Grant opens a new wood coating division.
Grant executives regard the coating and its 50,000-square-foot facility as a super-secret specialty project with enormous growth potential for a variety of building applications.
The company has developed a value-added, waterproof coating that delivers a smooth surface to strand board or any other structural wood product.
Doug Smith, general manager of the newly created Grant Coated Wood Products division, says the coating is considered a "fairly mature technology" that is relatively novel in its use for OSB.
They're working on new markets for highway signage and new uses in the home building industry.
But like some secret sauce, the substance of the coating is being kept confidential. Grant is being especially careful on what's being said and published about it.
"We're being quite tight-lipped on this project because we think we've got a technology advantage," says Smith.
It's so secret, the company is not allowing any photography of equipment inside the plant. Tours are by invitation only.
The plant, which was commissioned in late November, was built on a greenfield site near Grant's administrative offices in Earlton.
Now with a workforce of 12, Grant intends to staff up to 25 with the potential to double that number over the next couple of years.
Without getting into production specifics, Smith says the plant has much capacity and great scalability.
He also isn't divulging the identity of any customers except to say there's been a "tremendous amount of interest" in the product.
"We had some comments from architects that they've never seen a finish like this before."
The coating is also applicable to plywood, particle board, MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) or any type of wood paneled product.
"We fully intend to and are coating those type of products as we grow," says Smith.
He says there's a huge market to be realized for coated wood products in highway road signs, billboards, real estate and temporary wood signs which typically have a two-year lifespan.
An advantage of their coating is its waterproofing characteristic and the ability to apply it with colours added.
Smith says that opens up a myriad of possibilities with decorative laminates and overlay products along with architectural panels and flooring.
Coated panels for use as concrete forms is another use. Smith says they can create a panel that delivers a smooth concrete finish without needing to apply a release agent. It is built into the coating. "It breaks away from the cured concrete perfectly."
Smith, who has hired away from the pulp industry, says the project has been four years in the making since Grant wanted to investigate ways to add value to OSB and specialize in ways other than the commodity business.
Since the early 1990s, OSB has gradually overtaken plywood in the North American home building market because of its strength and cost. About 80 per cent of new homes are sheathed in OSB floor, wall and roof panels. But further growth in this core business is limited.
Grant successfully developed a number of OSB treatments including medium and high density overlays, but other companies have also copied that.
With the help of some industry partners, the company "stumbled" upon this coating technology that no one had yet figured out how to apply to OSB. Grant installed a small R & D pilot line in Earlton a few years ago and assembled a staff to investigate it further.
They've teamed up with an unnamed chemical company and an equipment vendor and have produced some good prototypes that were "greenlighted" by company President Peter Grant Jr. senior management towards building a production plant.
"Pete wants to see this business grow and thrive and build another one," says Smith, "depending on where the market is."
The company operates two northeastern Ontario OSB mills in Englehart and Timmins, and is investing $400 million US to expand into South Carolina with two more mills.
Says Smith, "We have an aggressive growth plan for us to grow as a division. Grant's seeing this as a way to expand and the beauty of this technology is that it doesn't have to limit itself to industrial specialties."
Last year, the company was awarded $2 million from Ontario's Forest Sector Prosperity Fund to help build the Earlton mill, considered the first of its kind in North America.
Bill Kissick, Forest Sector Competitiveness Secretariat, who reviews all applications, says Grant's was one of the first ones considered.
"What's neat about it and what we found attractive was that it's a traditional commodity producer going up the value-added stream.
"They're looking for ways of turning what is a commodity construction product and putting it into niche markets and getting real value for it."
By IAN ROSS
Northern Ontario Business
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|Title Annotation:||SPECIAL REPORT: FORESTRY|
|Publication:||Northern Ontario Business|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2007|
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