Prime time for wood operation

A wood cluster centre of excellence in Gisborne is producing goods to build schools in New Zealand and boost employment here.

Eastland Community Trust’s Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence comprises the Far East sawmilling operation and WET Gisborne Ltd — an optimised engineered lumber plant run through a joint venture with ECT and Wood Engineering Technologies.

Both businesses started in April and are already “humming”.

The trust has invested $17 million into Prime and has attracted $10m of private investment, along with a pledge of $19.5m from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund.

ECT commercial general manager Richard Searle said $500,000 of the PGF funding had been received and put towards implementing computerised “mission control” systems.

Far East Sawmill general manager Neil Groot said the sawmill produced dry wood for export to Europe.

From there a process was used to alter the sap structure of the wood so it could be turned into hardwood.

“They redry it and I think they are injecting it with vinegar, which turns the sap sugars into another cellular structure that doesn’t degrade.”

The timber is debarked on the Prime site, then cut to size and dried.

The mill uses an automated boiler plant to control heat output to the three kilns, as well as reducing smoke output from the mill’s chimney stack.

“It was a huge investment for this place and has made a huge difference. We can burn the fuel at just the right temperature.”

Mr Groot said there were about 50 staff at the mill, including eight from the Gisborne-based ASET charitable trust, which aims to get beneficiaries and youth into work.

“We all work for each other. We all help put food on each other’s table. Everyone is critical and that’s been the real key to getting this place humming.”

ECT chief executive Gavin Murphy said the sawmill had also resulted in employment for local suppliers, who had taken on extra workers.

Second plant in the wind

WET chief operating officer Shaun Bosson said its just-under-20 staff employed in the specifically-designed plant were doing what others in the industry “said couldn’t be done”.

“It’s really about creating a highly- optimised laminate beam in a fully-automated manner. This process is all about trying to leverage the forestry resource we have in New Zealand and to get the best possible structural lumber for building not only houses but mid-rise and high-rise structures.”

Mr Bosson said because the product could be rated at specific tolerances, it was hoped that ultimately the product would compete with steel and concrete as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternative.

“As well as the product being straight and true, it also has very tight characteristic values.”

Most other lumber had “a massive amount of variability”, which is why it was often inefficient to use in certain buildings, he said.

The plant is running 24 hours, three-and-a-half days a week and the company has been selling product from Gisborne since April.

“The product itself is really lending itself to be used where you need strength and precision in terms of wood,” said Mr Bosson.

“We are also involved in a few high-profile prefabrication projects (including a couple of schools) where we are using panelised solutions, panelised flooring solutions and panelised wall solutions. This is where our product fits really well.”

The process to create the Optimised Engineered Lumber to such a standard involved taking low-value pinus radiata softwood logs debarked at Far East Sawmill and putting them through over 25 highly-automated processes to turn them into a high-value structural, glue-laminated lumber.

“There is a huge demand for engineered wood products in New Zealand that can’t be met.”

Mr Bosson said they hoped to start planning for a second plant, adjacent to the existing one, in about six months.

Room for a third and fourth plant is available on the site.

Photo: ECT Prime Mill – Richard Searle (GM commercial ECT), Neil Groot (General Manager), Matt Cairns (ECT communications and marketing manager), Gavin Murphy.

Source: Gisborne Herald

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