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New MDF plant is high on technology & quality.

G-P Flakeboard has put an emphasis on state-of-the-art equipment and environmental controls at its new Superior MDF plant.

There's nothing "medium" about this 200,000-square-foot medium density fiberboard plan. Instead, "high" is the buzzword at G-P Flakeboard's newest MDF startup in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. According to Matthew Gibbon, plant manager, G-P Flakeboard has gone all out to ensure that the manufacturing process meets the highest environmental standards set by the Canadian government and that technologically advanced MDF equipment is being used to meet these standards plus produce a high-quality MDF board.

More than $110 million (Canadian) has been 'invested in the plant, said Kelly Shotbolt, president of G-P Flakeboard. The plant, which began board production earlier this month, is targeting the North American market, particularly the residential and office furniture industries, although applications also include cabinet doors, mouldings, slotwall, flooring, etc. Superior MDF is available in 4-foot by 6-foot to 5-foot by 16-foot sheets, with thicknesses ranging from 3/8 inch to 1 1/8 inches. Plant capacity calls for producing up to 120 million square feet on a 3/4-inch basis annually.

Superior MDF will be distributed in Canada by Flakeboard Distributors Ltd. and in the United States by Georgia-Pacific, joint owners of the company.

The name itself, "Superior," comes from a combination of sources. The plant's location in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, borders Lake Superior. Also, said Lloyd Hotchkiss, MDF technician, "We think it is a superior board. It is one of the few boards in North America made of 100 percent SPF softwoods, so it will have a lighter, consistent color. We also use a two-stage series refiner process, which means the fibers will be cleaner and more consistent."

G-P Flakeboard turned to Bison Werke, Germany, to specify the turnkey operation. "We went to Bison because it is the largest supplier of panel manufacturing equipment and it has a lot of experience in doing turnkey operations for panel plants," said Shotbolt.

Making 'Superior' boards

Quality boards start with good fiber. Raw material is trucked to the adjacent 70,000-square-foot enclosed Raw Material Storage building. "We don't store the material outdoors for two reasons. One, to preserve the moisture content. And second, we get a lot of snow out here, and we wouldn't be able to get to the material in the winter," Hotchkiss explained.

Once a truck enters the building, it drives onto the Megatech hydraulic dump, which then tips to a 63-degree angle, allowing raw material to drop directly into the hopper, located approximately 30 feet underground. A magnet located on the wing chain conveyor removes any metal impurities before the material is sent through to the scalper. There, large chunks of wood are dropped into a reclaim bunker, leaving the small flakes on the shuttle conveyor. Flakes are separated into two piles, sawdust or wood chips.

G-P has contracted with an independent contractor to transfer the material from the piles to the reclaim hoppers.

From the reclaim hopper, a belt conveys the material past a magnetic detector and into the General Kinematics destoner. The destoner "shakes" out the reject material, sending it to a reject bunker. Good material is sent to a high-pressure blower, which blows the material, through ducts, to the production building.

Once in the main plant, "the material is collected in the relay cyclone and transferred to the presteaming bin with the use of a rotary airlock," Hotchkiss said. The wood fibers are fed first into a side screw feeder, and then into the plug screw feeder, which uses a compression ratio of 2:1 to compress the fibers and remove water. "The water will go to a filtration device, which screens out the pulp. What you have then is clean water going into the sewer," he added.

The compressed material is then fed to the Kvaerner Hymac two-stage series refiners. The primary refiner uses two discs - one stationary and one which rotates at 1,800 rpm - to tear the material into usable fiber, Hotchkiss said.

The secondary refiner further refines the material into fiber. "Because we have the two-stage series refiners, we will be able to produce better, more consistent and cleaner fiber," Hotchkiss said.

"We also decided to go with the two-stage refiners because that is the system which the other Canadian companies are using. It became a competitive issue for us," Shotbolt added.

Wax is added at the in feed of the secondary refiner, at a wax/wood ratio of 0.5 percent by weight, Hotchkiss said. Georgia-Pacific resin, scavenger - to control the formaldehyde tolerances in the mixture - and catalyst is added via airless atomizing nozzles upon exiting the refiner.

Steam pressure next blows the fibers to the MEC flash tube dryer, which has a capacity of 26 oven dry metric tons per hour and can be heated either by oil and gas, or just gas. Next, "The dried fiber enters four MEC supplied cyclones, through a rotary airlock and onto a weigh belt, used to maintain a constant ratio of solid resin to fiber," Hotchkiss said.

At the Bison forming station, fiber is pushed through dolffing rolls, ensuring the mat's thickness uniformity. According to Hotchkiss, this. mechanical/pneumatic Bison former is only the second of its kind, and the first in use in North America.

Said Shotbolt, "The former is somewhat unusual because it relies on vacuum forming. It is being used successfully in a plant in Germany with a capacity that is similar to ours."

Next, a precompressor presses the mat into a more usable size. The mat proceeds into a Dieffenbacher prepress, then passes through trim saws, and a GreCon metal detector and a GreCon isotonic controller.

A Dieffenbacher continuous press stands as the final phase in actual board manufacture At 125 feet long by 10 feet wide, it is the largest press of its kind in the world, Hotchkiss said. "Because the press is so long, we can speed up the line and still have enough time for curing," he added.

A mat height indicator to control the wedge compactor is located directly on the press. "This lines the nose conveyor to the top of the large press drum in order to allow compression to start at a uniform rate," Hotchkiss said. Mat heights can be monitored at any one of the press' 28 sections.

The final act

Using Leuco sawblades, the Globe splitter saw and flying cut-off saw cut the board to size before cooling. A Globe transfer cart moves the boards from the Burelbach stacker to the storage rack, ready for vacuum pickup into the Kimwood six-head sander.

"What makes this a little different (from other board companies) is that the board will be sanded to a 150-grit finish," Gibbon said.

From the sander, the panel is trimmed, rotated 45 degrees, and trimmed again.

Once the boards exit the second Globe trimmer, they must then pass by the grading pulpit. Inside, an MDF technician uses special overhead lights to grade the boards for stock. Boards are graded in three categories: cull board, which is destined for hog fuel, shop grade and Superior board. "The plant's goal is to have 100 percent of the board to meet Superior standards," Hotchkiss said. "This will be really hard to achieve considering the high quality expectations for Superior MDF," he added.

Computerization is key to quality

To make a "Superior" board, strict control must be kept on all manufacturing aspects. To accomplish this, G-P Flakeboard uses separate PC terminals to monitor everything from startup, through machining, to shut down - on all machines in the main plant. All portions of the process, from the smallest detail to the largest, can be observed via a specially designed, Windows-based Man-Machine-Interface program supplied to G-P Flakeboard by Wonderware.

Keeping control over the manufacturing is made easy in that digital images of all the processes are downloaded into the system and placed on separate terminals, allowing for more in-depth information. To ensure no details are overlooked, the larger machining processes use more than one terminal. The 125-foot-long Dieffenbacher press, for example, has four terminals to track its production.

"We can check values, tune up processes - do just about everything, including starting and stopping, from up here," said Dan Zago, process specialist. "It also allows us to keep track of trends and any measurements we might need," he added.

Environmental responsibility

From a marketing standpoint, success is not only contingent upon how much high-tech or cost-efficient equipment a company has, but also on its environmental awareness.

G-P Flakeboard takes this responsibility seriously, said Gibbon. For starters, the company follows what Gibbon calls the "Three-R" philosophy: reuse, recycle; reduce.

It begins with the 10 local sawmills contracted to supply G-P Flakeboard with softwood chips, shavings and sawdust. "We're using things that were once destined for landfills or tepee burners," said Gibbon. He added that the wood residue is typically from trees logged in sustainably managed forests.

"We have a different type of situation here than you do in the U.S. in that forests are managed by the Provincial government. The government either replants the trees or contracts with the harvesting companies for replanting," Gibbon said.

Material deemed unusable for MDF fabrication will be sent to a reject bunker and used to heat the four different oil lines: lump separator, dryer, steam generator and press.

But environmental awareness does not stop there. The entire plant is equipped with sophisticated emission control equipment, said Hotchkiss, including a PPC Industries electrostatic precipitator which removes, from the air, the particulates generated by the furnace. There are also nine MacDonald Steel fume filters to filter formaldehyde emissions, and six MacDonald Steel bag-houses for dust control.

A Dynamic Micro Chamber, supplied by GreCon, is also on the premises to test formaldehyde levels.

As a final step in reducing the impact of dust and noise on the nearby community, dirt berms have been put around the plant site.

The importance of location

The decision to locate the plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was made for a variety of reasons, said Shotbolt. "Sault Ste. Marie has a very good freight infrastructure, both truck and railcar. Also, it is near the supply of raw material and is a large center which attracts a lot of the top technicians and management. We were also looking to locate the plant in a central place to our target areas: Ontario and the Midwest," he said.

The G-P Flakeboard MDF plant is the second joint venture between Atlanta, Ga.-based Georgia-Pacific and Flakeboard, located in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Their first startup was the Bancroft, Ontario-based G-P Flakeboard particleboard plant in November 1994.


From its startup, G-P Flakeboard has functioned differently from most other engineered board plants in that it is run on a multi-task team concept.

Excluding specialists, production employees at the 90-man plant are divided into six 11-person "rotating" teams, explained Lloyd Hotchkiss, MDF technician.

Four teams (A, B, C and D) are assigned to the production stage, each charged with the responsibility of running one of the shifts during the 24-hour day, seven-days-a-week plant schedule.

How it works is simple. The production area of the plant is divided into sections, with each of the 11 people on the team assigned a specific job. For example, one person will be assigned to refining and drying; one to reforming, pressing and cooling; one to sanding; one to sawing and grading; one to packaging; one to forklift; one to quality control; and four to work as support staff.

Of the remaining two teams, "E" is responsible for training, maintenance and projects, and "F" takes charge of mill scheduling, purchasing and other administrative functions. G-P Flakeboard also employs a permanent four-man shipping crew.

"Most of the plants today are so large and complicated that for them to run efficiently with very few (decision makers) is not effective. The team concept enables employees to become more truly involved in running the plant - it can only work for the better," said Kelly Shotbolt, G-P Flakeboard president.

"I think that fundamentally, most manufacturing facilities will be run this way in the coming years," Shotbolt added.

The team concept is also in place at the G-P Flakeboard particleboard plant in Bancroft, Ontario, and is under implementation at the Flakeboard facility in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, said Shotbolt, who is also president of these plants.

- Karen Koenig


If you believe the analysts, 1996 may not be the best time to start up a new MDF manufacturing facility. Although consumption is projected to grow 12 percent over 1995 figures, to an estimated 1.4 billion square feet, the overall demand has not increased nearly as fast as capacity created by new plants and the expansions of existing facilities, Resource Information Systems Inc. states in its January newsletter.

According to the National Particleboard Assn., an estimated 430 mmsf of MDF capacity was scheduled to come on line in 1995, with another 773 mmsf projected for 1996.

According to RISI, the "biggest concern is that the drop in usage rates we estimate for several MDF end-use markets in late 1994 and in 1995 were insufficient to balance demand with apparent consumption. Put another way, MDF may have lost more market share than RISI currently estimates, and 1995 MDF consumption may have been as low as 1.2 BSF.

"As a consequence of lower-than-forecast exports and slower use factor growth, 1997 MDF consumption may fall as much as 10 percent below the projected level. Clear evidence that MDF market shares are again increasing will need to be seen before a more optimistic assessment can be made."

But G-P Flakeboard is determined to ignore the pessimism regarding the economy.

"We were one of the very first companies, of what has become several, to start up a new plant. At the time when we first looked at the market, and at the amount of capacity we projected, the plan made perfect sense," said Kelly Shotbolt, president of G-P Flakeboard. And although others have since come on line with new MDF plants, thereby reducing the capacity needed to supply the total market, Shotbolt said the company's investment in the high-tech equipment and environmental controls "will help us produce the high-quality product that the market wants."

"We will also be putting a heavy emphasis on customer support," said Matthew Gibbon, plant manager. "With the soft economy right now, the business will be given to people who can react quicker to customer needs: on-time delivery and products that meet their specific needs. What it comes down to is the customer wants to get his product, when he needs it, and have it be the highest quality product at the lowest cost."

Currently, G-P Flakeboard has no plans to branch into laminating or other value-added services, Gibbon said. "Right now, our total focus is on making the board - like it should be."

- Karen Koenig
COPYRIGHT 1996 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:medium density fibreboard
Author:Koenig, Karen
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Previous Article:Defining the role of engineered wood.
Next Article:Build one day, ship the next.

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