Milestone: Market growth is driving the expansion of LP Houlton, supply chain benefits

As 160 LP Houlton employees continue to be busy this summer turning hundreds of thousands of tons of Northern Maine trees into millions of square feet of engineered-wood products, work is underway to expand the mill as in response to increased demand for its flagship, an outer side and trim called SmartSide.

“LP has seen SmartSide continue to grow annually and needs to add more capacity,” said Nathan Whitney, plant manager. “At our location here, next to a banana wooden basket, there’s the perfect sense to convert our genius.”

The $ 150 million expansion and conversion, which broke out in June, was driven by market growth in the home construction, repair and repair markets.

In this regard, the investment will “ensure that the mill continues to provide hundreds of well-paid direct and indirect jobs throughout the region,” said Paul Towle, president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership.

There is a hopeful sign

LP Houlton, which is actually in the nearby town of New Limerick, belongs to Louisiana-Pacific Corp. (NYSE: LPX), a manufacturer of wood-engineered products headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.

Excellence is one of the largest employers in Aroostook County. In the past year, it has expanded its workforce and operational schedule as the home construction and remodeling market has begun.

Those expansions and the construction now underway are viewed as great news for Maine’s forest products industry, which in recent years has been hit hard by paper factory closures and the decline of the steel industry. pulp and paper.

Loggers and communities in northern Maine are looking to move forward after “the hardest year they’ve experienced in living memory,” said Dana Doran, executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.

“LP’s willingness to invest in the future of Maine’s forest economy and continue to provide a market for Maine timber is a promising sign for the logging industry,” Doran said.

Secondary expansion

This is LP Houlton’s second major expansion in recent history. As the parent corporation’s second longest operating mill, it was commissioned in 1981 and has been producing “oriented strand board” since 1982.

In 2008, the mill added a “laminated strand lumber” line, representing a $ 140 million investment at the time.

The two lines are used in building the “interior” of a house, as Whitney said. Oriented strand boards are a type of plywood used primarily as wall sheathing, roof decks and subfloors in residential construction. Laminated strand lumber, built to compete with traditional dimensional lumber, is mainly used as structural framing.

With the latest investment, the mill focused on the exterior of the building with an exclusive siding and trim line manufacture, which is one of the fastest growing siding brands in the U.S., said Breeanna Straessle, director of corporate communications at LP -based Nashville.

The investment and innovation is expected to increase LP Houlton’s consumption of local and sustainable wood fiber sources by approximately 30%, which is expected to benefit providers throughout the supply chain, including local businesses.

Photo / Fred Field

Steel workers in Louisiana-Pacific Corp. mill in New Limerick

“Apart from timber, which will benefit land and truck owners, we do a lot of business with local companies for supplies and repairs,” Whitney said. “For example, the tires for our equipment come from local vendors. We use local companies that provide steel. Even the local market that sells pizza benefits and subs.”

100,000 homes per year

To date, LP Houlton buys nearly 250,000 tons of primary aspen logs per year. Upon conversion, aspen consumption will increase to 350,000 tonnes, yielding 220 million square feet of SmartSide. At full capacity, it is enough to store nearly 100,000 homes per year.

“We buy 8-foot logs, mainly from within 60 miles of the mill in northern Maine,” Whitney said.

Some are also purchased from New Brunswick.

In the grinder, the logs go into a pond to soften them and make them easier to flake. The bark is then removed and the logs are passed through a large machine, aptly called a flaker, which produces small flakes about 3 inches long and less than an eighth-inch thick. The flakes were drained to correct the moisture content, then coated sheets with a topping of fine sawdust.

The resulting board serves as a substrate for SmartSide, which includes an additional paper overlay

it is impregnated by the primer. The assembly goes into a press, with a specially made plate that is textured to look like cedar siding. Resin and wax are the adhesive together that holds the assembly together. The assembly appears in the press as a sheet that is further trimmed and finished.

Aspen, a hardwood, is considered ideal for the product because of its strength-to-weight ratio and sustainability, Whitney said.

“Aspen will once again evolve from its own roots,” he said. “And in Northern Maine, there isn’t much competition for aspen” because of the industry’s primary focus on softwoods like spruce, fir and pine.

Aspen’s suppliers range from large corporate owners to small family-owned operations. More than 99% of the wood is used in the product, with the rest used for biofuel.

Mill conversion

The conversion includes the addition of a 90,000-square-foot facility that will house new equipment to cut and finish the siding. Part of an existing building, where timber is received for debarking and air conditioning, is being demolished and replaced.

The general contractor of the project was Miron Construction, headquartered in Neenah, Wis., Which worked with Louisiana-Pacific Corp. to identical conversions. Stantec, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, provides engineering services.

The 60-foot press facility, built in 1981, is in the process of a rebuild that includes the installation of new components such as controls and pressing plates. Other machinery will be added, including a new debarker, jigsaw, paint booth, drying oven and packing equipment.

LP Houlton will stop work in the fourth quarter of 2021 to complete site construction. The facility is expected to return online as a SmartSide mill by the end of Q1 2022.

“We’re going to do a lot of training while we’re gone,” Whitney said. “Every employee goes through a lot of training, especially about quality. It’s a product look. It goes outside a house and it’s going to be the first thing you see as you walk down someone’s path. We have to make sure there are no blemishes or bleeding spots. “

Photo / Fred Field

A giant crane with a lifting capacity of 500 tons is helping with $ 150 million conversion to Louisiana-Pacific Corp. mill in New Limerick.

As one of Aroostook County’s largest employers, LP Houlton has increased its workforce by 2020. Last year, it employed more than 100 people working five days a week. Due to increased demand for home construction products, the plant went into 24/7 operation and now employs 160.

“We did a few rounds of acquisition,” Whitney said.

Recruitment is not difficult, he said.

“One of the biggest draw is that we’re a solid company in the area,” he said. “We’re very good at pay and benefits.”

All employees, who range from high school graduates to veterans with 30-plus years of tenure, have remained in the past year.

“I’m proud to say that they really decided to work through the pandemic,” he said.

It said, getting stronger to find people, he added. Recruitment strategies include working in local schools, holding job fairs and advertising.

“Recently, we started offering a $ 500 sign-on bonus and a $ 2,000 retention bonus,” he said.

Hit right

The conversion helps to solve lost markets in other forest product sectors, Doran said. Maine’s timber harvesters and haulers were hit hard in 2020, when most of the organization’s member logging contractors reported 30% to 40% reductions in timber markets, he said.

Many are suffering severe revenue losses, job layoffs, loss of clients, reduced productivity and inability to plan for the future, due to the economic effects of the pandemic and loss of the Pixelle Special Solutions pulp mill in Jay in an explosion in April 2020.

“I look at any investment or expansion or new business starts as major news in our industry,” Doran said. “We want to make sure there are markets for every wood product in Maine. What LP is doing is a huge benefit to the logging community.”

In Aroostook County, Towle said, “Farming and forestry are major drivers in our economy and we are always encouraged when investments are made to sustain industries through modern product manufacture and value -added processing.”

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