Proulx Forest Products Supplies Pre-Cut Stock to U.S. Companies;
Quebec Company Operates Aspen Sawmill, Large Reman Plant to Serve U.S. Customers
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 3/1/2002
ST.-HILAIRE, Quebec – As a supplier of pre-cut pallet components to pallet manufacturers and recyclers in the U.S. and Canada, Proulx Forest Products operates one of the largest lumber remanufacturing facilities in Canada.
Proulx (pronounced PRU) is based in St.-Hilaire, about 15 miles east of Montreal. The company was founded in 1976 by Phillip Proulx, who worked his entire career in the forest products industry. He launched the business for the purpose of supplying precut components to the pallet industry. Initial production was about 10 million board feet annually.
His son, Reggie, who began working for his father when he was 16, today is general manager of the company. Reggie and sales manager George Lafleur discussed the company’s operations with Pallet Enterprise.
The company grew steadily over the years under the leadership of the Proulx family. In 1983 the company added a planer in order to dress lumber and also added dry kilns. Every year brought a new production line band saw, notching machine, radius end machine, truss cutters, or other equipment.
Proulx suffered a major setback in 1991, however, when a fire completely destroyed the plant. It was completely rebuilt and equipped with brand new machinery; the new mill was finished and operational by the end of 1992.
In 1995 Proulx bought an aspen sawmill, Lattes N.G. Inc., just south of Quebec city; that same year the mill was closed in order to be completely re-engineered.
The Proulx family sold the company in 1998, and it is now part of Gérard Crête & Fils, a large SPF producer in Quebec. There are not many remanufacturing plants in Quebec and Maine, and Crete acquired Proulx to have its own remanufacturing capacity. Proulx’s operations now produce about 50-60 million board feet of lumber products annually with annual sales of about $20 million (Canadian).
Many of the key pieces of machinery in the company’s operations have been developed and custom-made by Reggie’s brother, Dennis.
The aspen sawmill, Lattes N.G. Inc, with about 20 employees, produces about 11 million board feet of pallet stock annually. The company buys logs of aspen and mixed hardwoods in lengths of 7 or 8 feet, 5-18 inches in diameter. Proulx buys logs and also owns rights to harvest aspen on Crown lands in Quebec. "Our supply is constant, year-round," said Reggie. By mid-winter, he noted, many aspen mills run out of logs and are forced to close. "We don’t have that issue to deal with," said Reggie, whose company has never closed a sawmill. "We have our own supply of logs and can run all year-round."
Bark is removed with the aid of a Nicholson debarker system. Log break-down is accomplished on a tri-saw machine equipped with three circular saw blades. The three blades, all configured vertically, split a log into four pieces. The two middle pieces are 3 ½ or 5 ½ inches wide.
Most log break-down systems have one or two blades, noted George, initially cutting a log into two or three pieces. Frequently, a log may require two passes on the break-down system. Proulx developed the tri-saw system so that its logs could be processed in a single pass.
Material exiting the break-down system goes to a bull edger next. The bull edger removes the wane, squaring each piece to form a 5-inch, 6-inch or 7-inch cant. At the tail end of the bull is a cant sizer manufactured by Dennis to ensure a true 3 ½-inch dimension for all pieces.
The cants are conveyed to a gang-type resaw (also developed by Proulx); they are resawn into ½-inch, 5/8-inch, 1 1/4-inch, or 1 ½-inch material for deck boards or stringers, whatever the company is producing at the time. The company will set up the resaw and run it for a week or two at a time to produce the same material.
The boards are conveyed to another work station where they are cut to length on another custom-made machine. The machine, which functions automatically, is equipped with three circular saws and can trim multiple pieces of material at the same time.
The boards are then conveyed to a grading station. No. 1 boards are kicked out to go straight to a stacker; whatever does not make a No. 1board is kicked out to one of two parallel lines to be trimmed or resawn.
The two parallel lines for handling downgrade and waney material eliminate the need to handle the wood two or three additional times. The second grader decides whether a piece can be trimmed back; if not, it is resawn. If a 5/4 board is going to be graded as a No. 2, for example, the wane will be removed with a resaw to produce a 5/8-inch No. 1 board, explained George. The resulting lumber goes to another stacker and is inspected again.
"Once the log is in," said George, "everything that comes out has been graded three times so that when it goes to a stacker, it is a finished product."
The company’s reman plant is one of the biggest in Quebec and Ontario, according to Reggie and George. In fact when visitors come to the plant, they all comment on the size and the engineering of the different production lines.
The Proulx reman mill in St.-Hilaire has about 1 million square feet in all, including 70,000 square feet under roof. It processes SPF, aspen and mixed hardwoods; the mix is about 50% aspen and 50% SPF. The output consists of pallet stock, bed frame components, crating stock, and commodities for mobile home manufacturers. The reman mill, running two shifts, employs about 70 workers.
One side of the reman facility is set up for processing aspen. The company buys aspen cants and remanufactures them into whatever products its customers require, such as deck boards and stringers. Proulx will also manufacture specialty components from 1-inch to whatever thickness a customer needs.
Proulx buys aspen cants 3 5/8 inches by 3 ½, 4, 5 ½, and 7 inches, and they are resawn on a gang-type resaw supplied by Tronco, a Canadian machinery company. The Tronco resaw is equipped with horizontal blades at the front that remove 1/16-inch off the top of the cant, then the cant is typically resawn into 1 1/4-inch runners. Material exiting the resaw is cut to length on circular precision end trim cutters. Trimmed material moves via conveyors directly to a notching machine or to accumulators. When the accumulators are filled, the components are fed to another conveyor that leads to a patented Proulx speed stacker -- also developed by Dennis.
Stringers are notched on a double-head Bob Hanna machine that Proulx has modified several times. The modified machine, equipped with Econotool heads, will notch 80 pieces per minute, according to Reggie. The components are then graded and stacked on another stacker.
Proulx also has a custom-made 24-inch machine for notching half-stringers used for repairs.
Proulx strives for consistent dimensions in its pallet components because many of its customers are assembling pallets in automated nailing machines. The company’s tolerance is plus 1/32-inch or minus 0.
The company recently finished installing work stations for grading SPF. Four graders work at two custom precision end trimmers. The components then follow the same parallel conveyors to the accumulators, and then to the stacker.
The portion of the mill that processes SPF is set up mainly for two types of products. One is bed frame components. In making bed frame components, the company first dresses 1x3 and 1x4 on a modified Yates planer. (Green material is dried first in one of the company’s two Uraken dehumidification kilns.) A small resaw splits the 1x3 and 1x4 in two. (The same resaw is sometimes used to remanufacture pallet components.) A machine custom-made by a supplier forms a radius end on the components.
The other principal product consists of components for truss plants and mobile home manufacturers, including 2x3, 2x4, 1x3 and 1x4. A pair of cut-up saws cuts the material to length and, for trusses, whatever angle is required on the ends.
About 80% of the company’s SPF products are sold to customers in U.S. markets, and about 90% of the aspen pallet lumber is shipped to U.S. customers. Pallet customers in the U.S. range from the Northeast to the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio), and as far away as Texas and California. Proulx ships by truck, railroad car, and has a loading dock for sea containers.
Collecting and marketing residuals is an important aspect of the company’s operations. Proulx has packaging machinery for bagging its wood shavings; the shavings are sold wholesale to businesses that resell them to consumers for pet and livestock bedding. Bark is sold to a business in Maine that uses it for fuel to generate electricity. Sawdust is sold to a mill that manufactures medium density fiberboard, and chips are sold to paper mills.
When it comes to pallet stock, "We can do anything," said Reggie. The company also is certified to heat treat packaging materials, which is a consideration for softwood pallets that will be used for transporting products to Europe because of new regulations. An increasing number of customers are asking for heat treatment services.
Although Proulx manufactures a large volume of components for GMA-type pallets, the company also offers manufacturing of custom pallet components. Even in its bed frame business, the company supplies hundreds of different types and sizes of components to meet customer requirements for different bed sizes.
Proulx keeps about 7-8 million board feet of material on its yard, two-thirds of which has already been manufactured into products for customers. The company does some wholesale business but mainly as a limited service for customers.
"A lot of manufacturers want mixed truck-loads of all kinds of lumber," said George. "Some pallet customers, for example, will buy stringers and deck boards on the same truck." A typical order for a pallet company may consist of 7-8 bundles of stringers plus the deck boards required to make the pallets. For customers that manufacture crates, Proulx may ship a truck with 30 bundles or more; the load may have 15-20 different lengths of 2x4 required by a crating company.
Orders for bed frame components are similar. The truck may have 30 bundles with 15 different types of components. Many furniture manufacturers operate on just-in-time schedules, noted George. "They like their inventory as low as they can keep it. That’s why we keep a lot of wood on the ground. They phone in, and we can ship inside a week."
Having its own supply of wood and a sawmill, Proulx can guarantee its customers -- in a written contract -- long-term prices; the company will guarantee prices for up to three to six months.
For information about Proulx or its products, contact the company at (800) 411-2221, fax (450) 584-2860, or e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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