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KHEOPS Winter Mill Tour: Showcases Commitment to Quality, Customer Service
Kheops Tour: Mill tour of Canadian cut stock suppliers showcases KHEOPS’ large network and quality service.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 7/1/2006
As soon as I landed in Quebec City, I knew this was going to be a different experience than any of my other previous mill tours or plant visits. The winds were howling around the plane. Snow covered everything in sight. As I stepped off the plane, I thought, “Boy, it seems cold.”
Over the next couple of days, I would experience warm hospitality that made me forget the weather. I would discover that there are a number of major differences in how sawmills operate north of the border. My travels helped me develop a greater sense of appreciation for a load of cut stock and what it goes through before reaching the customer. I met many friendly French Canadians who take pride in their work. Many of the people work for cooperatives where they own a piece of the success of the company. The entire Canadian lumber system is different, which is one of the reasons for the longstanding softwood lumber war between the United States and Canada.
KHEOPS Group (www.kheopswood.com) sponsored the mill tour, which featured a number of lumber mills in the Matapedia Valley region of Quebec. KHEOPS brokers lumber and pallet cut stock from this region. It will supply customers as far south as Baltimore and as far west as Chicago by truck delivery. KHEOPS offers cutstock to the entire continental U.S. by rail delivery. It supplies 65 million board feet of material per year. Sixty to seventy percent of its cut stock is Aspen.
KHEOPS has three main divisions – industrial softwood, grade hardwood and pallet cut stock. The pallet cut stock division sources material from 32 different mills even though it relies primarily on 13 major producers.
The first few hours of the trip, I traveled via car along the edge of the St. Lawrence River. It was completely frozen, the largest ice cube that I have ever seen. Julien Prince of KHEOPS explained how the Canadian lumber industry works.
Most of the timberland is owned by the provincial governments. The timber is owned by individual mills that have bought the timber rights.
One of the things I first noticed is that the weather conditions in the winter make everything more difficult. True, the mills were running a bit earlier than they normally do because of the timing of the tour. But the weather can be a challenge even later in the season. Mills have learned to adapt and make up any down time.
Julien said, “KHEOPS’ customers have never experienced shortage of material even if the winter is cold, mills have production slow downs or break downs, or log supply is tight. With our vast variety of suppliers from different areas, we have always been able to make sure everybody’s supply is covered.”
KHEOPS carries a 2-4 week inventory on hand at all times. The company has three inventory sites that allow for fast delivery on demand.
Julien said, “We have trucks and lumber available all of the time. Most of the time it is 48 hour delivery on the standard size.”
A manager with the first facility, Bois CFM, said that the company typically experiences 15% loss time on an average week in the winter due to weather related problems.
Julien commented that some lost time was fairly common with the bitter cold conditions. On this particular day, temperatures reached 15 below zero (F) in the morning. All of the plants we visited were as compact as possible. Mill designs focused on utilizing space because of the high cost to heat every square inch.
Bois CFM is located in Causapscal and produces 48” Aspen stringers. Employees have a reason to show up for work because they own the company. Employee-owned cooperatives are fairly common in the Quebec area according to Julien. There are about 40 coops in the Quebec wood industry.
Logs are cut to length in the field (100 inches). This allows the mill to focus on its core mission of producing pallet cut stock, especially Aspen stringers. The log yard was starting to build up while we were there because it can be hard for loggers to harvest timber in the summer due to muddy conditions.
Bois CFM uses a gang saw, trimmer and resaw by Desjardins. It also has a debarker by Forano and a chipper by Comact.
The second mill on the tour was Felix Huard’s Amqui division, which produces primarily 4 foot logs of Birch and Maple with an hourly capacity of 4,000 bf. The Amqui division makes a lot of deckboards for CHEP Canada. The facility employs 21-22 people.
Felix Huard (www.fhuard.com) is a diversified forest products company with grade mills, a charcoal plant, a reman facility and a cut stock operation.
The next stop was Scierie Serdam, which produces about 40-42,000 bf per day. The current owner bought the mill in 2003 after it went bankrupt. The facility used to be a stud mill. Now it makes pallet cut stock.
Gustave Levesque is one of the new owners who spent time reworking the mill and added a Brewer 4000 notcher for producing stringers. Gus said, “For what we need, we think it is the best machine. We have not had any down time or trouble.”
Scierie Serdam uses a large circular sawmill from Cardinal Sawmill Equipment. Stringers are run through the Brewer notcher and stacked into bundles.
While at the facility, KHEOPS’ quality control manager, Rodrigue Dionne, visited the plant. He is a certified lumber grader and trainer. He visits every facility at least every two weeks and looks for dimensions to be in tolerance. He also watches for adherence to grading rules and instructs workers on proper procedures. Having a full-time quality control manager who travels over 55,000 miles per year helps KHEOPS ensure consistent quality without the salesmen having to visit each mill themselves.
Julien said, “Suppliers perceive KHEOPS quality control as an insurance policy on their product and not an inspection that will penalize their work. They always give 100% cooperation to Rodrigue.”
The final mill that I visited was Damabois Mill, which primarily specializes in Aspen cut stock. Damabois produces 60-65% stringers averaging 40-45,000 bf per day. This facility had a lot of machinery in a fairly compact space. The line weaves through the building on two levels kind of like a snake.
The primary breakdown saw is a large twin bandsaw by PHL. Slabs go to the stringer line with a Denis Comact gang saw. Outside slabs go to the board line. Main boards go to stringers line. Damabois used a Brewer 4000C notcher for producing the stringers.
Martin Lavoie, the mill manager, said, “Brewer is the best notcher on the market.” Damabois has used the Brewer notcher since 1998 without any problems.
My last day on the tour included a snowmobile ride to the Damabois mill. I have never seen so much snow in my entire life. It felt like someone dropped me right in the middle of a fairytale land. The Matapedia valley is known for its snowmobile trails and winter sports due to the large annual snowfall. The snow and cold can make the entire process difficult. But the producers in the area have adapted to the weather. Some of the mills have added a scraper on planers to deal with sawdust freezing to the boards.
Two other mills on the tour were Multibois St-Vianney Division and Groupe Damabois, Cap-Chat Division. Both locations produce 40-42” Aspen boards. The Cap-Chat mill produces 15 million board feet per year of Aspen boards. It has a new automatic sorting/stacking system by Piche that has helped the company cut its labor cost. The Piche sorter can handle 50,000-75,000 pieces per day. The other facilities on the tour all stacked the lumber by hand.
While the mills on the tour generally produce standard sizes, KHEOPS can work with its mills to produce custom sizes. Julien said, “Most of the time we can produce a customized size for clients within 48 hours and ship.”
All of the mills on the tour were friendly and helpful. The KHEOPS guys took good care of their customers and made sure that everyone had a memorable time.
I was joined on the tour by Steve Marrs of John Rock Inc., Paul Simpson of Pallet Renew Inc., Glenn Atkinson of Southland Manufacturing Co. and Paul Wilson of Canada Pallet Corp.
“I thought it was a pretty informative tour,” said Paul Wilson, general manager of Canada Pallet Corp. “I had always stayed away from Aspen because of limited availability. We started buying some as a result of seeing the operations on the mill tour, especially the last big mill, which is twelve times the size of a normal Aspen mill.”
Paul is referring to the Damabois Cap-Chat Division facility, a state of the art sawmill built in 2005. He added that KHEOPS had done a good job putting the supply together from all of those mills to make sure that customer needs are handled.
While the trip helped the pallet companies see where its cut stock supply comes from, more than that it showcased KHEOPS’commitment to customer care.
Julien said, “We do what it takes to please the customer and have fun doing it.”