markets

The family-run sawmill was established in 1954 and over time, the business has developed different niche products. “Creating value-added is not a new concept at Groupe Martel because it’s actually part of our DNA,” says Raynald.

The venture into value-added started in the 1980’s with the acquisition of a beam and roof truss factory located in Saint-Coeur-de-Marie. “This expansion allowed us to generate more value from our resource,” he explains, adding that the production facility was moved to Alma about 10 years later.

Over time, the group also diversified its business into retail with the purchase of two hardware and renovation stores, BMR and Potvin & Bouchard, in Alma. “The retail stores enable us to sell our own products,” he says.

“We now generate the logs in the forest, process them into lumber in our sawmill, then into structural products in our factory, which we sell in our stores,” explains Pierre-Luc Martel, general manager for the group. “It’s a great example of integration.”

Yet, diversification does not necessarily improve the sawmill’s financial performance. “We supply lumber to our subsidiaries, but they pay market prices for it because we can’t penalize them,” says Raynald. However, even if the sawmill is less profitable, the subsidiaries may be performing better. Because of this, the diversification has resulted in a financially stronger Groupe Martel overall.

In fact, the market demand for their products is strongly growing. In the last two years, sales of prefabricated walls have increased by more than 30 per cent, and this growth is fueling the value-added strategy that the company is trying to apply to all products. “We are manufacturing house components that can be assembled like LEGO kits, says Raynald. “In the context of the housing shortage, we can produce even more of these.”

A new saw line represents the last component of a $10-million investment program that Groupe Martel started on a few years ago. Photo courtesy Groupe Martel.

A rhythm of its own

The financial structure of the company enables the sawmill to produce at its own pace.

“The sawmill shuts down for two months every winter,” explains Raynald. Despite this interruption, the sawmill capacity greatly exceeds the wood supply annual allocations of 60,600 cubic metres, supplemented by log volumes obtained through the auctioning process of the wood marketing board (Bureau de mise en marché des bois), for a total of 80,000 cubic metres annually.

“We could produce more if we decided to operate a night shift.”

Lumber drying and planing are done through sub-contracting companies and business partners, including Scierie Lac St-Jean, Scierie Girard, BDF Industriel and Boismax.

Over $10 million have been invested in the sawmill since 2018. Of this total, $5.8 million were received as loans from Investissement Québec in support of these projects.

In 2020, an optimizer, a bin sorter and an automated lumber stacker were added to the mill. With the installation of the new saw line in 2023, Raynald feels that the sawmill is now well positioned for many years, despite anticipated reductions in log volume allocations related to woodland caribou protection and new protected areas.

“While there have been challenges all along, I see a bright future both for the sawmill and for the entire Groupe Martel.”

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