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Investments in Plants, Machinery Keep Canadian Company on Growth Track
Two GBN Lines Enable Groupe Savoie to Achieve High Volume Production

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/2/2005

ST. QUENTIN, New Brunswick -- Size and scope certainly set Groupe Savoie Inc. apart. Groupe Savoie, a leader in hardwood processing, has three sawmills, two automated pallet production lines, a component plant, a logging division, facilities in two Canadian provinces, hundreds of employees, global sales – and that’s the short list.

“We’re fully integrated from forest to customer,” said Roland Dufour, director of marketing at Groupe Savoie. And throughout, Groupe Savoie retains its “commitment to quality,” he said. If he were going to point to a signature for Groupe Savoie, that commitment would be it.

There are no shortcuts at Groupe Savoie. Expectations for employees are high. Technology and automation are tapped to their best advantages. ISO 14001 certification and participation in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) illustrate the company’s focus on excellence.

The company is owned by Jean-Claude Savoie, president. The root of Groupe Savoie reaches to 1978. That’s when Jean-Claude, who holds undergraduate and graduate university degrees, left a career as a science teacher. He and his father bought the hardwood company at which the elder Savoie had worked.

The founding team of father and son wanted to run a successful business and to establish a company that would become a significant member of the forest products industry in New Brunswick. Groupe Savoie has attained both goals.

            Early in its history, Groupe Savoie overcame the setback from a fire at a mill. Retooling and sheer grit — including the year Jean-Claude and his father worked without taking a salary — turned the situation around. By 1998, when Groupe Savoie was last profiled in Pallet Enterprise, the company had grown from 25 to 325 employees.

The trajectory of growth has continued since then. “Now we have about 540” employees, said Roland. In recent years Groupe Savoie purchased another plant in Westville, Nova Scotia and built a sawmill there. A greater proportion of overall sales are made outside Canada and the U.S. each year, although domestic customers still account for a majority of sales.

Groupe Savoie has been so busy recently that its pallet operations run one and one-half shifts and its sawmills all run three shifts, five days a week. “We’re doing about every kind of pallet,” said Roland, who worked in the cabinet and grade lumber industries before joining Groupe Savoie 14 years ago. “Eighty percent four-way stringer, 20 percent block pallets.” Food manufacturers are among some of the company’s leading customers for pallets, but Groupe Savoie also supplies pallets to other industries.

Since 2001, Groupe Savoie has operated with two fully automated pallet assembly lines that are equipped with GBN Machine & Engineering Corp. equipment. Besides the two GBN Excalibur nailing machines, the pallet plant also is equipped with GBN stackers and AMS painting booths.

            Groupe Savoie manufactures pallets for CHEP and for other companies that require the finished pallets to be painted. From the paint booths, the pallets roll directly into the warehouse.

            The plant also is equipped with three other, older Doig nailing machines that are used for small runs, said Roland.

            Pallet parts produced in the company’s mill are moved immediately to the pallet plant, and the components are moved directly to nailing machine lines or put into inventory.

The company chose GBN to equip its new pallet assembly lines after evaluating a number of different suppliers. Groupe Savoie’s first experience with GBN came almost a decade ago when it purchased a used GBN nailing machine. That machine enabled Groupe Savoie to increase production from about 1,200 pallets per shift to 2,000 pallets. At the same time, the crew of workers running the machine reported they were much less fatigued at the end of the day.

When Groupe Savoie decided to increase production at its pallet plant, it relied on a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw and multi-trim saw to produce more pallet parts. The Brewer machines are still performing faithfully.

            Groupe Savoie has undergone significant changes since 1998. The company has invested over $25 million in new facilities and equipment, including new warehouses and the new sawmill.

            Groupe Savoie’s machine maintenance staff once did much of the company’s metal fabrication work and built much of the machinery, but not today. Now the company only turns to its staff for a custom machine it cannot find available from machinery suppliers.

            Groupe Savoie produces 2 million pallets annually. At its plant in St. Quentin, it manufactures only new pallets. The company has a small pallet recycling facility off its main site in Moncton, New Brunswick where it remanufactures used pallets. Groupe Savoie also supplies pallet components to other pallet manufacturers and recyclers.

            St. Quentin, New Brunswick, is about 35 miles northeast of the nearest part of Maine. Westville, Nova Scotia, where Groupe Savoie put its newest mill, is 400 miles southeast of St. Quentin.

            St. Quentin is a town of about 3,500 residents. Its main employers are connected to the forest products industry. High quality hardwood species that grow in the region’s forests include sugar maple, yellow birch, beech and aspen.

St. Quentin is in the northwest corner of New Brunswick  “We’re sitting on 150 acres,” said Roland. The company’s buildings have a combined 240,000 square feet under roof.

            A native of St. Quentin, Roland likes the fast-paced environment of Groupe Savoie. “It’s a moving target,” he said. “Each day brings new challenges.” He enjoys everything about the wood products industry.  When Roland has time off, he has some definite objectives when it comes to recreation. “I try to go out hunting and fishing,” he said.

            Getting the most from every log or cant is a high priority at Groupe Savoie. “In the last year we’ve added a canter line in the pallet mill to use very small cants,” said Roland. Coupled with an edger from Valley Machine, the new canter line increased production by 8 million board feet, he said.

            The three sawmills of Groupe Savoie produce more than 60 million board feet annually. At St. Quentin, one mill processes logs into pallet stock. The other mill at the location manufactures grade lumber, with the cants going to the pallet mill.      The new sawmill in Westville also manufactures grade lumber.

“We do about 40 percent of our own logging,” said Roland. Most of the logging operations are mechanized. Tree-length logs usually are trucked to the mills, where they are bucked in the yard and graded according to three categories.

The three sawmills have a very similar plant layout, said Roland. Each has twin head rigs (one for large logs, one for small logs), resaws, edgers and sorters; suppliers of the principal mill machine centers are Forano (now USNR), PHL and Gilbert.

At the grade mills, Brunette ring debarkers are used for removing bark. At the pallet mill, a Fuji King drum-style debarker is deployed.

            In addition to manufacturing hardwood lumber, pallet stock, cants and furniture components, Groupe Savoie also produces railties and landscape timbers. In all its endeavors, the company emphasizes meeting orders on time.

The Mereen-Johnson rip saw and Dimter chop saw at the component plant in St. Quentin have been optimized for about 10 years. A new optimization system from LuxScan Technologies was put in place three months ago.

            The component plant manufactures edge glued panels, furniture blanks, moulding, squares, hardwood flooring and kitchen cabinet parts. The company also will manufacture custom components.

            The St. Quentin facility has its own computer-controlled steam plant that is used to heat eight Nardi kilns, each with a capacity of 50,000 board feet. The kilns are used both for drying lumber and heat-treating pallets. QMI is the auditing agency for the heat-treating stamp used at Groupe Savoie.

            Sawdust that is not required by the steam plant is sold to a particle board manufacturer. Bark is sold to bio-generation plants, and scrap wood is chipped and sold to paper mills.

            Groupe Savoie buys cutting tools, such as notching heads, from Profile Technology. For saw blades the company turns to Simonds Industries, BGR Tools and other suppliers.

            Combining business acumen, his education and hands-on experience from the time he stepped into the first mill that he and his father operated together, Jean-Claude has been able to see his business grow. With fully integrated operations for the pallet division, Groupe Savoie has greater control over raw material, ensuring customers that it can supply precisely what they need and on schedule.

            With versatility in equipment, Groupe Savoie is able to make the most of its raw material. A Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle chop saw first demonstrated to Jean-Claude the way flexibility could both speed and amplify production. It was added at the end of the last decade, enabling Groupe Savoie to cut stringers and deck boards from the same cant. For example, a 4x6 cant 7 feet long can be cut into a 4-foot piece and a 3-foot piece. The 4-foot piece can be routed to a Brewer gang saw to be resawn into stringers, and the smaller cant can be conveyed to a Brewer horizontal band saw system to be resawn into deck boards.

            Groupe Savoie belongs to the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, the National Hardwood Lumber Association, the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association, and the Canadian Pallet Council.

            There are many ways to encapsulate the business philosophy of Groupe Savoie: fully integrated, flexible, maximum use of natural resources. But enveloping all these concepts is the commitment to providing “utmost satisfaction” to each customer.

“Utmost satisfaction” is the phrase that Jean-Claude uses in his letter written to prospective customers and posted on the Groupe Savoie Web site, and it underscores the company’s commitment to manufacturing quality wood products.

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