Bois Francs Bio Serra invests in white ‘yellow birch’
May 2, 2023 By Guillaume Roy | Translated by Jean-François Gingras
White “yellow birch”. This is the unique name used to sell the white birch floors produced by Bois Francs Bio Serra. After all, why shouldn’t white birch deserve the same fame as yellow birch by increasing its popularity with a high-value wood name?
This year, the entire hardwood sawmill in Sainte-Monique, Que., will undergo a facelift with a $20-million investment.
Currently, the mill processes only 150,000 cubic meters of wood, while it has a guaranteed supply of 250,000 cubic meters, which includes 30 per cent of trembling aspen. Bois Francs Bio Serra has asked the government to maintain its supply guarantee, but consisting entirely of birch, because the investments will make it possible to extract more value from the white “yellow birch”, explains Mario Lemay, director of the Sainte-Monique plant in Lac Saint-Jean.
Major renovations to come
Currently the bottleneck – all the equipment at the back end the plant – will be replaced. “We can’t go one step at a time because the plant is not designed for that,” Lemay says.
A new JAMEC trimming line will be installed, along with a Comact TrimExpert optimizer, specialized for hardwood. Supplied by SmartMill, a Smart Trim 3-in-1 loader, fence and trimmer will also be installed.
“This machine allows us to cut in two and trim precisely to optimize each piece of wood,” says Lemay. For example, one section of a board could be cut for flooring while the other would go for pallet production.
This equipment will make it possible to pre-sort the pieces before entering the flooring factory. Currently, nearly 50 per cent of the pieces are rejected at the infeed.
“We dry 50 per cent of the wood for nothing because we cut logs the old way and don’t detect the defects,” adds the director, who hopes to reduce these losses by 60 per cent. This gain will drastically lower drying costs and time, currently at 12 days. Bois Francs Bio Serra is also working with FPInnovations to improve their drying protocol.
In addition, a Novilco double bin sorter with 30 baskets will be installed to optimize space and the number of products. Finally, an FP Machine stacker and a Signode strapper will be added.
At the mill infeed, a second slasher will be added to cut high-grade 16- to 17-foot logs in half, representing 30 to 40 per cent of the supply. At the same time, another slasher operator will optimize the 4- to 8-foot logs to optimize fibre recovery with a second saw.
“Birch is often crooked, so the shorter lengths you cut, the more fibre you recover,” points out Lemay, adding that there are no specific target log lengths for flooring.
A second saw line, a Sawquip purchased from an J.D. Irving mill in Nova Scotia, will also be installed to saw small-diameter (3 to 8 inches) logs. The other Forano line will continue to saw medium- and large-diameter logs, up to 27 inches. With hardwood logs, different cutting tools are used to saw at specific angles and speeds compared to softwood.
A SiCam Systems continuous profiler will be added on the Sawquip line to continuously scan the canter output and provide positioning feedback.
Harvesting more birch in the forest
These mill upgrades will transform harvest operations because the new equipment will be able to process smaller, crooked wood that was once considered pulpwood, explains Lemay.
“It’s going to give us the opportunity to recover volumes that were going to end up 100 per cent as chips, to create more value,” he says.
Currently, 45 per cent of the birch in the forest measures 16 cm or less, and so the plant must adapt to this reality.
Investing in Sawmilling 4.0
“In one step, we’ll move forward 30 years,” claims Lemay. With the modernization project, the company will rely on continuous data monitoring throughout the plant with technology and services from PMP Solutions. Monitoring gauges will be installed throughout the sawmill as decision-support tools.
A logistics planning system including inventory management is being implemented.
“It will allow us to plan the entire supply chain from here to Montreal,” Lemay says.
The PMP WeDry system, designed to manage moisture content during drying, will also be installed.
Producing less by-products
Currently, only 24 per cent of the wood that enters the Sainte-Monique plant is sawn, while 76 per cent ends up as by-products. These figures may seem startling for people in the softwood industry, but the fact that birch is often crooked generates a high proportion of by-products. With the major mill investment next year, the plant expects to increase the sawn proportion rate to 40 per cent.
“This will ensure the sustainability of the plant,” notes Lemay. When the upgrade is completed, production will increase from 12 to 25 million square feet of product.
It should be noted that nearly 60 per cent of the wood entering the factory is transformed into pallet wood. To recover its own residues, the company intends to restart the production of compressed wood firelogs. In addition to the sawmill, there is also a flooring production facility in Sainte-Monique. Last year, $4.2 million was invested in this plant, including the addition of an Inspector B scanner from EBI Electric and a Powermat 2400 moulder from Weinig.
All these investments will make it possible to produce additional Mono Serra flooring, which is in high demand and distributed through an extensive network. “Our problem right now is not sales, it’s production,” Lemay adds.
Labour shortage also limits productivity at the current time. This is why Bois Francs Bio Serra relies on international recruitment to address this issue. Seven Tunisian employees are already part of the work team and seven more will be added in the coming months. The company even bought the local guest house to provide these employees with a home.
These mill modernization projects will not create new jobs, but there is still a shortage of labor to meet all needs, especially with upcoming retirements.
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